Another book that I was given in 2014 … and has taken until late 2015 to read – but which I enjoyed reading on my #Staycation … I read it on the train journey on the way back from Winchester to my new home in Manchester!
Lucy draws on a mix of prose, poetry and Biblical reasoning to question how fully we throw ourselves into our Christian lives, or how often we forget God! As in yesterday’s book review, we are reminded that God wants all of our hearts, minds and soul! Lucy doesn’t preach, but speaks from her own experience (as with all the best writing, offering up vulnerability) … with some strong challenges accompanying many tongue-in-cheek moments … and lots of encouragement to keep stepping forward.
As I wrote in my PhD thesis:
Tosh claims that history is ‘collective memory, the storehouse of experience through which people develop a sense of their social identity and their future prospects’.
Lucy weaves in a range of thinking about memory – how it creates our identity – both as individuals and as a group. The Biblical cultural context adds insight around the themes of memory. I noted that Lucy said she doesn’t put God on her ‘to-do’ list, as that seems rather demeaning … I actually do – with ToDoIst – along with other friends who I want to intentionally arrange to see! Helps me remember – along with other technological tools! On p18, Lucy engages in a discussion about modern technology/retaining information – but as I teach in my workshops – right back to Socrates – there have been worries that technology (in that case pencil/paper) would lead people to rely upon outside support rather than their own memories – does technology maybe even free up our minds/memories to be more creative? Discuss?!
Lucy has written frequently for BigBible, so I know she’s got an interest in online interactions too. I loved her description of how grace shaped an online conversation with an atheist:
I once had an intriguing Twitter exchange with an atheist who was convinced I was delusional and that religion was the root of evil. I didn’t rise to his comments and conversation progressed. I asked questions; he replied. I challenged him; he challenged me. We even thanked each other for being respectful. ‘I still think you’re wrong’, he said at the end. But in one of his last tweets he added a smiley face. That little emoticon indicated that it was indeed a gracious disagreement. Even if he thought I was deluded. Even if I thought him misinformed. Even if neither of us changed our minds (p126).
This is part of a larger chapter considering how grace shapes our reactions: “Trying to focus on God and what he wants of us in moments of hurtful negativity takes a great deal of strength and practice.” The word practice is important here – we need to practice so in the more difficult times we are more naturally able to respond grace-fully.
In our world – western culture has told us we can only rely on ourselves, we place too many hopes in frail humans, we spend too much time working to society’s definition of success, rather than God’s – not understanding that our greatest times of growth are often in our times of waiting. We spend so much time waiting to be noticed, that we fail to notice others. We question what our hopes are in … because that is what we will become subject to – whether that is the world, or God’s way of being. Tiredness and fear are two of our biggest enemies – skewing things out of shape and messing up our priorities. We have grown used to the idea that we are all ‘tired’ – how do we challenge that and stop living in cycles of energy boom and bust? Fear often swamps our mind with trivial, mundane things that don’t allow us to face up to the bigger issues fighting around inside of us – forgetting that God is our refuge and strength. Encouragingly Lucy says “There is nothing flimsy about our faith, even if we’re clinging to it by a single thread.”
Lucy tackles the dark times with compassion – reminding us of the Psalmists who doggedly stuck with it despite difficulties – we have become so used to things being easy that we forget how to cope in the more difficult times – forget to listen out for God’s voice, and forgetting that he’s bigger than we are. In times of darkness we are left with “the honesty of who we are now and how we feel now.” New memories are formed – which can be difficult – but profound. On p47 the topic of anger is raised … something that we are often discouraged from acknowledging, but expressing it in the wrong way – or stuffing it down – can both be unhealthy!
The first section of the book had focused upon us and our culture, whilst the second section ‘An Ancient Dilemma’ draws our attention to the life of Biblical communities, especially the Israelites – who required a collective memory/identity to remind them that they were a rescued/special people. As I noted with the British and wartime propaganda posters, the Israelites were given “ownership of old memories, even though they had not experienced the original event themselves.” Lucy doesn’t shy away from the difficult bits – including dealing with cultural clashes – which reminds me of contemporary debates about immigration, assimilation and globalised culture! We hear of the Woman at the Well, and of course the ultimate act of remembrance – the bread and the wine. We are asked how much of God’s message we are sharing – and how much that reflects our preoccupations, rather than those of God!
The third section considers the ‘ripples of forgetfulness’ – what do our actions demonstrate about our beliefs? The importance is not that we succeed, but that we try, right? If we no longer care about our ‘fruitfulness’, is that when to worry… we just need to ‘plug back in’. Rather than seeing ‘fruitfulness’ as a tick-list of things to achieve – for ourselves – are we seeking the values and fruits of the Kingdom/Spirit – reflecting the character of Christ – even in our limitations? Lucy tackles the question of compassion fatigue – the need for memory to shut down because it’s necessary for our sanity – but to ensure that this doesn’t mean that we become hard-hearted and un-compassionate – it may all seem a little overwhelming – but start with something – it’s not about the numbers – it’s about the attitude of heart behind it… and I would say that social media can make at least raising awareness key – don’t sniff at clicktivism says Simon Willis of Change.org! Love the end of this poem:
that on a painting
entirely of black
one tiny streak
of brilliant white
can change the whole
By the way – I tend to look at the fruits as kind of individual forms of ‘fruitfulness’ – Lucy reminds us that the flavours are designed to complement each other, rather than to be seen individually! Just before I read this book I had seen Disney’s Inside Out, in which the importance of memories, especially key memories, and the place of sad memories are so important (as I scribbled on p117). We are asked – what does our worship look like – and how do our memories inspire this?
The fourth section looks at ‘the art of remembering’. I found chapter 17 on Faith and Familiarity particularly helpful – lots of nodding, yes and underlining going on there (sorry if you hate people who write in books!)! We are not all knowing (that is God), we live in a time-poor society in which we worship ‘busy’, where faith seems to be something ‘extra’ that we try and squeeze in – rather than central to our lives. Lucy, in suffering from CFS/ME, has had to learn to manage her time and energy in different ways. There’s lots of helpful advice for things to experiment with (as I have learnt to do with Beyond Chocolate – try something (small), if it works, try it again, if it doesn’t, try something different) – acknowledging that we’re all unique. As Lucy says on p.141
Habits are hard to break. We need to start small, find the most manageable thing and not be tempted to overdo it. This tiny moment of space may feel like a huge challenge, yet even when being climbed on by a toddler, pausing between tasks in the office, or sitting in a busy waiting room, we can try and allow our thoughts to focus on God. This will be in a way that we, as individuals, find helpful – be it through running a phrase through our heads, looking at an object or picture, or simply becoming aware of our breathing. It’s not easy. We may not succeed, but we are beginning to try. How can it be worst to try than never to try at all?
Ironically, I was reading this on my #staycation. Too tired to book a trip overseas (also rather ££ in August), I wanted to sleep without an alarm clock for 2 weeks, and once unpacked in the new flat, see a few (relaxing) people, catch up on a few books I’d been wanting to read for a while (fiction and non-fiction). Slow our hearts, minds – learn how to rest! See p26:
Resting is not as passive as it sounds. It takes practice. Addictions take some time to overcome, and stress or busyness addictions are no exception. When we go cold turkey, withdrawal symptoms are inevitable. But it’s important, because stress has a negative effect on remembering. Constant stress leads to the release of flurries of stress hormones, and these interfere with the processes of memory. Even at a chemical level, stress is bad for remembering effectively.
Plenty of challenging material in this book, accompanied by lots of gentle encouragement and suggestions for action!
 Tosh, J., The Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods & New Directions in the Study of Modern History, 1991 (Second Edition), p.1. Tosh, J., The Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods & New Directions in the Study of Modern History, 2002 (Third Edition, Revised), p.1 rephrases this as: ‘All societies have a collective memory, a storehouse of experience which is drawn on for a sense of identity and a sense of direction’. At first glance this appears to make the same point, but is no longer noting that this is history, making the further point that ‘professional historians commonly deplore the superficiality of popular historical knowledge’.