Park Bench Tales and other writings

Thoughts and writings reflecting the poet within and the activist

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Community or conflict?

I have lost count of the number of elections that I have participated in, but there are some features you remember that surface at every election. Aside from the personal name-calling which we seem to have imported from USA elections, there are always promises. Engage almost any candidate and you will find they are only too happy to try and impress how you are going to gain by voting for their party. After a while you realise they are trying to focus on your personal gain, and usually that is in the form of how your taxes are going to be lowered, or how they are going to create a more equal society and you will benefit from this, how having a massive increase in armed forces and weaponry is going to make you safer, or how keeping out foreigners will help you.

What is usually missing is the idea of building a community and how, in order to that, there have to be changes in the way we think. Let me give you an example of how thinking about community can produce very different results. Consider a fairly long street, with say one hundred houses. Let us suppose that half of those households follow one pattern of belief and the other half follow a very different pattern. This difference has brought the two different groups into conflict with each other, first through argument, then through destroying property and finally through physical violence against each other. There are at least three different potential solutions to this problem.

The first is to leave the groups alone and let them settle the disputes, let them fight it out until there is a winner. Maybe the losers will then move away and find another street to live in. Maybe you favour one group over another and so you supply them with the resources to defeat the other group and drive them out. This type of solution has been the route adopted by a number of countries, the idea that the only ‘solution’ is to have a winner and a loser, with the winner then determining the future for all. At a national level this is what we observe in many countries in the middle east, but you can see the same thing on a much smaller scale where immigrants come and try and settle in a new location. Streets become divided as the newcomers are perceived as ‘foreigners’ who offer a threat of some sort.

The second potential solution is intervene in some way, perhaps by moving the families around so that all the households for one belief live on one side of the street, and all those who have the other belief live on the other side, with a dividing line along the middle of the street. A variation on this would be to move all of one belief to one end of the street and those of the other belief to the other end of the street, then have dividing lines with some sort of neutral area between the dividing lines. The two groups will continue to live, and will live separately, but will continue with their dislike for each other. Surprisingly this is often seen as a ‘solution’ by peacemakers, even though it never attempts to get the two sides to look at their differences in another way. At its worst we end up with large areas being split and a DMZ set up between them. Sometimes countries are split up, with new borders being drawn and over a relatively short period of time migration takes place so that separation increases. I am often amazed that United Nations’ officials seem to willingly accept that this idea, bringing an end to an initial conflict, is going to be a long term solution.

There is a third choice. That route involves trying to bring the two sides together and involve them in discussion, trying to get an understanding of the beliefs of each other, and trying to find ways in which they can work together. This involves the building of communities and this, I would argue, is the necessary route if you want to see a long term solution. Sometimes I hear the response, ‘Oh, we tried that and it did not work’. To me that shows a poor understanding of the concept of a community. Building and maintaining a community is an ongoing process, there is never really an end, no point at which you can say ‘OK, job done.’ In this route we leave the households where they are and focus on removing boundaries and obstacles.

The financial cost of the first two ‘solutions’ will be high, using valuable resources to maintain conflict until there is a winner, or having to maintain a large force to uphold law and keep a peace, to say nothing of the costs of displacement for either of these ‘solutions’. The financial costs of the third option are much lower, and building community centres can be seen as investment. The problem we seem to have with this third route is that it takes time, demands listening, understanding, showing care and compassion, and in general places a heavy demand on the resources of individuals.

Following the ‘Peace Process’ in Northern Ireland I remain optimistic that the people living there will find a better way of living together and we should admire the way in which people have tried to come together and work as communities. When foes were asked to sit down and work together they made the effort. I hope the process will continue, it is not something that has an ending.

Whether at local, national or international level I am listening for the candidates who see the benefits of working towards communities. We are living in a world where some see cruise missiles, and even nuclear weapons as a way to end a conflict. Unless you can understand why conflict and division occur you are not going to make progress and the use of force is more likely to do little other than increase division and at an enormous human cost. We live in an age where some see immigration as a threat, where they treat them in a way that reveals a very poor understanding of need. We live where the homeless in the streets are often treated poorly, suffering verbal and physical abuse. So when I listen to candidates I am not impressed if the answers are along the lines of more weapons will make us safer, or we need to stop immigration and send people back to where they came from, or that it is their own fault that people find themselves homeless.

I ask myself which actions build community. How are we helping to build communities at home and overseas, or helping the homeless, or treating the sick, or providing the resources for students to build a better future.

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Voting exists because we do not have consensus, and it is divisive.


Maybe I was just fortunate in my school days, the decisions that I took with my friends were made in a way that I would describe as gaining a consensus. Of course, I did have an added incentive to embrace this approach. Living in a rural area, our nearest neighbours almost a kilometre away, you wanted to try and retain friends. In a city the picture could have been different, if you disagreed with your friends you could go off and find another set of friends. At school we often played football at breaks and teams were selected and nobody would be left on the sidelines, sides might change during the game as folks came and went. At various times you might find yourself playing for one side or another, there were few real allegiances. Nobody could ever remember the score when the bell sounded to end the break, and I doubt if it really mattered. Within the school I was appointed as a House Captain and one task was to select sports teams to represent the house for cross country and for athletics. One memory still remains, my sports master always impressed upon me that the important part was to try and give as many lads the opportunity as possible. At the youth club I attended the leaders would ask us what we wanted in terms of activities, we would discuss and try and agree, but were also very grateful that we had leaders who would give their time to us anyway.

Whilst at university I spent some time living in hostel accommodation and I recall when first arriving how characters like Barry Wilcox, Tim Blackmore (now Sir Tim), Alan Williams and others went out of their way to make us welcome, tried to be inclusive so we all felt we were part of the same community. The binding together was more important than anything that might divide us.

When I went into education to start my career I found that staff meetings would often go on for hours, and at first I kind of resented that, hoping to escape early and go and join in some other activity. As the years passed I saw one potential advantage of allowing these meetings to go to a natural conclusion. We invariably finished with agreement by consensus, with a feeling we had all been allowed to have a say and the best path for all had been chosen. I also participated in two other methods of decision taking. The first was where almost all decisions were put to a vote, an effort being made to achieve agreement but then the wishes of a majority were followed. There were occasions when this led to resentment, often because only two options were introduced. I also took part in senior staff meetings that discussed an agenda, determined the path forward, and then put the result to a vote by all staff with little discussion and often no alternative.

Groups that rely on decisions by consensus are often those that are most closely bound together, and usually have less dissent that ferments outside of meetings. The obvious difficulty is that the time to reach a consensus would be prohibitive for many bodies, and in some cases decisions have to be made within a time frame. The usually alternative is to introduce voting, but the ‘senior staff meeting’ approach is also often used, where a ‘cabinet’ determines the options that are to be presented for voting.

Why should any of this be relevant to a year in which an election takes place? The importance is because we still use voting and have failed to work out ways in which it could be made to have more relevance. We have made progress in the UK to make the electorate more inclusive, the voting rights being extended to women and to younger groups, but we still have an antiquated ‘first past the post’ system which leaves us with divisive politics. Those who support minority parties claim they are treated unfairly when it comes to representation, those supporting a major party usually argue that you must make your vote count, even it is just to get the other party out. There is no ideal answer, voters cannot be put together to achieve a consensus, but the argument for proportional representation is that more views are represented, and the results are not as divisive.

Having a parliament made up of many parties through proportional representation also has beneficial effects. One counter argument is that this will not lead to ‘strong’ government. As Professor C.E.M. Joad would almost certainly have responded, ‘It all depends on what you mean by strong government.’ A parliament with little opposition is unlikely to be a forum for healthy debate, and within a party with a massive majority there often evolve sub-groups who show dissent to the leadership. Strong government is not about the size of a majority.

More parties with more representation leads to more healthy discussion and an incentive to build working relationships to get consensus. Of course, there is still the chance it could result in even more division, each group holding on tightly to their own views. However, in such a situation the likelihood of leaders emerging who were isolationists is reduced, whilst the rewards for a party would depend upon leadership that was able to build a consensus.

The UK has flirted with a form of proportional representation, in the Scottish Assembly as an example, and also with the idea of transferable votes, as in the elections for the Mayor of London. France has a different approach with the election of the president that demands a run-off until a candidate gets more than 50% of votes cast. All of these are attempts to make the process of voting less divisive, and none seems to have led to a collapse of ‘strong governance’. They have also revealed some weaknesses. A governing coalition that is built using one major party just short of a majority combining with a very small group from a minority party is little better than a government with only a small, but workable, overall majority. Both can be defeated by only a small number of dissenters. The transferable vote can lead to promoting the two-party state unless there are three or more parties that are of similar strength.

The French system has thrown up an interesting possibility in 2017. In recent elections there has been a run-off and usually the task of the leading candidates has then been to try and seek a consensus to gain the popular vote in the next round. However, it is possible this year that the two candidates differ so widely on one issue, the future of the European Union and the Euro, that this will become the sole debating point for the run-off. Instead of building consensus the run-off would then simply deepen existing divisions.

I still remain hopeful that we will get to a point where we stop thinking only in terms of winners and losers, where we reject this idea of ‘victori sunt spolia’ ‘ (to the winner the spoils) and move forward by trying to work together. Consensus is never easy, but division can only breed resentment and we do not build stable communities where there is resentment.

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Pacifism and Politicians: A struggle against war and violence

Pacifism and Politicians, a struggle against war and violence.

My father was a conscientious objector and many of his friends were pacifists, so I was raised in a family that did not see war or violence as a solution to conflict. I have also lived through a period when conscription never applied to me, but have lived through times when violence destroyed lives in Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Algeria, and many other countries.

Never really felt comfortable with the idea that religion and a way of life were inseparable and ended up believing that the way of life is more important. The example set by Christ has to be followed if we are to develop a better world, you cannot substitute some form of ceremonial worship for not accepting the ideas that he lived for. I did not see war as solving problems, it seemed to me that for the most part war only led to further problems. Today, more than ever before, the casualties of war include men, women and children who are displaced, their homes ruined and they are forced to seek safety beyond the borders of their homeland. How can it be right to pretend that war is a solution if people have to flee from their own country?

As a teenager I started to think about where violence and aggression sprang from. Perhaps because there was a period of time when my father moved from one job to another, and thus I found myself being moved from one school to another, I encountered the ‘school bully’ as a newcomer on several occasions. I learned that the easiest way to stop the bullying was to respond just as aggressively, if not more so, and that also landed me in trouble on more than one occasion. My actions were never really a solution, the bully merely turned elsewhere for his sadistic pleasure.

I was sixteen when I first started to think of the violence associated with war, and how the films and television seemed to glorify combat and we never really thought about those killed or otherwise harmed. I was also aware of the building up of a nuclear arsenal, and remember sewing the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament onto my school blazer. That provoked something of an outcry from teachers, but the headmaster never ordered me to remove the symbol. The Cuban missile crisis, where two nations were prepared to go to the brink of a nuclear holocaust, convinced me that stockpiling arms and making threats was stupid.

I went down to London to study and during that time I found my ideas were forming and taking on a different shape. Like many others of my age I was also being influenced by the rise of folk singers such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Julie Felix and the music and songs of Pete Seeger. The Civil Rights campaign in the USA gained momentum and, in spite of being met with violence and having a leader murdered, the non-violent approach eventually succeeded to some extent and some rights were won.

The horrors of war in Viet Nam were a daily feature of news, the futility of a war that the USA could not win, where a corrupt government became hated by the people, raised the question for me once more. What is the purpose of all this violence? The dreadful damage being inflicted upon non-combatants by the use of napalm shocked many, but still there were many who considered this was a war ‘against communism’ that had to be won.

My work and raising a family was taking more of my time, but I was still trying to form my own beliefs about violence. Recently I read through a chapter from Philip Gulley’s book ‘Living the Quaker Way’ and realised that period in my life was about the rejection of not only violence but also of threats. Unions attempted to compete for higher wages by holding their employers under threat and strike action, the government response was to meet these threats with force, culminating in the violence of the miners’ strikes. At another level the threats were starting to show a different picture of our lives. We paid our taxes and obeyed the law under threat of fines and even of being sent to prison. I could see two sides of this debate. The importance for me was that we understood why we were paying taxes, that we should be willing to promote a caring and fair society. On the other hand, there was concern and even resentment that large sums of money were being spent by governments on building up arms. I still regard having a nuclear deterrent as being morally wrong, not just simply a waste of money that would be better used to promote a caring society.

Skirmishes overseas seemed far away. Actions in Borneo and Cyprus were reported but I remember Cyprus more from listening to music programs with requests from sweethearts and wives for those serving. The Falkland Isles conflict seemed to bring violence nearer home, the failure of two nations to seek an agreement leading to some terrible incidents with losses on both sides. Then came Iraq and I saw a very different side to violence. War was waged on a pretext, evidence was fabricated to persuade people to support a war. Well over a decade later the country is still struggling to recover and peace still seems far away. The surrounding regions are also embroiled in conflict. There is no peace as a result of the hostilities, just as there could never have been a lasting peace following the Treaty of Versailles.

The United Kingdom has an election in June 2017 and I have a vote. How should I use that vote, should I even use the vote at all? Arms have been sold to Saudi Arabia and then used to kill children in the Yemen. How can I possibly support that in any way? Even more disturbing is the response that is orchestrated today towards any dissenters. When a court recently ruled that an action from the government over Brexit was not lawful there were papers that were filled with hate against the individuals. The papers just about stopped short of direct incitement to violence but the threat was clearly there. A perceived threat from North Korea is being used as a reason to build up arms; how soon before this leads to direct violence? So I seek a way of using my vote to show my unwillingness to promote violence.

As a teenager I was encouraged by my father to bring my friends to a chapel service and we performed songs such as ‘Blowing in the wind’, ‘We shall overcome’ and others. There was a sense of hope, that I might be a part of a generation that was prepared to renounce violence. I see our failure to achieve that as the greatest failure of my generation.

I think back to that song.

“When will they ever learn”. When will we ever learn? The politician who believes you bring peace through war is hardly a choice. The politician claiming to be a Christian, but embracing war, seems to want a version of Christianity where they can pick and mix, they do not understand you have to accept the whole package to be a Christian.

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Writings of Bill Hopcroft: Looking at the mythology and theology of the birth and life of Jesus

The idea has often come into my mind that in accepting the birth stories of Matthew and Luke and the theology that surrounds them we miss the stark truth of two remarkable women and the way they educated their sons. Mary and Elizabeth were both Levites brought up in the knowledge they had the special task of educating their children in the spiritual and moral standards God expected of their nation. Elizabeth married into the priesthood, would educate her son in his responsibility to give moral leadership in honesty, caring, generosity and strict sexual relationships in marriage. Her teaching of strict moral conduct would be out of line with the priestly tolerance of sin, dishonesty, divorce and bigotry against foreigners, accepted by the priesthood in general.

 Mary, although a Levite, found herself pledged by her father to marry outside the priesthood but directly in line of David from whom, if scripture was correct, the Messiah, God’s spiritual leader for all people, had to come. So when Mary went to help Elizabeth, carrying her first born, she realised the uniqueness of their situations because of their priestly backgrounds  and probably talked of the situation and even planned  accordingly. Their backgrounds would suggest education and conscience would make them aware of a tremendous responsibility, so the gospel writer’s visitation of Gabriel would be to help readers clearly understand both women are God-inspired and lead, and the virgin birth story of theologians is unnecessary. If Elizabeth taught her son John the need for the moral values of honesty, fairness, caring, toleration and the need for integrity in marriage then when John found a toleration of all these things by the priesthood it would bring about a crisis of conscience for John.

 There was much bigotry against foreigners, so when Elizabeth pointed out the messenger who cried ‘prepare ye the way of the Lord and make his path straight’ was that second Isaiah who saw virtue in a foreign king Cyrus fighting the tyranny and evil of his day, John would realise not all foreigners are evil.  As the author of that second Isaiah had written, God said ‘thou Cyrus has been my servant although you have never known me’. He would realise, as Paul said later, ‘pagans have no law but obey by instinct what the law asks’ This understanding of the task of the messenger would lead John into a rejection of the priesthood and its fine linen of authority. Then his later dress of animal skins shows his utter rejection and revulsion of what the priesthood stood for.

 It would seem that Elizabeth’s teaching had emphasised a priest’s main duty to God was not just to take services of praise and worship but to show spiritual and moral standards had to be applied in the market place and home to bring in the kingdom of God.

 Before I reflect on Mary and her guidance of Jesus from a human view fully reflecting on God, may I explain why I reject the theological interpretation. The theological interpretation is that Jesus existed as a complete and perfect personality sitting beside God since the world began. Why reject this? First Jesus would have had within himself complete knowledge of the mission from his birth. It would make his natural birth an unnecessary gimmick, the temptation experience completely unnecessary and the agony and uncertainty in the garden of Gethsemane both unreal and untrue. Next he would have known with his complete foreknowledge the rules of the universe, of the use of plants for drugs, of the shape of material progress in years to come. There is no indication that any of this knowledge was his nor is it given him in the temptation stories. He comes out of the temptations with the psychological knowledge on how to solve man’s problems and then gives us the examples of how to live and the God solutions to our lives.

 If anyone reads this and wants to throw at me the theological interpretations of the opening chapter of John ‘In the beginning was the logos, the logos was with God, the logos was God’  then here is my response. This is a perfectly logical explanation to the Greeks to whom it was written.  The word logos was an inventive description by Zeno the Greek stoic philosophy leader to describe the spirit of wisdom, self-control and suffering which man has to accept to solve his problems. The understanding was about 500 years old. John  quite rightly saw it as an explanation of Jesus’ life the Greeks could accept. So his bold description of the life of Christ as the ‘logos was made flesh and dwelt among us’ would be understood as the mission of Christ after the temptations, not as a manifestation through a miraculous birth.

 When you read in Proverbs 8 that wisdom existed from the beginning,  it saw all things were good, but it was the guide of man. So any man who surrendered fully body, mind and spirit would have been the ‘logos’. The virgin birth story as a normal event of the first born to any woman is true to fulfil prophecy. But the interpretation in Luke and Matthew’s gospels after the destruction of Jerusalem seems to me more an attempt to square a situation that was unnecessary. Caesars had claimed a virgin birth by God ever since Augustus Caesar was voted a God by the senate. So Luke’s version emphasises Caesar was a lesser person than the Christ who gave life that was spiritual to all men. To go beyond that is to make Christ’s life more superstitious and supernatural than necessary.

 Before looking at Mary’s conception of her first born son’s potential destiny we should consider an observation of Psalm 110 which was regarded as the Messiah’s reward ‘Come thou and sit at my right hand while I make your enemies into a footstool’.  It reads as if from times beginning that place had remained empty waiting for a man worthy to fulfil it. If the theology of the eternal son was right God would have said ‘Come resume your seat’

So now to look at Mary’s insight., she knew her bible, its history, its story of man’s painful progress, its prophecies and its growing understanding  of the psychology of the type of man God needed. She knew that once married to a descendent of David in Joseph she was in a position to fulfil it. Hence that outburst of joy and praise we know as the Magnificat. It is not an ingenious invention by Luke but an outcry of joy by Mary as to what is possible. But she has a problem. In scripture there are different types of Messiahs. She has to teach clearly all types to her as son. He has to choose. If you read the temptation story with that in mind you see the difficulty of Christ’s choice.

Everyone expected a military messiah. It was the great desire of the people, empires were built this way. Could the spiritual desire combine with the material desire? I expect Mary pointed out to her son that Israel had been a subjugated nation ruled by others for more than six hundred years, first Babylonian, then Persian, then Greek now Roman, and had survived. Empires perish, a nation lives on because of its character, whoever rules. There were prophecies of the Messiah being the bringer of peace and plenty, of great intellectual power. Isaiah describes all the world coming to Jerusalem to learn.

Did Mary tell Jesus that if you had all  knowledge, all power, but lacked love you would fail?  Then there was the second Isaiah’s  death story of the suffering servant. It is the history of the death of a man who tried to stop a nation compromising with paganism (they had become idol makers) and materialism, who tried to turn them back to spiritual values. He was killed for his pains. Jesus said later ‘which of the prophets did you not kill?’ Although Ezekiel was to die at their hands he had painted a picture of spiritual influence Mary would have pointed out to her son.

It was a river of grace which started as a trickle at the altar, accepted by the people it grew into a stream in the streets of Jerusalem, became a river in the countryside and purified and made fertile everywhere it went cleansing the Dead Sea. One of the options of the Messiah was to bring the grace of God to the hearts of man.

 Consider then the choices to be a Messiah. A military one would be short term. The conquered resented and hated the situation. An intellectual and affluent one meant people became shallow and lost concern for each other. The suffering servant at the beck and call of all could by love create a relationship with God. He could create relationships of trust, destroy greed and ambition taking away the motives of sensuality and pursuit of happiness. We know the eldest son of a Levi priest or Rabbi inherited his father’s position, other children had to find an alternative career. John gave up the priesthood on moral grounds to become a pioneer of a better higher life. Mary had to marry out of her class but brought ideals and destiny to her family. Sometimes dedicated women are more valuable to God than their male counterparts.

 There is a passage in Isaiah 2 which Mary must have taken very seriously. ‘A shoot will grow out of Jesse’s stump’. The old ideals, the old standards had been cut down, a new shoot with vigorous life and new ideals for the changed circumstances must be born. The past standards and solutions had not been deed enough to meet the circumstances, new ones had to come into place. The passage shows all types living together peacefully. The vicious, the cunning, the devious and the brutal all changed their nature. Because of the way this starts it must have been written by the second Isaiah; it is possible to be seeing every creature representing a nation. So it becomes a prophecy of a world living in harmony and peace, accepting the God-given wisdom and knowledge applied to every situation.

 The second Isaiah, whose life is recorded from Isaiah 40-53, is different in his approach to a lot of other prophets in his thinking. Like Elisha he realised a pagan can be used by God for his purposes, hence his statement in 45 ‘Thou Cyrus has been my servant although you have never known me.’ Someone had to be used to break the evils of Babylon, no Judaian king of that period was strong enough in wisdom and morality to serve God’s purpose for the exiles, yet this Cyrus had both that wisdom and that morality.  The captives themselves seem to have accepted in the man the standards of their captors. He accuses them of making idols and of worshipping these idols, it means they had dropped the spiritual moral standard and become greedy, materialistic, sensual and pleasure loving, none of which will create peace on earth.

 The teaching of a need of a spiritual Messiah as against a political Messiah becomes clearer. Did Mary point this out? In the temptation story where Jesus examines every type of Messiahship this one is always in the background. It is as well to remember a spiritual Messiah will be both positive and creative in all he does. There were two common yearnings for a Messiah in Christ’s day. The first to throw off the repression of the empire, although Roman rule created laws, roads, protection to make trade easier, taxes to pay for all this were not popular. Foreign rule always seems to damage any hope of friendly relationships. Jesus would see empires come and go, that they break the idea that all people are children of God and belong to one family.

 Next the resentment against those who rule leads to suspicion and hate, in the end every empire has fallen as personality is eroded, corruption becomes rampant and war follows. Then the common desire for a happy society with all well fed, well clothed and comfortable while a dream is achievable. One prophet talked of everyman sitting in peace under his own fig tree (referred to in a sermon in my youth as every family owning three acres and a cow as self-sufficiency). In this age of computers, robots, etc., we know we can produce enough to clothe, feed and provide for comfort more than the world needs.

 But the profit motive and its worship of money limits compassion and stops the expression of love. We become concerned for the future, lose confidence in our ambitions, shorten our vision. It is a sobering thought that Jesus knew every possible dream of man wanting easy solutions, but realised the personality of man had to become loving and unselfish, not materialistic, to achieve what he desired. Probably the miracle of the loaves and fishes demonstrates this best. Some suggest it was some sort of conjuring trick to prove God cares for people and as proof that Jesus is the chosen one.  But this comes close to accepting a line of thought rejected by Jesus in the temptation story. It is easier for me to accept that Jesus by accepting the boys very generous offer showed by sharing generosity is a God talent we all have and the crowd followed his example. The trouble with this explanation is the crowd next day follows Jesus because they want free bread, it is more important some than learning to create and share. It brings up a problem in our own society, everyone has a right to work to create. But a lot of inventions reduce the opportunity to work and money is more important than people, it seems our priority is wrong when people are seen not as personalities but as commodities to make profits.

It is not the church that has priorities the wrong way round but political parties. Jesus’ concentration on personality as the objective of society so long before psychology came into the mind of man is a miracle in itself. Why do I believe that? I have spent nearly eighty of my ninety seven years looking at the teaching of Jesus. Generation after generation needed them but ignored them, the short solutions always seemed more attractive, but never worked in practice. Yet in spite of generations of failure, people still think politicians have an answer, but education never addresses the flaws in personality.

 There is a conundrum in Mary’s story that is impossible to solve. She had other children, both Luke and John mention them. Yet in Luke’s story of the 12 year old Jesus going  missing there is no mention. Was she able to concentrate all her religious knowledge on one child for that time?  Then after Joseph died, did Jesus have to keep a business going and act as surrogate father to learn from experience the problems and attitude of mankind?

 The hidden years? There is a poem which asks this question but does not try to answer, yet common sense and logic demands we ask ourselves the question. The poem starts ‘ What was he doing all those years?’ From 12 years old to manly pride Mary taught him the prophecy of the Messiah, but Joseph had to teach him through work the nature of mankind. Joseph was not a ‘poor carpenter’ as some suggest, as a working man descended from royalty but most probably a master carpenter owning his own business. Luke suggests they made the religious trip to Jerusalem yearly, which probably meant six weeks off work. Joseph would train Jesus as his eldest son to take over the business. So from an early age Jesus was taught carpentry, probably as a boy he visited his father’s workshop and at the age of twelve had to earn his living. But once in the business he would have to meet the customers and begin to make judgements on the type he met.

 The carpenter’s business of making ploughs, yokes, ladders for farmers and, as he was near the water, sometimes repairing boats and sails for fishermen, but also making chairs, tables, beds and doors would put him in touch with every kind of mankind. The trade of carpenter was the greatest school to understand the motivation and psychology of humanity. When later in parables he illustrated how greed and selfishness slowed down the progress of the kingdom of God he was drawing on past events not propagating theories. Some of his more telling parables are stark in what they reveal.

In the Good Samaritan story he shows how religious prejudice and wrong ideas of God hinder the advance of the kingdom. It reads as something which happened and was the talk of the market place. Again in the parable of the owner who built a vineyard and let it out to tenants who would avoid paying the rent and would commit murder. It was a sharp reminder to not only Pharisees and Sadducees but also to zealots, nationalists and the hard headed and heated. You pay the rent by developing a God personality of love, compassion, care and generosity. Profit is not a God motive, it’s a human invention that should have limits. Jesus reveals this in two parables of labouring men.

In the first men agree on a fair days pay for a fair day’s work, then object when the owner pays the same wage to those who have done less time. Jesus reveals in this we need the same things and have the same basic costs whatever our abilities. Aiming at greater luxury is a human motive which can put God in the background. Those hidden years were probably where Jesus was educated in all human motivation. There are parables based on human contradictions of life which need more thought, but show a very human sense of fun.

 The story of the dishonest steward is a good example. The steward has a split personality, so has his employer (luckily he has a tolerant sense of humour). The steward’s wages are not enough to meet his assumed needs, so he cheats. Found out, he is given notice, so faces a bleak future with no income. So calls in his employer’s debtors and reduces their bills by a considerable amount. His employer hears about it, thinks, then bursts out laughing and commends him. The law forbade the lending of money. The Pharisees, priests and others got round this law by lending commodities. Profit was still the motive of action, but excess profit is not a God one. The dishonest steward reduces each amount to fit into the demands of the law. The employer sees the funny side. His dishonest steward keeps him in line with the purpose of God. Whether God would use dishonesty to fulfil his purpose I do not know, but he does seem to bend events sometimes to thwart evil, but it is a difficult theology to study.

 There is one other parable which is deeper than it first looks. It concerns a man who finds treasure in a field then buries it until he can buy the field and digs it up again and reclaims it. Why not just reveal it in the first place? It seems spiritual truth cannot be thought of as an abstract. For people to understand its background is essential, and foundations are necessary. The interpretation that you have to give your all to get it, as the church teaches, is completely true. You cannot take what you like and leave the rest. We have seen this borne out in the political field by both socialists and communists. Both tried to create a just and fair society and both failed because they regarded the spiritual qualities as unimportant. The conservative party thinks that by emphasising profit it is bringing in a creative society. But in making money the goal it creates divisions, the gap between rich and poor widens. It brings in greed at one end and envy and resentment at the other. It was a conservative government which created the lottery which gave the poor false hope of quick riches, it was the right wing which created easy credit and gambling mania. No political party aims at first creating a spiritual man to be its foundation.

 Yet in that parable Jesus told his generation that was the first priority. But I wonder do Catholics or Protestants ever recognise its importance. What was he doing all those years from 12 year old to manly prime? Studying mankind’s ambitions, systems and ideologies and working out none would ever work without the right personality. Every public activity depends on it. The Messiah’s work or vocation was to prove it by living but if he found out all this by work, studying people and systems, one experience would be denied him like it was denied Ezekiel.

 The opposing of political and national attitudes brings persecution, not just for the one but also friends and family. So the marriage and propagation of children was in both cases out of the question. Yet the bringing up of children, the training of them spiritually at an early age surely had to be part of the Jesus training? As we understand the gospel story we are taught there was a wide age gap between Joseph and Mary, possibly twenty years. It is also said the life expectancy was in the high 40’s or low 50’s. We are told in the gospel stories that Jesus had brothers and sisters. As there is no mention of them in the story of the twelve year old Jesus there must have been a wide age gap between Jesus and these siblings. Sometime after that trip to Jerusalem Joseph died and it d meant Jesus would have to take over the business to provide for the family. He would have to become the surrogate father for his younger brothers and sisters.

 The circumstances would create the conditions where Jesus would learn how to cope with encouraging children to develop a loving, caring and compassionate God-centred personality. It would seem that the presence of God dominated the home and the wisdom of God guided every step. Nothing in the planning was left to chance. Again in those hidden years we are not told if, or how often, the cousins John and Jesus met. Jesus lived in a patriotic and zealot area, John in a sophisticated city area of corruption of priest and leaders. From country town to city Jesus was made aware of the spiritual personality needed to bring people to real freedom and trust. On reflection, if you take out the symbolic angels and look at how strong the guidance, events seem even more remarkable.

 Because the gospel stories tell only of the mission of Jesus we have no real idea as to the friendship or affinity of John and Jesus. But in the gospel of John the evangelist we have a clue. In his account of the baptism of Jesus, when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming he exclaims to his followers: ‘Behold the Lamb of God.’ It suggests there had been long discussions between them of their destinies, that Jesus realised the opposition would not accept what he taught and would kill him. So John knew of the decision between their thinking and Jesus’ understanding of God, knew that was unacceptable to those who would oppose Jesus.

 Then according to that gospel John was convinced Jesus had a purer understanding of the nature of God. He was heard to say, ‘I should not be baptising you, but you me.’ Jesus pointed out the crowd accepted his baptism as a dedication to God, so when John did it the baptism would be recognised as Christ’s public recognition of God and how he was to live.  It suggests John had knowledge of how much Christ’s theology differed from what was accepted by the priests.  The Old Testament suggested that God gave a double punishment for sin in this life and the hereafter. If you look at the punishment served for doing wrong, God inflicted in this life plagues, wars, starvation, floods, droughts and destruction of crops by locusts. Love and forgiveness were difficult to imagine and then when you died you received further punishment for failing.

There is a contradiction the priesthood accepted, an absolutely loving God who controlled and used every catastrophe! There are still remnants of this thinking in the ‘why does not God stop wars, plague and cruelty?’ Because all this was punishment an idea grew into a theology that to help the victims of any disaster was to reduce the sentence, reduce the length of punishment God had decided. It was this theology the Pharisees and priests had which is behind the refusal to help in the Samaritan story and also the accusation ‘he does miracles by the power of the devil or Beelzebub.’ A God of two natures, good and evil.

To  combat such theology miracles were essential, but what about such stories as the prodigal son and the tenants of the vineyard. What can they teach us? Both stories show men have free will to choose their destiny, it’s individual and national. We have to learn selfishness breeds disasters, it’s our failure to learn the lesson, to repent and co-operate which brings the later judgement. Only by a change of heart and nature can judgement not turn into punishment.

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Why should I vote? Wealth creation and elections.

As soon as the announcement was made for a general election in the United Kingdom for June 2017 my inbox for email was filled with political material. Unsurprisingly one of these was a survey, asking me to choose from a long list what I would consider were the most important issues for the forthcoming election. Most of the topics were familiar, the economy, the health service, education, defence, but a new one for this election, Brexit. There was a space for ‘Other’ after this long list, and I found that I could think of several additions to ‘Other’ that I considered more important.

The results of the survey were predictable, with the economy at the top of the list, followed by Brexit and the health service. Looking at the opening rounds of the major parties the concept of the economy was being talked of simply in terms of wealth creation. I wondered about two things, firstly why we were supposed to consider wealth creation as so important, secondly what was meant by wealth creation.

Those who have very strong party allegiances often tend to favour the idea of the economy as being the most important issue, manifestos tend to support their views regardless of which party they express affiliation to. I find party allegiance very hard because very few of the important issues for me ever seem to be on any manifestos! I believe that we should work to create a society made up of communities that value caring for each other, that build the community, that see the importance of sharing, that value freedom and human rights, a society that is built on equality and not division. To many these ideas are ‘old-fashioned’ or are simply dismissed as unobtainable or as impractical.

Part of the argument for wealth is that we need wealth if we are going to create and maintain the structures that will build caring and peaceful communities. This part of the argument is perfectly true, it cannot be refuted. My issue is with how that wealth is created, and how we are taught to regard wealth.

Take the issue then of how we regard wealth. An individual who creates wealth is regarded as successful, the more wealth they create the more successful they appear to be. However, this also implies that for many, not all, the creation of wealth also creates a desire for more wealth, and then for even more wealth, without really considering how that wealth was created. When the desire is simply for more wealth then the motivation is greed. Greed has several consequences, including the breeding of resentment when the benefits of wealth are not being shared. So greed actually hinders sharing.

The second issue is that of how wealth is being created. Consider two extremes, one that we are familiar with today, the other more a case of looking at history. If an owner wants to increase profit so that more wealth is created there are a number of options, one of which is to reduce labour costs. Increasingly this is the case today, often through automation (which is almost inevitable in some industries) but also through ensuring that the minimum amount is being paid to those who labour to create the wealth. The idea of a minimum wage, or of a living wage, both seem to have attractions. We all have basic needs and if you work you need to earn a particular amount to be able to meet the needs of providing food, shelter and clothing for yourself and your family. However, what if that is all that you intend to provide? Slaves were provided with these (food, shelter and clothing) by many owners, some were paid, and laws often prohibited work on a Sunday. For many workers today their conditions are similar, although employers do not go around physically abusing their employees. Are we moving to a form of modern slavery which is being sanctioned by the state in order that owners of businesses can create wealth?

There are examples of wealth creation being used very differently. When the Cadbury brothers moved their factory from Birmingham and also created the first sixteen houses of Bourneville Village (which was later increased to over 300 homes) for their employees they were using a part of the wealth to be created for the benefits of employees, providing them with better housing conditions, and with a better education for their children. The Lever brothers built the village at Port Sunlight to provide better housing conditions for their employees. Titus Salt built the village of Saltaire for similar reasons, including a school for the children of his employees. The significant point for these three examples is that the building of the homes was a part of the development, it was not something that came as an afterthought. This is very different to a person who creates wealth and then gives a part of that wealth to charity.

My father had a view on a biblical story relating to the feeding of the five thousand and the boy with his loaves and fishes. Very simply, the act of sharing his food might have been the stimulus for others in the crowd to share their food and so the needs of all were met by the acts of sharing and caring for others. Some might dispute that interpretation, but it matters not to me because the idea is that the wealth of some was shared for others to benefit.

I do not see this approach to caring for others and sharing wealth in many politicians. From some I hear the cry that the wealthy are contributing too much, so the burden of caring falls on those less wealthy, which is the opposite of my belief. For others the suggestion is that more wealth is to be used to pay benefits, and that will provide for the needy. Many of the ‘needy’ do not see charity in this way, they want the dignity of being able to work for a decent wage, they want to be able to contribute to society. Some will need greater care and that is where sharing wealth should focus.

Why should I vote for politicians who do not see that the creation of wealth can be for the building of stronger communities? Why should I vote for politicians who think that the creation of wealth is more important than what happens to that wealth?

Here is one more example to finish. As a student I was able to benefit from a society that viewed my education as important, so I was not required to pay tuition fees. Coming from a poor family I also benefited from having a grant to help pay for my living costs, although this still meant I needed to work during vacations. Society has changed, students now have to take out loans to pay tuition fees, and further loans to cover living costs. The wealthy can care for their own children during study, the poor and needy are simply seen as a source of extra income through paying interest on their loans. We have become a very selfish and greedy society if this is the way we believe young people should be treated.

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Bill Hopcroft Writings: The Joseph Story and Problems

The Joseph story and problems


We have some of our greatest theological puzzles here. God, we understand,  gave mankind freewill; he can try to solve his problems by sin or love. If we decide to solve problems by sin then God has to circumvent the situations and bring about progress. Jacob fled to Laban in good faith believing his mother’s kinsman would help. In a sense he did, giving Jacob a chance to re-establish himself, become independent and make a living.

We know the story of how Jacob was tricked into marrying his two daughters, Leah was not physically attractive and seemed to offer little mental challenge. Rachel on the other hand had an alert mind and magnetic personality. Jacob agreed to work for seven years free to give a dowry for Rachel and found by trickery he had married Leah. A superficial view suggests the trickster had met someone more cunning. But if Jacob was the God choice that view is not true, there was far more character in Jacob. Trapped into a marriage he did not want, sex in such a marriage is a physical expression not a union of hearts and ideals.  So the children of Leah were treated more as appendages whilst Rachael’s children were treated as offspring.

Jacob concentrated his spiritual, moral and administrative efforts on Joseph and Benjamin, Leah’s children and others had to accept the growing of crops, the care of flocks as the tasks for life. There was bound to be resentment born in the children treated as second class, only Reuben seemed to understand the situation. A patient God had to wait for the situation to resolve itself and probably had many alternative ideas. According to the bible story the resentment boiled over into a plan of murder.

The situation was then saved by camel traders taking him as a slave,  and probably made a small profit for the brothers. Joseph’s spiritual gifts and administrative abilities go with him to be used in other situations. So faith has a positive expression in different circumstances. In Egypt he is bought by Potiphar, an officer in charge of Pharaoh’s personal guard. I wonder if there is a point missed out of the next episode. History suggests such people close to emperors were made eunuchs to curtail any family ambitions to advance by revolt. If so his wife would possibly come eventually to a point of frustration, feminine instinct would make her desire children.


A cuckold officer would have been a laughing stock so it was prison for Joseph with no possibility of trial,  suggesting a God planning circumstance toward a greater opening. This opportunity comes with a nightmare a Pharaoh has. The resulting promotion for Joseph, planning for a pagan nation’s future and eventual solving of his own family’s future, shows a God caring for all mankind through one man’s faith.

Jacob and his family were taken away from the danger of Hittite absorption, allowed to increase and prosper in Egypt. Egypt, under Joseph’s administration, seems to use resources to keep peace between empires, yet the biggest mystery remains the value of faith and how great is God?

When you read the policy Joseph pursued, with an emphasis on growing an abundance of food, it is helpful to all exploits  to create peace and stability. So the phrase ‘There arose a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph’ could mean he and his family are long forgotten, or it could mean there was some sort of palace revolution and a new line of Pharaohs with a more aggressive attitude to other nations has come to power. We are told the Israelites were first conscripted into building supply cities which must mean military depots to facilitate an aggressive not a peaceful policy.

Certainly Ramases II seems to have pursued an aggressive policy towards the Hittites, the Philistines and, if the legend of Moses leading a campaign against the Ethiopians is correct, then Egypt was fighting on two fronts. A nation at war compels its people to forced labour then and now. Slavery would be an extreme form of that policy, the Israelites looked upon as aliens. This to me makes sense, but there is also an attitude missing. Years of peace had caused Israel to neglect its God, there had been no spiritual progress. Prosperity and peace had made them think like “Egyptians”. Their slavery was a wake-up call, they wanted rescue.

But the fact is the conditions to create such a leader, the self-discipline and thought are not there. Praying for rescue in such conditions put a task on God,  and we don’t seem to realise how hard such a task was. In some couple amongst the slaves there has to have at least a remnant of national pride. They had to look at their slave environment, realise the choice of education in self-esteem, national pride, confidence in personality simply wasn’t in the situation. Until we realise how complex the situation was for Moses’ unknown parents, we cannot appreciate the difficulties facing God to answer the prayer of these people. No instant miracle could take place.

A boy had to be born, educated, given confidence, had to live in a different environment  to see a new potential . The rescue would take years. Looking at the life and progress of Moses I’m afraid shows the literal interpretation of his life might be seen as pure theological tripe. When Moses was born both unknown parents knew the dangers. To hide him until he could be risked in a bull rush cradle was the first aim. Then they needed the observation into the bathing habits of someone likely to be sympathetic.  The time, place, and person were carefully chosen. Then came the plan. Sister would watch, volunteer the mother as wet nurse. All God inspired. None was chance. The careful teaching of his parenthood and religious background shows the determination of a woman with a dedicated purpose for her son.

This mother knows when her son succeeds it will be too late for her. She has both a faith in God and her people’s future, dedicates her life to it while knowing it will not help her. A belief in eternity gives her a faith for her future. Our generation seems to have lost this and lost a dimension of life.

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Art Thou The Messiah? Writings of Bill Hopcroft

Matthew 26 v63    I charge you under oath, by the living God, art thou the Messiah?

 The high priest had the conviction that the Messiah would restore the Jews to what he regarded as their rightful position under God, the world’s spiritual leaders and all nations coming to them for spiritual wisdom. Jesus knew their greed, sensuality, self-interest and self-righteousness could not bring in the kingdom of God, would not appeal to the majority of people and could not save the world from itself. His vision of a God who loved the world, who wanted spiritual affinity to all people, who would share in love all wealth, knowledge, who would bring justice and peace would answer prayers that meant an entirely different approach to life.

When God is the centre of our lives he becomes personal. The first commandment is fulfilled, we have no prior motive and we work for the benefit of all. Self-interest and ambition are set aside as each according to his gifts portrays his spiritual father. Jesus revealed the personality of God to all of us that we might know what God needs. In saying ‘The son of God sitting at the right hand of God and will come in clouds of glory’ he states this personality I share with God is yours to find your way to the kingdom. So Christianity is a way of life not a form of words or creeds.

It is a way of life expressed in love which proves prejudice, hatred, greed, have no part in the world God wants. Jesus has a three dimensional view of life, spiritual, present and future. The Jewish leaders could not accept this. It meant God does not directly punish wrongdoing or illness; war and poverty must be the result of men’s follies not God’s action. It meant, as Ezekiel had said, ‘Every man is responsible for his own sins’ and has to take the consequence, unless he repents, then God gives him a fresh start and a new life.

 If hatred of persecution is to be dropped then how can you resist subjugation; common sense suggests you will forever be slaves to another’s will. To them passive resistance would not change hearts or minds, war might. The view that absolute power eventually brings about absolute corruption was not part of their thinking. To those needing a quick answer to every problem then this view of Jesus was heresy.

 But then, they saw themselves as the only children of God, so others had to share their viewpoint. They failed to see in practical matters that profit making with no concern for others was the pagan way of life as well. Because the High Priest at Jesus’ trial had a bigoted vision so Christ’s life as a solution to the world’s problems was never considered as an alternative. The cross reveals evil will never accept love, goodness, tolerance, forgiveness and understanding as a solution to life’s problems. Evil would rather see such motives dead.

 The resurrection is proof that goodness and love are eternal and indestructible. The Messiah is not just a Jewish answer to need but the world’s answer. In John’s first chapter is a summary of God’s intent. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so man may not perish but have everlasting life. I have underlined the word gave simply because it makes nonsense of the wrath theology.

The purpose of Christ’s life is to show quite clearly God’s personality, so we realise creative love is the only way we can go forward and to do that man has to base his whole life on the foundation of love, every selfish motive has to be ignored. Fear, suspicion, jealousy and the profit motive have to go. The argument that the profit motive inspires creativity is purely materialistic. Jesus saw what people needed and acted accordingly. There is a point often overlooked in his miracles, they prove God does not use sickness as a personal punishment for sin as was taught and accepted.

But just as important and often overlooked every sick person was given his dignity back, he or she could now co-operate with God and become a companion in making the world a better place. The relationship was a part of the miracle. Look at his parables you notice that Jesus emphasises every person for whatever reason who lives selfishly is condemned for not contributing to the good of society and has lost his relationship with both his God as father and the family. That relationship is more important than patriotism is a point in the Good Samaritan story.

Think if we extend this into our attitude to the physical world, the profit motive short-sightedly cuts trees down in the foothills of mountains, without trees to bind soil and soak up water floods devastated Pakistan, Bangladesh, parts of China, the same policy extends the deserts of Africa, created a barren land where the food growing area of the Roman Empire was.

Your personality, your motivation, creates the world you live in. Think of one other factor in our modern world. Everyone knows we have to share, each has to contribute, everything should be used wisely. Do we build such a world when we concentrate production in some areas and leave others barren? Every problem it seems starts with the human personality. Perhaps we need to look at the high priest question in another light.  Art thou the Messiah, a world leader? The answer is no, politically, but I give you the personality which enables you in all things to work with God.

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Writings of Bill Hopcroft 6. History or Histrionics

History or histrionics?

 I have lived through the Newspaper blurb on historic events. The first scientists by experiment have found ‘the God factor’, how material was first made. I presume the great discovery will lead to finding the particles and to make the matter will be next. So ironically in the future man can make his own ‘worlds’ to his own satisfaction.  The second historical event hyped well beyond common sense was that a great British man has reached a Wimbledon tennis final for the first time for 76 years. That is tennis history, yes, but it has absolutely no bearing on the national crisis of bankers’ greed, political prejudice, national aggression, immorality, and self-abuse. The papers and politicians produce special spectacles to keep us myopic.

 In the tennis case it is to find short term events, hype them up, the Olympics, tennis, football, rugby and cricket test matches can all be used to stop us thinking beyond today. I’m surprised they have not quoted a biblical text to justify ‘Take no thought of tomorrow what ye shall eat or drink, your heavenly father knows your need of such things’  and making a parody of the text as it was against greed and corruption. So much for historical sports events.

 But scientists are searching forever for the ‘how’ this happened. How the rules of gravity, seasons, chemicals came about whilst praiseworthy in themselves are history, but not the most important history. History to be important has to be ‘why’ not ‘how’. Of course if you are an atheist everything is accidental and there is no why. This attitude cuts out a whole dimension of thought and life.

 Up until now I have only found one writer who has queried the why. He is the writer of Genesis I. Nothing is an accident, everything is done with purpose. The aim is to create a world where mankind has a purpose. Everything is made for good. The creatures, in this case Homo sapiens, the ‘wise ones’, are to find his spirit and reflect his purpose. Humanity was not meant to develop selfishness but to reflect a selfless God.

 The problem with the allegorical Garden of Eden story is that in a perfect world man got bored with trust and was tempted to experiment. The couple I notice are thrown out of ‘paradise’ into a world where other humans exist, So life is not about a sordid selfish saving of our own souls to reign with God on high. Adversity challenges us to find the wisdom of God to solve the circumstances we create. Why no history of worship? The problem of creation is the time factor over 14 billion years ago the Big Bang occurred. To our common sense nothing with a material or physical creation can possibly last that long.

 According to biological history man was not evolved as a separate species until less than a million years ago, then did not develop an instinct of worship until probably some 30,000 years ago. So faith can never be explained by common sense but a different form of logic. We can trace how man first walked upright and when in history he developed a nomadic sense and followed herds of animals for food and found the wild cereals, fruit and vegetables to supply him.

 As his thinking had led him to understand his intelligence made him “higher” than the animals and so someone special. He was cared for. As he loved his children someone loved him. Faith in a God was logical. Then nature gave him another puzzle. Cereal crops died, yet in its grain were seeds of life. Sow it, life came forth again. Then every winter trees ‘died’,  they lost fruit and leaves, became inert, yet year after year lived again.  These people seemed to see it as a logic they could apply to themselves the inner spirit the personality did not die but was reborn. They dimly understood the way of the world, some God had made it especially for them. Dimly they realised sun, moon, seasons, were controlled, so sun and moon became Gods. Mother earth produced food for all the God spirit in her gave them life, so she became the first Goddess. Probably they hugged trees because they provided for them and talked to them as living beings.

 We can call it nature worship,  but it laid the first foundations of a faith. When they discovered how to plant and grow food for themselves and kept animals to eat in their imagination Gods must have physical bodies which fed on spirit. A perverted logic suggested the first born of their own marriages should be sacrificed for their Gods. In Ur of the Chaldees where Abram was born there were seven altars to different Gods for this purpose and to make sure the ‘Gods’ would look favourably on them and keep them wealthy.

 Materialism from its very beginning perverted man’s thinking, so the pursuit of personality was lost. Following generations identified their enjoyment as God or Goddesses, characteristic in both east and west. Human activities which gave purpose or pleasure to life were imagined, war, sex, vice, etc., all had their gods in east and west under different names. How to enjoy yourself, how to become powerful, how to become rich, became motives for life.

 In a sense the sophisticated new motives for life buried the simpler understanding of the pioneers of faith. There are vague legends in the early chapters of Genesis of man who struggled yet lost against this rising tide of corruption and materialism. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Methusalah are stories of people who preferred the moral and spiritual path to the broad highway of power and wealth. I wonder sometimes if they were tribal leaders, refusing the settled civilisations to keep a faith and if that was the alternative Abraham first had in mind. Civilised paganism had become obsessed with power and wealth and created Gods and Goddesses in their own image and appetites.

 This is the beginning of the change. I must confess I really have not the education to teach this as I spent a lifetime farming, but various activities in churches gave a sort of insight into spiritual problems and answers. One factor puzzled me, the bible is a series of short biographies of different people having one ideal but no clear background. Find a little of that background and difficulties and dangers become clearer. Abraham as a Chaldean had to conform to the laws of the empire as laid down by Hammurabi and the customs of the country.

 Leaders married within their own family so Abraham married his own half-sister but they had problems conceiving. His brother also married, his wife conceived but her husband died before the child Lot was born. Then his mother died fairly soon after giving birth. This would cause a moral and a spiritual problem for Abraham and Sarah. By the laws of the country the nearest relation had to bring up the child to keep his brother’s family line progressing (one part of immortality). Then by the law every first born of the family had to be sacrificed to one of the Gods or Goddesses for the wealth of the country or they might lose favour.

 A barren couple with an adopted child would grow to love him. Other members of the family might not feel that way about the boy, self-interest would demand his sacrifice. Preachers speak as if a voice out of nowhere suggested migration. But the content of the message warns of betrayal by family, state duty coming first, fleeing the only answer. His conscience suggested there is a God who doesn’t need bribing to love, that life has a basis, trust. I said that bible stories have truth. If you read Josephus he says there were 200 other families in the same situation, that it was a group, not a family, who fled. It raises questions about Lot and his family leaving the group.

 The story is a devastating blow to an idea of starting a civilisation with more and more laws. Also it explains how later when Lot is in trouble Abraham can raise troops to join others in his rescue. Family loyalty built on love is stronger than loyalty whose basis is wealth. Abraham is pioneer to a new society under a God who wants us to mirror his love, unselfishness and honesty, a faithful, trustful society.

There is one event where we are given two clues as to its effect on Abraham’s thinking. This is the revolt of Lot and his generation . We know that there was belief in many Gods and Goddesses. Did this revolt trigger an idea that his God was not as strong as the Gods of wealth and pleasure?  Did  Lot and his generation loathe to join the God of Abraham?  So it gives a different basis to Abraham’s motive to his attempted sacrifice of Isaac. It is a plea for his new God to prove he cares and to justify himself by an old tradition. The episode would prove a living, caring God intent on man accepting a new personality.

 The problem  of Ishmael’s birth would seem a quarrel of who was to blame for an infertile marriage between Abraham and Sarah. Sarah’s contempt is shown by her ordering of a slave to sleep with Abraham  to prove a point but is followed by her humiliation when that slave conceives. I wonder if the writer of Genesis narrows his view. If Josephus is right others joined Abraham, they would not have accepted a slave girl’s son as leader. Then there is an astonishing omission in Genesis, it is the rise of the Hittite Empire. Abraham has to buy land to bury Sarah from them. Esau marries two of their chieftains’ daughters to maintain his territory.

 Looking at the story of Esau and Jacob, it seems Jacob flees from Bethel where he has settled, to the borders of the empire. A degree issued by the Hittites said all tribal Gods and Goddesses images had to be given up, a place of worship established for all in the capital and all conquered tribes make a yearly pilgrimage to worship. There was a decree issued to unify different tribes to accept Hittite nationality. Jacob’s burying of Rachel’s and perhaps other idols is as an act of defiance. If you put the Jacob story against its background it alters the Genesis picture tremendously.

 I’ve heard preachers taking the story of Genesis literally describe Jacob as a devious character, a dishonest, cheating and lying man of little virtue. Against the background of this rise of the Hittite empire he is not. Esau is taking the whole tribe back into the situation that Abraham had led them out of. Esau is purely power seeking and materialistic. Jacob is struggling for a religious loyalty to Abraham’s original ideal. At this point the worship of one God is on his shoulders. His mother’s helping him flee and keep alive the message is the crucial part of the story.

 When as a local preacher I pointed this out to the superintendent minister he said he understood the point but asked me not to mention it in preaching, members did not look at historical effects in or on the bible.  Jacob as we read was cheated in marriage, did not take kindly to the act, so only the two children of his second marriage had his knowledge and understanding of God passed on.  It is strange to think the tensions among his children created circumstances where his God had to re-plan the future. If your mind dwells on the tolerance of God in dealing with the situation one has to reflect and admire. Jacob’s attitude to Leah’s children trigger off the later events.

 It is a wise and understanding God who shapes the future without drastically intervening. No one’s free will is interfered with.

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The High Priest’s Question. Writings of Bill Hopcroft

The high priests’ question. ‘Art thou the Messiah? The son of God?’ 


The problem with the high priests’ questions is that they already believed Jesus was a false Messiah, with the wrong ideas and a wrong motivation. If you believe you are a peculiar people set aside by God to rule the world then the world has to come to you, not you go to them. So the ruling class saw themselves as the chosen people of God, ready to give the world what it needed, but only when it begged.

Jesus was offering the world God’s wisdom to answer their needs. In doing so  he was offering sinners and pagans the chance to repent and build a better world by accepting a personal God without coming under Jewish jurisdiction. To the priests he was a false Messiah with no authority except that which they claimed he had assumed. He had emphasised that the real temple was not made of stone, but of flesh, when God dwells in the human heart he is at home in that temple. We may build churches, cathedrals, chapels, temples to worship together, but he enters every building through hearts that have faith.

The mistake we make, the mistake the high priest made, was to assume God is confined to the building, when in fact he has called us together to commune with him and be inspired as to what we can do for the world beyond the walls. Here lies a problem the priest did not see, to combat the sensual, greedy, materialistic vision the world has can only be done by face to face contact with such people. Our real preaching must be done outside the buildings, inside we speak to the converted.

Was that why Jesus spoke more to people outside the synagogues than in them? Thousands heard him on the mountains, by the lake and in lonely places. He had face to face contact with opponent and seeker. Have we to find similar circumstances as against that presented through  churches, radio and television? In his parables Christ’s central message was ‘the kingdom of God is within you’ Every human being has a God potential and we must develop it. So we have to encourage, love, care, purity, honesty and unselfishness. Life has to be creative, not sensual or destructive. But is this the trend of thought today?

It has been argued that morality creates tensions so politicians have created the conditions which relax them.  The danger is we deny that the kingdom of God exists within the heart and makes sensual pleasure the main motive of life. This may be politically correct but it is not in line with Christ’s view of our reason for living. Yet every political party supports the sensual attitude to life, where greed not creativity is regarded as a motive for living. So every new invention, every discovery is subject to the profit motive.

Does not this limit use of inventions  to those who can buy? It’s important in medicine, in advances to the quality of life, not so important on luxuries, but no clear line is drawn. So money and pleasure are more important than people’s health. One of the most idiotic results of this is the government licensing gambling, opening casinos, creating a mirage of get rich quick and destroying the inner motivation of man. You will get taxes out of slot machines but you will not create love.

So the answer to Caiphus’ question to Christ ‘Art thou the messiah?’ is yes. But politicians of any age refuse to accept Christ’s vision of human life and its purpose. I know this is a long digression from Caiphus’ original question to Jesus ‘Art thou the Messiah?’ Yet it contains the answer. Jesus knew that everyone of us has the potential of God’s creative character. He can become personal to us all.

We don’t need priests to plead for us, nor do we need the compromises they will make to any politician or ruling class. Nor do we need any wrong visions such as Caiphus suffered from, a view of a politically motivated king to rule the world, born a Jew and making Judah the go-between between nations and God. Every human concept of society is flawed because of prejudice and history. Jesus realised this created a vision of a God who because he is the maker of us all regards us as family and will help if we accept his companionship and advice.


Father-like he tends and spares us

Well our feeble frame he knows

In his hands he gently bears us

Rescues us from all our foes