Recently I was in a bad way emotionally. I've had a belly-full of being unemployed, suffering the humiliation of one job rejection after another, being unable to fulfil my hard-wired instincts to be a provider, and fighting off the thought that nobody wants what I have to offer. I was grumpy and depressed.
That same evening, my head had turned 180 degrees. None of my problems had gone away, and I knew I had to face them again the following morning. But, I had a different perspective and the feeling of hope. I actually enjoyed life. Morning-me was a crappy husband and father. Evening-me was a big improvement (still a long way to go, though). All this in the space of 12 hours.
So, what happened?
First, I got myself along to a Sails At Bayside event as a volunteer. It's a charity run under the auspices of the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane, and it provides sailing and life-skills experience to disadvantaged people and other groups. That Sunday morning, we were doing some kayaking with a church Sunday school group. When I turned up, I was just expecting to be another pair of hands to shift kayaks and stuff. However, we got to the point where everyone had got onto the water except for a mum with two young boys. She could take one, but needed someone else to take the other, who must have been about five years old. As I was available, I volunteered, so I sat him in the front and paddled from behind. He was terrified to start with, so we took it really slowly and easily. Slowly, he grew in confidence and started to enjoy it, especially as we paddled into the mangroves and talked about the trees that grew under the sea (it was high tide). We even paddled over the top of some of them, and dodged under the branches of others.
We then took a break, and I got talking to Helen, one of the older volunteers. She is a retired Maths Teacher- an intellectual and a Christian. She talked about recent studies that highlighted the damage our culture was doing to people - we tend to evaluate people by their extrinsic value (the value they have because of what they can give us) and, compared to more spiritually aware cultures, we are losing the ability to recognise intrinsic value (the value they have because of who they are). Call it the Consumer-Culture if you like, but it rules, and we let it. Yesterday, I had spent some time on a picnic with some blind people - some of whom also had learning difficulties - whom I knew from Church. These are people with little or no extrinsic value, yet they are of infinite worth because they have an indelible intrinsic value, and it's something we all share. It's something they need to hear, and I need to hear - we have value because we are made in the image of God (see Genesis 1:27) - all of us, including the people I don't necessarily like or admire or find useful. That's where we get our intrinsic value from - every one of us. If, as the secular forces in our culture would have us believe, we reduce ourselves to mere function (what we can offer), we lose the plot. Helen quoted Rene Descartes, who, when asked why as an intellectual, he still believed in God, replied that with God, there is hope, but without him, there is no hope. It's true. It's not a hope that things will miraculously turn out good by the wave of a magic wand, but that our lives have meaning and substance, even when things turn to crap. It's not saying that evil is good, but rather that our suffering, our ephemerality, our mortality has meaning, and it doesn't go unnoticed by a pitilessly indifferent cosmos (see what Richard Dawkins has to say on this - needless to say, I disagree).
After the break, my doughty five-year old came up to me and asked if we could go out on the kayak again. This is the same guy who was almost crying with fear when we first set out. How could I refuse! We had so much fun on the water together.
So, I have to thank the guys at Sails for their ministry (which is just a religious-sounding word for "service"). My five-year old kayaker got a boost, but I think I got the lion's share.
Then, I went church in the evening to play guitar with the music group. Again, we had fun, which even some of my badly misplaced chords could not stop.
Josh Dinale, our Rector, spoke about what it means to put down roots, based on the reflections of Psalm 1 - especially putting down roots into God. You could think of this as a loss of freedom because it means getting fixed in one place, and allowing yourself to become limited. However, it also means that you can grow, become established. It means you can become mature enough not just to withstand life's storms, but to be strong enough and big enough to offer shelter for others, should they want it. It means you can live a life of meaning and weight - true prosperity. Again, this is not meaning and weight that we have because of our extrinsic value (what we have to offer), but because of our intrinsic value - what we have because we bear the image of God (what we are). If you can sort out what you are, you can sort out what you can do.
Then, after the service, I got talking to a couple of people about the ministry and service they are offering to refugees - some of this is just being a friendly neighbour, or helping them understand English, or a rudimentary introduction to the practicalities of living in an unfamiliar country. Some of this is rock-climbing, or doing stuff that creates fun and friendships.
Now, I'm thinking I'd like to get my blind friends and refugees onto the kayaks and catamarans. I've got outside myself, and I prefer it outside. Yes, I'll get a buzz from it but, more importantly, they are worth it.
If you've read this far, thank you for following me as I unload.
That Sunday morning, I felt unwanted by the world. I realise that's harsh on the people who love me, and I apologise to them. However, there are far more people in this world who don't.
We live in a world that thinks God is either irrelevant, or that he is an evil imp that hides around corners ready to trip us up, or that he is an excuse to do bad stuff. That's not the God I believe in, and it hurts me when I get told by self-righteous atheist propaganda that it is. It's not the God my friends believe in. This isn't about God v Evolution (I'm OK with evolutionary processes, incidentally). Or, about feeling OK about the shit-ness of life because everybody's life is shit and they feel OK about it, too (an idiot's philosophy, undergirded by dogma, presumption and acquired tradition, but believed by millions). It's about whether life - my life, your life, the lives of those blind guys, the refugees, a scared 5 year old boy, an intellectual woman, the guys who can sing in church and the guys who can't - whether all these lives have value and meaning.
Yes they do.
Let's go exploring and find out what it is.