Saturday, 1 August 2015

Radical OK-Ness & the Kindness of Strangers

A couple of weeks ago I attended the wedding of our Joe down in Devon. It really was a beautiful occasion as so many of his loved ones and friends came together. It’s been a difficult time for all of us in so many ways. Joe is the eldest son of our Allen, my brother, who died last year.

Now the journey to and from the wedding was quite epic. I was responsible for taking our youngest brother and sister to and from it. We got a little lost just finding the hotel we were staying at the night before and ended up down some country lanes which in my “townie” view were not fit for cars. They were grassed over paths really and I became very concerned about driving along them. At one point we met a horse and rider moving toward us. Thankfully the rider decided to turn round, walk down the hill and let us past. I suspect that she could tell I wasn’t a local. I really should have paid more attention to this, it was a sign of things to come.

The wedding the next day was incredible. The feeling of love had my heart full to overflowing and I know I wasn’t alone in this. We then headed off to the hotel for the reception. Now the hotel was at the top of a great hill and the roads leading to it were once again little more than grassed over paths. In fact many of them were unnamed on the Sat Nav. That part of the journey was not pleasant.

Finally we arrived and drew breath and then got on with the celebrations. I have to say that the speeches were incredible. All moving and highly amusing. I will not recount those given by the two best men as they were without doubt 18 rating and not PG. There was a great deal of laughter and tears, so many tears. Tears of joy and tears sorrow and grief too.

There was one phrase in the speech given by the father of the bride, Ian Adams, that caught that place deep in the soul of me. He talked somewhat about the joys and sorrows of life and the pains and struggles we all go through and then he described an abiding love that is present in life that can hold us and sustain us in all of this. He named it “Radical OK-ness”. This phrase really caught the heart of me and awakened the soul of me. I thought yes that’s it and in my mind I began to sing song I once heard based on words by Julian of Norwich, the words were “All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things, they will be well.” At this point I drifted away from what he was saying and sank into that place of deep prayer within myself. I let out a deep, deep breath and offered thanks and praise. And then we partied the night away.

As I left I noticed that most folk had arrived and were leaving by taxi, although I also heard that taxi drivers did not like coming to this spot at night, due to the drive back down. I swallowed hard at this point got in my car and began the journey back to the hotel we were staying at. I have to say it was not a pleasant journey. Things seemed to be going well and then I made a slight error and missed a turning. Sat-Nav directed me to take the next left, which I duly did. This was a big mistake. I later learned that you do not turn left at this point. Let’s just say that my car got stuck, right across the road and in my attempts to get free I burnt out my clutch and could not move. This was not a great place to break down, in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night with my youngest brother and sister with me.

We got out of the car my sister called International Rescue and the AA, she has gold membership. Before you ask, yes International Rescue is a real thing, although we were not expecting “Thunderbird 3” to arrive. The road I was stuck across was actually a real road, pure tarmac and vehicles began to appear. Mainly taxis going to the wedding venue. Most looked and just passed by up the hill, a few turned round but one or two stopped. One kindly taxi cab driver even got out to help saying “I’m a really good driver, I will get you out”. Then he realised he couldn’t as there was no clutch. Eventually a policeman arrived, what a Godsend he was. Finally the rescue truck arrived and we were taken back to the hotel.

The next day I sorted things out with my own recovery people and I and my car were brought to Altrincham, while arrangements were made to get my brother and sister home too. As I was driven back home chatting away with the man in the recovery vehicle about life and everything I began to reflect on the encounters I had experienced over the last 24 hours. I also reflected on the phrase “Radical Ok-ness” and the concept that “all will be well”. Another phrase also came into my mind too, the “kindness of strangers”. My word I had met some lovely people, who were so helpful and understanding in Devon. It lifted my heart as I sat there trying not to feel sorry for myself as I listened to the driver tell me all about his life. It’s funny I did very little talking, but lots of listening as I feasted my eyes on the beautiful countryside that we passed through, heading north and heading home. All the way home the "ears of my ears were awake" and "the eyes of my eyes were open." What a beautiful journey home.

It is easy to look at the world through eyes of despair and say that it is not OK, there is something rotten in life. There is of course much that is not OK. I remember just as I journeyed down to Devon hearing of the awful incident of a man being stabbed by a stranger on the motorway. Almost every day as I listen to the news I hear of troubles in the middle-east, mass shootings in America, crises in Europe, politicians caught up in scandals and celebrities and athletes bringing themselves into bad repute. I also see other troubles much closer to home. Our Joe’s grandmother Val, the mother of two of my sister’s and of course our Allen’s mother suffered a severe stroke last week and was unable to attend her daughter our Karen’s wedding the weekend after Joe’s. This has weighed heavily on my nearest and dearest. A young woman, that I had come to know, was killed last week by a driver who I understand was on drugs. I also share in the troubles of other friends and family and of course the hardships that people in congregations I serve are experiencing, emotional, mental and physical. So yes it is easy to say that nothing is OK; it is easy to fall into the Hobbesian nightmare and believe has he said “And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short” or in the words of the confession in the Book of Common Prayer that “there is no health in us”. It is easy to see the suffering in life and the wrong we do to one another. Yes we human beings do some terrible things to one another and yet on the whole what I see is goodness and in the end goodness seems to prevail. I do see an OK-Ness in life, when we choose it. When we bring it to life. This begins I believe by first of all seeing it, by baring witness to this OK-Ness, but it is more than that. I suspect that radical OK-Ness is about bringing this goodness to life, in our very lives. When we do we begin to bring that “Kin-dom of Love” to life. When we respond with kind-ness to what we see and do not pass by on the other side of the road.

The last week or so has brought that famous old parable in to my mind “The Good Samaritan” found in 10th chapter of Luke’s Gospel vv 25-37. Interestingly the two verses that proceed the parable also seems relevant too vv 23-24 . Verses that begin with the words ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!” I think that this parable is all about seeing and acting upon what we see. In the story both a priest and Levite go by and they both see him but they walk on by, they pass on the other side of the road. Then a Samaritan (who would be the enemy of the traveller from Jerusalem to Jericho) also see's him and when he see's him he is moved to action and not only helps but also brings him to a place of safety and pays for his boarding’s and lodging etc. He wants no recognition or thanks for his actions, he is motivated purely by compassion, this is pure altruism.

Now I think this story is teaching something very simple and vital, each of us is capable of all the actions that take place here. We are all capable of walking on by and we are all capable of being Good Samaritans. We can all be good neighbours. I believe that to see the world through the hopefulness of our potential goodness is what “Radical OK-Ness” is all about. It’s about seeing the good and becoming the good, so that others can see it too. It’s also about not beating ourselves up too much when we fall short of what we can be.

As I have written many times before I truly believe that everything matters; every feeling, every thought, every word, every action and every look. I truly believe that how we look at the world really matters. And how do we look at the world? Well through our eyes.

They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul; they say that our eyes reveal who we are. That said I do not think it is our eyes alone that reveal the truth, but how we see through these very same eyes. It is how we look at one another and life itself that reveal who we are.

How we look at one another really matters. We can look at one another with compassion, or we can give one another a hard look. Think about it when someone gives us a hard look, what do we do? Well usually we either turn away in fear or we respond with hardness too. What about compassion? What happens when someone looks at us through loving eyes? Well usually we respond with compassion and our lips and eyes may even stretch to a smile. Or at least we do unless we have fallen so far into the pit of nihilistic despair that we respond to love with fear and hatred.

How we act towards others really matters. But it is not just about doing what is right, it’s also about the spirit in which each task is conducted. We can appear to be encouraging and loving and doing the right thing, but our eyes will say otherwise. Our eyes say it all. Think about a smile. We think we smile with our mouths, but we do not, we smile with our eyes. When I smile my eyes almost slant shut. What we do and however we do something our eyes will reveal the truth of our hearts and people will intuitively pick up on this. They will see it in our eyes.

The eyes say it all. If you see the world through loving eyes you will see love. The next time you look at someone, let your eyes stretch to a smile. If you do the eyes of life will stretch back at you with a loving smile too.

This is where it begins. “Radical Ok-ness” begins with our eyes, with how we see the world. Yes we need to acknowledge what is wrong, but also what is right and good and we need to act appropriately. We need to do what we can, even if that is just one small thing, because that one small thing may well lead to a tidal wave of compassion that covers our whole world. We need to recognise the love present in life, the OK-Ness, despite the presence of suffering and we need to also bring that love alive, right here, right now and then we might just begin to build that “Kin-dom of Love” right here, right now.

May we look at the world through loving eyes.

...If you really want to understand what I mean, just simply listen to this clip "All will be well" by Rev Meg Barnhouse...She say's it far better than I...

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