Having prayed for absent book club members, particularly one, who is back in hospital on a second course of chemo, we started the evening with a general overview of Jeff Lucas’ book, Faith in the Fog. Without exception the group professed to having enjoyed it, though one person found his self-deprecation ‘slightly irritating’. I, on the contrary, warmed to his humility. Being of a similar ilk, in this respect, I found it resonated with me, and I don’t think I’ve ever made so many highlights and annotations in a book before.
FAITH & DOUBT
Jeff’s openness in sharing recurring doubts about his faith was of particular inspiration to others in the group. This was very relevant to one of the men who, with a scientific background, admitted to having wrestled with the concept of creation. His ultimate conclusion was that all that mattered was to trust in Jesus as the son of God; and in salvation and redemption through his death and resurrection. Nothing else, he reckoned, was of any importance.
Nevertheless, we all admitted to having unanswered questions, and bantered about who would be first in the queue when we get to glory. Jeff, you may have to wait in line with your ‘pending file’.
I should say, at this point, that the questions I pose for our book club / readers’ group serve only as an aide memoire, and are not intended to be prescriptive. We relate what we’ve read to our own experiences, and do not necessarily follow the same sequence as the book.
FOG ON THE BEACH
The premise of Faith in the Fog lies in the account of the disciples returning, lost and confused, to a place they knew well. There, on the beach in Galilee, Jesus appears to them, involves them in bringing about a fishing miracle, sees to their fundamental needs by lighting a fire and cooking breakfast for them, and, crucially, restores his relationship with Peter, and sets out his future before him.
This, we felt, was a clever device, with the author weaving the story throughout his narrative. Drawing out certain hidden, and sometimes mistaken, aspects of the church today, he seeks to make sense of what we cannot see.
THE GOD WHO RAGES AGAINST SHORTS
When, for instance, it came to the author’s observations about ‘tokenism’ - pilgrims kissing the ground in the Holy Land, his being chastised about the length of his shorts and having to tug them down (which meant revealing rather more of his rear than was comfortable) - many of us had stories to share. Those who had been to Anglican faith schools spoke about having to learn the Catechism by rote while I, having attended a Roman Catholic primary school, commented on the ‘smells and bells’, and the ritual crossing of oneself and genuflecting before the altar.
However, coming from a ‘broad church’ as we now do, we admitted that while we might still be guilty of certain aspects of ‘tokenism’ in our worship - three hymns and a prayer - we were also gracious enough to concede that diversity is to be applauded. It is, we agreed, enriching. And what appears to be ritual to some might be of profound importance to others. Moreover, the wearing of shorts in our seaside church, though not de rigueur, is certainly prevalent during the summer months. Come and try us out, Jeff.
FROM DRUGS TO DISCIPLESHIP
When it came to Peter’s confessions of love followed by denial, we discussed the theology of conversion and discipleship. Did it mean an instant experience of being a ‘new creation’? Or was the more gradual phenomenon of ‘being transformed’ a more accurate description? Or, indeed, does one follow the other?
With two missionaries in our midst, we learned of their experience in this respect. Husband and wife, they used to go to Glastonbury Festival to be a presence there, as did Vic Jacobson. They spoke of witnessing the immediacy of conversion in drug, sex and alcohol dependent revellers, who turned, there and then, from their previous life to a Jesus-led discipleship. But they also stressed the need to link these young people to a local church. Those conversions may have been instantaneous, but ultimate transformation would be ongoing only within the teaching, nurture and fellowship of other Christians.
A QUICK FIX
We, in our church, have the resources to be able to embrace a variety of styles of worship. From The Forge - a charismatic service led by the young people - to Family Services, and Songs of Praise for older folk, there is ample opportunity to discover God’s guidance. Jeff Lucas writes of tongues, interpretation and prophecy continuing to be relevant today - but points, also, to the fact that they are open to misinterpretation. Just as the ‘pick a blessing’ approach is a ‘blatant misuse of Scripture’.
He goes on to say: ‘even though I’ve had more than my fair share of those epic moments, they’ve been fewer in the last decade or so.’ Reading this reminded some of us of what our previous minister, David Coffey, had once said: ‘the view from the mountain top is wonderful; but it’s in the valley that we’re fed.’
SHAME & DEPRESSION
The subject of illness and depression, and the shame that often ensues from admitting to it, was a recurring theme throughout the book. We agreed that this was less of a problem in Christian circles than it once was.
I recalled a visit I made many years ago to a popular evangelist, a friend, when he’d had surgery. A man who was unafraid to show his emotions at the best of times, he was clearly suffering from post-operative depression. But when I mentioned my own considerable experience of the depressing effects of anaesthesia, he would have none of it. A real follower of God, he stated, could not possibly be depressed.
Drawing on many of the damning statements Jeff Lucas recounts in his book - where Job’s comforters cite frailty of any sort in a Christian as due to ‘insufficient prayer’, ‘sin in one’s life’ and so on - my friend gave me a resounding telling off. Lovingly, of course!
Which brought us to the nature of love. Much of which, Jeff suggests, is encompassed in what sort of Jesus we worship. But also in our ability to accept and receive - forgiveness, chastisement, and, crucially, the fact that neither we, nor the church, are superhuman.
‘Too many of us live tortured, unsatisfying Christian lives because we worship a Jesus who is good at commands but never asks questions; who is a demanding employer but not a caring, tender friend; who asks us to do the unreasonable but never says “well done.” What we believe about who God is determines how we’ll live. We all have a version of what Jesus is like,’ writes Jeff.
Jeff's expectation of the ‘red-pen’ ‘could do better’ treatment he’d experienced at school mirrors my own. My ‘faith in the fog’ - believing what I couldn’t see - never brought doubts about the existence, power or love of God; only about my worthiness to receive it. With a loving but intellectual father, whose aspirations I failed, dismally, and a sporty mother whom I likewise failed, my vision of God’s hopes for me were unattainable. He was the God who was to be adored, trusted and loved. But he was also the God whom I was destined to fail.
How does our ‘version’ of God affect our faith, asks Jeff? Do we view Jesus’ constant questioning of Peter’s promise to love and follow him, as ‘demanding’? Or are his questions intended to deepen Peter’s self-perception?
And what about the fact that Jesus ‘abandoned’ the disciples to an entire night of fruitless activity and only made his presence known when they returned, tired and empty-handed? Does that smack of his being uncaring? Or does he, in handing them the solution - to cast their nets on the other side - show his trust in them, his desire for them - and us - to be in partnership with him?
A PATHWAY PAVED WITH PAIN
Suffering can amplify feelings of abandonment; of unfairness. But good can come out of it. ‘I stumbled upon the discovery that being honest about our struggles liberates others, because all truth, even ugly truth, brings freedom,’ Jeff writes. Coming out of the fog, he found himself able to comfort others with the comfort he had received.
This, I told my group, was exactly what I’d experienced. Following my 15 year long disastrous marriage that had ended in divorce; an overlapping 15 year period during which my middle daughter battled her heroin addiction, and eventually died; and a further, 15 years of persecution from my family, it was those Corinthian verses that were to launch me into authorship. * Coming out of the fog, being able to share what I’d learned, gave me a focal point for my faith.
And isn’t that exactly the point? ‘It would take more faith to walk away from faith than to remain in it,’ Jeff declares. When all our ‘dissatisfaction. . . comes from an incomplete understanding of sin’, when we forget that Peter was unable to walk on water unaided, or that he denied Jesus three times, we expect the impossible.
Quoting David Seamands, a counsellor, Jeff writes:
‘We affirm grace in our creeds and sing about it in our hymns. We proclaim it as a distinctive of the Christian faith - that we are saved by grace alone through faith. But it’s all on a head level. The good news of the Gospel of grace has not penetrated the level of our emotions.’
It’s easier for us to give than receive. ‘We argue and struggle, wanting to pay, like the protesting prodigal squirming in his father’s embrace.’ But in doing so, in being unable to forgive ourselves, we set ourselves up as a higher authority than God. Jesus, we’re reminded, ‘comes to be our slave as well as our saviour.’
That’s the wonder of what this book points us towards when all we know is faith in the fog. The wonder of believing what we cannot see. The wonder of grace. A power that is more than power. The power that is ‘The Spirit of Christ. The Holy Spirit.’
Do leave a comment to let me know your take on this book. And if you'd like to know more about my books, details are given below, and Reviews may be found on my Facebook page
SOME OF MY BOOKS
* The Tug of Two Loves (my testimony about being unequally yoked in marriage)
** Divorced but not Defeated (testimony of my divorce)
*** Where is my Child? (testimony of my daughter’s drug addiction - all three written under my pen name, Meg Scott)
**** A Painful Post Mortem (the story of my daughter’s death five years after she’d kicked her heroin addiction, and whether God’s promises are to be trusted - written under my other pen name, Mel Menzies)
Available from Amazon or my website, all details here: