Weblog

In this blog, I shall attempt to record my thoughts and feelings as I go through life.  Don't expect too much logic, great wisdom, or theological perfection.  I am liable to ramble over all sorts of topics, some overtly Christian, others rather less so.  See it as a stream of consciousness.  I hope and pray that you get something out of it.

Pearls of Great Price

This week is turning out to be a bit of an ‘emotional rollercoaster’. Since my heart operation, and whilst getting used to my 'new normal’ afterwards, I found myself with time and energy to spare, so I got involved in our church’s ministry to students - basically trying to support them whilst they’re in Lancaster and give them a church ‘family’ and a ‘home-from-home’. It has been great fun - they’re a terrific bunch - full of passion, love, humour, wisdom, enthusiasm... You name it, they’ve got it in spades - but more than anything, love. We’re supposed to be ‘ministering’ to them, but honestly, they’ve given far more to me than I have to them.

Last night was one of our final activities of the year - a meal and some time spent studying the bible and praying together. Appropriately enough, we were studying John’s second and third letters, which are at least partly about hospitality and welcoming visitors. It all got a bit emotional towards the end. Some we won’t see again until October, but some are finishing their time in Lancaster, and are leaving us for the last time. I don’t deal very well with partings, even when they aren’t ‘permanent’, and I was rendered pretty much speechless. We have one final ‘event’ - or series of events - on Sunday - some (I hope most) will join us at the church picnic; we’re all going to a restaurant for a meal; then finishing up at the 7:00pm service at St Tees.

The Cross

This thought is ‘unfinished’ - I’m sure I ought to have more to say, but inspiration seems to be eluding me. And it’s Good Friday, which seems like the most apposite moment on which to post this - so let’s go with what we have!

Seeing a picture from inside the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, after the fire, in which almost the only undamaged thing appeared to be the cross on the altar, I began to think about the cross and what it means.

I have written about crucifixion before, but I make no apology for writing again - it is, after all, central to the Christian faith - without that, none of the rest makes any sense. And yet, the cross itself, and what it symbolises, doesn’t make logical sense. This is what Jesus’ disciples wrestled with before (or immediately after) his death - they couldn’t grasp that being crucified was a ‘win’ - to them, expecting a revolutionary liberator in the Che Guevara mould, Jesus’ execution looked like abject defeat.

We see crosses everywhere. People wear them; they’re on the tops of church spires; in our churches; in market squares; all over the place. And we have become inured to their symbolism. They don’t actually mean very much to us, because they are so familiar.

The True Vine

I couldn’t face ‘Vision Sunday’ at church this morning, so I took myself off for a cold and blustery walk - and a pray.

And while I was walking and praying, a couple of thoughts came into alignment, and they seemed encouraging, so I thought I would share them here.

The first thought... In John’s Gospel, Jesus shares an illustration of what it is to be one of his followers, using a grapevine as the illustration:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. John 15: 1 (it’s probably worth all the way to verse 17 to get the full picture)

In short, it’s all about being firmly connected to God in Christ, and staying that way. It can feel like quite a challenge at times, especially when so much of life’s ‘stuff’ seems to come crowding in like weeds, threatening to choke off the connection and block out the light.

The second thought... Recently I watched a short series of programmes on TV about the history and culture of the island of Sicily in the Mediterranean, written and presented by Michael Scott. They were an enjoyable, colourful, interesting, wander through the island, which gave something of a flavour of the place and people. He started with the earliest times, and meandered through to the present day. Towards the end of the last programme, he visited a vineyard on the slopes of Mount Etna (Europe’s largest active volcano). Twenty-five or thirty years ago, it had been in the path of an eruption, and a huge lava flow had ‘swallowed up’ part of the vineyard. And yes, there at the end of the pathway between the vines was an enormous, rough, black, solidly menacing, wall of rock - which had clearly burnt and squashed everything in its path...

God Doesn't Hate Me!

This is, perhaps, the Part Three referred to earlier. I have been trying to write a post like this, on and off, for months. I’ve had so many goes, but until now none of them have satisfied me to the point where I've thought ‘This is almost publishable - I can work with this.’ They have all been frustratingly incomplete and at the same time ‘unfinishable'.

What I’ve learnt - in my heart rather than (or as well as?) in my head - is both complicated and very, very simple. Theologically, it’s complicated. I’ve read, I don’t know, more than twenty theology books recently. And that has allowed me to reach a fairly nuanced position - I know what I believe…

Umm. No, perhaps that’s not quite right. 

Part of this process has been about decoupling my thoughts about God from my faith in God. The two need not be the same. The first is complicated; the second is simple. Looking back over recent months, I’ve been trying, mostly, to write about the first in order to explain the second. But I can’t. Well, to be honest, I probably could, but I’d have to write a book rather than a couple of blog posts. And it wouldn’t be a very good book - there are much better books, written by much wiser heads than mine, on that subject. What I think I can write about, meaningfully and (hopefully) helpfully, is my experience - my faith in God. So that’s what, for this attempt at this post, I am going to do. And I am going to endeavour not to write about the theology - because I’m not very good at it, and it’ll make the whole thing far too lengthy - and probably incomprehensible. I might, at some point, try to explain some of those ideas - but not now. For now, really, I have just one thing to say.

2018

In my last post, I promised a third part. This is not that third part - I’m still working on that. This is ‘merely’ my review of 2018. For some reason I’m writing it on my birthday. I’m not sure why that is - except that it seems apt at this point to take a hard, contemplative, look back at my year. It’s been a year of incredible contrasts - highs and lows, illness and wellness, from times of feeling as if God had abandoned me to times of feeling as though I was dwelling ‘within’ the Holy Trinity and partaking in the ‘Divine Dance’.

In some ways this year has been defined (not to mention limited) by the physical. I began the year suffering from two cardiac arrhythmias - atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter. Nine months were spent struggling against them, desperately trying to ‘keep going’, whilst waiting, impatiently, for a treatment which would ‘work’ and being desperately disappointed by those which didn't. The last three months have been spent recovering from the ‘procedure’ to ‘fix’ them. The procedure - a pair of cardiac ablations performed at the end of September - appear to have worked spectacularly well, given how well I am now. In typical fashion though, I am waiting - again - this time for the results of a 24 hour cardiac monitor which should, I hope, prove that it’s worked. And then, hopefully, I can stop taking the medication and really put it all behind me. In the meantime though, I do feel as though, to use a common euphemism, ‘I have got my life back’.

A New Reality

This is a sort of ‘follow-on’ from yesterday’s post - it’ll probably make more sense to read that first. 

As you may have gathered from some of my earlier posts, God’s people are very important to me. They’re important to God too. It’s through His people, the church, that God is manifest in the world. He chooses to partner with people in almost all He does; and in one sense He’s only as good as those who are willing to work with Him. I am truly blessed in having a bunch of amazing saints around me, who have ‘represented’ Him in a tangible way during my recent troubles. Those who’ve listened to my rants; soaked up my anger and frustration; helped out practically; mopped up tears; hugged me when I felt abandoned and bereft; prayed; shared testimony of their experiences; and so on.

And, amazingly, there have been times when God has stepped into my mess and confusion and acted personally. For instance I am one of the privileged few to have had probably not just one (which would be startling enough), but two visits from angels. The first I described in an earlier post; the second happened just before the ablation procedure, in the Catheter Lab...

Ablation

I’ve been trying, for a couple of weeks, to write a post about my cardiac ablation and what’s come afterwards. Somehow, it’s felt really difficult. I’ve had lots of tries; some short, some yawningly long. None have quite said what I want to say in the way I want to say it. Here goes for attempt No. 83a (well, perhaps I exaggerate a little)…

I’d known for many years that something about my heart just wasn’t quite right; it would sometimes do little runs of fast, and irregular, beats. But it happened so rarely that all attempts to capture it with ECG, Holter monitor, or whatever had failed utterly - virtually all of the time it was pretty much perfect, like one of those children who look as though butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, but whom you know just can’t be that good really! And most of the time it did behave perfectly - through all the swimming and other ‘abuse’ as well.

It seems odd to me that, when it did begin to be a bit more persistent about exhibiting symptoms, finding out was so profoundly disturbing, and upsetting. Cutting a long story short, a year of ‘episodes’ of AF was followed, in December last year, by a change in its behaviour (which might have been induced by trying out some different medication - the jury’s out on that one), so that it began to exhibit the symptoms of persistent atrial flutter as well. So instead of being a little bit unwell occasionally, I was quite poorly all the time. And mightily hacked off by it I was too.

A Run of Crazy Dreams

Despite all the turmoil in my life at the moment, I seem to be having some precious times with God. Dreaming dreams and seeing visions...

And afterward,
   I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
   your old men will dream dreams,
   your young men will see visions.
Joel 2:28 (and Acts 2:17)

As I’ve had both dreams and visions in the past week, that scripture makes me wonder whether I am in fact like a sort of Schrödinger’s man - both young and old at the same time!

My vision is of fields of long green grass, waving gently in the breeze; blue skies dotted with puffy clouds; banks of fragrant wild flowers; lofty trees providing shade alongside lazy rivers; sheep baaing and bees buzzing.

I’ve had this same vision of bucolic loveliness in my head for about as long as I’ve been a Christian; it’s a place where my mind goes to find rest away from the cares of the world, and to meet with God. In my mind, it’s closely linked with the early verses of Psalm 23:

A Transport of Delight?

As I promised, a ‘proper’ posting. And first of all, a health warning - what I am about to say may seem like, to quote George W Bush (allegedly, commenting on Donald Trump’s inauguration) ‘some weird shit’.

On Friday, finally, after more than six months of waiting, I received the telephone call I have been expecting for so long - a date for surgery to ‘fix’ my main health problem (a couple of cardiac arrhythmias) - next Tuesday (25th September), with a prior consultation on 18th September. My mental state is still a little fragile, and the suddenness of the news threw me out of the eye of the storm and back into the howling gale. The weekend wasn’t all that great, shall we say - though the church services were good!

Anyway, on Monday night, whilst I was going to sleep, but before I was really asleep, I found myself ‘elsewhere'. Suddenly I was transported in my mind to somewhere warm and semi dark, which smelt faintly sweet - like cedar wood (the smell you get when you sharpen a pencil) or cinnamon, or both - but apart from that, and that my forearms were leaning on a polished wooden surface, I know nothing about ‘where’ or ‘what’ the place was - and it really didn’t matter. Resting there, I suddenly became aware of a female figure ‘snuggling’ really close to my left-hand side, face hidden by a ‘mop’ of long, curly, brown hair, so I couldn't see her clearly. Whispered words, which I can’t remember exactly now, but the gist was a very comforting ‘We’ve got this; we’re in control; we’re looking after you and we’re going to keep you safe.’ And then I was fully awake again, and back in my own bed. 

Excuses, excuses!

I have ‘neglected’ this blog for a long time. Actually, that’s not strictly true; the truth is that I have worried a lot about not posting to it; but honestly felt unable to post anything, for a variety of reasons.

First and foremost, I have been (and still am) ill, and have only limited energy and very limited powers of concentration and memory, almost all of which have had to be reserved for more basic, less ‘frivolous’, things than revealing yet more of my thoughts and feelings to the world. 

Nevertheless, I have done a lot of thinking; some of it quite deep. It hasn’t all made sense, and of what made sense, I have often not been well enough to remember it, let alone write about it. And those things I have remembered, I have found that I didn’t want to share with the world - they were either too difficult, or I wasn’t sure I understood them well enough, or they were just too personal or painful. More recently though, my thoughts have begun to ‘gel’, to solidify, and to make sense...

How Are You?

How are you?

On the face of it, the question seems fairly innocuous - harmless even. But it can, and does, carry a lot of potential - potential for hurt as well as for connection.

Are you one of those people who always, automatically answers ‘How are you?’ with the standard, glib, phrase: ‘Fine thanks’?

I was one of those for a long time. But really, it’s almost completely meaningless - both the question and the answer carry about as much ‘weight’ as saying ‘Good morning!’ It’s just words; perhaps it breaks the ice; or perhaps, in some circumstances, it serves to strengthen the barriers between us, and to emphasise afresh the lack of understanding, of empathy, in many human contacts.

‘Fine, thanks’ in response to the enquiry can be an honest appraisal of one’s situation; it can also be (and often is) a blatant untruth, an outright lie. It can be a cover for ‘I really don’t want to tell you’ or ‘I don’t want to put you off.’

I stopped answering ‘I’m fine’ quite deliberately. I can’t remember now whether it was during a phase of life when I really was fine, but wanted to express it in a way that didn’t just sound like the stock, glib, unmeaning, phrase which conveys precisely nothing because it’s such a cliché, or whether it was during a phase when I was going through a tough time and was desperate for ‘connection’. I suspect the former, for reasons which may become clear further on in these musings.

Resurrection!

A random thought about the resurrection. Appropriate, since today is Easter Sunday, when we celebrate the resurrection.

I’m a physicist. As such, I’m used to the world functioning according to a set of established laws. We may not know all of them, but the world is, by and large, predictable. Things happen, and they obey the laws of physics, and I and other physicists are content - except about things which we haven’t explained yet, or devised laws which enable us to predict what’ll happen next time that thing, or something similar, happens.

There are exceptions to the laws which govern the way the world works. Arguably, one such notable exception is the resurrection of Jesus. People have tried to dismiss the resurrection as a figment of people’s imagination, and have tried to come up with all sorts of explanations as to why it couldn’t have happened. Actually, once you really dig into the arguments, and the evidence, it’s pretty hard to dispute that it happened. I’m not going to do that digging, here and now. Maybe another time. For now, please just accept (even if you find it personally difficult) that Jesus died, and that on the third day (the crucifixion happened on the first day - no mathematical concept of zero back then) he was resurrected… In that something very strange happened - his dead body came back to life, with ‘him’ ‘inhabiting’ it… Although His resurrected self was (or is?) strange in some of the ways in which it ‘interacts with' the world - He seems to be able to do things which don’t seem to us to be ‘normal’ - like passing through locked doors.

Am I my Brother’s Keeper?

I’ve been neglecting this blog for a while - all this year in fact. Life has been a bit tough - which I might tell you about at some stage. But also, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and praying, and the stuff I was thinking and praying isn’t easy to write about in the relatively short format of a blog post. Maybe, sometime, when I’ve 'got my ducks in a row’, I’ll tell you about it in a series of posts.

Anyway, here’s a recent, simple, thought…

Starting with the story of Cain and Abel in the early part of the book of Genesis.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know, ” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Genesis 4:9

We won’t go into the detail of why Cain murdered Abel, but afterwards Cain tried to cover up his sin by claiming ignorance of Abel’s whereabouts. Of course Cain knew exactly where Abel’s body was. But when God approached Cain and asked where his brother was, Cain responded with this outright lie: “I don’t know.” He then compounded this by being sarcastic with God: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

2017

Here is my now traditional ‘annual review’. 

This has been a year of contrasts. Physically, I have struggled a bit with ill-health. Largely with atrial fibrillation, latterly with atrial flutter. But it has to be said that it hasn’t slowed me down much. And the physical problems pale into utter insignificance alongside ‘The Good Stuff’ (™).

Where to start on ‘The Good Stuff’ (™)? 

Difficult! 

2016 was such a good year, it was hard to believe that another year could be even half as good. But 2017, though less ‘spectacular’ than 2016, has been even better in some ways.

I’m going to begin near the end, for reasons which make sense to me (but may not to you!). Towards the end of the year, I began to realise why I have always been so pessimistic about the future. The explanation was very simple and, now that I know what it is, I know that I simply have to let God ‘in’ to some more of the story of my early life. Having begun to do that, it’s getting easier to deal with; the pessimism is losing its grip on my thoughts. Sorry - I’m not ready, yet, to divulge the full story. One day, perhaps, once the ‘cure’ is complete.

Crucifixion (with hints of Resurrection)

I often threaten to post ‘works in progress’, and yet rarely do so. This isn’t exactly a ‘work in progress’, but it isn’t particularly logical. It’s all stuff I’ve been wanting to say, and it’s all sort of related to the same theme, but it doesn’t really lay out a logical argument. Here goes anyway, make of it what you will...

I think a lot of us, me included, often have a wrong-headed view of God's love. It's very easy to have a guilty conscience and to expect God to be vengeful and angry. What we have to do though, is to recognise that the game changed out of all recognition when Jesus died on the cross.

Take a moment to think about the crucifixion.

Think about the people you know and love. Which of them would you, when push came to shove, actually be prepared to die for - if any? And yet that is specifically what Jesus came to earth and became a human to do. It was a deliberate, pre-meditated, act. The personal cost was enormous - consider His mental wrestling match in the Garden of Gethsemane.

#MeToo

This post started out a week or so ago entitled “What’s wrong with men and masculinity?”, and was shaping up to be a sort of ‘whistle stop tour’ of what I think is going wrong with men at the moment - the widespread mental health issues and the related issue of being ‘macho’ or not appearing weak; how I don’t really understand how men relate to each other and, lastly, the issue of inappropriate behaviour towards women. But then the whole Harvey Weinstein and associated #MeToo thing broke cover. And I was, frankly, appalled. Appalled that men could behave so insensitively, so badly… And, seemingly, very often without even realising that they were causing anxiety or fear amongst women. I may return to the wider issues in a later post, but for now let’s stick with sexual assault and inappropriate behaviour towards women.

First of all, I’d like to issue a blanket apology to all my female friends and acquaintances. If I’ve ever acted in a way which seemed inappropriate (even a hug which went on a second too long) or frightening to you; or if I’ve ever said anything which made you feel threatened or which was inappropriate, I am truly, deeply, sorry. And if you want to take that up with me, face-to-face, I promise that I will (a) listen humbly and respectfully and (b) make amends if I can.

World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day. I’m not a health professional; nor have I ever been diagnosed with any recognised mental health condition. But, like most folk who’ve survived fifty-odd years on this planet, I’ve been through some tough times. Life is good, now, but it hasn’t always been that way; I’ve had my share of tough times. Toughest amongst those was losing a child… And a lot of what’s written here is based on that particular experience of grief.

I thought that I’d chat a little, in my non-expert way, about what has helped me in tough times. And what didn’t help!

I think that, top of the list for me, are dependable friends. Folk who will just be there. Tough times can be incredibly lonely. Firstly, you’re trying to cope with the most awful, gut-wrenching feelings of grief, or other pain - it can feel as though you’re totally alone. And there are a lot of people, even close friends, who really don’t know what to say, or to do; so they say, or do, nothing - they simply disappear. And then you feel even more isolated. The sense of isolation can be almost as painful as the grief itself. Avoiding hurting friends only serves your needs.

Cycles of Life

I went for a walk this morning, and came across this ploughed field, which made me think about the Christian life.

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Jesus was born, grew up, was executed, died and was buried. On the third day He rose again to new life. Christians believe that he is the ‘first fruits’:

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 1 Corinthians 15: 20-23

That’s what this ploughed field reminded me of - whatever was growing there before has died and been buried. In the spring new life will come, in the form of a new crop.

When we become Christians, and are baptised we are, symbolically, ‘slain’ in the waters of baptism and ‘resurrected’ when we arise out of the water. And that, supposedly, is that - we go on into our life in the Kingdom of God:

Intimacy, mystery and pain

I have been praying for friends whose Christian journeys are particularly tough right now. And I am reminded again of the mystery and intimacy of God, and the strangeness of the Christian journey.

In the early days of Christianity, its adherents were known as 'Followers of the Way', and that is (or ought to be) our experience - that we are on a journey. We're not entirely sure where we're going - indeed, I'm not sure that the destination is important - the journey is the important part.

Christianity has to be lived; the journey has to be undertaken to comprehend what it's about. Without setting your feet upon the way, you cannot truly begin to understand it. Seeing it from the outside is not to experience it; you can only do that by setting foot on the road.

As I journey along this road - sometimes steep, rocky and perilous; at other times flat, smooth and safe - I become more aware of God's constant presence alongside me.

I have also gradually become more aware of His 'otherness' - how utterly sublime and incomprehensible He is... But if I could understand Him, He would not be God - He would be a construct, an idol of my own making. He is mystery. He is too 'other' to comprehend.

Rejoicing Again

I’ve found it really hard to write this post - it’s been ‘gestating’ for days, but I just couldn’t figure out how to say what I wanted to say - or how much to say. Some of what’s happened lately has been quite emotional. That doesn’t usually stop me, as long-term followers of this blog know only too well, but this time it’s very personal and precious, and I wasn’t sure how much of it, if any, I was prepared to share with the wider world.

A couple of weeks ago, we went on holiday to Scotland. We rented a little cottage near to Pitlochry, and spent a very relaxing week. One thing I was looking forward to was the possibility of meeting up with Izzy, who doesn't live too far away.

My mobile phone rang at 7:30am on Thursday morning, waking me up. 

Izzy!! 

She was full of apologies for waking me, but hey - after 33 years, I wouldn't have cared if she'd rung at 3:00am! It was lovely to talk to her. The long and short of the conversation was whether would we like to extend our holiday by one night, and stay at her house?


Copyright © Phil Hendry, 2016