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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.



  1. Hi Frank,
    I'm wondering if you should be living in Wales. I don't think we would bother buying a house if we were young now. The only reason we bought one in the first place was that we had rented for over nine years from the council and a housing authority, and we had an offer to buy the house at 60% off. I don't know if that happens now. Also at one time, my in-laws were moving from a rented house into a council flat suitable for the elderly, and we were offered that house by the landlord at 50% off. Since we have been over sixty we have been entitled to grants that have paid for a new roof and central heating with a baxi boiler. We both worked all our lives and I feel no guilt over this. It was weird, but I believe we have spent less on mortgages than we would have spent on rent, as we have had good deals from the bank we have been with for 25 years. As for the jobs, I don't know if I have shared this before but one of the nicest jobs I remember is a cleaning job my friend and I had in a furniture factory. The workers were lovely to be amongst, and we actually shared our evangelizing leaflets with some of them at appropriate times. We came in one day to find that a group of men that worked there had made us a marvellous trolley to carry all our cleaning equipment around on, with separate places for mops, buckets etc. We could not believe it. These are the kind of memories to keep in our minds, not the people who raise themselves up and don't want our company. Status has never worried me, the lower down we are the more we can see the Lord. Maybe pray for those people, that one day they shall see the lovely God we have
    God bless you and Alex.

  2. The present day attitude in churches is directly contrary to what Paul said in I Corinthians 1:26-31. I suspect one of the reasons the church is losing it's influence is because we have replaced The power of the Holy Spirit with education.

  3. Dear Frank,
    Today is Veterans Day in the U.S., where we honor and thank those who have served us in the military. Yesterday we were looking up statistics about law school, as our son has shown some interest in applying, and were surprised to learn that even a law degree from one of the top universities does not necessarily guarantee a good career in law or a related field except for those who are in the top 10% of their class. I believe that our young people would do best to seek God's face for His perfect will for their lives. He equips those who seek to serve Him with what they need to follow his calling. Thanks as always for the great post, and God bless,

  4. I feel your pain Frank, because I too have an anger and a bitterness towards this divisive class system and the whole idea of someone being superior and someone else being inferior. My parents generally did typical Working class jobs because that's the background they come from and of course I do too. I have a good education and my parents had me reading when I was at a very early age, so I see both sides of the argument. But the nature of class is pernicious, especially in a country like England that espouses Christian values and supposedly promotes Christianity, and yet somehow for some unknown reason the notion of one person or groups of people being better than another person or other group of people is somehow acceptable, acceptable of course to those who are seen as superior anyway! No surprise there hey?! Like racism, sexism, religious intolerance, homophobia and many other things where people are demeaned, regardless of what morals or otherwise may be attached to them or anything else, all they promote is unfairness, injustice and divisions and they create unhappiness and often low self worth in people deemed to be lesser, and a sense of arrogance and pomposity in those who think they are superior and ill will and resentment all around. How very Christian! Note the sarcasm. Of course injustice and unfairness are always acceptable... to those who are not on the receiving end of such negative things, but the anger and animosity these things can create in many people who have to endure prejudice in whatever form from other people, people who may honestly claim to be Christians or even go to church, makes the world a worse place. And we hit the button when we say 'world', because such injustices are part of the world and its fallen system; and here's what is written in the Bible about that: 'Adulterers! Do you not realise that love for the world is hatred for God? Anyone who chooses the world for a friend is constituted an enemy of God.' (James 4:4 NJB) The class system and many other skewed prejudices are a part of the world system and they are passing away. Those who cling to such prejudices may find they are swept away too. Build your house on firm and lasting foundations. Better a window cleaner in Heaven than a king who ends up knows where...

    As for sending the educated and Middle class ones to do missionary work, well again, snobbery and stupidity in equal measure, because I know that a university education is a good thing but most of us learn real and valuable lessons in life, the 'university of hard knocks'! And I might point out that though we should bring the Gospel to all the corners of the earth, we should also bring it to the millions of British and Americans who have never really known Jesus as well, but only see religion through the prism of the stereotypes of Christians and Christianity that is often promoted or unfortunately the snobbery and judgemental attitudes that pass for Christianity and some Christians in America and Britain. You are spreading the Gospel right here Frank and your testimony is a valuable one because it is from your heart and not laced with pretension nor trying to be something it is not.