It Takes All Types…. To Be In A Book.

I need your help to write a book. If you’ve read these posts for any amount of time, you hopefully understand that whilst I take G&J seriously, I rarely take myself seriously. Life is too full of joy, daftness, fools and jesters for me to take myself seriously. But there are days imageswhen I get a little self-intense. Oddly, those days seem to happen within a tight window once a month. Let’s call them Personal Maudlin Terror days. Often relieved by chocolate and soy milk (think plant oestrogen, lads).

So, in between soy lattes yesterday, I dipped into personal maudlin terror. And had what only can be described as a Holy F%$& moment. 2 Corinthians 11-19 had risen up and slapped me about the head. Putting up with fools gladly because I am wise? Well, I’m either not wise or my definition of gladly is very different to St Paul’s.

Despite knowing fantastic grace, I hit the skids of, “Well, if you’re not suffering this particular fool gladly, Phil, then what hope have you got? Seriously, who are you to think you’ve any chance of being all kind, giving and Christian if you can’t even get to grips with someone whom you feel ready to batter with a tyre-iron?”

(I don’t often have such homicidal urges, BTW. Just between soy lattes on certain days in the month).

As I reached into my wardrobe to don sackcloth and ashes, the oestrogen fog lifted. God’s yellow post it note of grace floated down.

It takes all types. Retired teachers. Recovering gambling addicts. Dieticians. Make-up artists. Economists. Psychologists. Business consultants. Mouthy, cheeky communication consultants. The woman in front of me in the supermarket who had bought one of those motivational ‘rules’ signs for her home because it included ‘Say Your Prayers’. Smart-alecs who become pastors.

Removing the tyre-iron from my fist and brushing the ashes off my forehead the SAP reminded me, “I’m a pastor, Phil. If that doesn’t give everyone hope, nothing will.”

It takes all types. To bring heaven on earth. To walk as a Christian. I’ve met many this past year and their stories range from the everyday to the astounding. People who grew up in Christian homes and can imagine nothing but the peace and joy they draw from it. Others who rebelled against the same Christian upbringing only to return to the fold after looking for love and failing to find it in dodgy, dubious places.

And because I am a writer, editor, story teller, I want more. All the types. All the stories. I’d like to share them here, but I’d also like to put them into a book. Because I’m sure there are plenty of others (male or female) who have PMT days and need a little inspiration.

So will you help? I’d like to interview you about why you are a Christian today and how you got here. The interviews will be conducted via email and possibly phone. Your story needn’t be extreme, like how God reached down and stopped you from suicide. You may just have heard ‘Amazing Grace’, found yourself in tears and never looked back. You may have failed a job interview and had a Bible fall at your feet. If you prefer anonymity, names can be changed.

It takes all types. Strikes me as a pretty good title for a book.

To express interest in participating, please use the form below or click here. Please share the project, too, the more stories the better!

Hospitals For The Broken: Four Blessings

broken heartWhat I have learnt in the past six months is that churches are not filled with shiny, perfect people. They are hospitals for the broken. Recently was a crap Sunday. A culmination of four days that had left my heart and soul fractured. Living on a fault line, as Katy Perry sings in ‘Grace of God’.

So the perfect day to go to church. Yet also the worst. When you are fragile, exposing your fragility publicly is terrifying. Yet I needed the comfort of faith more than I needed my mask of normality, which is what I had plastered over the fault line to get me through the four days prior. My strength tank was dangerously dry. The bowser of the Bible had nurtured me. Yet even though I was comforted by faith, I sought the magnification that regular attendance at church delivers.

My God it was tough. On my own on the drive over, I just cried. Not sure I can do this  today. Not sure I’m going to be anything but a saline snot heap. Not sure I’m ready to crack that fault line. I sat in the car, parked outside church, wiping away tears, slugging back caffeine and praying for the game face that would get me in the door. Knowing it is a safe place to turn up to in a mess is very different to actually doing it.

Deep breath. Dark glasses. Open car door. Then, blessing one. Someone who was leaving after the earlier service, whom I have never met, was parked close by. He buzzed down his car window. Sent me a gentle smile. Introduced himself and hoped I had a good day. Insignificant in content, but significant to me. God’s gentle reminder of the comfort of His community.

I confess it didn’t bolster me so much that I marched in revived. I sort of slunk in, avoiding eye contact, and immediately revolved straight back out before I even made it to the name badge table.

Deep breaths. Back in. To blessing 2 – a jovial older member who has been supportive of me on this road. He stood talking and introduced me to someone whom I had not yet met, who kindly mentioned how lovely he had found my recent testimony. Which had me hiccuping, excusing myself and diving for the nearest ladies room. Where I replaced the prescription lenses in my sunnies for tissues.

Deep breath again. Exit the ladies room. Make it to the reception table. Where, of course, the senior pastor and connections pastor are standing, right in front of my name badge. FFS God, I’m not getting in under the radar here am I?

“Phil, how are you?” they enquired. Don’t know about you, but when I’m on an emotional fault line and someone asks me that question there’s only one result. Saline and snot. Time to be honest, or at best take refuge in flippancy. “Umm, I’m wearing my game face today,” I admitted from behind dark glasses.

Blessing 3, as the connections pastor takes the conversation to more neutral, less emotive territory: the books for sale, what had I read and what he wanted to read – which just happened to be over in a quieter corner. It felt like a kindly boarder collie gently shepherding me along. And there, right there, he picks up a book on a topic that pretty much covers everything I’ve been recently fractured by. Tears turn to somewhat hysterical laughter at God’s prodding. Let it all out, let Me, let My people help.

Well, obviously, I chose the back row at church. Where a fantastic older lady, for whom I have huge respect and admiration, asked if she could join me. I admitted I was slinking in with my game face on. “Me too,” she replied, as we both pulled tissues out our respective bags. She made me laugh as the Children’s Minister stood on stage announcing that there would be a water theme – complete with a water-filled, bursting balloon fight – as they discussed the birth of Jesus. Exploding membranes. Fluid. We caught each other’s eye like children misbehaving at the back of the school bus. “Probabably not the best imagery, water and birth,” she whispered.

Then God’s humour, His way of showing me that I was noticed – that WE were noticed in the back row. Of all the Sunday’s for the big screen church projector to fail. So everyone in the congregation turned around to face the back of the church to sing hymns from the smaller screen that was positioned directly above our heads. Everyone. Facing the back row. Yes, you are seen, yes, you are noticed, yes, you are loved.

And the finale? Over the days prior I had prayed, wished for a mother figure. Someone wise and maternal from whom I could draw wisdom. That, I admit, is my major hole. I did not have a typical maternal relationship with my own mother. Our roles had been reversed since I was quite young. I have always noticed that gap in my emotional responses, typically tending towards a more masculine ‘deal with it’ over feminine compassion. Not that those feelings are gender-dependent. Simply that I have always ‘dealt with it’ and too often forget that others require more support.

Seeking maternal wisdom is different to paternal. Or even using male and female peers as sounding boards. Blessing four: the lady who joined me in the back row delivered me gold. Gentle, wise-woman strategies to help navigate my confusion in a more compassionate, Christian-way. Along with the women’s minster she prayed and cracked open that fault line with sensitivity. Let in light and grace.

I went in broken and weak. When I came out I wasn’t shiny. Or new. But I was comforted, supported and strengthened for the next steps on the path.

I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you; your right hand upholds me. 

Psalm 63:6-8

Testing, Testing…. testimony

Put me on a stage in front of 200+ business people and tell me to talk communications, PR and how best to boost your business with free publicity and I will rock your world. I will make you laugh, help you learn, and I will happily share my failures, my worst mistakes, my post-GFC business disaster because I know, by being authentic, I can help you take the next step on your business journey.

But ask me to stand in the front of a church, look each person in the eye, rip open my chest, pluck out my heart and hold it up for all to see? When I realised the fine print in the baptism prospectus, the only rocking I was doing was back and forth in my seat. Foetal-like. writer's block

I think my first response to the SAP was, “Can’t you just put a link to the blog up on screen?” Swiftly followed by, “I can come to the Saturday night church to do it. I know less people there…”

For all this blogging articulation, writing my testimony was the hardest thing I have ever done. Writer’s block descended like a cage. I knew what God and Jesus had delivered me on this journey, but attempting to capture it in order to read it aloud made me feel gauche. Worse, I feared being unable to do it justice. Given the pure joy of newly discovered Christianity has me leaking tears daily, I had horrible images of me standing up there hiccuping into the microphone with saline flooding my face. Testimony by tissues.

Two weeks out, the SAP would send nudging emails, asking how it was going. I would blithely reply that I worked on far tighter deadlines than two weeks – which is true. Then, possibly suspecting my evasive tone, the SAP offered to read the first draft. Ah. A staggered deadline.

The trick to beating writer’s block is to write. Even when the words that vomit from your imagination are leaden, weighing across the page like boulders blocking the path. It’s a bit like ordering that first alcoholic drink when you are hungover. It tastes like nails but the mist begins to lift.

I also had three more on the writing team with me. G, J & the Holy Ghost(writer). “Ok, gang,” I prayed (respectfully). “Show me.”

And then it struck.  I had allowed myself to be sidelined by stereotypes. On the one hand, the SAP was telling me to be myself. On the other, well-intentioned Christians were sharing testimony examples and seriously reminding me that this testimony was about glorifying God and Jesus and ‘What THEY Had Done In My Life.’

Just in case I’d forgotten those two who’d hunted me down and dragged me along this path for the past six months.

Problem was, the testimony examples all used what I term ‘Christian inaccessible language’ and smacked of shiny-suited evangelism. Unreachable, unattainable — all the things that had turned me away from church and contributed to my Christian hangover in the first place. Hadn’t God and Jesus called me just as I was? For me to stand up on stage and adopt a language that was not mine struck me as frankly ridiculous. I sat, stymied at the computer, feeling like I needed to defend my faith journey and style.

“Every hair on your head,” the divine writing team quietly whispered to me.

The hair that is an unnatural five-tone flame red. That is happy to stand up and be counted. That is confident, self-esteemed and humble, for the three are not mutually exclusive. That enjoys wine, martinis, chilli mud crab splatter and more. That drops f-bombs etc. Not for a need to shock, but because I am proud to be gifted by God with the knowledge that language can make a difference; and the right language (even when it is shocking) used well, with talent and timing and wit, creates attention. And with attention comes power. To change. To be heard. To remind. To prompt action. To believe. All of which God deserves a bit more of.

So my testimony offered rust over shine. Wit and irreverence over dulled seriousness.  Because that has been my journey with the Father and Son. They make me laugh at myself each day, whilst having me in tears over the simplicity of grace and in awe at how much more I can be, do and dream when they run my show.