HMMMMMM . . .

Le penseur de Rodin

“A world in which the US abnegates its leadership will be a world of unrestricted self-help in which China sets the rules of politics and trade in Asia, mayhem and chaos is the order of the day in the Middle East, and timidity and appeasement paralyze the free European states.  A world, in short, where the strong do what they will, the weak suffer what they must, and those with an option hurry up and get nuclear weapons . . . Not a pleasant thought”.

(“American Withdrawal and Global Disorder” by Eliot Cohen, Wall Street Journal, March 20th, 2013).

IF YOU DON’T LIKE THE WEATHER, WAIT 15 MINUTES

Snow flake

Yesterday was the first day of Spring – and it snowed all day.

That’s Michigan for you.

When I first moved here over 22 years ago, I was told, “If you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes and it will change!”   But it didn’t change yesterday, or today – it’s still snowing.

In America we still use Fahrenheit to list temperatures.   Our local weatherman yesterday told us that the difference between the temperature yesterday and the temp on the same day last year was an incredible 50 degrees!

Perhaps its time to move . . .

But the news is often dominated by climactic disaster seemingly everywhere else, except mid-Michigan where we live.  A few miles south of us was hit by a bad snowstorm a few days ago, while we escaped.   “Up north” is often hit, while its quite mild here.

Other states get tornadoes, hurricanes and struggle with drought, none of which have bothered us here (though we have had disasters in other parts of the state).

Lansing, the capital of Michigan, seems protected from those extremes.

So I think we will stay – and watch the news highlighting disasters everywhere else!

WHAT WOULD ST PETER MAKE OF THE CHURCH?

St Peter

I’m nauseated by the coverage of the change in the papacy.

It’s not that I have a problem with the new pope, because I don’t.  He seems a very humble man and his focus on the poor is commendable.

What’s wrong is not even his fault.

I’m talking about the constant references to the “fact” that he is the personal representative on earth of Jesus Christ.

It’s also frequently said that he is the 266th pontiff, a direct successor to St. Peter, who started the Catholic Church.

If that’s true, then Peter has a lot to answer for!

The Catholic Church today sets a very good example in some respects, adhering strictly to conservative teachings that most churches long since abandoned – just as their members have, in turn, abandoned them.  Pope Francis I is only going to boost the church with his stated interest in the poor and his very approachable manner.   Leaders of other churches should take note – not all churches are led by what you might call “people-people.”  Certainly, religious leaders are not generally humble.  At the same time, it has become the accepted norm for religious leaders to live in big houses and enjoy a high standard of living.

But the Catholic Church, the wealthiest organization on earth, has not always had the image it has now.  Its history has been violent and sordid.  You only have to watch Showtime’s The Borgias to see this.  (Please note:  The Borgias is remarkably historically accurate for a television series.)   The Borgias were a wealthy Italian family in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries who got control of what was a very corrupt church – and made it even more corrupt.  Pope Alexander VI, a Borgia, left his wife behind and took a mistress whom he kept in the Vatican.   His son, meanwhile, was made a Cardinal and had a reputation for constant debauchery.  Alexander got to the papacy through bribery, threats, and even murder.  The political shenanigans that went on would embarrass most politicians in the world today.

Even that wasn’t the worst period in the church’s history.  In the ninth and tenth centuries, a Catholic monk labeled the government of the church “the pornocracy,” the government of filth.  Google that word sometime and you can read all about it.  There was even a female pope – a woman masquerading as a man who rose to the highest office and was only discovered when she gave birth to a child while surrounded by a crowd in Rome.

“If Peter came back as a pilgrim, how would he judge what goes on in the Vatican by the standards of the gospel?”  This question was asked by a former priest and graduate of Gregorian University in Rome, Peter de Rosa, in his 1988 book “Vicars of Christ” (page 26).

He then notes the contrast between the relative poverty of the disciples with the great wealth of today’s church.   “Jesus was born in a stable.  In his ministry, he had nowhere to lay his head.  Today, his Vicar inhabits a palace with eleven thousand rooms.  And then there is Castelgandolfo, overlooking the Alban Lake where pontiffs go to escape the summer heat.”  Here, in a palace bigger than the Vatican, Pope John Paul II had a private swimming pool installed.

“Jesus renounced possessions … Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, he said, where neither rust nor moth can spoil it.  Christ’s Vicar lives surrounded by treasures, some of pagan origin.  Any suggestion that the pope should sell all he has and give to the poor is greeted with derision as impractical.  The rich young man in the gospel reacted in the same way.”  Will Pope Francis be different?  He has already said he wished the Church was poor.

On the next page he points out another contrast.  “The celibacy of the clergy, popes included, might also surprise Peter, seeing that Jesus chose him, knowing he was married.”

He expresses consternation at the pope’s grand title “Pontifex Maximus,” “for in his (Peter’s) time, that was the title of the pagan high priest of Rome.”

At great length, he explains that the papacy’s claim to go right back to Jesus Christ is inaccurate and a convenient misreading of scripture.   (I will post something on this on another day.)  The legitimacy of the Church is based on this claim and gives them a big advantage over other churches – but it is totally, biblically and historically without basis!

Can Pope Francis really make a difference?  Two thousand years of history suggests not.  His age (76) is also against him.

But, if nothing else, he may be able to encourage some self-examination on the part of the government of the Church – the Roman Curia, the bloated bureaucracy that effectively controls the Church.   Looking at history, he is unlikely to make it worse.

As for television reporters, please read more history and get some depth!

PACK YOUR BAGS AND GET OUT OF HERE

travel

I’ve always liked to travel.   Every country is interesting in one way or another.

Meeting new people of a different culture, trying to understand their way of thinking and their way of life; visiting old friends on return trips; seeing great scenery, tasting new foods – I never get bored when I’ve travelling (except on a 24-hour plane journey!).

My wife and I took 250 people to England twenty years ago and 100 to Kenya the following year.  I’ve taken friends on trips to England, Europe and Africa.   Two years ago, I took a friend and his son on a week-long trip to England.  We had a great time visiting military sites, castles, forts and, of course, pubs (only those of historical interest, of course!).

During our 36-year career in full-time ministry we had a lot of opportunity to travel.   Even before we were hired by our church and sent to Ghana in west Africa, we lived in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).   After Ghana we moved to England for a few years, then back to Ghana for a second assignment.   During our African assignments we were able to visit other neighboring countries, like South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, Nigeria, Liberia, Kenya and Uganda.

Growing up in England and then pastoring in that country we also got to travel in Europe.   I was even able to go to Russia on two occasions during the communist period.

I often hear people say they would like to travel but few ever get around to it.

I remember one conversation with a man who envied the fact that I had recently visited England.  He said he could never afford it on his income.  As we talked, it turned out his income was greater than mine.   As we continued our conversation I learned that he withdrew $20 a day from the ATM for his daily needs.  This included coffee, muffin and morning paper, lunch and a six-pack of beer to take home (the latter was not every day).  This was twenty years ago when $20 was more than twice what it is today.

I did some quick math and worked out that the total amount he spent in a year on these “incidentals” was $5000, at the time enough to take his wife and children on a trip to England.   He had never thought about it that way.

I haven’t seen him in many years, but I doubt he made the changes necessary.   I also doubt that he ever made it to England.

But you could.

If you can’t save up the money to buy an airfare, you could get a credit card that gives you miles instead of cash back.  You’d be surprised how soon you can save up enough miles for an international airfare, if you put almost everything on the card, including gas and groceries, even those “incidentals” my friend talked about.

England is actually a very good choice for Americans to make as a first overseas trip, as they speak English.  It’s a little different from American English.  Sir Winston Churchill once said of the US and Britain that “English is the common language that divides us!” but you should be able to understand most people.

England and America share a common history – and everywhere you turn in England, you see history (castles, cathedrals, ancient ruins, palaces, stately homes).   This is true of all of Europe.

If you need any advice, write to me at rhodesmf@gmail.com.   If you want to get a group together for any of the places mentioned above and need a tour guide, let me know.   I’d be interested!

IS IT A GIRL? IS IT A BOY? WHOEVER IT IS WILL BE THIRD IN LINE

Kate-Middleton-Grimsby

While there, somebody in the crowd stepped forward and gave her a white teddy bear.   My nephew’s wife was standing next to the lady with the white teddy bear and heard the whole thing.  The duchess supposedly thanked the lady with:  “Thank you.  I will take that for my dau—?”  starting a rumor that the already most famous baby in the world is a girl.  Afterwards, it was agreed that the word wasn’t “dau…” but “aww…” so the world is still speculating on the future king or queen of England and a few other countries.

Anyway, it really doesn’t matter any more, as the law has been changed.  Instead of the crown passing to the eldest male child, it now simply passes to the eldest child, which means, that if it is a girl (and William is said to want a girl, though Kate differs), it won’t matter.

All sixteen Commonwealth Realms (kingdoms) had to agree to the change.   These are the nations of which the queen is Head of State.   All are members of the 54-nation Commonwealth, of which she is Head.  The other 38 countries have presidents or kings of their own.  Almost all were former British colonies.   Putting it another way, the British monarch has a role to play in over a quarter of the world’s countries!

It’s difficult to understand the obsessive need to change the law of primogeniture.  Perhaps that’s because I’m the firstborn male!   But the fact is that in the last 176 years since Queen Victoria ascended the throne, women have sat on the throne for 125 of them, during a period of time when the eldest male was given preference!   The change could mean that a male monarch will be as rare as a hot day in England!

I was in England at the time of Prince William’s birth in 1982.   I remember walking down a busy high street when I heard church bells ringing out.  They were celebrating the birth of an heir to the throne.    Thirty years later, that heir awaits the birth of his own heir.

The birth of a baby should always be a joyous event.   But the birth of an heir to the throne is particularly joyous, a public event that people around the world can take pride in.  Amongst other things, it ensures another generation of political stability in all the queen’s realms.  That is, of course, barring an unforeseen national catastrophe.

Quotable Quotes . . .

Quill Pen

Benjamin Disraeli, nineteenth century Conservative British prime minister, explaining to parliament the difference between a misfortune and a calamity.   William Gladstone was his Liberal opponent.

“The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this:  If Gladstone fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune.  But if someone dragged him out again, that would be a calamity.”

"Once in a while you will stumble upon the truth but most of us manage to pick ourselves up and hurry along as if nothing had happened." — Sir Winston Churchill