Total Pageviews

Saturday, 4 July 2020

A Scare Inside a Church Building...

We were celebrating our seventh wedding anniversary by taking a week's holiday to Sicily back in 2006. In the town of Siracusa, Alex and I stayed in this rather excellent hotel at Via Francesco Crispi for quite a modest price, after learning about a discount in the tariff if the stay is seven nights long, as in our case. We accepted their offer and our smart upstairs room with no further ado.

Not that that particular hotel was the one we had planned staying at. Rather it was the one directly opposite, across the street we arrived at, only to our horror, that it had closed down quite a while ago, and its street sign was still hanging derelict from the front face of the building.

Oh, the memories, memories! I recall 1982, the year I enjoyed backpacking the whole length of the Italian peninsula, and I found myself staying at this hotel, simply by walking through to reception and asking if there is a room. Facing almost directly at il Stazione Ferroviaria di Siracusa, from where I had just arrived after an overnight trip from Naples, my temporary home was very convenient for shorter train journeys to the dramatic clifftop resort of Taormina, and Catania, which is the second-largest city in Sicilia after Palermo, and from Catania, the bus accent to the slope of Mt. Etna, where at the summit I stood on the rim of an active crater with just one other person I met whilst onboard the bus. Then not to mention the ongoing walks into town, including the Old City which is on a separated island bearing the name Isola di Ortigia.

My heart dropped like a stone as Alex and I stood in front of the derelict hotel in disappointment, hopes of memories revived suddenly crushed. But not for long. Across the quiet street, a voice called out, asking in Italian if we're looking for accommodation.

We both crossed the road to meet this young man. I explained that yes, we as a married couple is looking for a room and we are disappointed in the closure of Hotel Arete. He then beckoned us in and offered us a room with a double bed. We checked in for the week. Oh! Those wonderful days before those wretched Internet pre-booking requirements! 

One feature which now stands tall in the heart of Siracuse is il Basilica Santuario Madonna Della Lacrima, a tall, grey fluted cone, meant to resemble a teardrop, reaching high towards the sky. Back in 1982, only what is now the crypt was completed, under a huge circle of flat and level platform forming the roof of the crypt, which within Mass and other services were held. But 24 years later, we both found ourselves gazing up this cone, and being a tourist attraction, the doors were open for free entry. What was once the huge, circular roof of the crypt is now the floor of the conical cathedral where all services take place, to commemorate a ceramic figurine of Our Lady which is fixed a little above the altar.

Church of the Tears, Siracusa.

The story goes that an ordinary family living in Siracusa was the owner of a ceramic figurine of the Virgin Mary, this piece if I remember, being somewhere between ten to twelve inches in height, 25-30 cm. It consisted of just the head and upper body, and it was fixed to a wall in the house. Although gotten in 1953, in 1957 the statuette began to shed tears. After a thorough examination by a bishop, the Church declared this to be a genuine miracle, and it was donated to Siracusa for public veneration.

Alex and I stood inside the basilica, the apex of the cone making a stunning view as it pointed heavenwards. Also within the church, there was another, more lifelike statue of the Virgin Mary. Whilst Alex wandered off to explore other parts of the church, I stood at a position directly in front of the lifesize statue. It looked directly at me, and all of a sudden, I felt a chill pass through my spine. Although it meant to appear holy and at the same time motherly, I couldn't help but feel a sudden unease as the figure stared straight at me, like some sort of evil.

I moved off, well out of its way, and rejoined Alex as we made our way downstairs into the crypt below. I remembered it as being exactly as it was when I first walked in, except that this time the whole subterranean chamber looked tired as if not used for some time.

It all about Mary, isn't it? This young Jewish woman, narrated by Luke, who was visited by an angel with the announcement that a boy was conceived in her by the Holy Spirit without a human father, and she will give birth to one who will be Christ the Lord. After the birth of Jesus, Mary and her husband Joseph went on to have other children who grew up eventually to be elders of the early church. It was while singing in the presence of Elizabeth she referred to God as her Saviour, Luke 1:46. That means she sees herself as a sinner and in need of a Saviour.

The Virgin Mary of the Catholic Church is a different entity altogether! Through the Immaculate Conception had taken place in her mother, St Anne, the Catholic Mary was born without any taint of sin. Not only is this unbiblical but such a church doctrine deifies her to "Mother of God" and a suitable mediatrix between sinful mankind and her biological son Jesus Christ. This, in a way, has exalted the female above the male, making her the direct link between sinful man and God, and one to be prayed to, adored and worshipped.

The ceramic statuette of the Virgin.

Detail of the tears miraculously shed from the statuette. 

History seems to endorse the supernatural appearances of Mary at certain locations. One example was at the French town of Lourdes, and a church was built at the precise site. The Lady of Fatima, Portugal, was said to be witnessed by up to 70,000 people, and a sanctuary in honour of her appearance now stands at the site. The Lady of Zeitoun in Egypt was also seen by hundreds of thousands. And there are many more Marian apparitions which have taken place throughout history.

One Catholic priest had a vision of the Virgin Mary, who instructed him to "Slay all the Babylonian hordes." This priest was none other than Ignatius Loyola, the 16th Century founder of the Jesuits. At first, Loyola thought that Mary was referring to the Muslims. He soon found out though that she was referring to the Protestant Reformers, who believed that salvation comes as a free gift to everyone who has faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour, without the need of any works to earn it. In other words, the vision ordered the slaughter of men, women and children who relied on God's grace alone to be saved.

Oh, such a need of a mother-goddess, the source of tender compassion and one who can successfully intercede with an irate God who needs to be continually pacified from the endless stream of transgressions thrown at Him from a sinful world. Perhaps all this comes from the perception of our human fathers. Like the time when I did something naughty as a small boy, and Mum used to say:
Just wait until Papa finds out!

That means that the father has always been the one to administer corporal punishment. To be led to the garden shed was always between father and son rather than the mother, the one parent the smarting boy would run to for soothing compassion after Dad had finished with him. Indeed, if the boy's misdemeanour was to anger Papa, then it's usually Mum who pleads her husband to withdraw the punishment or even to calm his rising temper.

Even with this very occasion mentioned in the Bible is a strong indication that this paternal discipline is as old as the hills. For example, the sparing of the rod by a father indicating a lack of love for his children appears in Proverbs 13:24, which is during the reign of King Solomon.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that there is a crying demand in the human heart for a queen of heaven to intercede on their behalf. I recall once, at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, watching a couple of young men praying to an image of the Virgin erected within one of the side aisles. When one of them turned and saw me watching in apparent astonishment, they then beat a quick retreat.

With this exaltation of the female above the male, stretching from the dawn of time, it comes to no surprise that such a blasphemous movie is about to enter the Big Screen. With the name Habit, it features an actress, Paris Jackson the daughter of deceased singer Michael Jackson, playing the role of a female Jesus Christ. Indeed, if for the last 1,600 years the Virgin Mary had acted as mediatrix, or intercessor between sinful man and God, so the tempo beats on. From intercessor - to God himself, the Second Person of the Trinity, the female has reached the pinnacle of divinity, even if it's merely for entertainment, at least for now.

It as if the Edenic Curse has turned full circle. Ever since it was Eve who was tempted rather than Adam, I can't help but see the rise of women to prominence, especially to the point of reverence. Am I against feminism? That's quite a point! I once watched a documentary on TV about what was once a happy and thriving marriage between this ordinary husband-and-wife couple. He was the breadwinner. She stayed up home to bring up their children. Now that their kids have grown up and flown the nest, the couple was on the verge of a divorce. By a thorough investigation made for public viewing, the underlying cause of the looming separation was that recently she had been attending college and has gotten herself a degree, with which she would go and pursue a career.

Indeed, such a quest for independence at first looks commendable and solve the problem of latter-years boredom. But as sidespin to this is the rapid rise of abortions. Here in the UK, the number of elective abortions has reached an annual total of 200,000 unborn deaths. That is around 570 abortions carried out every working day. And all this for career or social convenience and in some cases, eugenics. Abortion can now be justified if the baby has a cleft palate or lip, a club foot, has Down's Syndrome or has Spinal Bifida. 

Another consequence of feminism seems to be domestic violence. According to the BBC through the information gotten from 43 police forces across the UK, in 2019 up to 173 people were killed by their partners as domestic abuse, the majority of these deaths were female victims. That is one death in just over two days. The rate of non-fatal violence in the home must be much higher.

With divorce made much easier and the honour bestowed on marriage now non-existent, I ask, what's the heck is going on? Perhaps I can look upon myself as an example of the male psyche. There has always been a level of personal satisfaction in being the breadwinner, whether I was single or married. I do recall our courting days when my wife-to-be suggested attending college and perhaps take on an office job. Immediately I felt threatened and quashed the idea!

Trailer image of the blasphemous Hollywood movie Habit.

Perhaps you as a reader is now considering me as a vile sexist and male chauvinist. If you're female, perhaps you click off this page and never read my blogs again. But before you do, please consider this: The biggest killer of all men here in the UK is suicide. And according to hearsay, these victims seem to be mainly from a non-academic background, and with little education, such a victim sees himself as a failure (whether that's really true or not) who will never see himself as a successful breadwinner raising up a family. (And I also accept that financial hardship can also be the cause of suicide.) As an example, in 2018 there were 4,903 male suicides in comparison with 1,604 female deaths. According to my own experience, it does look as if marrying and raising a family is the ultimate aim of the masculine psyche. 

Having faith in Jesus Christ will go a long way to finding life's fulfilment. God has always expressed himself in the masculine gender, and Jesus Christ was born male, not female. And the day will come when all humans - both male and female - will confess Jesus Christ as Lord (not Lady) to the glory of God the Father (and not Mother). A God who will give eternal life to everyone who believes in the risen Son, Jesus Christ for salvation, regardless of whether the Christian believer is a man or a woman.

A female Jesus? On yer bike!

Saturday, 27 June 2020

God's Love: In a Car or an Airliner?

God's great and wonderful love. But is that how you perceive God? Or is he that Old Man in the sky, sporting a beard and having a truculent temperament, constantly watching intently over your life and recording every sin you commit, whether in thought or deed, in a huge book? If so, would it be easier to make him out to be the Flying Spaghetti Monster, knowing such a concept to be way too ridiculous to even consider factual?

And maybe, to consider God to be a Flying Spaghetti Monster seems far less threatening than any idea of an entity so holy that he just cannot look upon sin. And the snag is, I'm fully aware of my own sinfulness and no matter how hard I try, attempting to snap out of it by self-effort remains a hopeless endeavour.

I recall Tim and I walking along a stretch of the West Coastal Path in Dorset, less than a year after I married Alex (and still unaware that she was a couple of weeks pregnant!) In front was a mud pool, left after a night of torrential rain. Without thinking, I leapt over the mud pool until I was on firm ground on the other side of it.

Did I have a phobia against mud pools? Do I still? Even at that moment, I had to think back before I was able to explain to Tim why I reacted in the way I did.

I recall watching a Western as a boy with Dad. On the small monochrome TV screen, I stared aghast at the villain as he stepped onto a patch of quicksand as he was chased by the hero. He immediately began to sink into the pasty ground, screaming and struggling as he disappeared entirely beneath the surface and apparently drowned. I then asked,
Papa, does quicksand really exist? To which he answered, Yes, it does, but failed to add, but not in this country.

Not long after this, our primary school class boarded a school bus to either Richmond Park or Wimbledon Common, as we did every Wednesday morning, except when it's raining. As we walked along, I stepped into a mud pool, and although I didn't sink into it, the suction by the combination of water and mud held my feet down and I was stuck. I was terrified and began to panic until one of the teachers helped me out. 

This adversity of mud pools remains deep in the subconscious well into adult life, and maybe not realise it's there until I happen to come across such a ground surface. I guess it was the same as my perception of God. Having grown up in a Catholic family, it was during the early teens when I had to learn the complicated process in trying to get to Heaven after death. There was no guarantee, no assurance, being constantly reminded of my sin, the need for repeated confession to the priest, the need for penance following confession, to regularly partake in the sacraments, mainly the Eucharist, and to learn by heart key prayers such as the Lord's Prayer and more important, the Act of Contrition and the Hail Mary. Get the words wrong and God won't like that. Furthermore, no matter how faithful I am, there is still Purgatory, a temporary Hell where the devotee has all remaining sins expunged before he can enter Heaven.  

Having the need to pray to Mary, the "Mother of God" adds further discredit to the character of Jesus Christ, giving the impression that he is constantly irate by our shortcomings and therefore the need of a Mediatrix to plead to him on my behalf. Such builds into the subconscious. Then as a final stroke, to die with one unconfessed mortal sin in my soul would mean an eternity spent in Hell, no matter how devoted to the Church I had been throughout life.

The end result? A slide into atheism which dominated the rest of my teenage years. And the attitude of my late Dad. He always wanted a daughter, one who would have grown up bright enough to attend University. Instead, he had a son whose intelligence fell short of the two rather bright brothers who lived two doors away. The son's perception of God is always reflected in his father's attitude. If Dad wasn't that pleased with me, neither was God either.

Therefore, it took a long time after conversion to undo what I have learned and to learn the truth of God's love. Yet the truth of God's love is well reflected by who I am and we are - made in the image of God.

For example, the sense of taste. Indeed, the science of the taste buds on the tongue, the nerve endings which determines the chemical composition of each food chewed and thus sent via nerves to the brain, such a demonstration that eating is meant to be a pleasure, a gift God delights to give. Maybe children living at the time of Christ may have received a fish or an egg as a gift from their fathers, the equivalent is a bar of chocolate or a bag of sweets today. I recall watching a classmate enjoying a bar of chocolate as enviable to the rest of us young children. 

Yea, I know, like with any child, food has to look appealing before it can be enjoyed. The fat of meat looked very unappealing, so I never touched it. Could this be a subconscious warning that meat fat is bad for me? Or anything with a bad or bitter taste is spat out? A warning against poisoning? Part of self-preservation? However, unlike many other kids, I always loved Brussel sprouts but cringed at the sight of garlic and onions. Yet a plate of spaghetti bolognese? Hmm! Anytime! Such proof that our Heavenly Father delights in giving us good things.

The universally of God's love makes me ask whether enemies of God, especially in the Old Testament, such as Goliath, the Philistine giant who challenged and defied the armies of Israel, when off-duty, sat and enjoyed a good feast with his family or friends. And all the evil kings who wanted to destroy Israel, such as Sihon king of the Amorites, Eglon king of Moab, Og king of Bashan to name just three, and all their troops numbering multiple thousands. Why is it so difficult for me to believe that during their lifetimes God gave all of them good things, food to delight their taste buds and to nourish their bodies and drink, whether water or even sweet wine to satisfy their thirst. And thinking of Ahab king of Israel and his wife Jezebel, the evil queen who worshipped Baal and wanted Elijah killed. Yet how she must have tenderly breastfed her newborn daughter Athaliah and ensured that she was well taken care of by her servants. Not to mention a life of royal feasts enjoyed by the couple.

As a Christian, I still find how God's love for the unbelieving world can be so plausible, yet he sends rain to both the just and to the unjust, the good and bad alike. And the breath of life, including the involuntary heartbeat and digestion, the immune system, the genome in the nucleus of each cell, the intricate machines made of molecules producing protein each on the microscopic scale. The DNA, the RNA, the nucleotides, the double helix and all other components which make the cell function properly, would have kept the likes of Goliath, Og, Sihon, Eglon, Ahab and Jezebel alive and healthy, as well as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Isaiah alive and well. God's love is universal.

And the beauty of our planet, which according to the Bible, is meant to bring the human heart to the reality of God's creation. True enough, in a fallen world, much of the intricate beauty which existed before the Fall, even up to the Flood, is lost, but God did not leave our planet resembling Hell either.  

Certain descendants of Ham, the son of Noah, were, for example, the first to arrive into the North American Continent long before any white settlers arrived. I wonder how they thought when they discovered the vast, awesome chasm of the Grand Canyon, also the thundering Niagara Falls, along with other dynamic beauty such as what is now the Yosemite National Park within the majestic glory of the Rockies, the Kings Canyon National Park, perhaps the intimidating geyser at the Yellowstone National Park, and other stunning locations. Did they gasp in wonderment, giving glory to the God who made all these?

God's love for all of us - the saved and for the unsaved - is universal, and perhaps much deeper and stronger love than I or anyone else would expect. It's the reality of this love which I still need to grasp, instead of pondering whether he loves me at all. I wonder how I could be so blind at times. The very breath of life passing through my nostrils is sustained by God. Yet there are times when I worry about sin in my life without the full realisation that all my sins have already been paid for by Jesus Christ when he died on the cross. 

And I read about the life a Christian should live. Devotionals without number have been written over the years, and even formulas have been thought up to aid with our walk with God. One formula I have never forgotten was dreamt up by Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church in Chicago, which consist of ACTS, which is an acronym for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplements. It's a catchy formula which was published in one of his devotionals, but unfortunately, very little of it is heard or read about at present, a phenomenon which allowed me to question its validity. And I'll be honest with myself, to pray within such an inflexible structure hasn't proven successful or enduring. But with some flexibility, it could still be a good source of prayer guidance.

This is a time in my life when I had to endure two weeks of self-isolation after being told that my beloved wife was tested positive for Coronavirus. I felt devastated, with my faith in God stretched to the limit. Why us? As still a minority of the entire UK population affected, why us?

That's when the reality of God's love kicks into reality. Eternal Security - Once Saved Always Saved. Such a truth is vital for our situation!

Are you driving a car or soaring into the sky in an aeroplane?

Christians who think that a believer can lose his salvation if he doesn't hold faithful is driving the car. In theological circles, such Christians are known as Arminians, where salvation can be retained or lost by the choice of lifestyle the believer makes. To them, each believer must himself overcome the world if he's going to be saved. It's rather like driving a car - making sure that he is on the right road, following the direction signs, negotiating carefully to avoid a collision, stopping at red lights and waiting for the green signal. And the law is constantly upon him. One breach of the law and he gets a ticket, a Court order. Or if he ends up in an accident, it's not to his original destination he'll end up, but at a hospital, even a mortuary. In such a scenario, what the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ had accomplished is that where before he couldn't get anywhere at all, he now receives a car by grace - but it's up to him to negotiate his way to Heaven by remaining faithful and overcoming the pitfalls he will face.

I once heard that up to every believing Christian who ends up committed to an institution or psychiatric hospital, up to 88% are Arminians. Indeed, to live under such responsibility must be quite burdensome, especially if one is struggling with a specific sin. Yet there are many leaders, evangelists and preachers who are alumni from top theological colleges who teach all this.

Then there are those like myself, perhaps known as moderate Calvinists, who believe that once saved always saved, that because he is born from above through faith in Christ and as such, a new creation and adopted into God's family as a co-heir with Christ, he cannot lose his salvation. That is, his free gift of salvation is eternal, with Jesus doing all the overcoming himself, having taken all our sins upon Himself on the cross, and afterwards by His resurrection, overcame death for us all.

That is likened with soaring into the sky in an aeroplane. The passenger enjoys the flight with absolutely nothing to do to aid in the flight, as the pilot does all the work. Instead, the passenger can look out of the window and watch the wispy clouds above him and the contours of the coast far below, where the land meets the sea. Or gaze at the cumulus clouds below, glowing bright white beneath him, knowing that rain is falling onto the earth below. Just as the pilot does all the work, so likewise, the believer gives all the credit and praise to God through faith in Jesus Christ.

We flew over the Kent coast on our way to Kos, Greece, 2011.

These are very difficult times, moments of hopelessness and despair. But to trust in the Living God whose love for us has put Jesus Christ onto the cross to redeem us, can be a wonderful tonic when going through such troublesome times.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

An Academic And Dumbo...

In one of Disney's classics, Dumbo, we have one of the characters reciting something akin to this:

I have seen a dragonfly, I have seen a horsefly, aye, I have even seen a housefly, but I have never seen an elephant fly!

Spot the odd one out.

Yes, you have quite likely got it right. The housefly of course! Dragons quite likely existed in real life in the past. After all, the Chinese take it so seriously in their New Year celebrations. And St George slaying the dragon, a patron saint of England, is he not? Or was he born at Cappadocia in Turkey around the third century AD and lived all his life around that vicinity? And a beast also identified as a dragon by the apostle John in the Bible.

Then there is Pegasus, a winged horse on which an ancient Greek hero Bellerophon tamed and rode upon to slay some weird creature, the Chimera. I have a hunch that the shoulder muscles of a typical horse are not adapted to carry a pair of wings. Moreover, to get such a large animal off the ground, wouldn't it need a large hydrogen sac under its spine? Then with the gas generated by bacteria living inside it, together with a skeleton built of light, hollow bones, like that of any bird? Surely, it was this bacteria-generated hydrogen in a large sac and a light-structured skeleton which enables the dragon to fly. As for the elephant, hmm, it's lucky enough just to momentary stand on its hind legs.

Oh, how I love to apply real-life science to popular myths! Who knows, it might prove that winged horses were a reality in the past, and perhaps there might even have been a pair in Noah's ark!

Dumbo was different though. He managed to train his huge ears, characteristic of the African Elephant species, to make them aerodynamic enough to fulfil the imaginations of young children. And also successful enough to enable Disney's theme parks in both California's Santa Ana and Florida's Orlando, into very profitable businesses aimed in entertaining the family. As far as I remember, Disneyland in California did feature a Dumbo ride. However, I left Dumbo for the kids and went for the much gutsier Space Mountain indoor roller-coaster, indeed, making this fast ride the climax of the 1977 and 1978 visits.

As for the housefly, with the house being inanimate making it the odd one out...well, I'll leave that to your imagination. Except that through man's ingenuity, the flying house does now exist! Only it's owned or used privately by royalty or the mega-rich. Passenger aeroplanes have known to be bought and had its interior renovated to function as a self-contained suite, and the owner or the hiring passenger can live in it as comfortably whilst at 35,000 feet, or 10,670 metres high in the air.

The Greek hero Bellerophon astride his winged mount soaring into the air would be of special interest to TV presenter and author Prof Michael Scott. This is one fellow I happen to admire. This Warwick University Professor of Classics and Ancient History holds a PhD, an M.Phil and a BA, along with twelve academic awards, including the National Teaching Fellowship which is the highest award any academic can get. He wrote seven books and made contributions into four encyclopedias. He wrote several reviews including into national newspapers, along with 22 academic papers and thirteen different articles. He also delivered 17 lectures and 12 tutorials.

Wow! What a Big Shot he is. Yet what was it which brought out my admiration of him? Basically, his down-to-earth personality which excludes snobbery. Being "stuck up" - this "them-and-us" characteristic of such educated people was absent, making him instantly likeable. This is endorsed by the casual dress he always wore when presenting his documentaries on television, such as one programme shown only last night which was shot in Cairo. Never seen in a suit and tie, but instead appears with his shirt unbuttoned, and thus identifying himself as one with the rest of us.

And earlier this year, just before the Coronavirus breakout, not only I had the privilege to attend one of his lectures at the University of London on the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum, but also to ask him personally a question on what has become of the upturned hull of a boat that was found there.

He was stumped. He couldn't answer my question. And for such a learned man such as he, I was quite mystified. Fortunately, an archaeologist was nearby who also heard my question and answered it for me. For the record, the Roman boat was carefully excavated and is now housed in a museum nearby.

Prof Michael Scott.

Maybe I have betrayed my own ignorance in that room, rather than that of the professor. I was unaware of the probability that Ancient Greek Classics is a different subject altogether from Archaeology. And I asked a question touching on archaeology rather than classics, even if the lecture was about what was excavated rather than fighting among ancient Greek gods.

But I have found that believing in the fable of Bellerophon astride Pegasus is very different from believing in the historicity of Divine Creation. The latter is very relevant to day-to-day living. And daily dependency on God.

A few years ago, one of our church members, himself an academic and author, in a sermon touching on the first chapter of Genesis, he levelled its historicity to an ancient Babylonian fable, the Enuma Elish, telling on how the Universe, our earth and all life was created by a pantheon of warring deities, where jealousy and murder were involved. With himself being an academic, I wouldn't be at all surprised that many of his listeners had fallen into the trap, being a learned scholar, therefore his word being taken and believed on as authentic.

Here I believe that differentiating between the historicity of the Bible from ancient Babylonian, Greek and Roman fables to be vitally important for the credibility of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And faith in the Gospel can be stretched to the limit when earlier in the week, my beloved felt woozy, dizzy and experienced a headache. So she phoned a non-emergency medical call centre. After describing her recent breast cancer history, a clinician phoned back with a suggestion that either she has an infection in her middle ear, or terrifying enough, her cancer had moved to her brain, and as such, an ambulance will be sent to take her to the hospital.

Once there, I received a phone call with the news that she will be due for an X-ray on the next day and therefore will be kept in overnight. She has a mobile phone that is mistakenly set not to receive calls, but with it, she can only make calls. And so I was alone at home, unable to get to her nor to the hospital staff either. I was totally under the mercy of providence.

The next morning the phone rang. It was Alex, and I was prepared to hear the news of her discharge. But instead, she says that she was tested positive with Coronavirus, and will be transferred to the ward for patients with Covid-19. I was stunned with shock! Whenever imagination runs wild, this was one occasion.

Visions of my beloved entered my mind, Visions of her in an isolation unit with a ventilator down her throat, that dreadful phone call from the hospital bearing the news that she had passed away. I look around as I sat alone in our living room. Widowhood? No, I was not at all prepared for widowhood, and no one, no one, could ever replace her! Everything reminds me of her: all the little ornaments I bought for her throughout our marriage, the photographs of her and us on holiday, everything else which are specifically hers, all these are around me.

Have you ever felt that you want to cry and shed bucketloads of tears, but somehow can't? Indeed, that was how I was feeling - a twisted cord of emotions, yet the Endocrine system of glands responsible to get me to actually cry remains stubbornly inactive.

I contacted all five of our Elders by email to set up a prayer network within our church for Alex. Prayer. Prayer based on faith in Jesus Christ - his death by crucifixion, his burial and his resurrection after three days. And belief in Divine Creation as historical being so vital for the veracity of the Gospel and the power of prayer which arises from it.

It was a terrible day. Caught in an emotional vortex, I also suffered loss of appetite. It was in the afternoon when the phone rang again. Expecting the worst, Alex informed me that preparations for discharge were made. I felt a flush of relief, then a feeling of frustration when it was said that before she can go home, she is to have her X-ray done on the advice of the clinician. But being busy, as she had to get behind a queue of patients before her turn came up. This, along with a delay in transport home, it was into the night before she finally arrived home, more than 24 hours after her departure to the hospital.

Can a house fly? Nowadays it can. Inside a modified airliner.

Now we are both at home together. She's on self-isolation for one week, I'm on for two weeks. In the days to come, we both need to watch for any deterioration of health in either of us. The dread of the ventilator or even widowhood hangs above us like a dark cloud.

But there is one very important thing we both must understand during these difficult times. God is in full control. He knows what's in our hearts, how we think and feel our fears, sorrows, and anticipations. God is fully in control, and as I said to Alex, our God is not too small after all, neither can anything happen behind his back.

Right now, neither of us are displaying any symptoms. But neither are we sitting on our laurels. We are hoping that these next couple of weeks will pass without any incident.

But having faith in God is absolutely vital. And that included accepting the record of Genesis as historical. As for lowering the Bible to the level of myth, there is no edification in reading or listening to the stories found in the Enuma Elish. As a matter of historical fact, I think that Dumbo with his aerodynamic ears is far more edifying than any stuff found in those Babylonian myths.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

A Day-to-Day View of a Slave.

A Brexit-voting friend had recently said to me that he doesn't read my blogs if they have a political slant which, in my opinion, he misses out. Besides what's been going on this week, much has to be said between some shockingly unusual events and my own walk with God.

And to keep Jesus Christ within the central theme remains my priority. Therefore, I take a neutral stance when it comes to the Black Lives Matter protests which are going on in towns around this country at present. Indeed, although I do have a level of sympathy towards them, that does not mean I condone the demolishing of statues and national monuments of bygone men who used slavery or imperialism for laying the foundations for our present British society.

Brought down by BLM protesters, the statue of Ed Colston

Having read several novels about slavery in the Caribbean and the Deep South, I can build a picture of what life was really like for a "servant for life" daily, with the realisation that such a way of living is not so openly realised or taught in current media. Therefore in this blog, I'm writing as a journalist as if stepping back in time.

First, the Negro was seen as sub-human by the white trader and owner, who also sees him as his own personal property. The traders believed that slavery was the will of God, and was part of the fulfilment of the curse Noah made on his son Ham, the alleged father of all Negroes, so they thought, with his insistence that all the sons of Ham were to be servants for life. They based that curse found in Genesis 9:18-27. If only the Caucasian should have read the Bible a little more carefully than they did with a biased mind, they would have seen that it was Ham's firstborn son Canaan who was cursed, and not Ham himself, nor any of his other sons. Some modern scholars believe that it was Canaan who molested his grandfather's nakedness whilst his father Ham looked on, perhaps thinking it was funny.

Two issues here. The first is the fanciful idea that Noah had a white son, a yellow son and a black son, a notion not scientifically endorsed. History shows that the Canaanites were white people who settled in Canaan, which shoreline bordered the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, and will later be inhabited by Israel. Secondly, if Canaan was the son of Ham, the son of Noah, a descendent of Adam, then he and all his descendants must have been just as equally human too. This rebukes any notions that Negroes were sub-human.

With such erroneous belief that this was God's will, the slave ship carried anywhere between 250 to 600 slaves, all packed tightly to each other in rows. One of the issues which seem to be overlooked is that each was chained in place and unable to move. Not only was that the ideal environment for possible leg cramp, but with no latrines, urine and defecation on the ship's deck was a daily issue, causing the air to reek with faeces, urine and sweat. The deaths of many onboard might have been caused by this lack of sanitation. Thus, depending on the captain's discretion, each morning, after being served porridge oats for breakfast, all the slaves were put to work in thorough cleaning of the decks. A common ailment at sea, scurvy, was wrongly thought to be caused by this lack of hygiene.

After arrival at their destination, each slave was auctioned off, ending up at a plantation which grew either tobacco or sugar and in the States, cotton. Most of them were field workers, and with sugar, in particular, their lives were shortened by the sheer hard work involved. 

The rank and status among slaves were based on the job, skin colour and social position. Where the job was concerned, at the bottom were the fieldworkers, those engaged in the ploughing, sowing, and harvesting of the crop. Then there were the skilled craftsmen, usually slave-born. These may include masons, carpenters, tanners, and barn keepers. Usually its the barn keeper who keeps an array of leather whips used for punishment, from the small whip for women and children, to the big whip for the men. Next are the kitchen servants, and above them, the team of house servants, the latter making sure that there was a difference in status between kitchen and house, with the butler being the head servant of the house, along with the body servant, the one who daily bathes and dresses his white master.

When it comes to mating, the white master often has the self-imposed duty to deflower every virgin on his plantation who comes of age before mating her up with a male slave. Most young black females anticipate this and look forward to the honour. White men sleeping with women of colour was quite normal. If a white visitor arrives at a plantation who is of some standing, then he is offered a "bed wench" for a companion and a coal fire lit for the night. By contrast, visitors considered to be "white trash" such as itinerant slave traders, usually slept alone in a cold spare bedroom.

An original planter's home in Alabama, dating from slave days

This interbreeding has resulted in colour status in the slave hierarchy. From the pure Negro at the bottom, there are several distinct colour ranks according to the percentage of white blood inherited from the parents. Next up from being a pure Negro was the Griffe, with just a quarter of white blood, the grandfather being white. Above this was the Mulatto, from a white father and black mother. Then the Quadroon, an offspring between a white father and a Mulatto mother. Next up was the Octoroon, from a white father and a Quadroon mother. Finally the Mustee, usually with an Octoroon mother.

The distinction between a Mustee and a fully white man is so slight, that some of the Mustees managed to escape from the plantation to spend the rest of their lives masquerading as white, even to the point of attending auctions to buy and sell other slaves. But nevertheless, always living in fear of the master's hand landing on his shoulder from behind. If caught, he would have been brought back, fully shackled, to the plantation to face the whip, and then quite likely sold.

The whip was the standard form of punishment. Women and children felt the whip across their backs and buttocks as well as the men. Many masters were quite tolerant and only applied the whip for more serious offences. Others were churlish enough to have his slaves flogged for just forgetting to address him as "Master Sir." Yet in most, if not all cases, it's the muscular barn keeper who actually does the flogging, under his master's supervision and keeping count. Sometimes the punishment is delayed until the owner invites a group of friends, fellow planters, and then has the slave whipped to entertain his guests, with each relishing the screams of the victim.

The most serious of all offences were for a slave to sleep with a white woman. Sometimes the lady of the house seduces her servant whilst the master is away. If caught, either together in bed or by the birth of the offspring, the Negro father was always executed. This could be in several ways: Whipped to death, hanged, burned alive in fire or even boiled alive. Usually, the white female dies too by poisoning, but she could also be shot or sent away into exile. And here is an odd issue. If a dark-skinned man slept with a female Mustee or an Octoroon, that is fine, providing her master approves. Such a resulting offspring can command a very high price. But even the absence of the tiniest drop of Negro blood in the female would condemn her lover's fate with a death sentence.

Negro fighting was another pastime favoured by white owners. In the country or small-town inn, two rival owners bring their fighters to the arena and bets are laid during a round of drinks, with each bet averaging $200, give or take. That is approximately $5,180 in today's money. Often, these fights were gory and the loser often dies, leaving the owner $200 out of pocket and the loss of a slave that might have fetched $1,000 at auction. That is around $22,000 in today's money (or £17,865.)

In the city, fighters can have the opportunity to hone their skills in boxing, sometimes taught by English sailors or settlers. These slaves enjoy such pugilistic activity and revel in the glory a victory can generate among the betting crowd of spectators. Fighting can take place in the back yard of a brothel or other public venues. Here, bets up to a thousand dollars apiece are placed in the house owner's lap, a total sum which can add up to multiple thousands of dollars. Since boxing is well known, city fights were usually less gory and the loser has a better chance of survival.

Perhaps not always for the better. Sometimes a slave from a nearby plantation was due for a whipping. Instead, the master brings him to the arena with a promise that if he wins, all other punishment will be forfeited. But if he loses...

Hence, the slave is literally fighting for his life.

During the fight, a blow to the scrotum completely immobilises the fighter, causing him to cringe and wail as he lies on the ground. With the winner declared and bets paid out, the owner of the loser, bereft of a thousand dollars, no longer sees any value in his human property. He leads the slave to the bank of the river, still cringing and terrified, and forcing him to stand up as straight as possible. Then the owner takes out his gun and shoots, watching his dying slave fall into the river and float away in the current. And not a judge in the whole land would convict the owner.

Then there is the plague, which comes every year, taking the lives of both slave and free. The medics of the day were so primitive in their diagnostic thinking, they had no idea where the plague came from, let alone its nature. Then one year they had an idea. If enough noise would be generated, this could have a positive effect on the plague. So church bells rang, cannons fired, all sorts of melodrama were created in the city to create the loudest noise but to no effect. Those pesky mosquito bites remained ongoing, passing the malaria bug into the human bloodstream unhindered. How was it that everyone who stayed indoors and slept inside a mosquito net always survived, yet nobody noticed?

Historic New Orleans where 19th Century slavery thrived.

This was a brief window into the life and culture of slavery on which many in Britain became rich, and contributed towards English society. These traders whose statues now stand and are threatened by the BLM protestors to be destroyed. 

Yet all these slave owners and traders actually believed that slavery was God's will. And thus, many had a clear conscience, finding no reason why they shouldn't enter a sweet afterlife after their deaths, except that they preferred to call their slaves "Servants for Life" - as if the word "slave" was somewhat bothersome, a smear on the conscience.

I, as a Christian, believe that such a way of life some 200 years ago was very wrong, evil. But they did not think so. Instead, they actually believed that they were in God's will. Even the owner's own son and heir were taught to pray. And the boy prays by his bedside for that particular servant should receive his whipping promptly, while that other servant in bed recovers quickly from his illness. If mankind is still around after the next 200 years, what would they think of us? Maybe they would think that our willing endorsement of abortion is bad, and therefore judge our present-day culture as evil. Or their beliefs that our capitalistic system was also the spawning ground for theft and fraud, with many becoming rich by dishonest profiteering and gain. And that would include present-day slavery, the ill-treatment of refugees.

I do believe that some who lived in the early 19th century are now in Heaven with the Lord. And that includes former slave owners. But they didn't get there because through slavery they were in the will of God. They are there through faith in Jesus Christ alone, his death by crucifixion, his burial and his Resurrection from the dead. And God grants eternal life to all who truly believe, from whichever era he lived, and whether he was a slave or free.

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Eight Men, Four Women and a Baby

December 1972. Walking in the rain, long hair hanging wet as I saunter along the Strand, heading towards Charing Cross Station dressed in a thick overcoat, covering an open neck shirt and without a tie, I had just presented myself for admission into the Lyceum Ballroom, close to the intersection of the Strand, Waterloo Bridge and Aldwych. Two smartly dressed doormen, one slim with a snooty look about him, the other burly and having every resemblance of a wrestler, stood at the entrance.  The slim one stretched his leg across the open narrow doorway whilst the other told me straight to go, take a hike.

...I sauntered along the Strand... Stock photo

Those two had actually done me a favour. A very big favour. Having been dumped by a girlfriend some eight months previously, any attempt to find another female for a relationship had since then drawn a blank. But as I sauntered along, feeling humiliated, ashamed and defeated, it didn't take much of a resistance to accompany two young strangers who stopped me in the street, each about my age, into a nearby pub after inviting them to dry off in a much warmer, cosier atmosphere characteristic of any tavern.

As they got me to read from a Bible one of them had produced, I suddenly realised that the refusal of those two doormen at the Lyceum to admit me was the work of God, to allow me to encounter these two much friendlier guys and to receive the Gospel. By believing that this whole West End scenario was a work of God resulted in an inner change which would have a massive impact on the rest of my life!

From that fateful night, what have I gotten myself into? This - my heart-belief that this Jesus of Nazareth was presented by the Jews to Pontus Pilate, endured a sham trial, was crucified, buried, and three days later, rose physically from the dead, and has ascended to His Father in Heaven, and eternal life is given freely to everyone who believes. And salvation being a free gift, it can never be taken away - ever. Why not? Because I have received a new birth, a regeneration into a new creation to be forever adopted as a son of God. Moreover, to be "in Christ" means exactly that: To have God the Father see me in exactly the same way as He sees His own Son, and to add to that, to have the whole Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit making their home within me, according to John 14:23.

Through faith, God has put me into a new society, the church. Since 1974, after a time in the "wilderness", I attended three different churches, one after the other. The first was St Jude's in Brixton, South London. Sadly, this Anglican church had long gone out of existence and its traditional building with a spire was demolished. That, to me, is sad. Because, looking back, St Jude's Anglican was looked upon as a "nursery church" - a place where I began to grasp the fundamentals of the faith, to be fed with the milk of the Word. But even back then, the milk must have been very good. By then I found myself contending with a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses, attempting to prove to them that the phrase "Son of God" means that Jesus himself is God, one of the "persons" of the Trinity. Just like with physical exercise, to stress out my faith strengthens rather than breaks it. It was also at that phase in life when I testified at work that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Because each visit to St Jude's involves a train and tube journey, an agreement was eventually made for me to attend a church closer to home. I was recommended Bracknell Baptist Church, and so in the Spring of 1975, I paid my first visit there. I have found the Rev Ben Davies' authoritarian method of ministry quite different from the gentle ministry of the vicar of St Jude's. I personally refer to Bracknell Baptist Church (as it was called then) as the "university church". I remained there until 1989, and I drifted a little before joining Ascot Baptist in 1990, and I have always felt fully at home in this "adult church" right up to the present. Today, it's Ascot Life Church, taken from John 10:10.

Throughout these years I got to know many people of all ages. This included eight men who all passed their 50th birthday without ever marrying, let alone raising a family.

Neil, my former school classmate, was taller than me, slim and quite handsome. His phlegmatic temperament made him one of the easiest chaps to get on with, but such personality also had a downside. He had no sense of adventure, instead, he spent all his life within his comfort zone at his parent's home. Remaining unmarried, he died at the age of just sixty whilst caring for his elderly parents.

The other seven guys are all Christians. One of them, a graduate, has Asperger's and has the IQ of any Mensa member. Another had never attended a university. The rest are all singletons who hold a degree. Of all seven, three have admitted from time to time of their sadness and sense of loss from not having a wife and family. The remainder seems to be content with their non-marital status and take each day as it comes.

Present-day Ascot Life Church, member since 1990.

These eight chaps have all passed their 50th birthday without ever putting a ring on the bride's finger. But throughout my Christian life, I also got to know four unmarried women, all of them older than me. Two attended Ascot Baptist whilst the other two attended Bracknell Baptist. Two of them are already with the Lord whilst the remaining two are still with us. The two who died included Barbara, of Ascot, who has spent her whole life as an active missionary before being admitted into a care home with dementia. The other, Rosemary, died, I believe, of a broken heart sometime during the 1980s. Then there was the youngest of the four, who also attended Bracknell, is only a few months older than me.

But it's Rosemary who gets my attention here. Poor Rosemary! Every week, during the midweek prayer meeting, we sat in a large circle in the back room. Then, as expected, Rosemary would spill out her sorrows aloud in prayer, begging God to give her a man who would pour out his love for her. Often these weekly, regular prayers led her to tears, as she sobs her pleading to the Lord within earshot of the rest of us.

Rosemary was short in height, plump with a round face topped with curly brown hair, and wore glasses. As one guy who was engaged to be married to a pretty young fiancee, once said to me,
Ugh! Who would want to marry her? She's so ugly!

And that Sunday evening in the late 1970s. This same chap stood up at the front, and behind the pulpit, delivered his testimony and finished with the crowning glory of his engagement and forthcoming marriage. Immediately, Rosemary stood up and quickly left the building in distress, midway through the service.

Rosemary may have stormed out of the church building in tears and distress, but if only she knew! I actually attended this chap's wedding, but afterwards, his friendship with me cooled, and with him married and with me remaining single, he distanced himself. But it was some years later when talk began to spread. Apparently, one of his daughters became ill enough to develop a disability, and later, his wife met another man at a house party and eventually divorced her husband to pair off with him. Indeed, amidst such events, Rosemary is now far happier in Heaven.

As for myself, having faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour has made a massive difference to my life. For example, watching my own beloved wife slowly deteriorate in health, changing from a beautiful slim woman with long cascading hair into someone a little plumper with hair loss due to chemotherapy, really, having faith in God does make a difference. All those horrific pains she experiences, the calls for an ambulance, those long waits in Accident & Emergency, the abundance of medicine taken by both of us, then watching her cry over the loss of our daughters, yet secure in my love for her as well as feeling secure in her love for me, our devotion for each other, that sacrificial love which meets her needs before my own comforts - all this from having faith in God.

Thus, I'm happy to say that arguments and disagreements are just as rare as a desert oasis, as we both strive to keep our marriage sweet and robust. Her own faith in God is inspiring and is the source of encouragement whenever I feel down and faithless. As such, as a couple who believes in Divine Creation as recorded in Genesis to be historical and not mythical, we see each other as one created in God's image, after His likeness.

And so there is the church, a beautiful church whose members are each created in the image of God, and each one to be seen in exactly the Father sees His own Son, as each one of us is in Christ. Indeed, as God sees none of us with any form of preference, whether ethnic, racial, Jew or non-Jew, working class, middle or aristocratic class, of which nationality or even man or woman, for we are all one in Christ Jesus! Therefore, let him who holds a doctorate embrace one who is uneducated and pushes a broom for a living, let him who lives in a palace hold no issues against the homeless lying there in the street, and even offer accommodation, as both are made in the image of God.

Therefore I sigh - and sigh deeply - when a particular video poster appears on Facebook. Just to get one thing straight - there is nothing wrong with the poster. It was very professionally done, demonstrating a skill most of us don't have, and with certainty, I don't have! It consists of a video of a couple, only that it's divided into 24 squares, each containing an alternating moving image of his wife and himself. And the climax of the video? An announcement that they are going to have a baby.

Good for them! I congratulate on God's kindness to them.

According to the latest, the video has collected a massive 475 "likes", including love hearts, and 238 comments, just about all sending their congratulations and best wishes. Both are astronomical! And it's here that I may be risking taking on the role of a sour gooseberry. The video itself is good and is worth congratulating. But the video and all the feedback, 713 altogether could well upset another Rosemary somewhere out there, as the video is set to Public.

And here I take an issue by asking: If the chap was uneducated and actually spent time in prison, or to put it another way, holds a felony record, and she a former striptease dancer, would he get so much feedback? Especially from other Christians? Or if he's a road sweeper and she a superstore shelf-stacker, would they still receive 475 "likes" in just a few days from fellow church members?

Therefore I get that horrible gut feeling that there is a connection between the average English Christian and this couple, especially him, who is middle-class and holds an honourable bachelor degree in theology and Bible studies as well as another bachelor degree in business management. And he's now in a role of church leadership. Therefore are they worthy of far greater honour than the less educated?

The issue lies not so much with the poster but more so with their followers who, despite the recognition that we are all one in Christ, instead, as typical Englishness goes, most Christians can't help but cling on to our national culture where class favouritism is ingrained in the genome.

Poor Rosemary. Even if she was alive now, she would still be unable to find a man at the Lyceum, and her weeping due to endless loneliness will continue.

That is because the former ballroom is now a theatre.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Let Him Who Is Without Sin...

Jesus was sitting at the Temple grounds, teaching the crowds surrounding him. Presently there was a disturbance as a group of Pharisees were dragging a desperate woman towards him, kicking and shouting as she struggled to break free.

Jesus probably glanced upwards with the thought, Oh dear, here we go again - and began to write on the dust. What he was writing, nobody knows, and we still don't know to this day, as the Holy Spirit did not feel it was necessary to tell us. The group then stood before Jesus as he sat there with his finger continuing to write. Then one of the Pharisees, sensing the Lord's apparent apathy or disinterest, began to present his case with urgency, accusing her on how she was caught in the very act of adultery, and asking whether she should be put to death, as the Scripture says. The rest of the crowd who was listening to Jesus turned with anticipated excitement combined with a sense of shock of certain execution taking place right in their midst.

Instead, Jesus kept on disregarding the woman's accusers as he kept on writing (or maybe, doodling.) As the leading Pharisee kept up with his accusations, Jesus could have asked about the whereabouts of the male lover, if she was caught in the act, and why he wasn't with them, being dragged alongside with her. After all, it takes two to tango. And I wished he had asked that! It would have been interesting if the accuser had to answer. Thus, the story was lacking much for it to make proper sense. 

The accusing Pharisee still had a valid point. He was referring to Leviticus 20:10, where it says that if a man lies with another man's wife, then both must be stoned to death. Therefore, where was he?

And after a period of provocation by the accusers, Jesus finally looks up and answers:

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

This story is recorded in the first eleven verses of John, chapter eight. In the KJV, it's included in the normal flow of the script without any gaps or comments. In the NIV, a note is inserted in the interruption preceding the text, explaining that the earliest and most reliable manuscripts do not contain this portion, followed by a lined space preceding verse 12. The RSV goes even further, omitting the story altogether and inserting it as a page footer with a suggestion that it might have been a fragment taken from Luke's Gospel. 

But whatever its origin, the inspiration behind the story is obvious enough. It's history, on the same level of truthfulness as the Crucifixion itself. And within the last few weeks, more than once have I seen the answer Jesus gave to justify the deeds done by our political leaders.

It can be controversial, this idea of letting anyone who is without sin to throw the first stone, that is, to execute judgement. Really, how far can this be taken? Yet I have had those words thrown at me on Facebook whenever an issue was raised. Yet, if I was to take the Lord's words literally on all levels, then would our Law Courts cease to exist? Would all inmates be freed and all prisons closed? One night a burglar breaks into a house and makes off with jewellery which has sentimental connections as well as a high value in price. The victim goes to the Police to report the crime and to get justice. Only to be told that the Law will only act on his behalf if the victim can prove that he's without sin.

Doesn't make sense, does it? At first, this looks totally unjustifiable. The householder whose jewels were precious to him suffers a terrible loss, while some stranger is going to sell the stolen items for personal profit. Indeed, any reader would instantly comment that the two offences are beyond comparison. But are they really that incompatible? 

A woman commits adultery. If the punishment for this offence is taken from Old Testament justice such as Leviticus 20:10, then the woman was already married to someone else, hence the seriousness of the sin. Her husband would have felt cheated, and now has to endure a terrible loss and enforced widowhood. The loss felt by the husband of his beloved would have been just as intense as the loss of precious jewellery, maybe more so, as the wife is of one flesh with the husband and close to his heart. I could even go as far as the possibility of him ready to forgive, as was the case of the Old Testament prophet Hosea, who brought back home his wayward wife, but the original letter of the law forbids this. Instead, she has to die, along with her lover. And in this case, with Jesus, the lover must have either done a runner or was told to escape.

But the chance of the cheated husband feeling enraged could have been equally possible, and his wishing for an act of quick revenge would have remained unfulfilled with the Lord's willingness to forgive. It may not have been the loss of jewellery irritating him, but having been cheated, the loss of justice and the greater likelihood of forbidding her to return home. On the other hand, by recognising who Jesus is, he might have also forgiven her and took her back in.

With such complications surrounding the incident, I have come to conclude that this was a unique, one-off occasion with the dual purpose of getting her accusers, all of them religious, to see sin lurking within their own hearts and that forgiveness is available to them too if they believe that this particular man is their Messiah, the Son of God. Even if the origins of this story has been questioned, no doubt, it teaches a valuable lesson, and that is, to believe that this Jesus - the one sitting at the Temple and writing on the ground - will be their risen Christ, from whom acquittal will be granted to all who believe.

Later, in the Acts of the Apostles, an instance of instant retribution is dished out to a couple, Ananias and Sapphira, for lying to the Holy Spirit, Acts 5:1-11. The church in Jerusalem was in a crisis and a decision was made by its leaders for anyone to contribute financially towards it. We are told that Barnabas sold his field and willingly gave all his proceeds to the church elders. And many others all made similar donations by selling off what they had and laying the money at the apostle's feet. Then came Ananias and his wife Sapphira. They too sold their field but afterwards agreed between themselves to give only a portion of their money and keeping some back. That in itself isn't bad. They were free to keep back all they had. All was purely voluntary.

But instead, they gave only a portion and then declared that this was the full price gotten for the sale of their field. When Peter revealed their sin, they both died instantly, the husband first, then his wife three hours later. It's a far cry from the fate of the adulterous woman brought before Jesus, and for a crime which, at a human point of view, looks far less severe than committing adultery. It does look as if administering justice was not abolished by being aware of universal sin lurking in the heart.

And Romans 13:1-7 endorses this. Here, Paul gives the very reason why governments exist and why we are encouraged to obey all in authority. Governments are there to keep evil in check and to ensure the best administration for the country, province or territory. And the apostle warns that everyone who does evil will need to be in fear of them, as they are the authority appointed by God to bring justice. Likewise, those who do good can receive praise from the same. And that was written long after Jesus dealt with the adulteress.

However, although both Paul and Peter have encouraged all Christians to honour and obey the king, ancient history tells us that the Roman emperors were some of the evilest men who ever walked the earth, guilty of murder, adultery, even incest and paedophilia, so the story goes. Nero, for one, is reputed to have killed his own mother, Agrippina, to secure his own independent power. Yet Christians in his day, under the apostles, Paul and Peter, were exhorted to give honour to the king and to obey the laws of the land.

Therefore I need to ask: Was I wrong to raise the issue about our Prime Minister when his suitability for the job was under scrutiny? And that with his life history tainted by more than one divorce and at present, had just fathered a child from his girlfriend half his age? One friend answered back:

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. 

And that was posted to me by one of our ex-church leaders.

It's well known that the one who posted that statement was a devout Brexiteer, and our Tory PM Boris Johnson promised: "to get Brexit done" as his last election manifesto. This makes me wonder whether our Facebook friend would have posted the same statement if our PM had been a Labour leader who pushed hard to remain in the EU and had, in the past, walked out of his wife and family to date a female half his age. Indeed, would he had picked up the stones then, or simply walk away like those Pharisees did?

And now, over the past week, this scandal over Dominic Cummings. He is the PM's chief advisor who played a major role in Brexit and he was also behind the Coronavirus lockdown, insisting that we all, as a nation, to stay home, stay safe and respect the NHS. According to the Press, Cummings was attending meetings held behind closed doors alongside our top scientists in putting together the appropriate action for tackling the pandemic.

Then, after the edict was passed and endorsed by our Government, faithful people stayed at home and stopped visiting their family members living elsewhere. This included hospital visits, care home exclusions and minimal funeral attendance. We were also banned to drive miles to national parks and other popular venues. One dog walker was stopped and reprimanded by the Police for walking his dog in a remote area of the Peak District National Park. Other motorists, on their way to the coast, were forced to turn and go back home, on the orders of the Police.

Yet, Cummings drove the 264-mile distance from London to Durham to sort out a family issue. He then drove a further 30 miles to Barnard Castle "to test my eyesight." If he was unsure about his eyesight whilst on that leg of the journey, how did he manage the 264-mile trip in the first place with his wife and son?

Tie-less advisor - Dominic Cummings. 

During the debate which followed, a poll revealed up to 52% wished for him to leave his post as Advisor, whether by resignation or by dismissal by the PM, and the remaining 48% insist he should stay. From the 48% who thinks he should stay in his job, a quote appeared on Facebook, posted by a journalist in full support for him:

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

That was aimed towards all those who felt judgemental towards Dominic Cummings. As for me, I have become fed up with the issue. If he goes, then let him go. But if he wants to stay, then let him stay - but with much discredit to his advice. But with opinion split almost right down the middle (the same result, by the way, with the 2016 referendum whether to stay in or leave the EU) - I can't help but believe that the majority of pollsters who voted for Cummings to remain in his post were Brexiteers, and those who want him out were mainly Remainers, although there is an area of grey in between.

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

Okay, I have been reprimanded. Let me stand back and just allow matters to take their course.

After all, God is our sovereign Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, to which we all have to give an account. I'll trust in Him. 

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Airlines and Computers in the Bible?

Do you find yourself going through an evening where you're stuck at home and don't know what to do? You take a look at the TV guide, only to find that there is not much on which is worth watching on either BBC channels. Oh, there is a movie, an exciting drama on one of the commercial channels, but what's the point in watching a movie so frequently interrupted by commercial breaks, when you already have your own DVD recording of the movie? So shall it be watched again? Not really. You have watched it already only last week, and that was the third time after purchasing it.

I have to be honest here. I despise commercial channels! For me, anyway, I find nothing more frustrating than to be deeply involved with the plot of the film, and just when an exciting bit arrives, there is this sudden silence followed by an advert on Kitekat (we don't have a cat) or Chunkie dog food (we don't have a dog either) or this geyser driving a flash sports car as he passes a lone young female at an exotic location and tries to impress her. Not very relevant to me here either, for I don't have a driving license. The only appropriate advertisement is the one on Cadbury's Dairy Milk. After all, who doesn't like chocolate? But alas, there's no chocolate in the house and either the superstore had closed for the evening or I'm too tired or not bothered to go back out. Furthermore, I'm waiting for the movie's climax.

Thus, the wonder of the Internet! So useful it has been during this pandemic lockdown. Indeed, I'm beginning to wonder how the generation which had to endure the Bubonic Plague in the 13th Century managed to cope? Okay, there may be some bad things online, but it's also an unlimited storehouse of useful knowledge. Trivia which I had missed out at school is now easily accessible with just one or two clicks of the mouse.

And that also includes virtual reality. Yes indeed, I have moaned about our virtual church service over the weeks. But I have always agreed to the principle during these critical times: to be able to worship God and to listen to the preach from the speaker on screen. I certainly can see him as he stares back at me, only that he cannot actually see me, nor, for that matter, can he see anyone else gazing at him, but instead, he looks into a camera and at the same time keeping track on how many are tuned in. But it's the bit after the service is over when chatting rooms come on screen. Here, not only can I literally talk to the person on screen but we can actually see each other as well. It was as if talking through a windowpane.

About nothing worth watching on TV. Here we have two other channels we can rely on. One is the BBC Iplayer, where I can watch the hour-long travel documentaries presented by Simon Reeve which I normally miss on TV, along with other programmes. The other website is YouTube. And one set of videos has recently caught our attention and that is by Prowalk Tours. Unlike most travel presenters, who love to stare into the camera and narrate, this fellow simply walks along, holding his video camera aloft on a pole. This gives the impression that as he walks, it's as if the viewer himself is walking and filming. There is no vocal narration nor any background music. Instead, his footsteps can be heard crunching on the gravel, along with the voices of talking passersby.

One of his videos was about his ascent to the crater of Mt. Vesuvio, with the walk starting and finishing at the car park. It was very enlightening. The modernisation of such a tourist attraction has become well-advanced since my actual visit to the volcano in 1973. Where in my day the footpath leading to the rim was nothing more than a band of light dirt streaking along the barren, ash-laden slope, now there is a proper trail, fenced in on both sides with a trestle of logs and wide enough for up to six people to walk abreast. Where in 1973 I was practically the sole walker, in the video the path was very busy with mostly families walking in both directions.

But then, such a video looks to be almost too perfect. I guess it has to be for public viewing. Not like in my day when nearing the crater, the heavens opened, and the torrential downpour, consisting of marble-sized raindrops, had soaked me in seconds before I spotted a natural alcove in the lava cliff, where I had taken refuge before some kind driver offered me a lift back to Naples. Not to worry. I managed to successfully reach the crater on the next day after another hiking attempt from sea-level.

In reality, such mishaps such as a sudden rainstorm make the adventure so much more exciting! Too bad such don't show on YouTube videos. After all, there are no mountains of real success without valleys of failure in between.

But the near-perfection of video shooting can be appreciated more so if it was shot at a location where I had never set foot. Capri is one such location. Yet as a fledgeling backpacker of the early seventies, after arriving by train into Stazione Napoli Centrale, I couldn't help notice the posters featuring I Faraglioni on display around the terminus. These are natural stacks jutting out from the south coast of the island, and it's one of the main features symbolising the whole of Italy throughout the tourism industry. But back then, I wasn't aware that they were not part of the mainland. Instead, I thought that these stacks were of nearby Sorrento. 

I Faraglioni Stacks, Capri.

After finding a hotel at the Piazza near the station and asking whether there's a room available, I settled in, intending to check out the city itself. But more importantly, I Scavi di Pompeii was a must for my visit, along with a must-see of the crater of Vesuvio. Sorrento can wait until another day. 

And this is how Prowalk Tours had shone quite a light on Capri. As the cameraman walked along through the maze of narrow streets, I began to get acquainted with the island until I began to feel that I have actually visited. However, there are some setbacks. One is looking at those stacks from a height without walking down to the very foot of the stack which nearside is still part of the land. Nor was seen the second stack, out at sea, which had a natural arch through where cruise boats carrying tourists passed under.

I happen to be very fortunate to have travelled in a way I did. I guess I'm one of the fulfilment of Holy Scripture where it says that in the latter days, men shall run to and fro and knowledge shall increase, Daniel 12:4 KJV. The advance of technical sciences along with skyrocketing travel seems to have come as no surprise for the Holy Spirit.

But I was equally intrigued by King David's cry of despair when he expresses his wish to grow wings like a bird so he could fly away to rest and take respite. He actually wrote,

Oh, that I had wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. (Psalm 55:6.)

If only David knew what the Holy Spirit had already known, some three thousand years before fulfilment! Indeed, we do "have wings like a dove and have flown away to find rest." The tourism industry is fixed on that very purpose - to find rest from the day-to-day stresses of modern living. Of course, David visualised having his own pair of wings resembling that of a bird (or even an angel) yet would have never imagined a metal tube with two huge metal wings and with a capacity to hold more than a hundred passengers. But the Holy Spirit had already known.

And there is another very astonishing prophecy found in the Revelation of St John, and that is of the Two Witnesses of Revelation 11. John records that during their ministry "the beast out of the Abyss" attacks and kills them. Whether this "beast" is the Antichrist himself or his agents, we cannot be sure. The crunch of the matter is that whilst the two bodies lying dead in the streets of Jerusalem, they are observed by the whole world all at once. This would include people living in Australia, North and South America, Africa, all of Europe and Asia, everybody will be able to see the two bodies simultaneously, verses 8-10.

Although many interpreters believe that the two witnesses will be Moses and Elijah, I tend to believe that one of them will be Enoch rather than Moses. In the Old Testament, Enoch and Elijah were the only two men in the whole of history to have been taken to heaven alive, without facing death. Moreover, if the one was Moses, he would have needed to die twice, the first time at Mt Nebo as recorded in Deuteronomy 34. As physical death is the gateway for every believer into the eternal presence of God, both Enoch and Elijah must face death sometime within human history.

For many centuries, commentators were baffled on how could the whole world observe these two lying at a specific location. Then in the 1970s, author Hal Lindsey was sure that this problem was solved by the development of Telstar Television. This was a big leap forward. But with his prediction that the 1980s was the countdown to Armageddon, the turn of the new millennium came and went with no divine intervention, as Lindsey had never thought of the idea of the internet in his time.

As far as we presently know, it does look as if the Internet will be the media used for the observance of these two witnesses by the entire global population. It will be an act of God's grace for, at their resurrection and ascension into Heaven, many in terror will turn in repentance to God, a demonstration of worldwide salvation which by then only modern technology can help bring about.

"If only I had wings like a dove, I'll fly away..."

However, this scenario is based only on what I can see and observe at the present. Nobody knows when the coming of Christ is due, and who knows, there could be even greater wizardry in service before he returns, gadgets that may not be around until after my own passing, and technology I cannot at present imagine. But neither was any of our own technology ever imagined by past generations, let alone by the Romans.

Nor by the ancient Israelites who were camped near Mount Sinai, and were ready to receive the Decalogue. While the Ten Commandments were given out, God knew everything about modern technology which will not arrive until some 3,500 years later.

Just as God has every day of our lives marked and a specific number of them to be lived by every individual, according to Psalm 139, then while we all thread through this pandemic, we can be assured that it was all written down long before the beginning of time, and thus, we can trust him.

And that includes the moment when I stood at the rim of Vesuvio's crater, trusting it would not suddenly erupt.