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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.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

God's Grace - Common and Saving

I have never forgotten a question asked by the wife of one of my longstanding mates. The question was, Does God love Saddam Hussein? Because back then I found the question rather difficult to answer, I had no other resource but to quote John 3:16: For God so loved the world... An answer which I have found difficult to believe about the one-time infamous president of Iraq and a cruel dictator. Therefore it came as no surprise that this married Christian had qualms on how God sees him throughout his lifetime.

Saddam Hussein

Then other national leaders come to mind. Leaders such as Muammar Gaddafi, who was president of Libya for more than 42 years and the longest to hold power by a non-royal. There was also Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation or the PLO, Osama Bin Laden, who led the Al Qaeda, an extremist Islamic group responsible for the 9/11 attack of the Twin Towers in New York. Then there was Gamal Nasser, president of Egypt, and Ayatollah Khomeini, the religious and political leader of Iran. How could God love people such as any of them? After all, every one of these leaders, now all deceased, were hostile to the Jews, the nation of Israel and its Zionist philosophy and agenda. Which brings me to mind a verse found in Genesis 12:3, where God, in calling Abram, promised a blessing to those he blessed him and his descendants, and curses those who cursed the same. If these referred to are the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then their descendants must be those referred, those known as the Jews to this day.

So the children of Israel were, and still are, an earthly nation chosen by God, and anyone who curses them will themselves be cursed by God, so the Bible says. Therefore did God love those enemies of Israel to the point of these leaders passionately wanting to "push them into the sea?" 

I guess I could go on. Did God really love Adolf Hitler, who had up to six million Jews needlessly annihilated, just because they did not share the "master race" genome, ethnicity and culture as he and his German people did? Difficult it may be to believe, indeed God did love Hitler, very much so. Not only did he sustain the dictator's breath of life and his involuntary heartbeat, but placed into the position of authority by God himself, according to Romans 13:1-7.

I could go on. For example, Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung, founding leader of the Chinese Communist Party, forced his political power "out of the barrel of a gun" as he himself boasted, and therefore had up to 45 million killed between the years 1958-1962 during Mao's Great Leap Forward. No authority except that which is instituted by God? Of course I can go on. The founding leaders of Soviet Communism had between 15-20 million killed. Yet, Joseph Stalin, one of the Soviet's most oppressive leaders, was put in position of power by God and therefore was also loved by him too. 

But I need to ask: Did God love them because of their deeds or because of their position of power? Or was God's love for them based entirely on the death of his Son, his burial and Resurrection? All these issues, I must admit, I find difficult to swallow. For God so loved the world? Perhaps it's only human to feel that one person can be less deserving of his love than another. Yet Paul the Apostle, who wrote to the church in Rome, was under the reign of Emperor Nero, who was the first to initiate Rome's persecution of Christians in AD 64 - as well as marrying two young adolescents for a life of pederasty, and allegedly murdered his own mother to rid himself of her dominance. Yet Paul was sure that Nero's authority was established by God to keep evil in check. Therefore it can be concluded that Nero's place in power was an act of God's common grace to keep all which is bad under restraint, to quell civil oppression, and to allow the Gospel to spread, even under persecution. Nevertheless, as a British Christian attending a very middle class church At Royal Ascot, I find it so difficult to realise that God loved Nero no less than he loves each of our church elders, and me too.

And here is the snag when it comes to growing up in the second half of the Twentieth Century, let alone becoming a Christian towards the end of 1972. I grew up spiritually to believe that Bible verses such as John 3:16 only applied to nice people of English middle class calibre. Of course God loves nice people. After all, they are the more deserving of such love, aren't they? Therefore I shouldn't be that surprised that the wife of one of my friends was also grappling with the possibility of God's love for Saddam Hussein, and my difficulty in explaining his universal love.

However, history - both ancient and recent - looks to have questioned the meaning of John 3:16 more so than our present day culture. For instance, on one occasion, it was God himself who instructed King Saul to slaughter all the Amalekites - men, women and children, including babies, and all their livestock - through the mouth of the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 15). And this because their ancestors managed to upset Moses during the time of the Exodus, several hundred years earlier, and God himself looking to be wanting revenge, even from a generation alive long after the death of Moses. Yet despite all this, did God love the Amalekites? He must have done. They continued to exist for hundreds of years since Moses' time, each one of them sustained by God as they breathed, their heartbeat continued, and their food eaten, digested and defecated - even if they kept the memory of Moses alive by means of annual celebrations and partying. And there is still a good chance that their descendants are with us to this day. 

And here is the irony. Leaders such as Hussein, Gaddafi, Arafat, Mao, and Stalin lived out their lives into old age or close to old age (although Hussein and Gaddafi were eventually executed), they were nevertheless sustained and loved by God. Yet any young child who were unfortunate enough to be born of Amalekite parents hardly saw the light of day, let alone order the slaughter of many! Perhaps this could be one of several reasons why the atheist finds the Bible so repugnant. The slaughter of innocent infants by direct orders of the Almighty himself, whilst such leaders were allowed to live out their full lifespans.

Yet the universal love of God is revealed through one of the sayings of Jesus Christ. On one occasion, he reminds his audience that his Father sends rain on the just and the unjust alike as well as having the sun shine on both the evil and the good (Matthew 5:45). Also a lesson can be learnt through parenting as well. Jesus asked that if you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who asks him? (Matthew 7:11). With God's generosity and universal love, he has no qualms in sending both sunshine and rain to the good and bad alike. And I'm pretty sure that all the aforementioned leaders, and the Amalekites as well, evil as they might all have been, still loved their own children enough to give them gifts without merit on their kid's part. 

Yet there is no authority existing which wasn't established by God. And so as Paul wrote to the Romans. Therefore this must not only include our Government under a benign Queen, but great institutions such as the National Health Service is also established by God, with every staff member, from the local GP, to hospital porters, administration, nurses, surgeons and consultants, as actual God's servants to minister healing to the sick and infirm. An idea thought up by Labour Prime Minister Clement Atlee, the concept of a public purse sustained by a deduction from every earning worker in the land so to make the service free on the point of use, all this has made the NHS the envy of the world. 

As the saying goes: There by the grace of God go I. This seems to be a universal or common grace of God which isn't the same as regenerative or saving grace, which is received by all believers of Christ's death, burial and Resurrection. It is common grace which sustains all of humanity, and all of life on this planet, whether fauna or flora, on land, in the sea, or in the air. It is universal grace that gives the human being his sleep at night, his work during the day, his roof for shelter, his food and clothing. And various pleasures for him to enjoy, whether it's on the football pitch or at the fairground, in the ballroom, at a bar, or a trip to the beach.

Or travel - one of my favourite topics of discussion. I realise that travel is from the common or universal grace of God. Anyone can go overseas, as both believer and unbeliever can buy an air ticket and depart. It was the common grace of God that allowed me to set foot abroad, always to find a room or bed at a hotel or hostel without having to spend a night in the street. But that could also apply to an unbeliever as well, who pushes the existence of God far from his mind. God will still ensure that a bed is provided for the night and have enough food to eat, and is able to stay warm and dry in adverse weather conditions.

It is the universal grace of God which allowed me to board a airline right on time for a flight to New York during a French Air Traffic Control strike in 1978. It is the grace of God to walk through the streets of New York, Los Angeles, Rome, Jerusalem, Singapore, or Sydney without any threat of harm by potential mugging, gang violence or street robbery. It is the grace of God to swim in the tropical ocean, leaving my shoulder bag with all my gear, including a large wad of Traveller's Cheques, unattended on the beach, and still see it there, untouched, when I eventually scramble back on the beach after a wonderful swim. It is the grace of God not to be bitten by a shark whilst bathing in the ocean, nor suffer attack by any other marine creature - the jellyfish in particular.

It is the common grace of God to stand in admiration of a row of Traveller's Palms forming a natural wall of overlapping leaves, to gaze at a fast flowing stream, to look up a mountain, or in my case, to look into the crater of a live volcano and still come away unharmed. It is the grace of God to enjoy panoramic views from a hill, to take in the wonders of the Grand Canyon, to have the stamina and ability to hike, to gaze at the display of stars in the clear night sky, to wonder at the Milky Way streaking across the Australian night sky. It is also the common grace of God to enjoy a cycling burn-up through deserted roads early on a Sunday morning during the height of Summer, or to ride a bicycle from one end of the country to the other without coming to any harm. 

Travellers Palms - like those I saw in Singapore, 1997.

The same applies to education and careers. Here too it's the common grace of God for someone who is an ardent atheist such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens to write books debunking God's existence and achieving fame as their books sell well on the market. As with the student in medicine, computer engineering, or accountancy - whether Christian, religious or atheist, their success in graduation and their ability to settle down and progress in their chosen career is out of the common grace of God.

But what I believe is the greatest asset of the common grace of God is to have a marriage partner. To experience love and intimacy for the most important person in your life - this is experienced by both believers and unbelievers alike. Of course, among believing Christians, marriage should be far more enhancing. It is the common grace of God that I have Alex and Alex has me. We have become inseparable, the reality of Christ and his bride being the perfect illustration, for the groom gave his life for his bride. But because marriage is enjoyed by unbelievers as well, I have categorised this as from the common or universal grace of God rather than regenerative grace.

And that may be why we suffer in life - illnesses, poverty, warfare, evil dictators and oppressive governments, natural disasters, frustrations of various kinds, a job one hates, slavery, breakdown of car, public transport strikes, exam failures, and perhaps many more bad things - all these defining a fallen world, its initial beauty marred by sin and death. And let's face it, if God withdrew his common grace, we would all instantly die. Not a single human being can live for an instant without God's common grace.

Therefore I thank God for the other side of God grace which is for believers of Jesus Christ - his death, burial and Resurrection. This is regenerative grace, redemptive grace or saving grace. Whereas common or universal grace has only a temporary effect - for the entire present lifetime of the recipient - saving grace has eternal implications - it  first allows the believer to get to know God on a personal level before spending eternity with him after death, after which to enjoy his presence in a resurrected, glorified body. That is regenerative or saving grace. The good news is that this grace is universal in a sense that it is available to everyone who has faith in Jesus Christ and his redemptive powers.  

Saturday, 21 April 2018

A Life Changing Plastic Tube...

How my heart leapt with both surprise and joy as I sat by the window of the Boeing 747 as it cruised some 40,000 feet 12,200 metres above the west coast of the Australian Cape York Peninsula which just came into view from so far down below. It was early morning of late May 1997, not long after daybreak, nearing completion of an overnight flight from Singapore, when I was surprised by the sight of thick forest way down below, covering what I originally thought would be orange tinted desert landscape of this North Queensland peninsula.

After landing at Cairns Airport and passing through Passport control, the first task was to exchange a US dollar Travellers Cheque into Australian currency. With such a purpose-built kiosk near the exit, I was impressed with the pile of banknotes I had in my hand for the first time in my life. They were of thin plastic rather than paper, waterproof, and very much the same as our present UK fivers and tenners, both so recently introduced. It seemed a long time for the UK to learn a thing or two from Down Under, as their plastic currency was in full circulation more than twenty years earlier.

I was alone outside the airport under hot, dry sunshine when a taxi arrived, as it does automatically every twenty minutes, regardless whether there is anyone waiting. When the driver asked me where I wanted to go, I asked about an HI backpacker's hostel which I have read about before take off in London. Presently, the cab stopped and the driver pointed his finger about a hundred metres down the street.

"Do you see that building down there?" He asked in a typical Australian drawl.
"Yes," was my monosyllabic reply.
"That's the hostel."

As I sauntered along the tropical Pacific coastline, I thought about dear Mum, sounding rather exasperated at the time, asking me why I had to travel such great distances. Then a good friend at church, also with a level of concern, suggesting that I should stay with an Australian family he knew of. I assured them both that if I managed quite well in both Israel and North America, then why not in Australia too? To boot, it is one of the British Commonwealth nations with English as its primary language. I then arrived at the hostel, perhaps feeling uncertain about the outcome, as this was another example of my "off-the-street" hotel and hostel experience. I was happy to be told of a bed readily available in the men's dormitory, and I checked in.

There was only one sole occupant still asleep in the dormitory as I prepared the bed. It wan't until a member of staff spoke softly to him that I realised that here was a fellow backpacker struck down with a fever, forcing him to remain confined to his bed throughout the next two or three days, which was just a few feet away from where I would sleep.

I sauntered into the town of Cairns, and rested under a palm tree in a central public garden. If I recall, my eyes were swimming with mild dizziness as I checked out the town and approached the garden. In next to no time I was sleeping soundly, probably snoring too, according to what others said to me in the past, as I caught up with a sleepless night spent in a 'plane, flying 40,000 feet above Oceania after spending five days in Singapore.

It wasn't long before I became aware of the presence of the Great Barrier Reef just off the Queensland coast. After making an enquiry, the hostel receptionist offered to book me a place on one of several catamarans which leaves Cairns Harbour every morning for day trips to the Reef. I accepted her suggestion of Green Island, a coral cay surrounded by shallow waters which makes the location suitable for beginners, as I had never snorkelled before, and this was to be my first go at it.

On board, I hired a snorkelling gear and also bought a single-use cardboard camera sealed in waterproof plastic. It was whilst at Green Island that wearing a plastic breathing tube has converted me from an apathetic into a fanatic of coral and marine life. Indeed the sea was shallow, which was just right to gain confidence with a snorkel without coaching or instruction. Snorkelling turned out to one of these iffy businesses, when water can get into the tube or into the goggles, and trigger panic. And so was at one occasion at Green Island when I had to suddenly lift my head above water. Gradually I resumed, and to regain confidence.

Green Island Coral Cay, off Cairns.

But I returned to the hostel feeling happy, very happy indeed! I was keen for more. Therefore it was a few days later that I found myself boarding the first of the two catamarans at Cairns Harbour for Port Douglas Harbour, a resort further up the heavily forested Queensland coastline, where I was to change catamarans for Low Isles, another coral cay set in deeper water, therefore making the coral larger and richer. With confidence gained, I felt far more comfortable breathing through a plastic tube as I floated horizontally above the aquatic garden. Again as with Green Island, I purchased a single-use underwater camera also for 25 Australian dollars, and with it, took more pictures of these fascinating marine life. I thought of posting a few pics here. All were taken at Low Isles coral cay:

Low Isles, Great Barrier Reef, all taken June 1997.

The first two day trips were to coral cays: Green Island and Low Isles. The third day trip to the Reef was also on a catamaran from Airlie Beach to the Whitsunday Islands. Airlie Beach is another resort about 622 km, or 386 miles further down the coast from Cairns, hence the need to stay at a hostel at that location. The hostel itself was a unique experience, rather different from any other I ever stayed at. Unlike all other backpackers who were staying there, by paying a few dollars extra, I had the entire dormitory to myself, which was housed in a separate hut from the others. Oh the bliss!

At the first attempt to reach the Whitsunday Islands, the catamaran suffered engine failure whilst still at the harbour. So that trip had to be cancelled, and I was taken back to the hostel with a promise of a free pickup on the next day. That morning I was collected personally and driven to the harbour where the repaired vessel waited.

The trip involved two islands, Whitsunday itself, with its volcanic formation involving the creation of White Beach. As its name implies, the sand on that beach was not only nearly pure white but squeaks when walked upon. After a couple of hours, we were ferried to Heron Island, of continental formation rather than a coral cay, and the coral surrounding it was known as a fringe reef. Unfortunately there was no access to an underwater camera, which was something of a shame, because these corals were even more deeper than at Low Isles, with at least one species I instantly recognised as the Brain Coral.

These three catamaran trips to the Great Barrier Reef opened a wealth of knowledge on this tropical marine life. For instance, how could a colony of tiny polyps create exoskeletons of limestone to form a reef so fantastically huge that it could be seen from space? The reef is a phenomenon! Tiny polyps, related to the jellyfish, thrive on a wide continental shelf, a one-time strip of land now submerged under a sea which is naturally deprived of nutrition. Yet roughly at the middle of the barrier reef there is a break. The East Australian ocean current flows through this gap, and then throughout the whole length of the reef, bringing in plankton from the open ocean, on which the polyps feed. Furthermore, each polyp harbours many one-cell algae, known as Zooxanthellae, which photosynthesis providing each polyp with glucose, glycerol and amino acids with which the polyp benefits, in addition to the plankton. 

To add to all that, as the sea level rises, so does the reef. Various algae binds the dead exoskeletons to form a solid wall which is slowly but constantly rising as the living polyps thrive on the upper surface.

Then there are the annual storms which destroys parts of the Outer Reef. With such frequent destruction, I can wonder how on Earth the reef could sustain such a tremendous size over time. The storms literally break off coral limestone, and the fragments accumulate on the sea floor, forming a coral wasteland, indeed, a melancholic sight to behold. However, more than 80% of the coral in that area survive the storms to see another day, whilst at the same time the entire Inner Reef with its coral cays remain protected. But in time, when polyps spore, young larvae settle on these wastelands and life begins all over again.

Then not to mention the Parrot fish, which often arrives in large shoals. These creatures eat coral by the ton. As I wonder why such creatures exist, bringing such destruction to the reef. But there is a twist to the story. Coral swallowed by the fish is defecated as sand. Storms and ocean currents gathers this sand, along with broken exoskeletons and shells, into mounds which eventually breaks the surface of the ocean. Birds bring in the seeds of plants to these mounds and by taking root, binds the sand and calcium rubble together to form permanent islands, or coral cays.

The Parrot Fish plays a role in Coral Cay formation

Much of this I learnt from the experience itself, by reading books and by watching television documentaries and videos on the subject of corals. The Great Barrier Reef was not the only reef I visited. In the year 2000, in celebrating our first anniversary, Alex and I spent the day in Eilat, at the Red Sea, where I believe that the clearer turquoise waters brought out a greater beauty and fascination of the reef thriving within the fingertip of the Indian Ocean.

What can I say but to quote this Scripture:

How many are your works, O LORD!
In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number -
living things both large and small.
Psalm 104:24-25.

As I watched the programme earlier in the week, I could not help acknowledge God's handiwork as the presentation warmed the cockles of my heart in praise and thanksgiving to God, at least in my thoughts. It wasn't difficult to ignore the bits about evolution, as the meticulous structure of the Reef became obvious.

The result of Evolution? Let's go over just once again. 

1. A large underwater platform, or continental shelf, exists on which the reef flourishes.
2. Each polyp creates its own limestone exoskeleton, which over time accumulates into a reef of tremendous size. 
3. Also within each polyp, algae co-inhabits - enabling the polyp to feed on the nutrition the algae provides by means of photosynthesis. 
4. As means of good luck, there happens to be a well-placed break in the middle of the barrier wall, through which a strong ocean current brings in adequate supplies of plankton to feed the entire reef.
5. When storms destroy parts of the Outer Reef, less than 20% is actually lost. Not only does the affected parts of the reef replenishes itself, but the Inner Reef with all its cays are protected from the storms rolling in from the open ocean.
6. The Parrot Fish may look to be a scourge on the reef. But its role in creating sand allows cays to form.
7. A coral reef is one of the richest areas to sustain life, being home to a high percentage of all marine life.

The probability of all seven features evolving by pure chance and without divine intervention seems to be a mathematical impossibility. Instead, by acknowledging God as the Creator, I find all this so exhilarating to the spirit. 

Saturday, 14 April 2018

A Temptation Towards Atheism.

Since last week's blog post Enjoyment, Disaster, Reminiscences had attracted an unusually high number of hits within a single week, I thought of continuing on how travel experiences can have quite a profound effect on spiritual things. Like on Easter Monday two weeks ago, when my wife developed severe back pain while on a day trip to London with a close friend of mine, Andrew, and ending up with my wife and I spending an unscheduled night at a Travelodge hotel in the heart of Fulham, West London, after discharge from A&E at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital at 23:30 hours. That particular 24-hour time slot in my life had several lessons worth learning, including what I believe was God intervening at one of the most critical moments of the experience.

The hotel where we spent that night, Easter Monday 2018.

Which is distinct from God allowing various events to occur, such as phoning for an ambulance. This is something anyone can do, and has no bearing on the spiritual state of the caller. Such a call can be made by either a fully devoted "super-spiritual" Christian believer, a Muslim or Buddhist, or a determined atheist, and the ambulance will still arrive, in most cases, within ten to twenty minutes. But to step out onto a deserted city street in the dead of night and then having a sudden impulse to turn back into a hospital building to ask for help from an A&E receptionist - I believe that is God himself intervening. This was proved by the willing intervention of one staff member who wasn't even approached by us, and furthermore, was paid by the NHS to deal only with patient bookings into A&E, having successfully found a suitable nearby hotel on his mobile phone and with it, booked us in, along with the taxi lift to the hotel. Therefore it can be said that this young fellow with an Asian or Mediterranean background has saved us from spending the whole night wandering the streets of London in uncertain weather conditions and risking Alex's back pain flaring up again.

But of course, anyone with a sound mind would insist that the kindness offered by this hospital employee, like that of the earlier ambulance call, would have had no bearing on our spiritual condition. That is to say, he would have still stood up to intervene had I been a determined and committed atheist. And so true. And here's the irony: God's grace is not restricted to believers. As with God's universal love for all mankind, according to John 3:16, there is nothing standing in the way of him acting at the most crucial moment, even if the recipient had always harboured a deep hatred of God for most of his life.

However, there is something else rather unusual about that particular day trip. It was meant for Andrew to share the day with us. And here is the beauty about the whole experience: Andrew holds a PhD in Genetics, yet rather than dwell on his own academic status and looking down at us, instead he finds joy in accompanying us - a retired window cleaner and his wife - for a day trip. And this is not the first time either. Some eighteen months previously, Andrew accompanied us on a weekend away to a conference, also held in Central London, the subject of that conference centred on Divine Creation. This involved staying at the same hotel for the one night.

Little wonder that some three thousand years earlier, King David wrote Psalm 133 on how wonderful it is when brothers dwell together in unity. In his day he had a nationalistic bent - he was referring only to the people of Israel. Since then the Cross had removed this nationalistic in-group/out-group barrier, so well demonstrated by Paul's letter to a group of churches in what is now western Turkey (Galatians 3:28). The only condition for unity seems to be whether we are "in Christ". If so, then Andrew's presence is a good demonstration of the demolition of all academic, wealth and social class barriers and prejudice. Under the shadow of the Cross, a wonderful levelling occurs willingly before physical death is given the chance to accomplish this.

When it comes to travel, over and over again I have always emphasised my love for solo backpacking trips which includes bed-hunting at every chosen destination I arrive at. But this was not always the case. In the mid 1980's, it was Paul, Tim, Keith, Gareth and I who went on a cycling trip in Holland, Belgium and Germany, staying each night at different backpackers hostels. The main thing which bonded us together was our faith in Jesus Christ. That meant an architect, an accountant, a kitchen porter, a banker, and a window cleaner, all upheld support for each other as we pedalled away the miles, with the stronger cyclist ensuring that the weaker rider wasn't left trailing behind. This together with a safe level of teasing, joking around, enjoying a laugh as well as partaking in more serious conversation. It is this unity, first our common faith in Jesus Christ, and secondly our shared love of long distance cycling which allowed the spirit of fellowship to flourish, helping to eliminate any social class prejudice, academic preference or national superiority. In the case of the third, here we have a full-blooded Italian riding, eating and sleeping alongside two devoted Englishmen in this group of five, yet still felt equally accepted.

When it comes to hosteling rather than hotel room hire, as mentioned last week, most of these were visited on my own. However, it is usually at the member's kitchen where conversations starts and friendship develops. Such was the case when I stayed at this HI hostel located at the heart of San Diego in 1995 whilst backpacking from New York to San Francisco. It was at a single floor of a disused U.S. Army building which was shared with the YMCA. Each dormitory had just two beds, one above the other, and I shared the room with an Australian builder who had completed his volunteering contract before backpacking the rest of the USA prior to returning home. It was he who inspired me to visit Australia for myself, which I did in 1997.  One evening, whilst preparing a meal in the member's kitchen, two young men entered and then joined me whilst cooking their own food.

It didn't take me long to discover that they were actually brothers from Scotland, who had also befriended the Aussie. After dinner, the four of us played table football at the adjoining lounge. This allowed me to laugh at my own inability to flick the ball into the goal with split-second agility, therefore making the whole team of miniature plastic men look rather ridiculous! After this, the four of us went out together "to paint the town red" so to speak, laughing, joking and making raucous noise as we walked along the promenade, whilst the waves of the Pacific Ocean lapped gently on the harbour coastline. Despite of this, we still remained at the right side of the law.

This sort of social interaction and behaviour is indeed out of my character, who normally takes travel more seriously. But the experience was therapeutic. Therapy I was in bad need of. That was why I was travelling around America in the first place. To help heal some very bad emotional wounds. The issue is all about acceptance. To feel part of a group, to feel a sense of belonging. My fellow travellers in San Diego helped me to feel accepted. I know that one was in the building trade, most likely a bricklayer. But I cannot remember the vocation of the other two. Maybe because I didn't get around to asking. Or if I did ask, their answer failed to stick.

The local church should be the one place in the land where I should feel loved and accepted, regardless of background or status. At least I can say that in my home church in Ascot, I feel loved and accepted by the majority of regulars who attend. I'm quite popular with the students. A couple of them came up to me for pre-nuptial advice and guidance shortly before they married. I felt privileged. An evening at a pub with a brother or at Starbucks with one of the Elders is always a tonic. I recall an evening spent with one of the graduates, along with one or two others at different times and venues. These are times to give as well as to receive. According to experience, nothing can be more uplifting than to encourage someone and actually watch him feel uplifted, edified, encouraged, strengthened. In turn, probably the best tonic for feeling down is a good chat at a pub or coffee bar.  So in what way was the 1995 trip to the USA such a tonic and so therapeutic?

It was during my time in 1994, which was spent as a volunteer at Stella Carmel Christian Conference Centre at Isfiya, located at the northern region of Israel. This small village on the summit of Mt. Carmel offered spectacular views of the Valley of Jezreel, which lies at the southern flank of the Galilee area. Often in the evenings I have sauntered alone to the overlook, a clearing among the bushes and trees which covers the slope of the hill, to gaze at the stunning sight and meditate over the issues of the day. 

And the issues of the day was not the work. Generally, I enjoyed the work, whether domestic or maintenance, usually on alternate days. Rather it was the fellowship, or lack of it, between other Christian volunteers and myself. Thanks to one female volunteer, Jo by name, who was a fervent feminist and aspiring career woman, with natural leadership talents. At least all the other females follow her around, as she had the knack to influence them.

The work for the volunteer was both domestic, which involves changing bed linen, cleaning bathroom sinks and toilets, and so on; and maintenance - often involving shifting heavy rocks, garden work, painting and decorating, handling heavy equipment and such like. One morning, during one of our weekly meetings with management, I made a terrible, terrible mistake of suggesting that the heavier maintenance work should be for the men, us male volunteers, while the women may excel in domestic duties. It might have been because the Director saw my point and took it as valid, that I immediately became the pariah by Jo, who influenced all the other females, to become the most hated in the community. Not that I was that much liked before. By contrast, there among us was another male volunteer, Scott from Aberdeen; tall, slim, handsome, and a graduate. Although introverted, he was adored by all the women mainly because of his threefold attribute of graduation, good looks, and his introvertism. Having a lack of academic and professional status was to be my disadvantage. I became the target for aggressive female bullying, including being called a backward Neanderthal, along with all Italians, who, according to Jo, their anti-feminist stance making them a nation of backward Neanderthals. 

Eventually, after two months, the Director told me to leave. I was transported to Haifa Bus Station and left there to fend for myself. This is totally unlike that of an offender, who is driven straight to the airport for deportation. But there was one bright spot within the turmoil. That was of a young Arab neighbour, a nearby resident who drops in at Stella Carmel every evening after work had finished for the day. It was on this occasion when this Christian teenager sought me out from among all the volunteers and asked me to pray for him as he went through personal difficulties, and we both sat down to spend time praying together.

This meant a lot to me! He saw me as a fatherly figure or older brother, someone who can give him spiritual guidance. Strange as I see it, a nugget of gold in a sea of mud. He was a contrast, a wonderful contrast, to all the British volunteers making up the community I was part of. 

Such an experience is such a shame. Here is one group I thought was where the love of Christ would shine. A place of hope, a community where love would atone for many faults and cover a multitude of sins. A place I should have found spiritual encouragement, edification, courage and strength. Instead it was a disaster. A disaster because of nationalism, culture, the emphasis on education and personal status, and not on faith in Christ. From such an environment I could have slipped into atheism, but I didn't, because of the eternal power of God. If there was proof of the veracity of Eternal Security of the Believer, that was it. I had absolutely no reason to love the church, to identify myself with it. But I still love my brothers and sisters in Christ to this day, thanks to the righteousness of Christ imputed into me.

While this blog is written, on the BBC Radio 4 Archive, the full version of Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech, delivered in Birmingham, is being aired to mark its fiftieth anniversary. The speech was about the horrors of immigration, the arrival of many black Jamaicans, the "Windrush generation", named after the ship which transported the first of these immigrants across the Atlantic some twenty years before in the early 1950's, under the British Government's invitation. Powell's speech was highly rhetoric and racist, inspiring hate, especially among the white working class. Dockers in particular went on marches in support of this MP's speech, which insisted that all immigration must stop and all black immigrants to be paid to leave the UK to return to their home country. Up to 200,000* letters were sent to him afterwards, mainly in support of his speech. Hatred among the English towards blacks continued for decades to come, and I can long remember the activities of the National Front against everyone who was non-white.

Enoch Powell, 1960's Conservative MP.

What a vivid contrast all that is when compared with the wonderful help we received from the Asian receptionist when we found ourselves stranded in London during the middle of the night. This is something many Christians, who ought to know better, should learn.

* The quote of 200,000 mails received by Enoch Powell after his 1968 Rivers of Blood speech was taken from the Daily Mail National newspaper, Saturday April 14, 2018. However, this seems to be inconsistent with the figure given by Wikipedia, which is 120,000. It is therefore left to the reader to decide which figure is closer to the truth, and whether the Right-leaning Daily Mail has exaggerated the numbers to dramatise the story.