Monday, 14 May 2018

The most boring spectator sports in the world

      Some years ago, no doubt as an act of revenge for the Boston Tea Party, UK’s then prime minister David Cameron threatened to teach Barack Obama to play cricket during a visit to the States. As far as I know, the former POTUS didn’t take up the offer, for which Americans should be eternally grateful!
       Boring enough when you can actually SEE it, this strange public school ritual is regularly brought to an agonisingly mind-numbing low by BBC Radio 4 every summer - for weeks without end. I would describe cricket as being utterly pointless but for the fact that it seems to have more points than any other sport, awarded for no obvious reason and with a total lack of logic.
     Which set me musing on further boring spectator sports:
(1) Top of the list has already been mentioned, i.e. cricket in which the main excitement is two men walking from one set of sticks to another set of sticks, holding a large piece of willow used to bat a ball into oblivion or into the hands of a mid-off or whatever to deafening roars of approval from the crowd. And it doesn't even bounce! Bowl a maiden over? Not this one!
(2) Golf. At least in cricket you get to see somebody running occasionally -and I must admit the players look very fetching in their matching white outfits and shin pads. But tartan trews and little woolly jumpers? Sorry, in the fashion stakes, golfers just don't hack it - unless they end up in the bunker, which is fun!
(3) Hockey. Now I must declare an interest here. At high school, me and my jolly old hockey stick were assigned to one end of a very cold, very muddy field while the rest of the team bashed everyone else's legs to bits at the other end. Being in defence, I can't remember seeing the ball more than a couple of times in all my years at school, and even then I'd have to battle with my own team's goalie for possession - the only exercise we got and probably the only time the opposing team were in with a chance!
(4) Snooker. Not only do the players not run, they hardly move at all unless it's to lean over the table to hit a little white ball. The most exciting it gets is when the players sip their beer or whisky or whatever and one can at least start wondering how long they'll stay upright....which probably explains why they're always leaning over!
(5) Bowling. No, not the kind you do in bowling alleys, but the genteel kind which is normally played on a velvet smooth bowling green. Again, competitors don't seem to move very much (if at all) but then most of them do have the excuse of being well over 80. Teenagers at our local green have tried to sabotage the game by hammering broken bottles into the grass, but nothing stops the intrepid team from pursuing their favourite sport. What that generation lacks in speed is more than compensated by sheer endurance!
(6) Darts. No excuse here, as anyone over 18 (the legal UK limit for drinking) can join in what is perhaps the only sport where spectators actually look healthier than the players! The beauty of this activity is, like bowling and snooker, you can be a champion without ever having to don a tracksuit, go running at dawn or cut out the carbs and the extra pint. A couple of sit-ups once a week and a good pair of spectacles are all it takes to be a world-class darts master. It must surely rank alongside snail racing for its sheer exhilarating thrill factor!
(7) Curling. This was a new one on me until the 2008 Olympics (or was it the one before that?) when the Scottish team actually won a Gold! Very pleased about that, the only downside being that I felt compelled to watch them as they swept their way to victory - reminding me that I hadn't done the vacuuming that day. Definitely toe-curling!

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Strive, Strive, Never Arrive!

       In our materialistic age, it’s hardly surprising that one of the best-known verses in the Bible is about money.  
       What IS surprising is that “Money” is NOT, as has so often been misquoted, “the root of all evil.” On the contrary, without money no one in today’s world would be able to function. (2 Tim 6:9,10) 
       No, the real problem is the “LOVE of money,” a love which, the verse goes on to explain, causes some to “stab themselves all over with many pains.” In contrast, the secret of a happy life is learning to be content, to want what you have – but try telling that to a wannabe 1 percenter! 
       Those determined to be rich will never be satisfied, no matter how much money they acquire. And it’s not just the luxury lifestyle they crave. For many, it’s the thrill of the chase, the next big deal, the gamble that pays off, the battle for supremacy, the one-upmanship. The power.  
       Obsessed with power, a well-known magnate built a temple on one of the islands he owned, or so the story goes. Here, he would spend hours communing with dubious deities, invoking their powers to make him stronger, cleverer and more powerful than his rivals. His family life was a mess, his first wife committed suicide, his second wife divorced him, his children died tragically, he couldn’t eat properly and his health was abysmal. His only ‘joy’ in  life, if you can call it that, was his massive fortune and in knowing he owned a bigger yacht than anyone else on the planet! The demons did their job!  
       Not all lovers of money splash out on luxuries, of course; some rich people are extremely miserly, like the zillionaire tycoon who couldn’t spot a small coin in the gutter without stooping to pick it up! Or like Jean Paul Getty who refused to pay a ransom when his grandson was kidnapped. At least he learned from his mistakes; two years before he died, he said: “Money doesn’t necessarily have any connection with happiness. Maybe with unhappiness.”  
       Then there was Henrietta Howland Green. At her death in 1916, this American woman was worth approximately $95,000,000. Yet, rather than pay for urgent medical treatment for her son, she wasted valuable time searching for a free clinic, a delay which undoubtedly cost the boy his leg. Henrietta was just as mean with her own wellbeing, virtually living on cold oatmeal (she felt heating it up was a waste of money!), and eventually dying of apoplexy after a heated argument over skimmed milk - possibly the nearest she ever came to any human warmth!  
       In itself, money doesn’t make you mercenary. There are poor people who love money so much they’d kill for it and wealthy people who, viewing their fortune merely as a by-product of sheer hard work and talent, are glad to share it with others. 
       Such people have no doubt come to realise what really matters. That, rich or poor, there’s more happiness in giving than receiving. And, that being content with what we have – family, friends, food on the table – is worth more than all the money in the world!

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Mindfulness or mindlessness?

       An app that can calm children, soothe them to sleep and help them concentrate? Most parents I know would give their eye-teeth for such help. So why does this ‘Mindfulness’ app, along with the trend that inspired it, worry me so much?
       For me, the problem is that mindfulness techniques are based on meditation, a form of self-hypnosis currently embraced and wholeheartedly promoted by several high profile figures and mooted as a wonderful new route to mental health. Now there are special apps for children, including one for under-5s!
       “No harm in that,” some say. But there are various types of meditation, some of which are not beneficial and may even be downright dangerous. With this in view, let’s be mindful of what meditation actually is and which forms should be avoided at all costs.

What is meditation?
       Meditation is more than mere daydreaming. It involvesdeep, concentrated thinking by which we can review the past, ponder the present and consider the future – not just our own but that of others and the world in general. Successful meditation requires complete solitude with no distractions – no mobile devices or online games to interrupt the process.
       True meditation should be purposeful and focused, even resulting in amazing Eureka moments from celebrated thinkers such as the late Stephen Hawking must have enjoyed while contemplating the universe!

Good meditation
       To get the best from this practice, we need to look to the best possible examples, such as wise and spiritually-minded people mentioned in scripture. In fact, the Bible encourages meditation - not the sort that involves emptying the mind or muttering mindless mantras and empty repetition, but meditation that helps us dwell on wholesome and upbuilding topics, such as God’s qualities, standards and dealings with mankind.
       King David, for instance, often lay awake ‘in the watches of the night’ meditating on deep spiritual matters which provided him with inner depth and moral strength. (Psalm 63:6, Psalm 1:3) 

Harmful meditation
       Many forms of meditation have roots in ancient Eastern religions. In contrast to musing on profound scientific or spiritual truths, however, “The mind has to be empty to see clearly,” according to one exponent. These words reflect the view that emptying the mind while focusing (mindlessly) on certain words or images promotes inner peace, mental clarity and enlightenment.
       Another source describes a typical meditation as focusing fully attention on one’s breath as it flows in and out of the body. “Focusing on each breath in this way allows you to observe your thoughts as they arise in your mind and, little by little, to let go of struggling with them.”
       Although it may seem harmless, this technique which encourages you to let go and ‘empty the mind’ is not only employed by yoga practitioners but also by spiritualist mediums as they seek to contact their guides in the spirit world.  And you don’t need to be a practicing psychic to invoke the demons! Even though we may initially feel some benefit, emptying our mind leaves us open to some very nasty squatters! (Matthew 12:43-45)

       And it seems I’m not alone in worrying about this form of meditation:
       Dr Miguel Farias, a reader in cognitive and biological psychology and co-author of The Buddha Pill, is very concerned about the effects of what he describes as an entirely unregulated’ practice.  “Quite a lot of mindfulness teachers have no training whatsoever in mental health.” He also doubts the value of mindfulness apps.
       “They work like relaxation apps. Focusing on your breathing can usually make you relaxed – but for some it can also bring on a panic attack.’ There is a wealth of evidence to show that mindful exercises can have negative effects. While some people, find mindfulness unhelpful and dispiriting, for a significant number of others – and for reasons not yet completely understood – it can lead to anxiety, panic or even psychosis. – Can mindfulness be bad for you? Anne Moore, YOU magazine.
        Claire initially found mindfulness relaxing, “but then I felt completely zoned out while doing it. Within two or three hours of later sessions, I was starting to really, really panic.” The sessions resurfaced memories of her traumatic childhood, and she experienced a series of panic attacks. “Somehow, the course triggered things I had previously got over,” Claire says. “I had a breakdown and spent three months in a psychiatric unit. It was a depressive breakdown with psychotic elements related to the trauma, and several dissociative episodes.” – Is Mindfulness making us ill?  Dawn Foster, The Guardian

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Popes, bishops, priests and other clergy. Are they scriptural?

 “Pope Francis is a humble man who believes he is infallible” – Professor Garry Wills
      Soon after the present Pontiff was elected, religious writer Professor Garry Wills claimed on BBC Radio 4 that there’s no scriptural basis for the Pope - or, for that matter, any Christian clergy.
       He should know what he’s talking about. As a Roman Catholic, educated by Jesuits, Garry once considered the priesthood himself, but settled instead for academia, eventually becoming Emeritus Professor of History at Northwestern University.  His controversial new book “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition” questions the supposed line of descent from the Apostle Peter whom may Catholics claim was the first Pope, quoting Matthew 16:18 as their basis:  “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”.
       According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, however, the term used for ‘a mass of rock’ is the Greek word ‘Pe’tra’ (feminine gender) which denotes a mass of rock rather than ‘Pe’tros(masculine gender) meaning a detached stone or boulder that can be thrown or easily removed:  “Here  the distinction between Petra, concerning the Lord Himself, and Pe'tros, the Apostle, is clear.”
       Another Bible commentator writes, “That the apostles did not understand Jesus’ statement to signify Peter was the rock-mass is evident from the fact that they later disputed about who seemed to be the greatest amongst them. (Mark 9:33-35) There would have been no basis for such disputing had Peter been given the primacy as the rock-mass on which the congregation was to be built.
       ‘The scriptures clearly show that as foundation stones, all the apostles are equal. All of them, including Peter, rest upon Christ Jesus as the foundation cornerstone. (Eph 2:19-22; Re 21:2, 9-14) Peter himself identified the rock-mass (pe’tra) on which the congregation is built as being Christ Jesus.” (1 Pe 2:4-8)
       Having originally believed Peter to be the ‘rock-mass, even ‘Saint’ Augustine (354-430 CE) later changed his view, saying: “The rock is not so named from Peter, but Peter from the rock (non enim a Petro petra, sed Petrus a petra), even as Christ is not so called after the Christian after Christ.  For the reason why the Lord says, ‘On this rock I will build my church,’ is that Peter had said: ‘Though art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ On this rock which thou hast confessed, says he, I will build my church. For Christ was the rock (petra enim erat Christus), upon which also Peter himself was built; for other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” – Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Mt 16:18 ftn, p.296) Translated and edited by P. Schaff, 1976.
       A further line of argument against a clergy class, mentioned by Prof Wills, is that by giving his life ‘once for all time’ as the ultimate sacrifice (He 9:11-14) Jesus became the sole mediator between God and humans, abolishing the need for a priesthood to offer sacrifices for the people on a regular basis.
       But perhaps one of the most telling comments is by Jesus himself who, in Mt 23:6-10, puts himself at odds with many religious leaders, ancient and modern:
       “Do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the Heavenly One. Neither be called ’leaders,’ for your Leader is one, the Christ.”

Sunday, 1 April 2018

10 Plagues of Egypt

       Most people have heard how Moses, commissioned by God, confronted the Egyptian Pharaoh and demanded freedom for the Jewish slaves. Had this haughty ruler been more reasonable  there’d be no story but, unfortunately for him and his subjects, he refused to even consider this request, dismissing Moses and brother Aaron with the words: “Who is this God and why should I obey him?”
       The Pharaoh’s intransigence was to be his undoing as, time and time again, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob brought a series of catastrophes against Egypt, the greatest world power of its day. These plagues not only forced Pharaoh to liberate the Israelites but served an even higher purpose; to magnify God’s name amongst the nations, in the process humiliating and executing judgement on Egypt’s most revered gods and goddesses:

       Turning Nile waters into blood
       After Aaron struck the river with his rod, he struck a major bow against Nile-god Hapi. As all the rivers pools and waters of Egypt turned to blood, fish died creating a stink. Some types of fish were venerated by the Egyptians and even mummified.
       Plague of Frogs
       This miracle proved the Hebrew God’s superiority over Heqt, the Frog-goddess. In Egypt, frogs symbolised fertility and resurrection but now they teemed throughout the nation, getting into ovens, troughs and every corner of the home.
       Dust turned into Gnats
       Up to this point, Egypt’s priests, headed by Jannes and Jambres, were able to duplicate God’s miracles through magic arts supposedly bestowed by the god Thoth. But on this occasion their powers proved unequal to the task and they were forced to acknowledge the Hebrew God’s superiority: “It is the finger of God!”
       Swarms of Gadflies
       This presented another demarcation being the first plague not to affect the Israelites in Goshen. From now on, only the Egyptians would suffer from God’s miracles. No one knows for sure what type of insect gadflies were but the English term usually includes bloodsucking horseflies and botflies. Botfly larvae are parasites which burrow into human and animal flesh, causing great distress and even death.
       Pestilence on Livestock
       Attention now turned to Cow-goddess Hathor,  Apis who resembled a bull, and Nut, a female deity conceived as a cow with stars fixed to its belly. Again, God made a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt. Not one animal in Goshen died from this severe disease.
       This was a direct attack upon deities with supposed healing powers such as Thoth, Isis and Ptah. Again, Egypt’s gods were put to shame, along with the priests who became so badly afflicted they couldn’t appear before Pharaoh.
       As well as his other roles, Thoth was apparently responsible for rain and thunder too, while lightning came under the power of Reshpu. Neither, of course, could prevent Almighty God from showering “a very heavy hail” which killed many Egyptians and their animals.
       Anyone who has seen a swarm of locusts on the attack can imagine the devastation caused by this eighth plague which highlighted the impotence of Min, a fertility god whom worshippers believed protected crops.
       The whole nation was plunged into pitch-blackness which Sun-gods Ra and Horus were unable to alleviate. Despite his other ‘hat’ as god of sun, moon and stars, Thoth was just as helpless to cast light upon his followers.
       Death of Firstborn
       This final plague hit right at the heart of Egypt’s entire belief system. Like every Egyptian ruler, Pharaoh believed he was a son of Ra or Amon-Ra  and that his first-born son likewise resulted from a union between the Sun-god and the queen.  As a god incarnate, death was unthinkable, yet the death of Pharaoh’s heir proved no one – not even their gods - could stand against the power of the Almighty.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Meet Pete, before and after Locked-in Syndrome

Peter Coghlan
Meet Pete - preteen Pete. Cute, ey? Yet this handsome, happy-go-lucky lad was already verging on hooliganism.

You know the type - the type mums tell their sons not to play with and dads tell their daughters not to date.....or at least, in Pete's case, they would have done had it not been for 'AvaChat' Coghlan's engaging charm and genuinely good heart.

This angelic boy was soon to become a typical teen, wilder than most with a taste for 'magic mushrooms' and a habit of setting things on fire. (If you read the first chapter of his book you'll find out what I mean!)*
Pete served in Northern Ireland after joining the army
It's fair to say Pete's teens and twenties were a blast (sometimes literally!) Despite serving in Northern Ireland during the dying days of the troubles, and having a brush with Hodgkinson's Lymphoma aged 21, which put an end to his army career, he maintained his cheerful outlook, met the girl he was to marry and emigrated to Perth, Western Australia for a new life in the sun.

For several years, Pete worked hard, played hard, had loads of laughs, gained Australian citizenship and managed to satisfy his arsonist tendencies with plenty of barbies.

Then, out of the blue, tragedy struck with a blow to the back of his head while laying drains on a build. Next news, he was being rushed to A&E with a massive brain stem stroke which left him paralysed. Totally paralysed - except for some movement in his eyes. At just 32, he faced a grim future.
Totally paralysed after his locked-in stroke, Pete needed sandbags to hold down his arms
Locked-in syndrome, they called it (LIS) - a rare and little understood condition, brought about by brain injury, illness or severe stroke. Not even top neurologists could tell whether he'd recover from this frightening 'disease of the walled living' as LIS is sometimes known.

But Peter fought back. Having survived bullying, mobs, cancer and years of hard work, he was determined, not only to survive, but to regain everything LIS had robbed from him.

Six months and one day after being admitted to hospital, he walked out of Shenton Rehabilitation Unit, albeit shakily, and began his long, exhausting journey back to life.

After 6 months, Peter could walk but only shakily
Since then, he has taken part in marathons, regained his voice to become an inspirational speaker, learned to play the guitar, qualified as a Health Assistant supporting disabilities in the community, begun training as a bodybuilder and written a book about his experience with the aim of bringing hope to thousands of people struck down, locked-in and often left to battle on their own, with his resounding cry: "Keep trying and never ever give up!"

Triumphant after completing Pdrth's City to Surf marathon

*"In the Blink of an Eye" by Peter Coghlan is available from Amazon 

UPDATE! Watch out for the sequel!




You can follow Pete's journey on his website

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The origins of Easter

       Ask people in the western hemisphere what Easter means to them and many will think of chocolate eggs, new-born chicks, baby rabbits, a welcome weekend break and maybe a new outfit or two. Spiritually-minded individuals may also mention Christ’s resurrection, celebrated on Easter Sunday as one of the church’s most pivotal feasts. 
       Yet, far from being a Christian practice, Easter is a pagan festival with roots in ancient sex worship. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, for example, “A great many pagan customs, celebrating the return of spring, gravitated to Easter. The egg is the emblem of the germinating life of early spring. . . . The rabbit is a pagan symbol and has always been an emblem of fertility.”  
       The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible says Easter was “originally the spring festival in honour of the Teutonic goddess of the light and spring, known in Anglo-Saxon as Eastre or Eostre. There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the apostolic Fathers. The sanctity of special times was an idea absent from the minds of the first Christians. . . . The ecclesiastical historian Socrates (Hist. Eccl. v. 22) states, with perfect truth, that neither the Lord nor his apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival . . . and he attributes the observance of Easter by the church to the perpetuation of an old usage, ‘just as many other customs have been established.’” 
       Another source, The Encyclopedia Americana, refers to the Venerable Bede, English historian of the early 8th century, in saying: “The word [Easter] is derived from the Norse Ostara or Eostre, meaning the festival of spring at the vernal equinox, March 21, when nature is in resurrection after winter. Hence, the rabbits, notable for their fecundity, and the eggs, colored like rays of the returning sun and the northern lights or aurora borealis.” 
      Eggs and rabbits feature strongly in Easter traditions, as both were viewed by ancient pagans as important symbols during their spring fertility rites. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, explains: “Children roll pasch eggs in England. Everywhere they hunt the many-colored Easter eggs, brought by the Easter rabbit. This is not mere child’s play, but the vestige of a fertility rite, the eggs and the rabbit both symbolizing fertility. Furthermore, the rabbit was the escort of the Germanic goddess Ostara who gave the name to the festival by way of the German Ostern.” 
       Significantly, the only event Jesus commanded his followers to observe was the Memorial of his death, the only event for which we have a date – Nisan 14, the Jewish Passover, which Jesus observed with his 11 faithful apostles. 
      As for Lent, the 40-day fast was meant to commemorate Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, yet Jesus never asked his disciples to observe this. The first mention of this period of sacrifice before Easter was in a letter by Athanasius dated 330 CE. Prior to this, fasting in the early part of the year was common among ancient Babylonians, Egyptians and Greeks.