Thursday, 23 February 2012

the god with sore legs

I've been God-bothering for over a decade, I suppose. I can also be a ferocious reader when time permits. However, these two things have not always lined up: usually preferring Pratchett to Piper, I have actually only finished a handful of the western world's deluge of such publications.

I figure Christian literature is similar to Christian music - there's some genuinely wonderful pieces of work, but there's also a huge mountain of filler. (Particularly the ones with the perfectly-coiffured author beaming their prosperity gospel smile from just about their name in massive gold text... sorry, I'll stop. Even evangelists need private jets.) So I've started many, but have only made it to the epilogue of a few - Mike Yaconelli's Dangerous Wonder; Rob Bell's first two - Velvet Elvis and Sex God; Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel; David Crowder and Mike Hogan's Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven (But Nobody Wants To Die); and a Max Lucado devotional, of which the name escapes me. I honestly can't think of any more at this point, though I'm sure there must be one or two.

Naturally, all the above therefore come highly recommended - they managed to hold my attention for 250-400 pages, so the would have to be. But in the past week I've added another to the list: The God With Sore Legs, by Adrian McCartney.

Now, I declare an interest. It's hard NOT to want to finish a book where you probably know the majority of people and places named. I reckon Adrian is notorious enough around Belfast to shift a few copies to those who are just curious. But I'm very pleased to say that after ten pages, I was completely hooked. Adrian has written a book which is inspiring, funny, soul-searching and devastatingly honest about faith. I laughed out loud and was moved to put it down and ponder hard within pages of each other.

However, it is far too nice about Ryan, from my (particularly footballing) experience. But we'll touch on that again before the end.

The book's structure is promising, and there are roughly three strands. The pledge, around three cycling trips around parts of Ireland - the Ards peninsula, through south Down, and from Newry to Wicklow - provides a travelogue that, whilst not exactly Bill Bryson, is both thorough and humorous. The turn involves stories and insights from past experiences and lessons learnt from Adrian's own ministry. The prestige, and what binds the story, is an exposition of John's gospel and the man, Jesus, that is met and observed there. It's a strong mix - as the author jumps with ease between these strands and finds many common thoughts and crossover points, it's great fun to gently pedal along behind him.

Reading the Kindle edition, I've pulled up 14 different notes that I highlighted as I read. Granted it's really 12: one is reference to a yellow house, which I highlighted because I suspect, by coincidence, I know the residents, and the other reads, 'Ryan has the most complex mind I have ever HAD to listen to' (emphasis added.) But still, for this reader, that's a lot of note taking.

The God With Sore Legs is not a complex theological works, though it does have it's profound moments. When it handles John's writings, it is not a thorough expansion of the text. What does do, however, is provide a readable, informal and crucially outreaching look at Jesus. No bells, no whistles, just the man and his actions - and consequently, what they mean for us. I was taken with his humanness as he grew from Jesus the boy to Jesus the man, for example:

Did Jesus really have to grow in wisdom? Did Jesus really have to grow in favour with God? Did he really have to grow in favour with the people around him? Yes, yes, yes. He had to grow just like you or me. He did not need to win God over but he did have to grow in his understanding of him and in his understanding of humanity and of the world in which God and humanity might meet.

To become like s he voluntarily emptied himself so that he could be one of us. This is the greatest mystery of the whole thing. How can God become one of us? Only by emptying himself.

I feel this is one of the real strength's of Adrian's effort here: making Jesus the man seem real. Not a character; not only a God; but human. Really, really human, with temptation, with emotions, with growth and learning. Just sit for a moment and consider: even Jesus had sore legs at the end of a day's walk.

Knowing Adrian's ministry of the past few years, it's no surprise that he puts so much effort in the book into demystifying the Son of God - that the grace of Jesus is not behind a veil, accessible only through a building with a steeple on a weekly basis, but rather living and breathing in every part of every place. Even Dundalk. Applying that further on to it's ramifications for community, unsurprisingly, is also therefore a topic of much discussion.

I think Jesus wants to make friends there and not just try t get them out of there. That is why it has never bothered me that they don;'t come to church.

Someone said that the true test of the character of any family or community is its attitude to those who are outside of it. God's wee family in heaven has always looked outside of itself. Firstly when they created us. Secondly when they worked out the plan to win us back. Thirdly when they sent one of themselves to show us how to live and to die for us. Fourthly when they sent another one of the three to live among us and inside of us. And then constantly when they listen to us whining and complaining and asking for lottery numbers and blessings and riches and good barbecue weather and attractive looks and fame.

This book is packed with simple but undervoiced truths, and it greatly pleases me to heartily recommend it to this small corner of the web.

Even if it is too soft on Ryan.

'The God With Sore Legs' is available on (for Kindle) or from (print and eBook).

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