Sunday, October 31, 2010

God who?

The world of blogging is such fun! I recently came across what might be termed a pro-atheism blog. Well, most of the other blogs I dip into are quite 'religiousy' & it makes a change! What's really impressive is the level of dialogue happening on this site. It seems not uncommon for it to rack up 100 comments on a single post within 24 hours. A quick skim through older posts gives the impression that some 'threads' can run for months. Nothing like this is happening on the other blogs I follow - probably not surprising! Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, & Orthodox sites aren't too likely to get people's blood boiling!

On this site they are all very convinced and passionate. OK, there does seem to be a degree of repetition - 'Oh those silly theists!' or words to that effect tend to crop a few times in most threads - but most of the stuff is quite refreshing & relatively restrained in how it's expressed (mostly - it must be hard to reign yourself in all the time when you think the folk you are 'agin' are complete twits!). They have thought through their position, come to a decision, and are happy to live with it.

And I can respect that. The world is full of people who mouth the values of faith with their lips and then have nothing in their lives to reflect the faith they claim to espouse. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether the folks posting away on this site are any better or worse, in some kind of moral sense, than the believers they think are deluded. No doubt they are just as likely to lie, fudge on their taxes, or cheat on their life-partners as anybody else. But that's not really the point I'm getting at. At least they are not being hypocritical and leading lives that make a lie of what they claim to believe.

It's funny how things seem to run in themes. There was an article in Church Times recently on atheism. It suggests that it can be turned to evil purposes just as much as religion can, that it was a major element of Communists' attempt to control people in the bad old days. I wonder if this article was intended to be uplifting or affirming in some way ... along the lines of: look how wrong these atheists are - they think religion is the root of all evil, but looky here - atheism can end up being used for evil ends too. I actually find the whole thing depressing. The original Bolsheviks embraced atheism because they thought that religion had been subverted into a tool of control over the masses by the ruling classes - can anyone seriously deny that they had a point?  But 'proving' that atheism can be pretty awful too doesn't 'prove' that religion is superior ... it just means that people can turn any ideal into a nightmare, especially when power and control come into it.

Now, few though the people who read this blog are, I'm sure there's bound to be a least one who's thinking: 'Now surely Father, while you're posting on that blog, you're trying to show those atheists the error of their ways and bring them back to the faith?' I haven't a notion of it! For a start, it's against the rules of the blog to evangelize and I'd be booted off in a heartbeat. And secondly, I think it would be rather pointless. When it comes right down to it the only 'proof' a believer can offer is their own faith, what they know in their heart about their experience of God. And that's precisely the sort of proof that these people don't accept. They want something you can put under a microscope and that's not something I can give them.

So I'll keep on posting ... at least as long as it stays fun! I'll look at what they have to say & they can look at what I have to say ... no doubt they'll think I'm an idiot or deluded or whatever ... and I'll think they're wrong too ... and hopefully the conversation will stay civilised ... and if everyone in the world behaved like that, wouldn't it be a much better place?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Oh, Hawaii

I had a bit of a shock at a recent clergy conference. A diocesan colleague, a fellow curate who was a year ahead of me at the seminary, announced he was moving soon. He's been offered his own parish and will take on that new ministry in a couple of months.

It was a shock, because it made me realise how short one's time as a curate is. Oh, I know I could spin it out for years if I really wanted to, but that wouldn't be me. When I felt called to the priesthood, I had a clear vision of taking on the challenges of a parish as soon as I felt properly prepared. Given that I'm a bit older than the average curate, that gives me two main reasons to feel there is no excuse for delaying: the first is, being older, I have a lot of transferable skills from the work I've done previously ... I'm seeing that already working as a curate. In a lot of areas I'm not starting at the bottom of the ladder – I'm often quite high up (even it I do have to jump across to a different but parallel ladder!). The second thing that really gives me a 'push' to move on sooner rather than later is just being older: I really don't have time to waste!

I'm still a long way from being ready to move. And when I do move, the current plan is stay in the diocese I'm in – it's a really good diocese and I feel very comfortable here. It's also where I grew up, so I have a lot of friends and family here. Those are all good, if not compelling reasons, to stay if it is possible. A far more important one is that I want to be fair to my family. I've moved them around a lot in the past few years. They need a bit of stability in their lives.

But … it's still hard not to look at those websites that list all the different places in the world where one might serve as a priest in Anglican Orders! Hong Kong! Australia! New Zealand! And given that I've already spent a large part of my life in the US (and even did a placement with TEC while I was training) I thought I might take a look at what was on offer in America.

My first thought was Arizona or New Mexico – the clean, dry heat of the desert appealed (or is it just one cowboy movie too many?), but nothing seemed to be on offer. Then, glancing idly down the list of states, one seemed to spring out: Hawaii … Ooohhh!

Now with a personal mental image of the state firmly rooted in Elvis movies and old TV shows (Hawaii-five-o and Magnum - now that dates me doesn't it!) it was impossible not to take a look … which is always a danger! Even the name of the church on the website seemed to speak to me: St Christopher, patron saint of travellers. With as much travelling as I've done, it's difficult for me not to think of him as a good guy (even if he might be what's technically referred to as a legendary saint – so what? It never did St Brigid any harm!).

I had to stop looking at the parish profile after a while – it was all so tempting I was in danger of drooling over my keyboard. The place looked gorgeous and the people sounded fabulous (ok, what else would you expect from a parish profile – but even if there is some hype, it's still Hawaii!). Worse (from my point of view) was that as I read the profile, it seemed that I could be just the person they're looking for - in my own mind at least! But they do want a communicator who is good with money and can reach out to the military … well if a former military broadcaster and tax inspector doesn't tick those boxes, I don't know who does! My wife and kids would forgive a certain lack of stability ... it's Hawaii, after all! Friends and family? They'll visit! It's Hawaii! All those other reasons I mentioned for not wanting to move - well, I did say they weren't compelling ... at least not as compelling as Hawaii!

As I said, it's all too tempting. And as St Alphonso di Ligouri always said, it's always best to avoid the things that tempt you (or words to that effect!). So I closed the page … and to even further remove myself from temptation's way, decided to write a blog entry on the lovely St Christopher's in Hawaii … I know that not many read my blog, but maybe the right person will, the person who is meant to go to that place. If that is you, what are you waiting for? Start Googling now & get thee to Hawaii! Once the position is filled my temptation is gone! (Look, I'll make it easy for you – here's the website: http://episcopalhawaii.org/ordained-ministry/positions-available ). And if it's not for you, maybe you can think of someone who might be interested - pass it on.
But it is kind of scary to think that the time is fast approaching when I'll have to start looking at parish profiles seriously (and in the unlikely event my rector or bishop is reading: relax - I'm not going anywhere yet & even then I really do hope to stay close!) . That the comfortable little bubble that is curacy will soon be burst and all the problems of a parish will land on my doorstep. Scary, but in a good kind of way. It is the reason that I pursed the long road of being where I am now, a priest of God's Church. So pray for me, if that's something you feel you can do. And pray for the fabulous people of St Christopher's, that they'll get the rector they need soon.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sometimes there must be blood

The first hint the washing machine might not be doing so well was an ugly grinding noise. Not long after that the shiny drum inside started looking like the wrong side of a metal door in a Sci-fi monster movie. You know the kind - where Sigourney Weaver runs fetchingly through a metal door which whooshes closed behind her ... and just as she leans back against it and draws a relieved breath into her (delightfully) heaving bosom BAM! Something powerful slams into the door, deforming the metal and making it bulge inwards towards the startled Ms Weaver. Cool when its a door in a movie (especially with Sigourney in frame), not so cool when it's the inside of your washing machine and you have vast mounds of dirt encrusted clothes that your kids gleefully pile up with wild abandon needing to be dealt with if they are not to be sent forth naked into the world (to their joy, your shame, and the tongue-clicking disapproval of the social workers).

So, it was the eternal question that faces everyone at some point in their lives: repair or replace? Repair gets the green vote - but calling in a repair man could end up almost as costly as replace ... with no guarantee that he'll be able to do any fixing and you'll end up having to replace anyway. I went with the half-way option: open that sucker up and see if either I can fix it myself or at least decide if it can be repaired.

To relieve any tension you might be having on that score, I'll let you know now that I was indeed able to open it, did discover the source of the problem - some kind of broken retaining arm which had sheered off and was tearing everything up as the drum revolved ... I'll show that to a repairman & if he thinks he can replace that, then I'll go with repair. Otherwise it is machine heaven for the old model and in with the new.

But as I was doing the opening up and investigating, I was ably assisted by my almost 14-year old son ... who kindly managed to drop a socket wrench on my knuckles. Just after, he noticed blood on my hand.
'Oh, sorry dad, I didn't realise I cut you!'
'That's OK, you didn't. I scraped it on the bolt taking the seal off. But you have to be willing to risk a little blood if you're going to try something like this!'

As we were putting the seal back on, I needed him to hold a nut still with a pliers while I tightened the bolt through it. The pliers kept slipping off.
'You need to get your hand right in there,' I said. 'Don't you know how to hold a pliers?'
'Sure I do. But I don't want to cut myself like you did.'

As I was washing the oil and dirt off my hands afterwards, I examined the damage: a little bit of skin gone from my thumb near the nail, a fair sized graze on the knuckle of my index finger, and a tiny gash in the middle of the back of my hand looking like a stigmata starter kit. Nothing major, nothing I'd noticed incurring during the course of the project, and really hardly any blood at all. And worth it in the end, because one way or another I've saved myself some money: once I take that part to a repairman, I'll know if the machine can be fixed. If it can, than that's cheaper than a new machine (and so much kinder to the planet); or it can't and I've saved myself a pointless call out charge from Mr Guy RePair and I'll just buy the new one (sorry about that, planet, but I promise to dispose of the old one in a responsible manner).

But I was thinking about the blood. About whether I'm teaching my son the right things about life. About the need to make some sacrifices sometimes. To put in the effort, to take the risks. To shed a little blood - your own blood. To realise that things can't always come easy and if you're not willing to put in the work then they won't come at all. And if this isn't something we all need to remember more often. Especially when we're weighing choices in the balance ... because the option that seems easy can actually be the most costly of all. Sometimes the hard road is the only way through.

And just to give this a happy ending ... In the movies Sigourney always takes the hard road and she always wins out in the end ... except when she dies screaming with a monster bursting from her chest as she falls headfirst into a refinery full of molten lead ... but sometimes that is the happy ending, 'cause like this post is titled: sometimes there must be blood!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

the night the music died

I was just flicking around the channels, sitting on the sofa with her good self, having just watched, interruptedly, the intriguing new series 'The Event' (it's either going to be the next 'Lost' or lose the plot ... and the cast is great - everybody you ever half-remembered from every second or third TV series you ever watched or saw the ads for and meant to watch) - interruptedly because we have four children ... there is no such thing as an uninterrupted TV show when you have children ... that's why God invented DVDs ... he understands what it is like to have unruly & disobedient children!

But the flicking around after brought us to something called the 'MOBO Awards.' 'There you go,' says my wife, 'that'll help you understand what the young people are listening to.' Or maybe not. After four or five acts we gave up, giggling. We had no idea who these people were, what they were singing, or why they were wearing those clothes. Young woman, you'll catch your death, and yes, your bum does look big in that. Young man, the seat of your suit trousers does not belong somewhere in mid-thigh, and even Mr T would think the chains you're wearing a bit OTT.

Another flick or two brought us to 'Later with Jools Holland.' Ah yes, surely more our cup of tea, as we took another sip of Ovaltine. We tuned in as a group of middle-aged men were in the middle of singing something that sounded vaguely familiar. And the lead singer ... surely I had seen him somewhere before? I suggested tentatively to my wife that this might have been one of the bands we listened to in our youth.
'Never,' she scoffed.
'I think so,' I said, with growing dread ... even suspecting that these old boys were the pin ups of my teenage years made me feel older with every note that emerged from their rather thick necks.
The music ended, Jools came on, 'Ladies and gentlemen, Heaven 17.'
Heaven 17 indeed ... the pins ups of my youth looking like Francis Bacon had gotten at the poster and smeared them into something fat, balding, and much wrinkled.
'Oh no,' gasped my wife, 'They used to have such lovely hair.'
'Didn't we all,' I sighed.
'No they had nice hair. Pretty hair.'
'Pretty hair, pretty faces, pretty voices.'
We listened to a couple of other acts, but our hearts weren't in it. Someone said recently that tribute bands are the best why to relive the heroes of your youth. It may not be them, but they look more like what you remember. Personally I think I'll stick to remastered CDs. The minds eye is the best video of them all. And it doesn't make you feel like you're looking into a rather unforgiving mirror.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Curiouser and curiouser

I watched Horizon last night on the BBC. The programme was called 'Seeing is believing' – except that it is not. Apparently our senses can be fooled – or sometimes act to fool us. The programme makers didn't use the words, but the sub-text seemed to be that 'reality' is an illusion created by our minds. Colour isn't real, but contextual – what we perceive as one colour is influenced by the other colours near by. Taste can be affected by vision – putting red food dye into lime flavoured water can make it 'taste' like berries because that is what our mind expects. What we hear can also be affected by what we see. The makers showed the 'McGurk' affect – if a person makes a 'ba' sound, while making the lip movements for 'va', a person looking at them will always hear 'va' – even if they know about the effect! They did a split screen on it and it was surreal – the sound was the same, but if you looked left you 'heard' the sound as 'va', if you looked right you heard it as 'ba.' The eyes over-ruled the ears.

More, sometimes our senses are only guessing – we take in so much information at any given moment that it is impossible for our brains to process it all. So the brain is selective. It edits. It chooses what it thinks is important. And so we can end up 'seeing' what we expect to see. That's how a lot of magic tricks and illusions work. If the magician tosses a ball up in the air twice, we 'see' it go up the third time, even though it doesn't – and when our brain catches up with reality, it seems to 'vanish' in mid-air.

Sometimes it essentially makes things up, find patterns where patterns don't exist. Remember the 'monsters' in your bedroom as a kid, that turned out to be shadows, or a pile of clothes, or an odd assortment of toys? That was your brain guessing – making a pattern out of nothing. This was a useful trait when we were evolving – if the thing that looks like a tiger in the woods is a tiger and we run … well, if we're wrong, no harm done; if we're right, we may have saved our lives.

And we're not necessarily limited to our five senses, or using them only in the traditional way. They had a blind man cycling a bike, navigating using echo-location. He can build up a 'picture' of his surroundings using tongue clicks – the scientists thought that the part of his brain that might usually have been used to process visual information may have been re-wiring itself. And they had vibrating belts – no, not those kind of vibrators! - one used by pilots, tied in to their machines' sensors to give them an artificial 'view' of the ground. When they couldn't see the ground with their eyes they could still see it another way … through the intensity and location of the vibrations. Another belt acted like a compass, giving the wearer the 'pigeon' sense of being able to detect the earth's magnetic field. In both cases the test subjects quickly adapted to be able to use these new 'senses' negotiate their environment.

The scientists spoken to were all very enthusiastic about the discoveries they were making about how the human mind works and how our senses work to perceive the world around us … and rightly so. But I think it raises another interesting question. One of the big 'drums' that people like Dawkins have been banging of late is about trusting our senses – all there is is what our five senses tell us. But we don't understand how our senses work. We can't be sure of what they are telling us all the time. Sometimes we are only perceiving what we want to perceive. And in other ways our senses aren't as limited as we used to think. They can adapt. Behind what we sense, or think we sense, is mind – filtering, interpreting, knowing.

Seeing isn't believing. Believing is seeing. There's more going on than just the interaction of our five senses with the world around us. But most of us knew that already.

Monday, October 18, 2010

10 Reasons to Support USPG Ireland

Here's a worthy cause you might like to support:

10 REASONS TO SUPPORT
USPG
Ireland
1. We are more than an aid agency—we support church growth and church leadership, as well as education, healthcare and development.

2. We are helping churches in Ireland to look beyond their parish boundaries and adopt a global perspective.

3. We provide a link to mission in over 50 countries—providing your church with links to the global Anglican Communion.

4. We support churches and dioceses that are frequently overlooked by other agencies and link relationships.

5. We draw upon over 300 years of experience and have the expertise to ensure your donations go where help is needed most.

6. We are in it for the long haul, unlike the media and some aid agencies that move from crisis to crisis.

7. We are the modern face of mission—the pith helmets have long gone; mission today is from everywhere to everywhere

8. We do not impose our own ideas—we support local Anglican churches as they make their own decisions and reach out in ways that are culturally appropriate.

9. We support vital work that is often the only source of help for remote rural parishes and forgotten urban communities.

10. We know that many charities are asking for your money—but if Anglicans like you don’t support mission around the Anglican Communion then who will?

Please send as much as you can to support USPG’s vital work. We can provide speakers, worship material and other resources to help your church engage directly with global mission.


61-67 Donegall Street
Belfast
BT1 2QH
Gobadruish
Mohill
Co Leitrim

61-67 Donegall Street
Belfast
BT1 2QH
Gobadruish
Mohill
Co Leitrim

When the collar calls

I had to go round to my parent's house this morning to meet a delivery man. At first the guy presumed I was a Roman Catholic priest (I get that a lot – don't we all!). When he found out I was Anglican, a conversation began. It turned out that he was from a mixed background – one parent RC, the other Anglican. He had been brought up RC, but of late had been thinking of making a move to the other side of his heritage. He didn't have any hostility towards the RCC – in fact he was quite sympathetic towards the problems the RCC is now facing. It just wan't the right place for him anymore. He thought that what Anglicanism had to offer was more 'him', that it might be more of a natural home for him. However, he thought that he wouldn't be welcome – that there was some church rules on the Anglican side that would prevent him from making such a move. I let him know he was wrong on that score, that he would be more than welcome, that all he had to do was start attending his local church.

He went off with a smile on his face. 'Maybe I'll see you in church,' was his parting shot. Maybe I will, maybe I won't. But I know there would be no 'maybe' about it at all if I hadn't been wearing my clerical collar today.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Digging Deep

Like thousands of preachers around the world, I imagine, I used the rescue of the Chilean miners in my sermon today. It was hard not to – it was a topic on everyone's hearts and minds … the elephant in the corner that would have been impossible to ignore - & it was the ultimate feel good story. A great drama with a happy ending.

Maybe not so happy for some … I don't think I would have liked to be the guy who had more loved ones waiting for him up top than he could reasonably explain! At a gathering of my clergy colleagues we joked that he'd be the one going up last … maybe he'd even offer to stay down! It was tempting, given the Old Testament text of Genesis 32 today – where Jacob goes forth with his two wives, two maid-servants (ie concubines) and 11 children – to draw the two together and preach on polygamy … fortunately I resisted the temptation … the temptation to preach on it; the urge to use it to get a laugh was impossible to hold back from! A cheap shot, my wife said – I agree … the cheap shots are the best – they always get a laugh!

There's something else cheap about this whole story, though. Those miners were down there in a dangerous mine in the first place for a lot of cheap reasons: the desire for cheap goods; the desire for cheap profits; an attitude that human life – some lives anyway – are cheap. The moving finger of media attention has written on the wall and now moved on … will anything change because of what these men endured? I hope it does – that would be the ultimate happy ending.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Questions, questions

My entire family went to a table quiz last night. Well, when it's a fund raiser for the local scout troop and you have three sons in it you really don't have much choice!

We had a great time. The three older boys went off to a table with some other friends and my wife and I plus two of her friends made up another. Table quizes are such fun … the head-scratching when you don't have a clue; the groans when you get something right that you absolutely knew (especially when you knew, but everyone else at the table swore blind you were wrong, only to be proven right later – a very hollow victory indeed!); and the cheers when you get a tough one right – particularly when it was a wild guess!

We did all right on the final score – we placed fourth overall (one or two of those points I was out-voted on would have made all the difference, but of course I was too much of a gentleman to point that out!). The round that really killed our chances was the music round. They played the intro's from ten songs and you had to guess the name of the song from that. Four were 'oldies' and six were in the current top ten. We aced the oldies, but as for the 'newies', well … let's just say we showed our age on those ones …

Thinking back on it, though, that round really began to gnaw at me … not because it damaged our place in the rankings, but on general principles. I used to be a radio DJ and took a modest pride in the fact that I could identify almost any track in the charts from the first five to ten seconds of music. I wasn't perfect, but I was usually right around 95 percent of the time. I wasn't as hot on some of the older stuff … but on anything that had been a hit in the previous 20 to 30 years I reckon I could have gotten three out of four.

There's all kind of reasons why I've let this particular skill slip. It's a long time since I worked in radio. The different careers I've been involved with have kept me busy. My wife and I got into baby production modes and what used to be leisure time was transmuted into nappy-changing/story-reading/kissing-'owies'-on-the-knee time. All kinds of reasons and all of them good and reasonable. But …

The table near us had a group of secondary school age boys. They did terribly on the quiz. They were right at the bottom for for every round – they averaged only one or two questions right (and they cheered every time the scores were read out – they were aiming for the booby prize for coming last) … except for the music round. On that, they aced the chart songs and did ok on the oldies too (ironically, that round ruined their chances of finishing last, which they missed by only one point to a table of their peers!).

The point is, the music in the charts was important to them. I, on the other hand, not only didn't get the questions right, I had never even heard any of the songs before. And as for the names of the artists who performed them … well if you guessed that I had never heard of them either, well aren't you the perceptive one!

Now, I could just shrug my shoulders and think: 'What does it matter? I'm a middle aged priest … no one expects me to know this stuff … it's not like anyone else of my age at the quiz did any better … I'm kept busy enough as it it is … why should this worry me?'

Except it does. I still remember feeling put out at my parents and the other adults as a teenager when they were clueless about the things that mattered to me. More than put out – angry. Not caring about the things that were important to me was like saying I wasn't important. My response to their dismissal of the things that I valued was to rubbish the things they valued … they didn't care … they were out of touch with the world … they were a bunch of dinosaurs. And if I thought that at their age, there's a good chance that's what they're thinking now.

Maybe that doesn't matter too much for most adults … there's always going to be a generation gap. But what about those of us who get into a pulpit every week to preach a timeless message? Ministry in the modern age has enough problems as it is – do I really need the added bonus of looking like someone who is out of touch with the modern world in the first place? Would it really kill me to change the channel in the kitchen in the morning or in the car as I'm touring the parish?

Now there's a question I'll have to think long and hard about.


Friday, October 15, 2010

No where to hide!

Just to show everyone how ignorant I am of how the blogging world works ... I created this blog yesterday and told no one (except my wife!) - I did put a comment on the site of the person who suggested I start blogging that I had followed his advice ... but as far as I'm aware there was no way for anyone to trace that back to my blog! So there I was, thinking that I had plenty of time to find my blogging 'voice' & as I built up confidence I would shyly share with friends and colleagues that I had indeed joined the digital age & invite them to have a peep and give their opinions ... perhaps in a few weeks ... maybe a bit longer ... imagine my surprise when I looked at my blog today (a bit like a child taking out a favourite treasure to admire privately) to find that it had been found! I have a comment! And two followers! Wow ... I have no idea how that happened. The scary thing now is that this means that people are watching ... it's abit like the Oscar Wilde quip: the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about ... in blogging, which is worse: being read or not being read? Oh well - it's out there now (flapping in the breeze for all to see, as I might have said in my navy days) ... we'll just have to see what happens next! And since people are actually reading, perhaps it is time to stop posting about blogging and write something worth reading - let's hope that's possible!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Leap of faith

Hello to the digital world of blogging. I've called this posting 'Leap of faith' because it is my first toe into this virtual ocean ... I'm quite tentative about this, because up until a few weeks ago I didn't even follow anyone's blogs & hardly looked at them for any reason. If I did a google search & one came up I might look at that posting but that was it.

But over the last while I seemed to find blogs lying in wait for me everywhere I went. I'd do a search on a topic and the top few results were all blogs. I'd do another search and more blogs. I noticed that some of the same blogs kept coming up.' Hmnn,' I thought, 'these particular bloggers seem to be posting on stuff I'm interested in ... maybe I ought to bookmark them.' So I did, followed them for a while, & liked what I saw. And then at a conference I was talking with someone ... and he asked me did I blog & if not, had I thought about it!

My life has been pretty much a series of lucky falls into things that I like and found interesting ... & by and large I'm quite happy with the way my life has been going. The idea of blogging seemed to be another potential lucky falling ... and far be it from me to buck a trend!

The title of the blog 'The Way Out There' might make more sense if anyone who reads it knows that I am an Anglican priest. It is much too soon for me to pin an absolute definition on what I'm going to put in this blog and leave out ... if it's any help, I'm not in the 'Sinners, repent' way of doing things. My general inclination right now is that it will be musing about what's going on in the world and how that challenges or encourages faith ... and what is there to be learned from that ... if anything.

So, here goes. Not quite a leap into the abyss, sitting safely as I am at my computer in my office with the central heating on, but a shot in the dark nonetheless. Wish me luck. Pray for me if you can.