Signs of the times

As some will know, my radio station of choice is Radio 4, and as and when I get the time and opportunity (such as when I’m driving) I listen to a variety of programs on it. Sometimes I manage to catch “Thought for the day”, a five minute slot heard around 0745 each weekday as part of the Today program. I have found that over the years my reactions to the various contributions, now becoming increasingly multi-faith, have invariably been a mixed. Strangely though, one of my favorite broadcasters is Rabbi Lionel Blue, who is liberal in theology and openly gay, but ingratiates himself to me because of his warmth and humanity. His contributions favourably contrasts with some well known evangelical speakers, who sadly strike me as being rather too sure and full of themselves!

I managed to catch the broadcast this past Wednesday, and it wasn’t one of those heart-warming homilies you normally get to hear, designed to make you go away feeling good. Instead, the speaker reflected on the present Ukraine crisis and the need to take note of something Jesus said: “And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” Matthew 16:3. One of the points our speaker made was that while many of us can often take a good stab at predicting the weather from the signs we see around us (e.g. red sky at night etc.), too often we do not understand what is happening in the world at large and why, even though the signs are there for any who care to examine them. The struggle, polarisation of positions and taking of sides currently taking place over who has sovereignty over certain territories, that have up to now, following the break up of the Soviet Union, been under Ukraine government rule, is a case in hand.

As one has come to expect, if previous experience is anything to go by, the media hasn’t shone too much light on the whys and wherefores of the current crisis, and instead has concentrated its attention on the power struggles taking place and the inept responses of western governments. While one hopes and expects there won’t be the escalation that took place following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand (leading to the outbreak of World War 1) it can’t be ruled out either, and some might say it is a further step toward the end time final battle where most of us are it might seem mere spectators. It was brought home to me that more people are caught up in the complexities than what we might think when a Lithuanian rough sleeper friend announced he might be returning to join his former army unit because of possible escalations in the region arising out of the current conflicts.

What our speaker brought out, and was something I was barely half aware of up to then, is concerning the complexities based on historical happenings that has helped bring about this crisis. These are the same principles that apply in most others e.g. Iraq and Syria, that are, unsurprisingly, a lot to do with ethnicity and religion. I balance this notion with that of “might is right (even if it isn’t)” that history shows has more often than not been the way of the world, and I have no doubt, based on past events, the current Russian regime wishes to flex its muscle and to strengthen its reigns on power. This contrasts to the simple but arguably naive ideal that it is what is best for the people that should matter most.

Apparently, some parts of the Ukraine were dominated by Roman Catholics, who had seen communism as a threat and tended to side with the Nazis, around the time of World War 2. In other parts, the allegiance was with the Russian Orthodox church (even though the Communists tried to suppress this) and who looked to Russia when it came to taking sides. They paid the price when the Nazis invaded and were thankful to the Russian Army for their eventual liberation. While I have no doubt the story is far more convoluted than this, I am pretty sure these thoughts have influenced present day Ukranians when taking sides on the matter of sovereignty.

I believe it was Billy Graham, who encouraged Christians to read the newspaper in conjunction with the Bible. While my knowledge is not what it should be, it is better than most (which I find somewhat disconsoling). While I could be more diligent in my reading, I do read widely in order to better understand what is going on, while trying to take in opposing perspectives, all of which helps when trying to reach a view. Much of my writings, downloadable via the Writings tab of this website, and implicit in some of my blog posts, has been born out of this desire to comprehend the world I live in (including reading the signs of the times) and the situation I find myself so I can make a difference.

I like to think my reason for doing so is not because of some obscure fixation but rather it is more to do with the simple premise that the doing of which is part of the great command to love our neighbour. It is said: “And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” 1 Chronicles 12:32a. Such men I see as role models, and as far as I’m concerned the reasons for acting in such a way are clear.