This is a painting by Ernie Boyett of the badly damaged B-17 being escorted back towards England by the German ME-109 fighter. The German pilot was Franz Stigler and the American pilot was Charlie Brown.

This is a painting by Ernie Boyett of the badly damaged B-17 being escorted back towards England by the German ME-109 fighter. The German pilot was Franz Stigler and the American pilot was Charlie Brown.

I recently received an email from a friend which tells the story of an Allied B-17 bomber during the war which, after a mission, had been very badly hit. One engine was dead, the tail and rear section severely damaged, nose shot up, the tail gunner wounded and the remains of the top gunner all over the top of the fuselage. They struggled on, hoping they would make it back to England.

To add to their problems, they flew over a Luftwaffe airfield. A German fighter pilot was scrambled and sent up to shoot it down. When he reached the plane, so amazed was he that it was still flying and seeing that it could no longer really defend itself, he made a different decision.  Instead of shooting it down, he indicated by hand signals that they should either land and surrender or fly to Sweden. The plane did neither, so he escorted it back to the English Channel and, with a final salute to the British pilot, waved it home to England. Many years later, the two pilots met and reminisced about the incident.

When asked why he did not shoot it down, the German pilot said “I didn’t have the heart to finish those brave men. I flew beside them for a long time. They were trying desperately to get home and I was going to let them do that. I could not have shot at them. It would have been the same as shooting at a man in a parachute.

At the bottom of the story, someone had written these words.This is a true story. This was back in the days when there was some kind of honour in being a warrior. They proudly wore uniforms, and they didn’t hide behind women and children, nor did they plant bombs amidst innocent crowds.”

Both the German pilot’s comment and the observer’s comment had me thinking. I began to wonder if we were really seeing the full picture here.

The German pilot said he didn’t have the ‘heart’ to shoot them down. I realise this is a typical British turn of phrase (and may just be a loose translation of what he really said), but I would say that the very reason he didn’t shoot them down was because he DID have ‘heart’. He had compassion for them in their moment of need. In fact it was more than that; he actually disobeyed direct orders to shoot the plane down and lied to his superior officer about it on his return. Every cell in his head must have been screaming at him to shoot it down (after all, they were the enemy and this was war) but his intuitive compassionate self won out and he let them go. In fact he saluted them as he turned to head home.

The comment at the end suggests this was an ‘honourable’ thing to do, and I agree, but I wonder if the writer and I are singing from the same song sheet? If it was the other way round and it was the American pilot who had aided the German pilot back to Germany, would the writer also see it as an ‘honourable’ action? Or would it be seen as an act of betrayal by a weak pilot?

Equally, the comment about warriors who “..didn’t hide behind women and children, nor did they plant bombs amidst innocent crowds”  is an interesting one as it supposes that ‘old fashioned’ war was noble and there were no intended deaths of civilians. How do we then explain the bombing of London and Coventry by the Germans and the bombing of Dresden by the Allies in which they killed as many as 135,000 people? It was the single most destructive bombing act of the entire war (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

War is dreadful in all its guises, whether a war fought between armies or a war fought by small radical groups using guerrilla tactics. Think of the child soldiers in Sierra Leone, sometimes forced to kill their own parents. Think of the ruthless killings in Syria of both children and adults in many of the outlying villages by the Syrian army.

War is never nice. Granted, there are moments when owing to very particular circumstances, a nation must go to war to stop an aggressor but make no mistake, war does not create solutions. It does not solve problems. Of course, as in the case of Gaddafi, it may seem to solve a problem but one only needs to look at what is happening in Algeria and Mali now to realise that the effects of the allied effort in Libya are not over. There is a long way to go before we can say the war is finally finished.

Most important of all is the recognition that if fighting breaks out people will die, whether soldiers or civilians; and those that do not die but have been directly affected by the fighting will never forget it. For example, in our efforts (as the west) to rid ourselves of Al Qaeda through violent means, we actually create more anger and more young recruits. There has to be a better way.

Our German pilot was a remarkable man. He had the compassion and also the courage to make a different decision, and one for which he could have been court-martialled at the very least, if not shot. We need more of his type in our world today and it is not just on the battle field that we need to show compassion and courage. We need to ask ourselves, whose rules are we following and why? Why do we think it honourable to be a warrior? How about it being honourable to be a peacemaker? How about it being honourable to stand up when injustice is being done rather than turning a blind eye?

I was a soldier and I loved my time in the army but I am not convinced in any way that it is the only honourable pursuit. There is an Ojibwa Indian saying, ‘no tree has branches so foolish as to fight amongst themselves’. We are all here together, so I suggest it is in all of our best interests to find common rather than uncommon ground and compassion is a great starting point.


This is a great post and well worth reading.

The Phraser

The question of privacy is a disturbing one, one that takes us right back to the Garden of Eden.

The need for privacy is an adult concept.  It comes with the awareness of sin and evil – our own, which we know about and wish to hide – and that of others which we thrill to see laid bare, and yet expect to be protected from.  It is the same for all of us.

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Mary Magdalene Picture.smallPicture 1; Mary Magdalene

As I sat in our church waiting for the Christmas service to begin, I reflected on the recent decision about women bishops made by the General Synod. What, I asked myself, is happening to the church?

The Christian Church was formed around the works of Jesus Christ, an extraordinary teacher, but it wasn’t only what he said that was important. The Jewish society into which he was born was very male dominated and women had certain roles they were allowed to fulfil in life and no more. Men were allowed the privilege of education, women were not. As we know, this domination over women has continued throughout our history and it was only this last century that women were allowed the right to vote in the UK. There are of course still many societies across the world in which women remain culturally, if not legally bound to live a heavily restricted and controlled life.

In these societies, the very concept of a women bishop is so foreign that if the Church of England Synod were to adopt this proposal, they would be likely to excuse themselves from the Anglican Communion. Their cultures would simply not allow them to support such a proposal. All of this plays perfectly into the hands of the traditional UK and USA church membership who don’t want change. Change is scary. Thus the vote was lost and the church remains trapped in an outdated mindset. It is interesting is it not, that the head of the Anglican Communion, the Supreme Governor, is a woman.

Christ on the other hand ignored these rules. His most important confidante was Mary Magdalene and he treated her as an equal as he did his mother and all other women around him. And yet if we read the Bible, we are given a very different picture. The scribes reduce her to being a prostitute, a way of putting her back in her place, a way of once again reducing the female to her position in society; one over which men have control.

If we are truly following the example and leadership of Christ and not following the prejudices of society, why then are we even contemplating this issue? Surely women should have been in the church hierarchy since the birth of Christianity?

This gives rise to another important question. Why do we need such a large Communion of churches in the first place?

Do we need such a huge church?

 The Anglican reach spreads far across the world and like the Catholic Church, it is more than just a place of worship. Underneath the spiritual message, the church is an extremely powerful, wealthy and political machine. It is powerful and it has influence. Yet in order to keep its power it must keep its flock together. In doing so however they are having to compromise, forcing their entire community to slow down, a dangerous position to occupy in such a fast moving world. The larger it is, the more immovable it becomes.

Why not allow the church to split up more succinctly than it has done so far, keeping the various bodies together in a looser union (a bit like the Commonwealth), where each church is autonomous? This way each branch of the church could mould into the local culture and develop at its own pace, without the need to conform to the hierarchy of a main church body. It would then be much more in touch with the people who form its core.

Yes, the church would lose some of its powerful political influence but should religion have that extraordinary power in the first place, where it can be misused? We have certainly seen this misuse throughout history and indeed we still see it today in countries like Iran. True spirituality is an individual journey, guided by an inner desire to connect with the divine. No amount of church going or pulpit pounding will change the heart that is not ready. Fear has been widely used as a tool to lever people into church with the threat of hell and damnation (and many still believe this) but whilst it may increase the number of participants, it does not increase the number with a real desire to embrace their spirituality for the sheer joy of doing so.

Perhaps it is time the church’s entire approach to spirituality should change. Too much time is spent on activities that really have no relevance at all to real spirituality. It is still too mired in history, still too tied to the original structure and purpose of the Roman church.

In 312 AD, Constantine converted to Christianity. This was not for spiritual reasons but practical reasons; it became a way to unify his people and consolidate his power. Its structure was moulded in such a way that people were held in awe by the huge temples and the finery of the church leaders and fearful of the threat of hell if they did not comply. Heretics were burnt publically at the stake. This was certainly not a time of spirituality.

The challenge we face is that our consciousness limits our future. It creates a tunnel* out of our past experiences (and with that I include our history) and continues that tunnel through our present awareness. Out of this tunnel of what is probable, our mind projects forward to construct our future but the tunnel is constrained and limited, so it falls short of what we really can be and do in the future. Our church leaders are trying to construct their present and future as a continuation of their past. Perhaps it is time to step out of the tunnel, re-examine the whole concept of spirituality and move forward with a new and vital message, a message of love. At the moment the symbol of Christianity is Christ suspended in an agonising position, dying on a cross. It speaks of violence, pain, anger and the abuse of power.

The ‘symbol’ of Christ on the cross was only adopted in the third century AD when Christians were being ruthlessly persecuted and killed across the Roman world for their beliefs. That is where the idea of Christians being prepared to “die for their faith as Christ himself had done” was first promulgated as a way of keeping their flock together. It worked and Christianity survived. The ‘symbol’ was adopted by Constantine and remains the same today.

Times have changed radically and I would like to suggest a new image should be adopted for the church, one that speaks of love; an image of Christ and Mary Magdalene standing together, reflecting the balance of the male and female energy and of course the equality between men and women. This is what Christ himself spoke of and how he treated everyone around him. All were equal in his eyes and in the eyes of God.

Now that really would be a powerful message for our time.

Jeshua & Mary Magdalene

Picture 2; Christ and Mary Magdalene

* Part of the wording and the concept of the tunnel comes from the book ‘The Power of the Magdalene’ by Stuart Wilson and Joanna Prentis.

Celebrations as Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed M...

Celebrations as Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi announced Egypt’s president (Photo credit: Jonathan Rashad)

The last couple of years have seen the most extraordinary events in North Africa spilling into Egypt, Libya and then onwards into the Middle East. It has of course moved across the globe in various different guises but certainly that is where the main thrust of revolutionary action has occurred.

The battle rages on in Syria and an International political game of football is being played out with both the rebels and the Syrian Government each being funded and supported by different regimes with different agendas. This will not be solved with ease and whether the Assad Government survives or collapses will depend largely on deals made between powers outside Syria’s borders.

Egypt on the other hand was different. The Government was brought down by its own people and it happened with an extraordinary momentum. More than that, the revolution had no leader. There was no single person or no particular group for the Government to arrest or fight and thus they were unable to contain it.

What were the Egyptians railing against? Oppression, corruption and autocracy. What did they want? Freedom.

They wanted freedom from domination, freedom to choose their own leaders and freedom of speech. It was a very strong rallying cry and came from the heart of a people who had for years had to tolerate a system of Government they found oppressive.

Yet now, two years later, their newly elected President Mohammed Morsi has granted himself extraordinary powers which cannot be revoked by any authority, including the judiciary, until the new constitution has been ratified and a fresh parliamentary election held. He has in effect taken on even more power than the previous president held. More than that, despite overwhelming International condemnation, the Muslim Brotherhood are holding firm. Indeed, they have rallied their supporters who are publically supporting the President’s actions and they have come out onto the street in droves.

Why have the people done this? What has changed their opinions so much in the months since the revolution? How many of the same people who backed the revolution two years ago and were willing to risk their lives in order to do so are the same people who are now answering the rallying cry of the Muslim Brotherhood?

Freedom is frightening
As we grow up, wherever that may be and in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves, we attach ourselves to certain key pegs which in turn become the ‘anchors’ of our existence. For example our parents, our siblings, our homes, our family history, our culture, our race, our religion, and our class are obvious ones.

To feel anchored is to feel secure and yet being too anchored limits our freedom. Freedom is achieved when we release the anchors and become ourselves, free of the need to ‘fit in’ to a certain attitude and way of life. It frees us to make genuine choices. Whilst this sounds easy, for most people this is very unsettling and requires risking the very essence of what we feel makes us who we are.

In Egypt, with the revolution won and the prospect of a new ‘free’ future ahead, questions began to emerge about what that future meant. The longer it was in flux, the longer the insecurity hovered and perhaps sub-consciously, the insecure turned towards the known anchor of religion. Enter, the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus, much to the surprise of the west, the Egyptian electorate turned towards a political leadership that is likely to be anything but democratic. The Brotherhoods’ credo is “Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.”

There are those in power across the globe (not just Governments) who wish for the status quo in the Middle East to continue as is. They may publicly applaud the revolution, but their anchors for their own continued success remain hooked to a ‘no change’ scenario so make no mistake, the Muslim Brotherhood will be well supported from outside Egypt’s borders.

This is not about religion, it’s about anchors. The older we get, the less likely we are to change as there is comfort in the known, good or bad. The future therefore lies in the hands of young people and we must do our very best to help them feel less tied to their anchors than we are, to help them make sensible choices about their lives and their futures rather than feel obliged to follow certain paths simply because we their parents (and their parents before them) have chosen to do so. That way they will be freer to make wise choices, unhindered by the anchors of their past.

Henri Nouwen

I was recently reminded of the extraordinary work of the priest Henri Nouwen who wrote several very inspiring books, in that he was reaching out to those who were searching for their own personal relationship with God. He was an extraordinary communicator and taught for several years at Harvard University in the USA.

What Nouwen seemed to understand was that God does not see us as separate from him. Nouwen saw us as a part of God. He clearly understood, in a way that most regular Christians do not, that Jesus Christ was not alone as the son of God. We are all sons and daughters of God.

On the question of ‘who are we?’, Nouwen breaks it down into three categories in which, in this 3 dimensional world we are constantly trapped, not realising that there is a completely different picture if we would only slow down and allow ourselves the pleasure of tuning into ourselves.

1) I am what I do. (Job, charitable work etc)
2) I am what others say about me. (As long as it is good, we are happy. As soon as it is unpleasant or hurtful, it affects us, sometimes dramatically.)
3) I am what I have. (family history, family members, possessions).

He calls this a process of ‘survival’ and despite what we have achieved, what we own and what people say about us, we may still, when we come to die, be wondering who we really are and why we are here.

I wonder how many of us have grown up doing what others have suggested we do? For example, did your parents shove you in a certain direction when you were younger? Were you encouraged to follow the family ‘route’ and be a soldier, banker, solicitor, shopkeeper or anything else? Did you actually have the chance to explore what it was that you really wanted to do? It is in finding out who you really are and what makes you tick that allows you to blossom and flourish with a vibrancy that comes from deep within.

One of my favourite quotes explains this very simply. It reads as follows;

“When I reach the next world, they will not ask me why I was not Moses. They will ask me why I was not Zuzia”.
Rabbi Zuzia of Hannipol

Nouwen recognised that there was more to this spiritual relationship with God. “Claim your belovedness…what is said of Jesus is said of you…you and I are the beloved sons and daughters of God…claim it…make it your own”.
Part of understanding that we are more than we think we are is realising that there is a separate part of ourselves, which is best described as the ‘higher self’. This is the part directly connected with God. This is the part of us that, if we claim it, we will realise that we are bigger, more capable and really quite extraordinary creators, that we can achieve so much more than we could ever imagine and in so doing, help others along their own personal journeys.

The world is changing around us. The energy is changing for the better and the ‘credit crunch’ is all part of this massive adjustment. This crisis is part of a timely adjustment that is occurring globally which is seeing new changes that include amongst other things the collapse of the age old financial power houses, the calling to account of the ruling elite (UK parliamentarians) and the election of a seemingly inexperienced democratic President in the USA who has a propensity for thinking “out of the box” and is an Afro-American. No-one could have imagined any of this 5 years ago.

Now is the time to seek out who you really are and where necessary, adjust your priorities. Nothing could be more satisfying than to be doing something which genuinely comes from the heart, that part of us where the ‘higher self’ resides.

Henri Nouwen can be seen speaking of this on the following link. It is well worth watching.

In recent weeks we have been beset by varying scandals of one kind or another which have galvanised the popular press, mesmerised the general public and caused deep concern at the highest levels of Government.

All of them involve acts by individuals which, when considered in the grand scheme of things, are unacceptable to society. Let’s list a few of the recent incidents, some still under investigation. The Jimmy Savile scandal, the BBC (several scandals of its own), a former Anglican Bishop (child abuse), allegations of gas price fixing, Lance Armstrong and NIKE (misuse of drugs), the Bank Rate fixing scandal (corporate collusion), the Waterhouse enquiry (North Wales child abuse, allegations of a cover-up even in the report), the Hillsborough disaster (a massive cover-up by police), Denis Macshane MP ( MP’s fiddling expenses) and of course, many others.

Throughout history there have always been crooks, gangsters, child abusers, rapists, fraudsters and the like. This is nothing new. They existed in ancient Rome, in Jerusalem at the time of Christ and exist pretty much anywhere else in the world at any time.

But whilst we are happily caught up in the drama of all these scandals, tut -tutting the actions of all these people, perhaps we are failing to notice the wider issue, something that has been prevalent in our society for years. All of these people were/are active within organisations. In most of these cases, as is slowly being revealed, others within these organisations were aware of the perpetrators’ actions. They were aware, and yet they did nothing.

In some cases, these people aided and abetted the perpetrators, for example in ‘covering up’ their actions. For some there would have been a financial incentive. For others, their loyalty to the perpetrators and /or the reputation of the organisation would have ‘encouraged’ their silence.

In the case of NIKE, the senior management had been alerted and made aware of Lance Armstrong’s misuse of drugs for some years but it seems were driven by corporate greed to retain him as one of their key advertising faces, only dropping him when it became pragmatic to do so, with of course deepest apologies all round.

In the case of the church, until recently, perpetrators have generally been brought to account by the church hierarchy though often little appears to have been done beyond a cursory slap of the wrist as these people were often able to return to work as active priests, where once again they could prey on vulnerable people. Every effort was made to keep such incidents out of the public eye. Thankfully things have changed.

In their recently published book “Click Click”, the Kavanagh sisters talk of the systematic abuse they suffered at the hands of their father over many years in Ireland. What remains the most tragic aspect of this story is that when they finally plucked up the courage to tell their local priest about it, he did absolutely nothing. He turned a blind eye. This has been the way of things for far too long.

A change in morality

In his book “Screw Business as usual”, Richard Branson said “Never has there been a more exciting time for all of us to explore this great next frontier where the boundaries between work and purpose are merging into one, where doing good, really is good for business.”

What Branson is alluding to is that simply DOING (i.e. doing whatever is necessary to become financially successful) is simply not good enough any more. For far too long people have had two sets of morals – one for business and one for Sunday best. There is a huge consciousness shift taking place on the planet and people are beginning to stand up and fight for what they believe is right. They are no longer prepared to accept double-standards. Both individual and corporate values now need to be working off the same song sheet. People are finally beginning to wake up and realise that we can’t live this life of moral duality any longer.

As a result, and as more people have the courage to stand up, so institutions and organisations of considered great standing have been shaken to the core by revelations from within. What we are seeing is a reassessment of the place of moral values within our society. Institutions and indeed the culture within these institutions is being challenged and rightly so and it is time they put their houses in order. Life is not all about how much money we have or the reputation of the organisation at the cost of our own personal values. That is living a lie. That is the basis for a corrupt society and one we have been participating in up until now.

So let us welcome these changes. Let’s set aside the drama a little and think beyond the scandals. There will always be rough diamonds in our society but what matters is whether we allow them to get away with it (or worse still become participants), when we know it is wrong and against our own moral values and standards. Let’s stand up and be counted and follow the lead of those who are already standing tall. They are beacons of light in a rapidly changing world.


The very fact that you are reading this suggests that you are on a journey of discovery – a journey that has perhaps already had a number of twists and turns and bumpy bends. No journey of discovery is easy. It would be convenient if it was all so abundantly clear immediately, but it is not.

The journey itself is by its very nature, winding. Although it is our own personal journey it is a fact that we generally allow others to dictate to us what we should believe, where we should go and how we should feel. Indeed, most of it is done with the very best of intentions by those we love i.e. our parents, siblings and friends.

What happens is we tend to segregate ourselves based on our religions, our race, our wealth status and our friends. It is obvious why. We feel safe in our particular environment. Because we do things in a certain way, speak in a certain way, go to a certain school or have a particular type of family heritage, we consider others who do not fit into the same categories as different. They are a potential threat to our confidence (the mental space in which we are comfortable) and thus our personal security, and so we either avoid others or keep them at arms length. Yet, the further along the journey we travel, the more we realise that our own journey is different even to those of our closest friends. It is when we start realising this that some of us start to question if the road we are on is in fact the right one. But how can we tell whether the direction we have taken is the right one?

Here I wish you to imagine yourself standing about 50 metres back from a wall. You are on a path which leads directly to a door in the wall, straight ahead of you. The path in front is slightly unkempt, but still easy to see as a path. As you look up the path, you notice there are many other paths leading off the main path to the left and to the right, and each leads to a different door in the wall. All of them are wide, well managed with flowers beds and gardeners attending them. The only path which seems slightly unkempt is the one going straight ahead.

One of those well maintained paths is the one you have most likely been ‘guided’ into, i.e. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or any other. Now walk forward, down that path (the one that is most familiar to you) and start walking along it. The walk is pleasant and comforting. Someone welcomes you at the entrance. Indeed you have walked down this way many times before and you probably know the gardeners very well.

When you finally reach the door, have a close look at it. The door represents your religion, the doorway to God. This door is old and it has been meddled with many times over the years. There are old hinges, new hinges, broken hinges, broken handles and new ones screwed in to take their place. The door itself is ill-fitting, slightly tilted and jam-wedged against the wall.

Now open the door. You will have to give it a bit of a tug to get it lose, and with creaking hinges, it opens. Beyond it is a path, only this time the path is heavily encroached upon by undergrowth. This is your pathway to God, and if you take it, you will eventually get there. It will at last and after quite some time, open out onto an open, gently winding path that stretches into the distance. The trouble is, the path ahead of you is very wiggly with much hindrance along your way and several very dark and frightening bits to go through before you get to the junction of the paths. All this hindrance is the dogma created by organised religion and their human hierarchies.

May I suggest you close the door and walk back down to the central path from whence you started? If you look down all the other paths that go off the main one, you will find that they are all very similar to the one you have just been down; an old creaky patched-up door and a pathway beyond it with much undergrowth encroaching.

May I suggest you brave the slightly unkempt main path that runs ahead of you and approach the door in the wall? The path may be slightly unkempt but it is firm, and natural flowers and trees abound all round. When you reach the door, look closely at it. It is old, far older than all the others by miles, but it looks fresh, feels fresh and the hinges and the handles are originals. A light seems to pour through the keyhole as if there is bright sunlight on the other side.

Now open the door. The door opens easily, and there, stretching ahead of you is a gently winding path that leads ahead. All around is warm and light. The path is easy to follow and at each bend, a wooden bench appears for you to sit on, relax and connect to your own higher self which will guide you on to the next stage. Each stage of the journey is a new experience, with more to learn and a chance to recognise your own divine nature, to accept and welcome in your own divinity.

Along the main path, you will see other paths occasionally emerge from the sides. They are the paths from the other doors that finally lead to this main path. They have travelled a long, challenging and circuitous route to reach it and at last emerge onto the true inner path to God. Once they are on the main path however, they are finally on their way home. Just as you are, or hopefully soon will be. The journey home to God.

The next stage of your journey is up to you.