My mate Simon and I went for a pint the other day, which is actually something I do fairly infrequently these days as there is usually something that gets in the way.
The simple act of a pint or two and a table to sit and talk around has been about as close as most of we blokes get to a deep spiritual discussion – although this too seems to be a practice that is dying. Pubs here can not make a living unless they convert to restaurants. As we all know, this is not a sign of people drinking less but is more to do with the availability of cheap booze for consumption in our private spaces.
Anyway, the reason I mention this is because Simon and I were talking about our community (Aoradh) during our trip to the pub. We are thinking about offering a session to Greenbelt Festival in the ‘talks’ category under the strapline of something like ‘Don’t do it like us’.
All of these buzz words that have been applied to communities like ours in the wake of what we used to call ’emerging church’- alternative worship community, missional community, new monastic community. They all feel slightly pretentious and self serving to be honest. It feels like these labels belong to others in an urban context – trendy people who have big glasses, sharp haircuts and jeans with a baggy gusset that hangs to the knee.
Yet Aoradh has now been around for almost 6 years. It has developed and changed, stumbled then got up again, and we continue to experiment with a form of faith community fairly rare (as far as we are able to understand) certainly in the Scottish context.
Something that Simon said the other day in the pub has stuck with me. As we tried to map what we were and what we have become, he said something like this;
“We are an unhealed community.”
Simon was thinking about the people in our group who have serious illnesses, and the fact that our life of faith has to contain the awareness of sickness, brokenness and imperfection.
As I have thought about this, it seemed important. It is not that our group is characterised by sickness – far from it – but rather that we all have to live with the idea of a God who is real in the ordinary. A God who is not a magic talisman of success, but rather walks with us through the difficult times too.
There is also within this a challenge for faith- because we are forced to confront the idea of a God-who-does-not-heal. A God who abides within brokenness, and lives within the uneasy question and the honest doubt.
Or even more challenging- a God-who-heals-sometimes, and some people. But not me.
My Michaela had a long term incurable illness (Ulcerative Collitis) that affected her from the age of 14 until 34, when all symptoms abruptly disappeared. It is an open question and a grateful acceptance all wrapped up together.
All of which leads me to the Bowl.
In the recent winter storms, an old tree at the bottom of our garden was blown down, unfortunately into our neighbours garden;
A friend of ours was borrowing my chainsaw (through our local ‘timebank‘), as he is a wood turner, and I mentioned some pieces of wood from this tree. Some of it was dried already by age and the effect of the ivy that had dried out and hardened the wood. When he heard this he was excited.
Peter took the wood and promised a bowl for us out of it.
Amazingly, later that same day, he turned up, with this-
It is a lovely thing. A tree from our own garden, grown over who knows how many years, then spelted with sickness and disease before finally being broken by a storm.
Transformed by the craftsman.
Not healed or restored, but shaped and made beautiful.
Carved into the shape of service and hospitality.
As good an image for the hopes of community as anything else I can come up with…