As I began my tour, setting off with trepidation I was delayed on the drive for an hour due to a fatality, on the other side of the road, on the outskirts of Plymouth.
Little did I know that sadly the theme around death and how we live our life, how we use this time we have on this earth, would be something that kept on repeating itself over the journey.
As we saw them erecting screens to hide the sight from us as we drove past, I thought for a moment about death and how we shield ourselves from it, the last taboo in our society we talk about sex, politics and religion all the time but some how death remains a subject off limits.
Recently I have been attending a group called “Death Café” -which I think sounds like a goth band- which meets every month -with fantastic cake- and people share their experiences and talk freely about death.
This group is not Church run, or a Christian group, I would urge Christians to join groups like this as helps us all to learn from one another, too often in Churches we want to ‘run’ everything; this is a group a friend runs and I attend just as me, a random bloke who has lots of questions and things to explore but loves and seeks to follow Jesus.
Interestingly thinking about death rather than being morbid is both life-affirming and challenges my desire at times to procrastinate as the realisation is that sometimes tomorrow might not come, and opportunities to say and do things might not arise.
For me, when I was nineteen and living in Eastbourne, the sudden death of a friend, Samantha Wood, jolted me out of my complacency where for too long I was sat on the fence about whether I was going to run with my Christian faith or whether I was going to go off and join the crowd at some party or other.
I vividly remember the last conversation I had with Sam, she was sat outside a corner shop that was opposite the Church where my dad was Vicar. She asked me “if I still went to Church” I answered her in a moment of real honesty “that I did still go to Church fairly often, but I’d rather find out about God when I was 40 or 50 and settled down to be boring!” -I cringe at the ageism of that statement. A couple of weeks later her dad went to wake up for a driving lesson and found her dead.
At that time I worked in a nursing home so was pretty used to people dying, but Sam was my age, my friend, she did many of the things I did, and her death made me ask about the point of life and death, and heaven and hell, and what really mattered?
What had real and eternal value and what was just a passing phase? It was a painful process, Sam died in the September and it was the Easter day that year that I finally surrendered, gave in, and rededicated my life to God. I remember using the phrase “I don’t want to ‘play’ at being a Christian, I want to follow Jesus for real” (also at that time a friend Deb was very influential in challenging me and inviting me to Church, and again to my shame at times I was not very gracious).
The death of Sam, along with the reminder of the crash ahead of us reminded me again of both the finality of death struck me afresh along with the preciousness of life.
Recently at the death café someone shared how their life had been transformed when as a child they received a life-saving and life changing transplant operation, and talked about how feeling feels the need to “make her life count” feeling they owe it to the donor, realising life’s fragility and seeking to do things they wouldn’t normally have done, grasping the opportunities whenever they present themselves.
For me this resonated with my Christian faith, that we have received salvation and eternal life that we now live for Christ, but too often we live lives that are comfortable and safe, vanilla and without adventure, opportunities whizzing past us like an incompetent goalie during a penalty shoot-out.
As I remembered Jesus promise to give us “life in all its fullness” which is translated elsewhere “as life in abundance” (Jn.10.10) -a white knuckle rollacosta ride of a faith journey. I wondered if part of my frustration with my own journey, and why so many people dismiss Christianity as “boring” is because we fail to see our lives in the way that woman who had received a transplant did. John Wimber described faith as being described “R-I-S-K” but most of my Christian life I what I have experienced was sadly often pretty dull and uninspiring -so very different from the Christ we profess to follow! Over the last couple of years I have looked at a number of parish profiles, vision documents and faith statements as I sought where God might be calling us after Kingswood, and I realised I didn’t just want to read some statement of faith, but rather seeing “faith that made statements!”. I remember on a course I was on a leader spoke of saying to his Church “we want to have a faith that makes you gulp rather than yawn!”
I wondered if more people would follow Christ if more of us threw off our complacency, caution and comfort and sought to live our lives more like Jesus.