Saturday, 27 August 2011

From One Degree of Glory to Another

We are always changing; changing the way we look, changing the way we think, changing the things we read about or are interested in; it seems that as humans we are always undergoing some form of change.  Nothing stays the same, and everything it seems is in a state of flux.

Sometimes we say something, or do something or even write something that upsets someone or gets someone’s back up; I can say this about me only too well; I have often at times put my foot in it, or opened my big mouth when I should have kept it firmly shut!  With the best will in the world, and even when we truly had no intention of doing so, we make mistakes, we mess up; to err is human after all; and to forgive?  I think that is truly divine.

One of the major themes of Christianity seems to be that of change; we are all caught in our sin until God in His mercy releases us from these bondages of sin; Paul, the most famous Christian of antiquity is the perfect example of a man caught up in his own zeal, but at least like many people there was a degree of ignorance to his sin.  When God finally caught up with him, Paul underwent a radical transformation; from being a zealous sinner to a genuinely righteous man of God.

As time passes, for most of us, we can reflect on what we were like when we were younger; if you are like me, you probably cringe at some of the things you said or did as a youngster!  On reflection, we most certainly don’t make the same mistakes again; being a Christian is just the same; whatever sinful life you had before, you endeavour wholeheartedly to put it behind you, to put it behind you for good.

So, we are changing all the time, and hopefully for the better!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


If, during any time, I upset anyone, or have upset anyone by what I have written, I unreservedly apologise!  I think I can be quite radical and, by some standards, controversial too; but in this I am only trying to be honest, rather than nice.  I am not being controversial for controversy's sake, just trying to explore themes in as truthful a way as possible.

You may have noticed, if you have read a few of my posts, that I am a little obsessed with the English Class system!  I make no apologies for writing about this as, for some reason, it seems to be one of the few contentious issues in English life that few people, if anyone really, will tackle, talk about or debate in any kind of genuine fashion.  I don't know why this is; perhaps for some people it's too near the knuckle, and from my point of view perhaps this worldly system that creates winners and losers, people who are seen as socially acceptable and other people who are not seen as socially acceptable, is still a way of grading English people at this present time.

Coming from the background I do, I feel that as a Christian I must at times write about this painful issue for the many people who have felt they were not included or were passed over in some way because of this system. In the final analysis, whether it's class in Britain, or racism in America, or religious intolerance in some countries or even blatant sexism anywhere, we as Christians should be prepared to look honestly at the societies we live in, and also the world at large, and be prepared in our own small way to challenge such prejudice and injustice where we find it; it's as simple as that. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Rebel Without a Cause?

For a long time, and even though I am now in my 40’s, I have struggled with an inferiority complex; it’s not always with me, and I am not always thinking about it, but it has been with me for a number of years.

It might have something to do with my background, which is very Working class and quite poor, although not poverty-stricken.  If the society we live in devalues some of those people who live in that society, whether through class hierarchy, racism, blatant sexism, religious intolerance or whatever that helps create the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving’, can we then honestly wonder when parts of that society are lacking moral vision, self-worth and are basically in many ways dysfunctional?  Not all people for sure, but many who for whatever reason don’t make the grade.

Christians must ask such questions and think about such issues because they affect millions of people, and ultimately they affect the societies we live in, sometimes in many ways.  There is injustice in the UK, even though I believe there doesn’t need to be.  Much of the injustice is really economic injustice; some people have more than they could honestly spend in a hundred lifetimes, and others are continually struggling with poverty, or near poverty.  When you are poor, it can and often does affect all kinds of other issues in your life, and it limits your life chances too.  I hated growing up poor, living with the usual inevitable reality that if there was something I wanted or something I wanted to do, if it involved money then I had to forget about it.  As a result of this, I have endeavoured all my adult life never to live beyond my means, and to learn for the most part to be frugal, and to save and not waste money.  I’m not rich, but I’m not particularly poor now either; my needs are met.

As an adult, I wouldn’t say that I am now so poor, but I am certainly not wealthy now that’s for certain.  I live within my means; I think all people should regardless of their financial position.

There are serious issue around the debate of poverty in the UK.  Our society became wealthy simply because some people viciously exploited other people.  In the, not even so distant, past, this was only too evident in the slave trade and the opium trade and the Scramble for Africa and the factory system, to name but four.  In these ‘trades’ or circumstances , some people made absolute fortunes whilst at the same time making many other people wretched, people who were ruthlessly exploited with no concern for the repercussion for such actions.  The Class system in Britain was formed in such exploitation, and racism in America likewise.  The end result?  Injustice, which still plays a part in many wealthy societies.

If we are looking at injustice in the UK, then all sorts of questions could be asked; whether they can be answered, is another question, but I believe that if we sweep it all under the carpet, hoping it will all somehow go away, we only store up problems for the future.  We have lived in this falsehood in the UK for many years; we are not the only nation practising double-standards, but English prejudice and hypocrisy is one I understand the most coming from England myself.

For the most part, class is just not an issue debated in British, certainly English, society.  There could be many reasons for that.   Also, class in Britain ‘straitjackets’ people; it makes people who might not be particularly anything pretend to be Middle class and put on a phoney accent and false airs, or pretend to be Working class and put on a false accent; whichever way, it can take away a person’s unique individuality.  Aside from this, it creates prejudices and animosities that really should have no place in a modern dynamic society like the UK.

The recent riots in England I think suggests that among many people there is a lack of morality and consideration for other people, but this affects the whole of society; the people in power really don’t seem to care about ordinary people; this basic lack of care trickles down to all levels of society.  In higher up circles, those who are wealthy or powerful or influential in some way, the people at the top are cushioned from the indifference they create by high salaries and living in pleasant leafy suburbs and having nice careers to fall back on.  At the bottom of society, where reality bites, this can create people who are amoral and who are only in it for themselves; but how is this any different from most of the people who rule us?  When we take away the very thin veneer of respectability from society, and look underneath, the reality isn’t a pretty sight.  There is indifference and lack of care for people who are poor and struggling in life; and this, eventually, causes problems.

Most people don’t have a purpose in life; they are not set on any course or have any vision; they drift.  Most people might not be rebels without a cause, but rebels without a course; a course in life.  Speaking for myself, I find that God gives me a reason for living and getting up in the morning; I have purpose and it does make a difference.

When I turned my back on God, many years ago now, I was a rebel, a rebel without a cause, and without hope really either.  Individuals, and nations, abandon God, and godly values, at their peril.  I know that if you don’t believe in God, a God who created everything, that this won’t mean much to you, but it’s what I believe, through experience of Him in my life.  God’s laws are there to lead us to a better life, one where we are actually free, not hindered by unhelpful sin or a lack of values.  Some people might say that we are free when we can do anything we like without regard to other people or God; the riots proved that this is nonsense; when people disregard other people, chaos ensues.

Without God in my life I was struggling to make sense of it all, and struggling to make sense of the emptiness and futility at the centre of my life at that time.  It took me a long time to realise that what I was missing was the God I had abandoned.  We might think we are free to do what we like without God, but it’s not real freedom, and in my experience it leads nowhere; to unhappiness, bitterness and regret.  Thankfully, God is merciful; He knows we are sinful and can make mistakes, even big mistakes, and I’ve made some beauties in my time!  But that was a long time ago.

If I can walk humbly with God after all my waywardness, rebellion and stupidity, then anyone can.  I believe even that God has called me to write about Him to other people who may be in the dark as I was, not because I am some wonderful holy person, but because in many ways I was the exact opposite of that; a messed up, confused and unhappy person forever wondering who I was and what I was supposed to be.  Now?  I just try to serve the Lord.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


The very recent trouble in London and now elsewhere in the UK, that at the time of writing is still going on, has shocked most British people and has shocked people around the world it seems.  English people are seen as civilised, ordered, polite and respectable, by themselves and by the rest of the world; although there is another, very negative stereotype, too.  Are the English somehow more polite than every other country in the world?  Perhaps not.

Over the coming weeks and months and even years, long after these riots have disappeared and the rioters dispersed, there will be all kinds of people commenting on them, from all different perspectives politically, religiously and from all walks of life; some of these voices will be heard because they are influential in some way, and most won’t be heard.  Some of those commenting will be honest and will talk in a genuine way about why they happened and what are the solutions, and others will be merely trying to win points or make political capital, or have some angle for whatever private reason.

There are many communities in England that are prosperous, people have work, they have nice houses, they live in communities where there are good facilities and areas where there are nice shops and pleasant parks and places to go.  In other parts of the country, there is a sense that poverty, and all that goes with it, is an accepted way of life.  Such areas can be run-down in many ways; economically, socially and in life chances generally.  For most people in places like these, there is an acceptance, albeit reluctantly and grudgingly, of living third-rate lives.  Now and again though, something happens to shake things up; and then usually there is trouble.

Anyone who grows up in a big city, and certainly those who come from the poorer parts of any big city, will tell you, if they are being honest, that crime is a way of life for some people.  Not necessarily serious organised crime, although that does play a part in all English cities, but often low-level crime of all kinds.  Sometimes, the small-time gangsters become big-time gangsters; it happens all the time.  For some people who come from seriously disenfranchised communities, criminality is seen as the best way for getting on in life; whether it’s robbing post offices, burgling people’s houses, breaking and entering commercial premises and, more and more, dealing drugs.  This is the real money-maker for criminals in England and Western Europe generally. 

Some respectable people, from nice neighbourhoods, think that a big city criminal is kind of evil, that they do things because they want to be evil and harm other people; but they couldn’t be more wrong; it’s nothing personal, it’s strictly business.  The big drug dealers of today, are like the big slave traders of yesterday; they are plying a very shady trade, but the emphasis, for those who do it at least, is all about making money; morals are left somewhere else for someone else to deal with.  The slave traders of yesterday consolidated their wealth, and bought political power, and some even bought themselves into the aristocracy so they could be even more untouchable.  Maybe some members of the British establishment are only there now because of a shady ancestor, or two.  In the same way, drug dealers move on, buy big houses in wealthier areas, and buy legitimate businesses to distance themselves from their criminal beginnings; nothing ever changes it seems.

Criminality, in all its forms, is the shadowy half-brother of the so-called square world, the world of respectable people; and in many cases, you can’t have one without the other.  Every wealthy society certainly has corruption of all kinds, in one form or other.  Many people who make it in some way, probably bend the rules now and again; even the best of us.

When serious civil disturbances rock a seemingly well-ordered society like England, it begs all kinds of serious questioning, and the necessity or hope for all kinds of answers.  Why do people feel the need to riot, and cause mayhem?  What point are they making, if any?  Can we just dismiss such people as scum, quite frankly?  What’s the Christian response?

There are, of course, moral issues at stake.  Nice wealthy people, and prosperous areas, are being protected in many ways, certainly economically, and poor people and poorer communities are bearing the brunt of the credit crunch and savage cuts to services; the people who caused the credit crunch have got away with it, and the people who didn’t cause it are in many ways being very unfairly punished for something they didn’t do.  Just for being poor it seems.  I hasten to add, I don’t condone in any way the rioting or people setting fire to buildings; that is criminal and plain wrong.  What I am trying to get at is that one injustice can lead to others; it’s as simple as that.

We spend fortunes jailing people, in some cases people who do merit jail sentences.  But the ideology of the West, and certainly of Britain, is that rich people will prosper and often at the expense of everybody who isn’t wealthy.  How much money does someone need, after all?  Can’t there be some common sense in all of this after all?  and why have all governments turned their backs on serious problems like lack of opportunity, serious unequal wealth distribution, prejudice of all kinds that does affect people and why is there a serious lack of vision in the political class, who in the final analysis are supposed to be our servants but who act like careerists who are only interested in serving themselves?  This goes for all parties of whatever political persuasion.

The disenfranchised are amongst us; they are everywhere.  We may ask again why wealthy countries like England have such serious pockets of poverty; yes, I know it’s a complicated issue with no simple answers or simple solutions; in that case, we need to discuss it openly and honestly.  I fear however, that all the genuine concerns will be swept under the carpet, and only the most superficial issues will be ‘dealt’ with; meaning quite frankly that it will be forgotten; until the next time.

Why can’t there be more equitable wealth distribution?  Does an area that is already prosperous need more cash pumping into it?  Surely common sense dictates that those who are in need, get some help?  If we give money to starving people in Africa, do we hope that it goes to those who are in dire need, or rich people who aren’t in need?  If you’re honest, you know the answer.

When people first became civilised, it was then we started living in cities; sometimes very big cities.  The rise of human civilisation, maybe in the last 6,000 years, was also the rise of the first cities.  In some cases the very thing that shaped civilisation, us living together, may be the very thing that is now causing us to disintegrate; and I don’t just mean lack of community spirit and getting on with each other, I also mean disintegrate spiritually too; lacking money and a job is one thing, lacking morals, vision, purpose and consideration for your fellow human, is something else; and it’s not just thugs on the street I’m talking about, it affects every walk of life, from those perceived to be at the top right the way down to those perceived to be at the bottom, and everyone in between.  There are good people in every walk of life too; and we need to integrate and not disintegrate.

God said He would spare Sodom and Gomorrah if He could find ten good people; could we find ten really good people in any city today?  Or ten good people in any town or village?  Perhaps we need to think what being good is all about?  Some honesty might bring us all the answers we need.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Can Christians be ‘Too Serious’?

Can Christians be too serious, sometimes too much for their own good?  Surely God wants us to take Him seriously; no problem there?  But does He want us to be serious; all the time?

When we were kids, we were probably used to getting up to some mischief or other, knock and run,  poking fun at our friends as they poked fun at us, and generally quite naturally not taking life too seriously; we were kids after all.

Now, we see through a glass darkly; we lose some of that childish magic we had as kids, and the ability to laugh for its own sake.  I have a great sense of humour, I’m quite witty and I love to belly-laugh, you know, when your ribs ache and you are, in a very nice way, out of control.  Laughter is a gift from God I believe, and one that we exercise too rarely.  I can be too serious, sometimes.

Also spontaneity is a gift from God too; breaking the monotonous routine can be good for us, and can recharge our batteries.  So these gifts are God-given, and we should use them from time to time.  We don’t have to be sombre or puritanical as Christians; Jesus Himself said: (and I quote) "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly."  This doesn’t sound like a killjoy to me, but someone who wants the very best for us.  Abundant living could cover a whole lot of things, material and spiritual blessings, and also things that may seem inconsequential in the great scheme of things, like laughing and being content, but which may be more important than we think.

Be spontaneous!  Do something nice you haven’t done before, or something nice you like to do.  Go to a restaurant; buy a few comedy DVDs and have a good laugh; have a few glasses of wine or a few beers; pay your TV licence fee!  Seriously; have some fun!  And try to live life, and take each day, as it comes.  It makes life so much easier.

So, God’s message certainly is that He wants the very best for us, and laughing and spontaneity might be a part of His plan for us.