Podcast: Episode 15: Easter Round Table with Skeptics and Seekers

https://anchor.fm/reasonpress/episodes/Episode-15-Easter-Round-Table-with-Skeptics-and-Seekers-e3o0ab/a-ad5lhg

It’s time for another Round Table episode; Andrew and Matthew are joined by Dale and David from the Skeptics and Seekers podcast for another of their regular round tables. This time fielding questions about Easter.

Find out more about Skeptics and Seekers at https://skepticsandseekers.wordpress.com/

 

 

Motivating Children into the Kingdom

Its with a little bit of trepidation that I write this post, because I am stilling working through what I think on the subject. However the subject has been nagging away at me for some time.

It all started a few months back when my daughter brought a friend home from school and said friend then joined her at our church for early evening club. The church runs a very popular even club for pre-teens and teens. The church is located in a very good location close to the town centre and so an evening youth club makes sense. Its popularity as a hangout is not at all surprising.

What started bothering me was when my daughter got excited about getting an extra point for bringing a visitor. Apparently there is a points system in place and kids get points for attendance, bringing a guest and various other things. Those with the most points at the end of the term get a prize. At least I think that’s how it works. What bothered me was the motivation in bringing along a friend, was it to have fun or to get a precious point? Given the age, its more likely to be the former; however, the excitement displayed over a single score point did get me thinking.

Part of the reason for my concern was also the fact that the invite came from the children and the parents were faced with the request to join a club where saying no would mean denying their child a fun and games evening for reasons that she would not understand. So I think the potential for putting the parents in an uncomfortable position did bother me. As it happens the parents were more than happy to let the friend start attending the club regularly and we now share lifts to save on car journeys. It turns out that friend’s older sister also attended the club when she was the same age; so in this particular case no harm is done. That doesn’t mean it’ll always be that easy though.

What is a fair way to Motivate Children into Faith?

I don’t have an answer to this question.

I am pretty certain that in my Christian years I would have been okay with this as a motivation for children to evangelise and bring friends into a church environment. Nowadays I am more cautious and wary of such overt indoctrination, as a child I too was indoctrinated.

I think its pretty safe to say that there are atheists whose view of religion is so negative that this form of child motivation will be viewed as wicked and manipulative. Yet they’d probably be okay about using the same tactic to bring children into a youth equivalent of Sceptics in the Pub, assuming such a thing exists; objecting because its religion does seem the height of hypocrisy. My earlier concern about the parents’ response works both ways anyway.

I don’t really see any way in which I can legitimately object to this situation but yet the fact that it exists niggles at the back of mind. I think I’ll just have to put it down to my current state of faith abandonment and accept that things like this will occasionally bug me and I’ll have to get over it.

My Wonderful Godly Grandparents

Among the questions I have often asked myself since abandoning my faith, is how I feel about my mother’s parents. They were both strict Plymouth Brethren and yet also embodied the gentle godliness that one expects from people who profess to be Christians.

I do know that they were strict with my mother on certain things. They had ideas and attitudes even as a youngster I found terribly old fashioned. I remember my mother saying that the university she chose to go to was based on its distance from home as much as the quality of the course she took. Looking at some old photos I found of mum as a teen I can see the mischievousness in her that I saw in her as an adult, there is also a hint of rebelliousness. If my daughter develops the same levels of rebellion and mischievousness, then I am in for a terrible ride during her teens!

My mum fell pregnant some time after meeting my dad, I don’t know how many months passed between first date and pregnancy, but it was a major shock for my grandparents when it happened. My mum was in her 20s by this time, but my grandparents were of the generation where pregnancy means instant marriage and I was born a few months into the marriage. My newly married parents lived with my grandparents for a year and a bit before they upped and moved toZambiafor the next 20 years.

My youngest brother, at the grand old age of 18, managed to repeat the feat of unintentionally getting a girl pregnant. I was with him when grandma explicitly told him that he should not feel that he has to marry the girl. My mum nearly fell of her chair in shock! When I relayed the incident my dad, he was equally astonished. I think they showed grace and humility by showing that they learned from the experience of my parents all those years previously, even though it likely still went against their ideals.

In the time that I knew them, I don’t think I ever saw them raise a voice or get angry. They really were the epitome of mild mannered loving grandparents and it was always a pleasure visiting them. My grandfather was secretary of their Brethren chapel for as long as I can remember and he had one very strange quality that I now look back on as endearing. He prayed as though he was reading the King James Version of The Bible, at the time I thought it was just plain odd. When he prayed he used ‘thee’, ‘thou’, ‘thine’ and other old fashioned words that are not used every day, or any day for that matter, but are found liberally sprinkled throughout the KJV. I have no idea why he did this, I don’t believe he thought it made him more spiritual, quite the opposite, I think he did it because he was spiritual and it was his way of showing deference to the Almighty.

The End

Despite being the fittest and healthiest of my all grandparents, my granddad was the first die. It was sudden. He was doing the dishes after lunch one day and had a heart attack. He was dead before the ambulance arrived. Grandma followed six months later; my wife is convinced that she died of a broken heart, unable to bear being apart from him.

The day of grandma’s funeral I got a phone call that no one should ever get on the day of a funeral. My step mother rang to say that my other grandfather had died that morning. My cry of shock got stuck in my throat and I was unable to speak or even make a noise for what felt like many minutes.

Comparing Funerals

My Dad’s parents were very different from Mum’s. They didn’t live the same Godly life, and apart from family weddings I don’t think I ever saw them go to church. This difference was very noticeable in their respective funerals. The funeral of my Christian grandparents was very much a celebration of their lives with a full church and a very personal eulogy while my not so Christian grandparents made do with a handful of close friends and family and the eulogy given by a priest who barely knew them. It was quite sad in comparison.

Being a Christian at the time, the death of my paternal grandfather was a problem for me, I struggled to deal with the concept of a much loved grandparent not going to heaven. Eventually, with tears in my eyes, I asked my father if I’d see him in heaven. Dad could not be absolutely certain, but suspected so. Conversely, my confidence in seeing my maternal grandparents again was certain and I felt very different about their deaths. There was much more joy, not joy in their death, but joy in where they were going.

That horrid 18 months, in which I lost all four of my grandparents was more than 15 years ago, but I still feel the same emotions thinking back to each one as I did at the time. I miss them all terribly, but its my maternal ones who had the biggest effect on me and that loss is not at all reduced by my lack of faith and nor does it change the way I feel about their faith. I don’t have to share it in order to continue to respect and admire it.

Nativity Stop-Go Animation by yours truly

With a couple of hours free this afternoon and the limey household getting into the festive spirit I decided to have a play with the family knock about Nativity set. The set in question is one my wife bought for our daughter a few years ago specifically as a set for playing with. So often you see nativity sets that are too precious to let kids fiddle with. The grandparents one is such a set and it has the marks to prove young hands can be clumsy.

Every year the limey daughter looks forward to this set coming out and it gets played with regularly over the Christmas period.

So, with a few hours going spare and the daughter at school, I grabbed my camera and tripod and had a play with Stop-Go animation

The result is 500 photos and 50 seconds of amusement thanks to Windows Live Movie Maker. There is much I can do to improve it. But hey, lets not start getting picky just yet.

Enjoy!

 http://vimeo.com/vteclimey/nativity-stop-go

I was Away at School when Dad Remarried

The news that Dad and new woman had eventually decided to get married wasn’t broken to me until after the event.

He met me at the airport, on his own, which was unusual, normally the airport run was a family affair and everyone came along. I realised why as soon as he broke the news to me. He wanted to be alone with me, though why I am not entirely sure, maybe he dreaded some sort of teenage strop. Whatever his reasons, he told me as casually as he could and we had the rest of the journey home to recover. While I would later ponder over the various reasons for my (and my brothers) exclusion from this event, it was never voiced out loud.

I can’t really recall what I felt inside, but my response was “I’m proud of you”. It was a lie of course. The years between my parents separating and this moment were full of anger, pain and deep upset. There were many moments when he and new woman had argued and fought. Fights that I never witnessed between mum and dad. These were times when I truly wished dad would leave her and I really could not understand why he didn’t. Life was horrid and the worst that mum and dad has was far better than an average day with this cobbled together group of incompatibilities, trying to call itself a family.

So the news they had finally got married meant that the dream of dad leaving her was over and my brothers and I were doomed to spend most of the rest of our childhood in this very unhappy unit.

The emotional needs of my brothers and I, in this post remarriage family were never met. We were always bottom of the pile and regularly manipulated and bullied by our new step family. Several behavioural issues came to a head over the years and were never acknowledged or even dealt with properly.

Life with mum was a complete contrast, unconditional love, always and never ending.

Through all these years we still went to church. dad to a very traditional Scottish Presbyterian and mum to a very charismatic Assemblies of God church, despite her Plymouth Brethren upbringing. My spiritual life was fed very effectively by mum’s church, while going to church with dad and the new family was utterly tedious. It was immensely boring and something to be endured, just to keep the peace, because speaking out would invoke the wrath of the wicked step-mum.

The curse of the Elder Sibling

As part of the fallout of my parents separation, and eventual divorce, I took it upon myself to take extra care of my younger brothers. It would be many years before mum re-married so made sure I was the man of the house there. Life with dad and the new woman was mostly horrid. New woman controlled the household with an iron fist and we sat at the bottom of the pile of priorities, while her own children got preferential treatment.

The emotional effect on me was devastating. I always did my best to make sure my brothers were okay. This, predictably, ended up with me making decisions about how they should behave and took it upon myself to let them know how much of a failure they were, when they didn’t match my unrealistic expectations. Some people tried to tell me that I was making a mistake, but I didn’t see it.

My brothers did their best to continue growing up as kids, they did their little rebellions and messed about. I was constantly stressed up about being good and at times simply forgot about just having fun.

Part of this process meant that I immersed myself even more into my Christianity. It was the only place where I found peace from the pain of family life.

Looking back, I am embarrassed, even shamed, by how I acted. My relationships with my brothers suffered greatly as a result. At the time when they needed me to just be a fun brother I became a bossy older sibling. Talking it over with my youngest brother recently, he was very philosophical about the whole thing and insisted he understood why I did it. He then teased me about being a goody-two-shoes. I am so glad to have such a reliable and dedicated brother. I owe home much.

The saddest part is that our middle brother makes no effort to contact us and despite efforts from both of us, we have had no relationship with him for more than 10 years now. It hurts us both immensely but we have no idea how we can change the situation.

Oh how I long to change my past, and how I fear that some of my actions all those years ago have contributed to the situation that exists now.

As a young pre-teen adjusting to the reality of separated parents, the wisdom I have now would have been of immense value then. Instead, the pain of life drove me deeper and deeper into my bible and the comforting arms of Christian belief.

Witnessing Sinful Behaviour

The fall-out from my parent’s separation was staggeringly painful. I simply could not cope with the emotional impact that it had on me. The result was that I became very insular, easily prone to tears and enormously protective of my younger siblings.

I could not understand why my parents had separated, as far as I knew we had a happy family at home. I remember no arguments or fights. Though thinking back I can now see moments when the clues were there that all was not right. I think rather than fight my parents just didn’t talk, its also possible that my young mind simply shut out the bad memories.

My parents were now separated, but still married, and with no warning, my father was living with a new woman. Said new woman was fresh out of a marriage with two children older than me. I remember that we visited them as a family a few times. So dad definitely knew her while she was still married and vice versa, as to whether that knowing includes the biblical sense, one can only speculate, its been implied but I don’t know for certain.

Given that Christianity was a major part of the life I lived, the strange scenario that I now found myself in was extremely confusing. I didn’t understand why, I didn’t like this new woman who was to have a major involvement in my life. My mother, whom I loved dearly, seemed to be paying the highest price while also being the most mild mannered and humble of all the adults involved. Nothing made any sense at all.

Then there was the problem of sin.

It was utterly clear to me that what my father was doing was wrong from a Christian perspective. Other kids at school seemed to know things about my family situation that had not occurred to me, which could only mean their parents were talking about my parents. That hurt stacks. Why should they know these things when my parents would not tell me anything about what was happening?

One incident I remember was at end of term. My dad was in conversation with another father and they were discussing the possibility of my dad visiting and staying over. The other father mentioned he only had one spare bedroom with one bed in it. My father replied that that wasn’t a problem, he and new lady would share a bed. Other father promptly informed him that this was not acceptable and would not happen in his house.

Inside I cheered.

Seeing someone stand firm like that was what I needed. Until that point, all I had seen was my father behaving in a way that was contra to all that I had been taught about how to live. Here was someone saying it like it should be. It marked a point in which my respect for my father started to decline. His treatment of mum and bringing in this new woman and the sin that implied was enough for me to realise that not was he not perfect, but he didn’t care for me like he said he did.

It was around this time that I remember being on a car journey with mum and she was having a discussion with a friend about what was going on. Mum turned back to me and asked how I would describe this new woman, as she wasn’t a wife (yet) so what word did I use to describe her. Without so much as a second thought, my reply was “concubine”. Mum shrieked with embarrassment and immediately apologised to the friend, who remained silent on the subject. I think it very clearly shows my thinking on the matter.

Life at home with dad and new woman was stressful and horrid most of the time, with only small moments of happiness. New woman was a bossy and nagging. Nothing was ever easy for her and she was incapable of compliments. This reinforced to me that what dad had done was wrong and drove me to further withdraw emotionally.

The only place in my life that I could rely on for consistency was my education. Being at boarding school was probably a very good thing for me at this time as it gave me space to be away from the painful environment at home. One of the very few places that I found joy was in my growing Christian faith and the daily bible readings.

Coming Close to Being an Orphan

In this blog I am trying to step through major events in my life in a chronological order. The next big event after becoming a Christian, was an event in the late 70’s which is a major factor in any history that involves my family. It not only concerns my family but several others too, its been written about in at least one book, featured in several international and UK newspapers at the time, as well as numerous radio and TV news broadcasts. Its impossible to tell my story without reference to this event, it has defined many things, both directly and indirectly.

In Brief

The event in question was raid on the farm on which my family lived. The raid was by Joshua Nkomo’s Rhodesian ‘freedom fighters’ and was one of several in the area. Despite being in Zambia, many miles away from the Zambia / Rhodesia border, we were not safe. In the months previous a neighbouring farm had been invaded and an elderly lady who lived there disappeared, never to be seen again.

During the raid, 3 people were taken captive, one of whom was my mother; they were all subjected to prolonged unpleasantness.

I and one of my brothers were safely away at boarding school and so all I would know of the event was a letter from my father telling me that Mum had had an accident and had suffered 2 broken ribs. The next school holiday, it seemed that all that was spoken about on the farm was this raid and the various circumstances that saved more people from getting caught up.

The couple who owned the farm were away so they were spared; my father was in town and was stopped on his return by one of the owners and told to turn around. Some other ladies on the farm were mistaken for younger children and left alone. My youngest brother was visiting a school friend so was not around to see anything.

The aftermath

I still remember today some of the many discussions and stories that were told about this event. There was much thanking of God that no one was killed and that the injuries to those captured were not as deadly as they might have been. Yet, some of those who I remember being about at the time I would never see again. The trauma having been too great and they would never set foot there again, some even left Zambia, never to return. So despite the relative ‘good fortune’ that day, the trauma went deep and lasted a long time.

Punishment for Sin?

There is no question that not everything was rosy at that time. There were a couple of families on the farm where one or both parents were having an affair. One adult speculated to me that maybe the raid could have been a punishment for the sin that was going on.

Even as a youngster, I found this idea difficult to fathom. The most critical element being that the people who suffered most during the raid were not those who were sinning most. If the raid was punishment for sin, why weren’t those who most deserved punishment the ones who suffered? Of course I am not saying that anyone deserved to be caught up in that raid, nobody did, it was an horrific experience which I dearly wish I could erase from history.

I will never know just how close I came to becoming an orphan that day and its not especially something that want to dwell on. Its how we hold ourselves after such events that define us.

My family stayed in Zambia. This must have been hard for my grandparents, since my mother was an only child. Despite discussing this event with my grandmother years later when I was a teenager, I do wish I had asked them more pointed questions about it when I had the chance, because now I can’t.

At my mother’s funeral, several people made reference to her dignity in the aftermath of this event. It would be afterwards that I would find an account that she wrote of her experience, it was dated 10 years after the raid. It would be a truly emotional read.

How does it define my Christian life?

To be honest in and of its own it doesn’t define anything in my Christian life. However, the life on the farm was a very Christian life with the majority of people being Christians and Christian passing through. The farm owner was an elder at the main Baptist church in town and we all went every Sunday.

As a child, growing up on the farm was wonderful, it was a fabulous place to explore and my most treasured memories are from those years.

This all changed after the raid. My parents separated and so we spent less time on the farm. As the affects of an unpleasant divorce sunk in, life became less happy and the farm became a symbol of the joy that once was. The raid became the full stop that marks the end of a chapter.

Life would definitely not be the same again.