The Translucent Hour

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 18 February 2017.

On April 4, 1917, a British infantryman named Harry Neale was recalled from leave, and kissed his wife goodbye. His ten-year-old daughter Lucy he invited to see him off, so they walked up the hill towards his barracks. She held his hand tightly, and at the crest of the hill he told her that she would have to turn back home. She hugged him, and walked back down, waving all the way, while Neale remained in his place, waiting for her. When Lucy reached her driveway, she waved one final time, and her father gently waved her onwards, until she was out of sight.

He died six months later, without ever seeing his family again.

It’s just one story, one tragedy among the millions, but it got me. Perhaps because when I first read it, my daughter was also ten. Or perhaps, simply, because it is sad. Harry didn’t know that it would be his final chance with his daughter, but he made sure that if it was, she’d have a memory to treasure.

UncertaintyWe live our own histories, but they are somewhat misty to us as we do. We never know which moments will matter, nor which will be soon forgotten. We don’t know which new acquaintance will become a dear friend. We do our best, but certainty is rarely given to us in the doing.

How do we respond rightly to our limited view of the future? We just do what looks right, in the moment, when it comes. And then we trust the God who holds the future in the palm of his hands. We trust him with eternity; we can trust him with single moments too.

Blame the Scots!

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 12 February 2017.

Scottish SchoolAs we all know, Australia and many other countries are governed by two official calendars. One has twelve months, each with around four weeks or so. The other has (in our case) four terms, and it calls the shots. Prices for goods and services rise or fall according to the school calendar; major sporting or cultural events are scheduled around it; even our road laws change with its seasons.

It has such dominance because we’re a society that firmly supports the universal right of our citizens to be educated to a reasonable standard. Schooling is both a public right and a public requirement. And, it turns out, we should probably lay responsibility at the feet of Scotland.

When the Reformation reached Scotland, one of the first acts of the new Church of Scotland was to require every parish to establish a church school. The poor would be able to access education for free, and others would pay fees to help defray expenses. Over the years, the government increased public funding for what had become a universal system, gradually increasing the number of years of education available to each child.

Why Scotland? I suspect because they had suffered sufficiently under the ‘care’ of English kings for them to resent the medieval class system. With the coming of the Reformation, and its message of freedom and significance for every man, woman and child, the Scots worked out that it meant every child should have the same opportunities in life.

And the same chance to read the gospel for themselves, and believe.

The Middle Ages

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 04 February 2017.

Long RoadBeginnings are exciting, opening up all sorts of possibilities. Endings can be happy or sad, but either way, they are usually seen as important or meaningful. But in the middle ... often nothing much happens. There’s a reason why the lazy reader skips to the final chapter of the book.

It’s true in life, as CS Lewis’ fictional devil Screwtape observes: “the routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful hopes and youthful loves ... the drabness which we create in their lives and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it - all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing a soul out by attrition.”

Screwtape is, as ever, incisively correct and deceptively misguided. We do struggle with the long term; persevering is hard work. Some people respond by seeking new excitement, while others simply despair. It’s a stage of life that sees many give up on God because the burden seems too great.  

And yet... it is not just us who do the persevering. We’re not by ourselves, anyway. It is God who protects us, and leads us, and equips us with his Holy Spirit so that we might be preserved, kept safe as members of his kingdom.

So do not fear the grey days, don’t be alarmed by the grind. The road might be long, but our guide is familiar with it - for he walked it himself, with his own load on his back.

Adjust the Facts, Ma'am

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 29 January 2017.

DragnetNo doubt you heard the story: Kellyanne Conway, a senior advisor to newly-installed President Trump, was pressed about the fanciful depiction of the crowds at Trump’s inauguration that had been offered by the president’s official spokesman, and explained that he had simply been presenting “alternative facts”. Cue the howls of derision at this new way of redefining a lie. Sales of Orwell’s 1984 have gone through the roof as people reminisce about the days when Newspeak was fictional.

But that’s just the headline. What’s more valuable is to consider what’s going on here. How is it that anyone can be so unashamedly cavalier with the truth? How has society changed to enable this?

It’s democracy - or half of it, anyway. We are so used to offering each person a vote, each a right to hold their own opinion ... but we have forgotten the social compact that agrees to uphold what the majority decrees.

Most interesting of all, however, was to watch Conway deliver her line. She clearly knew what she was meant to say ... but the words caught in her throat. There was a long pause, right in the middle of her sentence, before she could utter those two words. Whatever she says, it seems likely that she really does believe that truth matters. It has value - value that in this case, she was prepared to give up. Just.

It’s the same choice we face, day by day, moment by moment. Will we accept the lie Satan offers us, or will we hold on to the truth that the Spirit has taught us? What is your price?

Co-Incidence

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 22 January 2017.

One of the things that we did while on holidays was go to the cricket at the SCG for a Big Bash match. Tickets are cheap and the format has grown in popularity, so games sell out regularly, with attendances of 30,000 fairly standard.

I got to the ground early with the kids, and was waiting to meet Jude there for all of about twenty minutes. During that time, my old school friend Chris walked by, just a few metres away. I hadn’t known he was planning on coming, and yet there he was. Out of tens of thousands of people, all streaming into the ground, he happened to come by at just the right time, and just the right place.

CoincidenceCoincidence, we call it, when such things happen; literally, two incidents occurring together. And despite their unlikeliness, they keep on coming. For many, they are just curious moments. But in a world ruled by a sovereign God, what are we to make of them?

The Puritans used to call them ‘divine appointments’ - times when God appointed one of his people to encounter a particular situation so that they might act rightly within it. Or we could use Paul’s term for it in Ephesians 2 - ‘works that God prepared in advance for us to do’. It’s part of our being God’s fellow workers, drawn into his plans for this world. We get to serve him even within our everyday lives.

Of course, I prefer Chesterton’s suggestion for how to view them: “coincidences are spiritual puns.”

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