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'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

Is God Really Within Everyone?

Most of us will have been shocked and horrified by the current criminal case involving the murder of many babies who were in the care of a young and deeply troubled nurse. Yet again, the wilful destruction of life is on our minds and challenges our understanding of goodness and, indeed God. Why did this happen? Why was it allowed to happen? Who is ultimately responsible? These are just some of the current questions being asked, together with cries for justice. We also know that the pain and anguish felt by parents who have lost a child is even greater under such tragic and cruel circumstances. We feel their pain but have no answers.

Regular readers will know that I am a Quaker, yet my mind is often troubled by the often-expressed Quaker view of ‘That of God in Everyone”, or words to that effect. I know many Quakers use this phrase when trying to explain to others about what it is to be a Quaker. Indeed, I have sometimes used this phrase, particularly when looking for an answer that isn’t too complicated when replying to a question about why I am a Quaker. The more cynical have often followed up my reply with a puzzled “What about Hitler, Mussolini or (currently) Putin? Are you saying that these people were God inspired too?” It is often a difficult question to answer and one that has troubled me for many years. In my reply, I now replace the usual phrase with “It is the potential of God within everyone…”, which I am much more comfortable with.

I often wonder if President Putin, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson or other currently controversial figures can claim to be “God inspired”? We must be careful here, since how much of these views are politically inspired by our personal prejudices? It may be that although these people do not fall within our political view of what is acceptable or not, or what we think God would approve of, how do we know? The opposite maybe be true.

Similar concerns were raised at our Quaker Meeting this week and it was, as usual, interesting to hear the views and thoughts of others. Is it right that we alone determine who is ‘God Inspired’ or not? For me, the answer was beautifully expressed by one of our members who gave a horticultural explanation. His explanation is that the goodness of God is within all of us from birth, as a tiny seed. As with all seeds, if it is watered, fed and nurtured, it will grow into a strong and healthy plant. If not, it will wither and die. During these unsettled times, the simple comparison of the goodness of God with the growth and nurture of a tiny seed has, for me, given an explanation that I can live with.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

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“You’re an Angel”

“Oh, she’s an angel”, or “Thank you, you’re an angel” are comments that I sometimes hear, and often following an act of kindness or generosity. Maybe such comments are more common in the older generation nowadays, but I am used to hearing them. It is always a comment that startles me for a moment, and I wonder.

I believe in angels; I always have done. Admittedly my understanding of them has grown and developed over the years with the experiences of life. To put it simply, I believe that angels are the physical embodiment of the Spirit that guides, supports, encourages, and challenges us in our daily lives. The Spirit may manifest itself through people, or indeed animals that we are close to, such as our dog or cat.

My mother believed in angels too. She had experienced a troubling incident when she was about fourteen years old, whilst playing in a field in the village with her friend Laura and younger sister, Muriel. She always believed that the angel had saved them, and a view that was firmly supported by her friend and sister when questioned by my grandparents. Many years later when I was nine years old during an eventful Sunday school outing to Skegness, I was inadvertently abandoned and wasn’t noticed as missing until the end of the day. I still remember my father being very angry over the incident and the apparent negligence of my Sunday School teachers, but with my mother calmly replying. “Barrie’s fine, the angels would have looked after him.”

Mother’s faith was no nonsense and black and white, as was her later career in nursing. She was no pushover and could spot an untruth before I even opened my mouth. As I was growing up, she often referred to angels that surround us in our everyday lives, yet only rarely referred to the ‘incident’ that she had shared with her friend and sister. My father discouraged her from talking about it, since he thought it made my mother sound foolish. Later in her life, I questioned her many times about what she had seen, and the answer was always the same with a crystal-clear memory. “They are all around us”, she would say, “Just keep an open mind and you will see”.

Later, as a newly qualified teacher, I remember attempting to teach ‘the Annunciation’ to my class of nine-year-olds. The subject content for this age group troubled me greatly, and I felt neither qualified nor competent to deal with it. Despite this, as I was working in a church school, I had to give it a go. Later, I felt that the lesson had gone better than expected, my pupils seemed vaguely interested and I didn’t have any of the anticipated difficult questions about parenthood. I set them to work, predictably to write about the story and add a picture.

Michelle didn’t find writing easy, and I remember seeing her chewing the end of her pencil in deep thought before she committed her well chewed pencil to a fresh page of her religious education book. It took her some time to complete, followed by drawing a picture. When she had finished, she proudly presented her work to me as I sat at my desk.

‘Mary and the Fairy’ proclaimed the title, followed by two brief sentences describing the visitation to Mary by “the fairy”. Michelle’s accompanying picture of the angel was very similar to a fairy that had recently been placed on the school Christmas Tree, together with a very plump Mary who had a huge blob around her middle. Michelle beamed and was clearly very proud of her work; I gave her a gold star. Clearly, I hadn’t done a very good job in explaining the difference between angels and fairies, but I was content that Michelle had realised that Mary’s visitor was someone special. Maybe angels and fairies are the same, who was I to say?

As I progress through life, I have experienced support that I cannot always explain. I have met people who briefly enter my life with words of wisdom, suggestions, encouragement, and support, and often using words that don’t appear to be their own. Sometimes, it is someone that I know that is offering support, but often it is a stranger who enters my life briefly and I never see again.

Although angels are often popular in films, books and songs, they are rarely taken seriously in ‘real life’. I sometimes watch popular films that includes an angel, who is usually someone that you would least expect to represent ‘the heavenly host’. I often find it hard to dismiss these as fiction, since I suspect there is some truth behind the representation. I believe that angels are with us, supporting and helping us every day of our lives. The question is whether “You are an angel” comment refers to someone who is particularly kind or has done a good deed, or is really an angel? My guess is, it doesn’t matter.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

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To find out more about Barrie and his books, go to:

Are You Friendly?

This week, I received a very cross email from Dawn. Dawn is a British immigrant who has lived in Italy for many years, and is very unhappy about an article that she recently read in a publication intended for British immigrants. Dawn sent me a copy of the article that was basically a survey of nations that had the most friendly and unfriendly attitudes to immigrants living in their countries.

The article claimed that Denmark, Switzerland and Norway are the most unfriendly destinations for immigrants. Despite the generally high quality of life in these countries, they are just not friendly enough with poor attitudes to immigrants and a local culture that is difficult to get used to. These ‘sinners’ were closely followed by Germany and France that ranked 56th and 57th in a list of 67 countries. Again, the general friendliness (or lack of) figured highly in France, whilst in Germany socialising with the locals and the language were major barriers to successful integration. Mind you, it could be worse, with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the Czech Republic being the most unfriendly of all.

At the top of the friendliness list are Mexico, Costa Rica and Uganda, with Greece and Cyprus making huge leaps forward in the friendliness stakes. According to the article, these countries bend over backwards to make immigrants feel at home. However, the top destinations overall for immigrants are Taiwan, Malta and Ecuador, which is due to quality of life issues that include financial factors and healthcare, whilst Qatar, Italy and Tanzania plummet to the bottom as the worst countries for British immigrants to live in.

I think that it was at this point that Dawn felt sufficiently moved to fire off an email to me, since she has lived in both France and Italy for a number of years, and resents the implication that both countries are unwelcoming to British immigrants. She makes the point that these countries made her and her partner feel welcome, although initially she found negotiating French bureaucracy a challenge. However, Dawn also makes the point that being able to speak French helped her to settle during those first few months in a new country. In France, she lived in a small village where she quickly became accepted into the community, whilst in Italy integrating into a large city was more difficult, but Dawn quickly overcame this by helping to support a local animal welfare charity, voluntary work teaching English in her local primary school, as well as helping to deliver bread to elderly local residents from the local bakery!

Dawn’s email basically gives all British immigrants a simple lesson in how to be a happy and well-integrated immigrant. Those expats who claim to live in unfriendly countries should ask themselves whether they have bothered to learn the language and take part in local and cultural activities. Do they appreciate and value local traditions, or attempt to have a conversation with their neighbours? Have they fallen into the usual British immigrant trap of living in a British enclave, only socialising in British bars and restaurants, complaining about life in their host country and comparing it to the UK through rose tinted glasses? Do they only watch British television and only ever speak in English and expect others to speak to them in English? Frank answers to these questions may give an explanation of why some countries are regarded as more unfriendly than others.

So what about the UK? Based on the data before the Brexit referendum, the UK came in 33rd place in Dawn’s article, which was mainly due to friendliness towards British immigrant families, as well as job security. However, the cost of living was thought to be too high, pushing the ranking to a lower position. One can only imagine how immigrants from Europe view the friendliness of the UK population towards them following the referendum.

Of course, data and statistics can be made, massaged, and twisted to interpret almost anything, and surveys such as this are little more than meaningless. As all wise immigrants like Dawn quickly realise, much of our attitudes about the friendliness of people in our host country is heavily influenced by our attitudes towards them.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

To find out more about Barrie and his books, go to:

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