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Saturday, 16 June 2018

English Bible Written by Foreigners?

I sat up last week when the morning service announcements were read out at our church. For it was announced that at the evening service, this graduate, whom I will refer to as Charlie, will be giving a talk about Creation. I was alerted. Creation is right up my street, and I was already interested on what kind of opinion Charlie will have to share on it.

And so that evening I made a special effort to cycle to our church at North Ascot. But my misunderstanding on the time the service actually commences meant that I arrived more than thirty minutes early. This half hour was designated for pre-service coffee and cake refreshments, and having had tea at home earlier, it felt to me to be a good idea to take a stroll into the North Ascot residential estate for the threefold reason of digesting my last meal, doing some extra exercise, and killing excess time. Fortunately the weather was fair, dry and warm, appropriate in Southern England on a typical June Sunday.

Our church at North Ascot.

About fifty metres further along the sidewalk, another regular church member was approaching in the opposite direction. It was unusual for him to be alone, not having his wife accompany him was not the norm. As we were about to pass each other, I smiled up to him and bade good evening. Instead of acknowledging my greeting as any polite gentleman would do to someone he knew well, he grimaced as he held his silence and walked on towards the church building, as he would to anyone he doesn't like. As for me, to forgive plays an important role in my walk with God. Jesus taught it, even to the extent that if a brother sins as much as seven by seventy times, he must be forgiven that many times, even whether it's 77 or 490 times a day! (Matthew 18:21-22). Even when considering physical health alone, to forgive will spare the merciful person from a multitude of illnesses.

I approached the road junction at the middle of the residential estate, where I paused to look around. Indeed it was quite a posh area, a layout of privately-owned homes, inhabited by predominantly middle class residents. However, the quietness of the traffic-free streets was sad in a way but of no real surprise. Back in my boyhood days it would have been common to watch boys playing football or cricket (without allowing the ball to break a window), while the girls were out playing hopscotch, house or schools. Kid's voices echoed through the street, from time to time a scuffle would erupt, and occasionally a boy could be seen running or walking back home in tears. Such was the rough and tumble of growing up, the excess energy well and truly spent, and given little or no chance for obesity to set in.

But as I stood at the road junction on a typical early Summer Sunday tea-time, the stillness and the quietness of the estate had somehow gotten to me. Imagining every family sitting in front of the TV, their teenage sons shut in their own bedrooms and glued to the play station, Facebook or whatever, the well-known but unbiblical phrase The Englishman's Home is his Castle looks very appropriate in North Ascot. And much more so as I passed one residence as I made my way back to the church, what seems to be some argument taking place at the front door between a female householder and a caller.

The grimacing pedestrian I passed earlier lives on or near the estate. Very English, as I have known him for a number of years, he has a tendency to look up in awe to graduates but despises commoners who may hold different opinions. He has already condemned me to an eternity in Hell - not because of any possibility of deliberately rejecting Jesus Christ as Saviour, but because I am not in the middle-class academic realm, and therefore my own tendency to hug other men is seen by him as a transgression of Englishness.

Crazy, isn't it? In truth, I wish that the risen Jesus of Nazareth would materialise in front of me and give me a long embrace, his nail-scarred hands tapping gently on my back and giving it a gentle stroke as he showers me with love and affection. I guess I have to wait until the afterlife before I can have that experience. Instead, I belong to a church which within includes a few middle-class eccentrics and academic weirdos, who either cannot accept the Bible as literal history or finding difficulty in doing so. As was the case with Charlie, whom the grimacing pedestrian adores.

Charlie is quite an academic in his own right, whose graduation on Middle East political history has enabled him to write books on the subject, although at this point in time still awaiting publication. With myself believing him to be one of many patriots who voted for Britain to leave the EU, I also have an awareness of the possibility of him being a supporter and follower of Jacob Rees Mogg, sometimes addressed as Moggy, the posh Conservative politician and fanatic Brexit supporter and a patriot with an Etonian and Oxford University Alma Mater, and having a plum tone of voice to boot. Such an ideal Englishman adored by many within the Centre-Right wing political circles, and whose active Roman Catholic faith has attracted comments from his critics as one politician being disillusioned with his imaginary pixie in the sky.

With his academic and political standing established in my mind, I listened carefully to Charlie's preach, and as I have previously suspected, he did not take the first chapter of Genesis as literal history, but as a poetical form parallel to an ancient Mesopotamian tablet, the Enuma Elish, a Babylonian text very similar to the Gilgamesh Epic, also from Babylon, the latter I'm more familiar with. The Enuma Elish and the Gilgamesh Epic are both very similar in context in a sense that they both relate to Biblical events as recorded in Genesis, the first dealing with Creation whilst the latter is about Noah's Flood. Both were to do with warring gods, bickering deities who initiated Creation out of war and revenge rather than a demonstration of God's love and Creative powers. Furthermore, secular academics have placed the Gilgamesh Epic above Genesis in literature status, insisting that Genesis was copied from the Epic, therefore granting the Babylonian text as having greater authority than the Biblical narrative. Therefore it was of no surprise when Charlie placed the Enuma Elish at equal standing with the Bible as being poetical and non-historical in context.

Fragments of Enuma Elish tablet

The Enuma Elish was something new to me, and in a way I thank Charlie for opening up a wealth of knowledge at my disposal. Checking on the Internet, it looks as though Charlie composed his preach from author Pete Enns, who has written books on Biblical history, as well as blogs to the website Bio-Logos, a site centred on Theistic Evolution, or as they refer to as Evolutionary Creationism. One of Pete Enns' articles is about Enuma Elish, and it looked to have been the bedrock for Charlie's sermon.

I have had a good look through several articles presented in Bio-Logos, and I came to the realisation that this website is more approachable than Creation Ministries International website, the latter which tend to have a cutting edge with its articles and general presentation, as if constantly defending itself from heavy opposition and even mockery from the secular world. Creation Ministries International has always been highly critical of Bio-Logos for compromising with Darwin's theories, with no fewer than 550 articles one way or another firing criticism at the website.

But despite Bio-Logos more gentle approach to the reader, I cannot accept Theistic Evolution as a bedrock for Biblical Creationism, at least for one very important reason. That is, if Theistic Evolution is a reality, then Adam and Eve had parents, and maybe thousands of brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, and cousins too who all died natural deaths. If death was already at work among men before the fall, then that totally invalidates the Atonement made by Jesus Christ on the Cross, and also invalidates the Resurrection. That means that Christ is powerless to save us and our faith remains futile. Christ atoned for us because of the sin of our first parents, the sole head couple of all mankind. There is no alternative.

It is true that the course of creation as narrated in the first chapter of Genesis poses problems. For example, the land and the seas was created on the second day, the sun, moon and stars came to being on the fourth day, after all vegetation was created on the third day. Therefore where the source of light was from day one and how the dividing of day from night which occurred on the same day came to be, we are not told. But it is taught, and therefore to be accepted with faith. Later, God himself endorses and confirms the historicity of his literal six-day Creation to the Hebrews by ushering in the Sabbath day as the Fourth Commandment in the Decalogue, explaining a literal six-day creation followed by his rest on the seventh. I would go on to say that, after the completion of day six, the forces of Creation during those six days are not in force now. From day seven, which was in itself God's day of rest, the forces of creative power ended and it has not been in operation ever since to this day.

With the historicity of Genesis held to question, here is another opportunity to demonstrate the historicity of Holy Scripture by means of simple arithmetical calculations. In this case, there is another mystery which seemed to remain unexplained, and that is the mystery of Melchizedek, the king of Salem at the time of Abraham. Therefore, what does the writer of Hebrews mean when he says that this priest "is from everlasting to everlasting, without father or mother, he remains a priest forever."-? (Hebrews 7:3). Do we have two priests at work on our behalf, Melchizedek and Jesus Christ?

It was by coming across a Jewish quote about a Hebrew tradition saying that Melchizedek was actually Shem, the son of Noah, and of whom Noah blessed the Lord, the God of Shem (Genesis 9:26). So I decided to look into this. So with just pencil and paper, I was able to work out that two years after the Flood, Shem became the father of Arphaxad at the age of a hundred years (Genesis 11:10-26). In turn, Arphaxad became the father of Shelah at age 35 years. After this, Shelah became the father of Eber at thirty years of age (Eber is the original name from which the word Hebrew arose). And so right down to Abraham. By adding the ages of each father at his son's birth (and not their full age), Shem was already 390 years old when Abraham was born, and when the two met after rescuing Lot at the battle of the kings, Abraham was between 80-84 years of age, making Shem between 470-474 years of age. By the time Abraham died at the age of 175 years, Shem was 565 years old, and actually lived on for another 35 years until he himself died at age 600 years, according to Genesis 11:10, with the first 100 years already lived before the Flood.

This is where being without parents made sense to Abraham. After the Flood, Noah himself lived for a further 350 years after the Flood, making a total lifespan of 950 years - the first 600 years during the antediluvian age. When Noah died 350 years after the Flood, Abraham was already alive and he was already 60 years old. This was more than twenty years before Shem met Abraham to receive the tithe. The chances of Abraham ever meeting Noah, I guess, would have been very slim, if not at all, as Abraham did not travel that north. In fact, at 60, he was still in the Mesopotamian area, as he did not enter Canaan until 75 years old (Genesis 12:4-5). There would be no logical reason why Noah would have migrated from near Mount Ararat in present Eastern Turkey if, according to Scripture, he had planted a vineyard there. What I can make of it all, Shem being the same man as Melchizedek makes good sense and therefore re-enforces the historicity of the Bible, especially Genesis.

Which brings me to ask why, in the fifth chapter of Genesis, each patriarch, including Noah himself, was concluded with the words, and he died? For example:
When Seth lived 105 years, he became the father of Enosh. And after he became the father of Enosh, Seth lived for 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether Seth lived for 912 years and he died. (5:6-8).

But in chapter 11:10-32, with a full list of post-diluvian patriarchs, not one was concluded with the words, and he died. By doing the reckoning as discussed above, it became clear that all the post-diluvian patriarchs were still alive during Abraham's lifetime. This may explain the difference between chapter five and chapter eleven, where in the latter, the words and he died does not appear.

By doing a little bit of calculating, I can verify the historicity of the Bible, and not relegated into the realm of myth or mere poetry. I think it is a grievous error to mythologise Genesis, or come to that, any part of the Bible. But so unfortunate it is, when Englishness has that knack of playing down the historicity of Holy Scripture in order to exalt himself on a national level, is to play the role of supremacy, even if it is possible, to exalt himself above God. As I have come across over and over again, the Englishman has a tendency to think of himself above all foreigners in all nationalistic, cultural and academic circles. It may not be done deliberately or openly, although there are far-right groups who do just that. Rather, it lies in the subconscious. The Englishman cannot help thinking the way he does. Although I cannot claim to be a mind-reader, these set of ideas seem to play well with the grimacing pedestrian's rudeness.

The Bible is not an English book. None of it was written by the English. Instead it was written by foreigners, almost entirely by Jews living in the Middle East, and then much later translated into English. Maybe, just a thought, if the English such as the grimacing pedestrian, had a far greater awe and reverential respect for the historicity and truthfulness of the Bible than the awe he has for a fellow academic, then who knows, Darwinism may not have got to where it is now.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Self Worth? The Three Zeroes...

When retired, there are things I could do midweek which I had no time for throughout my years as an earner. Such as sitting at table at the Santa Fe Coffee bar located within a bookstore at the newly-developed Town Centre shopping precinct, with a newspaper spread out in front. This week was of no exception. One afternoon, I took a fleeting glance at a fellow customer sitting two tables away, facing me. Then I dug into reading the newspaper when a young and rather pretty waitress from Eastern Europe (going by her accent) arrived at my table to deliver my order. She was smiling with politeness, which is part of her duty etiquette. When all the items were set in place, she quickly left.

Then she went over to the other table to deliver the other customer's order. A conversation struck up between the two and remained ongoing for what could be for up to ten minutes. I couldn't help feel a pang of jealousy as the conversation progressed, with the waitress apparently swooning at the fellow's charms. I had to look up. The man, about half my age, sported some facial hair and was wearing a business shirt unbuttoned at the neck and without a tie. I could see straightaway that he has a university degree. His facial features radiated high intelligence and a scholarly expression - a far cry from my own working class background as a retired Window Cleaner. On his table, beside the coffee mug was a small laptop - most likely that one gadget which fired up the waitress's admiration, as if a confirmation of the fellow's intelligent facial expression.

Within my feeling of jealousy, I was thankful for my present status as a well-established married man. By continuing to read the paper following the end of the conversation, I was able to allow my pangs of jealousy gradually melt away. But supposing I was still single? True enough, I have male friends close to my age who remain unmarried to this day. Some of then did attend uni, others did not. But I knew perfectly well that such awareness wouldn't have added a crumb of comfort to a far more intense feeling of jealousy at that coffee bar. Indeed, the waitress was pretty, wearing a top with a low neckline that would stimulate the desire of any red-blooded male. I have often wondered whether such women serving the public deliberately dress provocatively to attract male attention. 

Santa Fe Coffee Bar, Bracknell, UK - where I call regularly.

As with me, I married later in life, in my late forties. Before then, especially in my thirties and forties, the opposite gender never gave me a second look. Any potential relationship which could have started up, especially when I was in my twenties, quickly fizzled out, thanks to my speech impediment and accent, which had nothing to do with having a foreign background. Rather, it was the result of something I was totally unaware of until I was already married and a father of two daughters - Asperger's Syndrome (AS).

AS is something so subtle and so unlike any physical disease or illness. It affects far more boys than girls, and sufferers often have above-average intelligence. I have a good, long-standing friend with AS, whose IQ matches any member of Mensa, and also fluent in at least two languages. Although quite good-looking in facial features, as far as I'm aware, throughout his sixty years of life he remains single to this day, never having an ongoing relationship with a female. 

Going by what I have seen, I don't think he had ever suffered personal rejection either. Although just a guess, I wouldn't put it behind me that my friend's extraordinary high intelligence, his office career and middle class English background each played a role in personal absolution from teasing or verbal assault. Unlike me, as already shared in a previous blog,* the verbal and vitriolic bullying whilst serving as a volunteer in Israel during 1994 was the nadir of rejection, ridicule and assault - an experience my highly intelligent friend would not have suffered had he been where I was at that time. However, my time in Israel was by no means a unique experience. I was teased by two other young women, especially during my mid to late twenties, and in my previous church. Indeed, exactly like in Israel, this verbal assault came from those who professed to be Christians, and one was influenced by the other.

Whether those two were Christians remains debatable. One eventually married, but not long afterwards, they divorced. The other left our church after such a short time and was never seen again. But even to this day, a couple of young married women from our church seem to feel uncomfortable in my presence, as if my tone of voice, caused by AS, is something of an embarrassment to them. Fortunately, I'm far more acceptable by other men, and particularly by the students. And talking about the students - as one who scroll through Facebook on a frequent basis, they often appear photographed in suits and ties, even bow ties for the men and evening dress for the women. Not only as if having an obsession with middle class status, but from a very different planet to the one I grew up on.

If only they realise how fortunate they are! Out of school into college - sorry, university - and then into some high-flying office career with a respectable income. Quite unlike me back in 1968. The year I left school on a Friday and started work in a family-owned furniture factory soon after. And my first task? Yes, picking up the broom handle. And not allowed to forget that I was at the bottom rung of the ladder, the small fry, the lowest of the pecking order, and I was treated as such as I pushed the broom across the floor. Such lowness none of the students at our church will ever be unfortunate enough to experience or even suffer.

No posing outside college in suits and ties for me as a teenager, no evening ballroom entertainment or posh dinners with close friends. And with a self-worth which is close to zero, if not already there. The temptation for suicide came and went but fortunately with conversion towards the end of 1972, such temptations faded and I began to see everything in a new light. This included making good use of my single status instead of moaning about it. Rather, I turned it to my favour. With the experience of being a lowly dogsbody already under my belt and the mental toughness which grew out of it, I was able to fulfil my adolescent dreams with world travel, especially as a lone backpacker.

How our church students appear on Facebook - Stock photo.

However, self-worth seems to be in short supply whenever failure at school occur here in the UK. Television interviews relates well with young teenagers who fear for their future unless they pass their exams and get the grades. What amazes me is that unless they graduate and get their grades, there is absolutely no hope for their future. I can't help thinking: I left school with zilch, but half a century later I'm still here, and with a story or two to tell. According to statistics, in 2016 there were nearly 6,000 suicides committed here in the UK, 75% of these deaths were men, peaking at the age range of 40-44 years of age.** Could a lack of personal worthiness be the bottom cause of these statistics? When considering the numbers being roughly similar year in, year out, such events as a divorce notice posted by wives after their kids fly the nest, or loss of a job, or financial difficulties with debt piling sky-high, addiction to drugs, any of these could link to failure in life and a resulting loss of any self-worth.

Therefore it came as a surprise to me that what I had to share at our church's recent "open" meeting seemed to have uncovered hidden feelings among those listening. An open meeting is a Sunday service without the normal sermon, but instead anyone in the congregation can come to the front and share what God has given. The whole congregation always praising God with such positiveness each week and looking contented, I managed to stand at the front and lifted the lid on what was really going on on a day-to-day basis, away from the church building and away from all other Christians.

I shared on the struggle involved with caring for a physically disabled loved one. Sudden intense pains leading to the need to call the ambulance for a trip to hospital, where she is treated with Morphine and other strong painkillers before discharge and a taxi ride home, often in the small hours. These "downers" - as I call them, are imminent  - each one can occur suddenly at any moment. After watching my wife go down with severe pain whilst on a day trip to London on Easter Monday and ending up at a London hospital, I felt that our planned trip to France later this year on the Eurostar had to be cancelled, as we take the National Health service, which is free to all UK citizens at the point of use, for granted. In France, we may be landed with a bill of several thousand pounds for the same treatment. Also "living on a knife-edge" would spoil the enjoyment of any holiday.

Therefore I shared my failing faith, believing that God has let us down, and prayer was a waste of time and effort. After all, God had more important things to tend to. Why should he deviate from what he is doing just to fulfil our wishes? How worthless we really are! Why on earth should God be concerned about us? I then shared what Abraham, King David and the prophet Isaiah had each said about their own self-worth in comparison to God's glory.

These were three of the greatest men of God recorded in Scripture. Here they were, alive between four thousand and 2,700 years ago, and we not only know their names, their genealogy, and their jobs, but we also know what they said and what they got up to, along with their experiences in their lifetimes. Over thousands of years. Contrast this to deceased celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, David Bowie or Priscilla Black. I doubt that much will be known about them in fifty years from now, let alone what they actually said. And us commoners? Taking myself as an example, nobody would know of me less than half a century after my demise.

Abraham was considered a friend of God. But one day he found himself interceding for Sodom, because God was about to destroy that city along with its sister Gomorrah. As Abraham was pleading, he also felt that he was putting the Almighty's patience to the test, so he confessed that he is nothing more than dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27).

King David, who was still a Prince at the time, was being pursued by King Saul with his desire to take the young man's life. At one point David felt exasperated, asking a question: Who am I but a flea or a dead dog? (1 Samuel 24:14, 1 Samuel 26:20). I understand that the flea is the smallest living creature which can be seen with the naked eye - just. Furthermore, a dead dog left lying on the ground, and unless consumed by vultures and other scavengers, will eventually stink and become the food for maggots and other disgusting things. So much of his own self-worth before God!

The prophet Isaiah I consider another example. There he is standing at the Temple of God in Jerusalem, and the Almighty reveals himself to him, his glory filling the temple. Isaiah then cries out:
Woe is me. For I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips and dwell among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty (Isaiah 6:5).

Along with the Apostle Paul, who wrote: For I know that in my flesh dwells no good thing...(Romans 7:18) - which corresponds well with the testimony of the other three witnesses. And before his conversion to Jesus Christ, Paul was an outstanding and dedicated Jewish scholar who also looked down upon all non-Jews and "sinners", yet his former religion is now considered as excrement compared to the glory of Christ living in him (Philippians 3:8).

This was the general trend I shared with Ascot Life Church during the open meeting. It must have had an impact. Before I returned to my seat, two men came up to me and started praying for me and my wife, and also praised God for my courage in revealing honesty, the truth of my spiritual heart condition. After the end of the service, one or two others came up to me and admitted that they often feel that way before God - that God has let them down or is too far away.

I am but dust and ashes. I am but a flea. And I have unclean lips. Without the Atonement made by Jesus Christ, these would be exactly a good description of myself as I stand before God. It is a dreadful truth but reality nevertheless. It's exactly the same as standing under the shadow of the Cross.

David Bowie (d. 2016) Would we still remember him after 50 years?

Under the shadow of the Cross, it no longer matters whether I voted for Brexit or to remain in the EU. Social class becomes irrelevant, as my occupation in relation to social status. All of these has lost all value or relevance. As with wealth. What use is it once we step off this planet? Or our high level of education. Would that add a single cubit to the afterlife? Like dry ash scattered by the breeze, a shrivelled leaf blown away by the wind, a dead dog's stinking corpse gradually eaten by maggots - what use is it campaigning for the sovereign of our country and the glory of England's future - if that what we really are before God?

Sometimes I question the wisdom of mankind - especially of my own countrymen. We sing for England's glory after Brexit, we also proclaim the salvation of our God through faith in Jesus Christ. But it seems, these are all cover ups of our own inadequacies, our lack of self-worth, regardless of what our education level or profession may be. Indeed, Sunday by Sunday, we may indeed hold our hands up in the air (but in reality we don't even do that - it's not British!) - but afterwards, when we are all alone at home or at work, we may ponder whether God is really with us, or are we after some ecstatic spiritual experience to boost ourselves up?

*For a more detailed account of this experience in Israel, click here.
** Office of National Statistics.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Both of Us in Need of a Miracle

Our present marriage relationship looks to be well admired by those around us, particular among other Christians. Over the past twelve months I was approached by two grooms for advice just prior to their nuptials. And I gave advice or guidance to one or two others since. I for one, would not hesitate to admit that the strength of our marriage comes from the grace of God. I have always been convinced that our time of meeting, our compatibility and even our age difference were not by chance nor by accident but by the foreknowledge and perfect plan of God.

Three daughters were born of our union. It was the firstborn who really changed my life. How much I loved and adored her! It wasn't long before she accompanied me wherever I went, that is of course, except to work. And during the morning small hours, whenever our child awoke and cried, it was always I who got out of bed to meet her needs, allowing my wife to sleep on uninterrupted. I became quite an expert in diaper change, bathing, and sometimes feeding as well. The latter more so whenever my firstborn accompanied me wherever I went, that is, except to work. The times I took her downtown, even on several train trips to Reading, and even on a day trip to London - just the two of us. How could I ever forget that afternoon when I took her to where I attended college on a weekly day-release some 36 years earlier, and watched her running freely in the gardens fronting the building located in East London, the same gardens I was familiar with as a student throughout the late sixties. These father/daughter outings came about mainly after our second daughter was born three years after our first. The general idea why I took my firstborn out was to give my wife some relief from raising both our daughters whilst I was at work. 

And there were times we went out all together as a family. Seaside day trips to Brighton were common, along with family trips to London and Reading. There was a time we took a catamaran for a week's camping holiday in Jersey, another time when we spent a week at a hotel in Penzance, yet another when we spent a week at a caravan at Par Sands, east from the Cornish town of St. Austell and also next to the magnificent shoreline of Polperro Heritage Coast. Another Cornish trip included the beautiful and rather quaint port of Mevagissey, on the Roseland Heritage Coast. And I just remembered a week at the Isle of Wight. Then not to forget our firstborn's first birthday when we spent the day at London Zoo. We have always believed that we did our best for our daughters, fed and clothed them well, took them to beautiful places, but most important of all, showered them with as much love and affection as we were able.

Mevagissey, Cornwall.

Indeed, as we love each other to this day, indeed, we still love our daughters to bits, as any parents in their right minds would regardless of circumstance.

However, it was later discovered that we both have mild autism, or Asperger's syndrome, a faulty wiring of our brains since gestation. But before then we were mystified on why the health visitor had concerns about the way we exhibited our character and parenting skills. In the course of time we found ourselves on the Child Protection Register for the duration of four months from November 2004 to February 2005, and looked upon as the worst time period in my entire life. I say these things now, after thirteen years, but not until after a decade later, because being on the CPR, I felt like a criminal. I was too embarrassed to share any of these things before 2014 or -15.

For convenience sake I'll refer to our social worker as Wendy. At first, I thought Wendy could be a help for us. We showed our hospitality by offering her refreshments such as tea or coffee. But she refused every offer. Whether this was her own choice or keeping with her job regulations, I couldn't tell. But it did not take long at all for her to reveal her true character, despite our first willingness to submit to her. For example, being on the CPR, Alex in particular was not allowed to be alone with our daughters whilst I was out at work, or out of the house in general. Wendy was quite strict on this, and can be prone to nastiness and impatience. What hurt me most of all was how Wendy treated Alex - like as if she was an imbecile - and together with her surprise that I happen to own a mobile phone, I found her to be insulting. To be truthful, I did leave Alex alone in the house with our daughters from time to time, knowing perfectly well that no harm will come to anyone. This was especially when I had to go out in the evening to meet some work responsibilities, for example, to collect window cleaning fees from customers who were out during the day - these fees when combined makes up our weekly income. It was when she discovered this "breach of the rules" that tensions between Wendy and myself grew to greater intensity.

Wendy, who back then was in her late twenties or early thirties, was a self-confessed atheist with a very short temper who looked down on us as social inferiors, probably gotten through her time at university, where she read on the works and research from well-known past psychiatrists and psychologists, some of them having had occult connections. A patriotic with a strong support for social class and Darwinism, she made sure that we knew of her superiority, even with her salary. A heated argument between Wendy and myself during February 2005 led to our two daughters taken from us when the Police and another social worker entered our home at three in the morning to take our daughters away for fostering. Leaving Alex screaming and prone to self-injury, our girls had never set foot in our house again. Neither was there any sympathy or compassion within Wendy's heart for us after our daughters were taken. Instead she spitted out hatred and anger. Not without reason. Her boss had given her several weeks notice to clear her desk.

This is one of life's great mysteries. How on Earth did someone such as Wendy land a job as a children's Social Worker? It was even admitted that her own office colleagues disliked her, just as our daughter's nursery school teachers disliked her as well. Her quick-tempered, impatient choleric temperament was definitely unsuited for the children's team. I even recall her at the Family Court after our daughters were taken from us for temporary fostering. She was accompanied by her supervisor, an older and a far more amenable woman. Also when Wendy visited our home for the very last time, after the children were taken, she arrived escorted by her supervisor. It all seem to confirm what I have overheard at our initial Conference back in November. Apparently the last family she dealt with fled to Scotland to escape her clutches. We were her last chance to prove herself, and sure enough, she failed. She had to go. But not before destroying our family. 

At the Isle of Wight with my firstborn.

Which led me to be offered a platform by the Berkshire Adoption Agency whose office was in Windsor. Here in my home town of Bracknell I was escorted to an empty office, quite likely the very room Wendy formerly occupied, and I became a key representative of the Berkshire Father's Group, a group of Dads across Berkshire who had all lost their children against their will for adoption. Why was I not surprised that all the Dads whom I met in that group were from a working class background? Not one middle-class father in sight. I was then interviewed by the agent. Here I explained that going by my experiences with Wendy, my opinion was that she was never suited for the job as Children's Social Worker. I also explained that whilst at the Family Court, I managed to take a peek at Wendy's CV lying unattended on a desk whilst she was momentary absent, perhaps talking to an official. She emphasised her attendance at a posh girl's school before attending university. She listed all her qualifications on her CV, school and college alike with much detail.

And there is the rub. Wendy, who was employed by an agency rather than directly by the Council, was hired because of her educational qualifications and her degree in humanistic studies, and not because she had an empathy towards families, whether parents or children alike. Or to put it another way, she wanted a job where she can be in control. I also blamed her employers for "bowing the knee" - so to speak - at her academic qualifications without taking into consideration that her character and personality remains incompatible with the job at hand. I then said that her employers must realise that such an occupation involves supporting people - people with lives to lead, with responsibilities, and with free will, thoughts and emotions, and not as mere factory-made products.

The agent was taking down notes. Did I make an effort to shake the whole local Social Service Department down to its foundations? I really hope that I did. I campaigned and pressed hard that such hiring of unsuitable candidates will never happen again. Social work is about empathy, not academic qualifications. So I said at that interview.

Over the years, to live in a deafeningly silent house took some taking used to. Fortunately, the use of both Hi-Fi and television, and later the introduction of the laptop proved to be immensely beneficial. However for months even years following our daughter's adoption, I experienced fits of intense rage. I had visions of the perfect murder! But there was nothing I could ever do. After her dismissal, Wendy disappeared completely, apparently out of our area entirely, for she was never seen again. Not only was I enraged at Wendy for destroying our family, but with the whole of England and with the English, because Wendy was the personification of England and its culture. She was a State official, representing the State. Her supreme boss was sitting as a member of the Cabinet at 10 Downing Street, home of Her Majesty's Government.

Then some three years after our first two daughters were adopted, Alex gave birth to our third daughter. The Social Services were then around us like bees around honey (informed by our GP). But this time, at the Conference to re-enter our names on the Child Protection Register, my wife and I both agree to give our daughter away for adoption, as long as we remain off the Register. It was agreed. The reason for this was not just for our welfare. Equally important, it was for our daughter's wellbeing as well. If being on the CPR means a repeat of Wendy-like experiences, then our daughter would have grown up in a very unhappy environment. She would have suffered mentally, emotionally, then later physically as well. Far better to give her away on a voluntarily basis to a couple who would provide her with a happy home and a safe environment. Fortunately, her adoptive parents are committed Christians.

Over the intervening years to the present, our marriage grew stronger as we learn to support each other. Much of this came by recognising the sovereignty of God, to give my wife all the love, support and comfort as she grieves over her loss. Also her mental state may be connected with her encroaching disability until, after spending four months in hospital during the Autumn of 2013, she now gets about in a motorised wheelchair I bought for her. However, I have committed all three of our daughters to God's care, and my prayer being that he will touch their hearts, just as he did ours. To hear that all three have trusted Jesus Christ as Saviour would be the best news we could ever hear.

So the reason for writing such a blog as this one? Over an incident which took place a few evenings ago. I told Alex that I have forgiven Wendy and her associates for what she had done. In actual fact, I have forgiven her a few years ago. Not for her sake but for my sake, and to allow God to have his will fulfilled in my life. Therefore when I made a passing statement to Alex that I have forgiven Wendy, she went into hysteria. Shedding buckets of tears, she asked how could I possibly do such a thing? What kind of a husband am I? They are our children. She then went unconscious, and because such emotions causes her breathing muscles to tighten, I had to enable her to breathe properly by manipulating her chest. I was that close to panic and the need to call an ambulance.

She eventually came to, but there was a coldness towards me. Instead of petting and affectionate talk, as was the norm, she told me to go to my computer because she just wants to sleep. I tried to persuade her that I'm no traitor. It was no intention to show her betrayal. Feeling lonely on the computer, I played a video on You-Tube, Cold As Christmas by Elton John. Has our marriage came to an end? The coldness remained for the rest of the next day. Only now our marriage is restoring itself to normality.

Alex is unable to forgive Wendy. To her, she destroyed our family and therefore cannot be forgiven for it. That may be the reason for her present disability. It is a viscous circle she remains locked into. As Jesus himself said,
Without me ye can do nothing - John 15:5.

Alex cannot forgive Wendy in her own strength. Only the Spirit of God could soften her heart to the extent in changing her mind. In other words, she needs a miracle. As a matter of fact, we both need a miracle. A miracle to reveal the power of God in our lives that would forever change us for the better. 


Saturday, 26 May 2018

A Hidden Secret in the Campground.

Tim and I finally arrived at Corfe Castle camping site one Spring Bank Holiday Saturday in the year 2000, after driving me there in his car. Camping was never my ideal of spending the night, but I knew that Tim loved it, having spent his youth as a member of the Boy Scouts, as well as being a keen rugby player at school. A typical Brit of the times, one who is not given to emotionalism, perhaps rather unlike me. As one of his mates who spent his post-college days residing as a lodger, Tim was described "as sensitive as a brick." It wasn't long after arrival at the rather attractive-looking campsite when each of our tents was fully assembled and secured in place, one beside the other.

But that night, the roof of my tent was resounding with the heavy clatter of raindrop impact, the loud noise keeping me awake. Such torrential downpours are typical in Dorset, a coastal region on the West Country peninsula of England jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. However, this time the heavy rainfall lacked the flashing lightning and crashing thunder which shook the area whilst staying at Lulworth Cove Youth Hostel four years earlier in 1996. 

Tim poked his head through my tent door and asked whether he could share my tent for the rest of the night, as his had sprung a leak and was letting the rainwater in. Of course, I had no objection, he was welcome. 

We spent the next day hiking the West Coast Path towards Kimmeridge Bay. It was during this hike that my foot sunk into a mud puddle created by the previous night's rain, and as I pulled my foot out, the puddle protested with a loud squelch. I then complained why I always preferred the city streets. His response to my excess emotionalism was akin to saying, "Don't be so wimpish! Man up!"

I then told him of my experience as a young boy, when my primary school class made a weekly coach trip to Richmond Park, west of London. On one occasion I found myself sinking to my ankles, with both feet, in mud. I was terrified and cried for help. This was not long after watching a Western on our monochrome TV at home with Dad. The film ended with the villain sinking into a patch of quicksand until he was fully submerged, head and all. I asked my father whether quicksand really exist in real life. He said yes, quicksand exists, but what he didn't say was, "but not in this country". It was after my explanation that Tim had a far better understanding of my fears. Which led me to thinking that childhood is the most vulnerable time of our lives when fears and phobias are quickly established, and can last a lifetime.

There goes two hikers heading west towards Kimmeridge Bay from Corfe Castle Campground, with the car left behind and the two tents remaining upright next to each other. Both of them married. One an Englishman - stoic, stiff upper lip, unemotional, father of three children. The other with Italian blood even though legally British, prone to panic, a trembling lower lip, emotional, and having no children. And oh yes, having hiked alone into the Grand Canyon and through the rainforest of Blue Mountains National Park, having stood on the rim of the crater of a live volcano, and snorkelled at the Great Barrier Reef. Yet panics over a patch of mud in rural England. Such is the likes of me, I guess.

As we husbands are enjoying a weekend away at the glorious and spectacular Dorset coast, our wives are also together back at Tim's house. My wife Alex had more in common with Tim than with me on this one issue - like him, she too enjoys camping, having camped during her childhood too. But none of us were any of the wiser. That is, something else was taking place during that Bank Holiday weekend. I wasn't to know about it until about two weeks later.

It was a Thursday morning, a typical working day. Alex was sure that she was pregnant. So the day before she went to a nearby pharmacist and bought one of those home test strips. Dip it in urine, and if only one coloured bar show, then she isn't pregnant. But if both bars were to become visible...

She went to the bathroom with it and within a few minutes returned. She showed me the result. On the strip both bars were visible, one more stronger than the other, but the difference in intensity did not matter, according to the instruction on the box. Suddenly everything had changed. A new status was awaiting me - fatherhood. I had never forgotten that morning, two weeks after that camping weekend. I wanted to shout out of the window, and I nearly did. The first thing I did, in sheer excitement, was to phone my parents.

Ultrasound scans at our hospital revealed the age of the embryo. They proved that conception had taken place some two weeks before that Bank Holiday weekend. And so, whilst I accommodated Tim in my tent under torrential rain, hiked the coastal trail, and panicked over a patch of mud, back at home a new life had already began in my wife's womb. To me it was a miracle, a fantastic miracle! Eight months later there was I, sitting in a side room at a maternity ward, with my first daughter asleep in my arms. As I looked upon her cute face, her eyes closed in peaceful sleep, it was as if the whole of my life was in preparation for this one event. To add to this, I wasn't in my early to mid twenties but already 48 years old, an age when many are already grandparents.

At that time, I thought how wonderful it must be to create new life. To my mind, to have the ability for parenthood must be the greatest privilege anyone could have. To know that half of my chromosomes combining with the half of my beloved's chromosomes creates new life. Therefore one of the deepest mysteries that has ever existed on this planet is how could one have the nerve for an elective abortion. 

And I write this on the same Bank Holiday weekend as the camping weekend eighteen years previously. It is also the very same weekend that a result of a referendum which took place in the Irish Republic only yesterday. The vote was on whether the 8th Amendment would be retained or repealed. The result has revealed more than two-thirds of the Irish population has voted for the Amendment to be repealed. That means elective abortion will become legal up to the age of twelve weeks into the life of the fetus. Perhaps not as bad as over here in the UK where elective abortions can be given up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, but nevertheless still disdained by the Catholic Church, Ireland's official religion.

Early in my wife's pregnancy, our GP actually asked us if we would consider an abortion. I was horrified even to be asked such a question. I told him specifically that we don't believe in elective abortion. And after waiting for nearly fifty years, would I consider my wife to have an abortion? And as we went home, I watched her tummy gradually swell as the young one grew and developed inside. On one hand excited, yet on the other hand, terrified. Afraid of that dreadful possibility - spontaneous abortion, or miscarriage. And well grounded fears. Our third child died in the womb. We had it buried at a cemetery near the hospital. The impact that had on us was devastating. At least we were comforted by the thought that this person is already in heaven with Jesus - not as a baby but as a fully grown adult whose physical body never had the chance to grow and mature.

Therefore I consider this to be a sad day for Ireland. Even though far greater restrictions will apply. That is the maximum age of twelve weeks after conception, in contrast with our twenty-four weeks over here in Britain. Here in England and Wales, since 2012 there has been an annual average of 185,000 induced abortions.* Or for the last five years, around 955,000 fetuses destroyed in our country, mainly due to social issues or for convenience. Or in other words, the mother can now pursue her career and climb the social ladder, or even to go out and party, or even the father is relieved, now the "nuisance" child is taken out of the way. 

As incredulous all this may seem to me, I can't help believe it to be the deepest mystery that can dwell in the human mind. Yet that is what I see and hear about within our modern British culture. And it's so unfortunate that I'm disliked by a few, even by regular church-going Christians, for my concern over our materialistic and social class-centred culture which allows legal abortions, a philosophy resting on the bedrock of Darwinism, along with its sister train of thinking which shares the same Evolutionary bedrock - eugenics. Coming to think of it, I am wondering whether there is any difference between elective abortion, acceptable in our present society, and eugenics, a terrible philosophy promoted by pre-War scientists to allow the Nazis retain their beliefs in racial and national superiority based on Darwinism. 

Yet on the other hand, could I smell a whiff of hypocrisy among religious pro-life campaigners? Yes, I'm referring to those standing up against induced or elective abortions. The Roman Catholic Church, for one, may indeed make a moral stand against such procedures, but this tends to stand at odds with the Church's past, when so many were slain throughout its history - the Spanish Inquisition being one case in point. And to add to this, the Catholic Church (together with a number of Protestants) turned a blind eye from the Holocaust of the slaying of six million Jews.

How God sees it all, I cannot comprehend, as his thoughts are higher than my thoughts and his ways higher than my ways. But I can imagine God shedding a tear whenever an abortion is carried out. Furthermore, I do believe that every child who dies in the womb, either induced or spontaneous, will go straight to heaven to be with Christ. If that is true, then the heavenly kingdom will be populated by a majority who were never born to see the sun. But again, my thoughts does not necessarily reflect Divine reason, as His thoughts are above my thoughts. His ways is beyond finding out (Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 11:33).

Abortion is a dreadful procedure. And I don't want to say this merely from a religious perspective. Rather, my heart goes out to those who faced extinction through no fault of their own but through the selfishness of their mother, or even under the wishes of a reluctant father. As that, a symptom of a fallen world. A world only Jesus Christ can heal.

*UK Gov. Department of Health, Abortion Statistics, England and Wales, 2016.  

Saturday, 19 May 2018

A Nasty Bug in the Ointment...

It was a typical Friday afternoon. I had just completed a workout in the gym, and I have made my way across the leisure centre premises for a session at the sauna and spa suite, still dressed in gym outfit, which is now damp with body sweat. After stripping off my singlet and appropriate footwear, I was ready for the shower to rinse off all traces of sweat before immersing myself into the soothing warm water of the bubble bath, in preparation for both steam room and dry sauna bathing and relaxation.

It was just before entering the shower when one of the regulars turned to me and asked,
Frank, what do you think of the wedding?
To which I answered, pointing both my index fingers to each of my ears,
Not interested. Look, I'm up to my ears with it!
Okay, he responded jokingly. I won't say any more about it.

A bystander, another regular whose conversation was ongoing until my arrival, continued with his diatribe:
That f-----g Charlie, all he wants is to get back into public favour! He declared, as if spitting out his words, thus setting the whole atmosphere of the entire suite as definitely not wedding-friendly. He was referring to the Prince of Wales' voluntary stepping in to give away the bride to his own son at the altar, after the bride's father failed to turn up due to illness. Afterwards, I was pondering. Personally, I always liked Prince Harry. He did not inherit the characteristic "stuck up" attitude of traditional English royalty, but instead he was more of a party-goer as well as sports organiser, particularly for war veterans. One of his highlights was when he was caught stripped naked at a private affair in Las Vegas, and such was spread throughout the media as a major scandal across our nation. Harry proved to be as human as the rest of us.

So what was it that irritated all of us at the spa suite? Simply this, this whole shenanigan is so high key, with newspapers such as the Tory-leaning Daily Mail, TV and radio, all going on and on about the forthcoming wedding, and how wonderful it will be, and how glorious to Britain's image it will be to ourselves and to the rest of the world. Even the BBC, in realising ideal weather conditions, predicts scores of street and garden parties in full swing dotting the land. Perhaps a visit to our spa venue the previous evening would have created a sudden culture shock for the media.

Because, going by that Friday's experience, men in general are not interested in such public weddings. Instead, these events have a far greater appeal to women, who are more inclined to scrutinise the dress the bride is wearing and whether the groom is chosen the right coloured tie to match his suit. These things appeal to women.

But not so much to men, the majority just couldn't be bothered. Therefore it wasn't too much of a surprise to find that on my weekly morning visit to Starbucks, there were more men sitting there than on a normal Saturday. Fortunately for us men, the date of the wedding is also the same day as the F.A. Cup final held at Wembley. Between Manchester United and Chelsea, I believe. It really does not matter. This fixture has a far greater appeal to men than the wedding, and especially to those two team's devoted fans. Indeed, I used to watch football from time to time as a bachelor. However, my wife is out-and-out against football. After watching a match on TV late one evening after she had gone to bed, she then declared that she won't allow football in the house any more. Fair enough, I'm not a football fan anyway. I cannot blame her either. She simply cannot stand the enormously high salaries these players earn whilst many live in poverty and need to visit food banks.

And so what a day this is! A Royal Wedding for the women, and the F.A. Cup Final for the men. But as a Christian believer and student of the Bible, serious thoughts have gone through my mind, especially concerning Meghan Markle, who will be the bride. Nothing to do with her interracial background. Actually, I wished she had married William, second to the throne after Prince Charles. Now that would have shocked the nation to its core, wouldn't it? A future black Queen. Not only a breakaway from a thousand years of British tradition, but also enough perhaps to shut up all those in far-right groups, whose central beliefs includes white supremacy. But instead, she marries Harry, sixth in line to the throne, and therefore absolutely no chance of sitting. 

But with the issue going through my mind, Meghan is a divorcee. Before meeting Harry, she was married for two years to film producer Trevor Engelson. Then they divorced in 2013. And here is the issue, highlighted by non other than Jesus Christ himself. He said that if a man marries a woman who is divorced, he commits adultery (Matthew 5:31-32, Mark 10:12, Luke 16:18). The stress on the importance of this teaching is by three-time emphasis by the Holy Spirit in each of the synoptic Gospels. Therefore it must be important. Even Paul the Apostle, ministering to churches after the Atonement, has written that if a Christian wife suffers a divorce, if she was to re-marry another man, she would be called an adulteress (Romans 7:1-3, 1 Corinthians 7:11). 

It's little wonder that many unbelievers regard us Christians as miserable sods, out to ruin the happiness of many by our "holy" standing. Personally, I dislike the idea of portraying myself as a sour-face moralist, always sporting a frown on my forehead, and always having judgement on others and condemning them as wicked. That kind of attitude would makes me very obnoxious indeed - not the type of person to have around! And certainly not bringing any glory to God either! Furthermore, I would be perceived as having no understanding of emotive power of attraction and falling in love, along with lacking of any perception involving the sexual desire for this other person.  But I must be real here. The New Testament looks to be against divorce and remarriage. No doubt about it. If anyone stood up and publicly declare that Harry should not marry Meghan because she is divorced, he would be very unpopular indeed, if not publicly lynched.

Therefore it came as no surprise to me that Christians in general has been silent on this issue, as if there is a struggle between Bible conviction and the want for national and monarchical glory. Arminian Christians who don't believe in Eternal Security of the Believer will, for one, immediately assume that if Harry was saved in the past, he's certainly isn't saved now, having committed a sin serious enough for him to lose his salvation. And if that looks to be far fetched, then I know of one well-known itinerant preacher, David Pawson, who wrote books emphasising this issue. Yet despite all this, the rest of the nation raise their hands in gladness and God's blessings.

After watching a You-Tube video which appeared on the playlist out of random, I have been thinking: Supposing Jacob Rees-Mogg was at the ceremony. When the banns were read out prior to the vows being made, this Member of Parliament stood up and loudly announced,
I object to Prince Henry marrying Meghan Markle on the basis that she is divorced.

I remember our wedding in October 1999. Then, as now, the banns were read out before the vows were taken. A moment of deafening silence followed the reading out of the banns. This was the opportunity for anyone to express any reason why Alex and I must not marry. Such a reason is known as an impediment. If the impediment is valid, the wedding will not go ahead. 

Therefore, why have I singled out Jacob Rees-Mogg? What's so special about him? Known by the Daily Mail newspaper as "The Englishman's Darling" for his emphatic support for "hard" Brexit, he attended Eton, had graduated at Trinity College in Oxford, and speaks with a plum tone of voice. I have church-going friends who believe in him and should stand as party leader and lead the country as Prime Minister. If there was anyone who would "get the job done" in Britain leaving the EU, Rees-Mogg would be such a candidate suitable for the role.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP.

Therefore coming across a You-Tube video entirely by chance without having to search for it was certainly enlightening, and I couldn't help making a connection between his interview and the nation's adoration of the royal wedding. The interviewer was The Guardian newspaper journalist Owen Jones, a boyish-looking individual, but in reality already in his thirties, and a holder of both a B.A. and a M.S.t. degree, for both he studied at University College, Oxford. I personally don't agree wholly with Owen Jones, as he appears to be rather radical left-wing and a supporter of trade unionism, but the interview he gave Jacob Rees-Mogg at an arranged meeting I have found intriguing:

OJ: What makes you cry?
JRM: I haven't cried, certainly not in adulthood.
OJ:  So you haven't cried since you became an adult?
JRM: No. I'm not in favour of this New Age "drippiness".
OJ: What's wrong in being emotional?
JRM: The British did best when they finally starched their upper lip.
OJ: The biggest killer of men in their fifties is suicide. They have depression and suicidal thoughts, yet can't talk about it because it's seen as "dripping"?
JRM: They can get help, but I don't think that talk about the inner self is interesting to people.

To tell the truth, I find it sad to hear such words coming from a British MP. Had it been from a bricklayer, a plumber, an electrician or simply from a yard worker at a factory, then I might have had a better understanding. But an MP, setting an example for his constituents to follow? And for the rest of the nation to follow? How could he define masculinity in the way he does? Not exactly Christian is it? After all, Jesus of Nazareth wept in public - twice, at least. Does that make our Saviour a New Age "drippy"?

Jacob Rees-Mogg is a devout Roman Catholic, so he should know something about Jesus. He faithfully attends church every Sunday and Holy days. I wonder how he feels about John, one of the Lord's disciples, leaning on our Saviour's breast during the last supper? Not to mention how he wept over the fate of Jerusalem on one occasion, and on another occasion slobbering over the death of Lazarus. Therefore I am wondering whether sincere regular church-going Christians fully realise Rees-Mogg's character, beliefs, and ideas, other than being a devout supporter of Brexit.

Furthermore, as a Catholic, it's standard practice to call upon Mary, the mother of Jesus, to intercede for him and his family. A more intimate title for Our Lady is Mama, particularly in Italy where a mother-child relationship is actually encouraged. Therefore I wouldn't put it past Rees-Mogg to shed a secret tear to Mary as he pleads for her rather obstinate and wrathful Son to forgive him for his sins. An interesting point here. His "drippy" attitude towards emotionalism could well come from his own perception of the Son of God having a "masculine" and judgemental personality deprived of compassionate emotions. 

Therefore Rees-Mogg knows perfectly well that to marry a divorcee is wrong, according to Catholic teaching. But he remains stubbornly silent concerning Harry's marriage to Meghan Markle. He knows full well that to speak up would sever all popularity and lose a large majority of his followers. Yet the media constantly promotes the wedding for the glory of Britain and its monarchy. The Archbishop calls down a blessing upon a couple whom many believe the Bible calls adultery. When it comes to the Bible versus the Glory of Britain, the latter will always win whilst the Bible is cast aside as irrelevant.

Indeed, the teachings of Jesus about marriage, divorce and adultery is a bug in the ointment. A very nasty bug, coming to think of it, as its presence causes the sweet aroma of national glory into a putrid stench of compromise by rejecting the Bible except when it suits them and denying the teachings of our Lord.

Rather like the Creation/Evolution debate. Creationism is a bug in the ointment of academic Christians. Therefore they concoct a formula, a "halfway house" of Theistic Evolution in order to minimise the stench wafting from the ointment which such Biblical teaching has imposed on science.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

An Academic Conflict at Oxford.

As one born of the Baby Boom generation (ie, born between the years 1946-1964) I was taken back by the news of three suicides committed by students at Bristol University, each within a short proximity of each other. According to one source, in 2015, 134 university students took their own lives* whilst another source gives 146 for the year 2016.** Therefore I would not be too surprised if the stats topped 150 for 2017.

And they weren't even the Millennials as we know them, as their agreed birth years were between 1980-1994, but more likely from Generation Z, who were born from 1995 onward. As I tried to work out in my mind why on earth there is such a high rate of mental disorder among students. It was then my wife Alex immediately gave the answer which eluded me - finance.

Of course, why didn't I think of that? With University courses costing around £9,000 a year, a debt of  £27,000 for a three year course does not bode well for the peace of mind every student would wish for. Instead, such a debt would hang over his head for a good spell of his lifetime. Such a situation for an individual is a vivid contrast with a student from the Baby Boomer generation, the one I was born into. Very few would have entered University in the first place. Those who did would have been a student at either Oxford or Cambridge, and then be given a grant from the Government - an income to live on during studies which had no need to be paid back.

Back then, to graduate and to hold a degree was really worth something. He was virtually a god, with any employer scrambling to have such a person, normally a male back then, on their staff roll. A doctor's authority was looked upon as on equal footing as the Gospel itself. And there is no other such vivid demonstration of this than in my schooldays. It was at the boys changing room for P.E., in the gym or for Games at the sports pitch. If a pupil fails to bring his kit, then the punishment was between one to five strokes of the slipper across the buttocks administered by the master, depending on the age of the boy. But if the student hands over a letter written by his GP, then the master would honour the pupil's abstinence from the lesson with a degree of reverence. Indeed, during the sixties, a GP was apparently credited with divine attributes, at least that how it seemed to the rest of us. By mentioning of holding a degree, this would bring out all the ooh's and the aah's, especially from the females. And that I do know. I actually saw this happening in my former church during the seventies.

And so this reverence for knowledge, and the universal desire to possess such knowledge, must be high on the minds of our present-day students who, contrary to the Baby-boomer graduates, I have found to be the targets of vitriol whenever some administration failure occurs, especially in the area of information technology. It is quite a vivid contrast to my day as school leavers. If an adolescent left school without any qualifications, he usually ended up as a dogsbody at a factory, workshop, garage, or anywhere where manual labour was held as a permanent vocation. This sort of thing was not uncommon. Yet I hardly heard of any cases of mental illness, let alone suicide among us younger set. Instead, we took everything in our stride, including scoldings and vitriol, which I, for one, saw more as character-building rather than mentally and emotionally destructive.

Therefore little surprise on why I found our present student's mental disorder statistics difficult to grasp. My wife had a sharper sense of discernment. I was still in the 1960's train of thinking. Putting it all together, I could not help but see for myself why having such level of knowledge can be contrary to Biblical faith. Of course, I'm referring to the age-old conflict between Divine Creation and Uniformitarian Geology.  

Just this morning I attended an annual men's conference at a local church (not my home church). The theme for this year was whether we as believers have the courage to take risks for the glory of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Later in the session we all split into small groups. It was during one of these small-group discussion and prayer when I felt God speak to me. I was made aware of this by God by means of a feeling of relief and joy over the revelation. I am to stand up for the truthfulness of Divine Creation as opposed to Uniformitarian Geology and Darwinism, which is believed in and accepted as scientific fact, not only by the secular world but by many Christians as well. God would not allow me to compromise. There's never been a "halfway house" with me when it comes to accepting Theistic Evolution. I either had to accept a literal 6 x 24-hour creation day, recorded in Scripture, or accept Darwinism in its purest form of secular standing. I resolve always to accept exactly what the Bible teaches.

And that may cause conflict. And my conviction did bring clashes, especially against my own father, who was a devout evolutionist. He was even too embarrassed to admit to others that he had a son who actually believe in this kid's story of Creation and the Flood. And in the factory where I worked, to believe in this raised issues for discussion with my colleagues on the shop floor, and apathy among those who were working in the office. Yet the idea of Divine Creation is very important to me. And very important to every Christian believer alive with us.

It was a gorgeously warm and sunny Bank Holiday Monday when my wife Alex and I, along with my PhD holder and Creationist friend Andrew, all made a trip to Oxford to visit the University Museum of Natural History. Considerably smaller than the sister museum in London where we had recently visited, but actually more educating in the true spirit of Oxford, I allowed Andrew to take care of Alex in her wheelchair, whilst I paid special attention to a row of cabinets on one side of the gallery.

University Museum of Natural History, Oxford.

These cabinets each housed a selection of fossils, and arranged in chronological order, from Cambrian to Cretaceous - at the most, about 475,000,000 years apart in geologic age. Unfortunately, I only took photos of the Jurassic cabinet and the Cretaceous cabinet, the two periods being next to each other on the geologic time scale, but one collection of marine fossils going back to the maximum of 201,000,000 years. The other cabinet holding the more recent Cretaceous marine fossils dating between 66,000,000 and 145,000,000 years of geologic age. Therefore, any observer would accept the vast age difference of these rocks simply because it tells him on the title label at the upper corner of each cabinet. Nearby was a display of a fair sized limestone slab, probably 18" x 12" 46 cm x 30 cm which was overlaid with scaled fish, similar to carp, if that wasn't carp. Unfortunately, I did not record or snap a picture of this particular display, and because of that, I did have plans to return to Oxford on my own to fulfil this purpose before writing this blog, had Alex been happy with the proposal!

But the point is, that anyone studying these displays would have walked away convinced of the evidence for Uniformitarian Geology and Darwinism - simply by observing the labels displayed at each cabinet. But nearly all these fossil-bearing rocks look remarkably similar, as if all these marine organisms were entombed and preserved all at the same time. All these, along with the fish on the slab.

Which presented quite an anomaly. Because whenever fish die, it hardly ever settles on the seafloor. Instead it becomes food for the scavengers. This together with the food chain, it's very seldom for a fish to die a natural death. The vast majority becomes prey for the high population of predators. But here we see fish entombed en-masse in stone, as if all perished at once and immediately preserved. And it looks as if this applied to all the fossilised organism on display, regardless of age. Basically they all looked the same, as if all died and were preserved at just one occasion. And there's supposed to have been up to 475,000,000 years in age difference between them!

Display cabinet containing fossils from the Jurassic Period.

Fossils from the Cretaceous Period, all taken May 2018.

And that is why believing in Creation and the Deluge, I think, is so vital for the Christian faith and to every believer. Because if fossilisation was meant to preserve a record of Evolution, that means one of two ideas: 

1. That Adam and Eve had never existed, but we are all evolved from primates, as secular Darwinism insists. And if our first parents had never existed, then neither the Fall had taken place and death is merely a natural phenomenon, both for human and animal alike. If death plays an essential role in the process of Natural Selection and Evolutionary process, then sin has no part except as a biological quirk developing late in the process, and therefore totally eliminates the need for an Atonement.

2. Adam and Eve existed, but each had a father and mother, all mortal. This, I believe, is a central tenet for Theistic Evolution. The problem is: Were Adam's parents human or sub-human? Or Eve's parents? If they were fully human, did they remain immortal, even after the Fall? But if they were sub-human, then how apelike did they look? And if mortal, then death was already at work in the world before the Fall, therefore making non-effect the Atonement of Christ.

Indeed, there are more questions than answers. But just by departing from the literal truth presented in the Scriptures resulting in such devastating theological concepts, including the study of Christology. But it is the denial of the truthfulness of Holy Scripture which leaves the academic community with little to go by except to make great efforts to prove that these rocks are much older than what Holy Scripture allows, and to pass this on to the rest of us.

Knowledge in itself is a wonderful quality to have, a very wonderful quality. Indeed, mental illness and even suicide is out of a potential failure to acquire this quality, and then to face the extortionate debt to pay afterwards. Little wonder many present-day students are suffering from excess stress. And I believe even my friend Andrew might have felt concern as I delved into these fossil cabinets. Concern that I may be "converted" from being a Creationist to becoming an Evolutionist, and with a possibility of heading down the road towards atheism. All by reading labels with a growing conviction that these scientists might have been right after all.
*The Guardian Newspaper, 2 September, 2017.
**The BBC.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

An Angry Warden and Starbucks.

Nostalgia, Nostalgia. How could I ever forget the angry warden chasing me down the street like an enraged bull? And then my mother giving me a stern telling off...

Okay, that was well over half a century ago. Sixty years ago more like it.

As one now retired and a legal pensioner, I have wondered whether there are any others of my generation or age group who looks back with an element of sentimentality at various locations which had played a major role during their younger lives. Like standing outside a primary school where they began attending more than half a century earlier, or to stand outside a house, apartment, or any other residential property they grew up in. Or is this level of sentimentality or even mawkishness reserved for us much-maligned Italians, such emotionalism virtually unknown to the average Brit, whose stoicism is meant to be world renowned?

Yes, I guess I do possess a high level of sentimentalism in line with any Italian in his right mind. So no surprise then, when earlier this week I had a spare day with no commitments to be made, when I made a trip into Central London to take a peek at two locations which played as significant role in my childhood days: My primary school in Fulham, which I was already attending sixty years earlier, and my former Pimlico home, where my young parents moved into with a two-year old son as far back as 1954. 

Our childhood home street, Pimlico.

Then I recall the children's playground within the adjoining Tachbrook Estate, long demolished to make way for modern gated apartment blocks. And with the disappearance of the old estate, the playground had long disappeared with it. What a great shame that is! I have fond memories of this playground which boasted a twelve-inch deep paddling pool, a sandpit, a concrete locomotive engine permanently fixed to the ground, and next to it a brick-built ship, and a hard-ground football or netball pitch surrounded by a high wire fence. The warden's office was tucked away behind the sandpit. The entrance into this playground from the street was through a tunnel passing through underneath a Victorian house. A gate closed the tunnel entrance for the night.

From a young boy's perspective, it was obvious for the warden to be taller than me. But looking back, he didn't seem to have been much taller than I was, therefore I estimated him to be about 5'6" 1,67 m in height. Maybe 5'8" at most. But compared to my own height as an adult, he was considerably short. And for someone, I guess in his mid forties, he often reacted with the children - not always in a positive way. I was one of the more unfortunate whom he didn't take a shine to. So when a dispute arose between us, Mum escorted me out through the tunnel. When we were both outside, I suddenly turned and closed the gate, locking it from the outside. The way his fingers clinched at the railings had a remarkable resemblance to a frustrated caged primate at a zoo.  

He shouted at me to unlock the gate. Feeling stunned by his reaction, I unlocked the gate. That was when he ran out and chased me. I believe it was Mum's presence which deterred him from any further action. Childhood memories as I wondered on the outcome had I left him there, locked in within his own playground, whilst Mum and I headed home, a mere ten-minute walk away. 

And therefore a couple of Facebook comments which appeared under the photos I took of my former home environment setting the basis of this blog.

Both these comments were from regular church-going Christians who remarked that Pimlico is such a posh area of London. The very fact that these two expressed such identical opinions seems to indicate a whiff of hypocrisy whenever I question our British, class-ridden culture. Criticising our English social class system and the Tories, like any good Socialite, whilst growing up in a very posh environment seemed to have tickled the fancy of these church-goers. However, all is not what it seems. It's very true that there is a posh look to these six-storey Victorian town houses, and it's also true that these properties were privately owned, and not under any public housing scheme. But by the 1950's these houses were divided into tenements, with each of the floors being an apartment in its own right. The rent from each tenancy was paid to an absent landlord, although ours lived just further down the road.

We lived in the basement below street level, a former servant's quarters alongside the cellars. This apartment boasted just one usable bedroom, the other bedroom long disused and literally covered in giant black cobwebs, and filled with discarded items thrown out by former tenants. There was also a tiny kitchen with an adjoining coal cellar, an underground windowless passage leading to the basement of the house next door which had the same owner, and a living/dining room which door had its own Yale lock. At the rear end of the corridor a flight of steps led up to the ground floor, and to all the other floors above whilst the corridor continued on past our one bedroom, then past the disused bedroom, then into the cellars. From the yard from which the outside steps led to the street, there was another cellar directly underneath the street, where our outside WC was located.

As for the other tenants whose rent payments went to the same landlord, directly above us, on the ground floor lived two men in a permanent gay relationship. There was also a spinster whose upright piano she allowed me to have a try on, although I never possessed a talent for musical instruments. Then there was another spinster who lived with her elderly mother. Then not to forget this apparently insane female living in the basement next door, whose intermittent screams were loud enough to penetrate the rather thick walls. In turn, there was also a family with two boys, both somewhat older than me, whose toys and games they had made me gasp with astonishment (although why I had never met and related to those boys remains a mystery.) After all, my parents had always reminded each other to budget carefully. 

From the former Resident's Garden, taken May, 2018.

Posh? Maybe so, maybe not. But as long as I can remember, I never saw myself as a victim of poverty or suffering from any form of deprivation. Rather, I was quite happy there. Never mind that by the age of eleven years of age, I was still sleeping in the same bedroom as my parents and younger brother, I felt no regrets. Rather, I was rather fond of the environment.

And that was especially the disused bedroom. Regardless of the cobwebs, there was an old Singer sewing machine table, complete with foot pedal and flywheel. The times I spent in trying to spin the flywheel as fast as I could just by rocking the pedal to and fro I always find intriguing. And to find a fully working record player among the discarded junk.* And the banister along the stairs leading to the ground floor - I used it to sit upon to slide backwards. And I could I forget the pair of roller skates my parents bought for me one Christmas. I spent quite a bit of time skating up and down the street as well as on the disused tennis court ground within the central resident's garden. Indeed, with all my schoolmates scattered across Westminster and Fulham, our home provided a good source of activity for this curious child who did not seem to mind being mostly by himself.

Indeed, there was something I liked about the place, creepy as it seems at times. After all, with a child's imagination, I would never know what kind of creature could be lurking among all that junk. But the modern two-bedroom home in Bracknell we all moved to in 1963 could never hold a candle to the basement life in London, but at least my parents can have some bedroom privacy at last!

And so where do I stand in regard to current affairs? Do these two who commented on my photos see me as a stout Socialist, a devotee of Karl Marx, the doing away with class culture and as someone who wishes for our country to turn Republic? Although my late father did lean favourably towards such ideas, for me, I have never been either a staunch Socialist or Capitalist, but I do, and always have done, favour capitalism over the other. In practice, by being self-employed for 35 years as a domestic window cleaner, in a way I did practice capitalism. After all, it was I who first invested in equipment, then set the prices, made agreements and contracts with my clientele, and worked to provide a useful service to satisfy the customer and make a profit without any State interference other than to pay my share of taxes. There were good times and lean times. The good times was when I made enough profit to pack everything away and set off to the airport.

I believe that it is right to own property, to invest and make a profit. There is nothing wrong with any of that. But never at the expense of the customer or consumer. For example, it is good for a business such as Starbucks to make a profit whilst serving the customer to his satisfaction of a good coffee and pleasant social environment. I prefer Starbucks to remain in the black, so that I can continue to buy from the business. Likewise I prefer a superstore chain such as Sainsburys to make a profit than suffer a loss. After all, I rely on the business to buy groceries and other daily essentials. There is nothing wrong with a private company such as Sainsburys or Starbucks to make a profit, for my daily and weekly routines depend on it. Therefore capitalism, when properly administered, must be okay after all.

But as I see it, it the abuse of capitalism which irritates me. That is excessive greed. For example, bank branches closing down, one after another, while City bank bosses amass vast bonuses. And many a customer, including myself who is not into Online Banking, must suffer the closure of the town centre bank branch which was used by the customer for decades. Or in a case of a major department store closing down because of loss and owing of debt while at the same time the company directors pocket bonuses and a healthy pension. And at the cost of depriving the staff of their jobs and the customer losing out of an essential service. It is cases like these which temps me to think more favourably towards Socialism.

As for social class, one very striking example of very annoying class preference is the ongoing McCann case, when their three year old daughter Madeleine disappeared from a Portuguese hotel bedroom in May, 2007 whilst the parents, Gerry and Kate McCann, were eating out. Both parents are doctors, affluent and middle class. Therefore the Police still feels fit to continue with the investigation, eleven years after the incident, with up to another £154,000 of taxpayer's money allocated to the investigation, which is an addition to the £11,000,000 spent in searching for the little girl. Little wonder that Gerry and Kate had suffered vitriol over the years, as we plebs cannot understand the vast resources used to find their missing daughter while over the time, there has been many more children from more "ordinary" people going missing, but we don't hear a single quip about them. And I can rest my case that, had Gerry been a labourer who is married to a housewife, then they would have been totally forgotten ages ago.

Madeleine McCann, at the time she disappeared in 2007.

Sure, just as I spun the flywheel of the Singer sewing machine as fast as I could, so our Englishness continue to spin the wheel of our class-ridden culture as fast as it could. And believe me, churches are affected by this ongoing rotation, to the extent that our churches can be defined as "The Tory Party on its Knees". Surely, God must be proud of that.

*For my blog touching on this, click here.