Sunday, 29 June 2014

Who do you think I am?

In Matthew Chapter 16 verse 13 onwards we read that Jesus asked His disciples "Who do you say I am?"

Peter answered quite rightly, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God".

I now ask you "Who do you think you are?"

I am not asking you for your name, the name of your parents, or your family lineage. I am not asking you whether you are male or female, single, married, divorced, separated or in partnership with anyone. Whether you are a parent or uncle, aunt or whatever. I am not even asking you whether you are a doctor, nurse, lawyer, carpenter or whatever your job may be; if you have one.

I am asking you "Who do you think you are?"

Do you really know yourself? To know oneself deeply and fully we should consider "what makes us tick". What is it that makes us who we are, or what we have become as we grew up, or are still growing up.

We are all the product of our background, environment, parentage, up-bringing and a variety of other factors that make us what we are now. But have we ever taken the time to consider how these factors have affected us and made us what we are today?

Take for instance our opinions on any subject. Our views. Our prejudices (for we all have them no matter what we lead others to believe). Our fears real or imagined. Are these all of our own making or are they pre-set opinions or views we have heard or learnt from others and adapted them to suit our own beliefs and requirements?

How many of our views and opinions are indeed logically assessed and formulated by us as opposed to following someone else's views?

Let's go back to the Scripture quoted above. If Jesus challenged us and asked "Who do you say I am?" What would our honest, no hesitation, response be?

And if He asked "Who do you think you are?" What would our answer be?

Whatever our opinion of ourselves may be, or whatever or whoever we think we are. One think is for sure. We are all the Creations of God. Indeed we are the sons and daughters of God.

Why else would we call Him Father when we recite the Lord's prayer?

Friday, 27 June 2014

My real bad times.

A lot of people who laugh and smile at my humourous posts think that I am always cheerful and jovial. Perhaps so ... but is it a facade?

Believe me ... I've had bad times ... real bad times ...

I remember years ago when my wife went to look after an elderly relative all of a sudden and I was left at home alone with four children aged 7 and below.

I had a lot of work to do and a report which needed writing and e-mailed to the office as soon as possible if not earlier. I did not have time to do any shopping and there was very little food in the house. The kids were hungry and I did not know what to feed them. They'd had enough of sandwiches and they wanted something warm inside them.

I put the children in the car and decided to drive to town. We could go shopping or we could go for their favorite take away.

It started raining heavily. The car would not start. Try as I may I could not get the engine to start.

In desperation, I decided to get the children back in the house and phone for pizzas to be delivered.

As soon as I opened the car door the dog ran out of the car and into near by fields. I called him back. He ignored me and ran faster into the rain. I was getting drenched. Soaked all over.

I shut the car door and started walking towards the field calling for my dog to come back. I did not intend to go so far away from the children still in the car.

A few steps away and my shoe got stuck in the heavy mud underfoot. I tried to pull it out and the heel from my shoe came off altogether leaving a gaping hole in my shoe letting in even more water.

That's when I sat there on the muddy ground, took out my guitar, and started singing:
You picked a fine time to leave me loose heel
With four hungry children
And a dog in the field.
I've had some bad times
Lived through some sad times
But this time your hurtin' won't heal.
You picked a fine time to leave me loose heel.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

London Nights

Why is it that people jump to the wrong conclusion when they see me dressed in my usual attire?

Some time ago I went to London to stay with friends and I was told that one of them goes out at night with members of his church to go to London parks and feed the poor and the down-and-outs.

Would I like to join them?

On the day in question a van from his church called at his house and he and I and two others drove into London just before 10 o’clock at night.

We parked the van by the roadside and it broke my heart to see literally dozens of people sitting on the wet grass waiting our arrival.
“Word soon gets around” I was told “they tell each other that we’re here by around 10 and every time we come there’s more of them!”

“There’s another van parked a hundred yards away” I said.

“Yes … it’s another church. We’re glad they come too because we couldn’t cope on our own!”

I was given a big box full or pre-wrapped sandwiches which the ladies in church had prepared and I walked by the park edge handing them out as the vagrants got up and went to the van for a hot drink.

By the time I had emptied my box of sandwiches I had reached the other van from the other church.

“Hello … you are new here” said a middle-aged lady from near her van “I haven’t seen you before!”

“Yes … this is my first time here …” I smiled back.

“Would you like a sandwich?” she asked “and a cup of soup? We have chicken and tomatoes, which do you prefer?”

“Oh no …” I smiled, “I don’t need anything to eat … thanks!”

“Do sit down …” she interrupted, “the chicken soup is hot and tasty … I made it myself!”

Before I could answer she was joined by another lady who said “He’s probably shy, Mary! It’s very difficult for some of them to accept our help.”

I was about to explain when Mary interrupted again “You look very cold my dear … this jacket you’re wearing has seen better days … we have a spare coat in the van … about your size I should say … let me get it …”

“No … no … you don’t understand” I protested with a smile hiding the insult at my authentic 12 years old tweed jacket, “I am not one of the poor people. I came here to help with my friend from another church!”

“Now you’ve embarrassed him …” said the other lady to Mary, “either that, or the poor man is hallucinating … it happens when they’ve been drinking … does he smell of drink?”

I’ll have you know dear readers that I do not smell of drink but always of the best after-shave lotion I can buy for a few pennies down the market. This farce had got on too far and it was time I put these two lovely well-meaning ladies straight.

“Look ladies …” I said calmly yet authoritatively, “believe it or not, I am not here to ask for food or drink or clothing. I came with my friend from another church to help feed these poor people. I came in the van parked … parked … over … there!!!

“Where has the van gone? Where’s my friend and the other two people from his church? Did you see them leave?”

“Never mind …” said Mary in her sweet voice, “sit down here and try this soup and sandwich … I’ll go get you the coat!”

As she left I told the other woman, “I don’t know what’s going on. My friend is from St Bartholomew church. Do you know it?

“He’s gone and left me stranded here … can you help me please and give me a lift in your van to his house? It’s near the church.”

“Oh no …” she replied, “we’re not allowed to take passengers in our van. It’s only for us to come here and serve food …”

She walked away hurriedly and stopped Mary who was coming towards us with a coat. They both moved towards the van at speed. A man came out of the van towards me and said “Here friend … I have something for you …” and handed me two sandwiches.

He then jumped in the van and they drove off.

I gave the two sandwiches to two men sitting nearby and hurried as quickly as my legs would carry me towards the main road where I stopped a taxi and went home.

“Why did you drive off and leave me?” I asked.

“We thought you’d gone into town to see the London sites” was the jovial unperturbed reply.

“But … but … I was wearing my cowboy hat with a large feather in it … clearly visible from afar … what do you want me to do? Put on a flashing light on top so you can see it from miles away?????”
This story is dedicated to someone I know who does a lot of good work feeding the poor at night in London.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Father Ignatius in London

Father Ignatius got out of the London Underground at Oxford Circus station. It took him a minute or two to find his bearings, and then he turned to his trusted A to Z of London Streets.

He consulted his book for a few minutes and then looked at his watch. As he had plenty of time before his appointment he decided to tour around for a while. It was such a long time since he last visited the Capital, and no doubt much had changed since, so he decided to enjoy the next hour or so. He headed for Regent Street, then Bond Street, and aimed in the general direction of Park Lane getting in and out of various connecting streets in the process.

“This is certainly the opulent part of London,” he thought, as he admired the luxurious shops, restaurants and caf├ęs. He did a bit of window shopping and was astounded at the prices they were asking for a variety of goods and gifts he’d never believed existed, never mind wanted or needed.

“Would anyone pay that much for a watch?” he asked himself outside a jeweler’s. He looked twice to make sure they had the decimal point in the right place. Yes … that’s the right price for sure. He shuddered at the thought of carrying a fortune on his wrist.

He witnessed many chauffeur-driven posh cars and limousines drive by, or stop outside various buildings and bejeweled ladies and rich men walk out.

“This is so different from my poor little town,” he mused, “one bracelet or necklace could feed several poor old folks in my Parish for a month.”

And by coincidence his thoughts of poverty turned to reality when he noticed at a corner in a side street two men in dirty tattered clothes huddling together, sitting on the ground, near an air vent at the back of a building. They were trying to keep warm by absorbing whatever heat came out from the dirty black grille low on the wall.

By their state of unconsciousness it was obvious they had been drinking cheap hard cider mixed with methylated spirit; a favorite brew leading to quick oblivion for the down-and-outs, he had once been told by someone who’d come begging at St Vincent Church.

The sight of extreme poverty living side by side with such wealth reminded Him of Christ’s story of the rich man and Lazarus at his gate.

Eventually he reached his destination and asked the concierge at the door of a splendid building for Miss Strickland.

“You must be Father Ignatius,” said the man wearing an immaculate uniform.

Father Ignatius was impressed as he was led to the elevator and taken to the top floor. He was asked to wait in a palatial room with a large mahogany table and chairs in the middle. The walls were decorated with genuine masterpieces. Above him hung three large magnificent crystal chandeliers which would have required their own power station to keep them lit.The floor was covered with the most luxurious thick carpet he'd ever seen or stood upon. He looked around and wondered at the fortune which surrounded him from everywhere.

Minutes later a tall beautiful American woman came in.

“Ignatius dear …” she said softly as she hugged him tightly and kissed him on the cheek.

Still standing close beside him she held his hands gently in her hands and said nothing for a short while; she then raised his right hand to her lips and kissed it before letting go. It was then that the priest noticed her eyes welling up, yet she retained full control of her emotions. He said nothing. And those few moments of total silence spoke volumes to the two of them.

“Let’s sit down,” she said breaking the silence as she pulled a couple of chairs from the table, “it’s been a long time …”

It had been a long time indeed. Father Ignatius had first met Genevieve Strickland in London when they studied together at University. They had fallen in love and became very close friends.

They never told anyone of their feelings for each other because at the time Ignatius was fighting his own personal secret battle. He loved her dearly and yet somehow … deep inside within him, he knew that this love was not meant to be.

Eventually he summoned the courage to tell her that he’d decided to go to Rome and study for the priesthood.

It was literally a heart-breaking farewell when they parted. A farewell which shaped those two young lives all those years ago, and set them in totally different directions.

“It’s so nice to see you again Ignatius after all these years,” she said with a smile to ease the tension a little.

Father Ignatius smiled back gently and said nothing.

“Do you work here Genevieve?” he asked finally, wondering why she had written to him asking for an urgent meeting after such a long time.

He hadn’t seen her for a lifetime, yet she retained her youthful beauty just as he remembered her from their days as young students. Her lovely smile radiant as ever and her beautiful deep blue eyes reminiscent of holidays they’d spent together by the sea in Southern France.

“No, I don't work here … I own the whole company,” she replied timidly.

Father Ignatius said nothing, stunned as he was by that reply. Genevieve, his Genevieve from years gone by, now owns this well-known famous brand name. How could it be?

She told him that she had stayed in London after they parted all those years ago, and got a job in the City and then decided to work for herself. To cut a long story short, one success led to another and she was now worth a fortune.

“I am very happy for you,” said Father Ignatius.

“I have decided to stop working Ignatius,” she continued, “and to return home to America. I will leave the business in the hands of a good friend of mine who will manage it for me.

“You must be wondering why I asked you to meet me Ignee …” she went on with a laugh.

“Do you remember I used to call you Ignee? I believe you didn’t like it much …”

He smiled gently.

“Anyway … back to business,” she said pretending to be serious.

“First of all I wanted to meet you one more time before I move to the States. I did not want to leave Britain after all these years here and not see you one more time. I doubt that I’ll ever return here again.

“It’s so sweet and kind of you to agree to meet again.

“Second, I wanted to let you know that I have set up a Trust Fund for you Ignatius.

“It will pay you a nice sum every month for life rising every year in line with inflation … I have all the paperwork sorted out and my lawyers are waiting next door ready for you to sign.”

He was totally dumbfounded by what he had just heard. She smiled sweetly and said nothing.

“Thank you …” he mumbled quietly after a pause which seemed to last an eternity, “that’s very generous Genevieve, but I can’t possibly accept ... I am a priest now, and I really lack nothing … I don’t want to sound ungrateful … I vowed long ago …”

She moved slightly forward in her chair and put her hand gently on his mouth to stop him talking. After a short pause she moved back …

“Listen Ignatius … please hear me out,” her lips trembled slightly, “I hope you’ll understand me …

“When you left me for Rome all those years ago it really broke my heart. I did let you go; to follow your calling as you said at the time. But I really never got over it.

“I cursed and hated God for taking you away from me. I understood your decision to become a priest, but I never accepted it. I stopped going to church and to put it bluntly God and I just parted company.

“Once you left I looked for a job here in London and concentrated all my energies on work. I’ve done well of course but after all these years and all my wealth my one regret is that you were never with me to share my success.

“I have more than I’ll ever need.

“My gift to you is perhaps my way of making peace with God. Please accept it Ignatius.

“You may not need the money for yourself, but please take it and use it for whatever good you think it can do. Do it for me as a special favor Ignatius.”

At this moment Father Ignatius saw those two tramps huddled together in the cold London street by the hotel grille.

He accepted her generous gift and signed the papers witnessed by her legal team. She took him by chauffeur driven limousine to one of London’s most famous restaurants for lunch and then to a tour of the Capital visiting many old places they used to frequent.

And now … years later, the poor folks in his Parish are still benefiting from her legacy to the kind old priest who kept the flame burning in her heart.

She lives in America and writes to him once a year to wish him a Merry Christmas.

NOTE: Please listen to this song by another priest whom I know well.


Have you seen the old man
In the closed-down market
Kicking up the papers,
with his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride
And held loosely at his side
Yesterday's papers telling yesterday's news

So how can you tell me you're lonely,
And say for you that the sun don't shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something to make you change your mind

Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the streets of London
Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?
She's no time for talking,
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her world in two carrier bags.


In the all night cafe
At a quarter past eleven,
Same old man is sitting there on his own
Looking at the world
Over the rim of his tea-cup,
Each tea last an hour
And he wanders home alone


And have you seen the old man
Outside the seaman's mission
Memory fading with
The medal ribbons that he wears.
In our winter city,
The rain cries a little pity
For one more forgotten hero
And a world that doesn't care


Thursday, 12 June 2014

Father Ignatius Remembers

Father Ignatius was certainly the product of his up-bringing.

Raised in a poor family who had known real hardship; yet at the same time a family held together, despite all the turmoil that life threw at them, by a common bond of mutual love and basic Christian principles.

It’s because of his up-bringing, and because he grew up with very little materially, that he developed a habit of frugality and saving whatever he could rather than wasting it away.

He had taken a private vow of poverty when he became a priest, and since then he spent as little as possible on himself. He was not mean in the sense of avarice since anything he had, or whatever else came his way in terms of money or goods, he eagerly shared with the poor in his parish.

The little he kept for himself was usually either books or certain items he had collected over the years and kept for their sentimental value.

One Friday afternoon he decided to clear up the spare room of personal items he had not used for ages. He decided to donate them to the rummage sale in aid of the elderly.

As he was searching through a box full of books he found an old vinyl record; the old 45 rpm type record, black in color in a torn paper sleeve. He looked at the title of the song and sat down on a nearby chair.

Suddenly, the memories came flooding fast. He held the record in his shaking hand, as tears welled up in his eyes. He hadn’t seen nor played it for years, yet here it was, like a ghost from years long past, awakening distant memories so long forgotten.

He remembered how, as a child, he had saved all his pocket money, and went to the music store after school to buy this particular record as a birthday present for his dear father. Now departed.

The song was quite popular then.

He remembered his father’s reaction when he opened the brown paper bag and pulled out the shiny black vinyl record.

His parental eyes welled up too all those years ago, the same as Father Ignatius’ eyes are welling up right now.

His father placed the record on the table and said nothing. He just held little Ignatius tightly in his strong arms and kissed his head gently. Ignatius was held so tight that he could hear his father’s heart beating in his chest.

He could hear it beating right now, as he sat there holding the record in his shaking hand. And strangely as it may seem, the experience also brought to mind the sweet smell of cooking as they all gathered there as a family in the kitchen that cold winter evening.

His mother moved towards the table, leaving for a moment the food on the stove, and picked up the record.

“How lovely …” she said as she read the title.

She too then hugged little Ignatius as tightly as she could.

The priest remembered that that particular day was the first and only time he had seen his father cry. Silently, he had wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and quietly said: “Thank you … son”.

He was a big strong man, not given to much emotions or small talk. He had probably invented the British stiff upper lip and kept his feelings well hidden within himself. Usually silent at the best of times; mumbling the odd “yes dear …” whenever his wife asked him something. A gentle giant in every respect.

His father had known extreme poverty and hardship throughout his life, having lived through the depression and economic crisis.

Father Ignatius recalled how his father told him that many a time, when he was a child during the depression, he had gone to bed at night with nothing to eat; because there was simply no food in the house. Those were terrible times indeed, as his father often recalled.

He remembered that his father had worked the land from the age of eleven, leaving school with little or no education. It was the done thing in those days, to work hard at an early age to help the family beat off starvation.

And in later years, as young Ignatius was growing up, his father still continued to work hard on the farm to bring enough food to feed his family. His mother too, took on washing to earn a few pennies to supplement the family budget.

Yet despite their impoverished state Ignatius never had to go hungry, as his father did before him; and he was always well dressed and cared for by his parents.

He wondered about all the sacrifices his parents must have made, and how much they had gone without, to ensure that Ignatius lacked nothing as he grew up.

Father Ignatius then brought to mind the day when, as a young man, he built up the courage to tell his parents after the evening meal that he had decided he wished to become a priest.

How he had feared their reaction on hearing the news.

Although they were a good Christian family, he often suspected that his father wanted him to take over the small farm he had built up over the years. How would he react to the news that his son would not follow in his footsteps as a farmer?

“Mom … dad … I’ve been thinking and praying about this for a while. I want to become a priest …” were the opening words to an announcement that he dreaded making.

His father just smiled gently and said: “Son … I am proud of you.”

Father Ignatius could hear those words ringing in his ears, as clear as if they’d just been spoken; and he sobbed gently as he remembered his parents now both in Paradise. No doubt looking down on him, and hopefully still proud of him.

He said a silent prayer as he wiped his eyes with his handkerchief.

He then went to his room and put the record on the turntable and one more time let the lyrics come to life.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

History - A load of old bones


I had reason to visit our local suburban museum the other day. As I have been accused by some to being somewhat uncultured I decided to spend an hour or so looking around and educating myself in matters which will stand me in good stead in future cultured surroundings.

Here’s what I learnt:

In a large room at the museum there was a collection of various dinosaurs’ skeletons big and small with unpronounceable names such as leptospirosis and tri-cycle-steps; and they all had small labels with the dates of their various ages. One skeleton had no label so I asked the attendant in that room how old it was.

He replied with confidence “It is 230 million years and 9 months and 3 weeks old, Sir.”

“That’s very precise,” I said in amazement.

“Yes Sir,” he said, “I have been working here for 9 months and 3 weeks and it was 230 million years old when I started.”

Now that’s something I didn’t know.

I then moved on to another room which had a lot of human skeletons and different bone parts collected from various places in the world. On a table there were two skulls – a small one and a larger one. The labels both read “Skull of Ivan Eyefull - Marco Polo’s bodyguard”.

I asked the attendant to explain and he told me that one skull belonged to the bodyguard when he was a child and the other when he was a grown man.

It was fortunate that both were found by the same archaeologist in the same excavations in the desert where Marco Polo had a picnic and his bodyguard choked on a fishbone stuck in his throat.

I was amazed at what archaeologists can learn from just a pile of bones. They must be really clever with all their knowledge and research.

The museum attendant, who had knowledge written all over him, (some jokers had done it with permanent ink), told me a story I'll never forget ... You'll probably never forget it too.

He said that an archaeologist was digging in the Negev Desert in Israel and came upon a casket containing a mummy. After opening it carefully he recognised it straight away and he phoned the curator of a prestigious natural history museum. "We've just discovered a 3,000 year old mummy of a man who died of heart failure!" 
The curator of the museum quickly sent a team to collect the mummy for thorough examination.

A week later, the amazed curator called the archaeologist. "You were right about the mummy's age and cause of death. How in the world did you know it was heart failure?"

"Simple ... there was a piece of paper in his hand that said - 'put me down for 10,000 Shekels on Goliath'."

I also discovered something else when visiting our local museum:

Statistics of marriages and divorces over the years show that archaeologists make the best spouses. The older you get the more interested they are in you.