Resume virtues and eulogy virtues

Take your pick

Temporary

Nice snippet from an article I was reading recently, attributable to a New York Times columnist called David Brooke.1

Resume virtues are the things you put on your CV, the promotions you got, the sales you made, the money you earned.

Eulogy virtues are the things people say at your funeral. He always had time for people, he was a good dad, he made people around him feel good.

Since we are absolutely going to die, and all we achieved will be forgotten, decayed, or (at best) archived, maybe good to work on the eulogy virtues.

The hidden plague

loneliness

lonely

Fascinating article in about a great source of un-wellness in our society1: loneliness. 

‘In Britain 7.7m people live alone … Seventeen million adults in Britain are unattached. More than 1m older people feel lonely all or most of the time, and most of them do not feel able to admit their loneliness to family and friends. Loneliness is one of the chief reasons people contact the Samaritans, though often callers find it hard to admit it. “People who call us sometimes feel that loneliness is not a good enough reason for calling,” says Nick, a long-term Samaritans volunteer. “They feel ashamed or embarrassed, as though feeling lonely isn’t something serious.” Three out of four GPs say they see between one and five lonely people a day; only 13% feel equipped to help them, even though loneliness has a detrimental effect on health equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Only 22% of us have never felt lonely.’

‘In the autumn last year, the body of 68-year-old Marie Conlon was found in her flat at Larkspur Rise in Belfast. She had been dead for nearly three years. In a statement, her family said they were “shocked and heartbroken” at the death of the “beloved sister”. Call be cruel, but how beloved could she have been if they hadn’t seen or spoken to her since the beginning of 2015? I popped into my local funeral directors to learn how often they were presented with bodies which had lain along in flats until they began to decompose. The lady in charge that day was wary of my questions, and made me promise not to give her name. But yes, she said, this happens quite regularly–bodies lie undiscovered until neighbours complain of a smell.’

On being trusted by God

Being trusted by God feels just like being abandoned by him

I was commissioned to write this a few years ago, and thought it was worth unearthing.

Let me get a heretical thought out of my system first.

I was listening to the singer Katie Melua who had a modest hit in 2007 with a slightly wacky song called If you were a sailboat. There’s a line in that song that goes like this:

You took a chance on loving me
I took a chance on loving you

Here’s my heretical thought: that’s how it feels between us and God.

Listen to your good and true church leaders
Of course our church leaders, if they are good and true church leaders, will tell us that thought is theological nonsense on all kinds of levels. Here are two:

1.Us loving and trusting God isn’t a gamble. God is more reliable than gravity, more sure than taxation, more certain than the fact that your girlfriend will laugh at you for something you don’t find funny. Mountains are shifty things compared with our God. The stars can fade from the sky like foam vanishing into the sand: still God is true, still God is loving. It’s ridiculous to sing, as to God, a lyric like ‘I took a chance on loving you.’

2. God loving and trusting us isn’t a gamble either. This is God we’re talking about. God whose judgement might be said to be fairly sound. God who has a good idea how things will turn out in the end, because both the beginning of history and its end are familiar territory to him. When he set his love on the human race, when he offered the wide arms of Jesus to anyone who will rest himself in them, he wasn’t messing about, calculating the angles, whistling in the wind, or vaguely hoping things will come good. He’s going to finish what he started. When he sets his love on us he is most definitely not thinking:

You took a chance on loving me
I took a chance on loving you

But that’s how it feels
Except that’s how it feels, quite often.

Consider Joseph, patriarch, grand vizier of Egypt, and sometime irritating younger brother. His brothers sold him into slavery, doing something that many an elder brother has only dreamed of.

It set up one of the classic narratives of the Old Testament: 17-year-old Joseph trusted God. Ever-old, ever-young God trusted Joseph. Joseph is sold on to an Egyptian official, but works hard and becomes a top employee. He refuses to sleep with his boss’s wife, but gets imprisoned for it anyway. He rises to a senior position in the prison and has hopes for people putting in a good word for him with Pharoah, but his hopes are dashed yet again. Still God and Joseph trust each other. Finally, of course, thanks to realizing that Pharoah’s puzzling dream is actually a weather forecast, he is appointed Pharoah’s No. 2 and the story ends happily. He trusted God. God trusted him. And it all worked out.

Consider Mary, mother of the Lord Jesus. I think she was a teenager too. (Only a teenager, surely, would believe such a madcap idea as the ‘the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God’ (Luke 1:35, NIV). Sensible mothers knock ideas like that out of their daughters at an early stage.) We know that Mary found a friend in her cousin Elizabeth. She found another in her husband-to-be, another Joseph, who stood with her through it all. But presumably Mary had a mother, and aunties, and a granny or two. What did they think of her? What did her neighbours whisper? What did Joseph’s friends laugh about? How could Mary walk down the street in Nazareth as her bulge grew? Was she always the serene figure of mediaeval art? Not if she was a human being, she wasn’t.

Surely the Patriarch Joseph and the Virgin Mary, as well as every other person who has ever loved and trusted God in dark places, went through times when they could sing:

You took a chance on loving me
I took a chance on loving you.

We might wonder how God felt as he watched these dear servants endure their disappointments, taste their bitterness, cry their tears. Somehow I can’t see God sitting smug and aloof: what kind of Father is that? Did God too, somehow, worry about them? Did He, as it were, sit on his hands, longing to help, determined not to, nervous of the outcome? Somewhere within his all-knowingness and his almightiness could he, too, have sung:

You took a chance on loving me
I took a chance on loving you

These are questions for extremely highly paid and clever theologians, of which I am not one. But I’d love to know how you can be a Father and not feel vulnerable when you watch your children stumble and get hurt.

The power of powerlessness
The problem, in a nutshell, is this: God trusting you feels exactly the same as God abandoning you. Indeed that’s the nature of trust. There can’t be trust without a letting go. God backed Joseph to endure the disappointment, the self-doubt, and the injustice, and he did. God trusted Mary to endure the painful conversations and the laughter in the street, and she did.

Shortly my own 17-year-old daughter is likely to pass her driving test. This means I am going to have to hand over the steering wheel to her, and also (to be fair to her), try to restrain my cries of panic. I think I will have to put my fist in my mouth. I have to let go, or she won’t grow. I have to trust her, even though she’s 17. It’s a dad thing. You just have to do it. That’s a tiny instance of what God does every day, with each of us who have entrusted ourselves to him.

So why does God put us, and perhaps himself, through all this, this pain of trusting? Here’s why.

God wants sons (and daughters), not slaves. Being trusted makes you grow. Trust leads to trustworthiness. This world does not need more Pharisees, who trust the rule-book and recipe book, never think creatively, never cook something new. It does not need lazy miserable servants, scared that God is a taskmaster, who bury their gifts within a fear of failure, who never want to be vulnerable.

This world needs people who are built up by the power of trust. Trusted, trustworthy people. Read Paul’s first letter to Timothy (I’m paraphrasing): I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service … this is a trustworthy saying … entrust the church to trustworthy people … Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care.

Trustworthiness will see the Church through, Timothy.

And so it will. Through the infectious power of trust, God is raising sons and daughters, confident in his love and favour, sure of his power, creative and happy, free to innovate, free to fail, free to wonder and dream and love and fight and transform the world. The dreamer Joseph ran a country. The peasant Mary made the Incarnation work. But previous bold generations of saints haven’t exhausted all the fun. There’s still some left for us.

God trusts you. Go with it. It will hurt. But it’s OK.