Theophilus (1)

It wasn’t my choice to be born. In fact I had no say in the matter. But in a sense I’m glad that I was. Because no matter what other people think of the state of the world, as far as I am concerned it is an exciting place to be.

Yes, there is much doom and gloom, there is hatred and wars, and many people appear to be wandering aimlessly, yet I find life full of meaning and purpose. Indeed even in a world full of misery and pain, for me, the world is a wonderful place.

Despite that I can’t help thinking of all the infinite possibilities that could have prevented my birth. After all, my parents could easily have never met; they could have married other people; or the time of my conception could have been different. And in each of those scenarios I would never have been born.

So was it coincidence that I came into existence? Or was it God?

Well over the years I’ve considered both of those possibilities. At times I have dismissed any idea of a plan, or even the idea that there was someone or something behind creation. But even though in my younger days, at times, my theology may have been a bit shaky, for most of my life I have had few doubts about the existence of a creator.

Of course, Sunday School helped. So too did Jucos (Junior Covenanters), the church choir, and the church youth group. At times their value, for me, may have been questionable, but nevertheless they did (theoretically) provide a constant reminder of God.

Now complicating all this further, is that I was not planned. Indeed as my mother had already given birth to three children, having a fourth was the last thing on my parents’ minds. So having already had their family, my mother went to some pains to avoid a fourth pregnancy—she adopted a new contraceptive device. And yet six months after the birth of her third child, I was conceived; I was on my way.

Now mathematics has always been my strong point. It is what I excelled at at school. But even I cannot begin to calculate the odds of being conceived under such circumstances. So if the world just evolves, and things happen at random, what are the odds of me, being conceived at a particular time? More than I can possibly imagine.

So do I believe that I came about by random? No! Do I believe that a creator was somehow involved? Yes. But accepting that opens up a whole new series of questions about my conception and birth. Such as “Why me?”, “Why am I so special to God?”, and “What did God have in mind when he chose me to be part of his creation?”

Of course, these are not simple questions; they are certainly not ones that I could have resolved in my mother’s womb. And yet the Judaeo-Christian tradition is that from conception—even before conception—God knew me. Even in the womb he considered me special. And that is something I don’t think I will ever really understand—well not in this lifetime. Indeed I will probably need to wait until Judgement Day to really know why.

So there I was in my mother’s womb, despite the deliberate act of my parents to prevent me from being born—but at the same time, intimately known by my creator. And at least some of the consequences of my conception wouldn’t have taken long to be realised.

To be continued …

Posted: 12th June 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis

Theophilus (2)

A little over nine months after my conception, I made my entrance into the world. And what an odd place I found it too. Because despite my unplanned arrival, I knew that I was special to God. And yet my relationship with God wasn’t as straight forward as I would have hoped. Indeed I spent a lot of time trying to find out what it meant. And I found the whole process totally confusing.

There were two Christian churches in the area where I lived. A modern one on the top of the hill, and an old historic one a little further away (in the opposite direction) in a valley. And much of my time was spent at the latter. The problem was that the church hall was also used by other groups, and I found that I got terribly confused between what were church activities and what were not.

Now I know that I attended Sunday School. I also know that my mother was involved in some sort of Red Cross meetings. But in my early days I found it hard to distinguish between the two. Yes, the meetings may have been at different times and the programmes very different, but they were in the same hall, and to my small undeveloped mind I couldn’t separate the two.

Of course I was very young, and I am probably doing my mother a great injustice, but added to the confusion was the idea that my mother was sometimes keen on certain activities, and sometimes she wasn’t. Indeed I cannot recall my mother sticking very long to any of them at all.

As a consequence, I have memories of being at Sunday School some of the time. I also remember being at other programmes. But a lot of the time it seems to me, that because of my age, I was simply where my mother had chosen to be.

So with no real commitment to anything, my early childhood swung from Sunday School in the old church, to other activities, to perhaps nothing at all. Much of the time was in the old church, and some of it (i.e. Jucos) was in the new church.

It’s not really surprising then, that after the fire closed the old church down, and I had gone through the obligatory Confirmation, I gave the church away. Why? Because I had no real belief in anything the church had to offer at all.

Now I may have had a sense of the existence of God, but the one place I hadn’t found him was in the church. Which was surprising really, because even about the age of eight I swallowed a marble, which got stuck in my throat. I nearly died, but even then I was aware of God’s presence. Which is probably why, despite everything, I continued my search for God.

In my high school we had minister who taught us religious knowledge. But all I can remember is his fiery temper and his love for teaching memory verses. I also remember joining the youth group at the vicarage—but my recollection of that is little more than that of a social group.

So when two Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked at the door, I was intrigued. I wanted to know more. My parents were out, and so felt free to talk. I even bought one of their publications. Unfortunately when the Witnesses returned my whole family was at home, and I didn’t want to let on what had happened. So that put an end to that search.

In time, though, my father got involved in a youth group at the old church. But the group had no religious content whatsoever.

Now why he got involved is still a mystery to me. After all, he wasn’t particularly good around children. And I have only a memory of him being in church on two occasions. Indeed Freemasonry was his religion. So at the time, what he was doing seemed like a contradiction in terms.

Again I probably only went because I was still considered too young to be left on my own. And it certainly didn’t help me on my search to find God at all. Indeed all it did was to give someone an opportunity to attack me—someone who had decided that they really didn’t like me at all.

To be continued …

Posted: 25th June 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis

Theophilus (3)

For the rest of my school days I was very wary of people around me; I acquired a keen sense of how scary and unsettling life could be. But time moved on, and so did I.

Towards the end of school I had started to read books like Marx’s Das Kapital. But apart from finding them “interesting” they didn’t help much at all. So when I went out to work, and needed to travel by train each day—forty minutes there, and forty minutes back—I turned to reading all sorts of books like Buddhist Scriptures and the Koran to fill in the time. After all, packed trains are notorious places for people not talking to one another.

Now to be honest, when I was reading the Koran I didn’t take much in—at least not in regards to its content. But I do remember an encounter one day with a man who was most irate that I should be reading such a book. I don’t know what he thought he would achieve, carrying on like he did, but his behaviour was appalling. It also left me with a very negative view of Christianity. So I stopped reading on the train. I also stopped searching for God.

Well I say I stopped, because what I did was to stop going out of my way to look for God. But it didn’t stop me being aware of his presence, or being sensitive to others searching for religious truths around me. After all, this was the time of the Maharishi, and the exploration of eastern religions. Furthermore, the music of the time would sometimes have a religious slant; and, perhaps not unrelated, a friend of mine took a keen interest in the demonic (which made me very uncomfortable indeed).

Yes they were interesting times. But then I swapped jobs, I even moved seventeen thousands kilometres away from home and family. Indeed I started a new life in a new country—away from the old routine. And somehow God got lost in the process.

I then moved again. This time only five hundred and fifty kilometres away. But this time I found that it wasn’t me looking for God, it was God looking for me. I was like God was saying to me, “Come back. Come back.” And he was most insistent.

Unfortunately at that time, it wasn’t that simple. There had been news of false Messiah’s, and there had been at least one mass suicide. As a consequence, there was the issue of how to know whether a church was genuine or not. And the last thing I wanted to do was to get entangled in one of those strange cults. So I ignored God’s prompting for a time. Yes, I remained aware of God’s presence, but I tried to push it aside. Despite that God’s prompting became more earnest, until it was a call I could no longer ignore.

So one day at work I checked out the local churches in the Yellow Pages. And to be honest some of the listings surprised me. The Salvation Army I had always understood to be a welfare agency, not part of the Christian church. And there were other “Churches” I had never heard of before. So I became very suspicious of the genuineness of the listings. But in the end I decided that I needed to play it safe; I’d pick something with which I was familiar—a church that had a connection with the churches back home. So I wrote down the details of a couple of the churches, I then promptly forgot to take the list home.

However, not to be put off, I drove around that night, looking for a church close to home. And I found a church I thought I might be comfortable with on top of a hill. It had a cross lit up for all to see. And the following Sunday I went there for the first time.

Now I am probably being unfair (once again), but I don’t recall ever having heard the Christian gospel before. But then maybe I just hadn’t been ready. Yes, I was a bit suspicious and uneasy about the (charismatic) nature of the church, at least to start with. But as I began to attend more regularly, and even got into the habit of going, I grew increasingly more comfortable with their style of worship.

Then having found my spiritual home, at about twenty-four years of age, I died …

Posted: 3rd July 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis