Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Perception is Truth

I used to have a notice on the wall in my office which read: Perception is Truth. It helped my team focus on the fact that how they are perceived by our customers, (efficient, knowledgeable, professional and so on), will implant in the customers' mind a positive image of the whole team and organisation.

It also signified that there was a notice on my wall and if you have perceived it then it is in fact there.

And that's the problem with perception. What you see, or imagine you have seen, is implanted in your mind as something that exists or has happened. The same applies with sounds. You may have heard something, a conversation in a pub or on the bus, or half-heard it, and then it plays on your mind as to whether you heard and understood it correctly or not. Especially if what you have seen or heard is so astounding and "out-of-this-world" that it challenges your own beliefs and realities.

After all, if I write something here on my Blog, who are you going to believe? Your common sense or me? Half the time I don't even believe myself what I have just written and have to check it out on the Internet to see I wrote it correctly. The other day I checked something or other on Google and it said "This is a falsehood invented by Victor S E Moubarak". Talk about your words coming back to bite you in the backside!

And the problem with perceptions is that people like to project an image of themselves that is not real at all.

Let's face it, the fashion and beauty industry have over the years encouraged such a portrayal of what is not real. Many a photo has been touched and re-touched to smooth away any wrinkles or body fat which should not be there in real life.

Whenever people describe themselves in Dating or Match-Making websites they often gloss over the unflattering truth and describe themselves better than they really are.

When as a young man I sent a dating agency one of my real life photos they returned it with a note saying: "We're not that desperate!"

Eventually I managed to get a date with a young lady through another agency. When I met the lady in question she said I did not look like the photo on the dating website. She said the photo looked as if it had been  drawn by Picasso, and added "I thought you had a cricked neck. And why in the photo do you have an ear on your forehead?"

I told her that as a fan of Star Trek this was the Final Front Ear!

She then commented that I was much shorter than I had claimed on the website. I replied that I was not that short at all but I was still far away. It was a question of perception, really.

So you see, "Perception is Truth". She had read something about me on the dating website and I was not as described in real life. Perhaps it was my fault for dating her at a badly lit restaurant ... in a back alley somewhere ... in the poor side of town.

She left without even offering to pay for half of the meal we had shared together. A hamburger and a bun can be quite expensive you know!

And that's perception, be it in a badly lit fast food outlet or in the bright light of day.

How about you? How do your family and friends perceive you?

More important. How does God perceive you? You can't fool Him you know.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Are You Happy?

Are you happy? On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being mildly happy and 10 being ecstatic with excitement and joy; where are you right now?

Humour me and just right down a number on a piece of paper.

You see, happiness is not a binary YES/NO switch whereby we are happy or not. It is relative to a point in time, and a situation in time.

We may be young and healthy, or middle-aged, or getting old and suffering the ailments brought on by age. We may be fit in mind and body, or we may be ill with many pains and forebodings. We may be in a good well-paid job, or just about managing, or unemployed.

There are many aspects that affect our scale of happiness at any given point in time in our lives. And indeed the scale is not just 1 to 10 but it could be at 0 or indeed a minus number up to -10 when we are downright miserable and in despair.

An elderly man I know, suffering from many ailments in life, whenever I contact him to check on his health he says: "there are many people worse off than me!" This is a laudable and generous attitude to have but it would not help a sick person if you told them there are others worse off than them.

When we are ill, or suffer other difficulty like unemployment or bankruptcy or marriage breakdown, our main focus in life is on ourselves. Quite naturally. The fact that there is someone else somewhere in the universe worse off does not lessen one's pain; and the fact that we are all in the same boat does not bring much consolation. Misery does not like company, I find.

So when we are in a bad place in life, and our happiness scale is sliding down perhaps into the minus figures, what do we do then? Where is our God on Whom we profess we rely?

Personally, I believe He is still there, caring and loving us as He has ever done. The fact that we are in negative figures perhaps, does not mean that He has turned away or is busy with someone else's problems. As best we can, through gritted teeth even, we should turn to Him in prayer and ask for His help; and being patient in awaiting His response. The fact that we are still praying, despite perhaps our diminishing faith, proves that we believe that there is Someone out there somewhere listening to us. Our faith is strengthened in such situations rather than diminished.

A few years back, whilst sitting on a bus, two ladies sitting behind me were chatting loudly. I was miserable about something or other. One woman behind me said to the other, "We should count our blessings, shouldn't we?"

Prompted by the conversation behind me, I started to count my blessings, and pretty soon ran out of fingers and toes on which to count.

So, let me ask you again. On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you right now? Is the figure different from the one you wrote earlier? Why?

Thursday, 26 October 2017

No Dentures

In a poor and desolate town where Father Ignatius was stationed it was evident that he would meet a lot of hardship amongst his parishioners, especially in difficult economic conditions where jobs were scarce and business closures rife.

One day a young man came to him complaining that he couldn’t get a good job and he felt a bit down because of lack of prospects at the factory where he did menial tasks.

Of course, the priest sympathized with him. It is good to see someone with ambitions wishing to better himself and get on in life. Yet, put in its true perspective, there were many others with no jobs at all and living literally in poverty.

Father Ignatius wished to convey this message to the young man, but he had to do it gently and without being critical of someone hoping to improve a bad circumstance.

He sat down on his chair behind his desk and looked at the young man in the face for a second or two and then asked:

“Have you got all your own teeth?”

The young man was taken aback at this unexpected and somewhat irrelevant question.

“Ehm … yes …” he mumbled.

“All your teeth hein?” repeated the priest, “no false teeth or dentures?”

“Yes …” said the man.

“That’s good … Just like me” said Father Ignatius pensively, “I have all my own teeth. No false ones. I’ve been lucky that way!”

After a few moments of silence the young man asked, “What has that to do with what we were talking about Father?”

“Oh … I was just thinking …” remarked Father Ignatius, “there’s plenty of talk about grinding and gnashing of teeth in the Bible.

“I wondered what would happen to those people with no teeth. Would they get given dentures do you think?”

The young man was now more puzzled than ever and thought the priest was perhaps getting a little senile.

Father Ignatius smiled and asked “Are you in good health?”

“Yes I am …” said the man emphatically.

“In good health … and doing a menial job at the factory! It’s good to want to improve yourself. You live in a rented apartment do you not?”

“Yes I do … not far from the church!” said the man.

“Oh yes … I forgot,” said the priest, “and you go regularly to church too. That’s good. And you help with the Youth Club we run here. That’s very commendable you know.”

The young man smiled.

“Let’s try to recap,” said Father Ignatius gently, “you’re young, fit and healthy too, you live in an apartment nearby, work at the factory on the East side of town, doing menial jobs as you say … You go to church … A good Catholic lad I suppose … I also know you have a red bicycle. I’ve seen you cycle to church. And you help with our youth work … And to top it all you have all your own teeth … mustn’t forget the teeth!”

The young man smiled again as he understood what the priest was saying.

“You see …” continued Father Ignatius, “life is very hard for many people these days. And I don’t decry your wish to do better for yourself. That’s very laudable.

“But when we pray to God, let us thank Him for what we have rather than bemoan what we haven’t!

“He knows our situation and He’ll certainly take care of us.”

The young man went away much wiser than he came and very grateful for his lot.


Sunday, 22 October 2017

The flute

Today in church, for no apparent reason, unless it was just to annoy me, there was a lady in the choir playing the flute. You know the one I mean? A wooden tube about 12 inches long with a lot of holes in it and you blow at one end to produce the most horrendous of sounds. Silent was the usual musical organ, and the occasional guitars we have every few Sundays. Today it was just that woman with a flute accompanied by a choir singing like a load of amorous cats on heat at night. I am sure God did not deserve such a cacophony.

When I got home I searched the Internet for the origin of the flute. Apparently, it dates thousands of years and in very ancient times it was a favourite amongst shepherds who used to play it at night to pass away the time whilst guarding their sheep. Unfortunately, as the shepherds played their flutes rather badly, a bit like the woman in the choir today, the sheep thought that he had a lung obstruction which made him wheeze as he breathed, so they all bleated in sympathy. Consequently, their bleating attracted the wolves from far and wide who thought there was a self-service restaurant serving nice lamb for free.

It took quite some time for the slow-witted shepherds to make the connection that their flute playing made the sheep bleat which in turn invited the wolves for dinner. So the practice of shepherds playing the flute eventually died away.

However, this was not the case in church today. That woman was determined to ruin everyone of my favourite hymns as she screeched out of tune making God reach out for the headache tablets.

Perhaps next week I should bring a few sheep to church to supplement the out-of-tune choir.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Answer Is Blowing In The Wind

I went to the library with Auntie Gertrude, a relative from Australia who is staying with us for a (long) while.

I sat at a table with a couple of volumes which I needed for my research work and started making notes quietly. Auntie Gertrude sat next to me reading a magazine. A few minutes later a small man came at the table and sat beside her with a few books which he started reading and making cross-references in his notebook.

A few minutes later he turned to Aunt Gertrude and said “Do you realize that all the time I’ve been sitting here 500 square miles of rain forest have been destroyed?”

Without batting an eyelid Auntie replied “Then I suggest you don’t sit here cobber!”

“Are you interested in the environment?” he asked her.

“I’m interested in a quiet environment in which to read my magazine in peace” she replied somewhat harshly.

“Do you want to save Mother Earth?” he continued enthusiastically not having taken her point to heart. Before she could reply the man continued, “Take births and deaths for instance …” he said. “Births and deaths … it’s a question of balancing the two … Do you realize that every time I breathe in and out someone in the world dies?”

“You should try a different mouth-wash mate!” replied Auntie as quick as a flash. I smiled inwardly and said nothing. She is well able to fight her own battles and for once her attention was not directed at me.

He ignored her and proceeded with another fact “Every 30 seconds or so a woman gives birth to a new baby!”

“Someone should stop her before she gets too exhausted,” Auntie Gertrude retorted in her Australian accent, “now if you don’t mind I’d like to continue reading.”

On our way home in the car Aunt Gertrude commented that she was reading an article about the environment and saving the planet whilst we were in the library. She told me of plans to build a wind power facility somewhere and the inhabitants were protesting against wind turbines being erected in their locality.

“Why do you think they’d do that cobber?” she asked.

I explained that wind turbines tend to spoil the view, especially in the countryside; to which she promptly replied without thinking, “Why don’t they bring them out at night when there’s no one there and take them away in the morning?”

I was struggling for a diplomatic polite answer when she continued, “Either that or disguise them as windmills. Everyone likes windmills; they are so romantic.”

I smiled and said nothing.

“We should also harness solar power,” she continued, “that and wave power, in fact any movement can be harnessed to make electricity.”

I nodded as I drove on.

“Can you imagine,” she said “if everyone wore a hat with a solar panel on top we’d be gathering electricity everywhere we go. We could also fit people with a movement contraption and whenever they walked they'd produce electricity.”

“That’s good,” I smiled thinking of windmills, “and how about getting some wind power from people?”

“Oh, you produce enough of that all by yourself cobber!” she retorted with a laugh.


Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Owl

There once was a wise old owl
Who just refused to fly
Claiming flying hazards
Made it unsafe so he could die.

He thought that wind turbines
Going round and round and round
Upset his delicate hearing
With their unheard kind of sound.

The bright lights in the city
The towns and the countryside
Shone brightly both day and night
Upsetting his big bright eyes.

The smoke from every chimney
And the fumes from every car
Polluting his every senses
As he flew both near and far.

So this learned wise old owl
Walked on foot just everywhere
Avoiding all flying hazards 
And got run over by a bus.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Are you invited to Jesus' Wedding?

In Matthew Chapter 22:1-14 Jesus tells a parable about a king preparing a wedding feast for his son. He invites many guests who do not turn up, so eventually, he invites all the people his servants can find in the streets until the wedding hall is full of guests.

In this story, the King is God. And His Son getting married is Jesus; marrying His Church here on earth - this means everyone, you and I included.

We are all invited to God's Kingdom, but many don't answer the call.

At the end of this parable there's an intriguing bit. The king enters the hall and sees a man not wearing wedding clothes. He is angry with him and gets him tied up and thrown out into the street.

Now this seems rather harsh treatment for someone not wearing the right clothes. Until we stop and understand Jewish tradition.

Jesus was talking to the Jews who understood very well that there are special clothes to wear at weddings. Almost every family had such special clothes in case they were invited to a wedding; even the poor would either have such clothes or borrow some. No one would dare go to a wedding without special clothes. Even more important, traditionally the host of the wedding also provided special garments for those who did not have any, so they can borrow them for the occasion. So it was more offensive to the king for this guest to wear no garment.

This guest in the parable just did not bother; he showed disrespect to the king and his son; and was thus thrown out.

But how about us? What are our special clothes for our entry into God's Kingdom in Heaven?

Our wedding clothes are our good deeds here on earth. Whatever we do for anyone in need, however small, constitutes our wedding clothes.

It is just not enough to spend a lifetime on our knees praying, or going to church, if our deeds are far from what is expected of us as followers of Christ.

Jesus said, "Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter the Kingdom of God, but only those who do what my Father wants them to do". Matthew 7:21.

In other words ... action not words.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Barbie and me

When I was a little boy I used to play with a Barbie doll.

OK ... that didn't sound very good, did it? Let's try again.

When I was a little boy I used to play with my sister's Barbie doll. I used to take it from her without her knowledge and play with it in my room.

That still did not sound right.

Let me explain. I preferred the Barbie doll to any other doll because it was a grown up doll with all the right bumps and curves. I used to sit her on a chair and play board games with her. I also had a Teddy Bear called Carrot which also sat with Barbie and I and played board games.

We used to play Ludo, Snakes and Ladders (Chutes and Ladders), Monopoly and other such games.

Of course, Barbie could not move the counters on the board so I did it for her. She used to get excited and say in my squeaky voice "Do I get to throw the dice again now I got a six?"

She wasn't very good at grammar because the singular for dice is die, not dice. I was clever that way. Carrot used to look on silently with disdain at a child playing board games with an inanimate object such as a doll.

Sometimes Barbie won the game because she got better numbers when the die was cast, and she bargained well when we played Monopoly. But I always beat her at Chess. She often made silly moves and lost valuable pieces that way. Carrot did not participate because he did not like chess.

My father caught me once playing with Barbie in my room. He said, "What are you doing with your sister's doll? Play with your own toys!"

But it was not easy playing board games with my tank or military vehicles. I could wind-up my tank with a little key and then it would move across the Monopoly board and destroy all the lovely properties I had there.

So when I gave Barbie back to my sister I made my own toy out of the cardboard tube you get inside a toilet paper roll. I drew a head, a body with arms and legs on the tube and sat it where Barbie used to sit. I called this new friend Ferret because he reminded me of my Maths teacher at school who looked like a ferret. Carrot thought it was funny but kept a straight face.

Of course, I never told my teacher that I had a toilet roll named after him.

The Ferret in my room was totally witless and without a brain. Being a cardboard tube I could see right through him. And he was easily replaceable by another cardboard tube any time.

A sad reflection of modern society, I think. A lesson learnt at an early age.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

A question of faith of fear

Is faith the result of fear of the consequences if we do not have faith? Or is it somehow a self-generated product of our determination to believe without any tangible proof or evidence?

If faith is a gift or grace bestowed upon us by God; then are those with little or no faith to blame for their situation? Who takes the first step in faith? The individual or God by giving them faith to start with?

If faith could be measured … … … Jesus said if we had faith as much as a mustard seed we could perform miracles … … … if faith could be measured, and since none of us can perform miracles like those recorded in the Bible, does it imply perhaps that we do not have faith, or not enough?

Why is it that some people have faith so weak that they stumble again and again when things get rough, (and I admire their persistence in this rather than giving up), whilst others have a faith so strong that it withstands, and indeed increases, with every calamity in their lives? Is this of their own doing or are they given Divine help to maintain and increase their faith?

But let’s go back to the original question. If someone has a smidgen of faith, and closes his eyes tightly and wills himself to believe even though he does not understand fully; he just does it because of fear of “going to hell”; is his faith somehow deficient and tainted because of its motivation? Or is it just as welcome by God?

Peter had faith when he attempted to walk on water. But when his faith was soon deflected he began to sink. He had faith and courage when he withdrew his sword and hit one of those who came to arrest Jesus. But that faith soon evaporated when he denied knowing Christ a few moments later. Thomas had faith when he followed Christ for years and, like the other disciples, witnessed His many miracles. Yet he too put aside all his faith and let doubts cloud his judgement and beliefs. No doubt other disciples and followers of Jesus started with a modicum of faith which soon deserted them when the going got rough. Like those people who could not understand Jesus when He said that unless they eat His flesh and drink His blood they will not have eternal life. They soon got up and stopped following Christ.

Of course, no one has questioned the disciples original motivation when their faith led them to leave their previous life and follow Jesus just because He asked them too. Was it curiosity that led them to do so? Was it a deep rooted personal belief as they saw Him preach and perform miracles? Or was it because they feared the consequences had they decided not to follow Jesus and His teachings?

And that, I suppose is the nub of the question. One’s motivation to have faith.

If a person meets St Peter face to face at the Pearly Gates, and the records show on the Saint’s computer that this individual had faith all his life because he feared going to hell. Would the Saint let him in all the same; or send him down without a parachute?

Monday, 9 October 2017

Forest Picnic

Last summer our young priest thought it a good idea to take some youngsters, aged between 16 and 20 from under-privileged families, for a day out in the forest at the edge of town. The idea was to go out on Saturday, have a picnic lunch and return early evening about 5 o’clock in time for evening Mass.

Somehow, he managed to convince me and a few other adults to go with him and help with supervision and also to provide transport there and back.

We arrived at the forest at about 9 in the morning and we parked our cars on the edge of the forest. Everyone was excited and well prepared. They all carried haversacks filled with all sorts of picnic foods and drinks, and cameras, binoculars and all kind of other things that are considered necessary for a day out in the forest. They were all dressed appropriately of course. Shorts were the order of the day and big thick boots and hats. Even the young priest did away with his white collar and wore a multi-colored open necked shirt and a large hat.

I wore an old pair of khaki short trousers I use when gardening and I brought with me my large cowboy-type hat; the one with the large feather. I had an open necked shirt, so no need for the turquoise bow tie with pink flowers!

I brought with me some sandwiches and small drink in a plastic bag, and most important of all six large bars of chocolate. You need chocolates when out for a long walk; it helps keep your sugar levels well under control if you get tired. Six bars should be enough so I can share them around with the rest of the group.

To save me carrying the chocolates in the bag I put them in the back pockets of my khaki shorts. Three bars in each back pocket. They fitted perfectly.

They all moved eagerly ahead into the forest with the priest leading the way and a few adults interspersed every now and then. I chose to be the last one in the long queue of people, which would give me an opportunity to stop and take a rest every now and then. I’m not into long walks, especially in the forest.

On and on they walked and they sang as they walked. “Sing Halleluiah to the Lord … Our God reigns … Seek ye first the Kingdom of God …” and several other hymns led by the priest at the front and echoed by the rest all the way back to me.

Pleasant it was. But tiring too! Where exactly were we heading? Searching for Dr Livingston or the treasures of the Inca?

It was getting hot … very hot under a punishing sun which you don’t often get around here. Even the feather in my hat was the worst for wear.

After what seemed miles of walking I felt a trickle down my legs. I stopped and to my horror discovered that the six bars of chocolates had melted soaking my short trousers and dripping away leaving a tell-tale track of brown behind me.

I felt my face go red as panic set in.

What am I to do? I pulled out the empty wrappers of chocolates from my pockets, for that is all that was left … empty wrappers. Each bar was 600 grams; so that’s more than three kilos of chocolates melted down my pants and on my legs with embarrassing visual results that would be almost impossible to explain away.

I tried to wipe as much as possible with my handkerchief which soon became soaked anyway and of no use. I hid the handkerchief under some leaves and forest debris. No point in putting it back in my pocket is there?

I scraped as much of the chocolate off my legs but they still looked embarrassingly brown, as indeed was the back of my trousers.

I could see the rest of the gang well away in the distance. I must catch up with them if I’m not to get lost.

I took off my jacket and wrapped it round my waist by the sleeves just like trendy people do when they pretend they are hot. Well … I was hot all right … with embarrassment, panic and fear of getting lost.

I hurried and caught up with the rest of the team just as they were settling down in the woods for a picnic lunch.

I whistled nonchalantly as I arrived and sat on a log some distance away so as not to over-power them with the sweet aroma of melted chocolate.

The young priest said “Grace” and they all started eating their picnics.

Now, why is it when things go wrong for me they continue to go wrong?

As I sat there considering how best to hide my situation for the rest of the day I heard an ominous buzz around me. I’d inadvertently sat on a wasps nest in a hollow in the tree trunk I was on.

Now … they have the whole forest in which to nest … why choose this particular tree trunk?

Pretty soon I was up on my feet and dancing in a panic, tapping on my buttocks and legs as I did so.

Wasps up your short trousers are no fun I tell you.

Everyone stopped eating and turned to me wondering what I was up to. Then they realized and a few adults came to my rescue shooing away the wasps with their hats and napkins.

Once the wasps had gone a pleasant young lady helper offered me her chair and the young priest got me a drink of white wine from his haversack to calm my nerves.

The young lady saw me shivering and said I was in shock. I should take the jacket off my waist and wear it to keep warm.

Well … I could hardly do that? Could I?

The sight of my chocolate stained brown trousers would have sent her into shock as well!

I sat there calmly for the rest of the day and when it was time to go home one of the men helpers offered to drive my car back as I was not in a state to drive … so they said. Although they did not know the real reason why!

Needless to say, I did not join them to Saturday evening Mass but drove straight home for a quick shower and change of clothing.

I hate chocolates. I hate picnics. And I hate forests. Wasps too!

Tuesday, 3 October 2017


Fried fish wrapped in bacon

Served cold with boiled rice

Raspberry sauce and chocolate

Make up gourmets’ delight

A constipated owl

Hooting whilst he roams

Bearing the pain bravely

Of irritable owl syndrome

Then I composed a song

But forgot all the words

I focussed on the music

And then lost all the chords

I close my eyes and think of you

Spaghetti served with cheese

Caressing all my senses

Like a sweet summer’s breeze

The poor owl is still hooting

In the recesses of my mind

Just hand me some more bacon

But cut away the rind

Forsooth sayth the soothsayer

As he shaves another layer

Of crab cake with maple syrup

To the owl wrapped in gauze

If all that doesn’t clear you

Then nothing for ever will

He sayth to the happy owl

Who’s now no longer ill.

Moral: Don’t have cheese and port before bedtime.
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