Friday, December 28, 2012

Older... and wiser?

That end of a year feeling is prone to nostalgia, or reflection, or just noodling around without quite so much to do as usual.... Which is where I am, after the rush of Christmas I have volunteered this year for 'graveyard shift' of the week after Christmas, which is giving me time to do some catch up, even a bit of tidying, and some thinking and praying.

This morning someone said I was wise.  This is not a boast, but it is something I never expected to hear about myself !  It begs the question "When did I stop being wacky?" I was always, at school, the odd one who didn't drink (really, it wasn't my thing until after I was 18) but was still willing to do daft things.  I was always loud, to a degree that embarrasses me now to think about it, I wasn't afraid to make a fool of myself, I would try singing (though I wasn't great at it), acting (though I wasn't great at it), entertaining (though I wasn't great etc etc).

Those of a psychoanalytical bent will probably be able to detect that there were aspects of wanting to be noticed, of wanting verification and attention and other deeply felt psychoneeds, many of which I have become more aware of addressed over my past thirty years since.  But it was also that I just loved having fun, and entertaining people.  I knew what I was doing, I was a sort of self-conscious, self-aware oddball.

Much of this was tied up with my deeply held, and sometimes conflicted, approach to Christianity.  I had made a very personal commitment to following Christ at the age of eleven, coming from an unchurched background which has been documented elsewhere on this blog.  I had come to faith in a conservative Evangelical church through the wisdom and dedication of a number of people who I still hold in very high regard.  My (mainly internal) conflict grew as I heard teaching which I simply couldn't go along with - and this became worse as I moved Churches to one where I went, to be honest, cos I liked the music!  An overly conservative interpretation of the Bible made me feel uncomfortable, partly because of the guilt that often went with my the very fact that I might disagree (after all the Bible told me it was inspired, and that I should submit to my leaders...) and partly because the 'Theology', particularly in the Church of my later teenage years, often went hand in hand with a right-wing agenda that I didn't, and still can't, subscribe to.

Besides, many very conservative and/or  pseudo-fundamentalist interpretations of scripture fall down under their own reasoning, and all pick and choose the bits of the Bible they want to obey as it suits them, no matter what is claimed!  But I'm not here for that... and please note I am talking about 'very conservative' interpretations, particularly the ones that claim not to be interpretations but direct communications from God of 'the one truth'!  I respect, appreciate and have lots of time for many conservative theologians, pastors and writers and am grateful for the guidance and correction I have and still receive from them and from my own heritage of such understandings.  Those I find myself in disagreement with I would, on the whole, be happy to discuss issues of faith, and listen to, and learn from, and would like to have the same courtesy in return.  Those who I profoundly disagree with are the graceless and condemnatory types, such as coming out of the right wing of the Christian Church in the USA.

But that is a topic for another time.  Or maybe not - I am not going to change the minds of the Neo-Reform movement - and I am not going to regress to that type of belief any more than I will ever be drawn to or convinced by the uber-conservative Anglo-Catholicism within the C of E.  Unless God goes against everything he has been teaching me for the last lifetime and through miraculous revelation causes me to drop every bit of conviction and intelligence I have, of course.

Where was I?  Oh yes.  My larger than life character which I cultivated in my teens was partly due to my deeply held desire to follow Jesus, and to live a life which was joyful and savoured each day.  Though I might have been conflicted about my Church affiliation, I was in no doubt that Christian faith was dynamic, joy giving and life affirming.  It was too important not to take seriously, and taking seriously meant having fun!

So I think I was often seen as wacky.  I was certainly described that way... the kind of person that would do daft things without the need for alcoholic de-inhibitors! Though it should be pointed out that I didn't do anything which would demean myself or others, play practical jokes at another's expense, or do anything obscene or offensive.  Despite these (unstated) ground rules - I think I lived up to an ideal which said that Christians didn't need to be miserable or boring.  I could also hold my own in a theological argument, due to the extensive reading and studying I was doing not just about Christianity but about the many and various philosophies and expressions of faith in the world.

And to me this was, and remains, an important part of my expression of, understanding of, and inhabiting of Christian faith.  That the way of Jesus is a life giving, life affirming, gracious, expansive, enjoyable way - as well as being a challenging, hard edged, loving, powerful way.  I don't build faith to suit my own way of thinking or doing, if so then I would be living a significantly easier and less dedicated life.  I still take my grounding from the Bible and to that I add the stories of faith from Christians through the ages, the traditions and rituals and patterns of the life of the Church (particularly but not exclusively the Anglican Church), the need for reason and understanding, the experiences of God in prayer, worship, sacrament and contemplation and last (but not least) in engagement with the world.

As I have got older I have sought to keep something of my individuality - but less at the expense of my dignity, however.  The funny thing is, those parts of me which I consider to be completely 'normal' (as far as anyone could be so) are often those things which some consider mark me out as still a bit of an oddball... The Biking, the love of guitar based (yes, often heavy metal) music, the love of movies and trivia, the love of drama and comedy, a willingness to join in with most things even if it's not cool (and especially if it;s funny), the willingness to sit and talk to strangers, the visits to the pub, a couple of tattoos and having friends in the tattoo and biker world.... None of them particularly outrageous or radical, but I guess not necessarily conforming to what a stereotypical Vicar/Padre/Minister is considered to be or to do.

I still read Theological books, and read quite widely, I still love to pray and worship.  I love to read and study Scripture, and the Bible remains the ground of my faith - but I hope I am cultivating an intelligent and thoughtful way to interpret and apply the Bible to my own, and encourage others to apply to their, daily walk of faith.  I spend more time in quiet than I used to, and I love being with my wife and family.  I've gathered a few qualifications on the way, and an awful lot of experience.

But 'wise', me? I consider that a huge compliment, and wisdom is something I would hope that God would/could/will/does bless me with.  It is quite moving, though, to have that acknowledged and affirmed and (in my less secure moments) not something I thought I would ever be accused of.  I will continue to work at it though, with God's help...

Not sure I'd ever thought I would end up quite like this though, cue the Del Amitri song :-) Justin Currie, with his usual pathos and heartbreak, gives food for thought, and though the track is essentially quite sad, there is a good question to ask in the middle....
"So look into the mirror; do you recognise someone? Is it who you always hoped you would become When you were young? "
Think I might be getting there...

And a thank you to Rob Griggs-Taylor, biker, friend and encourager!  @robgt2 on Twitter who got this whole post started....


Anonymous said...

Wisdom, I happen to believe, can only come with age because only with age can you have experience. Experience is that which nurtures wisdom. IMHO.
I read a story in a business rag about younger vs. older employees, a subject I find myself becoming more and more interested in of late for some odd reason. [sic] The article attempted to show the difference between “talent” and “hard work”. Can people succeed on talent or do they need to work hard. Can people without certain talents work hard and succeed? The general consensus in the piece was that “talent” does not really exist, but rather it is the expression of hard work in all cases that becomes perceived as talent, most people never see the hard work part of the deal.
The example I really liked regarding wisdom, true story so they say:
A fire brigade was called to house fire. The young firemen rushed into the house to find a stove burning in the kitchen. Using the extinguishers and water they were having a difficult time getting the fire to go out, it would go down, smolder for a bit, and come right back. The guys radioed for the commander, a 20 year veteran of fire fighting to come in and take a look. The commander entered the house, went to the kitchen, looked around and issued and evacuation order, as in EVERYBODY OUT NOW!!!.
As the firemen were gathered in the front lawn the commander explained that “something isn’t right” but he couldn’t put his finger on it. As they were discussing going back in the house collapsed in flames. Turns out the fire was in the basement of the structure where it was burning out of control. The stove fire was where the flames were coming up through the vents which is why they couldn’t put it out.
In an interview the commander was asked how he knew, and he couldn’t answer, just a feeling I had…
More research by sociologists attempted to break it down, they were writing a piece about wisdom and experience. Here’s what they come up with. On entering the building the commander subconsciously noticed the following:
The building was too warm for a kitchen fire. Fire was in the basement.
There wasn’t enough smoke.Smoke was venting through the window.
The fire wasn’t going out in the stove.

What the commander had was wisdom brought by experience.
And BTW Vicar, I consider you to be pretty wise. I love a theologian who seeks knowledge instead of repeating dogma. And the longer you do, wiser you’ll be.

Alastair McCollum said...

Loved that thought, thank you Sank!