The Wailing Wall

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 08 March 2013.

Wailing WallNo doubt you have seen images of Jewish people praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. You may have wondered at the name - on TV, you can’t hear the wall make a sound!

The wall is all that is left of the western wall of Herod’s temple, built just over two thousand years ago. This wall surrounded the courtyard of the Temple: ironically, all that is left for Jews today is a portion of the section of the Temple that was set aside for Gentiles and women.

Jews have been coming to the Wall since the 4th century, not long after the Temple was destroyed. Of course, in this modern age, there’s an e-shortcut available. For a small fee, there are a number of internet sites that will take down the details of your prayer, print them off, and wander down to the wall to put your prayers into whatever crack in the wall is available.

Bizarrely, women aren’t allowed to pray at the Wall - even though it was built for them. One Jewish woman was arrested in 2010 for having the audacity to lead a group of women in prayer, and was threatened with a gaol term of years.

Why the Wall? It is thought that there, God is more present, more accessible. Judaism, lacking a Temple, now lacks any doctrine to explain how its adherents can come into God’s presence. How tragic that he is thought to be limited in such a fashion; indeed, it’s dire enough to wail over.

The Pawn

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 02 March 2013.

In the game of chess, the pawn is the least of the pieces. Limited in mobility, almost impotent in attacking capability, and common as muck, it lies at the bottom of the heap. Players will think nothing of throwing a pawn away on a whim. It is the representation of the expendable foot soldier: faceless and no different from its fellows.

The face below belongs to a six-year-old child called Coy Mathis from Colorado. Coy’s parents held a press conference during the week to announce that they were suing Coy’s primary school for discrimination. The reason: the school had informed them that Coy would no longer be allowed to use the girls’ bathrooms.

CoyIt’s a tricky case. Coy is a boy - but as you can see, he doesn’t look like your average first grade lad. Since he was 18 months old, Coy has referred to himself as a girl, and lived his life as such. The doctors diagnosed ‘gender identity disorder’ and said to let him live as a girl.

Here is a tragedy with years to run. Our society’s obsession with sexuality, individual choice and moral relativity has given a small child a lifetime of confusion and notoriety. And now an insistence on legal process and ‘rights’ means that Coy will forever be identified as the toilet kid. Collateral damage from the culture wars, he is a pawn sacrificed for political gain.

Give me the God who dies for the small and the powerless any day. He never treats us as mere footsoldiers.


Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 22 February 2013.

What is the colour of a winner? Is it the gold of a sporting medal? The green of the stockmarket killing? The red or black of a roulette wheel?

NikeThe statue on the right depicts Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. Should you care to see it for yourself, you’d need to visit Constitution Square in Kharkiv, Ukraine, where the statue was erected in the post-Soviet era. No prizes for guessing which victory is being commemorated here, of course, but it is a fairly grey victory, isn’t it?

If you prefer more colour to your Nikes, you could always visit Luxembourg to see the Gelle Fra, a golden statue of the goddess at the top of a twenty metre high obelisk: a memorial to those who fell in the First World War.

Or for more colour still, visit a shoe store and be bowled over by the vivid range of sneakers and boots available under the label.

In 1866, Algernon Swinburne published a poem that included the lines: ‘Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath’ as he mourned the way Christ won his victory through an ignoble death.

Not many people remember Swinburne any more; it turns out he was right. The pale Galilean ascended, the world placed under his feet, the red flush of life in his flesh. Victory has come through monochrome into full colour!

Calling Time

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 15 February 2013.

It was a big story: Pope Benedict VI announced his intention to resign. Popes have been dying in office without fail for nearly 600 years. It’s the kind of job that the health and safety people really should have looked at before now, perhaps!

“I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me,” ran the official pronouncement. Fair enough - it takes courage to recognise when age is robbing you of things you once were capable of doing easily. But it does raise the question - why have previous pontiffs so steadfastly declined to do the same?

Apparently, bearing up with age and infirmity has been seen as part of the role; the Pope must demonstrate the power of God to work through weakness - an idea along the lines of the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians.

BenedictEven so, that leaves good reasons for two opposite courses of actions - yet one has been massively preferred. Why? Because Roman Catholic doctrine sees the Pope as the ‘Vicar’ of Christ: the person who embodies Jesus in himself. Theology has to work for the Pope above all, so suffering and death in service of the church has been expected.

How much better to know that Christ alone is our high priest, the mediator of a new covenant (Hebrews 9:11-15). He has suffered and died precisely so that none of us need to: I think Benedict’s got this one, at least, right!

Clever Dick

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 08 February 2013.

It’s not often that archaeologists dig up a grave that’s five hundred years old, and even more rare for them to know the identity of the owner. No doubt you would have heard the news during the week that the remains of Richard III, the king of England from 1483-1485, have been unearthed beneath a council car park in Leicester.

In itself, to be able to establish the identity of a 500-year-old body is an impressive achievement. The combination of archaeology, science and genealogy made for a great story. But it was the conclusions that can be drawn from the find that caught my eye.

Richard-IIIThe manner of his death - knocked from his horse, bashed in his head by a halbard - that was known from contemporary accounts proved to be a precise match with the cause of death established from his remains. His skeleton showed a severe case of scoliosis, which would have given the king the hunchback appearance that his detractors used to dehumanise him. He was said to be of slight build, with one shoulder higher than the other; again the bones agreed. And the reconstruction of his face based on his skull’s shape is a dead ringer for portraits from his own time.

Imagine that: old, contemporary accounts of a king, drawn from both friends and foes, that turn out to be extremely reliable descriptions of who the man was. I do believe that reminds me of someone else...

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