The last 13 miles at some speed through the outskirts of Oxford via Wallingford. Then to Christ Church via the Iffley Road to be met by a warm welcoming group. Dear Alannah was there to send us on our way from Canterbury at what seems to be a lifetime ago: there she is outside Christ Church to welcome us back with a spirited trumpet voluntary.
What I dislike are books on faith that imply that the author has it all worked out, and if the book is read then all doubts will flee (and if they don’t, well, there must be something wrong with the reader!) I also dislike the fact that too many vicars haven’t a clue and cannot preach for toffee, so people remain frustrated and unfed, their basic questions unanswered.
Let’s face it: in the twenty-first century, talk of the virgin birth, miracles and a dead man rising make for an improbable story. And dear old Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens haven’t helped matters.
I am comforted that it was not the devout and morally successful who understood Jesus, and who were loved by him. It was the desperate and the defeated, those who felt they had let themselves down, and the profoundly disappointed.
Paul Tillich, a German exile from NAZI Germany wrote this:
“Do we know what it means to be struck by grace? It does not mean we suddenly believe that God exists or that Jesus is the Saviour, or that the Bible contains the truth… Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual… it strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage.”
For me, this seems to capture the upside-down message of Jesus. So why do I believe?
Reasons to Believe
Year ago, I knew the great Chuck Colson of Nixon infamy and Watergate, and then jail and Prison Fellowship. He was a thug, no mistake – as was St Paul. And so was my friend Jonathan Aitken and so was I! But God uses us in our weakness.
In the book Born Again, Colson wrote that in the Watergate scandal in June 1972, seven men – the Watergate Seven – conspired to lie to the world that Nixon did not know about the break-in to the Democratic National Committee (Erlichman, Mitchell, Mardian, Colson, Haldeman, Parkinson and Strachan).
It took just one week for the conspiracy to fall apart; one by one, the seven could no longer bear the deception, and so they went to the special prosecutor to admit they had lied.
Colson concluded from his own experience that Jesus’s disciples simply couldn’t have conspired to lie to the Roman authorities about the resurrection, when the penalty for that lie was crucifixion. Why would they do such a thing? To die for a lie is completely contrary to human nature, so Colson concluded that the disciples had to be telling the truth. Jesus did rise from the dead: they saw him and they were prepared to die for that truth.
I have always thought that totally convincing and it’s the reason I began to believe in the miracle of the resurrection.
And then US bestselling author David Foster Wallace wrote this:
“Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for choosing some sort of god… to worship… is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things… then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally bury you… Worship power, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever-more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, and you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.”
Last, Solzhenitsyn spent much of his time, after his incarceration in the Gulag, trying to understand how some 60 million Soviets had simply “vanished”. And this was in my lifetime too! Sixty million people, many just slaughtered, many starved to death – and all killed in truly ghastly circumstances.
In God’s name, why? Because, he concluded, people had tried to live without God.
So people should belt up with their worries/doubts/fears, and so on – stop moaning on about why does God allow suffering and all the rest of it. Because this is nothing new. It’s been talked about for thousands of years.
Just get on with believing – what alternative is there? – and save your witterings for the recording angel!
The POSH Test
I wonder just how “posh” ZANE supporters are?
Just in case you didn’t know, the word “posh” comes from our Colonial past. It derives from whether liner passengers to India could afford “Port Out, Starboard Home” tickets (a posh ticket) – so they could buy shade from the sun.
Now I have been told that posh people are defined by how they pronounce the word “shower.” If it rhymes with “flower” they are certainly not posh. If they pronounce it “shar” (to rhyme with “far”), they are totally and irredeemably posh.
We have completed 162 miles, much through God’s own countryside, and returned safely. We were conscious that eighty years ago the sky was a battle ground: we were reminded of this by various Spitfires performing aerobatics by some enthusiasts. The weather was kind to us, perfect in fact. We were welcomed by loyal ZANE supporters: people who comprise the backbone of the UK: kindly, hospitable and generous to a fault. We choose not to highlight their names, which might cause embarrassment, but they know who they are. Thank you each and every one of you. It’s a privilege to have you in our lives.
Markus, our driver and doughty assistant from Bulawayo is a great ZANE friend; a careful driver and a patient man, blessed by an overarching good nature. Markus never takes offence: this last is a necessary quality when dealing with flawed individuals such as Jane and me, especially so when we are tired, thirsty, demanding and frequently fractious.
General Jane was, as ever, commanding and indomitable: an inspiration to all who know her. Her map-reading skills are astonishing, as are her leadership qualities.
The walk could not have proceeded without Sue Carter’s care and patience.
And last a thank you to you our generous supporters for your financial support and your many messages of encouragement. And thank you to the many who came to walk with us.
P.S daughter Clare tells me that her Italian friend, Luca, is most concerned about the Brexit and the wider political situation in the UK.
I ask you! When the Italians express worry about the political state we are in, we really are in a mess!