Back Tae Torah part 2: Rewind - Jesus was on my Housing Estate and it was Braw! (1980)
Sometimes to learn about a problem, you need to go back to where the problem began. Unusually, I seemed to have found Jesus outside of any Christian influence. Growing up on several housing schemes and at times in ‘care’ homes, I discovered ‘Highers’ as my way of escape. At Edinburgh University, up to my armpits in balsa and Letraset, I fell in love with Industrial Design. I became quite good at this ‘design malarcky’. I got featured in design shows, and became quite adept at ‘starting things’ - parties, groups and clubs. At Uni, I somehow become ‘another person’ with my new found friends among the parties, pantone pens and art posters of University life.
From macrobiotic eating to yogic breathing to the King James
That was until my third year. The old traumas and fears re-surfaced, like shipwrecked children. Once submerged and frozen under the deep icy cold of the North Sea, now thawing in the sunlit corridors of my new Uni paradise. To fix this, I did what all good students do: I made a list! I listed every religion and bat-crazy belief and started experimenting with every one of them: from fairy-power to the Upanishads, from new age to old age; from macrobiotic eating to yogic breathing.
Then one night at one of our student parties, a drunk flat-mate threw an old King James family bible across the crowded room, which bounced off the top of my head. I then had this thought: ‘Odd, why haven’t I tried Christianity yet? So, that night I started with Genesis.
Having never read the bible, I was in for a shock. It was unlike any other ‘religious text’ I’d read. It was obsessed with specific historic times and places, family trees, names and carefully detailed in its descriptions of past and future events. It took great pains to underline the trustworthy nature of each narrative, each covenant, each instruction, each ruling, each agreement, with multiple witnesses; as if it were saying to me: ‘this account of reality is trustworthy, I challenge you young loon to test these claims for yourself!’
I was hooked. It lit up the darkness in me like crazy; its laws triggering shame, return and repentance, and yet wrapped in an odd feeling of security and hope. But if I thought the Old Testament was high voltage, things were about to go nuclear. I was about to encounter in the pages of the gospels…Him. Yeshua - His life with His disciples, His devastating execution (the 9/11 of the ancient world), and that all-powerful counterattack: the Resurrection. To win all that was lost back, including the ‘poor in spirit’. By this time I was like a ripe melon in the hot sun. Now I knew what to do: kneeling in my flat, I thanked Him for His forgiveness and I signed up to love, honour and obey Him forever.
House Church in the scheme
Now I was on a mission. I gave up my university degree, returned to Northfield and invited my wee brothers to follow Jesus. Together we drew up a list of everyone we knew on the estate and set about getting every one of them saved. Armed with tea and multi-packs of biscuits, we invited everyone to repent and turn to Jesus - one by one in our sitting room. Only one refused - which puzzled us for months.
Eventually, two floors of our mother’s kitchen, sitting room, and back yard sometimes were filled with this strange impromptu, schemie, ecclesia. We had no meetings, no services, and no access to worship music or Christian media apart from some crazy Jack T. Chick tracts. Oh, and ‘talking aloud to God’ - in the most natural way you could imagine, about everything on the estate. We prayed for everyone we could think of as often as we met - in huddles of prayer, tea and biscuits whenever we felt like it – and it was the most exciting thing in the world to hit our estate.
Now, this is very important: we were floored by this ‘Jesus’ not because He was LIKE US, but rather, because He was utterly UNLIKE US. We didn’t need another social worker - or an uncritical ‘loving God’. On our estate, we already knew that the devil was real; for some, dreadfully, only too real. But now with this new ‘intel’, we were informed that Yeshua is way bigger and more powerful than that ‘fallen cherub’, and may explain why the terror and scariness of Almighty God for many of us around here, was oddly comforting - lighting us up with glaekit hope and mad Jesus-adventures.
What is a Jesus-adventure?
Example: Doug. Just back from his first trial on the fishing boats Doug pops in to one of our impromptu biscuit and prayer things. We were reading the Gospels at the time - the tea was on of course. Doug launches into his story: “we were days on the boat,” he said, “no fish caught for days, so I’m praying like we do here, then I said to the skipper: ‘I think Jesus says tae ye: ye should try the other side o’ the boat.’” They laughed at the fresh faced lad. But, nevertheless, the skipper gave the order. Then Doug continues: “…and we catch so many fish that another boat had to be radio’d in to help!”
Graham and I looked at each other: we had just been reading that passage in the gospels. So we asked Him if he’d ever read about a similar thing happening in the bible. Doug said: “no, it’s in the Bible? Wow, where?” The group goes mental…
That’s a Jesus-adventure!
Don’t get me wrong; things weren’t all a bed of roses. Conditions on the estate were still rough as hell. The estate still ‘kicked off’ in summertime, as two young pink police are forced to hide in their police box. Abuse and neglect continue, dads fade away in front of telly and prison vans still pick up our little brothers. The estate didn’t change - but our eyes did. Yeshua lit the place up - and that changed us!
But, one day I was to make a whopper of a mistake - a mistake I would spend the next 30 years trying to correct.
My mistake? I listened! To some well-meaning Christians from the town-centre.
Next Episode: ‘Another Jesus’
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