Why I didn’t blog this morning

I was fuming. I read the words and they just got worse. My temper rose and my brain started to whir.

I was plotting what I would write, the words that would critique the post that had got me riled. I was imagining my acerbic wit weaving its way across the page. How I would make my point in such destructively understated prose. I plotted the layers I would sequence to use words to make one point directly and another more subtly in line with others across the arc of my writing.

I was angry. Someone had said something I didn’t feel should be left unquestioned. But my motives were less pure. My mental scheming stopped dead with a tweet that pulled me from my fanciful flight of blogging heroism.

I was not being civil. I was ready for war. Funny things these internal squabbles, inside the body of Christ when we tear each other limb from limb to make our point. Civil wars are anything but civil. I’ve done it before and it left me cold. My stats may have gone through the roof for a day or so. I may have won plaudits for the way in which I took down someone who said something I disagreed with, and moreover slighted many others not including myself.

I was right. I was sure I was right then, and I was sure I was last night. When Mark Driscoll made comments about British preachers I thought I would come to their defence. And last night I thought I’d come to the defence of another maligned group damned with the faintest of praise from one of my more conservative brethren. I tweeted my horror, just moments before Preston Yancey tweeted his call for civility. It could have been straight to me. I do not know whether it was about the same fracas but the words struck home.

Being right wasn’t what mattered.

I paused. I reflected on the days that followed my post about Mark Driscoll. I thought about the debates that ensued in the comments, on facebook and twitter. I remember hovering several times over the delete button in the back end of the blog. For all that I liked what I had written I did not like the way it was being received or how it reflected on me. I was ready for the whole piece to be consigned to the dustbin of internecine blogging. And I reflected again on the amount of search referrals I’ve had this week after blogging about Vaughan Roberts and his interview about same sex attraction.

I am not responsible for what people search to find what I write, but I am responsible for what they find and read. For quite a while my response to Mark Driscoll was my most read post (now superseded by Jennie Pollock’s guest post). If I had written in anger this morning, if I had offered a redoubtable defence of my case, I may have received acclamations for bravely saying something others were thinking. I may have got a boost to my statistics after a quiet summer. But I would be offering a tone of debate and discussion I could not defend.

I would be writing for the attention it would receive. I would not be building bridges or helping unite a frequently factious church. What I would write would be for my benefit and not anyone else’s.

People who know me will know what I would have said. And those who don’t but read these words, well I’m afraid I’m leaving it there. I’m determined not to become a landing page for those looking to pick fights between sections of the church. I’m not going to slag off this individual, and I shall do my best not do so to any other. I’ll engage in debate and discussion, I’ll write about what I agree with and disagree with. I think difference is healthy and the church should foster a culture where we can speak of our difference in a civil manner and not hurl threats of excommunication if you don’t tow the party line.

But body blows are too far. Personal attacks are not needed. I want people to read what I write, but not at the expense of pulling someone else down. Scoring cheap points is a pastime I can live without. I guess this is a mantra. Or a positive revolution as suggested elsewhere. Let’s be civil. Let’s make civility fashionable.

And let’s make each other pie as frequently as possible.

Let go, trust and forgive

I was walking down the road I trod in a puddle. Or a bus passed too close to the curb and drenched me from the waist down. Every moment in life is crowded with details that point to things not working how we might like them to.

I hear that someone I love is ill. I see carnage across the sea. I hear men who should know better suggest reasons for the chaos. All I want to do is cry.

And in my heart I flit between tortured indifference and unbridled anger knowing that brokenness and pain, and frailty and heartache are a normal feature of yours and mine and everyone’s life.

Whether it’s as I try to untangle my attraction to a girl from my insecurity to feel needed, or my rejection as others head to watch the Dark Knight Rises as I am left at home. Things do not work out how I would like them to. It is never as simple as it should be.

And we can fret and we can plan, and we can hope and we can dream. We can long for love to conquer all, we can read the books that claim to guide us. We can have all the answers to our questions and still stand adrift in a sea of chaos.

The final part of the puzzle does not slot into place like a jigsaw, it works in exactly the opposite way. It’s not a solution that makes things easy. Nor even one that tells you after a rocky ride everything will be okay.

Instead the answer is to raise your hands, loose your grip on what is in your hands. And let go.

Ruin is the starting point of transformation, but that doesn’t mean it’s a downhill ride after we’ve scaled the heights of suffering. Ruin requires surrendering, letting go and trusting in God. It means that we know that we cannot sort everything out, that plan B and C and all the way to Z may do us no good.

We trust in God and we hold tighter to him than to any of our hopes and dreams.

And there’s another thing. We forgive, which let’s us enter into the acts of redemption that work through the darkest of niches. Somehow, in the most challenging of situations light starts to shine. When things are wrong it is not the end.

When conflict reigns in a relationship. When pain gnaws away at the loneliness that follows break up. Or the isolation that surrounds singleness. When you do your best to solve whatever problems punch you in the face and they come back with a viscous left hook.

Let go, forgive, trust God. Not easy, never easy, but somehow it is the right thing to do. And even if you don’t, God is still there and he still loves you and redemption comes in the most unusual of places.

Make love not war

I’m a firm believer that conflict is a healthy part of any relationship. Not because I’m a glutton for hard times but because if it’s not there you’re either lying or repressing the inevitable disagreements beneath the surface.

When conflict, and even anger, is not properly managed it is allowed to linger and fester and at some point, especially in close relationships, it will boil over. In the final sermon in ChristChurch London’s Love is a Verb series this was the topic of conversation, so in this post I’m going to run through the first seven ideas for handling conflict given. In a follow up post I’m going to write about the final one in more detail and with some reflections added.

  1. Decide to resolve conflict.This is the tough one, it might sound simple, even superfluous, but if you don’t take a decision to deal with things then they won’t be dealt with. I know from my experience that once I have taken the decision to do something the challenges of following through with that fade away. They don’t disappear altogether, and I often take longer than I should in getting round to having that hard conversation, but I have it. This is about clarity of communication, regardless of what we think we have said it is vital to pay attention to what the other person has heard, and how they have taken that.

    Our natural instinct is to run away from conflict, but if we just move on we will experience the same friction in a new place, and if we continually shift away from discomfort nothing will ever be dealt with.

  2. Take your time.This is an interesting one. I’ve been brought up under the mantra of don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and consequently I’ve always wanted to resolve issues as soon as they flare up, that’s once I let them flare up.

    But maybe it is sometimes wiser to wait, and acknowledge the conflict, and to allow passions to calm before addressing what lies beneath. When we come under attack, whether physically, verbally or emotionally we freeze, and our knee jerk response is very rarely a good one.

  1. Win hearts not arguments.I like a good argument. I like the chance to best my foes with my wit and wisdom. I like the haggling and scheming, the tactics and the strategy. I don’t mind losing the odd battle as long as I stay ahead in the war.

    This is not a very good way of building relationships. I’m sure my tendency to want to win is shared by plenty of others, the dismay at being thought wrong, when you know you can set the record straight.

    But who really wins in this situation? Certainly not the relationship. I need to learn to prioritise the relationship over what I think is right, and in my case not only the answer but the method. Too often I want things done my way, because I have the best, most efficient solution. It’s okay not to win the argument, it’s more than okay to put the other person first.

    In the end most short cuts are diversions.

  2. Get perspectiveI’m very often right. And I’m more often also wrong. And sometimes I can be both of those at the same time. This is not some relativistic hogwash but instead the acceptance that there are almost always multiple perspectives to any situation. If we’re obsessed with our point of view, our interests, our rightness, then we will miss so much of what is going on. Likewise, if we think that everyone else is against us and become defensive we will end up wallowing in self pity.

    In the talk on Sunday Andy Tilsley gave a pretty stiff challenge to see the other person’s perspective, and to think about how if we do this we could cut out gossip. The point being that gossip is usually when one person’s position is advanced without consideration of how others involved, think, feel or react.

  3. Take responsibility for what you can take responsibility forIt’s not my job to change the world. There are a lot of things that don’t work out the way I would like them to work out and some of the time I will have to live with that. If I spend my life fretting over problems that I have little or no control over then I will work myself into a frenzy and into a spin of stress and disappointment at the futility of it all.

    Whereas if I focus on what I can change, on my behaviour and my relationships, of the way that I think about myself, then I will not only have a greater chance of success but I will also be dealing with the issues that are closer to the heart of the problem. Otherwise I’ll spend a lot of time on displacement activity, trying to get things done, change things, make things better, but all the time remain the frail shell with the same problems as before.

  4. Tell the truthSimple, tough, and essential. We avoid telling the truth because of where we fear it will take us. We worry that if we say something people will think less of us, or be disappointed. Or no that we are interested in them. Or know that this relationship isn’t going to work out. Not only do I need to tell the truth but I need people around me who will tell the truth to me, who will call me out on the nonsense that I spout and the lies that I live.

    It was on this issue that a little query popped into my mind: how do we balance telling the truth with not always trying to win the argument? Because if we know that something is right then we have a responsibility to tell that truth, don’t we? Maybe, but we also need to balance a few other things as well, we can take time in our relationships to draw light onto problematic situations, and we can have grace to understand that things going wrong will not derail our life.

  5. Get helpOur problems are not just our own, and likewise the solutions will often be shared. It’s not an excuse to go gossiping to everyone about the problems someone else is experiencing, but the very real acceptance that we need help to navigate the tricky waters of our relationships. Help from other people can also shine a light onto the extent of the problem, sometimes it will be apparent that in the light of day things are really not that bad. But in others the extent of pain will only become clear with an outside perspective. Sometimes in the midst of a relationship we can forgive and forebear, and then excuse what we should not. There are relationships where the most loving thing we can do is walk away.

Effectively what I’ve presented is my extended notes from Sunday’s sermon along with a bit of commentary and reflection along the way. There is a lot we can do to handle conflict, but the most important part of this post is that we handle it. Something more important than that will come in the next instalment.

From one to another

Dear guys,

Last week I wrote a letter to the female race, you may have read it. If you didn’t, it might be a good place to start.

This is quite a different letter, to the ladies I was trying to give a glimpse of insight into the way one particular guy thought, felt and acted. To you I’ve got a few words of advice.

Decide if you like a girl, find a way to let her know, and explore if that liking turns to love.

I told you I only had a few. Because, who am I to try and tell you much else?

You have walked a road that I have not travelled. The chances for love may have been punctuated with disappointment. I do not think I can write for every situation that you will have experienced.

It is not my place to opine about you longing after a girl who has walked away.

Can I with any credibility chastise the philanderer who leads each girl on and into his arms, but finds that there is another more pleasing to his eyes?

When you tell me that you have asked out one woman and then the next, and this has happened time and time again and they continue to turn you down: because my rejection count does not compare, I cannot advise.

And when you meet the one who you love, when she takes a step into the church and you turn and gaze up the aisle, the joy that overwhelms must be contained.

Because I have not been there. I have not lived the life you live.

But in fact, we need to help each other. We need to be honest about the challenges we face, share the hopes that we have and the dreams that one day might be our reality.

We need to cry when sadness darkens our day, confide when we’ve nowhere left to turn. Tell each other when we are being idiots, encourage us in our pursuit, or caution against heartache that might lurk ahead.

We do not know the life that each other leads unless we let each other in. We cannot help each other until first we welcome help. We are not ready to love a lady, with all our heart, with all our strength, if we have not first learnt who we are.

We cannot use the exceptionalness of our lives as a shroud to permit secrecy. Of course we all have experiences that others have not shared, and we will sometimes struggle to comprehend what greets each others’ day. The words of advice may be idiotic, the comfort we bring ineffectual, but that is not an excuse to close our lives off. And how will we ever get better at helping one another if we do not give it a go.

I talked to a few girls before writing this letter, and basically, they want to know if we like them. I recounted a story, maybe because it’s quirkiness hid my true vulnerability. That there was a girl who I liked, and I chose to spend time around her, and as my affection grew I realised that my actions could be construed as evidence of my interest so I backed off. I was worried that the girl to whom I was expressing an interest might actually realise how I felt. I also didn’t want anyone else getting onto the idea that I liked her. That might puncture my charade.

That’s how crazy I can be, I can tie myself in knots. And the ladies I told struggled to comprehend this ludicrous behaviour.

And I know that in other ways, you too can act a little crazy. Sometimes we purport ourselves as content on our own that we ignore the interest of the fairer sex. Sometimes we are so desperate for attention that we take the easy chances, find the girls that will have us. Sometimes we stay with someone long after our interest has waned because our fear of conflict takes over.

We have also emasculated our emotions in an attempt to conform to the cultural caste of gender.

We think that guys should be manly, concerned only with adventures, hand-wrestling grizzly bears and we have turned Jesus into that man. We have tried too hard to make God masculine. We have forgotten how to cry.

As Joe Carter put it: “Young men don’t need a Jesus who strolls like the Duke, squints like Clint Eastwood, and snarls like dick Cheney. They don’t need Jesus the cagefighter, they just need Jesus the Savior”.

Until we are comfortable with Jesus as a paragon of vulnerable masculinity we will try to live a life that isn’t reflecting Him. And I think for a start this means countering our pride. I’ve made it clear before that I’m open to girls giving a relationship a kick start. This can be a hard thing for us, it seems like we’ve been pre-empted, had our role taken. But we get things so very wrong so very often, whether it is about misplaced attraction, about ignorance of how other feel, about how we may have led a girl to think we were interested. About how we may shy away from facing that spectre of rejection, and if a girl gives a guy a helping hand we should welcome it and not resent it.

Finally, a word on singleness and marriage. We have got to esteem marriage more highly, and stop just thinking one day it will come to us, at a time when it is convenient, at a moment when we are less busy, less lustful for the next beautiful girl, at a time when we are ready to settle down.

But it’s also a problem when we are too desperate for marriage, I could pretty much quote all of what Max Dubinsky has written over at the Good Women Project, but this will suffice: “The enemy loves that you so desperately want to be married, that you’re crying on your bedroom floor begging God for a boyfriend or girlfriend because you can’t handle being alone. That your attention is focused on finding someone to marry. He loves that you don’t think you will be happy until you find ‘the one’”. We have to learn to be single well.

If this all sounds a bit too emotional, that’s okay, we’re all made differently. But if it does sound like I’m trying to get you to open up, think about your feelings, then I am. I think there is nothing worse that the facade that we perpetuate that we men do not have feelings. That we are unemotional beings with a lustful intent that we conquer by brute force as Ulysses chained himself to the mast to avoid the charms of the Sirens.

There’s much more I could say, but for now let’s end it here, and let us also remember to talk. So maybe my words were not as few as I made out, or my advice as limited as I suggested, but we shouldn’t shy away from taking time to grapple with complexity.

Your brother.

Girls, if you’ve been reading I guess that’s okay. Give us a chance, and help us where you can.

When love and life collide

Friends are the people we want to be around. But it is not always that easy, it’s not all about a smooth road which veers to our every whim. Because maybe, friendship is fundamentally about conflict.

I want to do something. Someone else wants to do something else. We search for harmony in our relationships, but the life we live pays testament that it is conflict and not harmony that usually wins the day.

It can be mundane, it can be trivial, it can be easy and it can be hard. It could be what to do with a final Saturday in the summer sun. Or maybe who we include in certain activities.

The practicalities will often be verbalised, the differences clear. But many of the areas of conflict will go unspoken, they will simmer under the surface. We will continue as though there is no disagreement, that everything is hunky dory.

But I am committed to getting through it. And I am determined to not let my tendency for isolation to let me flee from challenging situations.

I’ve been away with my friends a couple of times over the summer and each time the fun and harmony was sprinkled with a dose of conflict. And perhaps I was more to blame than most for the disruption. While I may not have handled the specific situations particularly well, they did cause me to think about how much space we allow for conflict in our friendships.

There’s a memorable line in the film “Good Will Hunting” when Sean is telling Will about his relationship with his wife: ‘The little idiosyncrasies that only I know about: that’s what made her my wife. Oh she had the goods on me too, she knew all about my little peccadilloes. People call these things imperfections, but they’re not. Ah, that’s the good stuff.’

We think that the best a relationship can be is one with complete harmony and an absence of problems. This simply misses the point. We live in a world where relationships are broken and we are fuelled by selfishness and greed. If our pursuit of relationships, both romantic and platonic does not take this into account we will end up both disappointed and spurred on to build a facade of perfection that does not exist.

Maybe because we have a certain intentionality in romantic relationships we accept the need to ‘get through conflict’, but even this misses the point that it is a never ending challenge. Things do not get better once you’ve argued and made up once. But in friendships there is rarely the acknowledgement of the need for hard graft.

It also seems a bit too eager, to go into a group of friends and start off the conversation. And you can come across as the fun police, especially if you want to say something unpopular. But sometimes these things need to be said, there needs to be room for the dissenting opinion to be voiced. Because it is just in the circumstances that it is not given space that peer pressure takes its toll. When other people are doing something or saying something and you just go along for the ride.

There’s two different categories of conflict here, there are those which are based on subjective preferences, where some form of compromise needs to be found between people with myriad different opinions and views. There’s often not a solid right or a wrong thing to be done. Should we go to the beach or the park on a sunny day?

But there is a second category, and within the church sometimes we consider ourselves exempt from this. We live under the assumption that in our interaction with the wider world we have to be on our guard against temptation, but among our church friends all is fine.

I think I am more tempted to behave in a manner dishonouring to God around Christians. Maybe it is because I don’t take such care, but also because to suggest that something is wrong is not only about my beliefs and values, but I am explicitly questioning theirs.

So how do we create the space for these kind of conversations to take place? How do we let ourselves be challenged when we are behaving in an inconsiderate way, are we too protective of being in the right that we squash any challenges before they are spoken?

Please talk among yourselves…

Because I’m leaving on a jet plane.

I’m off on holiday, and I need it. A week in the sun, with little else to do but read and relax, and maybe play a few overly competitive family board games.

I’ve got a couple of posts lined up on handling conflict, especially between friends. However, bus diversions, flying haribo and Jungle Speed conspired last night to prevent me finishing them up and scheduling them for while I’m away. Instead I’m jotting a few thoughts as I hurtle towards Gatwick amid the awakening dawn.

Friendships are tough. I touched on a similar theme in relation to our expectations of romantic relationships, but friendships will not always be easy going. And if they are you’re probably not giving enough to them. I struggle with that, I want things to fall into place without disagreement or discord. But the melee of emotions and personalities will always bring differences to the surface.

So the question to ponder while I’m away, and that’s a hint to offer your thoughts in the comments below, is where do we go from there?

Do we flee from conflict, either to perpetually form new friendships or retreat into ourselves offering less of ourselves to each nascent friendship that emerges?

Do we fight for what is right, and can we ever know where subjective differences and objective rights and wrongs start and end? To put that another way, are we standing up for personal preference or something of value which is shared?

I like things nice and ordered, I prefer to calculate cost and benefit, but should such equations ever be applied to friendships? Isn’t that a bit too clinical, lacking in compassion? But I also get the idea that some people are good for you and others less so.

So where does fighting for friendship and forbearing with others give way staying in a situation that is unhealthy? I’m taking McCould and Townsend’s book ‘Safe People’ with me and it’s all about this, so I’m sure I’ll have some thoughts to share on my return but for now, I’ll just say it’s a tough one.

For someone inclined not to invest in friendships enough I shudder at the thought of pulling away because I know it would just exacerbate my introversion. I got cross with some friends on Sunday, maybe I had a point, I still think I do, but I obscured any valid comment with my aggression and undue personal hostility. The challenge for me is to continue to give more to friendships despite the challenges, but I want to know when it is also necessary to withdraw, maybe for the good of multiple people.

So there you go, the thoughts that hit the keyboard on a train at 4.30am. I cannot say enough how much your comments are a vital part of this blog, so talk among yourselves for the next week…

Postscript: I accidentally picked up the wrong bottle when going for some apple juice, and I discovered the wonder that is Copella apple and mint juice.

Coffee shop theology: Conflict and Cover-ups

Sometimes things don’t quite add up. At first glance everything looks okay, perfectly normal, but when you gaze a little longer, study in more detail, the order becomes disrupted.

As so often I sit alone trying to make sense of the world in which I live, the life I inhabit. In my comfortable leather armchair in a chain coffee shop I sink my double macchiato rather too quickly.

These corporate entities, they’re all the same. The same chairs and tables, artwork on the walls. I could be in any of so many, but there is something different, a hint that this re-creation had to make compromises, that the prefabricated balustrades and floor tiles had to come to an arrangement with the longer lasting historic fabric of the building it inhabits. The walls are not straight, the room is not square, the timbers that hold up the ceiling intersect with walls painted in corporate tones.

So little of our lives happen in isolation, very rarely can we create something without an external influence. We are constantly needing to find accommodation within existing realities, and prepared to negotiate our way through changes that will come along. Put simply we do not live alone.

As my Caffe Nero store in Stratford-upon-Avon sits uncomfortably beneath the Tudor beams, I come to terms with the inconsistencies that plague me. Trying to grasp why things don’t work in the way that I might chose. Reluctantly admitting that it is not feasible to plot all eventualities on a spreadsheet, comprehend the costs and benefits, and devise an appropriate strategy.

But nor is it always possible to paper over the cracks. Without careful attention I would not have noticed that the ceiling rose in one corner, or that the angles of the walls were anything but regular. Likewise I can walk through life paying only passing interest in the lives of those whose paths intersect with mine. And hope that they do not notice where my walls do not quite meet. Or where the veneer has begun to peel away at the edges or that my facade is, in fact, just paper thin.

Because when these inconsistencies rise to the surface, when they get noticed. That is when life gets difficult. The point when I accept that what I want, or think, or feel, is not the same or matched by someone who for whatever period of time joins in my story. Disagreement over plans, frustration at actions, anger over feelings. The emotions that emerge from conflict. The inevitable consequence of two or more people doing just about anything. You can embark on a task with a common cause, an arrangement of convenience, but before long differences emerge. Sometimes these can be confronted, they can be challenged or accepted, but all too often they are simply ignored.

And after a while these little niggles, these things that we do not like, and do not add up simply become part of the fabric of our lives. We accept and acknowledge our imperfections with seeming grace but which is in fact carefully shrouded resentment. I don’t like conflict, so I pretend it is not there. I stay away from challenging people, and shy away from difficult situations. Sometimes, I deny that conflict exists, but more often I just withdraw so that I do not have to face the crevice that I would rather not see.

I view conflict as a sign that something has gone wrong. And I would rather not accept that anything has. So I perpetuate the pretence that everything is okay. I cling onto the hope that if I don’t say anything the other person, other people, might never know anything was wrong.

Alpine Disruption

© Museum der Moderne

As I stared across the night-time vista of Salzburg and gazed between the spires and domes of a plethora of churches to find the turrets and parapets of castles and fortresses, my eyes fixed on a rather large white box. The garish sign blazoned across its entrance reminded me of an out of town sportswear supermarket. That it is not, it is the Museum of Modern Art.

Before you get worried I am not about to embark on a rant against planning decisions, or provide a comprehensive review of Salzburg’s architecture. Instead this was something that got me thinking. It disrupted my thoughts and sent them on an entirely different track.

Perhaps I should set the scene. I had gone away on holiday on my own with a train pass purchased and a return flight booked from nearly 1000 miles away. The first stop on my tour was Salzburg in Austria and I had only allocated 22 hours before moving onto Vienna.

I started off determined to do everything that there was to do in Salzburg, yet by mid afternoon, my flight had only landed at 10.45, I was a little worried that I would run out of places to visit. Being a tourist isn’t just about doing things, it is about enjoying the ambience of a place, breathing the air that the locals breathe and other such nonsense.

So my slightly revised action plan kicked into gear. I decided to enjoy some wheat beer while sat in a tavern in Fortress Hohensalzburg, and in the evening went into the 300 year old Cafe Tomaselli to savour some cake and coffee while watching the world go by. Oh, and I read a book. I like to read.

As I visit different places and am not numbed by familiarity, thoughts that had previously been dry and academic come to life. Sometimes it is self-reflection, probably a bit too much of that, and at other times the things around me. I have found God in some of the most unusual places, and other times I long to have something profound to say and nothing comes. Yet I see God at work all over the place. And that most unusual place, well that’s me. The fact that God chooses to work in my life astounds me.

This is the start of me trying to explain what Broken Cameras and Gustav Klimt is, it’s going to take a while, I’ll pop in and out, and hopefully you’ll start to get the picture. Some of the examples from my life you may find just down right quirky. I may have some explaining to do to a few people. But in at least some I hope the lessons are universal.

Anyway, back to Salzburg. Before I went back to the Youth Hostel I thought there was plenty of time left for a little more sightseeing. I wandered along a magnificent little street where the houses on one side are built into the cliff face. Actually, I walked along it one and a half times as I realised I had joined halfway along so went back to the start to do it from the beginning.

The final item on that day’s itinerary (Yes, I had made itineraries for each of the eleven days I was to be away.) was a walk up a hill on the opposite side of town to a convent to catch a night-time panorama of Salzburg. It was when I reached the summit and sat on a convenient park bench on a specially located viewing platform that I was confronted with this glaring floodlight white building.

It had struck me as I was walking (for the second time) down this quaint street and up the hill that you just cannot ‘do’ ambience. And when you try, annoying little things like modern architecture shatter the pretence. Something can seem real enough but really it is just a show.

In the same way that you cannot just do ambience, can we ‘do’ God?

I don’t think you can. And when you try, you generally sell either yourself or God short, and usually both.

Because God is not something that can be summed up in a whistle stop visit or captured on a postcard. There is no one-hour audio guide available in ten different languages with special versions for children in German, Italian and English.

God is not sanitised, convenient, or marketed to the masses.