Some of you will remember Juliet Lloyd who was a ministerial student placed with us here at Bethel many years ago now! She went into ministry in Penarth, but more recently has been exploring creating storytelling places as way of sharing the gospel. I asked if she’d share a little with us about her journey…
A Sucker for a Story…
Jon asked what I had been up to lately, and, having shuffled through the extensive lists of foreign trips to exotic places, high-level diplomatic missions and a multi-stadium concert tour … (all of which, NOT!), I have to confess that, apart from some grandparenting duties and a little bit of preaching, a lot of my time has been spent up to my ears in old boxes and packing cases, sorting ‘old stuff’. This is a task long overdue but made worse by the twin bad habits of procrastination and hoarding, the availability of space in our house over the years to store multiple house clearances from family and late relatives, and now, finally, the deadline to clear those spaces! It is not entirely a pleasant experience … but not without its benefits. It can be very illuminating and rich pickings if you are a sucker for a story!
Apart from old photographs (younger selves sporting some very dodgy hairdos … but looking much slimmer) and letters with all the undiminished passion of youth, we have been given insight into the completely different world of our parents and grandparents, through examining a succession of books, papers and artefacts. And we have made some significant discoveries. One such was a wooden box that I was convinced probably held something like an old Singer treadle sewing machine. (As it happens, there was an old Singer machine in another box, but this wasn’t it)
We opened it up … only to find that it was a portable pedal harmonium of the sort used by, among others, travelling preachers or overseas missionaries at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century, to provide a simple accompaniment for hymn-singing in small congregations. I knew my late father-in-law had been a regular local preacher around small chapels in Herefordshire and Mid Wales all his life, as had his Father before him in the South Wales chapels and particularly the old Seaman’s Mission, so I assumed his sister would know all about its provenance, as they call it, but she knew nothing about it. I wonder what stories it could tell if it could speak as well as it still plays. I can feel a visit to Antiques Roadshow coming on!!
I guess I also have to admit to watching quite a bit more television, and a not unrelated programme that has delighted us is The Repair Shop. It involves a Barn in West Sussex (near where I grew up) filled with exceptionally talented artisan craftsmen and women, who seem to be able to turn their hands and minds to the repair and restoration of just about any item that a member of the public brings to them. Of course, to make it a watchable programme, these are specially chosen members of the public, but the idea still holds true.
It works like this: Jo Public brings in the broken item and spins the background story of why it is precious to them (and how it got in such a dreadful state!) Usually well-beloved relatives (often recently deceased), either played or worked with/crafted/owned from a child or were commemorated in the item (delete as applicable!). This relative had usually been valiant/exceptionally caring/resilient in the face of troubles or wonderfully joy-giving, hence the item has become imbued with value by its story. The items? Well, they could be anything from teddies that have had the stuffing knocked out of them, musical boxes that play out of tune or not at all, through mechanical masterpieces reduced to boxes of bits and pieces, to hard-travelled saddles. But with their backstories they are transformed.
Stories like that ingrained in a rather tattered book filled with commemoration newspaper reports of the exploits of one of the naval officers who had survived Scott’s tragic Polar expedition, only to be lost at sea on his way home – he was the grandfather of the woman who brought the book in for the binding to be repaired. That officer had self-sacrificially given up his place in the last lifeboat of a sinking ship for the sake of a mother with children, never realising the truth of his own future heritage since he didn’t know before he left England that his wife was expecting his child. Somehow, that damaged book with a torn and loose spine, but signs of precious gold etching, warranted saving.
Or, then again, there was a TicTac Bag – a specially designed collection bag with locked clock mechanism used by collectors of gambling stakes for racing –perhaps not something you’d think very virtuous? But when told it had been used by one man’s father to raise extra money in an evening after his railwayman’s job to keep his wife and family of nine children in food and necessities for life – somehow it took on a sense of valour and responsibility – even though it was comprised of tired and battered leather that had become rather tough and inflexible over the years, the clock face broken and the key lost.
And sometimes the question is asked, “Well, how did this item ever get into this state?” And Jo Public hangs his or her head and says, “It just got left in a drawer or a cupboard … I always intended to do something about it … I was a bit careless with it … didn’t think it mattered as much to me at the time … I thought I’d have a go at fixing it myself…”
And the result of hearing the story is that the artisans are sufficiently moved to want to give their best efforts to restoring the item … which they do with real passion. They have understood the love that the item has inspired and so they return the item to its intended former glory; and then they return it to its owner, who is clearly emotionally overwhelmed by realising again what the item means and also how it should have been kept.
I wonder if you are picking up on the theme here? About something that so often appears broken and fails to show its true glory … but maybe we’d realise it actually has incredible value if we only knew its backstory: the love shown to it or with it, what someone sacrificed for it or how beautifully someone crafted it?
Why couldn’t that item be you and me and our lives? Perhaps the problem is that we never realised how much we are loved. Maybe that’s because we have taken a look at ourselves in the mirror and already decided that there’s not all that much that is loveable. Or maybe it’s because that is what we have been told so many times, we have chosen to believe it.
In case we forget, we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14) … ‘God’s workmanship’ (Ephesians 2:10) – his ‘masterpiece’ – literally his show-off work example – and he doesn’t make rubbish!
Feeling like a failure at relationships? We are told that we have a God who emptied himself of everything to remove all possible barriers to reconciliation with a Lover who showed no desire even to be reconciled to him. Verse after verse reminds us: that we didn’t do the wooing. “While we were still far off …” (Ephesians 2:13). “While we were utterly helpless…” (Romans 5:6) “While we were still sinners…” (Romans 5:8) …Christ gave his life to win us back.
What’s more, we are loved by someone who we don’t have to clean ourselves up for, put on a mask, pay our debts, straighten our lives out – he loves us pre-repair shop.
Yet, isn’t it true that we have lived carelessly … wasted time … left this loved and valuable item … this treasured life … mouldering in the back of the cupboard … getting knocked about … torn a little more here … battered a little more there … its leather crying out for nutrients?
So, what would you say to Jo Public, having realised the importance of her item and being given the opportunity to have it repaired and restored? Wouldn’t you now hope she’d start using whatever resources she has available to strengthen it and keep it protected? Perhaps show it respect and put it on a shelf off the floor … maybe regularly apply some polish to it?
Since Christ suffered while he was in his body, strengthen yourselves with the same way of thinking Christ had. The person who has suffered in the body is finished with sin. Strengthen yourselves so that you will live here on earth doing what God wants, not the evil things people want. In the past you wasted too much time doing what nonbelievers enjoy.
1 PETER 4:1-3
The Apostle Peter warns the believers in the same way – wise up! If your life was that valuable to Christ, it has got to start to be valuable to you too and that needs attention. You can’t live carelessly anymore, because how you live affects you, those around you and this world.
The key to change is a new understanding of the value already placed on your life – and wanting to restore it until it looks like it was intended to. And to do that, Peter says, you need to think like Christ – take on his attitude. But what does that look like?
The time is near when all things will end. So, think clearly and control yourselves so you will be able to pray. Most importantly, love each other deeply, because love will cause people to forgive each other for many sins. Open your homes to each other, without complaining. Each of you has received a gift to use to serve others. Be good servants of God’s various gifts of grace. Anyone who speaks should speak words from God. Anyone who serves should serve with the strength God gives so that in everything God will be praised through Jesus Christ.
1 PETER 4.7-11
Firstly, it is shot through with love … but not shallow love that gets easily offended, impatient, short-tempered and mean-spirited. This is deep: self-sacrificial, long-suffering, peace-making, multiple-chance-giving, offering a lapful and overflowing, non-grumbling, take the smaller piece, look-for-the-best-intention type of love – because that covers a multitude of sins … and we all need a bit of forgiveness from time to time, don’t we?
Secondly, it requires taking hold of the resources being offered to you. Just as the artisans in The Barn usually make good any poor self-repair attempts and with an incredible range of skills, and a not insignificant range of gadgets, can produce a beautiful restoration as befits the item, we are offered God’s resources for aligning our lives to that wonderful example of Christ’s life, as Peter lists for us: a prayer helpline, gifts of grace, wisdom and strength.
And as I said before, at the end of that TV programme, when Jo Public receives their restored item, they are so enthralled with the result that you just know they will exuberantly tell its story to all and sundry. And somehow you know that, when they do, that backstory of valour/bravery/extraordinary care/self-sacrifice/ creativity or whatever it was, will receive the praise it is due. That story that being so loved has already made our lives worth valuing.
After all, isn’t that the purpose of our living lives for God: as Peter ends his text, “…so that in all things, God may be praised through Jesus Christ”?