What follows is an excerpt from my autobiography… I thought about it last night when I saw a learner driver shoot out of a side road, narrowly missing a great big fast-track, and then stalling in front of a stream of holiday-makers going home from the beach, blocking the junction of three roads for about 5 minutes. The poor learner was in such a state that the instructor got out and took the wheel. The lovely thing was that a) no one was killed and b) everyone was very patient and smiling and waving. Proper waving, not clenched fists.
I should warn you – it’s written in the voice of a child, back in 1958.
“And we have a car! It’s a blue Standard 8 Companion and it has red seats and Dad is a really terrible driver. That’s what Norman says. Norman gave Dad his first lesson and afterwards he polished off all Daddy’s birthday whisky for shock. Daddy said it would have been cheaper to buy the bloody driving school. Dad buggers and panics when it kangaroo hops, but Norman swears really terrible swears, the word no one’s allowed to say, even Irish navvies. I’m an Irish navvy Mum says but that’s no excuse. Anyway, I’m not to tell Mum about Norman’s swearing. Last week I was in the back seat, sort of day dreaming and sleepy, and we suddenly did a kangaroo hop and Norman sucked in his breath and Dad swore that bad word he usually never swears and the engine stopped. So I looked up. And we were half way over a big road with lots of cars and lorries and things, loads of them, and we were stuck sort of sideways in the middle, and there was a car coming towards us on my side and another car coming towards us on Dad’s side and Norman said, all squeaky and loud ‘Don’t panic, they’ve seen you.’ And Daddy swore again and did something to the engine and we hopped a bit and stopped again and Norman said ‘*** a **** brick – **** – ****.’ which was really quite bad even for Norman. And Dad did something else to the engine and we hopped once, twice, and the car on my side did a swerve around us, blowing its horn like mad, and it shook the whole car it went so close – and now we were right in front of another car coming the other way and it was big and black and I looked at Dad in the mirror and he had his eyes shut. His eyes shut! Norman shouted this big loud shout ” Gerry! *** me – ignition on, clutch in… you can do this.’ But Dad made a sort of puppy noise and put his head on the wheel and whoosh! the black car was past us and now a lorry was coming and I could see the driver and he had his mouth wide wide open and he was sort of standing up behind his steering wheel and his lorry went a bit sideways and there was this crunch moment when you duck down even though it isn’t going to help and you hold your breath even though that won’t help – then the lorry stopped and we could hear the engine clanking and the world went muffled and we sat there in silence for a minute and you could feel lumps of dust falling down in the air, and everything was cold. My neck was wet and I don’t know why. So was Dad’s.
Then Norman said, all gentle and fierce at the same time, ‘Get the *** out of that **** seat you bloody *** eedjit’ and Dad got out, a bit fumbly, and Norman swished across and Dad walked round all jerky and got into Norman’s seat and Norman waved ‘sorry’ to everyone and we moved on, across the road. No one said anything for absolutely ages. Then Norman said ‘Sorry about the language, Luce’ and I said ‘It’s OK.’
But that’s not what I want to talk about. I include it only because the memory made me smile, and I hope it makes you smile too. I am the cat with nineteen lives.
I’m re-reading ‘Shaped By The Word’ by M. Robert Mulholland and this time round, as often happens, I’m finding so much that I didn’t absorb the first time. When I came to some of his explanations, the first time, I glazed over. Much as I used to react when George would explain to me why a roof was constructed with H beams, and what the downwards pressures meant in an A frame, or stresses or something. Or how the internal rotten combustion engine worked. Or… well, anything vaguely engineering. Anyway, Mr Mulholland and his dense prose had the same effect. Very bloke-ish. I dutifully read the words but was often quite relieved to get past a chunky bit to something a little more digestible. He’s a great thinker, but he doesn’t half clutter up his sentences with clauses. At one point I had to go through whole pages, just crossing through non essential clauses to understand the nub of what he was saying. But, listen, it’s worth it. It’s worth a read and a second read. I may even give him a third go! I do recommend him.
We are spoiled at my church. Our sermons come from someone whose gift is teaching, , and he uses words we all understand, in lessons that are both deceptively profound and simple. Mr Mulholland doesn’t have that gift, he never uses a simple word when an obscure word will do, never three words when he can parcel it up in twenty. He lacks clarity but he, too, has insight and things to teach. At church we are given bread, Mr Mulholland gives us the ingredients for bread and a recipe written in cyrillic.
Does that sound like it’s a bad book? It isn’t. It’s great. This is a strangely random blog, I know. A childhood anecdote, then a book review. Maybe it’s because there’s been a three day weekend in the UK and I’ve not had the chance to talk properly to anyone so I’m just using you. Three days alone watching snooker and reading… you end up with a lot to say and no one to say it to. I’m like one of those old people who sit outside supermarkets, desperately trying to engage passers-by in conversation.
What’s the book about? It’s about the difference between reading the Bible as an intellectual exercise, and reading it in a spirit of submission, expectancy, trust and joy. For a Christian the Bible is more than a book of information and a series of directions. If we come to it with a teachable spirit, or my favourite word ‘submission’, trusting and even expecting God to speak to us through it, there will be transformation in our lives. Mr Mullholland takes pages and pages and pages to say that. I’m giving it to you in a nutshell, free. Our Pastor gives it to us every week.
Ain’t that kind? And now you don’t have to read the book at all – but seriously, you’ll benefit hugely if you do. What has the book done for me? It’s changed the way I read the Bible. It’s changed the way I listen to sermons. It’s changed the way I seek to approach the world. No… don’t look at me in that tone of voice. Honestly! It has.
I didn’t at first find this book full of joy. Or love. Mulholland’s demanding approach can seem dry and academic, even a bit tedious, but persevere, because there is deep joy there, real love. I’ve found, just in the last month or so, since first reading it, that I meditate more on the Bible, that I listen more acutely to sermons, that I think more, expect more and receive more. It’s great. Exhausting at times – but great if you want to live the examined life, the submitted life.
So, if you’re looking for a book to get your teeth into, why not give it a whirl? And if you’re looking for clarity in good teaching, put cardigan.church/sermons in your search engine.