Monday, 29 April 2013

An Offer You Can't Refuse !

My all time favourite move is The Godfather. Released in 1972 this American crime film directed by Francis Ford Coppola is based on Mario Puzo's 1969 novel of the same name. Starring Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, the Godfather and its two sequels, The Godfather Part 2 (1974) and The Godfather Part 3 (1990) chronicle the history of a powerful New York crime family ....the Corleones.

The Godfather is regarded by movie buffs as one of the great works of world cinema having been nominated for ten Oscars and winning three in 1972......... Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando) and Best Adapted Screenplay for Puzo and Coppola.

For me the ‘Godfather’ trilogy is a morally challenging experience. These movies on one level are an exploration of Italian/American history and the social and moral conventions of the Mafia. At another more profound level, they reflect the darkest aspects of human nature. Indeed, for me, the development of the main character, Michael Corleone, acted superbly by Al Pacino is a classic study in evil.

In an Oscar winning performance, Marlon Brando portrays the ageing and increasingly world weary Vito Corleone, the Godfather. He has maintained his power by making accommodations with quietly exercising authority, ensuring influence with politicians and judges by ‘making people an offer they could not refuse’. When cut down by an assassin’s bullets, the mantle of leadership passes, to Vito’s youngest son Michael. 

Returning from service in World War 2 as an ‘all American hero’ seemingly untainted by the culture of the ‘mafioso’, Michael is thrust into leadership.  His vengeance is planned, meticulous, and extremely brutal. With every minute of the movie, Michael Corleone becomes darker, colder, more calculating and ruthless.

Although fictional, the Godfather trilogy succeeds because it lays bare some of the bleakest and darkest aspects of our all too human souls........sin. In the ‘Godfather’ movies, there is very little in the way of redemption.

I have watched these movies many times over, and always have to turn to the Bible for a dose of reality after a brief immersion in the affairs of the Corleones.

The Bible is very clear about sin. It is rebellion against God and the penalty is death.

Unlike the movies, the Bible does offer redemption to all in the form of Jesus Christ. No fiction here. Jesus, a real historical character, Son of God, led a sinless life and was crucified on a Roman cross for my sin so that I, a sinner, through trusting in him would not have to pay the penalty for my sin. In the Gospel of John it says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

Now that’s an offer you can’t refuse !!

True Grit plus...

Along with the ‘Godfather’ trilogy of movies, I would number the 1969 version of the western ‘True Grit’ as a personal favourite.  Its star, John Wayne, unusually won an Oscar for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn, the ageing, fearless and hard drinking  civil war veteran who helps a feisty 14-year-old girl find the murderer of her father. In the movie, Marshall Cogburn is said to have the quality of ‘true grit’ or persistence because he refused to give up.

Recent research not only proves that there is such a human quality as ‘true grit’ but also suggests that it may have a bearing on our ability to achieve in life. Using an eight item questionnaire researchers found that high achievers have ‘true grit’ because they :

·         Have tenacity and perseverance

·         Have a passion for long term goals

·         Are not easily distracted

·         Are not discouraged by setbacks

As an educator, I know that having the dogged determination exhibited by Marshal Rooster Cogburn will enable you to do better in life. Indeed this is one of the many qualities which any teacher worth his or her salt would strive to develop in their pupils.

In a Daily Mail article about ‘true grit’, Fiona McRae  writes, “According to studies, gritty children spell better, gritty teachers get the best out of their pupils and gritty adults get higher marks at university. Put simply, grit could explain why some people try harder than others....... Those who score highly (in the eight item ‘grit test’ aren’t distracted from the task in hand by new opportunities, nor are they discouraged by setbacks. They are hard-workers and find it easy to spend months focusing on a single project. And, as diligent types, they like to finish what they begin”.

True grit is perfectly illustrated in the Bible as we read how the early church came into being. Jesus’ disciples persevered with his message in an environment that was far from accommodating. All of them met violent deaths by the political and religious authorities of the day because of the supernatural life transforming message that they proclaimed.

In his second letter to the Christians in Corinth, the Apostle Paul describes the hardships he faced when telling the world about Jesus: “Five times I received from the Jews, the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.”

These guys certainly had ‘true grit’, but they also had something else, far more important. They had personally experienced the supernatural life of Christ transforming their own existence from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Easy to understand once you experience it.

Friday, 26 April 2013

From Green to White

Being severely challenged in the matter of hair, or rather the lack of it, I am always a little “green with envy” of those sixty plus men whose ‘thatch’ seems to have remained largely unchanged from their youth. How do they do it, I ask myself!

With most people it is probably all in the father was balding in his mid twenties. However some rich men have been able to use their wealth to defy both age and genetics. Great entertainers such as Sir Elton John have spent thousands of pounds having individual hairs implanted into their skin.... even Wayne Rooney has had it done! No hairpieces for them...only the best that modern technology has to offer and money can buy so that nobody can see the join!

 "Green with envy" is one of several sayings that have to do with the state of being jealous of the good fortune of another individual. Envy comes in many different shapes and forms and its consequences in the most severe cases can be fatal.

According to some commentators entire political philosophies have been built on envy. Sir Winston Churchill described socialism as, ‘a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery’.

Personal success can breed envy in others. The late Marilyn Monroe was troubled and personally hurt when she saw her own success lead to envy and bitterness in some of her contemporaries: “Success makes so many people hate you. I wish it wasn't that way. It would be wonderful to enjoy success without seeing envy in the eyes of those around you”.

Having been personally involved in secondary education for over 30 years, I can attest to the fact that much of the bullying that takes place amongst teenagers, particularly girls, has its roots in jealousy and envy........... envy of friends, possessions, popularity, clothes, boyfriends.

In the Bible the Old Testament story of the two brothers Cain and Abel specifically highlights envy as the motive for a murder. In the story Cain and Abel both offer God a sacrifice......Cain the fruit of the ground (he was a farmer) and Abel an animal which he had hunted and killed. God prefers Abel’s sacrifice and rejects Cain’s. Tragedy then ensues when, angry at his rejection, and envious of his brother, Cain in a fit of uncontrollable rage murders his brother Abel.

The Christian blogger Steve Cornell reminds us that, ‘envy was also the motive behind the most vicious crime of history: “the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy” (Mark 15:10)’.

 Many people have great difficulty in dealing with the destructiveness of envy, yet for those who are prepared to open it up, the Bible offers the answer. In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter says, “rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good".............................simple really !!!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

More ! More! More!..............


One of the ‘seven deadly sins’, the word ‘gluttony’ is usually reserved for overeating. Not’s about excess...... the ‘sex, drugs and rock and rock ‘n roll lifestyle. Mind you, ask Mick Jagger & Ronnie Wood these days, and they would probably prefer a cup of tea and a quiet snooze after a concert, to a session of drunken partying with a bunch of scantily clad and morally challenged ‘groupies’. I’m amazed that the Rolling Stones have survived fifty years on the road and lived to tell the tale.

Excess has not stopped some prominent individuals from attaining their century. The late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, whose life spanned 101years is a case in point. Her consumption of alcohol by today’s standards would be described as excessive, no doubt necessitating medical advice.

Copiously detailed by Major Colin Burgess one of the Queen’s personal attendants in the book “Behind Palace Doors,” the Queen Mother’s alcohol consumption of around 70 units per week (the safe weekly limit for women is 14) is graphically laid bare. “She would start her drinking day at noon with her favourite tipple, gin and Dubonnet: two parts Dubonnet – a pink vermouth – to one part gin.......Rarely went a day without having at least one of these.....Lunch with red wine followed, finished off with port.” At 6pm every day a she had martini plus two glasses of Veuve Cliquot pink champagne with dinner. Carolyn Chapman, commenting on the Whiskey Goldmine website about the ‘Queen Mum’ says wryly, “so much for alcohol consumption shortening your lifespan- in her case she was preserved by it from the inside out!”

Alcohol apart, the contemporary hue and cry is about food and the ‘obesity crisis’. Too much food and too little exercise will cost our health system billions unless individuals change their lifestyle. According to a 2012 study, half of the American population will be obese by 2030. It is estimated that this will require $66 billion dollars extra in health care spending to deal with the 7.8 million new cases of diabetes, 6.8 million new cases of stroke and heart disease, and 539,000 new cancer diagnoses.

I was always convinced that the Christian lifestyle produced good health. However, a 2006 study found that born again Christians in the USA are by far the heaviest of all religious groups, Baptists having an obesity rate of 30% compared with Jews at 1%, Buddhists and Hindus at 0.7%. The lead researcher, Ken Ferraro said, “America is becoming a nation of gluttony and obesity and churches are a feeding ground for this problem.”

Sadly, I’m not optimistic about Scotland as successive generations continue to fuel themselves on Irn Bru, burgers and deep fried Mars bars.

Fortunately, the Bible can help us out as we grapple with ‘excess’ in whatever form it takes. The book of Proverbs warns, “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.” In the New Testament, the ability to say “no” to anything in excess.......i.e. self-control is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in the life of all believers. The Bible also talks a lot about fasting......perhaps a step too far for someone like me still battling against sloth !

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

'DeedsOverWords'....God's Favourite

I see horses are in the news again. This time they are not being eaten but doped !

Apparently horses from the biggest stable in the UK have tested positive for anabolic steroids at the stables owned by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Spot tests were carried out on 45 horses by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and 11 tested positive. Horses failing the test included ‘Certify’, ante-post favourite for the 1,000 Guineas, and last years’ Ascot Gold Cup runner-up ‘Opinion Poll’.

Their trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni faces a disciplinary hearing with the possibility of a lengthy ban. He has already admitted to administering the drugs at the Godolphin stables in Newmarket. In mitigation, he has claimed that he was unaware that it was against the rules to use the drugs on the animals when they were not racing.

I am not really a betting man, having had my fingers burned at every foray into the turf accountant. My last venture, three years ago saw me invest £20 on two ‘nags ’running in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the advice of an ‘expert’ down the drain !!!!!

Many punters, myself included are smiling wryly in the knowledge that the doping affair has caused the bookies to take a hit.

Ladbrokes are going to give back £200,000 worth of bets on horses which have tested positive for steroids. Coral and William Hill will refund bets on 4 animals from the Godolphin stables, namely Certify, Desert Bloom, Artigiano and Restraint of Trade. Paddy Power is in the process of evaluating its position regarding the affected horses and will make a statement in due course.

Kate Miller of William Hill, bookmakers stated that: ''This is an unprecedented eventuality, and no-one betting could have predicted these events. We believe the fairest result for our customers is to refund their bets placed on the Godolphin runners.''

It’s good to see the bookmakers who usually always win anyway, talking about fairness and ‘putting their money where their mouth is’.

The Bible story of Zacchaeus illustrates this principle. Hated by his own people, Zacchaeus worked for the Roman occupiers as a tax collector. Often accompanied by Roman muscle, he collected their taxes plus an additional amount to ‘cover his own expenses’. Reviled by his neighbours as a dishonest, rich Roman collaborator, Zacchaeus was short of friends.

When he came to Jericho, Jesus took an interest in Zacchaeus and his life was radically changed. How do we know ?  The Bible tells us that Zacchaeus ‘put his money his money where his mouth is’.

The gospel of Luke describes the incident: “Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord. ‘Look, Lord ! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount”.

There is always radical change when a person encounters Jesus, and that’s visible ‘spiritual fruit’ which lasts forever.  

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Life of the Death Wish Director

As the horizontal screen banner on SKY News informed the world of the passing of the film director Michael Winner, my immediate thoughts were of a man who had lived life to the full.

Most people are fortunate to have one successful career, but Michael Winner was an exception.  A successful film director from the 60s to the 90s, he then became a noted and respected restaurant critic whose Sunday Times column, ‘Winner’s Dinners’ about food and restaurants was appreciated by many. Filing his final report in December 2012, the love of rich gourmet food and fine wines finally caught up with Winner and he succumbed to liver cancer on 21st January.

It is however his work as a film director which will endure. For me he leaves an impressive catalogue. Throughout the 1960s Winner specialised in socially-observant comedies such as The Jokers (1966) and I’ll Never Forget What’s ’isname (1967), both starring Oliver Reed.     

The Jokers did well in America. In 1970 he made Lawman, a low-budget Western starring Burt Lancaster,following it up with another Western, Chato’s Land. The film starred Charles Bronson as an Indian hunted by a posse after the murder of a sheriff. Critics complained that the film was ‘bloodthirsty and overlong’, but it proved popular with the public.

Winner’s greatest success came in 1974 with Death Wish. The film stars Charles Bronson as an architect whose wife is brutally murdered and his daughter raped. Failed by the justice system, he locates and takes his own bloody revenge on the perpetrators.  

Death Wish and its two sequels struck a chord with urban Britain and America where so- called ‘liberal’ politicians were perceived to have tipped the scales of justice against the victims of crime.

I have to admit to being a fan of Michael Winner’s films. At the same time, I know that they run contrary to my Christian faith. Let me explain. The Death Wish films are essentially about individuals taking revenge when wronged.  As a believer I always take my cue from what the Bible has to say.

On the matter of vengeance, the scriptures are very trumps revenge and retaliation........not an easy course to take as a hurting victim of injustice.

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians in Rome, who themselves had suffered terrible persecution, had this to say:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay’, says the Lord. On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Follow, Follow, we will follow........?????

I could hardly believe my eyes as I watched Luis Suarez of Liverpool FC sink his teeth into the right upper arm of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic. Within seconds, the SKY Sports action replay  provided  verification of the Suarez assault.......a stonewall red card.....surely!!!  Along with millions of TV viewers and the thousands of Chelsea fans attending the match, I was indignant when the referee took no action because he claimed not to have seen the incident. He waved away the protests of the aggrieved Ivanovich who was pointing to the teeth marks on his exposed upper arm. To add insult to injury, Suarez scored an equalising goal for Liverpool in the seventh minute of extra time, completing ‘a bad day at the office’ for Chelsea FC.

In Scotland, things are naturally very different. Football referees are sponsored by Specsavers, so mistakes should be minimal.....perhaps......well, actually not so,......ask any football fan.

Always fiercely partisan, sometimes football fans succumb to irrationality in their denials of reality. It came therefore as no surprise, that the Liverpool fans interviewed on SKY Sports News refused to criticise Suarez for his actions.  After all he is the club’s top scorer !!

Denialism is described on Wikipaedia as, “choosing to deny reality as a way to avoid an uncomfortable truth. Author Paul O'Shea remarks, ‘It is the refusal to accept an empirically verifiable reality. It is an essentially irrational action that withholds validation of a historical experience or event".

Today there are those who vehemently deny that the Holocaust either did not occur or was mostly a hoax, ignoring the vast body of historical evidence to the contrary. ‘Holocaust deniers’ range from right wing agitators to radical Islamists and various individuals in between.

Similarly, there are individuals and groups who are in denial that climate change is taking place and governments like the US which refuse to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol on global CO2 emissions.

Denialism can feature in the lives of Christians as they are bombarded by information and advertising from various organisations and individuals demanding attention. Hard pressed to attend conferences, participate in training training courses, adhere to a ‘vision’ and give support i.e. money, many succumb to the pressure, in effect, denying that what is being advertised and encouraged might not be all that it should be.

In the Bible, Christians are called to be spiritually discerning: to make use of scripture to think for themselves, rather than being pressured by others to conform. There is an excellent example of this in the Book of Acts. The Apostle Paul preached the Gospel in the Jewish synagogue in the town of Berea. The Bereans were very discerning. They examined scripture daily, “to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed.”

Christians have all that is required in the scriptures to enable good and healthy decision making and avoid the sometimes negative consequences of being pressured into ‘going with the flow’.


Sunday, 21 April 2013

Lust.......Sex and Sewing Machines

I suppose when I think about the word ‘lust’, I associate it with the more salacious aspects of sexual behaviour which we read about in the tabloids. Not so for Mrs Wiselmo. For some time now she has been lusting after a ‘Bernina’; an all singing, all dancing, ‘super duper’ hi-tec sewing machine. Apparently the top of the range model is a ‘snip’ at around four thousand pounds !!!

According to Wikipaedia lust is defined as “an intense desire or craving. It can take many forms such as the lust for knowledge, sex, power and money.  Lust is a powerful feeling producing intense wanting for an object, or circumstance.”

In a recent article in the Chicago tribune, the writer Gina Barreca argues that lust has been a ‘primary player’ in the arts and culture throughout history. Lust features in opera......see Carmen, and in the literature of the middle ages. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales featured characters such as the Wife of Bath who was far from straight laced. It’s there also in the works of great Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Botticelli.

Lust for money and power have become key drivers of human activity in the twenty first century. The Winer Foundation, an American philanthropic organisation makes a telling observation about contemporary life on its website:

 “Lust is akin to impulse--the inside pull that says, ‘I want it and I want it now.’ Lust is an automatic response to an internal tension that's created by what you've seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt. Lust draws you away from combining with people because of its demand to be immediately satisfied. It takes time to work amicably with others but lust can't wait. If it's not dealt with promptly, then spiritual decay is always the result.”

In the Bible the Old Testament relates a classic tale of lust, sex, power and betrayal in the tragedy of King David of Israel and the beautiful Bathsheba. In the Bible, David is described as ‘a man after God’s own heart’, yet he was fatally distracted when he saw Bathsheba bathing, committed adultery with her, then had her husband killed to cover up the sin. David’s actions had grave consequences.  Bathsheba’s child died, and three of his sons died violent deaths.

Sadly the culture of, ‘I want it and I want it now’ is very much part and parcel of life in the twenty first century. Fortunately, the Bible offers some really effective action. The Apostle Paul in his second letter to the Christians in the city of Corinth instructed the people to ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’.

Excellent advice which anyone can put into action when tempted and feeling under pressure.       

.............and talking about pressure!!!!!!!!! How do I, a canny Scot from the frugal north-east  compete with a voluptuously attractive Swiss model complete with stitch regulator ?  All suggestions are welcome.


Saturday, 20 April 2013

What Defines Your Life Narrative?

The American blogger Steve Cornell recently asked his readers the question: what narrative do you follow for life?  His definition of a narrative for life is loose.....a combination of the things we base our lives on; visions we might follow and the things which motivate, define and matter to us. Cornell argues that a narrative is always supported by a way of thinking about life – about yourself, others, possessions, purposes, priorities, goals and, especially, how you view God. What are the narratives that define human beings today?

Firstly, ideas and philosophies like socialism, communism, nationalism, and fascism can powerfully underpin the narratives of both individuals and large groups of people. History teaches us that extreme ideology and political power are a toxic combination for individuals, groups and even entire nations. 

Secondly, life experiences often shape the narratives people follow. When we experience significant loss, hurt, betrayal or injury — it can lead to narratives of despair, resentment, self-pity, anger, revenge and even violence. So a negative life-narrative rooted in different forms of abuse can leave the victim stuck, unable to escape from the negative effects of the abuse. Counselling, particularly when rooted in bogus so-called ‘psychotherapy’ like neuro-linguistic programming and imago therapy frequently brings no relief or hope for people who have been conned out of thousands of pounds by so called ‘Christian counsellors and psychotherapists’.

However, many people can and do escape from a life defining negative narrative onto a much more positive and fulfilling pathway. A powerful example of dramatic change of narrative is found in the Bible in the life of the Apostle Paul. His story is told in the New Testament book of Philippians. Paul followed the expected path to social recognition in the community of his day. He took a path to gain status and esteem among the people who mattered most.  Paul was zealous as his description below bears out:

 “Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault” (Philippians 3:4-6).

Paul was so zealous that he was party to the murder of Stephen, but when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus his life narrative was dramatically changed. Here’s how Paul reflects on his change of narrative: “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.”

The third definer of life narratives in the twenty first century is the quest for celebrity/fame and importance.  Fuelled by social networking and the media, this quest for power and importance is not new. In Luke’s Gospel 22:24-27, Jesus directly confronted this narrative: “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

When people today encounter Jesus as Saviour and Lord, He radically disrupts and reorients their  life narrative. Paul in his second letter to the church in the city of Corinth gives an excellent short summary of this truth when he writes:  “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but (live) for him who died for them and was raised again.”

Honesty.......The Best Policy By Far

As an enthusiastic cook I am a regular viewer of TV food and cooking programmes.  Over the years my family has suffered thanks to my valiant efforts to replicate the recipes of the celebrity chefs.

Today individuals such as Nigella Lawson, Rick Stein, and Jamie Oliver are no longer just chefs or food writers, they are celebrities and major media stars in their own right.. They are consulted by government and earn vast amounts of money from their TV programmes, books and personal appearances.

The late Keith Floyd however, struggled with stardom.  As a restaurant owner he faced bankruptcy on more than one occasion. Yet he was a great chef and entertainer who in the opinion of many, stands head and shoulders above his peers.

What made Floyd different from his contemporaries?  For me it was his enthusiasm for his craft; his love of a good ‘slurp’ while cooking; and his politically incorrect views on a whole variety of food related topics. Above all he is the only TV chef who was honest enough to show his work with minimum editing.  Culinary disasters were broadcast.  From the inedible Indonesian chilli crab to the failed Mediterranean sea bream baked in rock salt, Floyd owned up, and in the sanitised world of media cookery perfection, that takes courage. It was this honesty which endeared Keith Floyd to millions and encouraged ordinary people to ‘have a go’.

In many walks of life, including public life, owning up to mistakes or indiscretions is not a common occurrence, yet ‘covering up’ is nothing new.

The Old Testament relates the timeless tale of David, King of Israel. He had an affair with a beautiful woman named Bathsheba who became pregnant. To prevent her husband from finding out, King David had the man killed. While it appeared that he had ‘got away with it’, God through his prophet Nathan exposed David’s crime. There were a number of consequences for David’s wrongdoing. Bathsheba’s son died and strife was visited on David’s household for the rest of his life.

In Psalm 32, King David wrote about the drain on his life when he covered up his wrongdoing, and the relief of owning up and knowing that God can forgive the very worst in us.

“When I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.

 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me, my strength was sapped, as

 in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.

 I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’, and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”

Wise words from the Bible. Honesty and transparency is the best policy.  Perhaps Keith Floyd knew the story of David and Bathsheba.     


Let’s ‘FACE UP’ not ‘FACE DOWN’!

I don’t think I’m alone in being a fan of Charles Bronson’s ‘death wish’ movies. Each plot has an appealing simplicity......... violent crimes committed by merciless thugs against helpless (usually) female victims, followed by retribution carried out with cold efficiency by a steely and mostly silent Bronson. It’s a time-honoured narrative and as viewers we cheer along with the spectacle.

‘Revenge’ fiction is not the sole preserve of the male of the human species.  Fay Weldon’s  novel, ‘The Life and Loves of a She Devil’ deals the pain of  relationship betrayal, where the jilted wife meticulously plans  and slowly enjoys serving up revenge  on her cheating  husband. This popular story has enjoyed two film and one TV adaptation since its publication.

This desire for revenge comes naturally. It taps into a deep-seated urge to want to see harm come to those who hurt us. It is what theologians describe as the ‘sin nature’ in all of us, acted out across the world every day within and between countries, tribes, families, former friends and other social groupings including churches.

Many rational people explicitly defend the desire for revenge. In her book ‘Wild Justice’, the author Susan Jacoby argues that revenge stems from, “a need to restore ‘something missing’ – a sense of physical and emotional integrity that is shattered by violence.”  Revenge is therefore ‘natural and self-satisfying’, and needs to be acknowledged as a legitimate response by a victim. Suggesting otherwise is to rob victims of their dignity.

Twentieth century icon, Martin Luther King, spoke of a different path based on his understanding of the Biblical concept of forgiveness. By contrast, Friedrich Nietzsche the 19th century German philosopher thought forgiveness was a sign of the weak making a virtue out of necessity.

 So what is forgiveness?  It is not condoning, excusing or forgetting. It is more of a process, rather than a single act. It involves an honest confrontation of wrongs committed and a search for ways to overcome attitudes of resentment and anger felt in response to injury and wrongdoing. 

There are many heart warming examples of forgiveness that we can draw on. In the early days of post apartheid South Africa, many anticipated a bloodbath as Black African leaders took control. Nelson Mandela, freed after 27 years of imprisonment, chose forgiveness over revenge for the stolen years of his life. As President of the new South Africa, he made frequent gestures of forgiveness, such as offering his white gaoler a position of honour at his inauguration. He saw forgiveness as the only way forward.

In the new South Africa, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up and its success shows how forgiveness can work at both a personal and political level.  Determined to avoid the mistake of sweeping past crimes under the carpet, but wishing to avoid a judicial model, the Commission offered amnesty to those who would own up to crimes and violations of human rights. To gain amnesty, full public disclosure was required, and the victims had to be given a voice during the process.

The history of the Commission makes for extraordinary reading. The power of public confession and the accompanying release of anguish it brought was powerfully displayed. Most notable were the extraordinary moments of forgiveness that began the nation’s healing

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chaired the Commission. He entitled his memoire about this time ‘No Future Without  Forgiveness’. His work was bound to his faith, of which he said that ‘only because God had reconciled us to him by sacrificing his Son Jesus Christ on the cross did true and lasting reconciliation between humans become possible.’

Like Desmond Tutu, I’m up for the process of forgiveness, truth and reconciliation and I know it works. Are there any people out there prepared to take the risk ? 


Thursday, 18 April 2013

A Final Accounting

Pomp and circumstance is what Britain does really well. Meticulous in its execution, the ceremonial funeral of Baroness Thatcher was the first since 1965 to mark the passing of a former Prime Minister. The service at St Paul’s Cathedral was attended by the Queen, the British establishment and dignitaries from around the world.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in small pockets throughout the country, the former Prime Minister’s detractors held Thatcher death parties to celebrate her passing. Even, in death it would seem, Margaret Thatcher brought to the surface the many underlying tensions which remain in British society.

There is no denying that Mrs Thatcher has left her mark. Her election in 1979 is now seen as a turning point in history. Her government broke the cosy post war political consensus on the interventionist role of the state in favour of individual responsibility. That political approach became known as ‘Thatcherism’, and while many suffered through unemployment as the state was reigned in, many other ordinary people benefitted becoming property owners for the first time.   

Margaret Thatcher had a strong Christian faith. She was brought up as a Methodist, attending church three times a week. While Prime minister, she attended church at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where she worshipped, not with the ‘great and the good’, but with the Chelsea Pensioners.

She planned her own funeral service down to the last detail, and the choice of hymns and readings reflected her faith. Her grand-daughter Amanda, very poignantly read from the section on the ‘Armour of God’ from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Perhaps a final reflection from the former Prime Minister on the spiritual battles she faced on a daily basis, and the need for the individual believer to take up the all the elements of protection provided by God.

Margaret Thatcher fully understood the Gospel, recognising that peace with God could only be secured by a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. She agreed with the great truth in the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life”.

The former ‘Iron Lady’ passed away at the age of 87. She had become a frail old lady, with a failing memory, whose health had been in decline since her late 70s.

With God salvation is individual, not corporate and the decision to follow Jesus is a choice that each of us must make as individuals. While Margaret Thatcher’s detractors held their death parties in order to satisfy their pent up desire for vengeance, perhaps they were unaware that they had one thing in common with the former Prime Minister. As individuals, they too will have to give an account of their lives before the living God.



I never cease to be amazed how pride can affect the human condition. Tiger Woods’ revealing public apology for his extramarital affairs, shows how sporting success led in his case to pride and a sense that universally accepted moral standards did not apply to him:

“I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules did not apply. I never thought about who I was hurting… I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt I was entitled........ I don’t get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me. I brought this shame on myself “.

In the same way politicians are not immune from pride. Faced with possible impeachment in 1998, President Bill Clinton eventually owned up to an adulterous sexual encounter with 22 year White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton later admitted that he acted as he did..... “just because I could”.

In the dictionary, pride is defined as “an inflated sense of one's personal status or accomplishments, often used synonymously with hubris.......extreme pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.” (Wikipaedia)

It is a sad fact that Christians can get caught up in behaviour which stems from pride. Tim Brannagan of ‘Freedom to Lead International’, a ministry dedicated to ‘cultivating Christ-centered leaders’ clearly points out the corrosive effects of pride among some Christian leaders:

 “Two symptoms of pride in Christian leadership is lack of teachability and self-righteousness. Lack of teachability manifests itself as leaders begin to reject dissenting points of view, monopolise decision making, and force their ideas on others. Surrounding themselves with people who only agree with them slowly stifles the ministry as leaders become unable to adapt to the changing needs of the ministry. The lack of teachability and self-righteousness makes leaders blind to their own moral inadequacies. Is there any wonder why God despises a prideful spirit ? ”

Nineteen year old pop star Justin Bieber caused a media furore when during a visit to the house where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis said..... "Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber." (A ‘belieber’ is a Justin Bieber fan).

Anne, died at the age of 15 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in1945. Her diary, first published in 1947 has been read by millions across the world. It details the privations she and her family experienced in hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

Humility is a powerful antidote to pride. In the Bible, the Apostle James provides some excellent advice: “If you are wise and understand God's ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.”........are you listening Justin ?



Never missing a trick in order to boost circulation, the popular press has recently taken great pleasure in exposing the gratuitous personal spending of workers in the nation’s financial sector. The recent headline below highlights the growing gulf between the majority who are getting by....just,  and the excessive conspicuous consumption of the super rich.

‘We'll have the £26 three-course saver meal and two £5,500 bottles of wine: City workers rack up £18,000 bill on a spot of lunch at steakhouse.

·         Finished off the meal with a round of large cognacs coming in at £200 a shot

·         Smoked nearly £300 worth of Cohiba cigars after their lunch’

At a time of austerity and cuts in welfare spending, such headlines serve to stoke the growing resentment that most ordinary people are beginning to feel towards bankers, financiers and the obscenely rich and powerful.

In retrospect, this was not always the case. Post war Britain seemed to be moving towards a gentler more egalitarian society with the establishment of the NHS and the welfare state. Then came the 1980s and a new harsher economic and social mantra....’greed is good !!!!!’.

Greed is the compelling desire to possess wealth, goods, or objects of value with the intention to keep it for one's self, far beyond the what is required for basic survival and comfort. It is applied to a markedly high desire for and pursuit of wealth, status, and power.

In 1987 Oliver Stone made the film Wall Street and its infamous lead character, Gordon Gekko became a household name. The "greed is good" mentality brought  the Stock Market Crash in 1987 and played a part in global recession of the early 1990s. Greed is the reason behind the meltdown of the corporate bond market and the ensuing banking crisis of 2008 for which we are all still suffering.

The Bible has a lot to say about wealth and greed. When a rich young man asked Jesus what he should do to get eternal life, he was devastated by his answer.....”If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me”. Jesus later made clear the incompatability with wealth and entry to the kingdom of heaven when he said, ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’.  

Generosity is the opposite of greed. Its practice mitigates against the corrosive effects of greed. The following quote from blogger Rose Dawson highlights the need for generosity.

‘Israel's Jordan River is a source of life as it flows into the Sea of Galilee and then into the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee generously irrigates the land as well as providing abundant fishing resources. By contrast, the Dead Sea has no outlet. It greedily robs the region of moisture, and its water is undrinkable. Greed causes our lives to also become foul before God. But a life that flows abundantly shares all the God has given us. When we give, we truly prosper and are refreshed’.

Well said Rose....I’ll drink to that !


As Chris Huhn and his former wife Vicky Pryce begin their prison sentences of eight months respectively for perverting the course of justice, they have been provided with plenty of time to painfully reflect on their own behaviours and attitudes. What began some years ago with a relatively trivial speeding offence should have been concluded with a fine and three penalty points. Instead, Huhn persuaded his wife to take the points, enabling him to keep his driving licence......job done !!

Years later, by which time Huhn was a high flying politician and Pryce a prominent economist, their marriage came to an abrupt and painful end.  After more than two decades together, Huhn rang Pryce and told her their marriage was over while she was at a football match with their son. I cannot imagine the emotions that must have beset Pryce at that moment .....anger, wrath, outrage...the list is endless. Publically humiliated, deeply hurt and thirsting for vengeance, Pryce later hit out by accusing her Cabinet Secretary former husband of forcing her to take his speeding points. Her plan was supposed to bring Huhn’s career to an end, while she would continue on her own upward path.

Unfortunately, the plan went disastrously wrong. While Huhn protested his innocence up until the last minute, the whole poisonous affair drew in family, friends and colleagues as the lives of Huhn and Pryce were painfully laid bare during the court proceedings.

So what led two intelligent, ‘media savvy’, powerful people to behave in such a way. For me, blind ambition led Chris Huhn to behave dishonestly on a number of different levels. One lie led to another, until it all unravelled, with disastrous consequences for his family, reputation and career. If only he had taken the speeding points himself !!! Could he make a political comeback.......? I doubt it.

I must admit to having more than a little sympathy for Vicky Pryce. Given her circumstances I think that I would have been overcome, and as she did, abandon the normal cool, reflective and analytical perspective which most people take on life. Vicky Pryce succumbed to wrath.

The dictionary defines wrath as "rage"....... inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger, leading to a desire for retribution. Can Vicky Pryce regain a balanced approach to life and recover her career ?...Perhaps.

In a recent Independent article, the novelist Lucy Cavendish wrote, “don’t we all understand this madness? Isn’t this what makes Pryce human? What’s amazing – reassuring, even – is that we, as humans, can act in this way. It is about exactly those incredible human qualities Shakespeare wrote of; love, hate, passion, loathing, anger, malice, order vs chaos.

None of us is above any of them and none of us best forget that, ever.”

Cavendish is absolutely right about human behaviour. The root cause is sin. However, we need not be helplessly trapped by its often disastrous consequences. The Bible tells us that Jesus died on a cross to free humans from the power of sin. It is my fervent prayer that while in prison both will reach out to Jesus and find the peace and forgiveness in Him so that they can have real freedom when released.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013



I used to be happy to admit to occasionally allowing myself to lapse into sloth. However, in the present climate of opinion, such an admission is no longer ‘PC’. Indeed, if we are to believe some of our politicians, Britain is in the process of becoming a nation of slothful social security scroungers. It’s all the fault of the welfare state, they whine, as the disabled, the elderly, the sick and unemployed are all lumped to together with the tiny minority who have abused the country’s benefit system.

In the same week as welfare reforms come into effect, spread all over the front pages of the newspapers is the archetypal ‘scrounging scumbag’........Mick Philpott. Listening to government ministers, their message is loud and clear; the welfare reforms are necessary to prevent individuals such as Philpott from living it up on taxpayers’ money.

A recent report, entitled ‘Benefits Stigma in Britain’, commissioned by Turn2us, an anti-poverty charity shows how the media has ‘ramped up’ the anti welfare rhetoric in the last ten years. The researcher, Elizabeth Finn, examined more than 6,000 articles on social security between 1995 and 2011 from the major newspapers – the Times, the Mirror, the Guardian, the Independent, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Sun and the Daily Express.

Thirty per cent of all articles focussed on benefit fraud even although, rates of fraud have never exceeded 3%. The study shows that disproportionate coverage of fraud is linked to higher levels of stigma, with the readers of "stigmatising newspapers", such as the Sun, believing there were "higher levels of deception within the welfare system. The report says three newspapers – the Sun, Mail and Express – show an "exceptional focus" on claimants' apparent "lack of effort", unfairly stigmatising millions as lazy and slothful.

The prophets of the Old Testament and Jesus himself had considerable sympathy for the poor and the disadvantaged. It is therefore little wonder that four churches (from the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist and United Reformed Churches, and the Church of Scotland) joined together to criticise the government's welfare reforms as unjust - they fear that society's most vulnerable will be disproportionately hit .

While the popular press has been railing against sloth, medical researchers have been busy producing a world map of sloth. Published in the Lancet in July 2012, to coincide with the Olympics, the study by Pedro Hallal of the Federal University of Pelotas, is the most complete portrait yet of the world's busy bees and couch potatoes.

Dr Hallal and his colleagues pooled data from health surveys for 122 countries, covering 89% of the world’s population. They found that 31% of adults do not get enough physical activity. This is defined as 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise three days a week, or some combination of the two. Malta, according to the report is the most slothful country in the world, with 72% of adults getting too little exercise.

 Sounds like a very civilised place to live..........I might just consider moving !!


The Seven Deadly Sins

The Seven Deadly Sins

In recent times, many people have had their faith in institutions and individuals severely shaken. Immorality in the church, greed and speculation in the banking system, and corruption, lying and cheating from our Parliamentarians........whatever next !!!

In sport, the cyclist, Lance Armstrong was an inspirational figure for millions. Seven Times winner of the Tour de France, Armstrong appeared to be invincible, even defeating near fatal cancer.

When Sunday Times journalist David Walsh first met Armstrong in 1993 he liked  and admired the painfully blunt and unashamedly ambitious Texan. Walsh however grew suspicious when Armstrong returned to his sport in 1999, after his near-fatal brush with cancer. He was a different man and a hugely improved athlete. Indeed Armstrong’s improvement was so remarkable that he became unbeatable.

Concluding that this could only have come about through the illegal use of performance enhancing drugs Walsh spent the next 13 years in a campaign to convince the world sporting authorities that ‘St Lance’ was a cheat.

Walsh describes his pursuit of Armstrong in his book ‘Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong’. He paid a heavy price for his doggedness being vilified and ostracised by many of his colleagues and constantly involved in legal actions. There were no ends to which Armstrong wouldn’t go to protect his empire.

In the end, Armstrong was found to have cheated and was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. He recently admitted to cheating in the much publicised interviews with Oprah Winfrey. The book is therefore a victory lap for Walsh. As David Walshook the reviewer pointed out, ‘Seven Deadly Sins should stand out for its lesson: if something seems too good to be true, it almost invariably is.’

So what led to the fall of Lance Armstrong? The title of Walsh’s book suggests that sin, the condition that affects all human beings, and separates them from God is to blame.

Walsh points in particular to the ‘seven deadly sins’. This is a classification of specific sins that has been used since early Christian times to educate believers about the need for a Saviour and the continuing practice of confession and repentence. The currently recognised list of these sins usually comprises wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Each will be examined in the next seven articles.

 In the meantime, as an avid cyclist, I am going to continue to pray that Lance Armstrong will come to know Jesus as his own personal Saviour. When that happens, the seven deadly sins will have no hold over him in this life or the next.

Kicking over Sacred Cows!

Kicking Over Sacred Cows

I must admit to being more than a little exercised by the furore about the discovery of horse meat in TESCO ‘everyday value beefburgers’.    In a country which is strongly sentimental about its ‘four legged friends’ I fear that the business has lost some of the ‘intelligent edge’ that made it a pretty solid investment.  While grovelling apologies were issued to its customers via newspaper adverts, poor business intelligence has probably inflicted long term damage to the TESCO brand  .

Despite the British supermarket fiasco, horse meat continues to be popular in Europe where it features regularly on the menus of restaurants in countries such as France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Iceland and Poland. Horse has been particularly popular in France since the time of the Revolution where horses belonging to the aristocracy ended up on the plates of the lower classes.

Closer to home, horse meat was a popular source of animal protein in both England and Scotland until the First World War.  According to Clarissa Dixon Wright, the cook and food writer, we Scots have more of a tradition of eating horse meat than the English. Today the discerning gastro-tourist can still find horse on the menu (pan fried rump or steak tartare) at the L’Escargot Bleu restaurant in Edinburgh.  

I have eaten and enjoyed horse. The first time was in the Belgian town of Langemark in 1989 during a school trip to the battlefields of the First World War. While I enjoyed the thin, lightly fried horse steak smothered in a pepper and caper sauce, the pupils were less than complimentary.  Most made their way post-dinner to the chip van in the town square for a portion of very thinly cut chips with mayonnaise.

Clarissa Dixon Wright reckons that given our obsession with healthy eating, the government should be promoting the consumption of horse given that the meat is full of protein, iron and omega-3 fatty acids.

The Bible has a lot to say about food, its provision and consumption, teaching that all food, plant or animal is provided by God for the sustenance of man. While the Old Testament placed restrictions on what animals could be consumed, because they were deemed to be clean or unclean, Jesus himself declared all foods to be clean.

The Apostle Paul also said that he was fully convinced that no food was unclean in itself. In other words there is no prohibition from the Bible as to what animals we should use for food today. Surely this is good news for the horsemeat aficionados.

In a recent article in the Daily Telegraph, Clarissa Dixon Wright confidently talks about her preparedness to ‘give any meat a go’. She owns up to eating badger when she was younger, describing the taste as being’ similar to wild boar’ and fondly reminisces about the ‘West Country pubs which had badger hams on the bar’ rather like the cured hams we see in Spanish country cafes today.

I do think that I have ‘catholic taste’ when it comes to good food and drink, and while I am a great fan of Clarissa’s journalistic and literary work, I draw the line at eating badger !