Finding Mr Goldman by David Rhodes – a review

Mr Goldman imageDavid Rhodes, the author of Finding Mr Goldman was one of the speakers at a recent conference at St Edmunds Church, Rounday which examined Faith In Dark Places: Myths and Lies about Poverty. Here Haddon Wilmer who was among the 130 people who attended the day of talks and workshops reviews Rhodes’ book describing it as “very unusual, mysteriously Christian, just the sort of thing Alpha and the rest of us could do with.”

Finding Mr Goldman: A Parable by David Rhodes (172 pages, SPCK, 2015).

‘David Rhodes pulls no punches in offering a vivid parable of false riches and ultimate redemption.  This sparkingly well-written fiction entertains unerringly at the front door while the truth slips in through a side window.’ (Adrian Plass)

So let yourself be entertained, as I have. Like a parable it nudges and hints, alerting and inviting us to human possibilities.  Read it, let yourself be nudged, don’t try to tie down the meaning, walk with Mr Goldman.

I won’t spoil the fun by telling even a bit of the story. Some things it points to are:

The reality of the person apart from possessions, power, pretension – Mr Goldman is dependent on his money and power, and on his own achievement in making a great empire, so he is nothing to himself without it. He cannot imagine another way of being apart from his wealth-laden self, nor does he want to, nor can he risk it.

What is done to persons warps them, turning them away from and against themselves. And what people do to themselves, as they try to escape or revenge themselves for what they have suffered, makes everything worse than ever.

Is there grace and opportunity to undo what we have become? Can I unlearn the way of being me I have built up so arduously through living in my way for so long? Can there be release?

How does release come from encounter with those who are poor, weak, and despised, and yet are generous? From those who suffer harm and yet go on loving?

Can those who have been made inhuman by what they have suffered and done recover their humanity?

Is there a grace in and through death?  From where we are now in this life we find it hard to think there could be. In (often unadmitted) fear of death, we hold on to this life, pretending it is more satisfactory than it is because it seems to be all we’ve got.

Entering life through death has to come to us through parable. Is it not always parable?  Truth here is not a simple fact. No matter how much we believe or think we  know, we can relate to it only  by letting it stand as parable, teasing us with its ‘now you see me, now you don’t’, so that we have to be always searching, sometimes finding, but never holding fast. As Sheppard says, at the very end of the book, ‘Don’t ask. Just keep walking’. This is even after Mr Goldman has seen God.

Entering into life through death is not accomplished in a moment. Mr Goldman walks into many encounters with strange people and surprisingly with God in disguise, resulting in disconcerting self-discovery. His possessions are prised from his obstinate grasp, and his pretensions exposed. It appears in the end that this devastating judgement comes from the love which is the beginning and end of God’s creation. And so there is forgiveness for Mr Goldman. And as he comes into its light, he is able to forgive those who hurt him and set him on his evil road.

This parable gets us to think about who we are and how we are living in the realities of the world today. And who God is and what God is doing, in roundabout obscure ways and in encounters that can shake us to the roots. And it leaves us with the question, who really is Sheppard?

Haddon Willmer contributes to the current discussion in the Church on Community Action…

Haddon head (1172x971)In his article,  Stepping Out – Community and Social Action  (Moortown Baptist News 13 February 2015) Graham says that one of several things we need to do as a Church is ‘to develop the level of support, prayer and recognition for the individual witness, work and service of people at Moortown Baptist Church. These expressions are a vital calling in themselves.’

How could this be done?  

First, we need to recognise that the primary and constant form of Church engagement in society is what the members of the church community do every day of the week.

That amounts to far more time than can ever be given to activities run directly by the church.

It involves everybody in the church whether they choose it or not. We are all deeply, intimately, involved in ‘society’ in many different ways.

To recognise it we need to look into it – to ask questions together about it.

The first step would be to  take note of where the Church is in society through its members as dispersed during the week.

That could be done through a fun ‘getting to know one another in a new way’  exercise –  even by a bit of a party.

Here are some questions we could ask ourselves, and each other:

Where do you work? What are you responsible for in the world outside Church? From where you are,  how do you see society, its blessings, its potential and problems? Do you think you are useful  to God and to people through your daily work, or are you an ineffective bystander or just a victim of a society that doesn’t work well for the common good? Are you part of a team, doing something good or useful?

Don’t  say, I am a pensioner, I don’t work.   Pensioners don’t get paid, but like the stay-at home Mum, they work voluntarily and often very hard at humanly constructive and essential jobs.   And they have a distinctive and valuable understanding of ‘society’ coming from their experience.

Where do you live? Who are your  neighbours? What do you do for and with them? What do you care about in your small and larger neighbourhoods? What good do you do? What good do you receive?  What do you learn about living socially in our world as it is today?

What family do you live with or see often? How do different family members experience living in their corner of society? What does the experience of your spouse, your children, your parents show you about the potential and the problems of society?

By asking questions like this, we could build up a picture and a map of  the church we are, in this society now.  And, once we have the facts, we could move on to evaluation.

What do we see and understand about society because of our involvement in it? What is sad, frustrating, a challenge for change?   What good is already being done, and how could more be done?

Who are we, not as private persons, but as social beings and citizens? What am I, not in and for myself, but in the eyes and experience of others, (family members, neighbours, employers, clients, strangers,  even organisations)?    Am I valued for worthwhile service, or am I seen as a nuisance, a parasite, even a menace?

What allies and helpers do we find in doing good, and what blockages and negative neighbours?   How can we make better alliances and turn negatives into positives?  How do we keep going even when negatives persist powerfully?

Recognising ourselves as persons and as Christians who are inevitably socially involved, and evaluating our involvement is not an individual private exercise. It is not introspective narcissism. It is something we can and should do as Church together.  

We can and should  both appreciate and encourage one another in our present engagements. We can learn more about the reality of society  by finding out how others see and experience it. (I have a comfortable individual existence; through people around me, I know life is hard, and society a cruel, clumsy, unhelpful thing. It is other people  who give me an agenda for social engagement, who tell me there is something more to live for than my own personal fulfilment.) If we talk honestly, we can help one another to evaluate whether what we are doing in life in society  is right and worthwhile, or whether it would be better to change to doing something else. We can help each other through times of weakness, discouragement, perplexity and even disastrous mistakes and failures (which are quite likely for people living in the real world and trying to make a good difference).

So we can practise Hebrews 10.24,25: Consider how to stir  up one another  to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together…’     We will do more than encourage each other to do good works as individuals, as though we live in isolation. We meet together to do the stirring, and in our meeting together we discover good works to do together. And  it will go further: when we meet each other in church, as Christians who are citizens, responsible to God for the welfare of the city (the global world) where God has placed us, we will stir each other up politically.   For if we hear the cry of the needy world and want to do something to help, we will want to recruit all available resources, including the government, the economy, culture. There will be no cordon sanitaire, no fire-break, between our being Christian and our being citizens. That means, we won’t as Church, live through this election season as though there is nothing in it which should concern us.

If  we, as Church, work like this, we will learn from the inside  how our faith and obedience to God in Christ really works out in everyday life. We will have a realistic faith, which gets a degree of living visibility in society because it is rooted in practice, and is not just words (which is what we necessarily deal in in our meetings in church). We will be discovering faith in ways that can be communicated to other people more adequately, because we are doing things in the same world as other people, and doing them in such a way that the faith and life of Christ has body, as well as spirit. So it becomes accessible to people who want that kind of practical everyday reality. Our life of faith will not be an individual cultivation of spirituality, but a social life, where the society which is other people and Jesus Christ, the first-born amongst many brethren.

So we learn and deepen our faith in Christ through our engagement in society rather than trying to intensify our spiritual life in Church and occasionally have a bit of a social add-on. We get going, not by sitting in church asking ourselves how we can engage more in society, but by recognising seriously that we are already engaged in society. We are with God in Christ in the world, which is where God’s love takes him.




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