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Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, the bittersweet day when Jesus is greeted with enthusiastic cries of ‘Hosanna!’ as He enters Jerusalem riding on a humble donkey, indicating that He came in peace, not in combat against the Romans.

However, before that, he performed His last earthly miracle, that of raising His good friend Lazarus — brother of Martha and Mary — from the dead.

For this reason, the Saturday before Palm Sunday is known in some Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions as Lazarus Saturday.

Palm Sunday has a very joyous yet troubling dynamic about it as Good Friday looms ever nearer.

Find out more about the Palm Sunday story and its traditions in these posts:

The greatest reality story of all time begins on Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday and the Jesus watchers

Palm Sunday: Why palms?

Palm Sunday: Why a donkey?

If this is the first time you have received palms (you can make yours look like the one in the photo)

For those commemorating Holy Week, I wish you one full of prayer, Scripture and insight.

I’ll feature more as we move onward to the sorrow of the Crucifixion and to the desolation of Holy Saturday, when all seemed lost to Jesus’s disciples.

This year Easter is on April 8.

Although ‘Easter’ is an English translation of ‘Oestre’ — a pagan goddess of Spring, in Latin languages the word for Easter — e.g. Pâques (French) — derives from ‘Passover’. Passover and Easter either coincide or are a week or so apart.

Easter is the one time per year when we enjoy Spring lamb, preferably lamb from our own country. Buy only the best. As Easter is the greatest feast in the Church year, it is well worth it.  After Lenten dietary disciplines it’s time for a happy, convivial lunch or dinner with friends and family.

(My thanks to Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod for the graphic.)

Please read the following in its entirety before beginning anything. Some dishes at the end of this post actually require preparation before or whilst the lamb roasts.

Spring leg of lamb

(Serves 8; 90 to 120 minutes cooking time and 15 minutes preparation time, not including bringing up to room temperature — see below)

Ingredients:

1 4 – 5 lb leg of lamb

1 – 2 fresh sprigs of rosemary, broken into small bits

4 – 5 anchovies in salt and olive oil, diced

3 garlic cloves cut into quarters (optional but recommended)

Salt, garlic salt and pepper to season

Method:

1/ Remove the lamb from the refrigerator 1 to 2 hours before roasting. French chefs often say that ingredients at room temperature ensure the best cooking and flavour.

2/ Prick the sides of your lamb joint evenly with the tip of a sharp knife deep enough to hold the rosemary and anchovy pieces.

3/ Carefully put a piece of anchovy, rosemary or garlic in each slot, alternating them evenly along and around the joint. You can tuck them in with a knife edge. The rosemary will stick up a bit, which is fine. The anchovy will melt into the meat, adding a pleasant umami flavour.

4/ If I have the remaining oil and salt from an empty anchovy jar, I pour and spread it over the joint for extra flavour.

5/ Roast uncovered in a lightly greased baking tray for 90 minutes to 2 hours at 170° C (325° F – nearest equivalent) in a fan (convection) oven or at 180° C (350° F) in a conventional oven.

6/ Juices should be relatively clear when the meat is done — a bit of pink will not go amiss with young lamb.

7/ Remove to a carving tray, cover with a large sheet of aluminium foil and let rest for 10 – 15 minutes.

8/ Carve against the grain — from the width, not the length. If this proves challenging, try slicing at an angle.

9/ When you reach the ‘knuckle’ of the bones as they go off at an awkward angle, cut a V-shape into the centre of the join, then continue carving at an angle on each side.

10/ Contrary to popular myth, which probably applies to mutton not young lamb, you can make a perfectly serviceable stock with the leftover bone.  Place the leftover bone into a large pot, cover with water and 1/2 cup (120 ml) port (or red wine) and place on a medium heat until the stock starts to boil. Season well with salt and pepper, turn the heat off and let rest overnight to develop flavour. Strain the next day and place into a plastic soft drink bottle with cap and refrigerate. Without herbs or other aromatics, this should keep for at least a fortnight, if not three weeks. Use in gravies, sauces or as liquid for cooking vegetables.

ACCOMPANIMENTS TO YOUR LAMB

Jus

(serves 8 — 15 minutes cooking and preparation time)

It’s jus for gravy itself, not au jus, by the way.  I hear many American chefs and cooks on television say, ‘Now I’ll make the au jus.’ It’s simply jus for gravy. Au implies ‘with’ in this instance.

Jus (‘zhoo’) is a lighter gravy than most North Americans are accustomed to. There is little to no flour or roux, although you can use as a thickener beurre manié (50-50 flour and soft butter rolled together) or Bisto gravy granules found in the UK.

Disclaimer: I have no personal or commercial interest in any brand names mentioned here.

Ingredients:

3/4 – 1 cup (170 – 240 ml) meat stock (doesn’t matter what kind)

1/2 cup (120 ml) port (or red wine)

Salt, pepper, garlic salt and Old Bay or other herb/spice-based seasoning

1 sprig of thyme or rosemary

1/2 – 1 tbsp beurre manié or 1 tbsp Bisto gravy granules

Method:

1/ Drain any fat from the pan into the kitchen sink and run hot water whilst emptying so your drain does not become clogged. There should only be a tablespoon or two of fat.

2/ Keeping any meat chunks in the roasting pan, place over a medium-high heat to deglaze. Pour in meat stock and port. Add dry seasonings.

3/ Stir well and add the sprig of thyme or rosemary. Leave to simmer for 10 – 15 minutes whilst the meat is resting.

4/ Taste the jus and adjust seasoning. If it tastes watery, add more port or red wine and allow to reduce more.

5/ Once the jus becomes flavoursome, remove the sprigs of herb and add the beurre manié or the gravy granules.  Allow to thicken — this needs medium-high heat — then turn down to a low temperature.

6/ Carve the meat (as above) and serve the jus over the meat — 1 to 2 tbsp per plate.

7/ Put any leftover jus in a glass jar with lid and place in the refrigerator.  You can easily reheat it in 20-second blasts in the microwave the next day — remember to take the lid off.

Roast potatoes

(variable number of servings — see below — 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes: parboiling and cooling time of 20-30 minutes + 35 – 45 minutes roasting time; 10 minutes of your time)

Sorry, readers, but these can only be done well with animal fat. Half of it will still be in the pan when they are roasted. You need a fat which can withstand high temperatures. You can theoretically do it with vegetable oil but without optimum results.

Only responsible adults and older adolescents should attempt this as the fat needs to be extremely hot for good results.

For crispy potatoes, you will need to use a separate pan – not the one with the meat. If the meat is on the top shelf of the oven, use the bottom shelf for the potatoes until the meat comes out. Then you can move the potatoes to the top shelf.

I always roast my potatoes at the same temperature as my meat — with few exceptions — a universal 170° C (325° F – nearest equivalent) in a fan (convection) oven or 180° C (350° F) in a conventional oven.

Ingredients:

the equivalent of 1 medium potato per person

2 tbsp animal fat — goose fat, duck fat, lard or beef dripping — for every 4 large potatoes (i.e. 4 tbsp fat for 8 large potatoes)

Salt, pepper and garlic salt to season

Method:

1/ Factor in meat resting time for this recipe. The potatoes need 35 – 45 minutes, so if your meat rests for 10 – 15 minutes, then you need to have your potatoes in the oven approximately 30 minutes before you take your roast out of the oven.

2/ You also need to consider that the fat will take 10 minutes to heat to a high temperature which is right for the potatoes. The fat, therefore, needs to go in 10 minutes earlier than the potatoes.

3/ However, you also need to parboil (sorry, there’s no way around this one — I’ve tried), cool and dry the potatoes out beforehand, so start 30 minutes before you need to put the potatoes in to roast.

Churchmouse says: To parboil, I use the microwave (instead of a pan with boiling water). If you’ve got it, flaunt it! Also, top chefs say that old potatoes work better for roasting and frying than ones fresh from the shop! Cut the eyes of the potato out or scrape them off. Wash the potatoes in warm water, dry with a paper towel, slit lengthwise down the middle (1/8 of the way through), then pop in the microwave for anywhere from 4 (medium potatoes) to 6 minutes (larger ones). Squeeze the sides; if they yield, remove them from the microwave — using an oven glove — put on a cutting board, slice fully down the middle in the place you cut earlier and leave to dry and cool for 30 minutes.

4/  Ten minutes before you need to put the potatoes in, pull out a large roasting tin with ample sides (hot fat will splatter). Place the appropriate amount of fat in the bottom of the pan, season and place in the oven for 10 minutes to heat through.

5/ Whilst the fat is heating up, peel the potatoes and slice into halves (smaller ones), quarters or eighths (larger ones). Each piece should be approximately an equal size for even roasting — this doesn’t always work (see step 6).

Churchmouse says: Rough and irregular edges are perfect, as they will become wonderfully crunchy.

6/ When the fat is hot (10 minutes later) and the meat is still roasting, pull the pan with the fat out of the oven and carefully place the potatoes in the fat. You will not need to rotate or coat them. However, make sure that you leave a small amount of space between the potato sections for even roasting.

Churchmouse says: Place smaller pieces near the middle of the pan as pieces on the outer edges cook more quickly. Not doing so causes smaller pieces on the outer edges to be well done whilst larger pieces in the middle still have some way to go before being finished.

7/ Roast for 35-45 minutes. As you will be taking the meat out during this time, if you have the potatoes on the bottom shelf of your oven with the roast on top, you can now move the potatoes to the upper rack.

8/ Try to leave your potatoes in the oven until you are ready to serve. If this is not possible, reduce the heat to low but not for much longer than five minutes. Otherwise, the potatoes might start to lose their crispness.

Devilled eggs

(One-half to one egg per person — 15 minutes of your time, but 1 – 2 hours cooking and cooling time)

It might seem a bit inappropriate to serve ‘devilled’ eggs on such an important holy day as Easter, however, the term implies the addition of hot pepper. It also generally means something which is peppered and mashed or mixed together as a filling — in this case, egg yolks.

This recipe comes courtesy of my mother and my paternal grandmother, although I have spiced it up a bit more.

Ingredients:

1/2 to 1 egg per person

1 tsp mayonnaise per egg

Salt, pepper, garlic salt, Old Bay, cayenne pepper, chicken seasoning

1 to 2 tsp crème fraîche or 1 tsp heavy cream mixed with 1 tsp heavy yoghurt

Dash Worcestershire sauce

Dash Tabasco sauce or a touch of hot chili paste (optional)

Dash of mild paprika to sprinkle on top

Chopped chives or parsley on top for garnish

Method:

1/ Hard-boil eggs. Place eggs in a pan large enough for some space between the eggs, cover with water and bring to a rapid, rolling boil for six minutes. Turn off the heat and let them stand to cool (very important). Cooking times might vary. If in doubt, consult a cookbook. They should sound solid if tapped gently with a spoon.

2/ While the eggs are boiling or cooling, place the appropriate amount of mayonnaise into a medium-sized bowl. Add the powdered seasonings only at this stage and mix well.

3/ Once the eggs are cool, dry them with a paper towel and gently crack the shells to peel. The whites should be as smooth as possible, which comes only with thorough cooling.

4/ Cut each egg evenly in half lengthwise.

5/ Carefully scoop out the yolks and place them into the bowl with the mayonnaise.  Place the whites on a plate or in a Pyrex dish.

6/ With a fork, patiently mash the yolks into the seasoned mayonnaise. This will be lumpy, although smaller lumps will settle as the mixture rests. That said, try to mash and stir to dissolve as many larger lumps as you can.

7/ If necessary, add a small amount of crème fraîche or yoghurt-heavy cream mixture. Stir or mash again. The consistency should be semi-solid and somewhat creamy, therefore, if you need to, add a bit more cream.

8/ Taste the mixture. If you need to perk up the seasoning, add a bit of Worcestershire sauce, cayenne, Tabasco or chili paste.  However, remember that not everyone likes or tolerates much pepper.

9/ Once you are happy with the egg yolk mixture, spoon it carefully and equally into the egg whites. Make it attractive — a quenelle-type spoonful looks nice on the plate.

10/ When finished, sprinkle with a bit of mild paprika on top for colour, followed by roughly chopped chives or parsley.

11/ Cover and refrigerate for an hour, bringing out (but leaving covered) about 20 – 30 minutes before serving. During this time, any small lumps in the yolk will dissolve into the seasoned mayonnaise mixture. It’s important to leave the cover on in order for a skin not to form and for the colour to stay fresh looking.

————————————————–

At this point, you might be wondering, ‘Where’s the vegetable? Or the dessert?’

I leave that up to you — a side dish of peas with a hint of mint goes well. So do green beans. As for dessert, that’s also your choice, although you could always try something in the way of Amaretto (crêpes or cake).

Whatever you choose, I wish you a very happy Easter — especially to those of us in England who enjoy a four-day holiday so that we can best appreciate this apogee of the Church year, starting with a sombre Good Friday. Easter Monday is often a time for parishes to make pilgrimages or long walks to witness the Resurrection to others.

Whatever you do and wherever you are — may the spirit of the Risen Christ be with you throughout the year.

(For those who say that my timing is a week off here, I shall reply that Holy Week 2012 is about to begin. This is the last of my recipe collection for now — stay tuned for more in a few weeks’ time.)

On March 15, 2012, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was formally elected to the post of Master of Magdalene (pron. ‘Maudlin’) College, Cambridge.  (Magdalene is one of the colleges which comprise the University of Cambridge.)

The Telegraph reported:

Michael Carpenter, Magdalene’s president, said: “It is a wonderful thing for the college. We always want to get a distinguished academic and we consider ourselves very, very fortunate to get him in the role.”

In his new role, Dr Williams will lead a four-strong leadership team comprising: the president – who is responsible for the fellows of the college; the bursar; the senior tutor; and the development director.

Professor Carpenter said the Master would also engage with undergraduates “looking after them, being involved in their lives, entertaining them and so on” as well as “developing the college in various ways – raising funds, dealing with alumni”.

Dr Williams will remain Archbishop of Canterbury until the end of the year, after which point his successor is expected to begin his tenure soon thereafter. More on the selection process and possible candidates in a separate post.

Dr Williams had these words of advice for his successor:

“I think that it is a job of immense demands and I would hope that my successor has the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros, really.

“But he will, I think, have to look with positive, hopeful eyes on a Church which, for all its problems, is still for so many people, a place to which they resort in times of need and crisis, a place to which they look for inspiration.”

Weddings, christenings, funerals, crises and Christmas, then, it would seem.

He speaks of it as an institution, not the body of believers in Christ and not the place for the corporate worship of Christ, whereby we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. This is part of the problem.

I might say the same of my bank (need) or my family (crisis). However, the Church — the Bride of Christ — deserves more profundity.

In this interview, also conducted this month, he said (emphases mine):

“There is also a lot of ignorance and rather dim-witted prejudice about the visible manifestations of Christianity, which sometimes clouds the discussion, he said.

“What I think slightly shadows the whole thing is this sense that there are an awful lot of people now of a certain generation who don’t really know how religion works, let alone Christianity in particular, and that leads to confusions, sensitivities in the wrong areas – ‘does wearing a cross offend people who have no faith or non-Christians?’ well I don’t think it does.”

Adding:

“We have to earn our right to speak more than perhaps was once the case but that is probably good for us.”

Yet, when the Government said earlier this month that Christians had no right to wear a cross to work, the Archbishop said:

it had become something “which religious people make and hang on to” as a substitute for true faith.

“I believe that during Lent one of the things we all have to face is to look at ourselves and ask how far we are involved in the religion factory,” he said.

“And the cross itself has become a religious decoration.”

Wow. Try telling that to the faithful who have been at employment tribunals for wearing discreet crosses or who were defending the faith by refusing to engage in unbiblical activities in their jobs: Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Colin Atkinson, Lillian Ladele or Gary McFarlane.

Meanwhile, we have men and women from other world faiths insisting on headcoverings of various descriptions at work in the UK. They are not necessary for religious practice, either. However, the Police Service even has special uniforms for them, which the taxpayer is financing. The taxpayer also funds downscaled hygiene in the NHS, which has made special allowances for a certain religious group.

The Revd Dr Peter Mullen, the recently retired Rector of St Michael, Cornhill and St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in the City of London, commented:

He sees the cross as part of that “religion factory”. It is an infelicitous phrase, for a factory is where objects are merely churned out, as from a production line. Is that what the cross, the supreme Christian symbol, has become?

It is important to understand what is implied by this: it removes rights from a practitioner of the Christian faith which has shaped European civilisation for 2000 years and redistributes these rights to its aggressive secular opponents whose stated aim is to obliterate Christianity from the public realm.

I am reminded of T E Hulme’s saying: “An institution is only finally overthrown when it has taken into itself the ideas of its opponents.” This seems to me to be a good description of the response of the Church of England to the pernicious assaults of militant secularism. The Church has been thoroughly penetrated by the mindset of its enemies.

Returning to Dr Williams’s aforementioned lament that no one understands Christianity anymore, what did he do to contribute to this situation one way or another?

I do not recall that he really explained the purpose of the Church, evangelised in an inviting way or spoke much about the role of faith, hope and charity in his life and those of other Christians.

This has created the following confusion, which came to light on March 19:

Dr Rowan Williams said Christians are being viewed with growing suspicion and treated as “surrogates” for some extremist branches of Islam in the minds of “anxious secularists”.

He also accused the Government of assuming all vicars were “imams in dog collars” while imams were “vicars in turbans”.

His outspoken comments came during his first public service since the announcement of his decision to stand down as Archbishop at the end of this year.

They come amid signals that intends to use his final months in office to speak out forcefully on issues which on which he feels passionate …

He made his comments during a Sunday service at Springfield Church, an alternative Anglican congregation which meets in a school hall rather than a traditional church building, in Wallington, Surrey.

Revd [Will] Cookson asked him about the recent debate over secularism adding: “Do you think that the real issue for them isn’t necessarily Christianity but actually radical Islam, that it is more of a reaction to radical Islam and we are the surrogate for that.”

Dr Williams said: “I think there is a lot of truth in [that]. It is the last decade that has seen the great rise in anxious secularism, a real suspicion of religion in public.”

Well, really, only Christianity. The more secularised the UK becomes, the more other faiths are placed on a pedestal whilst the cross is increasingly feared — and denormalised.

Many conservative and traditional Anglicans believe that the Archbishop has played a role in this.

Now, if he had said more often over the past decade what he did at Springfield Church several days ago, we would not have had this problem:

“[They assume] that there is one way of being religious – either you are a sort of committed fanatic who wants to subvert the whole to your agenda or you are a sort of woolly liberal who can be persuaded to go along with whatever is happening in society.

The Church isn’t either of those things, it is the assembly of Christ’s friends with good news to share.”

Okay, that’s a simplistic explanation, however, the unchurched may find it helpful.

In closing, let’s not forget the kerfuffle over his comments about sharia law in February 2008:

In a statement on his website, the Archbishop said he made no proposals for sharia but was simply “exploring ways in which reasonable accommodation might be made within existing arrangements for religious conscience” …

Friends of the Archbishop have said he was “completely overwhelmed” by the hostility of the response and in a “state of shock” at the barrage of criticism …

Lord Carey, Dr William’s predecessor, and the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, were among those to challenge the Archbishop’s comments.

Lord Carey said Dr Williams was wrong to believe that sharia could be accommodated into the English system because there were so many conflicting versions of it, many of which discriminated against women. Bishop Nazir-Ali said sharia would be “in tension” with fundamental aspects of our current legal system, such as the rights of women.

Even the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev Tom Butler, said that he would need to be convinced by Dr Williams’ arguments.

One of those calling for the Archbishop’s resignation, Colonel Edward Armitstead, a Synod member from the diocese of Bath and Wells, said: “I don’t think he is the man for the job. One wants to be charitable, but I sense that he would be far happier in a university where he can kick around these sorts of ideas.”

And, lo, nearly five years later — in January 2013 — this is where he will be.

It should have come much sooner.

I know I will have disappointed those who wanted to see a mention of gay marriage in church but, for me, it’s the future of the Church of England’s leadership and the UK’s relationship with adherents of other world faiths which seem more pressing at this time. Once that is taken care of, the alternative marriage issue will resolve itself.

More to come on the selection process after Easter.

A must-watch on BBC2 — ending Friday, March 30, 2012, is Reverse Missionaries.

My heart went out to these three people — two men and a woman — as they make their separate ways to our shores for a brief attempt at evangelising the British.

One would think that the established churches would be doing that, but, no, our intrepid evangelists from Jamaica, Malawi and — this Friday — India see us for the ungodly heathens that we are.

The first programme, featuring Baptist Pastor Franklin Small from Jamaica, showed the challenges he faced in King’s Stanley, Gloucestershire (western England). King’s Stanley is an old village but now also a commuter exurb for people who work in Bristol. Pastor Franklin hoped that people would display a kindly, well-mannered disposition, which they did, except where God was concerned.

Pastor Franklin visited King’s Stanley because his inspiration, the Revd Thomas Burchell, grew up there. Burchell was baptised as a young man into the faith at the Baptist chapel called Shortwood, on the outskirts of town where non-conformists had to worship. Around the 23-minute mark in the film, a lady who lives in the house where Shortwood once stood said that it had four ancient footpaths leading to it, whereby worshippers could come from miles around to attend Sunday services, morning and evening. If you’ve read my posts on non-conformism and pietism (see Christianity / Apologetics page), you will recall that this was common practice. Laws at the time protected the established churches in Europe — Anglican and Lutheran — against renegade (non-conformist) Anabaptists and pietist groups.

The lady who lives at the site of the former Shortwood chapel told Pastor Franklin that a Baptist church of the same name is in St James, Jamaica. He reacted enthusiastically, because although he knew the church, he hadn’t connected it with Burchell. You can read more about Burchell here in an old issue of The Baptist Quarterly.

About Shortwood in Gloucestershire (p. 2) The Baptist Quarterly has this record (emphases mine):

Thomas Burchell was born on 25 December, 1799, at Tetbury in Gloucestershire, and could boast among his ancestors Sir Isaac Newton, while has paternal grandfather was the Baptist minister at Tetbury.

It was while training to be a cloth manufacturer in Nailsworth, that he came under the influence of the Shortwood Baptist Church and from then onwards his thoughts were turned towards the mission field. Once more this little church was to supply a missionary for the island of Jamaica. During this particular period there went out from the fellowship, Mrs. Coultart, Joshua Tinson and his wife, Burchell himself and then his niece Hannah Bancroft who married Samuel Oughton; later in 1840, Jabez Tunley and Eliza Tainton who had married Samuel Hodges of the L.M.S., later to become a Baptist and to serve many years in the West Indies.3

Once in Jamaica, Burchell described his mission work, mentioning the Shortwood church he established there:

Every alternate sabbath is occupied in attending to duties of the church at Gurney’s Mount, or Shortwood, or some other place. In addition to this, I frequently go into the country to preach in the interior, at fifteen or twenty miles distance; and, until lately, I had to supply other places at thirty or even thirty-five miles’ distance: so that when I inform you that last year only, for thirteen successive weeks, I journeyed at an average of one hundred and three miles per week on the affairs of the mission and during ten months travelled three thousand one hundred miles, you will be convinced that my toils were not inconsiderable; especially if you keep in mind the climate, and that there are no public means of conveyance.

How did the Baptists in Gloucestershire come to know about Jamaica? Wikipedia relates:

Burchell, along with James Phillippo (1798–1879), William Knibb and Samuel Oughton was one of the group of early Baptist missionaries sent from England to respond to requests from pioneer African Baptists who had become free from slavery, for support in establishing chapels and education in Jamaica. They were representatives of the Baptist Missionary Society of London and followed the pioneering preaching of the African George Lisle.

And:

It is not uncommon for Jamaican parents to name their children ‘Burchell’; indeed it is almost as popular a Christian name as Manley.

Pastor Franklin was saddened to see that the Baptist church in King’s Stanley had very few members in attendance. He believes that the church needs young people for the next generation of a continuing congregation, so set out to meet them wherever he could — local youth football (soccer) matches and the community centre.

His two possible converts were young Daniel and the considerably older ‘Big Kev’ (he lifted his shirt to show his tattoo). Daniel related that he had been bullied at school, but started playing football at the weekends. He and Pastor Franklin took flyers around town inviting people to church. Big Kev had the pressing issues of disability — heart and respiratory problems. He was thinking about euthanasia. Pastor Franklin was no doubt shocked but didn’t show it. He asked Kev, a churchgoer in his youth, why he fell away from the faith. Kev said that it had a lot to do with the death of his sister in her teens. And these are the big issues: ‘How could God do such a thing if He were loving?’ And ‘If there is a loving God, why am I in such a mess with a cocktail of pills to take every day and a mobility scooter?’ Those weren’t actual quotes; I’m paraphrasing.

Because Pastor Franklin walked around town every day and with such a wide remit — with the local Baptist pastor’s permission — he made a lot of friends in a short space of time. Kev — a hard nut to crack — finally attended Small’s bank holiday church festival, where Pastor Franklin related the story of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:21-34, also Matthew 8:19-26, Luke 8:40-56). Kev told him afterward that he might just have changed his mind about God — because Pastor Franklin cared enough to visit him at home.  Pastor Franklin advised him to ask for the Lord’s help.

Daniel palled around with Pastor Franklin — because he cared enough to play football with him and the other lads. Daniel did indeed bring his family and a few other people to the Baptist church to hear him preach.

It seems we need a larger presence in our communities of pastors and churchgoers. Pastor Franklin believes the church can bring a community together. The programme showed that he might have a point. However, it might have been little more than a novelty factor — unless our clergy are willing to keep up the momentum. This is why I advocate Bible first, then church. Pastor Franklin would no doubt disagree with that, because he was saved on — and from — the streets of Jamaica in his youth by a local pastor. The film showed that Pastor Franklin has also saved local kids in his Jamaican neighbourhood from a life of crime, largely by engaging with them in football first.

The second episode featured a Charismatic pastor, the Revd John Chilimtsidya from Blantyre, Malawi. Pastor John heads a church which has grown from 25 to 800 people in just a few years. He believes this is thanks to energetic preaching and lively music. I’m not sure about that as a universal rule, but it works for him.

Pastor John travelled to Blantyre, Scotland, to visit the home of his Christian inspiration, the missionary David Livingstone. Yes, he of the ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’ with which Henry Morton Stanley supposedly greeted him.

Many of us assume that Livingstone grew up in a privileged household, especially as he had a medical degree. However, he grew up as one of nine family members, spanning three generations, in a one-room ‘house’ — what we would call a studio flat — in lodgings for textile mill workers. (Pastor John could relate, having been one of 12 family members growing up in one room.) Livingstone grew up as a Presbyterian (Church of Scotland), then joined the Congregational Church. The BBC film showed a tour guide at the mill describing how the young Livingstone would perch a Latin grammar book on one end of his spinning machine to read a new word, do what he needed to do on the apparatus, then come back to read its definition. The tour guide related that he was not well-liked by the other boys at the mill.

Wikipedia reveals:

… David, along with many of the Livingstones, was at the age of ten employed in the cotton mill of H. Monteith – David and his brother John worked twelve-hour days as “piecers,” tying broken cotton threads on the spinning machines.

Livingstone’s father Neil was very committed to his beliefs, a Sunday School teacher and teetotaller who handed out Christian tracts on his travels as a door to door tea salesman, and who read extensively books on theology, travel and missionary enterprises. This rubbed off on the young David, who became an avid reader, but he also loved scouring the countryside for animal, plant and geological specimens in local limestone quarries. Neil Livingstone had a fear of science books as undermining Christianity and attempted to force him to read nothing but theology, but David’s deep interest in nature and science led him to investigate the relationship between religion and science.[3] When in 1832 he read Philosophy of a Future State by the science teacher, amateur astronomer and church minister Thomas Dick, he found the rationale he needed to reconcile faith and science, and apart from the Bible this book was perhaps his greatest philosophical influence.[4]

Other significant influences in his early life were Thomas Burke, a Blantyre evangelist and David Hogg, his Sabbath School teacher.[4] At age nineteen, David and his father left the Church of Scotland for a local Congregational church, influenced by preachers like Ralph Wardlaw who denied predestinatarian limitations on salvation. Influenced by American revivalistic teachings, Livingstone’s reading of the missionary Karl Gützlaff‘s “Appeal to the Churches of Britain and America on behalf of Chinaenabled him to persuade his father that medical study could advance religious ends.[5]

The film showed that in Malawi, a number of streets and places still bear the names Livingstone and Blantyre. Meanwhile, here in the UK, Livingstone has been largely discredited for having ‘imposed’ Christianity on Africans. He was the source of British jokes and comedy sketches in the 1970s and 1980s, which portrayed him as an inept fool when Stanley happened upon him.  Pastor John would have been most disappointed to find that out.

As it was, Pastor John found the town of Blantyre, near Glasgow (west coast of Scotland), ‘sad’ because of its lack of faith. He had assumed we British would all be full of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, he saw drunken young people falling about the streets of Glasgow when he went out with the local team of Street Pastors.  He was specifically instructed not to evangelise: ‘If it worked, we would do it’. He said that what he saw would have been illegal in Malawi.

Another difficulty for Pastor John was the staid worship in the Congregational Church in Blantyre. Again, fair enough, but we British are a low-key people. Horses for courses. Pastor John wanted to hold a service at the local outdoor skateboarding venue but the older members of the church said that it was a place for young people and that they would be chased away. I can believe it. Anyway, he preached there at a pre-announced day and time. The youths were welcoming and respectful. Then they joined Pastor John and church members at the Congregational Church for a cookout.

Whether that will increase the church, I cannot say. It might have made a difference for some, such as one of the church’s Boy’s Brigade mothers, who had fallen away from the faith, again — like Kev from King’s Stanley — because of a family member’s death. Pastor John helpfully explained that we did not have any say over our entry into this world, nor have we any control over our exit. He said what my mother often said, ‘We don’t know why, but things happen for a reason. God has a plan in mind’. The Boy’s Brigade mother found that helpful, and it seemed to get her back on the road to church.

Both preachers were upset at what they found in the United Kingdom, and rightly so. More than a century of Fabianism has deadened our souls. As Pastor Franklin said, we are spiritually naked, by and large.

To my readers considering a missionary path, there is no finer place to start for English-speakers than the United Kingdom. Please come. If you can bring New Testaments with you, all the better, as the Word of God will be indispensable and a tangible memory of your visit.

After I made my Amaretto sauce, I had two tablespoons left over.

Hmm. What to do?

The precise sauce remainder got me thinking about my apple cake, adapted from a French recipe which measured in tablespoons. In fact, I’m finding more French recipes which measure in tablespoons. Very easy for men and for those who don’t have a measuring jug. Gentlemen — this is something you and the kids can make for Mother’s Day. (Dad can handle the Amaretto bit!)

This recipe is what I came up with. It’s moist, rich and satisfying without leaving you feeling overly sated. However, as with the apple cake, it’s not a 3-star Michelin cake to serve for appearance’s sake.

Also, although this has Amaretto in it, the alcohol in both the sauce and the cake will thoroughly bake out, leaving a rich almond flavour.

Disclaimer: I have no personal or financial interest in the liqueur connected with this recipe.

My thanks to Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod for the graphic.

Churchmouse’s Amaretto cake

(6 servings — 60 minutes, including preparation time)

5 level tbsp soft or melted butter

5 tbsp brown sugar

4 tbsp caster sugar

1 egg

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp almond essence

1 tbsp ground almonds

4 tbsp self-raising flour

4 tbsp cornflour (corn starch)

2 tbsp of Churchmouse’s Amaretto sauce

1 tbsp of Amaretto

6 tbsp of whole milk

1 medium orange or 1 clementine, sectioned and roughly broken into pieces — no pulp, seeds or rind

Method:

1/ Preheat oven to 350º F (if you’re in the US) or 170° C for fan ovens and 180° C — Gas Mark 4 — for conventional ovens.

2/ Grease and flour a deep-dish pie plate.  Set aside.

3/ Cream the butter and both types of sugar — whisk until the butter is fully incorporated.

4/ Add the almond essence, egg and the bicarbonate of soda, which will help the batter rise whilst baking. Whisk well.

5/ Whisk in the ground almonds.

6/ Begin whisking in the flour and cornflour a little at a time until fully incorporated.

7/ Add the Amaretto sauce and whisk well.

8/ Whisk in the Amaretto and milk, little by little until everything is well mixed.

9/ Add the fruit pieces and stir well.

10/ Pour into prepared pie dish, making sure that all fruit pieces are covered, and place in the oven. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes.  Rotate halfway through.  The cake will become evenly dark brown on top and somewhat bubbly near the edge.  This gives a gentle crunch later on.  The cake is finished when an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

11/ Let the cake cool for 45 minutes to an hour.  Cut with a spatula and serve.  The cake crumb should be moist and somewhat pliant. I would not reverse this from the pie dish onto a plate as it is too delicate.  Just serve it as it is.

12/ Serve, if you wish, with vanilla ice cream or crème Chantilly (see below).  Personally, I enjoy eating it as is.  It will keep well overnight — I just place mine uncovered in the oven.  If there’s any left over — which is unlikely — you can gently reheat for 10 minutes or so and it should come out as if it were freshly baked. Place a bit of cling film over the exposed centre of any leftover cake to keep it moist overnight — but be sure to remove it before reheating.

Crème Chantilly

(6 servings — 10 minutes preparation time)

Ingredients:

4 oz. (110 ml) double cream or whipping cream

2 oz. (50 g) caster sugar

1 tsp almond or vanilla essence

Method:

1/ Beat all ingredients with an electric mixer until thick. Be careful not to overbeat or it will turn into butter!

2/ Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

The past few weeks, this blog has covered subjects connected with carnality — the lust for power and control over others’ minds and flesh.

It is easy to subvert Scripture in an attempt to justify these sins and ignore others which condemn them.

Therefore, let us pray that:

We consider the whole of Scripture to guide our thoughts and conduct.

We avoid one-upmanship in lording our supposed superiority over others.

We refrain from taking difficulties outside the home out on our families.

We consider our children as true gifts of God waiting to be instructed in the Christian faith and prepared for a godly life.

We learn to not feel threatened by our children’s or our spouse’s gifts that we do not have: the ability to articulate, create or analyse. Help us to affirm them, not berate them.

We turn from satisfying our lust for flesh to inner — not outer — holiness.

We turn from our base desires, tempering our urge for control over others’ lives and bodies.

We avoid the temptation of assuming we can see into others’ souls and pass judgment — help us to remember that only You, Lord, can do that.

You help us to love and honour our spouses as Christ loves and honours His Church.

You help us to constructively and adequately prepare our children for life outside the home, nurturing their talents and turning their thoughts from sin.

We recognise that all believers have true freedom in Christ Jesus.

We employ Your grace profitably to make our homes and lives worthy of You, Lord.

We may always remember to be Your humble servants.

Lord Jesus, our only Mediator and Advocate, we ask for Your divine help in better using God’s grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit to sustain us in this life in anticipation of the next. May we be true witnesses and ambassadors of faith, love and freedom, following the example You so graciously showed us when You walked among us. Amen.

My Amaretto sauce serves two purposes. Save two tablespoons of it for my Amaretto cake (next recipe post).

For now, though, enjoy it over crêpes. Easy to make when you haven’t much else in the house!

It’s also simple to make when you need a ‘plate to pass’ for a family gathering or a potluck supper. I keep my sauce in a sterilised glass jar with a lid (larger mayonnaise jars work well). Glass enhances the flavour of any sauce and washes up more easily than plastic.

Disclaimer: I have no personal or financial interest in the two drinks brands connected with this recipe. They are the products which have worked best for me over the years.

My thanks to Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod for the graphic.

Churchmouse’s Amaretto sauce

(4-6 servings — save the leftover two tablespoons; 10 – 15 minutes total — preparation and cooking time)

Ingredients:

8 oz. (230 g) brown sugar

4 oz. (110 g) white sugar

1 medium orange or 2 clementines, sectioned and roughly broken into pieces — no pulp or rind

1/4 – 1/3  cup (60 – 80 ml) Amaretto

1 tsp almond essence

4 oz. (110 g) butter

Method:

1/ Combine all ingredients into a saucepan (preferably with a lip for easier pouring) and place on medium heat, bringing mixture to a boil.

2/ DO NOT STIR!

3/ Once up to a boil, let it boil for six or seven minutes until sugar granules are completely dissolved. At this point, you can stir. If the mixture scrapes in the pan or sounds gritty, continue to boil for another minute or two.

4/ When mixture is smooth and no longer grainy, turn the heat off and remove pan from the heat.

5/ Save as a sauce for the crêpes.

Churchmouse says: Some readers might be concerned about alcohol. The content should burn off completely, leaving only an intense almond flavour, however — if or when in doubt, don’t!

VARIATION: If you don’t have Amaretto but have some old Southern Comfort in the back of the drinks cabinet, use that with vanilla essence instead of almond flavouring. As it ages, Southern Comfort acquires a wonderfully syrupy flavour and texture — perfect for crêpes.

Crêpes

(6 servings of two pancakes each; 60 to 90 minutes total — preparation and cooking time)

Ingredients:

8 oz. (230 g) plain flour

1 tbsp sugar

Pinch of salt

4 eggs

14 oz. (400 ml) milk combined with 6 oz. (177 ml) water

2 tbsp butter + another teaspoon or two to refresh the pan later

You will need a good whisk, a 4 oz. soup ladle, a heavy-bottomed 10″ (25 cm) diameter crepe pan, a long metal spatula and aluminium foil for best results.

Method:

1/ Preheat crêpe pan over medium heat. This might take several minutes. Meanwhile, you can make the crêpe batter.

2/ Combine flour, sugar and salt into a large bowl and make a well.

3/ Break the two eggs into the well.

4/ Whisk the eggs with the dry ingredients slowly at first, then more quickly to get any larger lumps out of the batter.

5/ Add the milk and water mixture a little at a time. Keep whisking to get as many smaller lumps out as you can. A few smaller lumps at the end are all right. These will cook out as you fry the crêpes.

6/ Add the butter to the crêpe pan and let it melt completely.

7/ Pour the 2 tbsp of butter into the crêpe batter and whisk well until combined.

8/ Take your soup ladle and fill it most of the way up so that it has approximately 3 oz. of batter in it. In other words, leave a 1/2″ (1.3 cm) rim at the top.

9/ Pour the ladleful of batter carefully into the crêpe pan. Start from the centre and ladle the rest around it. Swirl the batter around the pan slowly until it reaches the edges.

Churchmouse says: The first crêpe takes the longest to cook. Be prepared for a three- to four-minute cooking time.

10/ In the meantime, get a large plate and your aluminium foil. You will need 12 sheets.

11/ The crêpe is ready to turn over when several lumps (about the size of a chocolate chip) begin appearing at the bottom of the pan and the edge of the crêpe has a lot of tiny bubbles which have burst. Carefully stick the edge of the spatula underneath part of the edge. If the crêpe pulls away from the pan easily, you can carefully but quickly flip the crêpe to the other side for another minute or so to finish cooking.

12/ The other side of the crêpe is finished when it also gets small lumps in the middle. When you think it is done, carefully insert the spatula under the crêpe and lift it. If it is a golden brown, it is finished.

13/ You should be able to slide the crêpe off the pan onto the plate easily. Cover it completely with a sheet of aluminium foil, wrapping any foil edges underneath the plate.

14/ Repeat steps 8 – 13 for subsequent crêpes. These will take less and less time to cook, so stand by and be ready to flip crêpes and remove them to the plate as necessary.

15/ If you need to regrease the pan, do so after every third or fourth crêpe by adding a small amount of butter — 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon — and swirling it around the pan until melted. Pour any excess back into the batter.

16/ Always cover the last crêpe with aluminium foil. They will stay warm for a dinner party or you can leave them on the countertop overnight to refrigerate the next day. Crêpes will stay fresh for at least three days if you keep them refrigerated after the first several hours.

17/ Serve two crêpes per person, folding into quarters (into half, then half again), topping them with a tablespoon or two of Amaretto sauce and whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Alternatively, you can fill with ice cream and fold them lengthwise like the French do and top with sauce and whipped cream or ice cream.

18/ If you need to reheat them, put them in a slow oven for 10 minutes and serve. You can reheat the jar of sauce in the microwave — with the lid off — at 20 second bursts until warmed through.

This post continues a study of the letters of St John, most of which are omitted from the three-year Lectionary.

As such, they are perfect additions to my continuing series, Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to our understanding of Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the King James Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and the Revd P G Mathew of Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California, whose sermons I used for my Holy Week posts in 2011. Mr Mathew earned his theological degrees at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia).

1 John 5:7-13

 7For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

 8And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

 9If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.

 10He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.

 11And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

 12He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.

 13These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

—————————————————————————–

This passage, unusually, mentions the Holy Trinity (verse 7) — ‘these three are one’ — a rare occurrence in the Bible. Some weeks ago I read a Protestant site where the discussion concerned the Hypostatic Union, this divine mystery of one God in three persons. The participants said that it was difficult to evangelise about the Trinity when there was practically no scriptural support. Well, here we have it.

John, the apostle of love, shows more of his former Boanerges — ‘son of thunder’ — personality in this passage, which is direct and hard-hitting.

In ‘Why Must We Study the Holy Scriptures?’ the Revd P G Mathew explains the background to and intensity of John’s letters (emphases mine):

At the same time that John was writing his epistle, the Gnostic heretics were going about and saying, in effect, “John doesn’t know anything, but we do. We know that salvation has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. Rather, it is based on the esoteric knowledge we have.” (This type of knowledge is called “hollow philosophy” by Paul in his letter to the Colossians.) The Gnostics would say, “Yes, we know that John is speaking about Jesus Christ, saying that he is God/man, one divine Person in two natures, and that he died, making propitiation for sinners, and all those things. John teaches that Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work and take away sin. But we know that salvation has nothing to do with Jesus Christ.”

Because of these teachings, the people in the church of Ephesus were thrown into certain confusion. After all, the Gnostics were educated peoplesmart people who functioned as prophets and teachers. How could they be wrong?

John wrote this epistle to help his people so that they could stand on what he had written …

And in ‘Who Makes God a Liar?’:

The apostle John was in charge of the Ephesian church towards the end of the first century. Peter, Paul, and James had been murdered for their faith. Emperor worship and heresies like Gnosticism were spreading throughout Asia Minor. A number of leading members of the Ephesian church rejected the apostolic teaching and tried to corrupt the rest of the church, albeit without success, and eventually had to leave the church. These false people were weeds, false Christians, even though they had been baptized under apostolic oversight ...

Even the Ephesian church, pastored by the apostle John himself, was not a pure church. Though false people had confessed true doctrine initially, later they rejected the central doctrines of Christianity regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ.

According to these heretics called Gnostics, Jesus was the son of Mary and Joseph just like any other son born of human parents. They believed that at his baptism in Jordan, the divine Christ temporarily descended on him, but that this divine being left him before his crucifixion. They therefore rejected the truth that Jesus was the divine person who took upon himself human nature, that Jesus Christ was God/man, one person with two natures. They rejected the truth that this divine human Jesus was born, lived, died, rose again, ascended into the heavens and is seated still as God/man on the right hand of the Father as Lord of all. He ever lives as God/man, but these people rejected that doctrine. Jesus Christ continues to be Jesus Christ, one person in two natures, forever, and the church worked for five centuries to come up with this doctrine and deal with the heresies such as the one that plagued the Ephesian church.

Unfortunately, esoterics and intellectuals are not the only Gnostics. They are also in the Church.  The Revd Gregory Jackson, a retired Lutheran pastor, wrote about this in a recent post of his, lamenting that today’s clergy often disregard Old Testament prophecies about Christ in the same way the Jewish leaders did:

Jesus Himself is the example, washing His disciples’ feet and becoming the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. Those passages were so alien to the popular understanding of the Messiah that the Jewish people did not see the Suffering Servant passages as Messianic. Liberals today always reject that, too.

I once received some Sunday School materials from the LCA which went out of their way to say the Suffering Servant was not Christ. I mailed them back … They said, “That one has been coming back in droves.”

Other denominations, particularly the Anglican Communion, also have their rogue clergymen who deny divine mysteries such as the Trinity, perfectly content to allow Muslims to say that we believe in three gods! These clergy cannot be bothered because it is not as much a priority for them as it is to redress social and financial imbalances, notionally as ‘Christ would have done’. Yet, the whole of the New Testament points to Christ and salvation, not to worldly socio-political solutions.

Note that in verse 7, John is careful to state God the Father, God the Son [‘the Word’, Jesus] and the Holy Spirit are three in one — ‘in heaven’.

In verse 8, John discusses the witness borne on the earth — the Spirit, the water and the blood. What does that mean?

In his sermon ‘Who Makes God a Liar?’ Mathew explains that this is one of the most complex passages in Scripture. That said:

In the Old Testament, the Messiah was called ho erchomenos, the one who comes; here in the Greek text he is called ho elthôn, one who came.

John is speaking about the Messiah who came. In other words, he is speaking about the incarnation of the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ. John says he came through water and blood. This is a difficult phrase, but we can look upon these references to water and blood and learn from Tertullian, one of the church fathers, who said, “Water stands for the baptism of Jesus, and blood stands for the death of Jesus—the two termini of the ministry life of Jesus Christ.” So the emphasis here is that the eternal Son took upon himself human nature. Jesus Christ did not come by water only but by water and blood, meaning he was baptized and he died.

Verse 6, included in the Lectionary, says:

6This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.

Matthew Henry offers a lengthy analysis involving various Greek translations of this passage which will interest those in theology as well as evangelists. For our purposes, Henry writes that we should examine verses 6, 7 and 8 together in context:

In the witness that attends him, and that is, the divine Spirit, that Spirit to whom the perfecting of the works of God is usually attributed: And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, v. 6. It was meet that the commissioned Saviour of the world should have a constant agent to support his work, and testify of him to the world. It was meet that a divine power should attend him, his gospel, and servants; and notify to the world upon what errand and office they came, and by what authority they were sent: this was done in and by the Spirit of God, according to the Saviour’s own prediction, “He shall glorify me, even when I shall be rejected and crucified by men, for he shall receive or take of mine. He shall not receive my immediate office; he shall not die and rise again for you; but he shall receive of mine, shall proceed on the foundation I have laid, shall take up my institution, and truth, and cause, and shall further show it unto you, and by you to the world,” Jn. 16:14. And then the apostle adds the commendation or the acceptableness of this witness: Because the Spirit is truth, v. 6. He is the Spirit of God, and cannot lie

If we admit v. 8, in the room of v. 7, it looks too like a tautology and repetition of what was included in v. 6, This is he that came by water and blood, not by water only, but by water and blood; and it is the Spirit that beareth witness. For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, the water, and the blood …

As only this apostle records the history of the water and blood flowing out of the Saviour’s side, so it is he only, or he principally, who registers to us the Saviour’s promise and prediction of the Holy spirit’s coming to glorify him, and to testify of him, and to convince the world of its own unbelief and of his righteousness, as in his gospel, ch. 14:16, 17, 26; 15:26; 16:7-15. It is most suitable then to the diction and to the gospel of this apostle thus to mention the Holy Ghost as a witness for Jesus Christ.

In verse 9, John segues from truths about the Holy Trinity and Christ to the false teachers — the ‘antichrists’ — of 1 John 2:18-29 and 1 John 4:1-6. John counsels his faithful that no matter what men might teach, the word of God is always the message to focus on and believe. God foretold us — witnessed — of His Son.

Henry wraps verses 6 through 9 together:

The antitrinitarian opposers of the text will deny that either the Spirit, or the water, or the blood, is God himself; but, upon our present reading, here is a noble enumeration of the several witnesses and testimonies supporting the truth of the Lord Jesus and the divinity of his institution. Here is the most excellent abridgment or breviate of the motives to faith in Christ, of the credentials the Saviour brings with him, and of the evidences of our Christianity, that is to be found, I think, in the book of God … the text is worthy of all acceptation.

In the first part of verse 10, John returns to a familiar theme distinguishing the faithful: the spirit of God present within them because of their faith. We read about this in the last part of 1 John 4.

Mathew states:

God’s Holy Spirit testifies within us also that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior.

John then goes further in the same verse, stating boldly that whoever denies God in effect makes Him a liar because that person does not believe what God has foretold of His Son. It’s a powerful verse. As such, Henry says we should not be surprised that He condemns unbelievers for eternity:

No wonder if the rejector of all this evidence he judged as a blasphemer of the Spirit of God, and be left to perish without remedy in his sins.

John explored the heinous sin of unbelief in his Gospel: John 8:21-30, John 8:48-59, John 9:39-41, John 10:37-42 and John 12:39-41 — when Jesus finally turns his back on the unbelieving Jews.

In verses 11 and 12, John states the Christian truth: ‘this is the record’. God guarantees us eternal life through our belief in His Son Jesus Christ. Those who believe in Christ have eternal life now and forever. Those who do not believe in Him lack eternal life.

Mathew says:

In other words, salvation is not found in any other religion or in any other person. That is why we are to proclaim the gospel. That is the reason for missions. We are to go into all the world, because salvation cannot be found in any other religion, in any other person, but in the person of Jesus Christ.

Some may say, ‘Well, that’s fine for the future, but we have troubles in this life right now’, to which Mathew replies:

In 1 John 5:1-5 we learned that true Christians are overcomers. Instead of being the most miserable, depressed, and confused people on the face of the earth, they are bold and confident, victorious and triumphant. They are triumphant because of four things: their new birth, their new faith, their new power, and their new obedience. It is true in the world we have troubles, but Jesus says, “Take courage, because I have overcome the world.” His triumph is our triumph, and we live in triumph daily because we are in him daily.

Faith helps us overcome our temporal trials and look forward to a greater future. Faith steers us away from chronic sin and worry. I personally know people who say that faith in God — they never mention Christ, even further away in their minds — is juvenile and unsophisticated.

In response to such people, Jackson points out:

A child-like faith means grasping the truths of Scripture as the mysteries of God …  

The Gospel of John is the easiest to read with the simplest vocabulary, but it is also the Evangel with the deepest message.

A child-like faith means letting people make fun us for believing what the Bible says, mocking us for not having an adult understanding of everything.

The modern theologians and philosophers like to be adults. They are up to date with the latest thoughts, but they still use the old words when convenient. They just turn them around, to sanitize them and make them nonembarrassing. So these things are hidden from the wise but revealed to children.

In verse 13, John exhorts his faithful to have the assurance of salvation — ‘know that ye have eternal life’ — and the certainty to believe without a doubt in the truth of Jesus Christ.

This message was as important to the Ephesians in the 1st century as it is to us in the 21st.

Next week: 1 John 5:14-21

As we looked at marital relationships during the early 17th century yesterday, today’s post gives us a glimpse into Dutch family life in the same time period.

Have a look at this portrait — click to enlarge — and see what details you pick up from it. Also think about the messages which the family and the artist want you to absorb.

Portrait of a Family at Midday Meal was painted by an artist of the Flemish School around 1610. I hope that Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts does not mind my linking to their site for the portrait and the fulsome explanation accompanying it.

The division of the family members by sex was common in Flemish family portraits at this time. The boys are near the father whilst girls and infants are with the mother.

The girl in red is a servant. She is carrying a pitcher of small beer and a plate of butter.

As everyone is well dressed, including the servant, we can conclude that the family is reasonably well-off financially. The father might have been part of the burgeoning merchant class of the time.

Note the expensive collars and ruffs everyone is wearing. The historians who wrote the essay accompanying the painting tell us mother’s ruff was considered dated at the time. The other family members are wearing more fashionable collars from the father’s pleated ruff to the latest style of the flat semi-circular collars of the daughter sitting nearest the mother and the servant girl. These are made from fine cambric linen, which was very expensive. The lace on the collars and the mother’s cuff was also costly as are the fabrics which the girls saying grace and the toddler in front are wearing. The red dye in servant girl’s attire must also have been expensive, as certain colours — red, purple and blue — were not commonly worn at the time for this reason.

Also observe the dog’s collar — ornate for the time with its large, diamond-shaped studs.

The historians tell us that the servant girl was likely to have been considered a member of the extended family — a ward of the household, if you will. As such, the father and mother would have felt responsible for her moral and spiritual development.

Death was a common memory for families, and portraits of infants who had died were often commissioned by wealthier families as a memento mori.  We can tell that this family have lost two children because of the two portraits in the background, to the left of the mother.

The curtain recalls a canopy structure under which royalty and dynasties took ceremonial meals. (You can see similar canopies in front of traditional Catholic and Anglican altars today.) Therefore, we can infer that the father wants us to see his household as enduring, prosperous and respectable.

To the left of the curtain is the hearth. You can see a pot suspended over the fire and a cat in front. The sideboard on the far left is sparse, neat and clean, reflecting an orderly household.

The dog is in the forefront and the cat in the background to reflect the dominance of good (dog) over evil (cat). Cats were connected with temptation, witchcraft and Satan. Presumably, the family used the cat as a mouser.

The boy behind the father has his hat in hand. This was a common device of 17th century paintings to indicate respect for authority — doffing the cap, in other words. This is another way for the father to let you know that he is raising well-bred children.

Another indication of the children’s good breeding is the goldfinch which the boy standing in front of the mother is holding. Note that he is smiling and pointing to the little perch on which the bird sits. The historians tell us that goldfinches were common family pets at the time and that they also symbolised virtue. Furthermore, there was also a prevailing notion at the time that birds, animals and children could be trained to be obedient through perseverance and repetition.  So, the little boy is telling us that he and his siblings are being raised in a socially correct way.

The predominance of good over evil is also visible in the small bells on the goldfinch’s perch and in the father’s crossed fingers. Ringing bells were thought to ward off evil as were crossed fingers, which we do today for good luck. (I read years ago that crossed fingers originated as a remembrance of Christ’s cross. The same goes for touching wood for good luck.) The historians say that the portraits of the deceased children show wreaths around their heads comprised of herbs, flowers and flecks of gold — all thought to ward off evil spirits.

The painting also contains biblical references. Observe the open door behind the mother. Outside the door is a tree, which the historians tell us was a frequent family portrait device of the day recalling Psalm 1, particularly verse 3 (emphasis mine):

1Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

 2But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

 3And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

 4The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

 5Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

 6For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

The grapes which the infant sitting on the mother’s lap is holding recall Psalm 128, further accentuating the parents’ fruitfulness and righteousness, in particular the first four verses:

1Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in his ways.

2For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.

3Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.

4Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD.

5The LORD shall bless thee out of Zion: and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life.

6Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel.

The bounty of food is a further reflection of Psalm 128. (I particularly like the absence of vegetables!) Note the variety of meats. Meat was expensive in those days; many people went without or ate fish, one of the reasons why the Catholic Church decreed fish on Fridays — cheap and humble. The ham in the centre of the table and the pie by the girls saying grace have been cut open to reveal their quality. The father would carve the meat at the table. People used silver and pewter tableware at the time; porcelain would appear in the 18th century in Europe.

Other indications of the family’s wealth include the studded Spanish chairs in which the parents are seated as well as the coral bracelets which the mother and the two daughters saying grace are wearing.

Some readers might wonder about the absence of smiles in portraits and old photographs. My mother told me that people believed that their portraits were likely to last many years, therefore, they presented themselves as serious and considered. A smile would be considered frivolous, perhaps forced. A portrait photographer, Rodney Smith, offers this explanation, followed by a lively discussion:

… America has always had its own perculiar fascination with perception, particularly other people’s perception of themselves.

Somehow along the convoluted way of history, the mass of men and women felt it imperative to be viewed with a smile …

For years when I was making portraits of the chieftains of industry, commerce, celebrity, or politicians, their first inclination in front of the camera was to smile. Interestingly enough this was not the case with poets or writers. I would tell them as I am telling you a smile is a false sentiment. I guess one could even refer to it as sentimental. It is a way of saying to someone (not that I am approachable) but rather quite the opposite, that I have something to hide. That behind this fictitious sentiment something else lurks that I do not want to share with you. Whether they realized it or not, it connotes to go away. Rather than inviting the viewer in, it is standing them off. I feel this is the difference between a casual photograph and a portrait.

History has told them otherwise. Everyone (including their friend’s) smiles in photographs. The truth is no portrait of substance has people smiling. Look at the history of painting, Rembrandt, Titian, Goya, Velasquez, Sargent, Vermeer, DaVinci, etc., the subjects gaze to the viewer is neutral at best, neither inviting nor forbidding. It is there for the viewer to see and feel.

Smiling is like much of American popular culture, superficial and misleading. It is part of our vernacular, but it should be expunged in photographs …

Even Frans Hals’s Laughing Cavalier is only smiling.

I, too, would like to return to non-smiling photographs. If I know the people and have evidence that they are not very nice people, the smile becomes artificial, if not distasteful in its hypocrisy.

Furthermore, I would like to return to less smiling in general. The French are good at reserving smiles only for people they know well or for someone cracking a joke. Smiles are special to them — a type of social currency they spend carefully. That’s something I picked up from my time there.

In fact, having lived in London and surrounds — the world’s crossroads (as my mother often said) — for over two decades, I have run across too many people from other cultures who smile when they are lying or do so as an aggressive gesture. The baring of teeth is common to men and women of certain countries. It comes across as a smile but is intended to intimidate and put you in your place.

But I digress.

I hope that you have enjoyed this Flemish portrait and its insight into the history of the family. If you look at it again later, you’ll no doubt see more details you might have missed the first time.

Somehow the other day I happened across an academic paper from Canada discussing a play from the Jacobean era, Thomas Heywood‘s A Woman Killed with Kindness. The themes and the plot are still relevant to our time, particularly in the ongoing Christian debates and diktats on the marital roles of husband and wife.

Heywood began acting and writing at the end of the Elizabethan era and continued into the Jacobean era. A Woman Killed with Kindness is one of his few plays to survive, still be staged today (2011, London’s National Theatre) and written about in academe.

What interested me about the play — thanks to this paper — was the theme of Christian aesceticism post-Reformation and the relationship between man and wife.

Although the play has subplots, the main story revolves around a new member of the mercantile class, Frankford, his wife Anne and Frankford’s friend Wendoll. Frankford welcomes Wendoll into his main residence and invites him to help himself to anything in the house. Wendoll wastes little time seducing Anne during one of Frankford’s absences. Frankford returns home to find the two in flagrante delicto (p. 16).

At the time, it was not unusual for a cuckolded husband to maim or batter his wife for betrayal of their marriage vows and for bringing disgrace upon his house. Instead, Heywood has Frankford banish Anne indefinitely to another of his houses. Once there, Anne takes matters into her own hands and starves herself to death.

Before I arrive at the background to Christian fasting and marriage at that time, there are a few themes and subplots worth exploring on a general level.

One of the scenes leading to a subplot in which Frankford almost loses his fortune in a wager on a hawking (falconry) match, which he engages in during a wedding reception. A wager is an exclusively male pastime, because it has a tangible financial result with the excitement of a clear win or loss (p. 6).

Furthermore, there is the recognition of a changing society. The play, being set in Heywood’s own time, reflects the transition from a feudal to a capitalist society (p. 4) — note that Frankford is from the emerging merchant class (p. 4). Up to this time, protagonists were most often kings, princes or nobility.  Theatre during the Jacobean era approached its audience ever closer. Heywood, an Anglican, wrote for his audience in his affirmation of a Protestant middle class.

Heywood also explores the notion of property and the wife’s role in society. A man’s choice of wife reflects on his personal discernment, taste and social standing. (In some ways, this still exists today, and a prudent courting couple will be careful not to be unequally yoked. I would posit that, by discarding this principle in choosing a spouse in favour of sexual attraction, we find ourselves with a higher number of divorces and broken homes. But I digress.)

Therefore, what role did a Jacobean wife have? Was she a form of property acquisition? Did marriage then transform her from a material commodity to a symbolic one (p. 3)? How does she conduct her own life, if at all, in this context? As Lyn Bennett wrote in ‘The Homosocial Economies of A Woman Killed with Kindness‘ (p. 3):

Since her actual value has already been consumed and is kept by the husband, a married woman is valuable only insofar as she enables the circulation of the husband’s symbolic capital within the homosocial economy. In this way, the subplot of A Woman Killed illustrates woman’s commodity function, while the main plot deals with the complications that ensue once woman passes from a commodifiable asset to a symbolic one. Such complications are, it seems, a result of the ambiguous status of woman, whose lasting value depends upon her being able to serve variously, depending on the context, as the mode of currency for the exchange of either actual or symbolic capital. Because this alternative mode of exchange centres on the circulation of symbolic capital, its terms of trade are unstable. The confusion that results from this ambiguity leads to Anne’s adultery and, ultimately, to her death.

It would seem that this confusion has translated into 21st century Christian marriage and the role of husbands and wives in the tension between complementarians and egalitarians.

Heywood shows Anne taking matters into her own hands and imposing her own moral punishment for her adultery: depriving herself of nourishment.

This brings us to the crux of this post. The self-deprivation of food and drink was hardly a new concept at the time in a Christian context. In Heywood’s time, although Britain was largely Protestant, some Catholic practices and perspectives on aesceticism still existed. Also, the notion of patriarchy in marriage parallels the complementarian outlook in today’s fundamentalist Protestantism and, to a lesser extent, Catholicism.

From Christopher Frey and Leanore Lieblein’s paper, ‘Historicising the Self-Starved Female Body in A Woman Killed with Kindness (p. 16):

When Anne’s adultery is discovered, it is violence against her body that she anticipates as punishment and that she fears … Anne substitutes the active choice to mutilate her own body. Her decision to starve is a refusal of the appropriation and control of her body by the social order represented by Frankford’s hospitality with its overwhelming focus on the consumption of food.

Anne’s decision to take into her own hands the punishment for her adultery is illuminated by the history of female self-starvation and self-mutilation. On the one hand, her decision to fast reintroduces the spirituality of the holy anorexic for whom, from the twelfth to fifteenth century, fasting was associated with penance, humility, and spirituality.44

The following quotes, which Heywood might have had in mind when writing Anne’s character, also come from the paper, emphases mine.

The aescetic Alpaïs of Cudot lived during the Middle Ages and was said to have lived on the Holy Eucharist (p. 2):

And blessed Mary said to [Alpaïs]: ‘Because, dear sister, you bore long starvation in humility and patience, in hunger and thirst, without any murmuring, I grant you now to be fattened with an angelic and spiritual food. And as long as you are in this little body, corporeal food and drink will not be necessary for the sustaining of your body, nor will you hunger for bread or any other food … because after you have once tasted the celestial bread and drunk of the living fountain you will remain fattened for eternity.’

The English moralist and writer John Reynolds (1588?–c.1655) thought that fasting and abstinence were virtuous (p. 3):

John Reynolds in A Discourse upon Prodigious ABSTINENCE writes that ‘Divines, Medicks, Historians, yea, Poets and Legenders have presented the Learned World with a great variety of wonderful Abstinents’. Among those he cites are Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and Saint Augustine. Female fasting, however, became an important phenomenon in the later Middle Ages.

As such, food became (p. 3):

‘an obsessive and overpowering concern in the lives and writings of religious women between the twelfth and the fifteenth century’.3 As the example of Alpaïs cited above suggests, for the medieval woman saint, asceticism was associated with holiness. Appetite and sexual desire were considered urges needing to be tamed, and abstinence from food, or at least food other than the Eucharist, was a preferred means of demonstrating one’s spirituality. The medieval belief in starvation as a means to higher spiritual and moral calling remained current in Heywood’s time.

Bartholomew Batty, author of The Christian Man’s Closet, also recommended fasting (p. 3):

‘the Soule and minde is heavenly: but the Bodie wee haue common with Beastes’.4 Batty advises that because the body is fed corporeally, and the soul is nourished by the word of truth, rejection of substantial food assists one’s consumption and digestion of truth. Women, in particular, he argues, should fast as part of their general education in preparation for being good wives and mothers.

Therefore, Heywood’s Anne (p. 4):

chooses to harm her own body and withdraw her power to nourish as an act of resistance. Her decision to starve herself, a response to a patriarchal society in which food and eating are forms of control, succeeds in compelling her husband’s assent to a redefined marital relationship.

Certainly, that would have been a novel concept for a play during that time. It is unclear how much of that Heywood’s audience, surely comprised of a majority of men, would have absorbed or agreed with.

Anne and Frankford reconcile when he visits her prior to her death. So, in one sense, we could say that Heywood was showing his male contemporaries a via media — a nonviolent banishment of an adulterous wife — as well as a husband’s forgiveness.

Of course, this raises the issue of Anne’s slow suicide. To forfeit one’s soul (the ‘second death’ of Revelation 20 and 21) in a self-imposed passive-aggressive fatal opposition to male hierarchy (a worldly establishment) is not a Christian act.

It should also be said that although aesceticism had Christian elements to it, a number of men between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance did not view women who practised it favourably (p. 6), quite possibly because they might have sensed on some level that women were actively challenging them or exercising autonomy:

Medieval women who starved voluntarily were often considered subject to pride at best, or diabolical possession at worst. As Rudolph Bell has written, whether or not their fasting was of God or the devil would depend on ‘Christendom’s patriarchy, not the girl herself’.14 The imposition of a maledetermined verdict on a woman’s decision to self-starve suggests that starvation could be a contentious issue between the female subject and ruling authorities … Nobody, short of being violent, could actually force a woman to eat.

Only a few decades after Heywood’s death, women’s fasting was seen not as a religious act but as one of pathological female autonomy and also one of medical interest (pp 3, 4), unless, however, it was inspired by Protestant moralists of the day who wrote of women’s delicate natures (p. 7):

the fasting promoted by Struther, Vives, Stubbes and Batty perpetuates the belief that women are weaker creatures of infirm nature, and seems designed to produce a good wife and mother by purging the female flesh to eliminate personal or subjective desire.

The other social element in what we would call Anne’s ‘hunger strike’ was the power this act held. As such, Heywood portrays her in an Amazon-like way in taking charge over her own body. Heywood’s audiences read frequent references to Amazons and feared that women were taking over the world (p. 8). They would have grown up during Elizabeth I’s reign, essentially a masculine one and the root of their anxiety.

Today, we see this with complementarians railing against feminism, nearly as long-lived as Elizabeth I’s reign. If modern-day complementarians had met up with Jacobeans who had lived during the Elizabethan era, they no doubt would have had many common points of discussion.

Just as Jacobean men did, complementarians see women’s assertions of autonomy as direct threats to their authority. One cannot help but think of the enduring myth of the vagina dentata (link for mature audiences only), common to many faiths and cultures since ancient times, whereby a man is left maimed, castrated or even returned to his mother’s womb. It’s an atavistic fear that even passes through the minds of egalitarians, although perhaps on more of a personal than general level.  However, whereas an egalitarian is likely to readily admit he is thinking of it, a complementarian is probably much less likely to do so.

Our ongoing battle of the sexes, therefore, shows no signs of abating. As such, it seems to be an outcome of our fallen nature and one which complementarians would point out God decreed (Genesis 3:15-16):

15And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

 16Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

We continue to wrestle today with how much control lies in ‘rule’. There is no easy solution.

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