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Sunday, 7 April 2013

If Only...

After snorkeling in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, exploring the rich coral reef turning the sea bed into a beautiful marine garden bustling with life, I eventually make my way to the wooden steps to the boardwalk set just above the calm surface of the turquoise water. Alex my wife runs along the platform, arms wide open in greeting me as if I had just returned from a far-away mission.

Together we saunter back to the thatched wooden hut which was our beach-side hotel accommodation on one of the islands of the Maldives. I felt peckish, but as Alex suggested a gentle stroll along the golden sand beach, I was willing to forgo any food for now and spend some time together. Especially when the sun was beating down from overhead at a cloudless sky.

As we sauntered along the beach, with the sea gently lapping, and backed by a forest of palm trees and other tropical bushes, we came to a group of young people, three couples to be precise. The three men looked fit, their bronze topless torsos reflecting the sunlight from their glossy skins. In turn, the women were equally bronzed by the sun, even in their bikini swimsuits. In the midst of them was a barbecue stove emitting an appetite-stirring aroma of sausages and beefburgers. As we were about to pass them by, one of them stopped us in our tracks by asking why not join them in the feast. He also assured us that there was plenty to go around, therefore there was no need to economise.

Alex and I looked at each other and both of us agreed to the fellow's invitation. We took our places among them and sat down in their midst.

I perceived that they were not from the UK, or at least not from the London area or the Home Counties. This I surmised from the accent the young man spoke with, even if his English was good. Where they were from was not of my concern, so I let it pass by.

"It's so nice of you to invite us." I said, to open a conversation.
"Of course," the one sitting next to me responded. "We are family."
"Family?" I was curious.
"Yes, family. All of us here love the Lord Jesus, and I know for sure that had he been here in person, he would have invited all of us."
"So you're Christian? I too..."
"We already know, all of us. It stood out from both of you when you were strolling towards us."
The speaker then put his arm around me and gave me a hug. I hugged him too and said that it was really nice to meet him and his friends.

Then enough curiosity got the better of me to make me ask, "What do you all do?"
"We are university graduates. Mike over there wants to achieve a doctorate and become a medical doctor, Dave wants to become a barrister and I wish to pursue journalism. Our girlfriends have similar ambitions."

I felt my face redden, and it was not from the sun.

"I'm just a window cleaner, Alex here keeps the home. In the past this was known as 'housewife.'" I muttered with a degree of embarrassment. "We are absolutely fortunate that we are here, in this beautiful paradise of an island."

Mike looked at me what seems to be with a degree of envy. I found this a little disturbing. Then the student confirmed how he felt.

I envy you, both of you." he declared.
"Whatever for?" I gasped in surprise. "Gosh, if I was given a chance to become a doctor, I would be fulfilling my childhood dreams!"

"It's not that." Mike replied. "It's what Jesus and Paul said and wrote."
"Er, what?" I asked.
"Jesus said on one occasion that he who is least among us would become the greatest in the Kingdom of God, and on another occasion he said that the last shall be first and the first, last."
"Yes, I read those sayings." I replied.
"Then Paul also wrote that the foolish things in the world will confound the wise." Mike finished.
"So what are you saying?
"We are saying that you should not be ashamed of your occupation, for if you please God, he will reward you richly."

I was rather aghast! In all the years of being in the faith, I have not heard that before.
"But surely, God will reward you as well. He is not into favouritism." I answered.
"No, he is not into favouritism." Steve confirmed. "But because he has given us greater responsibilities, so his judgement on how we had stewarded his goods will be far more severe."
"So you're not into social class then? Many back at home seem to be obsessed by it."
"No, definitely not." Steve answered. "To all of us, serving God is our greatest priority. Remember, his love for us when we were helpless was so great, that he sent his Son to suffer and die for us, so we could be redeemed. Social class does not come into the equation."
"Gosh!" I exclaimed as I turned to my wife Alex. "These guys have some wisdom."

Then again curious, I asked, "You say you are all boyfriends and girlfriends? Does this create a problem with hotel accommodation?"
"Our hotel is just behind those trees." Steve answered, as he pointed to the opposite direction from where our thatched hut was. "But booking was not a problem. We have two huts, one for us and the other for our girlfriends. In this we keep ourselves disciplined, and we found the holiday to be richly enjoyable. There has not been a single disagreement between us."

Then David, who had so far been quiet since we were invited, stood up and tended the barbecue stove. Then he announced that the food was ready, and he began to insert the sausages and beefburgers into cut rolls of bread. As we were the guests, we were served first, and as I reached out to take the roll, I suddenly found myself in bed in our semi-dark bedroom.

Yea, it was all just a dream...

Alex was still asleep beside me as my heart fell at the sight of my own bedroom here at home in the UK. At daybreak I had to attend an assessment at a London hospital, so I declared it a day off from work, which, I have to admit, made me feel better after having such a wonderful dream with such a rotten anticlimax! After all, a day off to break the monotony of daily window cleaning in the thick of winter was most welcoming.

The chilly wind blew through the station, its design and construction making the station itself a wind tunnel, as one side had a wall topped by trees and the other, a high office block which sits over the station entrance. With the cold easterly wind, occasional snow flurries blowing in the air, the current weather making us all concerned whether the whole nation would grind to a halt yet again due to an inch of snow on the ground.

Bracknell Railway Station

The platform I was standing had a large number of men in suits waiting for the delayed train to arrive. While the wait was seemingly long, the voice of the station manager crackled through the speakers:
"The o-seven eighteen to London Waterloo will be twenty minutes late. We apologise for the delay. This is due to staffing problems."

Staffing problems. In other words, the driver scheduled to bring this train here was still in bed! So they had to call another driver who was originally meant to take the next train out. I surveyed the platform. The guys in their suits were either stone deaf or because of such British stoicism, no one stirred or said a word. There were no protest or any grumbling heard. It seemed to me that delayed trains were a normal way of life for them.

As not being a regular commuter, I muttered something about being stuck here in the cold and the threat of being late for my appointment. One of the well dressed men gave me that unpleasant look from the corner of his eye, and walked off to the far end of the platform. So much for encouragement.

On board the late train, I managed to find an empty seat. Just as well, as further down the line, later boarding commuters had to stand in the central aisle. It was almost eerie. Not a single vocal conversation could be heard, not a greeting, a good morning or asking how you are today. Above the mechanical sound of solid steel wheels rolling on solid steel rails, the only sounds heard were the rattling of the newspaper as one turned the page, along with the shuffling of well shod feet and thick sleeved arms, an occasional harrumph of a cough, the unwrapping of a sweet wrapper and perhaps, once the train had halted at a red signal, a distant dssst-dssst of a personal earphone player.

I allowed my head roll from side to side as I closed my eyes and looked back at another train journey I completed way back in 1974. Only this was in Italy, on a route from Foggia to Napoli (Naples) during one of my early backpacking days. The carriage at the time was the old compartmental type with a side corridor. I boarded at Foggia and walked through the corridor looking for a vacant seat. Within each compartment people was happily talking to each other, a torrent of almost incomprehensible Italian constantly filling the air. I found one empty seat by the window in one compartment already occupied a three Catholic nuns on one side and two young guys on the other, where I was about to sit.

I recall a conversation developing between myself and the nun opposite me. I told her in broken Italian that I was from England and I was touring the country. She was very impressed and she even offered me a sweet (candy). Also impressed was the young guy sitting next to me, who took over the conversation with me from the nun and plied me with questions, particularly where I'll be staying in Napoli and whether he can come round to see me again. After arriving at the city terminus, the young man, whose name was Claudio, and I made our way to the hotel where I stayed the previous year. He made sure that I was fully booked in before leaving. Two days later he, with another fellow and two young women made a group of five and spent the day together, including a cable-car ride up the slopes of Mt. Faito, paid on my behalf by my new friend. It was a beginning of a good friendship. Not much different from the dream of the Maldives.

I relate these two train journeys as both are true stories. However, the generosity shown by the people in the Maldives dream was based on a near identical true-life experience I had when staying at a hostel in Australia, back in 1997. At the hostel there were two Italian brothers who invited me to share in the dinner they have cooked and provided. This together with the southern Italian train journey, seem to show a contrast between British culture and those of other countries, particularly those at or close to the Mediterranean.

We in England pride ourselves as being a Christian country. The Church of England has its headquarters at the imposing Canterbury Cathedral, with the Archbishop being second only to the Queen herself, who holds the title of Defender of the Faith, dating back to the days of King Henry VIII. The English Tourist Board relies on the abundance of cathedrals and old churches scattered throughout the land, the more famous being St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, both in London, the city where these stoic but unfriendly commuters heading each working day morning.

Then the obsession with social class. In the Bible we read about Jesus endorsing the truth that the least among us will be great in his Kingdom, and the first will be last, and the last, first - and so on. But our culture, based on Christian morals, has reversed the order, with the great being first and the least being last. I have also seen, over the years, the general rejection brought on by some because I don't quite fit in. Many times I receive that hostile look, often from the working classes, their avoidance of my presence, whispering and gossip behind my back, their general dislike, yet no one has ever come over to me with the problem, perhaps fearing that the truth about me might rumble them.

The English pre-occupation with social class was brought home to me by the BBC, which gave a report that the traditional three tier system has now developed into a seven tier system, based on one's education level, type of occupation, salary and property ownership. At the top end we now have the Elite, with their private education, very high salary and homeowner. At the bottom there is the Precariat, to which I belong, after taking the BBC online test. These are the ones who didn't do well at school, either labour or rely on State benefit for an income, and who is a Council tenant (Public housing.)

 John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett symbolising the English class system of the 1960s.

It looks to me that the well structured social class system here in the UK is at odds with the Bible, yet this country claims to follow Christian principles. So what would the best course of action I should take in this country's contradicting culture?

The one and only answer for a believer such as myself is to be constantly filled with the Holy Spirit, and through knowledge of the Bible, allowing Him to guide me, even if this involves swimming against our cultural current. This involves being friendly and ready to be open and hospitable even in such an environment as a morning commuter train. It means having an open door and not feel redundant to give to those genuinely in need. But most of all, to be able to love those who are otherwise impossible to love. And that is a divine miracle, wherever I'm at a golden, sun-kissed beach in the Maldives, or under an overcast sky in the streets of London.
And I can only achieve this through the power of the Holy Spirit. After all, why should only the Italians get the credit in applying Bible principles?


  1. We are all one in Christ Jesus -- He views male or female, free or bond, Jew or Greek, as one. Social class is an arbitrary tradition man has devised. I believe there will be many surprises when Jesus returns -- first of all, who is left behind, as only He knows the hearts. And then the rewards at the believers' judgment, because to whom much is given, much is required, which would seem to imply that stewardship is factored in. Our church is blessed to have a member who is mute with many physical ailments and no financial resources, yet despite his disabilities and limitations he is faithful to church attendance and prayer. I often imagine that he will be at the head of the line when rewards are given. Great dream & great post!
    God bless,

  2. Hi Frank,
    I was brought up in a council house by wonderful parents, have done all kinds of jobs from cleaning to office work and care work and have known tramps, rich people and one millionaire as friends. I can honestly say that I have never felt put down or less than anyone. I love the diversity in people but, as Laurie has said, we are all one in Christ. I believe we all have had to experienced diverse ways of life because once we come to know Jesus we are able to bring forth fishes after our own kind as far as sharing the gospel is concerned. I believe you were being shown something in your dream, and don't forget that Jesus was born in a stable. God bless

  3. That's the sort of dream I'd like Frank! I believe that some that passes for Christianity in England is not really a true representation of Christianity, it has become a social thing, perhaps at its worst a glorified social club for those who think they are better than everyone else sadly. Not all people are like this of course, regardless of their social status, but I believe there is a tendency in established denominations to favour the rich, the powerful and the well-to-do over those of us who are deemed ordinary and even common. I wonder if Jesus came back quietly would He even be welcome in some churches?! And I think that is the problem with some chuches, that they do leave Jesus out of it, and are practising men's traditions rather than the exhilirating good news of the Gospel. The truth will set us all free but sometimes people prefer cosy falsehoods to truth it seems.