Anybody remember Jamie Buckingham? He was a remarkable character. I met him on a number of occasions, in the 1990s in Belfast and in his hometown of Fort Lauderdale.
An inspirational preacher, storyteller, satirist, and a fierce critic of obscenely wealthy evangelists – the so-called ‘name it and claim it brigade’. He wrote over 40 books, two of my favourites being ‘A Way Through The Wilderness’ and ‘Summer of Miracles’.
In Summer of Miracles he tells of his healing from cancer in his kidney. He really believed God had healed him, he even went so far as to say that God had told him personally that he would live to see his one hundredth birthday.
I was halfway through the book when a dear friend of mine returned home from Uganda in 1994 to die of cancer. As a GP, he had gone to Uganda to set up a medical centre to improve the lives of the people of Kiwoko, an area known locally as the Murder Triangle, where President Amin is said to have slaughtered over 800,000 people.
I have an odd relationship with books. Sometimes I struggle to finish them, eager to move on to the next one, indeed one of my esteemed readers suggested that I should read Iain H Murray’s biography of Jonathan Swift, so I ordered it and added it to my list of must reads.
And so it was that I was halfway through Summer of Miracles and I called to to visit my friend in hospital. I brought the book with me to give to his wife, Robbie, to read. A week later, having secured a second copy of the book and having read it to the end, I visited the hospital again to find Robbie engrossed in Jamie’s book.
‘Are you enjoying the book?’ I asked, and when she answered that she was, I grabbed it from her hand and explained that I needed it back. I didn’t tell her the real reason: I had finished reading it and found to my deep disappointment that Jamie was indeed healed from cancer in his kidney, but died at the age of 59 of liver cancer, just 41 years short of his ‘promised’ century. For the record, my friend is still alive and well and playing a major part in the political world of Kampala.
The first time I met Jamie Buckingham was in a church in East Belfast. He had just preached a gripping sermon on the importance of forgiveness and he encouraged the congregation to reflect on our relationships with friends, family, work colleagues and our Christian brothers and sisters. If we had hurt anyone, we should seek that person out without delay and apologise, put things right.
Now one thing I know I’m good at is apologising to people I have offended. I have had a lot of practice.
So I sat there, maybe a little smug, for I couldn’t think of anyone to whom an apology was outstanding, but when I looked around to see how others were getting on, there was a queue of folk waiting to ask me for forgiveness. I had offended them, crushed their feelings, and they had feelings of anger or bitterness towards me.
I know now that unforgiveness in my heart damages me, rather than the one to whom my anger is directed. So please forgive, not in order to be forgiven, but because we have been.