Walking to work with my iPod on the aforementioned ‘shuffle’ setting I was hit with a delightful juxtaposition or two.
First up it’s the Beatles with “Tomorrow Never Knows” and I’m staggered that a track that was recorded/released two years before I was born sounds so contemporary, so groundbreaking nearly fifty years later. Following that comes “Thine be the Glory” by Rend Collective – a joyous interpretation (i.e. complete reworking) of a hymn originally from 1884, electric guitars and thumping bass breathing new life into the old church standard. Following that the Arctic Monkeys launch full throttle into “I Bet that you look good on the Dancefloor” before there’s one of those quirks that the shuffle setting throws now and then, when another song from Rend Collective’s Organic Family Hymnal album, “Exalt” changes the pace and then seamlessly blends with Myrkur by Sigur Ros. To wrap it up as I near work, Nine Inch Nails assault my ears with “Head like a Hole” before Led Zeppelin bring me into land with “Immigrant Song.”
I enjoy the walk to work sometimes.
It’s a new job … I lost my previous one; over the last couple of years around twenty-six people were made redundant at my previous place of work, shuffled out the door in dribs and drabs, some to new posts in other places, some – like me – to nothing.
It concentrates the mind redundancy.
Of course, there’s the sudden stab of financial panic, and maybe a sense of indignation (“They got rid of me, but kept them?”) or even fatalism (“I knew it would be me”) but, honestly, I was more relieved than anything else. I – that is me and the family – decided I’d take a bit of time before looking for another job; it just felt as though it was the right thing to do. In my mind I thought I’d been given an opportunity to think about the things I really wanted to do, the work that I wanted to be involved in, perhaps even the notion of ‘calling’ and ‘ministry’ too.
Funnily enough, nothing came of all that. (You’d think that fifteen years after leaving Theological College I might have gotten round to thinking it doesn’t look like anyone else agrees that I’d make a decent preacher/pastor! Oh well …)
Anyhow, I found this new job before my redundancy pay ran out – going back to a job very much like my first job after leaving University; working with my hands again, making things with wood and metal and just about anything I can lay my hands on. It feels slightly strange – actually it feels a lot strange, like I’m going back in time or something, like I’ve slid down the longest snake in the game all the way back to square one … more than twenty years of working in education shuffled and re-dealt and I’m back to sawing things up and sweeping up …
But, despite everything, I don’t feel as though I’m really back at square one, or back at the bottom of the Ferris Wheel of life to go round and round again and again in some pointless repetition. I do think that the whole experience is a little like listening to things on my classic iPod as it shuffles randomly through thousands of possible tracks, millions of possible combinations.
Scripture says “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” and I still think that’s part of what I’m in right now. Don’t misunderstand me here, though, I don’t have some kind of Pollyanna-ish attitude to life, I’m not a believer in the philosophy “If life gives you lemons then make some lemonade” and I’m not thrilled to be working for less than half of what I was making previously. When Paul wrote Romans 8:28 I don’t think it was meant to be a “hang in there, it’ll all work out in the end” encouragement – I think it’s a description of a process, of a work in progress, of things being shuffled around to make something new.
I’d never have thought to put Rend Collective next to the Jam, or Sigur Ros; I’d almost forgotten I had ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ on my iPod, and I hadn’t heard the Arctic Monkeys or the Immigrant Song in a while. Yet, the switch from one to the other, the lurches from one track to the next, the seemingly disparate blending into one exuberant experience put both a smile on my face and a spring in my step. The very way these things just clashed and mashed and sparked with each other somehow brought more life than if they’d been heard as stand-alone tracks, isolated, considered and consumed.
I remember watching a documentary once, about the making of Samurai swords. The master swordsmith, along with his apprentices, heated and folded and hammered different steels together to form his blade. Each time the metal was heated to almost melting point, each time burly men hammered seven bells out of it with large sledgehammers, each teeth rattling blow right on the mark. It looked as though the sword was taken to the point of destruction time and time again – heating and hammering, heating and hammering, heating and hammering – all in order to produce the finest steel for the finest blades.
That’s what I think Romans 8:28 feels like … where I’m pounded out, heated to melting point and then pounded again. It isn’t comfortable, it isn’t nice, but it makes something.
Something sharp I hope, something worthwhile.