Mid-morning yesterday – as one does – I walked 250 yards down the road outside my flat to my local key-cutting/shoe repair shop in order to get my family’s always keenly-contested golf trophy engraved with my name because I had emerged victorious the last time we played (a fortnight ago).
Frank, the thirty-something proprietor of the shop, greeted me like an old friend – I’ve been a customer of his for more than fifteen years (initially his father ran the place) and we’ve always had a five minute chat about nothing in particular whenever I’ve dropped in.
On this occasion, feeling slightly mischievous, I adopted a mock-aggrieved tone to complain about his absence over the past fortnight – during which I’d tried to visit his shop every other day or so, in order to leave my trophy with him. He laughed at my teasing and said (as I had suspected) that he’d been away on holiday.
Normally, both in terms of duration and subject-matter, that would have been it. However on this occasion, for some reason on a whim, I continued our conversation by asking where he had been for his break.
With what I thought I detected was a degree of reservation, probably because of his uncertainty over my reaction, he announced that every year he takes his family camping down in Somerset at a Christian religious gathering called New Wine.
As hinted above, by now Frank and I were now moving into uncharted territory. I’m not sure whether he’d even previously told me he had a family. In fact, if he had, I’d long forgotten it. He certainly hadn’t offered the information that he and his family were religious.
I was intrigued, as I often am in the presence of those of a religious bent – for the simple reason that, without being aggressive about it as per Richard Dawkins, I’m an atheist and hold the view that religion is probably a mix of mumbo-jumbo wishful thinking and a quasi-insurance policy just in case God does exist. For me there is a gap between judging the key issue exclusively upon all the available rationalist evidence and not doing so. Those who opt for the latter have to make ‘a leap of faith’ (literally) in order to believe in God, which is something I’ve never been able to do.
However, maybe that’s my problem, not theirs. I say that because – like everyone else – I have friends who are devout believers and I certainly don’t think less of them for taking a different view to mine. In some respects I envy them – I can tell that their belief infuses them with a positive influence which enhances their sense of purpose and often prompts them to act in commendable ways. Sometimes I even wish I too possessed it, but I cannot because I have not been able to make that ‘leap of faith’ – that’s my cross to bear, if you see what I mean.
Mind you, I’ve also know believers who in their lives have acted just like the rest of us – e.g. those who are serial adulterers, those who have acted deviously, or lied to gain personal advantage, or been untrustworthy to the core. I suppose somehow such people can reconcile these imperfections with their religious beliefs – I don’t necessarily know how – because otherwise they’d be in the realm of ‘pick and mix’, rather than complete, devotion to God … i.e. finding it possible to pay due respect to certain aspects of their religion of choice, whilst simultaneously ignoring those that are personally inconvenient.
Anyway. The fact is that I gain some sort of personal reward (I cannot quite put my finger on what exactly) from trying to understand, or explore, how those who believe in God operate in their daily lives. I guess I’m just interested.
Yesterday I gently probed Frank about his holiday and what it entailed. It was fascinating.
According to Frank, it attracts over 12,000 Christians every year, of all denominations, to the West Country.
They camp in groups, they have a main daily service and then, for the rest of the time, they come together to discuss whatever aspects of religion they wish, get involved in innumerable activities, take advantage of the child-minding facilities on offer, even play informal games of cricket and football. Alternatively, if that’s their choice, they can do none of the above and simply enjoy the experience of being in a large gathering of people who think, broadly, as they do.
Here’s a link to the home page of the website of NEW WINE
I must have been standing in Frank’s shop yesterday for twenty minutes, talking on this topic. I’ve known this guy, on and off, for over a decade and taken my trophies in to be engraved by him countless times, yet this was the first occasion upon which I’ve ‘registered’ him as anything more than a pleasant but effectively anonymous shopkeeper.
In the great scheme of the universe, yesterday’s conversation with him may have been inconsequential to the point of insignificance. Yet it was still a revelatory experience for me.