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Saturday, 11 November 2017

Aged Thirty Years in One Afternoon.

I always perceived the gym as that one place on Earth where an overweight, 65 year old chubby man enters, then to emerge a couple of hours later with a sleek, athletic physique resembling Olympic Gold Medallist Mo Farah. Indeed! Wishful thinking. It is unfortunate that such an imaginative realm remains confined to the Tom & Jerry cartoon fantasy. Because nearly two years ago I was recommended a regular schedule in the gym as the main essence of rehabilitation following a major Cardiac procedure in February 2015.

And I'll be the first to admit: Regular workouts in the gym has proven beneficial. As one who has retired from the daily routine of physical work, there hangs over me the threat of weight gain to the level of obesity. And this comes to mind after reading only this morning that according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the UK takes 6th place out of its list of 34 member nations, with 26.9% of the British population obese. The nation with the overall highest is the USA, with 38.2% overweight, followed by Mexico (33.3%), New Zealand (31.6%), Hungary (30%), and Australia (27.9%). At the other end, the much-maligned, pasta-loving Italians, with a reputation of shouting and gesticulating, enjoys being in the third place from bottom, or at 32nd position overall, with just 9.8% obese, followed by Korea (5.3%) and finally Japan, with just 3.7% of its population obese. The average throughout the whole of the OECD 34-nation membership is 19.4% obese.*

Which has made me ponder if I, a full-blood Italian, was born and grew up in Japan. Would I now be proud of my slim, sleek physique and athletic prowess? Or would I have to battle on a daily and weekly basis to keep my waistline within reason, often with the feeling that I'm not at the winning end of the battle? Would I still end up as one of the 3.7% minority who are unfortunate enough to be fat whilst otherwise living in a very healthy country?

Hence my weekly visit to the gym as advised by my GP. Mainly to keep my weight under control, using a course of exercises first prescribed to me by the National Health Service within ten weeks after the operation. This was at a venue in Windsor which had a contract made with the NHS, meaning that the programme was free to all cardiac patients. Back then each exercise was no more than two minutes long, each arranged as a "station" on a circuit course. And one of the circuit "stations" was the Concept 2 Rowing machine, a superb piece of equipment which exercises just about the whole body. After the three month course of twelve, one-hour sessions had ended, I took a break for the following several months whilst I was preparing to sell my business and settle down in early retirement.

Concept 2 Body-powered Rowing machine

And that was when I noted that I was gaining weight, and went to visit my GP, who immediately advised me to take regular exercises. It was the GP who had to sign the consent form before I was allowed into the local gym here at Bracknell, my home town. At first, I began with the original schedule set by the NHS, as the gym has all the necessary equipment to perform the original circuit. But as the weeks went by, something started to happen. All the exercises became both more intense and of longer duration. And that is especially with rowing. From the initial two minutes, this went up to seven minutes, which I stuck to for the next month or so, before going up to ten minutes. After this, I stabilised at fifteen minutes for a while before moving up to twenty minutes a go. This held for a few months until I felt fit enough to row for thirty minutes. Not long after that I settled for forty minutes, and it is that to this day. Of all the twelve "stations" on the circuit route (including the warm-up and cool-down on the treadmill as well as the lower body stretches), the Concept 2 Rower takes the greatest prominence in the entire session. Over forty minutes of non-stop rowing, I cover 8,000 metres and burn off 400 calories. Pretty good stuff perhaps, at least all four of our permanent instructors seemed to be very impressed, with one of them admitting to me direct that he wouldn't be able to match my performance on the rower. Yet I still admire his athletic build.

It is only within a last couple of weeks that contractors moved in to renovate the roof of the gym. That meant partial closure of the venue, including the upper floor where the rowers are located. With tape stretched across the foot of the stairs along with scaffolding and boardwalks bringing gloominess into the venue, I had to reschedule the programme. That means replacing the Rower with the Elliptical, a piece of equipment I was already familiar with before the operation. Again, as I put in a full forty-minute workout, I did my left leg muscle in. Most likely muscle strain, but enough to make normal walking all but impossible. Suddenly I seemed to have aged by thirty years, and I'm pacing slowly like a 95 year old.

It's ironic, so ironic. The actual name of the gym is Bodyworks Fitness Room. Fitness Room. So by theory I should emerge feeling fitter and with greater prowess than when I entered. Instead I go in as a 65-year-old and come out looking and walking like a 95-year-old. How contradictory to common sense life can be! A sharp pain above the heel impedes my normal walking pace. And so, starting with the closure of part of the gym due to the roof needing renovation, leading to inaccessibility to the rowers, the use of the elliptical instead, the spraining of a leg muscle, the sharp pain, the inability to walk, panic from my wife, who insists that I ought to visit my GP. My response to her suggestion is that I'm wasting the Doctor's time. A sprained muscle is a sprained muscle - a risk every devotee of the gym, athletic, or any other form of intense physical exertion faces all the time. Life in general can be likened to a whirlpool - the water spins around and is sucked down a vortex to the bottom, taking any floating debris down with it. Even anything alive cannot escape the whirlpool, no matter how strong a swimmer the creature may be, whether human or animal, the power of the downward motion is too strong, far too strong, to swim out, and down it goes.

Perhaps human nature is rather like the analogy of the gym. Someone starts with good intentions but not long afterwards something gives, resulting in a horrific painful and terrible tragedy. Or it can be likened to a whirlpool. Once caught in the vortex, there is no other direction but down. And so I felt my emotions sink as I read a report earlier in the week about a gay couple having adopted a young girl, only to be cruelly murdered by one of the men who was meant to care for her and bring her up.

I'm referring to Matthew Scully-Hicks, who killed little Elsie, only eighteen months old. According to the report, whilst his partner was at work, Scully-Hicks stayed at home to raise their adopted daughter. It didn't take long for him to lose patience with Elsie, and having crossed the point of no return where his emotions are concerned, he starts physically abusing her, including bashing her head against the wall, shaking her violently, and shouting at her. She dies after two weeks of the most cruellest form of abuse evil could ever concoct.

18 month old Elsie, Abused and killed.

The article was so distressful that I had difficulty in reading it through. There were some who were unable to read it altogether, other readers started crying. And I felt like crying myself. And I have good reason. Our own three daughters are adopted. They are out of our reach, beyond our seeing and hearing, and bearing a different surname to ours. The adoption was the idea of a rather nasty social worker who, according to her supervisor, already had a questionable record in dealing with families before meeting with us. Yet she was a persuasive talker who was successful in winning the Court to her side of the argument, and had allowed her to have our daughters taken. That was nearly twelve years ago, when neither she or we were aware that we were on the mild end of the Autism Spectrum. The social workers who dealt with Elsie were just the opposite. They either failed to see that she was in distress, or they believed the wicked lies and excuses told by Scully-Hicks. So they let him keep the child, despite her rather glaring distress.

A photo of Matthew Scully-Hicks was posted in the newspaper with the article. I felt my temper rise. How smartly dressed he was as he approached the Courthouse. The kind of figure of respectability which would have been sufficient enough for any passerby in the street to raise his hat to. The ideal individual any church leader would be happy to have as a guest speaker, or to promote to an elder or deacon. Or the right kind of person to see if in need of a solicitor, financial adviser or insurance agent. Maybe his style of dress whilst awaiting sentencing was to his favour after all. He was given a mere fifteen years behind bars, much to the disgust of nearly everyone who commented in the forum underneath. And that despite the fifteen years being the minimum sentence he must serve, which means it could be extended if necessary, but not shortened.

Matthew Scully-Hicks.

My emotion towards such an individual was indeed anger, and want for a more severe form of revenge. Just supposing it was one of our daughters he so cruelly abused and killed. After all, it could easily have been. I guess it was his formal dress which intensified my anger. But although I wished him an eternity in the hottest hell that could ever exist, coming to think of it, none of us, and certainly not myself, is any better when compared with God's holiness.

In a way, all this puts me in a dilemma. I want to see proper justice done for the poor child. I really wanted to see the book thrown at him for what he has done. Yet as I think of these things, I quickly forget the mercy Jesus Christ has shown me. For according to James 2:10, no matter how righteous I may kid myself in believing, no matter how white I may appear to others. If I, who had kept the whole Law, yet have stumbled on just one point, I have broken the Law and deserve judgement. In other words, I am no better in God's pure eyes than Matthew Scully-Hicks, for judgement awaits us both.

If I am truly saved, it is because of God's mercy. Sure, how I long to receive God's mercy. How I want to be assured of God's forgiveness. Yet am I any keen to witness the likes of Scully-Hicks drinking from God's cup of mercy? How would I feel about such a criminal experiencing a new birth and seeing his eternal home transform from hell to heaven? Especially if I might have friends and family members who still don't know the Lord. A criminal such as Scully-Hicks goes to heaven after his death, whilst a devoted Buddhist mother and her daughter both suffer an eternity in hell, because they were unlucky enough to have been born and lived in a non-Christian country, and has never heard the Gospel.

These are the times I tend to feel rotten, the gross injustice, the shocking unfairness about our faith. To be honest with myself, I do not want Scully-Hicks to be saved. Rather I want him to remain lost, and to go to where he belongs. That is where I find evangelism difficult. I much prefer to see my family members or a good friend come to Christ for salvation, but not Scully-Hicks. Not after spending his time abusing and tormenting a distressed child until she dies in her own cot.

God's mercy. Let's face it, we don't deserve it. But it's given by his grace. Grace is a gift received at Christ's expense. He died on the cross so we could receive eternal life and enjoy his love forever. It's wholly of God, and none of us. And whether I like it or not, Scully-Hicks is as much of a candidate for salvation as any devoted believer.

*The Daily Mail Newspaper, Saturday November 11, 2017.


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