THE WORDS OF THE PROPHETS

Maybe they have always been there. Maybe I have just become aware of them. But we seem to live in the time of the Prophets. The ones who see beyond the media undergrowth to the horizon, who know the seasons and understand the times and who speak out with a consistent and a clear message which stands in stark defiance of the spirit of the age. Like the prophets of old they are marginalised, often ridiculed, silenced and abused with all the usual dismissive name calling and pejorative ists  and phobias. Yet they are characterised by an honesty, transparency and clarity of vision, with logical and often irrefutable arguments, based on facts and evidence and who are unintimidated and fearlessness in debate.

 I am thinking of: Peter Hitchens, Jordan Petersen, Brendan O Neil, Dave Rubbin, Roger Scruton, David Robertson, Anne Maria Waters, Camille Paglia, Claire Fox, Ben Shapiro, Obianuju Ekeocha, Melanie Phillips, Mark Steyn, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Frank Furedi, Majid Nawaz, Rod Liddle, Heather Macdonald, Brigitte Gabriel, Imam Tawhidi, Douglas Murray, Janice Fiamengo and Laura Perrins. 

 There will be many more but these are ones who have come across my radar and have stuck out for me. Of course, I do not agree with everything they might write or what any individual might say and I am sure they would all disagree with each another. With many I have no natural affinity, I might dislike their particular style of presentation or simply their tone of voice, but that is quite beside the point. The astonishing thing is that they come from so many different backgrounds and influences yet speak with one voice and shine a startling light on the precarious nature of our western civilisation. Some are journalist, politicians, philosophers, art critics, historians, atheists, theologians, Christians, Muslims and Jews, from left and right and centre and various stratus of society,

 In common they seem to hold these principles:

An unembarrassed love for a home country, a nation, its land and geography, history, culture, its people and its sovereignty. Without whitewashing or denying all that is wrong or what evil deeds were done in the past, unashamedly proud of that identity. That inevitably means a country with a defined and protected border. Not internationalism.

 A desire to preserve the language and protect it from its abuse as a political tool where truth defers to ideology. Not politically correct gobbledegook.

 A respect for science, honest enquiry, investigation, research and independent. Not pseudo-science hijacked by political ideologies

 A celebration of the miracle of western Christian civilisation. Recognising the singular contribution it has made to the modern world, in freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Not cultural self-loathing.

 A belief that while western civilisation has been enriched with the impact and insights of many other cultures, the particular heritage of structures, orders and values, which we have been entrusted with, is worth defending. Not multiculturalism.

 A firm believe in the intrinsic value of the individual. Not group identity

 A recognition of the self-evident natural orders which are the building blocks of a stable society: male and female, marriage and families, the sanctity of life from conception to death. Not the insanity of queer theory and trans ideology

 The freedom to trade labour. Not slavery

Now I could be quite wrong. They may be  false prophets, but there is a simple way to test if a prophet is true or false. If they say, what won’t happen, doesn’t and what they say will happen, does, then you can be sure they have been speaking the truth.

As for me, I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet but I am convinced that we are witnessing the final demise of Western Christian Civilisation in Europe and all of the seers and polemicists seem to foretell and warn us of it. For my part, I think it is too late. We have too much invested in the status quo and comfortable with the way things are to try and reverse the trend or hold back the tide, even if we wanted to. We won’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone.

 Yes, I am sure pockets and outposts will remain. There will be monuments and cultural artefacts and visual reminders of what once was. Some of our historic city centres and sites could become theme parks for tourists from China, India and Brazil, but the basic values and orders will be lost in the pursuit of a socialist utopia or surrendered to Islamisation*. The prospect is extremely depressing and would be particularly bleak were it not for the fact that hope, as I see it, lies elsewhere. It lies in countries we call the third world. The lands where poverty is real and the things, we are so willing to devalue and jettison, education, marriage, the family, individual responsibility, community cohesion, respect for experience, etc are highly prised. It is astonishing to see what families will sacrifice to allow just one member to get an education and it is revealing to hear international visitors speak with admiration on such simple things like queuing, freedom of religion and expression, security, care, concern and respect that extends beyond familial or group boundaries.

 My friends, some who live in extremely poor circumstances, in eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and south and central America, do seem to have a much firmer grasp on reality but I suspect we in the west won’t know what has hit us until it does. That is why we need to hear the words of the prophets that are written on the internet’s subway walls and printed in the tenement halls of obscure publishers. 

Crawford Mackenzie

 *Michel Houellebecq, not one of my listed prophets, portrays a disturbing vision in his dystopian novel “Submission” which is shot through with prophetic realism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Torquil’s Ford

IMG_1446It is just after five and  I leave to cross the waist of Scotland, east to west, from the Tay estuary on the North Sea to Ardnamurchan and the mighty Atlantic Ocean. I am not a lover of cars or driving but this journey is a delight, through the small towns, by the loch side over the moors through the glens and always always westwards. Going west is going home.

With the morning har lifting west of Comrie, the sharp shafts of light punching colours into the hillside, sleepy St Fillans and a solitary dinghy crossing Loch Earn creating a perfect triangular wake, I am thinking, as I often do, that I live a very charmed life. Into my 70th year, my three score years and ten, still able to work fulltime in the design and construction of a wide variety of buildings. clinics, schools, churches and domestic properties. Not every project is blissful and none is without hassle, needless complication, frustration and disappointment but this one is a joy.  It is a simple extension with alterations to a croft house sitting at the foot of the hill facing westwards, just up from the shore, with nothing between you and America save, that is, for the sea and the sky.   It is a joy because the site is idyllic, the builders have that rare quality of genuine interest in the work and honesty in relations, the officials, while slow, are understanding and even apologise for their failings and the clients are of the best kind.

At lochearnhead, I turn right and climb up through Glen Ogle, with the line of the abandoned railway still visible in the opposite side of the glen. Over the hill and Ben lawyers come into view and I descend swinging round at Bovain past the garage with that strange land rover with its extended caterpillar tracks.  Here the road has long straight stretches, that encourage speed, along the Dochart to Loch Lubhair. (For legal reasons the actual speeds cannot be recorded here) Soon we are into Crainlarich now wakening up and beginning to go about its business. I pass under the slender railway bridge still carrying a working railway. Crainlarich has lovely charm and evokes memories. The station sits above the village and on southbound journeys the train would stop for an extended period to connect with the Oban line. There would also be a buffet car on board, but meals were too expensive for us, and on this station a private entrepreneur ran a brisk business victualling the eager passengers with sandwiches and hot tea while steam poured from the engines valves in clouds along the platform.

The railway is now my companion like a dog following me, now on the right, now on the left, on the road up to Tyndrum where I stop, sit on the wall to drink coffee with the sun heating up and the midges beginning to gather. Then on past the Oban turn off, climbing again with the ancient hills coming closer and the astonishing “horse shoe bend” where the railway traces a line round the glen at Auch in an almost full circle. There is a railway workers cottage at both side of the glen, only accessible from the railway itself and each with a single platform. I recall a southbound journey, as a child, when the train stopped at one of the cottages and a lady dressed in a heavy overcoat with a suitcase was helped onto the train. It is a long gradual decline now to bridge of Orchy (a wonderful section of road for the cyclist)  past the inn which always seems inviting as a place to rest the night and then  loch Tulla with its strange cartwheel bridge, up to Black Mount and on to Rannoch Moor. The railway leaves us here and finds its own way across this stark landscape. It is late spring, warm and colourful but in winter it can be a very bleak and an unforgiving place. After some long stretches over another cartwheel bridge, the road twists and turns its way down to Glencoe past that awful cottage. Glencoe can’t seem to shake off its brutal past. The notorious massacre and now blighted and scarred by the visual memory of decades of viscous abuse. The cottage should be flattened and some memorial to respect the victims put in its place. That’s my opinion.

 

Turning right at the end of the glen the hills give up their menace and light streams in from loch Leven and Glencoe village. I just have time to make a short detour through the village and up to Glencoe House. It is a solid Victorian turreted and pedimented pile built in 1896 from red sandstone and grey granite sheltered by trees and a sweeping view down to the loch and westwards. On a crisp early summer morning it looks the place to stay and a snip at just under £1,500 a night. My interest in it is quite specific. In the 50s and early sixties it was a hospital with a maternity wing and it was where I and my sister were both born.  It was the first time I had seen it now, as a luxury spa retreat. My sister describes its present state as obscene. I felt the only obscenity was the lack of a plaque commemorating its unique offspring’s.

It is not long before the winding road at the edge of the loch brings me to Corran and the ferry that takes us across to Ardgour. It is a short journey but I always get out to stand on the deck to listen to the surge of the water and spray and breathe in that intoxicating air carried over the sea.


The final leg of the journey in long straight stretches and miles and miles of twisting and turning roads takes another two hours, but it is magical and the one road I love to drive on. It swings around land and then sea lochs, through narrows, heavily wooded with birch and beech shrub, moss covered rocks and lichen covered oaks, past tiny half hidden sandy coves with a solitary yacht and through the small hamlets of Strontian, Salen, Glenborrodale and finally Kilchoan. I have to concentrate all the time. There is no radio or music to divert my attention as I set my gaze on the next turn of the road, ready for the unexpected and constantly memorising the next passing place. Kilchoan is resplendent in the mid-morning sun, protected by the hills behind and looking over to mull with the reclining Ben More. It is time for a stop and stretch, a visit to the village shop and the convenience housed within an old croft house with toilets and showers and quant notices from the volunteers who faithfully maintain this facility for the visiting sailors and campers.

And the final part, it takes me up and over, now at a more relaxed pace, round the unmistakable form of a volcano crater before coming to rest at the end of the journey, with the soft voice on the wind blowing up from the beech and seeming to say “where have you been all this time?”

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I change my mind and take the long way home. There is time and somehow this day calls for it. I turn left at Salen and slide into the soporific village of Acharacle. It could just as well be middlearth. Maybe it is the familiarity knowing each bend and rise in the road, maybe it is the mid-afternoon warmth, maybe it is the romantic setting at the end of Loch Shiel with the enchanting names of Mingarry and Dalilea and the sharp familiar grandeur of Resipole.  Maybe it is simply nostalgia and the pleasure of warm memories, but it almost overcomes me.

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I stop and have a look at the new manse. It was one of my projects and I would love to see how it actually works out in practice. It, like most designs, never work out quite the way it was planned. I got on well with the committee till a new chairperson took charge insisting on his version of the plan and an inferior design adopted. It was a lost opportunity. The first incumbent realised this but it was too late. I think about calling in for a cup of tea. The minister is hanging out her washing but I need to move on.

I do have time, however, to walk up to the little church, a Telford building, up from the road beautifully still half concealed by the trees. This was the church where my father was the minister. It was his last parish before retiring and the happiest charge. It is encouraging to see the building in such good condition and clearly well cared for. I try the door and to my delight it opens. Inside is the familiar smell of hymnbooks and polish with a fly buzzing at the window.

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I wander through to the vestry which is now a toilet and open for the convenience of travellers. In the past the vestry like the church was always open. The weekly collection was simply placed in a bag in a drawer in a desk there and at the end of the month the treasurer would take it to the bank. There was no question of it being lost or pilfered. At one time, however, there was a local man with serious alcohol problems and there was a fear that when on a bender he might help himself, so it was decided, for the sake of prudence, to put a lock on the door. This was no problem. My father was a joiner and, truth be told, he would often prefer to be on the tools than in the study. He bought the lock and fitted it. It had three keys. One for the minister one for the session clerk and one to be hung on a hook beside the door. They were taking no chances.

I climb up the few steps into the pulpit. It was where I preached my first sermon. Called in at the last minute when no one else was available I stumbled through assorted musings on the prophet Hosea. It lasted 9 minutes 50 seconds. My father timed me.  The lectern has a bible open at Psalm 107. It was the section from the authorised version that I remember memorising in class at school “they that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the work of the Lord and his wonders in the deep..”  It is an ancient song that has meant a lot to me over the years. It speaks graphically in a quartet of pictures of God’s faithfulness, his willingness to answer the prayer of those in desperate need, and our response in thankfulness to him. I have worked and re-worked it versions of contemporary song many times and tried to illustrate in various ways. Overcoming a strange inhibition, I read it out loud to the empty building and it resonates around the building. It is especially poignant today

Walking down the aisle the memory of my sister’s funeral comes flooding back.  She was 12 years my elder and throughout her short life suffered from epilepsy, mental illness and sever learning difficulties. She spent some time in a mental institution villa nine at Lennoxtown hospital but after a particular illness my parents decided to bring her home, where she was cared for up until the end of her life. It is hard to imagine what life in a mental institution would have been like in those days but contemporary accounts are sometimes chilling. It may well have been something that my parents saw then, that convinced them, home was where she should be. It was a considerable burden for a middle aged couple, all the same, with a large family to care for and already committed to serving others in the community but they bore it with astonishing grace. It was only in later life that I saw something of what that commitment meant.  Barbara was greatly loved by everyone in the community. She brought out something touching in their lives and the whole community was present at her funeral. In the packed church a family friend lead the service and read the verses from 1 Thessalonians  I can still hear the authorative tone “But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.. ”We sang the paraphrase “How bright these glorious spirits shine” to  the double metre tune of St Asaph with its repeat of the second section to cope with the odd last verse which give its an untended lift and emphasis:

“In pastures green he’ll lead his flock
where living streams appear,
and God the Lord from every eye
shall wipe away each tear.”

The other singing was the children’s hymn “When he cometh” I never liked it with its jaunty tune its repeating predictable rhymes but it was a favourite with my father and I realised then, why it was.  My brothers and I carried the coffin down the aisle. The undertaker had helpfully suggested how we could do this with dignity. The shortest at the front and the tallest at the back the box on our shoulders and holding each other round the waist. When we reached the door friends took over and shared this burden to the graveside at the back of the church. A simple bronze plaque on granite stones marks the spot. As I trace the steps that day I pass the memorial stones of many folk who I knew. Among them the memorial to the committee member who gave me such strife over the manse building and for the first time felt genuine sorrow. Strange how it takes death to stir sympathy.

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There is a soft breeze coming up from the loch and the trees are swaying gently. Ben Resipole is reclining as in an afternoon nap with bees still busy among the wild roses. A lamb bleats in the distance. I really want to stay but another meeting calls and it is time to leave. I reluctantly slip over the Shiel on the triple arched bridge and make my way back eastwards. I am trying not to cry.

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Crawford Mackenzie

*Acharacle is Torquil’s Ford in Gaelic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interpretation

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 “Me, I’m on the road again heading for another joint/We always thought the same way/We just started from a different point of view/Tangled up in blue”    Bob Dylan

When I have had the temerity, some would say folly, of raising and tackling a controversial subject by way of discussion with anyone who is up for it, It has been an interesting exercise and a helpful exposure to how other people think and how they formulate their opinions, where it starts, how it progresses and when the divergence occurs. Inevitably we reach an impasse,  a place where we can go no further. On the subject, there seems to be no possibility of a meeting of minds and we have simply to agree to disagree and get on with things as best we can. If it is a side issue or its importance does not touch our lives, it is easy, but if it impacts directly on our situation it can be seriously problematic.

When the issue relates to the bible, the sticking point is usually over interpretation. The perceived wisdom is that we read through different lens and interpret scripture in different ways.  So it is inevitable, from a reading of scripture we see things differently and can end up with different, sometimes opposing conclusions. That makes such a lot of sense and is quite understandable. It happens all the time and provides the colour and variety as well as the exciting tension of living. It allows us to be inclusive and yet recognise divergence. It is an acceptance of complimentary perspectives.

There is however, one assumption, one given in this position that shows it to be not quite accommodating as it seems. It presupposes, it prejudges that the bible, valuable, insightful, full of great things and a treasure trove of wisdom as it is, is in a way no different from any other writings. It was written by men and while it has been the single most significant influence in the development of western civilisation it is still a book (or library of books) with contradictions errors and most importantly subject like any other book to criticism.  It can be a source of great joy and inspiration and an object of our love. It can contain within its pages what we can believe to be the word of God but of itself it is not the word of God. It is not the words from the mouth of God, complete, authoritative and without error, the voice of God transmitted to us. Instead it is fallible, inconclusive and contradictory . That, I believe is the brick wall we meet in our discussions. That is where the roads part. The issue is not over the interpretation of the Bible, the issue is over what the Bible actually is.

I remember a group discussion many years ago led by a well-respected minister, highly regarded in “evangelical” circles. He was getting us round to thinking about how we interpret the bible and how our view can change and how we look at scripture differently. He described it as looking through different lenses, the lens we wear when we look at the bible. So we could read the prophet Amos, for example, in a traditional way and see certain truths then we could look at it from a more critical way and find quite different truths.   I was rattled, but managed to stammer out “but surely we need to clean our glasses open our ears and let scripture speak to us so that we can find the truth” he replied with one of those kindly sounding but patronising put downs “ Yes I know, I used to think like that too”.

This reached a new level of clarity for me quite recently. It was during Sunday worship and strangely through what they call “The children’s address”. It was quite profound. It was about glasses, how people with poor eyesight need them to see and are lost without them. And it was about the bible. The point was not that you needed good glasses or glasses with different kinds of lenses to read and understand scripture. The point was that the books of the bible are themselves the glasses that we need to look through and see who God is, who we are, why this world is the way it is and how we can begin to make sense of it.

Crawford Mackenzie

 

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY REFLECTION IN OUANAMINTHE

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SUNDAY

Dawn comes at six prompt intimated by a chorus of cockerels, dogs  and motorcycles revving.  Breakfast is in the open bar downstairs a pleasant courtyard with the covering of leaves and a gentle wind flowing through. Eggs scrambled with tomatoes and chili, delicious bananas, stiff bread and good coffee. This is the time when we chat share and bond as a team, read the bible and pray together and …..wait. (Sometimes we wait for hours,  on Friday it was for seven) We wait for our escort, Pastor Rolex Poisson. He feels responsible for us and anxious that he does not lose his Scottish friends. This morning he is prompt and we climb into his 4×4 equipped with air con and a video screen that helps him reverse but at other times plays Christian music in Kompa style.

We turn right into the Main Street that runs from the border. Usually this a two way river of cars, motorcycles, wheel barrows, bicycles and people on foot intersecting  like ants cutting and swerving but somehow  never hitting each other. At the side of the road there are shops and stall selling biscuits, liquor, concrete blocks, metal gates, bags of rice, beans and cement. Today it is much quieter and the motorcyclists seem to be transporting well-dressed people to church clutching bibles. It is astonishing how people turn out in their smart trousers, dresses, shirts, ties and immaculate shining highly polished shoes. The contrast between the church goers and their surroundings is remarkable-especially when you see the almost non-existent washing facilities people have at home and the ever present dust which turns to mud after every thunderstorm.

IMG_3660When we arrive at the church there is a service in progress. The building is full and a couple hold a bar against the door to discourage anyone from entering at this point. We mingle with the people outside. Again this area is normally a hive of activity with stalls of all kinds and people coming and going. Today it is quieter, but at one stall a young man dressed in a blue football shirt and red cap is busy making pasta rolling it out and laying it on the table to dry in the sun. He is assisted by another young man in a bright orange top. The colours are sharp in the strong sun against the white walls of the courthouse, the rich green of the overhanging trees and a cloudless sky.

The church is full when we enter. 400 or so people on wooden benches. Some have brought their own seats, children on the front and people crowded to the side. There is a raised platform with a concrete balustrade where the elders the choir and band sit and we are ushered to a seat there. The worship is led by a strong woman swaying to the rhythms of the song. She is singing a psalm straight from the bible it does not seem to be a metric version. She leads and the band follows and there is a moment or two before the musicians can locate the key. It’s the bass player who gets it first and he hammers out the line with runs followed by the drummer and finally, after a hesitant start, the guitarist on his  “Starcaster” guitar with intricate decoration in a Kompa style. The leader does what was common years ago in the west of Scotland, she “puts out the line” by singing the line of the verse and the congregation follow. There are many verses (I could not see which psalm it was). When it ends it rises to a climax with a crescendo when the whole congregation joins in singing “Hallelujah!” which repeated several times, sores and finally softens like the waves of the sea.

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The pastor comes forward to welcome everyone, give notices, introduces his friends from across the sea, some are well  known now and he seems to making an appeal for help with building of the new church (this is a rented building) The choir sing and Pastor Reme preaches. He takes The parable of the wheat and the weeds as his theme. I can only pick up a few words. I cannot follow the sermon but somehow sense that God is speaking through him by the power of the Spirit. Soon the service is over and we find ourselves outside chatting to David his god daughter, Atheline Pierre, Toussaint  and  Therese . David is eager to read the English bible and points to verses in the psalms, Jeremiah and  Isaiah where his namesake is mentioned. There is something special in that time.

IMG_9831Later we visit a home. The others know the family but this is my first time. I have always found these visits hard. There is something that always shocks me and I never quite get used to seeing just what little people have and how the means of living and surviving are achieved with astonishing grace and resilience and yes, dignity. This visit is unlike any of the others. The home is as poor as any I have seen but within the cramped and dark concrete interior and the most basic items of furniture, there was an immediate sense of God’s presence. The father is lying on a mattress on the floor his head propped by a cushion yet dressed in a dignified manner his hands shaking involuntarily. He is severely paralyzed perhaps with Parkinson’s or motor neuron disease. We are not told, but his eyes shine with something I can only describe as a deep joy and contentment. It is a look I will never forget as he lies there his face creasing into a smile, surrounded by his family, his five children and his caring wife. We have brought some food: a bag of rice, pinto beans, pasta, stock cubes, a tin of sardines and some cooking oil. The family is touched and grateful. We pray for them, thanking God, asking for his blessing and then leave. Back into the car and the winding bumping ride through the maze of lanes, block houses, goats, rubbish waste ground and naked children, we know that we were the ones who have received the blessing.

REFLECTION

IMG_3772It has been said that the Haitian people carry a deep seated sense of abandonment.

In the Voodou story,  God created the world but was so disgusted with his creatures behaviour that he abandoned it to the demons, good and bad, who are now in control. Typically western commentators and travellers, in their arrogance and ignorance see this simply as a colourful and harmless expression of ancient cultural tradition. As Kim Wall and Caterina Clerici  “Voodou is the soul of Haitian people.” The Guardian (2015)  “ The religion was born with institutional slavery. Ripped from homelands and heritage, thousands of those who would become Haitians were shipped across the Atlantic to an island, where the indigenous population had already been wiped out, for backbreaking labour in cane plantations. They were treated as cattle. As animals to be bought and sold; worth nothing more than a cow. Often less Voodou is the response to that. Voodou says ‘no, I’m not a cow. Cows cannot dance, cows do not sing. Cows cannot become God. Not only am I a human being – I’m considerably more human than you. Watch me create divinity in this world you have given me that is so ugly and so hard. Watch me become God in front of your eyes.’ or Mark Husdon reporting on Leah Gordon in the Telegraph (2012)  “Voodoo is a set of ceremonies that bring down spirits. The spirits indicate they’re present by possessing the celebrants. An animal is sacrificed to feed the spirits, and there’s a lot of dancing and drumming that goes with that. I can’t see anything intrinsically threatening in that. And it’s a lot more entertaining than any church service I’ve been to.”

It is an all too common view which betrays a gross arrogance looking down, as it were, from the high intellectual ground and seeing religions as either dangerous or just quant. In this narrative, it was the Christian missionaries who created all the problems in Haiti. They ought, apparently,  to have left the people to their own beliefs and not interfered.  It is the worst sort of patronizing racism with more than a hint of colonialism in the lust not for the natural resources of materials and labour but  for the colour and distraction needed for a jaded over consumerist  lifestyle;  leaving these pitiful people to their poverty and despair because they seem colourful to us.  Mercifully, the Haitian Christians see it all so differently. The Church resists voodoo in all its manifestations and denounces it unequivocally.  The pastor has to deal with incidents of demon possession almost every day (we witnessed one such) and he doesn’t pussy foot about the issue.  This is a real battle and great care is given to warn the people to have nothing to do with these sinister and evil practices.

IMG_3767The sense of abandonment is played out too through the people’s history. Robbed of their homes, transported across the sea, condemned as slaves and when winning their freedom forced to pay for it, They were massacred by their neighbours, ruled over by corrupt leaders  and suffered a series of natural disastrous culminating in the cataclysmic earthquake of 2010. The world rallied to help in so many ways and, in just so many ways, left a situation much worse that when they had come. This is most graphically illustrated by the appalling cholera epidemic that followed the earthquake and devastated the islands population. Cholera was unknown on the island before and brought by UN soldiers who contaminated the water supply in an act of gross negligence, which they then tried to cover up. This story is told through Jonathan Katz’ vivid first-hand account  of the disasterThe Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster”

The most recent scandal involving Oxfam was just another example of the continuing cycle of despair adding to the overwhelming sense of hopeless abandonment.  Maybe I imagined it, but thought I could detect that sense of resignation in the faces of the people.

It is against this bleak backcloth that what Mission International is doing here is so encouraging and so relevant. The first contact was made with the church in Ounaminthe in 2009 and a team went out from Scotland in the following year.  Every year, and sometimes twice a year, teams have come to visit bringing gifts, words of encouragement, greetings and the promise to pray. This steady and unassuming commitment is beginning to break through the understandable cloud of suspicion, with the knowledge that the God who we serve has not abandoned his people and neither has his church.

Haiti mother and childMaybe it was fancy, but I thought I saw that in the smiles.

Crawford Mackenzie

 

TARGET AFRICA

target africaTARGET AFRICA  ideological neo-colonialism in the twenty first century  Obianuju Ekeocha

I am in Haiti with Mission International trying to help our partners in the local church in Ouanaminthe set up a new school for this community. And in the long waiting times reading again this astounding book.

As a trustee and, for the moment, chairman of Mission International, which also works with partners in more than  40 different countries, the Oxfam scandal  left me with a sick feeling in my stomach. It was especially disturbing as this was happening in Haiti where we, at this moment, are in the process of helping with a new school.    I couldn’t, however, take any comfort in the thought  “but .. Of course, we are not like them…”  Somehow we are part of the whole and in the minds of the public and prospective donors tainted with the scandal. It is understandable that people who give freely and generously to a cause are disgusted and quite turned off when they learn that their money has been used to buy prostitutes and abuse the people it was meant to help.

For a long time now there has been serious questions over whether aid does actually work, that it was a means where rich countries could keep poor countries in poverty, and given with less than altruist motives.  These discussions have been around for a long time, but what Obianuju Ekeocha brings to the debate in “Target Africa” is a devastating critique  on how western nations  have adopted a new and sinister  colonisation, tying aid to western post Christian ideologies. With breath-taking arrogance and hypocrisy they are  imposing a destructive agenda that African leaders, seduced by the offer of money, are complicit in accepting.

Obianuju Ekeocha is a specialist biomedical scientists with particular expertise in pathogens, a Nigerian and founder of “Culture of Life Africa” an organisation dedicated to defending the sanctity and dignity of human life through research, information and education. She is a courageous woman and in this book with intelligence, compassion and unflinching dedication makes the point crystal clear. She is willing to take on and challenge governments, UN organisations and powerful philanthropists in the cause of defending the most vulnerable.

It is a shocking read.  She clearly sets out from a historical perspectives as well as her own personal experience of growing up in Africa and shows that while the old colonial order was ushered to a close with the Atlantic Charter in 1941, a new form of colonialism has subtly taken its place which, she believes, will bring an even more disastrous blight on the continent.

It is refreshing to hear her speak so movingly and lovingly of her Africa ” endowed with treasures” telling  a different story from the jaundiced one told by the western media. Taking just one example, on the emancipation of women: the perceived narrative is that African women are oppressed and enslaved by the chains of patriarchy. But  in her own country there have been seven female presidents, and twelve female vice presidents. She points out that Rwanda has the highest proportion of female parliamentarians in the world. (64 % when the UK has only 29%).

She describes the beauty of the land the wealth of its resources and the treasure of its people.

” What I have just described is the real but unrecognisable Africa. It is unrecognisable because the western media rarely shows any good news out of Africa. Instead they show every parameter of failure: low life expectancy, much poverty, poor healthcare quality, high maternal and infant mortality, low food security, little government transparency and so on.  ……….. Yet such images make us vulnerable to the wiles of those who seek to colonise us and to the many African leaders who will readily let them do so in exchange for funds from the west……….In many ways it seems as if African nations have gone into a mental condition of “protected dependency” and have thereby put themselves at risk of becoming once again protectorate states of western stake holders. This is the path to the past and the path to perdition.”

The case she posits is scrupulously researched, detailed and hard to refute. She examines the issues of Population control, the hyper sexualisation of the youth, radical feminism, abortion rights, the normalisation of homosexuality and the curse of aid addiction. All of which bear the same marks of Western Nations using aid to impose a morality alien to African  culture. It’s as if the west  don’t see what they are doing

“They undermine African life to reduce African fertility, yet they (the donors themselves) became prosperous and powerful when their laws and policies encouraged the formation of stable traditional families: Their economic booms coincided with population growth.”

She castigated the supremacist  attitude of the west taking the high moral ground;  defending the poor of the world while destroying their culture and beliefs. She instances Sweden’s reaction to the reinstatement of the US “Mexico City Policy” in 2017. They wanted it withdrawn and “ Yet” she asks ” by what means do they defend the poor?  By helping them to kill their children.”

She doesn’t pull her punishes and it is so refreshing to hear this level of honesty and straight talking in a subject so often clouded in nuances and  double speak. She doesn’t mince her words and calls a spade a spade. If you are shy of controversy and squeamish about the bare truth, you should avoid reading this book or any more of this review, for that matter.

On Population control: “The insistence on reducing the population of Africa, no matter what the cost to Africans themselves, is racism, imperialism, and colonialism disguised as philanthropy”

On the hyper sexualisation of youth: “In spite of the failure rate of condom programs for teenagers, the UNFPA continues to promote its multimillion dollar campaign across Africa known as CONDOMIZE !”

On the legalisation of prostitution: “Given the unspeakable abuse that women and girls endure in the sex industry, given the level of drug abuse to keep them silent and compliant, it is disconcerting that anyone would try and legitimise prostitution in the name of public health.”

On radical feminism: “..Instead of authentic feminism, a selfish and radical strain of feminism has risen in the west and has gained an international platform and a pace of prominence in this century.”

On the push for abortion rights, over which reserves her strongest words: “At the core of my people’s value system is the profound recognition that human life is precious, paramount, and supreme. For us, abortion, which is the deliberate killing of little ones in the womb, is a direct attack on innocent human life. It is a serious injustice, which no one should have the right to commit……I agree with pro-abortion activists that illegal abortion is a real problem in Africa, but I completely disagree with their proffered solution – to legalise abortion on demand….If the solution to all of Africa’s illegal practices was legalise them, then we are a doomed continent.”

On the normalisation of Homosexuality: “To convince Africans that marriage and sex are even possible between two women or two men, would require destroying their language and their culture. Such an undertaking is exactly what homosexual activists are attempting in Africa.”  And this activism is sponsored by western governments. “In 2011 President Obama threatened to cut off foreign aid to Nigeria because its senate passed a law unfavourable towards homosexuality

On Aid addiction where she recognises that the wound is in many ways self-inflicted:       ” Africans cannot take charge of their own future until aid, as we know it, is brought to an end, and the African leaders unleash the economic potential of their people……..For Africa to have a promising future, it needs to push back on this flawed paradigm and on the western influence that is spreading it.”

With President Obama she pleads: ” No child (in any part of the world) deserves to be raised in a motherless or fatherless home, because it is almost always a vicious vortex of emotional trauma and turmoil. Africans know and understand this and as such will stand in defiance of your new design of marriage and family. For us to comply with the draconian demands of your “Modern” design will entail completely demolishing our society, which is already inflicted with so many problems.

With Melinda Gates:“I see this $4.6 billion dollars buying us misery. I see it buying us unfaithful husbands. I see it buying us disease and untimely death. I see it buying us a retirement without the tender loving care of our children.”

For anyone who is at all interested in Africa, and in the future for health, peace and prosperity, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Crawford Mackenzie

 

In Adam

painI listened to Racheal Denhollander’s witness testimony. It was astonishing as it was harrowing. She spoke with such poise, passion and grace. I found it difficult and uncomfortable to listen to. The problem was I couldn’t quite distance myself from identifying with the man in the dock. He seemed ordinary and I squirmed when she laid out in full, but without prurient detail, the deliberate heinousness of his acts. When she spoke of how he took pleasure in the suffering he was causing, it gripped my stomach.

What disturbed me was that I could take no comfort, no solace in the thought that I was not like him. Of course, I am thinking, “I could never, would never, be able to do what he had done”. The idea was so repulsive, so revolting and detestable. My friends would be quick to bemuse me of that notion “there is no way that you are  like that.”  they would assure me. Some years I did just that, expressed this feeling to a friend over a recent horrific incident that scarred a close friend and the response was just that “But we all know that you are not that kind of person”.  It was good to know that my friend believed that I wasn’t “that kind of person”, but I could see that she didn’t quite understand. Deep down I knew that I was like that man. I belong to the same species. I am made of the same stuff. The reality that evil is not out there but in my own heart is the most terrifying and bleakest thought that there is. I suppose that is why we do our best to hide and cover it up. But it doesn’t always lie low and when it pops up and is exposed, it shakes you to the core. It dissolves all sense of pride and pulls the carpet of self-righteousness from right under your feet. It makes you so aware that the only thing you have is what has been given to you- Grace. It is only by the grace of God that I am not in that dock.

That was why the sermon preached this Sunday in our church was, for me, so helpful and so liberating. It was Romans 5:12-21 grappling with the two states: In Adam and in Christ, with the reference to 1 Corinthians 15:22  “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”  In Adam, I am in the dock in Christ I am free.

And that was why Racheal’s testimony was so amazing. In the context of her damning indictment she was able, and somehow knew, that the only thing she could offer was the Gospel of Jesus Christ: the promise of forgiveness and the hope of peace with God.

Darkest Hour

chruchillNot a film review

Darkest Hour, much like “Dunkirk” in 2017, is a refreshing film, beautiful to watch, clever and powerful. Its gift is that it does not seem to preach, but tells the story. The story in this case of the man who, disliked by almost everyone in his later years, was called upon to the lead his country in possibly its most dangerous time.

I grew up with Churchill. As a child in the 50’s the war years were recent memories for my parents and my mother could spend hours recounting personal stories of the Clydebank blitz. She would describe what it was like to be in a country at war, always had her take on the politics of it and never far away was the admiration for the man. Even my father who found the cigar smoking, heavy drinking, and load mouthed aristocratic antics quite distasteful held a grudging recognition that Churchill was somehow the man for the time and without him the world may well have descended into the “ the abyss of a new dark age” he ominously described in his speech to the House of Commons in June 1940. These words were pregnant with foreboding and with a chill I could feel even as a youngster. So I was imbued with the simple narrative of these times: from its beginnings in Poland to its ending in the South Asian sea, from Chamberlain to Macarthur, from the Bren gun to the atomic bomb and somehow, while terrible things, some of indescribable horror, were done in the course of it all, the cause was just and the end was for the good.

That narrative has taken a severe battering over the years and, while I know that we must always revise orthodox interpretations of history and challenge any complacency over the horrors of war, I cannot help but feel that we can revise it out of its significance and its relevance in understanding where we are today. It is so easy for those of us who have never known anything but peace and who have enjoyed unprecedented levels of freedom and comfort to pontificate and judge the actions of those who lived in a quite different time. We need to have the imagination to think our way into what it was like for them and the film does that brilliantly

The darkest hour, it seems, was the time when a terrible decision had to be made and the nightmare of being the one on whom that decision lay most heavily. What the film seemed to suggest was that Churchill was tortured by the decision and seemed to carry the burden alone. In 1940 the war could have ended with a peace treaty. The route to such a treaty was in place and the negotiations almost begun. Instead the conflict escalated to include the whole world, involving millions of deaths and the most diabolical destruction. The dilemma is a recurring one and strangely one that is hard to debate in the face of polarised views on defence, the protection of interests, defending the oppressed, militarism and pacifism.

The Darkest Hour, to its credit, opens up that vexed question. It doesn’t answer it. It just leaves it there.

Of course it is only a film not a documentary or a detailed historical account. It is a drama. The underground scene, for example, is a very fanciful one but it serves to illustrate how Churchill seemed to connect directly with the people over the normal political channels. The intriguing thing is that the connection was not made by any attempt to be ordinary or be like the “common people”. From his pedigree and privileged background, he couldn’t have been more different. Yet he somehow sensed what the people needed to hear so that resolve could be galvanised and victory achieved

Whatever we think of the man, and in there is no love lost for him in my own city of Dundee, he had that special quality of true leadership, not to shirk from making a fearful decision and to carry the people with him.

I loved the film.

Crawford Mackenzie