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Saturday, 21 February 2015

A Wailing Wall Incident.

As a lone backpacker, one country which has always intrigued me is Israel. Home of the Bible, birthplace of the Church, a paradise for students of both ancient and recent history, a giant archaeological garden, and also the crossroads for three monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam, each claiming to have their roots in Abraham's faith, to whom God had originally given this land. So I considered as I stood leaning on the barrier separating the outer area of open ground from the inner courtyard, where orthodox Jews gathered to pray at the Western Wall, sometimes known as the Wailing Wall, where Jews have ever since wept over the loss of their Temple when it was razed to the ground by the Roman forces in AD 70.

As I leaned at the barrier, soaking in the excitement of Israeli life, a group of young white men arrived at this Jewish holy site, chanting England, England, land of hope and glory! - before eventually dispersing. Although I did not know how the Jews must have felt as a result of such an insulting incident, I myself felt very perturbed. Who on Earth were they to chant the glory of their home country while staying as guests in a foreign land? And why were they there in the first place? They did not come across as archaeological or history students, and certainly not as on a pilgrimage tour, as had always been the case with the vast majority of Christians visiting the Holy Land. Rather, they came across as if a horde of boozed up football fans who are traditionally regarded as working class, and holding far-right political views.

Not that football had ever been the sport of Israel. They do have a national team, but had never qualified for the World Cup or European tournaments, as far as I'm aware. If they did, they had never made it into the knockout stages. So seeing what looks to be English football fans in Israel was more odd than watching a fish thrive out of water. When I arrived back home, I shared this incident with some of my church friends in the Singles group. One of them, a devoted English patriot, insisted that they did not do anything amiss. I then asked him,
Have you ever seen a group of Jews chanting Israel, Israel, in Trafalgar Square? (A popular London venue for demonstrations and protest groups.) There was no answer.

Whether this is the correct thing to do or not, I have always stereotyped chanting football fans as white working class with a high sense of patriotism. Maybe the image of a well educated university graduate in a sharp suit and spending the day at an office number-crunching or answering the 'phone does not fit the stereotype. Far too reserved, together with the long working hours both taking their toll on his social life.

So jump forward from 1993 (when that incident took place) to the present day when, fresh out of hospital after open heart surgery, an article accompanied by a video covered an incident on the Paris subway when a group of Chelsea fans blocked a black Parisian from boarding a train by repeatedly pushing him out of the carriage doors. Then this group began to chant,
We are racist, we are racist, and that's how we like it, that's how we like it.
What they didn't realise at that moment was the pushing and chanting was caught on camera, and the footage sent off to The Guardian national newspaper, then going viral right across the Media. When rumbled, the small group of fans began to protest, insisting that the chant was directed at the Chelsea team manager, John Terry. One fan was singled out in that group. Far from being working class, his parents owned an exclusive home in Surrey, he attended a £33,000-a-year public school, graduated in business studies at Regent's University in London, and at present works at Business & Commercial Club in the City. With such a profile, I find it astonishing that such a character can engage in such racist activity!

I have seen such stories like this before, how middle class graduates can blend in among the working class to support a football team and partake in racism, or declare their national superiority if the game is international. All this leaves me rather frazzled. Here is a guy whose I.Q. is several grades above mine, yet fail to see that as humans, regardless of race, ethnic origin, social class, or nationality; we are all under the shadow of death, and unless redeemed by Jesus Christ, judgement will follow. However, this does not seem to shed any light on who made up that arrogant crowd in Jerusalem. Above I wrote that they were as if football fans. But with no game in sight, especially in the midst of Summer, and seemingly unknown, all I can conclude is that they were a group of mere tourists, out on a booze binge as if on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza.

Am I deluded? Am I stuck in the mud for stereotyping? How is it that I instinctively rule them out as being university undergrads? After all, archaeology, the Hebrew language, or Biblical history are big stuff here in Israel. Or, heaven forbid, a group of pilgrims? Maybe a group of volunteers on a project. No matter which way to turn, I just couldn't link these people as among the academically elite. But having just come out of hospital, regarding that group of Englishmen in Jerusalem or at the Paris subway some 22 years later, I couldn't help but ponder on how these patriots would have felt about having an open heart procedure carried out by a team of Islamic consultants from the Middle East, then given general care by a team of nurses, the majority being Afro-Caribbean, and then as an icing on the cake, having someone from the Mediterranean serve up the meals. Then leaving me to ponder on how many among the remaining few white staff members are actually home-born English, as opposed to being Polish or Hungarian.

As mentioned in my last blog, all these people treated me very well indeed, as a result of showing them respect and thankfulness as a patient at their hospital. Walking in the Holy Spirit is on par with walking in love, as the Bible apparently does not make these two exclusive. Love is a force not only much stronger than racism or national superiority, but both the giver and recipient benefit, pouring soothing oil on otherwise clunking cogs of a rusting engine. As previously mentioned, walking in the Holy Spirit/walking in love has made every staff member at direct contact with me at the hospital feel worthy of their call, have brightened up their day. And unlike most other patients, I was offered the option of another night at the ward, an option I turned down in favour of returning home.

But there remains an issue which bothers me. That is, any readers of my last blog coming to the conclusion that since I did not share the Gospel of Christ to any of them, they remained lost in their sins, and therefore, walking in the Holy Spirit while remaining incapacitated did not amount to anything of worth, even if my voice itself was very weak, not much higher than a whisper. I suppose on the face of it, these readers have a point. Any one of these staff members could have died the day after I was discharged. But I also believe that showing goodness and preaching the Gospel does not guarantee conversion. This was the case of Jesus Christ himself. He performed miracles, healed the sick, drove out demons, even raising the dead, as well as miraculous feeding five thousand men. Great crowds were drawn to him due to such love he had shown to them. This was why the Lord wanted to sift their hearts, and come out with such startling statements designed to test those who genuinely wanted to follow him from those who just wanted the benefits. So on one occasion he turned to the crowds and declared:

If anyone comes to me and hates not his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters - yes, even his own life - he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple...(and) anyone who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:26,33.

It has been considered that Luke 14:33 is the most unpopular verse in the entire Bible. In my younger days I mistook it to mean that to impoverish myself to the state of homelessness was the way to eternal life - a works-based salvation which was a practically impossible burden for a potential believer to bear. Rather, I believe here that Jesus was testing the heart among the crowd that gathered around him. The truth was, despite his love and wonderful goodness delivered to them, along with the secrets of the Kingdom of God, he was rejected by almost the entire nation of Israel. And towards the later chapters of John's Gospel, Jesus warned his disciples that since the world had rejected his teachings, it will reject their's too, and this includes ours. However, if the Holy Spirit had prompted me to say something, I would have spoken up.

I always remember that moment I was walking alone through Leicester Square in London, when I came across a Christian orator stuck for words when one in the crowd asked him to prove that Jesus was more worthy of a following than Muhammad. Immediately I shouted out,

This very uncharacteristic response can only be from the Holy Spirit within, for only he can prompt a person to say that Jesus is risen from the dead. That is what I love to see spread across this nation.

I don't dislike this nation, as some may think. Rather, I believe that England in particular desperately needs to know the love of God through faith in Christ. It's the only hope this nation has - faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour. Nationalism through football support is not the solution, neither is any right wing political fix. And certainly not racialism either. But perhaps a questioning of the status quo of Darwinism would be a good start, as Evolution robs the Gospel of all its power, relegating it to fiction. Then the realisation that we were created by God to eternally enjoy his love, but have fallen into sin, and national pride and superiority is a direct result of sin, and in need to be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus as Saviour, is the only way forward.

Imagine the different reaction these guys would have taken in both Jerusalem and Paris alike had they known the Lord for themselves.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

In the Darkness...

As I sat at a table with a Cappuccino Grande placed in front of me, the only decent sized china mug among tall paper cups adorning other tables around me, I sat alone and watched a young daughter throwing tantrums as her mother refused to give her the treat "until we get home" -while her younger brother, not much older than two years and with lovely golden blond hair, came right up close to me, and gazed up at the gentleman sitting about four to five feet away, to whom he fixed his curious stare. Instantly his mother beckoned him over, and presently the family, with the daughter still in tears, moved on.

Sipping coffee at Starbucks was a tonic in physical, mental and spiritual well-being. The sound of daily hustle and bustle within had reminded me that I'm back in the real world once again, watching living people going about their business, with the aromatic atmosphere of a coffee bar enhancing the experience. It was a contrast to within the last twelve days when two of my friends took my wife and myself to Harefield Hospital, just outside Greater London, to register for an open heart operation which would take place the following morning. After registration and a ward bed assigned, the three of us, (the fourth who brought us, already on his way home) made our way to settle in a ground floor room at Parkwood House, an astonishing three to four hundred metre walk from the hospital itself, but still within its grounds. Here I made sure that both my wife, who has mobility limitations, and our friend who would become her carer, were both settled in to be close to me during the procedure.

Being given a sedative pill shortly before being transferred from bed to gurney helped me stay calm as I was then wheeled from ward to theatre. Due to another patient in front of me not being quite ready to move, we were held up in a "traffic jam" within the narrow curved corridor, and I watched the snow fall gently outside, and perhaps feeling thankful that it was not just another work day. What seemed like eternity, but in reality about two to three minutes, the gurney in front of mine started to move, and mine was pushed behind it, with Alex and Sharon keeping up with the porters. After a fairly long walk, including a corridor built entirely of glass and fully capable of keeping meat frozen solid for a week or two, we halted in front of the theatre doors, where I looked upon both Alex and Sharon as I was wheeled in, as they couldn't proceed any further. Alex looked into my eyes, and I into hers, and that was it. After being asked a series of identity questions, I was led into a room which within the anaesthetist jabbed a couple of needles into the back of my right hand.

What seemed like just a few minutes later I became conscious of lying down in complete darkness and I clearly heard the voice of my wife Alex calling out:
I love you, I love you, I love you.
With much effort, I replied, I love you too.
Then the voice spoke again:
He loves me! See, he loves me!
Although I was in complete darkness, somehow I sensed the operation was over, and I felt an overwhelming peace come over me. When I did wake up and became fully conscious, I found myself staring at a clock over the door which read three minutes past midnight, in the Intensive Care Unit. I did not take long to fall back to sleep again.

I was out for the count for a solid fifteen hours, of which the first six I was in the theatre. The conversation between Alex and myself took place sometime between four and five o'clock p.m. - seven to eight hours after becoming unconscious, yet to me it seemed just a few minutes since of my awareness in the presence of the anaesthitist. 

But as for all the staff at the National Health Service, I had nothing but praise for all of them. In the High Dependency Unit there was this elderly patient who was constantly moaning, refusing to have his oxygen mask over his face, and the ward staff constantly persuading him to wear it. This went on into the small hours, until about 4 a.m. I called the head nurse to my bed and loudly whispered,
That patient is p*****g me off!
How she can remain calm and fully contained amazed me. Sure enough, she must have come across scores of elderly patients who had similar attitudes, yet what she could do, I couldn't. As she carried on persuading him to wear the mask and also explaining that he's keeping other people awake as well, I thought entered my mind - You are not walking in the Holy Spirit.

I considered this a serious matter, and I prayed for control by the Spirit of Christ. This didn't solve the problem in the ward, but it did change my attitude. During breakfast, the surgeons who performed the operation arrived at my bed to check my recovery progress. When they seemed satisfied, I replied my thanks to them for such a professional job from such wonderful men. I then reached out to shake his hand warmly. His appreciative look seem to indicate to me that he wished all patients took on such a grateful attitude instead of grumbling thanklessly over their condition as the one whose bed was next to mine did all night, whom I did approach to say good morning, only to be greeted by a grunt.

But by abiding by the Holy Spirit seemed to have made a particular impact on the catering staff, as well as on other nurses. This fellow, who looked to be from the Mediterranean, looked fed up as he conveyed the meal trolley from the kitchen to the wards. He was fully committed to the task, but what seemed to bother him was the large amount of food being thrown to waste. I am aware that hospital food here in the UK has a bad reputation, enough to appear in the national media, but here at Harefield Hospital, the food was good, as if extra effort was put into the culinary work for greater appeal to us patients. I felt nothing about cleaning the soup bowl and main course plate - it had always been my normal way of life. But what took several days to dawn on me was that this waiter appreciated my enjoyment of the food. By the time his weekly shift rota ended, he singled me out in the ward, beaming from ear to ear, and shook my hand before he left.

Just by showing simple appreciation and respect for such hard working, committed staff, seems to be taken to heart, and they show this by approaching me with a warm, smiling attitude,  the result of abiding in the power of the Holy Spirit. Some patients believe that they have their rights - having paid into the national purse all throughout their lives - to demand beck and call on the staff without realising that each nurse has to see to all the patients in the ward, with some having more needs than others.

At the Discharge Ward, where I spent the last three days, I overheard a conversation taking place between a night nurse and a nearby patient. According to this staff member, the cost for just one night spent as an in-patient, with just the nurse to look after him, costs the N.H.S. £450. And that does not include medicine, food, or treatment. I also overheard that medicine costs £13 per item. For example, two Paracetamol pills, one Aspirin, one Ramipril pill, one Ranitidine pill, one Furosemide pill and one Brisopolol pill, would add up to £78 for two to three separate doses, one in the morning, one at lunchtime, and again in the evening. Now if multiplied by seven nights, the cost would be approximately £3,700. Now add the cost of the procedure itself, and the cost would jump into tens of thousand of pounds. This is a reality which no one can claim "patient's rights" to the point of perceiving the nurse as constantly under beck and call. Little wonder that by submitting to the Holy Spirit has made the nurses in our ward feel more worthy of their call, with one of them, an Afro-Caribbean, pampering around me as if I was a celebrity shortly before going home.

My recent experience in hospital was much more than a place to treat an illness. Rather it was a major learning curve in the simple principle of showing love and appreciation to others committed to care. And believe me, they do a very good job, a reflection of Jesus Christ himself, who taught his disciples to heal the sick, among other works of love. While here on earth, he constantly radiated love to all who crossed his path. Great crowds followed, parents brought their children to be blessed, various women burdened with sin and rejected by society found their liberation in him. Some even traversed over long distances in searching for him. He never turned anybody away, but cried out in the Temple precinct that if anyone thirsts, let him come to him, and he will be satisfied. Little wonder that many hospitals bear the name of one of Jesus' disciples, such as St Thomas, St James, and St Bartholomew Hospitals. 

Oddly enough, only the religious hated him. And it is a sad, sad fact that over the centuries, churches had crossed swords with each other in theological debates, therefore keeping up the hatred these religious people had against Jesus. Yes, I agree that correct doctrine is essential for the health of the church. Its creeds should be regularly examined and preached. Creeds such as the Trinity, salvation by faith, and the Bible as the authoritative Word of God are essential truths upon every church must rest on these foundations. But if as a hospital patient, if I tried to argue whether salvation can be lost or not, how impressed would the staff had been? Or instead of shaking the surgeon's hand and congratulated him for his fine work, insisted that there will be a Millennium. Would he had been impressed? (I believe he was a Muslim) Or would he had hastened my discharge instead?

If only the churches had preached the Gospel mixed with the love of Christ to the world over the centuries, instead of engaging in in-fighting, would we have a better society than the one we live in now? Perhaps many believers can learn a thing or two from these dedicated medical staff. Maybe if we did, who knows, the N.H.S. may not come to such a high demand as it is today.