It occurs to me that before this weekend when Fidge asked me to blog about the Youth Assembly I had not written a blog for around 4 years. I used to keep a blog going as a way of occupying my time when I wasn’t working due to illness and there wasn’t much else to focus on, but after a while I dropped that too. Que sera and so on! Since then I’ve found other ways to express myself: I’ve written sporadically over the last 2 years, beginning in November 2006 with a poem that grew from my experience of Pilgrimage to the Holy Land and witnessing the interactions between Israelis and Palestinians and conversations with people in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho and the desert. I wrote some more poetry as the anniversary of a friend’s death approached and I wanted to express my feelings and somehow mark his passing, but after that time – December 2006 – I didn’t write again until I was asked by Fidge to help out with Youth Assembly in 2007.
What began as a throwaway line on my part became something much more and a strange voice began to fill my head, sparking the drive to write. And write, and write again. Eventually the voice became Andy the Fisherman and for a while his ‘thoughts’ took over my life; working to a tight deadline I had to produce the worship materials required for the Sunday night worship and yet I felt responsible for doing his story, the story in my head, justice. I wasn’t at NYA07 as I was attending another conference that same week and at first I was glad of this as I reckoned that, frankly, it would be terrible and I’d be laughed at – who was I to write such stuff and try and pass it off as worthy of inclusion in a service? Or that my thoughts would be accepted by people? Over time I became glad that I wasn’t there as the opposite was true: the Bebo page I set up for Andy was swamped with comments to the tune of ‘Andy, you changed my life!’ and I felt a great responsibility for having such an effect. I was glad of the annonymity, especially as I heard so many stories about the worship that night, the way that my work counterpointed the drama sections, and later on as people still talked about how great Andy was, taking his story to their churches and the effect on their congregations.
Frankly, I wondered what I had done – what had I started? Even as recently as June 2008 when I was talking to people about their NYA07 experiences to help me prepare for this year on the staff team, people were still telling me that Andy had had a major impact on them, that he’d told them things they’d needed to hear and made them look on what they’d been taught in a new way… The pressure! The responsibility! People were doing things they’d never done before and it was all my fault! And still I couldn’t say ‘…actually, really sorry to tell you this, but Andy is, well, me‘ and wanting to tell so many people to stop being silly and that the reason they were raving on about how good it all was, the reason they had had their lives affected, was because I needed to get Andy’s story down on paper as he was keeping me up all night. A really selfish reason for screwing with someone’s perception of reality if you ask me, but I couldn’t live with myself while he was banging on and on and on about how he’d seen these miracles performed and how his life had been altered.
…A cognitive psychologist enters the room at this point and says ‘Actually, Andy the Fisherman was simply nothing other than Allan’s attempts to explain the different things that he had experienced. Once he’d expressed what was really bothering him at that time, described his his faith journey and dealt with his life experiences, the cathartic ‘voice’ departed. You shouldn’t put any stock in what he said’…
So, aye. There was me banging out all my inner thoughts on Jesus, miracles, how we treat people, what it means to leave your safe space and venture out with no real idea of what’s going to happen, and people were lapping it up as if it was, well, Gospel truth or suchlike. It was genuine, and I still meant every word you’ve heard or read by Andy, but I still struggle even today with the consequences. I’m glad Chris ‘outed’ me at the dinner on Saturday because even though I’m now glad I did it, that Andy’s shut up, I’d struggle to admit that yes, it was me that did all that without someone actually pointing me out as the author.
Fame: it’s a tough business, people. True story.
So, at long last, NYA2008: End of Part One. How do I feel about that? It was great to be part of the whole process, from meetings in November and January to decide the format and major themes and componenets, to the work put in since May to get our debate strand sorted out and up and running. I thought I’d struggle with not being able to engange with the process in the same way I did as a delegate, but I was simply kept too busy by all the stuff going on to feel like I was missing out in not being able to argue point one, section 2 of a delivereance, grinding my teeth as people delayed lunch messing around with punctuation and semantics. So it was good for my overall health. I loved the leaps that we made this year in terms of technology, the Twittering and the blogging – I have great hope that we can use these resources more fully, if in the case of Twitter, more sensibly in the future. It was a real honour to share time with people as they told me their stories, their openess with groups of strangers in baring their most private experiences, I give thanks to God that I was there for that, and the bravery of those people. Watching people I’ve known for ages, some since they really were kids, seeing them now on the staff or otherwise helping out and leading workshop sessions and giving so much of themselves to others was humbling for their energy and commitment. Making new friends, and building relationships with people in the ‘seen around but never spoken to’ category – I liked that. As much as I love the comfort of people I’ve known for years, it’s great to see the event growing and changing as new people join in, the unexpected, the joy of a new story heard or contribution made.
Finally, I’d like to say a few words about Mark Yaconelli. Like 99.99999999% of the Assembly, I was hugely touched by his amazing stories. All the things I’ve felt and tried to articulate, in the discussion session I led on Friday night that didn’t go so well, Andy the Fisherman, even my deepest feelings about how I see my relationship with God and how I should interact with other people on God’s earth, Mark said it all so much better. More power to him, and I hope to hear him speak and meet him again in the future. We are blessed to have had him at the Youth Assembly this year and I pray that, as he has influenced us, we, in turn, have had an effect on him too.
Okay, that’s about 4 years worth of blogging right there in one go, so I think I’ll leave it for now.