Mike Riddell was introduced as a writer, film maker, defrocked minister, recovering theologian, ex-convict and raconteur. I had never met anyone who had all those descriptions so I knew Mike Riddell was going to be someone who thrived on living outside 'the box'.
Mike was the youngest of four children and grew up in a New Zealand working class family in a railways house in Porirua, NZ. As a youngster he came to realise he had been born on the wrong side of the tracks and he negotiated his way through an adolescence punctuated by fighting, drinking, and lust.
His parents divorced, he discovered political protest, and dropped out of university two years in a row. He had a failed engagement, years of drug taking, and an abundance of short-term labouring jobs.
He spent time hitch-hiking in Australia, the UK and northern Africa and somehow ended up in a Moroccan prison for 6 weeks on a drug conviction. Mike finally returned to NZ with a life partner, Rosemary (holybucket.com).
Following these years Mike came to know Christ and his diverse experience heavily influenced his radical approach to church and faith. He has a strong motivation to advocate for the poor and those who suffer from mental illness and has been involved in the community in these areas in many ways.
He spent years studying Theology and lecturing in Practical Theology, tried his hand in various careers, wrote, travelled the world speaking and also stepped into the role of pastoring a Baptist Church. In later years his time at the church was described as taking the church into an "expansionist era and saw the revival of the church's early radical streak".
A large part of his role as pastor involved founding the Community of Refuge Trust. The church bought cheap houses so that it could rent them to people who were hard up or recently released from mental hospitals (ponsonbybaptist.org.nz). This organisation still exists today.
Life's new direction
It became evident that his radical approach and alternative views on theology were not going to be embraced by the Baptist Church, and thus he moved away from lecturing and pastoring and began to primarily focus his efforts in writing.
Mike was invited to adapt his first novel, The Insatiable Moon, for screen and this led to a new life as a screenwriter. It combined his lifelong love of film with a passion for writing (holybucket.com). I was not going to sit back in this plenary session and let this man's wisdom pass by.
Writing through humility
Mike encouraged the audience in this ARPA plenary evening to begin their writing in a place of uncertainty or even in a void. Where some may see a 'writers block' as a negative state to be in, Mike turned this into a positive scenario. We may feel stuck and unsure of which direction to pursue.
Mike knows all too well the adventurous Christian life and has written, "We are all trapeze artists; to get from one side to the other we have to be willing to let go of the trapeze we are holding, and hang on for a few moments in suspended animation before we grasp the next support on our own wild ride into the unknown" (spiritualityandpractice.com).
In that unknown place, where there is seemingly nothing to cling to, when no one is looking, where we cannot claim brilliance, we surrender our inspiration and gifts to God. It is there we find humility. This doesn't mean we disregard our knowledge, our wisdom, our learning or our passions. In humility we harness these things and obey God. Mike commented that out of barrenness springs creativity.
Before we start even a new day, perhaps this barrenness is a good place to begin. Francis Fenelon wrote, "The smallest things become great when God requires them of us; they are small only in themselves; they are always great when they are done for God."
Words are our gift
The power of words
Mike continued to speak about the power of words. Written or spoken, words are powerful. Every writer must respect the power of words, which can hurt or heal; cleave apart or together. James 3 verses 5-6 says, "Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body."
Whether we are speaking or writing we have to consider the effect of what we are saying, and whether it is worth saying. Mike referred to the tendencies of writers to attempt to solve the problems of the institution of the church and rather than provide hope and possibility, they suffocate and strangle.
Words are a gift, to be used respectfully and honouring to God. Today's social media is a good example of where words can strangle. Let us use words to give hope, no matter in what form or forum they appear.
Let the light in
Mike spoke passionately about the fact that God and His grace should be in all and through all we do. No matter what we put our hand to we need to let the light of God into our writing or into our specific situations. Psalm 36 verse 9 says, "For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light".
If we leave God out, darkness remains. What use is grace if it doesn't reside in the broken world? The world needs God and needs us to reveal Him through our lives, through our speech, through our writing.
Mike Riddell is an inspiring and honest speaker. Despite some of his writing being controversial and perhaps too radical, there is much wisdom and experience that lies is in his words and I certainly took away much from what he shared. The answer lies in your hand (Mike Riddell, 2012).
Laura Veloso is wife to John and the mother of 3 young boys. She is trained in child welfare and primary school teaching and has experience in overseas missions and youth leadership.
Laura Veloso's archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/laura-veloso.html