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Sunday, 3 August 2014

A Sobering Thought..

Reading the Bible every morning for me is as important as breakfast itself. Particularly when the outlook for the working day isn't that great - because the Met Office promises rain, which isn't compatible with my line of work, or the prospects of facing one of those awkward households who somehow had found themselves on my rota list. Or just as bad, having one or several of those properties where using a ladder on them jeopardises the safety of my neck, yet nevertheless, managed to complete the task successfully every month for many years. But there is always a degree of personal job-satisfaction when, as in my case, working for myself as a self-employed domestic window cleaner, a very British trade which had endured for the last century, maybe even as much as two hundred years, with myself on the go for the last 34 years. Without the shadow of a doubt, linked inextricably with my line of work is daily Bible reading and prayer, mainly the need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, in order to face the day.

Does writing about all this make me look super-spiritual? Rather, I am admitting that without the need of God in my life, I wouldn't be able to cope. Like at one moment earlier in the week when a client, about to drive to France with his wife on their annual holiday, mocked by saying how lucky I was to have caught  him on time, or else I would have gone without payment for the next two weeks. His mocking tone, rather than what he actually said, touched a raw nerve and I was clearly annoyed. I think this ire was over the fact that he was a successful, middle class professional who had achieved the best out of life with the resources he had, along with his equally successful working spouse - a superb home in a quiet cul-de-sac surrounded by trees and open space, perhaps not unlike a typical Californian housing estate. Two cars were parked on his driveway, and hanging inside his lounge wall, in clear view, were photos of his married son cuddling his daughter - that is the client's granddaughter (we window cleaners can be notorious nosey parkers!) - a testimony to their brilliant schooling and university graduation, something I had always dreamt about.
As I climbed the positioned ladder, I was gasping for breath as I tried to keep my anger under control. Then, there and then, I silently pleaded with God for a filling of the Holy Spirit. Soon after I felt my emotions calm, and at the completion of the job, when he handed me the fee, I was able to explain in good humour that these payments were so important because unlike them, I am the only breadwinner, as my wife is unable to work, especially now confined in a wheelchair, together with a lower than normal income due to other clientele already away on their holidays. I then finished the conversation with a statement that despite our situation, we had never felt in need, we parted on a good friendship, even wishing them an enjoyable holiday. Such is the work of the Holy Spirit.
All this was brought to mind as I read a newspaper article about these car-parking surveillance firms whose bully boys, who run these private companies, allowing themselves to become rich, literally, by extracting penalty fines from distressed car owners who were unfortunate enough to leave their vehicles parked for even a few seconds over the time limit. These victims were not just merely weekly shoppers, or one out on an errand, but also hospital patients, including those with severe illnesses, such as cancer, arriving for assessment and treatment, who afterwards returned to the hospital car park just a few seconds late. The fines these companies impose were huge, and one particular group of victims were senior citizens, whose slowness in returning to their parked cars resulting in the issuing of a ticket. The amassed fines from such a multitude of distressed car drivers had resulted with these company bosses posing in front of the camera in suit and tie, happily smiling, with snapshots of lucrative homes out in the countryside, complete with luxury cars of their own, well away from the city crowds they extort every day.  
This is just one of many examples of greed and extortion which, to me, gives capitalism a bad name, along with those in the Banking industry with their exorbitant bonuses. Before you believe that I'm a outright Socialist, in fact I do believe that Capitalism is the better of the two economic systems, and one endorsed in the Old Testament and by Jesus himself. For example, Moses was very strict with property boundaries (e.g. Deuteronomy 19:14) - as well as forbidding of stealing contained in the Decalogue itself. And Jesus spoke several parables about property ownership, private investment and profit, particularly of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) - of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-41) - and of the Workers of the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16.) In modern terms, there is nothing wrong in someone setting up an ice-cream parlour and hiring another person to help run the stall. Or a beach-front restaurant, many of such we saw at our holiday resort of Bournemouth. If the one investing in a business can provide good service to the customer, and through honest trading, make a profit, then that is good. I guess that is exactly what I'm doing in the window cleaning trade - providing a service in which the customer is satisfied, with contracts lasting many years.

But this is an age where honest capitalism seems to link hands with greed, with profit as seen with exorbitance and of unruly gain. One of the most popular current documentaries broadcast on the BBC is Rogue Traders - mainly in the building, roofing and landscaping industries where often one man sets up a cowboy building contractor with the aim of emptying out a victim's bank account for a shoddy piece of work which was not called for, or for no work done at all. Car repairs also fall victim to this sort of scam as well. According to these programmes, it is often the old-age pensioner who falls victim, after being persuaded, for example, that the roof of her house is in need of urgent repair, when in truth, there was nothing wrong with her roof at all. Tales of the elderly losing multiple thousands pounds of their life savings abound in this documentary, and I can't but gasp with wonder how the fraudster can pocket such amounts of money without a sting in his conscience.

Many people imagine themselves to be rich, wealthy, and to secure a comfortable living, including a beautiful mansion out in the country with plush furniture and fittings, a private swimming pool, large manicured gardens, and posh cars. Holidays consisting of long-haul flights to faraway places not generally visited by the average commoner. Perhaps on top of this, a luxury yacht moored at the southern French resort of Nice or Monaco. On board, champagne corks are popped as a party out at sea is celebrated. No more worries about work and responsibilities - just enjoy the rich blue Mediterranean sea beneath and the golden sun above in a cloudless sky. Even take a dive off the boat edge and swim in the cool, crystal clear waters. The life of luxury on the Island of Dreams, far, far away, as a popular song of the early sixties, went like this:

High in the sky is a bird on a wing.
Please carry me with you,
far, far away from this mad rushing crowd.
Please carry me with you.
Again I will wonder where memories enfold me,
there on the beautiful Island of Dreams.

I guess that if no bird can carry a person to this paradise life, then a few will turn to crime and fraud, in preference of a quick fix rather than a lifetime of honest trading. And not so rapidly as through technology, where Internet and mobile phone scams abound, along with banking and credit card fraud. Nearly everyday a story comes out about one dishonest gain or another, as if in a desperate attempt to fly away from the harsh reality of life to the Island of Dreams.

But all this is not new. Even in he days when Jesus was around, inheritance disputes abounded, as often as they do at present, and this did not escape the Lord's attention. As I pour through the Gospel of Luke, I came across a dispute between two brothers:

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide his inheritance with me."
Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?"
Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all greed; a man's life does not consist on the abundance of his possessions."
And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'
"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store up my grain and all my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."'
"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'
"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God."
Luke 12:13-21.

"The Rich Fool" is the title of this passage in the NIV. But actually he was a very good businessman and farmer, who has spent years working on his land to build for himself what we call today a very comfortable nest egg. With the final task remaining, that is to modify his storage space, he was anticipating his flight to the Island of Dreams, where he thought of lasting happiness. I guess the Island of Dreams is Paradise Lost, a condition which had originated on the day Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were driven out of the Garden of Eden. From that day on, all humanity had attempted to return to Paradise in one way or another, myself included, who has found a form of paradise in world travel.

My version of the Island of Dreams - World Backpacking - Cairns, Australia, 1997

I have found The Rich Fool quite an intriguing fellow. He was, in the eyes of the world, a wise and prudent guy who, having inherited the land from his father, had learnt the right way in going about in ploughing, fertilisation and sowing of his seed in well prepared soil, resulting in good harvesting and storage, should a famine arise sometime in the future. However, what did strike me, contrary to traditional Jewish customs, was the hint that he remained unmarried and childless. He had no one to inherit is property after his demise. Instead, he spent his adult years working hard and storing up his goods while looking forward to his retirement when he can spend the rest of his life in hedonism, the Island of Dreams. Yet he was not really different to the modern ambitious man or woman who had performed brilliantly at school, then graduated at university - the degree becoming a passport to a lucrative, high-flying career with a high income. Presently, a mortgage poses little problems, not to mention owning and driving a fast sports car, such as a Ferrari or Porsche. Like the fellow in Jesus' parable, often they remain single to well into their thirties, even to their forties.

Such a person is often a pride to their parents and other family members. And unless caught in some scandal or misdeed of greed, he or she is respected in the world, and looked up to. The majority, I believe, would agree that a retired life of hedonism is a richly deserved reward after putting in the years of hard work. Any differences between the rich farmer and today's high flier are not that great.

But God called that guy a fool, with no hint of Heavenly reward. Instead, his life would be cut off that very night to meet his Maker and face Judgement. Like the on-going stories of undergraduates and young academics whose lives are cut off in the prime of their lives - such stories appearing nearly everyday on the Media - nobody will ever know just when his time is up, and furthermore, death comes when least expected. Therefore what was this rich farmer's main mistake?

First, he did not know God in his life, and second, he did not share his wealth with the poor and the desolate. Instead, he stored up his goods instead of sharing them out. This rich man, who visualised life on the Island of Dreams, had never understood that paradise involves first, worshipping and acknowledging God in his life and the need for salvation, then sharing with the poor and with those in need, to practice hospitality, and to love and respect others. Instead, he worked all his life, amassed great wealth, but died suddenly and so unexpectedly, leaving the result of all his hard work to strangers, not having an heir to inherit his wealth.

This is a sober lesson to people such as rogue traders, greedy banking executives and owners of parking surveillance companies who had made themselves rich by using extortion on their victims. To any of them God can easily say, "You fool! Tonight your soul will be required of you. Then who will use your long-haul flight ticket?"

A very sobering thought indeed!


  1. Amen, Frank! What does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he loses his soul? So many who have achieved earthly "success" are spiritual paupers with no divine inheritance, and eternity in hell awaiting them. Thank you for your testimony of starting each day with Bible reading and praying to be filled with the Holy Spirit. No matter what our line of work, may we all follow that example so that whatsoever we do, we can do it to the glory of God.
    God bless,

  2. Another well written and true events story. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great post, Frank.

    Unfortunately most people do not realize socialism is just a way for greedy politicians to capitalize on the greed and needs of the poor and really is no different than the rogue traders you mentioned, promising great things but delivering little at exorbitant cost. Often the promoters of socialism are some of the worst and most greedy capitalists of all.

  4. I like what happened between you and your client Frank. One reason was because you asked help from the Lord to deal with the anger that was forming in your mind, and the other reason was because sometimes, once somebody who has never experienced what a person is going through has that person explain his situation, understanding can bring a more sympathetic and compassionate spirit within the other person.

    With regards to how you reacted once seeking the Lord for help, a soft answer was proved to turn away wrath. God's ways are so much better that our ways and will always prove themselves true.