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Sunday, 27 July 2014

Beach Hedonism

Having just returned home from a short break, this holiday in Bournemouth was quite a learning curve, and very different from all the travel I had experienced throughout my lifetime. Because for the first time ever, our getaway involved a wheelchair in which my beloved sat, with myself pushing, often involving very steep ramps, as our hotel was located on a clifftop, and no matter which direction we took, we could not arrive at our hotel entrance without a stiff climb preceding it. Then the hotel was not really wheelchair friendly, as both the doorstep and the reception, just inside, involved steps. Fortunately, my wife Alex is what you may call semi-disabled. That is, she is able to get out of the chair and climb the stairs without aid before needing to get back in, making this an identical situation as at home, where she does not use the wheelchair at all - a big improvement from October of the previous year, when she was totally unable to move her thigh and leg muscles.
One of the highlights of the holiday were the long walks along the promenade, which connected Bournemouth with the neighbouring towns of Poole at one side, and Boscombe on the other, with the walkway linking all three without a single incline - such a blessing when it was constructed at a set distance above sea level. I have to admit, there was something euphoric in my spirit as I pushed the wheelchair over several miles. During these walks, I was able to look at Alex's head directly in front of me and felt such love for her pouring out of my heart - maybe because she depended on me entirely for her welfare and wellbeing. It seemed as an exact replica of the risen Jesus loving his bride, the church, both as individual believers and corporately as a body.

But not all was peaches and cream, the dream holiday everybody longs for. The weather was hot with unbroken sunshine, a heatwave by which we underestimated the strength of the sun. So on the day we lay on the beach and swam in the sea, we got sunburned, both of us, but the pain we did not feel until after we had returned to the hotel for the evening. Having a cold bath partially relieved the symptoms, but by the morning of the next day, we took action to buy a sunburn cream containing Ibuprofen, a non-inflammatory painkiller, and applied this liberally to the affected areas of our bodies. Indeed the aching did subside, and we both felt better afterwards, properly dressed and ready to start the first of our two walks, the longer one to Poole and back, with the sunburn virtually forgotten.
But for poor Alex, the cream had a side effect, causing her face to puff up, along with her feet, by the following evening. After she had watched the vast crowd of locals, visitors and holidaymakers enjoying their time at the beach and taking their mobility for granted, my dear beloved, away from the crowds, broke into tears. As I comforted her with tenderness, I assured her that my love and devotion to her will never ever fail, and I will be with her until my time is up. Once married always married. On top of this, I have encouraged her not to let her faith fail, and I gave her an example from the Old Testament character Job, who experienced the loss of all his children bar one, and the loss of all his possessions, and finally the loss of his health until he reached a point of hanging on to life by a hair. Yet, despite of all that, he declared:
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed, and yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him with my own eyes, - I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:25-27.
"I will see God." l will see God. The eternal security Job obviously felt about the afterlife was enough to strengthen Alex's spirit, and mine too. It was sufficient for the rest of the holiday not to be spoilt, and although the sunburn did gives us gyp, particularly at night, believing in the eternal promises of God was very re-assuring for both of us.
Yet the initial cause of my wife weeping as she sat in her wheelchair was the sight of so many people in such a holiday mood, as the sun shone, brightening up the whole environment into vivid colours and contrasts. Yes, we did see a few other wheelchairs about, but we could count on the fingers of just one hand the few we did see, compared to the countless individuals, couples, group of friends, and families, all sauntering along with probably no thought of their ability to walk normally without assistance. And on one evening, when we decided to stay in town until late at night, I especially, was taken in by the large group of revellers having barbecues on the sandy beach, with not a few actually having a late-night swim in the sea, with just the pier lights for illumination. The raucous, shouting, laughter, and generally messing about among them did not pose any threat of violence. Quite unusual, so I thought, for the British do have a reputation for alcohol, drunkenness, vomiting, violence and hospitalisation, not to mention a night spent in a police cell, particularly abroad, with the Mediterranean island of Ibiza being one of the top destinations for young Brits during the Summer. But as we drew nearer the crowd, I began to notice the dominance of both foreign languages and broken English. The crowds having a whale of a time seem to be mainly from abroad, who were able to revel without all those alcohol-related setbacks. At the same time the bright lights of the fun fair, in the town's main square, throbbing with life and loud music as more of these revellers opted for a ride.
The general age range seems to be in their twenties, which gave me a clue that they were likely students. But whatever the reason why they were here, has got me to ponder a little - or a lot, maybe. How would Jesus Christ had re-acted in this joyous environment? This question had got me to think how things were during the Victorian or Edwardian age. During those days, so according to some of the pictures I have seen, the coast would have been populated by smartly-dressed English genteel, who would have been offended by the sight of too much flesh exposed.

With their tight formal dress, I have wondered whether our hot Summers are a modern phenomenon, because the weather always looked so dull in these illustrations! But assuming that hot Summers were as prevalent in those days as at present, these people certainly knew how to endure their body heat in such constricting attire. It was such a vivid contrast to the present day, when during a typical weekday, we saw no more than half a dozen neck-ties worn, out of multiple thousands of males, many with just a tank top, vest or singlet. As we heard several times a swear word floating in the air, I could not help but ponder on the tiny percentage who regularly attend church, a massive contrast to the bygone days when Sunday church-going was all but mandatory for everyone.
Then I recall my own childhood days as a boy, wearing a suit and tie whenever we attended church. I also recall the day when I took the first Holy Communion at age thirteen - I have a picture of myself resembling a groom at a wedding. Then putting it all together, to me, there has always been a strong connection between formal attire and regular church attendance.
Do the average unbeliever or un-churched really think this? I have to admit that I don't really know for sure. But this was one main reason why I was very anti-church during my later teenage years. And going by the way the Victorians dress and their majority who attended church, indeed - if he was alive on earth today, I couldn't help but imagine Jesus walking along the promenade with a permanent scowl, judging and condemning the entire population for their skimpy attire, being drunk, swearing, having fun, and not attending church each week. To add to this, he would also condemn those who attend church dressed informally, with either tee-shirts, or open-neck shirts without a tie, and the ladies attending wearing low neckline attire and lacking a headscarf. As my father-in-law once said to me: attending church in casual dress, to him, is being disrespectful to the Lord.
And how would the Lord respond to the huge beach party with its barbecues and late-night swimming? And heaven forbid, not to mention the fun-fair, with its flesh-centred sensuality. Would he mingle around in his wrath, looking for at least one person formally dressed in Victorian attire, or at least in modern suit and tie? And not finding at least one "righteous" person, let alone ten, (Genesis 18:32) - would he call upon Heaven to send down fire and destroy them all? Or preach a loud message of judgement? Or at least turn his back and walk away, letting them all perish in their own iniquity?
No, not at all! I think it would be just the opposite. If Jesus was around at the massive beach party, what he would have wanted to do was to attract their attention in order to gracefully shower love, healing and forgiveness of sins abundantly. So the following scenario is what I personally believe what might have occurred if Jesus Christ was present that night:

At first, he would select someone with an infirmity, such as my wife in the wheelchair, with the right time and place set by his Father in Heaven. Then he would perform a healing miracle, purposely in the crowd, to attract attention. With growing astonishment together with an equally growing sense of curiosity among those who witnessed the miracle, two, three, maybe even four with physical disabilities approached him and they were all healed. With attention fixed on him, he would begin to preach - not  with a judgemental attitude, but with a smile, his words flowing with grace and meekness. Eventually, one of the many groups in the crowd would ask him to join them at their barbecue. As he sits by the fire, he takes a roll, a couple of beefburgers, and after bowing his head in prayer, instructs the group in charge of the barbecue fire to distribute to all who wishes to partake. Then by the fireside, he preaches the Kingdom of Heaven, the reality of sin, the need for forgiveness, and the need to believe in him alone in order to enter Heaven. Rather than condemn the beach party, he offers something more richer, more permanent, and with the ability to face up to life's adversities - living water, welling out of the belly of all who believe, and eternal life. As a result, a great many in the crowd would turn and follow him.

Then by chance a coach pulls up nearby, and around fifty immaculately dressed ladies and gentlemen alight to make their way to the pier. Their attention was instead drawn to the crowd on the beach beside the pier. After listening to Jesus preach and perform miracles for an hour or two, they all conclude that this man cannot be from God, because he mixes with the common rabble with their skimpy singlets and topless torsos. Furthermore, he actually makes friends with foreigners, and with the lowlife scum who most likely had never seen the inside of a church. This was an insult to their own nationality, their religion, and their own righteousness. Didn't they go to church Sunday after Sunday without ever missing a week? And everyone attending always dressed immaculately in suits and ties of the finest tailoring, and the ladies in dresses with buttoned up necklines and wearing a headscarf. Weren't they very class conscious, making sure that they knew their place in society, and associated only with those of the same social stratum? Furthermore, they tut-tutted anything sensual, especially on the beach. As they sauntered along, their scowling faces watching with deep disapproval at a young, topless man hugging his bikini-clad girlfriend after both having had a swim in the sea. One of the gentlemen then called out:

Don't you have any manners, young man? It's about time you two attended church and learn some respectability!

In which his reply, containing vulgar language, was essentially saying to mind his own business. The gentleman, feeling rebuffed, reassured himself that he was doing the will of God, and Heaven was waiting for him, and such lowlife will suffer his own eternal doom.

The above was just a story, but I hope it brings out the differences between how Jesus would have re-acted in such an environment, and what I believe how many may perceive the churches to be like, a lot based on my own experience as a boy.


  1. Dear Frank,
    I love your beach party tale! Praise God that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and not the self-righteous. How many who go to church in their elegant finery are filthy in their inner thought life, even despising the things of God and going to church only to network or for other worldly reasons.
    I am blessed to hear that you and Alex were able to enjoy most of your holiday, despite the trials. She is truly blessed to have you as a devoted and loving husband.
    Thanks as always for the great post, & God bless,

  2. Hi Frank,
    lovely to hear that Alex is a lot more mobile than she was last October - Praise our lovely Lord! Regarding the rest of your post, 'As a man thinks - so he is.' We can not go by what we see or hear, God knows our innermost thoughts, and we are only advised to dress 'modestly' in the Bible.
    So I believe if we know what we are advised in the Bible then it is good to act on that advice, if we are not Christian then we are not judged by that word.

  3. Great post, Frank. How many are like the self righteous Pharisees, who got upset when Jesus spent time with those they considered wicked. How often the dress and appearance are counted more important than the person.