The rather wonderful Stephen Fry upset the internets by telling Irish television host Gay Byrne what Stephen Fry would say to God when they eventually met up.
How dare you! How dare you create a world in which there is such suffering that is not our fault? It’s not right; it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god, who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”
Because the God who created this universe, if it was created by a god, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.
He is monstrous, utterly monstrous, and deserves no respect whatsoever.
* * *
Yup, Stephen Fry intends to give God a hard time (and I rather hope God would be merciful and perhaps amused enough not to give Stephen Fry a hard time in turn).
What about Jesus? Would Stephen Fry give Jesus a hard time? Would he dare to? I doubt it. Few people are offended by Jesus.
* * *
Most people love Jesus for his kindness; from my childhood, however, I have wistfully respected his cleverness. The way he got out of the traps laid for him by the scribes and Pharisees. I sometimes realised that fellow students, teachers, nuns or relatives were trying to trap me with their questions (and often did not!), but was rarely quick-thinking, poised, self-confident, or forthright enough to sidestep traps the way Jesus did.
And Jesus impressively summarised monumental ideas in a “tweet“. A sentence. He summed up the law and the prophets (about 622,000 words: 2500 pages in a standard paperback!!) in a sentence–three imperatives. Love God. Love yourself. Love your neighbour.
* * *
Loving yourself. We hear far less of that than of loving God or loving our neighbour.
It certainly wasn’t taught when I grew up in India in the sixties.
What is loving oneself? Caring for ourselves the way we care for our toddlers. Resting when we need to rest. Giving our bodies and minds the foods we need to perform optimally. Not running on empty spiritually, but refilling in God’s presence. Feeding our hearts with good relationships. Forgiving ourselves for our shortcomings and mistakes. Cutting ourselves slack.
Perhaps this radical self-forgiveness makes it easier to forgive others. Perhaps cutting yourself slack makes it easier to cut others slack.
* * *
I went through my entire Facebook today, following some people, unfollowing others. (I periodically do this, thereby giving myself an entirely different newsfeed!)
People who’ve had a near-death experience say their entire life flashed before them. Well, my entire life flashed before me as I looked at every face on my Facebook friends list.
I saw many lovely faces from my past…from primary school and boarding school, from my university days in England and America, from churches in England and America, from writing, from the school gates, former neighbours… Friendships which have endured.
I am more of an extrovert than an introvert. I feel a lot of warmth and affection towards people. I love hanging out with people. I love friendships. But, alas, I am a bit of a classic A type personality, with high expectations of myself and others. Instead of cutting people slack, I can get really annoyed by what is really annoying about them. I sometimes get so annoyed that I basically sever a friendship.
I scroll through my Facebook friends, and see the faces of former real heart-friends, BFF’s who are now just Facebook friends.
And “stalking” these friends’ pages, I see faces of other people I had been good friends with, but had got annoyed with (sometimes for good reason), fallen out with, and am now no longer friends with, at all.
Some faces: so sweet, so full of light. And seeing those faces, I see I had been too harsh, too negative in my judgments, too focused on their very real weaknesses, instead of the very real goodness and light and sweetness in them.
I am sad.
The wonderful Serenity Prayer asks for strength to accept the things we cannot change. To take this sinful world as it is, not as we would have it. There is a lot of wisdom to doing the same with people.
* * *
When I went to St. Mary’s Convent, Nainital, a hill station boarding school in the Himalayas, aged nine, my father, who had himself been sent to a hill station boarding school, Montfort School, Yercaud, aged 6, advised me, “If you find someone really irritating, ignore them. Stop talking to them. But don’t do that too often, or you’ll soon have no one to talk to.”
I obviously hadn’t considered such a course of action, but it became my survival strategy for decades.
Jesus tuned out the scribes and Pharisees and the hypocrites. I have done that erstwhile friends I have got annoyed with instead of talking things through. Instead of learning how to gently confront.
But no more. I will talk things through. I will relate as an adult, vulnerably sharing what is bugging me, instead of relating as the petulant nine year old who solved relational problems by severing the relationship. I will cut people slack, and instead of expecting perfection will ride through the troughs in friendships, the revelation of the shadow side of my friends, just as I would like them to blow off revelations of the shadow side of me with the breath of kindness.
* * *
Michael Hyatt contrasts a successful friend of his with a writer client who craved success which eluded him (and was, incidentally, not brilliant at relationships.)
That success eluded that writer is not surprising. Creativity thrives in a environment of connections and relationships, as Jonah Lehrer observed in Imagine. People are healthier when they enjoy what Dr. Dean Ornish calls “the healing power of social support.” Bowling Alone estimates that each friendship is worth $1000 through the connections, tips, insights and information it opens up. People who enjoy wide, deep and rich friendships are happier, wealthier and healthier!
Because of the mysterious, undeserved grace of God, my life is indeed rich, full, happy and creative. However, it would have been richer, fuller, happier, and more creative, if I had grappled every friend I’ve ever made to my heart with hoops of steel.
* * *
But we can change. We can change at any time. That is the exciting thing about being a Christian.
The friendships I have invested in, I will invest in maintaining.
Change in mid-life? Yup!
* * *
How do we change?
The Greek New Testament word for repentance is metanoia, “to come to your senses; to come to your right mind; to intelligently understand.” We realise that Jesus taught theology in relationship, that Jesus, in effect, behaved as if relationships, vertical and horizontal, were what life was all about; that the core of a happy, successful life was love–loving relationships, kindness, affection. We decide to re-learn the beautiful art of friendship.
But, of course, since perhaps 90% of our psychological, emotional and spiritual life goes on in the dark subconscious realm of imprinted repressed memories, damaged emotions and Pavlovian reactions, changing is more complex than simply deciding to change.
But we have other resources.
We ask for help from above; we ask God to change our hearts. We claim the promise in Ezekiel: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ez. 36:26). Wow, God changing the deep structure of our hearts, molecule by molecule. (I have experienced this, this slow subliminal change of my heart through the action of God’s spirit within me–so I know it’s true.)
And then we rely on the filling of the Spirit, the Spirit producing fruit within us that we cannot produce ourselves: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, as Paul writes in Galatians.
And so we row on into a happier future, having learned from our mistakes. Row into, possibly, a richer, happier future, than if we had not messed up, analysed our mistakes, repented, and decided to, with God’s help, change.