40 years ago today, in fact almost to the hour as I post this, I began my walk with Jesus, at the Good News Crusade in Horsforth, West Yorkshire. Life has never been the same since – just one adventure after another.
The story is described in this blog post – but now it’s forty years on, not thirty-nine.
I think this is the first time I have commented on current affairs on my blog, save as a means to leading into a lesson for those walking the path of spirituality. But today, this one is grittily practical and entirely to do with earthly things. It’s about our current worldwide plague.
Regarding Covid, there are very few people who know what dying by means of a respiratory distress illness actually looks like.
Of all the ways there are to die, It’s probably one of the worst ways to go that there is. There’s no family sitting tearfully by your bedside holding your hand. They’re not allowed in. No, you die alone, of suffocation; you’re trying to breathe but you can’t. Like when you’re gasping for breath after inhaling smoke from a bonfire, but it doesn’t stop. You can’t get a good enough breath to take away the overwhelming urge to breathe, and the panic sets in and still it doesn’t stop. There’s no escape, it’s lonely, it’s terrifying and it’s utterly, utterly terrible.
Maybe if you’re lucky there might be a nurse there, but you can’t tell it’s a human because they are gowned up to the nines in protective equipment, and they likely will not be allowed even to hold your hand.
My online and RL friends know me; I am by nature a bright optimist. I am unhealthily positive. I don’t take much seriously at all and my outlook on life is offensively flippant, and I live a pretty fearless life. So why am I writing a post like this?
Well, I need to tell you that this is the way it is, because these points I make can save lives. Look, this is not fear-mongering; I mean what do you think SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which is what Covid is part of) means if not an extremely distressing death? I’m trying to tell you how it is.
I mean, if only they’d put as much effort into showing what Covid deaths look like, as they do in putting photos of damaged lungs on cigarette packets, people might take this thing a lot more seriously.
The virus has not ‘gone away’. It may well be time to relax the rules a little, yes, but we must still be vigilant. Keep your distance. Definitely avoid crowds. Wash your hands. Cough/sneeze into a tissue. Stay away from others as far as possible and respect their right to stay away from you. Don’t assume that just because you feel more ‘comfortable’ about the virus, that others will too. Our Government don’t seem to be able to make up their minds about anything, so it is up to you to protect yourself and your family from others and to protect others from yourself too.
Wearing a mask may not protect you, but if you are infected – and you will have no way of knowing this – then it WILL protect others from you simply by deflecting the airflow around the back of your head. Masks are proven to be effective at protecting others, else why do you think surgeons wear them over the patient in the operating theatre? Don’t believe stupid conspiracy theories or ideas from the University of YouTube, but use your common sense. And don’t relax your vigilance.
I have worked in the medical field all my life: I have two degrees in microbiology; twelve years in medical research; and twenty-four years in the pharmaceutical industry, and even I don’t know what the future holds, nor do I know enough about this virus to make any prognosis or give any advice – except to say that social distancing works, as do hand-washing and all the other things I have mentioned. Basic precautions is why the infection rate hasn’t gone through the roof in the UK; we have done ok up until now, so we need to keep up the effort.
So, be sensible. Don’t relax your vigilance. Respect others. Let them live.
Edit: I’ve turned off commenting for this post. Reason: Some folks may not agree, and that’s fine. But I’m taking this seriously enough to know that some of the comments people could make may be capable of endangering lives, like people advocating not wearing masks, for instance. So, no comments on this one. I also won’t be accepting any emails about it either. This one isn’t up for discussion, I’m afraid. Thanks for understanding.
Following on from my previous post, in which I explain why it is no-one else’s business what we are doing for others, for God, or for the world in general, here’s another piece looking at the concepts from a different angle. Maybe you could see this as a companion essay, and use the ideas from both to help build your personal understanding.
First, a bit of background: as with my former post, this piece was written at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, and at a time of rioting in the USA over black people’s rights. And all over the Internet, the buzz-words and phrases are things like ‘Black lives matter’, ‘White male privilege’ and ‘Systemic racism’. Since I don’t talk politics, these concepts are not going to be the subject of my essay today.
As usual, people from all sides of the arguments – and like it or not, there is always more than one side to an argument, else there wouldn’t be an argument, would there? 😉 – all seem to expect everyone else to support their point of view. This is nothing new, of course, and is simply human nature. What I have noticed, though, is that there have been so many folks on the various social media ‘platforms’, from armchair warriors right up to actual activists, judging and shaming others whom they do not know and, of course, of whom they have no knowledge of their motivation and heart. This was reflected in my previous essay, where I expounded the freedom of the believer to follow the voice of God and so exercise their God-given freedom.
I have seen people judged for posting stuff, judged for not posting stuff, judged for posting the wrong stuff, judged for all kinds of things. I’m sure I’m not alone in noticing this. I have also seen people making false dichotomies; people twisting my beloved English language, which I personally wield as a precision instrument in my blog posts and other writings. To be honest, it makes me sick. One such example is some oik who proclaims that the idea of ‘not racist’ is not allowed; if you say you’re ‘not racist’, then you are in fact racist, however that’s supposed to work*. Great. So, now you’re not allowed to be ‘not racist’ without it being interpreted as something completely different from what it really means – the exact opposite, in fact. It’s getting to the point where there’s no need to have defined meanings for words anymore.
I understand, though, that most of these people are well-meaning folks who are trying to elicit change in society; change for the better. And for the believer who walks closely with Jesus, their refusal to go with the flow, to jump to others’ orders, or to have all their puppet strings pulled by people who are not, and never will be, their rightful Lord; this is always going to result in others’ disapproval and/or persecution. This is precisely what Jesus meant when He warned His followers about persecution, because it’s almost always the case that following Jesus means not following what others expect of you. My friend Joel put it like this, “…it’s like they’ve secretly given people jobs to do, and they’re disappointed when people don’t do the jobs (that they know nothing about)”. Someone else’s expectation of you is always going to be different a) from your own expectations of yourself, and b) from the expectations of the very next person you talk to. If you like, your ‘Action Station’, the place where you are supposed to be when there is any kind of battle going on, is the place where God tells you, not other humans. This is why it is vitally important for the believer to sit in the midst of the storm, maybe even ‘asleep on a cushion’ (Mk 4:38-40), in a state of rest from which all the actions that God Himself wants us to perform will flow. And the world, the unspiritual, will not understand this, nor can we expect them to. 1Cor 2:14-16 says this:
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments,for,
“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.”
We therefore cannot expect those who do not sit at Jesus’s feet, listening and learning by His Spirit, to understand our point of view on this, because it is completely alien to them. For the same reason, they are also not in a place where they are entitled to judge you, either, for your actions as guided by the Spirit. In fact, many if not most of your bog-standard ‘average’ Christians cannot understand this either – not because they are not ‘spiritual’, but simply because they haven’t learned how to do it yet. All in God’s good timing.
Let me give you an example. In 1981, I went to the Isle of Iona, a remote island in the Inner Hebrides just the other side of the Isle of Mull. The purpose of the visit was to spend a week there on a retreat at a Christian Youth Camp in one of the most holy places in the British Isles.
I went there with my then-girlfriend (let’s call her Janet for the purposes of the story), who is of Scottish descent, and whose parents – both Christians – had suggested the retreat as a place for us to go to. At the age of nineteen (me) and nearly seventeen (Janet), it was quite an adventure for such a young couple to go to such a remote place, having been dropped off in Glasgow by Janet’s dad and essentially being left to fend for ourselves. But it was an incredible week; the atmosphere and the scenery on Iona and Mull are amazing, breathtaking, and spiritual all at the same time. This is one of those places where the spiritual world is very close to the surface; one of those places of the Deep Silence where you can enter your secret place very easily. I personally left a part of myself on Iona that summer; it will always hold a special place in my heart.
As usual, I digress. Sorry. The youth camp that year was run by a few people who were actually CND activists. CND is the ‘Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’, which needs no explanation, and don’t forget this was at the height of the Cold War. Their brief seemed to be to recruit a set of impressionable young people to their activism cause. I felt at the time, and, looking back on it from 39 years later, I still feel, that I didn’t think those people were Christians at all – although of course that’s not for me to judge. But, certainly, other than using a thin veil of ‘christianity’ (note the small ‘c’) to make it look acceptable to vulnerable and malleable Christian youngsters, they were after recruits. I’m not saying it was a high-pressure sales thing; it wasn’t, or at least I don’t remember it being. But it was intended to get us youngsters to go back to our homes fired up to effect change. Jesus was not mentioned in any of the discussions, except for when they used cherry-picked Bible verses to show that Jesus was a peaceful man or other stuff like that. You’d have thought a Christian youth camp would have had more ‘Jesus content’!
Anyway, at the end of the week, there was a plenary session where we all got together and had to state what we were going to do about what we’d ‘learned’ when we went back home. Now, Janet and I, even at that age, were very spiritual people. We’d each had a very real, and very personal, experience of God. We knew the Voice of the Spirit. And so, when it came to our turn to ‘declare’ to this intrusive bunch what we were going to ‘do’, we said “We’ll pray about it”.
This didn’t go down too well. We were told we were lazy, good-for-nothing; that we needed to ‘do more’, that ‘praying about it won’t actually do anything’. In their incredibly limited, blinkered, narrow and completely unspiritual ‘understanding’, they thought that we meant we would go and ‘say prayers about it’, such was the one-dimensional concept of prayer that these supposedly Christian youth leaders had. They had even less understanding than I did, a newbie Christian of just over a year’s standing. They thought we meant that we were not going to get up off our fat asses and actually do anything active. Their reaction was what would be the modern-day equivalent of the contempt that is shown for the idea of ‘thoughts and prayers’. (If you have a problem with ‘thoughts and prayers’, I understand that, and I recommend you read this article to be informed with regard to my attitude to it).
This was, in fact, a perfect example of the unspiritual mind having not even the remotest concept of the things of the Spirit. What we were going to do, in actual fact, was to determine exactly what God wanted us to do. That’s what we meant by, “We’ll pray about it”. Back then, I didn’t have the personal life-verse of John 5:19, of ‘doing what I see the Father doing’, but this was the precursor to that concept. (I actually picked that up later, in 1986, when my wife Fiona and I trained in Signs and Wonders with the Vineyard team). But that was what we meant.
And what this actually becomes in practice is incredibly powerful. You see, make no mistake, when you get a called believer, acting in the Father’s will and moving in the power of the Spirit, someone who really gets hold of God’s calling on their life; when they grab what God has given them to do and run with it with the commission, anointing and power of God behind them, then no power in this world can stop them, and the results are going to be powerful, life-changing and even sometimes world-changing. Your ‘Action Station’, if you like; the place you are called to be, is the best place to be in, in order for your life to be the most fruitful, the most fulfilling, and the place with the most joy.
In the case of the CND’s ‘call’, God made it very, very clear to Janet and I that this was not our task for that time. And so we did not do any of the things that the CND ‘christians’ told us we ‘should’ be doing, because in God there is no ‘should’. There is just running with His call in the power of the Spirit, which was what we did.
Later, I found that my calling – my ‘Action station’ – was, and is, as an encourager and as a worship leader. They kind-of go hand-in-hand 😉 . When I lived in Leeds, I was well-known, and indeed renowned, in the local area, as a man who led great worship. People came from all over the region to worship at our church because it was so good. And this is what happens when people get hold of their calling and go with it: it bears huge amounts of fruit and blessing for all who come into contact with them. So, you see, to follow the CND ‘demands’ would, for me, have been hopelessly wrong, and would have denied so many people so much blessing, particulary once Fiona joined me in my calling.
And so to come back to today’s problems, and the application of these lessons in today’s environment.
While it is the standard technique for all ’causes’, whether religious, sociological or political (and probably still including CND!) to try to gather large numbers of people to their ’cause’, this is not God’s way. The Spirit does work in society at large, but Her main way of working is through the hearts of individuals. That’s not to say that you ‘shouldn’t’ join a group of some sort, if that’s what God is calling you to do. But just do what He calls you to do. Jesus is your One and only Lord, not some jumped-up oik with an agenda to recruit as many people as possible. Doing ‘works of faith’ in the Kingdom of God is not about numbers; it’s about calling. Whereas the world’s emphasis is to be ‘seen to be doing’, the Kingdom’s emphasis is actually to not be seen doing anything. Note: I don’t mean to be seen not doing anything at all. I just mean that doing things in order to be seen doing them could be a misplaced motivation.
If you are not ‘doing what [you] see the Father doing’, then you are likely not going to be walking in the peace of Christ, because it will feel as though something is missing. Which in fact it is: you’re missing your calling and your fulfillment of that calling. Believe me, there is no place it’s sweeter to be in than right slap-bang in the centre of God’s will, walking in His Spirit and doing His works, whatever those works are that He’s called you to do. This is the path to true freedom. But you can’t make it up; you can’t pretend with this. You and you alone are the one who is capable of hearing God’s call on your life. God calls you by name, to a unique set of purposes and fruitfulness that are tailor-made just for you, incorporating your talents, your passions and your personality. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ with God and His ways.
For these reasons, your actions – or lack of actions – in any particular situation will be determined by your calling. You have God’s permission to listen to Him and to follow His promptings. You don’t need to feel guilty for not doing what everyone else wants you to do. That’s always going to be a different set of demands from person to person anyway, and so you’ll never be able to please everyone at the same time, and nor should you try to do so. You also don’t need to feel guilty for not doing what God wants you to do, either – all you need to do is just get on with it. It’ll feel right. If you feel you need to ‘do’ something, but you don’t know what that thing is that He wants you to do, then you have a couple of choices. The best option is to go with what you feel you want to do. That’s usually a pretty good indicator because, as we have already seen in the Scripture above, ‘…we have the mind of Christ’. Don’t let others understate the importance of that verse, or to deny its reality. If I’m honest, most Christians don’t actually believe that verse about themselves, much less for others. The other thing is to do something – anything – that will help someone else in some way. If you have been moved by someone’s plight, again, that is one of the ways in which God motivates us to ‘be Jesus’ to others, and you would be acting from compassion.
And so this is why it is so vitally important to follow God’s call on your life, and do what you see Father doing. You do not need to feel condemned or guilty because of what others say or think about you. All you need to do is to motivate any actions from the place of your rest in the Presence of God, and your knowledge of His love for you, which is the reason why you have that place of rest in the first place 😀
I’ll finish this on a flippant note.
Sadly, over the last week or so, the thing that has come most into focus for me is that it seems that the entire reason for some people’s existence is solely to judge others, and that usually from the safe side of a computer or phone keyboard.
Next time someone asks me ‘what’s the meaning of life?’ (and no-one ever has!) then, I will put that forward as a possible answer: The whole reason for your existence is simply to judge others. Get on and do it, then 😉
No way that’s right!
Header picture shows the US battleship USS Iowa firing her 16″ main battery in a full broadside to starboard. Note the way in which the wake shows that the recoil of the guns has pushed her sideways in the water, such is the colossal power generated in launching nine 2,700-lb shells (that’s over a ton each) with a muzzle velocity of at least 2,500 feet per second (depending on the type of shell being used). At the point when that photo was taken, her crew will have been at ‘Action Stations’ – everyone knowing what their job is, and in the right place to be in order to do it effectively. So, the Navigation Officer would have been in the chart room, the Captain on the Bridge, the damage control parties would be dispersed throughout the ship, and the seaman who is the gun-layer for Number 2 antiaircraft gun will have been in his seat on the Number 2 antiaircraft gun, and so on. Hence, my using this picture for the idea of ‘Action Stations’ 🙂
*I’d have liked to have posed this question to the person who unilaterally decided that to say you’re ‘not racist’ means that you actually are racist: I’d have liked to ask him, ‘Are you racist?’
He answers yes, he’s dog-meat. He answers no, he’s racist (by his own definition) and therefore he’s dog-meat. It’s a question to which all possible answers are wrong.
I remember waking up on May 1st to hear about the first ‘Black Buck‘ Vulcan raid on Stanley, the longest bombing raid in history at the time, and realising later that it had forced the Argentine leadership to dedicate their Mirage III jets to defending the mainland, rather than sending them out over the Falklands.
I remember the late Brian Hanrahan‘s immortal words about Harrier tactical strikes from the aircraft carriers, “I’m not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out, and I counted them all back”.
I remember Colonel ‘H’ Jones winning the posthumous VC for his actions in saving many of his men from being killed, by leading a charge to destroy an Argentinian machine-gun nest and at the cost of his own life.
I remember HMS Sheffield being hit by an Exocet ASM and being lost the next day. I remember the first British pilot casualty, Lt. Nick Taylor, being shot down and killed over Goose Green on 4th May, after which they stopped using the Sea Harrier for strike missions, instead saving them for air superiority, a role in which they excelled. I remember that the British Pilots destroyed many Argentine aircraft without a single loss to Argentine aircraft in air-to-air combat.
I remember after the War, visiting HMS Plymouth, actually in Plymouth harbour, and seeing the place where her own depth charges had exploded on her decks after being hit.
I remember the heroic actions of L/Cdr Ian Stanley and his Wessex helicopter crew, rescuing the occupants of two crashed British helicopters on the Fortuna Glacier, South Georgia, in appalling weather and near-dark conditions in what was, after all, the late autumn/early winter in the Southern Hemisphere. I have seen that actual helicopter in the Fleet Air Arm Museum, which isn’t far from where I live.
I remember HMS Conqueror torpedoing the Argentine light cruiser ‘General Belgrano‘, and being grateful that she hadn’t got in amongst the much lighter ships of the British Task Force, despite the endless armchair pontifications of the journalists long after the event.
I am a military historian; there is so much more I remember… while today’s world goes about its business and most people have forgotten that ten-week War on the other side of the planet, rest assured I will never forget that War and the people who lost their lives on both sides.
Please note that this is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek piece which uses humour to get across the ideas I have. As you will see from my comments later in the article, I am not in any way trying to paint certain ‘Grey People’ as the ‘enemy’; they are not. In this context, they are simply people who are getting in the way of a conversation I’m trying to have with someone else 🙂
Most of my regular readers will be aware of my ongoing personal struggles in coping with certain ‘Grey People‘ who are far too serious and always want to argue and debate things theological, when their victims don’t actually want to do so. It’s especially bad when they want to argue others, as well as themselves, out of the Good News I share. I’ve had to work out methods of staying sane while still treating them with respect and all the while being conscious of the ‘Silent Listeners‘; those hundreds, if not thousands, of people who read articles, posts and comments without anyone knowing they are there. I also want to continue the conversation I was having with my friend, with whom I am discussing the things of Grace, before the Grey Person decided to muscle in uninvited on that conversation. And I am also aware that although the Grey Person is usually hostile, still they too are someone who needs to realise the full scope of God’s Grace in their lives.
So this present essay is about a strategy I have evolved over the last few months in order to cope with the Grey People, especially when they jump in on an already existing conversation in order to spoil things. But first, some background to set the scene. It’s a bit geeky, but I think the analogies I raise should make sense 😉
There is a board wargame called ‘Federation Commander‘, which is a simulation of tactical starship combat set in the Star Trek universe, and which I used to play often. I’m afraid I must admit to holding a dubious claim-to-fame in that I am the most-published British writer in terms of tactical articles for the game, in the various magazines and other items associated with the game system, for example, in the ‘Tactics Manual’, which you can look at here.
Well! Fame at last!*
One such article in the Tactics Manual was my piece on ‘Tractor Beams’. For those unfamiliar with the idea, a tractor beam is a system, fitted to most starships in the game, which is kind of a powerful magnetic force beam used, amongst other things, to grab hold of objects in space, including other starships. Think of them as a sort of space tow-rope, and you won’t go far wrong. My article in the Tactics Manual is generally regarded, amongst players of the game, as being the definitive treatise on their use.
Don’t worry. There is a reason for all this preamble! 😀
One of the tactics that you can use a tractor beam for is simply to grab, or ‘anchor’, an enemy ship. You would usually want to do this in order to restrict his mobility, say for example so that he can’t run away from incoming missiles or torpedoes. Or maybe you grab him so you can stop him in space while you send over boarding parties to attempt to capture his ship. This is very much like how crews in the Age of Sail used to throw grappling hooks across to another ship, so as to prevent them getting away.
I take it you’re getting the picture. Tractor beams. And this idea of the restriction of mobility is the main reason for me using tractors as my analogy today.
Right, so, to the analogy. This following description will no doubt be familiar to many of my readers! (Please bear in mind that I do not count these people as ‘enemy’; I am simply using the analogy of a space battle involving tractor beams).
When engaging in discussion with the Grey People, they are usually, if not always, of serious demeanour. Any attempts at levity, or engaging as a real person, is ignored. Everything is totally, and I mean totally, serious. No ‘lols’, no smiley faces, no emoticons. No consideration for your own learning, your personality, your interests, no consideration for the time you have walked with the Lord, and the assumption that you have never read any of the Bible is taken as axiomatic (as evidenced by their excessive use of proof-texts). Remember, they have seen you online trying to ‘lead people astray’; very often they have jumped into the conversation you’re having with your friend because they decided they needed to step in ‘in the Name of the Lord’, in order to correct your ‘error’.
No, it’s all very serious and heavy going. There is no lightness or freedom, and the whole thing has to be conducted according to their assumed rule-set, including Biblical infallibility. The terrain for the battle – and let’s face it: it is essentially a battle! – has already been chosen (by them, unilaterally of course) and that ground centres in that dance around the Bible, or at least their interpretation of it. So they try to restrict your freedom of movement in the discussion, and they want to grapple you and pull you back down into the mire that their shipwrecks are embedded in, which is exactly what you escaped from when you began your deconstruction journey. And you don’t want to go back there. And you don’t want the conversation to go into that rut, either.
Now, that sounds to me a lot like being caught in a Tractor Beam 😉 If the ‘conversation’ has got to that level, then you’re being held in a place where you can’t avoid the missiles and torpedoes, and you have been slowed to their speed so they can engage you effectively!
The answer to anything like this, where your antagonist is trying to dictate the terms of the engagement, is to exercise your ability to refuse those terms, and instead fight on your own terms.
So, here are the tactics I have being using for the last few months in that regard! Remember, in the vast majority of cases, these people have jumped into a conversation which is not theirs, but they have decided to make it theirs and to correct everyone’s point of view until they line up with their own – just like a Pharisee.
Firstly, you don’t need to accept every offer of battle that is issued. If you want to leave the thrown gauntlet on the ground, then yes, leave it right there and walk away. You’re never going to get within tractor range if you refuse the battle in the first place.
The vast majority of times, I simply ignore the Grey Pharisee and write as if he’s not there. I carry on talking to the person I was originally talking to. Usually, the Grey person gets fed up with being ignored and moves on. If they don’t, there’s always the ‘block’ button, which on Facebook has the added advantage that they won’t be able to see or recover anything they have posted in response to your thread that they jumped in on uninvited in the first place.
Should you decide for whatever reason to engage, though, read on for further tactical insight 😉
Secondly,remember that they are trying to tractor you so that you can’t move, so that you have to fight the battle on their terms, and in the place of their choosing. For example, and this is the most common occurrence, they may try to engage in a proof-text slinging match. “Ah, but, the Bible says…” In other words, they want to choose the ‘terrain’, the location for the battle that holds more advantages for them than it does for you, at least in their perception. They will have their proof-text torpedoes lined up and ready to go. But if we don’t let them tractor us, then the torpedoes will miss. This, of course, is because your view of the meaning of their carefully-arranged Bible texts will be completely different from theirs, and you can simply let their texts go over your head. So, in order to avoid being tractored like this, don’t get roped in to a Scripture battle. Don’t slow down to their speed, where they can tractor you and draw you in. Keep your speed up and stay out of range of their tractors by refusing to engage on their terms. He wants to drag you down into the nitty-gritty of microscopic interpretation of Bible texts, and that should be avoided; all he can do is to watch you fly past his entrenched position, fast and free!
Nothing is lost in refusing to argue with Grey People on their own terrain. They are not going to change their minds anyway; for myself, having once been entrenched in that same position, it took fifteen years away from Church and a major move of the Spirit in my life to boost me out of that mire. However, the benefit of refusing to engage at the level desired/required by the Grey People actually shows the invisible listeners that there is far more to life than heavy theology, especially in the day-to-day living of our lives. Sure, the depth and intensity of study is there for those who wish to indulge in it – many of my blog articles reflect the depths to which I myself study certain ideas on occasion – but for most people, including the Silent Listeners, the heavy theology is of no concern to them. They just want to get on with life, and quite right too.
Thirdly, You can also keep your speed up by not getting bogged down in deep discussion. In other words, keep it light and flippant.
As someone who is living in the joy and freedom of the Children of God (Rom 8:21), you will likely have a far more light-hearted view on life and death than your antagonist. To re-quote G. K. Chesterton, whom I quoted in a recent article,
“…pride cannot rise to levity or levitation. Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One “settles down” into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness. A man “falls” into a brown study; he reaches up at a blue sky. Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.”
So, to use your flippancy and levity is not only your strength, but it is also a tool that the other guy cannot, and indeed dare not, use because he’s afraid he’ll be seen as not taking his ‘weighty matters’ seriously enough! Flippancy is always, and I do mean always, met with grey, dull admonitions that ‘one should not take the things of God lightly’ **. But when you are free, you can do nothing else but to take things lightly. I mean, sure, we still take life seriously. Our responsibilites for work, care for others and for ourselves, still exist. We still need to insure our cars and pay the bills. And if you see someone suffering, of course you go and help them.
But the way in which we take life seriously is completely different from the way in which Grey People take life seriously. According to the Grey People, life is all about ‘keeping short accounts with god’, making sure we don’t ‘stray from his ways’, and following the Law to the letter, on pain of (guess what) hell-fire. And you can understand why they take at least that latter seriously, lol 😀 But to the person who lives life constantly under Grace, life is simply there for living, walking with Jesus every day, and having a light and free unconcern with the ideas of ‘sin’ and ‘judgement’ and all that dull, serious stuff. The consciousness of ‘sin’ does not even enter in to the life of someone under Grace, or if it does, it holds very little weight. And so we walk free of the preoccupation with ‘sin’ that so many Christians walk under. It’s sad, because they have been set free from ‘sin’, but they neither live nor behave as if that’s true for them, probably because they don’t realise it.
As an aside, here’s an example of the kind of levity I use. This was in reply to someone who wanted to see all my research on a particular subject, just so he could criticise it***:
“Nope. Not going there, and you can think what you like about my motivations for that. I tried to answer your initial question at a level anyone can understand, graciously and simply – not realising your question was a trap to suck people in to an argument. I don’t have to attend every battle I am invited to, and I choose not to on this occasion. Find someone else to fight; I’m going for my breakfast”.
I’m happy to report that my disengagement was successful; no further hostile action was received from that contributor 😉
Fourthly, don’t let him close the range. Another reason to not let ourselves get tractored is because once that tractor is locked on, it means that the battle could well get very dirty, very quickly! Here at point-blank range – tractors can only be used at very short ranges, so don’t even get close enough – is where it can get mean. Skip over points raised by your opponent which are designed to hook you and pull you in – things like personal insults, inflammatory statements, things that push your buttons. If you react in the way they want you to, then that’s their tractor beam established. In practical terms, this can simply involve just counting to ten before typing a reply. Do I really want to answer that question? Will anything be gained by reacting to that taunt or barb? Refuse any invitation to close the range into a close and dirty knife fight (another tactical article I have had published in the game literature 😉 )
At the end of the day, I am perfectly secure in who I am, in what I am, and in Whom I believe. Nothing they can say can ever change that. They can quote Bible verses at me all they like; they can tell me I am damned and they can give me a whole list of Bible-based threats, but they cannot change what I know I know, and they cannot take away from me that I know He Who has given me that knowledge (2Tim 1:12). I am secure. My emphasis is therefore not to try to bolster my own position, but to encourage and help others to reach a similar position themselves in their faith walk. And dirty fighting does nothing to further that end.
Fifthly, Talk about Jesus and what He has been doing with you and saying to you. Against your personal testimony of your walk with Jesus, the only answer they can possibly reply with is that you are being ‘deceived’ by ‘some other spirit’; of course, this is passive-aggressive speak for ‘It’s the devil telling you this stuff’. That’s the only kind of two-dimensional, binary ‘thinking’ (although it’s not really thinking, it’s more like parroting) that Grey People can come up with.
Naturally, that retort implies that God is not allowed to speak to anyone outside of their own personal paradigm, whatever that is for them themselves – usually it relates to their particular interpretation of the Bible. But remember that the Bible is not what Christians are supposed to be gathering around; it’s actually Jesus that should form the centre of our discussions. And so, what you are doing here, by talking about Jesus, is to bring the focus back to the beauty and loveliness, gentleness, strength, wisdom and above all Love of your Best Friend and Saviour. Talk about Jesus and you won’t go far wrong.
I would put in a caveat at this point, though. When I say to talk about what He has been doing with you and saying to you, I think we need to take Jesus’s advice and be careful not to ‘throw your pearls before swine’; that we should not ‘give dogs what is sacred’ (Mt 7:6). What His point was here is that what is valuable to you – things Jesus has given you – will often not be valuable to others, especially those who are already in antagonistic frame of mind towards you. They trample underfoot that which is precious, simply because they do not realise the value of what has been given to them. In the same way that a pig in her sty would not appreciate being given pearls, because she doesn’t understand – how could she; she’s an animal! – how valuable they are (even though she can’t eat them!), in the same way you will find that your gems of light that Jesus has given you hold no value to these people, and so they will discard them as worthless because they simply don’t understand.
And so, don’t give these people the really precious stuff. Exercise your wisdom in keeping the ‘Secret of the Lord‘, because not everything that is good and precious is for general distribution. Remember also that sometimes their whole intention is not so much to correct your thinking, but more simply to judge you and your beliefs according to their framework. So your pearls really would be wasted on your antagonist – and their judgment may well feel like they are trying to tear you to pieces! (again, Mt 7:6). Therefore, choose from your store of wisdom carefully 🙂
Sixthly, and this is about the Grey People themselves, remember that it is best if we ‘no longer know anyone according to the flesh’ (2Cor 5:16), in other words, we need to appreciate not just the way things look on the surface but also that which is going on in the spiritual and emotional realm. While I have so far written about these Grey People as if they are all the same, although this is understandable because their responses are usually rubber-stamped replies based on bog-standard Evangelical doctrine, actually, they are not the same. God loves these people just as much as He loves you and I. Apart from certain doctrinal assumptions, we don’t really know where these guys are coming from. Now, I know that the prime focus of our endeavours is to bless the person we are really speaking to; the person we were discussing things with before we were so rudely interrupted 😉 And also the ‘Silent Listeners’, of course. But even with the Pharisees – the ancient equivalent of today’s Grey People – Jesus only had a go at them because He loved even them. He wanted to bring them into the blessings of His Kingdom – the freedom, grace and wholeness of knowing Him – and we need to remember that all the roastings He gave the Pharisees of His day were intended to help them ‘see the light’, as it were. He did it for me, after all. And so, while our focus is not really on our antagonists, we still need to remember that we don’t know their story, we don’t know where they have come from, and we don’t know what they are fighting in their personal lives. For that reason, we need to exercise Grace in our dealings with them. So, as in my second point above, don’t let him get his tractor lock on you, because that’s when things can get dirty!
By exercising this kind of wisdom, we can keep our conversations – at least as far as it lies with us – wholesome and full of Grace. For more on this, see this article.
Finally, remember that ‘winning’ is not what it’s about. While I have used the analogy of a battle, I want to restate that the Grey People are not the enemy. Most of the time, it’s just a matter of discussing the points you are talking about with your original conversation partner; the fact that the Greys are trying to interrupt and muscle in over your shoulder is not really relevant. A battle avoided is a battle won.
Peace and Grace to you!
Header picture depicts a Galaxy-class Starship from Star Trek – The Next Generation, holding a small spacecraft in its tractor beam.
*For virtually my whole life, I have been passionately interested in many subjects, down to a level of detail that generally only the Aspergic usually go to. From all these subjects, the relevant ones in this case are Star Trek, science fiction, military history and wargames. I have had a lifelong passion for these things, which is why they come easily to me as parts of the analogy used in this article.
**This is also usually closely related to the ‘warning’ that ‘God cannot be mocked’. What this really means is that they still can’t cope with your levity, and they have also suffered a catastrophic sense of humour failure. These are the people who say ‘ho. ho. ho. god has a sense of humour ahahaha’ but with total deadpan expressions on their faces. God in fact has the ability to laugh at himself. Remember that in any kind of totalitarian rule, whether that be political or religious, the sense of humour is always the first thing to go, replaced by ‘approved’ humour only, which is a contradiction in terms. For the record, God can indeed be mocked; it happened to Jesus during His earthly life (e.g. Luke 16:14; Luke 22:63, Mt 9:24, Mt 27:31) . But that’s not really what they are talking about here; they are more likely feeling mocked themselves, (even if you are not actually doing so) and they are projecting that onto their Big Brother god who is definitely going to get you after school. What they really mean is ‘Don’t mock me. Or I’ll get god onto you’. 😉
***Also failing to appreciate that for your everyday Joe, ‘research’ just means watching YouTube videos made by people who already agree with him. For me, though, research means to me far, far more than a simple Google search; one of my degrees is by research, which involved a whole lot of hard, hard work involving years of study, reading and practical laboratory work. A little research from me, in my fields of expertise, is worth a lifetime of ‘research’ for anyone armed just with Google
You can improve your ‘social distancing’ (keeping away from other people) during this current plague season by eating my ‘Garlic Crumpets’.
To be honest, as someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, I am pretty good at social distancing anyway, and if, like me, you are fed up with people encroaching in your personal space, then this recipe might help in that regard too.
All you do is to spread your crumpets (cold) with garlic butter (Google the recipe but omit any parsley), then bake in the oven at 200degC/180degC (fan) for five minutes. The garlic butter soaks down through the crumpets and saturates them with amazing flavour that goes really well with the crumpet’s own taste, and the garlic is only slightly mellowed by being heated, certainly no more than it would be in ‘proper’ garlic bread.
And if you add an extra garlic clove per three crumpets, then I’d say that no-one will want to stand near you for a couple of days or so. You’ll stink 😀
But these really are delicious and I’m sure you’ll want to eat them often.
Well, today I have been laughing uncontrollably with tears running down my face. That tears bit rarely happens, even though I laugh a lot.
Story is as follows: my dad is in a nursing home, and last year I heard the sad news that one of his favourite nurses (I’ll call her Sarah) had died. I even saw her funeral order of service, pinned to the nursing home’s notice board. Sarah was Scottish, with a very strong Glaswegian accent, and my dad has always had a soft spot for the Scots, especially as my wife was Scottish. I was really upset as I liked her a lot and realised that the place would never be the same without her there.
So today, when I visited my dad, he was ranting on about how Sarah was going to go up to Glasgow, and bring him some haggis back, she was going to arrange an excursion for him, all that sort of thing. And of course I’m thinking like No, dad, she’s dead, you’re hallucinating again.
You can probably guess where this is going.
As I was on my way out of the nursing home today, someone said ‘Sarah, Anthony needs to be let out’. And Sarah came over to chat to me. Sarah, the dead lady. Sarah, the Scottish lady who is going to bring him some haggis back frae Glasgae.
I had to stop myself from doing two things. Firstly, from letting my gob drop open with shock. Second, from saying, ‘Aren’t you dead?’. And all the time, the surreal kind of feeling flooding through my mind. This isn’t happening. This isn’t real.
But it was.
I have no idea whose that funeral service was, that was on the noticeboard. Of course, it can’t have been Sarah’s. I’d even commiserated with the staff at the time, and we’d said what a lovely lady she was, what a tragic loss it was, and all that.
But she’s alive.
I began laughing as I was getting in the car, and I have to say I risked serious internal injury as I tried to stop myself cracking up as I was driving home. Sarah is alive. Sarah, whom I don’t know all that well, but whose sudden ‘resurrection’ has filled me with laughter, as well as laughing at my own antics when I found out. I’m still laughing now in between typing these lines.
So can you imagine what it must have felt like for Jesus’s friends; people with whom He’d spent the last three years of His life, whom He’d had so many adventures with, when they found out that actually, ‘Ere, ‘e says ‘e’s not dead, when they were certain He was?
I tell you what, I reckon the Bible seriously tones down His followers’ reactions. There would have been incredulity, yes, but tons of joy, laughter, a lot of gobs falling open, and maybe even someone saying ‘Aren’t you dead?’ and then even more laughter. No, the Bible doesn’t do it justice, not by a looooong chalk.
I’ve been sharing a lot of teaching debunking the doctrines of ‘Hell-fire’ recently, so I thought I’d intersperse all that dark stuff with something of a more tangible beauty. I mean, working against bad and harmful theology is a good thing, but sometimes it gets a bit too much; unfortunately, it’s unavoidable that sometimes we need to focus on the bad stuff in order to trash it.
So I thought we’d come up for some air for a little while. It won’t hurt if the last instalment in Lee’s series of talks waits until next time 🙂
I am extremely fortunate to live in what is probably the most beautiful part of England. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Yorkshire Dales, of course, having been raised within just a few miles of the edge of the National Park. I love the Lake District; Wasdale Head being one of my favourite places on Earth.
But South Devon, where I live, is an amazing place of breathtaking beauty; a place which does bear some similarities to other, more remote, parts of the country. It’s a place where rural and urban are mixed in a delightful manner, but to cap it all we have the sea close by too. Devon is not as remote as, say, Pembrokeshire or Cornwall, but it does have the advantages of any peninsular environment in that the roads are not as busy as they are in other parts of the country (because they don’t really lead anywhere else apart from further into the peninsula!), and it’s generally not industrialised. Out on a peninsula, we tend to find that we get forgotten by central Government, which is not always a bad thing.
One area near where I live is called the ‘South Hams‘, and it is classified as an AONB or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. And nowhere is this more the case than in the area around Dartmouth and Kingswear, a kind of ‘peninsula within a peninsula’. Flying over this beautiful landscape is always a delight, of course, but I do like to get out into the area on foot too as often as possible.
Being very much an early morning person, last week I went out before dawn to an area near Dartmouth called Froward Point, where also is found the Brownstone battery, a wartime coastal defence site. This is a remote National Trust property very close to Coleton Fishacre, where I used to volunteer for the Trust, playing their beautiful Bluthner Grand piano for a couple of hours every other Saturday. The music filled the place with the Presence of God – I used to play a lot of worship music – although no doubt many of the visitors would not have realised what that sparkle in the air actually was! 🙂
Near Froward Point is a structure known as the Daymark, or Day Marker. It’s a tall stone tower which was built in 1864 as a prominent and easily-recognisable landmark to help sailors find the mouth of the River Dart estuary from seaward.
The Daymark walk is one of my favourite early morning walks because when you stop the car engine and get out, it is completely silent out there. If it’s before dawn, even the birds are reasonably quiet, but it is of course easier to filter out their sound even if they are going at it.
I got there not long before sunrise on a crisp, frosty winter morning, with very few clouds in the sky, and those that there were were over the sea to the east/southeast where the dawn light was growing.
As I continued along the track towards the Daymark, I realised that because I could see the actual horizon – there is a panoramic sea view from here from Start Point all the way round to the tops of the hills of East Devon just poking out of the sea across Lyme Bay on a clear day (excellent evidence for the Globe Earth as decried by the Flattards*) – then I would actually be able to see the Sun come up out of the sea. Having reached the Daymark footpath, then – the Daymark is off to one side of the main track – I watched and waited.
The field that the Daymark was built in was today full of sheep. All standing around minding their own business but still keeping a wary eye on me, the interloper in their silent world.
And suddenly, there it was: the first sliver of the Sun was visible. Just like that. One second it was just horizon; the next there was this impossibly bright fragment of gold sitting there on the sea, and getting larger by the second. And I was looking straight at it as it magicked into view. It felt like there should have been a fanfare of trumpets or something to acknowledge the miracle, but, no, the silence was just as profound as ever.
Trillions of tons of superheated hydrogen and helium climb suddenly and miraculously above the horizon, just like it’s done on every day before, and so of course the sheep aren’t bothered. Well, I was lost in the sheer wonder of it all. I think it’s simply fantastic.
After standing there watching until the Sun was showing its complete disc, I set off back to the car park with bright spots before my eyes 🙂 But there was one more wonder. Like I said, the Froward Point area has panoramic sea views, but there is equally a wonderful view inland over the beautiful South Hams. In this instance, the sunlight angle was of course so low that shadows were cast in the valleys from my angle with the Sun behind me…
…and yet lighting the tops of the hills of Dartmoor with that unique golden dawn light (it’s a different colour entirely from that seen at sunset). Only the evening before, I had seen the Dartmoor hills from 7,000ft up, in my aeroplane, but this time lit by the westering, setting Sun and throwing the moors into sharp relief. The contrasts of colour, location and view were sharp and unique.
So, there we are. A stunning set of pictures taken in a beautiful area, in which I am so privileged to live. Despite being Yorkshire born and bred, and I love Yorkshire dearly, I am sorry to say that I would not move back. Not when I live in a place like this!
Hope the photos blessed you 🙂
*A ‘Flattard’ is a definitely derogatory term for someone who believes in a Flat Earth, and who tells everyone about it whether they want to hear or not. The term was of course pirated by these people, who are incapable of any original thought beyond making up new excuses for their pet beliefs, and used as the basis of their attempt at the derogatory term of ‘Globetards’, used by them to describe the vast majority of civilization who believe in a globe Earth.
As I said in a previous post, my supremely talented daughter Ellie had prereleased her first EP, the four-track album ‘Autumn’.
Recently, the album became available for download on Amazon for the very reasonable price of £2.36, so as her dutiful and very proud Dad I really had to post a link.
If you’re interested in getting hold of a copy of ‘Autumn’, just click the image below to go to its Amazon UK sales page. It will also be available on your own country’s Amazon page. All proceeds go to our local Hospice, Rowcroft Hospice, where Ellie’s Mum was looked after for her last few days on this earth.
The Rise of Skywalker is the final instalment of the third Skywalker Trilogy, completing the sequence of nine movies depicting the saga of the Skywalker family and their fortunes in the ongoing Galactic Civil War that took place “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”.
I have my ticket for today’s 10:05 performance of the movie at my local cinema, and have to say that I am going with some trepidation as well as a quiet hope.
My trepidation comes from a complex story of complete cock-ups by Disney, who own the Star Wars franchise.
The first episode of the final Trilogy, Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens – was written and directed by the legendary J. J. Abrams, and what a superb movie it was. Released in 2015, it left loads of unanswered questions and cliff-hangers, as well as many subtle hints at what was to come. The Force Awakens culminated in the final scene, known as The Jedi Steps, in which not a word was spoken but which, through a combination of masterful music, stunning scenery and wonderful acting, finished the movie on such a moving note and a brilliant cliff-hanger, simultaneously leaving the fans satisfied and still hungry for more, what with all the unanswered questions.
Fast-forward two years to the end of 2017, and the release of the second movie in the Trilogy: Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the movie had a very polarised reception with reactions from both extremes, from absolute hatred on the one hand to total joy on the other. Personally, I didn’t like the movie at all – in fact, I consider it one of the most rubbish movies I have ever seen, Star Wars sacrilege notwithstanding – and I was especially incensed by the cavalier treatment of the cliff-hanger from The Force Awakens’s final scene – The Jedi Steps, where that incredibly moving masterpiece was ridden over roughshod by Johnson’s storyline. Added to that, many other bad story choices – I won’t go into details – meant that The Last Jedi, for me, and for many other life-long Star Wars fans, was a complete flop. Indeed, so unpopular was the movie that when the DVD came out, it sold so badly that my local supermarket was giving it away for free with a mere £10 grocery purchase. To me, that’s an objective indication of just how bad a movie it was.
In fact it was so bad that the next Star Wars movie – Solo – A Star Wars Story, released at the end of 2018, and not directly a part of the Skywalker saga – did not do at all well in the cinemas mainly (in my opinion) because The Last Jedi had been such a terrible movie. Disney blamed Solo for its own poor reception, but in my opinion it was a simply excellent movie with so much potential for follow-up stories, with, again, all its unanswered questions, dangling threads, and intriguing little plot twists. But we will never know, now, where those story threads would have gone, because Disney announced that they were not going to do any more movies of the ‘A Star Wars Story’ type, supposedly as a result of Solo‘s poor showing.
Anyway, back to the Trilogy. I remember thinking, during the months leading up to the release of The Last Jedi, that having three different writers (Abrams, Johnson and then an (at the time) unnamed writer for Episode IX) construct separately the story arc for a full trilogy over the space of five or six years of writing, filming and post-production, was a bit of a daft idea.
I likened it to that children’s game where one child draws a person’s head on one end of a piece of paper, then folds their handiwork under so that it cannot be seen by the next child. The next player then draws a torso and arms, and folds the paper so that neither the head nor torso are visible. Finally, another child draws the hips and legs, after which the paper is unfolded and their combined monstrosity is revealed in all its silliness, to the accompaniment, of course, of gales of laughter.
And that’s what The Last Jedi came across to me as being like. It was almost like a different story; parts of the characters had been changed, and huge swathes of the story from The Force Awakens were ignored. In fact, Mark Hamill, who played the legendary character Luke Skywalker, was reported to have asked writer/director Rian Johnson, “What have you done with my character?” Few of the actors who played parts in The Last Jedi were pleased with the story and the twisting of their character profiles, some being more vocal than others about their opinions. Of course, Disney are very tightly controlling about the way their people are allowed to express opinions, and a lot of the stuff that was said had to be ‘retracted’. Of course, all of this obfuscation is completely transparent to those who have seen, over the years, how Disney work. They know they made a mistake with The Last Jedi, but there’s no way they’ll admit it.
Fortunately (I hope), the final part of the Trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker, was given back to J. J. Abrams to complete the story. This means that the person who drew the head, in our illustrative children’s game, will get to draw the hips and legs, notwithstanding the efforts of Johnson to mess things up with an abysmal torso and arms. I understand there was some reluctance on Abrams’ part to take up the reins again, but I am hoping he will have done it well. But there’s always the overarching shadow of the possibility of Disney causing yet another dog’s dinner of it, despite J. J. Abrams. He will, after all, have to do as they tell him.
So, it all boils down to today. I will go to see Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, as I said, at the 10:05 performance today. I am hopeful that the genius of J. J. Abrams will recover something beautiful from the catastrophic mess left by Rian Johnson – a mess which even included the pointless death of Luke Skywalker at the end of The Last Jedi. I am wondering quite how Abrams is going to achieve that feat. I am wondering how he’s going to bring together all the story threads from his masterpiece that was The Force Awakens: how he’s going to bring in the obvious Force-sensitivity of Finn; if Kylo Ren will turn to the Light Side of the Force; how he’s going to explain Rey’s parentage and her Force-sensitivity; how he’s going to explain why the Skywalker lightsaber called out to Rey in a Force dream in The Force Awakens. How (and even if) he’s going to incorporate any of the canonical back-story from books like ‘Star Wars: Before the Awakening‘ which included many important attributes for the characters Finn, Rey and Poe. And will Luke reappear as a Force-ghost? How is he going to incorporate the much-touted reappearance of Emperor Palpatine, who supposedly died at the end of Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi, without rendering the story arc of all six of the original movies pointless?* All these questions and more, I am hopeful, will be answered by Abrams’ story today, because he wrote the original story that introduced the new characters (Finn, Rey, Poe and Kylo), and he knows what he had in mind for them in the first place.
Well, we shall see. The trepidation of being able to sort out the balls-up that was The Last Jedi. The hope that Abrams will successfully work his genius to make everything right again.
I’m sure there’s a spiritual parallel there somewhere 😉
But I do hope that I will emerge from that cinema this afternoon with a sense of closure. Star Wars is an extremely important part of my life; I have so much invested in the characters and the stories, and I really don’t want to be disappointed. But I’m hopeful that J. J. will do a good job.