Tue 03 Jul 2012 17:43:26 BST>
I spent a day feeling stunned after the completion of The Assassin's Apprentice, followed by a day of shivers as I underwent withdrawal symptoms because the story had come to an end. The following day I pointed my quivering finger at The Royal Assassin and pressed "Buy Now" followed by "View Downloading Items" and as the cyberdrug infused its way into my system, the shaking stopped, my head cleared, and I was able to carry on with normal conversations and think about my next meal. After that, I left-clicked and selected "Remove from Device", fancying it was one of the notes I used to write to Father Christmas scrawled on tissue paper sucked up the chimney flue and making its way to the Cloud.
I felt unable to handle the events held in that shiny new volume today. I needed an interlude, a little break, a light visual to fill a corner of my hungry mind, but only a corner of it as I needed to increase my capacity for handling tension and pain before moving on to volume two.
Just over 50% of the way through. I'm finding it so honest, frank and open and I have rarely nodded and underlined as much as I have in this Kindle book. It surprises me. It delights me, and by that I mean it has my undivided attention. By 'delight' I don't mean enjoyment in the normal sense of the word, but I go with it. I suffer with the author's pain of what he must have undergone when his youngest son, whose life hung by a thread when he was very young, came out to his parents as gay.
Exactly why I am enjoying so much I find much harder to understand. I am not a Christian struggling with my sexual orientation and I haven't jettisoned Christianity because of its stance on homosexuality. I jettisoned most of it at about the age of twelve when I attended a Billy Graham meeting which our school took some pupils to see. I went through curiosity, because I wanted to see angels appearing, or Pentecostal flames lighting upon the heads of the ones who were called. I tried, oh Lord how hard I tried to go along with what Billy was saying and to believe whatever he was saying, and when he got that glazed but somewhat sweaty look upon his face and asked for true believers to "Come Forward", I asked to be pushed up to the front, not because I had felt anything, but I because I wanted to see what would happen next.
What happened next looked very promising to me: dapper smart young men in crisp suits circulated amongst our select gathering and asked us, individually whether we believed in Jesus Christ and accepted him as our 'Savior'? I was very tempted to believe in Billy's pitch, especially if it meant moving a world with such pretty young men, but true to what my Dad had told me — not to fall for anything without checking it out a bit more first — I replied that I wasn't really able to 'believe' on the results of listening to one preacher. (Privately I saw Billy Graham more as a show doll with plenty of make-up on his face, and little if anything beneath that). One of the cute little men then opened his Bible and said, "Perhaps you'd like to read what The Bible says about unbelievers, John?" and there it all was, held out for me to read. Hot fiery nasty stuff which would happen to me if I didn't believe in the Bible. If there was any prefabricated self-contrived bubble about this meeting which I'd made up before attending, it had now burst, pretty young men and all. I suddenly found the entire affair highly amusing, and I couldn't stop myself from smirking. With words like "My God is much bigger than all that" I turned my back on Christianity, and to this day I have never really turned back.
Until Now. This little book, this painful writing out of the author's deep hurt and anguish, has caused me to think again. A little. The author spent 40 years of his life serving as an evangelical Christian, with many years spent in Africa, and there is no doubt that he was thoroughly sincere and that he achieved a lot of good, working as a missionary during that period in Uganda.
The pain started when the author's good wife got her contractions early and was rushed to hospital. She gave birth to twins, one of whom died and the remaining child, a little boy, was premature, his life held in the balance. So he was much cherished. It was in his late teens, flanked by his heterosexual and highly supportive brother and sister, that he came out to his parents as gay, which was, understandably, a tremendous shock to his parents.
At the conclusion of this short book I could not but be struck by the resonant similarities yet very marked differences in our two spiritual 'journeys', —as everyone seems to be calling their life stories these days— : The similarities were days spent in the tropics, but the author had a far worse time of it than me, as he witnessed more beatings and deaths than me as well as undergoing a severe bout of malaria. Mr Robert-John spent years as an evangelical spirit-led Christian who perhaps included hell fire threats in his eagerness to make conversions along with possible episodes of homophobia, made in the conviction (as he saw it) that homosexuals were an abomination in the eyes of God. Strangely enough, I had also decided by the time I reached puberty that I too was an abomination under the Christian ethic, but this belief had nothing to do with sex, as I didn't know at the time what the Christian stance on homosexuality was. I just remember believing that I was chaff because I was an unbeliever, or simply not good enough for Heaven. By the age of nine I had decided that because I didn't believe in the way The Bible wanted me to, I was chaff [Insert pic] . I was the useless husk that surrounds the good grain, and The Bible told me that I was going to be burned in the fire†. I decided that there had to be a use for chaff. If it was no use to The Bible and its adherents then perhaps there was another religion which found a good use for chaff.
Paper and straw dolls came to mind, but I was sure that cleverer minds than mine would have more ingenious ideas.*
Years later I grew into the way of Hindoo-ism learning to forge a pathway through to Yoga and the East, and it wasn't long before I discovered the health benefits of bran. I then found a much bigger God than the bigoted bipolar trucculent brat of the Old Testament. He was unbelievably great, so great that he didn't live in some far off inaccessible corner, so hard to reach that so far the only two persons have made the trip: Jesus Christ and The Virgin Mary. He was so great that you couldn't even limit him to being inscribed with a name. Yet this bigger God was closer than we can imagine, 'closer to you than your jugular vein', to echo the Qu'rân (50:16).
My early truancy from the Christian Faith led me to the pathless path and I was often bruised and scratched by the thorns I encountered along the way. The author of this book was far more secure in the tenure of his faith. Yet the world in which he lived and moved and had his being was uprooted when his son came to him and his wife on Boxing Day 2005 and announced that he was gay. Prayers and therapy were not tried because the son had no intention of going along with all this evangelicism. The young man was flanked by his fully supportive heterosexual sister and brother when he came out to his parents, so Mum and Dad found themselves rather isolated.
I was surprised to learn that the outcome of the author's journey was that he became a reluctant atheist. I wasn't disappointed. I have no problem with atheism whatsoever and I find it an excellent position to start. Sometimes I wish I could be one myself, but I'd only feel more able to do that when I find someone who's able to explain to me what they mean by atheist and what they mean by God. And when I find a few definitions which match up.
The other surprise, to say it again, was that I found myself enjoying the book as much as I did. I was after all just taking a break from the spell which had been cast upon me by volume I of The Farseer Trilogy and I wanted to read something on the small side, but different in subject and mood. Certainly I didn't expect to get quite as deeply sucked into the author's cathartic story.
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*In my maturer years, I learned that chaff can be turned into bricks for fuel; it can make a wonderful insulating material. Furthermore my doctor prescribes me little sealed sachets of chaff (ispaghula husk to mix with water and take after my meals. It keeps me nice and regular and I feel fighting fit. I just *knew* that chaff was a valuable commodity indeed).
† Matthew 3:12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire