Perhaps as any married couple would agree, that taking a break and going somewhere for a few days, a week, or even a fortnight, is a nuptial booster and a marriage refresher. So it was with us. And what better place for us was at that part of the world well known for its geological magnificence and uniqueness, together with beautiful people. And that is at the length of coastline stretching from Christchurch, through to Boscombe, Bournemouth, and Swanage. Of the four place names, only the resort of Swanage can be regarded as part of the true historic Dorset, as I recalled the other three resorts as being in Hampshire, and therefore sharing the same county as the heavy shipping docks of Southampton, and the naval centre of Portsmouth, before the boundary change which occurred on April 1st, 1974 which took in Bournemouth, Boscombe, and Christchurch as the three towns of the new East Dorset.
Thus, in 1962, when I was a nine-year-old London schoolboy, our primary school took us to Swanage for a two-week educational trip shortly before the Summer closure. Immediately I was impressed with both the chalk cliff of Ballard Down to our left as we looked out to sea, and the smaller, more built-on Purbeck limestone promontory of Peveril Point to our right, which were actually to the north and to the south of Swanage respectively, as this particular stretch of English coastline faced east rather than south, with the far-away outline of the chalk cliffs of West Wight appearing on the horizon on any clear day.
It was when our strict teachers got us all in twos, making a neat double line, that we began walking along Peveril Point that as I glanced towards Ballard Point on the other side of the bay, that this unique phenomenon occurred. And that was the gradual appearing of the Foreland and Old Harry Rock, very much like a telescope slowly extending from behind the main cliff. Then when we returned to town, the cliff slowly telescoped back behind Ballard Point, as if it was never there. This unique geological phenomenon has stuck with me ever since, with memories of such a view remaining with me throughout my childhood, extending into adulthood. Rather surprisingly though, our teachers, who were pretty good in smacking our bottoms, did not explain anything to us when I asked, maybe due to their lack of local knowledge of the area to fill this curious young mind. Either that, or we were perceived by them as too immature to understand a little of geology combined with vectorisation.
|Ballard Down Cliff, viewed from the town and from Peveril Point.|
This geological curiosity has enabled me to visit this area many times over, and staying at Swanage Youth Hostel, I took walks along the chalk Down and followed the trail running along the edge to Old Harry Rock, then onwards into Studland Bay, north of Ballard Down. In the other direction from Swanage, the trail winds around Peveril Point, over the grey Purbeck cliffs of Durlston Bay until reaching Durlston Head with its castle-like restaurant and coffee bar perched on the clifftop, then the trail swings left as the coast, from this point remaining preserved by the hard and resistant Portland Stone cliffs, resumes in facing south over the Channel, eventually towards the resort and harbour of Weymouth, passing along spectacular but strenuous rises and dips which makes up the Jurassic Coast, now a World Heritage Site.
Just a little past Durlston Head the loud fog-horn of Anvil Point Lighthouse wails across the sea on one foggy morning back in the 1980's. And I can interpret this as a wail of mourning - after all, the whole of the Jurassic coast, stretching from Studland Bay, taking in Old Harry Rocks, Swanage itself, all the way past Weymouth towards Lyme Regis which borders with Devon - is one huge graveyard. Fossils of dead marine life tells me of a long-forgotten world which was drowned by a global Flood. It is throughout my life as a Christian who believes in the historicity of the Bible, that the whole of the Jurassic coastline held a fascination over me, combined with a sense of universal mourning, and a deep feeling of curiosity on how that forgotten world must have looked, once so fresh from initial Creation.
This Flood which wiped out the first world, all because of human wickedness which came dangerously close to eliminating the Messianic Line from Adam to Christ. Had that line been cut, then the initial Promise would have been broken, and we would all be left in our sins to face Judgement. And that would have included Abraham, Moses, David, all the prophets, and every saint recorded in the New Testament ending up in Hell, neither would churches exist to this day. Indeed, the Flood and the Holy Spirit working through Noah's faithfulness had played an important role towards our redemption. Yet the fog-horn wails, one mighty blast following another, an endless chain of loud blasts echoing across the landscape and sea alike, as if weeping over the huge graveyard that was once such a beautiful antediluvian world.
As such a combination of a fascinating coastal landscape combined with Biblical revelation has always attracted me to this part of the world, and therefore it's no surprise that we have been visiting as a married couple more than once. Even right up to this week. We stayed at a hotel accessible for wheelchair users which was close to the shore on the East Cliff of Bournemouth. From there we spent a full day at Swanage under glorious sunshine, and once again for the umpteenth time I watched the Foreland and Old Harry Rocks telescope out from the end of Ballard cliff as we walked along towards Peveril Point.
But it was on the next day when we took a stroll eastwards towards Boscombe that we came across a large crowd of what appears to be foreign students, some of them engaged in beach volleyball. Although many spoke English, I can tell by their accents that these were not home-born. There was a very cheerful atmosphere as they all enjoyed each other's company. I could not help but feel my heart warm towards them. Among them there was no sign of aggression, no disputes, apparently no drugs or even alcohol, just joy shared among them, with a few cooking food over a small bonfire on the sandy beach. There was not a cloud in the sky, the sun was preparing to set, the distant view of the Isle of Wight on the horizon looked more stunning than ever.
I thought, Wouldn't it be wonderful if all the churches had that same joyous contentment. No theological disputes between denominations, no judging over other members, non of this Pharisaic behavioural attitude constantly pouring over us every time I walk into church, no peering with condemnation out of the corner of the eye, no fussy dress codes, no hatred, no division. Just joy and sweet fellowship. If only every one of these beautiful people knew Jesus Christ as their Saviour! All each has to do is to believe that the crucified Jesus is the risen Christ, and to trust in him. It is that easy. And each one would be forever saved, being eternally adopted as a child of God.
These people on the beach were not hippies, I assume they were students. But they represent an international unity, including any of the British among them. And I have no reason to doubt whether there were any English students or by-passers among them. It was a very happy atmosphere. Furthermore, there was not a single shirt-and-tie to be seen among them. Many wore tee-shirts, others singlets or tank-tops, others were topless altogether. But those who were engaged in the volleyball looked be be quite committed to the game. Then I made a mental comparison with the reputation the English have while abroad. Unfortunately not so much with beach volleyball or backpacking as drunken revelry which is a quick lead into violence and hospital visits. And with such a stinking reputation, many, if not most of them, would be Brexit voters who "despise foreigners".
|Boscombe - Overseas students enjoy an evening on the beach.|
And so we began to make our way back to our hotel, we passed some elderly Jews.
Alex then asked, What can I say to the Jews that would please them?
I answered, Greet them with "Shalom" - which means "Peace".
There must be a Jewish community east of Bournemouth, because we encountered several more Jews as we headed back.
"Shalom." Alex greeted.
"Shalom." was their reply.
I was pushing Alex's wheelchair up a cliff face switchback walk. As I was struggling a little, a couple of gentlemen in red tee-shirts approached us, offering their help with the wheelchair. Although I turned down their offer, whilst sitting on a bench to rest, we struck up a conversation, with them admitting they were Christians.
"Yes, we are Christian believers too." I replied.
We already knew that. One of the men answered. When we first saw you, our spirits testified that you are both believers. God bless you, God indeed bless you both!
We arrived back at our hotel and turned on the TV in time for the 10.00 News. After the end of the bulletins, David Dimbleby's Question Time followed. Among those on the panel was Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg, a startlingly handsome youngish Etonian who was smartly dressed in suit and tie, constantly repeating his defence that "We will be stronger out of Europe." Despite so many different questions thrown at him by the audience, the MP kept on repeating the same words like a drugged up mantra. And whenever he kept on repeating the same words, he received a greater applause from his supporters in the audience. The subject was about how our economy would fare after leaving the European Union. And all he could answer was, We will be stronger out of Europe. He then insists that We will fulfil the will of the people. The will of the people?
No, at 52/48% to leave the EU - that, in my opinion, is not "the will of the people." 52% over 48% is too narrow a margin to be called "The will of the people." Now if the result was more like 65% over 35%, or dare say 75% over 25%, then that would be more akin to "the will of the people" - not merely a margin of just 4%.
But Rees-Mogg continues to use this statistic to defend his point. But he would not bring himself to the real reason why we must leave. And that is pride in national sovereignty and xenophobic nationalism as a whole. Rees-Mogg knows that such a reason given to leave the EU would stir angry debate from the opposition. Rather than face such hostility, this member of Parliament ducks out of the debate during the TV programme.
I sat on the bed feeling despondent, if not actually angry. Because, after reaching the dizzying heights of the joys of holiday spirit, including the Bible's revelation of Creation and Noah's Flood in the stunningly beautiful coastline of Southern England, along with the camaraderie and happy atmosphere felt among international students, I come crashing down back to Earth! The real world taps on my shoulder to remind me just where I am.
I suppose that there is some similarity between Rees-Mogg and the opinions of many traditional churchgoers. Even in my own church, because of my maverick standing, I feel constantly watched by a cowardly Pharisee who also attends the same fellowship. His attitude reflects his own perception of God - a very unlovable deity who is quick to judge and send to Hell anyone who strays from the faith or even thinks and behaves at odds with our national culture. The sort of entity from whom I would run away, be in fear of punishment, not having in my heart to worship with loving awe. Exactly the kind of "god" who has spawned generations of atheists throughout history. Yet the apostle John has written that this is how we know that we are true children of God: To believe that Jesus is the risen Christ and to love one another (1 John 5:1). To believe that Jesus is the risen Christ regenerates the heart, and the fruit of this regeneration is to love my brethren, fellow believers in Christ. Therefore I cannot dislike this Pharisee, but only wish, and maybe pray too, for a reconciliation. But for this to happen, a radical change in his perception of God must first take place in his heart.
England has some stunningly beauty spots - Dorset being one of these places. The sort of venues I have no hesitation in visiting over and over again. And England acts as host to a multitude of foreign students who can teach us a lesson or two about social respect and joy with each other's company without discrimination and prejudice. Some thing many of our traditional churches can learn a thing or two.