Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Prophetic Truth

 



I think one of the essential things we should emphasise to children is the importance of telling the truth. The Buddha is supposed to have said that there are three things that cannot be permanently hidden, the Sun, the Moon and the truth. I think that this is one of those undeniable facts of life, the sort of fact that we might ignore at our peril like the old adage that the only inevitability is death and taxes. How important it is to tell the truth and to try to live with integrity. It is so important not only for us as individuals, at the individual, personal level but it is important in every field of human activity, in all organs of government and in every institution of business, religion and charity and political activity. Without the perception of truthfulness and integrity individuals lose respect and organisations become damaged and can ultimately die. We place such an importance on telling the truth and yet how often do we see the failure of truth, the betrayal of trust, financial shenanigans, the cover-ups that go right to the top of the political system even aided and abetted by Prime Minister's as official records years after the events reveal and are made public. We have to ask, as we should where the moral compass is and what is driving this dishonesty, we have to ask the pertinent question - why? And in whose interest this level of corruption is working?

We tell children always to tell the truth but somehow, I can't help thinking that this truthful childlike quality we try to encourage is not really in the more sophisticated world of the adult the touchstone for all our relationships, as it should be. As we 'grow up' it seems that we are expected to accept that with a nod and a wink that we can subvert a promise or a contract because after all; that's the real world that’s the world we supposedly we live in. And besides, that kind of dishonesty is what everybody else is doing or going along with and so we tell ourselves that at some level that it's OK to turn a blind eye to dishonesty. 

I can't help but think that story of The Emperor's New Clothes should not remain in the primary school but rather that it should be elevated to the level of a religious parable and so we can say that the Kingdom of Heaven can be likened to the child who declared in spite of the proclamations of the government, the press (and to bring it up to date, the MSM) in spite of all this, the the Emperor was indeed as naked as the day that he was born. 

Indeed, the unexpected emergence of such compelling and innocent honesty, in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes became in fact, a catalyst for a re-wakening in the consciousness of the people, the government and the Emperor. Such childlike honesty deflated the tyranny of ego and prepared the way for humility and awareness. If the Kingdom of Heaven is to come to earth, this kingdom which is 'righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit' then it must be based on truth.

In the Gospel of Matthew (21) we can recall the story of Jesus who overthrew the money changers in the Temple but in the violence of this scene we overlook the children who were crying their support, "Hosanna to the son of David", they shouted and cheered. And when chief priests and the scribes saw and heard this, they rebuked Jesus who in response reminded them of the Scriptures (Psalm 8) "Did you never read, 'Out of the mouths of babes of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise.' Here Jesus had committed a revolutionary act by overturning the moneychanger's tables; he had struck at the heart of economic injustice, for he said that the house of prayer had become a den of robbers. The writer George Orwell once said that "In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act." This revolutionary act, as we know led to the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, but as someone else once observed, you can kill the revolutionary but you can't kill the revolution.

We may have heard the phrase 'speaking truth to power' - 'speak truth to power' this phrase is actually credited to an American civil rights leader of the 1950s: Bayard Rustin, and not necessarily the Quakers. But this speaking truth to power is an inspiring phrase because it is suggestive of authority, that the power of the truth is the only way to live it suggests law, the law as truth, a way of living based on experience and what actually works. If we look at the book of Proverbs, we can read the collective experience of an ancient, Semitic people who in a series of pithy adages, if you like, have recorded their collective wisdom, a wisdom that doubtless informed their laws and ethics e.g.

 

Proverbs 16:16-21                                    New Living Translation               

How much better to get wisdom than gold, and good judgment than silver!

The path of the virtuous leads away from evil;whoever follows that path is safe.

Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.

Better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud.

 Those who listen to instruction will prosper; those who trust the Lord will be joyful.

The wise are known for their understanding, and pleasant words are persuasive.

These ancient laws appear hard and severe and when we read such law in the book of Leviticus, for example, we can see that there can be terrible retribution for those who have transgressed. In today's easier times and more enlightened days the laws and ethics appear to be unreasonable and barbaric. But in primitive and uncertain times when the very survival of the Israelites as a people was uncertain a code for living was required and so this need, this requirement found its expression in the worship of the God of Israel, the one true God and the injunction was that they should observe this law that they might grow and prosper in the promised land to which they were going.

This Mosaic law has also a benign and generous dimension for its moral code reminds the people of Israel that they should not take advantage of foreigners that live amongst them, that they should treat them like native-born Israelites, and that they should love these foreigners just as much as they the Jews love themselves. They, the Israelites are brought to mind of their previous existence as foreign workers or slaves before they were delivered out of Egypt by God before they obtained their freedom. This particular text in the book of Deuteronomy makes reference to the bad old days in Egypt reminding the Israelites of what it's like to be in need, to be poor as they were, and to be oppressed as they were, and now, the law  requires them to empathise with the stranger with the refugee and to show mercy and compassion as well as hospitality.

Deuteronomy 24:19-22             New LivingTranslation                                  

“When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don’t go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all you do. When you beat the olives from your olive trees, don’t go over the boughs twice. Leave the remaining olives for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. When you gather the grapes in your vineyard, don’t glean the vines after they are picked. Leave the remaining grapes for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt. That is why I am giving you this command. 

All of this comes from the Mosaic Law, the Law of Moses spread throughout the books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy which of course includes the Ten Commandments found in Deuteronomy 5 and Exodus 20. These laws are therefore not simply a moral abstract but ethics and religious requirement aimed at creating social responsibility and social coherence. But as the twelve tribes of Israel move from their nomadic lifestyle and embrace a more agrarian society, we see how the history of the Jews unfolds as it continues through the pages of the Bible. As the way of life became more settled and food production becomes more reliable then, the social structures alter and those that have become wealthy and by definition more powerful no longer feel the need to conform to the same religious and moral code that once held their ancestors together as a people. As the new society gives way to the old the disparities in wealth and power become ever pronounced and typically those who are able to amass such wealth feel that they are no longer held by the same ties of kinship and obligation begin to exploit the weaker and more vulnerable.

This move into wealth and prosperity for the higher echelons was accompanied according to Jewish Biblical history either by a turn to the pagan religions of the Canaanites or a simply by an adherence to the worship of God which is merely outwardly ritualistic and formal. It is under circumstance such as these that Prophets emerge striding on to the scene, calling the Israelites back to their true religion, to their covenanted relationship with God. One such Old Testament prophet was Amos he lived at a time when Israel was enjoying great prosperity, in the 7th century BC, but Israel had also become corrupt and decadent. His truth was not welcome when he said that the offerings and the sacrifices to God were no longer acceptable and that in fact the assemblies and religious assemblies had become despicable in the eyes of God. Such religious practice and events had merely become opportunities for hypocrisy and displays of high status at a time when the poor were being sold into slavery, bribery was common place and no justice could be obtained in the courts. Amos prophesying for God said " I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins". Here in Amos' preaching he makes the case that there can be no division between social justice and a right relationship with God as he says: "But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!"

 Amos 5:21-24                                         New Living Translation

I hate all your show and pretence—

the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.

I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.

I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.

Away with your noisy hymns of praise!

I will not listen to the music of your harps.

Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,

an endless river of righteous living.

The words of Amos were of course unwelcome to the ruling elites and the wealthy such truth cutting like a sword and exposing the contradictions and the lack of equality had an unsettling effect so much that Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to the king, to King Jeroboam that Amaziah was raising a conspiracy in the very heart of Israel, he said, "The land cannot bear all his words" The land cannot bear all his words. How hard it is to hear the truth and again we are reminded of George Orwell's words, "In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act." Not only can telling the truth be a revolutionary act but it often requires great courage to do it but it can also cost you your life. We often recall the death of John the Baptist that begins with Herod's birthday, an occasion on which the daughter of Herodias danced before him pleasing him so much that he publicly asked her to choose any gift he could give her. The girl asked her Mother, Herod's wife, Herodias, what she should ask for and her mother told her to ask for the head of John the Baptist. This was not merely a passing whim on behalf of Herodias but it stemmed from her deep resentment against John because he knew that Herod had married her, the wife of his brother, Philip and John had publicly preached that it was not lawful for him to do so. 

Galatians 5:13-15          New Living Translation  

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.

We teach children to tell the truth and so we should. But finally, we should understand that there is another component in the equation and that is love. Truth and love go together and, in this respect, it is the ultimate message as St Paul, in his letter to the Galatians says, "The only thing that counts is faith in active love" He wrote, "You my friends were called to be free people; only do not turn your freedom into licence for your lower nature, but be servants to one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' But if you go on fighting one another, tooth and nail, all you can expect is mutual destruction. I mean this: if you are guided by the Spirit, you will not fulfil the desires of your lower nature." Let us live in the spirit of the Prophets, speaking the truth in love and with courage.


Saturday, 13 March 2021

By Every Word from the Mouth of God

 


In Lent we are brought face to face with the trials of Jesus in the wilderness as told in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Before Jesus was led into the wilderness, we have this unforgettable image of his baptism at the hands of John and then his coming out of the water, the heavens opening and the Spirit of God descending like a dove and God saying, 'This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased'. This is a scene, an unforgettable scene, that is etched in the hearts and souls of millions of believers, the glory of transcendence, Jesus enveloped in the love of God. It's a story that will be remembered forever and yet for others gathered at the Jordan River, it could have gone completely unnoticed, so quickly may that moment have passed.

As we move quickly from the third to the fourth chapter of Matthew's Gospel, we see that glory, indeed, is a fleeting thing. How starkly has the scenery changed. After forty days and forty nights of isolation and fasting, the story approaches its climax. But the story centres not on an invincible God but rather the figure of Jesus as a flesh and blood human being. Perhaps in his everyday humanness we might have even discovered there was something quite ordinary about Jesus so ordinary in fact, that walking past you in the street you may not even have noticed him. That same ordinariness prompting disbelief in the synagogue at Nazareth, where those disbelieving words were uttered, 'Isn't this Joseph's son?'

But here we are in our own mind's eye looking on, observing Jesus as a hungry and weakened human being, much in need of sustenance and there before him the round stones looking for all the world like rolls of bread. And then the tempter's challenge, 'If you are the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread'. It's not hard to imagine, the power of that temptation, the hunger, the heightened sense of smell and taste, the imagining of freshly baked bread. Probably by this ravenous stage any kind of bread would have been more than welcome. Bread had appeared in the wilderness before, after God had said to Moses, 'Look I am going to rain down bread from heaven to you.' (Exodus 10:16)

This providential God who can and does supply our needs, this Father God to whom all are children; why should we not take and eat all that we need? And yet Jesus in his time of trial refused precisely because the priority was God, of subjugating the flesh to the spirit. So, Jesus said that we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God. These words were familiar to Jesus.

Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord(Deuteronomy 8:2-4):

Further on in this text the people of Israel are reminded that even in the times of plenty they should not forget 'the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt'. In the same way, today we too are reminded that we simply cannot live by bread alone, that we should not turn our backs on God if we wish to remain blessed by his presence in our lives.

But I assure you of this: If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, worshipping them and bowing down to them, you will certainly be destroyed (8:19)

 Today, other gods are being worshipped and our connection with God is becoming eroded through cynical disbelief, through the worship of science, through the worship of false ideologies as though they have all the answers. And so, the worship of God is displaced through intellectual arrogance; man puffed out with ignorance and false pride worships not God but himself. Today, the rainbow flag and the elevation of identity politics have become venerated icons of public worship, so much so that they have found their way into our churches leaving no room for the real living God. In the Bible this is known as idolatry. Idolatry can be anything that gets in the way of our worship of God. The Bible as a matter of historical fact recorded idolatry as the worship of Baal, the practice of magic and the sacrifice of children. We see this today in the murder of the unborn child and the sacrifice of childhood to all the various manifestations of so-called progressive policies that cut against the grain of the Judaeo-Christian tradition; beliefs and traditions that hitherto have served countless generations.

When we acknowledge that we cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God we recognise our dependence on Him, we need bread but we need God first. Without a 'God first policy' we rapidly become prey to the idea that there is no God. That way lies despair and the wickedness we see in the world today. When Joshua was an old man, near the end of his life and after he had led the tribes of Israel into the Promised Land, he gathered them all together and put before them a challenge: 

But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord. 

(Joshua 24:15)

When Jesus declined to turn the stones into bread, he made a statement about his relationship with God, he put God first, like Joshua, his statement, his confession was that he would serve the Lord. The challenge for us today, is to do the same. Let us serve the Lord our God. 

 

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Let me know when you get your freedom back!


 

In the United Kingdom, we are reportedly living through one of the greatest mental health crises we have ever seen: “Behind closed bedroom doors, a teenage mental health crisis is brewing', wrote Gaby Hinsliff. (The Guardian 29.1.21): “In the dark depths of January, the fear is more for kids with all the stuffing knocked out of them; teenagers spending the whole day huddled miserably under duvets, refusing to complete online lessons, or mentally checking out.”

 

Against the backdrop of the continuing lockdown measures, Dr Adrian Jones, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists has stated, “As many as 10 million people, including 1.5 million children, are thought to need new or additional mental health support as a direct result of the crisis.” This puts the scale of the crisis into some perspective. Prof Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said that there were now more children being admitted to hospital for mental health than medical reasons. He said, “This is a phenomenon that paediatricians have seen across the UK since the start of the pandemic.”  (The Telegraph 19.1.21). At the same time, the NSPCC have reported increase rates of child abuse since the lockdown as high as 58%. In any humane society the welfare and the future of children should come first.

 

Instead, we are all having to endure a government and the BBC continuing to rack up the fear: “As it happened: Coronavirus: 37,475 in UK hospitals' with Covid-19” (16.1.21).  Apparently, this was “the third-highest daily total since the pandemic began.”  What we were not told was that these figures included all those in hospital who had tested positive for the virus but were there for other health reasons. An NHS registered nurse explains: “I have seen first-hand, patients admitted to hospital for completely unrelated conditions – nil covid symptoms, but have a positive PCR test on admission. These go down as 'covid admissions', but they are actually admitted for conditions completely unrelated to the respiratory system, such as heart failure or kidney disease.” (Lockdown Sceptics: An NHS Nurse writes: 29.1.21)

 

Further to this, we were presented with the sad figure of 100,000 deaths since the inception of the covid crisis, last March, 2020. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, described it as a 'grim statistic; indeed, it is. However, the vast majority of these deaths have been amongst older people. According to The Times, 90% of deaths were aged 65 or more and 75% were aged at least 75. The median age of covid deaths reported the Financial Times (20.11.20) is 82. The point being that COVID-19 affects a certain demographic and is more lethal where certain comorbidities or pre-existing conditions exist. This fact should have been the foremost consideration determining the government's strategy in terms of containment. But instead of a policy of focussed protection, the nation has been subject to lockdowns leading to massive economic, social and psychological damage.

 

And it's all too apparent that for the past twelve months, in an attempt to 'control the narrative' that the public has been made exposed to an unprecedented and unceasing barrage of government inspired propaganda. Under these unprecedented conditions, no other scientific opinion in regard to alternative coping strategies have been allowed to challenge the government's narrative. This was indeed the fate of the Great Barrington Declaration which was and remains an alternative to the devastating policy of lockdown. The Declaration signed by thousands of medical practitioners, researchers, and public health scientists essentially recommended that restrictions should be lifted on the low-risk groups whilst providing focussed protection for those most at risk.

 

As a way forward, in October 2020 the basis of the proposals of the Great Barrington Declaration were rejected by the British Government as 'an unproven assumption'. A quick trawl of the internet and one will discover how much time and effort has gone into rubbishing and side-lining The Great Barrington Declaration. A year or so ago, to most people, the idea of focussed protection for the vulnerable against a particularly nasty virus would have been deemed common sense, but under the carpet-bombing impact of the Government's mass propaganda campaign, common sense seems to have gone out of the window. We seem to have very short memories, but it was only just over ten months ago The Guardian was slavishly sowing the seeds of panic for the weeks to come: “UK coronavirus crisis to last until spring 2021 and could see 7.9m hospitalised”, this according to a 'secret briefing for NHS officials’ (15.3.20). A week earlier, the same newspaper reported: “Emergency planners have drawn up proposals to deal with “excess deaths” of between 210,000 and 315,000 over a 15-week period as part of long standing measures to ensure the UK can cope with a deadly pandemic.”  

Later in the year, on Saturday 31st October, Halloween, appropriately enough, we were taken into the second lock down on the basis of more false information, as the Daily Mail revealed two days later:Apocalyptic forecast of 4,000 coronavirus deaths a day could be FIVE TIMES too high and had already been proved wrong when government revealed it at weekend”. “Sir Patrick Vallance presented worst-case scenario in Saturday's briefing when lockdown was confirmed.” “But it has emerged it was based on forecasts made weeks ago and since updated to give lower estimates.” Sir Patrick Vallance is of course, the government's chief scientific advisor, the same man who reportedly had a £600,000 shareholding in the firm contracted to develop vaccines. The government denied that there was any potential conflict of interest, maintaining he was not involved in commercial decisions on coronavirus vaccines.

By such standards, in any court of justice real or imagined, could we accept such government men as reliable witnesses? Could we in all seriousness take any of them at their word when for example they can dismiss The Great Barrington Declaration as an 'unproven assumption' and yet themselves be the perpetrators of such self-evident falsehoods? But of course, the BBC continues to assist the government in the ongoing campaign of fear with headlines like, “Covid: 2020 saw most excess deaths since World War Two” (12.1.21) when in fact after some tortuous statistical gymnastics, the same article concluded that the age standardised mortality rate was only at its highest since 2008. This is not to deny that covid-19 exists, it clearly does and it is a particularly nasty virus, on this at least, we can all agree, but surely a line must be drawn between objective truth telling and such hyperbole as comparing the covid crisis with the scale of horror, death and destruction of the Second World War; this is very wrong on so many levels.

 

Nobody has the monopoly on truth, opinions expressed against the backdrop of events may be changed or modified in the fullness of time according to the availability of new information and the different conditions that may allow for a more objective assessment. What is not acceptable now, is the closing down of the covid strategy debate as has so clearly taken place, where reasoned argument is blatantly censored or basely rebutted under the abusive blanket terms of 'covidiots', 'anti-vaxxers', and 'conspiracy theorists.’ There are two sides to this debate. It’s a debate that has become polarised beyond reason as a result of fear. Indeed, there are many out there who would support the imprisonment (and worse) of others, for simply exercising their right not to be vaccinated!

 

In my January message, on this same theme, I received implied criticism for my use of the internet; I assume for using it to help inform my opinions. The fact is that the internet is the favoured go-to, these days, for anyone, whether it be to peruse the mainstream media or anything else for that matter. Whilst some may be content to simply watch the news on TV and allow the BBC to inform their world view, there are others who with a healthy cynicism may wish to check out some of the BBC stories for themselves. Again, there is always an alternative point of view. The main point and the value and principle of free speech in a free society, is that one is allowed to express an opinion and the reader or the hearer has the right to make his or her own mind up.

 

What I do find curious is that those who have become known as the 'globalist elites' really are signalling their intentions to change our world and by definition our very way of life as we have lived to know it and it is very clear that their agenda for doing this already exists. It is known as The Great Reset and is the project of the World Economic Forum. Yet even now, as the language of the language of The Great Reset, 'build back better', enters political mainstream discourse, when the click of a mouse will reveal this project to be undisputedly true, when its objectives are writ large in the press, when we can see this change in progress all around us, even then, there are still those who will say that The Great Reset is 'conspiracy theory'. I am reminded of Jesus' words:

 

Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky but you don't know how to interpret the present time.

(Luke 12:56)

 

Perhaps such denial simply arises from a sincere hope that we may return to the normality of life as was lived prior to March 2020 and that this may be achieved through the roll out of a mass vaccination programme. At this time of writing, I remain unconvinced that this is going to happen any time soon; witness the Daily Express headline (1.2.21): “Lockdown extended again: Now No10 indicates restrictions to remain until SUMMER.” In the end, it really matters not from which newspaper the proclamations come from, if we can preserve the capacity for independent, critical thought, we can certainly 'interpret the present time' even if we cannot know entirely what the future may hold. To those in denial, without acrimony, I would say, 'Let me know when you get your freedom back!'

 

The future prospects for the freedoms and the normality we once knew do not look good and if that were not bad enough the sheer spinelessness of the churches is obvious. Even in the present situation, where corporate, gathered worship is legally permissible, a large number of churches are keeping their doors closed on Sundays. Tim Dieppe wrote, 'As we look back at Christian responses to plagues in the past we should be inspired by their courage and conviction. The risks to us from coronavirus pale in comparison with what previous generations of Christians have faced. How will our generation of Christians go down in history? (Lessons from Church history and past plagues – ChristianConcern.Com),

 

In a passionate letter to The Spectator (21.1.21) Peter Laverick wrote: “Why are our priests so frightened? They are supposed to be our leaders and consolers in times of crisis. The very people who believe death holds no fear for them are afraid to open their own doors, let alone the doors of their empty churches. If this had been Jesus' attitude there would have been no Christian culture for the past two millennia. There may soon be no CofE after this exhibition. What a tragedy, what a disgrace!” Mr Laverick is clearly an Anglican, but the same criticism may be levelled at most denominations in England including the Unitarians where many of their congregations and ministers sadly gave up any allegiance to the Christian faith a long time ago. Behind their closed doors, clergy of every hue look on despondently as this impending ecclesiastical disaster unfolds. The Sunday Times (31.1.21) reported: “Church to cut paid clergy as fifth of flock wanders off.” The report stated that, “20 percent of its regular worshippers may never return and that paid clergy could be reduced by ten to twenty percent.

 

The truth is that covid-19 is not really the cause of this parlous state of affairs, but rather the government's policies. What is also true is that increasingly, Christians more than ever, find themselves living in tension with the norms and values of an ever more emerging atheistic society, a society that rejects the Judaeo-Christian values of a society we once knew. In this emerging society we will continue to find that the principles of free speech and individual rights are eschewed in favour of diktat and an ever more totalitarian agenda antithetical to religious belief and practice. To quote Tom Paine: “These are the times that try men's souls.” Such sentiment speaks to us today and as we look over the past few months at the liberties and the religious freedoms, we have so easily surrendered in the 'war on covid'. We should pay heed also to these other words of Paine who said, “Tyranny like hell, is not easily conquered.”