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Friday, 1 January 2016

If God was an Englishman..

Welcome to the start of 2016. I hope you all had a merry Christmas, and that all of you will have a prosperous New Year ahead. The year 2015 was a remarkable year in itself. Back in January, I was still in full time employment, although knowing full well that things were about to change. That was because during early Summer of 2014, I was diagnosed with heart failure. Symptoms preceding the assessments, and leading to the necessity for submitting to these tests, were signals that my heart had swollen at the left ventricle caused by a regurgitation of the aortic valve, most likely a lifelong phenomenon, and my heart was telling me that it has had enough. Hence the need for open-heart surgery on February 5th, which took place in one of the country's top cardiac hospitals - Harefield.

Three months of convalescence followed, which I won't hesitate to say that I thoroughly enjoyed. So when I returned to work at the start of June, I went with a heavy heart (pun intended). It was during the Summer, while sitting in a pub with some friends, that I was informed of a benefit known as Pension Credit, with the qualifying age of 63 years. Within a week, I was enjoying a drink (non-alcoholic) at another pub with one of our church elders when he endorsed my proposal for retirement from full time work, as my 63rd birthday was not that far away. So 2015 started, like all previous years, as a self-employed domestic window cleaner, by then already looking forward to settling into a three-month convalescence following a major procedure. I then attempted to resume my business for a further three months, then finally retired on my 63rd birthday. A wonderful turn of events, after working as a non-skilled labourer for 47 years, with the last 35 years running my own business, which afterwards was sold to a good friend of mine I met at the sauna, with fifteen years of window cleaning experience on both commercial and domestic clientele under his belt.

And so, in this opening blog of 2016, I would like to share my overall thoughts. For someone who left Secondary Modern school (as it was then, the forerunner of the Comprehensive) in 1968, at the tender age of fifteen years without any qualifications to show - what looked to the world to have been four wasted years of life - self-employment was indeed proved to be the major character-shaper. From posting advert cards through domestic letterboxes to knocking on doors touting for business, success came from perseverance, having faith in God, and perhaps a sympathetic outlook from potential clientele. Further growth came by observation of neighbours who approached me with a request to call at their homes as well. It took up to thirteen years of hard work before I began to reap the rewards, which was doing what I love best - Travel - as a lone backpacker.

Beginning what was believed to be a divine call to visit Israel in 1993 (not my first visit, that was in 1976), long-haul also included Singapore, Australia, and the United States. Just this week we watched David Attenborough's magnificent documentary on the Great Barrier Reef, and how privileged I felt when I snorkeled at three different locations in 1997, a threefold experience which converted me into a fan of this tropical marine environment. This, coupled with the hike into the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, to the river itself, approximately 1,600 metres below the Colorado Plateau through which the river flows. But it was in Israel that I had the greater experience of spiritual reality, and one attraction which springs to mind is the Yad Vashem Memorial, located on the western outskirts of the city of Jerusalem. Here, I spent the whole day reverently respecting the six million Jews slaughtered needlessly in the Holocaust. Next to the main memorial stands the Children's Memorial, a separate building filled with countless reflections of a single candle as a result of meticulous placing of mirrors. Then nearby stands the Holocaust Museum, from where most of my knowledge of this mid twentieth century atrocity came to light.

Interior of Yad Vashem Memorial - visited August 1993.

All this came back to mind while doing some online research of one BBC News reporter, Mark Lowen, a public-school educated Englishman with a Jewish decent from his maternal side (the factor which drew my attention). Although the source of information from where I have looked into is very patchy, there was enough to learn that this fellow has fond memories of his Jewish grandmother, Natalia Karp, whose musical talent on the piano had literally spared her from certain death at the concentration camp to survive the Holocaust, and managed to live into her nineties.

Educated at King's College Public School for Boys in Wimbledon, then reading history at Balliol College in Oxford, I would say that Lowen is an archetypal Englishman with a very middle class background and closely connected to the Christian faith. According to Wikipedia, King's College is tied to the Church of England, while Balliol College is next to the site on Broad Street, where Bishops Ridley and Latimer were burnt alive at the stake in October 1555. As a student, Lowen must have been reminded daily of his country's Christian heritage. This together with my assumption that along with his academic achievements, Lowen was also good at sports, both as a team player and as an individual. Rugby was the main Winter sports curriculum at King's College, along with cricket in the Summer. The school has its own swimming pool as well as a rowing club. Also, one cannot get any further into traditional Englishness than the school's emphasis on the tie, a prominent item of the school uniform. Different colours are worn for every academic target successfully met. Nowadays, Lowen even has his own Facebook profile, available for anyone to visit, with 1,073 friends about the time of writing.

King's College, Wimbledon.

But I know for a fact that he would never include me as a friend on his social website. First of all, he does not know me personally. Secondly, I could be perceived as a stalker, even if we are both of the same gender and we live more than a thousand miles apart (the BBC has assigned him a residence at Istanbul). And thirdly, and probably the most important reason, is the fact that he is way, way above me on the social scale. Here in England, social class mix is definitely a No-No! It's thanks to his background and high education that he has achieved media fame - what on Earth would he have in common with a retired unskilled labourer, even old enough to be his father?

Imagine if Jesus Christ had exactly the same attitude! No doubt about it, the Bible's most famous verse, John 3:16 would read something like this:
For God so loved the Englishman, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever is born with a silver spoon in his mouth, achieve well at school, and vote Tory, he should not perish but have everlasting life.

If you feel very uneasy about how I have tampered with God's Word, truthfully, this is not far from reality. During my younger days, in my subconscious, I did perceive the Lord Jesus as aloof, unreachable, dissatisfied with the way I lived, and unloving. Certainly Heaven, if it exists, would be unattainable. And even to this day, after more than forty years as a believer, there are times that I feel a little that way about him. It is rather like the adage that the Englishman's home is his castle. I am simply not welcome unless I have scored a hit in performance, especially in the threefold area of nationality, noble birth, and high academic level.

It was during Spring of 2015 that I made a decision to take a three-month sabbatical from attending my own church, to explore other churches within a twenty mile radius of my home. It was quite an eye-opening experience. Twelve different churches were visited, including one further away than the twenty-mile radius, the Westminster Chapel in London. I have discovered that the formal dress of bygone days were virtually non-existent, remaining among a few elderly folk. Casual dress was the norm, along with all the services attended freed from the traditional Anglican liturgy, in favour of freewill praise and worship, together with a preach to face up to modern day living. For me this was a time of refreshment, to worship God without reserve and from anyone peering from the corner of their eye.

But with them all, especially among the Anglicans, the underlying culture of the Englishman's home being his castle remain intact, fully instilled in every one of them. Among all of them, very few greeted me or were interested in who I was, or where I came from, or of my spiritual state, let alone inviting me to their homes, unlike in America where my one visit to a church in Portland Oregon, ended up dining in someone's home, and at another church, in Albuquerque New Mexico, a student bought me a full lunch at the post-service church dinner, and sat with them at table. Or the time I boarded a train at Foggia Italy, and not only had I made a good friend at the very next seat, but he ensured that I was settled in a hotel after arrival at Naples (he himself was staying at a relative's home while on holiday from Turin) - and took me out to a beauty spot two days later. By contrast, even if any of the middle-class English were truly excited about God and his salvation, such were concealed under a heavy cloak of self reservation, leaving me pondering on what the heck am I doing here.

And there is also a culture of "remaining in my place" on the social ladder, the standard way of English thinking going back to the Victorian era and beyond. Over recent years, if I don't live up to the model - well educated, formal dress, a plum Southern English accent, holding a degree, and excelling in a profession - then I would never be held high in regard by anyone whether inside or outside the church. It is a humiliating experience to be ignored, or even talked over while trying to speak, or to have someone bust in while talking to a friend, but would consider me rude if I had done the same. The same in disregarding any knowledge or experience I might have to share, as had happened several times before, while recently our Elders allowed a graduate to deliver the morning preach despite his lacking of proper Bible research and knowledge - just because he happens to hold a degree.

A typical Anglican Church, Berkshire.

Which leads to one more matter. I have sensed a strong dislike of me from other church-goers because of my want of Bible knowledge, along with general knowledge with the ability to write well. It looks to me that by acquiring some learning poses a threat to their egos. Why a window cleaner should remain in a state of ignorance is because, for someone holding such a humble occupation to better himself is simply not of English ethics. Happily, those who dislike me are few, not many. Furthermore, they are more likely the ones who have trouble with the idea of a God of pure grace, instead, they insist that performance by the believer is necessary to secure his salvation, or else he will be eternally lost. Little wonder such a devastating viewpoint of God inevitably involves disdain towards the likes of me who holds that once saved always saved is through the perfect work of Christ alone on the Cross, without the need for any of us to help him.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Frank,
    Praise God for the many blessings of 2015, and the opportunities and challenges even in the trials. Thank you for using your God-given gifts of writing and Bible knowledge to edify and encourage us, to His glory. Looking forward to what He has in store for 2016 -- perhaps even His return! May you and Alex have all blessings in 2016 and until He comes again!
    God bless,