Book write-ups: Godzone by Mike Riddell

If I had to choose only one spiritual book to take with me to a desert island, it would be Godzone: A guide to the travels of the soul by Mike Riddell. Riddell’s first book (pub. 1992) and for my money still his best, it’s a little-known treasure that I firmly believe deserves a far wider airing than it’s yet received. It’s also probably one of the only ‘Christian’ books I’d be happy to lend to agnostic or atheist friends.

I first met Godzone about four years into my new-found charismatic/evangelical faith, and I’ve never been quite the same since. It put a kind of ache in me for a bigger, wilder, freer, more poetic Christianity. It opened up my eyes to wide, heady vistas of new possibility and perhaps bears the greatest responsibility for where I am now, slowly emerging from my evangelical chrysalis. I fell in love with it instantly and I’ve not yet found anything else quite to match it, though some of Frederick Buechner’s and Peter Rollins’ writings come close – indeed there are many shared qualities and resonances between all three authors.

At just over 100 pages, Godzone is short enough to read in one sitting, yet deep enough to return to again and again. It’s funny, quirky, sharp, poetic, moving, rude, occasionally outrageous, even mildly blasphemous; above all it’s deeply human and honest. Every page contains lines crying out to be quoted. It’s bursting with arresting turns of phrase, wrong-footing metaphors, daft jokes and provocative parables – some old, some new, several borrowed and a few definitely a touch blue.

So what is ‘Godzone’, apart from the name Riddell’s fellow New Zealanders use for their homeland (‘God’s own country’)? Put simply, Godzone is wherever God is. Riddell explains ‘Where God’s love is returned, there is Godzone. That is why it is everywhere and nowhere. It is your home; the place of your belonging. God is the Stranger you have always known; Godzone the house of your secret longing.’

Godzone then is the country of the Spirit, through which runs the eternal Road. Chapters deal with the lie of its land – its mountains and valleys, seas and rivers; with its customs, language and currency; and with the dangers and travelling companions you will meet on the journey. It’s a kind of Rough Guide to the terrain encountered in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, but any similarity between the two books ends there. Puritan this isn’t. Spiritual it is, in spades.

Probably the best way to give an impression of the book is to let it speak for itself. At the risk of breaching copyright, here’s a bunch of quotations.

Quotations from Godzone

  • Three things are sacred: the journey, the people, and stories.
  • A lot of people live in prisons they have built for themselves, and curse the bars. In Godzone the wind is called freedom, and it’s heady stuff.
  • To see Godzone is to be a part of it. Or, if you prefer, it is only when you are a part of it that you can see it. The first and overwhelming discovery is that God is in it – everywhere. Waving in the trees, laughing in the thunder, shining in old eyes, speaking in the silence.
  • Being lost is a wound of humanity that everyone carries but nobody shows… From this wound springs all that is great in human art and music, and the most piercing artists and musicians are broken people… We are lost in the sense of a child separated from its parents, uncertain and frightened in the world… The awareness of being lost is an indication of grace.
  • The teaching of the universe is that all things live together. Nothing is totally independent, including God. All that has life is in relationship.
  • We are the ones who have forgotten even the story of what it means to be human.
  • Finding the way is all about coming home. Its heart lies in the discovery that the One you feared to face is not your enemy but your Lover.
  • There is some deep instinct which makes it plain to us that to face God means to face yourself, and that’s not always an attractive proposition.
  • You can never learn enough about God to satisfy the hunger in your soul. Only getting to know God is sufficient for that.
  • God enjoys a good fight as much an Irish publican. From hearts that struggle there is the hope of honest love.
  • Suffering is not an algebra problem to be solved. It is an agony to be borne. Like a bloody birth, suffering springs from letting-be.
  • God is the Primeval Hitchhiker… God has never ‘settled down.’ God does not own a television set, or play bowls. God does read poetry, and rage.
  • To be healed does not mean to be fixed. It is not only possible, but likely, for a paraplegic who has been healed to remain in a wheelchair.
  • Sometimes if you twang a note on a guitar, you can make a string on a different guitar vibrate. It’s called resonance. Joy is when your heart picks up the vibrations of God, and for a brief period of time, beats in harmony.
  • To celebrate is to transform; it is to make the ordinary special – or perhaps it is to recognise the specialness of the ordinary. Sometimes a shaft of sunlight picks out an apple on a fruit bowl, and that apple becomes the gateway to the mystery of the universe.
  • Advice to the suffering is insufferable. When someone cries ‘Why did this happen?’ they do not want an answer. They want someone to hold them.
  • With both prayer and sex, the depth of the experience depends not so much on technique as on love.
  • The riches of Godzone are such that you cannot lose them by giving them away.
  • The pilgrims of the Zone have cleared the house of their spirit so it is barer than a nun’s glory box.
  • There are those who know Godzone and those who know about Godzone. Those who know about it know nothing.
  • The thorny nut of cynicism gives little comfort in the long safe nights.
  • For those whose hearts have been shafted by love, worship is as natural and as unavoidable as a tree coming into blossom with the warmth of spring.
  • There is no sillier question than that as to whether a story is true or not. If a story is heard, it leads to truth; if not, it is an empty tale. The listener is the one who decides.
  • It’s sometimes easier to love God than to love God’s mates. The trouble is you can’t do one without the other.
  • Donkey-faced pragmatists analyse the world into fragments, and miss its Maker… They know all about method and nothing about mystery.
  • This land between the ages is not our homeland, and we can never settle here.
  • At times Godzone will seem a romantic dream. You will think yourself gullible to have entertained its existence… You will hurt yourself and others to prove how cool and clever and tough you really are.

A story

There are plenty of great stories in the book, but this is my favourite.

A capitalist was horrified to find a fisherman lying beside his boat, smoking a pipe.
‘Why aren’t you out fishing?’ he asked.
‘Because I’ve caught enough fish for the day.’
‘Why don’t you catch some more?’ the capitalist persisted.
‘What would I do with it?’ asked the fisherman.
‘Earn more money. Then you could have a motor fixed to the boat and go into deeper waters and catch more fish. That would bring you money to buy nylon nets, so more fish, more money. Soon you would have enough to buy two boats… even a fleet of boats. Then you could be rich like me.’
‘What would I do then?’ asked the fisherman.
‘Then you could really enjoy life,’ the capitalist replied.
‘What do you think I am doing now?’ responded the fisherman, refilling his pipe.

Unfortunately it’s not all that easy to get hold of a copy at the moment but there are usually a few ‘new and used’ lurking around on Amazon. Buy it, buy it, buy it. 🙂

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About TheEvangelicalLiberal

Aka Harvey Edser. I'm a web editor, worship leader, wannabe writer, very amateur composer and highly unqualified armchair theologian. My heroes include C.S. Lewis and Homer Simpson.
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15 Responses to Book write-ups: Godzone by Mike Riddell

  1. Terry says:

    I have to admit that I’m not the greatest fan of Mike Riddell, though I also admit I haven’t read anything by him for the last ten years or so – his book God’s Home Page, about Scripture, didn’t really engage me at all. When we were both at KCL, I got hold of alt.spirit@metro.m3, which was okay – but I thought it took itself too seriously, trying to be Generation X an’ all.

    By the way, I just looked on Amazon to find out the full title of alt.spirit@metro.m3 and discovered that Godzone has been re-released: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Godzone-guide-travels-Mike-Riddell/dp/0281062528/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1295077721&sr=1-2

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    • harveyedser says:

      Fair enough – Godzone’s the only book I really, really like by Mr Riddell. Like you, I read alt.spirit@thingy and I enjoyed it but for me it wasn’t a patch on Godzone, and like you, I felt it was a bit over-self-consciously Gen X. ‘Deep Stuff’ – short novel about a set of mealtime conversations about, er, deep stuff – was okay but again didn’t move and inspire me to the same degree. They’re bringing out a film of his first novel ‘The Insatiable Moon’, which is a nice title but I’ve no idea what it’s like.

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      • PS I’ve now seen the “Insatiable Moon” (at Greenbelt) and I thought it was great. Quirky, funny, bizarre, and just a little unsettling.

        I also read the novel “Masks and Shadows” by Mike Riddell and it’s probably the most disturbing thing I’ve ever read, Stephen King and Clive Barker notwithstanding!!

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  2. Pingback: Swearing at God | The Evangelical Liberal

  3. Totally agree with this post

    Read this book 20 years ago and have read it regularly ever since. It’s still the best book I own and the best I have ever read – it give hope to the journey of life that has got lost within rules, regulations and Religion

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    • Thanks for commenting! Like you, I first found this book about 20 years ago – can’t remember how – and have revisited it repeatedly since. I’m definitely overdue for another re-read. Do let me know if there are any other books you’ve come across that are anywhere near as good. For me, some of Frederick Buechner comes pretty close.

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      • Just out of interest, where are you based, are you in the UK, are you ordained? So much of what you say (in your profile) resonates with me. It’s refreshing to read someone who has they same outlook and view of life, faith etc. cheers, D

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        • I’m based in Croydon and work in Greenwich at the moment. I’m not ordained, though it’s something that’s been in the back of my mind for a long time… just not sure I’m actually temperamentally suited to professional ministry (or would be any good at it)! I currently work as a web editor in the heritage/cultural sector but longer-term I’d love to do something more theological/spiritual.

          One reason I write this blog is simply that thorny questions of theology and faith bother away at me, and I find that writing helps me make a little bit of sense of them and gives me some peace! 🙂

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          • I think you are exactly the kind of person the Church (esp. The C of E) needs. Someone who is prepared to be honest, real and transparent with questions about life, Faith, God etc. someone who is prepared to ask difficult and awkward questions and then stand their to face whatever comes back. I’ve seen for myself the benefit and blessing that can bring to a Community of people who are all searching for a deeper meaning of life. Derek

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            • Thanks Derek! You’re not the first person who’s said that, so I will certainly think, pray and seek advice about it.

              My fears about ordination are partly to do with my own personality and character flaws which make me doubt whether I’d be all that much use as a church leader. And I also wonder whether the C of E (which I love) might not be too inflexible and hierarchical to allow much room for asking the difficult questions… but if there’s a genuine call from God then I’m sure these difficulties can be surmounted!

              Out of interest, whereabouts are you based, and do you work for the church at all?

              Harvey

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            • Derek Spencer says:

              Hey there, yes I’m ordained in the C of E and have had a very up and down time which has much to do with my own faith/life/journey/ministry etc etc but I wouldn’t change any of it, even when everything has felt as though it’s falling around about me, I’m still here to tell the story, and all those experiences have made the journey that more real and authentic, and the church I lead has grown with me in that journey – don’t be scared of how the C of E will cope, it has done down the years and will continue to do so, even with the likes of me, and even you within it 😉 – it has a breath that allows such a wide variety of of uncertainties within it which is why ‘it’ and ‘me’ will continue to grow, Derek

              Sent from my iPhone

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            • Thanks for the encouragement and for telling me a little of your own journey! I’ve found your church website at http://thakehamchurch.typepad.com/ – I really like your vision and your honesty.

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  4. Sharon Stone says:

    Thank u 4your comments about godzone. I fell in love withh it in 1992 and its stil as relevant 2 my christian journey now. Ive absorbed so many of the stories n quotes into my life and its helped guide me on my journey in so.many ways.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Sharon, thank you for your comments about the book Godzone – it’s always nice to come across like minded people who have benefitted from Mikes refreshing/real and authentic approach

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sharon – it’s really good to hear from someone else who loves Godzone, still my favourite Christian book and probably always will be. 🙂

      I do think this one book changed my perspective (I’d even say my life) in a way that nothing else has. I wish Mike Riddell had written others that I liked half as much, but no matter, this one is a gem that stands by itself.

      I really wish you all the very best in your journey.

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