'What I do is me: for that I came.' G M Hopkins

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Attitude and Apostrophes

I have an unhealthy fascination with signs. I always want to photograph the more amusing ones and especially those with faulty punctuation. I have been known to lick my finger and correct signs scribbled on blackboards outside shops, restaurants or market stalls.

Opposite the hospital in Dundonald, Belfast there is a large hoarding advertising a chip shop. In foot high neon letters of yellow and blue it declares that the Golden Chip promises ‘Frying at it’s best’. Already on my computer screen the little green line has appeared under the errant apostrophe. Why would someone not check this before commissioning the sign maker?

I used this in an English lesson once and my class challenged me to go in and tell them that there was a mistake on their advertising sign. I did, and was sorry. The young girl behind the counter looked as if she didn’t care about punctuation – she didn’t. To make matters worse, she had the same logo with the same mistake emblazoned on her tee-shirt. I asked her whether anyone had ever mentioned the mistake on the sign to her and she looked at me blankly. Bravely I persisted and carefully explained that the word ‘its’ only has an apostrophe when it means ‘it is’. Again, nothing. I had started so I had to finish. With less and less conviction I muttered that I knew it wasn’t her fault and that whoever had ordered the sign in the first place was to blame. By this time she was looking at me as if I was speaking in Swahili. I might as well have been. Grammar is another language which, like Maths, pupils nowadays are convinced they will never need. Yet what right had I to make her feel bad? I was finally silenced by her icy, unforgiving stare and I mumbled sheepishly, ‘Fish supper, please’. She spoke only once: ‘Salt and vinegar with them chips, love?’

I am sorry to say that I have not learnt my lesson. I attended a church conference recently where the arty and creative had the opportunity to present their efforts in the foyer. In the corner a string quartet was playing softly. One lady had displayed a vast array of vegetables in symmetrical formation, like a child’s nature table at harvest time. Upstairs the same lady had constructed what looked like a wedding cake entirely from fresh flowers. Someone else was making pink smoothies and serving them in miniature communion glasses!

A man who works in the music industry had lovingly traced the history of musical influences through the years and his title was emblazoned across the top and repeated several times below: ‘The evolution of contemporary music and it’s impact on Western thought and culture.’ Oh dear! There it was again – that intrusive apostrophe. Did I walk away, commending my friend for his effort, dedication and commitment to inform and educate? No, I didn’t. I stepped forward and gently and arrogantly covered the apostrophe with my thumb. He saw. I’ll know that there is a God who can change my wretched human heart when I resist the urge to fix things and people.

Today on a notice board outside a church I read: ‘Have you got an attitude? Try a beatitude!’ How about: 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they know when to shut up'?
Speaking of being quiet, here’s a photo my husband took in the little boys’ room in a US church. Only in America!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Approaching God (a review)

How does one do that? Approach God, that is. There are as many ways to worship as there are gods. You can take your pick: in silent contemplation, swinging a censor, on your knees, with hands in the air, singing, chanting, speaking in tongues, wearing a hat or fancy dress. When I was a little girl it was ‘every head bowed and every eye closed’. Reverence and awe for a distant deity.

I first met Lisa Borden when singer and prophetic poet, Brian Houston, asked us to host friends and fans of his – American missionaries, no less. Lisa and Byron were delightful company – we had Africa in common and they inspired me with their passion and zest for life. We saw them again when they were living in Portugal, preparing to return to their beloved East Africa. We were on holiday and the two families met up for food, wine and lots of thought-provoking conversation. The Bordens are blessed people who are heaven-bent on blessing others.

I follow Lisa’s blog: Let’s put the kettle on, with a photo of cooking African-style over an open fire with the kettle, and the tea, blackened by the smoke. That’s how Lisa does God too – out in the open, chatting beside the fire, her hands cupped round a hot mug.

Hers is not just any god. He is Jehovah Jesus - the Creator of the universe who delivered himself to us wrapped in swaddling clothes as an ‘act of pursuit’. The thing that pervades every phrase of her book Approaching God is that Lisa believes. She expects that when she goes to meet God he is actually there and listening – that he knows her name and her needs. Her God doesn’t insist that she dress up and sit up.

Lisa considers the attributes of her God: He is Father who protects and provides and he is a Guide who wakens her in the middle of the night or at dawn to whisper words of wisdom and direction. He is a Healer who invites her to be vulnerable in his presence and with other people, so that she can share the load of life’s stresses and lay bare her wounds, physical and emotional to the balm of divine healing.

More surprisingly, God is an Artist who has given colour to the world as well as texture, shape and design. She says that, ‘Creation speaks of her Creator’ - a God who is ‘seriously into art’ and whose creativity flows into and through his created beings to make a difference. I’ve always believed that part of the purpose of flowers is to demonstrate God’s bright yellowness or delicate pinkness, or his velvety texture and his exquisite scent. It’s all about God screaming his beauty and awakening our soul to sing.

Screaming and singing are all very well, but what about the silence? God’s there too, apparently. He’s in that moment when we are still and satisfied, like a weaned child. Lisa knows God as Mother, as well as Father – a life-giving source who nourishes and sustains. Neither Lisa nor William Paul Young invented the idea of God as a big black mama – it was actually Jesus who first compared his parent to a mother hen gathering her chicks. Mother God settles us on her lap – a safe and comforting place from which to view the world and its harsh challenges.

Approaching God is for anyone who is tired of religion and meaningless ritual. Don’t give up till you’ve read this gentle and personal aid to meditation. Lisa’s honesty is refreshingly real and she encourages rather than cajoles us into a revision of who God is and how he connects with his perfectly formed but flawed creation. Apart from anything else this book is physically beautiful, like its author, and peppered with fabulous photos. At the end of each chapter, the reader is invited to pause and reflect, to take time to grasp and embrace the full extent of God’s ‘outrageous promises’.

Perhaps our God has been consigned to the pages of a dusty Bible or to some minster’s mouldy interior. If so, this book suggests a new place to begin – with God as a Friend to be enjoyed – one who is always there, never judges and loves unconditionally.

I, for one, long for a friend like that so I now know what to do – slow down, sit down, open up and, without fear, approach.

We don’t need religion, but we could use the love of God. Brian Houston