Monday, March 07, 2005

The Interview Game

Mr. Rattigan from The Grace Pages invited me to play the Interview Game. Simple enough concept - he asks questions, I answer.

Time to sit on the couch, wear my heart on my sleeve and open my brain for public inspection - lovely!

Interview questions:

1. What did you dream about as a child?

2. You've been living in Arizona for a few years now. What five things
do you most miss about England?

3. What's the most unexpected place you've ever found God?

4. Which character from fiction are you?

5. What's the one question you were hoping I'd ask, and how would you answer it?


Oh and before I get going I'd just like to say that I'd love to know why you chose to ask these specific questions sir - if that's allowed!

1 - Well, apart from all the usual things one might imagine a young boy dreams about - inspired by movies and stories, I very often did have the feeling that I was born in the wrong century. I think I could well have settled in the 1500-1700's - but maybe that was due to Treasure Island and the Monkey Island series of computer games. Adventure. I've always wanted adventure in my life. In fact I still do. If I had to choose between a comfortable and pleasant life with a nice house, car and job, with all the trimmings, and a life of greater excitement and adventure - a life of travel, filled with interesting stories I will always choose the latter.

However, I think more to the point of your question, did you ever see an 80's cartoon which I think went by the name of 'The Mysterious City of Gold'? They used to fly around in a big golden falcon. Well that golden aircraft was just one part of a rather large and long imaginary saga that filled my mind in youth. It followed no particular plot and changed from futuristic to present and back again often. Ever evolving some parts of the story would remain - flying around in a plane/ship in the form of a golden bird, several constant companions, and a few other details - but the 'enemies', situations and locations would change. My part would of course be a lead, hero character, though I didn't so much have one specific quest but instead would find myself responding to different problems or threats as they presented themselves. Sometimes overcoming personal challengers, other times helping others or rescuing them. Some themes would often appear - but I'll leave those for another time.

I had the real-life habit that whenever I entered a place or spent much time in one location I would scope-out all the angles, analyse the place for exits, entrances etc. I remember once sitting on the loo in my aunt's house and thinking, now if a fire broke out in the house and the stairs and landing were blocked, how would I get out? I could give you the answer but I'll save it. The point is, a lot of that stuff would factor into my imaginings, and so, many real-life locations would feature and be filled out in my imaginations. The details for many things were quite intricate and I could describe many things to you but I'll save the space.

Now I come to think about it, some things come to mind that I'm reluctant to share. They feel kind of sacred. That makes me think, perhaps my little imaginary world is a place where I meet with God in some sense, or at least, with myself. A place where I can know who I am and relate to God and the world in the way which I would also want to. Perhaps even more than just fantasy it is in some way training. That is, reinforcing ideas in my mind, encouraging myself, and figuring out the best to be or to do things. The imagination is a powerful thing, and can be amazingly freeing and quite useful in helping to move beyond oneself. Christians I think need to make more use of it. Anyway, I hope that answered it, on to question two.

2 - What do I miss about England? A pertinent question and I think only those who have moved away and lived for a while in foreign places can understand. I could pull out a million cliches to reinforce that point but suffice to say that truly I did not realise how much I would miss until I got here and started missing them. My top five?

A) - Open space with the right to roam. In England, whether at college in Nantwich or at home in Pendle I would often get alone by going for a walk. Sometimes it was just around the streets (usually at night), though often it was out in the open - fields, hills, a garden. I've noticed that there's something about me that comes alive when I get outside. I can wake up and feel very down or under pressure, or even guilty; also far from God, but when I get outside it seems it only takes breeze or the ambient sound of nature or 'real life' and I come to life. Everything I was feeling gets blown away and I can think clearly and feel close to God. Often I like to crouch down and feel and smell the earth, or stones or a tree. Life can be too clinical sometimes, too man-made. Just to get outside and start focusing on little things - the things people walk over and never notice, it takes me to a place where I feel myself, and I have the utmost faith in God. I can and do have that in Tucson, but when the summer gets hot then it gets hard to be out as often or for as long as I like. What's more, it seems that the real 'open places' are so far away; you have to drive for a while to get to them and so I semi-regularly feel confined. I miss being able to get out and roam. To just walk on the spur of the moment and know that distance nor climate are going to be a hindrance.

B) Following on - the closeness of things. Here things are so spread out you have to drive everywhere. The thing I enjoyed about England is that I could walk to get anywhere I liked in town. It might take me a while at times, but unless I was in a desperate rush, I didn't mind. In fact, even if I was, I sometimes savoured the challenge of having to run and get there on time. There's something to me about being on foot that I enjoy. Here in Tucson too much I feel like I go from building to car to building to car.

C) On a shallower note - commercial-free or commercial-light TV! I've come to the place where I don't watch much TV anymore, but one of the things that struck me most when arriving here was the amount of commercials, their length, and placement. There are so many of them it gets very annoying watching a programme here. You get ten minutes of programme then five minutes of commercials. At least that's how it feels. Then of course they'll edit the programmes, particularly movies, 'for time'. Essentially that means, we'll cut our what we don't think is vital to the movie so we can throw in some more commercials. Finally, to talk about a pet-peeve, I remember the vast disbelief I was in after my first experience of watching a programme, the end approaches, it's coming to a close, and then they go to commercial. "Okay, fine." So I sat there enduring the commercials until the final programme segment came on, only to find that I had in fact seen the whole programme and they returned only to run the credits! They put commercials between then end of a show and its credits! Bring back the BBC - please. Even they acknowledge that the Beeb put out better stuff than the money-grabbing companies here. So the TV licence can be a pain, maybe even unfair - believe me - pay it proudly, because for what UK residents pay they get programming that is truly the best in the world. You'll double maybe triple, maybe even more over here for cable and the best they have to offer and it absolute.....rubbish. Take a look in the DVD sections at bookstores or CD stores here and then go to the TV section and what will you find? Tons of BBC programming. Right, rant over.

D) The food; but let me put this carefully. I enjoy much of the food here in terms of variety and good meals, however, there are two aspects of food that I miss. The first is simple, certain dishes. I miss fish and chips, I miss savoury pies like meat and potato or cheese and onion. I miss things like Lancashire hot-pot or Yorkshire puddings. I miss lamb (here in Tucson lamb is more expensive and harder to find than beef - in England the reverse is true). I also miss the chocolate - as you travel west in the world things get sweeter and a number of things here - like Hershey's chocolate is just sickeningly sweet. I also miss other desserts like bread and butter pudding, and custard. More than just nostalgia however, I think there is a basis for my preference and that is the second aspect. I honestly feel that food in England was of a better quality and healthier. If not that, then the attitude towards food in the UK was different and made for a healthier lifestyle. My reasons are thus - with the large distances over here extra preservatives have to be added. Due to the sweeter tastes, more sugar is added. Also, because of the stronger 'free-market' or more money-driven society, the lowest price rules, and therefore poorer quality food is more available - chemically enhanced 'fake food' - which fills the market at lower rungs. In England, with tighter government control and a smaller nation, I feel people just ate better. I have no actual evidence for any of this, other than the fact that Americans are generally fatter, and then my own experience with the food and lifestyle.

E) Well I hope I'm not sounding overly critical of the USA. I do enjoy living here and there are lots of things I appreciate. Finding a specific fifth point has been quite hard, perhaps I'd just have to say the general climate and scenery of the North. A friend of mine sent me a gift book a little while ago. It's a photo journal called Forgotten Landscape by Alistair Lee. In the introduction he talks of how he was raised in the Burnley and Pendle area and then left to travel the world and record his travels on film. Eventually he came to realise that though he hadn't known it growing up, he had been privileged to grow up in some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, yet forgotten by many. It's amazing how true that is, and how much I'd love to go back and see it all again. In fact, when I get the chance to return, God willing, I would like to hike at least the highlight of the Pennine Way, as well as just wander about all the places I used to love and record it all with my own camera. Then also to catch the places I missed even though they were on my own doorstep - more of Scotland and then Ireland for the first time.

3 - A hard question. I've always liked that I've had the attitude to try and find God in anything and every situation. I think it's something instilled in me from my younger days - a sense of respect and learning. If pressed to answer though I'd have to volunteer two places. The first would be, in the world. It seems that God isn't limited to using only those labeled Christian. I can find Him in many places and teaching through many things. I suppose that although the church stamp might not be found on everything, God's fingerprint is rarely absent. It's been tricky at times as I've pondered the out-working of 'being in the world but not of it', but I'm enjoying the vastness of it all and the fact that God is vaster still. Thinking about this a little more, I recall CS Lewis' The Four Loves. In speaking of the love of nature he explains that nature does not in fact teach anyone anything, the same thing can say different things to different people. Nature simply helps to fill up the meaning of those things we have already been taught, it helps bring definition. I might put it that things like nature and some encounters in life and the world don't necessarily teach us anything but bring out that which is already in us. So for the person in whom God dwells, God can be found in many places, yet for those in whom He is not present, God is absent in much of the world. Perhaps the truth is that God is never wholly absent from any of us, being made in His image and bearing the fingerprint of His creation, we all carry something of God around with us, and so it is simple the extent to which we allow God to dwell in us is the extent to which we will find in other places.

The second, and more personally, is, 'at the end of my sin'. That is, growing up in church with all the usual inputs I had the knowledge that Jesus died to take away my sin, and I accepted that, "Thank you Jesus", but never thought much about it. I mean He's God and God's nice so why wouldn't He die for me since He loves me. As years past my faith grew and I became more serious about it all, growing in my knowledge of the Bible and God and to an extent learning how to answer people's questions about the existence of God and creation/evolution. In relating to God though it was always seemed to be a give and take between the both of us. Later in life I went through a bit of a dark period and coming out of it I started to realise it had been more my taking and His giving. I struggled for a long while about my place in God's plans after it all. It felt a lot like my friendship with God would now be more a toleration on His merciful part. I was coming to the point of resigning myself to that end, and just towing the line in a place of voluntary service to Him, and right there, at the end of my sin, I found God waiting. It turns out the end of my sin was more the middle, but every time I do find myself at an 'end' of sin, I've still never failed to find God waiting there, and something about that always surprises me.

4 - Which character from fiction am I? You say that as though I am only one! :) I have to admit to having drawn upon fictional characters for a lot of my identity, especially when younger. From clothes to speech and style it's true that the fictional has impacted who I am. My cowboy boots and ripped jeans owe an allegiance to a certain X-man, whilst my attitude in some surprising problem circumstances often adheres to the modus operandi of a silver-screen adventurer best summed-up, "I don't know, I'm making this up as I go along!" My 21st birthday cake featured a highly-recognisable 'S' (thank you Rowena!) and if you flick through some family albums you'll find a very young me dressed in blue and red happy to be high-up on the ceiling.

Over the past few years I've come to realise that what I know about women and how I treat them is really nothing much of use, and some of it actually damaging - probably because some of the more influential figures in my life were movie charmers and not good husbands. A reality that I lament and have been and am at pains to correct. However, if again I have to pin it down I'll have to refer you to a currently popular television programme. It's amazing to me how often the family has sat down to watch the latest episode in the strange lives of the residents of Smallville and afterwards have walked away pondering how it can be, or what it means, that my life seems to echo that of the lead character. Adding to the surprise was the affirmation of my friend, who, after I had shared this with him, said that he had thought the very same thing, as had his wife, on several occasions. It's obviously not going to be a complete parallel, but the number of times that the life of Smallville's own unrecognised alien has mirrored my own - the sentiments resounding - lead me to believe that to answer your question, I am Clark Kent.

5 - Ah, now this is the hard question. Hard because when I asked to participate I really had no specific questions on my mind. I think though, I can offer something that will provide what you might be looking for. Ever since you started blogging sir, I've followed your writings with some interest. I've often been challenged, some times amused and occasionally a little offended. Always though I've been moved to think. Knowing you more personally than some, and having had the chance to know you in the flesh I've pondered your move to more liberal thinking and theology. Were I reading the writings of some person unknown to me, I have to say that I think there's a chance that I'd dismiss them as just another liberal's musings. Perhaps if I gave the writings chance enough your content would have given me cause for return, but I don't know. My challenge then has been how to reconcile your move to a place of thinking I would not myself want to follow with who I know you to be as a person and what I know of God. Some, maybe most, would easily label me as 'just another conservative'. More and more though I've found myself sat in the middle trying to bridge the gap between left and right.

I don't recall if I blogged about it before but unity has been a subject of increasing importance to me as I've moved through Scripture and looked at the Church. Christ seems to me less concerned about one's theological accuracy as one's love for, and devotion to, Him and one's love for, and service to, other people. Far from trying to unite everyone's thinking and theology, increasingly it is my heart to try and understand where people are coming from and then to figure how we can best respond to one another in love and work with one another in being and advancing the kingdom of God. Whatever position a person holds I find that everyone holds it because they find that it is the best, most truthful position. That being the case, I find that Christ's words to those in a 'better position' than others ought to bear with those less able or privileged than they. What's more, it behooves us to seek how best to love and serve those around us no matter their status. I find His language even stronger concerning those within His body.

So here I find myself in the middle, hearing the truth from both sides and finding difficulties in each, and trying to be honest and faithful. It can be a bit of a lonely position at times though, and I do now and again feel a bit vulnerable wandering between two camps both secure in their positions and unfortunately often hostile to any who might come 'preaching' their opposing virtues. On the side of the conservatives I find a lot of fear, on the side of the liberals, a lot of hurt. I of course find spatterings of other things too, maybe I'll post something about it some day. Returning to my vulnerability though, like someone who is trying to conceal something I'm often a little sensitive to someone pointing things out - and so to answer your question, I think I expected some question regarding Conservatism or liberalism. However, you specifically asked for a question I'd hope for. I suppose I'd hope to hear something that might give me a clue that something I've said to you matters, and that maybe I've made a difference. On the flip side of hope though there is fear, and concerning that, maybe I'd fear a question that in some way tried to reveal some hole or other in my theology, or that disregarded me. How would I answer that? Well I hope I'd be able to avoid the temptation to just react with the opposite defensive/aggressive stance and instead just be honest about what I know and what I don't. What I hope and what I feel. To be brave enough when I have to challenge or contradict, wise enough when I don't have an answer, and gentle and loving throughout.