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Saturday, 31 December 2016

Another Day, Another Year.

When some friends from church and I had gone to watch Back to the Future on the big screen more than thirty years ago, featuring Martin McFly's unintentional journey in his DeLorean back to 1955 from his present 1985, in which the film was made and based on, I made a comment whilst returning home. I remarked on how much I would have loved to go back to AD 32 or thereabouts, to witness the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Immediately, the response from one of my friends was,
"No way would we let you! You will change history!"

How I would have prevented Jesus from going to the cross when he was already so determined to go there, even enough to deliver such a strong rebuke to Peter when he tried to discourage him - (Matthew 16:21-23) - I doubt that I would have had any impact in changing the course of history, certainly not where God's plan of redemption for mankind is concerned anyway. However, there could have been the possibility of showing the Romans how fast a well-made propeller would rotate on its axis if held in the steam plume issuing from the spout of a boiling kettle. Who knows. Had I shown them such a practical scientific gadget, what possibility would have been of today's snarled road traffic system under monitor of those wretched traffic lights being confined to the Dark Ages, along with the ever-enduring train delays and cancellations? The dream of skyways, directional signs bobbing about mid-air without falling to the ground below, flying cars, hoverboards, and computer-staffed coffee bars, all featured in Back to the Future II, might well have been a present reality!

Wishful thinking. On the other hand, my tinkering with human history and scientific engineering might have brought about the Battle of Armageddon centuries ago, as the rapid progress of practical knowledge could have brought an early extinction of the human race long before the 21st Century would ever have seen the light of day. Perhaps my friend was right after all when he said that he wouldn't have allowed me to travel back in time. However, the irony was that such a fanciful notion of skyways and flying cars was projected for the year 2015, thirty years after the making of the movie, and already in the past from this point in time. Maybe still optimistic in America, but right now, here in the UK, the problem of roads clogged with traffic at a standstill, annoying red traffic lights, and on the railways the persistent problems of delayed and cancelled trains, signalling breakdowns, Union strikes and industrial disputes, all to make the daily commute often an unpleasant experience for many.

Upper and lower - Skyway scenes from Back to the Future II

So as our road vehicles remain firmly on the ground, another year comes and goes. It was the year a very historical event took place - a Referendum to decide whether to stay in the European Union or to leave, and for the country to go it alone. To leave, or Brexit, won the vote by a narrow majority. Our former Prime Minister David Cameron resigned from his post after persuading the nation to vote Remain, along with the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne threatening to impose higher income taxes should the nation vote to leave. When a new Minister, Theresa May, was voted into office, one of her first tasks was to fire Osborne out of her reformed Cabinet, to be replaced by Philip Hammond as Chancellor.

It is said that the victory for Brexit was due at large by the voting of the white working-classes living up north of England, the former heavy industrial areas where steel works and coal mining once provided secure employment. These, together with the more elderly, all voted in favour to leave the European Union. It is also said that the stuffy, upper-class and Public School educated Establishment was shattered by the Referendum result. The Establishment, which included Eton-educated David Cameron and ex-Bullington Club member George Osborne, who was reputed to have set on fire £50 notes in full view of the homeless roughing it on the streets during his student days at Oxford, was given a hard smack in the mouth, so to speak. But as with the Referendum, its underbelly began to be manifest almost from the day the result was announced.

That is the rise of the far-right minded individuals and groups showing hostility, particularly to the Poles who have set up their businesses here. If racism was buried in the minds of many indigenous Brits, it wasn't long before such woodworm began to crawl out of the woodwork, making Europeans and other immigrants living here feel threatened. As the months progressed, the national feeling of optimism and self confidence among Brexit voters grew by the day, as the Media - especially Right Wing newspapers such as the Daily Mail, the Sun, and the Daily Express - pumps out one economic success after another in the business world, together with falling unemployment. As self confidence and national optimism grows, so acknowledging of God's goodness is left out of the picture altogether, with national pride and disdain towards those who voted to remain together with those from overseas, bringing Britain to a close parallel to the ancient builders of the Tower of Babel in their quest to "reach unto heaven" without the need for God's grace (Genesis 11:1-9).

And the attitude of these ancient builders of Babel could be closer to home than one may believe, as I was reading the Daily Mail Online only earlier this week. Another article praising the wisdom of Brexit appeared on the screen, as another economical case in point was proven. Within the comments messaging board which trails the main article was one Brexiteer sneering at the Remainers, the latter who had lost the vote. Just another one of many like-minded, sneering and gloating comments which keeps on appearing by the hundreds each day under the guise of patriotism, except that this one bears the username Kezzit666. In the last book of the Bible, Revelation 13:17-18, the triple-digit 666 makes up the number of the Beast, the apex of rebellion against God as so pictured by the Tower of Babel. It looks to me that national pride here in the UK is on the same wavelength, for God and his grace and mercy finds no place among such pride, self confidence and optimism.

And that seems to be reflected in some true Christians whom I know personally, who had voted to leave the European Union. In my Facebook page, arguments were swapped between opposing sides, and nothing akin to the Gospel was included on either side of the argument. And I will admit, I'm not blameless in this either. As one who advocated to remain, I spoke little or nothing of God's grace and mercy. And there are other believers too, some I have close friendships with, who advocated for us to leave.

I wonder how God thinks of it all. For whether one has voted to leave or remain, another dominant feature of this year has been the deaths of many celebrities, up to 217 in all, each one within this year. Perhaps the three most prominent were David Bowie and just recently, George Michael, both musicians. The third was actor Andrew Sachs, who played the bemused waiter Manuel at the hotel in the hit comedy Fawlty Towers. But the twelve categories of celebrity deaths around the world entirely within 2016 are given here:

1. Music
37 died, including David Bowie, Pete Burns, George Michael.

2. Acting
45 died, including Andrew Sachs.

3. TV Film and Theatre
23 died, including Guy Hamilton, Tony Warren.

4. Comedy, Entertainment
4 died, including Paul Daniels.

5. Broadcasting, Journalism
10 died, including Ed "Stewpot" Steward.

6. Writing, Publishing
13 died, including Anita Brookner.

7. Politics, Activism, World Leaders, Faith
19 died, including King Bhumibol Adulyaej of Thailand.

8. Society
5 died, including Gerald Cavendish Duke of Westminster

9. Science, Industry, Academia
14 died, including Lorv Briggs.

10. Sport
31 died, including Carlos Aderto Brazilian Footballer.

11. UK Public Service
6 died, including Molly Rose World War II Pilot.

12. Outstanding in their Field
10 died, including James Gelanos U.S. Fashion Designer

Total Celebrity deaths, 2016
217 died.

This makes a year with one of the highest celebrity deaths on record. And a very sobering thought it is, considering what Scripture says about men appointed to die once, after this the judgement (Hebrews 9:27). Whether one has voted to remain in the E.U. or has voted to leave, whether one is a celebrity or just another man in the street, whether one is a king or a slave owned by another, whether one is loved by the world or a pariah of society whose home is the gutter, one fate awaits us all. If ever there was and will ever be the great leveller, it can only be death. And so throughout the years I have come to learn to appreciate and be thankful for each day of my life, and to be thankful for what I have, what I have achieved, and most important of all, my soul-mate, who I have vowed to love and cherish, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part.

As such, I could consider myself fortunate enough to take my wife away on two trips, each at opposite directions. The first trip, back in April, was to the Lake District National Park, with its moor-covered mountains, spectacular valleys, and lakes. And when considering that Alex is now in a wheelchair, the whole trip provided a testing challenge, especially when we decided to visit the spectacular Ayre Force Waterfalls, a long bus ride right across the whole park from our hotel, and the wheelchair-incompatible trail leading to the falls from the visitor's centre, a kilometre distant. Navigating the path was testing in itself, yet the reward for hard effort was outstanding. Not only with full view of the Falls, but also admiration from passers-by. Last week's blog, a Christmas Special picture posting, contains photos of the Lake District, including that of Ayre Force Waterfall.

The second trip in October was to celebrate our wedding anniversary, and it was a weekend trip south to Paris on the Eurostar. Having been to Paris several times before, I was primarily interested in the train journey. Alex was far more interested in seeing the city for the first time in her life. Hence making a perfect combination. Booking a seat on the Eurostar, especially on our ideal choice of train, was tricky due to its popularity. But we managed to reserve two seats on the 13.30 departure, one of the fastest trains on the timetable, a non-stop ride from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord. Although the train could only do 100 mph 162 km per hour when passing through the Channel Tunnel under the sea, the train reached its full speed of 186 mph 301 km per hour for all French side of the route from Calais to Paris itself, and also from Ebbsfleet which is by the River Thames, to Folkstone on the English side as well.

Sitting by the window of the Eurostar train has brought out the boy in me, and I felt like an excited child, although of course, I behaved like a proper Brit and kept (or tried to keep) my emotions under control under a fa├žade of stoicism throughout the 135-minute trip. The same for the return journey two days later, which was an equally fast journey as the outgoing one.

And that is what I love about the Eurostar and its international route from London to Paris (and another, a different route to Brussels). It will always be a perfect and tangible symbol of the European Union, as during the construction of the whole route during the 1980's, Britain had no intention of leaving the Union. If ever there was a magnificent project to unite nations which were in the past at war with each other, taking lives by the millions, surely the Union was the answer for international peace. The single Eurostar train journey between two countries without the need to change trains is behind the real meaning of the Union. Sadly, also recently in the Daily Mail comments forum, one fellow who calls himself "The True Englishman" demanded that the Eurostar service be permanently ended and the Channel Tunnel bricked up. Other like-minded comments have appeared in the past from these patriots, suggesting for example, a dynamiting of the Tunnel once and for all. Sorry, but I can't help noticing the small-mindedness which seems to be found among those who primarily voted Leave.

As I see it, 2016 with its vote to leave Europe, with its sudden change of Government ministers, the death of 217 celebrities, and on a lighter note a lack of a skyway system, has made these last twelve months something of a sombre year. And to add to this, the realisation of the unstoppable journey to the grave, totally irrespective of who we are.

Like all the celebrities, we will all have to die. But the good news is that we don't have to perish eternally. God is more than willing to give eternal life as a free gift to everyone who repents - to change his mind about Jesus of Nazareth being the risen Christ - and to start trusting in him. Because really, at the end of the day, we were created to enjoy eternal friendship and intimacy with God. That is why we are here. To live forever with God in Jesus Christ with the in-filling of the Holy Spirit, all three Persons of the Trinity making his home in us (John 14:23). And our national, political, and professional status has no part in our eternal being, as all these things will soon pass away. But God's love will endure forever.

So why not start 2017 by believing in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and allowing his Holy Spirit to enrich your soul?

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Reminiscence 2 (Picture Blog)

Yes, it's Christmas! Therefore during this festive season I have minimised wording for a library of sixty photos which I hope you'll enjoy. Centred entirely on travel - and I mean TRAVEL - not the sun-seeker's Bucket-and-Spade selfies or beach sandcastle scenes! All the photos here were taken by me, except one, which was taken on request by a passer-by.

Set #1: Israel.

Western or Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, taken 1994.

Orthodox Jews, celebrating the start of their Sabbath - 1993.

Damascus Gate, Jerusalem - 1993

A typical Souk, Jerusalem, following a Roman street, 1993.

Traditional site of the Crucifixion, C. Holy Sepulchre, 1993

Alex my wife at Eilat, Red Sea, 19 weeks pregnant with our 1st daughter, AD 2000

The beauty of the turquoise Red Sea, Eilat, taken AD 2000.

Underwater shot #1 whilst snorkelling.

Underwater shot #2

Underwater shot #3

Underwater shot #4

Set #2 United States - all taken 1995.

The Grand Canyon - Come on! Where else?

On the way down

Battleship Rock, off South Rim.

Half way down - Indian Gardens

About to enter the Devil's Corkscrew, Inner Gorge.

Arriving at the Colorado River, Grand Canyon N.P.

Zoroaster Temple Butte dominates the River.

Bright Angel Creek, on its way to join the Colorado River

Donkeys at Phantom Ranch, near Bright Angel Creek.

Inner Gorge and Colorado River, from Plateau Point.

Recognising and honouring God's creative power.

San Diego Harbour.

Towards La Jolla, just North of San Diego.

Near La Jolla, Southern California

La Jolla Inlet.

Set #3 Australia - all taken 1997.

This is Cairns, North Queensland

Esplanade, Port Douglas, North Queensland.

Macona Inlet, Whitsunday Islands

A typical Mangrove, Arlie Beach, Queensland.

Mangroves at Arlie Beach

Distant view of Arlie Beach.

Mangrove board-walk, Brisbane Botanical Gardens.

Brisbane Park Gardens

Reflections, Brisbane Park Gardens.

Lake McKenzie, Fraser Island, the world's cleanest lake at the world's largest sandbank.

Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales.

Blue Mountains N.P.

Start of the rainforest trail, Blue Mountains N.P.

A tall Waterfall, rainforest trail, Blue Mountains
The more famous Three Sisters, Blue Mountains.

Sydney Opera House
Sydney Harbour

Sydney Monorail
Set #4: Lake District, UK - all taken April 2016.

Typical Northern English town - Windermere, gateway to the Lakes.

Tropical aquarium at our hotel dining room. For me, so inspiring!

On a cruiser at Lake Windermere.

The old Apple Storehouse, Ambleside.

Ambleside Harbour, Lake Windermere.

Plenty of swans here!

Aire Force Waterfall, near Lake Ullswater.

Aire Force Creek continues to the Lake.

Lake Ullswater under heavy cloud - as British you can get!

Lake Grasmere.

A distant waterfall cascades towards Lake Thirlmere.

Lake Derwent Water.

Snow-topped mountains back Lake Derwent Water.

My beloved gazes across the Lake

Back at Lake Windermere.

And finally, a shot of us at Bournemouth, UK.

We wish all our readers a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year ahead. Back with words next week.