Today, because I listened to Henri Nouwen in the link below, I found myself thinking about Belinda.
Belinda lived on Stronsay part of my first charge as a proper minister! It was a miracle that she lived at all as some vital organs were missing. She grew to about 2 feet but could never walk, never talk, but she became my friend as she was to many. She died , if I remember right in her late teens or early twenties, during my time in Stronsay but I think about her still from time to time, 30 years on. It was a hard day to see her in a little coffin. I don’t think I will ever forget it. No one tells you in your training how to cope with such things. You just have to find a way….
For me, Belinda was a proof of this simple truth: we need one another in our shared vulnerabilities. She drew forth so much love and laughter from so many people. Somehow just by being vulnerable she created a community of care and love to which she contributed much and from which she received much. She was essential to the strength of the Kingdom of God on Stronsay. She added to the love of that island community.
In a sense she accomplished all of that effortlessly. She could not hide the fact that she needed the love and care of others. Most of us reading this blog will however face a choice. Will I admit that I cannot manage life on my own, nor can any of us, and we need one another to help each other on until we cross the finishing line together? Such freely admitted and accepted weakness is the means of the creation of Kingdom of God strength! It cannot be formed any other way.
According to the bible if we want a prize then we need to compete according to the rules. In the Kingdom of God the prize does not necessarily go to the one who seems to cross the finishing line first and is the winner according to what onlookers may see. The person who gets the prize is the one who comes limping, tied at the ankles to other folk, racing/stumbling along together, probably slowly; supporting others under their shoulders and being supported under their own shoulders; all stumbling along together in a bit of an ungainly awkward fashion as one not very coordinated person that some onlookers may be tempted to dismiss with a sneer, and yet miraculously and inexplicably and against all the odds it is all held together in the love of Christ and gets there in the end! The rules are help one another, honour one another , prefer one another, submit to one another, be kind to one another, forgive one another, share what you have with one another…. and a lot of other “one anothers” too that we find in the New Testament, all explanatory unpacking of what it means to follow Christ’s new Commandment to His people: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
In the West we exalt individualism and independence to such an extent it becomes a distorted and sinful thing, but the early church had a Kingdom of God culture which challenged a Greek/Roman culture of individual prowess of the day and must challenge ours too. God gave me a word not long ago that the gods of Greece and Rome are not dead. They are coming alive again, even in the church.
So, are we running according to the Kingdom rules, loving and allowing ourselves to be loved, helping and allowing ourselves to be helped, valuing weakness in others and ourselves, valuing inter-dependence as the very core of the Kingdom? Allowing others to help me has been a huge challenge since taking not so well… and others have helped me wonderfully well.
I was reading today in 1st. Thessalonians that Paul thought of the Christians he was writing to as being a model for others. In what sense? Well, in 3 ways: they had turned from idols; they had become servants of the Living God; they were waiting for the day when Christ would come again.
I remember hearing a speaker being introduced as a warm person with a model church. He was quick witted and said that warm meant not too hot and model meant an imitation of the real thing! Perhaps he was just someone who could not take a compliment and had to fend it off through humour! Paul saw in the Thessalonians a model, a representation not an untrue imitation of the real thing. Are we true to the model in the first thing that Paul highlights? Have we turned from the idols of success and winning in the form that our culture presents them to us and truly become servants of the Living God and His Kingdom? It seems to me that the person who may well win the prize is the person who might well move the slowest because they are not willing to leave any behind to drop by the wayside un-helped. So my prayer for me and for you is that we will see that speeding ahead of everyone is not what God’s Kingdom race is about. If we are particularly insecure or particularly competitive by nature we need to remember that. The rule for athletes in God’s kingdom is cooperation not competition, save to outdo one another in loving and honouring one another. It may be that this blog will be read today or another day by someone who wants to expand the influence of their ministry , whatever that ministry may be, but in order to do that feels they need to cast aside inconvenient or draining, or needy people believing that you have Scriptural backing for casting aside such “weights” so you can run more freely. People who need the love of God are not weights…You are deceived. Such an attitude eventually leads to an isolation in which there is no safety which often leads to a fall of one sort or another. I have seen this happening more times than I would care to mention, though it happening once is too often. It has happened to friends with wonderful ministries who ignored the warning signs that they even told me they could see themselves and confessed to me… but did nothing about. It always hurts the body and gives it another wound and another limp.
Did we help anyone today in any way by word, deed, text, Facebook Message, phone call? Did we allow ourselves to be helped?
Just as Henri Nouwen could say in the link below that Adam became his teacher, I can say that Belinda was one of my greatest teachers. I have had many more wonderful teachers in Wester Hailes over these past 11 or 12 years, many of them passed over people who others may look down upon but who have brought me grace, understanding and healing from God. I would not be managing this phase of life as well but for them and what they have taught me.
God bless, and try and make time to watch this link and the one in my previous blog. Remember Hernri Nouwen is speaking as a one time academic who gave up that world to live amongst people with disabilities and make his home with them. He was a psychologist. It is wonderful when people bring Christ and their own field together in a mutually enriching way. Please don’t judge this for fully fledged reformed theology of salvation or for an altar call to repentance. You will not find it here, my reformed friends You will find Christlikeness ….I am assuming that is what we are all aiming at somehow…I hope I am right in that assumption… if I am wrong then maybe these blog pages are not right for you… or maybe they are precisely what God wants you to read, lest you have all the theology right like a beautiful uniform bunch of subtly coloured Tulips contained and kept well watered and beautifully presented in a vase for all to admire, but lose your soul. What would that profit you or me? What would it profit anyone else? Tulips cut off from their roots eventually die.