Isn’t it nice when you discover that someone has put into words something that you already knew to be true on an instinctual level? A few years ago I stumbled upon a quote that resonated with my soul. As a preacher/teacher, I sort of knew what I was trying to do – I wasn’t really so interested in ‘educating’ as I was in ‘inspiring’. However, ‘Inspiring’ is not usually listed as a Learning Outcome on many course outlines, much to my disappointment.
What I had realised from my own life is that inspiring someone is often better than just educating, simply because inspiration is its own motivation. Teaching someone how to read the Bible is good, but it won’t necessarily lead to more Bibles being read. Inspiring someone to read the Bible? Well, that’s a different matter. People who are motivated to do something will find ways of doing it, even if they haven’t been taught how to. Of course, the best preaching/teaching does both – teaches you how to do something and motivates you to do it. I might be in a minority here, but if I can only do one of those things I’ll plump for inspiration every time. When I look back on my life, it’s been my desire to follow Christ that has carried me through the dry, hard, lonely times. God can make up for the shortfall of ignorance, but He can’t do anything with a cold heart.
Anyway, the quote. It’s from a French writer and pilot called Antoine de Saint-Expury:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
How much better would the quality of our faith be if we had not taught people ‘The Christian Way to Do Things’, but instead had given them a hunger for God?
Sometimes I don’t have any words, which can be a bit awkward because words are supposed to be my thing. But sometimes, after the past couple of weeks, with politics and faith, terrorism and flames, there are no words. All I have is silence.
It makes me think of the beginning of Revelation chapter 8, when the seventh seal is opened and there is silence in heaven for half an hour. Did you know that sometimes heaven is silent too? If you’re one of those people who can’t bear silence, who has to fill a void with words, no matter how banal or ill chosen, then you might want to get some practice in being silent – there will come a time when words aren’t welcome.
Even in God’s presence, there are times when no words will do. I like that. When I have nothing to say, I don’t need to say anything, because the citizens of heaven know what it is like to have no words.
Most of us get bruised as we make our way through this world. Sometimes those bruises take a long time to heal, and might leave us tender and scarred beneath the surface. In Memento, Leonard lets his tattoos and notes guide him. He trusts them completely, and they become his truth. In the same way, we sometimes let our wounds control our actions and outlook on life. The world is full of people who let their scars do the talking.
I find it interesting that the risen Jesus still had the wounds from his crucifixion. It makes me speculate: perhaps those wounds that we have suffered in service to God will be a part of our perfect resurrection body. Our images of heaven might feature beautiful men and women with perfect teeth and unblemished skin, but I wonder if the truth might be different. Perhaps Paul, and all those who can say with him that they “…bear on my body the marks of Jesus…” might still have those wounds in heaven and – far from being a sign of imperfection and suffering – they might be a badge of honour.
But, as I was saying, sometimes those wounds are hidden; there are unseen scars. They count too. As I hinted at above, it’s the unseen tattoos that tend to have the most control over us. I’ve acquired a few cuts and grazes on my soul in my attempts to follow Jesus, but I don’t want them to shape me negatively. Instead I try to think of them a bit like Memento tattoos. They spell out words too – words like obedient and owned by God and faithful. After all, I wouldn’t have got them if it wasn’t for the risks I’ve taken in trying to serve Him. I don’t want to ignore them, or try to pretend that they’re not there, but neither do I want to relate to the world out of hurts and disappointments. Paul, the master of being wounded both by and for God, understood, I think, that these internal tattoos were sacraments – reminders of the divine – when he said, “…I delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Memento is a film about Leonard’s search for the enigmatic ‘John G’ – the man who killed his wife. The challenge for Leonard (played by Mike from Neighbours) is that he suffers from short-term memory loss. This throws a spanner in the works of his detectoring. He gets around this inconvenience with a collection of Polaroid photographs and a mass of tattoos that remind him of important snippets of information he has gleaned over the years. Of course, him constantly having to make sense of all this information anew is part of where the film’s twists and turns come from.
I have to say that I am quite taken with the idea of having really important things that I need to remember tattooed on myself. I’m aware of my own short-term memory loss that sees me forgetting who I really am, and playing the wrong game. If it was up to me, I’d go full-Memento and cover myself with black ink – FACT 1: You are a Son of God FACT 2: Remember that God thinks everyone you meet was worth the life of Jesus and so on. Ruth won’t let me do this, and that’s fair enough. It’s one of many reasons why she’s good to have around. It’s a shame though, as my middle-aged weight gain is beginning to show, so I’ve got plenty of room on my slowly-expanding canvas for some really important truths. So, I have to think of other less drastic ways to remember important things, because I really don’t want to forget.
Interestingly though, I think that there are such things as hidden tattoos, but more on that next week…