// plodding and heroes

(I’m not Tom either.)

One of my heroes is a guy called Adrian Plass. If you haven’t read ‘the Sacred Diaries of Adrian Plass, aged 37¾’, I’d recommend it – it helped me learn to laugh at my attempts to follow Jesus, and that’s oddly enough a pretty powerful weapon against discouragement. It’s a book with a simple message: Christian life is about plodding. Trying to do things right, often getting them wrong, learning to listen to things God is saying to you, often hearing him wrong…

In the book he frequently makes bold forays of Christian-ness – deciding that he’s going to pray for 2 hours every morning, for example – and falls over in the process. But he does grow, and God does speak to him, and work through his blundering attempts. I think it’s a pretty good life philosophy, the theology of plodding.

Because for me, like Adrian Plass, life as a Christian isn’t usually about the great triumphs or even the great tribulations. Speaking with my whole soul to a mind-numbing holy and heart-achingly loving God is easy when I have a worship band playing E-minor in the background. (Yes, I stole that line from Pete Grieg). In the real world however, with my housemates annoying me by not doing the washing up, and my laptop choosing a real bad time to try to remind me that I rely too much on material possessions by crashing, and my pride smarting after I put your foot in it by saying something stupid again… the real world causes my soul to make noises that sound less like singing and a lot more like sulking. But, as one of my favourite fish once said: just keep swimming.

However, recently I’ve realised there’s a problem with my theology of plodding: I also believe in heroes.

I loved – still love – children’s fantasy stories, with their stubborn and reckless heroes, and fantastically foul villains. Authors know there is something about children which hungers after the extraordinary, the adventure. Matilda, Peter Pan, Harry Potter, the Northern Lights, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Redwall series… why do I love them? Because something inside me wants to be a hero too; to fight recklessly and courageously for freedom!

But how does that fit in with plodding?

I could reconcile the two by bringing in the spiritual realm. Maybe if I sacrifice some valuable revision time to go shopping for a friend who having a rough time, on some plane I’m actually wearing a suit of armour, and charging into battle. But it seems kind of a cop out. It feels more like plodding than heroism to me. Maybe the stories are just stories, escapism for a world which can sometimes feel rather grey. Maybe I need to stop searching for Narnia, and accept that I’m never going to be a hero.

Nope, I refuse. The stories, I’ve realised, contain both plodding and heroism. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy the two main heroes essentially just go on a really, really long plod; most of the Narnia books are built on the premise of getting somewhere, with a lot of plodding involved; the Wind Singer trilogy is about one long journey.

Life isn’t a three hundred page novel though; it’s years long. I read Anna Karenina recently – more for the kudos that anything else – and one of the things that struck me was how LONG it was. Its length made the overall narrative more difficult to see, and the point that the author was trying to make with each event and scene more obscure. It also made for a lot more frustration, as the happy ending isn’t reached again and again.

So, maybe I have to wait for heroism. Even in this world, there are plenty of people that need rescuing, beautiful lands that need protecting, and freedom that needs to be fought for. All of which are very much part of God’s plan. It just takes longer than three hundred pages, so the plodding involved is going to be a lot longer. And, coming back to humour: laughing at myself is a very good way to plod with gusto.

That’s why tomorrow, when I fall into thought about some grand scheme to help elevate poverty, get completely engrossed, and then trip over a paving stone in the middle of a crowded street and fall flat on my face, I will imagine the God of heroes and plodders looking down at me, and we will both laugh.

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