Monthly Archives: March 2012

Godsmacked pt 3

To be ‘Godsmacked’ on this blog is to be left speechless by the Almighty. I have to keep reminding myself of this, because sometimes people seem to think God is mainly there to ‘smack’ us in a much more punishing mode. Why is it that with so much around us to cause us to wonder some of God’s followers are more interested in enforcing rules and mending fences that gazing in awe at the marvels of life?

The issue of gay marriage is currently being debated in Australia. A bunch of bishops (what is the correct name for a group of bishops – a posse of prelates?) is calling on 80,000 of their church members to write to a government enquiry urging no change to the rules governing marriage. It’s an important issue and it isn’t simple and straightforward as both sides of the debate seem to suggest.

I don’t want to go into a discussion of the ethics of gay marriage (although I’m not opposed to the idea if that’s what gay people want). It’s only the tip of the iceberg. The bigger issue is the way people who are different are often experienced as some kind of threat to us. We human beings all seem to be capable of a sense of wonder in nature, and a sense of beauty in art, but when we encounter each other we are not so ready to be Godsmacked with the wonder and beauty of it all. We can try to enlist God in defending whatever boundaries of race, or gender, or body type, or fashion sense or other human characteristic we gave erected to help ourselves feel safe. If only we could just relax and enjoy the glorious tapestry that wanders through our streets and across the world!

I might be a bit strange, but I love art galleries. While I enjoy the art, I am sometimes much interested in the people viewing the art. I am a bit of a voyeur, but a voyeur of the soul and life even more than the body. What does this bloke do in life? Are they (two people on opposite sides of the room) actually a couple? What joys and sorrows have interacted to create that particular face? What is she trying to say with those clothes? What ethnicity would that person claim? These are the questions that fascinate me. I enjoy the art of people viewing the art. Sometimes the paintings get lost completely as I follow the crowd from room to room enjoying the subtle shifts in their faces and their posture as the pictures change. Sometimes our gazes touch, and a smile is exchanged, and the whole dynamic is transformed for the rest of the slow journey through the exhibition.

On the city streets I do it too, but it’s far more fleeting. Every walk down a city block is an opportunity to encounter difference, to be surprised or delighted in some way by the new. I can be just as Godsmacked by a person in the street as by a panorama from some wilderness mountaintop.

At the Welsh church there is a deep valuing of individual differences. The story of the Welsh nation is one of long resistance to the cultural steamroller of English language and customs. The treasuring of the Welsh language reflects a concern to honour difference and respect particularity, not just of Welsh culture but of every culture. We have people from many different cultural backgrounds in the congregation and outside our doors are people of even more nations and birthplaces.

As a happy little Vegemite of a 5th generation Aussie, it’s been a wonderful gift for me to be part of a community which owns a different culture, to be learning the Welsh language and listening to the Welsh story. It makes me more aware of all those other stories and more understanding of the need to respect and hear the subtle tones of other peoples experience and history. And through all this I am constantly being Godsmacked in new and exciting ways as I encounter beauty and awe in human form as well as the glories of nature.

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Godsmacked pt. 2

Twinkle, twinkle lots of stars.

I’m a city dweller. I love broad streets and coffee shops, smooth pavements and signposts. They make life comfortable, easy and liveable.

Coffee shops are great and make getting coffee so much easier than having to do things yourself.  Saying, “A weak, skinny, vanilla latte with a shot of cold milk please,” takes a fraction of the time, and is nowhere near as tedious, as planting a tree, waiting for it to grow, harvesting the beans, roasting them, grinding them, and of course not forgetting buying a calf, feeding it, watching it grow, learning to milk the cow, getting the milk from said cow, pasteurising it etc. I could go on about the vanilla beans and the processes involved in cultivating the orchids but I know nothing about that.

Smooth pavements are nice, they make moving around easier, as do signposts, they show you where you are going and help you not get lost. Trees don’t perform this vital function, as they point in many and varied directions and don’t have any wording or distances written on them, they look pretty but as a directional marker they are useless.

But I have not always lived in suburbia, I used to hear the sound of cows and sheep outside my window but now I hear the noise of traffic, car alarms and people. Little birds used to wake me up with their gentle song but that was a long time ago now it’s big machines and the next door neighbours fighting.

Nights for me are now well lit, with street lamps and head lights, I no longer stumble blindly through dark fields hoping I don’t follow Alice down some rabbit hole.

I like street lights and seeing where I am going but the dark does have some advantages…stars being one of them. Stars are Godsmacking in their own right, they need no help. They are unfathomably far away, some of them are larger than most of us can possibly imagine, others are so far away that they will have ceased to have exist by the time we see their light, the stars are truly amazing, Godsmacking. What we, light loving, city dwellers don’t understand is that we only see a fraction of them. Get out to the countryside, wait for it to go really dark and all of a sudden the night sky isn’t just dotted with one or two hundred stars, it is covered in billions of them! And there are other things too, if it’s dark enough you can see the Milky Way, and if you know where to look you can see that there are planets, with patience you can even track satellites and watch for those elusive shooting stars we hear about so often in really tacky, love songs sung by really bad 80’s bands.

It was on a night such, years ago that I was lying on a beach in Tresaith, Mid Wales, leading a youth Camp in an elipog (that’s epilogue to you) and I was Gobsmacked, completely, again, totally by surprise. There were 20 or so youngsters (14 – 18 year olds) lying on the beach gazing up at the sky. “Why?” I hear you scream into your coffee, the one you got from a coffee shop and not one you made from scratch yourself.

Each of these youngsters was trying to count the stars in a certain section of the sky. Every so often a voice would cry, “50”, because someone had counted 50 stars. These numbers were noted and we were up in the several thousands when God reached down from Heaven, grabbed me by the mind, shook me violently and went off laughing loudly at my confusion. The whole elipog I had prepared drained from my now shaken and confused brain and all I could was remember the two verses from the Psalms. (As I said last time I didn’t know where the verses were but I’ve looked them up and they are Psalm 147 v 4 & 5.)

“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”

Twenty of us took about 35 minutes to get up to about 8000 stars and all of us agreed that there were a few more than that. God knows them all by name, not just our 8000 but the billions we never got to, indeed his understanding is beyond our measure.

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Godsmacked pt. 1

To be Godsmacked is to be left speechless by the Almighty. Like its secular sibling, ‘gobsmacked’, Godsmacked implies an unexpected event. In the book of Acts in the bible Paul is Godsmacked on the road to Damascus; Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration could justifiably be called Godsmacked, that of course is not to mention how Joseph, Mary and the shepherds felt at various points in the Christmas story.

The action of being Godsmacked is not limited to the New Testament there are many examples in the Old Testament as well; Goliath – literally Godsmacked, Nebuchadnezzar on seeing Shadrack and his friends in the fiery furnace – Godsmacked, talking donkeys, heavenly ladders, large floods and burning bushes – all Godsmacking.

These are just a few of the many examples of scriptural Godsmacking. There are of course many other stories of people being Godsmacked – some dramatically like Martin Luther, others are Godsmacked more slowly like C.S. Lewis. However it happens being Godsmacked is not something you can ignore nor can you miss it.

Most Christians I have talked to have had a Godsmacking experience, for some it is a one off, never forgotten event for others God smacks them time and time again. There is no right and wrong when it comes to being Godsmacked – as there are millions of, as Larry Norman termed us, ‘Jesus freaks’ so there are millions of ways of being Godsmacked, here are a few…

Winds and waves.  

My first recollection of being truly Godsmacked was sitting, in my college room  in Aberystwyth, gazing out of the window one dark and stormy night in November many years ago, but before we stare out of that window here’s a brief history of how I got there.

I am one of those Christians who cannot put a definite time on my conversion – having been taken to church at the tender age of 6 months (it would have been earlier but I was incubated for about 5 months, I hope it didn’t involve a large hen sitting on me but it might have done, I don’t really remember and in all the photos I’m obscured by feathers ). I cannot remember a time when God was not a normal part of my life. Understanding grew as I got older, I asked questions and made decisions about God and Jesus and miracles and church etc and my faith grew. I cannot say there was a definite moment of conversion, over time my prayers became more fervent and my conviction that I needed Jesus far more than he needed me became more acute. I moved from a church going child to a church going youth and then to a calling myself a Christian for I found  that I was following Jesus and was getting to know him as I read and prayed more and more.

Before you get the idea that the author was and is a boring God botherer it should be noted that on this slide towards Christ there were many high points – parties, lots of drinks, fast driving, accidents, loud bands, late nights and early mornings, fights, long hair, friends, mistakes, more parties, more drinks, road trips, weekend concerts, leather jackets, dinner jackets, flack jackets and lots of fun. The wonderful thing is most of them still happen, it just now Jesus comes with me. I’m not sure if the Son of God enjoys heavy metal concerts but he’s been to a few and I’ve never heard him complain (it is true I can’t hear much for days after a concert but I figure Jesus made the blind see so if he didn’t want to go AC/DC again I’m sure I’d get the message).

So after many adventures, a brush or two with very nice policemen and a bit of traveling I ended up being accepted into the hallowed halls of academia or at least the bleach smelling halls of The United Theological College, Aberystwyth. I was there to study theology, but in reality I played lots of sport, drank loads of whiskey and did just enough work to scrape through my degree.

And so you find me at my desk one night in November, starring out of the window, trying to write an easy on the use of duct tape in Sunday School or some such interesting topic. Looking for distractions from this engaging topic proved easy – my window faced west, over Cardigan Bay and the ever changing vista of the sea was a constant draw for my duct tape weary eyes. This night was special however.

Many times I had sat in that self same seat and watched as storms came in over the sea. The lightning was always spectacular as was the effect the wind had on the waves but that  night was different. It was differenter from any other night I had witnessed there – I was about to be well and truly, completely and utterly Godsmacked.

Looking out I could see the storm building in the north and driving huge clouds ahead of it over the hill. It was black and bleak and brilliant. I always looked the other way (south) towards the harbour to see if all the boats were safely moored and as I did I saw the reflection of the storm in the window. That couldn’t be right, it wasn’t the reflection it was another storm been driven up from the south on a collision course with its northern brother.

In awe, and I use those words as they are truly meant, I watched as the winds grew stronger and the waves grew higher, as the lightning lit up the sky and the thunder deafened the town. But the best was yet to come, all the lights of Aberystwyth went out in a sudden flash and then night became day as the two storms met in the middle of the bay and literally tore each other apart.

The sight was unlike anything I have ever seen, and I watch the Discovery Channel A LOT. I could see everything from horizon to horizon. The lightning wasn’t coming in flashes but was a constant burn in the night sky. The noise was horrendous as peel after peel of thunder echoed again and again and again. The rain lashed, the winds howled, the sea vented its fury against the land. Rocks were hurled 100s of feet into the air and flew just as far inland, windows were smashed, cars wrecked and some were even dragged by the fingers of the waves back into the watery depths to be driven by Davy Jones on the way to his locker. I learned later that no one had been seriously hurt but the damage bill ran into the 100’s of thousands of pounds.

It was In the middle of this natural pyrotechnical display that I was Godsmacked – it came over me like one of the claps of thunder and lit up my mind like one of the flashes of lightning, a couple of  verses of scripture, I didn’t (and still don’t remember the reference, without looking it up) but I clearly heard the voice of my old Sunday School teacher saying, “The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.  “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.

In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”” (It’s actually Luke 8 v 24 & 25, but I had to look that up.)

Watching those storms hit the Bay and seeing the power they unleashed and then remembering that even the winds and the waves obey him, Godsmacked me. I was utterly speechless before the power of nature and the even more awesome power of God. I had found, or maybe re-found, the faith the disciples were rebuked for not having. If he can control all that fury he is worthy of the title THE ALMIGHTY, no arguments from me!

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A new blog

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