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Saturday, 14 May 2022

Feeling Low? A Possible Way Out.

A typical Sunday. After the morning church service, I arrive home for lunch prepared by my beloved wife. Then later that afternoon, I leave my wife in a fair state of health and well-being as I make my way to a pub where I was to meet several friends. Then I returned home a couple of hours later - to find my wife talking to an out-of-hours doctor over the phone. The conversation ended with her assurance that an ambulance will arrive at our address within the next couple of hours.

Oh no, not again!

And I guessed right. Another case of infection. The ambulance arrived and its gentle-natured crew members whisked my beloved away, leaving me alone in the house for the next four nights.

Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon.

Visting her at Frimley was straightforward. A fast, direct bus service linked the bus stop near the Leisure Centre to the hospital. As a senior citizen, the possession of a magnetised bus pass allowed me a free ride. However, it's a pity that such a service runs only up to lunchtime, with no more direct buses during the afternoon or evening - the time of day when visiting numbers start to increase. Therefore, the return journey later in the day takes twice as long and entails a change of bus as it winds its way through housing estates. But at least both out and back journeys were free.

While Alex was in her inpatient ward, at another part of the same hospital, one of our church leaders was very ill with both heart failure and Covid as he lay in his bed, gasping for breath. It was while Alex had fallen asleep that I crept out and asked the main receptionist where I can find this particular patient, that I had gotten a chance for a quick visit.

When I entered his side room, a well-decorated and fully-equipped private bedroom with music playing at a gentle volume, he looked at me as if surprised. Whether he actually recognised me or not, to this day I will never know. For just two or three days later, he passed away. However, I have no regrets about finding time to pay a quick visit. And quick it was, no more than ten minutes spent praying silently for him, whether to return him to us or be called home.

Those last few days for him were very sad, tragic, really. Unable to talk, all he was able to do was let out grunts as he struggled to breathe. Yet he was more than a mere church leader. A former maths teacher, he entered full-time church ministry as a pastor whilst he was still living in London. He then brought his growing family to live in Bracknell where he became one of four elders of the leadership team at Ascot Baptist Church, later to become Ascot Life Church. Furthermore, it was he who married us in 1999, and since then, he was an excellent Bible teacher.

His passing away occurred just a couple of weeks after my grandmother-in-law, or my wife's grandmother died while asleep. Despite my beloved's initial weeping, we both knew that she is now in Heaven in the Lord's arms and enjoying eternal rest at such a glorious place.

And so, alone at home I sat and pondered on the demise of these two, yet feeling grateful that the antibiotic treatment she received was beginning to take effect, and soon she will be back home with me. But as I sat alone, I was also feeling very low. And when I browsed through Facebook, and up scrolled a beautiful snapshot of the Havasu Falls, I gasp in amazement! The falls are located at the Havasu Creek Canyon, the stream, itself a tributary of the Colorado River, is deep within the Grand Canyon. The natural turquoise pool in front of the waterfall is also an ideal bathing spot where tired hikers can strip down and find refreshing coolness in the warm sunshine, with the turquoise water contrasting vividly with the green shrubbery nearby and the brown sandstone layers of the towering canyon walls surrounding the area. 

As I gazed upon this picture of such a beautiful paradise, I felt a longing to be there, far away from all life's troubles, combined with a feeling of deep regret that, while I was at the Canyon South Rim, I never had the chance to visit the falls. Not only was I unaware of them at the time, but even if I was aware, a car would have been necessary to transport me over 112 miles, 182 km downstream to the Havasu trailhead, or walk the 46-mile trail from the Village in between 15-23 hours. Dear me! It goes to show just how big the park really is.

As I gazed longingly at the photo, I felt my emotions sink even lower, even as I acknowledged the power of God in his creation and how the Creator loves aesthetics. Then, as if God was reminding me, not everyone who visits the Canyon has the ability or the privilege to hike down to see the River.

Mule Cargo Train at Phantom Ranch, taken 1995.

Therefore, to settle my rising curiosity, I ploughed through the Internet to find out the percentage of visitors who actually hike down to the bottom. According to one official website, the exact number of total park visitors in 2017, well before the Covid pandemic, was 6,254,236 people. In 2018, it was 6,380,495, and in 2019, it was 5,974,411. What gets me, is how on earth they keep such accurate counts when it was expected to approximate the last three digits of each of the annual counts to zeroes? By finding the mean average, the number comes to 6,203,047 visitors a year.

Then for the Corridor hikers only, that is, those who hiked either the Bright Angel Trail (as I did), the South Kaibab, the North Kaibab or a combination of two of the three trails, I found out that the maximum capacity of Phantom Ranch Lodge is 90 guests. Nearby, the Bright Angel Campground has 32 sites. Assuming that there are two people in each tent, as when I was walking the trail, nearly all other hikers were in pairs, let's say that there were 64 sleeping at the site. This, along with the 90 at the Ranch, would total 154 sleepers at any one night. To allow for error, I'll say 160 people sleep near the Colorado River every night of the year, including Christmas. Annually, that is 58,400 altogether*

Also, I recall the 1978 hike down into the Canyon on the same trail. After spending the night at Phantom Ranch (very lucky then, as it was due to a cancellation) I was hiking back up the next day when I was overtaken by three mules (and yes, I think I wrote about this here, fairly recently). The first mule was ridden by a park ranger, the second mule carried a rucksack, and the third was ridden by an exhausted and distressed female hiker.

This brings me to further statistics. In 2018, for example, there were 165 search and rescue incidents between May and September inclusive, out of the 265 for the whole year. In addition, there were 254 minor injuries on the trails and 17 fatalities. Even I didn't escape. On the 1995 hike, right at the last section of the trail, I went down with hyponatremia. This is a condition when the salt content in the bloodstream reaches a critical low, especially after drinking a lot of water. The symptoms of this malady are painful leg cramps. However, after a night spent alone at the 1.5-mile rest station, I managed to complete the hike successfully without aid, after completing 23 miles, of which 21.5 miles in less than two days. At the trailhead, I was met by a ranger who took me to the park clinic, where a nurse gave me a cup of electrolyte drink and told me to rest for an hour.

This goes to show that utter respect for the desert environment is so necessary for survival. As I had already said recently, in comparison to others, I'm not a very strong walker but one who is weaker than others of my age, even back in 1995. However, by having a strong sense of determination, I was able to fulfil what Paul wrote, that I can do all things through him who strengthens me.** I have found that having faith in God through Jesus Christ is a tonic, a help when in need, a source of comfort when feeling troubled, and also an antidote for fear and depression. And through this faith, I can be grateful for what I have achieved and be thankful.

Therefore, I could take comfort that, despite missing out on the Havasu Falls and its turquoise pool, I'm one of the 0.94% of all visitors who dared hike to the bottom and looked up at the fascinating display of the Milky Way and all its stars directly above!

As I sat alone on the sofa, I began to feel better emotionally as I reflect on the past. How I would love to do it all again! But knowing how much my physical prowess has diminished over the years, I realise that it would never be. Instead, I have memories, wonderful memories, of past experiences, and I can say, indeed, how much God has blessed me. And that includes the strong sense of curiosity and determination behind such endeavours.

Yes, you can accuse me of boasting and acting like a braggart, but if my experience with depression has any worth, then sitting on your own and thinking back on your achievements may indeed pull you out of your rut, as it did with me. Then again, you may have some regrets, like I have in missing out on a visit to Havasu Falls. But, instead, you may be a parent who had raised your children to the level of graduating to a degree level, and who are now raising their own kids. I have once read a story about a poor, uneducated couple who not only raised their children successfully but among their children, grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren, there were doctors and engineers.

Plaque at Grand Canyon Village - Psalm 104.

We will never have such a privilege. Instead, it's hoped that Alex and I will grow old together. The main blessing, however, is that we will both die in Christ. Death is a sad reality, something that is so unnatural. Rivers of tears flow freely over the centuries since Adam rebelled against God, and therefore, all of us inherit a sinful nature. But the good news is that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, buried, and three days later, he rose physically from the dead, according to the Scriptures. Therefore, the righteousness of Christ is imputed or credited to everyone who believes.

For God the Father to see you and me in exactly the same way he sees his only begotten Son! Such a wonderful truth is the guarantee that one day we will all be reunited in glory forever. And these include our late church leader and Alex's grandmother.

*Guests at Phantom Ranch would have included mule riders. Before the pandemic, there could have been as many as 20 riders sleeping at the lodge and quite likely even more. Taking this number into account, the number of hikers asleep by the Colorado River would have been 140 per night, or 51,500 a year. This would bring the annual percentage down to 0.82% of all visitors.

**Philippians 4:13.

Saturday, 7 May 2022

Foolish? Maybe, but Thrilling.

Sometime in the mid-nineties, after a day trip to the coast by train, two of my friends and I were discussing what might have been the daftest journey we could ever think of, just for the experience. Unfortunately, although we laughed about it and even gave it some consideration, common sense eventually prevailed and the journey never went ahead.

And that is a shame. Because such a trip would have been fondly remembered and still talked about many years later. And the expense of buying the tickets? By now, that would have been long forgotten.

So, what would this journey involve? Well, first a 73-mile, 118 km drive northeast to Bedford by car. Then leave the car parked at Bedford Station and board a Thameslink train to Brighton on the East Sussex coast, which is approx 110 miles, 178 km along the railway line running south from Bedford. The thrill of the experience was that the train passed through London midway through the journey without the line ending at one of the capital's terminus stations. Instead, the train would have passed through the heart of London, stopping at Kings Cross St Pancras, Farrington, City Thameslink, Blackfriars and London Bridge stations before winding its way through Surrey and Sussex, to finally end at Brighton terminus around three hours after leaving Bedford.

We would have spent several hours at Brighton beach before boarding the train for the northbound ride back to Bedford. Indeed, it would have been a long day, but for all three of us as singletons at the time, getting home very late in the evening wouldn't have been a worry, especially had it been a Saturday.

Brighton beach as seen from the Pier.

Of course, if I really want to do such a journey, indeed, I'm able to. But there are now several reasons why I wouldn't bother. First, two of us are now married. Although I've no idea what my friend's wife would think about embarking on such a senseless journey, I'm aware that my dearest wouldn't be that enthusiastic, although she'll come if asked. However, she would allow me a full day out on my own if only there was a way to get to Bedford without a car and without having to change trains in London. Then adding the overall cost, such a trip wouldn't be worth the expense.

However, without a car, the biggest deterrent would be the difficulty in getting to Bedford from my hometown of Bracknell in the first place - and the return home. However, according to a national newspaper, very soon the new Elizabeth Line will be opened for public use, and in the Autumn, according to the report, it would be possible to sit on the same train from Reading in Berkshire to Shenfield in Essex, a brand new line over 60 miles, 100 km long, passing under London and intersecting with the Thameslink line at Farrington. The opening of the Elizabeth Line should coincide with our Queen's platinum jubilee, thus celebrating seventy years on the throne and Britain's longest-reigning monarch.

Giving this new line a shot would be more tempting if no more sensible than travelling the Thameslink Bedford-Brighton line. At least, getting to Reading from home is a short journey, which is done quickly and hence, a curtain-raiser for the main show. However, with all its 34 stations, perhaps the fun doesn't really begin (in my view) until after stopping at Paddington, where the track goes underground through Central London.

I have another friend, a few years older than me, who used to work for British Railways. Therefore, he's entitled to free train travel for life. One evening in the Autumn of 2013, whilst I was sitting on a stationary train at Reading and waiting for it to pull out, this fellow saw me and took the vacant seat opposite mine. He then told me that early that morning he boarded a train to Reading, then took the non-stop to London Paddington. He then boarded a train from Euston (if I remember) to the northern town of Warrington, a fast, non-stop journey on the way to Glasgow. He then returned to London Euston, then from Paddington to Reading, where we met. All in a day. Indeed, to a sane person, a bit odd perhaps, then again, if he holds a magic pass for free travel, then why not?

I suppose it's like visiting a funfair or theme park. A few years ago, the son of a window-cleaner customer and I went to spend a day at Thorpe Park. Steve was a fairground fanatic, and he was also a member of a club that took its members to fairgrounds across the USA once, maybe twice a year. Therefore, Steve was used to "gutsy" roller-coaster rides. With me, it was somewhat a different story. Or was it because I was beginning to show my age?

After many thrilling rides, including a soaking on one of them, the Stealth was the finale for us. It's supposed to be a racing car shooting up an arch over 62 metres high at 80mph in just 2.5 seconds. I recall letting out a yell as the vehicle rolled down vertically towards the fast-approaching ground. Was this a necessity in life? Not really. But oh, wasn't it thrilling and never be forgotten?

The Stealth, taken May 2014.

A necessity in life. Only yesterday, after a great sauna, I was about to sit at the leisure centre atrium after buying a couple of items at the cafe. Just then, one of the Duty Managers who know me well, sat on the next couch to mine, complete with a laptop. I asked him if I can sit with him and talk. He was happy to oblige. After pouring out my complaint that the swimming lane at the pool had too many people in it, with skirmishes exploding when each got in the other's way, the conversation went on about the running of the Centre in general. Then he quipped that the services offered weren't essential to life, rather, they were to be enjoyed with the added benefit of health thrown in.

I can't say that I fully agree with him. Long gone is a life of hunting and gathering that required vigorous exercise or the need to work physically to earn a living. Instead, our lifestyles have become so sedentary that obesity poses a real threat, along with poor diet and low immune systems. Thus, I feel that vigorous exercise is a necessity but, like the supposed Bedford-Brighton train journey, using the Leisure Centre should also be an enjoyable experience.

Therefore, I find that visiting the Leisure Centre is both an essential and an enjoyable experience, I could ask myself, is going to church an essential need, an enjoyable experience, or even both? Or is church perceived as a place of quiet prayer, a place of solemnity, mourning, the Sunday Best suit and tie, a place for confessing sins and knowing that such confessions will need to be repeated over and over again throughout life, a place where judgement is promised if one doesn't shape up - or even a place where the leaders are keen to take your money?

Or is the church so archaic that Divine Creation is still taught when Science has proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that Darwinian Evolution is the key to the beginning? And so, a young churchgoer's faith is shipwrecked after a year or two at University and sees church life as totally unattached to living in the real world.

And yet, as Jesus Christ went about his ministry, he became the foundation on whom the church will be built, and his primary instruction is for each member to love one another as Christ loved them. And that is only possible with a proper understanding of salvation - that as a believer in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, God the Father sees you in the same way and as equally righteous as he sees his own Son, that you are in Christ and Christ is in you, indeed, the term Christian actually means Little Christ - the result of having God's righteousness forensically imputed or credited to you.

If this theology on soteriology is correct, then church life should be a very positive experience. Indeed, I, for one, have absolutely no problem in accepting a 6x24-hour divine creation only a few thousand years ago - against all the strong currents of the official scientific worldview.

The Christian life is by no means one of peaches and cream! Even Jesus promised his followers that in this life we will have troubles, but Jesus also reassured us that he had overcome the world. For example, right now, as I write this, my wife is happy typing on her desktop computer. At this moment she's not feeling any pain. But only yesterday she suffered a sudden eruption of pain in her calf muscle. Such pain and other symptoms are often caused by negative thinking. The emotional response from such thinking causes excess adrenaline to be pumped into her bloodstream. Her eventual reaction to this is pain.

To have trouble in this world for us also includes Alex my wife having an inherited genetic disorder known as Feingold's Syndrome. This incurable malady has given rise to a neurological disorder which causes much pain and discomfort. When pain erupts, it's very distressing and often I feel helpless. Furthermore, our youngest daughter is affected by this malady. This was manifest just two days after she was born when she vomited green bile. She had a blocked duodenum. Immediately after the discovery, she was rushed by ambulance to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford for an urgent operation. While preparations were made, I was weeping in the intensive care ward and had to be comforted by a nurse. How thankful to God for the NHS! Without them, my tiny, helpless baby would have died.

But neither of us has or ever will turn our back on God. Both of us understand the meaning of what it is to be forensically declared righteous in the heavenly Court by God, thus making us fit for heaven. To believe in the Eternal Security of the Believer is a great bulwark against such tribulations along with such negative thoughts and feelings that arises from them.

Then imagine a whole group of people who all hold to this truth. Thus, when Alex is in pain, or even if I feel down, lonely, or hurt, some people are just a phone call away and believe me, even a chat over the phone has made me feel as if a heavy burden was lifted from my shoulders. 

However, as I mentioned recently in one of our online prayer meetings, we as a church are still too British for our own good! If only we could shed the culture of the stiff upper lip, our self-reserve and "the English home is his castle" ethic, then the church could be so wonderful, an ideal place of refuge and allowing the love of God to fill our hearts, including bringing comfort and hope to those who are distressed, those who are hurting, those who need encouragement, those who are lonely, and those who have problems that are too difficult to solve alone. Also opening our homes to offer hospitality to those in need are other acts of Christ's love, such as the hospitality shown in European countries towards Ukrainian war refugees.

The Church can heal those who are in pain.

I believe that life is meant to be enjoyed. Indeed, there may be pleasure in taking a journey that others would classify as odd or eccentric. There is enjoyment in physical exercise. But most of all, ultimate fulfilment can only occur when showing the love of Christ to others.

Saturday, 30 April 2022

A Belated Blog About England...

Indeed, I have titled this week's contribution after writing a week after St George's Day, which was last Saturday. Just as well that I am an avid fan of Tony Blackburn's Sounds of the Sixties, broadcast on the BBC Radio 2 from six in the morning, spanning two hours of nostalgic musical memories that take me back to my school days and the first two years of my working life. It was on this programme that I was reminded that morning was the start of St George's Day.

St George.

Then after the broadcast ended, I totally forgot about it. As I made my way to Starbucks, as I always do on a Saturday morning, not a single bunting adorned any of the houses in our street to remind me, no Cross of St George flags were seen anywhere, the street was quiet, and in both the superstore and the coffee bar, it was just another ordinary day. Indeed, had it not been for the radio, I would have never guessed that it was St George's Day. It all looked quite unlike Scotland's St Andrew's Day or Wales' St David's Day, where such national celebrations take place on a larger scale.

At least St David was a Welsh monk and missionary who played a major role in Christianising Wales. As for St Andrew, he was a Jew, the brother of the apostle Peter. Apparently, in AD 712, King Angus of the Picts saw a vision of St Andrew's Saltire Cross in the sky, a vision that gave him a victory in a battle which set the foundation for Scotland as a nation. It was a very similar vision experienced by the Roman emperor Constantine who succeeded in Christianising his empire in AD 312.

But as for England's St George, Like Andrew was to Scotland, George was never an Englishman, nor had he ever set foot in the UK. Rather, he was born in Turkey. He grew up to be a soldier and then became a guard to the Roman emperor Diocletian, who then ordered him to slay any Christians he might come across. George refused to obey the emperor's order and he was eventually executed on April 23rd, 303 AD. As for slaying the dragon sometime in his life, I believe this to be a true story, as the dragon is now an extinct species that often preyed on livestock. Thus, according to one official video we own, deep in the crypt of the Natural History Museum in London, they say that the remains of a dragon are kept preserved among many other specimens.

And so, as another Bank Holiday approaches, there are some people desperate for a bit of sunshine, flying off to the Mediterranean, others might travel up north to Scotland, still others west to Wales. Yet, England has a beauty of its own. Although its cool temperate climate often leaves much to be desired - mild winters usually free from snow, cool damp summers often under grey skies and gales, especially in August, yet it's throughout August when all the schools are closed for the Summer break, hence not so much enjoying continuous sunshine and warmth without the need to fly south.

Yet our landscape is gentle and undulating, with the rounded chalk ridge of the South Downs just inland from the Sussex coast, and the Weald forming a valley bordered by the North Downs before levelling off into a wide plain on which London is built. As I stood at the Shard lookout, some 300 metres high, all around is the horizon, as flat as a calm ocean, with even Wembley Stadium visible 9.04 miles, 14.56 km away, without any hills to obstruct the view. 

Even Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England at 978 metres, demonstrates how moderate the English landscape is, as this particular peak is by no means the highest in the UK, even though England has the largest land area. Instead, that honour goes to Scotland's Ben Nevis, which peaks at 1,345 metres above sea level. Even Mount Snowdon in Wales is higher than Scafell Pike, at 1,085 metres. Yet, in 1992 a friend and I hiked to the summit of Scafell Pike whilst backpacking and hostelling around the Lake District National Park.

As the summit was covered in cloud, we decided to "risk" it. Risk, that is, it was a gamble whether we would enjoy any views as a reward for our efforts. As we hiked the trail leading to the summit, a disgruntled hiker was approaching us in the opposite direction. He was moaning about the cloud covering the summit, and despite actually hiking to the top several times, he never got around to enjoying the views and even advised us to turn back.

But we kept on. As for me, I could never give up on what I started. We kept climbing. Eventually, we reached the summit - just as the cloud began to lift. The lifting of the cloud produced a dramatic effect. It was almost like pillars of steam rising out of a giant cauldron and in the background below, with Styhead Tarn beginning to appear nestling in a deep valley. Then the whole panorama came into full under a clear sky and sunshine as we sat under the base of the cairn. We must have remained there for up to a couple of hours before making our way back down and taking in a fantastic breathtaking view of Lake Wastwater. 

As cycling goes, one of the memorial feats accomplished was the 302-mile, 490 km Newcastle-Reading charity ride completed in 1989. With this event, I did not plan or organise. The organising of this ride was between some members of Thames Valley Triathletes and members of Reading Lions, to raise funds to buy a vehicle for transporting senior citizens. When the fundraiser asked if anyone else would like to ride with them, I stepped forward. In all, there were a dozen of us and one van driver who monitored our progress. Our first night was spent in a private home of a Newcastle resident whilst all our bikes were loaded in the monitor van parked outside.

As expected, I became "the talk of the town" or at least within the group. I was the only rider to collect two flats, first on the rear wheel and then again, this time on the front, both on the first day of the three-day ride in wet weather. Quite a feat, coming to think of it, as nobody else suffered any punctures on their bikes. Thus, of the twelve men on the road, they all kept a beady eye on me in anticipation of halting the whole group for the third time. However, on the second day, the weather was more in our favour with a strong north-easter blowing, and therefore we rode FAST! We arrived at our second overnight stop, which was in Market Harborough (near Leicester) up to a couple of hours earlier than originally scheduled. (Our first on-route stop was at Thirsk, North Yorkshire, where its Mayor laid on a banqueting table of sumptuous meals before we all slept on the Town Hall floor.)

Our Newcastle-Reading Cycling team, 1989.

On the third day, Whitsun Bank Holiday Monday, the sun was out as we rode through the leafy countryside of Oxfordshire into Berkshire. However, there was a massive incline to get up, the chalk ridge of the Chiltern Hills, but we all rode up before pausing afterwards to enjoy what has become the stable refreshment of the whole ride - a banana. Thus, we made it to the fundraiser's private home in Woodley, near Reading, with 302 miles covered, confirmed by three separate milometers fixed to each of the three of the twelve bicycles.

Whilst the Newcastle-Reading cycle ride was non-touristy and purely for charity, it was quite a contrast to the Hadrian's Wall trail hike, completed in the Spring of 1998 with two Christian friends - Tim, an accountant, and Dan, a financial advisor and me, a window cleaner. Of the three of us, surprisingly enough, I was actually the weakest physically of the three, despite completing a solo hike into the Grand Canyon nearly thirty months earlier. Their higher stamina levels were quite likely borne out of playing both football and squash throughout the year.

After a drive up to Carlisle, we spent the first night at a hostel there before setting off the next morning. We walked along the wall, most of the way just within it (that is, just south of it) but there were a few stretches when the trail actually was over the wall itself. After our first on-route night at a hostel at Greenhead, Cumbria, we came across perhaps what I consider to be the highlight of the entire hike - Chesters, a well preserved Roman fortress, complete with the remains of all comfortable living, including a bathhouse. Most striking were the latrines, all in good condition, and showing us that privacy was non-existent when one wanted to defecate. The remains of a channel running beneath all the latrines ensured safe disposal. Indeed, Chesters is the best-preserved Roman ruins in the whole of the UK.

We eventually arrived at Acomb, Hexham - or at least Dan and I did. Although I might have lacked their stamina, it was the accountant who first had enough, and he decided to hitchhike the last few miles to the hostel. He was remarkably successful. As soon as he raised his thumb, a car stopped. But that was how things were up north. We had already learned that people living up north are more hospitable than us southerners. And that includes an invitation into the home of a complete stranger who owned a farm some distance out of Carlisle. She served us coffee and biscuits as she kept on chatting away.

As we approached Acomb, the two of us found ourselves on an easy, level section of trail for a mile or two. It was actually a railway cutting left behind after this particular line was closed by Lord Beecham. Here is another facet of England. The rapid development of rail travel for both passengers and cargo. Tracks were laid to form an intricate network across the country. It was a marvellous way to get around - by train. Then, during the mid-twentieth Century, Lord Beeching came along. Between 1964 and 1970, hundreds of stations and branch lines were closed to encourage the growth of the private car, as he had shares in the motor industry.

Tim met us as we arrived at Acomb Hostel. The next day entailed a long, rather boring walk along a dead-straight road, the A69 into Newcastle. There was no more Roman wall remaining in that section, instead, just a straight road cutting across open fields. Tim decided not to go any further. But of the three, I was the most determined to complete the walk and Dan felt that he had to oblige. Later that evening, the two of us found relief as we spent the final night at a hotel in the centre of Newcastle.

Such trips - whether on my own or with friends, have revealed the aesthetics of England both in natural beauty and historicity. I can admire the Jurassic Coast of Dorset and Devon, amble over the hills, mountains and lakeside paths of the Lake District National Park, walk through the history-rich cities of Chester and York, walk along a medieval bridge spanning a river, stand at some Roman ruins in both Bath Spa and at Hadrian's Wall, admire the Tower of London, travel around the country by train and enjoy a rich sense of fulfilment.

True enough, I would not find an active volcano anywhere in England, although having said that, at Lake Derwentwater, there is an island that steadily rises and falls. This is the only clue to volcanism here in the UK. As with the rest of the Lake District National Park, when I stood on high ground on one occasion, one of the mountains at a distance looked precisely like an extinct volcano.

On a different subject, one of the great institutions here in England is the National Health Service. Once known as the envy of the world, we live in a country that has led the principle of free healthcare at the point of use. Up till the time of Margaret Thatcher, prescriptions have always been free. But under her administration throughout the 1980s, charges were imposed on prescribed medicine for the first time, with exceptions granted to senior citizens and to patients with special needs and those on certain benefits. At present, Alex my wife could have been caught out with a massive bill if it wasn't for the introduction of a pre-payment certificate at a fixed annual price, which we renew every year. Such a scheme had saved her from a great deal of distress and financial ruin! 

Chesters Roman Fort.

Margaret Thatcher was considered one of the greatest Prime Ministers next to the wartime PM Winston Churchill. But what made her one of the greatest was not her style of administration, but by winning the war against Argentina over the possession of the Falkland Islands. In fact, her privatisation of key public utilities such as water, gas and electricity has proven unpopular, as was John Major's privatisation of British Railways and David Cameron's selling off of the Post Office. As Thatcher's popularity started to decline, she also sold off British Steel and British Coal, whilst her victory over the Falklands had saved her day. As these industries started to decline, many manual jobs were lost, the trade unions had also lost a good deal of their power, and the old Labour Party too was becoming ineffective unless it metamorphosed into New Labour under the leadership of Tony Blair - with much emphasis on education, education, education.

It's my opinion that England still remains a great country to live in. If only the whole of the UK (not just England) would see a spiritual revival, how much difference that would make if the majority acknowledge God and place their faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, 23 April 2022

What if Jesus Travelled by Train?

Just a short while ago, someone who knows me well posted a message to me on Facebook. It read since you're allergic to replacement buses, you'd have had no problems in travelling today. That was one of the comments he wrote under his announcement that he's at Bracknell railway station to start on one of his weekly train journeys to any destination that would offer an interesting walk, whether it's along the River Thames towpath, one of London's open spaces such as Richmond Park, a riverside village of Mapledurham, Windsor, or the North Downs.

Richmond Park, London, provides some nice walks.

Often he joins a Christian walking group based in the London area, or he could be with a group of friends. However, after explaining to me that trains on our line are running a normal service this weekend, I responded that this should be an item for the BBC international news! What a rarity!

Therefore, you can ask: Do I have an allergy to replacement buses? By the way, what are replacement buses? What do they replace? They are an alternate way to travel whenever the railway line is closed due to track maintenance - a common weekend occurrence here in the UK. Do I have an allergy to buses? No, not at all. Just some bad experiences.

Such as with my beloved, whose neurological problem makes her partially disabled and therefore, wheelchair-bound whenever she's outdoors. Bus travel whilst in a wheelchair is often a testing experience for her, as the engine vibration plus riding on bumpy ground arouse a severe backache. Some time ago, before the pandemic, a two-mile bus ride home from the town centre necessitated a call for an ambulance, followed by several hours waiting at Accident & Emergency for an intravenous feed of Morphine. Nowadays, such hospital visits are no longer necessary, as oral Morphine is included in our medicine cupboard.

But as a 1970-1990s singleton who had to work Monday-Friday every week, such weekend trips to London and other destinations were now and again interrupted by weekend engineering works. Therefore, a 30-mile, 48km journey from our hometown of Bracknell to London involved, say, a train to Staines, about 15 miles down the line, then alight there for the bus to Feltham, over five miles along the road, then back on the train at Feltham for London Waterloo. It was a tedious journey, and my time spent in London was tainted with the knowledge that I had to repeat the same journey home. Meanwhile, in the same ninety-minute timeframe to cover the thirty-mile journey, a nonstop express train at full speed would have covered up to 180 miles, 292km and an airline in full flight, up to 900 miles, 1,458km

As for Sunday travel - oh dear! I recall the day we just landed at Gatwick Airport from our honeymoon in Rhodes. To get to Bracknell from the airport, we took the train bound for London Victoria and changed trains at Clapham Junction for our line to Bracknell, these latter two stations are approx 26 miles, 42km apart. The connecting train from Waterloo was cancelled due to a shortage of drivers, so we had to wait on a chilly platform for over an hour - quite a contrast to the Autumn warmth of the Mediterranean Greek island we'd just left. Then came a welcoming announcement over the station tannoy. The planned engineering works on our line were cancelled, therefore the replacement bus connecting Virginia Water to Ascot stations is called off, allowing a full train journey home. As the train stopped at Virginia Water station, we as newlyweds saw the two buses parked outside and we both felt so relieved.

And so our culture is always to rush, rush, rush to get somewhere as quick as possible yet with maximum comfort and with a dash of luxury. Indeed, nothing is more exhilarating than sitting in comfort in a non-stop long-haul express train and watching the world flash by. Or better still, in a Eurostar train out from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord, non-stop. Sitting in a Premier class coach, we were offered an onboard meal by a waiter as if in a five-star restaurant. But the climax was to actually emerge out of the 32-mile undersea tunnel in France after seeing the last of the daylight over the English county of Kent just twenty minutes earlier.

Then I wonder why some Brexiteers want the Eurotunnel shut down, even suggesting dynamite. The fact that they have no objection to the cross-Channel ferries seems to indicate their fear of finding themselves marooned in a broken down train or one held up by a faulty signal halfway through the tunnel, knowing that the seawater of the English Channel is directly overhead. The latter was the case during the evening before our last trip to Paris in 2017 when a faulty signal deep inside one of the tunnels had cancelled all international train departures, and any train within the tunnel crawled at a snail's pace. No wonder passengers might have felt nervous. Fortunately for us, the following morning the line was clear.

And so we take fast, comfortable travel for granted. Indeed, I can testify to that. Quite a contrast to the pre-Victorian era, when a carriage moving at just 10mph under horsepower was enough to induce travel sickness among the passengers. But during Biblical times, no greater contrast can be imagined when it came to travel.

The average distance covered by just mere walking is around two miles, or possibly three if going at a fast pace. Therefore trying to imagine Jesus Christ and his twelve disciples travelling up and down the country on foot has put me in my place of humbleness. Although I had the wonderful privilege of visiting Israel throughout my lifetime, I always travelled around by bus whilst there. On this matter, I must give credit to my Lord for his ability to walk from one end of the country to the other.

Both Matthew's Gospel and Mark's record a journey Jesus had made from Capernaum to Tyre on the Lebanese coast. Give or take, that is approx 40 miles along a direct route - just to heal the daughter of a non-Jewish woman, thus resulting in at least an eighty-mile round trip on foot. Then not to mention his trips to Jerusalem and back, I believe, twice during his ministry before his third trip ended at the Cross.

Eurostar, 2019, St Pancras, London.

The distance between Tiberias and Jerusalem is more than 90 miles, 150km, and according to Google Maps, it would have taken Jesus 31 hours to complete the trip had he walked non-stop. However, that would have been very unlikely. But I recall checking bus times when travelling around Israel, as far up as the coastal town of Acre which is a few miles north of Haifa, to Eilat, near the Egyptian border, where I had taken my beloved as part of our first anniversary celebrations. It was on one of those occasions when we, Alex and I, were the only ones waiting for a bus to turn up at the most remote bus stop I had ever seen, in the middle of a desert. It was on the road running north/south along the west bank of the Dead Sea, quite close to En Gedi resort, where we had spent the day. Almost to our surprise, the bus showed up on time as it journeyed from Masada to Jerusalem.

Whenever I rode on a bus whilst in Israel, whether it was on my own or on our final trip there as a couple, often I think about the Lord Jesus and how he managed to navigate up and down the land on foot and bedding down under the stars for the night. It's as if this was the right way to travel, and compared to him, I felt a bit of a coward - either too afraid to attempt to cross a desert on foot like he did, or simply the result of growing up without any of that experience and living in a land at a time when public transport was easily available. Indeed, Jesus was much tougher than I would ever be, and for that, I'm grateful.

Not only Jesus himself but also his followers after their Lord's death, burial and resurrection. Luke records two men walking along the road towards Emmaus, a town seven miles from Jerusalem. When the Resurrected Christ met them, they talked, and the two men invited Jesus in for supper, and possibly for him to spend the night there. However, after Jesus had revealed his true identity to them, immediately, the two men made their way back to Jerusalem to tell his disciples who they had seen and dined with. All this took place "while the day is spent and the evening was drawing near". A fourteen-mile walk all within one evening may seem to me to be rather incredulous, but to them, it was as normal as any facet of their daily lives.

I think, too, that the experience these two went through reflected the culture of the time. When those two found where the disciples were staying, did they pass the news on and then make their way back to Emmaus? Very unlikely. Instead, the disciples accommodated them for the rest of the night and most likely even provided some food. The hospitality shown in the ancient Middle East would have sent my own head spinning in astonishment! Yet, I shouldn't be that surprised. I recall 1976 as the first of my four trips to Israel. I was exploring a valley just south of Jerusalem when I was approached by a young man, a street trinket seller. After buying a couple of ancient pottery, he invited me to his home where his father and mother not only made up a bed for me in their living room but also made sure I was well fed and watered. This led to an invite to a wedding reception where I watched a sheep skinned alive in the yard.

In a sense, I can be grateful that there were no buses or trains in the Middle East during the time of Christ. Indeed, to imagine the Lord sitting in a bus surrounded by other passengers, some of them smoking, would have been so unreal, so unlike him. Even more unreal if I had imagined him sitting in the first-class carriage of a comfortable train, travelling through the length of Israel. Sure, he would have arrived in Jerusalem less than an hour after boarding at Tiberias, but there would be something missing - his ability to fulfil all righteousness. If railways and bus routes crisscrossed the whole of Israel during Christ's ministry, what sort of country would Israel have been?

Perhaps more like Britain at present, a land where personal wealth, the ability to travel in comfort, the use of all the modern commodities, a land free from war, all that would, I believe, make Israel at the time of Christ so self-sufficient, that having God dwelling among us would have been in vain. Perhaps it was no accident that not only was Israel "primitive" during the Lord's ministry but also subject to a higher yet cruel power, the Roman Empire.

This sense of hardship, living under an oppressive power, walking long distances to get somewhere, although donkeys were used for carrying both people and cargo for all fortunate enough to have them. Indeed, It's very likely that Mary, pregnant with Jesus, rode a donkey over the length of the land to get to Bethlehem from Nazareth, along with Joseph who either rode one himself or walked alongside Mary's donkey.

Indeed, I may be wrong in this, but living with greater hardship, including in the realm of travel, brings out the best in people. Greater hospitality, stronger loyalty, a greater feeling of a need for each other, a greater sense of camaraderie. Some years ago, I watched a movie where a man and his wife ended up lost in a desert and without food and water, yet, they were fortunate to see a long train of camels carrying cargo snaking their way at a distance across the desert. The man cried out, waving his scarf as a banner. Almost immediately, either two camels or two horses raced out to meet the stranded couple. This sort of scenario is very different to that of a train journey Alex and I once did to Oxford.

We boarded the train at Reading, and we found two vacant seats in a crowded carriage. Almost straight away, a young-looking female professional with her husband or partner approached where we were sitting, and she then ordered us out with an explanation that she paid to reserve the seat, and therefore entitled to it. We both vacated the seats and stood nearby. Soon after, I began to feel dizzy and started to sway. The husband, looking alarmed, then asked if I need the seat, as I don't look too well. I declined his offer, saying that if they had paid, then they are entitled.

It's this massive difference between the culture of the ancient Middle East, and that of modern England with all its mod-cons, so well demonstrated by the behaviour of that young woman.

Englishman's home like this one is his castle.

The difference between Abraham the desert nomad who begged three strangers to stop by and receive some food and water, and an average Englishman who considers his home to be his castle. I even recall an occasion when a door was slammed in my face by a well-to-do middle-class female when I asked for a bucket of water as part of my window cleaning job. How shocked and disappointed I was with her, the memory of such an incident had never faded.

I thank God there were no trains or buses in Israel two thousand years ago. And no need for track maintenance either.

Saturday, 16 April 2022

A Remarkable Story from the Past.

Easter Weekend. And when the Spring weather is here, with the sunshine warming the air and our neighbours enjoying their backyard socials - or garden parties if you prefer to use a more posh language. Wise on them. At least they knew better than to end up stuck in a motorway traffic snarl-up. Should a man be seen walking along the opposite carriageway and enough drivers rubbernecking to create a traffic standstill, this would be more likely to occur during a bank holiday.

View of the Natural History Museum from the Member's Lounge.

Or at the airports. Indeed, what has happened to travel? For example, I remember 1993. That was the year I flew out to Israel for a two-week stint in Jerusalem. However, I was stuck in the departure lounge at Gatwick Airport for six hours while waiting for a small lubricating oil tube to be fitted somewhere inside the plane. And so, I sat for six hours among a group of Orthodox Jews who took in the situation quite calmly, with several falling asleep. Good for them. At least they weren't showing any near panic like I did by pacing from one end of the lounge to the other every now and again.

But at least, there were no queues when I arrived at the check-in desk. Instead, I was able to walk straight to it and deposit my rucksack. Then within minutes, I made my way to the lounge after passing through security. This easy, no-queue check-in occurred at the start of other trips, including check-in for New York at London Heathrow for both 1975 and 1998 trips and the flight to Singapore in 1997. On one occasion, I recall an almost deserted terminal with the appropriate desk clerk waiting for the next passenger to dispose of his luggage at the conveyor. 

Then again, all these flights were booked for take-off whilst the kids sat in their classes at school and the majority of the population commuted to their workplaces during the middle of the week. Oh, the joys of self-employment where I can choose any time of the year to travel.

And so, as this is the first Easter break without any Covid restrictions for two years, people seem desperate for a holiday, especially overseas. And so, families are told when they can go by both their employers and their children's school term regulations. In addition, the closure of the railways for the holiday period means that the replacement bus is enough to deter anyone from approaching the station and deciding to drive instead. Or to stay at home. Not that the closure of our particular line is unusual. Whenever our trains are running at any weekend, then this must be heralded across the nation!

And so, other lines are closed over the Easter break for track maintenance, including London Euston to Milton Keynes, the main corridor linking our capital to the Lake District National Park, a popular holiday destination.

And so, here in the UK, on the first Easter holidays since the end of the pandemic, travel dominates the news. Crowded airports, road traffic congestion, no trains running, and oh yes, lest I forget, restricted ferry crossing over the Channel, as one company, P&O Ferries, have their two ships detained at port. Thanks to a clever executive who had all 800 trained employees crewing the two ships, fired. Just to save money. Thus, miles of vehicles snake inland away from the port of Dover, and I wonder how many now have regrets about booking a Channel crossing at this time of the year?

Far better to remain at home and in this good weather, enjoy a garden barbeque. At least, that is what our neighbours are currently doing. And when Easter weekend used to be a time of melancholic rumination over the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ two millennia in the past, and then to celebrate his Resurrection on Easter Sunday, instead, spoiled or ruined leisure trips are brooded over by many, others stay at home and barbecue, others go out on an egg-hunt, still, others make every effort to ensure all enjoy a good respite from the daily work routine. But the thought of the intense sufferings endured by a condemned Jew such a long time ago barely receives a thought from the secular-minded, let alone any thoughts of resurrection.

Just the previous evening, my wife and I watched the BBC programme, Dinosaurs: The Final Day, presented by David Attenborough. Although an excellent presentation, I have wondered whether it was merely a coincidence such a documentary was broadcast on Good Friday. It was about how an asteroid plunged into our planet and in a single stroke, wiped out the dinosaurs some 65,000,000 years ago. As a petrified skin of a Triceratops was excavated, even I was amazed that the sandy beach of an ancient river on which the beasts thrived, was overwhelmed by a flood caused by a tsunami created by the asteroid strike, itself a thousand miles away. And the fossil, like all other fossils, bears witness to having been laid by water.

Therefore it was the day before, Maundy Thursday, that I made a second visit to the Museum of Natural History in London, about a month after my first visit. The purpose of this was to examine more fossils that seem to tell a story that differed from Attenborough's presentation.

As I noted the skull of an Ichthyosaur fossilised with a morsel of food still between its jaws, on my first visit, I also examined a Coelophysis that died with a stomach full of a recently eaten meal, believed that of a small crocodile. But on this visit, I managed to examine a full-bodied fossil of another Ichthyosaur. What's extraordinary about this specimen was that it was not only pregnant with three embryos at the moment of death, but a fourth offspring was in the process of being born, tail first, at the moment of death. And nearby, another smaller fossil of an Ichthyosaur had died suddenly with its stomach full.

Detail of a baby Ichthyosaur in the process of birth.

What's going on? If the fossil record indicates that the three Ichthyosaurs, along with the Coelophysis, all died suddenly whilst "business as usual" - then was there another catastrophe long before the asteroid strike? For, according to the palaeontologists who dated these fossils, these submarine beasts all died some 178,000,000 years ago, along with the Coelophysis, which died around 196,000,000 years ago. If their calculations are correct, the "slight discrepancy" in their deaths before the date of the asteroid strike is at least 113,000,000 years difference! 

I am astonished by the fossil record. No matter which fossil I examine, they all tell the same story - sudden death and instant burial, although I wonder whether these organisms were actually buried alive. Whichever may be, these visits I have recently made to the museum seem to indicate to me that all these fossils occurred at one moment of catastrophe.

But who am I to make such an analysis? I, a retired window cleaner who had never seen the inside of a university? How could I compare myself with such great academia whose authority is respected worldwide? How could I compare with the likes of Sir David Attenborough? Here am I, a creationist of whom the secular world would class me as one committed to a pseudoscience, especially of the Noachian Deluge dismissed as a fantasy, a legend or even to the point of being ridiculous.

Yet, I live in a country whose Constitution is founded on the Christian Gospel, the good news is that Jesus Christ came to save sinners by dying on a cross, was buried, and three days after burial, he rose physically from the dead. Hence, Easter is celebrated annually to remember this threefold set of glorious events, along with Christmas, the holiday that celebrates the birth of Christ, and also Whitsun, the holiday commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Three Christian holidays define a nation's Constitution, even our monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, profess a strong faith in Jesus Christ as her personal Saviour.

This same Jesus Christ speaks of both supernatural creation and the Noachian Deluge as factual history. I'm then left with a threefold choice: Either I accept, question or reject outright what Christ taught during his ministry. If I accept, which is my lifelong position, then it's imperative that I also accept the early chapters of the Biblical book of Genesis as factual history. Even if such chapters contain a supernatural Creation of all things, the Fall, and the Flood - issues taught with equal certainty by the apostles, Paul and Peter and endorsed as historic by all the other apostles and the early church.

And all that was the standard thinking of a typical Briton before the rise of Charles Darwin. Church attendance was all but compulsory during these annual holidays and they were attended by a majority. Easter was all about Jesus Christ.

Indeed, one Jehovah's Witness-turned-atheist YouTuber asked three rational questions. One was, how could all the animals which are naturally carnivorous and have all the biological and genetic attributes of meat-eating design possibly be created originally as herbivores? The second question was: In the new world to come, how could Jehovah possibly take a naturally carnivorous animal such as a cat, and then transform it into a plant-eater and still be recognised as a cat? And thirdly, if Noah was 500 years old when his three sons were born, then how could Noah and his wife had no children in the 480 years preceding the quick and the repeated birth of Shem, Ham and Japheth?

To all three, as a Creationist, I can't give any convincing answer. But after the Fall, the Edenic Curse seemed to have involved a dramatic change in Eve's anatomy, making childbearing now a painful issue, whence before, it was to be with minimum pain or even no pain at all. If this was true, then it looks as if the curse affected all of creation, with the sudden change in the appearance of all carnivorous and even many herbivores. This might have appeared rather terrifying to both Adam and Eve to have watched this rapid transformation take place in front of them, as the consequential reality of his sin takes hold. Such anatomical changes may have involved the need to defecate for the first time, although I am aware that other Creationists will disagree with me on this. Also, both initial creation and the curse are once-for-all dramatic events that happened at the time and nothing of the kind is happening now.

Just as secular scientists admit that there are gaps in their knowledge of some specific subjects and these gaps will eventually be filled by dedicated research and experimentation, I, in turn, admit that I can't answer the three questions above with any dogmatism. All I can do is speculate. For example, how old Noah was when he met and married his wife, we're not told. He could have married as young as twenty years, but equally, if not more likely, he might have remained single for hundreds of years. This isn't unreasonable. I have known people to have reached old age and never married.

Indeed, such debates can drag on, and it won't bring even the honest doubter to conversion, let alone a staunch atheist. Yet, these questions are broadcasted to any listening members of the public with the resulting conclusion that the Bible is a fictional book written by ancient men who had very little or no knowledge of science and therefore were bound by superstitions and religious beliefs.

Easter is about the Resurrection of Christ.

And so we have a national celebration of Easter. As our neighbours continue to party outside in their back garden, this happy socialising isn't likely about Jesus Christ at all. Rather, it's more likely a celebration of a long weekend, a respite from work, to be glad that the days are getting longer, the weather warmer, the onset of Spring, followed by Summer. The social could also be a means to forget the sorrows of the world, such as the war in Ukraine or the sharp rise in living costs.

But when the egg hunt gets underway among families, and even in churches, my strongest desire is that such enjoyment will be centred on Jesus, for Easter is all about Jesus, who died a torturous death to bring real life to all of us.

I wish you a happy Easter.

Saturday, 9 April 2022

A Ladder to Heaven. But Which One?

Just this morning, I was at Sainsbury's to buy the morning paper, and as I made my way to the annexed Starbucks Coffee, I heard my name called out. I turned to see my father-in-law at the checkout, and I paused for a moment and asked him to join me once he was through paying for his items.

As expected, he did not sit with me, for his wife sat in the car parked outside, waiting for him to return. But he paused long enough to ask how I was able to cope with my wife's constant symptoms of recurring pain, discomfort and distress. I admitted that yes, these are challenging times, living on a constant knife-edge, not knowing when her pain may suddenly erupt as having a neurological disorder, such is always imminent.

But I was able to answer that our trust in God's mercy and goodness is vital to the health of our marriage. Indeed, it was no accident or mere coincidence that on our wedding day, the ceremony included a song that has the first line reading, Father God, I wonder how I managed to exist without the knowledge of your parenthood and your loving care... 

Father God was one of our wedding songs. Signing the Register.

It's been like this for several years. At first, such painful eruptions caused panic to grip my emotions, and I would dial for an ambulance. The routine was always the same. The ambulance took us to the hospital's A&E department. We would then be handed over to Reception, who assigned my wife to a vacant bed in one of the cubicles. Then she had her blood and urine tested, possibly an X-ray, then connected to a catheter for an intravenous feed of paracetamol or even morphine. Then, once the pain had subsided, she was discharged, and we had to call a taxi to take us home. In all, up to six hours of our day were wasted.

Fortunately, such calls are becoming rare. We now have three powerful painkillers for home treatment. However, no matter how much I may indulge in self-pity, feeling anger toward God, my faith in Him still remains strong. And that was what I replied to my father-in-law at Starbucks.

At times, I find it amazing how things take their turn as the days pass. This week was quite eventful. One incident made me feel astonished. Another made me fume! The source of both was Facebook. The first, which astonished me, was learning how the Russian President Vladimir Putin was encouraged by the Russian Orthodox Church's equivalent of the Bishop of Moscow, Patriarch Kirill, to take back Ukraine and reunite it as part of one God's Russian family. The other issue, the one which made me fume, was our Home Secretary Priti Patel's TV admission that visa requirements to enter the UK was needed due to Brexit.

I'll take a look into Patel's admission. According to The Daily Mail of Saturday, April 9th, a column is written by three journalists, Tom Witherow, David Barrett and Inderdeep Bains, comparing Britain issuing just 12,500 visas out of 46,600 applications submitted - to that "horrible EU" country, Germany. While just 1,200 Ukrainians so far had arrived safely in Britain, in Germany, 300,000 war refugees had found safety. In turn, Poland, also in the EU, has 1,975,500 Ukrainians, with 150,000 living in Krakow alone, Poland's second-largest city. To date, Hungary has around 140,000 Ukrainians.

Please don't get me wrong. Here in Britain, more than 200,000 homeowners have applied to take in a Ukrainian individual or family. That's approx 0.3% of the British population of 68,000,000. This shows how hospitable we Brits can be, although 0.3% looks small, this number still compares favourably with that of some EU countries. But as the layers of bureaucracy attached to UK entry stood in the way of easy entry for the war refugees, I wonder whether the European Union is really "the forerunner of Antichrist's kingdom" - as proposed by some Christian graduates I know personally, and thus, one good reason for them to vote for Brexit, the other two main reasons were for independent sovereignty and tighter border controls.

And about the other issue, a quote from Patriarch Kirill's blessing on Vladimir Putin, encouraging the invasion of Ukraine so to bring that independent nation back into the folds of God's Russian family. Here, I quote a portion of his speech most relevant:-

 "The Ladder of Divine Ascent is a framework for spiritual development, from the flesh of the novice on the first rung, through the acquisition of virtues through the ascetic life, and overcoming vices to ascend to the higher virtues and ultimately the final rung of the ladder, where is found peace and love which transcends all and passes understanding."

That was part of a quote from Patriarch Kirill to Vladimir Putin, giving his blessing for his invasion of Ukraine. I was astonished by that! In his speech, the name of Jesus was only mentioned once and that was at the end of his first paragraph of eight altogether. And it looks apparent that this Jesus died as a sacrifice for the sake of the nation in a political sense and not for the sin of mankind.

Patriarch Kirill is on our left.

Sad it is to say, Kirill's speech was not Christian at all but a heresy, and a dangerous one at that. As a former Catholic, I can identify Kirill's ladder of divine ascent to Rome's sacramental ladder to heaven, which consists of seven rungs: From birth - Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Confirmation, Holy Matrimony, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders - Heaven. This is very different from the Biblical justification by faith alone, the Righteousness of Christ imputed to the sinner by God's unmerited grace.

Indeed, Catholic salvation can be likened to a ladder. But since the days of the Reformation, Catholics and non-Catholics have been warring against each other over the past 400 years. Yet, despite this, I have a love and an affection for people in the Catholic faith, including my own brother and his three daughters. In the past, I have read plenty of literature about how those in non-Catholic or Protestant churches denounced Catholics for their salvation ladder. My wish is that all Catholics and non-Catholics, along with Eastern Orthodox churches know the Lord personally and experience salvation. And this makes me wonder: Non-Catholics who are in Heaven may have a shocking surprise to see plenty of Roman Catholics there as well. You see, the Lord is merciful. It's not his will that any should perish. All it takes for a Catholic is to believe in his heart that Jesus is Lord and that God has raised Him from the dead, and the Catholic will be saved, regardless of whether he should pray to Mary or not.

Yet, despite the Lord's great mercy, it's this war between different churches that may motivate someone to say or write: We are the people. We are the ones called by God. We are the ones in tune with God. We are obeying God. We are doing his will. Churchgoers quibble between each other, the agnostic and the atheist turns away, a religious leader feeds the soul of a national leader, the same national leader nourishes his own ambitions and sends his forces to invade a neighbouring sovereign State. His ambition is to annex the State back into its fatherland and create a utopian dream of a unified Russia whose society would have matched the dream of Adolf Hitler - an Aryan State of pale-skinned, advanced civilisation. Hitler had ambitions. Putin still has his ambitions. But it's God who has the final say.

One other issue had drawn my attention. That is the stunning similarity between the ladders of religious faith and that of Charles Darwin's organic evolution, a long ladder from single-cell amoeba to humans. One spinoff from this theory is social evolution, including eugenics.

And so, for Putin to fulfil his dream of a utopian fatherland of Russia under the spiritual guidance of Kirill, a war must be fought with the bloodshedding of many, including families with children. It's such an ugly scene, yet it differed only in a philosophical sense from the pogrom imposed by the Nazis during the holocaust. To create a utopian society with or without God, anyone who doesn't fit in must be eliminated. Wherever out of disagreement, as with the Ukrainians' disagreement with the Russians over national sovereignty, or the Nazis' pogrom to eliminate all genetic and social inferiors unfit for an ideal society.

Oh, so contrary to the love of God for all mankind and the sacrifice of His beloved Son to fulfil this love. Also, no matter how evil Vladimir Putin is, he is still placed in the position of authority by God, and he's still loved by Him and desires for the President to come to the knowledge of the truth. Yea, I know. It's difficult to swallow! Yet, like Putin, the Roman emperor Nero was also evil, bad enough to murder his own family members to secure his position in Paul's day. Yet, the apostle still wrote that all should be in submission to all government authority, as all authority had always been established by God.* The apostle Peter too, instructed his readers to obey the law of the land, respect others, and honour the king.**

And so the war progresses without making any inroads, especially towards Kyiv. Fighters from both sides are injured, more of them die, and citizen blood is spilt. Russian weaponry is disabled. And Putin's ambition to take over Ukraine in a matter of days is thwarted. As the world turns, Putin sits in his office feeling more determined to win this war rather than admit defeat. Maybe his mind has already pondered whether he will be the victim of a coup -  or even be assassinated by someone in his own party. 

Yet, as we as a society despise the war, the sufferings, forced evacuation, the killings, the mass burial graves, indeed, don't we also shrink away from any concept of the huge fatherland annexing a smaller sovereign nation against its will? And so, the Nazi Holocaust is also seen as a blot, an ugly stain on the history of man and his progress in science, education and civilisation. Yet, the majority of us - a huge majority - embrace the very evolutionary theory as a scientific fact, yet Darwin's theory was the very bedrock on which the Holocaust was rooted.

Therefore, I wonder how anyone can exist and be happy in the long term without the knowledge of Father God's parenthood. How can the world's peace be so fragile? Without a shadow of a doubt, with my beloved's ongoing illness, my own health is not that sound either, a life of uncertainty, even living on a knife-edge, doesn't it seem foolish to believe that there's no God, no higher power we can call upon when everything in life had reached the end of its tether?

And so, we have great men such as David Attenborough constantly narrating Darwin's organic evolution as the origins of all life - life without a maker, and Professor Brian Cox on the same theme about our Universe, the Big Bang - a sudden, once for all time atomic explosion with no divine intervention to set off such an explosion in the remote past. Solid rocks hit each other as they fly through space, and instead of flying apart in different directions after a collision, somehow they stick together until, eventually, a very hot, molten sphere is formed which will eventually cool enough to gather enough water to form oceans - and somehow, by chance and over a vast period, amino acid molecules begin to stick together to eventually form the first living cell with its vast, almost infinite complexity. All without any divine involvement.

Prof Brian Cox at Grand Canyon.

Not so with us. We (Alex and I) much prefer to believe in a God who created us, then redeemed us, and one day will glorify us. We are rather able to call upon him when the chips are down, in distress, pour out our souls to him, for he cares for us. Yet in turn, be thankful as we enjoy the good things he allows us to have, to sing praises for his mercy, grace and his salvation.

All these things the atheist and unbeliever have shut themselves out by their own choice.

*Romans 13:1-7.
**1 Peter 2:13-17.