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Saturday, 31 July 2021

The Dark Secrecy Behind The Mask.

During the early nineties, the cycle ride from my home town of Bracknell to Minehead in Somerset was split into two parts. The first was the 90-mile ride to Bath Spa, a Roman city famed for its ancient pool, the second was the 70-mile ride to Minehead from Bath Spa, after spending the night at a backpacker's hostel, a steep hill climb from the city centre. Thus, the two-day ride was 160 miles, approx 260 km, in total.

However, the climax of the whole ride was not merely the chalet assigned to me and three other flatmates, but the mass welcoming service at the Big Top, accommodating thousands of excited Christians of all ages at the opening ceremony of the annual Spring Harvest Bible Festival held here at the Butlin's holiday camp located on the north coast of England's southwest peninsula.

The Big Top, Exterior.

The thundering praise and worship, accompanied by a music band and dancing spotlights, say it all. Indeed, it was the climax of the two-day cycling journey. As such, I could help but feel a sense of uniqueness, as the car parks crowded with parked vehicles testify of the type of transport used to get here. As we all stood and sat next to each other shoulder to shoulder, who would ever think of social distancing, facemasks or sanitary stations placed at the tent's several entrances? On the contrary, hugging was quite the norm, and neither of us sharing the chalet would even consider one another as a "disease."

There was one year when I decided to spend a whole Sunday at Bath Spa. Here, I had the opportunity to visit two churches, both of them in the city centre. The first one I visited was Bath City Church which, at the time, met in a disused cinema building. It had roughly the same number of people as the Kerith Centre in Bracknell - several hundred. It was also a "live" church, that is, free from established tradition, and its morning service was charismatic. Bath City typified any large church gathering. 

The other venue I visited was Bath Baptist Church for the evening service. It was smaller in numbers, and also met in its own built-for-purpose facility, and it was more traditional in its service liturgy. Yet, due to having fewer people, I felt a stronger sense of intimacy present. Of the two venues, I felt more at home in this smaller gathering than I did at the first one.

The point I'm trying to get across is that for more than six decades of my life, I was able to walk into a church of my choice as freely as walking into a shop or superstore. After sixteen months of restrictions caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, to walk freely into a church service as a member of the public seem to be of a bygone age - something I now look upon with fondness.

My PhD friend Andrew tells me that at one of the churches he attended, advance booking is necessary to sit at a service. And that's not the only one. I saw on Facebook that advance booking was mandatory at another church elsewhere. This, I find rather shocking! To book a place at a service? A facility that should be open to the public, allowing free entry to anyone - even on the spur of the moment, or in need of spiritual edification, or just to give thanks to God, the church service should be open to all, regardless of numbers. After all, the Bible does say, 
Whoever will let him come. (Revelation 22:17.) 

Does this mean being turned away from the door had I just turned up without first booking? Suppose, earlier that week, a loved one fell ill and, not knowing any better, I arrive to attend a church service for spiritual support or intercessory prayer? Would I really be turned away similarly to a bouncer refusing entry into a nightclub?

It's wonderful news that our own church at Ascot will be meeting physically once again after 16 months of virtual services on the Internet. And, thank heavens! No advanced booking will be required. If the weather is suitable, we will likely meet outdoors within a small, enclosed field. According to their newsletter, by meeting outdoors, a facemask would not be a necessity. But if there's a threat of rain, or simply that it's too chilly, then we will meet at our usual venue - the Paddock Restaurant at Ascot Racecourse. However, although not mandatory, the wearing of masks will still be preferred, especially during the singing. And that, despite open windows blowing a chilly drought through the room.

Unlike my PhD friend, who has a lanyard around his neck, I would feel ill-at-ease if I don't wear a mask. Not because I'm afraid of becoming infected, but a feeling of concern about how others around me may feel if they saw me remaining maskless. It's the same ill-at-ease I have felt when shopping without the facecloth, even though it's no longer illegal to shop without a mask. Especially now that I'm fully vaccinated.

A bit like last Wednesday, when I took a short train ride to Reading Station. On the outward journey, there was no problem in not wearing a mask. But on the return journey, the carriage tannoy came to life with a request for all customers to wear a mask. I dug into my pocket. Sure, my cellphone was there, but as for the mask - it must have fallen out onto the street. The snag when that happens is that there is no characteristic clatter of a solid hitting the ground to attract my attention. The loss can remain unnoticed for hours. And so my feeling of uneasiness returns with the train announcement, and I silently pray that the conductor won't suddenly decide to inspect our tickets.
Spring Harvest Big Top, Interior.

As facemasks come and as facemasks go, how could I avoid reading about a scandal which erupted at an Anglican Church at Branksome, Dorset? Rev Charlie Boyle of All Saints Anglican in Poole, was accused of hugging a mourner at a funeral he was conducting. He also sang the hymn Thine Be the Glory aloud and with much emotion as he concluded an Easter service earlier this year. An anonymous person in the congregation complained to the church authorities. Now he is under threat of losing both his job and his home. And what was the complaint? Singing without a mask. And that was despite that he was also exempt from having to wear one.

Several things here. First, the complainant remains anonymous - even to the extent that the vicar himself doesn't know who he is. And if the complainant was so displeased, then why didn't he raise the issue with the Reverend himself? Why go to the Parish Bishop?

According to the national statistics, the Church of England is on a decline. However, the All Saints Anglican in Poole is a rare exception. Here, under Boyle's leadership, his church is thriving, especially among the younger set. He has a heart for God, and his keenness to sing the hymn aloud and without any reservation shows his delight in the Resurrection of Christ.
All that tells me a lot about the complainant. First, he remains anonymous to this day, second, he preferred to inform the Bishop rather than sort out the issues with the vicar himself. And thirdly, he refuses to come out and admit that he made the complaint. All that is enough to tell me that the complainant was consumed with jealousy of the vicar's success. And he's too cowardly to come out.

Nothing new here. Back in 1994, I was a volunteer at a Christian Conference Centre near Haifa in Northern Israel. One day, a young Arab friend who had a high level of respect for me approached - with a question of whether I was homosexual. When I asked him where he got that idea from, he was very apologetic and revealed that it was Trevor who informed the teenager that I was likely gay and had a fancy for David. Look at it this way. I had never shown an interest in bedding with another man. It wasn't only because this was unbiblical, but rather, I never had any interest in it. The teenager believed and sided with me.

Whether I was gay was true or not, Trevor had no right to inform the teenager - or anyone else - without approaching me about the circumstance. If my orientation and my supposed crush on David had bothered him, then why didn't he come to me first and sort the matter out? At least I could either verify or deny his accusation. Instead, he found it easier to spread it behind my back. And all that by a man several years older than I was.

Then it was my mistake to say to Trevor, in the privacy of his bedroom, that Joy was a lovely-looking volunteer. That was it. That's all I said. Joy wasn't around, instead, she was elsewhere, well out of earshot. There was no one else with us. Just Trevor and me, alone in his bedroom. The next day, I was called into the Centre manager's office. Here I was questioned by him whether my crush on Joy was true.

Why? Oh, why? The similarity between Trevor and the anonymous complainant in Dorset is, to me, quite astounding! I guess the human heart is so mysterious, so secretive, that no one but God can see into it. Being a volunteer in Israel very nearly brought me to the brink of apostasy. In fact, I did renounce the Christian faith whilst lying alone on a bunk-bed inside a medieval hostel within the walls of Jerusalem Old City. But God, seeing my distress, gently called me back to Himself, and then afterwards, opened the door of opportunity for world travel.

The anonymous complainant moaned about the vicar singing a hymn aloud without wearing a mask. Therefore, instead of shouting his own praise and thanksgiving to God, he makes an effort to get rid of him, to deprive him of a job and a home for both he and his wife. And it looks as if his foul efforts to have the Reverend sacked might be successful. And the cause of the complaint? Not wearing a mask.

I can clearly see a parallel between this unknown fellow and Trevor, who was successful in getting rid of me almost exactly 27 years earlier. True enough, back then, no one wore masks. But bring Trevor forward in time and here we see the most cautious, Covid-phobic individual I could ever imagine and the most ardent mask-wearer who could ever walk this earth. And still insisting that he's a devout Christian.

And so, I try to picture the scene in Israel in the midst of the pandemic. The hot sun is out, almost entirely overhead in the late, Middle East Spring. David and I are both working outside and neither of us is wearing a mask. Then Trevor, himself masked, arrives at the spot, looks directly at me and orders me (but not David) to put my mask on.

I then suggest to David, I suppose you better put your mask on too.

To which Trevor replies, Never mind about him. It's your duty to follow the procedure.

Later, the Director calls me to his office (yet again) and discusses with me the latest altercation I had with Trevor (which I didn't, instead, I actually obeyed him.) The manager then decides that with regret, and to keep the peace here at the Centre, I must leave and fly back to England. But because I have done nothing specifically wrong, I'm to be paid by ITAC* for a holiday in Jerusalem (or anywhere else in Israel, other than Haifa) and will not be escorted directly to the airport (the normal procedure for volunteers guilty of rule-breaking.)

All Saints Anglican, Branksome Park.

The next day, I lay on my bed in Jerusalem with my spirit crushed and with my emotions all over the place. Why was Trevor's prejudice aimed at me and not towards David? Could it be that his perception of me being gay (without proof) "pollute" the holiness of the land? Therefore, to "Rid Israel of all impurity" -  was I expendable?

Or could it be that, since David is a graduate and I had only a mediocre education, Trevor fawned all over him while I was, in his eyes, next to nothing, even someone to be despised?

That was the most likely scenario - had it been now instead of in 1994.

I hope so much that the Reverend Charles Boyle will keep his leadership post at his church he worked so hard to revive, and the discipline aimed correctly at the anonymous complainant, whoever he is. And may heaven help us all if the scandal in Poole is read by atheists. Such treachery will entrench them further into their unbelief in God, and give them more ground for them to sneer at all faiths.
*ITAC: Israel Trust of Anglican Churches.

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Laughed or Ignored? I Prefer Laughed.

Yes, as the title imply, would I prefer to be laughed at or ignored? Well, what I received instead was an angry response. But put it this way, whether laughter or anger, I would be far happier to receive either of those than to be ignored. At least with an angry response, I know that whatever I had contributed has received attention. With laughter, that too is a response. But by being ignored, I have no idea if anyone had read my contribution to the discussion.

So what did I write to stir up this anger? The answer to that was, in one of my comments, I hinted at the possibility that humans and dinosaurs co-existed. Yes, you read that correctly.

Stegosaur at Ta Prohm Monastery, Cambodia 

My comment appeared when an atheist YouTuber posted a video asking whether his feelings were hurt after a barrage of insulting remarks were thrown at him. Those insulting comments mainly consisted of foul names and rudeness spouted at him in anger, mainly by "Christian" flat-earthers - from whom this kind of emotion is shown when an argument is lost and cannot be gainsaid. Although disagreeing with him on his commitment to Darwin's evolutionary theories, I had this to say to him:

Scimandan, I have always admired your level of education, your marathon runs, and the way you present yourself on video. Yet I am a Christian, a young-earth Creationist who believe that man and dinosaurs once co-existed.

I know, I'm aware that I'm one of those who should be ignored. But do you know what my real wish is?

For you and me to get together at a pub or coffee house for a two-hour, man-to-man discussion where we can exchange our views without prejudice. But I suppose both time and distance will prevent this from happening.

By the way, I'm not a flat-earther. Instead, I believe as much as you do that our planet is spherical. 

Good luck with your videos.

Then another commenter (not SciManDan) aimed one directly at me:

This is dreadful. People like you are charlatans, pagans, heathens and nothing more than heretics.


Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Sikhism, Shinto, Judaism, Confucianism, Spiritism, Korean Shamanism, Caodaism, Bahai's Faith, Jainism, Cheondoism, Hoahaoism, Tenriism, Rastafari.

Or any infantile mumbo jumbo you can invent for yourself.

Theism is dying on its arse and not a moment too soon.

Send ALL your money now, you know the baby jesus (sic) needs it.

Here is no ignorant runt! This rather angry man looks to be well-educated. He names eighteen different faiths here, and there is quite a number which I had never heard about, but he is right on one issue: All the religions listed here are defined as salvation by works. And except Catholicism, Judaism and Islam, all the others are found in the far east of Asia, although I did see an edifice dedicated to Bahai's Faith on the slopes of Mt Carmel, overlooking the city of Haifa in Northern Israel.

Another also commented:

It would help if you had some evidence that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time. The Noah flood is also a ridiculous fairy tale.

My answer takes the form of a series of questions. In the above photo, there is a carving of a Stegosaur at the Ta Prohm Monastery in Cambodia. This structure was completed in 1186 AD. That is 835 years ago up to the time of writing. Were the people back then very familiar with fossils? If so, were they able to flesh out the bones as accurately as our modern paleobiologists can do now? And assuming that they were able to flesh out the bones of an ancient beast, why did they feel it was so important to have an image of a living version carved inside a religious structure?

Or could it be - just could it be - a witness that this dinosaur was alive at the time the structure was built, and they preserved an image of it?

There are other images, even models of dinosaurs supposedly found in Mexico, Peru, and other parts of the Americas. But I don't feel it's right to include those in this blog due to their lack of authenticity. They could be fakes, and as such, I do not want to use these as evidence to prove the reliability of the Bible.

Ta Prohm Monastery, Cambodia

The YouTuber had posted his video just three days before I wrote this blog, but already over this short time, he had collected 77,687 views. How many would have read our discussion, who knows? However, I did reply to the first commenter that he was almost right that there are only two faiths: one is salvation by works, as defined by the 18 he had listed, and the other is salvation given as a free gift through faith in Christ, without any works done to earn it. I then quoted Romans 10:9, 13, where Paul writes that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

And verse 13: And whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

His response?

He recommended I join any of his long list of idiotic, non-existent religious groups to search for any magic (oops, he meant "truths") such as Pastafarianism, Frisbeetarianism, and Bullet Baba's Motorbike - a list of 24 pseudo-organisations in all. He then, in bad grammar and lacking punctuation, ends with:

Remember send money the baby jesus is desperate.

I have checked this guy's profile, but since his channel is empty, I wasn't able to find any information of his whereabouts, whether he was living in the UK or in the States. But, since the atheist YouTuber himself is English and lives here in the UK, I take it that this fellow lives here too. If true, then he mirrors the appalling state of our nation spiritually.

And two weeks previously, I walk through the streets of London, as already mentioned in my last blog, wheeling my partially disabled beloved from Waterloo Station to the Premier Inn hotel, just outside Euston Station. We passed massive crowds of England football fans, all cheering their team as if they had won the tournament already. They cheered for glory, but not for the glory of God, but for the nation, that is, for themselves.

We watched the match against Italy in our hotel room. Yet England lost in what is, in my opinion, the worst possible way, by a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw and extra time. This humiliation, this defeat, this anticlimax of the whole tournament - is God trying to tell us something? And now, the Olympic Games.

The opening performance at a Tokyo stadium lacked the verve which characterised both the Rio and the London Games within the past decade. But as we watched the athletes enter the stadium, all of them masked, all I could do was sigh. And so, they all marched into this huge chamber with a massive hole in the ceiling, through which firework displays are easily seen from inside, thus classifying the interior of the stadium as outdoors. Yet, they all had to wear masks, the athletes, the volunteers, the organising committee, and the 600 or so VIPs who occupied seating that would have accommodated around 66,000 spectators. Instead, the stadium was almost entirely empty, while outside in the streets of Tokyo, the people protest, calling for the Games to be cancelled - while the rate of Coronavirus infections keeps on growing in numbers.

Oh, what has happened to us? It's as though this pandemic is a fulfilment of the novel by H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds, where a mighty British Empire of the 19th Century suffered a Martian invasion - right at its very heart - London. Here, the whole of the Earth, including the Empire, was at the mercy of an alien power over which they had absolutely no defence. But, after so many deaths, the remaining human inhabitants were rescued by the mercy of God, using bacteria - the most minute and the lowliest of all creatures - to infect every Martian and without an immune system, succeeded in killing them off, their corpses became food for the birds.

And so, after more than a year of lockdown and restrictions, July 19th - the so-called Freedom Day - came and went without any real significant changes. I would still have to wear a facemask if travelling by public transport, and on the London Underground, masks are still mandatory, thanks to the orders delivered by our present London mayor, Sadiq Khan.

Although I despise those face cloths, I would still wear one if it means keeping the peace. But yesterday, I dared walk into our local superstore maskless. At last, the absence of the door marshall checking us out at the shop's entrance gave me more confidence. However, I could see that the majority of shoppers continue to wear their masks. Apparently, all the female adults wore them. As for the men, the majority of them were also wearing them. But there were also several younger men going about maskless, making me feel a little better. And nobody gave any dirty looks.

2021 Olympic Opening ceremony, Tokyo.

And the churches! This week will mark the first Sunday we as a church can get together. After more than 16 months of weekly virtual services via the internet. There was something totally unnatural about this way of worshipping God, yet each week brought a reminder that we as a church continue to exist. One benefit has arisen from this pandemic. That is the weekday twenty-minute Zoom prayer meetings held every morning. As for one who has no car but gets everywhere by bicycle, any idea of cycling for 25 minutes to get to a 20-minute prayer meeting, then ride back home again, especially on a cold winter morning...

Nope. Here, a computer gives a big advantage, and I thank the Lord for the advance of technology that was unheard of by all previous generations. The good news is that our Zoom prayer meetings are here to stay.

And this week? Church life begins with a picnic. Nothing unusual about that. We, as a church, picnic every year. The only difference this time is that after three weeks of glorious Summer sunshine, this Sunday will have heavy rain and storms, according to the Meteorological Office forecast. Yep, typical British Summer! After all, Summer in Britain would not be Summer if we didn't have wind-driven rain! Great for our first meeting after 16 months.

But we're determined to picnic regardless of the weather. The only difference is that, should it rain, our food will be eaten inside the marquee, while raindrops impacting on the canvass outside could create a noise loud enough to drown out the sermon. Ah, don't we love our British Summers!

It's great to be back!

Saturday, 17 July 2021

A Shock at a London Hotel

At last! A getaway after months of pandemic lockdown. And this includes staying overnight at a London hotel before boarding the mainline train that will depart for North Wales at mid-morning of the following day. The idea of staying at a hotel overnight within the vicinity of the London terminus was borrowed from one of our church elders, who did just that before boarding the Eurostar train to Marseille a few years ago. It saves a lot of stress in having to first travel to London to catch our train. After all, a red light on our own railway line from our hometown of Bracknell to London Waterloo could miss our mainline train out of Euston.

However, pushing a wheelchair with my partially disabled wife and a stack of overloaded luggage has made travel on the London Underground impractical. Therefore, we walked all the way across London from Waterloo Station to the Premier Inn Euston Hotel, about an hour's walk covering 2.5 miles - that is, on our known shortest route via Westminster Bridge, Whitehall, Charing Cross Road, and Tottenham Court Road. But this time we had to divert to protect ourselves.

This was due to the massive crowd of noisy England supporters, just a few hours before the England/Italy European Championship final kick-off. The crowd blocked off St Martins Place simply by sheer numbers, so we had to divert through Pall Mall East, then up Haymarket. But as we turned towards Leicester Square to join Charing Cross Road, someone approached and strongly advised us to continue through Chinatown instead, as there was trouble at Leicester Square, with bottles being thrown by the rioting England fans. It was rather scary, coming to think of it. We managed to rejoin Charing Cross Road via Lisle Street and Little Newport Street - the backstreets of the city which were free of marauding football fans.

The massive crowd of fanatics was very daunting! I dared not mention or even hint about my preference for Italy to win - after all, I grew up in an Italian family, and I'm a full-blood Italian - just a  right kind of target for a lynching, maybe. But I was intrigued by the way they behaved - as if the game was already over and the Cup was firmly in their hands. The air was filled with English optimism and certainty.

We arrived at our pre-booked hotel and checked in. The tariff included room and breakfast. Soon afterwards, my beloved and I celebrated the start of our holiday with a slap-up meal at an in-house restaurant. After this, we returned to our room to watch the match on TV. The kick-off seemed to have coincided with the sidewalks of Euston Road becoming a lot quieter and the busy traffic had stopped tooting their horns.

And the street remained quiet throughout the rest of the night. Could this be that, instead of England thrashing Italy, as the fans were expecting, Italy won the European Championships through a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw?

It wasn't long after the end of the match before Police sirens wailed past our hotel window. Yes, as expected, scuffles broke out among disappointed fans in the central heart of the city. As we snuggled up to each other in bed, I was glad that the potentially dangerous walk from Waterloo to Euston was long completed, and we were away and protected from any ugly scenes. 

As thoughts crossed my mind, I have pondered on what the percentage ratio between Brexiteers and Remainers were at that wild crowd. Indeed, as we approached Trafalgar Square earlier that day, two songs were chanted at different locations. One was Sweet Caroline, a sixties hit by Neil Diamond, and the other was the National Anthem. It was the latter song glorifying the Queen that made me ponder that the majority of these England football fans - almost entirely consisting of white males ranging between 18-35 years of age - were mainly Brexiteers. Ah! Their love of Royalty and their long-enduring spirit of Empire oozing optimism for national glory, thus raising their certainty that the European Trophy is already in their hands.

Another worry arose when considering the spreading of the virus. Among the commotion, hardly a facemask was seen among them. And that despite a YouGov poll indicating that more than 60% of the UK population will carry and wear a mask in shops, public transport, and other enclosed spaces after "Freedom Day" of July 19th. Perhaps, will the remaining 40% or less, who will refuse to wear a mask - be England football fans? 

The following morning, while I was still bathing in the glory of the previous evening's Italian win, I asked Alex to take out my morning medicine container. Living with heart failure means taking a horde of prescribed drugs every day for life. The morning meds consist of Bisoprolol, Bumetanide, Spironolactone, and Statins. Then the evening dosages consist of Warfarin and Losartan. Having left my beloved to deal with all the packing before we left our home, I left all my medicine in her care. Therefore, it shouldn't have been a problem to dig one of the cases out from the rucksack. 

All my meds are stored in these versatile plastic nesting storage cases, each with a seal-easy lid. They were a gift to us from our PhD friend Andrew, and they proved to be very useful for medicine storage. One container held the morning meds, a second held the evening meds, and a third contained further stocks of Warfarin and Losartan for future use. To my horror and hers's too, we had discovered that she had accidentally packed the third tub instead of the first one. I was without my morning dosages of Bisoprolol, Spironolactone and Bumetanide, that is, my beta-blockers and essential diuretics, a must-have for normal day-to-day living. They were left back at home while we were about to board our train at Euston.

It was Alex who thought on the solution to this serious problem while my own mind remained dumb as if paralysed with shock. Having already paid for breakfast, the restaurant was where I wanted to go, assuming that I can cope for a few days without the beta-blockers. With tears in her eyes, she pleaded with me to visit a nearby hospital for emergency restocks of the medicines. To me, this carried the risk of missing our train. Therefore, I was hesitant as we made our way to the hotel restaurant.

Due to Covid, a queue had formed at the restaurant door. It remained stationary, as only one or two people were allowed in whenever a table became free. It would take a long while before being seated. There were several people in front of us, including other couples and families. Suddenly, I came to my senses. 

Let's go to the hospital. If we miss the train, there's always another one. Our tickets are valid.

About 400 metres from the hotel, give or take, stands the University College Hospital, which was almost directly opposite the station. From the instructions given at Main Reception, I was directed to the Accident & Emergency, and there, I explained the dire situation I found myself in. Much to my surprise, I was taken seriously, and I was amazed that my name, DoB, my home address, and prescription list, all appearing on their computer screen, so far away from home. After registration, I was told to wait at the cubicle section for the doctor to arrive.

UCH, Euston Road, London. Stock Photo.

While I was waiting, my worries about whether we would catch our train or not were mentally blocked out by quoting aloud Romans 8:28:-

For we know that all things work for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.

I repeated the verse to Alex over and over again, emphasising all things rather than just good things.

And it was here when things took a turn. There was a single cubicle to my left with frosted glass doors both closed, thus blocking any view from outside. But from those doors came the sound of a young woman screaming. She screamed and screamed, and I began to imagine what Hell must be like. I quickly began to lay aside any concerns about my own medicine, the train, and the rest of the holiday, as her shrill screaming continued, and I felt my emotions rise. Whatever treatment she was receiving must have had an effect of some kind, as her screaming eventually subsided, as if given a strong sedative to make her fall asleep.

With my heart feeling distressed over such a scenario, I began to pray for her. With all my heart, I pleaded on her behalf to bring her to full healing and wholeness, and also to touch her heart with His love and mercy, as He did to us.

Eventually, I was moved to the A&E waiting room, and not long after, the doctor called my name. As he was leading me to his office, I became frustrated as one fellow member of staff after another, stopping him to ask for or to discuss something, thus delaying the process further.

At last, he signed off for the replacement medicine, and he then instructed me to go to the Pharmacy to collect my meds. Using the number system at the Pharmacy, I was given a ticket. But as time went on, other patients with higher numbers were served their prescriptions whilst I just sat and waited - and waited. Meanwhile, the clock was telling me that it wasn't long before our train departed.

Eventually, I rose and asked what's going on and why I was apparently overlooked. I received an apology from the staff member responsible. He explained that one of the ordered prescriptions wasn't in stock and he had to wait for its arrival. At last, after a prolonged wait, we walked out of the hospital, wheeling Alex's wheelchair, back to the hotel to vacate our room, both of us leaving the hotel with empty stomachs.

We made our way to the station platform. At last, we hastily boarded the train just moments before it pulled out! Through our haste in boarding, (Alex was able to climb out of her wheelchair and into the train unaided and we loaded everything on board without further assistance) we found ourselves in First Class, whilst holding Standard tickets.

The female conductor was amazed how we managed to board the train with a wheelchair without assistance. After giving further thought, she allowed us to remain in the First Class carriage without further payment for upgrading.

The train flew through one station after another on the LWCR mainline service to Manchester, with the first stop at Crewe, where we would change trains for Chester and the North Coast of Wales, where our journey would end at Llundudno. While we were sitting so comfortably in the First Class compartment, my thoughts kept returning to that poor woman left behind at the UCH. Why, oh why, must such a person, with much of her life still in front of her, suffer in such manner - whilst Alex and I were sitting in a luxury coach of a train?

Why her, when everyone around was getting on with their business? Those screams! I bet she would be more than keen to swap her place with ours. Those screams played on my mind, and I kept on pleading to God for her and on her behalf. That is, having never actually seen her, let alone holding her hand in compassionate reassurance.

Then I began to ponder: Was this all coincidence? Or rather, the whole plan working for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose? Did God allow my beloved to err in packing? Yet, I never felt any anger or annoyance for her mistake. Instead, as I saw a tear run down her cheek, All I felt was reassurance for her that everything will work out. Alex's mistake was an easy one to make. It could have been made by anyone.

I have come to believe that God wanted me to be at the hospital at that particular moment to intercede on behalf of someone in distress. Personally, I feel that was a privilege - to be used by God when actually, He didn't need me, yet He used me anyway. Whether that's true or not, I'll let the reader decide. But I don't believe in blind chance. The only way to get me into the hospital was through not having the appropriate medicine to meet my needs. 

I'm aware that any unbeliever, atheist, or sceptic, reading this will think all this is nonsense. But for one whose rush to catch a train was drowned out by a stronger desire to intercede for someone in awful distress - surely, this must be a work of God, for it overcomes human nature. 

Whatever outcome all this is, I hope that this poor female will recover quickly from whatever ailment is causing such suffering.

Meanwhile, let me say that Alex and I had a wonderful holiday at Llandudno, on the north coast of wales. The resort is on a narrow peninsula, therefore it boasts two beaches. The sea rolling onto the rather ugly and uninviting North Beach had jellyfish, loads of them! Therefore I was put off swimming there, but nevertheless, enjoyed our romantic evening strolls along the bay, with the Great Orme set in a dramatic sunset. The sandy West Beach, backed by a quiet residential estate, was in my opinion, the better of the two, with a dramatic view of the Snowdonia Mountains on the far side of the Conway River estuary. Despite the far fewer jellyfish swimming here and there, I had a good swim in the sea whilst minding the jellyfish.

Llandudno North Beach at high tide, stock photo.

I'm also very pleased to announce that Alex's health remained stable throughout the whole holiday, especially whilst we were on the train in both directions. I feel that all this was a blessing from God.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Panic On The Eve Of Glory.

Yep, another Saturday morning. But today, the air is electric with pulsating anticipation. As tomorrow's all-important clash between England and Italy is splattered on the first 13 pages of the Daily Mail, plus a further 16 pages in the middle of the 112-page newspaper devoted to the coming football match, together with the back page spread, this gives a total of 30 pages devoted to Wembley. It's quite a contrast to the five-page devotion to the Wimbledon tennis finals that are also set to take place this weekend. And under the shadow of Wembley, Wimbledon is almost forgotten, hiding towards the back of the newspaper.

Wembley Stadium.

And so I stand in line, waiting to be served at our local Starbucks, this particular cafe is annexed to the out-of-town Sainsbury's superstore. Wearing a mask, I watch as my patience begins to drain, as the queue refuse to move. At the counter, this young man was holding his mobile phone over the card-swiping terminal, but it fails to scan.

As the dialogue continues between that person and one of the females behind the counter, I began to sweat as the tension grows. Unfortunately, my patience is often in short supply and today was no exception. The man continues to swipe the terminal. Still no response. Maybe that's why I'm more of a technophobe than a technophile. The old, stone-age, out-of-fashion cash transaction had always been infallible, so reliable. And it kept the queues moving fast

Then came the "advancement" of writing cheques. At the superstore tills, I have found this method of payment so slow and frustrating! It's always the customer in front of me. She takes a chequebook out of her handbag and begins to write. She then scribbles, Thirty for pounds 65 pence, and then signs it. Then she keeps looking at it, tears it up and starts again on the next page, Thirty-four pounds 65 pence, and at last, hands it to the teller, who examines it thoroughly before stamping and then activates the till. Meanwhile, I stand there with my head ready to explode. But like any true Brit, I remain calm. And that's despite my 100% Italian bloodline - renowned for shouty protests and wild gesticulation!  

Then came the electronic payments, first, by typing in the bank account PIN code, then by swiping the bank card, and now by holding a smartphone to the terminal. All well and good. If all functions correctly, that would allow the queue to move even faster than even by cash payment. At least one does not rifle through a handful of coins to find that last penny.

But when the smartphone method of paying goes pear-shaped, then that was the nadir of frustration. There was an elderly couple in front of me whose calmness somewhat impressed me. However, after about ten minutes, the young man who held up the queue eventually collected his drink and made for the exit. How the transaction was settled, I can't say for sure, as I wasn't watching him all of the time he stood there. But quite likely, it was done by typing in the barcode, either on his phone, or at the terminal, or both. However, during the long wait, I had built up a sweat, the mask began to irritate, and so I peeled it off whilst still waiting in line.

Being maskless was, once again, the cause of pandemonium. This happened when the elderly couple, who were in front of me, had paid for their fare and were waiting at the collection point. Having then paid for my normal croissant and cappuccino as well, I moved on to join them. They were both masked. I wasn't, as I was due to sit at one of the in-house tables, as I always do.

Immediately, one of the servers behind the counter began to panic. Shouting at me to the point of hysteria to move away from the couple, she ordered me to "stand over there!" Meekly, I did so without making a fuss. Actually, not only were they both wearing masks, but I came no closer than a metre from the wife, who was nearer to me. Throughout the incident, they remained totally calm and did not say a word or even move away. After they had gone - they had bought a takeaway - I was next to collect my coffee. I saw the server's look of annoyance as I collected my cappuccino and made my way to the table.

I felt ill at ease as I tried to read the paper. I rose up and walked into the superstore and bought a pack of three blue biros (blue ink is nicer than black ink.) Then, having returned to the table, I wrote a sincere note of apology at the back of the receipt for upsetting her earlier on. I waited for a lull in the queue before handing the note to her. Almost immediately, she called out and with a wide smile, acknowledged and accepted my apologies. Ah! Peace was restored.

Oh, dear! What kind of a world are we living in? As I collected my coffee, she made sure she had kept a safe distance from where I was standing, despite the presence of the large Plexiglass shield separating us. There is something apocalyptic about the whole population going about wearing facemasks as if hit by a thermonuclear war that had permanently contaminated the entire globe's atmosphere. Indeed, I find this whole scenario rather unsettling, a reminiscence of those futuristic horror movies where everyone wore breathing apparatus to survive. Furthermore, I was taken by surprise by the panic my maskless face had caused. And that's not the first time either.

I haven't counted the times when a passerby had deliberately veered away when we passed each other on a public footpath. A few were even wearing masks - outdoors. Then not to forget last Summer when a Christian group met for an alfresco Bible study in warm weather. After leaving our house late due to the need to nurse my wife whilst she was in pain, I was the last to arrive and the Bible study was already underway. When I attempted to join in, those nearest to me (more than two metres away on both sides) - a near panic ensued, as if I was the disease, a source of potential danger.

Stock Photo.

I could never forget that incident, and it enabled me to realise the psychological damage the pandemic had caused. Instead of seeing each other as fellow human beings, brothers and sisters in Christ, each receiving a greeting of politeness and respect, and to evaluate the best for each other, instead, each one of us had turned into objects of fear, repulsive, to be kept away from. What the heck had happened to us? And the reason to wear masks? The official line is to protect the next person from breathing in your viral breath droplets. But I tend to believe that the real reason for wearing masks is fear. Fear of catching the virus.

I was intrigued when I read about and saw the pictures of the 60,000 who poured out of Wembley Stadium after England had defeated Denmark last week. The mask was a rare sight. In fact, It looked as if there were more fingers on my hands than football fans wearing masks. The exuberance over the win for England had eliminated all fear, or at least most of it, to enable these fans to go about in a crowded environment with hardly a mask in sight. And I would feel very disappointed if I were to turn on the TV to watch the Final tomorrow evening - only to see a crowd of 60,000 (out of the 90,000 when at full capacity) at Wembley, all wearing masks and all remaining quiet if England scores. Dream on! I'll eat my own head if England scores without as much as a whisper from the excited crowd! Yet, didn't our Government ask precisely that during last week's match against Denmark?

Alex, my wife, and I will be on holiday by the time of kick-off, God willing. Knowing my beloved, she detests football so much, that it's unlikely we will watch the match - or at least the first half. But who knows? Even as two football sceptics, I would still be keen to watch at least the second half of the most important football match for over half a century.

And who would I prefer to win? This, for me, can be a difficult question to answer. First of all, as already mentioned, I'm a full-blood Italian. But I have lived all my life here in England. Italy has won four World Cup tournaments (second after Brazil with five wins) and one European Cup (in 1968). In turn, England has won only one World Cup (in 1966) and no European championships. Then to add to this, all my friends are keen England supporters. If I were to cheer Italy, would I be looked down upon with disdain, or even down their noses if England wins? I know one or two who would, and they are Christians. And to support Italy would go against the national flow. Yet considering all that, I would still give Italy my preference due to family loyalty and being my original homeland.
The very fact that the England football team is symbolised by the three lions - indicating strength, courage and the ability to win the battle. I believe that the three lions are synonymous with the British Bulldog, that icon of courage, strength and emotional restraint, that ideal typification of the Englishman. My PhD friend Andrew had used this icon in his Facebook posts to equate the British Bulldog with Brexit. Although others have disagreed with him, nevertheless, I can see his point. According to one recent article that appeared in The Daily Mail, those who are more likely, by a narrow margin, to ditch the mask after Freedom Day are Brexiteers. Those more likely to hang on to their masks after July 19th are Remainers. Hence, my friend's perception of equating Brexiteers as having the Bulldog spirit.

Of course, some Brexiteers will prefer to keep their facemasks, and some Remainers will dump them. But I wouldn't mind betting that the majority of the jubilant England fans who poured out from Wembley last week had voted to leave the EU in 2016. But how wide or narrow the margin between Leave and Remain is, that would be anyone's guess, short of a thorough survey.

Yet, this is so, so ironic! Some who are Brexiteers have been accused of "lacking the Bulldog Spirit" by other Brexiteers for not wanting to ditch their masks after Freedom Day, but instead, to keep on exercising caution, including the wearing of facemasks in shops, public transport, and other enclosed spaces. 

On Facebook, I have used my travel experience to demonstrate that the Bulldog Spirit isn't tied exclusively to Brexiteers. As a Remainer, I have hiked the Grand Canyon twice in my life, in 1978 and again in 1995. Before hiking, I became aware of the risks of undertaking such a venture. Hikers have lost their lives on the trails, others were rescued by the ranger, still, others had suffered heatstroke, others still, hyponatremia - the lack of salts in the bloodstream caused by excess drinking of water without an adequate intake of salt. This brings severe pain due to muscle cramps that immobilise the hiker. Yet, I took on the challenge, aware of these risks, to fulfil my dreams and created a photo album full of stunning pictures. The opposite of taking risks is to be over-cautious, thus refusing to hike and missing out on a life experience that is treasured forever.

Given the opportunity, I would walk the Grand Canyon trails again tomorrow. And I voted to remain in the EU in 2016. Risk-taking is not exclusive to Brexiteers.

The Grand Canyon. Stock Photo.

All I can do is wish England well at the Finals. This is a time of joy, excitement, hope. A relief from the months of the pandemic lockdowns and more optimism for the future of the nation, families and individuals. But, instead of relying on human strength and self-confidence, wouldn't it be wiser to remember what King Solomon had written in Proverbs 21:31:

A man prepares his horse for battle, but the Lord gives the victory. 

Far better would it be to give all the glory to God and to credit Him for the victory. To acknowledge God and to submit to His ways through faith in the death of His Son Jesus Christ by crucifixion, His burial, and His physical Resurrection, then not only England, but the whole of the UK would be on a winner.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

The 5 Animals that Disproves God?

I recall one Sunday evening at Bracknell Baptist Church sometime in the late eighties. We were at that time meeting at a school assembly hall. This was due to the size of the congregation that has outgrown its old building on Church Road. Soon, a new permanent meeting place was to be built and opened, to be called The Kerith Centre. 

In the meantime, we met in a nearby school assembly hall. On the front stage stood two women who had just returned from one of the charismatic revivals that were taking place in North America. One of these I have heard about was in Toronto, Ontario, and the other one in Pensacola, Florida. Which one of the two churches these married women flew across the Atlantic to visit, at this time, I can't fully remember, but that doesn't matter. However, the effect their testimony had on us cannot be forgotten.

After several minutes of talking, all of a sudden, the whole congregation went berserk! All around me, people - fully grown adults - started to wail, to cry, to laugh, to scream, to make strange noises. There was violent body shaking, trembling of the hands, and people falling to the floor. The whole scene of pandemonium was so chaotic, any child or unchurched would have doubled up in fright.

I was the only person who sat there stone-cold sober! I looked around. If this whole scenario was a visitation of the Holy Spirit, then why did He bypass me entirely? All I did was sit there and said or done nothing but watch and listen to everything that was going on around me.

It was tempting, at the time, to believe I was ignored by the Holy Spirit because I was still in my sins. Unlikely. Even back then, I was familiar with the Bible, and I was already aware that there is nothing in Holy Scripture, whether in the Old Testament or the New, that had anything parallel to this "revival."

I recall the husband of one of the women on the stage. He didn't think of me very highly, and I doubt whether he thought highly of the senior pastor, either. But each week, he could be seen "dancing in the Spirit" at the back of the church while everyone else remained at their place during worship, thus giving the impression of being at a higher spiritual level. Then, some years later and after I left the church for the one at Ascot, I heard through the grapevine that his wife - the one who stood on the stage - attended a house party and has met another man with whom a relationship between them has begun. This led to her divorce from her husband.

As already mentioned, all this came through the grapevine and as such, I can't verify the story. But having known her husband for quite a few years, I wasn't too surprised. If a spirit of self-righteousness had developed in him, and that was something I also saw, it would come to no surprise that sooner or later, his wife would find solace in another man who showed her enough affection as not to be so judgemental over her.

If such a revival had carried with it a sense of optimism for the church - never mind the scandal that followed. At least that can be swept under the carpet. If I wish to believe that the hysteria was of God, despite having no backing from the Bible, and so, in today's Daily Mail, the Saturday Essay was about the glorious optimism for the English. After developing a successful vaccine rollout which is paving the way to freedom after sixteen months of lockdowns, everything is looking up. Then, after a quarter of a century of losing to Germany, England knocks out its enemy from the European Football championships. As we eagerly wait for the final whistle that will end tonight's game against Ukraine, the nation is optimistic enough for our team to play in the semi-finals. And who dares wins? Perhaps the Final too? After 55 years since 1966 of missing the Final altogether, England is optimistic.

England is also proud, due to Brexit, that big international firms such as the Japanese Nissan carmakers choosing to set up a factory in Sunderland, northern England, thus providing jobs for many. And so, also due to Brexit, the economy will recover at a fast rate - not that surprising really - when considering market demand. After months of not spending on non-essential items, people will be ready to open their wallets. I tend to believe that it was the mass vaccination and not Brexit, that will springboard the economy to health.

If England frees itself fully from the pandemic by mass vaccination, wins the European Cup, and experience a thriving economy mainly due to Brexit, then indeed, the nation has reasons for pride and glory! But something is missing. Just as the "revival" was raising hopes for a higher spiritual ecstasy in the church, the woman on stage who ushered in the hysteria was herself already finding godly living at home difficult.

Likewise, the hopes and dreams of a golden age for post-Brexit Britain has a gaping hole in the middle - a lack of faith in God. And as this national apostasy is accelerating, I actually dread rather than anticipate the future. Will a new variant of the virus, totally vaccine-resistant, finally wipe us all out? Or a national takeover by a foreign power so strong, all we can do is submit without a fight?

Who knows? Earlier this week, I watched a video by Harrison Cother, an ex-Jehovah's Witness. He has made only eight videos but between them, he had already collected 1,238,984 views since he joined YouTube on January 31st 2021. His latest video, 5 Animals That Disprove God, had already collected 114,000 views since it was posted just six days previously.

Harrison Cother is a very handsome young man with a gentle spirit, and I believe it's that, rather than the video's content, which drew in an audience with astonishing rapidity. An ex-Jehovah's Witness turned atheist, his growing knowledge of the natural world was not only the reason to renounce his faith but also leaves any Christian apologetic in a difficult situation. The five animals he refers to are the bed bug, the snake, the box jellyfish, the mosquito, and the human being.

Cother refers to the bed bug as a blood-sucking parasite that feeds on human blood whilst the victim is asleep. Designed by Jehovah to creep up in the darkest night, and drawn by the carbon dioxide in the exhaled breath, this bug gorges itself with blood during the night - such is God's creation - the same God who has forbidden the consumption of the blood of other animals by humans under the penalty of death (Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17:11-14).

The box jellyfish is another mentioned by Cother. He even mentions a dispute between the Father and the Son on this issue! Why on earth did you create such a creature? the Son asks, Oh, because I am God, the Father answers. I can create what I like! And that is despite that many humans, whom God loves, were badly hurt by the jellyfish's ferocious sting and many had died of it, including children.

Another pest, according to Cother, is the mosquito. Whilst also sucking human blood, this insect has spread malaria throughout history. Countless people had died of malaria, especially children. Yet, God sees fit to create such an insect with the foreknowledge of the lives these creatures will take through such a horrible disease.

Harrison Cother, here on Twitter.

The snake is another. Many species of snake consume eggs laid by other animals, or if the egg is too big, then it eats the hatchling. Other species of snake strangle their prey or injected it with poison. As for egg-eating snakes, this is strange when foretold and designed by a loving God when he says that if an unborn child dies as a result of a blow to the mother's tummy, the offended must be punished by death - a life for a life -Exodus 21:22-23.

Finally, Harrison Cother ranks the human being as the number one animal that proves the non-existence of God. And the failure of God's pinnacle of Creation lies with pregnancy and childbirth. Here, he names 31 ailments that can occur during pregnancy and childbirth, along with the death rate of mothers giving birth. He quotes that in the present 21st Century estimate made by the World Health Organisation, up to 300,000 deaths occur during childbirth every year worldwide. That is one death every two minutes. He then gives an illustration of flying to Saudi Arabia to cut off a man's hand. When the innocent victim asks why his hand was severed, the explanation given was that his great, great, great...great...great...grandfather once stole something and as such, his descendant must bear the punishment. Hence Eve's sin and the punishment suffered by all her descendants.

As a JW, Cother used to quote Genesis 3:15 - I will greatly multiply your pain during childbirth, in pain, you shall bring forth children...and he accuses Creationists of blaming him for ranking the human being as the worst example of God's creation. He then blames God for saying, "I will multiply your pain in childbirth..." rather than merely "Your pain will merely be a consequence of your sin."

As a Christian and a creationist myself, I'll be the first to step forward and ask: how can I give an answer to such an intelligent and observing atheist? The only thing I can say is at the Edenic Curse, which is what this is, there was a dynamic anatomical change that not only took place in Eve's body, but in Adam's too, and in every animal alive at that time - on land, in the sea, and in the air. Personally, the need to defecate might have arisen from this curse, and some species of animals that were vegetarian before the Curse became carnivorous afterwards. And the Curse of Genesis 3:16 is well known by Harrison Cother.

Also, there are several things, in my mind, that's worth considering: One is the time the Curse was passed. Unfortunately, we are not told of the time-lapse between the initial creation and the Fall. And also worth considering that by comparison to what we see today, there weren't that many land animals back then, either. For example, the question of speciation. The feline family, for one, has at present, the lion, the tiger, the leopard, the cheetah, the puma, the wild cat, and the domestic cat. All these seven could have arisen from just one pair - a male and a female - during Adam's time. The Equine family is another example - the horse, the pony, the zebra, the onager, the kianger, the ass, the quagga, and the mule - all could have arisen from the one pair. The same applies to the primates, starting with just one pair of ape-like creatures. Even the elephant, the mastodon and the mammoth could have arisen from the one pair. And so, I can go on and on. For a further example, could the brontosaur, the diplodocus and the brachiosaur have arisen from just one pair? (By the way, is the Behemoth in Job 40:14-24 a description of a Brontosaur?)

We are not told how long it took for Adam to name every animal that God brought to him, but assuming it took a considerable short time may indicate that in their original state, for some to turn into carnivores most likely occurred before the birth of any of their offspring, therefore, this might not have been a big issue as one can imagine when examining speciation that exists now.

I agree with Harrison Cother that there are many bad things in the natural world. such as the Cotesia wasp which larvae burrow into a live caterpillar. By contrast, the fossil record shows how ancient organisms, including dinosaurs, died by violence and drowning. Several fossils were found of one creature in the process of eating another when it came to a sudden end. Cother even holds one such fossil up close for us to examine. Or a pregnant ichthyosaur meeting its sudden end, found, I believe, at the Jurassic Coast of Southwest England. I have visited the Natural History Museum in Oxford. At one gallery, there is a rock slab with many fish fossils preserved on it, all fully complete with their scales. Dead fish don't settle to the seafloor. Instead, they are normally eaten by scavengers, or they decompose entirely. These fossil fish were preserved intact as if met by some sudden catastrophe.

Could the record of Noah's Flood be the making of the entire fossil record?

Next, I would like to say to Cother that he was lied to by the Watchtower Society from childhood. With all matters relating to topics specified by the Watchtower, the issue with the Trinity, I feel, is of the most importance.

Jehovah's Witnesses deny the Trinity - that is, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all equal in the Godhead. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but these are not three gods but one God. This is the central doctrine of the Christian faith and sets it apart from all other religions.

Tied with the Trinity is God's plan of salvation. If the Son Jesus is not equal to the Father, then he is not capable of saving anyone completely. The Watchtower knows this and plays a very subtle psychological trick - that if Jesus Christ cannot save fully, then it's up to man to save himself. Therefore, absolute obedience to the Society - in door-to-door work (known as a Kingdom Publisher) - along with accepting everything handed down from the Society's table without ever questioning what they say. In other words, for the hope of salvation, you must be a slave of the Watchtower Society!

If Jesus was truly God and truly man - in theological circles, known as the Hypostatic Union, then He's able to save completely. And if God can save completely, then the organisation would crumble.

True salvation involves justification by faith - or imputed righteousness. That is, the Righteousness of Christ imputed into the sinner's account. That means the Father seeing the believer in exactly the same way He sees His Son! To be in Christ and Christ in you. The Watchtower doesn't teach any of this, indeed, it cannot, or it would fall to pieces. But it's clearly taught by Paul in his letter to the Romans, chapters 3, 4, and 5. Romans 8 is also worth a read - without any of the Watchtower's interference.

If this wonderful plan of salvation is to be set in motion, then Jesus had to die by crucifixion on a cross (note: not merely impaled on an upright stake!) Then He was buried and on the third day, rose physically from the tomb. The Watchtower denies a physical Resurrection. Instead, they promote only a spiritual one, the ghost of Jesus rising from his dead body. But the physical Resurrection of Jesus Christ is absolutely essential for salvation, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15. Again, that's worth reading on its own. If Christ did not rise physically, then there's no salvation.

I have a lot of respect for Harrison Cother. His gentle spirit while explaining why he has turned to atheism had earned my respect and not any form of judgement. If only he understood the very glory of God in his plan of salvation, that is way, way better than what the Watchtower can only offer. Who knows, he can see how bad our present natural world can be, and still trust in his Triune God for his wonderful salvation.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

John Bull: Should I Support Him?

Daniel was one Biblical prophet I have learnt to admire. According to what is recorded of him, he was very well educated and had exceptional qualities. He was also trustworthy, he was also very loyal to the king, and there was no corruption in anything he did, nor did he ever show any negligence in his calling. And how devoted he was to God, trusting in Him completely and praying regularly in the privacy of his own room every day. He was also innocent of any blatant sins, such as adultery and murder, two of which King David was guilty of during his lifetime, around four hundred years earlier. Yet, David too was referred to as "a man desiring God's own heart" - according to his biographers.

Daniel's faith in God was so strong that he wasn't afraid to be thrown into a pit containing hungry lions. And that was what his associates desperately wanted - for him to die - but not peacefully in his sleep but with intense pain and bloodshed by the sharp-toothed jaws of these feline predators. Their motive was jealousy. That deep resentment felt among them after their inability to interpret dreams the king had, nor were they were able to read and interpret the supernatural writing on the wall which foretold the Babylonian king wanting - and his resulting demise that very same evening. Yet, the prophet was able to solve these difficult problems with remarkable ease, giving them the impression of superior intelligence, learning, and power.

The fact that the prophet Daniel was a Jew - a "proper" Jew at that - as he was from the tribe of Judah, from which the word Jew originated. His associates, of Chaldean origin and renowned for their knowledge of mathematics and astrology, already harboured a deep resentment in their hearts for having a Jew appointed over them by the king. After all, it was they, the Chaldeans, who sent their armies to Israel, under their former king Nebuchadnezzar, to raze their city to the ground and brought the captive Jews into Babylon to settle in subservience to them.

And so, as Daniel was praying, or even lay asleep in the lion's den in the company of sleeping lions, King Darius the Mede, tossed and turned in his bed, unable to sleep and in the grip of deep sorrow and anguish, as he imagined the flesh of the prophet being torn apart over a puddle of human blood soaking into the ground. He also felt angry at the astrologers for their idiotic decree. He was also angry at himself. How could he allow such a stupid, stupid decree to be signed by his own hand? That one irreversible law of not allowing anyone to pray to any god or man except to the king only for the next thirty days! Perhaps the most senseless scheme ever thought up by these so-called "intelligent" Chaldeans. And he fell for it, hook, line and sinker. How could he not smell a rat? And afterwards, he was then forced by law to condemn an innocent friend to a horrible death, despite his plea to his advisors for clemency. 

Meanwhile, in stark contrast, the Chaldeans responsible for Daniel's demise lay in their wives' arms in bed, feeling smug and content that, at last, there won't be an exiled Jew telling them what to do! How little did they know that this would be their very last night in their lover's arms? For the king's wrath would spill on them at daybreak, and they will all be food for the hungry lions.

However, the goodness in Darius' heart was manifested when, at the crack of dawn, the king made his way to the pit while he was still wearing his nightclothes, and called out to the prophet, perhaps expecting silence or at least a roar or two from the lions. Instead, to hear the Jew calling back to the king had caused his heart to change from distress to joy - and then to anger - anger at those Chaldeans who wanted his friend dead to get him out of their way.

It's the jealousy lurking in the hearts of these Chaldeans that has given me some food for thought: The 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence by a gang of white racist youths is one example. Could I see a parallel between these youths towards Lawrence and the Chaldean's attitude towards Daniel the Jewish prophet? Just as Daniel displayed divine wisdom at a level beyond the Chaldean's capabilities, so Stephen Lawrence, who was black, was already better educated than his persecutors, and they knew it.   

Then at a football match, there is the racism that often exists at the stands. This is when fans make monkey noises at a black player or even throw a banana at him. There is a story that when the very first black player, Wilf Mannion, scored for England in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, the English supporters refused to accept the goal as a valid score. The resentment that was seen among English fans against non-Caucasian players throughout the decades to follow has, to my mind, has given English fans a bad reputation on the international scale, particularly in the eighties.

I too have been a victim of this prejudice, albeit in a much milder form. This began in school, followed by my work colleagues into the late sixties and the seventies, and then into the eighties and the nineties when I was part of a group of five unmarried Christian men from several churches. Their commitment for England to win the World Cup and the European Cup caused my skin to tingle and my hair to stand on end after categorising me as an Italian, despite being born in England, and as such, someone to be regarded somewhat as an inferior, more of an out/group than in/group. And all that is manifested whenever the European Championship or the World Cup football tournaments comes around.

I think that had I done better at school, things might have been different and I would be treated with better respect, although two areas of my life have given me a morale boost. Firstly, knowing Jesus Christ as Saviour, and secondly, my love of travel. However, mingling with Christian friends who were avid England supporters came to a head during the 1998 World Cup. Rather than face my friends if England were to lift the trophy once again since 1966, I bought an air ticket and fled to New York. However, I was still in the UK when England was knocked out of the Cup by Argentina on penalties after a 2-2 draw. But rather than ask for an airline refund, I gladly flew across the Pond to visit the Big Apple, where I stayed at the world's largest HI-affiliated hostel, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

And while I was there, I successfully photographed the twin towers of the World Trade Center from the ferry linking Battery Park to the Statue of Liberty. Back then, I never realised how precious those pics will be after 9/11. 

World Trade Center, taken 1998.

I find it amazing how everything changes for the better after one member of the group finds his ladylove and marry. The young architect, and perhaps the most handsome in our group, was the first to marry. Not long after, the accountant marries. This is followed by the banker. Finally, I marry - after meeting Alex just a few months after flying home from the New York trip (actually, I flew home from Boston Massachusetts after spending a week there.) However, one other member remained single right up to the present, the kitchen porter. He was the most patriotic in the group, the one who believes that the English are the kings of the world and all other nationalities - especially the Italians - are ethnically and culturally inferior. Yet, this same chap, who is proud of his British stiff upper lip, remains unmarried and is now in his sixties.

I was affectionately referred to as that Reckless Itai (pronounced eye-tie) by the banker, and I'm still called that to this day. I don't mind that at all, for it's always done in a friendly spirit, and not in a derogatory one.

With the group long dispersed after we had all gone on our separate ways, my apprehension over whether England will win the cup or not has somewhat wained. Perhaps not entirely. I still feel a little of it now. But just goes to show how much psychological harm can be caused for Mr B, when Mr A thinks he's nationally, culturally, and even biological superior. Then Mr A's team knocks out Mr B's team, from the tournament. Then Mr A appears smug and looks down with a patronising gesture towards the hapless Mr B. I recall this happening once, some 25-30 years ago. When his English rugby team beat the Scots, the mockery from the England supporter was enough for the Scotsman to break into tears, to which the Englishman finally admitted, Oh dear, I'm not behaving Christlike.

This spirit of England has become, in my opinion, something of an anomaly since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps I can personify England as John Bull, a character that is supposed to represent courage, stoicism, and to keep going during a crisis. Mr Bull, I think, is generally introverted, and he's not the one to be a braggadocio people-minded individual but more of a task-minded person who is shy when it comes to winning contests and quite happy to accept defeat. After all, it's the participation in the game that counts, whether win or lose. Such as John Bull, that is, until recently.

Oh, what has happened to John Bull? Have we become a nation of chocolate teapots? Have we become afraid to ditch the facemask? Isn't there any optimism for the near future? Do we have faith in the vaccines? Does the majority believe that there will be another lockdown before the onset of Winter? Are we constantly looking out for a new variant? Would this new variant result in an immediate lockdown? Will it be vaccine-resistant? Are we avoiding each other as if each one of us is carrying the Bubonic Plague? And have we become reluctant to return to the office which involves commuting in a delayed packed train?

I say "we", but I have never seen the inside of an office, let alone work in one. This idea of "flexible working" - the concept of part-time office work mixed with working from home - a new trendy culture that would never be dreamed of during the early days of my own working life! I recall the days when there were two kinds of occupation: The salary-earner and the wage-earner. The man in a business suit and the man in a boiler suit. The one who signs in and the one who clocks in. The one who works flexi-time and the one who is told when to start and finish. The one who takes a company-paid business flight to a foreign country, and the one who pushes a broom across the factory floor. The one who is highly respected and the one who is treated like cattle.

And it all comes down to the level of education, does it not?

Like the scientists who are advising our Government on which course of action for the whole nation to take. Like the king listening to the prophet Daniel, our MPs are listening to these scientists as they bow to their wisdom gotten at Oxford. And the rest of the people bow. At least the Brits are quite unlike the ancient Chaldeans!

Oxford University.

Don't be surprised when I say that there were times that I felt a pang of jealousy. Maybe, I understand how these ancient Chaldeans must have felt. After years in college, they became great and well knowledged for that period. Then this exiled Jew arrives, and with his powers, wins the favour of the king, who then sets him over the whole kingdom. No wonder the Chaldeans felt miffed!

Daniel's character is admirable, and with all honesty, I would very much like to be like him. He had the mind of Christ. And this level of spirituality is attainable by anyone who wants to have it.

There are three choices I can make:

I can be like one of the ancient Chaldeans and wallow in envy towards those who are better off.
I can be a typical Brit, which, at present, seems characterised as a chocolate teapot.
Or, I can inherit the qualities which Daniel the prophet had, which can only be possible by having the Holy Spirit dwelling within, who is available to anyone who asks God.