Jacob: A tale of despair and revival


Brother Edward Issitt brought a really insightful message to us on Sunday about the Patriarch Jacob. Here are some reflections on his message and its theme.

Jacob was a man of energy and cunning.  He purchased his brother’s birth right for a bowl of stew, he disguised himself to receive his father’s blessing, and used selective breeding to extract the maximum pay-out from his father-in-law. He famously wrestled with God in an incident which gained him a new name, Israel: “struggles with God.”

For all of his ambition and drive, he was left devastated by the death of his beloved wife, Rachel; but found consolation with his son by her, Joseph.  He heaped praise and status upon Joseph much to the annoyance of his other 11 sons.  The result was a plan by his siblings to kill Joseph, which resulted in his sale into bondage instead.

But, here we have a dilemma, what will the brothers do to conceal their brother’s fate.  They devise a plan to take his “coat of many colours” and to douse it in blood.  They cleverly take it to Jacob for identification.  He mistakenly, but logically, concludes that Joseph has been devoured by a wild beast.  He rents his own clothes, and buys into this lie of his own invention.

Gone now is his drive.  For twenty years he mourns the loss of his favourite son, and by application his favourite wife.  He even concludes that all he has left is Benjamin (his youngest son by Rachel). He is separated from God.  He has lost his will to live.  He, in fact, seems to be living up to his name – Israel.  He sees the lies.  He sees his hurt.  For twenty years he “contends with God” the author (in his mind) of his misfortune.

It is in this state that he enters into the period of famine in the land.  How is it that this man of cunning and overarching ambition, no longer has the means to provide for his family after years of plenty?  Simply – he has lost the ability care.  He was dead inside.

The result is that his remaining sons must journey to Egypt, a land where cunning preparations have been made (by Joseph!).  After their encounter with their brother, the children of Israel return to their father with the news, that Joseph is alive.  They are forced to tell all that has happened and upon the overturning of the lie, Jacob is revived.  Truth has that effect.

All too often we are Israels.  We contend with God.  We blame him, our brethren, or others for our “bad luck” or misfortune.  We fail to look for truth, as we easily buy into lies which make for the easier options.  But God is good.  He does not want anything bad for His children.  So today let us not wrestle with God, but submit.  In that acknowledgement of His sovereignty we to can be revived.





Ightham Mote


The Mote’s Moat

We recently had the opportunity to visit The National Trust’s Ightham Mote.  This is a splendid moated Medieval manor house, and surrounding estate.

England is a country full of “time capsules.” As a general reflection, the architecture of many communities reflects their point of greatest prosperity.  Be it the late-Medieval villages of Constable Country many built at the height of the wool-trade; the Dutch-styled buildings of Norwich marking the revitalization of the town by “The Strangers;” or the Georgian grandeur of Bath, all mark a point when the old was swept away and “new” was constructed in accordance with their status.

Ightham is no different.  Here we have a modest gentry dwelling, upgraded to show its owners entry “into court.”  Fortunately for us who enjoy this historical moment, the subsequent owners had modest aspirations, leaving us with “the most complete Medieval manor house” in England.  This does not mean the house has no changes.  Plumbing and electricity have been introduced, and minor upgrades made.  For instance the central courtyard has an Eighteenth Century clock on its bell tower.

Many features remain the same, however. The moat is fed by small streams, some of which are rain runoff from the surrounding hills, and others seem spring fed. The main complex has thick stone foundations mounted with timber framed construction.

Some quirky bits include that the Mote has a Grade One listed dog house.  This was a Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century addition to house to accommodate the owner’s St Bernard. It was constructed in the style of the manor house and fits right in.

Listed Dog House

Dog House

The manor house also has an impressive gate house and more modern art punctuates the grounds and gardens.



Gate House

The chapels and great hall are not to be missed either.  Their is a range of artifacts, and period art to be discovered and admired.


Hall (note armour, and elaborate wood and stonework features)

The house is not as grand as many, in fact several areas of the house surrounding the courtyard are relatively narrow.  This said, size doesn’t matter when you have grand fireplaces, two chapels (with impressive stained glass), and a library, all in a convenient package.

There are also nice gardens with small fountain ponds, a flower garden, and period outbuildings. Being National Trust there is a shop next to the Mote, and there is mobility transport from the reception area down to the shop and Mote.

The staff and guides are courteous and knowledgeable, and provide a wealth of information. This is one of the nicer Trust properties we have visited. One of the only down sides is that it is fairly remote, and it is not wonderfully signposted from some approaches.


Wismar, Germany: Old World Charm, with a Gothic secret

We were on a cruise on the Cruise and Maritime Voyages ship Marco Polo when it stopped at the port of its construction, Wismar.  This German city has a lot of old world charm, and the central district is much as it was at the turn of the previous century.  The buildings of the market square are of a wonderful north European style and face a beautiful water works and fountain, the Wasserkunst (circa 1602).

The brightly coloured buildings really add to the experience, and their gabled construction has a special character.

There is ample modern shopping as well as cafes, and specialty shops all in close proximity.  We spent some time in one of the dessert venues for some great strudel and walnut ice cream.

The St. George’s Church and port areas provide other great opportunities to explore. The church is a reconstruction of the Medieval original which was destroyed by Allied bombing in World War Two.

There is also the Marienkirche which was used as a backdrop and filming location for the 1922 vampire film Nosferatu.  In fact much of the film is set in the fictional town of Wisborg, which is a weak attempt of disguise the name Wismar.  Many of the venues used in this Gothic classic can still be found, and I had fun doing so.


Nosferatu 1922

This silent classic is a must watch as a prototype horror film, and the experience of viewing it will enhance a visit to Wismar, and vice versa.

Wismar is off the beaten track for many travelers, but is well worth making the adjustments to travel plans to see.


To Praise – In Heart, In Song, In Life

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The Psalmist declared, “It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High,  proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp (Psalm 92).”  The praise of God is good.  And here it is linked to music.

Music lifts up, the tones have power. Most people have at some time in their lives been moved by music. Music can express feeling beyond words.  Music then, is an outlet of praise, of feeling, and of joy.

There is a wide variety of musical thought within the Christian tradition, however.  The Society of Friends has traditionally taken a contemplative approach to worship.  This silent approach to seeking the messages of the inner light reflects the words, “You are praised with silence . . . , O God (Psalm 65:1).”  

The churches of The Restoration Movement, cling to the words, ” . . . be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:18b -20).”  This is reflected in the practice of using only A Capella music so that each worships in voice and heart. 

Others rely on the organ or choir to lead their musical praise.  Others still with bands, and choruses.  Each reflects an aspect of the human need to come into contact with the divine.

I personally have no talent with musical instruments.  My singing voice is baritone and not easily adapted to many tenor based melodies.  It isn’t that I can’t sing, it is that I don’t always do it well.  Fair enough the scripture says “make a joyful noise to the Lord.” That at times is an apt description of my efforts.  I once heard an old preacher sum it up this way, “those who can sing – do, those that can’t  – preach.” There is some truth in that.

Psalm 19:1 states, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”  The heavens, the earth, the sky and all that is in them proclaim God’s glory. Let us find that music in ourselves.  Whether in silence, in song, or in performance – Just Praise.




Spires and Mermaids: A Trip to Copenhagen

We made a whirlwind trip to Copenhagen as our ship arrived in the late evening and departed at lunchtime the following day.  To make the most of the experience we headed off to the Hard Rock Cafe, and had some nice drinks and experienced “the scene.”  Then back to the ship for an early start next morning.

We started the next day with the Hop on Hop Off service, and had a good look around the main sights, taking in Copenhagen’s great spires. The spiral of the Church of Our Saviour is beautiful, and that of the Old Stock Exchange reminded me of the horn of a Narwhal.

St Nikolaj Church 1

It was then off to Little Mermaid. I found the iconic landmark beautiful. The statue itself is smaller than I expected, but is still impressive. It is a busy site, and tour buses make regular stops here, so getting a really good view may take some time. The experience was still worth the wait, and several souvenir stands are nearby to mark your visit. These are far enough away from the mermaid as to not ruin the atmosphere though. It is a must see if in the city.


Little Mermaid

I then had one of those foodie moments, when I had to have a danish in Denmark.  So a bakery was found, and apricot danish enjoyed.

Danish Danish

Bakery for Danish Danish

For such a fast visit, it was a rich experience.  Mocktales at Hard Rock, fresh danish, spires and mermaids.  I hope to some day visit again for a longer stay. Perhaps the perfect wish for the fountain.

Wishing Fountain 1



Hop on Hop off link


I’m Not A Number

As I was reflecting on my visit to Portmeirion, it called to mind the cult television series The Prisoner which was filmed there.  The main character, known only as Number 6, is incarcerated in the Village, and repeatedly seeks to escape and to assert “I am not a number, I am a free man!” 

Many of us can share in his view.  We hate the idea of being a number, or faceless customer.  We strive to assert our individuality and are jealous of our identity.  And, why shouldn’t we?

The Prisoner Shop, Portmeirion

The stripping away of identity is one of the marks of institutions.  Hospitals, insurance companies, and the military are replete with those who want to know account numbers, service numbers, or assorted other “identity checks” that fail to have anything to do with what we ourselves see as “ourselves.”

In one of the darkest episodes of modern history this erasure of identity was practiced by the Nazi regime. People considered enemies of the Reich were stripped of possessions, positions, and even names.  One such individual was Czesław Ludwiczak, Auschwitz prisoner 72124. He like many of his fellow inmates resisted this depersonalisation. In December 1942, he received a ring crafted for him by fellow prisoners who were metal workers. Upon it were the initials CL, a prisoner triangle, and his prisoner number. He was more than that number.  He was a man.  He was CL. He was Czesław.


Ludwiczak’s Ring from Auschwitz. Photo: A-BSM Collections Department


While institutions may well attempt to distill us into faceless, nameless statistics, God does not. “But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine (Is 43:1).”  God knows our names.  He values each of us a individuals.

Jesus remarked, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God (Luke 12:6-8).”



We are not numbers.  We are the children of God, bought with a price.  We are people with a name (not a number) written in a Book of Life.

How’s that for identity?



Portmeirion: Visiting “The Village”


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Portmeirion in the North of Wales is a beautiful Italian-styled vacation/tourist village.  It was the brain-child of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis and captures the feel of the Mediterranean in Snowdonia.

There is a hotel, and several unique holiday rentals in the village.  The complex has a restaurant, shop, and cafes and provides wonderful views of the bay, as well as gardens, and terrific architecture.

There are multiple “follies” and tucked away statues to discover. Whether it is Atlas with the globe upon his shoulders, or the Buddha tranquilly contemplating the truths of the universe, they are there for you to uncover.


Portmeirion is not so large that it can’t be taken in on a day trip, nor so small that one would come to a loss for things to do or explore.  Among the points for spotting are the areas of the village linked to the television series The Prisoner, which Portmeirion provided the set. It also featured in Dr Who episodes set in Renaissance Italy. Can you find the abode of Number 6, or the venue where The Doctor met Count Federico?

We made a long day of our visit, buying a day ticket and exploring throughout the afternoon.  There are ample paths, and most are suitable for small mobility scooters, and pushchairs.  Art and natural beauty came together, and we had a really enjoyable day finding the various themes and connections that make Portmeirion a coherent village setting.

For information about fees, or reservations for accommodation check this site.


Bible Fruits Smoothie


There are seven fruits (not including grains) referenced in the Bible.  These are grapes, olives, dates, figs, pomegranates, almonds, and apples.  I was wondering how these would work as a fruit salad, and struck on the idea of trying them as a smoothie instead. It seemed prudent to omit olives from the trials (for what to me was self-explanatory) and stick with the “sweet” fruits.  After some trial and error, this is what I arrived at.

I hope you may find it enjoyable.

Bible Fruits Smoothie

250 ml Pomegranate Juice [Joshua 15:32 and Numbers 13:23]

125 ml Almond Milk [Numbers 17:8]

50 ml Apple Juice [I Chronicles 2:43 and Song of Songs 7:9]

6 Large Purple or Black Grapes (seedless) [Numbers 13:23]

3 Dates (pitted) [Psalms 92:7–8, and referenced Joel 1:12]

2 Figs [Numbers 13:23]

6-8 Ice Cubes (more for thicker consistency)

Soak the figs and dates in apple juice for 2 hours, then add the whole fruits and un-absorbed juice to blender with the ice, grapes, and liquid ingredients.  Blend until smooth.

Pour into a large glass (or share in smaller glasses) and serve.  There is a tiny bit of grittiness from the fig seeds, date pulp, and grape skins but it is relatively smooth, and has a sweet flavour.  I have experimented with adding a Tablespoon of honey [Proverbs 24:13] but find it a little too sweet for my taste.

Reading on the various ingredients there is fibre, anti-oxidants, vitamins, and other “good stuff” in this drink.  But more importantly to me, it is non-alcoholic, and tastes good.

I would love to hear back from anyone who tries this, and would welcome any refinements to the recipe.




Exploring the City of Explorers: Lisbon, Portugal


I have been to Lisbon on two occasions.  Once as a via air visit to meet up with my wife and daughter who were stopping there on a cruise; and the second time as a port of call on the return leg of my recent Canaries cruise.

Lisbon is a fabulous city, and one steeped in history and linked to exploration. The exploration ties are seen in the prominent place of Vasco da Gama’s crypt in Jeronimos Monastery and his cenotaph at the National Pantheon.

The Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos) adds to this celebration of exploration and honours Henry the Navigator and his successors.  There is also a memorial to Gago Coutinho and his biplane Santa Cruz.  he was the first pilot to fly across the South Atlantic, a journey of 8,400 kilometres in 1922.


Lisbon’s history is not all outreach and expansion, however. The city was famously destroyed by a great earthquake in 1755.  The church, Igreja de São Domingos still shows damage from this quake and from another catastrophic fire.

Lisbon has some wonderful fountains and squares and the cobblestone pavements are beautifully laid out.  There is a Hop on Hop off service which takes visitors to all of the mentioned sites, as well as past the April 25th Bridge, and the Christ the King Statue.  There is also a very good Hard Rock Cafe, which has earlier opening hours than found in many other cities.


The city’s churches, cathedral, and the monastery offer not only beautiful architecture to explore but a visible reminder of the Christian heritage.

Basilica 2

Lisbon is a great city to explore, and one which I hope to visit again.


The Challenge of Challenge


It is once again the beginning of a new academic year.  For the 23rd year, I have a new batch of students, some eager, others apprehensive. It has been a very long time since I was in their place, and knowing what I know now I would take more risks in my own learning if I were in their place.

It is because of this that I strive to open my subject up to them.  They are after all, not just the future (generally), but the future of theology and religious studies.  If I cannot capture their imaginations with the wonders of the divine, then the trend of society as a whole (increased secularisation) will continue.

So what shall I do?  Try gimmicks? No!  Challenge them? Yes.  I need to not give watered down baby food.  I need to see these young people as entrants of my trade and profession.  I need them to own the subject.

Many educators make the mistake of feeling “they” own the subjects that they teach. They treat their learners like empty vessels ready for them (the teachers) to fill with their vast resources of knowledge.  Okay, we are educated people, and have a wealth of experience and knowledge.  This does not mean our students have nothing to offer, however.  They bring with them insights, and perspectives that can help each of us to gain from.

Here is where challenge comes in.  Everyone believes something.  The art is to tease out the reasons for such beliefs, to build on the foundations, and to expand the horizons.  My department head and I were recently uplifted by the comments of one of our administrators. It seems that he had been at the exams venue at the close of last years’ tests.  He asked one of our students how it had gone.  The response was one of confidence.  When asked why so confident, it was explained that the student felt more challenged by the expectations of our department than that of the examining agency.  We had called on our students to become our fellow theologians, not just “apprentices.”

So as educators what can we do?  Nurture and challenge!  As people of faith what can we learn? Be true to our calling, and not water down the truth.  As preachers, pastors, and religious teachers how do we proceed?  The answer was once phrased this way, “sermonettes make Christianettes.”  Or more simply, lift your congregation up, don’t dumb it down.