Total Pageviews

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.

If you are a Londoner or have lived in London, or one who commutes to London, or even a tourist, and you have stood at a typical Transport for London bus stop, do you stand, or have you ever stood, and waited for a ridiculously long time while no bus arrives? Then three or four suddenly turn up, one behind the other, and each for a different destination? Why this happens I don't really know, but one theory is that these buses have adopted the "safety in numbers" ethic, for their own protection against predators. At least that was what I experienced a few months ago while I was at Fulham, West London, and simply wanted to jump onto a specific bus after taking a wrong direction on foot.

Perhaps this week has been a little bit like that when it comes to our national culture. For weeks or even months, nothing specific occurs. Then just one or two days apart, the media comes up twice with something rather extraordinary. And I found both of these rather amusing, not annoying - as any reader who knows me well enough might have expected me to react.

The first published incident took place at an Oxford suburb. There a street was resurfaced. But only one half of its length. The posh end. The working class end of the street remained untouched, according to the media, and subjected to pothole damage. Many of the residents didn't like that, and someone sprayed the words CLASS WARFARE on the newly tarmacked surface using a paint spray can.

What's so extraordinary about this incident and the cause of such a fuss is that the line of demarcation - where the resurfaced area came to an abrupt end - happens to be opposite a circular plaque commemorating the exact spot where a wall, topped with spikes, once stood, dividing the street into two distinct halves, denying direct access each way, whether it be by vehicle or on foot.

During its 25-year history, the wall had a somewhat turbulent existence. It was first built by the Council at the request of wealthy businessmen who resided at an estate of privately-owned homes, with the intention of a complete segregation from the neighbouring Council estate of rented social housing tenancies. First erected in 1934, it was then demolished by the Council in 1938 against legal advice. But shortly afterwards, the original builders successfully sued the Council, and the wall was rebuilt. However, during World War II, a tank on a practice run damaged the wall, which was quickly restored. It was not until March 1959 when the wall was permanently removed, after a purchase the Council had made for the land in 1956.

I was already six years old when the wall finally came down. But supposing I was born just five years earlier in 1947, and my parents lived in that street? Being working class, we would most certainly have lived on the council estate side of the wall. With Mum and Dad being fervent Labour voters (as with the majority of voters in the estate), I would have felt befuddled over why such segregation exists. To answer my curiosity, Dad would have explained that on the other side of the wall, all the houses there are privately-owned homes owned by wealthy, Tory-voting businessmen and professionals with a high income, rich enough to buy their own homes, unlike us who have to pay rent to our Council landlord.

Then I would have asked why did we build the wall in the first place. He then would have corrected me, insisting that the divide was not our idea at all. Rather it was done on the wishes of those living on the other side. It was they who wanted the wall built because to allow integration would have reduced the value of their properties. It might have taken a further few years before realising that the mere presence of such a dividing wall implies that there is something terribly wrong with our so-called National Christian culture.

Supposing that I attended Sunday School and learned something about the Bible and the life of Jesus Christ. Whoops! I have hit an obstacle already. The Church of England? Very unlikely. My parents would have explained to me that the Church of England is really the Tory Party on its knees, and therefore I can't belong. Besides, I'm a Roman Catholic. Another division within Christianity which would have mystified me. So let's suppose I went to a Catholic school. There I would have learned about the homeless Jew gathering twelve followers, including a taxman, a political revolutionary, an intellect (who eventually betrayed him), and some fishermen. If there was some invisible barrier existing between the fisherman and a taxman for example, then Jesus surely knew how to demolish it.

And there were the school days of the 1960's. Morning assembly, which was based on Church of England liturgy, was all about a remote, punitive God who might have had some vesting interest in a congregation of smartly-dressed wealthy parishioners, but with a cane-wielding Deputy Head leading the 'worship' - if it can be called that - then all it produced was a school filled with agnostics and atheists, the latter especially among the boys.

And here is the irony. During the 25 years when the wall stood, a far greater percentage of the local population regularly attended church each Sunday, both Anglican and Catholic alike. Never mind that there was hostility between the two denominations. The way it looked, as church attendance was at its peak, so the class divide was at its most severe as if there was a link between the two. And there was a far greater likelihood that the majority, if not all, who attended church lived on the posh side of the wall.

At a typical Church of England service, a special prayer was always said on behalf of the monarch, as at present, the Queen is head of the State church, so a request to God on behalf of the Queen was delivered as part of the liturgy. This too is quite ironic. Well, considering that the monarch being head of our State church came to be from a dispute between King Henry VIII and Pope Clement VII. This had arisen because the King was refused permission for a divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Poor Catherine! She couldn't give her husband a son and heir, so he thought:
Stuff the Pope! I'm going to do things MY way! From now on, I'LL be head of the Church here in England! Like this, I can divorce and marry whom I want!

So he thought better to dump her and marry somebody else. The result was five more weddings with two of his wives sent to execution. Pretty grim stuff. And so, ever since his reign, the average Anglican gives special honour to the monarch as both Head of State and Head of the Church of England, with the idea that she is the intercessor between the congregation and God. Therefore it came to no surprise that here in the UK, personal titles matter so much. Because the higher status the title holds, the closer to the Monarch's status it becomes. For example, if a passport holder had the title Reverend before his name, he would have enjoyed greater travel privileges than the rest of the population.

Such I could imagine among those who live on the posh side of the wall. Job titles matter. Occupations bearing the title Accountant, Architect, Banker, Civil Engineer, Clergyman, Doctor, Journalist, Marine Biologist, Scientist, Writer, along with many other professions, all would have insisted on the wall separating them from the low-down plebs - Bricklayers, Carpenters, Cleaners, Dustmen, Electricians, Joiners, Mechanics, Plumbers, Welders, Yard Labourers, along with any other job which involve getting dirty hands, all confined to this side of the wall, with no access allowed either way.

Which leads to the second item brought up this week by the media. That is when a female passenger boarding a Qantas airline complained on Twitter that a crew member referred to her as Miss instead of Doctor. She threw a tirade. I have not studied for eight years at university just to be called Miss, she complained. I am a Doctor of Philosophy.

The response from the public was intense. She received around 4,000 comments, nearly all deriding her complaint. Many of them commented that only those who qualified in the medical profession are referred to as Doctors. Others have said that her qualification is hardly worth the paper its printed on. Still, others have dramatised the pilot asking: Is there a Doctor on board? There is a passenger with cardiac arrest! Perhaps it ought to be: There is a case of a sudden heart attack on board. Is there a Doctor of Philosophy flying with us?

Having said that, I can point to a very good friend of mine, Andrew, who holds a PhD in Genetics. Although his title is Doctor rather than Mister, I hardly hear him use his title when addressing himself. Furthermore, there is absolutely no wall or any form of social or spiritual barrier between us. Instead, we (Andrew, Alex and myself) have spent a weekend away together before now, we have gone on days out together, and we will soon spend a long weekend away together to attend a Creation Ministries Conference.

On the contrary, her attitude and apparent insult of being titled with Miss instead of Doctor by a member of the cabin crew shows that the social dividing wall is still very much in existence right up to this day. The only difference is that it dwells in the heart instead of being built across the street. But it could still have a devasting effect, especially in a church fellowship where the testimony of Christ can be destroyed in the eyes of the beholder. My own church experiences testify of this. For example, the proverb, An Englishman's home is his castle is definitely unbiblical. It goes against the teaching of Christ who has encouraged hospitality towards the stranger, the poor and desolate (eg. Luke 14:12-14, 1 Peter 4:8-9). Many of the Hindus in India, so I read, don't find this to be a problem, especially among the poorer, yet over here it is a problem, a big problem, especially among Christians.

Many middle-class Christians have built a wall in their hearts that makes them feel uncomfortable with fellowshipping with believers of a different social standing or even a different theological opinion. There is even a church couple who has blocked their Facebook profiles from me browsing them because of our differences. The word block is appropriate. The wall built across the street had also blocked access, causing division and segregation. And the trouble is, this Britishness is found in any church I would go to. And only a couple of years ago I visited twelve different churches, all within an hour's train journey from my home. And they were all the same. My church is by no means unique.

Oh, how we need a mighty move of God in our lives, I included. When Abraham saw the glory of God, he saw himself as dust and ashes. When David compared himself with God, he saw himself as a flea, the smallest creature seen with a naked eye. When Isaiah saw the glory of God filling the Temple, he cried out,
Woe is me, for I am undone. For I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Glory.

Only a revelation of the glory of God can really change our lives. I myself long for the glory of the Lord. Sure, the conviction of sin will hurt, but the glory of God revealed will bring lasting hope. And all the churches in the UK and worldwide need this same revelation - to break out of the upbringing which can be so restricting, and be set free to really live - to live for the glory of God.

The sad alternative is that I find all this quite a distressing situation. It is a culture, to be honest, I'm sick and tired of! But until God reveals his glory, or calls me home, I have to live with it. Or should I cry out:
Stop the world, I want to get off...


  1. Dear Frank,
    Great post! It brought back memories of riding the double decker buses in London as a tourist (we still have a miniature one on our Christmas tree) and of seeing the musical, "Stop the World -- I Want to Get Off" with my parents when I was a young teen.
    It is truly disheartening to see institutions and even churches caught up in cliques and class distinctions, making us long even more for that Heavenly City where all such pettiness will be behind us. This morning I sang in church lyrics I wrote to a song I call "Heaven," sung to the Leonard Bernstein song "Somewhere" from West Side Story. Praise God, one day all who have trusted Him will be as He is!
    God bless,

  2. Your post is a very strong reminder of how far from God's plan many so called Christians have gotten. Far too often our religion is like that of the Pharisees, pure ritual rather than obedience to God.

  3. The class divisions, and the purposeful growing economic divisions that underpin them, are what we have come to expect in the UK, but that churches are riven with class, tells you a number of things. First, those are fake Christians, or at best cultural or social Christians. Secondly, they cannot have a life transforming relationship with Jesus Christ, either. They are at best deluded, at worst the modern day Pharisees who think only the 'best' people go to 'church', not a position shared by Jesus.

    'Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?' (James 2:5-6)

    'For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.' (Revelation 3:17-18)

    'You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.' (Malachi 3:9-10)

  4. It is not coincidence that I felt led to put this scripture in my comment before I had even read much of your post.:- 'Brothers, consider the time of your calling: Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were powerful; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly and despised things of the world, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are,… ' 1 Corinthians ch. 1 vs. 26-29.

    Humility is very important, and if we first seek the Kingdom of God and HIS righteousness, then everything else will be added.
    I was brought up in a 'toughy' area, where everyone looked out for one another, and I was so glad I was.
    It is not the world's money that makes you 'rich', it is the Lord's wisdom and knowledge.