People and thoughts


The room is large with a high ceiling. Plastered and papered, it responds to sound with warm, dampened reverberation. All around there is a purposeful muttering, over which carry clear waves of airy, extemporised piano music, meditative with a hint of the ecstatic, played quietly in with pleasant major modal harmonies.

From ordinary faces, bowed, flow soft voices; whisper and murmur; saturated with emotion and meaning, but soft like the rustle of leaves in a slight breeze or the fluttering of tiny wings; sometimes rising in a gentle rumbling like the sound of many faraway hooves; sometimes falling almost silent to a dry whisper like winter wind. Now and again, someone there is a throaty sniff from a stifled sob.

In the sound: great silence; amongst the people: deep solitude. In the quietest of voices, spoken too softly to be understood, they admit their hopes, fears, joys and sorrows.

At other times I have heard soft singing and chanting blending with the soothing chords of the music, but today all prayers are spoken. On every occasion, the feeling is of the release something long held confined; not with an odour stale or stagnant, but with the scent of stillness.

Looking at human beings, and noticing our imperfections, is like looking at a painting by Rembrandt or Van Gough, and thinking, “this is rough — shouldn’t the brush work be smoother than that?”

What seems to be imperfection is really the touch of the Artist

It is the touch of our Creator. We are perfect in our humanity.

Here is one example: parenting.

‘Perfect’ parents are actually not the best parents; to be perfect as a parent can be quite harmful for children.

The children of ‘perfect’ parents — parents who are always calm, always right, who never make mistakes, who always do the right thing — often suffer terribly! Many of these kids end up with the worst psychological problems, as drug addicts or criminals.

We all know this is true: the children of pastors, ministers and the best Christians are much more likely to go wrong in life than other kids. It’s one of the great mysteries of life.

One family I knew — of wonderful Christians — had a son who became a teenage arsonist! And the son of a minister was one of the worst kids in our High School.

But the reason is so simple.

My eldest daughter has experienced a very imperfect father. He makes lots of mistakes, he is inconsistent, he gets angry, he gets sad, he is unreasonable, stubborn and stupid; he tries and he fails; he has to apologise a lot.

However, because of her father’s imperfections, she is developing a wonderful character.

She is finding goodness in herself. She is learning to love and forgive an imperfect man.

And she knows, in her heart, that perfection is not required or expected of her. She will model herself on this experience; and by loving, accepting and forgiving her father’s imperfections, she will learn to love, accept and forgive herself.

If her father was a perfect parent, she would feel intense pressure to live up to those standards — to be perfect herself — which of course is impossible.

My daughter might either try and meet those impossible standards, and could end up unhappy and filled with feelings of unworthiness, or (more likely, knowing her) she would decide to create her own standards — ones that she could meet — and choose an opposite life, perhaps one that would be damaging to her.

What we think of as perfection is not the best way to be, and not what God wants us to be. To be human, and no more than that, is true perfection.

It sounds crazy, but it’s true!

The way to know God is not to seek perfection, but to seek to be more human. That is one of my philosophies.

It’s not an original philosophy. This is ‘European Romanticism’: the philosophy of William Blake, Beethoven, Dostoyevski and others.

Having a disabled daughter taught me a very good lesson early on.

After she was born, her mother and I used to take her to an early intervention centre. With the best of intentions, we were keen to push to her do the best she could as early as possible, which was a reasonable aim.

However, we pushed much too hard. We were always encouraging her to go one step further, physically and intellectually. We weren’t unkind to her, but children are very sensitive, and we caused her a lot of unnecessary stress. When she was about 3 years old, she started to develop behaviour problems, she was always unhappy and she lost a lot of hair (Down’s Syndrome kids are prone to this). So we mellowed our own behaviour, we enrolled her in a much more fun and relaxed special learning centre, her hair grew back and she became the happy kid we have now.

I learnt something quite important from this.

She has her limits. We can help to achieve her maximum, but she is disabled, she’s got a limit beyond which — barring a miracle from God — she isn’t going to go. She’s not going to be a great academic or an athlete.

And that’s OK.

And then I thought, well, I have my limits, too. I’m never going to Einstein or Newton, and that’s OK too. We all have our maximum. God created us with certain gifts, some of them in one area and some in another, but, as Jesus said, none of us can make ourselves taller just by thinking about it, and none of us can go further than the furthest we can go.

We can fulfil our potential, or at least try, but we’re never going to go beyond it.

It was good to realise that. It made me more relaxed about myself, and more relaxed about my other daughter. Living in Japan now, where most parents place a lot of unnecessary pressure on their kids, I am even more glad to have the chance to learn that.

I went to Kameari Kristokyokai this morning, for a change — I’ve been meaning to visit for a while, since I enjoyed their very nice Christmas Concert.

Look what they gave me! This is their newsletter — that’s my home town, Christchurch! Not only that: Kristokyokai literally means “Christ church”.

Amazing coincidence, isn’t it?

By the way, the service was very nice. The music was great, the Pastor charismatic — I could only understand parts of what he said, but those parts were very good!

The band sang (in Japanese) ‘the Lord’s Prayer’: you know, the famous version that swells at the end: “for thine….. is the ki-ingdowm… and the po-ower… and the glo-o-ry….” (the famous version). Very nicely done.

‘oud player, Anouar Brahem.

I only have one album: “Le pas du chat noir”, but I like it very much. If I wasn’t broke, I would buy all his albums!

I used to hear it at Fassih’s place, very often: every time, I would say: “Wow! this is great! What is it?”

Always it was the same. I never remembered: he would laugh…

A very beautiful blend of Arabic and Jazz music, with a sublime ‘French café’ flavour (coloured in particular by some very charming and unusual accordion playing): very peaceful and spiritual. There are several available to buy (or listen to a sample) on iTunes.

The people who act happiest and laugh the most in company are very often the loneliest people. This is a sign. It’s not that they are putting on a brave face, or pretending, it’s simple: lonely people are genuinely delighted to be with others.

People who aren’t lonely, who have plenty of friends, can be quite blasé about festive situations: it’s nothing special to them. For the lonely, it’s a time of great excitement. Into their dark world, a light has shone! They are filled with joy. But when the light is gone, you don’t see to what sadness they must return.

I didn’t know this when I was young. I had friend I loved who committed suicide, and I couldn’t understand it. She was always so happy when she was with us — the extended group of friends — her action was seemingly without reason.

But it’s the happy ones you have to watch out for: the more excessive the delight, the more you should care. It’s a sign.