‘Morning, sir’
‘Morning, Kev’
‘What’s new, sir?’
‘It’s my wedding anniversary today – 22 years married.’
‘Sir, you can’t call it 22 years married when you’ve kept her in a cupboard for 22 years!’

I love my job as a teacher for all sorts of reasons. Times of hilarity. Times of inspiration. Moments of joy. And sadness. Days where everything goes so smoothly – and even the opposite can be strangely life-affirming. On some days I feel like I know so little and can learn so much. Not just about my subject or teaching or myself. I am privileged to be able to explore the lives of others and spend time reflecting on their impact on human history.

I was in Chichester Cathedral on Friday as part of a school trip. Year 7 students were being shown round by one of the most gifted guides I have ever encountered. She was genius. She also liked children with questions.

She stood us at the font at one point and drew our attention to a piece of art by Hans Feibusch entitled ‘Baptism of Christ’. She gave us the story behind the painting. It is forthright – this was a significant moment for Jesus. Everything became clearer in the waters of the Jordan. Lights were green for Go – not amber for Wait.

Another detail confirms what some of us already know – the Church isn’t that important! Don’t dismiss me yet as a heretic. It’s all in Jesus foot – his right foot almost steps entirely out of the painting.

The stepping out towards deeper waters points to the significance of Jesus adventure – redeeming the whole world. It is God’s world that is the focus not our experience of baptisms or of the intense experiences of our church. It does seem that many Christians make too much of the church. Does it have a future? Is it in terminal decline? Who do we think belongs to it? Who in reality is welcome within it?

When the church ties itself in knots over questions about its identity – when it turns inwards on itself – then it too often forgets the truth that it is merely a means to an end – God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Is the church able to point beyond itself?

It’s simply a paddling pool – a place with ledges for the unsure and the tentative – a place, more crucially, that is open, free and embracing enough to allow anyone to dip a toe in the water, and to risk splashing about a bit.

Anyone ready for a dip?

Illusions are attractive. They draw us in with their mystery and irrationality. Our eyes feel deceived and intrigued at the same time. They eat up our time and give us some semblance of purpose – we must unravel them.

In our cell group we have jumped into an amazing little book by a guy called Henri Nouwen. (I won’t give the title just now.) Nouwen was drawn in by a painting by Rembrandt in St Petersburg. It beguiled him. It spoke to his soul. This was no illusion. This was reality. This was truth.

Nouwen then explored Rembrandt’s life, art and persona. And he came upon this amazing little work entitled ‘Simeon and the Child Jesus’. It is a perspective on a man called Simeon who was holding Jesus as a baby. It is a piece of genius by Rembrandt. He shows someone who has physical sight diminishing, yet spiritual sight intensifying. He is coming to the end of his life, yet so full of life. Rembrandt saw himself in Simeon.

His health was deteriorating. His sight was failing. Yet his spiritual sight was awakening. He was starting to see things a little more clearly. He had spent much of his life chasing the illusions of fame, notoriety and independence. But coming to the end, he began to see reality.

It was, in the words of one of my Year 9 students, ‘a chance to see life’. In our classroom this week we had been discussing whether it was essential to suffer before you understood life. We didn’t come to any final solutions to that one. But what we agreed this – suffering can open our eyes to what really is and shake us out of our ambivalence.

Now Rembrandt saw the truth at the end of his life. And sometimes we can catch glimpses of this as we walk through some suffering. As Jesus said to his people, ‘Blessed are those who see what you see.’ I don’t want to wait until I get to the end of my life to truly see. I want to have my eyes opened now to reality not illusions. I want to see truth not idolatry. I want to see what it’s all about. I want to fix my eyes on Jesus.

The title of the book? ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’ – see if you can find it.

I like teacakes. They are a lightweight snack. They don’t cost much. They are fine with a cup of tea.

But I’ve been duped. I was told by some know-it-all dietician that they are not very fattening. They are good to have when you don’t want to pile on the calories with unhealthy snacks.

I have now discovered the truth – and it isn’t pretty. It was brought to my attention that I should look at the list of ingredients.

At the next visit to the local supermarket on an early Saturday morning I took time to explore the ingredients. It was more like a list of chemicals than anything remotely connected with food. I found to my horror that I had been stuffing myself with a whole load of unnecessary trans fats.

I tried not to think of all the teacakes I had consumed. I tried not to consider the smugness that had enveloped me when having a teacake under the guise of ‘not-so-unhealthy-snack”.

But sometimes the truth hurts. Other times it feels preferable to adopt the Ostrich position in the nearby sand. But truth has a way of releasing us – even if it’s painful.

The phrase ‘the truth will set you free’ has its origins in Jesus teaching. For me to digest this teaching I now recognise that I have to own up to the lies. Then I can be set free by truth.

There is a temptation to ignore this wisdom. But the consequence is usually a bit messy. Hanging on to lies and convincing myself its the truth always leads to a right old tangle.

So from now on I think I’ll pursue a journey of truth even if it exposes lies and causes a bit of embarrassing humility and repentance. I think I would rather be free and found than lost and bound.

 

 

I ventured out on a bike ride from Shoreham to Guilford on the Downs Link recently. Its 40 miles of disused railtrack linking the South Downs to the North Downs. It was also billed as the hottest day of the year – so sunscreen was lavishly spread out across exposed flesh.

Contrary to weather forecast, the ride started off in cloud and I felt a bit foolish with the shades and sunscreen. However 20 miles on, the sun was beating down. It was then I noticed something had changed.

For the first 20 I could manage the path ahead but as soon as the sun came out it became more tricky. Now I cant prove this, and I am open to greater minds on this – but not only was the sunlight brighter but the shade seemed darker too. The contrast made it more difficult for me to navigate.

Leaving aside the possibility of any visual difficulties and/or better scientific explanations for this phenomenon, I think there is some other truth to be explored – namely at the same time as things become brighter, they can also become darker and more difficult to navigate.

When I think about the choices I face as a man who loves Jesus, it can sometimes be difficult to follow Jesus’ way. It can also seem easier to be selfish, passive and apathetic. Switch off. Disengage. Disconnect. Isolate.

Maybe the way forward for me is to stay in the light of what Jesus wants for me rather than pursue the destructive lifestyle of the self-obsessed. Reboot. Hook up. Bond. Attach. Pour in. Ignite. Initiate.

I think I’ll go and chew on the ‘Wise Man and Foolish Man’ story that Jesus told – in Matthew 7 – or dive into the wonders of 1 John 1. Those will keep me on the saddle and in the light – even if its difficult.