Waiting on a friend

Relationships are strange beasts. I can guarantee two interactions with my children ever day. The first, where they ask me what’s for dinner and the second, when they ask me what time is dinner.

I was reflecting on this early Wednesday morning. Wednesday is my day off and currently starts with me leading a Zoom prayer meeting with my own church. I like to try and bring something each time that reflects my slightly off kilter approach to being a Christian.

I started to think how we treat God as a Father. We often find we turn to prayer in times of need. Our guaranteed conversation with God is like my children’s with me, we look for Him to meet our needs. Now there is of course a strong scriptural basis for this, Mark 11:24 says “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours”. The Lords Prayer says “give us this day our daily bread”. We are encouraged to look to God for our needs to be met and that is Good.

That’s not the limit of my relationship with my children though. They don’t just look to me for their daily needs. Harry will talk to me about his games or what he’s seen in the garden. He will chat about videos he’s watched and things he’s read. He will ask questions and engage in conversation.  Molly will show me things she is making, will talk about trying out makeup or what she’s been doing with friends on line. She’ll make snails with her 3d pen and ask what colour I think the shell should be.

In Exodus, Moses sets up a tent outside the camp where he can meet face to face with God and talk as friends. My morning prayer often consists of a shopping list of people I want him to take care of and an occasional thank you for something.

When I first became a Christian my morning prayer would go something like this.

“Morning Lord. Lovely day out there. I really do love how a light rain makes things look brighter. Anything you want me to do today? So and so is having a hard time at the moment. I did say I’d pray for them. Anything you can do would be great. I have some spare time today and was thinking of going down to the river to draw the swans. See you there? Okay. Thank you Lord.”

Now it goes more like this.

“Dear Father God. Please bring peace to….. please bring healing to…… please let……. come to know you and so on and so on.”

My prayer life was so much richer when it was about a broader relationship with God. I want to get back to those days. I will still ask him to meet my needs and the needs of others but I want more than that. I want to be with him as the Good, Good Father that He is, not a magic wand to meet my needs.

So let me encourage you to take time to talk with God, tell Him about your day. It will do wonders for your relationship.

The pineapple of prayer. A holder for the names of those people I’m praying for and light a candle for each day.

Thoughts on Dominic Cummings

I’ll be upfront. I don’t like Cummings, I don’t like what he stands for and I don’t like the amount of power and influence he has as an unelected bureaucrat. There is a part of me that would like to see him thrown to the wolves.

However, in all his disembling, his excuses and his frequent revision of his story and his inability to offer an unconditional apology, there is a reflection of many of us writ large.

I used to joke with my daughter that my superpower was the ability to make anything look like someone else’s fault. No matter what, nothing was my fault. And she developed that skill as well. It was at that point, when I heard my daughter trotting out excuses and making us feel at fault for her failures that I realised how wrong I was. I had somehow come to the conclusion that being wrong, being in the wrong, that making mistakes was a bad thing. I realised that, among other things, my inability to say sorry was putting a strain on my marriage, damaging g my relationship with my children and harming my mental health.

So I learnt to say sorry without excuses. It was a hard journey. When you make a change like that it takes time for people to believe it. It was worth it though. It probably saved my marriage.

Dominic Cummings is in a difficult position. He has angered and upset so many people in his rise to power that there are few people who honestly feel any sympathy for him. He has amended his story as new elements have come out. He has offered a multitude of excuses for not following his government’s instructions on not travelling, childcare and self isolation. He has glossed over the suffering of thousands who would have made similar trips if lockdown hadn’t been in place but he has not put up his hand and said “sorry! I was wrong.”

An honest apology would probably still have led to demands for his sacking but it would have limited the fallout. The truth I learnt was that this kind of behaviour has a ripple effect that hurts more than the person at the centre. Cummings actions, and those of the PM in supporting him, have consequences.

There is a degree to which this is personal. Cummings is not well liked by the press and there is more than a hint of schadenfreude in their pursuit. It goes beyond that though. When living through this pandemic we have to be able to believe that the government is acting in our best interests. We may not agree with their decisions but so long as they follow them too we can at least imagine they are trying to do what needs to be done. One mistake like supporting Cummings damages any trust. And right now, if we don’t trust what they say and follow guidelines and rules then people die.

The elephant in the room.

I was watching a Rowan Atkinson video this morning called God’s Mysterious Ways. I’m not entirely sure where it comes from, it seems like a straight forward address but he’s clearly in character, as demonstrated by his wearing a dog collar. At the end he quotes Isaiah 55:8 My Ways are not your ways, which he then interprets as God saying to us “I’m mysterious folks, live with it”.

As Christians we are often guilty of speaking “for God”. Whether we like it or not we all read the Bible in different ways. Everyone of us is influenced in our reading by our upbringing and our social experiences and those are different for each of us. I’m 55 and my understanding of jesus and the Bible was that everyone in it was white. My children’s book of Bible stories was full of beautiful paintings of blue eyed western Europeans. I thought Moses looked like Charlton Heston and Jesus like Robert Powell. And then on the other side of that was Jesus Christ Superstar, a hippy retelling of the Gospel story. So in my head Jesus was this pale, ethereal, socialist hippy who sang songs I didn’t care for. 15 years older and you probably only got the first part of that. 15 plus years younger and you probably only got the socialist bit as priests in South America fought and died for physical support for the poor and disenfranchised against government corruption and the growing drug trade.

Equally translations change your understanding. The King James Bible sweeps you up in sometimes overwhelming grandeur with its Shakespearean use of language. Read something like the Passion Translation and you encounter a more grounded Bible, one where the people are more easily identifiable. Both have their place and their value but both are different and can lead you to differing understandings of scripture.

The problem with these different understandings is that they lead us to argue over minutiae. Like the Pharisees that Jesus spoke against we find ourselves speaking as if only we know what the Bible truly means, only we speak for God. When we do that we miss an important truth “I’m mysterious folks, live with it.”

If we ignore the mystery, the “fact” that God is bigger and more unknowable than we could even begin to imagine we risk venturing onto dangerous ground. Matthew 7: 21-23 tells us that some who claim to do things in God’s name will be turned away.

What is it like to connect with God through the mystery? In Matthew 18 Jesus talks of having faith like a child. Children accept that some things are mysteries, that certain things are beyond their understanding and they are okay with that because they are secure in the love of their parents. Is that perhaps what Jesus was trying to tell us? Accept the mystery and trust in God’s love?

I came to Jesus very late. Before I landed on his doorstep I had read many religious texts, Qu’ran, Tao te Ching, various books on Zen, the kjv Bible, the ancient myths of a dozen or more cultures, but Jesus was where I stopped. In part it was the people I met through church, but largely it was the mystery that drew me. The mystery that a God so big wanted to be friends with humanity, that a love so big could exist that it would die for me. The mystery that a 148 hour walk from Cairo to Jerusalem (Google maps even gives you directions) could take 40 years and God would be there the entire way.

The Bible is filled with mystery and we need to dive deeper into it. It’s amazing what you can learn by letting go of surety and accepting that somethings surpass our understanding.

Hollow Days

I’ve coined a new phrase for these times living under Covid 19. Hollow days. I figure for most of us there are three kinds of days, good days when we are feeling hopeful, bad days when we want to hide under the duvet and cry, and hollow days.

Hollow days are the ones where you see the good in the world, you see the bad in the world and they just seem to cancel each other out leaving you feeling empty, hollow.

It’s a difficult one because it’s very much a symptom of the life we are living at the moment and, talking to friends, it seems to be a growing feeling.

Perhaps part of it is lockdown fatigue. We’ve been like a plane stuck in a holding pattern for weeks. Possibly it’s what people used to call ennui. The Dictionary defines it as a feeling of listlessness arising from a lack of occupation or excitement. A sort of active boredom.

It is a feeling that could sweep us up and become a new normal if we are not careful. There are ways to control it however they will be different for each of us. I find prayer helps, it connects me with something else, something bigger than me. It also takes me outside myself. Reading the Psalms is also helping. I think part of the problem is there is no outlet for our feelings of joy or anger. Zoom isn’t enough when you want to have a beer and rant about the family driving you mad. Facebook Messenger can’t give you a hug from your mum on a bad day. Skype is no way to celebrate your birthday with friends. Psalms remind us that we can share our joy with God but they also remind us God is okay with us shouting and screaming at Him. He is big enough to listen to our misery and anger and despair. And He can take those burdens from us and heal us from them.

We are living in difficult times and we need to look after ourselves. It is okay to be not okay but when you find yourself having a day like that, be kind to yourself.

Inclusivity

Inclusivity is one of those words that I never really understood. I mean, I know it meant to include everyone, to make things fully accessible to all, but I’m an able bodied, middle aged white man. Pretty much everything is accessible to me.

Then I spent 2 years supporting an autistic boy through years 5 and 6 at school and realised many of the lessons were impossible for him. Whether because of classroom noise or the complexity of the work he couldn’t be part of the regular class. He needed extra time to process, better step by step explanations. He needed support. I began to understand inclusivity.

Also I ventured on to Twitter at that time and connected with many people with disabilities or caring for family with disabilities, people like Dan White, a Wickham man with a wonderful, wheel chair using daughter. As he met obstacles in his daughter’s way he fought and campaigned against them. People like him and Mik Scarlett and The Norfolk Loo Lady opened my eyes to what others had to deal with on a daily basis.

I still couldn’t really understand what being on the outside was actually like. I could read of others experiences and empathise but not really understand.

Then Covid 19 entered our lives like a thief in the night and I got a small taste of what it is like to be outside society’s norm.

I couldn’t visit shops, go to the cinema, go to work, drive my car. These things were no longer accessible to me through no fault of my own. I love to go out and draw, sit in parks or woodland or city centres with a sketch pad. That was taken away from me. That hurt. Drawing is the thing I do to help my mental health. It lifts my mood and has done a great job helping me deal with depression for the last 30 years. With that gone my mental health suffered. I could go on but perhaps you’re beginning to see my point now.

For many people who are disabled, elderly and infirm, caring for family members, wheelchair users, autistic people, people with bipolar disorder or chronic depression, people with dementia or arthritis and many more, this was every day life prior to lockdown.

When Covid 19 is finally under control and we are able to once again enjoy all the privileges we took for granted I hope able bodied people like me will remember what we dealt with and be supportive towards efforts towards inclusivity. I hope we will all call for the changes that need to be made so that those who are kept on the fringes of society can take their rightful place as a valued member.

Jesus was a great one for including those on the fringes of society and his church needs to learn the lessons of this lockdown and find ways to move forward. No matter what we are doing we can always do better.

Doing their bit

The fascinating thing with this current situation, this covid 19 lockdown, has been peopled reactions. Yes there have been some who have not taken it seriously, not followed the guidelines, but the vast majority have pulled together and asked the question “how can I help?”

Last week I made a mercifully brief appearance on Radio Solent to talk about the District initiative to provide mask extenders to the NHS. In three weeks our Circuit alone has created over 600 mask extenders. It’s an incredible effort by a dedicated core of knitters and crocheters. After the radio appearance I had several phone calls offering buttons and one was a perfect example of that “how can I help?” attitude.

A woman in her late 70s called me. She explained that she was in disabled and having to self isolate and was feeling disappointed that she wasn’t able “to do her bit”. When she heard we needed buttons she went through her inherited button tin and found 100 buttons of the right size. She said to me that she was really pleased to have been able to provide buttons because now she felt she had done her bit, even though it was quite small.

Her part isn’t small. 50 NHS workers will be able to work in comfort thanks to her and those 50 will make a difference in hundreds, possibly thousands of lives over the coming weeks and months.

Everything we do to help makes a difference and it all has a wider effect than we imagine. Jesus took seven loaves and two fish and feed thousands, in a less miraculous manner our smallest gesture of 100 buttons ripples out and touches thousands.

A big thank you to the ladies of the district who have been busy making mask extenders, and the knitters of St Peter’s in Bishops Waltham who have joined our effort. Your work is much appreciated.

Matthew 5:16. Let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

What I do when I’m not doing this.

It can be very hard to know your own identity. We are all made up from the results of so many experiences and we often show only a part of who we are depending on who we are with. When with other parents I’m a parent. I have a work face and a church face and on and on. At the core of all these facets of our personalities is some stronger, more basic, more primal. Peacemaker. Nurture. Protector. Joy bringer.

For me that primal core is artist. Being an artist affects every part of my life. Art affects how I look at the world. Everything is one of a kind. Even baked bean cans have differences if you look. And if everything is one of a kind it affects how you treat it. When I draw I’m trying to capture something of the essence of my subject. I like things I draw to be recognisable. A sparrow needs to look like a sparrow but it has to look like the sparrow I “see”. The biggest lesson with art is that there is no wrong as long as you’re being honest.

It took a long time for me to feel comfortable calling myself an artist because I had silly ideas about what an artist was. But that’s what what I am, I make art, I’m an artist.