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Wild Windows is a delightful romp through many of the religious and spiritual issues that trouble us today. Tricky classroom questions and the eternal battle between pupil and teacher; deathbed conversions (and how annoying they can be!); pick-and-mixing; the triumph of wishy-washy Anglicanism; the meaning of life (in two parts!); the need for a library of more than one book; the vital question as to whether God can sleep at night; reading ‘Pride and Prejudice' yet again!; following your leader by definitely not following your leader; eavesdropping on young lovers and thereby learning the mysteries of God: all are here.
Richard Dell takes hold of these issues, breathes life into them, invariably cloaks them with a story, and then, like a magician, plucks from the shadows of his stories rays of delicious light. Reading Wild Windows will certainly entertain you. It might at times make you laugh. It might also at times infuriate you. But from time to time, as you stand at a window and stare at the wild sky, you will realise that it has also enlightened you. Truly these are wild and awakening thoughts for wild and awakening spirits: and isn't that all of us?
Published by Albion Publishing
First published 2012
Copyright © Richard Dell 2012
The moral rights of the author have been asserted.
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, or by any means electronic or mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the Publisher.
JUNK IN—JUNK OUT,
HELP! WHAT AM I DOING HERE? 1
Reason Number One as to why we are here on Planet Earth.
HELP! WHAT AM I DOING HERE? 2
Reason Number Two as to why we are here on Planet Earth.
IN PRAISE OF WAR?
THE SAD AND ANGRY PICK-AND-MIXERS
WHO DON'T KNOW THEY'RE PICK-AND-MIXERS.
PLUS GOOD NEWS FOR WISHY-WASHY ANGLICANS
FOLLOW MY LEADER?
WOULDN'T IT BE NICE IF SOMEONE DID!
WHO IS AFRAID OF THE MASTER?
ONE BOOK DOES NOT A LIBRARY MAKE
CAN GOD SLEEP AT NIGHT?
(A simple point that in our hearts we all know,
but which does need repeating from time to time)
GIVING AND GROWING
OH NO! NOT LIZZIE MEETING MR DARCY AT PEMBERLEY—AGAIN!!!
OH NO! NOT WASHING-UP AGAIN!
WHY CAN'T I, JUST FOR A CHANGE, SAVE THE WORLD!!!!
HOW OUR STORY ENDS; OR DO I MEAN ‘BEGINS'?
LOVE IS NOT ALL WE NEED; BUT WE DO NEED IT
THE TRUTH ABOUT GOD THAT DARE NOT BE SPOKEN OF
BREAKING NEWS ON THE PICK-&-MIX DEBATE 1
BREAKING NEWS ON THE PICK-&-MIX DEBATE 2
TWO FAITHS THAT COULD LEAD THE WAY 1
LOVE IS NOT ALL YOU NEED;
LAWYERS ARE NOT WHAT YOU NEED
TWO FAITHS THAT COULD LEAD THE WAY 2
A PRIEST IS TOO GRAND FOR ME; I'LL JUST MAKE DO WITH THE MASTER
GOING INWARDS 1
‘BOTTOMS UP!' WORKS IF IT'S A GLASS BOTTOM
GOING INWARDS 2
ARE YOU LOOKING FOR ME?
GOING INWARDS 3
YOU CAN ONLY WATCH A FLOWER GROW IF YOU GROW YOURSELF
I believe in a few things that are absolutely vital to me, several things that are fundamental to me, and a whole load of other stuff that is of interest to me and seems to make sense to me, but which in the grand scheme of things I know is pretty much inconsequential.
The absolutely vital things I believe in are the following:
Life after death.
Ultimate justice for us all.
A universe that ultimately cares for us all.
How we lead our lives on earth somehow affects our eternal journey beyond the grave
(This last is a subset of the second )
The things that are fundamental to me are:
Reincarnation; i.e. many lives on earth in which we hopefully learn our soul lessons.
Karma; the law of cause and effect of the soul; every act and thought in the end having to be balanced out in subsequent incarnations.
The load of other stuff that is of interest to me is huge but is not of great consequence. I hope it has not coloured, too much, the pages that follow.
I would now like to make the following point: If it could be shown to me without any shadow of doubt that reincarnation and karma do not exist, I would shrug and get on with my life and obviously would rethink much of that load of other stuff. However if it could be shown without a shadow of doubt that life after death, ultimate justice, a caring universe and the significance of our lives here for our journey beyond the grave were false, I would be distraught.
What follows is primarily informed by those ideas that are absolutely vital to me, and to some extent by those ideas that are fundamental to me.
And now let me explain something about religious belief and the title of this book:
The mansion of belief is huge and contains many rooms. Some are modest, whilst some are magnificent like baroque ballrooms. Some even have windows, though most do not. This mansion, which somewhere in some secret place contains the true heart of belief and truth, is a strange structure. Most of its rooms are windowless, and many of its rooms have no doors. And even those that do have doors give out only onto rooms that are very like their own. Sadly, most of us sit in one or other of those rooms, hardly ever venturing beyond our doors, and oh so often too scared of the wild weather to even glance out of a window.
But I am not sensible enough to crouch cowering in my room. I am foolish enough to like fresh air. So I enjoy being outside the mansion and seeing that all those closed off rooms are part of the same building, part of the same landscape. And nowadays, like many people, I have my own room. It is quite small, and definitely modest, but it boasts a window and it has more doors than it has walls, and it has great neighbours. I like talking to my neighbours, as I love wandering the endless corridors of the mansion, peeping, when I can, at other people in their other rooms. But most of all I like going to my window, my wild window that looks out onto the wild sky. Then I am no longer in any room at all. Then, and only then, am I Richard Dell: pilgrim, soul traveller, seeker. Seeker of wild and awakening thoughts.
Some years ago, I was involved in one of the classic struggles between teacher and class. In theory the teacher has an agenda. There is something that he or she intends to teach. In my case, on this particular occasion, it was a history lesson. But the children invariably have an agenda as well. This is not so much an intention not to learn, as an intention not to have their brains hurt. The struggle consists of the teacher trying to stick to his or her intended lesson, whilst the children try to sidetrack the teacher into interesting subject areas that will have nothing to do with the topic being taught. At a higher level, there is of course the sense of struggle and achievement. If the teacher is got off the intended subject, then that is a victory for the children. And if you ordinarily have no ownership over what is being taught to you, then such victories are sweet indeed.
But there is a beautiful twist to this classic struggle. The best learning is not actually about how much information is stuffed into young minds. The best learning is actually about engaging those young minds, getting those young minds interested and excited. As a consequence, allowing for the fact that the teacher also lacks some ownership of what is being taught, because he or she may have an exam or national curriculum to cover, a good teacher will secretly be very happy to be sidetracked, because it means the children have taken control, and without realising it are really really using their brains.
Back in February 1991, in my school in North Wales , I was well and truly sidetracked. I do not remember what topic I was trying to teach, but I do remember what happened when a very fair-haired girl, her eyes more alive than they had been through the whole of my lesson, suddenly asked me about God and the creation of the world. She hooked me, the class was hooked, and we were off. There was considerable discussion. There was animated discussion! And then one girl, who definitely was not blonde like the first girl, because she was a very dark haired Indian from a Hindu family, made a point that I have never forgotten. It is a point that I believe to be fundamentally true, a point which squares the circle between creationism and evolution, a point that is profound and overwhelmingly exciting in terms of the world we now live in.
“Well, Mr Dell,” she said. “I suppose the creation is actually still going on.”
Oh how right she was. I can never look out of a wild window at the wild sky beyond it, and not think of what she said that day. God's creative impetus is still abroad, still present, still with us, and still belonging to all of us. And I dare say we all play our part in it.
Traditionally, perhaps, this has to be a ‘mother and daughter in the kitchen' story. As it happens, during their childhood it was always my sons who showed the most interest in cooking. My daughters seemed to come late to the stove. But they got there in the end.
Let me, however, be traditional. And I want to be because I have a vivid memory of my wife's family home when she was a young woman and I, believe it or not, was a young man. I didn't know my wife when she and her sisters were small girls. But if I can be traditional for a moment, then I can visualise kitchen scenes with the girls being taught to cook and bake by their mother. I can hear the instructions being given whilst mum was trying to get on with something else, and I can see the mixing bowl almost bigger than the child, and the giant wooden spoon and the mixture going everywhere, including onto small fingers to be poked into small mouths. And I can see the impatience of the child as the great experiment—thankfully stuffed full of glacé cherries—takes an age to bake; and as mum cuts bread and boils kettles and has her pinafore strings pulled in the hope that pulling pinafore strings will somehow speed up the magical processes going on inside the dark and secret confines of the oven. And of course I can see too that wonderful moment when all comes to fruition, and mum helps daughter to bring the glorious cherry-filled cake out; and I can see the sparkling eyes of both of them; and yes I can smell the smells and I can feel hungry for cherry cake just by thinking about it.
I hope it was a bit like that. What I do know, is what it was like when those three little girls had grown to young womanhood, and young men like me came courting. On many wonderful occasions I sat in their kitchen and watched the wonderful goings on as tea or a meal was prepared. I never ever got the hang of where everything went in that kitchen. I would help with the washing-up and, though I was adequate enough at drying things, I always needed a hand to point me to a cupboard or a drawer to put things away. But I had no problem understanding what was going on during that preparation phase. For there was my future mother-in-law and my future wife and my future wife's sisters, and they were all in there doing this and doing that and each of them knowing exactly what they were doing. No pinafore strings to be pulled now. But plenty of times I saw one of those beautiful young women go to their mother and tie a pinafore round her because she had forgotten. And even more to the point, there were invariably times when one of them would go to their mother and would ease her away from the stove or the sink and would lead her to a chair and would plonk her down in it and would tell her to relax and that everything was under control and where was the bread knife.
Perhaps traditionally, boys become young men and one day they walk side by side with their fathers and go to the pub. What I do know is that through countless ages mankind was child-like and was a petitioner of God, always pulling at God's pinafore strings, always impatient, but always learning, and always—though desperately slowly—growing up. Even now we are barely out of that child-like stage. We grope in pain towards adulthood. But with every painful, tortured day that passes, we become a little bit less the petitioners of God, and a little bit more the partners of God. Our sense of responsibility for our world, and our love for our world grows. We increasingly share in our stewardship of our world. We tie the pinafore when we remember. We finally do it all when we have the confidence. Young adulthood can be a dangerous time. But young adulthood that begins to share with the Mother-Father God—that begins to care—is a young adulthood that stands upon the edge of a greater adulthood, indeed on the edge of greatness.
It is worth finding something that doesn't make sense. Even better if you can label it as a paradox. Because if you can—if you can say to yourself ‘we have a paradox here, we have two things that appear to be true and yet which contradict each other, so that we are left shaking our heads and moving to simpler things, or tea and cake, or a walk, or a spot of undemanding TV—then don't shake your head or move on or wonder what sort of cake you are going to have with your tea. Do not move on. DO NOT!
Instead, get to grips with it. Because paradoxes are doorways into understanding. Paradoxes are only paradoxes because we have not shifted through them into a higher level of knowing. Once we have opened the door they offer us, crossed their threshold, entered into that higher perception: we can see they are not paradoxes at all. We can also see that we appreciate how our beautiful and sacred Cosmos works just that little bit better. And what should we do after that? Simple: have a good cup of tea and a nice bit of cake, then a walk to burn off the calories, then an evening with some undemanding TV, then a good night's sleep, and then… Why then, go in search of the next one.
Take the eternal paradox of the dying sinner. We all know the scene. The old reprobate—usually a man—after a life of cheating and lying and enjoying the fruits of the world too well, is at last on his deathbed. He is heading for retribution and by jiminy does he deserve a bit of retribution. There are the rest of us, bumbling along trying to do the best we can, trying to be as honest and fair as we can, trying to help people as much as we can—and probably only being half good at it if truth be told—and there is this man who had trampled over everyone, enjoyed brilliant health, huge amounts of money, mansions galore and queues of beautiful women, but at last he is only hours away from retribution and although none of us want to wish a man ill, we can't help feeling just a little bit of satisfaction at what ought to be coming: a bit of common justice—even if it's not for ever.
And then what happens?
The dratted man has a bedside conversion! And I don't mean a convenient conversion that is as much a trick as all the tricks he has played all his life. I mean a genuine conversion. Suddenly he sees the light. Suddenly he understands. Suddenly he is filled with God's grace and he is a sinner who has been saved. What!
PARADOX. On the one hand we all want to acknowledge that the man or woman who finally finds peace in God, and who finally has a heart in tune with God, must indeed walk hand in hand with God in the Summerlands that await us. But on the other hand. Come on God! This guy has left a trail of destruction behind him, broken people and hearts. Broken homes. Destitution and despair. And he gets to inherit heaven?
Let us unlock this door. It really is simple. Pass over to the other side my friends and walk hand in hand with this man who was once a sinner but who now has a heart alive with peace and beauty. Walk with him. Love him, rejoice in him. And as you do, feel genuine compassion for him. Because the day must come when this man will return to earth. And in God's grace he will return with his new and loving heart. But he will never be able to escape the consequences of all his past acts. In some cultures it is called ‘karma'. In others it truly is that we reap what we sow. Our sinner learnt great lessons. He is indeed a new man. But none of us can avoid the consequences of our deeds. We must pay for them because we must balance them. And so the old reprobate who has been embraced into God's bosom, has a lot of work to do, and one day will have to do it.
Ah the beauty of the paradox. Our heart is one thing. The consequences of our deeds quite another.
Next paradox please.
I remember telling my mother—I was about twelve at the time—that I never wanted to grow up. My mother just smiled and then gave me a hug. I suppose my mother, having already done her own growing up: from child to adult to lover to mother, knew there was no stopping it. And no doubt my mother also knew where my early-reading books were stored, and perhaps even glanced through them at times, remembering when her son was small and cute and depended on her totally. Yes, she knew. In fact she could actually have taken me to that secret store of hers and shown me those tattered books with their simple stories and their brightly coloured pictures. She could even have pointed to what I by then was reading as a twelve-year-old, and shown me the difference and asked me if staying the same was really an option. But she didn't. She just smiled and then she just hugged me, and then I ran out of the house to play. It was good being twelve. And I think it was good being five. But at twelve I had already grown up a bit, and so needed a twelve-year-old's books rather than a five-year-old's. And since then I have grown up a bit more, just as my mother knew I would, so now I need words that are stronger and more subtle and undoubtedly more adult.
As ever; my mother knew. And as ever; all the Legions of Heaven know, that we do grow up, that we do get older and more knowledgeable, more wise and sometimes more dangerously stupid and nowhere near so cute. Yes really. More adult. More capable. And actually, a lot of the time, more responsible.
And though my mother would not have known this, for she was a blessed but uncomplicated soul, all the Legions of Heaven know what so many of us do not know: that our scriptures of the past need to be reworked and rethought and reinterpreted. Because none of us are Peter Pans and none of us should be. We have growing-up to do. And the Legions of Heaven would smile and would hug us too if we would only let them, and then they would say to us, ‘see these old words we gave you, they are still filled with much that you can learn from. But you have grown, dear ones. My you have grown, and now know so much. See, our old stories and insights were good. But you must read them with your new eyes and your new understanding. For you are older now, oh children of God, and we rejoice in that fact.'
Man enters new depths of understanding as he evolves.
Man must necessarily evolve new understandings of scripture. It is his mission; his destiny. It is with what he is charged.
Not to stand still, but to grow. Not to remain a child, but to be an adult. Not to read childish things and then run out to play. But to stand tall: powerful with knowing, ripe and ready for new teaching that can honour what he has become.
You and me, friend. You and me.
Let me tell you two interesting things about Harry Truman.
If you are not sure who he was, he was the thirty-third president of the United States . He was born in 1884 and he died in 1972. During the Second World War he became Franklin Roosevelt's vice-president, and in 1945, upon Roosevelt 's death, he became president, remaining in office until 1953.
The first interesting thing is that Truman sort of fired the last shot of the First World War and also sort of fired the last shot of the Second. In the First World War he was an artillery officer on the western front. He was firing his guns until the very minute the armistice came into effect at eleven am on the eleventh of November 1918. The two shots that effectively ended the Second World War were the two atom bombs dropped on Japan . It was Harry Truman, by then president, who gave the order for them to be used.
The second and for us most interesting thing about Harry Truman has nothing to do with bombs or war. It has to do with the little sign he had placed on his desk in the oval office when he took up the presidency. It was a very simple sign. It was not very long, and it was not elaborate in design, and it displayed just four words. But those four words are as important to us as any four words that have ever been written in any of the world's holy scriptures. This is what the sign said:
THE BUCK STOPS HERE
Now what Harry Truman was showing was that whatever was going to go wrong in his administration—and things always do go wrong—at the end of the day it was going to be his responsibility. He set the policy, and he chose the people who were to execute that policy. Blame who you liked, Harry Truman was saying, in the final analysis the blame was going to have to be directed at him, and as President of the United States and setter of the political agenda and chooser of his administration's personnel, he would accept that responsibility.
Those four words ought to be recited by each and every one of us whenever we open one of our holy books. Because the buck does not stop with that scripture, no matter how much we might want it to. Of course it makes everything so much simpler if we can hand over responsibility to those ancient tomes, if we can claim that it says it in the Bible, or it says it in the Koran or it says it in the Book of Mormon or… etc etc.
So much easier.
Yet already there are many of us whose hearts are telling a different tale. Already there are those who say ‘No!', we cannot accept what our holy book says on homosexuality or on witchcraft or on communing with the dead or on wearing hats in church or in covering our faces or in saying that women are not as important as men, or … It could be a long list.
And those who turn and say that it is not for us to argue with holy scripture seem to forget that when it came to choosing which scripture they would consider as correct, it was their hearts that told them, not the book itself. And they also seem to forget that the moment they forgo just one of their scripture's injunctions they essentially undermine all the rest. And they also seem to forget that if their holy scripture told them to kill innocent children for the fun of it they would turn away in disgust and would refuse. So who, ultimately, really is in charge?
You won't find the buck between the leaves of a green or black-bound book; search though you might. Harry Truman's buck can only be found in one place; in your heart. So we had all better start living by that fact, and start taking some responsibility. The buck stops with you and with me, not with our holy books.
They say that trying to find a needle in a haystack is difficult. Perhaps it is; but it is nowhere near so difficult a task as finding hay in a haystack when your entire being is concentrated upon the needle.
Oh dear, I bring tidings of bad news.