In Adam

painI listened to Racheal Denhollander’s witness testimony. It was astonishing as it was harrowing. She spoke with such poise, passion and grace. I found it difficult and uncomfortable to listen to. The problem was I couldn’t quite distance myself from identifying with the man in the dock. He seemed ordinary and I squirmed when she laid out in full, but without prurient detail, the deliberate heinousness of his acts. When she spoke of how he took pleasure in the suffering he was causing, it gripped my stomach.

What disturbed me was that I could take no comfort, no solace in the thought that I was not like him. Of course, I am thinking, “I could never, would never, be able to do what he had done”. The idea was so repulsive, so revolting and detestable. My friends would be quick to bemuse me of that notion “there is no way that you are  like that.”  they would assure me. Some years I did just that, expressed this feeling to a friend over a recent horrific incident that scarred a close friend and the response was just that “But we all know that you are not that kind of person”.  It was good to know that my friend believed that I wasn’t “that kind of person”, but I could see that she didn’t quite understand. Deep down I knew that I was like that man. I belong to the same species. I am made of the same stuff. The reality that evil is not out there but in my own heart is the most terrifying and bleakest thought that there is. I suppose that is why we do our best to hide and cover it up. But it doesn’t always lie low and when it pops up and is exposed, it shakes you to the core. It dissolves all sense of pride and pulls the carpet of self-righteousness from right under your feet. It makes you so aware that the only thing you have is what has been given to you- Grace. It is only by the grace of God that I am not in that dock.

That was why the sermon preached this Sunday in our church was, for me, so helpful and so liberating. It was Romans 5:12-21 grappling with the two states: In Adam and in Christ, with the reference to 1 Corinthians 15:22  “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”  In Adam, I am in the dock in Christ I am free.

And that was why Racheal’s testimony was so amazing. In the context of her damning indictment she was able, and somehow knew, that the only thing she could offer was the Gospel of Jesus Christ: the promise of forgiveness and the hope of peace with God.

Darkest Hour

chruchillNot a film review

Darkest Hour, much like “Dunkirk” in 2017, is a refreshing film, beautiful to watch, clever and powerful. Its gift is that it does not seem to preach, but tells the story. The story in this case of the man who, disliked by almost everyone in his later years, was called upon to the lead his country in possibly its most dangerous time.

I grew up with Churchill. As a child in the 50’s the war years were recent memories for my parents and my mother could spend hours recounting personal stories of the Clydebank blitz. She would describe what it was like to be in a country at war, always had her take on the politics of it and never far away was the admiration for the man. Even my father who found the cigar smoking, heavy drinking, and load mouthed aristocratic antics quite distasteful held a grudging recognition that Churchill was somehow the man for the time and without him the world may well have descended into the “ the abyss of a new dark age” he ominously described in his speech to the House of Commons in June 1940. These words were pregnant with foreboding and with a chill I could feel even as a youngster. So I was imbued with the simple narrative of these times: from its beginnings in Poland to its ending in the South Asian sea, from Chamberlain to Macarthur, from the Bren gun to the atomic bomb and somehow, while terrible things, some of indescribable horror, were done in the course of it all, the cause was just and the end was for the good.

That narrative has taken a severe battering over the years and, while I know that we must always revise orthodox interpretations of history and challenge any complacency over the horrors of war, I cannot help but feel that we can revise it out of its significance and its relevance in understanding where we are today. It is so easy for those of us who have never known anything but peace and who have enjoyed unprecedented levels of freedom and comfort to pontificate and judge the actions of those who lived in a quite different time. We need to have the imagination to think our way into what it was like for them and the film does that brilliantly

The darkest hour, it seems, was the time when a terrible decision had to be made and the nightmare of being the one on whom that decision lay most heavily. What the film seemed to suggest was that Churchill was tortured by the decision and seemed to carry the burden alone. In 1940 the war could have ended with a peace treaty. The route to such a treaty was in place and the negotiations almost begun. Instead the conflict escalated to include the whole world, involving millions of deaths and the most diabolical destruction. The dilemma is a recurring one and strangely one that is hard to debate in the face of polarised views on defence, the protection of interests, defending the oppressed, militarism and pacifism.

The Darkest Hour, to its credit, opens up that vexed question. It doesn’t answer it. It just leaves it there.

Of course it is only a film not a documentary or a detailed historical account. It is a drama. The underground scene, for example, is a very fanciful one but it serves to illustrate how Churchill seemed to connect directly with the people over the normal political channels. The intriguing thing is that the connection was not made by any attempt to be ordinary or be like the “common people”. From his pedigree and privileged background, he couldn’t have been more different. Yet he somehow sensed what the people needed to hear so that resolve could be galvanised and victory achieved

Whatever we think of the man, and in there is no love lost for him in my own city of Dundee, he had that special quality of true leadership, not to shirk from making a fearful decision and to carry the people with him.

I loved the film.

Crawford Mackenzie

Postcards from Haiti 10

GETTING USED TO IT

It as amazing what you can used to. The dismal dribble of water from the tap in the hand basin, the hit and miss electricity, the teasing hint of WiFi, the dust and rubbish, the incessant thumb of dance music pounding out at all times of day and night and even the heat and humidity, which you think your body could accommodate to, given time. But there are some things you just can’t get used to.

IMG_9840I went with the  Pastor and Richard on my first, and only, home visit this time round. The pastor had identified some families who were particularly needy and so we purchased some food, a bag of rice, pinto beans, a tin of tomatoes, some biscuits, stock cubes, spaghetti and a jug of vegetable oil and took them to the home of a member of the church. I didn’t hear her full story but learned enough to know that her situation was desperate. We drove through the dirt streets, tightly packed with dwellings constructed from wood, corrugated iron, tarpaulin and rags and sometimes cardboard. It was shocking. We passed an open space piled with stinking garbage and smouldering fires, picked over by goats and chickens with a desultory donkey tied to a burnt out tree. Where there were flood drains at the side of the road, these were always full of rubbish, plastic bottles and polystyrene food containers. The smell at times was overpowering with slow moving and stagnant grey water and a strange black mould growing.

It was late in the afternoon, with darkness approaching and the air was tense. A group of young men gathered at the corner showing off the one possession they could boast of, an enormous speaker blasting out music. “We may have nothing, but we have noise” was the message. We left the car and followed the lady to her home up a narrow lane with all eyes on us and the odd cry of “Blanco”. When the children shouted to us in this way, it was with a smile and laugh. We laughed too. Now it carried just a hint of menace. There was suspicion in the eyes and a threatening body language. The home was the size of a garden shed divided into four for four families. We followed her round to the back squeezing through a gap in the corrugated iron. She parted a torn curtain and we deposited the food on the dirt floor. There was only a moment to take in the scene, a bench, a plastic bucket with clothes and a dish of beans. We spoke for a moment or two and then left. We didn’t pray with her and I am not sure why, but the pastor was anxious for us to be going. “This is a dangerous place” he said. I did wonder if picking her out for this food parcel might make her life even more difficult or if some of the watching eyes would pounce once we had left. I prayed that they wouldn’t. Earlier Richard said the visits are the best part. They were the worst. I was seeing things that I didn’t want to see.

Last night I slept in a hotel close to the airport transiting through the Dominican Republic. It was not the one I had booked but because of a mix up of dates the taxi driver found me another. I had a room to myself almost 10 times as big as the ladies home. (I measured it). I had free access to an all-day buffet, eat and drink as much as I wanted, beer and soft drinks in the fridge, a choice of three swimming pools and a private beach.

IMG_1786Watching the Caribbean dawn break spectacularly through the parting clouds of petrol blue, chromium and gold, I knew this grotesque divide was one that I could never ever get used to.

Postcards from Haiti 5

The Big Question

IMG_9839This is a great team. Richard, Ross and Vic were the trailblazers making contact with Pastor Rolex Poisson and his church following the devastating earthquake in 2010. They simply asked if they could help and under the banner of Mission International visited, offered practical help and over the past seven years established a bond with teams, visiting, sometimes three times in the one year. The whole issue of helping poor communities in the world (Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere) is a vexed one. The tales of situations where aid makes matters worse are countless: teams coming to plaster and paint schools when there are good local artisans who could use the work, water pumps installed to villages that break down and the village women resort to carrying water for miles, the white man’s money buying some feel good merit being parachuted in and airlifted out and the crippling effect of aid like American rice which kills off the nation’s own rice growers who cannot compete with the low cost of the imported grain. These stories alone would make you reluctant to help at all, but that is not an option for the guys on this team. There is a sacrificial commitment that is humbling. They come at some cost to themselves and their families. The clear principle is simply one of enabling and encouraging the local church in its ministry within this benighted community. I think that is the right way. The work that is done will be by Haitians it will be the resource that they identify and they will own it.

Paul and myself who joined previous teams together with Dave make up the remainder of the team. In the long spells when nothing much is happening we sit and share our experiences and wrestle with the big questions laced with raw Irish, Yorkshire and Glasgow humour. These were special times. We were often expressing diverse cultural and political views, sharing differing theological standpoints, arguing about conspiracy theories, nationalism and Margaret Thatcher, yet all with a sense that when it came to what really mattered we were one. In a very short time I felt a wonderful bond was being fostered

A recurring theme of our discussions focused on our shared dismay at the sustained attack on the family in our society back home and the destruction of this singular foundational block of our society. It’s not new of course but we felt that the destruction was progressive and accelerating. There seemed to be an increasing sense that the civilisation known as Western Christianity will follow the other empires that preceded it and simply collapse in a spectacular manner. The possibility that somehow it will morph into a liberal world of justice, peace and equality, adrift from its Greco/Roman/Judeo/ Christian foundational base, seemed to me belonging to a fantasy of wishful thinking. It was against this back cloth of gloom that what we saw in Haiti sparkled with hope. When Richard declared to the 400 plus at the early church service. “You may think that you are poor, but you are rich” the congregation responded with a loud and assured “Amen” you could see it their faces brimming with confidence “Yes we are rich”. Europe may well be descending into a new dark age but there are places in the world where there is hope of a new dawn ripe with opportunities grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Postcards from Haiti 4

IMG_9769We finally crossed the border at about 5 in the afternoon. But it was not without incident. The form filling and checks at the Dominican Border were relatively smooth and things were trundling along ok at the Haitian border until a big row blow up. There was a lot of shouting and gesticulation and the official behind the desk refused to hand over the passports. He decided he wasn’t being given the proper respect and this was the time to take a break. He walked out of the office, sat down in a seat in the yard, plugged his earphones in and stared ahead in protest. There was nothing we could do. There was more raised voices with others now joining in and tension rising by the minute. Then, just as suddenly, everything calmed down, we picked up our passports and moved off to our accommodation in Hotel Ideal.

The hotel was well known to most of the team and I had stayed here once before, so there was a comforting quaintness about it with it’s eccentric services, and intermittent electricity supply and Aircon. There was a hint of wifi but not enough to be of any use to me. Somehow the others seem to be texting and whatsapping. I seem to have technological dark cloud following me. Still we had finally arrived, we could relax and get ourselves settled in for the week ahead. The journey itself is a big part of being here and so it was good to get that over.

Postcards from Haiti 3

The Bus to Dajabon

IMG_1734The bus left the Caribe station in Santo Domingo at 6.30 am, but by 6.00 most passengers were already in their seats patiently waiting. There were bags everywhere. A guy was helping his half paralysed brother into a seat with a loving tenderness that was touching. It was noisy with loud animated conversations but above the melee was one woman who was standing at the front speaking very loudly. She was standing under the reading light and the spotlight effect illuminated her gesturing hands. I couldn’t see who she was talking too but it sounded very passionate and urgent.  It took some time before I realised that she was praying. Praying for our journey and giving praise to God with a “Gloria a Jesus, Hallelujah!” It was the point in my trip when I truly relaxed.

Postcards from Haiti 1

Santo Domingo

IMG_1781There is always an anxious moment when you are finally released from the maternal care of the airline transit system, where you are told where to go and what to do, what to fill in and where to sign and while it is quite humiliating being herded around like cattle, zigzagging as if impersonating a snake, there is something comforting in it. So when finally discharged the thrill of being free doesn’t last all that long and is quickly replaced with a new anxiety. It is a strange wild and different world out there. It is outside the garden gate and all the reassuring sounds and smells, the signals the signs, the time and food and language engender an irrational unsettling fear. I was a proud solo traveller suddenly feeling not so proud and just a little foolish. Wondering how I was going to negotiate taxis, trust myself to the dark unlit streets, being driven in a rattling cab with thumping music at great speed through scary traffic, a much longer distance than I expected. The fears of course dissipated when the driver true to his word got me there. A hotel with clean sheets and the possibility of sleep 22 hrs after leaving London. When I paid the driver he called me his friend and gave me a big hug. That was when I knew I had really been ripped off.

Crawford Mackenzie