Balsamic Vinegar for the Scouser …

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Why is it that supermarkets keep moving things around on you? Just when you think you know where things are, they up and re-organise everything so the beans are where the eggs used to be and the eggs are where the pasta was and the pasta seems to have been hidden by some evil hoarder of carbohydrates …

Guess what? Yep, I had another supermarket trauma the other day … admittedly not as traumatic as the horror of self-serve checkouts, but nonetheless something that made me both exasperated with myself and drew a reluctant smile.  Allow me to meander through my explanation …

I grew up in what was euphemistically called a ‘New Town’ – a place called Skelmersdale – which was essentially the centre of the 1960’s city of Liverpool unceremoniously ripped up and plonked around 16 miles to the east. Now, Skelmersdale has, and maybe still has, an undeserved reputation as a home of layabout, scoundrels and vagabonds … and whilst I might qualify on all three counts, I’m not sure that means it was entirely fair to place Skem at number 46 on the list of the top 50 crap towns in the country! (And, whilst I’m at it, why am I upset that Skem wasn’t higher up the list?  Somehow it feels that not being in the top ten of crap towns is just one more disappointment, like we couldn’t even muster up the energy to be properly crap!)

I lived in the middle of a typical housing estate, went to a typical comprehensive school, and did all the sorts of things that lads growing up are supposed to do. My home was always politically fairly left-wing, or at least really anti Thatcher; dad was a union man and the town took a kicking during the recession of the 80’s.

So, there I was, this resolutely northern (indeed Scouse!) lad, in the supermarket fuming because I couldn’t find the balsamic vinegar. I mean BALSAMIC VINEGAR!!!

Thankfully, just as the frustration threatened to reduce me to a stamping five-year old rage, it struck me as really funny that I was getting bent out of shape about this – a properly useless #firstworldproblem!  When I was growing up I hadn’t even heard of anything called balsamic vinegar; good grief, the only vinegar I knew about was that stuff you got in the chippy!!! Now, there’s a whole supermarket aisle of various varieties of vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, malt vinegar, white vinegar, Spanish sherry vinegar, cider vinegar and of course, endless iterations of balsamic vinegar – organic, matured, 3 leaf , 4 leaf, from Modena and other Italian places, a truly bewildering cornucopia of choice when all I wanted was just balsamic vinegar!!!!!

It made me think; I might well have grown up thinking that all vinegar was a deep dark brown and went on fish and chips, but my culinary experiences and adventures of my life have opened up a whole new realm of flavours and fragrances to me. I grew up in a New town built-in the late 1960’s, and now live in one of the country’s newest cities (admittedly it was round since Roman times) with a history that is much wider and richer and older than I first understood.

I was part of the first generation of our family that went to University rather than straight to a job – mind you, not entirely sure that taking an Art degree was a great use of that particular opportunity. I think the furthest we ever went on holiday when I was a kid was Scotland, but since then I’ve been skiing in a few countries (three in one day once!) and I’ve stumbled out of a jazz club in the middle of Amsterdam at three in the morning.

Where I started isn’t where I am now. Where I am now isn’t where I’ll finish.

I grew up in the Catholic school system, a cultural more than a committed believer, I (re)discovered faith in the context of a Baptist church, I went to a Pentecostal bible college, and even attended a rather conservative Anglican church for a while; now I’m happy in what I’d call a non-denominational fellowship.

Where I started isn’t where I am now. Where I am now isn’t where I’ll finish.

When I first came back to faith, I had a very ‘black and white’ mentality about things, the full flush of new-found passion and zeal allowing me to rush past ‘grey’ areas; now I’m getting to the point where grey isn’t a threat, and the understanding that it isn’t the only colour – there’s a rainbow of experiences and responses that I’ve found in the broad church that Jesus gave us. I don’t look for ways to separate myself from the history, tradition or even the excesses, mistakes and tragedies within the history of faith – I try to think, to learn, to understand  and to marvel in the fact that somehow, despite the best efforts of the church, Jesus’ message and example still survives.

I’m a lot less certain about the idea of a ‘linear’ faith – where everything proceeds along a pre-determined, unswerving, rigid path – and more open to the idea that faith is more of a dance to an ever-changing tune, or a voyage with a port in mind but no set itinerary. Doctrine isn’t as important to me as say … relationship or encounter.  Dogmatic responses annoy me more than they annoy my atheist friends; orthodoxy is interesting, but only so far as it informs orthopraxy; Biblical inerrancy isn’t something I’m going to argue with someone about … I’m more interested in the story, the storyteller and how that story invites us all in, and then makes us part of the whole story.

Where I started isn’t where I am now. Where I am now isn’t where I’ll finish.

I’ve become less interested in the ‘Sunday Show’ aspect of church, even though it was (and is) a passion of mine and begun to entertain the idea that what we do on a Sunday when we meet together should really have something to do with how we approach the following Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday …

My understanding of faith, of God, of Jesus, of church and other Christians has changed so much in the twenty-two years I’ve been on this ride that I can honestly say that I’m not sure where I’ll end up … but also that the certainty I used to crave isn’t nearly as important to me now.

Where I started isn’t where I am now. Where I am now isn’t where I’ll finish.

There’s times for everyone where you have those jarring moments of dislocation – when the things you took for granted are suddenly less certain than they used to be; when things you once believed naively are tested by harsh realities; when you see that the ‘chocolate box’ world you wanted to believe in, complete with its ‘Santa Claus’ god, isn’t the world you’re living in, and the god you wanted to believe in is not the broken, suffering yet ultimately resurrected one that walks through the muck and the mire with you.

Where you start isn’t where you are now; where you are now isn’t where you’ll end up.

What I know is this; I like Balsamic vinegar to be sure, but what I like more is the fact that my life has changed so much from when I thought all vinegar was the stuff that you put on your fish and chips. I like the fact that there’s a sense of ‘undiscovered-ness’ about my faith, a sense that black and white answers aren’t the point, the point is colour and nuance, light and shade and voyage and travel rather than map and destination.

I’m growing to understand – and maybe even like the fact – that where I started isn’t where I am now, and where I am now isn’t where I’ll finish. However you feel about that, I hope that it ends up as an encouragement to you too.

Mind you, I never did find the balsamic … supermarkets still suck!



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