What The Papers Say

Today is Easter Day, so may I wish you a very Happy Easter! “At Easter Christians will be remembering how Jesus Christ showed the ultimate service and hope of eternal life through his death and resurrection. Let us resolve to show some of that service by giving some of our most vulnerable a new life, and a hope for the future.” These are not my words, but the words of David Burrowes, the British Member of Parliament for Enfield Southgate, writing in the Huffington Post, as he makes an impassioned plea for the British authorities to help individual refugees settle into normal life here in the UK more quickly. What a surprise to find someone in public life acknowledging the fact that Jesus did actually die and rise again!

Recently I have read much ‘fake news’, or more correctly false information, about Jesus; from online comments declaring that Jesus never existed and that there’s no evidence that he ever did, to a historian who claims that Jesus was really a warrior king called Izas Manu of Edessa and Adiabene. So what a surprise it was to find an article by Dr Simon Gathercole on the Guardian.com website last week, which spelled out the historical facts, showing that Jesus really did exist. It’s conclusions are that, “the historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread,” and “the value of this evidence is that it is both early and detailed.”

The Guardian article goes on to say that, “Strikingly, there was never any debate in the ancient world about whether Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure.” Yet today there are intellectuals who still deny the existence of Jesus, declaring it simply a myth. But as the article says, this “Jesus-myth” approach is criticised most heavily by the two mainstream historians “Maurice Casey (formerly of Nottingham University) and Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina)”, who are themselves atheists, and have nothing to gain by suggesting that Jesus actually lived. In fact they describe the “Jesus-myth” approach as “pseudo-scholarship”. I have met many people, who tell me Jesus wasn’t a historical figure, but who have never studied the evidence. Is it that they are afraid of what they might find? Because the evidence for his existence also corroborates his words, which are both life-giving and full of love, yet personally challenging. He is a fascinating figure.

The video above asks the question, “Do you know Him?” Yes, the historical Jesus can not only be known about, but can also be known personally today. “Do you know Him?”

Thanksgiving!

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Richard Wilson as Victor Meldrew  from “One Foot in the Grave”. (BBC)

Today is Thanksgiving, a national holiday celebrated in the USA on the fourth Thursday of November. The tradition dates back to the 17th Century, the time of the Pilgrim Fathers.

In the West we have so much to be thankful for, but you wouldn’t think so listening to TV characters like Victor Meldrew from the BBC’s ‘One Foot in the Grave’. Not since the days of Alf Garnett has anyone in a British sitcom complained so much about life. Nothing ever went smoothly for Victor! Below is one of his typical rants, (from the episode ‘I’ll Retire to Bedlam’ 1990).

“Butterflies in the stomach, bees in the potting shed, loonies in the lavatory. I wonder what bounteous joys the rest of the week have in store? Bubonic plague? Nest of scorpions in the hoover bag? Late night shopping at Budgeons?”

Sometimes we develop a critical spirit without realising it. It’s good to listen to yourself once in a while – you might be surprised at what you hear! Instead of complaining, it’s good to cultivate an attitude of thanksgiving, encouraging others and looking for the good in people. And it’s possible to do that today, to develop a positive spirit and become a person that others love to be around; remember, today is the first day of the rest of your life.

Admittedly, it’s not always easy to look on the bright side of life. Some troubles are very real, especially if we’re facing eviction or divorce or have poor health for example. But looking for the silver lining in life, focussing on what’s good, does indeed lift our spirits, helps us to de-stress and promotes peace of mind and heart. I remember standing on a railway platform with some minutes to wait for a train. There wasn’t much to look at: either the pile of litter that had collected nearby, (symbolic of the local area), or some bluebells springing up from a grassy bank. I chose the bluebells!

There is something in our human nature that wants to say ‘Thank you!’, and often for a natural event, like the birth of a baby or a beautiful sunset, or even for our safety following a near-miss when driving! But the act of thanksgiving prompts the question, who are we giving thanks to? I guess it’s to the One who designed human life, the divine artist who paints the skies and who cares for you and me.

Another Brexit?

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It was indeed another Brexit moment: Donald Trump winning the race to become the 45th President of the United States of America. It was a result that very few thought would really happen; greeted by some with joy and by others with dismay. The latter included: Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and J. K. Rowling, who all tweeted their sadness at the result of yesterday’s vote. “Gonna cry my false eye lashes off tonight.” was Katy Perry’s first response. Other reactions recorded in the media included:

“He’s a threat to the present and future immigrants of the country.”

“Pretty scared right now, I won’t lie,”

“This can’t be real.”

Just as some in Britain are refusing to accept the outcome of the democratic vote for Brexit, there are those in the USA, who are already protesting on the streets after losing the election.

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Madeline Lopes and Cassidy Irwin march with other protestors in Oakland. (Picture: Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP)

Looking back over the campaign, Donald Trump said some terrible things about Latinos,  immigrants, African Americans, women and the disabled. Yet his victory speech showed a calmer, more conciliatory, some even suggested a more presidential, side. In her losing speech, Hillary Clinton said that America “owes Donald Trump an open mind and a chance to lead.” Even President Obama said this morning, “We all go forward with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens.”

It’s true that if Donald Trump follows through on some of his more extreme election promises, life will become much harder for some, particularly for minorities, but surely it behoves us all to give Donald Trump a chance to start again. Wouldn’t we want that for our self? And who knows, the reality of political life may bring a swift end to some of his wilder ideas?

Turning from politics for a moment, it seems to me that some people’s deep-seated fears and horror over Donald Trump’s victory do show a concern for minorities, but also a sense of helplessness, in that our lives are subject to the ebb and flow of political changes and world events, and in our human frailty we have no defence. However, we are not without hope in this world. There is one greater than the presidents and politicians; one who knows and cares for us individually. Psalm 46 reminds us that when the unexpected happens:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, … The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. … He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’”  (Psalm 46)

Because He is there, working unseen on our behalf, we can live and let live. We can accept the decision of our fellow citizens, and continue working to make this a world fit for all.

I’m Gonna Run Away From You

Wouldn’t it be great to hop into a time machine and escape the troubles of the 21st Century? Or just say goodbye to that annoying boss, spouse, in-laws, loan shark or school bully! The video above is just for fun, but for some people running away from your problems seems the only way out.

Linda’s husband had been declared legally dead in 2003 after disappearing from his home in Indianapolis ten years earlier. On the day he disappeared, Richard Hoagland phoned his wife at work saying he was ill and was on his way to hospital. That was the last time she heard from him. She was left to bring up their two sons, Matthew and Doug, alone; a broken woman.

Fast forward to July 2016, when police one thousand miles away in Pasco County, Florida arrested him for identity fraud. Since fleeing Indianapolis, he had stolen the identity of Terry Jude Symansky, a deceased fisherman, married again and had another child. And his reason for running away? He had “family issues with his wife and children.”

Richard Hoagland isn’t the first of course. Lord Lucan, for instance, vanished in November 1974 after the murder of his son’s nanny at their home in London’s Belgravia. He has never been found. Then two weeks later, John Stonehouse, the British Member of Parliament, and alleged secret agent for Czechoslovakia, faked his own death on a beach in Miami, but was arrested in Australia one month later.

Life isn’t easy, but running away is not always the answer. Jesus told a story about a son that ran away. He took his share of his future inheritance, ran to a far country and spent everything, while having what he thought was a good time. When the money was gone, reality hit. He was reduced to feeding pigs for a living. Eventually he came to his senses and realised that his father’s servants were better off than he was. So ashamed of his failure and planning to ask his father for a job, he headed for home. While he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and filled with compassion he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him. His past mistakes were forgiven and forgotten; he was a member of the family once again.

So what about us? What about you? Is there something in your life that you can’t face alone? Something that you’d like to run away from? As Jennifer Benson Schuldt writes for Our Daily Bread: “The reality is that we aren’t on our own. God is there, ready to help and comfort us … Jesus understands our fears and problems because He lived on the earth as a human and endured the same types of trouble we face … All we have to do is turn away from whatever scares us, and run in His direction.”

The French Resurrection

Our hearts go out to the people of Brussels following Tuesday’s tragic events. The links with Paris are all too obvious; not just the linked individuals involved in bringing terror to these two capital cities, but also the suffering and bereavement brought upon these two innocent, peace-loving populations.

So soon after the tragedy – it was only five days ago, it is difficult to imagine how change may come or indeed whether there is any hope for the future. Yet the human spirit will always rise to the challenge. As Winston Churchill was once quoted as saying, “We must never, never, never give up!” A great example of perseverance in the midst of destruction is the small French port of St. Malo in Brittany.

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Place Vauban, St. Malo

St Malo is a gem on Brittany’s northern Emerald Coast; a historic fortress town with wide, sandy beaches below its medieval walls. It was occupied by the German army in WWII. Following the D-Day invasion, Hitler refused to allow the occupying force of just 70 German soldiers to surrender. The resulting Allied bombing and artillery brought the town to its knees – literally! Over three-quarters of the tall, granite buildings were destroyed, yet the town was painstakingly rebuilt, and today is a testament to the vision and skills of Raymond Cornon and his team of architects.

Par US Army — Cropped from FileSaint-Malo Bombings 1.jpg, Domaine public, httpscommons.wikimedia.1024px-Bombardement_du_Grand_Bé_par_des_B-24_Liberators_de_la_8th_Air_Force_américaine_en_août_1944
B24 of 8th US Air Force over St. Malo. (Public domain)

A town, however, is more than a collection of houses and streets. It is made up of families and friends, lives and livelihoods. The restoration of St Malo was an amazing achievement, and today is well worth a visit, but how wonderful to see the life return, the bustling market, the busy streets, the smiles on the faces. The joy of the citizens of St Malo in the video below contrasts sharply with the utter destruction of WWII. Life can never be totally extinguished; a point echoed by Archbishop Justin Welby earlier today, when he said,  “Easter proclaims to us in flesh and blood that fear and death and terror are not the last words.”

Today is, of course, Easter Sunday, when we celebrate someone who’s resurrection changed the world for the better, guaranteeing new life to all who will receive his gift of forgiveness and freedom. As Bob Gass wrote in his latest post, “His resurrection guarantees yours.”

For two excellent blog posts on St Malo, check out:

St-Malo, France: Then and Now ~ January 30, 2016 by Julie H. Ferguson

Poets, Pancakes and Pirates ~ 25 March, 2010 by Caroline Johnson

IDS and the Tesco shoplifter

Iain Duncan Smith MP – former Conservative party leader – has resigned from his post as Work and Pensions Secretary in the British cabinet this week, following Wednesday’s Budget. He denounced £4bn of planned cuts to disability benefits as “indefensible”. Even though a past report had shown that one of the benefits in question was, in many cases, paying out more than was needed, for him these latest cuts were the last straw.

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According to the BBC, “Iain Duncan Smith discovered the Chancellor planned to offer cuts in Capital Gains Tax and was very unhappy that those tax cuts were to be offered to the better off, while he had been forced to make more welfare cuts prematurely, in his view … Iain Duncan Smith is understood to have said that the government “can’t keep taking money from the working poor … He also complained of pressure to “salami slice” welfare, saying the latest cuts were a “compromise too far” in a Budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers. ” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-35848687)

This issue cuts to the heart of how we treat those who are physically and financially worse-off in our society. Jesus once said, “The poor you will always have with you,” (Matthew 26:11). So do we just leave it to the government, or do we do what we can ourselves to alleviate the sufferings of others?

On the same day we heard about the surprise resignation of IDS, the story also came to light of someone who took the initiative to help a starving family in a surprising way.

I will let Andy Wells, who originally posted the news on Tumblr, tell the story: “A dad-of-three who was caught shoplifting food from a Tesco store in Bukit Mertajam, Malaysia, was stunned when instead of calling the police, the store gave him a job.

“The anonymous 31-year-old was stopped by security at the store, who discovered around £5 worth of food on him. But rather than call the police, store manager Radzuan Ma’asan decided to give the man some money and a job so that he could feed his children without having to resort to stealing.

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Radzuan Ma’asan – store general manager. (Pic: CEN)

“He said: “The man’s situation really touched our hearts. We visited his relative’s house. It was so empty and poor. He was not a regular thief. When we questioned him, he immediately confessed, saying that he stole the fruits and drinks because his son was hungry. In my 23 years of experience in the retail line, I had never come across thieves who admitted to their crime so easily.”

“The man was struggling to make ends meet after quitting his job when his wife fell into a coma while she was giving birth. He had attempted to take some fruit and drink for his young children before being stopped by security.

Tesco has yet to decide what type of job to offer the man, but have already given him money to help cover his current expenses – including enrolling his son into school.” http://andyjwells.tumblr.com/

This, to me, is a real good news story, and a 21st Century example of what Jesus would probably have done in that situation. When we see someone in trouble, are we quick to point the finger or are we willing to explore the roots of the problem? We can help each other in our society if we try, and many do – if only all those in authority were quick to do the same.

 

“Do you know where you’re going to?”

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Diana Ross

 

No apologies today for a post to make us think – me included!

There is so much good in our world, yet so often these days we hear the tragic news of promising young lives cut short. Just this weekend we heard of the fatal shooting of Prince William County Police Officer Ashley Guindon near Woodbridge, Virginia, USA. Ashley was only 29 years old, and was on her first shift after only being sworn in the day before. Ashley was shot while investigating a domestic disturbance in which the suspect’s wife also died. Two other officers were injured.

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Ashley Guindon (centre)

Ashley was a talented individual. She held a degree in aeronautics and a license to fly historical aircraft. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family at this time.

If there is one thing we can learn from this tragic incident, it is that we cannot take the future for granted, no matter how old we are. When applying to draw certain types of pension, the finance company will estimate how many years they think you have left to live – what a reality check! Yet that estimate may be years out. However, the question should not be, “How long have I got left?”, but “Do I know where I’m going to when it happens?”

Every year millions of us pay our annual subscription for breakdown cover in case we need to call out a mechanic on our journey. We want to make sure we arrive at our destination; but surely our eternal destination is of far greater importance?

The good news is that there is a Divine Power, a Supreme Being, our Creator, who knows all about us, including how long we’ve got left, yet loves and cares for us. He offers us a fresh start, forgiveness and peace of mind now, not based on what we’ve done, but based on what Jesus did for each one of us, when He went to the cross in our place, paying the price for our record of wrong. He offers us a life of freedom, purpose and hope, and not only that, but also a new life in eternity.

With all that on offer, the question comes to mind, as sung by artists including Thelma Houston, Diana Ross and  Mariah Carey:

“Do you know where you’re going to?

Do you like the things that life is showing you

Where are you going to?

Do you know?

Do you get

What you’re hoping for

When you look behind you

There’s no open door

What are you hoping for?

Do you know?”

One day, when you step into eternity, you will look behind you and there’ll be no open door, no way back. Will you then be glad you made the best decision ever, knowing perfect love, acceptance, peace and security or will your future be filled with regret? An ancient spiritual leader once said, “Choose life!”

“Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)” is a song written by Michael Masser and Gerald Goffin, and recorded by American singers Thelma Houston in 1973, and most notably Diana Ross as the theme to the 1975 Motown/Paramount film Mahogany.

Idiocracy!

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Mr President calls for quiet in Congress. (Twentieth Century Fox)

Living in a democracy isn’t perfect – no political system is, but I’d prefer it any day to living in an idiocracy!

As a film, Idiocracy (dir. Mike Judge, 2006) is part sci-fi, part comedy, part time-travel and like some of Mike Judge’s other creations veers towards the uncouth, tacky and tasteless lifestyles of its characters. Yet it has a message that speaks directly to our Western society. It may not be a film that thinking people would watch, but it is a film that thinking people should watch.

For those who haven’t seen it, the film’s premise is the dumbing down of society taken to extremes. Five hundred years into the future the majority of society has given in to instant gratification, while those with wisdom and intelligence have been sidelined and ignored, and have eventually died out. The end result being a society in chaos that irrigates crops with fizzy drinks and whose president is a male pornstar wrestler. This scenario provides plenty of opportunities for comedy, but also for pathos, for instance when a vending machine denies a desperate mother food she has bought for her children. Caught in the middle is a sincere US soldier of average intelligence, who finds himself transported in time to a society where he is the most intelligent person alive.

Idiocracy echoes the decline in Western values, where appearance is more important than substance, in fashion, entertainment or even in house building for example, and the value of human life has been downgraded, whether that’s tobacco companies promoting cigarettes in the Third World, the tragic cases of disabled people who demand suicide rather than palliative care or the unborn who don’t have a choice. In the film, the dumbing down of humanity came through population growth, but in reality it comes through the choices we make and the paths we follow as a society. Governments are often made up of intelligent people (unlike in the film!), yet tend to side with the loudest voices and amend legislation accordingly, rather than keeping to foundational values which have kept society stable for hundreds of years.

But it isn’t all bad news, there doesn’t have to be a dumbing down; standards don’t have to decline. Even today British crime figures were published that showed that rates of murder and violent crime have fallen more rapidly in the UK in the past decade than in many other countries in Western Europe. As individuals we don’t have to follow the crowd or base our values on popular thinking. As King Solomon once said:

“Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding. For wisdom is more profitable than silver, and her wages are better than gold. Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. She offers you long life in her right hand, and riches and honour in her left. She will guide you down delightful paths; all her ways are satisfying. Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly.” (Proverbs 3:13-18)