A terrible joke

Noah is loading up the animals onto the ark. There are elephants, giraffes, smaller mammals, worms and every kind of insect imaginable. The line stretches for miles! As they’re loading on, Noah turns to his wife and asks her if she has counted the animals yet. “Not yet, dear,” she tells him.

Noah goes back to helping load up the animals. But a few minutes later, he asks again, “Have you counted all the animals yet?” “No, not yet. We still have animals to load on. Be patient.”

But after loading on some of the spiders, Noah goes back to his wife. “My dear, did you count all the animals yet?”

Noah’s wife flips. “You still haven’t loaded all the animals on,” she says. “And, I told you. Don’t you remember?”

She pauses, before continuing…

“I sum what you did last, Noah!”

Going underground

Today, we held a service for the Dead Dad at the church in the village where He lived for over 40 years. He was cremated quite some time ago, but He’s had a nice green box to rest in while we waited for an appropriate moment to hold the service.

And that moment was today. We took His ashes down to the church, where Stephen the vicar was waiting for us. Mother carried Him a fair bit of the way, but he was heavy so I carried him the rest and held him during the service. Stephen had dug a little hole, just big enough for the box.

And then Stephen read the following, from Psalm 139:

1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.

2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.

4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.

5 You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”

12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!

20 They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name.

21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against you?

22 I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

We then said a couple of prayers, again led by Stephen.

Now, it turned out that I was the only man in our party. So Stephen asked me to put Him in the hole, which I did – box and all. And then he asked me to cover up the hole with earth. I was in a suit and ill-prepared for this sort of gardening, but I did a reasonable job. There was a worm on top. And my sister placed a pot of hyacinths on it. We’re still waiting for the stone to be engraved, so that was that.

Later that day, while we were eating sandwiches back at the house, we learned that his granddaughter is expecting her first baby. And so the circle of life continues.

Text of Psalm 139 is copyright THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Thought for the day, “Dawkins and slavery”, Monday 20 February

Here is the text for my forthcoming ‘Thought for the day’, to be broadcast on Monday 20 February on the subject of “Dawkins and slavery”.

Dawkins and slavery

The Sunday Telegraph carried an astonishingly stupid and ill spirited character assassination piece on Richard Dawkins this Sunday, in which it publishes “revelations” that one of his ancestors profited from slavery. The assets from that trade remain in the Dawkins family.

There is plenty to criticise Dawkins for without having to resort to grubby smears. So what really can we learn from this story?

Firstly, it’s a timely reminder of just how appalling and wicked slavery was. In a week that lazy left wing campaigners have accused Tesco of “slave labour” for having offered work experience to the unemployed instead of letting them languish on the dole, it’s highlight just how inappropriate that comparison is. Slaves did not have the freedom to walk away or to improve their lot. Benefit claimants do, even if it might be financially difficult.

Secondly, the Church of the Dead Dad rejects the notion that the son should be held accountable for the sins of the father. One should take responsibility only for one’s own sins. In Deuteronomy 24, verse 16, we find the following:

“Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.

The message here being that you cannot be held responsible for your father’s sins (not that you should be put to death for sinning!). But by all means, use your father’s life as an opportunity to learn and to improve yourself. As the proverb goes, “A wise man learns by the mistakes of others, a fool by his own.” By this measure, we can reject calls for Dawkins to pay reparations. He was not the party that enslaved other people. Nor, even if you could make a case that he continues to benefit from that wrong, there is no person today who can legitimately claim to be the wronged party.

We should also pause to take Dawkins to task for his claim that “William Wilberforce may have been a devout Christian, but slavery is sanctioned throughout the Bible.” The Bible is a book about Love. Dawkins wouldn’t claim to understand the Bible, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t. Just because a book may have been used, wrongly, for a particular purpose, doesn’t change its true meaning. A man who uses a telephone directory to crush a spider doesn’t turn it into a treatise on animal cruelty. Similarly, we shouldn’t blame the Bible for the frailties of man.

The Sunday Telegraph piece is a woeful piece of journalism, which allows Dawkins to shed his bully image and appear as a victim. Instead, sensible Christians everywhere should reject this appalling article and refocus our efforts on rebutting Dawkins’s ill-informed and uncharitable attacks on people of faith everywhere.

I’m so sorry

First it was Diane Abbott, and her idiotic comments about white people.

And now it’s David Cameron, with similarly ill-advised comments about Ed Balls and Tourette’s syndrome. Cameron has since ‘apologised‘; I put that word in inverted commas because he didn’t actually apologise at all:

Downing Street later put out an apology saying the remark was made “off the cuff”. A spokesman said: “The Prime Minister would not have meant to offend anyone. He apologises if any offence has been caused.”

That’s not an apology. It’s the worst form of mealy-mouthed political formulation you can imagine. Perhaps it’s true that Cameron didn’t mean to offend anyone. But his words, even if off-the-cuff, are offensive to people who don’t suffer just from Tourette’s but must also face the constant misunderstanding of what their condition means. Cameron’s clumsy use of their condition to score cheap political points is incredibly damaging to sufferers’ attempts to have their condition better understood by society.

Secondly, the form of words is utterly inappropriate. You can’t be sorry if someone else is offended. You’re either sorry or you’re not. Placing conditions on your own apology serves to show only that you never intended to give it. It’s not my fault I’m offended by your inappropriate language. It’s your fault for saying it.

So Cameron needs to try again. Yet if he can properly apologise then we should forgive him. As Luke tells us:

If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

It’s to the eternal shame of our politicians that they don’t seem able to apologise properly.