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A Fisherman’s Reflections on a beautiful but troubled world
Chapter 26 - Faith and Hope

Now faith is the substance of things hoped  for,
the evidence of things not seen

Now faith is being sure of what we hope  for
and certain of what we do not see.

The fundamental fact of existence is that ….  faith,
is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.
It’s our handle on what we cannot see.
                                                            Petersen paraphrase

Hebrews 11 v 1


What a beautiful world we are privileged to live in.  What lovely diverse peoples we share this planet with.  It would be truly wonderful if we could live together in harmony, and cooperate in building peaceful and sustainable societies and systems.  Surely no amount of national or ethnic pride, or greed for an ever-larger share of trade and resources, could justify our abuse of each other, or our determination to enforce our way of life on other peoples. 

Two impressive scenes from our beautiful world

It is also a deeply troubled world, and there are no end of issues with the potential to alienate nations and governments, or to feed the military monsters’ appetites for war and destruction.  If in six millenniums of human history we have not yet learned how to resolve disputes without recourse to murder on a massive scale, there is little hope for us.  Our mechanisms and avenues of diplomacy (like the UN) may well be very imperfect and often yield limited results, - but still they are preferable to unleashing Armageddon on the world.

The past 71 years of my life have seen the rise and fall of many ideologies and philosophies.  Some took a while to be discredited, and some withered quickly, only to reappear in a different guise.  I daresay it was ever thus.  Solomon declared that “there is nothing new under the sun”.   A wise old Irish Jesuit priest who laboured all his life in Africa, used to tell me that the real issues and questions of life were not modern at all, and modern learning had little to add on these subjects.  The ancient virtues were still valid, and the deadly sins recognized by sages and saints of old, were still around us today. 

Communism appeared to be on the rise for the first half of my life.  Many of the socialists in my family and community viewed it with respect, and valued it as a counterweight to the excesses of capitalism. But while it appeared to be based on altruistic humanistic values, it was inherently cruel, ruthless, unprincipled and despotic, - certainly from all we have learned about its implementation in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Cambodia and Albania.  The writings of numerous dissidents like Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the prophetic parable by George Orwell, Animal Farm, confirmed what totalitarian Marxism was really like. 

Communism promised much but mainly delivered injustice and oppression

Now, even former committed socialists admit, - “all the world’s socialist systems have failed”.  There is not a single successful example of a thriving socialist economy.  I guess the nearest there is must be poor little maligned, beleaguered, and persecuted Cuba.  The formidable economies of the USSR and Eastern Europe have all succumbed to modern pressures and turned to free enterprise.  Even the immense land of China, though still nominally communist, has become a thriving free market economy.  Unlike Russia, it has somehow been able to do this gradually, without dismantling State apparatus or causing the upheavals and extremes that have afflicted the former Soviet Union. 

Right wing capitalism, and its children, - multi-national corporations, globalism, and the supremacy of market forces and profits above all other human and ecological values, is presently triumphant and on the ascent.  But it also contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction, as lucidly forecast by Schumacher over thirty years ago.  How many unnecessary wars and how much bloodshed and oppression has occurred the past 50 years to extend the tentacles of global business?   And how much environmental damage is perpetrated, and human misery increased by big business’s attempts to maximize profits without regard to the sustainability of life on planet earth?

Bombers delivering death and destruction from the air

The Christian church, - or much of it, has been influenced, and at times, deceived or seduced by these movements over the years.  At the beginning of the 20th century, some saw socialism and communism as harbingers of the kingdom of God on earth.  Some today see capitalist forces as essentially God-ordained and Biblical.  They should take a hard look at the corruption and exploitation of humankind by the multi-nationals, and compare that with the vision of “Babylon the great” in the book of Revelation, and her control of wealth and trade.  They also need to measure their attitudes to money and business against the words and example of Christ.   The “Liberation Theology” of Latin America, was a reaction to economic slavery of the people being robbed of access to their God-given resources.   The church should suffer with suffering people, and seek to defend them, - but not to resort to an armed response. 

Habitat for Humanity and Christian groups working in a Delhi slum

I see several major failings in the church, the world over, as we enter the 21st century.  We were warned very clearly about each by Christ Himself.  The first is worldliness and the pursuit of wealth and comfort as our primary goal. The second is sheer hardness of heart, loveless-ness, and lack of compassion.  A third is seduction by the siren voices and false prophets of the political and sensual worlds.  And a fourth is shallow emotionalism that does not take Christ’s words seriously, and is devoid of genuine reverence for God.  Sadly, the church deserves the criticism it receives from outside, for its failures in these areas.

Wealthy churches and their fund-raising by television appear to be very far in spirit
and in practice from the life and message of Jesus

Thankfully, however, there are millions of humble believers throughout the world (China alone is believed to have over 50 million in its small independent house-churches).   Other tens of millions exist in Russia, south Asia, Africa, and south America.  These ordinary Christians, uncontaminated by wealth or politics, are to my mind, the true followers of the Man of Nazareth and Galilee.  Unheralded and often unnoticed, they are indeed the salt of the earth, exercising a silent but vital influence on society, preserving it from corruption, and adding a unique flavour to life.  Critics of religion may mock their simple faith, but it empowers them to live in hope over impossible odds of injustice, poverty, hardship, disease and the many uncertainties they face.  And in case any reader thinks I disparage people of other faiths, - far from it.  I have found similar strengths and virtues exhibited by followers of Islam, Buddhism, and animist beliefs.  God is no respecter of persons, and His ear is open to all, despite our cultural backgrounds, misconceptions, or limited understanding.  As one young Moslem woman said to me in south-west Thailand after enquiring about my own faith, “Is it not wonderful that we both have faith in God, and is that not a precious thing to carry with you through life”.

Twentieth century materialism was in truth a tool of both communist and capitalist forces.  Each offered bread and circuses, and imagined security in different forms.  Governments use prospects of access to material things to win and maintain their people’s loyalty.  Mrs Thatcher did it brilliantly, as did Ronald Regan.  Her success said as much about the character of the English as it did about her political acumen.  The elevation of human greed to the status of a virtue to justify right wing policies, is combined in modern administrations with sophisticated methods of political control.  Keep the people occupied with the fruits of monetary advances, and get them to believe they would be at risk if the government was to change. Make fictitious enemies of those whose needs challenge our indulgence.  Call them lazy, welfare scroungers, and illegal immigrants or asylum seekers.  You are not your brother’s keeper.  The poor are to blame for their own predicament.  Control the media and the message.  Utilise a government-speak language to confuse and obfuscate. 

Mrs Thatcher was lauded for her attempts to move people from property renting to property owning. It appeared to be working remarkably well as long as high inflation escalated house prices. But many people found later they were just mortgage owners, not house owners, as did thousands in the USA who were persuaded to take out sub-prime mortgages they could never repay. But the inflation in house prices was really th natural rise in land values as a consequence of the growth of the whole eceonomy.  I firmly believe in the tenet of Henry George the rises in the value of land should belong to the whole nation and not to a few speculators or land-owners. 

What Thatcher pioneered, in her brazen attempt to encourage naked greed in business, and to belittle a social conscience, Blair applied unashamedly and with greater contempt for the electorate.  Idealism was discarded for the pursuit of power regardless.  As a young New Labour executive disclosed to a Scottish reporter, with remarkable arrogance, “You know nothing about politics.  You actually think it is about policies and programmes and values.  It is nothing of the sort.  It is about control of the tabloid press,-  period.”   Bernard Ingham [Origins of the Obsession, in The Wages of Spin, by Bernard Ingham, John Murray, London, 2003] quotes Tony Blair declaring “You have got to understand that the only thing that matters in this campaign is the media.  The media, the media and the media”.  And that statement of New Labour strategy was made before Blair became leader, in fact, just three days after the death of Labour leader John Smith.

The utter wickedness and folly of war

Our military spokespersons are expert at using politically-correct language that obscures the horrific nature of their operations.  While they rain bombs and shells on civilians, killing and maiming children, women, old people without distinction, in an attempt to destroy an insurgency, the generals talk blandly of getting the job done, dealing with the problem, and finishing the assignment.  Never will you hear a word from them about the human carnage of the mayhem they cause. And often when they have no idea how many people were blown to pieces, or who these persons were, they will callously claim to have dealt with suspected insurgents, or destroyed ‘the enemy’. 

                   Cluster bomb victim, Iraq.      Nato bombing victim in Afghanistan.

(The writer is very aware of the carnage also caused by the other side in those conflicts, but we need to see that we also are guilty of murder and maiming of the innocent)

Green Movements

The “New Age” movement has flourished in this spiritual vacuum.  It encompasses a range of superstitions and genuine ideals.  The negative side is replete with taro cards, ouija boards, séances, horoscopes, and psychedelic drugs.  The idealistic side of New Age is concerned with the environment, human wholeness, peace and simplicity.  I have a soft spot for that side of the movement.  I often think they are closer to Truth and than are the atheistic materialists.  There is a mixed community of ‘new-agers’ at Findhorn near my home. They include, nature lovers, pacifists, natural health practitioners, agnostics, Christians with a concern for society and the environment, and some adherents of pagan beliefs. They are all sincere searchers, and I hope I don’t insult them when I say that the latter sub-group sometimes seem to me like a number of wise men from the east who started out following the Nativity star, but who over-shot Bethlehem and went on to Stonehenge!

 The “Green” movement in its various forms has grown to challenge the ruthless over-exploitation of natural resources, and the insane destruction and degradation of our environment that provides us with air, water, food, renewable energy and raw materials.  The rise of green political parties is a modest but welcome counterbalance to unbridled capitalism.  But some of them are less than purely green, and have other agendas that are disturbing, extreme, or weird to say the least.  Some have been hijacked by groups that want to dictate what is taught or not taught in our schools, and what politically correct behaviour should be.  Others appear to be more intent on promoting aggressive hedonism and deviance, than protecting the environment.  Some green movements like WWF, have gotten together with large food corporations that have monopolistic goals, however much they may claim to be in favour of organic foods.

At Iona 1981 when participating in a conference on third world development
and the role of multi-nationals

There is also an imbalance in the issues they target. This may stem from calculations that certain ones can be used to milk the public for financial and emotional support, while others may not.  Battery farming of egg-laying hens are an example.  We hear little protest from the green movement to halt that cruel industry.  Instead they focus on protecting a seal population that grown beyond the carrying capacity of coastal waters to maintain, with the result that they now attack fish farms, and venture far to sea to seek alternative fish stocks.  British organizations like RSPB and quangos like Scottish Natural Heritage, have acquired dictatorial powers over rural communities which they exert with a callous disdain for the people who have lived there for generations. In this they bring the whole green movement into disrepute. 

We have read plenty silly statements by the extreme green wing, that appear to imply the earth would be fine if only there were no human beings around to harvest its produce !  I have listened (in overseas aid meetings in Whitehall), to WWF officials warn ignorantly against over-fishing in artisanal low-effort fisheries, and assert that the fishers would destroy the coastal mangrove forests by building too many boats!  (For those unfamiliar with mangrove trees, it is quite impossible to build a boat from such thin twisted branches).  A farmer in the Hebrides asked for permission to erect a wind generator on his land which was not served by the local electricity grid.  RSPB objected and the farmer was obliged to finance an independent study on the presence of golden eagles in that area.  The study concluded that such birds had never been seen or recorded there.  This thought the farmer, was the end of the matter.  But no!  RSPB then insisted he finance a further independent study to assess the chances that an eagle might stray into the area in the future.

Manipulation by the bigger ‘green’ organizations has sullied the whole environmental movement and cast aspersions on some of its aims and assertions.  One cannot help feeling that this has been brought about partly to weaken support for serious action.  Inconsistencies in the policies and programmes of some groups smack of hypocrisy or of a callous preference for interventions that will raise money or increase political support, rather than make a genuine change for good.  I mentioned the greens’ determination to oppose a cull on mushrooming populations of seals, while at the same time ignoring the plight of battery farm hens or the miserable short existence of veal calves.  The British Parliament spent hundreds of hours debating fox hunting, and the police are wasting precious resources on seeking to enforce the hunting ban. 

This is how we treat the birds who supply us with eggs,
and the cows from which we get tender veal meat.

This excessive response stands in sharp contrast to the minimal time given to debating the war in Iraq that led to the deaths of up to 700,000 innocent Iraqis as collateral damage, or as an indirect result of the conflict.  I am against the hunting of foxes, or any other wild game for that matter.  But one wonders whether those who cry loudest have ever been to a slaughterhouse, or seen just how animals are killed and butchered to put food on our plates.   And how many of them worry about the inhuman treatment of refugees, or the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent victims of our wars? 

Global environmental challenges, however, are finally being taken seriously and we may yet avert the worst of the impending damage.  The reluctance of governments to act in these areas relates to the size of the investments required, the fundamental changes need in some policies, and the nature of elected governments that rarely think beyond their five year horizons.  It has been said that governments will do the sane rational thing only after they have exhausted all other alternatives.  This appears to be coming true in respect of the ozone layer erosion, nuclear power, genetic modifications of crops, control of pollution of soil and water, and support for reforestation and organic foods.  Dinosaurs can turn, and even the most closed mind can eventually see sense. I believe the task ahead of humanity for the next century, if the world continues, should include :

  • A huge shift in resources from armaments to poverty alleviation and husbanding of all of earth’s natural resources
  • Conservation and protection of global supplies of fresh water
  • Conservation, protection and regeneration of forests and woodlands
  • Development of renewable fuels and sustainable energy systems to replace the fossil fuels, petroleum and coal.
  • Reversal of current pollution of air, soils, rivers and seas, by chemicals, CO2 emissions,  urban and industrial waste
  • Development of national and global systems of full employment
  • Control of mental and social pollutants from internet and media
  • Encouragement of people empowerment at grass roots levels, including more and more transparency in government, instead of increased secrecy and misinformation on matters that concern all citizens. 

Family Life

Before discussing these measures to address global issues, we might do well to consider the breakdown in family life and its effect on the fragmentation of society and on human behaviour in general.  The family is the basic unit of society and it is within the family we learn loyalty and discipline, cooperation and sharing.  There also we experience love and encouragement, and imbibe wisdom and values.  We have shoulders to cry on and older heads to consult for guidance.  And we older ones have wonderful children and grandchildren to inject some fun into our dull lives!

We look at past attempts to destroy the family unit – mainly in extreme Marxist regimes, and we see the horrible results in cases like the Khmer Rouge rule in Cambodia’s five years of wicked despotism.  It is wonderful to see that the family survived that in Cambodia, - but one is sickened by indications of deep malaise in family relationship in the cultured west.  In Britain we are regularly shocked by appalling incidents of abuse of children – by members of their own families.  America suffers from incomprehensibly high rates of absentee fathers, - men who sire children then abandon them and their mothers.  This serious phenomenon among Negro communities has been denounced by a range of black leaders, Christian, black Moslem, and secular.

Generally speaking family cohesion remains strong in Asia and the Far East, and perhaps to a lesser extent in Africa where survival instincts are more to the fore. In Britain, it often appears that political correctness promotes ideas and concepts that are designed to weaken respect for parents and parental controls.  In matters such as sex education in schools, surely the mothers ought to have a veto on some of the things lobby groups want us to teach to innocent kids who are easy prey to deviant propaganda.  And before someone blames parents for high rates of teenage pregnancy, - we should take a look at societies where the family is strong, - such as in Asia and Arabia, (and where there is little public sex education), - and explain why teenage pregnancy is so uncommon there.

I can only express gratitude for my own upbringing in a family and a community that were old-fashioned enough to preserve traditional wisdom, and practical enough in their recognition of the need for discipline as well as nurture.  Then I was blessed with a wonderful wife and six marvelous children, and their spouses, and now with ten grandchildren and possibly more to come.  All have been an inestimable blessing and inspiration.  Of course, I hasten to add, each of us is far from perfect, and we have had to face the many issues and disappointments that confront any family in these modern times.  But that is life.  And it is how we work through the problems and difficulties rather than the issues themselves that determine whether we stay together and become stronger as a family, or fragment and drift apart.

Surely one of the most valuable investments we can make in life is our investment of time and affection, listening and doing things together, with our children.  Far more than what we actually teach them, our children learn by our behaviour, our respect for each other, and how we treat our partners and our neighbours.

Myself with Margo 

The family together on a summer break near Inverness

As I write this at the age of 70, I recall my two brothers, James and Billy who died at 51 and 61 respectively. They died of natural causes, but the most tragic and painful loss in the family was that of my sister Helen who was killed in a car crash at the age of 29. She left two young children, Kerry and Lewis. Her husband Andrew, an oil rig worker, died in 2009 at the age of 56.  They are pictured below on their wedding day.

Pictured above with her mother and two children is Helen as we remember her just over a year before she tragically lost her life.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Orphans at a charity school in Cambodia

I firmly believe each human life has great significance, and great value in God’s eyes.  I do not share the pessimism or cynicism of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, (on being informed of his wife’s death), expressed so poignantly in some of the playwright’s most memorable lines : 

                              To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
                              Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
                              To the last syllable of recorded time;
                              And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
                              The way to dusty death.

                              Out, out, brief candle!
                              Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,

                              That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
                              And then is heard no more.  It is a tale
                              Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
                              Signifying nothing

Life is so much more than a walking shadow, or a tale told by an idiot.  But to find meaning and significance here we need eyes of faith, hearts of compassion, and humble teachable spirits.  

The overwhelming need must be to tackle human misery and poverty in all its forms.  As I write this, and as you read it, millions of people are somehow surviving in the horrid shanty towns and slums of Lagos, Nairobi, Calcutta, Mumbai, Rio De Janiero, Lima, Jakarta, Manila, and numerous other mega-cities. The shocking aspect to those dens of misery, injustice and human degradation, - is that they exist side by side with affluence, luxury, and lavish indulgence.  Those responsible for governance and the public purse in such places, mostly compound the problems and prevent alleviation, by their corrupt practices. Darfur is a blot on the conscience of the world, as are the millions of undernourished people, the millions of displaced persons, and the victims of preventable disease.  

Human beings live their lives in this Mumbia slum

Habitat homes for victims of the Katrina storm in New Orleans.

Orphan children suffering from the double affliction of Aids

Having worked all my life on aid programmes of different sorts; with all their limitations and imperfections, it has been galling to witness the obscene amounts spent on wars and weapons and military forces, compared to the modest sums that are allocated for aid.  Money alone would not end the causes of poverty which as Jesus said, will always be with us. But money could help substantially if applied with wisdom and in close cooperation with the ultimate beneficiaries.  Total global spending on military forces and armaments is now close to one thousand billion dollars a year.  That is about a hundred times the total spent on all forms of non-military aid to poor countries.  Put another way, to alleviate hunger and poverty we spend just one per cent of the amount we spend on weapons and armies.

Is this just the opinion of a few naïve do-gooders?  Listen to what President Eisenhower said in 1953, three months after his inauguration.  The former supreme commander of the allied forces in Europe stated : “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. … The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this : a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.  It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.  It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. … We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.  We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed 8,000 people.” 

Nuclear weapon explosion in the atmosphere

Dr Alexander Irvine, [Dr Irvine was the author of the book referred to in the chapter on Ireland, My Lady of the Chimney Corner.] the respected Irish educator, Bowery evangelist, and union organiser in America, was a YMCA Padre and Chief Morale Officer of the Allied Armies in the first world war.  He wrote of his wartime experience on the Somme : “I used to look over towards Amiens every morning to see if the cathedral was still standing.  One day I went over to the city.  It was deserted, save for a few straggling citizens and some military policemen.  Just beyond cavalry horses were clattering over the cobble stones as they passed on their way to the front.  Emotions of awe, desolation, and reverence passed through my mind in quick succession.  Incongruous world ! sons of God, blowing each other to shreds.  Two thousand years of teaching thrown to the winds, a denial of God and rejection of love”.

Modern soldiers equipped for action

Is it possible to alter in a fundamental and radical way, the political morality and economic priorities of our powerful western governments?  Are such changes possible, or more possible under governments of particular politics or philosophies?  They are certainly much less likely under totalitarian regimes.  But whether a government is socialist or conservative, - I doubt makes much difference.  The root problem is the evil that infects human hearts regardless of politics.  I firmly believe with Solzhenitsyn and Tolstoy, that good or evil are not confined within particular nations or ethnic group, governments or organizations, - each is contaminated to some degree, and each has the potential for change.  Can it happen?  We see possibilities when we look at the past and present condition of states like South Africa, Cambodia, Chile and Germany, to name but a few.  They may be far from perfect, but they have sought cleansing and renounced past evil.  

Haiti is a modern example of a failed state which has just about every problem that one can imagine, - poverty, corruption, injustice, unemployment, and human misery to an appalling degree.  It is the kind of country one despairs of.  What is there that could possibly be done to change things?  Yet even there there are numerous Christian groups, charities, NGOs and UN projects attempting against impossible odds to turn the tide of degradation and misery, to heal, to feed, to educate, and to provide jobs.  Dr Tony Campolo and his Beyond Borders organization has set up schools for ‘slave’ children who otherwise would never get an education.  (My home town helped to establish one). Even in that pitiful land, there is some hope.

Dr Tony Campolo whose organization Beyond Borders is giving education to the most disadvantaged children in Haiti.  Dr Campolo with some of his ‘slave’ school children.

We all need redemption.  And we all need an ultimate moral and spiritual standard that transcends human fallibility.  That redemption, and that standard, I believe we have been given in Jesus Christ.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes those eternal values, and the reality of redemption in a fallen world thus in his inimitable way: [I have re-arranged the material slightly as it is taken from a campus speech delivered largely without notes.]

“this is God’s world, and God is (ultimately) in charge.  In the darkest moments of our struggle we sought to uphold the morale of our people.  We sought to keep the light of hope burning by telling … the perpetrators of injustice, however powerful they may be, ‘(you) have already lost’.  The upholders of apartheid never in their wildest dreams imagined they would ever lose power.  None of these dictators ever think this.  They think that God is a kind of accident that happens to somebody else, never to themselves, and they strutted the world stage like cocks of the walk supported by a conniving cannibal west.  Those who upheld apartheid never thought that this is a moral universe, and because it is a moral universe, right and wrong matter. …  injustice can never have the last word. … (Yet) when we looked at the state of the world we sometimes wondered whether God had any plan at all. 

And then apartheid collapsed, and freedom arose as a phoenix from the ashes. An elderly man emerged with dignity from 27 years of prison and hard labour with no bitterness, resentment or anger towards his jailors.  In fact he invited one to be a VIP guest at his Presidential inauguration.  And in our time haven’t we seen the Berlin wall collapse?  And haven’t we seen a small little woman dispense compassion and caring and love for derelicts in Calcutta? 

(But) even the worst dictator will never say, ‘I violate human rights’. None of them ever say that.  Not those in Burma or anywhere else.  Why?  (No one) stands up and declares ‘I am a child molester’, or,  ‘I am an abuser of women’. Why?  Why are you appalled when awful things happen?  Why are you appalled when you see children starving, or refugees running from oppression?   It is because (in our hearts we know) that evil is not the norm.  Injustice is not the norm.   Poverty is not the norm.   War is not the norm.  These are aberrations.  God chose us in Christ to be God’s children, before the foundation of the world.  God gives up on no one.  (He has) made this world for goodness, love, laughter, joy, compassion, peace, caring, gentleness.  We must help realize the dream.”

Redemption, by its definition, has to be effective in changing the worst and most unlikely of individuals as well as the worst of societies or regimes.  A remarkable example of personal redemption and transformation of a hate figure, is seen in the life of George Wallace, the former pro-segregation, anti-civil rights Governor of Alabama.  Elected in 1962 on a slogan of “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”, Wallace went on to block the enrollment of African American students at the University of Alabama.  He had vowed to “refuse to abide by any federal court order even to the point of standing in the schoolhouse door”.  Martin Luther King said in 1963 that Wallace was “perhaps the most dangerous racist in America today”.   Wallace closed Birmingham schools that year rather than allow them to be integrated.  He told the New York Times : “What this country needs is a few first class funerals, and some political funerals too”.

In 1972 while campaigning for the Democratic nomination for President, Wallace was shot by a deranged white man, Arthur Bremer.  The attack left Wallace crippled for the rest of his life, but he continued to serve as Governor from a wheelchair till 1978.  During a long term in hospital this former white supremacist and hatemonger became a devout Christian and renounced his earlier racist attitudes.  He apologized to the victims of his previous actions and policies.  In 1982 he told a black audience, “We thought it was in the best interest of all concerned.  We were mistaken”.

He ran again for the governorship of Alabama, this time on a platform of racial and religious tolerance.  The black electorate was convinced the change was genuine, and many of them voted for him, electing him to an unprecedented fourth term.  Ill-health forced Wallace into retirement in 1987 but he continued to support integration and attended a re-enactment of the Selma-Montgomery march in 1995.  In his final years, he was nursed and attended day and night by a negro man who he called the best friend he had on earth.  Black civil rights leaders including the Rev Jesse Jackson, mourned for their former enemy George Wallace at his death in September 1998.  

Governor George Wallace as a young fierce opponent of civil rights and George Wallace before he died, totally changed in attitude to other races.

Solzhenitsyn records his own personal awakening to spiritual truth during the Gulag experience :  “It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience : how a human being becomes evil and how good.  In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel.  In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor.  In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments.  It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good.  I came to realize that the line separating good and evil does not run between states, or classes or political parties, - but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.  Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.”

In 2002 Professor and Pastor, Eugene Peterson completed and published a remarkable paraphrase of the Bible in contemporary language [The Message, the Bible in Contemporary Language, Eugene Petersen, Nav Press, 1993].  The Message is a most readable and challenging work incorporating vivid modern idiom and accurate scholarship.   In his Introduction to the Message, Peterson comments on the contrast between the cruelty and confusion of our world, and the message of redemption in the Bible:

“ … the biblical world is decidedly not an ideal world, the kind we see advertised in travel posters.  Suffering and injustice and ugliness are not purged from the world in which God works and loves and saves.  Nothing is glossed over.  God works patiently and deeply, but often in hidden ways, in the mess of our humanity and history.  Ours is not a dream world in which everything works out according to our adolescent expectations.  There is mystery everywhere.  There is pain and poverty and abuse.  For most of us it takes years and years to exchange our dream world for the real world of grace and mercy, sacrifice and love, freedom and joy, - the God-saved world.”

Bulgarian youths at a centre for victims of child trafficking

Ambulance in Lebanon targeted by shrapnel and gunfire

Consider another prominent American, and one whose actions I have sometimes criticised, along with the behaviour of members of his family, - George W H Bush, the current President’s father.  In an interview with Larry King, at the age of 82, he expressed his deep misgivings and personal revulsion at war and military action, in the face of the horrendous casualties caused.  He declined to comment on his own record since he could do little to alter the past, but as he looked forward to death, he summed up his own hopes and expectations in the phrase –  ”Our God is a forgiving God”.

As we seek to make sense of the moral and spiritual dilemmas facing us in the 21st century, and to find a way forward that will give a degree of security and permanence to human life on this planet, the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes [That is, Oliver Wendell Holmes, senior, (1819 – 1891), as opposed to his equally renowned son of the same name who became a Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  OWH junior lived from 1841 to 1935.] remain very pertinent.  More than any other poet, perhaps, he described with prophetic insight, the way all of us and our societies applaud the courage of past reformers and leaders, but remain blind to the moral issues of our day and fail to stand up for them in the crises of our time. This reflects Jesus’ condemnation of the religious leaders of his time who built memorial tombs of the prophets but who persecuted the genuine prophets of their own time.  Holmes claimed that we praise, “a legendary virtue carved upon our fathers’ graves”.     But we go on to “make their truth our falsehood”  because “we see dimly in the present what is small and what is great”.   Wendell Holmes wrote in the context of the struggle to abolish slavery in America, but claimed that our refusal to address all injustice eventually returns to haunt us, and may exact a terrible price from future generations.  “They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin”.   (Actually, I hesitated to include quotations from the poem because it has occasionally been used to justify the very attitudes it condemns). 

Today, in the name of all our hard-fought-for freedoms and liberties, our governments are dismantling those freedoms and imposing despotic controls that permit jail without charge or trial, torture (or the use of information gained by torture), and deportation; and they sometimes implement a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy on our streets.  While claiming to stand for transparency and freedom of information, our governments have become more secretive than ever. In the name of national security, administrations seek to protect politicians from exposure of their lies.  The deaths of countless innocents at the receiving end of our own weapons of death and destruction, are treated as an irrelevance, - mere collateral damage. 

Limbless victims of land mines

For a final piece of inspiration, I would like to quote from the Nobel Peace Prize address of Martin Luther King in 1964:

On accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, 1964


Martin Luther King


I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history.  I refuse to accept the idea that the "is-ness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "ought-ness" that forever confronts him.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of nuclear annihilation. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed and nonviolent redemptive goodwill proclaimed the rule of the land. And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid.

I still believe that we shall overcome.

                                                                     Martin Luther King

Well, these are some of my reflections on life and on a beautiful but troubled world.  They are a few of the images captured during my lifetime.  Images captured in time, become reflections from eternity, if we have a spiritual sensitivity to the messages from beyond outer space.  And in the end, our lives are but a prelude to eternity.  Malcolm Muggeridge used to reminisce that his life as a writer and newspaperman could be summed up by the image of a blank sheet of paper in a typewriter.  For me, since the day I first packed a canvas bag and headed down to the harbour to join my father’s fishing boat, life has been a series of packed and unpacked suitcases.  On fishing boats and research vessels, in tents and shacks, in umpteen hotels, guest houses, apartments and pensiones, in cities and towns and rural areas in over 70 countries, I have gone through the ritual of packing and unpacking time and time again.  Each time it happens, I remind myself that one day I shall pack up and leave for the last time on this earth, and I shall make a one-way trip to another world, - to a far more beautiful and more permanent land. 

The prospect for me grows more and more appealing as that day approaches.  I have no wish to “rage, rage, against the dying of the light”.  I want to leave this world with gratitude in my heart for the privilege of sharing in its wonder and its joys as well as its tragedies and heartaches.  After all, as Max Ehrmann expressed it so beautifully in Desiderata, “with all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world”.  I share the sentiments of Robert Louis Stevenson, “gladly I live, and gladly die, - so lay me down with a will”.

So I want to depart with a spring in my step and a light in my eye in anticipation of the eternal realm.  Someone once asked a learned man if he knew what lay beyond the door of death. He replied that he did not.  Shortly after there was a scratching at the door of the office.  He opened it to find that his dog had gotten out of the garden and somehow followed the scent to his place of work that day.  The animal bounded in and jumped up to its master in a show of enthusiastic canine affection.  The man then turned to the one who had asked the question about death.  “My dog did not know what lay behind that door just now.  But he knew who was behind the door, and for him, that was all that mattered.”   It is more than enough for me also, to know the One who waits for me, just beyond the door out of time into eternity. 

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