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.”

WHAT DO CYPRUS AND MICHIGAN HAVE IN COMMON?

cyprus_map

The government is debating a levy on deposits, taking 9.9% from those with accounts showing a balance of over 100,000 Euros and a smaller percentage from those under 100 grand.

Naturally, people today are lined up outside banks withdrawing their deposits.

This will not, of course, stop the government – they can simply back date it and send residents a bill.

While Michigan residents may be thankful they don’t live in Cyprus, Michigan does have the same problems that Cyprus has.

An article in the Lansing State Journal reported three days ago that “Michigan cities (are) facing $12.7 billion in unfunded liabilities”  (March 15th).  The unfunded liabilities are mostly for healthcare and pension commitments to local employees.

As reducing spending never seems to be an option for government, an economist at MSU, our local university, warned of “higher taxes.”   An alternative would be for cities to charge people for streetlights and other services, which is the reason we needed city government in the first place.

What is clear from the report is that government employees are not subject to the vagaries of the market as are people employed in the private sector.  Thanks partly to strong unions their incomes and benefits are guaranteed and cannot be tampered with.

Unless this changes, Michigan may have to follow Cyprus and find innovative ways of taking more money from over-taxed tax payers.

If stealing from peoples’ bank accounts isn’t an option, the federal reserve is already helping.  Since the crash of 2008 the money supply has been increased by 25%.   This will inevitably speed up the rate of inflation.  Inflation has often been described as a “hidden tax.”   It’s a clever way for governments to increase spending and, while they are at it, reduce the amount of debt they have to pay back.

Sorry, not an option for Cyprus where they use the Euro, a currency shared by sixteen other nations and controlled by the European Central Bank.

Cypriots are blaming Germany.  The Germans won’t help without the proposed levy.

As the Germans remain one of the few creditor nations (nations with a surplus), could a debtor nation like the US one day need German help?  In which case, we also may have to suffer a levy on our bank accounts.  That is, of course, assuming we have anything left in the bank by then!

SCREENING THE SMALL SCREEN

It’s now been two years since we got rid of cable!

We haven’t missed it a bit – though visitors sometimes do.

Cable was costing us about $75 a month.  That was just for the regular channels, no premium channels like HBO or Showtime.

We had 200 plus channels.

I grew up in England with just two channels .  Neither of those started broadcasting until 5pm each day, except for weekends when they came on at about 2pm.  Both were in black and white (yes, we did have sound!).

Frankly, there was more to watch on those two channels than there is now on the 200!!!

Dropping cable was a part of our strategy to simplify our lives — to de-stress.   With less to watch, we figured we would watch less.

However, we were surprised to find when we put up a really good roof antenna, that  we could actually pick up 38 channels.   Some of these are duplicates (we get NBC, ABC and CBS from Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo as well as Lansing).  But, even so, we had some real surprises once we got fully connected.

THIS is a 24-hour-a-day movie channel with a couple of old TV shows and some children’s programs in the morning.   Although most of the movies are not worth the time, there are a couple each week that we enjoy watching.    Another channel, ANTENNA TV, offers movies through the night and mornings, with old television sitcoms filling up the remainder of the time.  I’m not interested in most of them, but it’s good to know it’s there, if I ever get nostalgic for the 50’s.

ME-TV  (ME = Memorable Entertainment) is 24/7 of old television programs from the 50’s through the 70’s.   RETRO TV is another.

We also have six religious channels, some of which show old shows and movies.

In addition, there’s CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX – which all provide modern entertainment that’s not worth watching.   I do, however, watch the news on one of these.

PBS is our favorite.   We get three PBS channels from MSU (Michigan State University).

Weekdays from 6 to 6 is non-stop quality children’s programming.   At 6pm every weekday we have 30 minutes of world news from the BBC, the only program I try not to miss.  Other quality news programs follow, then documentaries.

The other two channels are WORLD (24 hours of documentaries with a few news programs) and CREATE (arts, travel, gardening, etc).   All three come in clear on our television set – and they are free (though they like a donation).

Additionally, there’s QUBO, a 24/7 children’s channel.  There are also pop and country music channels.

So, next time your cable provider raises the charges, look into disconnecting cable and getting an antenna.  Our local “Antenna Men” say business is booming as people realize they can have more than they need without paying anything per month.

An added bonus is that life really does become more simple, when there is less to choose from, and you don’t have a backlog of recorded shows you would like to watch.

"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