Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Holy Truth Evasion

It's a commonly-enough noted thing - that when you're asked how you are at Church, the correct answer is "I'm fine." Obviously, it's a default response at the best of times in the secular world. And these days it can be supplanted by the odd-sounding "I'm good." But when you're at Church, it needs to be accompanied by that slight shiny-ness of the eyes that reveals the glowing joy that clearly lies within.

To be fair, Murtle took it too far on Sunday. Doing that tap-dance on the Worship Focus Table, to prove that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, she had been healed of her broken leg. She's made an awful mess of that plaster cast in the process, and broken any number of glass tea light holders.

But Murtle was only displaying the extreme, physical manifestation of this problem. Whether it's because we feel that to be sad, or sick, or lonely is a symptom of weakness - or it shows a lack of faith in our God's ability to heal - or just a lack of that faith that means we're happy all the day, and that we're never going to have a care as long as we trust and obey. Because if we believe that - really believe that - then surely when we don't live up to it, it must be our fault?

So we are shiny, happy, newly-minted people. Even when we are claiming, yet again, to be healed of our stress, or wiping away the tears from the bust-up in the car on the way to Church and proving what a happy family we are.

I mean, obviously I'm not suggesting we should all come sobbing and wailing into the Moot House like a bunch of emotional incontinents the whole time - we are British, after all. And Princess Diana didn't change everything. And we don't all aspire to win the X-factor.

But if we are to see what we do as, in a spiritual, emotional and even occasionally physical sense, healing - then shouldn't we see that as an ongoing process, where new wounds can also be healed, and the possibility that we're not completely happy can be contemplated. Not least because, if we accept that up front, it doesn't become such a great shock when somebody does break and decides to announce that, in fact, everything is currently hellish.

Which brings me to the other way in which we occasionally like to kid ourselves. Now in many ways I blame myself here. It was me who thought that, whenever someone gave a testimony, it would be fun to have a jury to decide how uplifting the testimony was. And to give prizes each year to the best we've heard in the last twelve months.

But whether it's just a natural tendency to exaggerate, or whether I have indeed upped the odds, we're hearing some startling stories. Because if it's important to say how great life is in the oh-so-save "now", we really have to pump up how bad things were in the past.

Take Burton's testimony the other week, for example. The fact that he was once tempted, to save space on a set of accounts, to knock the pence column off the stock valuation of a jewelery shop is not, to my mind, a great sin. His description of the week of sleepness nights, the anxious fears for his soul, the great weight he carried - until St Matthew appeared to him in a vision and told him all his debits had been turned to credits - verged on the melodramatic, for me.

And then Roddnie's account. I knew him in the 90s. He lived quietly in a house in Hillyfields in Dunstable. The assertion that he lived a rock 'n' roll lifestyle, out till the early hours of every morning and sometimes losing whole fortnights at a time, is refuted by the way he won "Prize Pumpkin" in the Caddington Open Gardening Festival three times running. You can't live a life of debauchery and grow prize-winning pumpkins. You have to choose one or the other.

And I was with Lubert in the Moot Houuse at the time when he "saw the light" at that Festival of Flowers we held. I can tell you that he was not "prostrate before the Lord for three hours" during the service. He had a cup of tea at the end, and told me he had a few things to think about. Which I thought was nice. But the sudden jump to his 3D, Technicolour, Surround-sound salvation was quite startling when I heard it.

So these are all for the best possible reasons. But maybe we just need to stay a bit grounded.
The fact is, what God does for us is extraordinary in itself. The depths are quite low enough, and the heights are quite high enough, and the journey between is twisty, often quite gradual, and sometimes even apparently in the wrong direction. Let's accept each other's help to limp and stumble along it - and not pretend we can fly. After all, you can't all have gone from juggling wine bottles in a Filipino bar to raise the money to pay for a chorizo addiction, to the knowledge of having undergone sanctification and being completely saved, like I have. But then we can't all be Archdruids, can we?


  1. I'm reminded of Augustine's terrible teenage sin of.....scrumping pears!

    I once had a minister who at the door would ask,
    "How is it with your soul?" and expect an answer.
    I'm English for goodness sakes, a quick handshake and a 'Nice service vicar' is quite sufficient.

  2. Think we all know what we really mean when we say "I'm fine" (****** **, insecure, neurotic and emotional.) Well, I often do anyway! And as for "good" - my hairdresser recently asked me "have you been good?" I thought I'd stumbled into Santa's grotto.

    A very good point, though!


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