Is the Pope Catholic? Blog 16 – 2018

“They are letting too many ‘Protties’ into the school!” the elderly lady confided. I smiled and made some remark like “Do you think so?” It was the late seventies and we were attending a function at St Paul’s, a small, Roman Catholic school just across the road from where we lived. Because I was on the school committee I guess she thought I was a Roman Catholic. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was one of the offenders, but shared it with her daughter later. The Government school in the area was large and overcrowded and I had been thrilled to discover St Paul’s did indeed take protestant children.

Actually, regarding being a protestant my Salvation Army mum always used to infer we didn’t even rank that title as we were really ‘non conformists’. I have subsequently learned that if we are Christians we are actually all members of the catholic (universal) church. Whether Protestant, non conformist or Roman Catholic.

When Pope Francis was ordained we couldn’t resist making a fuss of our friend Francis and his lovely wife Meryl as they walked into church that next Sunday. Good morning Your Holiness I greeted with a mock bow so that I might kiss his ring. Francis (aka Pastor Frank Watson) is still often called the Pope in our house. Whilst Frank is a name in its own right, apparently the Americans were responsible for first shortening Francis to Frank. Why would you? Francis is a perfectly acceptable name.

However, back to the question “Is the Pope Catholic? Although I’ve never been quick enough to use it, I love this rhetorical response to a question. A question that has a foregone conclusion. I don’t think it’s cynical at all, or a response which might conclude the original question was silly. Mostly I think it’s a smart way to say ‘Yes’.

So, with that in mind here are some questions with an ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’ response.

Does God really love me?

Did Jesus really die for me?

Can I be forgiven no matter how bad I’ve been?

Is the Pope a catholic? You bet he is.

Pope Francis

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Where is your Durham Cathedral? Blog 15-2018

“I just love this place,” he reflected, as his eyes scanned the space and seemed to drink in the atmosphere. This was Martin Shaw musing in one of the final episodes of Inspector George Gently. The place he was talking about is actually Durham Cathedral. As I watched him walk into the building, I thought, this is very convincing acting or this guy really does love the ‘place’. I shared this thought with my friend John who was born in Willington just seven miles from the Cathedral and who has a love for it also. We agreed, so I had to find out more!

I discovered that whenever Martin Shaw was asked what he liked about Durham over the last ten years of filming his response was always that it was the Cathedral that drew him in. It seems that he would slip away to quietly contemplate whenever he had the opportunity. Journalist Barbara Hodgson quoted Martin as saying, “It is the atmosphere of a thousand years of history that has me in a contemplative mood.”

Durham Cathedral was built between 1092 and 1133. It is one of the first World Heritage Sites listed in the UK, in 1986, The Cathedral and Castle are among the greatest monuments of the Norman conquest of England. The former was initially built to house the shrine of St Cuthbert replacing an earlier church constructed in the Saints honour.

One of my favourite places in England is Whitby Abbey. There is something sacred about that place. It has a special serenity and indeed I have felt the almost tangible presence of God whenever I have stood beneath the outline of those majestic ruins. However, if I ever go back to the UK I am going to check out Durham Cathedral.

My girlfriend Rosalie has a little nook beneath the window in her upstairs bedroom where she can sit almost closeted and read and quietly contemplate. Susanna Wesley found her solitary place in the corner of her kitchen. She was the mother of John and Charles leaders of the great revival in England in the 18th century. She had 19 children but when she would pull her apron up over her head everyone in that busy household knew that she was in prayer and was not to be disturbed.

Which reminds me of the words of Jesus when the disciples returned from their busy missionary trips. Many people were coming and going and they didn’t have time to even eat. He encouraged them to do what He regularly did himself and said to them, “Let us go into a solitary place and rest a while.” Mark 6:31.

We humans all need a solitary place, a space whether physical or inside our heads, to which we can retreat from the busyness of our lives. Somewhere where we can be still and be refreshed in God’s presence.

So, where is your Durham Cathedral?

300px-Durham_Cathedral._Interior

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‘Mixed Messages’ Blog 14 – 2018

The Card read ‘My Grandma is a star because she is a follower of God the most high and she is the best.’ I am sure many other Grandmas’ received such precious handwritten cards around mother’s day. The reason I mention this one is the fact that there are no mixed messages here. Michael understands clearly how his grandmother acts in relation to what she says she believes.

We sometimes inadvertently send mixed messages to our children when we tell them one thing and do another. Like the father who uses expletives then chastises his child for swearing. Or the Mum who tells a fib then reprimands their child for following suit.

I am reminded of the account of Abraham and Isaac in the book of Genesis, Abraham misleads the king by saying that Sarah was his sister, rather than his wife. She was in truth his half sister; however she was also his wife. Sometime later Isaac, a chip off the old block pulled the same stunt regarding Rebekah.

There are however, occasions when mixed messages can be life-saving. In the book of Kings we read about God misleading the Syrians who laid siege to the city of Samaria. Everyone was starving including the four Lepers outside the city gates who dared to go into the enemy camp. This time it was God doing the misleading. He caused the Syrians to hear the sound of a great number of horses and chariots and thinking the Egyptians and Hittites were coming to Israel’s defence they had all fled. There was food aplenty for everyone.

In 1797 French Revolutionary Forces faced the British at the Battle of Fishguard. They landed twenty boatloads of troops, 47 barrels of powder and fifty tons of cartridges and grenades to take the town. The French sent a ship on reconnaissance and the British who had eight large cannons but only three rounds of ammunition fired a single blank from a nine pound gun and the French fled. It seems they thought the British had their eight canons primed and ready to fire.

In response to the day of prayer which was called for by King George 6th in June 1944 the Nazi’s received misleading messages straight from God. The weather was bad over the English Channel but much worse over Northern France. The Nazi’s were mislead into thinking that no invasion from the allies would be possible for some days. Many troops were stood down and many senior officers were away for the weekend. Field Marshal Rommel himself took off to visit his wife for a few days. Dozens of division, regimental and battalion commanders were away conducting war games.  You know the rest of the story!

Michael is right. I do trust in the most high God, and so should you. “Some nations boast of armies and of weaponry, but our boast is in the Lord our God” Psalm 20:7 Living Bible

Cannon_MEDIUM

One of the Fishguard cannons still in situ.

 

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‘Mothering Sunday’ Blog 13 – 2018

“The problem was, I loved Malt but only my brother was issued with it because he was quite sickly.” I shared this information with a friend at the supermarket as Doug and I purchased a tin of malt. “After the end of the war children in England were issued with concentrated orange juice and Malt.  My grandmother was quite adamant the malt was only for children who were poorly and I was not one of them.”

This reminded our friend of her grandparents and the Great Depression. It seems they ran a little corner store but were hardly able to feed their four children. So, her Grandad travelled to Mildura to get some seasonal work to help out. Hunger was commonplace and grandmother would give the neighbourhood mums cans of condensed milk free of charge for their little ones. Later, people would give her little handmade gifts at Christmas time in appreciation for what she had done.

There was more to the story! A tiny prem baby was born to an alcoholic relative and was going to be left with the nurses to slip away. (Humidicribs had not been invented yet.) Apparently, our friend’s grandmother insisted that she was not leaving the baby to die. So she took the little one home, wrapped her in cotton wool and placed her in a shoe box while continuing to feed the baby every hour with an eyedropper. That baby thrived and lived in quite good health till she was 89 years old.

Sunday is Mothers Day here in Australia. Just like that grandmother there are some amazing women out there and if you are a Mum, you are one of them. So don’t sell yourself short! As mums we have successes and disappointments. We all want to be the best that we can be and no matter how prepared you might think you are, mothering is still very much a ‘learn as you go’ occupation. Maybe that’s why in the UK the day is called Mothering Sunday.

All I can add is, Mums enjoy the day and sons and daughters remember your mums and contact them if you are able. Even if your relationship is. or was not what you would wish it, be thankful, because if it was not for your Mum you wouldn’t be here.

photo-14small children

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‘The Big Picture’ Blog 12 -2018

“So you haven’t heard of St Felix of Nola?” I asked Doug after reading him a quote attributed to the saint. “No, but I have heard of Robert the Bruce!” He responded with a grin. For a moment I was stumped, then I realized the connection, it was the Spider.

St Felix was from the town of Nola near Naples in Italy. On his father’s death he distributed his inheritance to the poor and was ordained. Under the Roman Emperor Decius around 250 AD he was arrested and tortured because he would not renounce his Christian faith.  On one occasion when being chased by Roman Soldiers he became breathless and crept into a hollow place in a broken wall. When the soldiers stopped at the opening they decided that he could not be inside because it was covered by a spider’s web. It seems after he entered the cavity a spider had spun a web across the opening. The quote attributed to him reads. “When God helps us, a spider’s web becomes a protecting wall; and without His help a wall is no more protection than a spider’s web.”

Enter Robert the Bruce, just in case you don’t know the story. It is said that Robert the Bruce of Scotland hid from the British in a cave 1306. While there he saw a spider try and fail a number of times to weave a web. Finally the spider succeeded. The moral of the story was, ‘never give up’. Unfortunately the saying, ‘don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story’ applies here. Because, historians record that this account was first told hundreds of years later and was attributed to a Sir James Douglas.  Don’t you just hate that!  I’m for Robert!

In time, everything would change, in both these instances. St Felix is thought to have died a martyr’s death but within 50 years, under Emperor Constantine, persecution ceased and Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.

Robert 1st, King of Scotland popularly known as Robert the Bruce was not to know that within three hundred years James 4th (James Charles Stuart) King of Scotland would become James 1st King of England and King of Ireland. It was a smooth transition. During his reign James would commission the printing of the Authorized Version of the Bible.

Life can throw us many curved balls along the way. We can find ourselves in all sorts of struggles, disappointments, and battles. We do well to remember that unlike us, God can see the big picture and therefore we should put our trust in Him. The words of a Hymn written in 1850 by Anna L Waring come to mind.

In heavenly love abiding, no change my heart shall fear.

And safe is such confiding, for nothing changes here.

The storm may roar without me, my heart may low be laid.

But God is round about me, and can I be dismayed?

robert.jpg

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Never too Old! Blog 11 – 2018

“I remember you reading the Little House on the Prairie books to us back in the late 70’s.” Anita recalled. “It was probably about 1978-79.”  “Each night we would sit around the table and listen to a chapter before we went to bed.”

This conversation came about because the other day I stumbled over some information on Laura Ingalls Wilder and was amazed to see that she was 65 Years old when she published her first book. ‘Little house in the Big Woods.’ Over the next decade she published seven more in the ‘Little house’ series including ‘Little House on the Prairie’. It transpired that Rose, one of her daughters, who had heard her recount the stories of her childhood finally succeeded in urging her to write them down. Little house on the Prairie would became a hugely popular TV series between 1974 -1983.

Laura was born in Pepin County, Wisconsin in 1867. Her schooling was sporadic because of the families’ constant money problems. Laura became a teacher and commenced teaching with a family 12 miles from her home. It was here that She met Almanzo. He would drive her home through the Dakota Blizzards so she could escape her arguing students and spend the weekend with her own family. Laura married Almanzo Wilder at the age of 18.

As I write this I am reminded that I turned 65 soon after I published ‘a farthing cone’ and I’m also reminded of an incident which happened with Doug in 1976. We were on the verge of changing our life direction in a drastic way and Doug was thinking that maybe he was too old to make such a change. He was reading the book of Jeremiah Chapter 1 verse 7 where God said to Jeremiah. “Do not say I am too young you must go where I send you…..for I am with you” As he was reading this Doug felt God was saying that he should replace the word young with old.  “Do not say you are too old….for I am with you”

That was forty years ago, life was not easy in the beginning, in fact it was quite tough but never have we doubted that it was the right decision, that we weren’t too old and in fact we are still not too old.  Each day has new challenges and demands. I am reminded also that God did not say it would be easy He said, He would be with us.

So, do you have a challenge to face, something you’re putting off because you think you might be too old? It might be too late? It’s never too late to start! Not while you are alive anyway!

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your might.” Ecclesiastes 9:10

Laura Ingles Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Hot dogs and Donuts Blog 10 – 2018

“Hello son.” Anita greeted Nathaniel as she walked through the door.  “Did you bring home the hot dogs?” He asked. “No!” She replied, looking questioningly at him. “Did you ask me to?” “Yes!” He was grinning now. “Just as you walked through the door.” She laughed! “Do you want Hot Dogs for lunch? I can walk back and get you some; the walk will do me good.” “Okay!” He replied. “I’ll come with you.”

A little later, we encountered Anita in the shopping centre just as she left the supermarket. Having all had breakfast together we had parted company, now here we were Fiona, Yvette and I standing not ten metres from our breakfast venue. Surprised, we asked Anita what she was doing and she related the above conversation. Looking up we saw Nathaniel coming towards us carrying fresh jam donuts. Hotdogs and jam donuts for lunch, I thought, very healthy choice.

Somehow the conversation then moved on to his quest to find the best jam donuts. Caitlin, Fiona’s daughter remarked that she was on the same quest. “It’s all to do with the ratio of jam to donut. She explained. “You should not have a bite that has no jam in it. If all you get is dough in your mouth then the donut has failed.”

Fiona remarked that Nathaniel and Caitlin must be related. O yes! I thought, they, being cousins, do share a grandfather who is partial to his Jam. In fact the saying in our house is Dad has toast with his jam, not jam with his toast.

Why am I telling you all this? Because it got me thinking about how we all have traits that seem to be passed down through our families. My mother often remarked that I was just like my father. Then I wondered if I am passing on the traits of our heavenly father in my words and actions. Do I reflect his diligence, his creativity, his honesty, generosity and his love? I came to the conclusion that the more time we spend with someone the more we become like them. So it is with God. We need to spend time with Him and in His Word to grow to be more like Him.

Jam donuts

 

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An Easter Miracle. Blog No 9 – 2018

The children walked along the road at daybreak carrying their bunches of beautiful Easter lilies. They loved this Easter Sunday custom and took turns knocking on each door as they traversed the little Alpine village. “Christ is risen!” they would greet the householder offering a precious bloom. In response they would hear. “He is risen indeed! When they arrived at the home of old Ivan none of the children wanted to enter the gate. “He’s so grumpy he will wave us away.” said one child. “He won’t even answer the door.” another remarked. “He doesn’t go to church anymore and he will not be interested in a flower.” However, one brave little girl named Anna decided to try. She knocked on the door and a gruff voice instructed her to go away. “Christ is risen!” She declared in a shaky voice. All was silent until she heard the bolt on the other side of the door slide across as the door opened. The old man mumbled, “He’s risen indeed,” and grabbing the bloom he slammed the door.

Ivan’s house was filled with the detritus of previous weeks and months. His home had not seen any care since his beautiful wife had passed away some years before. Looking around for somewhere to put this lovely Easter lily he found a jar and went to place it on the table in front of the window. The table however was covered in books and papers and unwashed dishes. Ivan quickly stripped the table and positioned the lily. He walked outside to see how the bloom looked through the window only to find that the window was covered in grime, so he cleaned it. As the beauty of this Easter lily radiated around his home Ivan continued to clean up, one space after another.

It was mid morning when the church bells started to ring. Maybe it’s time to go back to church Ivan thought. He had not been inside the church since his own Lily went to heaven. He shaved, changed his clothes and followed the other folks walking down the hill to church.  It was then he felt little Anna’s hand clasping his. For the first time in many a year Ivan’s lovely baritone voice could be heard singing that happy Easter morning.

I remember my mother sharing this children’s Easter story many times. This greeting is known as the Paschal greeting it is mostly used among Eastern Orthodox faiths though it is sometimes used in Catholic and protestant churches.

The words “He is risen!” remind us that Jesus’ death was not in vain. It allows us to share this incredible truth with each other. The resurrection of Christ gives us hope for salvation and our own resurrection to life eternal.

Easter Lilies

 

 

 

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The Grand old Duke Blog No 8 – 2018

“Are you sure that you will be OK with Steven grandma? You don’t think he will be too much for you? I couldn’t help smiling at eight year old Daniel’s concern. “I will be fine son. I will just do the things we used to do with you when you were little. We will go for a walk in the sunshine and….” “Oh that will be good!” He exclaimed before I finished. “Because, I have taught him to sing, ‘The Grand old Duke of York.’

This discussion took place last year when I was to look after one of our three year old twins for a few hours. Daniel and his brother Michael had spent many days with us when his twin Peter was fighting cancer. Part of our routine was to walk up the hill beside our house and having exhausted a dozen verses of ‘Old Macdonald’ and ‘Jesus loves me,’ I taught them ‘The ‘Grand old Duke’.

The Duke of that title has been argued to be a number of holders of that office particularly Frederick Duke of York and Albany, Commander of the British Army during the French revolution and Napoleonic wars. Others say it’s about Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York and the war of the roses. However, I discovered that there is also a Dutch version which replaces the Duke with Maurice, Prince of Orange and a French Version about the King of France with 40,000 men. These rhymes have all become proverbial for futile action.

Just in case your childhood was deprived of this Nursery Rhyme these are the words:-

Oh, the grand old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men;

He marched them up to the top of the hill, and he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up. And when they were down they were down.

And when they were only halfway up they were neither up nor down.

Have you ever finished some particular project and realized it was a waste of your time because it was nothing like you envisioned?  Maybe the apostle Peter and his pals thought they should have gone home to bed instead of fishing all night for nothing, because, in the morning Jesus showed up and told them where the fish were to be found. (Luke 5:5) Maybe the man who kept building bigger barns so he could party on indefinitely realized he had wasted his time when he found that his number was up. (Luke 12:18) Remember Haman? He built those gallows. (Esther 7:10) Now that was a futile action!

Most of us will probably never be an Albert Schweitzer, a Louis Pasteur, or a Mother Teresa. However, I am sure we all want our life to count for something; none of us want to get to the end of our days and wonder what we did with our life.  Proverbs 3:6 says. “Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He’s the one who will keep you on track.” (The Message Bible)

Duke of York Collage

Frederick Duke of York and Albany

 

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It’s a free gift! Blog No 7 – 2018

“I……um…..I’ll speak to Dad and see what he says……” I paused; knowing I was sounding quite underwhelmed. “I’ll get back to you,” was my feeble response. Usually good at thinking on my feet this time I failed miserably! The logistics were occupying all my thinking space to the point that I had quite overlooked the fact that Fiona, our eldest daughter had just offered Doug and I a fortnight in London. Not just any fortnight in London, it was to be an ‘all expenses paid’ fortnight and all that was required of us was to just turn up.

We, Doug, Yvette and I, had planned to go to England again, on that ubiquitous ‘one-day’. We were aiming at 2015 when Yvette was due for Long Service Leave but, nothing was set in concrete and our saving had stagnated a bit. Now, Fiona had just invited us to go to London with them in September 2013. She knew of our plans to do a guided tour and thought both trips could be interlinked. We could fly to London with them or meet up after our tour.

Within a few seconds of hanging up the receiver it rang again. This time it was Meredith our third daughter. In a bit of a daze I disclosed what had just taken place. She could barely contain her excitement. You would have thought she had been offered the trip herself. “How wonderful is that!”  She exclaimed as the adjectives tumbled out and her excitement mounted.  My sluggish mind slowly started to grasp the enormity of what we had just been offered.

As soon we had finished speaking. I called Fiona back and apologized for being so offhand, “None of anything else matters, we’ll sort that out with Yvette later, I just wanted to let you know, we are coming! We’re coming! We’re coming!” I was now gabbling as the excitement of the possibilities started to dawn.  We would forget about our previous ideas and we would all travel together. “In that case,” Fiona replied. “I’ll pay yours and Dads flights as well”. We didn’t have to do anything just receive the free gift so generously given and enjoy the experience.

I am reminded of eternal life which we are told is the free gift of God. (Romans 6:23) We can think that we will get to heaven by being virtuous, by doing good deeds, by earning our ticket. However it doesn’t work that way, all it requires is for us submit to God, acknowledge that in His sight we are sinners in need of a Saviour and avail ourselves of the free gift he offers. So simple, God does it all!

Those who read my blogs know that our time in London was better than we could ever have imagined.

Greenwich

One foot either side of 0° Longitude – Royal Observatory Greenwich – Something I always wanted to do.

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