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Sunday, 24 November 2013

A Long Enduring Witness

Lately I have being posting blogs on what looks to be my dislike or contempt for the English culture. If this looks like I'm anti-patriotic, possibly a traitor, then consider a newspaper report I read while I was on the train home, plus a back-up report on a national online newspaper that had made my blood boil, bringing to focus on exactly what I have been grieving about.
The report from both sources was about a cyclist bring hit by a car, then the driver roared off without stopping to see whether the bicycle rider was hurt as he lay on the ground. Then furthermore, the car driver bragged about the incident on Twitter. "Ah," you may think. The driver was a heavily tattooed working class male who probably had one too many at a local pub. Wrong! The offending driver was a young female in her early twenties, a middle class accountant whose explanation in Court for not stopping was because she had the right of way! On her Twitter account she boasted that she pays road tax, which cyclists don't pay. An astonishing statement for an accountant. The Road Tax was abolished in 1937. The tax paid by all motorists is due to fuel exhaust emissions, and the payment goes towards general taxation - as does VAT on alcohol, etc. Therefore a cyclist doesn't have a tax disc on his bike. So a hit-and-run is okay, then. Why not go all the way and KILL the wretched rider? At least that's one tax-evader less to feed!

She was cleared of the charge of dangerous driving, and she got away with what one would call a slap on the wrist. No doubt, in countries such as Holland, Denmark and France, where bicycle riders are treated with far greater respect on the roads, this arrogant female would have received a tougher penalty, possibly a prison term. To add insult to injury, on the online Daily Mail version of the report, I was rather shocked on the large percentage of comments which were on her side. This sort of attitude reminded me of a national organisation which began to make an appearance in the mid to late 1980s, lobbying for the rights of car drivers against the growing popularity of cyclists in both daily commute and in road racing and training. Unsurprisingly, the car driver's lobby was represented by a silhouetted logo of a group of men wearing business suits and ties. Such is typical of England!

Singer Kate Bush once had a hit Oh England My Lionheart in which she relates with nostalgia the flapping umbrellas filling the lanes, London Bridge in rain again, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, Shakespeare, and the English Rose; and pleads that she does not want to go, assuming to mean leaving the country. To be fair, living under a Constitution based on the Bible allows a level of freedom denied in some other nations. For example, the official State Church of England would never impose a ban on alcohol, or for women to cover every inch of her body, or to ban them from further education, as were the cases in many Islamic countries. We enjoy freedom of speech and of the press, and if one wants to crack a joke about the Royal Family or even Jesus Christ himself, nobody would give a hoot. When Author Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses, he had to find refuge here in the UK to protect himself from Islam persecutors who were after his blood - for insulting the Prophet Mohammad.

Talking about such dismal climate of ours is well known around the world, often such variable weather is a good way to start a conversation, or even to greet someone in the street. Yet a spell of fine weather can make areas such as the Cumbrian Lake District National Park and the Dorset Jurassic Coast such stunning vistas in full glory; natural England at its best. By contrast, areas of South London such as the dilapidated housing estates of Brixton or Wandsworth can look so depressing in the rain, as does London Bridge.

Although steep in history and many ancient and listed buildings to show for it, along with its spectacular scenery offset by the cool temperate climate, these are not the theme of this article. Rather it is to point out the shortcomings of a culture so beloved by many regular church-goers, that speaking out against it most likely would result in isolation. Such were the case of a photographer who is in our church, and his son who attends a church elsewhere, who both blocked their Facebook profiles from my viewing. And a Christian at another church, who I knew since 1978, refused to link friends with me. All three have a ongoing grudge against me for speaking out against their culture, for example, joking that the photographer's grandson should take up window cleaning for a living after leaving school. What an insult! Other believers in Christ who I knew personally for more than thirty years, all graduates by the way, won't link with me on the social website either, simply because I'm not up to their level.

Riding a bicycle on the roads has become a very risky business. The old adage of "the White Van Driver" has been around for a couple of decades. He is the working class male who can get very impatient if a slow cyclist gets in his way. Or feel a deflation of his ego if he struggles to overtake a racing cyclist or triathlete out training. Then there is the rising trend of the ambitious career girl when she gets behind the wheel - like the one mentioned above, adding to the ferocious cultural evil which makes the English the way they are, like another Christian I knew who was, in the 1990s, watching the English Cricket team and urging them to steamroller the opposing foreign side; the England football fan shaking his fist angrily in the air while backing his losing team to bury the opposition; the emphasis on social class, with greater respect for the academic professional, the disdain for the humble labourer, contempt for foreigners, feeling xenophobic - yet without hesitation, to depart for foreign shores to conquer, colonise and rule; racial and ethnic slurs, and mimicking and poking fun at foreign languages and dialects.

Oh yes, mimicking foreign languages. What a superb example of national and ethnic superiority! How our mother language and plum Southern English dialect reflect a flawless, God-blessed culture. Like the BBC Radio 2 Little Englander presenter Sarah Kennedy did often during peak hour morning broadcasting in the 1990s, when she really lay heavy with the Italian language in particular with teasing mockery. Preceding her over quite a few years was a fellow employee whose name was Walter, who was also my supervisor, at the furniture factory where I worked for five years between 1968 and 1973. A keen Englander and Arsenal F.C. supporter, often he made a weird, multi-tone mimic of something I never heard of, as I wasn't bothered to ask what that was all about, as by then I absorbed all his eccentricity as a matter of course during a normal working life.

It was when I made the first backpacking trip outside Europe, to Israel in 1976 that I found out where all that mimicking made by my deceased supervisor originated. While I was staying at a private Arab residence in the east Jerusalem district of Silwan, their Arab radio broadcast played their kind of music. When I heard this for the first time, suddenly everything fell into place. I recall Walter relating to me of his serving in the Royal Air Force during the War. What he never told me was that he must have been posted to the Middle East as one serving in the British Mandate, which held control over Palestine until the State of Israel was declared in May, 1948.

With Walter serving in the Middle East has made me wonder whether he visited any of the three principal places which were so tied with the Bible - The Sea of Galilee where Jesus taught much about the Kingdom of Heaven, Jerusalem and Hebron, not to mention the towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth, both to do with Jesus' early life. Jerusalem was chosen by King David to be the capital of Israel and the city where God himself has put his name. It was the site of the betrayal, trial, the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ, and to this day it's still the City of the great King. But where I have found to be most intriguing was at Hebron, a town several miles south of Jerusalem. Here is the site of the Cave of Machpelah, the burial tomb of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, along with their wives Sarah, Rebekah and Leah. These six people were the founding family of the entire nation of Israel. Had Walter been familiar with the fortress which stands over the Cave of Machpelah? If so, then it looked to me at the time that through his own spiritual blindness, Walter, along with his colleagues, had failed to pick up the message this fortress was conveying.

The building was constructed and completed a few years before the birth of Jesus Christ, by Herod the Great. It withstood the test of time and remained intact while Jerusalem and its Second Temple were razed to the ground by Roman general Titus in AD 70. Today it is used as a combined synagogue and mosque, and in the past it was also used as a church. Yet it appears to me that its main purpose was, and is, to stand as a sentinel to show the rest of the world that this is the land given to the Jews by God himself. This seems to be endorsed by the unscrambled code contained in the name Israel. The Hebrew name for this Middle East country is Erech Yisrael, Erech being Hebrew for Land of, and Yisrael is actually an acronym for -
Yacob, Isaac, Sarah, Rebekah, Abraham, Elohim, Leah.

All six whose initials are buried in the Cave of Machpelah, except Elohim which is, of course, one of the names of God. But even here God is seen to be in the midst of his people, the Jews, and their land, which God specifically calls my land. This is wholly unique, and this is something which neither England or the English can claim, despite many efforts. The English love to fancy themselves as having had the privilege of the feet of the young Jesus Christ walking on England's mountains green, even the fictional idea that the English are the descendants of the lost ten tribes of the Diaspora, therefore proudly singing Rule, Britannia, rule the waves...along with Land of Hope and Glory - assigning to England what actually belongs to Israel, for only God can bring hope and glory to a nation. And according to many Old Testament prophecies, hope and glory will be restored to Israel, leaving England, if God allows it to continue after the return of Jesus Christ, to bow to Israel, bringing its produce and its bounty, honour and glory to Jerusalem, Israel's restored capital.

Believing in the heart that God raised Jesus from the dead should put everyone of us into the right perspective. There is nothing in us that can please God. Our fallen natures have separated us from the intimacy God had created us to enjoy with him. Abraham realised this, and referred to himself as dust and ashes. Moses, when he saw that he was talking to God in the burning bush, was afraid, and gasped when he was commissioned with the privilege to face Pharaoh and lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. He asked who was he to face someone as great as the king of Egypt. The then young prince David, when comparing himself to God, referred himself as a flea, the smallest living creature visible to the naked eye, and was subservient to King Saul. Isaiah cries out in the Temple, "Woe is me, for I am undone, a man of unclean lips..." Even the apostle Paul said on one occasion that there is no good thing dwelling naturally in him, except the power of Jesus Christ.

This is the result of true conversion. To know of our unworthiness before God, being grateful and thankful for his goodness, grace and mercy, and to see others as recipient's of this mercy. It is to thank the Lord each day that we wake up in the morning alive, and to be grateful for our health, and to give thanks for every good thing we have - homes, family, jobs, the ability to earn a living. (And this is a big lesson for me in particular, as I tend to suffer morning blues between Monday to Friday inclusive!) To every person to see himself as dust and ashes before God strips himself of all pride, all national and ethnic superiority, the importance of class and social status to melt away. It means the rich or well educated walking arm in arm with the poor, the labourer or the beggar. It means to give willingly to those in need. The Beatitudes, preached by Jesus on the Mount, can only be fulfilled in a person's life after being saved, then realising of his status as dust and ashes and needing to be filled and walk in the Holy Spirit.

The English, who falsely believe that they are Christian through ethnic origin, desperately need the power of the Holy Spirit to convict of their shortcomings, show them who they really are, and their need for God's mercy and grace.

The end result is that, among many other benefits, we cyclists will feel much safer on the roads.
After the publishing of my last couple blogs, one of our church elders who happen to be a good friend of mine, warned me that the content can be conveyed the wrong way by those who have a degree, particular those who attend church regularly, believing that I have an envious grudge against them.
This is not the case. Most of my close friends have studied for a degree, and I have enjoyed good relations with well educated Christians over the years. I now favour an idea, which was in my mind for several years, mainly that it is God who calls many of his own into further education, for the prime purpose of keeping evil under restraint in the office, just by being there and working - the role as salt of the earth. 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

In Him All Things...

The typhoon which swept across the Philippines within the last couple of weeks have dominated the news headlines every day so far. Appeals have been sent out, aid of every kind are being delivered to these stricken islands from around the world. I actually saw one national newspaper carry the headline that an adequate amount of funds could be raised if every person in the UK donated just one pound ($1.60) which would add up to £62,008,000, of which £50,763,000 would come from England alone.

We Brits love to pride ourselves as being a nation of compassionate, generous donors. But according to an online table of the world's most generous national donors, the UK so far failed to make the top twelve. The most generous was Canada, followed by Spain. The much maligned Italians holds fifth position, ahead of Japan in eighth, China in ninth, the USA in tenth place. Even tiny Singapore holds eleventh place, ahead of France, in twelfth. But on the individual scale, there are generous people, there are also the mean, including the rich; in all - generous, tightfisted, and somewhere in between, along with the poor of both extremes, among those I guess, would like to give but are anxious of their financial resource to meet future expenses.

So we pat ourselves on the back on walk along smugly, believing that we have fulfilled the will of God by giving something, showing compassion to a nation which looks to all the world to have received judgement from the Almighty. After all, are we not a Christian country, with the Bible as the bedrock for our Constitution? Why; we most likely have sang that glorious hymn sometime in our lives, particularly at school, written by William Blake:  And did those feet in ancient times walk upon England's mountains green? Never in a million years would the Almighty dream of judging England in any way close to that inflicted on to the Philippines. Instead we are threatened with a possible dusting of snow this coming week, so the newspapers cries out on its pages. Of the sixty-plus years I lived in England, the media seems to forever fail to realise that it is normally cold during the Winter months! Yet any forthcoming news of snow and we feel that our lives will be disrupted - the dread of cars skidding on icy roads, vehicle engines stalling, getting stuck in endless traffic snarl-ups, delayed and cancelled trains, airports closed, thousands of flights cancelled, schools closed, valuable working hours lost...dear me, with the snow comes the Apocalypse, those last  few years of Tribulation prior to the end of the world. It makes me wonder what the Philippine people really think of us English. After all, typhoons are an accepted way of life to them, they are used to that sort of weather.

Lately I have read an article written by Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail newspaper accusing former Labour ministers such as former Home Secretary Jack Straw of hating the English, and the former politician accusing them of being violent nationalists who have used force to subjugate other nations. If Straw did make such an accusation, then he must have referred to the former British Empire, which did subjugate the indigenous inhabitants of foreign lands to submit to Colonial laws and governance - all in the name of being God's chosen nation with His Majesty being the head, and to him all must bow, both among the conquerors and the conquered. Along with England being the New Jerusalem of William Blake, the English were to be seen as the Master Race, a phenomenon arising from Charles Darwin's theory of Evolution, which makes out that the English had advanced in the evolutionary scale to a degree well beyond other nations, particularly among non-Caucasians.

As if being advanced in Evolution and being of the New Jerusalem was not enough, there was even an academic, crackpot professor Edward Hine who, in 1879 delivered a lecture in the London borough of Chelsea, that the English were descendants from the Jews of the Diaspora - the ten lost tribes which were exiled by the Assyrians around 700 BC. This theory, known as British Israelism, enforced the idea that England was indeed the promised land, and that the Empire was not only sanctioned by God but ordered by the Almighty. Here was a contradiction which would have posted a challenge to Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity. That is, the Bible and Darwinism are as much opposed to each other as being enemies. The Bible teaches supernatural Creationism in six literal nights and days. Evolution, on the other hand, insisted in the ultra-slow development of living organisms over millions of years. Surely both can't be right. And by 1879, Darwin's book On the Origin of Species, was already well known to the British public, having been published some twenty years earlier in 1859.

So here we have a nation which is the motherland of Darwinism, yet running concurrently with its Christian constitution for many decades to follow. Evolution offering its explanation for the Englishman's sense of national, cultural, and racial superiority while insisting that the truth of the Bible verifies his heritage of being one of God's people, and therefore holding special divine privileges, namely, the right to rule over others of different ethnic and racial origins. These two conflicting ideas had not exhausted themselves to nonexistence to the present day. Not many years ago, Richard Dawkins was spouting his atheism, his steadfast support for Darwin, and gaining rapid readership support for his book: The God Delusion. In turn, during preparation for the 2006 World Cup, England star player Wayne Rooney injured his ankle while playing at a qualifier game. His injury threatened to exclude him from the England squad, as a result, the chances of England lifting the trophy was practically eliminated. When the medical team announced Rooney's rapid recovery, the Sun newspaper had emblazoned on its front page: There is a God after all! This makes me believe that the normally self confident Englishman only believes in God when it suits him.

But real peace and, if I should add, self-worth, comes in believing who God really is. And one verse in the Bible kept coming back to me over the past week  Colossians 1:17, which reads:
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

What a tremendous amount of truth contained in just a few words! All things hold together, which of course would include us as humans. Not only are involuntary body functions - such as breathing, sleeping, digestion, the nervous system, the heartbeat and the flow of the bloodstream are all sustained by God, but the very essence that actually we are a collection of tiny atoms, the essential building blocks of the entire Universe.

Here is the very mystery of life itself. If everything consist of atoms, then why is one mass sustains life while another is totally inanimate, such as a brick wall? A stone or lump of rock is as dead as it could be, but the same material can last for millennia. The human body is not only alive but is sustains itself and has the ability to repair itself when injured. Yet soon after it dies, it quickly decomposes. In turn, a chip broken off a china plate spoils and devalues its worth, and the dish will remain chipped forever, without self repair or decomposing. Yet between these two substances is the wood from trees. It is alive yet inanimate. There are species of tropical fig trees which, as it grows, wraps itself around a host tree and strangles it to death, then takes its place. But cut a chunk out of this menacing tree and the wood can be used for carving or construction, and the finished article would be no more animate than the mantelpiece on which it stands. What exactly is wood? It consists of living cells yet is it alive? Other than in texture, is a wooden artifact any more living than one carved out of marble? Then there is the well known Mickey Mouse arrangement of the three atoms; two of hydrogen and one of oxygen which makes up the water molecule which is so vital to all living things.

Yet, the hydrogen atom is the simplest atom of all elements. It consist of one electron whizzing in its orbit around a single proton as it nucleus, a microscopic star and planet system. But what makes it so remarkable sets the pattern for all atoms, regardless of the level of complexity, is the vast space between the nucleus and its orbiting electrons. This vast space between electron and nucleus could be the vital clue to Paul's statement in Colossians 1:17 - that every atom in the entire Universe is sustained by Jesus Christ, who is in turn, our Saviour, one of three Persons in the Divine Trinity, of which the life-sustaining water molecule makes such a good symbol. If the vast space within every atom of our bodies were to collapse, so that every electron actually touches the nucleus, then our bodies will be reduced to the size of a grain of sand! Therefore it can be said that even a hard lump of rock, such as granite or marble, is mostly empty space, yet remains as solid as God sustains it.

This is such a sobering truth, the science we have discovered by means of our magnificent brains, which we have through Him who created us to enjoy his love, his grace and his intimacy forever. And that is the real purpose why we are here - not as advanced in evolution to the extent that we can walk in arrogant pride, divide and conquer - but rather that we can know God our creator, life sustainer, our Saviour and revel in his love for the eternity to come. 

Sunday, 10 November 2013

I'm Coming Home.

Remembrance Sunday has come round again. Across the nation the BBC will broadcast the ceremony of our Queen laying a wreath of poppies at the Cenotaph at Whitehall, along with the rest of the Royals, Government ministers, war veterans and other noted personnel, together with the marching sound of the military band. The time will be 11.00 am, the exact time Armistice was signed, ending the Great War on the 11th November, 1918. Also at our church, at 11.00 am, I will be standing in silence with the rest of the congregation, showing my respect and thanking those who gave their lives for our freedom during those two world wars.
What would go through my mind? Possibly the mass deaths at sea, such as on board the ship HM Lancastria, when one afternoon on June 17th 1940, she was bombed three times by a German warplane, and sank with approximately 2,800 men on board who lost their lives. It was said that while the men stood on deck, they sang two songs while the ship went down: There'll Always Be An England, and Roll Out Red Barrel  - about the very English brew; Watneys Ale in its trademark barrel, most popular at the time in all British pubs and bars. Then there was the tragedy of the submarine HMS Thetis which went down during trials in the Irish Sea a year earlier in 1939, with 99 hands who died of asphyxiation. Not to mention many, many more deaths on the battlefield and among prisoners of war.

I think of how each mother must have felt when news came in of her son's death at war. Was she proud that her son died a war hero? Or did she break down in tears at his demise, remembering the day she gave birth and suckled him on her breasts, then watched him grow through all the stages of boyhood and adolescence? Then the men who went off to war. How did they really feel? Despite all this English bulldog bravado and stoicism, I heard through TV interviews with veterans that many had a longing to be at home under the loving care of their mothers. There were some who had only just married, and were called to war soon after their marriage was consummated. As they marched off, did they have the vivid image of their bride looking sadly into their eyes, as if pleading not to leave? I wonder how many cheeks were wet with tears as they marched on stoically? Never mind that the British constitution claimed to be Bible based, with the Law of Moses declaring that no groom should go to war for a year after their wedding, this was not considered by the British military. Grooms must have departed with broken hearts, realising the possibility of never to see their brides ever again.

And so it happens. Imagine, for example, being trapped inside a sinking submarine. The power shuts down, all the lights go out, and you are in this thick impenetrable darkness. You grope for the door locking wheel and unable to locate it, the icy sea water rises to your neck, you tread the water to keep your head above the surface, only to hit the solid metal ceiling. As the water covers your face, once again you are seeing yourself vividly comforted by Mum, running around in the garden, or you feel the kiss of your beautiful bride on your lips before passing away forever.

All for the freedom of England and the continuation of the British culture you gave your life for. You were a hero. So as I think about as I stand in silence for those two mere short minutes. For the continuance of British culture - a pecking order we call the class system, in which this week I felt myself once again at the sharp end during my normal window cleaning rounds.

Why such a hostile look from one daughter of a client whose windows I cleaned on a routine schedule? Or the curt answer from her sister, after knocking on the door, as she keeps her mouth as if glued to her mobile phone, while her parents were out? Why am I such a pariah to them? All I was doing was earning my own living in a honest manner. Then at another house in the same street the girlfriend of one of the residents recently moved in. Before then, I served a brother-and-sister residence owned by their father, whom I got to know reasonably well. For the past year or so, I got on well with the two offspring, even served with a cup of tea by the sister. When the brother's girlfriend moved in, it was she who terminated the agreement, therefore losing a customer, vital for the business.

Her rather bureaucratic explanation for the loss was because her landlord no longer wish to pay the fee, despite recalling his daughter digging into her own purse. Then again, I was wondering, could it be that difficult for three professional pen-pushers to pay a single-figure monthly fee? I have customers who willingly pay more than double that amount, and are grateful for my regularity in calling. It is also interesting to note that some of the most generous and kindhearted clientele have non-British origins. But with this house, it was not the money, nor the lack of it. Rather, the loss of it was due to social status - as if in this land of homeowners, there is something distinctively shameful about being tenants. I, for one, have been a tenant to the borough council since 1976, the year I flew the nest. I'm very happy to hold this status. Did you know that if the roof begins to leak, it would not be my responsibility to pay for a private contractor to repair it? It would be the responsibility of the landlord, the borough council, to fund the repairs, as long as I don't let the rent go into arrears, something which had never occurred in the past 37 years of tenancy. Furthermore, I have no shame whatsoever in being a tenant and bypass the many headaches involved in ownership, when in reality, the real ownership would be in the hands of the creditor whose mortgage I'll be paying.

What is it about the obsession with home ownership, the sense of low status as a tenant, the adoration of the celebrity, the respect due to the well-educated professional, and the contempt towards those with humble occupations? Not long ago, while I was sitting in the sauna, I heard a story of a female office worker say with a degree of contempt to a colleague; Oh, he's just a cleaner. This attitude has brought cleaners like myself to the brink of tears. Is this the Britain those men of war had sacrificed their lives for?

Much to my surprise, a pattern here is beginning to emerge. Going by experience, it looks to me that young women seem to be far less fair than men of approximately the same age. Over the years as a window cleaner, many a son was more amenable, even making an effort to pay me at his parent's absence. This had been quite a revelation to me! Then again, I grew up believing that the female is more emotional than the male, more compassionate, more sympathetic, more soothing to the hurt than the man, who would more likely say in effect to get a grip on yourself, and man up! Even religion backs this; for many centuries Roman Catholics worshipped and adored the Virgin Mary, asking her to be the motherly mediator between the worshipper and a rather distant, emotionless and disciplinarian male God. Far more shrines of Mary than those of Jesus are to be found in Catholic countries. Even in ancient Ephesius, there was the temple dedicated to Diana, whose threat to her deity by the apostle Paul led to a city riot.

All these things has made me ask what is really going on in the modern office, what kind of a culture is to be found therein. Are women office workers really feeling their self esteem to be under some kind of threat? Is there a gender contest of some kind in the office? Could there be some truth to an idea I had, that God calls Christians to work in the office environment mainly for their presence to keep evil in check? A bit like salt of the earth, perhaps. Having never seen the inside of an office, I realise that these are only speculations, but those based on what I have seen and heard.

To add to such humiliation I felt at work, this has been a dismal week. We had rain, which does not do the business any good, and I have returned home cold and drenched to the skin. Then having changed clothing, I head off to the station to catch a train to Reading, where my wife lies ill in hospital. Within 48 hours there were two signal failures on our line, resulting in delayed and cancelled trains, and frustrated waiting on cold, wind-blown platforms. As a result, much of the week was spoiled by disrupted journeys. It was when I was feeling so low that a thought touched my mind, causing me to look up. I am alive. Let's thank God for the breath of life!

This, for me, is a vital reality. We live in a country where education is king. I have one graduate friend in our church who goes to Africa two to three times a year, and one of our elders, also a graduate of course, had today flown out to India for ten days to help out setting up an Indian Bible festival, similar to Spring Harvest or Newday festivals we have here. Then there is a third member in our church who wishes to be a missionary in Turkey. So he is studying for a degree as a mature student in order to fulfill the post. It looks to me that holding a degree is the door to opportunities abroad. In turn, in the 1990s I once volunteered to teach a class on the Second Coming of Christ, and eschatology in general, after suggestions from others in the congregation. The elder at the time flatly refused to let me give a talk at least. As he said, let a better educated person teach. Since then, this particular elder was defrocked by the rest of the congregation for supporting an adulterer and concealing his sin, and has now moved across the Atlantic to Florida.

There were times in the past that living in snooty, class-ridden England had tempted me to suicide. But God, in his mercy, had shown me that England is not my real home. My real home is in Heaven, where Christ is seated on the throne, and one day I shall be like him, for I shall see him as he is. This is the glory to look forward to, and such a destiny is available to all who believes in his heart that Jesus is Lord and God has raised him from the dead.

This is the real secret and power behind why I don't mind spending the rest of my life as a tenant in a rented property. There is a rent-free, mortgage-free property awaiting me in Heaven. That makes life worth living for.


Sunday, 3 November 2013

No, It's Not The Same

While Alex my wife remains in hospital, someone has recently asked me whether living on my own again after fourteen years of married life is anything similar to the twenty three years of bachelor life which began when I flew the nest in 1976 until Alex moved into my apartment in 1999. I guess there may be one or two similarities, such as at present arriving home to an empty house where the only sounds are that of the clock on the mantelpiece ticking away every single second, and the constant bubbling within the aquarium generated by the combined filtering and oxygenating of the water. Not that I have any fish in the tank, of course. Who would ever think that? When I set up the tank more than six years ago, I had sixteen tiny goldfish swimming around, with the size of the tank allowing plenty of room for manoeuvre. But as the fish began to grow, one by one the fish died, the very last one more than five years after introducing it to its new environment.

Perhaps that is why I didn't bother to re-stock, at least so far. When a fish died, my heart always sank over the loss of its life, but again, watching fish glide gracefully and peacefully through the clear glass of the aquarium was for me very relaxing and perhaps therapeutic, unlike with a dog with which, after a hard day's work, having to fasten a lead to its collar and take it out into the cold night, and train it not to poo on the neighbour's prize flower bed, or to make a bee-line for the pussycat as the feline leaps up the trunk of a tree - not to mention the need for a dog licence, exorbitant veterinary bills, and rivers of tears when the animal is put down due to old age or an incurable illness, as was the case several times over the years at my parent's home. Re-stocking of the tank, this time with tropical fish, has been my consideration for some time. But ah! Here's the difference between us as a married couple. While I'm content to watch fish glide gracefully in the water, Alex loves the idea of owning and cuddling up to a big dog, such as a Rottweiler.

Then there is at present the need to cook my own meals, another parallel with my bachelor days. One of my delights of married life was always to arrive home from work to a meal already prepared, in a house kept constantly tidy and all necessary household tasks completed. Such as the choice of life she has taken immediately after our honeymoon was over - a rather obsolete or antiquated title of housewife. In my bachelor days, it was no burden to cook my own meals - I recall buying a prepared tray of steak and kidney pie and sticking it in the pre-heated oven for thirty minutes while I prepared the gravy and vegetables. Certainly then, as now, potato granules or powder must have been invented specifically for me, for there has never been a way I could handle a potato peeler. Likewise, I thank the Lord for creating apples I can eat with its skin, as an option to always having to peel oranges and watching the juice squirt everywhere, along with bits of the rind lodging under my fingernails. And not forgetting the moment I had to remove the old microwave oven from its place after coming to the end of its life, leaving behind two or three shrivelled peas, a stalk or a pip from a long eaten apple and some crumbs, all which remained hid under the oven for months, if not years.

I guess in many ways bachelor life was pretty routine. Each weekday I came home from work, cooked dinner and watched the news on the telly, along with any other programme I found interesting or entertaining. Then there was the home computer, with which I learnt the fundamentals of programming in BASIC (an acronym for Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) on the good old Sinclair ZX81, the latest in whizzkid gadgets which was to totally revolutionise home technology up to the stage of the far more sophisticated present day laptop, the i-pad and the Internet.

The ZX81 was a black box, 6 inches 15cm square, with a touch pad keyboard, with no colour, no sound, and just one kilobyte of random access memory (RAM). Since each programme was short, graphics were chunky, and no serious software could be keyed in, Sinclair came up with the 16K RAM pack which, when fitted, tend to wobble, causing disruption on the normal TV screen, which acted as the monitor. Software came on traditional cassette tapes and often it was a nightmare to load into the computer. Heavy black and white stripes continue to flicker across the TV screen even after the tape had stopped, instead of showing the 0/0 report at the bottom of the screen to tell us that the loading was successful. Yet I recall the times I held my head up high with pride I was feeling in owning one of these gadgets. Forefront of home technology. 
But I did not spend every evening at home. In the 1980s I was a member of a Triathlon club in Reading, and I attended twice a week for training, along with the Friday night social, when a group of us met at a local Pizza Hut before I cycled home along a deserted road late in the night. At weekends, I often partook in Triathlon events, mainly across the South of England. Because I never owned or driven a car, most of these Triathlon events involved train travel and an overnight stop at a hotel or guesthouse. Indeed, being a bachelor had its good times, memories which I treasure to this day. Then not to mention independent long haul travel, which began in 1976 when I flew to Israel for the first time in my life, then to North America in 1977 and again in 1978. Then there was a long pause as I was made redundant from my job as a precision engineer in 1979 to becoming self employed a year later. Then in 1993 long haul travel and backpacking resumed, taking in Israel, North America, Singapore and Australia.

At a Triathlon, 1987, wearing a Lycra Trisuit, compatible for swimming, cycling and running.
At present, living on my own while my wife remains confined to her hospital bed is not a resumption of the old bachelor life. Throughout these weeks there were days, and especially nights, when I lay in bed shaking with fear, wondering what exactly is wrong with her health. I was also afraid of the future. Would she be permanently confined to a wheelchair? How would I cope watching the one I love so deeply languish in her misery? One thing for sure: I would never even consider leaving or abandoning her for an easier life. Furthermore, would I have to close my business to become her full time carer - something I have never done before? And much worse than this, would we suffer intrusion into our home by social workers or other health or Government agencies? There was even a fear of widowhood. In truth, Alex is irreplaceable. I cannot see myself marrying anyone else. As for resuming long haul travel, this would have been a possibility, but it would never ever be the same. Places such as the Mediterranean islands of Rhodes, Kos and Malta, along with Lanzarote of the Canaries, all filled with memories of us together, I would stay away. Even Israel, the Holy Land which means so much to me, would be stained with memories of us celebrating our first wedding anniversary in the year 2000.
Unlike during my bachelor days, each day of the week I take a train to Reading to spend up to two hours with my wife by her bedside. From Monday to Friday, I head for the station soon after work and a quick bite to eat. I don't get home until 9.20pm, after which I cook a quick meal. At weekends I leave for the station earlier in the day to be home earlier. Every day the house is unnaturally quiet, except for the clock and the fish tank, along with the late evening news on the TV or music from the hi-fi. Furthermore, there are times in the last several weeks which I had my heart ripped out, and the suffering of loneliness - something I did not particularly feel during the years between 1976 and 1999.
I guess life in general consists of eras, or different stages reflecting various aspects to daily living. For me, I guess it was childhood, then adolescence, then after flying the nest, a life of bachelorhood, then married life, now this, although I'm not sure what this is suppose to be. But one thing I know which stands solid like a rock or a mountain, and that is knowing God never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Long before I was even born, God knew exactly how many days there will be in my life. Sure, at present I can work out how many days I have already lived (okay, if you must know, it's 22,327 days from birth, up to the time of this writing) but only God knows how many days I still have left, and what the grand total will be.
Psalm 139 makes a good read. In it, King David admits that God knew his days before he was even born, he knew exactly what he will think, say and do throughout his life and how many days God has in his book, together with the knowledge that it was God who formed him in his mother's womb, and regardless of where he goes, he cannot escape God's omnipresence. With such revelation, while Alex is still in hospital, I should, and I do, take comfort with the knowledge that everything in my life is in God's hands. The day I married Alex was a happy one as not only did we prepare to fly to Rhodes for our honeymoon, but to prepare to spend our lives together. God saw all this before I was even born. And he also saw the day when she goes down with a malady which sapped all her strength from her legs, making her incapable to stand up, let alone walk. God had already known about this, long before it had ever crossed our minds. Therefore, I find it safe to trust our future in his hands. Whatever happens, with God it is always for our good. Through him we have peace.
Even if the water in our aquarium remains lifeless.