Category Archives: Just a Thought

God’s ‘mini-me’s

Can humans be gods? Of course not. At least not according to Christianity.

Yet, in Psalm 82, one of the Jewish / Christian scriptures, God (Yahweh) addresses Israel’s rulers as ‘gods’! Humans described as gods! This incredible psalm should come as quite a shock to most religious people.

Jesus himself quoted from this psalm to affirm that God did indeed address the people as gods – in order to make his point: “Why is it so hard to accept that I could be God’s son?”

The words of Psalm 82 have mind-blowing implications for our society in various ways:

  • As ‘gods’ or Yahweh’s representatives, our leaders and politicians have a God-given responsibility to exercise mercy and social justice: to care for the marginalised and vulnerable. As numbers of people dependent on food banks due to benefits sanctions rise and rise, and as homelessness grows unstoppably in Hastings where I live and across the UK with no sign of slowing down, I wouldn’t like to be in the shoes of our current government before a holy God – where holiness is not the cold piety of a distant deity, but the fiery, devoted passion for ultimate justice on behalf of the most vulnerable. I suspect there’s a message there for our American friends too, with just a few days to the presidential election.

 

  • As ‘gods’, every human being has an intrinsic worth far beyond that which any of us can ever imagine – far above anything expressed by most theological and psychological schools of thoughts. And no wonder – the idea of us being ‘gods’ is so radical and far-reaching, it verges on blasphemy to Judeo-Christian thinking. To approach the idea of people being ‘gods’ is to walk on holy ground. And yet it is a Christian idea. God is. I am. The mystery of our being mirrors the mystery of his being. We are, literally, God’s children. We carry his DNA, his genes – so much more than his image. So ingrained in Christian thinking is the idea of sin’s pervasiveness, that the holiness, goodness and beauty that underlies our brokenness is usually missed. I would so love for all the broken, hurting, struggling people I know (that’s pretty much everyone, including me) to begin to grasp this core identity that we have. What incredible healing there would be in that comprehension!

 

  • Those regarded as ‘least’ and ‘lowest’ according to the echelons of society, or ‘low-life’ as I’ve heard them described, are nevertheless ‘gods’ according to Yahweh – not just his representatives, they are his ‘mini-me’s – and therefore, as Jesus made plain, whatever we do or fail to do for them, we do or fail to do for him. This affords us amazing privileges and opportunities to encounter the holy love and presence of Yahweh as we serve society’s marginalised, pray for them and press for social justice.

 

Here’s Psalm 82 in full:

God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the gods:

“How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

The gods know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

“I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High.’ But you will die like mere mortals; you will fall like every other ruler.”

Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance.

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(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is?

Please read my About page. Thanks! Roger N)

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I totally agree with myself!

Written and inspired by a shopping trip the other day, the following is an excerpt from the book I’m working on, set in the context of some reflections on the instinctive, deep-rooted changes that took place in my mind and heart and total life direction when I came to Christian faith in ’87 – transformative changes that could be defined as ‘repentance’, but which happened quite independently of any church’s teaching on repentance or call to conform – pressure which could potentially have had the opposite effect.

Also to put the excerpt in context, the chapter of my book in which this appears discusses something of the relationship between spirituality and psychology, in terms of how the Bible and contemplative Christian traditions espouse positive, healthy psychology (compassionate altruism springing from deep experience of God’s love, for instance), whereas the pressure from some churches to conform or to do this or that can be psychologically damaging, promoting incongruence (a mismatch between our values and our actions) and therefore, potentially, hypocrisy.

Without further ado, here’s that excerpt:

Today, while out shopping, my attention was grabbed by the slogan I spotted on a small girl’s T-shirt: “I totally agree with myself”!

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I was immediately struck by the sheer profundity of that ostensibly self-oriented statement, and couldn’t help but wonder how many shoppers walking past the girl missed its significance.

To totally agree with oneself is a surprisingly noble aim – to reach that place where one’s values and actions perfectly line up. A place of absolute integrity. I know one Person, at least, who lived that dream.

Churches (and other groups) that encourage individuality and diversity of thought help their members to become more fully human, more fully themselves and, therefore, (this may come as a surprise to some) more God-like!

Jesus was fully himself and, as well as being fully God, was fully human, which is almost not that different, as full humanity mirrors the human’s Maker.

Unfortunately, I’ve experienced situations where conformity of thought is so prized that human-ness is squashed, thus wiping away God’s messy, living fingerprints, settling instead for bland, sterile fakery.

However, I’m chuffed also to have been in churches and groups where individuality is allowed to flourish, or even fostered, thereby revealing the manifold wonders of God in the diversity of his people.

At least that’s my view, on which I totally agree with myself.

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(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is?

Please read my About page. Thanks! Roger N)

COMPASSION IS REST

Compassion is rest.

To live with compassion means we don’t need to prove ourselves – that we don’t try to be better than someone else.

Compassion means that we don’t judge or criticise those who say and do things we disagree with, but accept that they, like us, have their weaknesses.

Compassion means that sometimes we do judge and criticise, even those close to us, but at that very moment we can forgive ourselves, as we’re forgiven, for these disturbing attitudes, and we’re free to move on.

Both they and we need compassion at the same moment. We discover that we’re in it together.

Compassion is a level playing field, where all have gone astray, all need mercy. No one is better or worse.

Which means that we can empathise with people who seem either less or more moral, whether posher or poorer, than us. Levels of morality, class and wealth, fade to grey, in light of compassion.

There are, in fact, no levels.

To accept that we need compassion makes us no better than someone who hasn’t yet realised that they too need compassion. We’re just lucky to be in that place.

Compassion means that we go easy on ourselves. After all, who are we to argue with God?

Compassion means that in every thought, word and deed, with so many mixed motives, honourable and dishonourable, even when we mistakenly think we’re doing the right thing… we’re honoured.

It means that this very moment, right now, we’re forgiven and free…and this moment…and this one.

Yes, and this one, too.

And this one.

And even this one.

Mercy is not just new every morning, but every moment.

Compassion means that every single second we can start afresh with a clean slate.

We don’t need to wait for a new day.

Which means a permanent state of restfulness, and of freedom.

Freedom to do what’s right.

Freedom to get things wrong.

Freedom from chains of society, religion, consumerism, one-upmanship, and showmanship.

And freedom to forget that we’re free from chains of society, religion, consumerism, one-upmanship, and showmanship – when we act as if we’re still enslaved. We can be forgiven for that, too!

In the world of compassion, even our hypocrisy is forgivable.

Compassion means that we don’t have to do anything!

To live with compassion is to be at rest.

 

Compassion is action.

Compassion means we can’t ignore the plight of the poor and the victimised.

Compassion means we can’t just walk by on the other side.

Compassion means we want to help.

That we will do what we can.

It means that love flows from a place of rest and freedom.

Those who receive compassion cannot help but give compassion.

Compassion means that sometimes we do walk by on the other side, but we discover that even our omissions are forgiven, and we learn from our mistakes.

To live with compassion means empathy with people in their weakness and vulnerability, because we know that we too are weak and vulnerable.

Compassion means that we don’t try and save the world, because we recognise our limitations and the strengths of others.

Compassion means that we care for ourselves too,

that we’re equal to others for whom we feel compassion. We recognise that we too need support, mercy, love and empathy.

Compassion means life with purpose, destiny, and love expressed in deed.

To live with compassion is to be stirred into action.

To have found this compassion so long ago remains, for me, a miracle bombshell blessing:

Compassion in the shape of Jesus.

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(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is?

Please read my About page. Thanks! Roger N)

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Life is a beach

As I sat on Hastings beach this week, enjoying taking things at a slower pace while off sick from work due to stress and exhaustion, I took these photos of the view behind me, taking in the various elements of boat, beach, tractor, church, houses, hill and nets.

I wondered how many millions of photos have been taken over the years of picturesque Old Town beach with its fishing boats. There are always people milling around with cameras down here. So I wasn’t going to.

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But then I noticed something about the view I’d been enjoying. The combined subjects seemed to represent the balance I’m seeking to achieve in my life.

  • In the foreground, to the left: a tractor for pulling boats up the beach, important and useful, more functional than aesthetic. This piece of machinery, representing productivity, work, and all things “male” and task-driven, was getting a look in from the side, but the photographer (me) not allowing it to dominate the view.
  • To the right, the main attraction: a fishing boat. Although a working vessel, providing food for many, the boat also speaks to me of aesthetics, beauty and therefore creativity; femininity, love, and therefore my wife, my marriage, my family – all aspects of life to which I’m attaching greater importance (and appreciating as sources of strength and healing), just as the boat appeals to our aesthetic eye in the picture.
  • In the background: a church, representing stillness, wonder, faith and Jesus; reminding me that behind work, creativity and relationships needs to be the presence and love of God, mindfulness, and prayer. For me, faith and prayer undergird everything else.
  • Further back: tucked in behind the church is verdant West Hill with its trees and grassy slopes, representing nature and its close relationship to the Creator. Countless studies have shown us how beneficial spending time in green spaces is to our mental and physical health. Nature seems to be God’s healing agent, a message of love from the Creator, and we underestimate its power to our peril. I’ve never lost my enjoyment and appreciation of the outdoors, whether through running, walking, prayer, birdwatching, or nature photography, but more recently I’ve also realised the importance of nature for my emotional health. Even as I step out of my house into the back garden with its fresh air and fragrant smells of trees and flowers, a wave of peace sweeps over me.

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As my attention was drawn by my Father to this pictorial allegory of the life balance I’m aiming for, I decided to take some photos after all and keep them as a pertinent reminder.

  • Oh, and finally, under it all, under me, is the beach itself, reminding me that in the end, life is of course a beach! Or should be….

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(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is?

Please read my About page. Thanks! Roger N)

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A brush with Vincent

If you know me or my blog, you’ll know that I have a little fascination with both van Gogh and Van Morrison. Must be something about vans. I haven’t blogged about white van drivers yet, though – maybe that’s to come…

But both Gogh and Morrison, unlike white van drivers, seem to help unlock a sense of awesome awareness of the Creator’s sweet pervasion of the world around me.

You may even know that one of the reasons for taking my family on a short break to Holland in the recent half-term was to visit the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Having been so enthralled by his life and mesmerised by his art, I wondered what a visit to the museum, which houses over 1000 of Vincent’s works, would be like. Would I be touched even more deeply by the man of myth and magic? Or would I be unmoved – would a museum’s inevitable sterility detract from the emotions normally evoked by this beautiful man?

The first van Gogh work I saw on entering the main gallery was a familiar, famous painting – The Sower.

Several things struck me all at once.

Firstly, I was blown away by the obvious fact that I was looking at an original! This was a painting actually painted by Vincent van Gogh himself!

Viewing the popular masterpiece, with its dense, swirling, brush strokes, felt like a mind-blowing encounter with greatness,

beauty,

history,

madness and sanity,

and the brilliant transcendence of the Creator in Vincent’s (and our) world.

Right from the outset, I was overcome with emotion, moved to tears once again, by this brush with Vincent. As it turned out, no cold museum sterility could dampen the reactions sparked by this intriguing character.

As well as being awestruck by the significance of being face to face with an actual van Gogh, I was startled to find it was 3D! It had never occurred to me that the flat, 2-D images we see in a book or on a computer screen could never do justice to the coarse, wild textures or contrasting shades of an oil painting’s brazen, 3-dimensional, brush strokes.

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A flat, 2D image of The Sower, a 3D painting

Such a stark realisation sparked an immediate thought about my prayer life. My recent (last couple of years) journey into a more mindful and contemplative approach to prayer, inspired by the likes of Shaun Lambert, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and Richard Rohr, feels like a transition from 2D to 3D faith.

Diving into the omnipresence of God.

Being in his being.

Not that prayer, for me, has ever been simply a religious “shopping-list” or an approach to God as a dispensing machine, but this practising of stillness, stopping to soak in the reality of who God is and of who I am, has been a welcome learning curve and a growth into the fullness that Jesus promised.

Vincent never seemed to lose his faith in Christ, but recoiled from the strict religion of his pastor father. Did Vincent ever experience the fullness of life that Jesus offered? My strong suspicion is that, despite being tormented by mental ill health, a sense of alienation from society, and even “existential dread”, as described in the blurb for one painting at the museum, Vincent did indeed drink of that spiritual life.

He seemed to be so wonderfully attuned to his surroundings and, through those surroundings and his depiction of them, to be at one with the Creator he believed in. You could say that his painting really was a form of contemplation.

Even Christians, with our genuine claims of the “joy of the Lord” and “fullness of life”, are not immune to mental illness, depression and “dark nights of the soul”. I, too, have had my moments.

Part of my contemplative learning curve has been a growing embrace of “non-dual thinking”: accepting the “both/and” of life and faith in 3D fullness, instead of the “either/or” often associated with 2D religion.

I think Vincent understood this, through his ups and downs of faith and life. As I browsed the museum, I was intrigued by his Still Life with Open Bible, in which a large family Bible, open at Isaiah 53 that speaks prophetically of Jesus as the suffering servant and “a man of sorrows”, is juxtaposed with a copy of Emile Zola’s contemporary novel of the time, La Joie de Vivre.

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Still Life with Open Bible (sorrow and joy)

I don’t think Vincent ever really rejected the Bible or Jesus but resented his father’s “blind devotion to religion and faith, forever trapped in an antiquated mindset”, and like a lot of people, found that the religion of his time satisfied neither his mind nor his soul’s need for love.

In contrast, La Joie de Vivreand so many other masterpieces paint life as we feel it ourselves and thus satisfy that need which we have, that people tell us the truth,” as Vincent put it in a letter to his brother Theo.

His simultaneous representation of both sorrow and joy in this painting seems to sum up Vincent’s experience of life and faith. Both/and.

As I admired the lavish, almost randomised, multi-directional strokes in Vincent’s paintings, I was drawn to the paint patterns’ apparent disorder, that paradoxically composed such natural order in the finished works. Isn’t life like that?

I don’t know about you, but I struggle with the apparent disorder of my life – especially as a parent! – and of so many aspects of our world. How do we make sense of this? How do we come to terms with our lack of control over our disordered circumstances? Our flawed characters? Our loved ones? The random nature of death and suffering? And all the other things of this world that we care about?

Is it just me, with my OCD tendencies, that experiences this struggle?

Or do we all to some extent feel the need for neat answers – for order in our world? Current contemplative Richard Rohr, describing Franciscan spirituality in his book Eager to Love, expresses it like this:

“Paul says only ‘the folly of the cross’ can deal with what poet Wallace Stevens called “our blessed rage for order!’ The ‘mystery of the cross’ is Paul’s code-breaking and fundamental resolution for the confusing mystery of life! Without it, it seems most people become cynics, depressed, bitter, or negative by the middle of life, because there is no meaning in the death of all things and the imperfection of everything. For Paul, the deepest level of meaning is ironically the deep, grace-activated acceptance of a certain meaninglessness! We are able to leave room for God to fill in the gaps, and even trust that God will!”

Life is full of paradox and, for me, the cross of Jesus and his resurrection bring meaning to the perceived meaninglessness and disorder of this universe. This faith doesn’t answer all my questions. If it did, the God I believe in would be too small.

But through faith in Jesus, I trust that the almost randomised, multi-directional strokes of this world, that we see in the apparent chaos even at a subatomic level of the universe, make up a magnificent, somehow ordered, painting too big for the eyes of our hearts and minds to comprehend.

Order/disorder. Both/and. My contemplative faith is enabling me to live with the tension between the two.

Thank you once again, Vincent, for helping me accept the breadth and depth of God, and to the van Gogh Museum for its part in expressing the messages of his life and art.

And one day, maybe even the disordered driving of white van drivers will inspire in me a sense of awe at their Creator…

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Previous posts I’ve published, relating to van Gogh, include: A Sense of Wonder, Sunflowers, and specifically Take Me To Church.

 

(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is?

Please read my About page. Thanks! Roger N)

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You can save me

 

You can save me

(Photo: nicked off BBC website)

 

You can save me, screamed Hastings Pier, in its brittle, crumbling, burnt-out state

to anyone who would listen.

Now wondrous once more, restored to its original-new identity,

Giving pleasure to many,

space to breathe and to think,

Tonight from my house I hear celebrations as Madness play at the grand re-opening

of our people’s pier.

 

 

You can save me, we scream from deep in our crumbling, burnt-out hearts

To anyone who will listen – to God, if he’s there,

Save us from our (self-inflicted) wounds, bring us back to who we are,

Give us space to breathe and think

and give love to many.

Help us find the way to life, as angels celebrate the grand regeneration

of our true identity.

 

 

You can save me, I call from the silence of my healing, hurting, burning soul

To Abba, who is love and listens,

Save me from myself, from my broken thoughts, as you have always done,

Give me space to breathe and think

and bring your love to many.

Thank you for saving me, then and now, always restoring me

to my true but sometimes hidden identity,

with you in love.

 

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(Photo: mine)

 

But most people are not consciously there yet. They are not ‘saved’ from themselves, which is the only thing we really need to be saved from. They do not yet live out their objective, totally given, and unearned identity, ‘hidden with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3:3)…. For most of us, our own deepest identity is still well hidden from us.”

Richard Rohr, Eager to Love (page 66)

 

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(Photo: mine)

 

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Here’s another reflection on Hastings Pier, entitled Inclusion Zone, that I wrote in 2013.

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(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is?

Please read my About page.

Thanks! Roger N)

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Not poles apart

This morning I was playing with magnets on the kitchen table with my 4-year-old daughter, Hannah. I loved magnets when I was a kid. Turns out, I still do. What is there not to love about magnets?

…unless, of course, you’re a car about to be picked up by one of those huge scrap yard magnets, only to be ripped apart or crushed to bits.

I was showing Hannah how, if you slowly slide a magnet along the table towards a stationary magnet, there comes a point when the stationary magnet suddenly jumps across the gap and latches on to the moving one. Hannah loved it. And each time she did it, it made her jump when the magnet lurched across the table top, making both of us laugh.

It reminded me of how I, and many people I know, are drawn towards the magnetic heart of God. How we can never stray too far from the loving heart of the Father and the (almost) irresistible person of Jesus.

And of how, in that magnetic heart of God, we find answers to our own, broken, human hearts.

As the years go by, I’m less convinced that Christianity or the Bible can necessarily give us all the intellectual answers we need to life and suffering. I was talking to a friend recently who as yet can’t find faith in God, although he would love to, because he can’t understand how an all-powerful God could allow the untold suffering, especially the most extreme forms, that goes on around the world.

I do sympathise with him and, even though I think Christianity can to a certain extent offer some explanation of that question (in fact, I recommended the Alpha course to him, which includes an evening just looking at the question of why God allows suffering), at the same time I’ve become increasingly content with not having all the answers; of living with divine mystery.

I realise that may sound like a cop-out. However, I think it’s borne out of a level of trust in God that’s developed, despite the questions, as a result of a time-tested, experiential faith over so many years now.

While I don’t believe Christianity or theology can necessarily entirely satisfy people’s intellectual questions about life and suffering, I do believe that…

…the person of Jesus – the heart of God ultimately uttered at the cross in self-debasing, sacrificial love – can and does answer the problems of the human heart – the problems of falsehood, hypocrisy, selfishness, brokenness, disconnectedness and fear, for example.

And that maybe the problems are more important than the questions.

That when we’re drawn like that magnet to the heart of God and we experience his compassion, mercy, love, forgiveness, companionship… our intellectual questions become less important and we’re better able to face the uncertainties and trials of this life. And better able to face not only the evil in the world around us, but even the sometimes unbearable darkness of our own hearts.

Maybe we were never intended to face suffering alone; maybe the answer to suffering lies, in part at least, in having the magnetic, empathic companionship of God with us in all our life experiences, transcending our trials.

The magnets also reminded me of that reassuring statement from the New Testament: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Like the magnet, it only takes a small movement from us, to compel the Father’s heart closer to ours.

When we take time to pray, we tend to find that surprising blessings emerge. Sometimes a change of circumstances, sometimes the strength to go on, or a change in our own heart or in someone else’s. And an entwining of our heart with God’s.

Prayer is like any relationship. When we invest time in prayer – even 5 minutes here and there (what matters most is genuineness, rather than how much time we give) – we find the relationship with God enriched, our lives enriched.

Thank God for magnets

and for his magnetic heart,

so that God and we don’t need

to be poles apart.

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(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is? Please read my About page.

Thanks! Roger N)

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Here comes the knight

So, Van the Man is now Van the Knight. Van Morrison was reported as being ‘exhilarated’ and ‘delighted’ at being made a ‘Sir’ at Buckingham Palace this week.

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“For 53 years I’ve been in the business – that’s not bad for a blue-eyed soul singer from east Belfast,” said Van to Prince Charles.

I’m delighted for him, too. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a bit of a fan of the Man: his particular mix of poetry, music and spirituality.

So, as a tribute to Sir Van, here again are my top 5 posts from the last couple of years that made reference to his songs:

5. In Mindfulness: more than fringe benefits I reflected on the blessings of mindfulness, especially when practised in relationship with the eternal One. Of course, a reference to the song When will I ever learn to live in God? had to creep into this post.

 

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4. Answering a tricky question looked at the difficulties I’d encountered in explaining to a friend what I believe about the death of Jesus. The song title And the healing has begun formed part of the answer in terms of what the cross means for me personally.
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3. I wrote And it stoned me about the exhilaration I sometimes feel in the presence of nature, sensing the pleasure of the creative One who crafted the wonders of nature, much like the experience that led Van Morrison to write the song And it stoned me:
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2. A sense of wonder is one of my favourite blog posts, again celebrating not only the wonder of nature, but the sense of divine in the faces of ragged people in our streets. The song A sense of wonder, one of my favourite Van tracks, has been known to reduce me to tears of wonder:
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1. Last but not least is this post, ‘Here comes the Knight’. This play on the words of one of his most famous songs, Here comes the night, performed way back in 1965 with the band Them, was irresistible, as I rejoice with Van and all his fans in his new honour.

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Rave on, Van Morrison, rave on.

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(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is? Please read my About page.

Thanks! Roger N)

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Paperback Writer

The story goes (well, one of many) that Paperback Writer was written after Paul McCartney boasted that he could write a song about anything, and as an example, picked up the nearest object, which happened to be a paperback book. There are other, more reliable, stories about the song, but I like that one best!

Concerning a semi-fictitious author struggling to get his book published, Paperback Writer is one of my favourite Beatles songs. Here’s the first verse:

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book? It took me years to write, will you take a look? It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear, And I need a job, So I want to be a paperback writer, Paperback writer.

Back in my mid-teens I started writing a comedy-fantasy-hippy-random-who-knows-what book of fairly disconnected plots or non-plots, indulging my wild and wanton fantasies. I wrote about 6 pages or so. I showed it to a friend at school, who liked it and asked me if I’d ever read The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as she thought my few pages bore some vague similarities to it. When I said ‘no’, she advised me to avoid reading the Douglas Adams classic, so I wouldn’t get influenced by it and lose the individuality of my book.

But my book was never going to go anywhere. I was far too immature, my life far too messed-up, to see through such a long commitment or to put together anything cohesive.

Even more importantly, it was before the days of laptops. Computers have helped unleash my passion for writing in a way that manuscripts and typewriters could never have achieved. Thank God for computers.

This wasn’t the time for my book to be written.

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The next time I thought about writing a book was in my early 20s, after my exploits in America and the surprising explosion of faith towards Christ that had happened in my life. The book would be a melange of anecdotes, adventures, the story of my conversion and hitch-hiking tips (after all, I had a fair bit of experience, having hitched an estimated 25,000 miles by car, truck, train and even boat)! It was to be called The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to Heaven (I think there may be a theme here). However, I had no real focus for the book, I was still not ready for that sort of long-haul project, and laptops still hadn’t been invented.

(I think I’d heard of word processors by then but I didn’t know what they were and wouldn’t have known what one was if it had hit me in the face.)

I did use the title The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to Heaven, for a short personal testimony tract, which I used to give out prolifically in my former evangelical zeal. Not my style now, but they had their place.

This wasn’t the time for my book to be written, either.

Only a few months prior to that, though, in 1987, I had a dream. Not a vision for racial unity and world harmony, I’m afraid – something far more mundane and me-centred. It was during my travels in the USA, not long before falling into faith. I didn’t often sleep out without a tent at that time, but I’d ended up in this serene orchard on a sultry night in the middle of nowhere. I slept a la belle etoile in perfect peace, protected by fruit trees, buffered by mountainous backdrop.

I can’t even remember which State I was in – not even a clue. But I vividly remember waking up in the orchard with Paperback Writer randomly playing in crystal clear stereo in my head, with a feeling that it was in some way relevant. That somewhere in my subconscious, in my soul, I knew I was destined to write a book.

Now, nearly 30 years later, I have a clear idea of the book I need to write. In fact, not only have I started, I’m a few chapters in. It’s a mainly autobiographical collection of reflections on physical and spiritual homelessness and homecomings. The working title is Everyone Needs a Homecoming. It includes many of the themes referred to above – but not the wild and wanton fantasies, which have been left behind in the wreckage of my old life. Sorry to disappoint anyone who was hoping to hear those.

My literary inspirations include Brennan Manning (Ragamuffin Gospel), Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz – thank you, Nancy A, for introducing me to this book), and Henri Nouwen (The Return of the Prodigal Son).

Now I’m ready for the long haul. I’ve been semi-joking that it will take me 20 years. It might do. Half-hour here, half-hour there, squeezed in between work, family, running and all the other stuff of life.

But I’m hoping…

hoping

hoping

that it’ll be like when a computer programme’s downloading and it says ‘6 hours remaining’, and then 5 minutes later it says ‘3 hours remaining’. Maybe it’ll be like that. An exponential diminishment of time remaining to finish my book. Maybe this time next year, instead of saying ’19 years to go’, I’ll be saying ‘only 5 years to go.’

Now we have computers and laptops, without which I could never organise my thoughts and ideas. And I love my new little Lenovo hybrid laptop/tablet, for which I’m very grateful (feel free to pay me for this ad, Lenovo, or to sponsor my book).

This is the time for my book to be written.

It may be a paperback. Or it may have such narrow appeal that it will simply be available for free, online. Either way, I’m loving writing it, even if I’m not going to be the next Manning, Miller or Nouwen, and pray that the book will in fact be some kind of small blessing or inspiration to at least a few others.

I have a great sense of excitement at fulfilling this part of the destiny God’s given me.

Whether published online or as a physical book, whether it’s read by 3 friends or 3 million strangers (it won’t be), the sentiment / the dream / the song remains the same:

So I want to be a paperback writer, Paperback writer.

And the moral of the story, the point of this post, is:

Hold on to your dreams and visions.

And discern the right time for them to be brought into fulfilment, as they surely will, even if it takes thirty years (or, like Moses, as many as forty).

(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is? Please read my About page. Thanks! Roger N)

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Wars not make one great

Come back in time with me to a period a long time ago (well, 1980) in a galaxy far, far away, in Star Wars V (The Empire Strikes Back)…

yoda1_0The other day, like a zillion other people, my son was working his way through watching the original Star Wars trilogy in preparation for seeing The Force Awakens, when I walked into the room and witnessed the following dialogue:

I’m looking for a great warrior,” says Luke to Yoda.

Ohh, great warrior? Wars not make one great,” gently retorts the little green giant of wisdom, in inimitable Yoda style.

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A few weeks ago the media and especially social media were awash with anti-war sentiments as Parliament debated, voted and agreed on the decision to unleash air strikes in Syria.

Protests followed, mostly peaceful ones, by those genuinely concerned about the impact strikes would have on innocent people, not to mention the disingenuousness of spending millions on war while austerity measures at home are depriving the most vulnerable and driving more and more people to food banks and homelessness.

One of the anti-war campaigners, Helen Pattinson, asked: “How come they can find money to drop bombs on other countries to create refugees… but they can’t find money for health, for education, and for young people to have a decent future?” This sentiment has been a common thread running through public opinion.

There was and is understandable anger at Government policy over these issues. It is absolutely right to be outraged at injustice, at an adamantine Government that seems hell-bent on hurting the vulnerable and making them pay (even with their lives, in some cases) for the greed of bankers and tax-evaders.

There were apparently some who expressed their anger through abusive phone calls and letters to Stella Creasy and other MPs. But these seemed to be the exception rather than the rule.

Mostly, peaceful expressions advocating peace inundated the streets, the internet and conversation.

What surprised me was my own internal response. As I concurred with popular anti-war statements and ‘liked’ memes opposing airstrikes, I became acutely aware that none of this will do much to change the warmongering minds of western Governments or eastern terrorists, and yet I can effect peace where I am.

I found myself more motivated than usual to proffer grace to people I sometimes find difficult; to overcome potential, minor, everyday conflicts with expressions of compassion; to promote peace through words of kindness in my own networks of friends, family and community, in my own limited way. I can start where I am. And I can hope and pray that others may do the same.

An old saying goes something like: I can’t change others; I can change myself; others might change in response to the change they see in me.

And who knows what difference our own interpersonal efforts at peace might make across the globe, in a butterfly-effect kind of way? Genuinely.

Over recent years I’ve been enthralled by Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. I’ve read their biographies, watched films about their lives, and been deeply inspired by their passionate embrace of nonviolent resistance. All of them were themselves inspired by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, whether or not they all embraced Christianity.

Gandhi famously (or infamously) declared: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Jesus (not Christianity) was their teacher and example.

In a similar vein, the first step in my walk towards Christ was a reading of the Sermon on the Mount[1]. There I was quietly minding my own business, taking a look at the Bible for the first time, just out of curiosity, when I was blown away by Jesus’ audacious ideas about forgiving people who hurt us, about loving enemies and praying blessings on them. Looking back, I know something began to shift spiritually deep inside this (then) atheist. I would never be the same.

But how hard it can be to live this out, right? Who can forgive those who commit atrocities against us, our neighbours, or even our loved ones? How can we love enemies?

Well, my answer is: Christ in me.

Christ in you, too?

All I know is that when Christ started to live by his Spirit in me, my whole attitude started to change on the inside.

That same passion that lived in King, Mandela and Gandhi, lives in me. That passion to overturn war with peace; to overcome hatred with love.

It’s one of the reasons I will never insult our politicians, however horrified I am by their policies, however strongly I might speak out about the impact their decisions make on our society.

Christ in me energises me, motivates me, continues to shape my heart. And I find that it’s through wars, rumours of wars, injustices, or more often just my own everyday relational challenges, that he spurs me on to strive in his strength for peace.

War and conflict only serve to make me more determined to pursue the way of peace.

Some of the more ‘religious’ Christmas cards remind us that one of the names given to Jesus by his followers over the years is ‘Prince of Peace’, and he calls his followers to be like him:

Blessed are the peacemakers (yes, that’s right, peacemakers, not cheese-makers, you Python fans) – for they shall be called children of God”, explains Jesus in his ‘Sermon on the Mount’. Wars do not make one great; rather, making and promoting peace reflects the great heart of God.

This Christmas, next year and every year, maybe together, in our own little ways, you and I can help restore peace and justice to the galaxy.

———–

[1] Gospel of Matthew: chapters 5-7: worth a read!

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(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is?

Please read my About page. Thanks! Roger N)

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