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Not available in any lectionary — years A, B or C!  And, although you might think upon reading it, ‘I can see why,’ we have lessons to learn today from this psalm.

To read other Forbidden Bible Verses, click here.

Today’s reading comes from the New International Reader’s Version.  You might also wish to refer to the King James Version here.

Psalm 60

For the director of music. For teaching. A miktam of David when he fought against Aram Naharaim and Aram Zobah. That was when Joab returned and struck down 12,000 people from Edom in the Valley of Salt.  To the tune of “The Lily of the Covenant.”

 1 God, you have turned away from us. You have attacked us.
      You have been angry. Now turn back to us!
 2 You have shaken the land and torn it open.
      Fix its cracks, because it is falling apart.
 3 You have shown your people hard times.
      You have made us drink the wine of your anger.
      Now we can’t even walk straight.
 4 But you lead into battle those who have respect for you.
      You give them a flag to wave against the enemy’s weapons.

 5 Save us. Help us with your powerful right hand,
      so that those you love may be saved.
 6 God has spoken from his temple.
      He has said, “I will win the battle.
   Then I will divide up the land around Shechem.
      I will divide up the Valley of Succoth.
 7 Gilead belongs to me.
      So does the land of Manasseh.
   Ephraim is the strongest tribe.
      It is like a helmet for my head.
   Judah is the royal tribe.
      It is like a ruler’s staff.
 8 Moab serves me like one who washes my feet.
      I toss my sandal on Edom to show that I own it.
      I shout to Philistia that I have won the battle.”
 9 Who will bring me to the city that has high walls around it?
      Who will lead me to the land of Edom?
 10 God, isn’t it you, even though you have now turned away from us?
      Isn’t it you, even though you don’t lead our armies into battle anymore?
 11 Help us against our enemies.
      The help people give doesn’t amount to anything.
 12 With your help we will win the battle.
      You will walk all over our enemies. 


Psalm 60 is pertinent in times of trials and tribulations affecting churches or nations.  It demonstrates the importance of communal repentance and faith in God.  The events in Psalm 60 concern David’s kingdom being weakened by internal strife and enemy invasion.  It seemed as if all were lost.  Although David’s rule was just and good, evil lurked within his kingdom which caused God to forsake it.  So, David pleads with the Lord to return His guiding hand to His people.  God does so, and, as such David is able to restore his kingdom.

First, a few explanatory words about the introduction.  A miktam is a special lesson, although there is no precise definition. (The word  has been interpreted as ‘golden song’, ‘song of righteousness’ and ‘pillar inscription’.)  The great 19th century Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, an Englishman who is still widely quoted today, cites the Bible scholar William Walford:

… this Psalm was written after some of the battles of which mention is made in the title, but that the author does not restrict himself to those events without taking a wider range, so as to embrace the afflictive conditions both of Israel and Judah during the latter part of Saul’s life, and the former years of David’s reign … But when David had succeeded in uniting the whole nation under his authority, he proceeded to avenge the injuries and insults that had been inflicted upon his countrymen by the Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, and Syrians; and God was pleased to give him signal success in his undertakings. He appears, therefore, to have combined all these transactions, and made them the subject of this Psalm.

The ‘valley of salt’ refers to the  location of the battle against the Edomites (in today’s Syria). It was a daunting battle and it was unclear at the outset whether Joab would be victorious. Because he had faith in God, Joab defeated the enemy magnificently. The instruction to use ‘The Lily of the Covenant’ as a melody (now unknown) signifies that the psalm has something uplifiting and beautiful to tell us.  One gathers from this that the melody would be equally pleasing.   

Now to the text of the psalm.  In the first verse, the psalm writer acknowledges that God had deserted His people — ‘turned away’ or, in the King James Version, ‘cast them off’.  It was done with disgust, the way one would remove a particularly foul piece of detritus.  In other words, God was very displeased with them.  There was an acknowlegement of this and a plea for God to return to them.  Verse 2 says that the absence of God had torn the kingdom apart, as if an earthquake had hit it.  The kingdom’s foundations were weak and in danger of collapsing from attacks by its enemy.  Hence, the appeal to God to heal these rifts and unite the kingdom in strength once again. Verse 3 alludes to the despondency of the Israelites in the face of ruin.  They were in a politically weakened state. Consequently, they were demoralised and barely able to function, as if intoxicated from unpleasant wine.  If we relate these to a church, there can be those trying to bring it to decay from within whilst there is persecution from the unbelievers.  The faithful wonder where to turn when they see internal divisions yet see that those outside the church have no love for them either.  They are beset from all sides.

Yet, verse 4 recalls the appeal of the faithful to God to send them forth in battle with a ‘flag’ or, in the KJV, ‘a banner’, which one should interpret as a ‘shield’.  (See how modern translations weaken the original meaning?)  We can consider this today as a call to return to the Gospel. The word ‘selah‘ means a call to pay attention, not unlike Matthew 24:15: ‘whoso readeth, let him understand’, or ‘nota bene’ (‘N.B.’). The people ask God to be with them once again (verse 5).  In verses 6-8, the psalmist quotes God.  Yes, He will help the people reclaim what is theirs.  They have asked forgiveness and He has heard.  He will restore their territories to them, as promised long ago, because His people have turned to Him once again.  God does not break a promise.  If it seems as if He does, we are the ones at fault, because we have not held up our part of the bargain.

The last four verses are acknowledgement by the people that they can restore their kingdom and territory only by the grace of God — ‘with Your help’.  The people alone cannot save themselves, only the Lord can.  If we give up our godly ways, we will encounter nothing but strife.  We cannot worship anyone else other than the Lord God.  We cannot expect anything good in this life or the next without living according to His will.  When we begin dividing our loyalties between God and our earthly idols, when we forget Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross, when we forget the teachings of Scripture, ours is a lowly, pitiful existence.  We shall experience divided families, apostate churches (Hosea 4:9), weakened nations, increased poverty — temporal and spiritual.  All this is of our own making. We might as well announce, ‘The Holy Spirit has left the building.’

So, let us pray to God through Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Advocate, that our sins may be forgiven and that the Holy Spirit gives us the fortitude to live as the Lord’s servants here on earth.          

You can read more here and here.

The first Commandment says, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.’ 

Yet, we have so many other gods and idols: sex, money and government-worship among them.  We attune our lives to pay homage to them. 

We are encouraged to view any type of sex is seen as ‘beautiful’ and ‘normal’, and this starts quite early in primary school.  State school funding in English-speaking countries goes towards sex education which addresses not the Judaeo-Christian or classically humanist foundation of a loving, respectful relationship but the mechanics of contraception, oral sex, anal sex and the like.  Although sex between minors is illegal, teenage pregnancies are seen as socially acceptable and preteen pregnancies are not unknown.  Young fathers boast of a number of children by various mothers.  Children, who should be worrying about homework, become unduly preoccupied with their sexuality.  Is this what we want for our children?  Shouldn’t they be playing, learning and receiving all the fulsome benefits of a secure family life? 

So much revolves around money.  A young person living in a deprived neighbourhood sees that a minimum-wage job gives him little support or security.  He sees some of his peers engage in crime and violence which bring in cash and respect.  Weapons make people acquiesce.  Money attracts women and denotes power.  At the other end of the spectrum, the middle classes need an expensive annual holiday, new clothes, status symbols — yes, even in this economy.  Big bonuses feed big material aspirations.  Money buys whatever the heart desires.  It greases the wheels of business and opens the corridors of power.   

Then, we are in thrall to state control.  We cannot control ourselves — ‘experts’ tell us we are incapable, so, we rely on them to be our parents.  We seem to be in a perpetual state of childhood which continues once we reach majority age.  Somehow, these excessive laws — overlaying existing ones which only need enforcement to work — are supposed to bring us heaven on earth.  We worship at the feet of the State.  Social workers, state-sponsored psychologists and thousands of laws ‘protect’ us.  We have so many laws now that we are all in danger of breaking at least one.   

So, where is God in all this?  Nowhere.  And this is the point.  The Bible shows us that God is slow to anger, yet He expects us to obey His Commandments.  Jesus gave us His two Commandments about love which overlay the Ten Commandments: ‘On these two laws hang all the laws of the prophets.’  So, by truly loving our neighbour, we love God and, as such, keep the Ten Commandments. 

It would do us well to remember that  God’s slowness to anger does not mean that He doesn’t withdraw His divine protection at some stage.  Sometimes He deserted the Israelites.  Sometimes He allowed them to be conquered by their enemies.  Sometimes He gave them plagues and pestilence with which to deal.  This was because they had sinned against His will.  This is difficult to understand in today’s society, where we allow our children to do whatever they please and always have an excuse for the adult who breaks the law.  Yet, there was a time when parents were the earthly authority over their families.  Christians didn’t engage in worship of nature or other religions.

Once we begin breaking the first Commandment, it is easy to break the others.  Theft (‘Oh, it was such a little thing’), adultery (‘I couldn’t help myself’), lies (‘Whatever it takes to win this election’) all become commonplace.  When we forget about God, we open ourselves up to no end of problems. We end up thinking of ourselves as God. Still, God sees what we are doing.  Can He and would He punish us in a temporal way?  Only He can answer that question.

Our nations are becoming increasingly immoral.  If He does choose to inflict hardship and misfortune on us, we can only pray that He will mitigate the ensuing suffering and sorrow.  Let us not forget that the trials and tribulations we see before us are but a dress rehearsal for our own day of judgment at death.  Let us stop thinking that we will get off lightly.

We can choose false idols and accept the consequences in this life or the next. Or we can choose God.  Which will it be for ourselves and our families?  Take time today to pray to God for His merciful forgiveness.  Ask God to send the Holy Spirit to help us to repent and transform our lives to His will. 

(For more information on these topics, click here.)

(Continued from Wednesday’s post …) 

Please continue to pray for the people in Haiti at this troubled time.  

History over the past century

1902: A German warship intervenes in a Haitian uprising, forcing a rebel gunboat to blow itself up or face seizure.  Germans living in Haiti number around 200, yet they control around 80% of international commerce from the island and administer customs receipts.  Berlin wants to install a coal station there to serve the German naval fleet.  

1914: With the outbreak of the First World War, the US starts putting together a plan to annex Haiti.

1915: Guillaume Sam rules Haiti, proving to be just as unpopular with the people as his recent predecessors.  He executes 167 political prisoners, resulting in mob violence in Port-au-Prince. The mob finds Sam and pulls his body to pieces. They then parade his dismembered corpse openly through the streets. The US uses this as a pretext to annex the nation for stability in the region.  The US controls customs houses, which means that they now administer the receipts instead of the Germans.  They also administer Haitian government offices. 

1915-1934: The US occupies Haiti; you can read more here.  Martial law existed until 1929 and figureheads were installed as presidents. Although this period is very orderly and the Haitians’ physical health improves, racial tension is everywhere.  A new type of Haitian artist and political activist emerges to reinforce the Haitian identity against the white Americans.  Haitians unite behind the mulatto elite.  In the late 1920s, the Forbes Commission concludes that there is no desire on the part of Haitians for orderly government, relief of poverty or self-determination.  The last contingent of Marines leaves in August 1934.

1937: Dominican dictator Trujillo Molina orders his troops to massacre 15,000 – 20,000 Haitians on the Dominican side of Hispaniola. President Vincent dismisses his Army Commander, Calixte, thought to be working secretly with Trujillo.  Calixte later accepts a post from Trujillo.  This spells the end to disloyalty in the Haitian Army.  From now on, the Army supports the Haitian president unconditionally — including politically.

1943: Vincent’s successor, Lescot, is under the influence of Trujillo’s money and power.  It transpires that Trujillo was able to buy the Haitian votes that brought Lescot to power. 

1946: Lescot jails the editors of a Marxist magazine.  The cities respond with strikes and protests.  The Revolution of 1946 results in the Garde — Army — assuming power in a three-member military junta.   They promise to hold free elections.  Dumarsais Estimé, a former schoolteacher, is elected and moves the country leftward away from the mulatto elite.

1950: The Haitian Army — formerly the Garde — moves in again and deposes Estimé.  

1957-1971: Francois Duvalier rules the country with an iron fist.  People live in fear of the man popularly known as ‘Papa Doc’.  The brutal torture by the Tontons Macoute of political enemies is commonplace.  Yet, many Haitians today mourn his loss.  You can read more here.

1971-1986: Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier succeeds his late father.  On a visit to Haiti in 1983, Pope John Paul II declares, ‘Something must change here.’  His message galvanises Catholics to ensure fairer social and economic practices. But it also unleashes social and political activists who start riots and agitate disaffected Haitians.  Duvalier responds by cracking down on the organisers and participants.  The US finds the violence and instability so alarming that they refuse Duvalier political asylum, although they offer him and his family assistance to leave Haiti.  Duvalier and his family move to … France!  A revolving door of successors sits behind the president’s desk.

1989 – 2009: Haiti receives a total of $2bn internationally in aid for development.  Yet, the people see very little of this as the money goes to finance the lifestyles of the ruling class. 

2001: Canadian minister Denis Paradis, parliamentary secretary for the Canadian foreign affairs minister, declares after a visit: “If the Canadians treated their animals the way the Haitian authorities treat their citizens, they would be put in prison.”

2004: Ex-priest and Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide flees the country in exile.  The word on the street is that he was dabbling in black magic and displeasing the loas, or vodou spirits.  More about Aristide here.  

2008: Comparing nations, the Dominican Republic has a per capita income of $8,200 and a ranking of 119th in the world.  By contrast, Haiti has a per capita income of $1,300 and ranked 203rd.  Haitians with little to no food resort to eating mud biscuits.  Meanwhile, Canada has a surplus of hogs, which end up slaughtered, yet Haiti could use the meat.     


Some working parents are no longer able to afford breakfast for their children.  Yet, only 30 years ago, Haiti was self-sufficient in rice production. In 1986, the IMF and World Bank lent Haiti $24.6m after Jean-Claude Duvalier looted the Treasury and left the country.  In return, Haiti had to lower tariff protection for its rice. As a result, cheaper US rice flooded in to Haiti.  Haiti’s national rice production plummeted. Food prices across the board have shot up over the years.

There is one voluntary organisation for every 800 residents

Haitians living abroad send $2bn home to their families annually.  This gives them leverage to stay afloat economically and may provide a way forward in rebuilding the country.

The restavecs (‘stay withs’) are children whose parents give them up for money to other Haitians or foreigners.  These children in effect become slaves — in many ways — to other families.

Cunning and duplicity are considered virtues.  They are seen as a means to an end — staying alive — in a land which revolves around survival of the fittest.  

For many, vodou is the panacea for physical or economic upsets.  Candles flickering on the streets or beaches at night indicate prayers and petitions to the loas, or spirits.  It seems many believe that they are better off with vodou than with Christianity

Yet, a retired English physician says, ‘No one who has been to Haiti ever loses his interest in the country. It is one of those places that, because of its history, because of its culture, because of its torments, captures the imagination and never lets it go. You respond to it not with tough, but appalled love.’


2010: The earthquakes

– Because of the poor construction, it is believed that even an earthquake measuring 2.0 would have levelled many of Haiti’s buildings.

– Private donations pour in from all over the world.   

January 13: An earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale occurs near Port-au-Prince.  President Preval, who is also homeless, thanks countries sending in aid and help.

January 13 (BBC News – television): British firefighters prepare to fly out to Haiti.  Workmen clear Gatwick Airport runways of snow, enabling the flight to leave later in the day.

January 13 (BBC News – television): An emergency generator is brought in to Haiti’s main airport in Port-au-Prince to get it up and running again. 

January 14: Should journalists be helping instead of standing by reporting?

January 14: No food, no water, nothing except for a few aid agencies on the ground — a near-apocalypse.

January 14: What happens when all the institutions you depend on vanish at once? 

January 15: Haitians set up roadblocks in protest at slow relief efforts. Three million people — one third of the population — are injured or homeless.

January 15: Environmentally ‘friendly’ policies aren’t always people-friendly.  They can kill.

January 15: Gangs with machetes roam the streets of Port-au-Prince.

January 16: Neighbouring Dominican Republic arranges to take in several thousand Haitians who need emergency medical help, however, they emphasise it’s only a temporary measure. They reinforce the border to prevent an influx of refugees.  You can read more about the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic here.

January 16: Haitian seminarian says how important it is to keep one’s faith in God.  Others, looking at the cathedral ruins, say that God is angry with them.

January 16: Haitian consul blames voodoo for quake.

January 16: President Obama pledges $100m in aid as well as military humanitarian help. 

January 17: Presidents Clinton and Bush say ‘now is not the time for politics’.  Now is the time to help Haiti build a truly modern state with a more resilient economy.

January 17: US accused of ‘annexing airport’.  Other flights must land in the Dominican Republic.

January 17: Elderly nursing home residents await their final moments.  Younger people have stolen what the elderly had — clean underwear and money.  Some need dressings or incontinence pads changed, and yet, young refugees walk by, ignoring them.  

January 17: Senegal offers to resettle Haitians, including repatriation and free land in an opportunity ‘to return to their origin’.   

January 17: Criminals who were able to escape when the main prison collapsed are back on the streets after setting the remains of the Ministry of Justice on fire in an attempt to destroy their records.

January 17: Voodoo priests object to 50,000 mass burials.

January 17: Elsewhere, Haitians bury their dead with voodoo rituals.

January 17: Tampa, Florida, may take in a number of Haitian refugees.  The airport is on standby.

January 18: A woman was decapitated near a Port-au-Prince market randomly just so a robber could grab what she was carrying — whatever it was.

January 18: France and the US argue about why aid is not reaching Haitians.

January 18: 22-year old Catholic says he and the congregation have not lost their faith in God.

January 19: Israel sends two jumbo jets with 220 aid workers — doctors, nurses and civil engineers.

January 19: Aid finally starts to trickle through amidst roadblocks and violence.

January 19: Dentist puts kids on bus to fend for themselves:

Some Haitians sent only their children to the countryside while they stay behind to try to resume their jobs and find decent housing.

Fearing an outbreak of disease or violence, Charlemagne Ulrick had put his three children ages 4 to 11 on an overloaded truck for an all-day journey to Mole Saint Nicolas, at the far tip of Haiti’s northwestern peninsula.

“They have to go and save themselves,” said Ulrick, a dentist. “I don’t know when they’re coming back.”

Words fail me. What happens to them now?

January 20: Another quake hits Haiti — 5.9 on the scale.

January 23: Bolivia and Costa Rica are hit by quakes measuring 5.0+.

When and where does it all end?

They should always insist on the Bwa Kayiman ceremony which took place on the 13/14 of August 1791. 

They should always insist on this truth: the 21 nations of African Ginen [spirits] came together in order to snatch Haiti from under the claws of the French foreigners. — ZANTRAY (Haitian group for the promotion of vodou)     

Even for those who profess the Christian faith, vodou (voodoo) plays an important role in the hearts and minds of most Haitians.  It took me some time to find a detailed, historical explanation of an academic nature and finally discovered an English translation of a Swedish paper, ‘”Our Government is in Bwa Kayiman”: A Vodou Ceremony in 1791 and Its Contemporary Significations’ by Markel Thylefors in the Stockholm Review of Latin American Studies, Issue No. 4, March 2009, which is available here.         

The paper is 12 pages long, but for those who are interested in finding out more about Haitian identity, independence and culture, it is essential reading. All sources are listed at the end of the paper. What follows are summaries and excerpts in a Q&A format.        

What is Bwa Kayiman?        

Bwa Kayiman is known in French as Bois Caïman, or Cayman Wood.  It was at this location where a ceremony in 1791 took place, led by a houngan (vodou priest) named Boukman (Bookman).  It is said to have started the Haitian Revolution for independence from French colonial slaveowners.  The slaves gained their independence in 1804.       

The ceremony involved a gathering of 200 slave foremen from various plantations.  Boukman led the group with fiery exhortations to action.  A black pig was sacrificed.  (See page 3 of the paper for details.)       

Here is a pictorial representation (courtesy of        


Accounts since then differ as to the location of Bwa Kayiman.  Some say it is on the Morne Rouge in the northern plain.  However, Thylefors research indicated more than one place in the north claiming to be Bwa Kayiman (p. 5).       

Did the ceremony actually take place?       

Whilst there is plenty of documentation about the events leading up to the Haitian Revolution, none mentions either Bwa Kayiman or the meeting.  Yet, both are part of Haitian identity, not just at home but in the public sphere.  The late Haitian dictator Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier wrote in 1968 (p. 3):       

… [T]hey celebrated the ceremony of Bois-Caïman during which they all swore to take vengeance against the White colonizers by iron and fire. A grand Vodou priest called Boukman became the terrible organizer of the slave revolt. Hallaou, Hyacinthe, the Lafortunes, all Vodou priests made fanatic by their African beliefs, pulverized the Northern plains of Haiti so that the burning flames of a thousand glowing houses could be seen as far as the Bermuda Islands. The African beliefs thus served to gather the slaves in the face of the conquest of the Independence of Haiti. (Duvalier, 1968: 278-279, [Thylefors’s] translation)       

In 2003, the former Catholic priest and Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide declared vodou an official religion of the nation and in 2006 wrote (p. 3):      

To free themselves from the bonds of slavery, our forefathers turned to the Ancestors in the ceremony of Bois Caïman, in August 1791. In other words, to become free, the slaves prayed not to the God of his master but to the God of Ancestors.      

How alive is this memory?     

Thylefors explains (p. 3):     

The event of the Bwa Kayiman ceremony forms an important part of Haitian national identity as it relates to the very genesis of Haiti. Moreover, the Vodou constituent of the Bwa Kayiman ceremony also manifests a particular cultural, or ethnic, dimension of the Haitian Revolution and ensuing declaration of the Republic of Haiti. Thus, it is not surprising that the event is taught at school, referred to in public debates and appears in popular songs (cf. CHAR, 2007; cf. AHP, 2007; cf. Fombrun, 1980).     

He also quotes a vodou priest who says (p. 4):    

Whatever Haitian you are, since you’re Haitian; be it a Catholic priest – you’re Vodouisant, be it a reverend – you’re Vodouisant. Because when you say “Haiti,” you say “Vodou.” When you say “Vodou,” you say “Haiti.” Because this little terrain, this little piece of earth right here.  I believe that two hundred years [ago] – Vodou gave it its independence. Do you understand? You recognize this? 
In 1991, vodou practitioners celebrated the bicentenary of Bwa Kayiman in its various claimed locations.  In more recent years, Protestant missionaries have tried to conduct prayer meetings at these spots, but Haitian police have made it difficult or impossible for them to proceed.  It would appear that Protestants are more interested than Catholics in turning these into Christian sites.      


What do historical records tell us?

A large meeting did take place near Morne Rouge on the Le Normand plantation on August 14, 1791.  The slaveowners granted the foremen permission to meet under the pretext that the assembly was meeting to share a meal.  In addition, the foremen had an inclination that abolitionists and revolutionaries in France supported their cause.  However, there is no record of a vodou ceremony taking place.  The support they understood to have had encouraged them to start their revolt (p. 4). 

The notion of the ceremony appeared in writings published in 1814 from Antoine Dalmas, a French doctor who was on the island at the time and stayed through the early years of the revolution.  Dalmas mentions the ‘kind of feast, or sacrifice’ of the pig.  However, this event took place a week later on August 21 — and 10 kilometers away from Morne Rouge.  It would appear that later writings conflated the two events (p. 6). 

In 1819, a French revolutionary and abolitionist Civique de Gastine was the first to write that the ceremony and the meeting were the same event.  Although he had not visited Haiti at the time he wrote his account, borrowed heavily from Dalmas, he put the elements and imagery of Bwa Kayiman into the popular imagination.  In 1824, the Haitian government minister and writer Hérard Dumesle published what later became known as the legendary Boukman Prayer.  Dumesle never mentioned Boukman, although subsequent writers and historians have. An English translation of the prayer goes like this:

The god who created the sun which gives us light, who rouses the waves and rules the storm, though hidden in the clouds, he watches us. He sees all that the white man does. The god of the white man inspires him with the crime, but our god calls upon us to do good works. Our god who is good to us orders us to revenge our wrongs. He will direct our arms and aid us. Throw away the symbol of the god of the whites who has so often caused us to weep, and listen to the voice of liberty, which speaks in the hearts of us all.

Yet, there is a dichotomy between what appears a clear rejection of Christianity and the adherence to Christianity of the Haitians of the time.  Perhaps it reveals more about Dumesle’s own ideology than what was actually said at Bwa Kayiman.  As Thylefors explains (p. 6):

Revolutionary leaders like Toussaint and Dessalines might have practiced Vodou, nevertheless their Catholic allegiances are well-established. Macaya and Romaine-la-Prophétesse were two other rebel leaders who made eclectic use of both Christian and African beliefs. Romaine even claimed being the godson of the Virgin Mary (Rey, 2002: 270-271).


Thylefors writes that when he visited Haiti in 2006 and 2007, he attended three vodou press conference where Bwa Kayiman was mentioned at each.  Yet, the documented history of Haiti shows only three occasions where vodou played a part in the revolution.  It also did not seem to figure highly in the southern region during that time (p. 9).  Yet, Thylefors says that it is highly likely that revolutionaries and slaves engaged in vodou rituals and prayers before important skirmishes. 

He posits two ideas. One, that the interest in Bwa Kayiman and devotion to vodou is a means of escapism from corrupt government and a means of remembering past glories. Two, the emphasis on the trigger for the Revolution and vodou may be a reference point for transforming it into a more peaceful religion today.

The point is that no one can downplay vodou when talking about Haiti or Haitians.  For many, it is part and parcel of their history and identity. 

Tomorrow: A Haitian Dossier — Part 2

We don’t really have a set of complete information in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquakes with regard to history and socio-political analysis.  What follows is a humble attempt with links to help us better understand this small Caribbean nation.  Please continue to pray for Haiti and its people.

Fast facts

The following data come from CIA — The World Factbook, where you can find detailed information:

– Size: comparable to Maryland

– Population: 9m; 38% are children under the age of 14; median age is 20 years

– People: 60 years life expectancy; 52% literacy rate; religion — 96% Christian (80% Catholic, 16% Protestant); 50% of the population practices voodoo 

– Border: shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic

– Government: Republic, with constitution (1987) and universal voting at the age of 18; President is René Preval (2006)

– Climate: tropical and semi-arid;  prone to hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, droughts 

– Terrain: rough and mountainous; deforestation a problem; only 28% of the land is arable; only 12% is used to grow permanent crops

Fight for independence

1492: Christopher Columbus discovers the island.  Spaniards work native population to death in silver mines within 10 years’ time.

1791: August 14 — a meeting and/or voodoo ritual takes place at Bois Caïman on St Dominique (Haiti’s original name) which starts the Haitian Revolution of African slaves from Niger and Dahomey (Bénin) against their French owners (more on this tomorrow).

1791: August 25 — the revolution begins.  50,000 slaves revolt. 1,000 French-owned sugar and coffee plantations are burnt to the ground.

1793: Britain, at war with France, decides to invade St Dominique and end the revolution. Five years and 12,000 British soldiers later, they withdraw.  Britain at that time is the world’s superpower and largest slave-trading nation.

1794: Spain, possibly colluding with Britain, invades.  They also fail.

1800:  The efforts of Toussaint L’Ouverture, who leads the slave forces, causes the opposing mulatto army to surrender. Some mullatoes leave the island.  L’Ouverture then puts plans in place to stabilise the country.  He also begins corresponding with US President John Adams, who sends him arms and ships. (Yes, the US was a slave-owning nation at the time.  This did make the US slaveowners nervous.)

1801: A constitution is drawn up and the extant Colonial Assembly gives L’Ouverture executive power to accompany his title of Governor General for Life.

1802: Napoleon Bonaparte sends his brother-in-law General Leclerc with 10,000 troops from the mainland to quell the fighting but to no avail.  The general and most of the troops die in battle — but not before a weakened L’Ouverture surrenders to the French, who were in a strong position at the time. 

1803: L’Ouverture is sent by ship to France where he dies in a cold prison dungeon in the Jura mountains on April 7.  Napoleon sells Louisiana and contiguous French territories to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.  He loses interest in that part of the world.  Leclerc’s replacement, General Rochambeau, flees to Jamaica where he surrenders to the British.

1804: January 1 — a new nation called Haiti declares its independence.  Jean Jacques Dessalines succeeds L’Ouverture as leader and becomes the people’s liberator.

1805: Dessalines crowns himself (like Charlemagne!) Emperor of Haiti.  Corruption, autocracy and licentiousness upset the remaining mulatto population, still an influential part of Haitian society. The economy is going nowhere. He unsuccessfully attempts to invade Santo Domingo in the eastern part of the island. Thus, the two halves of the island are never the same again. The world learns of Dessalines’s brutal treatment of whites and isolates the country. Dessalines travels on horseback with a column of troops to put down a mulatto uprising. A senior mulatto officer shoots him fatally in Port-au-Prince. 

19th century history

1806: Henri Christophe, a black, becomes leader, with Alexandre Pétion, a mulatto, as head of the legislature.  However, the mulattoes effectively made Christophe a figurehead with the real power in Pétion and the legislature.  Unhappy, Christophe establishes his own dominion in the north of the country.  Pétion governs the south as a republic, which has Port-au-Prince as its capital.  Its constitution is closely modelled on that of the United States.

1809: Pétion was less fortunate with his republic.  Although he began land distribution, initially to his soldiers, within a few years almost everyone could buy their own land. However, they had little reason to grow anything other than subsistence crops. Consequently, there aren’t sufficient amounts of harvested crops — like coffee or sugar — to export.  

1811: Christophe  crowns himself Henri I of Haiti and creates a series of noble titles for his friends. He brings in a select, loyal group of warriors from Dahomey (Benin) — the Royal Dahomets — to oversee work on the plantations.  Life for those in the fields is harsh, but better than it had been under Dessalines.  Production and export levels rise, too, bringing in a steady income for the region and its people.

1816: The constitution under which Pétion governed as elected president is replaced with a charter creating an office of President for Life.

1818: Pétion dies.  His mulatto elite remains in place.  He was generally well liked by all the people, however, and becomes known as Papa Bon Coeur (Father Good Heart).  Having said that, he had more of an impact on neighbouring South American countries’ fight for independence than on making his part of Haiti prosperous.  General Jean-Pierre Boyer, Pétion’s confidant, succeeds him.

1820: Henri I commits suicide after he suffers a stroke.  His resulting physical disability causes him to lose control of his army and become despondent.  Boyer, with a show of troops, reunites the nation.

1822: The export of sugar from Haiti ceases.  Sugar mills close and workers lose their jobs.  The military is the only career option for black men, who, being deprived of education, are largely illiterate.

1830s: Boyer’s economy struggles.  Tensions between blacks and mulattoes increase.  Boyer’s opposition is Hérard Dumesle, a writer and political thinker, who encourages Haitians to form a national identity and divorce it from the French. 

1838: France refused to settle claims from Haiti dating from the Revolution.  Boyer was anxious for them to recognise the nation of Haiti. He agrees to pay France never to reclaim Haiti and to secure recognition of Haiti as a nation.  Originally, the amount to be paid was 150m French Francs, which France agreed to reduce to 60m FF.  By then, it was too late.  Haiti’s coffers were evaporating.    

1843: Dumesle, with most of Boyer’s army now on board for reform, overthrows Boyer with the help of his cousin, Charles Rivière-Hérard, who led a troop of rebel forces. When Boyer finds out, he sets sail for Jamaica, never to return.  Rivière-Hérard takes over as military ruler.

1844: An invasion of Santo Domingo by the Dominicans (as in Republic) weakens Rivière-Hérard’s control.  Black farmers in rural areas of Haiti are also unhappy; they want a black president.  Rebel groups oust Rivière-Hérard and the mulatto elite installs Philippe Guerrier, who held a title under Henri I.  This marks the first of the leaders installed by mulattoes to appease blacks in the rural areas.  This period runs through the early 20th century.  You can read more here and here.

1862: Haiti is still shunned by major nations of the day, but the United States recognises it as a fully fledged nation. For the rest of the century, some legislators in the US government propose to annex the island, although this has little support from others.

Tomorrow: The significance of Bois Caïman

Warning: this is a depressing subject which contains actual accounts of acedia.

First, the background.  Damian Thompson at the Telegraph blogs on the ad limina visit of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales to Pope Benedict XVI in Rome at the end of January.  This is an ecclesiastical conference, but one at which the Pope will be able to comment on the Catholic Church in England and Wales and ask relevant questions of the bishops.  This will be their first with the current Pope. 

Damian says:

Here’s one area – literally – that the Vatican might want to take a closer look at: the Archdiocese of Liverpool and neighbouring dioceses. Not only are many parishes in the north-west in a miserable state of decline; parish priests are also resisting the liturgical reforms that Pope Benedict XVI is introducing …

I’m not pretending that there’s a huge demand for traditional Catholic worship in Liverpool. How could there be, when local Tabletistas [postmodern Catholics who read The Tablethave had a grip on education up there for more than 30 years? Actually, there’s not much a demand for any sort of Catholicism, except in isolated pockets. You couldn’t say that of Birmingham, for example, or most of the south

The bishops have a particular reluctance — nay, active resistance — to adopting the liturgical texts from the new Roman Rite Missal, which many Catholics look forward to using as the English translation is much closer to the original Latin. 

Damian continues:

Here’s a fairly typical cry of pain from an orthodox northern Catholic, left on a blog post the other day:

We have three dioceses whose boundaries all meet with the River Ribble, a once solid bastion of orthodox Catholicism … The old Catholics have all died or are infirm. They have been replaced by their children who have lost the ‘faith’ and see attending Mass as a social gathering.

The parish I attended this morning is a great example, once a proud Catholic stronghold, mothered many priests and missionaries over the years. But now the parish is made up of a few Tabletistas or the really-not-bothereds. They are just not interested in liturgy. All the ladies gather round the altar to be Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (there is no need – there are no more than 150 in the congregation and there are four EMHC plus the priest). Two of them had a chat during the Ecce Agnus …  One of the petition signers [against the new translation of the Mass] is a Religious from the same parish. They wreak havoc wherever they go.

I honestly despair …

Readers had a lot to say, much of which shared the dissatisfaction of the commenter above.  Here is a selection, but do read it in full.  If the situations described don’t scream ‘acedia’, I’m not sure what does.  I mention this so that, if you are in a similar situation, you know you’re not alone, no matter where you live. Please try not to fall into real despair.  It’s a sin. Instead, receive Communion regularly, keep up with your devotions at home and read the Bible.  Remember that many people in the early Church and since have been afflicted with ‘itching ears’, attaching themselves to liturgies and teachings that make them feel good because they are so undemanding.   

onthesideoftheangels on Jan 18th, 2010 at 3:34 pm: For decades our kids have been abandoned ; treated with contempt and social engineering ideologies ; told their religion wasn’t true apart from ‘let’s be nice’ – so they abandoned it … If you’re not going to supply them with anything to believe in – how do you expect them to believe in anything?

Mundabor on Jan 18th, 2010 at 4:46 pm: At least one, possibly two generations of Catholics have been, well, screwed. We must live with it. The day I die I wouldn’t want to be one of the bishops responsible.

onthesideoftheangels on Jan 18th, 2010 at 4:56 pm: The emphasis is on penitence because the Mass is a return to the sacrifice on Calvary – deicide – the greatest evil committed by us for the greatest Good by He who is Goodness itself – redemption from our sin – our sin and its forgiveness is the very crux of the Mass. Just because acknowledging sin and truly repenting of that sin is completely out of fashion in today’s world of psychological complexes, socio-cultural and peer pressures and indoctrination via meme and media paradigms – the sin still exists and we are called to repent from that sin.

Unum Sanctam on Jan 18th, 2010 at 5:12 pm: Over-emphasis on penitence? Coming from the people that refuse to call Confession (reconciliation) by its rightful name and that any mention that we should be sorry for our sins, any type of “mea culpa” is too much.

Use of language that people will not understand? Lets burn every book by William Shakespeare by all means. They may have a point some parts of Mass may be difficult to understand, if the Church ONLY had men that had consecrated their lives in service to her in order to teach and preach to faithful on all those things that are DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND. Oh wait isn’t that what Priest and Bishops are suppose to DO.

Out of Touch? You are right we must celebrate all things that are in touch like, gay marriage, abortion, contraception, relativism? Yeah the Church forever out of touch, Thanks be to God.

Gregory Murphy on Jan 18th, 2010 at 5:21 pm: … one by one, the orthodox younger priests that I refer to – all of whom are cannily keeping their powder dry (those who know them know of them) – will have to be placed in parishes of their own sooner rather than later and then this Archdiocese will start to wear a very different complexion.

In fact there may be a few surprises here and there, for I’ve just heard tell that a parish priest in this Archdiocese (who I would have had booked as a card carrying progressive) has suddenly – without any parish consultation whatsoever – re-introduced the Prayer to St Michael at the end of Ordinary Form Sunday Mass.

What’s more he’s saying it ad orientem.

dilly on Jan 18th, 2010 at 6:51 pm: … I have sixteen first cousins (maternal side) from Liverpool – ranging from 67 to 43. All went to Catholic school, and with at least one parent who practised their faith. All except one (who went to the JWs) married in a Catholic Church and baptised their children (one after an earbashing from my mother). Then nada – zilch. Complete and utter indifference from both generations (with the third on the way). Only one cousin practises – and she was brought up in Leeds.

All lovely generous people – what a waste.

terry on Jan 18th, 2010 at 10:11 pm: … Nick “harmless and normal” Clegg’s comments on gay education is met with stunned silence on the part of our Bishops, and David Cameron’s proposed recognition of the importance of marriage to a stable society is met with an embarrassed silence on the part of the Hierarchy ( and not only the Bishops, I have yet to hear a single priest expressing any form of support).

Of course, those of us of a conservative (and Conservative) frame of mind should not have expected anything else. It has been so for many years, so we should not be surprised. We have always been suspect in the eyes of the Church Establishment in England.

Stauffenberg on Jan 18th, 2010 at 10:14 pm: Hexham and Newcastle has been a shambles for decades … The stuff on the diocesan website would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. The last “yoof” jamboree included a Wicker-Manesque procession of swaying vestal virgins … And this report from the diocesen education bods almost had me reaching for the scotch and revolver – “actualising the laity”, “receptive ecumenism”, ““Ask not what your ecumenical others need to learn or receive from your tradition – but what your own tradition needs to learn and can learn with integrity from your ecumenical others.” – and these people are in charge!!

There’s loads more.  I’m sure it’s the same in many Western countries.  Praying regularly, holding clergy to account wherever we can and staying faithful — all with a sense of hope — are what we can do to combat acedia.

‘What’s acedia?’ you ask.  It’s spiritual apathy or carelessness and is related to indifferentism. I first heard of it a couple of years ago through reading Benedictine Abbot Christopher Jamison‘s excellent book, Finding Happiness.  Perhaps you have seen him in the BBC series The Monastery, which aired in 2005.  The transformations he brought about in the irreligious laymen attending was inspiring.  Abbot Jamison is truly an example to us all.    

In an excerpt from Finding Happiness, Abbot Jamison explains how acedia failed to make the list of Deadly Sins:

The Seven Deadly Sins are derived from the Eight Thoughts of John Cassian, the monk who, in the Fourth Century, systematically recorded the teachings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. He described how monks and nuns were always afflicted by Eight Thoughts or Demons. The transformation from Eight Thoughts to Seven Sins begins with Pope Gregory the Great in the Sixth Century. Gregory began this process by removing one vice from the list: acedia, a Greek word which can be translated as spiritual apathy.  The disappearance of acedia from ordinary people’s vocabulary deprived Western culture of the ability to name an important feature of the spiritual life, namely, loss of enthusiasm for the spiritual life itself. While the word has disappeared, the reality of spiritual carelessness is strongly present in our culture.

It is unclear why Pope Gregory dropped acedia.  Perhaps he thought it was too closely related to sloth, or laziness.  Yet, as Abbot Jamison says, once we become mired in spiritual carelessness — which is only too easy to do — we also become more susceptible to other sins, principally the Seven Deadly Sins, or Cardinal Sins.  We easily give way to anger, lust, gluttony and others.  We respond, ‘It’s good to express ourselves’ or ‘Why shouldn’t I binge?’   

Abbot Jamison says that when we are aware of our faults and failings, we are in a position to control them and avoid giving into temptation to serious sin:

This deep human insight is expressed by Jesus with imaginative force in the Sermon on the Mount: (Matthew’s Gospel 5: 21-22 and 27-28)

You were told ‘do not kill’ and that if you do kill you will answer for it before the court. But I say anyone who is angry with another person will answer for it before the court. 

You were told ‘do not commit adultery’ but I say that if you look at a person lustfully, you have already committed adultery with them in your heart.   

This is not Jesus simply creating impossibly high standards; he is saying that anger and lust are the origins of murder and adultery so get a hold of them before it is too late. As a society, we seem to have forgotten this very simple insight.

Note how Jesus Himself warned that one sin leads to another.  Anger leads to murder.  Lust leads to adultery.  We read about it in the papers every day.  Yes, we can seek God’s forgiveness through Jesus our Mediator and Advocate, but we are commanded not to ‘go there’ in the first place!  So much for soft, soppy Jesus!

Abbot Jamison says that in ancient times, life was hard but people had an inner spiritual life which they needed in order to survive their world.  Their priests told them to examine their faults, failings and sins.  Until Vatican II this was common practice.  Those of us who grew up as late as the 1960s still have that daily discipline.  ‘What did I do today?  Did my words or actions help a situation?  No, they did not.  Should I have walked away or distracted myself in a good way?  Yes.  I gave in to my corporeal weakness and impulsiveness.  I was angry.  I ate and drank too much, then had an argument.  I thought too much of my own opinions and not enough of others’, even though they were correct.’  Etc., etc.

The interior world of human beings is a mixture of irrational and rational forces. The spiritual exercise of reason was the ancient and monastic response to this world, with daily reflection on the workings of my innermost soul; from such exercises flowed the solutions to life’s challenges and temptations. By contrast, in our culture, we are brought up without explicit and systematic spiritual formation, being informed that we can do and think what we like provided that we don’t harm others … This state of mind is often accompanied by statements such as ‘I have no time for that sort of thing’, where having no time means both not having enough hours in the day and not having the inclination.

As a result, we are unhappy.  There has never been so much personal unhappiness, I reckon, as there is today.  We have more than made up for our ancestors in spiritual poverty and psychological misery.  One of my late grandmothers-in-law, a lifelong Londoner, used to say, ‘The old ways are the best.’  How true.  Neither she nor I make any apology to the postmoderns with their aging mantra, ‘If it feels good, do it.’  Such a mindset leads to violence, pain and suffering.  Think of all the child abuse from single mums and their boyfriends, often referred to as ‘stepfathers’: ‘Why can’t that kid be quiet whilst we’re enjoying ourselves in bed?’  Lust, anger, violence — all in one package.  What about dole cheats claiming disability benefit for physical incapacity then playing for their neighbourhood football teams?  Sloth and greed: ‘I’m entitled’.  What about bullying at school and in the workplace, the victims of which are modest, talented people?  The bully envies and wants what the victim has, feels inferior because s/he doesn’t have ‘it’ and, so, lashes out: anger, pride and envy.  Shameful, destructive actions.  Animals all!  Yet, animals with souls who, through proper religious instruction and spiritual formation, could have learned to overcome and control these horrible impulses.

And, this is what we have forgotten about today, the soul.  We have them; our birds and beasts do not.  No one talks about the soul today, just as no one discusses sin.  And this is why we treat ourselves and each other so terribly.

Being a holy man, Abbot Jamison is much more temperate than I.  He eloquently explains:

Our demons are unseen thoughts that make us unhappy and spiritual hygiene is as necessary as medical hygiene if these diseases of the soul are to be healed. But we are a spiritually unhygienic society. While we know that we must find time to brush our teeth, to visit the doctor and to take exercise, we have no such shared conviction about the need for spiritual exercises.

So, acedia is like saying, ‘Sorry, no time for spiritual health.  I’m off to the gym.’  Church?  ‘It means nothing to me.  Rather have a lie-in.’  Prayer? ‘I rely on myself to get through the day.’ 

Abbot Jamison observes:

Our society is ‘full of mockery’ towards those who insist on the reality of the soul and its essential disciplines, disciplines which have been preserved almost uniquely by the best of the world’s religious traditions but which are scorned by increasingly strident atheist commentators.

And, where does some of the blame lie?  Yes, ultimately, our sins are our own fault, but, if we don’t know how to become better people or why we should control our impulses, who should be guiding us?  Our clergy.  Yet, they, too, can fall prey to acedia:

Even monks and nuns can experience the temptation to forget about the spiritual life. In one ancient collection of stories about the desert fathers and mothers, the very first story begins with a surprising statement about the most famous monk of all. ‘When the holy Abba Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by acedia.’ Towards the end of that same collection Amma Syncletica offers the insight that ‘acedia is full of mockery.’

It seems to me that the absence of the Gospel message in our churches, the strange liturgical aberrations and lack of criticism of governments which undermine Christianity point to acedia.  Tomorrow, we’ll look at a few examples.  No, this isn’t clergy bashing, but, as the late Bishop Fulton J Sheen said, we must hold our pastors and religious to account when standards slip.

Those who live the life of nature cannot be acceptable to God; but you live the life of the spirit, not the life of nature; that is, if the Spirit of God dwells in you. A man cannot belong to Christ unless he has the Spirit of Christ. — Romans 8:8-9

Goodness only knows why this is not in the Christian lectionary.  Three years of readings, and the theological experts can manage to include just the latter third of the chapter in Year A.  At least that includes the verse about ‘weeping (wailing) and gnashing of teeth’ (Matt. 24:51) and ‘Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come’ (Matt. 24:42).  Yet, many of the ‘forbidden verses’ of this chapter are also well known and worth reading carefully.  However, there are a few surprises. Jesus speaks not only of false prophets, but of natural disaster and war.  He tells us that we must endure all these before the end of the world. 

For more Forbidden Bible Verses, click here

Today’s reading comes from the King James Bible.

Matthew 24:1-36

1And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.

 2And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

 3And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

 4And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.

 5For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

 6And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

 7For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.

 8All these are the beginning of sorrows.

 9Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.

 10And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.

 11And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.

 12And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.

 13But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

 14And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

 15When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)

 16Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:

 17Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:

 18Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.

 19And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!

 20But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:

 21For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

 22And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.

 23Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.

 24For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

 25Behold, I have told you before.

 26Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.

 27For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

 28For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.

 29Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

 30And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

 31And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

 32Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:

 33So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

 34Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

 35Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

 36But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.


In the first three verses, Jesus foretells the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in 70 AD at the hands of the Romans.  The beautiful edifice which they love and admire will be destroyed. What a shocking thing that must have been for the disciples to hear. Remember that Jerusalem was their world. Naturally, they asked questions. ‘When will this happen?’ ‘How will we know when You return?’ ‘What will the end of the world be like?’ 

Jesus provides counsel not only for the near future for the disciples but perhaps moreso for those of us who are reading this passage today.  In verses 4 and 5, Jesus tells them — and us — not to be deceived by false prophets and impostors claiming to be Him.  Note that He says, ‘Many will be deceived’.  Not a few, but ‘many’.  Gives pause for thought, doesn’t it? 

Jesus says that wars will arise (verse 6), yet neither the disciples — nor the faithful — are to worryHow many of us today are familiar with this verse?  Not many, probably. So, wars are foreseen; let’s set our expectations accordingly, because they are inevitable.  This is because nations have refused to heed the Gospel.  They have ignored the message of peace and, inevitably, fall into conflict.  Yet, those who trust in God will not be unduly troubled, for they know that He will not desert them.  Being troubled also goes against the Christlike manner.  Was Christ jumpy or agitated in His lifetime?  No.  Perhaps imitating Christ was the inspiration for the British stiff upper lip: ‘keep calm and carry on’.   

In verse 7, Jesus talks of natural disasters.  And these are but the beginning of human sorrows (verse 8), as we have seen so clearly in the disasters around the world of the past five years.  Yet, how many of us knew of this verse?  I never see it mentioned or discussed

In verses 9 – 13, Jesus discusses those who believe in Him and what will happen in the world: persecution of Christians, widespread hate of one man by another, deception by grandstanding false prophets and an awful lot of … sin!  Yes, sin, the word we don’t hear too much about these days. But, in verse 13, Jesus says that he who perseveres in his faith against all odds will be saved. 

Also note that ‘many shall be offended’.  Matthew Henry in his Commentary explains (emphases mine): 

The offence of the cross, v. 10-12. Satan thus carries on his interest by force of arms, though Christ, at length, will bring glory to himself out of the sufferings of his people and ministers. Three ill effects of persecution are here foretold.

1.) The apostasy of some. When the profession of Christianity begins to cost men dear, then shall many be offended, shall first fall out with, and then fall off from, their profession; they will begin to pick quarrels with their religion, sit loose to it, grow weary of it, and at length revolt from it

2.) The malignity of others. When persecution is in fashion, envy, enmity, and malice, are strangely diffused into the minds of men by contagion: and charity, tenderness, and moderation, are looked upon as singularities, which make a man like a speckled bird … Apostates have commonly been the most bitter and violent persecutors. Note, Persecuting times are discovering times. Wolves in sheep’s clothing will then throw off their disguise, and appear wolves …  

(3.) The general declining and cooling of most, v. 12. In seducing times, when false prophets arise, in persecuting times, when the saints are hated, expect these two things,

[1.] The abounding of iniquity

[2.] The abating of love; this is the consequence of the former

Despite all this, Jesus says that the end of the world will not take place until the Gospel has been preached throughout the world (verse 14).  It seems as if this has already taken place, but has it?  Only then will the end of the world come.   

The next four or so verses concern the Destruction of the Temple.  Jesus introduces this part by saying that Daniel foretold the Destruction.  It will take place, and when it does, people should escape as quickly as possible. Jesus advises Judeans to head for the mountains (verse 16).  Others should take no possessions or clothing (verses 17, 18).  He says that expectant and nursing mothers will have a trying time (verse 19).  He asks the disciples to pray that it doesn’t happen in winter or on the Sabbath (verse 20). 

And, in verse 21, a message to all of us — past (70 AD) and present (end of the world) — He says it will be a most troubling and troublesome time, the likes of which we have not seen.  Yet, God will save His children, the elect (verse 22).  He will save them from their enemies by shortening their earthly life thereby alleviating their suffering. 

Again, Jesus warns us about false prophets and false Christs (verses 23 – 26).  Their dazzling works will be acclaimed, almost — but not quite — good enough to deceive even the elect. We must ignore these charlatans when they tell us to seek Him here or there!

Verse 27 foretells the preaching of the Gospel, the ‘lightning’.  It will be preached openly, as Christ proclaimed it, ‘shining’ from east to west.  Verse 28 refers to the death of sinners: the eagle refers to the Romans, who had an eagle emblem, and the carcass refers to those held captive by sin. As punishment, God will send enemies to destroy them — eagles hovering over a dead creature, ready to devour it. It’s quite apocalyptic. Not what you expect from nice, cuddly Jesus, is it?  Yet, it is the image He gives us.

Through the remainder of this passage (through verse 41, in fact), Jesus discusses His Second Coming.  In verse 29, Jesus is talking not only about the Temple, but all the tribulations the Church will endure throughout history.  The natural violence of our environment and universe as described must occur in order for it to be changed, to be transformed for Jesus’s coming again.  This natural turbulence and destruction mean that earthly rule and order have come to an end for good.  No government will be able to function, no matter how powerful a nation may be.  All this will cease for Christ.  We will then be able to see Christ Himself.  At that moment, sinners will mourn the loss of eternal life which they had mocked, and the faithful will be happier than they could ever have imagined.  Matthew Henry describes it:

The sun and moon shall be then darkened, because there will be no more occasion for them. To sinners, that choose their portion in this life, all comfort will be eternally denied; as they shall not have a drop of water, so not a ray of light … Darkness must be their portion. To the saints that had their treasure above, such light of joy and comfort will be given as shall supersede that of the sun and moon, and render it useless. What need is there of vessels of light, when we come to the Fountain and Father of light? See Isa. 60:19; Rev. 22:5

Verse 31 says that the angels will be making a great noise with their trumpets.  This is to get the immediate attention of the whole world.  (In Exodus 19:13, 16, it was an incredible noise, the likes of which had not been heard before, or since.)  At that time, the angels will gather the elect from all over the world to Him. 

This passage ends with the parable of the fig tree. As with nature, so with God, its Creator. When Jesus says that God will do something, God will follow through. This is Jesus’s way of telling us to plan, to be prepared for His Coming again in glory.  We may not live to see the end of the world, yet we must always be prepared for death.  We must be ready to live each day in Him as if it were our last. 

When will the world end?  Only the Lord knows for sure.

For further reading, click here.

Carl Gobelman is the author of New Creation Person (see Blogroll).  You can read all about his background and his journey with Christ at his site.  He’s got great posts about the Bible which certainly give pause for thought.

On January 4, 2010, he blogged on the life of Moses.  We rightly think of Moses as being iconic, an image reinforced in the popular mind thanks to Charlton Heston’s portrayal of the great man in the Ten Commandments.  Whilst Moses was indeed great, for reasons which Carl explains, he also had the same human faults that the rest of us do.  Carl tells us more in an inspired post, excerpts of which follow.  I hope he won’t mind that I’m excerpting it here with my own subheads. 

The point is to give each of us more confidence as we do the Lord’s work and obey His will.  Let us not say, ‘I can’t, because I’m not talented enough’ or ‘Sorry, I’m too old’.  Some of what we see as negative qualities of the human condition can work positively for God’s purposes when we put our lives in His hands. We can pray that God burnishes our failings and brings us to do His will. You can see below how God shaped Moses.  Now, read on.  But don’t miss the original!

Impulsive and hot-headed

As the plight of the Hebrews began to gnaw at his soul, Moses takes it upon himself to be the savior of his people. As Stephen says before the Jewish ruling council, “[Moses] supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand” (Acts 7:25). From this incident in his life, we learn that Moses was a man of action as well as a man possessed of a hot temper and prone to rash actions.


Moses, whether or not he was truly cognizant of his role in the salvation of the Hebrew people, acted rashly and impetuously. He tried to do is his timing what God wanted done in his timing. The lesson for us is obvious: We must be acutely aware of not only doing God’s will, but doing God’s will in his timing, not ours. As is the case with too many other biblical examples to count, when we attempt to do God’s will in our timing, we make a bigger mess than originally existed.

Wanting too much too soon

Moses needed time to grow and mature and learn to be meek and humble before God, and this brings us to the next chapter in Moses’ life — his 40 years in the land of Midian. During this time, Moses learned the simple life of a shepherd, a husband, and a father. God took an impulsive and hot-tempered young man and began the process of molding and shaping him into the perfect instrument for God to use.

Gun shy

Another thing we see from Moses during his time spent in Midian was that when God finally did call him into service, Moses was resistant. The man of action early in his life, Moses, now 80 years old, became overly timid. When called to speak for God, Moses said he was “slow of speech and tongue.” Some commentators believe that Moses may have had a speech impediment. Perhaps, but it is odd considering that Stephen said Moses was “mighty in words and deeds.” I think Moses was gun shy; he didn’t want to go back into Egypt and fall flat on his face again. This isn’t an uncommon feeling. How many of us have tried to do something (whether or not it was for God) and failed, and then been hesitant to try again?


Moses’ life also teaches us the lesson that there are certain sins that will continue to haunt us all throughout our lives. The same hot temper that got Moses into trouble in Egypt also got him into trouble during the wilderness wanderings. In the aforementioned incident at Meribah, Moses struck the rock in anger in order to provide water for the people. However, he didn’t give God the glory, nor did he follow God’s precise commands. As such, God forbade him from entering the Promised Land. In a similar manner, we all succumb to certain besetting sins which plague us all our days; sins that require us to be on constant alert.

Yet, God worked through Moses and, consequently:

– Moses’s faith in God helped him reject a comfortable life in Pharaoh’s court to liberate his own people.

– Moses consistently petitioned God on behalf of the Israelites.

– Moses is the principal author of the Pentateuch — the first five books of the Bible — the basis of Jewish law. 

– Moses’s life presaged that of Jesus, in that he was the mediator of a great covenant with God and delivered his people from slavery. 

– Moses, like Jesus, was a prophet to his people. He foretold of Jesus, who referred to this prophecy in His own teachings.

Carl reminds us that although Moses did not see the Promised Land during his life on Earth, he joined God in the ultimate Promised Land.  Along with Elijah, he appeared to Jesus and the disciples at the Transfiguration.

So, when you’re feeling a bit down about your faults and failings, take heart.  Think of Moses.  Pray that God infuses you with grace to do His will here on Earth.  Ask Him for patience and the ability to work whatever you do to His purpose.

Wow — a trifecta of stories about banning good things to eat and drink, all in one weekend.

First, we have control freak extraordinaire, third-term New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who wants to ban salt.  Yes, he was the chap who banned trans-fats and public smoking from the city a few years ago.  Why would a billionaire be so concerned with other people’s pleasure and pastimes? Concerned?  No, just selfish, thinking that everyone should live as he does. Does he come out against STDs from sexual congress with chance acquaintances?  Not a word.  Silence.  

The New York Post says, noting that the UK came up with this scheme, says:

The City Health Department is spearheading the National Salt Reduction Initiative, which will cajole food manufacturers to voluntarily cut sodium content 20 to 25 percent by 2014.

So, Bloomberg starts a ‘national’ initiative.  That’s grand!  The article says that table salt is not affected, just sodium content in pre-prepared food.  Nonetheless, a spokeswoman for Campbell’s Soup points out that

the sodium in Campbell’s soups was [previously] cut 50 percent from its 1980s level.

‘To lower it another 20 percent is a challenge,’ she said.

From what I have read over the past decade, my first love (of cities) in the US is beginning to resemble suburbia.  Artists and creatives are actually moving out.  Thanks, Bloomberg.  Mind how you go.

Next up is Shyam Kolvekar, a ‘leading heart surgeon’ for the University College London Hospitals, who says that butter should be banned.  The Daily Mail reports:

… only radical action can save growing numbers of young adults from heart attacks and clogged arteries.

Warning of the dangers of other foods high in saturated fat, he advises people to eat less red meat, take low-fat milk and switch to olive and sunflower oil.

I can’t really say that he looks like a picture of health himself.  However, Mr (not Dr — he is a consultant) Kolkevar obviously has no idea that home — and restaurant — cooking relies on butter for sautées, sauces, pastries and biscuits! You cannot successfully use oils or chemical spreads in these methods. Butter also is a good way of meeting vitamin A needs.  And, unlike chemspread, it’s 100% natural.  It comes from a cow or a goat.  What could be better for your body?  My late grandmother lived until her mid-90s, 30 years after she had a mastectomy.  She ate butter every day and fried food in lard regularly.  Many other readers will also know of family elders with the same experience.  Certainly, if your doctor has advised you not to eat wholesome food, then don’t.  But, if you can, dig in with gusto.

I’m quite sure that the reason we have such high rates of cancer is because we eat so many chemically-based foods.  If we ate wholesome foods we can recognise straight out of the wrapper — meat, fish, dairy products, vegetables — we would be much healthier and happier.  I make sure that all my household meals are made from scratch.  We also eat kidneys, liver and sweetbreads to help keep the body ticking along.  Moderation in everything.  Oh, yes, last night we had standing rib of aged beef — rare red meat.  And it was excellent, too, thanks, Mr Kolkevar.  I intend to die happy.

The same article states that the UK’s Bloomberg-control freak doctors also want to see a ban on trans-fats.  If they were half as interested in the way the NHS runs as they are nosing about in people’s diets, we’d once again be the world’s premier public health provider.     

Finally, a neo-Cromwellian Scottish Episcopal bishop, The Right Revd Bob Gillies, Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney, wants to ban Buckfast.  Although made by the Benedictines of Buckfast Abbey in Devon (England) for the last 130 years, it is the tipple of choice for many Scots.  I have never met an Englishman who drinks it.  Maybe I don’t mix in those circles.  Anyway, the Times (London) reports that Bishop Gillies said:

‘What sort of moral double-take is there that these monks can be so closely associated with that product and knowingly aware of the social damage as well as the medical damage it is doing to the kids who take it in such vast volumes? …

‘St Benedict, I would have thought, would have been very, very unhappy with what his monks are doing nowadays.’

This is because a recent report from the Glasgow area

reveals that the drink, known colloquially as Buckie, has been mentioned in 5,000 crime reports by Strathclyde Police in the past three years. Almost one in ten of those crimes was violent, according to figures obtained by the BBC under freedom of information legislation. During that period the Buckfast bottle was used as a weapon 114 times and police said the figures suggested there is an association between Buckfast and violence. Superintendent Bob Hamilton, of Strathclyde Police, told the BBC: ‘I think it’s clear from the figures that there is an association there.’

I admit that Buckie can be a problem for people — men, particularly — who lack self-control.  But, so can a lot of other things.  Because a small proportion of the population lacks self-discipline does that mean we should ban Buckfast outright?  No, it does not, regardless of what Bishop Gillies’s fellow neo-Croms in the Times comments say.  The drink is sold as a notional ‘tonic’ and has caffeine in addition to alcohol. So, you’re only supposed to have a glass of it, not two bottles! The Times article continues:

A request for an interview with the monks of Buckfast Abbey was turned down, the BBC said, while a spokesman for J Chandler & Co (Buckfast), the commercial company that distributes the drink, denied any need to change the ingredients.

Jim Wilson, of J Chandler & Co, claims the Benedictine monks are not to blame for the effects of Buckfast on the outside world, saying: ‘Why should they accept responsibility? They’re not up there pouring their Buckfast down somebody’s throat. People take it by choice because they like it, because it’s a good product.’

Asked if the monks should accept any kind of moral responsibility, Mr Wilson said: ‘No, they produce a good product. I drink it. Now, if I thought there was something wrong with it, would I drink it?’

The distributors of Buckfast have previously threatened to sue public figures who have criticised the drink, including Cathy Jamieson, a former Scottish Justice Minister. Sales of Buckfast have doubled in the past five years to £37 million, and more than half is sold north of the Border. It is estimated that Scots spend £50,000 a day on the drink, which is variously known as ‘bottle of beat the wife’, ‘liquid speed’ and ‘wreck the hoose juice’.

A BBC One Scotland programme on the subject aired Monday night.  If it’s about Catholic subject matter, it must have been negative, by definition.   

Bishop Gillies would be better off ensuring his priests do a bit more on-the-ground pastoral work to ensure that youths and husbands know how to conduct themselves in the light of the Gospel. If they don’t know the Gospel, then it’s up to the priests to evangelise.  It’s also up to parents to teach that long-forgotten virtue of moderation. But, it seems that it’s so much easier just to say ‘Ban it’.  That way, the bishop can say he’s done his part with minimum effort and maximum effect.

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