So far this has been quite a testing start of the New Year. Torrential rain falling as periodic showers just about every day as I go about my business constantly wearing a heavy, waterproof raincoat - so much so that now I dare not step outside without it - even if the sky is clear and the sun is out.
Then my heart drops as I watch my beloved wife, the one so nearest and dearest to me, stumble around the house in her bid to complete the chores, which she willingly chooses to carry out as her showing of respect for me for being the sole breadwinner. Being under heavy medication is no encouragement as her back pain flares up from time to time, and her medication is for a set period of several weeks or months - making me wonder what exactly does the future hold for us. With last year's holiday to Crete cancelled, the paltry insurance claim successful, even though the payment was considerably less than what I had hoped for, and this year my passport expires. With Alex remaining housebound, at this moment in time it looks like that all holidays - in the UK as well as abroad, has become a thing of the past - as I would never consider travel of any kind without my beloved alongside.
Ah! How marriage had changed my life. No amount of travel could ever replace the comfort and joy of being close to someone I love and adore deeply, knowing how much she loves me to the same level. So surely, it breaks my heart to see so much medication lying around, knowing that it is a momentary fix to keep her pain at bay - at least she is alive and fully aware of her circumstances, and her memory remaining intact. I dread the day either one of us has a stroke or develop Alzheimer's, and not remembering either one of us - a beloved, longstanding marriage partner seen as a total stranger at home.
But alive and conscious we are, and we are thankful for this. Every morning, at breakfast, on my way to work, or at work, I always thank the Lord for keeping us alive to see this particular day in human history, that is, when I remember, or when I'm wallowing in deep morning blues, a mental and emotional malady which I'm very prone to suffer. I find that thanking the Lord for the day, especially a day beset with uncertainty due to the weather or temperamental clientele, or a combination of both, makes the day a lot more bearable, even enjoyable to a certain extent, and by the blessed evening I reflect on the day and realise that the weathermen were unduly pessimistic and my clientele keen to have their windows done after all.
Yet there are times I feel that I'm on my own, struggling against the odds to keep both of us above water. Church is not meant to be the place to feel lonely, but sometimes I do feel lonely. Not that it is the fault of the Elders, the structure, the mode of worship, the style of preaching, or the majority in the congregation. Thank God for Ascot Life Church! It is my spiritual home, something I can't do without. Yet there is at least one member, whom I still love dearly, not only refusing to talk to me, but acting as if I was invisible or absent. He blocked his Facebook account from us so that neither my wife or I can log onto it. And his younger son, a very keen and talented sketch artist, has also done the same thing.
The church is one place to come for spiritual refuelling, a place for comfort, company, love, fellowship, a place where after a week of stressful events, a place I can get close to the Lord, or talk to someone. Perhaps it's a bit like riding a bicycle (my main mode of transport) from A to B. If all the parts are in order, the ride will be smooth and pleasant. But the most common fault that does occur whilst riding is a flat. All it takes is a tiny pinhole in one of the tyres and the whole machine grinds to a halt, literally. Nothing is more irritating than that trrr-trrr-trrr vibration generated at the rear wheel and passing into the body through the saddle, with the noise to go with it. It is the sensation most feared and dreaded by any triathlete or road racing cyclist out contesting for the gold medal or winner's trophy.
The puncture is a good illustration here. The pinhole can be so small, that the affected inner tube has to be inflated with a pump and then inserted in a bucket of water to locate the tiny stream of bubbles before repair can take place. Yet it is enough to bring havoc to riding, the cause of being stranded in the middle of nowhere, miles from home or destination, and dashes hopes for victory at a championship contest. As a one-time long-distance cyclist and triathlete myself, common sense has dictated the wisdom of carrying a spare inner tube and repair outfit which, although might have lost the chance on a triathlon victory, at least would have enabled me to cross the finish line, or avoid being stranded out in the remote countryside.
Having a Christian brother disliking me brings grit into the fellowship very much as a flat to a bicycle. And like the pinhole, the feeling of animosity can be invisible to other church members to the extent that they are not aware of it. I guess we both have stiff upper lips, and decide to keep the issue bottled up rather than show the slightest emotion and cause a scene. But what was the cause of the animosity?
It was the case of social class and status. He has a grandson through his elder son, and I joked on Facebook that he should take on window cleaning when he has grown up. This upset our brother very dearly and as a result, weekly church attendance is marred by the atmosphere only us two can feel, more likely only I can feel. So I see church attendance a bit like the dreaded vibration of a flat while trying to reach my destination.
Social class! The very centre of Englishness for which, multiple thousands have sacrificed their lives during the Great War, according to Jeremy Paxman's book, The English - A Portrait of a People. According to this author, it was for traditional Englishness with its rigid class system which those thousands of British troops had fought in the trenches in the dead of winter and had given their lives, unlike in the Second World War, when the British fought more to defend their families than its culture. And this subject is talked about right up to the present day. It seems that the English are still obsessed with class. And this is no longer the big three - Working-Middle-Upper Classes - which dominated the centuries. In the last few decades the three became five, as middle class presented problems such as whether an office junior can be graded equal to a doctor or lawyer. Middle class represented higher education, a good income and a desk job. So an office junior considers himself middle class simply because he sits at a desk, unlike the working classes beneath him who earns a living by getting their hands dirty - whether in manufacturing, construction, plumbing or other skills which require wearing overalls or a boiler suit.
And here is the snag. A surgeon would not be considered working class because his education is too high. Yet at his job he too wears an overall, even a mask as paint sprayers do, and get his gloved hands dirty. But no one would consider him working class. Hence, middle class was sub-divided into three levels: Lower Middle, Middle, and Upper Middle, making five altogether when Working is added along with Upper.
But lately, with the decline of the manufacturing industry, the five have become seven with different titles. Starting at the top we now have: The Elite, Established Middle Class, Technical Middle Class, New Affluent Workers, Traditional Working Class, Emergent Service Workers, and Precariat at the bottom. A couple of years ago, I took an online test to find out which of the seven I was in. After being thoroughly honest with the input, the result was Precariat, on the bottom of the pile. Earlier last week I re-took the test, most likely with different questions, including whether I visit museums. I generally like museums, although I have not visited one for several years, I still included this detail. The result was the same - Precariat, and I shared this on Facebook.
One comment appeared underneath, which read:
I've been approved in Jesus Christ so what else do I need to base my self esteem on?
This guy, one of our church members, was absolutely right. The English in general seem to have a deep problem with self esteem. One newspaper even said that the English had lost its identity since the collapse of its Empire, and now are finding ways to re-establish its identity. The result is a pile of useless stratum which I think the public in general will not recognise, let alone use. To the public, there will always be three universally understood, all others remaining as computer jargon favoured by sociologists. For example, I would call myself working class, which is understood by all, while "Precariat" would cause the majority, I believe, to scratch their heads.
In a country that has lost its identity and trying to establish a sense of self esteem by means of a complicated and confusing structure, as the fellow above commented on Facebook, true identity in found only in Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus explodes the class system to smithereens. Furthermore, Jesus himself said that the first shall be last, and the last first. He also said that if anyone wants to be great in the Kingdom of God, let him serve others. Then there was the case when the mother of James and John appealed to the Lord to have her sons sit on either side of him on the throne. This angered the rest of the disciples to the point when the Lord had to call them to his attention. Then during the Last Supper, while the thought of the cross was heavy on the Lord's shoulders, again a discussion arose among his disciples on who would be the greatest. A surprising situation considering that Jesus had settled this matter several times throughout his ministry (Matthew 20:20, Mark 10:35-45, Luke 9:46, 22:24.)
Just think of it: A lawyer hugging a window cleaner, the dustman shaking hands with a doctor, the magistrate dining in the home of a plumber, the factory floor cleaner sitting at the barrister's table, all their children playing together, everybody having fun.
That is not impossible if every believer took their faith in Christ more seriously, and not bicker over an offspring's future career prospects, and the realisation that everybody desires love and acceptance, regardless of his social standing.
That is what church is all about.
That is what church is all about.