The unlabelled video cassette was in a plain brown envelope in the bottom of a cardboard box. As an archaeologist might date a fragment of pottery from the surrounding objects, the letters, photographs and notebooks in the box, confidently informed me the video was almost twenty years old.
I knew what it was, even before I slotted it into the video player.
The opening scene was a finger, encased in a red woollen glove, pushing down the play button on a cassette player. It should have been bagpipes that set the scene, placing the viewer some where in Scotland. The elderly couple in the flat below us didn’t have a cassette tape of bagpipe music so we made do with someone playing an accordion, evoking images of Switzerland instead.
A quick tour of Inverness was followed by various scenes of what it was like to be on a gospel outreach team. The year was 1989. I had just returned from an overseas teaching post in a small church school. Settling back into the state school system, where boys wore long hair and earrings, and the courses I had left behind had been consigned to the filing cabinet as new, and supposedly, improved courses had been implemented, had left me feeling somewhat bemused. I wasn’t yet an old dog, but reluctant to learn new tricks.
A year out on a gospel outreach team seemed a good idea.
The video tape is a trip down memory lane. There’s me in the High Street, with a clip board and a questionnaire, looking very official. We had sat one afternoon generating the questions. On paper they looked harmless, and no one seeing me approach had any idea they were about to be thoroughly evangelised!
That’s me doing a sketch board. I took to that like a duck to water. Boxes painted onto a large sheet of white paper, were transformed into letters by adding a line here and a triangle there. I remember this particular one. “Spot the Scotsman”. It worked well with the tourists, cameras with their zoom lenses poking out at obscene angles. How did it go? Something about a Scotsman being more than just someone who eats haggis, wears a kilt and tosses cabers around in the backyard. You have to be born a Scot with Scottish parents and all that. Then I went on to talk about what makes a Christian – reading the Bible? Going to church? You can see where it was all heading.
Me again – this time doing street drama. “The Race of Life” Why did I always get the part of the posh lady with the high heels and the handbag? “I give money to charity!” As if that was ever going to get me to heaven!
I looked so much slimmer in those days. I was single then, with no mouths other than my own to fill. I hadn’t discovered Lorne sausages and well fired rolls! There was less grey in my hair.
Is that Avril? Gosh, when was the last time I saw her? Parent’s evening a couple of years ago. That toddler in the pushchair has just taken her Highers! Avril was one of my potential converts. I say converts in a very loose sense. She wasn’t a Muslim or anything – just one of those pew fillers in the Church of Scotland. I had hopes that she would catch a spiritual spark off me and defect to the Charismatic Church.
Oh my! A Sunday morning meeting! So many familiar faces have passed on to greener pastures. I can see me right on the front row, arms held high, hands held out in supplication. The expression on my face – if I knew the camera was pointed at me, would I be so abandoned and lost in praise?
You know, suddenly I don’t feel like smiling. This “me”, full of exuberance and radiating life, is almost a stranger. I am ashamed that somewhere amongst fifteen years of marriage and a demanding job, buying a house and making a home, planting a garden and stalking bargains on the supermarket shelves – I have lost something.
I am ashamed that I have, so obviously, climbed back into the boat and embraced a predictable and mediocre Christian walk. I feel like the third servant in the parable clutching a decaying leather bag in my hands. The talent inside is tarnished. I just don’t remember digging the hole!
Father, forgive me. Please, ignite my spirit again.
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