Category Archives: Humanity

A New Heaven And a New Earth

Are they one and the same?

In The Bible’s book of Genesis, humankind are given “dominion” over the plantet upon which we live. At the end of The Bible, in Revelation, we are told of “a new heaven and a new earth”, which are also the final words of the book Unveiling a Parallel. which I reviewed here, that inspired this post.

At the end of the Unveiling a Parallel story, the unnamed traveller to the planet Mars saw in the society of that planet what could be a different way of living for the humanity of this Earth. He came to appreciate how the people of Mars lived an idyll; a new heaven. Or, what could be heaven like if Earth’s humanity could learn to live peacefully together.

Earth’s humanity has taken “dominion” as giving ourselves the right to exploit the planet, usually for profit. We have forgotten that dominion also confers responsibility to respect and protect, to manage and steward Earth’s resources in a way that does not harm the planet. We have ignored these inconvenient aspects of dominion.

Humankind has taken oil and coal, metals and minerals from planet Earth with little regard to the consequences. We have poisoned great tracts with chemicals and pumped greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. We have cut down great swathes of the trees that make the oxygen we breathe. Ee face global warming and an uncertain future, largely due to our quest for profit, which ignores the inconvenient truths.

What if, taking Revelation as as a illustration, a new parable maybe, the new heaven and new earth were one and the same?

The traveller to Mars sees a society, and a way of living, that he perceives as a potential heaven on Earth, if only we people of planet Earth could overcome our petty squabbles, wars, injustice, violence and exploitation of the the Earth’s resources for profit.

What might be our new heaven and new earth? Could the new heaven and new earth be one and the same? We are, albeit slowly, beginning to realise the harm we are are doing to our planet. The only planet we know that can support human life.

Could it be that if we fully realise the extent of our destruction of the planet, it is not too late to do something about it?

It took millions of years for planet Earth to evolve to a human habitable environment. It took only a few hundred to strip it and damage it, to its present state. As with everything, damage to the planet was inflicted much, much faster than its evolution and our ability to repair that damage.

But suppose for a moment we do repair the damage. It will probably take generations; thousands of years to return it to the state it took hundreds to bring to its current state. If all the people of the planet started tomorrow to repair the damage, it would take generations to repair and recover but at the end of it all, our descendants could once again live on a clean, fecund planet. Perhaps a new Heaven and a new Earth.

Faith Without Thinking

But not unthinking faith.

Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant. 1893

I’ve been nominally a Christian since I was baptised as a baby. It’s in recent years that I’ve taken it seriously, trying to live by Christian principals. I’ve not done anything criminal or deliberately hurt anyone, nevertheless I’m probably not what you might call a good Christian.

I go to church each Sunday. I meet with Christian friends and discuss what being a Christian means. I read the Bible, sometimes. That might be part of what makes me Christian but not necessarily a good one.

Often on weekdays and when I’m not with my Christian friends, I am not thinking about behaving as a Christian. Of course it shouldn’t be necessary to be thinking about it all the time. Which is the point I probably need to explain a little more.

This post was inspired by a paragraph from a book, Unveiling A Parallel (To be reviewed later on Entertaining Angels Bookshelf). The passage is:

“Do you often hear an upright man professing his honesty? It is part of himself. He is so free of the law which enjoins honesty that he never gives it a thought. So with the man who is truly religious and no longer needs to guide himself bit by bit and rein, or measure his conduct by the written code.”
– From Unveiling a Parallel by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant 1893.

The book is fiction. We can still learn something from it, just as we learn from Jesus’ parables which were fiction but contained a truth.

The person referred to in the quoted passage never thinks about his religion which, in the book, we are not told what it is. The point is that he doesn’t need to think about it. Its principals are so deeply ingrained within him, that he doesn’t need to think about them to live by them. It is, or has become, his natural way of living, of conducting himself.

As Christians, shouldn’t we be aiming to live by Jesus’ teaching, to the extent we do not need to constantly think about it?  I’m not suggesting we should not think about or discuss The Bible and God and Jesus, just that living by its principals ought to become second nature to us, or that we should aim that it does.

Brexit

One Christian’s Point Of View.

The United Kingdom, for it still is at least nominally united, is a country in which the majority of citizens are no longer practicing Christians. That same majority does share a Christian heritage, and almost all of our law is based upon Christian principals.

One year after the Brexit referendum, I am struggling to see how those principals are being applied both to our European neighbours, it is probably no longer correct to call them our partners, and, perhaps to a lesser extent, to our own descendants.

At a personal and individual level, the majority of UK citizens still tend to behave in a fairly Christian manner. Corporately as a nation, we seem to have become self obsessed and selfish. We want what we want and do not care what anyone else wants. At least not the 27 other, soon to be, remaining members of the European Union.

Might the UK have inadvertently done a little harm, primarily to itself, that resulted in a greater good? As a country, we have single handedly succeeded in uniting 27 other member states into a closer union against a former friend.

I find it disingenuous that our politicians and leaders continue to refer to Europeans as “our friends” when nationally we have behaved and are continuing to behave toward them in such an unfriendly manner. It is to their credit that they remain friendly to us, if no longer actually friends.

It appears that one of the reasons, perhaps the main reason, for the vote to exit the EU is the issue of immigration. What has happened to our Christian principals of welcoming the stranger? We need immigration. We need it for our NHS, which without immigrants would not function.

We need immigrant workers for farms and care services, because too many of our citizens seem to think themselves too good for what they see as such menial tasks, yet they still moan that immigrants are taking British jobs.

I think that in some peoples minds refugees are little different to immigrants. We conveniently forget, unless somehow directly and personally confronted by refugees, the vast difference between simply trying to improve ones situation and fleeing war, famine, oppression, torture, injustice leaving everything behind apart from the clothes they stand up in.

The current Brexit related debate is regarding the rights of EU citizens to stay in Britain, those that wish to, after Brexit is final. The Christian, human, reasonable and caring action to take would be to unilaterally guarantee the existing rights of all who opt to stay. It would also be an excellent gesture of goodwill for the forthcoming negotiations.

UK is, at the time of writing, the fifth biggest economy in the world; sixth if the EU is treated as a single economy. A large part of our prosperity is due to our membership of the European Union, even though we are a net contributor to its budget. Immigrants helped build our economy so we owe them a quid pro quo for that. Will UK still be so prosperous one year after Brexit? Our economy is less than one fifth the size of that of the EU and one seventh of USA USA. We need EU, to secure good trade deals with bigger economies, more than they need us.

British politicians talk about Brexit as the will of the people. I can’t and wont deny the democracy of leaving the EU, it was a vote in favour of leaving. It was hardly an overwhelming margin voting to leave at 52% to 48%. Leavers consider it a victory. I cannot. I can question if there should have been a referendum at all.

In a democracy politicians are elected not just to carry out the will of the people but to do what is best for the nation they are supposed to serve. Unfortunately what is best, or necessary is frequently not popular That includes taking difficult decisions. Those decisions are frequently taken on the basis of information to which the population is not privy.

In the case of Brexit, I think politicians abrogated their responsibility to the referendum, instead of taking decisions they were elected to take. The British public gave the politicians a perfect scaprgoat; the British public.

Brexit does not affect only Britain. Brexit affects 27 other countries detrimentally. Even if I were not looking at this from a Christian perspective, I cannot see any basic decency, respect and fairness with which we have should have treated our neighbours?

In a few years Britain could become to Europe like the Isle Of Wight it to Britain; a quaint little place to visit but mostly ignored.

Time

mv5bzgnkm2mwndatogewmc00zmu0lwfinmmtytllngq2yzdjztvmxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynzc5njm0na-_v1_A few years ago I wrote about time in the context of chronos and kairos, human time and God’s time.

I recently read what is probably one of the earliest stories about time travel, H. G. Wells novella, The Time Machine, published in 1895, from which I’m adding some thoughts.

Time is a human measurement, based on natural phenomena. The time the earth takes to travel around our sun is an (almost) fixed period. But the hours in a day are a human derivation. All of which might be completely arbitrary to God, for whom time is probably meaningless.

When the Time Traveller (he is unnamed but for this epithet in the original story) arrives in the year 802,701, his first impression might be described as a kind new Eden, or at least a heavenly place. The young population seems well provided for with no need to work. Their food and clothing are provided, there is no learning and are no scholars, there seems no need for them. They spend all their time relaxing and playing. That initial impression impression of the time traveller doesn’t last long

What the time traveller finds, once he begins to look a little closer at the future society he has landed in, is a world where there are signs of decay and atrophy all around. Humanity has degenerated to become lazy and indolent. With nothing to strive for, humanity has stagnated.

Worse. In the millennia since the time traveller activated his time machine and left victorian england, the humans in this false Eden have become like farmed animals, bred for a purpose. Time has turned the humans the traveller meets into domesticated herds of food, bred to feed the Morlocks, formerly human now a sub-human species living underground. How the Morlocks evolved is not explained in the original story (though an attempt is added in the 1960 film).

What crossed my mind as the story unfolded was the contrast with elements of biblical text. Jesus is the Good shepherd, caring for his flock and in turn after his ascension the flock must learn to care for one-another.

In Well’s story the flock has divided somewhere in the intervening years. What once might have been a shepherd class, caring for their flocks, have become subverted; breeding the flocks for their own use. They have become cannibals.

The Bible also tells of “a new heaven and a new earth”.But what at first appears heavenly could be deceptive, as we see looking deeper than the time travellers initial impressions of the distant future human society imagined in Wells’ novella.

 

Angels

Are they with us today?

Angel by Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849–1921)

It is funny how sometimes a few words said, or read at the right time can spark a train of thought. “whilst Sandy was struggling in a cruel east wind to keep her tent from blowing away, she was joined by Penelope, who believed that angels lived amongst us“, from Sue Townsend’s book The Woman Who Went To Bed For a Year, inspired these thoughts.

Lots of people have lots of different ideas about angels. One of the more popular, perhaps the most popular is of divine, benign beings with wings. There are references to them in the bible. They also appear in many old and new stories and classic and contemporary art. One of my favourites is John Collier’s picture, Annunciation.

I do not expect to find any actual angels (with wings?) living amongst us today, though I do not dismiss the possibility. I do think that angels, or maybe I should more accurately say angelic people are amongst us. People we think of as angels, or acting like we imagine angels might act. And, of these angels I have personal experience.

Regular readers might remember me writing in 2016 about an emergency admission to Bristol Eye Hospital. I was admitted again in May 2017, with the same trouble in my other eye. Once againMy Other Familyrallied around.

The kindness of my friends is how I imagine the kindness of angels to be.

One stayed overnight with my wife while I was an in patient, and helped in many ways after my discharge (I’m still under hospital care as I write but no longer an in-patient). I’ve had meals cooked, been taken shopping and to the hospital for follow up appointments, while I can’t drive. I’ve had the bed stripped and re-made, while I’m not supposed to do anything strenuous, and my dog walked.

So do angels live amongst us? In literal terms, of the popular conception, probably not though we can’t be sure. In allegorical terms, yes there are angels amongst us, some of the unlikeliest kind. These are mine.

Once again, my heartfelt thanks for the blessing I received, and
I am still receiving as I write, from all who came to my aid.

In The Beginning Was the Word

So be careful what you say.

WordsThe title to this post, is the first words in John’s gospel in The Bible (NIV). The first verse goes on to say “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In biblical terms they refer to all creation coming into being at God’s word. Yet as important as these words are to Christian belief, I hope to explore them a little more in the human not the religious context.

Words are important. Without words there would be no language and without language, no, or exceedingly limited, communication. Wars start with words and we make peace with them. Words are what we live by. Our first words to someone can lead to a friendship, or a division if we say the wrong thing.

Contracts are written with words and yet it is often what we say to each other that are more important and more likely to be remembered, than the words we write down on a piece of paper, or a virtual piece of paper, such as the screen you are probably reading this on.

If we say to someone we will do something and then fail to do it if we are able, we have not kept our ‘word’; we have no integrity. What we say to each other is more important than any legal document. There is a wonderful couple of lines in a scene from the iconic 1960 western film, The Magnificent Seven, that makes the point. Chris and Vin are discussing leaving the Mexican village they have been protecting:

Chris: – “You forget one thing. We took a contract.”
Vin: –  “It’s not the kind courts enforce.”
Chris: – That´s just the kind you’ve gotta keep.

 The words we say to someone can lift them up, or bring them down. Make someone laugh or make someone cry. Carefully chosen words can be mighty and poorly chosen can make the speaker look stupid, or ignorant, sometimes both.

Words can be true or false. Truth or lies. Some words that are false, or if we use them in storytelling we might call them fiction, can still carry a truth within the story. Jesus parables might be one example of this.

Just like God when He initiated the creation in which we live, everything today created or developed by human beings begins with words, so we need to be more careful how we use them.

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug
used by mankind.” – Rudyard Kipling

When Bigger Is Not Better

Some people were not so poor before things got bigger.

The sums of money given to the poorer and developing nations by the prosperous, advanced western world seems huge to most of us with figures in tens of billions (choose your own currency). It is not so big considered in relation to the interest payments many of these nations make in debt repayment, ten times bigger running into hundreds of billions.

Money is spent on huge projects but who does it really benefit and does it help those who most need help. It is not unusual for our western perception of what constitutes progress and quality of life, to drive some people in developing places, who were living a sustainable life, into poverty.

We ‘civilised’ westerners have become used, even indoctrinated, into the idea that bigger is better. We buy our food in multipacks from multinational companies, that I’m not bothering to try and name because of how tied up they are are with each other. Whatever they might say about their ethics and raison d’etra, their primary purpose is to make a profit for their shareholders.

There are places where people that we advanced westerners think of as poor, by our standards, are not by theirs. They live on and work subsistence farms, that provide sufficient for themselves, their families and their communities. Unlike our consumer oriented society, they did not produce goods beyond what they need nor do they try to. Their farming methods are determined by planting crops that grow naturally well on the type of land they cultivate.

In our society, we would probably plant what we wanted and try to change the land with chemicals and diverting waterways and any of our other ‘advanced’ methods, so we could grow more, not just to feed more people but to make more money.

By introducing western ideas of economics, that it was necessary to create wealth to create a better ‘quality of life’ bearing in mind that “quality” is in any case a subjective term, we have in some areas destroyed a functioning, fed population.

Where small subsistence farms fed the people around them, now huge business farms dominate, employing few people. They take over land and then charge for food that was once grown by its consumers for the price of a few seeds, or free by saving some of last years seed from the crop to re-plant.

This has the effect of driving millions of people who once provided for themselves to the cities, where they can not find jobs and have no money to pay for the food they once grew themselves. Someone makes a profit, but only a relatively few people benefit compared to those who now have trouble sustaining themselves.

We recognize that the majority of people who are food-insecure
or hungry in the world live in rural areas. And most of them are
small holder subsistence farmers. – Ertharin Cousin