Wednesday, 28 February 2018

A very human preacher

Reflections on working with Billy Graham

The evangelist Billy Graham died aged 99 on 21 February 2018. His funeral was due to take place on 2 March. I worked for a decade with his team and occasionally directly with him.

He was wearing tracksuit bottoms and trainers in a hotel room in Bristol. His wife Ruth was in hospital in America. Billy Graham and I were discussing a forthcoming speech he was to make to a “black tie” British audience. I shared some ideas and tried to probe what he felt his message should be. He was very unsure. He leaned back, and lamented, “If only Ruth was here! She’d know what I ought to say.”

            It was near the start of the three-month series of meetings in 1984 in six venues called Mission England. The encounter was my first of several insights into the very human, often diffident and indecisive, shy and sensitive human being who lay behind the public persona of a seemingly confident and assured preacher addressing audiences numbering tens of thousands.

Proof I was there: in the background as Cliff Barrows
 and Billy Graham made a pre-meeting stadium visit
I worked with the communications team for Mission England (1983-4) and subsequent missions in Sheffield (1985), London and its 248 “Livelink” TV satellite relays (1989), Scotland (1991) and Moscow (1991-92). I produced information for church supporters and for the secular media, assisted in direct media relations, and occasionally worked one to one with Mr Graham as he prepared articles or speeches. I also wrote the official story of Mission England (One in a million, Word Books 1984), pre- and post-mission magazine-style publications in 1984 and 1989, and had later back-room opportunities to draft materials for some other overseas missions. I was by no means the only person involved in this way, but I had plenty of opportunity to see the operation, and the man, from close up.

            In person, Billy Graham was always polite, and he always listened. He was a “mid Atlantic” man, like most of his team who I worked with, in manner and accent. There was none of the brash, loud, bombastic, drawling, know-it-all “speak first and think later” character that British people often associate with some Americans. He and his team were culturally sensitive, anxious to work with, not order around, the local people who had invited them in.

Indeed, when the “Life” advertising campaign for 1989 was revealed to a group of us by the agency we had appointed, one of the first questions was whether the Americans would accept it as it was totally unlike anything they had used before. It was entirely in black and white, and included a teaser campaign using the jumbled letters of the word LIFE. (FLE.I, E.LIF, ILE.F) with the question “Can anyone make sense of it?”. The final reveal poster, with a silhouette back view of the evangelist, was “LIFE. Come and hear one man who can make sense of it. Billy Graham.” The Americans graciously accepted the British team’s judgement that it would work here; it actually went on to be widely copied and won an advertising industry award. In Moscow in 1991-2 we used something similar – flyers posing the simple question Why? and the mission title which translated roughly as “the most important”.

The Graham team never went anywhere without a clear invitation from a widely representative body of church leaders. In fact it took almost a decade of repeated invitations from British leaders before Billy Graham considered that both the time, and the nature of our proposal for Mission England (a three-year programme of training and outreach of which his meetings would be the focal point), was right for him to come. The final decision always lay with him.

            Indeed, his desire to be inclusive and accommodating sometimes got him into trouble with the very people who theoretically should have been his strongest supporters. There were demonstrations against him by ultra-Protestant groups who objected to him welcoming Roman Catholic Church leaders onto the platform. They handed out anti-Graham leaflets outside some of the UK venues and harangued people going in. While he never compromised his solid Bible-based evangelical beliefs, Billy sat loose to denominational differences. If people were happy to accept and promote his simple message, he was happy to work with them.

            Interestingly – and as if proof was ever needed that there’s always another side to the media-projected image of public figures – my only personal encounter with the late Ian Paisley, the fiery Protestant politician and church minister in Northern Ireland, came in a blistering ten-minute phone call from him in 1989. However, he was not complaining about Mr Graham’s sympathetic attitude to Catholics. Paisley was a strong supporter of the mission and of Graham’s ministry.

            But he was always the far-seeing, and in that sense wise, politician. I had issued a press release announcing that one of the venues for a Livelink relay was a Roman Catholic Church in Belfast. To us in London, it was a newsworthy contribution to furthering the cause of unity in a deeply divided community, and to promoting Billy Graham’s ecumenical credentials. To Paisley in Belfast, although he had no personal problem with the relay or the venue, the publicity was a potential hindrance to the cause of peace. It could provoke his own even more extreme supporters to turn against him, making the event more, not less, divisive. It might also hinder the cause of the Gospel as remonstrations detracted from the purpose and message of the meetings, he suggested. Sometimes, things need to be done quietly, without fanfare, as small steps in a very long journey. We had failed to be culturally sensitive in our enthusiasm for the immediate story, a common media and PR failing.

What fuelled his success?

We once asked a journalist why there was so much positive interest in and coverage of Billy Graham’s 1984 visit. “Maybe after all these years we’ve begun to think he might have something,” he replied. Simple and undeniable facts had exhausted most of the sceptics’ antagonism.

            Top of the list was the simplicity of his message. Billy Graham was not an intellectual but neither was he theologically illiterate. He had a sharp and quick mind, as many of his live broadcast interviews (including with renowned psychologist Anthony Clare) revealed. He did not offer glib answers to deep questions such as why innocent people suffer. He acknowledged he didn’t understand everything, and simply stressed God’s care for people in extreme situations. Nor did he hold out to people of faith the glib promise of wealth and well-being, unlike the “prosperity gospel” TV evangelists in the US. He just stuck to his core message that every human being is a sinner who needs Christ’s forgiveness and new life. It rang bells with ordinary people even if it continued to rankle with some commentators.

            He was also patently sincere. People who came to the meetings out of curiosity went away acknowledging that whatever else they thought about the message, Billy Graham clearly believed it himself. He was not putting on an act, or playing to the gallery. He was earnest. (He did get carried away occasionally. He used very full sermon notes typed in very large print, but once, having told one of his regular anecdotes which received a greater than usual laugh, he went on to tell another, and another, off the cuff. There was then what could only be described as a pregnant pause. His secretary on the platform turned to one of the UK mission leaders and whispered, “He’s lost his place and doesn’t know what comes next!”)

            His sincerity was borne out by his lifestyle. Very early in his ministry he and Ruth had bought some (then) cheap land on a mountainside and build a wooden house on it. He lived there for the rest of his life, and died there. When his support organisation was formed, also early in his ministry, it was agreed that he would be paid a fixed salary equivalent to that of the minister of a large (not mega) US church. The team offered their services in the UK (and elsewhere) entirely at their own expense and the collections taken at meetings went entirely to the considerable costs of hiring and equipping large venues, producing the literature, and paying local staff. Anything left over might be given partly as a “love gift” to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and also shared with other UK evangelistic projects.

            There was never a whiff of scandal attached to him, either. That was thanks partly to his rigid rule (recently redubbed the “Pence rule” after the current US Vice-President) of never meeting a woman in any circumstances on his own.

            More controversy did surround his relationships with world leaders and particularly US Presidents. However, after he was badly hurt and let down by the antics of President Nixon, who Graham counted as a personal friend, he never publicly endorsed the policies of others. He became a trusted confidante of most presidents of both parties, however, and nothing that passed between them was ever made public.
Always happy to talk - an impromptu media interview
at the Liverpool Garden Festival in 1984
And as you look through the archive of photographs, what strikes you is the ease with which he sat cross-legged with a group of students, or on occasions engaged with people in the street. Billy Graham liked people. He would talk to anyone. And he treated them equally. He was never whisked like a head of state in a convoy of armoured cars and kept apart from the public: in that regard, he was far more like today’s young royals than distant politicians. People warmed to that, and were thus more open to what he had to say.

            Nor did he hide behind TV cameras, although he used TV as much as he could. His primary ministry was to people in person in live meetings, where he felt most at home. In 1984 in Sunderland (previously dubbed the graveyard of evangelists because of its low level of church attendance and response to previous outreach attempts) I went out on the streets asking people why they were coming to hear him in such large numbers. “Well, he’s been good enough to come to see us, so we ought to go and hear what he’s got to say”, said one middle aged Geordie.

            But there were two other factors behind his success in the UK and elsewhere. One was the context. The missions in the 1960s were carefully prepared by local people and the lessons learned then were taken up by UK church leaders and the Graham team elsewhere and refined by the 1980s. Far from being “mass evangelism”, the thrust of the missions was personal evangelism on a large scale. Almost 50,000 people attended the preparatory Christian Life and Witness Classes in 1984, 100,000 in 1989. The course taught Christian basics and encouraged Christians to share their faith with others.

Many volunteers worked late into the night after each meeting
to follow-up enquirers, sending their details to local church
nurture groups to arrive by post the next day
Alongside that was Operation Andrew in which people pledged to pray for and bring to the meetings half a dozen or so of their friends, relatives or colleagues. And on top of these were the Prayer Triplets: three people getting together regularly to pray for up to three people each. Time and again we heard of people coming to faith as a result of this witness and prayer long before the meetings took place. And the majority of uncommitted people who did get to the meetings were already prepared in some way to hear the message – they were not coming cold to something completely unfamiliar. Billy was reaping the harvest from a carefully-prepared mission field.

At times in the meetings you could almost feel the power of that prayer, and the presence of God, much as one might in the echoing silence of a great cathedral or a country church. Once, when we were especially aware of it, a colleague turned to me and said, without in any sense being irreverent, “He could read the weather forecast now and people would come forward to commit themselves to Christ.”

That atmosphere was not what some critics feared – a hyped up emotionalism. It was something completely different. In fact, most of the meetings felt very flat and ordinary – there was none of the frenzy one might associate with a pop concert or football match in the same stadia. That didn’t always suit our friends in the media. At one venue we watched from the press bench with amusement as a TV crew – cameraman tied to sound man with a long umbilical cable, and a reporter – hared across the pitch to the far side to film about four people near the front of a stand who had their arms raised in praise and worship during a hymn. Almost everyone else in the 30,000 crowd was singing heartily but restrained physically.

The second factor was simply Billy Graham’s gift. The New Testament speaks of the gift of an evangelist – someone who under God is able to bring people to the point of encounter with Christ. Billy Graham had that in spades. Some would call it an anointing. He admitted in private that he remained surprised that people came in such numbers to hear him, and to respond to his message. He had a genuine, almost child-like, amazement that God should use him, a dairy farmer’s son with no great human talent, in such a great way. Perhaps that humility was one of the secrets of his longevity as a preacher.

What is his legacy?

That is impossible to quantify. Think dropping a stone into a still pond, with the ripples going out in all directions. Of course, some people who attended the meetings came away unconvinced. Others were affected, but later drifted away from church. Jesus predicted such an effect in the parable of the sower. But many people did come to faith, or had their faith rekindled, through his ministry. And some of those went on to become church ministers, lay activists in their churches, or quiet witnesses in their families, communities and workplaces. Through them, others have come to faith, or had their interest in Christianity awoken, or just been on the receiving end of some gentle “Kingdom building” of goodness, kindness, and godliness. The legacy is never ending.

The same, of course, can be said of almost everyone: we never know the full extent or effectiveness of what we do. The desire to quantify our achievements, to account for or justify our activities is ever greater in a society seemingly obsessed with fulfilling targets and ticking boxes. While defining clearly our strategies in God’s service is good, spiritual effectiveness can never be measured by numbers or actions. King David was taken to task in the Old Testament for holding a census of his fighting force, in effect to measure his pride of achievement and popularity. It wasn’t how God wanted him to think of himself.

The question also arises as to who (if anyone) is the “next” Billy Graham and will carry the torch for large-scale evangelism. It would be a foolish person who said that there never could be someone like him or that there could never be large scale evangelistic meetings in UK sports stadia or places like the O2 arena (after all, he wasn’t the first in history; think John Wesley, George Whitfield, and D.L. Moody). People do go to large events – pop concerts and festivals, and sports events. And there are large scale Christian events (usually semi-residential) such as New Wine, Spring Harvest, the Keswick Convention and so on.

But against that has to be weighed the fact that the world is now different. When Billy Graham was at the height of his ministry in the 1960s through to the 1990s social media didn’t exist. There were fewer TV channels. The satellite technology utilised in 1989 was pioneering – in fact Mission 89’s 248 Livelink relays used all the available large scale projection equipment that existed in the UK at the time, and some had to be imported from Europe. Furthermore, all large scale events today – take the recent Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, or large concerts, even theatre events – utilise two things that didn’t exist then: fast-paced rapidly changing action and vivid visual effects. There are of course people gifted as evangelists, but they don’t have to exercise that gift on large scales. Today, local is often better, with a few churches joining together for a concerted outreach into their community.

Billy Graham was a man for a specific time. Today, outreach with the Christian message needs to utilise technology in a different way; yet still many churches don’t have the facility for providing even simple visual reinforcement of talks. So, because of the well-documented decline in people’s ability to concentrate on a single speaker for any length of time, many have reduced their teaching slots to a few minutes’ monologue instead of re-imagining them and the worship “package” that sandwiches them. And the success of the Alpha Course suggests that the combination of friendship, food, a lively visual programme (the Alpha Course videos were re-worked a year or two ago) and discussion is currently a winning and culturally appropriate formula for sharing the Christian faith.

Instead of looking for a successor, and instead of trying to repeat a formula which worked in a former period, we need to be asking what we’re doing locally and nationally to draw people to faith in culturally appropriate ways. If God raises up an individual who in effectiveness stands head and shoulders above others, that would be great. But meanwhile we’re called to simply get on with the job of mission where we are. And that imperative, if anything, is the greatest legacy of the Billy Graham missions, because they mobilised people in the pews to do what the first Christians did: gossip the Gospel.

Think and talk

1.  What are the most appropriate ways your church might reach out with the Gospel to others without first expecting them to walk into a church service of their own accord?
2.  And what could you do to help facilitate it?





Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Peering through the mist

A meditation on the fogs of faith

The mark of an enquiring mind is that it never stops asking questions. And the more questions it asks, it discovers the less it really knows. But the mind that stops asking questions ceases to grow. Physiologically, a human brain that is not exercised tends to shrivel more with age than one which is given regular fresh focus.

John Betjeman’s scathing (and unfair) indictment of the inhabitants of war-time Slough serves as a more general, cynical indictment of mental as well as physical complacency that never reaches beyond the everyday realm of getting and spending:
“Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans
Tinned minds, tinned breath”.
He adds the patronising caveat that
“It’s not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio”
because they are people, he suggests,
“who daren’t look up and see the stars
But belch instead”.1

There is, however, a downside to listening to birdsong, looking up at the stars and asking profound questions. In matters of the spirit, we prefer our faith and our religion to be clear and certain. In one, limited sense, ignorance is bliss. Questions challenge former certainties. They threaten to confuse and complicate simple understandings. They can disturb our mental, emotional and spiritual equilibrium. From travelling on through clear daylight with stunning views, as it were, we find we have been enveloped in a fog in which everything becomes hazy.

Yet according to one biblical writer, that is how it often is, and it’s not necessarily a sign of spiritual decline, but a stage in spiritual growth.

The well-known opening words of the otherwise lesser-known and often misunderstood biblical book of Ecclesiastes, are “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” or “Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” They and the author’s original intention are variously interpreted but the word for “vanity” or “meaningless” means literally “vapour” or “mist”. The author is saying, “Everything is misty! It’s all utterly foggy!” And that such a state is not the end of the world.

Fog can stimulate faith

The point is that mist comes and goes. Life is ephemeral. James said the same in the New Testament: “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (4:14). We prefer not to think about it. It threatens our self-sufficiency.

It’s easy to get lost in fog. The author, like many people, is groping his way through the disorienting social, cultural and religious smog of his time. Ecclesiastes (3:11) knows that God “has set eternity in the human heart; yet no-one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end”. The author is frustrated by human limitations that cannot perceive more than indistinct shadows of God’s presence. But he presses on through the fog in his quest. Many just give up. Some never venture out at all.

Mist also transforms landscapes, and swaddles them in mystery. Sir Nigel Thompson, former Chair of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, has written: “Mist is like a universal corrector in the way it veils the imperfections of the middle ground. It softens sharp edges and disguises the influence of man – it puts nature on show.”2

Perhaps the opaque intellectual and spiritual clouds that obscure the frazzling presence of Almighty God are a similar corrector. They diffuse blindingly incomprehensible truths into a gentler awareness that lacks detail. Maybe, too, they can soften our sharp assumptions about life, people and God. There are mysteries beyond our narrow horizon. The ways of God cannot be reduced to neat formulae. We walk by faith, not by sight. 

When mist falls, a hush descends. Birds cease their song. Traffic noise is muffled. Familiar scenes become vague shapes. Distances seem lengthened. Time passes slowly. An awesome, echoing silence as in a lofty cathedral spreads over the land. It’s as if the earth pauses to worship its creator. “God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few,” cautions Ecclesiastes 5:2.

I grew up on the Kent coast, where sea and sky merge as fog blankets the Straits of Dover. Stressful as such conditions were for navigators in the crowded shipping lanes, on land they brought a quiet peace that was broken by the South Goodwin lightship’s foghorn offshore. It was a comforting sound. Someone was there in the gloom, keeping watch, warning of danger. It was a guiding grunt when the kindly light could no longer penetrate the dense, chilling fog, reminiscent of Isaiah’s assurance: “Whether you turn to the right or the left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21).

Moses heard God’s commandments thunder through the swirling clouds on Sinai (Deuteronomy 5:22). Elijah caught God’s whisper on the hazy heights of Horeb when the earthquake, wind and fire failed to reveal the divine presence (1 Kings 19:8-18). And enveloped in sudden fog on the Mount of Transfiguration three disciples were surprised by an unseen voice advising them to listen to Jesus (Mark 9:2-8).

There can be hints of hope, echoes of eternity, even in the temporal mists of doubt and the tantalising clouds of unknowing. One day “the sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2) will dispel the mist, and “we shall know fully, even as we are fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Meanwhile, as St Paul resolved, we can “strain towards what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13f.), even though we can’t see clearly what is there, because it is beyond our comprehension.

Think and talk
1.  Why don’t people share more openly the mysteries of faith that puzzle them? Might honesty be a better form of mission than ignoring or skating over the imponderable questions?
2.  Where does the fog linger in your faith and understanding?
3.  How might we maintain a balance between continuing to trust and follow God, to hold fast to what we do know, yet remain open to discovering new dimensions to our faith and understanding?

1. John Betjeman, “Slough”, John Betjeman’s collected poems, John Murray 1970 edition, pp.22f.
2.  Nigel Thompson, “Poetry in Motion”, in ed. Bill Bryson, Icons of England, Black Swan 2010, p.319.

The big questions of life and Ecclesiastes’ surprising answers will feature in future blogs.

© Derek Williams 2018


Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Why be moral when you could be rich?

The Flight into Egypt of the Holy Family after King Herod
opted for convenience rather than morality
(window in Southwell Minister)
“Morals don’t pay the bills” is the reported opinion of Wesley Perkins from Birmingham. A newspaper claimed that he buys up recently-expired internet domain names, directs their website users to pornographic sites, and demands large sums of money to return the sites to their original owners. He was said to call himself an internet gangster, but said that what he does is not illegal.1

It may be legal, but on his own admission it is hardly moral. It is taking advantage of other people for personal gain. But everyone, it seems, does it. Misha Glenny, author of the 2008 book McMafia on which a recent TV series was based, claimed that “the battle has broken out for what is moral in global terms and underpinning this is inequality.” He added that political “leaders everywhere … are engaged in financial dealings and activities which are absolutely outrageous but seen as the way of the world.”2

It is redolent of the early period of ancient Israelite history when “everyone did as they saw fit” in the absence of central authority and shared values (Judges 21:25). In Jesus’ parable of the unjust steward, a fortunate businessman takes ruthless advantage of a less fortunate one (Matthew 18:21-35). It was legal, but hardly moral.

Yet according to entrepreneur Richard Branson, “Ethics aren’t just important in business. They are the whole point of business … The more successful you get, the bigger and harder the ethical questions become.”3 We could add, they are important for everyone, in any walk of life. And they’re not always easy, either; the temptation to compromise principles for the sake of convenience is often present.

But most of us can only greet with a helpless shrug the steady stream of “outrageous” stories of exploitation or unfairness.  They include tax avoidance, cosy deals between government and big business, corner-cutting and neglect by construction companies and corporate landlords, the implicit demand of shareholders to put maximum profits before social responsibility, and the appeal to “market forces” as if they were gods demanding absolute obedience.

And then there are the excessive salaries funded by hapless customers or taxpayers, and large scale international scandals that come to light only years after the damage has been done and for which few executives pay a penalty. The list of probable or questionable legal actions that fall short of moral probity is almost endless. Doing anything about them is often above our pay grade.

Yet doing nothing is a recipe for social disintegration. “Morality matters,” wrote Lord Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi. He defined it as “the inner voice of self-restraint that tells us not to do something even when it is to our advantage, even though it may be legal and even if there is a fair chance it won’t be found out. Because it is wrong. Because it is dishonourable. Because it is a breach of trust.”

He continued, “We are reaching the endgame of a failed experiment: society’s attempt to live without a shared moral code. … Without trust, self-interest defeats regulations, undermines institutions and eventually causes systems to collapse.”4

Of course, there is still a huge amount of good will and human care in the world. Witness the outpourings of support after terror attacks or disasters, and the offerings of money and time given to voluntary agencies and charities. It’s one thing we can all do to maintain some level of moral rectitude.

People go “the second mile” without being asked (cf. Matthew 5:41); they “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12); they “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). They are the people surprised by Jesus’ commendation for their selfless humane actions in his parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). Thank God for the milk of human kindness which flows unabated even in straightened times and communities.

So: why be moral, especially if it may be to one’s own financial or other loss? There are two complementary approaches: social responsibility, and biblical requirements.

Social responsibility

Every society legislates against the worst excesses of unrestrained human behaviour. The sanctity of human life and property is protected by laws against murder and theft, which carry recognised punishments for transgressors. They can be reinforced by laws about irresponsible or dangerous conduct: driving without care and attention; erecting unsafe structures. They may be enhanced by voluntary codes of practice for institutions, businesses and trade associations to maintain acceptable standards. But no society can legislate for kindness and altruism.

                Ethicists suggest three principles for a shared code of conduct over and above the raw stipulations of the law. They are the moral duty to help people in need; consideration of the likely consequences of our actions on others (might they cause inconvenience, loss or suffering); and whether our actions contribute to the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

So the two well-heeled professionals who ignored the injured traveller in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) weren’t breaking the law, but they were acting selfishly and not loving their neighbour as themselves. It was as anti-social as playing loud music at 3.00 a.m. or dumping rubbish on public or private land instead of taking it to an authorised waste and recycling centre.

The problem with the secular approach is first, that it is not based on any absolute standard and secondly it cannot threaten any sanctions on the selfish person. The Scriptures offer both.

Biblical requirements

Most people have an innate sense that there is a distinction between right and wrong. However, human beings will often take the easy way out, or opt for the lowest common denominator of acceptable behaviour, if to do otherwise may involve personal inconvenience or risk.

Both in-built conscience, and in-grained selfishness, are recognised in the Bible. These conflicting forces can bring out the best and the worst in people. Altruism stems from the uniqueness of human beings made “in the image of God” and reflects, however imperfectly, God’s justice, mercy, kindness and faithfulness. Selfish indifference results from the dethronement of God and his standards in favour of the more achievable targets of personal convenience (for which the theological shorthand is “sin”).

The Ten Commandments provide a bare but absolute framework for conduct. They pass beyond the “legal” (prohibiting murder and theft) to include wider rules for social wellbeing to maintain work-life balance and family cohesion, and restrain personal desire (Exodus 20:1-17).

                This mix of “public” and “personal” rules for conduct is expanded in the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles. Their instructions on appropriate behaviour mostly fall short of absolute or laws or religious duties; they are voluntary, not mandatory. Yet paradoxically they make the laws harder: hateful anger is put on a par with murder, because it causes lasting damage to everyone caught up in it. And they all stress that our behaviour and attitudes should reflect those of God.

                So, if God is kind, patient, long-suffering, forgiving, gentle with human frailty – all attributes ascribed to God in both Testaments – then so should human beings be. The list of loving, kind and often counter-intuitive actions in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is exhausting to read as well as exhaustive in scope. He sums it up in one terse, pivotal sentence: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

                St Paul’s great theological essay, his letter to the Romans, has eleven dense chapters explaining in typically rabbinic style the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross and its relevance to human experience. Then, at the start of chapter 12, he writes, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…”. From there he lists a range of behaviours that should characterise a person who takes God and Christ seriously: love sincerely, cling to good, honour others, bless persecutors, don’t take revenge, love your neighbour as yourself, and many more.

                Neither he nor the apostles make much of the sanctions, but they are always understood: ignore God’s ways at your peril, because they will impoverish you and the community. Jesus does banish the thoughtless and self-concerned people in the parable of the sheep and goats to outer darkness (Matthew 25:46), while Paul suggests that some people of faith will barely squeeze into the heavenly realms with red faces and nothing to commend them for their indulgent, unproductive life on earth (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). But generally the message is: love as you have been loved, serve as you have been served, out of compassion rather than from compulsion.

Theologian Christopher Wright once described the Christian life as continuing the unfinished symphony of God’s story.  “In the Bible we have the score of the earlier movements, with such a wealth of recurring themes and variations, played on such a variety of human instruments, that it is quite sufficient to enable us to work out the music of our own ethics according to the mind and will of the composer, confident in the assurance that the final resolution lies in his hands.”5

Christian living – moral, self-less, God-pleasing – is a kind of spiritual karaoke: keeping in tune with God, following his melody and freely improvising fresh harmonies that enhance and develop it without ever becoming discordant. The more people who join in with this music of the universe, the more peace on earth and goodwill to humankind will prevail over the atonal cacophony that stems from amoral indifference and immoral indulgence.

                Putting human service before political dogma, the common good before commercial profit, is not an easy sell. Electors and shareholders need persuading that morals can still pay the bills – and make the world a better place. But individuals know that to be true, and what is society but individuals working together for common ends?

Think and talk

1.  Pray: We pray that all Managers and Leaders in the Public and Private sectors will find ways to model Jesus’ forgiving and caring approach; and allow them to be led by the Holy Spirit and fully consider the consequences, on the whole community, as they make and implement difficult and potentially divisive or painful decisions. (Prayer for 1 January 2018, Peterborough Diocesan Cycle of Prayer.)
2.  Read Matthew 5-7 and make a list in your own words of every injunction in it. Which ones in particular do you need to give special attention to, and why?
3.  Read Romans 12:1 – 15:7 and make a similar list. Why do we find such common sense instructions so difficult to enact in practice?
4.  What does Deuteronomy 24:5-7,10-15 tell us about the “rights” we owe to others?
5.  What do Romans 1:28-32; 7:14-25; James 2:8-11, 4:1-4 tell us about the reasons for ethical failure?
6.  See my short story “The smoking Gnome” for common loose approaches to ethics; discuss the rights and wrongs of each! www.gentlertales.blogspot, Gnome  

1.  i, 27 November 2017.
2.  Interview in The Times, 6 January 2018.
3.  Richard Branson, Business laid bare, Virgin Books 2009, p.10 (italics his).
4.  Jonathan Sacks, “It is the end of a dangerous experiment”, The Times, 7 July 2012.
5.  Christopher J.H. Wright, The use of the Bible in Social Ethics, Grove Books 1983, p.11
© Derek Williams, January 2018


Caption: The flight of the Holy Family into Egypt after the paranoid King Herod put power before truth, personal status above moral rectitude.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The need for discernment

Things aren't always what they appear
to be at first
Readers with long memories, or CVs which begin in another era, may remember that one of the early pop stars, Tommy Steele, had a hit with “Fings ain’t what they used to be”. He was heralding a period of unprecedented change. If he was writing it today, he would almost certainly have re-phrased it “Fings ain’t what they seem to be”, heralding an era of unprecedented confusion and uncertainty.

            Collins Dictionaries declared the word of the year for 2017 to be “Fake news”. Oxford Dictionaries said their word of the year for 2016 was “Post truth”. We are bombarded with information that may sound plausible and be repeated as fact in social and traditional media, but which may not be true. People in positions of power have the advantage of knowing more than we do, and can happily select and spin information to suit their purposes. A former leader of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, once said, “We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.”1

Only a few media organisations still employ fact checkers, such is the pressure on their time and resources, although specialist research companies are beginning to fill the gap. They can do what we cannot. So when opposing views are proclaimed, we tend to believe what seems to us to be the most plausible – which generally is what accords with our prior beliefs about the issues or the claimants.

            We don’t just need discernment in matters of political and international policy, though, but also in our personal lives. The default position for most of us is that what we say or think is true, and everything else is “alternative fact”. We over-play information that accords with our prior views or gut feelings and play down information that challenges them, regarding them as irrelevant, ridiculing them as bias, or just flatly denying them as false. This is the source of malicious gossip and false but damaging allegations.

Perhaps by discovering some principles for everyday decisions we may also become better equipped to discern the truths of bigger issues.

Discernment is a gift

Discernment is a spiritual gift. “To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his” (Job 12:13). Solomon specifically prayed for it so that he could “distinguish between right and wrong” and govern wisely and justly (1 Kings 3:9-12). Surely that is a prayer anyone in any position of responsibility in any sector of society should echo. It was certainly expected of leaders in ancient times (see the admittedly flattering comment in 2 Samuel 14:17).

St Paul calls “distinguishing between spirits” one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:10. He implies that it is something anyone can seek and it is not restricted to a few people who act as oracles or advisers. That is emphasised in his teaching about prophetic utterances: “the others [listening] should weigh carefully what is said” (1 Corinthians 14:29). In other words, don’t accept high-sounding rhetoric as gospel; be cautious rather than gullible.   

When two great “dreamers” of the Bible, Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon, were each called upon to interpret other people’s dreams and thereby discern what God was saying through them, they both issued a personal disclaimer. Neither claimed anything for himself. Joseph, once the brash teenager who had so infuriated his family with his rash dream-based boasts about how he would one day lord it over them, denies any inherent skill: “I cannot do it. But God will give Pharaoh the answer he [God] desires” Genesis 41:16; cf. 40:8).

Similarly Daniel, faced with the even greater challenge of telling the suspicious King Nebuchadnezzar both what the dream consisted of and its interpretation, confessed “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (Daniel 2:21,27-28).

Although “distinguishing between spirits” is sometimes narrowly interpreted by some Christians today as telling the difference between demons and the Holy Spirit (which on occasions it may be), It’s mostly about clarifying whether someone is telling the truth (see 1 John 4:1). Jesus rebuked his opponents who knew how to discern the weather from the appearance of the sky, but couldn’t discern the truth about his mission and message (Matthew 16:1-3). Paul discerned that Ananias and Sapphira were lying about their contribution to the church (Acts 5). He used the gift to deal with a fortune teller in Philippi who was telling the truth but for wrong reasons (Acts 16:16-21). That is reminiscent of TS Eliot’s famous line in Murder in the Cathedral, “that the last temptation is the greatest treason, to do the right thing for the wrong reason”.

So if we are to be discerning, the first thing we should do is defer to God.

Discernment comes from patience

The second is to learn patience. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit in the New Testament (Galatians 5:22, sometimes translated as “forbearance” or “long-suffering”). Paul calls for it as a mark of true discipleship: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. … And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Proverbs says, “Whoever is patient has great understanding [that is discernment], but one who is quick-tempered [that is, in a hurry] displays folly” (14:29). John in the book of Revelation, describing the cycles of turmoil that characterise every era of human history says, “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people” (13:10).

We can’t expect to become discerning people if we’re always in a rush to decide or pronounce on something before moving on to the next issue. That is hugely challenging in a fast-paced society. Discernment often requires that we do not make rapid decisions, that we do not jump to conclusions, that we do not form quick opinions that don’t do justice to the broader context. If God is faithful, his purposes won’t be thwarted because we took time to listen carefully and get our actions and views in tune with his.

Discernment is open-minded

The enemy of discernment is the assumption that we already know the answer. We cannot be truly discerning if we are merely looking for confirmation of a proposed action or preferred viewpoint. A number of ancient biblical proverbs remind us that to be discerning, we have to be prepared to be proved wrong. That does not come easily to most of us. “To themselves, people are usually right,” declares a character in Iain Banks’ novel The Business2.

            Not to the authors of Proverbs. Motive is everything: “The mocker seeks wisdom and finds none” (because s/he has a closed mind) “but knowledge comes easily to the discerning” (because they are open to fresh information, 14:6). Discerning people are open to correction: “A rebuke impresses a discerning person more than a hundred lashes a fool” (17:10, cf.19:25; we may balk at the idea of corporal punishment but the point is clear: some people are too self-opinionated to be changed by anything).

            There is an echo of this in Paul’s teaching about prophets in the church in 1 Corinthians 14. As well as urging listeners to weigh carefully the pronouncements, he also says that prophets should speak in turn and defer to each other (vv.29-33). Michael Green comments, “Presumably the longer the prophet goes on, the more likely he is to be talking from his own ideas rather than from the Lord!”3

            Discernment, which is closely related to wisdom (they can be distinguished by thinking of wisdom as understanding and discerning as deciding), comes only when it is sought earnestly. Seeking assumes that the answer, the treasure, is still hidden. “The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly” (that is, accepts uncritically that which feeds his prejudices, Proverbs 15:14); “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out” (18:15).

            Gerard Hughes describes how St Ignatius Loyola and a group of friends discerned God’s purposes for them. They each shared in turn reasons why they should not take a certain action, with no discussion. They went away to pray. Then they came together and once more in turn shared reasons why they should take the action, again with no discussion, and went away to pray. The next time they met they found they were in full agreement. They had weighed it up patiently, with open minds, and discerned the way forward together.4

Discernment defers to Scripture   

There has to be some final arbiter for Christian faith and action. Jesus warned of false prophets who appear very plausible (wolves in sheep’s clothing, Matthew 7:15-20). He suggests they are distinguished by the way they live, although that itself can be misleading unless we are very discerning. Very nice people in churches and community organisations have turned out to be fraudsters or abusers, perhaps because warning signs were ignored as being “unthinkable”. The devil wears Prada, not horns.

            The second century Christian document Didache stresses the need to check the lifestyles of people claiming to speak from God, and particularly suggests that if they ask for food or money, or outstay their welcome, they are to be regarded as suspect. Another early document suggests that the man “who wishes to have the first seat, and is bold and impudent and talkative and lives in the midst of many luxuries and many other delusions, and takes rewards for his prophecy” is also likely to be a false prophet.5  This is a strong indictment of some freelance ministers who peddle their services in return for their keep and operate largely outside the discipline and authority of a specific local church.

            Deuteronomy 13:1-5 warns that people who interpret dreams which come true – seemingly authenticating their gift – can still lead people away from God by advocating actions which are contrary to what God has previously revealed about his character and purposes. Jeremiah (23:25ff) warns about prophets who get very excited about dreams which can be delusional and says “Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?”

            God’s Word does not change, even if our understanding and interpretation of it does. God will not lead us to do something which contradicts the primary teaching of Jesus and the apostles. Hence the need for all of us, not just church leaders, to “search the Scriptures” (see John 5:39-40). On Paul’s visit to Berea the people “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” – and they only had the Old Testament to use (Acts 17:11).

Discernment is difficult

In all this, it is important to recognise that discernment doesn’t come easily. It is especially difficult in western countries for us to discern between wants and needs. The psychologist Oliver James tells of a British woman married to a super-rich property developer. One day she went to a Porsche dealer and bought a car on the spot even though she had no driving licence. When her personal assistant asked why she’d done it she said, “Because I can. I hate [my husband], I’m unhappy, and I have the money.”6 Extreme retail therapy, perhaps, but not completely beyond the experience of doing something “because I can”, without regard to wider issues.

The failure to distinguish between wants and needs forgets Paul’s words: “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:8). Otherwise our focus turns to ourselves, or to things, rather than to God’s purposes. We get caught up in the ultimately unsatisfying pursuit of more and better things for their own sake, instead of enjoying what we have and using it for the benefit of others.

Similarly we need to discern between what we could do and what we should do. Life offers many choices. Most of us have multiple gifts and abilities. C.H. Spurgeon, a Baptist preacher at the end of the 19th century, once said: “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” From the same era, the missionary Amy Carmichael who spent 50 years in India wrote, “I am not sure that I would feel guidance lay in all doors shutting behind. I have never yet moved on without several doors being wide open behind and many hands pushing me through one or other of those doors.”7

            Discernment is perhaps the most important gift to pray for in the modern world. We need it personally in order to have fulfilling lives. Our leaders need it in order to act effectively.

Think and talk

1. Pray: Father, we’re in a hurry. Slow us down. There are so many voices shouting for our attention; help us to listen carefully, to distinguish truth from half truth, and especially to hear what you want to tell us. Grant us the courage to be truly faithful to you and your word. To be patient. To be open-minded. And to be discerning people in a world that’s lost its way. Amen.
2.  Look up the Bible passages quoted in the text above, and read and meditate on them in their contexts.
3.  Read and meditate on the Solomon story and make his prayer your own (1 Kings 3:6-15).
4.  How will you and your friends or church go about discerning what is right or true when you hear new claims or assertions?
5.  What criteria will you use to distinguish between what is a valid difference of opinion and what is true or false? And how will you react to differences of opinion or viewpoint in the future?

1.  Quoted by Oliver James, Affluenza, Vermillion 2007, p. 241.
2.  Iain Banks, The Business, Little, Brown & Company 1999, p.237.
3.  Michael Green, I believe in the Holy Spirit, Hodder and Stoughton 1979, p.189.
4.  Gerard Hughes, God of Surprises, Darton, Longman & Todd 1985, pp.146-7.
5.  The examples are from Michael Green, Op.cit. pp.190-191.
6.  Oliver James, Op.cit., p.55.
7.  Amy Carmichael, Candles in the dark, SPCK 1988, p.42. The origin of the Spurgeon quote is unknown.

© Derek Williams November 2017.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Floods of concern - a fresh look at Noah

Facing the flood or stemming the tide?
An Antony Gormley figure at Margate, Kent
Earth, air, fire and water – the four elemental forces – are always in the news, often for the wrong reasons. Earthquakes, mudslides and avalanches; 170mph hurricanes; Grenfell Tower inferno and blazing forests; tsunamis and devastating floods in the Americas and Asia. The UK has had its own share; remember Boscastle, the Somerset Levels, Cumbria and Yorkshire. Tsunamis devastated the south of England in 1014 and 1755 (possibly because of asteroid collisions).

We can only feel for today’s victims and lobby governments and commercial interests to take climate change, construction safety and flood prevention seriously, whatever the financial cost.

            Natural disasters are nothing new. Several are recorded in the Bible and other ancient documents. Noah’s flood is one of them. It doesn’t explain why we live in an unstable and accident-prone world. But it does offer important spiritual food for thought. 

However, get rid of childhood pictures of boats and animals. Read Genesis 6-9 first. Remember that when Israelites wanted to teach or explain things, they told stories. (“Story” doesn’t necessarily mean “fiction”; journalists use the term to mean a news report, which may or may not be wholly accurate or unbiased.) Remember too that Genesis 1-10 is a scene-setter or prologue for the whole Bible, and therefore requires careful interpretation and comparison with other passages.

A flood of facts

There are said to be about 150 different flood stories from around the world similar to that of Noah. Three of them from the Middle East share a number of features with Genesis – but also have some important differences. Genesis is simpler, less elaborate, and above all monotheistic.

Some people conclude that Genesis is just one of many such stories, and therefore it has no enduring message.  Others such as Bible commentator Derek Kidner suggest that all the stories may have an origin in a real past event. Handed down orally through the generations and across different cultures some accumulated the kind of elaboration that occurs in Chinese whispers. If biblical inspiration is taken seriously, the Genesis account could be thought of as God’s corrective to the wilder myths.

            Kidner comments, “It is reasonable to think that some memories of Noah’s flood were carried into distant parts by the expanding circle of his descendants; yet it must be remembered that floods are not the rarest of disasters, and survivors’ experiences will have much in common.”1

             There is geological evidence of widespread floods in different periods of history and in different parts of the world. Bronze Age settlements around the Black Sea (not so far from the Middle East and the setting of Genesis) were inundated some 7,500 years ago, perhaps a result of the end of the last ice age. (Those melt waters also turned the British mainland into an island separate from Europe.)

Floods are a fact of life. It’s just that the Bible gives this flood story added meaning. But before we consider that, note what Genesis doesn’t say.

·         It doesn’t claim that the flood was global. Ancient authors often thought of “the world” as their part of it. They didn’t have a map or even a concept of the whole planet and its different lands. Genesis is focused on one small part of the world and for the author’s purposes nowhere else exists.

·         Nor does it say that Noah built a boat. The word “ark” means a chest or shelter and its cube-shaped dimensions and size are known elsewhere in antiquity. Sensational claims to have found the ark are unhelpful (and unsubstantiated). The point is that Noah took precautions as a result of some God-given foresight and/or astute reading of meteorological signs which he attributed to God.

A tide of judgement

Getting swept away by a torrent of scepticism or on a raft of possible scenarios misses the point of why the story is there and what it is meant to teach. It is a carefully constructed story in the form of a “palistrophe”, a symmetrical structure in which the first and second halves mirror each other. That in itself suggests that this is a tale with a moral. It introduces the notion of accountability and responsibility which is developed and illustrated in later biblical writings.

It tells us that God’s patience is not as infinite as God’s existence. There comes a time when God says enough is enough. Enough of this mindless violence. Enough of this greedy acquisitiveness. Enough of this superficial living for no other purpose than self-gratification. Enough of the carping criticism as if one race, class, gender or person was somehow superior to others, when all in fact are flawed. Enough of this sugary spirituality that attempts to bend the divine will to fulfil human ambition. Enough!

           Or, as the New Testament makes clear, our attempts to hold back the tide of accountability are doomed to failure like those of the legendary King Canute. “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due to us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). We may avoid immediate retribution (thank God he is not impetuous) but we cannot postpone indefinitely the divine assessment (see Revelation 20:11-15).

           It’s not something we like to think about. For most practical purposes we regard God as a soft touch who like an indulgent parent overlooks the minor errors of a spoiled child. We forget his subtle commands (such as to avoid anger and slander; see Colossians 3:8), when he’s pronounced them in the Scriptures and promised wisdom to those who ask. We blame our genes (“I couldn’t help it; this is how I am”) when the God who created them has also given us willpower, choice and the promise to provide a way out from any temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).

We confidently plead not guilty to murder, theft and similar crimes, considering as insignificant the “idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy” (Galatians 5:20-21) that flesh is heir to and which offend God and damage other people. We claim a clear conscience without recognising that this in-built sin detector can be hacked by our personal preferences. Paul noted in brutal honesty, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Corinthians 4:4). His conscience allowed him to torture and kill Christians before it was totally re-programmed by the Holy Spirit.

The bottom line is that God’s standard is perfection, therefore “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at one point is guilty of breaking all of it” – because we have ceased to be perfect (James 2.10; cf. Matthew 5:48). The story of Noah shows that God does not like what he sees in the behaviours and attitudes of a world that ignores or pays lip service to him.

It ought not to be such a strange idea today. Most people in employment are subject to regular assessments. Promotion or demotion may depend on the results. Misconduct will be met with some disciplinary measure, fine or even dismissal. Lawbreaking in society – from traffic offences to serious crimes – are given penalties ranging from a fine or caution to imprisonment. Not so long ago (and still in parts of the US and elsewhere) some resulted in execution. Critical judgement is part of human life in an imperfect world; why should God’s judgement be considered differently?

A raft of renewal and stream of hope

But the Noah story also shows us that God always provides a remedy for human waywardness. He did not wipe out everyone. He preserved Noah, his family and the physical creation. He gave the human race an opportunity to make a fresh start. That is the lifeline which links every part of the Old and New Testaments.

The story of Noah introduces the great biblical themes of forgiveness, redemption and renewal that culminate in the coming of Christ who “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Remember that, when you see a rainbow: the bright reminder of God’s multi-coloured all-embracing love stretching across the world he made (Genesis 9:12-17). It is one of the Old Testament’s symbolic forerunners of the cross of Christ.

Perhaps because of this story, and certainly because of their narrow escape from Egypt across the Sea of Reeds (Exodus 14), the Israelites were always fearful of the sea and despite living on the coast never became a maritime nation. They also lived in an area where drought was an ever-present risk. Too much, or too little, water were motifs that inspired fear. So it’s significant that Jesus used water, the single most important ingredient for physical life to exist, to describe the spiritual life bestowed by the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). What was once a symbol of judgement and source of anxiety has become instead a sign of new life and hope.

A deluge of protest

And yet. Why did God go to so much trouble to create a beautiful, amazing world full of clever, imaginative people formed in his own image, only to drown them like a litter of unwanted feral kittens when they don’t measure up to his requirements not so long after he’d created them? And to do so indiscriminately – were they really all as bad as each other?

And then on top of that to say sorry, I won’t do it again – even though since then people have invented and used weapons of mass destruction, selfishly exploited (and hoarded) earth’s resources and become slave drivers and ethnic cleansers – in short, carried on being “corrupt and full of violence” on an even greater scale?

           Because drowning is a truly horrible way to die. It isn’t quick or painless. It is physically and mentally cruel. Drowning is torture, which is why the Americans employed waterboarding to torture Iraqi prisoners not so long ago, failing in the process to extract much useful information and succeeding only in dehumanising themselves and mentally damaging their victims.2

            Any sentient land creature, from small insects to humans to elephants, fights frantically for life when submerged. We cling to life tenaciously. We do not go gently into that good night. Imagine the human body fighting for breath as water enters its lungs, flapping and kicking in an attempt to rise to the surface. Or being swept away in a torrent, powerless to resist the mighty wall of water that is strong enough to upturn vehicles and topple buildings, and being dashed against obstacles along its course. And all the while the mind remains conscious, screaming noiselessly in its helplessness, fear, dread and anger.  

            Unlike Tom the water baby in Charles Kingsley’s story, a person does not sprout “round the parotid region of his fauces a set of external gills”3 when plunged into water. Drowning is fearsome. Is God a torturer as well as an executioner? The rest of the Bible would suggest not. The message of Noah is not about the form of death. It is reminding readers, as part of the Bible’s prologue, that life is uncertain and that human beings are answerable to God at any time.

            Jesus took two similar, but smaller, scenarios of mass death to rule out the idea that somehow the victims “deserved” it. He used their story as a reminder that we should all be ready to answer to God at any time (see Luke 13:1-5). And the New Testament is clear that it is after death that the judgement occurs (Hebrews 9:27). The mode of death itself is not the judgement. We all die, but in different ways. What form that final post-demise judgement takes, and what sanctions God may impose, is another subject entirely.

Think and talk

1.  Look up the references in the text above and think about their message to you today.
2.  Why do we so easily point the finger at others’ wrong-doing and excuse our own? (See Matthew 7:1-5; James 4:11-12).
3.  “By your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.” So said Jesus in Matthew 12:37. How seriously do we take that in everyday life, and what should we do about it?
4.  Natural disasters (and disasters caused by terrorism, war and persecution) often elicit a generous response from the public (through such agencies as the Disasters Relief Council) and voluntary agencies. Why? And why are governments often reluctant to release their funds and resources in sufficient quantities to make a big difference?


1.  Derek Kidner, Genesis, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Tyndale Press 1967, p.96.
2.  “Most experts on torture and police interrogations agree that such physical abuse committed with humiliating and degrading tactics rarely yields trustworthy evidence. You get confessions and admissions by building rapport not by bullying, by earning trust not by fostering hatred.” Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect, Rider 2009, p. 377.
3.  Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies, Penguin Popular Classics 1995, p. 57. Originally published in 1863, it assumed a far greater level of language and anatomical knowledge than children’s books do today!

(c) Derek Williams 2017