I just wanted to make a plug for my daughter’s new EP that’s just been released today.
It’s a six-track EP/album called ‘Ashes’ and it’s taken her more than a year to create the songs on it. All proceeds go to our local Hospice, Rowcroft Hospice, where Ellie’s Mum was looked after for her last few days on this earth.
It’s priced very reasonably at £3.54 on Amazon, and I am sure it will be on other countries’ Amazon sites too. It’s also avaliable on streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music; just search ‘Ellie Rosie’ to find the links to this and all her other published music.
Click the image below to go to the Amazon UK sales page, where you can also listen to some short preview clips from the tracks on the EP. Ellie is a very talented young lady with a superb singing voice and excellent songwriting skills; even the short clips will send shivers down your spine 🙂
I would think it likely that most people are familiar with the grief and loss that we feel when a well-beloved pet dies, and so I reckon the piece was so popular because so many people could identify with it, and hopefully many were helped by it too. The essay was particularly well-received on the Unfundamentalists site (possibly because more people saw it), and the ensuing discussion was very touching as I got some lovely comments from people who had been blessed and encouraged by it. Encouragement is what I do, so I was really pleased to see one comment in particular, which I will quote here:
“I lost my best friend, Strudel (German Shepherd), to cancer on Sunday. He was the best person I have ever known, and my heart is broken. Then, this blog showed up in my email box, and I am so grateful to for the comfort it has given me. I write this with tears in my eyes, but I know that he is waiting for me with Jesus in heaven, enjoying plenty of his favorite food (hot dog buns)”
That comment brings tears to my eyes too, even now, years later 🙂
After that comment, the discussion sadly degenerated rather rapidly into some pretty dull theological stuff, which I won’t share here. There are people who, because of their limited theology, believe that pets can’t be in Heaven. They would rather their theology remains intact – which the idea doesn’t really threaten, as animal ‘sin’ is not really an issue – than believe that even they will see their beloved pets again – or that anyone else will see theirs, either. Sad, sad people, without much hope for what Heaven will be like (far, far, better than anything we can imagine!), and who want to drag others down into that mire too. And that’s tragic.
But still the raw emotion of that comment about Strudel demonstrated the point of what my essay was aiming at. The encouragement of the ‘silent listeners’ who don’t get caught up in pointless discussion, who don’t try to argue others out of the real hope they have in the interests of ‘following Scripture’ (whatever happened to ‘following Jesus’?), but who are simply blessed by the things they read that are a million miles away from the harsh, dogmatic and ungentle things that are written on so many faith blogs. That encouragement is what this stuff is all about.
And so, I will share today a couple of things that have really blessed me, in the hope that they will bless you too, my gentle readers.
We begin with the sadness of loss. Gutted to say that, a couple of weeks ago, we lost Merry, who was the oldest of our pet rats. That’s Merry in the header picture for this blog post.
Initially, Merry was a bit of a sad case when we first adopted him. We had four rats already (they were about a year old), and I was in a pet shop buying food and other accessories for them. When in the shop, I always make a habit of going to look at the baby rats (because they are so cute), and there in this cage all by himself was this beautiful white Dumbo rat. And so we rescued him from being condemned to a life of loneliness and isolation, and took him home with us. After displaying some initial behavioural problems, he eventually settled in just fine, after neutering and a caravan holiday (yes we take the rats in the caravan with us), and he turned out to be the sweetest, most lovable little fella you could ever want to meet.
But, like so many rats, he eventually succumbed to a respiratory problem and we had to make the hard decision to have him put to sleep. It was made a little easier because, even as we had him in the car with us waiting outside the vets, we could see him deteriorating: cyanosis (going blue) of the lips, nose and tongue, and no circulation in the ears. It was definitely his time, and having him put to sleep was the compassionate thing to do, primarily because dying of respiratory distress is not a good way to go. Rats only live for two to three years, and Merry was just over two years old, but still, to lose that lovely little character with all his funny habits and his gentle and wise nature – it was terrible.
I mentioned in the previous ‘pets/heaven’ essay that my late wife Fiona had really clear and vivid visions from God that brought real comfort to her in times of emotional anguish.
Well, I too had one of Merry after he died. I saw him in Fiona’s hands, having scrambled along her forearms, and sniffing at the ‘camera’ (you know, the dream’s ‘viewpoint’) and Fiona was saying “Where’s your Grandpa?” (that’s me!). Building once again on my firm belief that our pets go with us into the afterlife, I was greatly encouraged by that vision and I shared it with my daughter too, and it encouraged her.
Looking back a couple of years, there was an occasion (when we had four rats) and we went on a caravan holiday (before we’d worked out how to take them with us on a regular basis), and we asked our lovely, kindly neighbours to come in and feed the rats for us in our absence. On our return, the rats went absolutely nuts when they welcomed us back. They came charging over towards us and gave us a right royal welcome, just like if you’d been away from home for a fair while and your dog welcomed you back.
And this brings me to Merry’s Legacy. That vision I had, and like I said above, building on my belief that our pets will be with us in the ‘hereafter’, led me to thinking about what that will be like when we arrive. I mean, I would have liked to have thought that Jesus would be the first to welcome me, followed closely by Fiona. But now I’m not so sure. If I have any dog owners reading this, how often have you noticed your dog hold back behind other humans when he comes to welcome you as you get home from work? It’s never happened once, in my experience. The dogs have always got there first in their enthusiasm and exuberance in welcoming home the humans that they love.
Do you see where I’m going with this? What if the first of our friends to welcome us into Heaven are our pets? What if the dogs come charging ahead and bowl me over with their enthusiastic welcome? How can they not do that; they are dogs! With the humans laughing at their antics, but still left well behind them? So, my dogs Melody, Jasper, Katie, Poppy, Bruno and Zeus. No doubt the cats, Daisy and Tigger, will be off doing their own thing and just being cats. And as for the rats: Zig, Zag, Honey, Rosie, Pepper, Sammy, Toby, Wally, Finn, Obi, Pippin, Merry (Peter and Raven are still with us) – these guys will all be right there and trying to get to me first. Even the chickens, and if you’ve ever seen a flock of chickens charging enthusiastically towards you to see what you’ve got for them, you’ll know what I mean 😀 What a lovely picture that is!
All these individual, unique characters – people – in their own right, and precious and beloved by us and by God because of that.
So, with all that competition, maybe Jesus and Fiona might not get to me first, then? 😉
You see, I think Heaven is going to be so full of wonderful surprises: things we thought we had lost forever; people we thought we’d never see again; pets who were so much part of our lives. And the reunion is going to be spectacular! Maybe I have even created a spoiler today; I mean who’d have thought that their pets would not only be there in Heaven, but that they would be the first to welcome us? But I think we can be sure that Heaven will be immeasurably greater than any spoiler I can give 🙂
I often say that God’s two greatest mistakes were a) putting nerves in teeth, and b) giving our pets such short lifespans. Regarding the pet lifespans, I am sure that there’s a deep reason for it, which I kinda have some inkling of (in fact I am sharing some of the wisdom in this essay) and which God reveals in small amounts as we walk with Him, just as He does with all of Life’s Big Questions. I trust Him fully, I know I’ll understand it all one day. and that’s all good. (But the nerves in teeth thing, well no, just no 😉 )
But still, our pets are amazing animals, who in their own way demonstrate to us God’s love and care. When we get to Heaven, I’m sure that we will more fully understand what their function and role has been for us in this life. They are God’s ministers to us – which is probably why cults ban their members from having them. Can’t have the real God showing up, now can we? 😉 And His ministry through these incredible animals – dogs, rats, cats, chickens – is real and tangible. The healing, unconditional love and acceptance that they display mirrors closely those same characteristics in our healing, loving and accepting Heavenly Father. And why not? Is not God capable of showing His character through all His Creation?
Merry’s Legacy has been to show me just what these creatures do for us and how much they enrich our lives; how much they minister God to us. And it’s also shown me a good bit more of what my welcome into Heaven will be like. And I have Merry to thank for that.
The pain of the loss of our dear ones – humans and animals alike – will be nothing when compared to the joy of our reunion with them. Remember that divine ‘judgment’ means that all that was wrong will be put right; all hurts will be healed; everything that ever caused us tears of pain and sadness will become just a dim memory. Now that’s Good News! This is the Gospel! If it doesn’t lead you to believe that everything – everything! – will turn out right in the end, then it isn’t the real Gospel, because nothing other than that, as a final result, will even come close to being God’s best for us. Would God stop at anything short of absolute perfection, when it comes to our eternal home?
Finally, I would say that one of the things that we do when saying goodbye to our pets is that we thank them. We thank them for all the love and heartfelt presence they have ministered to us for the short time we had them, and for all the input they have had into our lives. So, I say thank you, Merry, for all you’ve been to us, your family; all you’ve done for us; and all you’ve taught us about selflessness, self-giving, tolerance and gentleness. And I will see you again soon.
Before anyone runs away, please let me say a word in favour of rats as pets! Rats get a really bad press in the public eye; they are seen as dirty, disease-carrying, vicious and bitey creatures with weird tails, and they give a lot of people the shivers. That, and they are regularly used for the ‘Yeuch!’ factor in game shows such as ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!‘ where lots of (tame!) rats are released into some sort of coffin or box along with the contestant. But in actuality, even wild rats are neither dirty (they hate being dirty and wash themselves at every opportunity), and nor are they vicious; they would much rather simply be left alone. And pet rats, or ‘fancy rats’, are different again from wild rats. In addition to having some differences in the ways their bodies work, they too are clean, and are also beautiful, affectionate, gentle, empathetic, intelligent, caring animals with a very high emotional intelligence and, in some cases, a level of real wisdom that I have not seen very often in humans. They all have individual personalities and they really do make great pets. In fact, I know people for whom rats were recommended as ‘assistance animals’ to help with mental illness issues.
Dumbo rats have larger, rounder ears which are situated further down the sides of their heads than the usual ear position. ‘Top-eared’ rats are the ‘usual’ ear pattern for rats. Dumbos, however, are bred specifically to make them more ‘cute’ and appealing to humans, essentially so they sell better. It’s actually been quite hard to find top-eared rats in pet shops recently!
Picture shows two baby rats (‘kittens’) of about ten weeks old; the guy on the left is a top-eared rat whereas the little rascal on the right is a Dumbo. The top-eared fellow’s ears will look smaller and better-proportioned once he’s grown up a bit; don’t forget these are babies.
It strongly irks me when pet shops will sell a single rat all by itself by removing it from its group, or when they leave a single rat in its sales cage when all its brothers/sisters have been sold. The isolated rat (sold or unsold) will be bewildered and heartbroken, wondering what they have done wrong, feeling lost and in complete despair. Rats are pack animals; they need to be in groups of at least two, and preferably more. And that isolation was what had happened to poor Merry. Sure, a rat will enjoy human company, but having a proper ‘mischief’ (the name for a social group of rats), will be far more beneficial.
Rats tend to suffer from two major health problems: tumours and respiratory issues
Because the rats belong to my daughter, their ‘mummy’, I of course am ‘Grandpa’
A few evenings ago, while driving in my car, I had the most precious and profound worship time, and I thought I would share it with my readers because it illustrates the raw power of real worship, and its ability to change the hearts of those worshipping. This was a very special worship experience for me, and although it will probably not have the same effect on other people, I wanted to share it also because I want to try and show just what happens when the Spirit orchestrates worship – even on an electronic mp3 player – for the building-up of the heart of the believer. Plus of course it will probably bless my readers anyway 😀 For me, Her ‘playlist’, and the order in which the songs appeared on my player, were a deliberate setup in order to maximise the blessing for me. And it was absolutely wonderful! So I am sharing the story, the individual tracks, and (later on) the tracks all spliced into a single continuous piece in order hopefully to let you experience something of the profound time I had the other evening, and to hear how all the tracks flow together. This is worship leading at its best; thank You, Holy Spirit!
So, on this particular evening, I was driving up to Exeter (no, not to go flying! 😉 ) and, as is my usual custom, I had some worship music playing. I’ve done this for years, just so long as there’s no-one else in the car that the music will annoy 😀
Well, my iPod was set to random play, and the first song to come up was ‘Jesus we enthrone You’, segued into ‘Ascribe Greatness’, from the Dales ’82 tape ‘Praise God in His Sanctuary’. These songs, and the way in which the ‘worship session’ went, are the reasons why I have included this piece in my series about my lovely late wife Fiona. These two songs, especially, held great meaning for us in the early part of our lives together and, on this particular day, they led to a tremendous time of healing for me, right there in the car.
Not long after we’d first begun dating, in 1982, we went to several worship evenings together at the Dales Bible Week in Harrogate. These two songs therefore have for me a lot of deep meaning and personal identification, and they bring back many happy memories of those days. In particular, I found that on this journey they actually recreated, in small measure, the feelings I had when we were first dating.
It was Fiona’s first Bible week, and she loved it; the worship especially. Fiona always had the heart of a worshipper, and those were the days where she first experienced what it was like to worship in a huge congregation of 8,000-plus people, using new and exuberant songs like these.
Lyrics are here, in case you want to join in
The sound of the ladies’ voices, when they sing without the men, sounds very much like Fiona’s voice, and whenever I listen to these Dales ’82 songs, I always fancy I can hear her voice. Of course, that’s highly unlikely, given that there will have been about 4,000 ladies singing there each night, but, well, because we were there for most of the meetings that week, we are likely on the recording! Anyway, we learned these songs at Dales, and brought them back to our home congregation at Guiseley Baptist Church. We had them both at our wedding, and Fiona came in to the tune of Ascribe Greatness. Nearly thirty-three years later, we also sang it at Fiona’s funeral.
At this point, then, gratitude and worship were flowing, and the iPod segued into the perfect intro of Terry MacAlmon’s ‘Worship Interlude‘. Even the key transition was seamless, and Terry’s first words on the track, ‘Thank You Lord’, were just what I was feeling: an immense gratitude for Fiona’s life and for all the great times we’d had together. Time for me to sing in my Spirit language, because words were simply not enough to express what I was feeling.
The song followed into a mild key-change and then, to my complete amazement, into one of the most healing songs I have ever heard – and in the key that the (unconnected) Worship Interlude had just changed into. Honestly, the transition was simply seamless. But this song? It was My God and King, by Shauna Chanda, accompanied by Terry MacAlmon, and this particular piece holds so much meaning for me, because it was involved in the healing of deep hurts not long after I lost Fiona. Can you see how perfectly these songs were ‘set up’ for me? 😀
Wow. Just, wow. And as you can imagine, at this point I was well aware that the Spirit was orchestrating the randomisation on the iPod!
Next, along came a Vineyard song from our early days as worship leaders and my being Director of Music at my church – again, perfectly seamless with regards to the key (stayed in the same key) – I worship You (I give You all the Honor) by Carl Tuttle:
For so much of our lives together, especially when we lived in Yorkshire, we spent a lot of time living ‘on the breadline’, where we often had to search the house for the last two coins needed to buy a loaf of bread or whatever it was we needed. And I have to say that God has never seen us go short; He has always provided for all our needs – physical, emotional, spiritual. He’s been faithful (a God of faithfulness, as we have already seen above), and this song was the next up – the classic hymn ‘Great is Thy faithfulness‘, and this one is the Hosanna Music version:
…and then leading into the very next song, Brian Doerksen’s Faithful One, another early-90’s Vineyard song which I introduced and led at my old Church in Leeds:
And then, to finish, and perfectly timed as I was reaching my destination, my favourite worship song of all time, When I look into Your Holiness, in its original form (to me, at any rate), from the Harvestime tape ‘Let Your Spirit Rise‘, and preceded, as on the tape, with the classic song ‘As the Deer’. This was how I learned these songs, and this tape, again, was pivotal in my early development as a worship leader, and with Fiona by my side. We used to play this tape all the time when we were decorating our first house 🙂
Well, I mean wow. What an amazing song set, and so well put together with transitions, keys, relevance and dynamics. It was obviously set up to minister healing in me from more of the damage I took when I lost Fiona – and it worked. I arrived at my destination feeling more whole than I have in a long time, and refreshed by the Presence of God. And that night, I dreamed about her again, with yet another healing dream 🙂 This, again, is all part of the healing, which is progressively and each time bringing deeper and deeper wholeness to my shattered soul, to levels I can only guess at. I am definitely in the hands of the Master Physician, and the Spirit is doing Her work through the worship, orchestrated as only She can do it.
Here, for your edification, is the entire set, combined as a single track, with all the transitions left in place just as they were that evening.
While it isn’t possible, nor indeed desirable, to try to recreate the worship experience I had, still I wanted to share the set with you because, at the very least, it shows just how songs can be woven together to produce a remarkably relevant worship experience. And, anyway, this is great music! I hope it blesses you 😀
A segue (pronounced ‘segway’) is when one song flows into another
Jesus, we enthrone You
We proclaim You our King
Standing here in the midst of us
We raise You up with our praise
And as we worship, build Your throne
And as we worship, build Your throne
And as we worship, build Your throne
Come Lord Jesus, and take Your place
Ascribe greatness to our God, the Rock
His work is perfect, and all His ways are just
Ascribe greatness to our God, the Rock
His work is perfect, and all His ways are just
A God of faithfulness, and without injustice
Good and upright is He
A God of faithfulness, and without injustice
Good and upright is He
You may rightly be wondering what was happening to my driving while all this was going on! Well, one of the things about worship in the Spirit is that it takes up very little of my ‘mental resources’; worship is so much of a way of life for me that I find it completely effortless. Sure, there are times when I need to stop singing and give it more concentration, but even then, even if I am only listening and not joining in the singing, still the presence of God burns right there in my heart while I negotiate a roundabout or complex junction or whatever.
My God and King
To You alone I sing
You’re the face I seek
For all eternity
My God and King
To You alone I sing
You’re the face I seek
For all eternity
You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You
My God and King
Through the storm I sing
Covered by Your wing
This song of love I bring
You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You
You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You
You are my dream come true
Just to be with You
Now I see brand new
With eyes for only You
With eyes for only You
With eyes for only You
I have eyes for only You
I give you all the honour
And praise that’s due Your name
For You are the King of glory
The Creator of all things
And I worship You I give my life to You I fall down on my knees Yes, I worship You I give my life to You I fall down on my knees
As Your Spirit moves upon me now
You meet my deepest need
And I lift my hands up to Your throne
Your mercy I’ve received
You have broken chains that bound me
You’ve set this captive free
I will lift my voice to praise Your name
For all eternity
(The arrangement is slightly different in that they do a slightly different mashup of the first two verses and refrains. Works for me)
Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever shall be.
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see: All I have needed Thy hand hath provided– Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
Faithful One, so unchanging
Ageless One, You’re my Rock of peace
Lord of all I depend on You
I call out to You
Again and again
I call out to You
Again and again
You are my Rock in times of trouble
You lift me up when I fall down
All through the storm, Your love is the anchor
My hope is in You alone
As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after Thee
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship Thee
You alone are my strength, my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship You
When I look into Your Holiness
When I gaze into Your loveliness
When all things that surround become shadows in the light of You
When I’ve found the joy of reaching Your Heart
When my will becomes enthroned in Your Love
When all things that surround become shadows in the light of You
I worship You, I worship You
The reason I live is to worship You
I worship You, I worship You
The reason I live is to worship You
My friends that I was meeting up with maybe noticed the radiance; I really don’t know!
I think I’ve said this before, but some of my favourite blog posts have been inspired by interesting exchanges on social media, especially Facebook. Yes, despite my recent rants, there are still interesting posts on there, in addition to the usual bunch of grey Religious people doing their routine moaning. In particular, the humour one finds on the Internet is far and away my favourite aspect of the entire marvellous phenomenon (that phenomenon being the Internet). So, I wanted to share this particular exchange and the funny, bantering discussion that followed. It’s quite dry and tongue-in-cheek geeky banter, but if it makes you laugh, job done. If it doesn’t, fair enough and I am sure there’ll be something out there that you will find funny.
So, in this very memorable exchange from last week, there was a question about some damage that an airliner had suffered in a collision with a bird. Here’s the meme that prompted the discussion:
My two friends Bill and Philip commented, and it kinda went from there:
Bill: What kind of bird was it? Wanna make sure I dont hit it with my truck!
Philip:I think it’s a dead kinda bird now… Don’t know, actually. But it musta been a decent size…A frozen chicken, possibly?
Bill:Box of frozen maybe?
Philip: It could have been, Bill…I’d like to know the aerodynamic possibilities of a box of frozen chickens at cruising altitude, though…Anthony, you may be able to enlighten us…
Bill:I would very much like to hear his analysis.
Philip: Bill, knowing Anthony, he will give us a comprehensive and detailed synopsis.
Me: Very well, gentlemen. I’ll see what I can do.
The aerodynamic properties of a box of frozen chickens at 38,000ft would be very easily defined. Of the four forces of flight: Lift, Drag, Thrust and Weight, only weight and drag would be in operation due to the absence of any lift generating devices (such as wings) and the lack of an engine (producing thrust). Weight would accelerate the box downwards until the deceleration caused by the drag forces, operating in direct opposition to the acceleration caused by the weight, cancelled out the downward acceleration. At this point, the box would attain a stable downwards velocity which is known as ‘terminal velocity’, which brings it back to something that most of us have heard of, even if only because it is the title of various eponymous movies. The box would maintain that velocity – which would of course vary with air density and temperature – right until it made what is technically known as a big splat.
The fact that they were chickens in the box would have no bearing on the matter because a) chickens are virtually flightless; b) the chickens are frozen (and therefore dead) and c) they are in a box. Fortunately for the chickens, the fact that they are already dead means that the outcome of the analysis, for them at least, is irrelevant.
In short, the aerodynamic properties can therefore be summed up as being very similar to those of a safe, or even a piano. It would not be correct to assert that the aerodynamic properties are similar to an anvil, however, because that would be more streamlined, at least at the pointy end. But even an anvil would still have its own terminal velocity.
I trust this answers your questions.
Philip: It answers them perfectly! I thank you. The only question that remains, is; how did the box of frozen chickens, travelling perfectly naturally at their terminal velocity, collide with the front of the airliner? I propose that there’s something quite fishy, here…Or, chickeny…
Me:No, it’s actually quite a simple explanation. Because air accident investigators always blame the aircrew, it follows that in fact it was the airliner that collided with the box, not the other way round.
Philip: Of course! That clears things up. It’s the aircrew’s fault. Lol…
And at this point, we left it. I so love Internet humour, and the banter of intelligent people 🙂
Well, it’s been a looong time – more than a year, actually – since I last published a piece in the series ‘Beautiful Destroyers: my articles about military aircraft and how beautiful they often are, despite their sometimes dark roles. Please accept my apologies for the long gap between posts in this series.
I did say that I would also be featuring civilian aircraft too, and today’s aircraft is such a one. And I’m sure you’ll love it.
So, here is the Sportavia-Pützer RS-180 Sportsman.
The RS-180 is a little-known aeroplane designed by legendary French aircraft designer René Fournier. Fournier also designed the Fournier RF-6/Slingsby T-67 Firefly (which was used as a basic flying trainer for the RAF and the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines) and a series of motor-gliders including the Fournier RF-4 and RF-5, all of which aircraft are well-known in General Aviation circles.
A four-seat, low-wing, single-engined monoplane, the RS-180 features a large bubble canopy with excellent – in fact I would say unparalleled – visibility, easy handling, and docile flight characteristics.
In this article, I will be writing pretty well exclusively about the aircraft in the photo above, G-VIZZ. It is an unbelievable fact that there were only eighteen aircraft of this type ever built, and G-VIZZ (‘Zulu-Zulu’) is the sole British-registered example. If you see an RS-180 flying over you somewhere in the UK, it will most likely be G-VIZZ. So, give us a wave 😉
Here she is standing on the taxiway in front of her hangar at Exeter Airport in Devon, UK, on a sunny morning in May 2020. Most of the pictures on today’s blog post were taken on that day, and most of them are also clickable to zoom in for additional detail.
From a military history point of view, and indeed from a ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ point of view, the building we use for VIZZ’s hangar is very interesting. It was originally built to be the gun butts, where the guns of the Spitfires that were based at Exeter in WWII could be set up safely. In other words, the ‘hangar’ was originally designed to be a giant bullet catcher. Here is a wartime photo of a Spitfire Mk.V having its guns calibrated, and the building is visible on the right of the photo:
Now, I am very fortunate to be a member of the Owners’ Group for G-VIZZ, which means I get to fly her as often as I can afford (which is not as often as I’d like!) and because there are only a few of us, it means she is almost always available. Group members can borrow her for just simple flights, or for a weekend away, for touring, holidays, landaways and all sorts of things like that; basically she is our aeroplane and we can do what we like with her. Yes, that means that essentially I own an aeroplane. Sometimes I find that simply unbelievable 😉 But it also means that I get to write this piece from an owner/pilot’s perspective.
The canopy is very large and bubble-shaped, with the only framing being the join line between the front and rear sections. It also has a really low coaming (the bottom edge) so the visibility is immense – even for the back-seat passengers. In the photo below, taken at Exeter’s Taxiway ‘C’, you can see how high up the line of sight is for everyone in the aircraft. No idea who the people in the aircraft are, by the way; they are not current Group members. Must have been taken a few years ago.
The canopy opens by sliding forwards on rails, which means that you can’t open it in flight – so no flour-bombing competitions or anything with this aircraft. Yes, there are such activities, and we used to do them at Bodmin (Cornwall Flying Club) in the Cessna 152s there 😀
The rear canopy is fixed in place, and the rear-seat passengers get in and out by tilting the front seats forward. For emergencies, there’s even a miniature fire axe on the centre console to let the passengers hack their way out!
Everyone has a ‘Happy Place’, and here’s a picture of mine:
This is the full instrument panel, showing even the yellow glider-tow release handle on the centre console (see below for more about this unusual feature). Remember the Captain’s seat is on the left in an aeroplane (but on the right in a helicopter), so the most important instruments are arranged in front of the left hand seat. While it looks complex, in reality it’s not. You don’t sit there looking at all those gauges and dials in bewilderment and think, ‘What does that one do? What about that one?’ 😉 Actually how it works is that say I want to check my speed, maybe to make sure it is correct on final approach, I’d look at the airspeed indicator. That’s the one on the top left. If I wanted to see how high up I am, it’s the altimeter. That’s the one slap-bang in the middle of the left instrument panel, with the two hands so it looks like a clock. So what happens is that you use the correct instrument to gather the required information at the time you need it. It’s just a question of knowing which instrument to look at, and where it is, in order to get the information you need. Most of the rest of the time, at least in daylight flying, you more or less ignore the instruments. Really, you shouldn’t be peering at the panel all the time anyway; your eyes should be outside the aircraft, enjoying the view and looking out for other aircraft so you don’t hit them.
Here’s a closer view of the main instrument panel:
Note the gun button on the top of the control column; this fires the aircraft’s machine guns and cannon.
Just kidding 😉 It’s actually the transmit button for the radio – also known as a ‘PTT’ or ‘Push to Talk’ button.
So, what’s she like to fly? Well, she is an absolute dream.
Yes, I have put her in my series ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ despite, if truth be told, her looking like a bit of an odd bird. The fuselage almost looks too short for the cockpit canopy, the tail is a funny shape and the tailplane is halfway up the fin.
But she more than makes up for that in her handling. Now that really is beautiful. Light to the touch, sensitive and yet well-balanced controls make for easy and gentle flying characteristics. She’s stable, she’s responsive and she’s just so natural to fly. For example, I took my eldest son David up in her a few months ago, or, more accurately, he took me up. He’s a Pilot too, and yes he’s flown a fair few different aircraft types, but even so I basically just plonked him in the left hand seat and said those immortal words, “You have control. Take us flying”. And he did. Obviously we’d pre-briefed with the checklist; we’d discussed the V-speeds (that’s the speeds that you fly in the different phases of the flight, so, take-off speed; climb speed; best glide speed; maximum flap speed; circuit, base leg, final approach and threshold speeds) but he really just flew the entire sortie himself, with me as Command Pilot only by name. Never flown the type before and he took to her like he’d been flying her all his life, including a lovely wing-down crossind landing, and he loved every minute of it. She really is such a delight to fly.
And the visibility is enormous. That bubble canopy with the low coaming means you have a huge field of view. Couple the view with the lovely, light handling, and you’ve got a gorgeous aeroplane. I mean, when you go back to flying a Piper Warrior – which really is itself a delight to fly – the Warrior feels like a bit of a tank in comparison, and the canopy framing makes you feel like you’re shut in a box. Although the RS-180’s performance is more or less identical to the Warrior’s, the RS-180 is a much nicer aeroplane to fly – and that really is saying something, because the Warrior has always been high on my list of favourite aircraft types to fly in terms of handling.
In this next shot, the aeroplane’s starboard flap is easily visible, set up for preflight inspection at the full 50 degrees of extension.
This aircraft has ‘split flaps’, meaning that just the underside of the wing drops down to form the flap, leaving the upper surface of the wing in place. This is as opposed to ‘slotted’ flaps like on a Warrior, or ‘Fowler’ flaps like on a Cessna 152, where the flaps extend backwards anddownwards, sort of on rails, like on a jet airliner. But this aeroplane has split flaps. This does mean that you can’t see from the Pilot’s seat whether the flaps have extended or not, but there’s never any doubt because you can feel it in the way the aeroplane flies. If you zoom in on the next picture, you’ll just about be able to see the way in which the flaps have a sort of ‘recess’ above them in the wing; this is where they go when they retract. 50 degrees of flap is a very effective setting and you can get down – landed and stopped – in just a couple of hundred yards with them, if you know what you’re doing.
Also visible on the above pictures is the glider towing system I mentioned earlier; it’s that sort of black ‘stinger’ thing that is sticking out under the tail. This is kind of an aeroplane ‘tow-bar’ that enables the aircraft to tow gliders into the air, on a rope behind her. ‘Aerotowing’, as it is called, is one of the two main launching methods for getting gliders into the air in gliding clubs all around the world, the other method being the ‘winch launch’, which is very much what I imagine it’s like being catapulted off an aircraft carrier 😉 . When I flew gliders back in the early ’90’s, I had a number of aerotows, and they were great fun. As far as any of us know in the Owners’ Group, G-VIZZ has never been used for glider towing. But for the sake of completeness, here’s what an aerotow looks like in practice:
I love this next shot. This is the view forwards on Exeter’s Runway 26, just before opening the throttle for take-off. For me, there are few sights in aviation more evocative than this one. Today, everything has come down to this: all the preparation and planning; all my checks are complete; the aeroplane is fuelled and my route, radio frequencies and V-speeds are written on my kneeboard. Everything is ready; it’s a perfect day for flying, adventure beckons and it’s somewhere off in this present direction of 260 degrees magnetic (that’s what the ’26’ in ‘Runway 26’ means). The reason the airport is there is to enable aeroplanes to land and take off, and now it’s my turn and I have the runway all to myself. So, it’s brakes off, full power, and away we go!
Here’s a video demonstrating the unparalleled visibility that bubble canopy gives. Taken from over Ashburton in Devon on that same day in May 2020, this video begins looking out East towards the English Channel, over Torbay, and then the camera swings all the way round past Dartmoor and over the tail towards Bovey Tracey. Note how the only canopy frame that gets in the way is over my right shoulder, as the view comes round towards the aircraft’s tailplane:
I think that’s quite breathtaking 🙂
This is a still shot of the Teign estuary in the foreground, and Torbay in the distance, taken from over Chudleigh, Devon, again through that magnificent bubble canopy:
I mean that view is just colossal. Here is a view of Ivybridge from 3,000ft, demonstrating the superlative view downwards and forwards:
This is the now-closed Plymouth Airport. It’s the place where I learned to fly in 1996-7; there are plans to reopen it, but we shall have to wait and see – while all the politics are sorted out.
Here’s a lovely view of the River Plym estuary, looking roughly south-southeast:
After this, returning to base, then, via the pretty little grass strip at Bolt Head. I intend to do a landaway here sometime this summer, and I have been practising short-field operations for this very reason.
And then the return flight to Exeter in all that spectacular visibility, via the magnificent Start Bay:
I mean it just doesn’t get any more gorgeous than that 😀
The next picture is of G-VIZZ tucked away in her hangar after the flight, with the covers on. With a canopy that huge, any bird droppings or dust of any kind on the perspex is always going to spoil the flying experience, as well as compromise safety and maybe even damage the plastic (by etching it), so it’s important to put the large canvas cover on her before leaving her for the day. I haven’t had to do this at night yet, though! But I’m sure I’ll be fine; I have flown VIZZ as it was getting dark once and all I needed to do when I put her to bed was to plonk my car on the taxiway with the headlights on, shining them into the hangar 😉
Just one more photo, and this one is not of G-VIZZ but of a German-registered RS-180; I have included this shot to show the shape of the wing on this aeroplane type.
So, there we are. The RS-180 Sportsman, easily the sweetest-handling aeroplane that it has ever been my privilege to fly.
I love those words I used for David: “You have control. Take us flying”.
There’s no better light civilian aeroplane in which to do that.
Actually, there is a way of doing flour-bombing. We can use the glider-towing attachment. If we put the flour bomb in a net bag and attach a metal ring to the bag, we can clip that ring into the towing apparatus as if it was a mini-glider, then release the bomb by using the yellow glider release lever pictured above. Simples!
I realise that there are more than just two methods of launching gliders, but aerotowing and winch launching are far and away the most commonly-used
Edit: In between writing this article and its publication, I did just that, and landed at Bolt Head. Here’s G-VIZZ on the ground at Bolt Head airfield, 17th July 2020.
Some other aircraft had flown in that day too; you can see them in the background. And in this article, I have left the original essay text in place, because I will undoubtedly be going there again 🙂
But on this occasion, I flew in, went and did a coast path walk, then had a picnic in the shade under the tail, then flew back to Exeter. What’s known as a ‘grand day out’, you know.
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.
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 Google00