Posts Tagged With: history

“Bullies and Saints” – a review

Book Review: Bullies and Saints

Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look At the Good and Evil of Christian History Paperback

John Dickson, Zondervan Reflective

Bullies and Saints” tackles the ticklish question of the role of the Christian faith throughout the last two millennia. The subtitle of the book is: “An honest look at the good and evil of Christian history.” It tackles the accusation often made by atheists and others that the world would have been better off without the Christian faith. Which is a thought that has possibly crossed many of our minds. Religious wars, the Inquisition, and more recently the atrocious abuse of innocent children by clergy has all, understandably, fuelled the fire of antipathy towards the Christian faith.

Dickson, as a trained historian and theologian, carefully combs through the history of the church and sorts fact from fiction. With meticulous detail goes through many historical events. He openly acknowledges that which is evil, without excuse, but also highlights the many good things that Christianity has given to the world.

An interesting tack that he takes is that he also looks at “atheist” history and reveals the enormous atrocities perpetrated by unbelieving rulers such as Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, that causes any “Christian” barbarism to pale into the background. Dickson also clarifies inaccurate historical perceptions. For example in the historical imagination “The Inquisition” was one of the great historical evils. The fact is that over the 350 years of the Inquisition fewer than 5000 people died. Not that this is excusable but the truth is often vastly inflated. Fascinatingly, it was probably the Protestants and their propaganda against the Roman church that was largely responsible for this inaccuracy.

One of the refreshing aspects of this book is the way he looks at the doctrine of the “Imago Dei” – the image of God in humankind – and reveals how this has impacted our understanding of the value of life. This doctrine has, for example, been central to the development of charities, public hospitals, the anti-slavery movement from the early years of the church and in turn, has been incorporated into modern civilised societies.

His chapter on child abuse within the church is short but pointed and he acknowledges that this dark stain has caused a huge mistrust of the church which will take time and effort to redress. He shows clearly how this is a betrayal of Christ and the gospel.

In the final chapter he points us back to Jesus Christ and the importance that Christians follow him in faith and action. He also adds, ironically, how some atheists now acknowledge the importance of the Christian ethic for healthy society to function.

This is a valuable book as it enables us to put Christian history into perspective. It will assist Christians in honest discussions with non-Christian friends and colleagues. It also reminds people of faith that our motives  must always be guided by Christ and his word. Waver from that and all sorts of traps await.

Categories: Book Review, Christianity, Church, History | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Is “Unprecedented” Really Unprecedented?

It is easy to think, with all the goings on at present, that we are in an “unprecedented” time, that no other time in history has been like the one that we are in currently. That is, however, a short-sighted view. Pandemics far worse than Covid have devastated the world. The Spanish flu, just after the Great War, is just one example.

However, one area we could reflect on is the tectonic shift in power and empires that we are witnessing at present. Is this unprecedented? About 170 years ago, the world was undergoing monumental change. The gold rushes in California and Australia, the development of communication through the telegraph, undersea cables and railways, the power plays between empires old and new, made the planet a swirling mass of eddies and changes in which the outcomes were hard to predict and the effects of which we still see now.

Ben Wilson in his book Heyday: Britain and the birth of the modern world(W&N,2016) explores this period with a sense of the electricity and energy that represented the age. In fact, it gave me a clearer picture of why China has its current ambitions when one recalls the humiliation it suffered under various European powers throughout that period. One can understand why the Chinese say, “this will never happen again.”

The hero of the story is “gutta percha” a nonconductive resin from a Malaysian tree that encased the telegraphic cables that were laid across oceans. This invention commodified news. The first with the news could “weaponise” (a modern turn of phrase) information that, in turn, could be used to make money or corner your enemies. Reuters was at the ground floor of these advances

For the inhabitants of the C21st we see the first hints of social media, the 24 hour news cycle and the way it informs and twists information in the growth of communication in this period.

Wilson makes the claim that this era was the beginning of modernity. The irony, I find, is that modernity thinks so highly of itself, even now, that we fail to see the origins of many of the realities that presently surround us, whether it is the enigmatic confusion we call “Afghanistan” or the suspicion of vaccines that has been ping ponged via the media.

“Heyday” reminds the reader that we have not just arrived out of nowhere. We all have a past. And if we fail to recognise that past, in the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it!”

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Ocean Grove … continued

It struck me that as I was writing about my memories of Ocean Grove that these recollections are inextricably tied to “growing up”. My years in Ocean Grove covered those influential childhood and teenage years. By the time my family left for a farm in the Western District, I had moved to a university in Melbourne.

In the 1960s the Scout movement was still popular so I joined the 1st Ocean Grove Scout troop. It was called the “first” but in fact it was the only one. There I learned a lot of practical skills and some less so. Tying knots, starting fires, putting up tents and rope bridges were some of skills we learned. There were others: smoking, making your own cigarettes with toilet paper and paper bark, practical joking (which now would be called bullying) and other life altering skills. I never smoked again after the paper bark episode. The camps we had at Eumerella just outside Anglesea were a highlight – out in the bush with very few amenities. Eumerella Jack with his dog wandering about at night looking for unsuspecting little boys to devour – or so the legend goes. We had leaders – great and not so great. Some were like kindly uncles or big brothers and others were there to feather their own nest. A saving scheme was introduced where we would bring 2 shillings a week to build up a bank account. It was only many years later that I realised that we never saw our money, or the originator of the scheme, again. I advanced through the ranks and became a ‘Patrol Leader’ which my mother with her Dutch accent pronounced as ‘Petrol Leader’.

The school bus also deserves a mention. When I started high school in Queenscliff we were transported in an old rattly Ford bus. It was cold in winter, hot in summer and always draughty. I am sure it wouldn’t pass the scrutiny of the safety gurus today.

My first paying job, in contrast to being an unpaid slave for my father, was as a paper boy. I was in Grade 5 at the time. We were paid 15 shillings a week for a paper round that took a little over an hour. We had to memorise the addresses as well as which newspaper each customer got on which day, by heart. I remember that Wednesdays and Saturdays were horrendous as The Age with its classified sections was at least 2 or 3 inches thick and I had a number of highbrow customers who wouldn’t be seen dead with the Geelong Advertiser or the Sun. Then there were the customers who also received the poorly named “Truth” and the pink Sporting Globe. I didn’t always get the orders right which lead to an unhappy boss and annoyed customers.

Another job, which a friend arranged for me, was to work at Henk’s Bakery. Henk Petersen was a Dutchman who supplied bread and other pastries to the local community. During the summer he was extra busy with the influx of visitors. I would start at 4 in the morning and prepare all the orders for the bread carters. One had to know one’s Vienna loaves from the Milk loaves and High tops and whole meal.

It was the newspaper thing all over again – there was so much to remember and I didn’t always get it right, especially at the start. Wholemeals were mixed with Viennas. Who could blame me in the poor light. On other occasions I helped with making the dough for the next day’s bread and filled pies and pasties.

Beach Ocean Grove 5

The Ocean Grove beach in the 1950s

However, the following summer I started with the Ocean Grove Foreshore Committee. After an interview with Ernie Storer, while he was having a shower, I was appointed as beach cleaner. Seven days a week my mate and I would scour the beach and sand dunes for rubbish. We also collected bottles which became the source of our bonus at the end of the season. Another lurk we cottoned onto was that if Mother Nature was kind and there was a strong westerly wind after a busy beach day the day before, change which had fallen out of people’s pockets could be found protruding out of little piles of sand. So we made it our first priority to “clean up” any money. We could make up to an extra $4 or $5 a day this way but the wind had to be just right. This was a good bonus when the wage was about $40 per week – the basic wage at the time. (We had changed to decimal currency in 1966).

In subsequent years I was promoted. First came toilet cleaner – we had to clean quite a few toilet blocks between Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads. I estimated that we cleaned about 80 toilets and 80 shower cubicles per day. This job included being teased mercilessly by older women who could see my embarrassment at cleaning women’s toilets. Then came the peak promotion – garbage collecting.

I was consistent here as well because once again I made my share of mistakes. Probably the most infamous one was bringing down the Telephone lines between Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads. I was driving the front end loader with the bucket raised in an area where I shouldn’t have. There was a cacophony of pinging sounds and the writhing of wires as I sliced through the multiple overhead lines. I believe this episode led to the phone lines being placed underground in the camping area.

I worked for the Foreshore Committee well into my university years. The pay was good. One other job I had in my later high school years that went throughout the year was doing odd jobs on a hobby farm owned by a Melbourne stockbroker. This involved wood chopping, mowing, feeding cattle as well as hay bailing. During the drought in the late 1960s I hand watered a recently planted avenue of trees which I am pleased to note haven’t been cut down with Ocean Grove’s urban expansion.

Being profligate, all this work didn’t make me rich but it helped get me through university and played a role in shaping my character – or so I wish to believe.

Categories: Family, History, Ocean Grove, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Another World

Like my own dad, my wife’s step father was also indentured to work in Germany during WW2.  I have reflected in the past on the tragedy of these young men having crucial years stolen from them. (Being Content in a WW2 Workgang)  Today I simply want to include a few photos that give us a glimpse of that time: the good, the bad and the ugly – and the downright strange.

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The striking thing about this photo is both the fact that the young men organised themselves into musical groups but also took pride in their appearance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This this one of the more bizarre photos. Dutch cowboys in a Nazi hall during an entertainment evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This was a time of war. The workers’ barracks were bombed by the allies. The Allies may have heard of the appalling costumes in the earlier photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So naturally the workers had to rebuild their own accommodation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My wife’s stepfather worked in a railway workshop. I am intrigued by the presence of a lady in the middle of this photo.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Family, History | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

European Castles – A Selection

Some readers have wanted me to continue with my castle fascination. Below are a few photos I have taken in different parts of Europe. To us they may be quaint and beautiful in their own way but most have a history of bloodshed and intrigue.

Gavno Slot near Naestved, Denmark

Gavno Slot near Naestved, Denmark – started off as a pirate hideout.

Fredericksten, Halden Norway
Fredericksten, Halden Norway – a reminder that Scandinavia was not always a place of liberalism and confraternity.

Het Steen Antwerp
Het Steen Antwerp

Carcassonne, France
Carcassonne, France – the site started life as a Roman fortress and later became a Cathar stronghold

Alcazar Toledo

Alcazar Toledo – Toledo was once a centre of Christian, Muslim and Jewish learning and cooperation

Castle at Peniscola Spain

Castle at Peniscola Spain – used in the film El Cid, if you are old enough to remember!

Alhambra Granada

Alhambra Granada – a Moorish stronghold

Real Alcazar Seville

Real Alcazar Seville – a Spanish castle with a Moorish flavour

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Favourite Castle Photos – Wales

Wales has amazing castles. Here are some found in the north west. Most of these represent Edward 1st’s attempt to subdue the unruly citizens of Wales in the C13th. The one exception is Dolwyddelan which started life as a Welsh castle guarding a route in central north Wales but also ended up in the hands of the cunning Edward.

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle

Inside Caernarfon Castle

Inside Caernarfon Castle

Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle

The Rounded Walls of Conwy Castle

The Rounded Walls of Conwy Castle

Dolwyddelan Castle

Dolwyddelan Castle

Criccieth Castle

Criccieth Castle

Beaumaris castle

Beaumaris castle

Categories: History, Photo, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Geddington, Grief and the Eleanor Cross

The Eleanor Cross, Geddington on a gloomy day

The Eleanor Cross, Geddington on a gloomy day

In the delightful little village of Geddington in Northamptonshire there is a fine example of an Eleanor Cross. Edward 1st was so grief stricken by the death of his wife, Eleanor of Castile in 1290, that he erected fine stone crosses from Lincoln to London to mark where the body had rested on its journey. They  are an amazing record of devotion. Today three of the 12 crosses survive and the Geddington cross is considered to be the best of these.

Edward had the power and wealth to manifest his grief in this physical manner. For the commoner on the other hand the memories and grief are usually less tangible. We may erect a headstone or another small plaque but our expression is limited.

What is the best memorial to erect? I believe the best memorial is the legacy that we leave to others and to a large degree that is in our own hands. And of all the legacies to leave, rather than wealth, fame, land and possessions, we cannot do better than pass on  the power of faith in Jesus Christ. I know that each person must make their own decision with regard to faith. However our lives can declare its reality and appeal. We can make it attractive. I have written on previous occasions of my dad whose faith struggles manifested, for me as a child, the reality of the relationship one can have with God. To this day the memory and image of my dad living his life before God is extremely powerful for me, even though he has been dead for nearly 19 years.

So when people grieve at our passing what will they remember, cold stone crosses or a life well lived that pointed beyond itself to greater and eternal realities?

Categories: christian, Christianity, Devotional, History, Reflections | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

School Photos

Grade 2 Ocean Grove Primary School 1958

Grade 2 Ocean Grove Primary School 1958

Do you remember everyone in your school photos? I don’t. There was a time, of course, when I knew everyone but now after 50 plus years the names and memories have faded. Not all. Some people I remember because they were friends or, maybe, enemies. There are others that I can recall because they are associated with a particular event. I remember Detlev because his mum always dressed him lederhosen as it was “long wearing” but poor Detlev had to put up with a lot of teasing which nowadays would be called bullying. And I remember Robert Robertson because his name wasn’t very imaginative and he was also the first to break loose from school, to become a postman. There was “Chooky” who had an  unusually shaped head but was a great footballer and we had the same birth date.

Similarly, I can’t remember all my teachers’ names apart from those that I liked a lot or loathed. Mrs. Fisher was ahead of her time. Her classes were interesting and varied and she always had something in her “dilly bag” to show us. Mr. Austin in contrast was stern and humourless and his music lessons consisted of humming in tune with a tuning fork. I remember getting “six of the best” on numerous occasions. I am not saying I didn’t deserve them but it didn’t help me like him either.

My school photos also come from a time when life was in black, white and shades of grey. Colour hadn’t arrived yet. I wonder if that affects our memories? Do colour school photos make the time seem more pleasant? We were regimented into lines in the photos just as we were lined up and marched into school to the sound of a scratchy old record over the PA system playing “Colonel Bogey”.

But one can’t help wondering as one looks at the 43  students in the Grade Two photo what lives the other 42 have lived and how many have passed on. What has happened to Ron, Peter, Sue, Vera and Olga and have Detlev’s lederhosen finally worn out? Have some of the others been better at keeping in contact than I?

Categories: Education, Photo, Reflections | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Memories of Church No.4 – Conflict and Conclusions

The last part – for the time being.

As I grew up, particularly in my teen years, I began to realise that Christians weren’t perfect and conflict was an inevitable part of church life. It became obvious that the words and actions of adults didn’t always match, and that motives were not always pure. One became aware of the cliques and groups – people with different attitudes, agendas or values.

In the early 1960s our church had a very conservative, very Dutch minister. In order to attend communion, which was held every three months, you needed to attend church twice a Sunday. My dad, also Dutch and stubborn, had refused to travel to Geelong twice a Sunday after his little church in Ocean Grove had been closed. “If they close my church, I am only going once!” So the scene was set for conflict. Every three months before communion my family would receive “huisbezoek” – a home visit by the elders and minister. I was allowed to attend the formalities: coffee, Bible reading and prayer. Then I was sent to my room. However I could still hear the “conversation” between my father and the minister clearly through the walls. Dad didn’t give in and neither did Dominee K.

As I stated earlier, Dominee K returned to Holland and we had a new minister who simply asked my dad, “Do you love the Lord?” To which my father replied, “Of course!” and so he was allowed to return to the communion table. And my father started going to church, twice on a Sunday!

The arrival of the Pentecostal movement had far more profound effects. The church became divided, some families split and there were married couples who lived in tension for decades to come, with the death of a partner greeted with relief rather than sorrow as it ended an unhealed past. The power of deeply held beliefs to unify is profound, but its power to divide is monumentally tragic.

Looking back, I can now see the attraction of the charismatic outbreak. There was a joy in God and worship, a recognition of the power of the Spirit and an overall enthusiasm for faith and outreach. At the time there were also excesses and extremism. But that was true of both sides. Both groups saw right on their side. I don’t want to enter into the theology of this division at this point but rather consider the attitudes that people held that didn’t reflect Christ. As a young person at the time I was bewildered. How could beliefs, people and values shift so quickly? On the other hand I was in a privileged position as the two key leaders on both sides of the debate had a profound impact on my life. They were both men who loved the Lord deeply. Their followers were not always that wise. Blacks were made blacker and whites whiter. I have come to reflect that we often justify our attitudes by hardening our positions. There are times when we may need to separate or part ways due to deep disagreements but this can still be done with grace and Christ-likeness. This is particularly true when the heart of the gospel is not compromised.

Over 45 years later, I now work in a school where fellow Christians from a wide variety of evangelical backgrounds respect each other’s differences and work together for the common good of Christ’s Kingdom and Christian education. These changes didn’t happen overnight. It took many, many years. I rejoice often that I have lived to see a day when the values of two men I respected dearly have come to coexist and empower the place where I work. More importantly, I believe because of this healthy co-operation, we can see Christ and His kingdom more clearly.

Hah! But that callow youth back in the late 1960s did not have clue of what God had in mind.

Categories: christian, Christianity, Church, Faith, Family, History, my dad | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Memories of Church No.3 – Methodists and Mayhem

This is part 3 of my early recollections of church.

In the mid 1960’s the church to which I now belonged rented a Methodist church that only had a few members left. After a couple of years we purchased the building and added to our congregation a small number of aged Methodists who refused to leave the building they had been part of for their whole lives. One of the “fixtures” was Mr. Robinson who, in his earlier life, had shown 16mm films in the local schools. He was also an expert on first aid and was always willing to give our youth group demonstrations. As we had Dutch parents and grandparents, Mr Robinson was our connection with the new culture in which we lived.

This was also the time that I was starting to think about the future. God put in a number of factors: there was a teacher who urged me to apply for University, which, as I have explained in earlier blogs was light-years away from my parents’ experience, and there was Rev. Deenick who urged me to explore the concept of Christian education. Rev. D. didn’t hit me with all of that at once but over time we had discussions, and he urged me to read certain books and attend particular conferences and so when the time came, in the then, distant future, I was helplessly drawn into a group of people whose aim it was to set up a Christian school, and ended up being a Christian school teacher.P

 

At the time it seemed all so “accidental” but looking back Rev. Deenick and God were in close collaboration.

But I am racing ahead of myself. When I look back, being a Christian was a serous matter. It was not about having fun – and I am ok with that. Awe, obedience and doing things the right way were explicitly and implicitly drummed into us.

Then in the second half of the 1960s an upheaval occurred. One of the professors from the theological college (the “house” I mentioned previously) started teaching the doctrine of a second blessing with the baptism of the Holy Spirit*. To be blunt, theological war broke out and my parents were in the middle of it. As a teenager I pretended nothing was happening, after all, even though church was important there were also music, girls, cars and a bit of study to consider.

Little did I know then that this was part of the Pentecostal/Charismatic tsunami that was to hit Australian churches, and whether I liked it or not, I would have to reflect deeply on the Bible and what I believed.

* Both these men, Rev Deenick and Professor Schep, in opposing theological camps, are mentioned under my blog heading: Melchisedeks.

Categories: christian, Christianity, Church, Faith, Family, History, my dad, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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