Yesterday, I visited my parents. It was a good opportunity to see how Mum was getting on since we heard she (thankfully) had TB, not cancer. Dad has since been prescribed antidepressants: the strain of this episode, preceded by Mum’s fall last Christmas, and the prolonged saga of the house move last year have taken their toll on an eighty-one-year-old.
They treated me to an excellent lunch at a favourite pub. Then we returned to their flat for conversation, before tiredness meant they needed a rest and I made an earlier than expected departure.
During that chat, I mentioned a story from the other day. Rebekah had been looking at some coins and had noticed the date. This had fascinated her, especially a twenty pence piece from a galaxy far, far away known as 1982.
Dad got up and went out of the living room. I thought nothing of it. However, he returned with a bag. It was a collection of coins, many of them specially minted for state occasions and still in their presentation sleeves. There were crowns to mark the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 and Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981. There were two wallets of Britain’s first decimal coinage. Then there were assorted loose coins, including some old sixpences. One of these came from the reign of King George V in 1922.
Dad explained that he wanted them handed down the generations of the family. He asked me to keep them safe for our children. While they would be worth more than their face value, they would not be especially valuable, because many of them had deteriorated. However, they would be a fascinating and educational possession. I was delighted, and locked them out of sight in the car boot when I drove home.
It was a joy to come home and tell the children I had a present for them from Grand-dad. In the short time before bath-time, it was impossible to explain the significance and context of these coins to Rebekah and Mark. How on earth will I explain pre-decimal currency to them? I was only a fortnight shy of my eleventh birthday when Britain was decimalised.
And if Rebekah finds 1982 hard enough to comprehend, what price 1922? George V is three monarchs before the current long-reigning Queen (I’m including Edward VIII, even though he was never crowned).
Pounds, shillings and pence and early twentieth century kings will take a lot of patient dialogue and explanation. There are so many foreign concepts to go through in order to make sense of Grand-dad’s gift.
Is it not similar in evangelism today? With, say, three largely ‘unchurched’ generations there is a huge gulf between the Christian community and most of society. (And that gulf may go some way to explaining the misrepresentations of our faith in the media – it isn’t all wilful, much is a genuine lack of understanding.) Evangelism is about being in for the long haul to explain the faith in a context of dialogue. I see the point of those who say that a contemporary repeat of Billy Graham’s Harringay crusades in the 1950s with their remarkable levels of conversionss most likely would not happen today. It isn’t that I think God is incapable of it – of course the Holy Spirit could – but it is to recognise that Graham was able to appeal to a residual faith and call people back to it. There is hardly any such residual faith today.
Our faith is like a 1922 George V sixpence. To most people it appears not to be legal tender. It looks battered, but it is valuable. Nevertheless, to explain the significance takes time.
But the investment of time into relationships as we gossip the Gospel is immensely worthwhile. We are sharing treasure with people.
Chris Chesterton tells a great story in his book ‘77 Talks For 21st Century Kids‘. When Captain James Cook and his expeditionary force landed in Australia, they started to learn the Aborigine language. In particular, they asked the Aborigines what the strange jumping animals were. ‘Kangaroo,’ they replied. But ‘kangaroo’ wasn’t the name: it was their word for ‘don’t know’!
He links this with the story of the manna in the wilderness. When the people first see it, they wonder what it is. They call it ‘manna’, which is effectively Hebrew for ‘wotsit’. It’s another ‘don’t know’ moment. God has done something, but they are reduced to the language of ‘don’t know’ or ‘wotsit’.
I think we’ve just been through a ‘don’t know’ episode with God as a family. I’ve been blogging lately about my Mum. We now know that (a) she doesn’t have secondary cancers in her lung and (b) neither does she have lung cancer. But what does she have? We don’t know. The hospital, including the eminent consultant cardiothoracic surgeon, don’t know. One nurse said the lesion was probably just a ‘medical anomaly’.
So there was just a concern about a temperature Mum kept having since last Friday’s surgery. However, yesterday they put it down to haematoma near the site of the one drain that was still attached, and today she is being discharged.
We had a problem about transport for the discharge, but again, God has been up to things. My Dad, at eighty-one, didn’t want to drive into central London to pick Mum up. (And if he did, we’d have vetoed it.) I couldn’t make it. All along, my brother-in-law was on standby to do so. However, he has been suffering from a chest infection. What to do?
Well … on Wednesday, two retired friends from my parents’ last church, Colin and Ella, turned up to visit. They said that if Mum were discharged any day between yesterday (Thursday) and tomorrow (Saturday), they would happily oblige. They live the wrong side of London for the hospital and for where my parents now live in Hampshire. But nothing is too much trouble for them. It is a lovely act of Christian kindness. Mum’s only disappointment is that they will chauffeur her home in their ‘ordinary’ car, a Skoda Octavia, rather than Colin’s beloved classic car, a gorgeous white 1960s Jaguar! But who’s complaining?
Yes, this has been our kangaroo experience as a family. We’re not claiming a miraculous healing, because there was never a firm diagnosis of cancer that has been rescinded. But God has been up to his ‘don’t know’ work, doing ‘wotsit’ ministry with us. It leaves God at the level of mystery, as One who – however truly he has revealed himself in the Gospel – is nevertheless above and beyond our puny human comprehension. And that is all the more reason for thanksgiving and praise.
UPDATE, 8:40 PM: Well, tonight it doesn’t seem quite so ‘wotsit’ or ‘don’t know’ as it seemed earlier! Mum has got home safely, but told us that the consultant said today he was terribly sorry, he’d forgotten to tell her the diagnosis! It’s TB. That sounds dreadful to some and of course it has been making a comeback in recent years. However, it seems Mum has probably had it in her system since her youth and the trauma of last December’s fall left her stressed and run down, thus vulnerable to a recurrence. And at least these days it is a treatable condition. So although we’re looking at another six months under a local consultant and her GP, we’re not shocked by the news.