GEORGE and EILEEN ANDERSON
First published July 1986 by Small Cords Press. 2nd printing December 1986; 3rd printing 1988; 4th printing 1989; 5th printing 1990; 6th printing 1992. In disk format April 1994
Copyright 1986 and 1994 by George and Eileen Anderson
You may copy and give this book to friends freely, as long as no alterations are made.
HUGH and JOY BRADING
who have pushed us and prodded us
scolded and encouraged us
and generally have been
indispensable as friends
Click here to return to the 'what the books are about' summary
This is intended to tell you how the book should be read.
The tricky bits to watch for.
The reasons why we've included some things; left out others.
If you miss this explanation, you'll find difficulties in following the story.
Okay - let's lay down a few ground rules. The title 'Beyond Anarchy' is a peg on which to hang the thought that the kingdom of God is superior to all other systems of authority. All systems. Family, social, legal, military, political or religious.
We're going to look briefly at conventional anarchy, and briefly at the faults of some systems. But because the prime antagonism to the kingdom of God comes from religion, that's the area we'll be concentrating on.
We've made no attempt to put things in an orthodox way. We're answerable to God, not to any organisation, so we have tried to set down what He has been saying to us and what scripture says, without adjusting it to suit popular theology or current fashions.
If you find something in this book turns you off, don't give up. We're not trying to sway you by logic, but we'd like you to do a couple of things. One is to try and understand why we say the particular bit that gets your goat. The other is to tell God that you disagree with us. That's all. You've done all that's necessary. It's then up to Him to take it from there - if He wants to.
This is intended to be a practical book. Okay, there are plenty of stories in it. All true. But essentially it's intended to set out a series of steps that, if followed, will take you into the kingdom of God.
Theory is nice. But there comes a time when you stop studying maps and reading guidebooks, and actually put one foot in front of the other.
Some folk are congenital procrastinators. Which means that their mission in life is to annoy everyone by never making decisions. Never making that first move.
(It's a form of domination. Doesn't look heavy and overbearing. Looks weak and helpless - but in fact it carries a lot of illegal clout.)
If that describes you - then, sorry, but you're going to miss out. Nobody drifts into the kingdom by accident.
Violent people get in. Maybe they're the only ones who make it.
The way we've written 'Beyond Anarchy' may give you a little bit of a rough time...
If you've had no church background, you'll find this book a bit religious. If you're an evangelical, you'll find this book a bit pentecostal. If you're pentecostal, you'll find this book a bit anti-religious.
Sorry about that, folks. Stick with it, though, to see what we're getting at.
One point to watch: "church" is a Bible word (meaning believers who are outcalled by God) which has been turned into a glue-word and a pyramid-word. A glue-word is one where umpteen meanings have been stuck to it (building, denomination, members, local congregation); a pyramid-word is one where the meaning is the result of centuries of adding bits on (a "church" has to have buildings, clergy, hymns, sermons, headquarters, traditions). We've tried only to use the word in the sense of "all believers", and avoid using it in the context of something manmade. It's hard to rescue a word that's been hi-jacked!
Largely, this book and 'Beyond Murphy's Law' do not overlap. We've tried to resist the temptation to cover the same ground twice. But here comes an unashamed, unblushing advert: if you haven't read 'Beyond Murphy's Law', do so!
Hopefully our motive isn't really to sell more books, but to ensure that you get a fair idea of the areas in 'Murphy' not covered here.
PART ONE: ONCE UPON A TIME
OCH AYE !
I was ten.
A solemn, pale, bespectacled child, at school in Edinburgh.
Under my arm, a box of conkers.
Grandma, living in the picture-postcard village of Cookham Dean, had gathered up all the fallen chestnuts from a tree which stood age-old on the edge of the common, parcelled and posted them to her little grandson in time for the conker contests.
I was ten. Pocket money was limited. And chestnut trees were infrequent in the heart of Scotland's capital.
So my plan was to take the conkers to school. A few at a time, so the market wasn't flooded. And sell them at a penny each. If I sold, er, two hundred and forty, that would be a pound. In those near-neolithic, pre-atomic days, it was a fortune.
On day one, business was brisk. On day two, brisker. On day three, there was a nemesis on the premises. In the shape of Mr. Grubb, my teacher.
He erupted from the staffroom in the middle of playtime, whisked me up the echoing stone steps to the empty cavern of the school hall. And lectured me on the evils of trading on educational property.
In no time flat I learned that I had transgressed a hitherto unknown regulation.
I was ten. But in the recesses of my little brain were the makings of a sea lawyer. Obviously a spot of anarchy was called for.
The next playtime saw me with an eager crowd of customers, all clutching their coppers. To observe the letter of the law and yet to continue in business, I would reach outside the playground railings and place the conker on the pavement. The purchaser would similarly position his penny. We then made the swap.
Technically - to my mind, at least - the transaction was taking place outside school premises.
Alas, it was the headmaster who issued forth from the smoke-laden recesses of the staffroom. Mouthing Scottish imprecations, he propelled me into his study and closed the door with a thud that made my heart sink.
My explanations of strict observance of school regs were shouted down.
Adults can always prove a child wrong. Volubility and volume, that's all they need. Not veracity.
I emerged from the interview in considerable discomfort. The Scots believe in the vigorous use of a leather strap. My attempt to buck the system had failed.
I was ten, and already I had discovered that anarchy had its shortcomings.
There had to be a better way. And some thirty or forty years later, twelve thousand miles away, I would begin to find out what it is.
What is beyond anarchy? The answer is the kingdom of God . The subject of this book.
Every story, every comment is put in to point to the kingdom of God, to show how to get in, or to make some contrast with it.
What, then, is the kingdom of God?
First, though: what about anarchy? Anarchy frightens governments because (whisper it) so often that's the way they muscled into power.
America, f'rinstance. Once a suburb of the Brits. Another splodge of red on the map. A bit of the farflung on which the sun never etcetera etcetera. A colony. Until - for all sorts of reasons, some in the history books, some not - a few naughty boys decided to cut their continent loose from Whitehall and Buckingham Palace.
That was anarchy. That was the start of the United States of America. Oh, we know, the USA has a terse little law that refuses admission to anyone who is pro-anarchism. The powers that be don't want a repetition of the tax evasion and treason that caused their nation to be "conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal".
And, just for the record, Mr. President - Eileen and I are against anarchy. (That's in case we ever want to visit.) For all sorts of reasons. One is that it doesn't really work. Ever heard the clever saying "whoever you vote for, the government gets in"?
The same goes for overthrowing governments. Something happens to those progressive, cleareyed, honest people who replace them. They change.
Turn into politicians. And start the cycle over again.
Now, just a wee word of explanation. Not all anarchy is to do with throwing bombs. That's just part of the lunatic fringe, the bit that hogs the headlines. To the average bloke, all he or she wants is to lead a quiet life with minimal red tape and official interference.
In fact, most people lead lives in quiet anarchy. Low key. Inoffensive. But - ah - adapting (or ignoring) the demands of state and local authority as and when they choose.
Show me a motorist, or a homeowner, and I'll show you a lawbreaker.
Go one k. over the limit (on a straight, empty road with nary a smokey bear in sight), stay one minute too long on that meter, or have a whisker's breadth less tread that you ought... Lawbreaker!
I'd love a dollar for every carport that mushrooms overnight. Grows sides. Windows. Becomes a prim little garage or sleepout. Just like that... Lawbreaker!
Let's not pretend we're all that virtuous.
And sometimes we feel the need to buck the system. Drop out. Get away from the stress and limitations that governments, Big Business and pressure groups put on us.
Problem is - how?
Now, we'll be honest with you. We won't try and string you along with some big chapter-by-chapter buildup. You know as well as we do that the answer to all this is going to be the kingdom of God. It's the how-to bit that matters.
The reason for this book is threefold.
One: some folk have had fairly negative teaching. They imagine the kingdom is some eversofuture thing that God is going to produce. It'll be for the Jews. Here 'n' now it's abstract. That's boloney. We're going to say why.
Two: you can get into the kingdom now. Tomorrow at the latest (we'll explain that further on). Immediately you do , you're beyond the reach of any system, pressure group , influence. Untouchable: you as an individual. But it doesn't just happen.
Three: any system - religious, political, commercial or social - that needs to be overthrown can be and will be. With no violence. With no bloke up front or behind the scenes to orchestrate the collapse. Smoothly. Inexorably. If you're propping up the system when the collapse comes, you'll have problems. It's always best to be on the winning side. The trick is to pick the winner while there's still time to place your bets.
Okay, that's what we're after.
The way we're going to tackle it is this: we'll give excerpts from our lurid past, show the round-the-houses route that God has led us. You will see the clangers we've dropped, the faults in the system, the times when things have clicked into place.
We'll throw in odd bits of history. Plus scripture. And it's up to you to check the thing out with God.
Meantime, Matthew 6, verse 33 says it all. Seek first the kingdom of God. And His righteousness. Everything else you need gets given you.
One last thing before we start. Eileen and I, we're not long-time experts on the kingdom. We are experts on living outside it, and skating around the edge. And the little we've seen of what goes on inside is enough to make us turn cartwheels. Or something.
But the reason for this book is that we suspect folk who are really living in the kingdom don't have much time for writing.
They're having too much fun just living.
And if the word 'fun' annoys you, substitute 'joy', 'satisfaction', 'challenge', 'fulfillment', 'wonder', 'surprise' - and bear in mind it has to be genuine.
Genuine is important, as we know from long and bitter experience.
Eileen and I have an unutterably religious background.
For both of us, churchgoing-and-the-rest-of-the-package has tried to dominate our entire life.
My first memory was of waddling, toddlerfashion behind the Sally band through the cobbled streets of a Scots mining village. Dad and Mum were the officers there, young, enthusiastic and well-nigh starving on what they received after corps expenses were deducted from the collections.
They'd gone to the officers' training college in Denmark Hill, London. Salvation Army policy sent them to separate areas with monotonous regularity during those early days - the official reason being that one learns more quickly and becomes more spiritual "without distractions".
The training was short, they were commissioned at the Albert Hall on the 15th May 1933. While the band played softly "All to Jesus I surrender", they knelt with other newly-fledged officers and signed the Articles of War. Only later did they have time to read the fine print and learn that they had signed away all rights to their pension contributions if for any reason they should quit the Army before retirement.
After several years, they did quit. I was a growing lad, (born 1935, if you're interested) my sister was soon to arrive. The Sally salary wasn't enough to manage on; the Baptist denomination offered a liveable minimum wage.
We swapped one set of dusty halls and in-jargon for another. The emphasis was still, however, evangelical.
At the time, 'evangelical' had no meaning for me. I thought that what our denomination did, everybody did.
Everybody who went to meetings, that is.
Because those who didn't, went to hell.
Mind you, so did people who went to meetings, if they hadn't 'made a decision'.
It was a fairly standard ploy that had been devised. Some visiting speaker held a week-long series of meetings. All the youngsters from the local denominations went along, sat in the back seats and misbehaved. Music was good, singing fast and loud or slow and smoochy, and the sermon... Well, it wasn't a religious sermon. The first ten minutes were great, non-stop jokes as good as Tommy Handley in ITMA. Then suddenly the speaker would change his tone, pointing straight at us in the back row. Saying he knew the sins of young people and what God thought of us. Gosh.
That'd go on for a while. Then he'd switch to a story of someone who'd been bad. Really bad. Maybe a gangster or something. And how he'd been saved. Just like that. Wow.
And the speaker would nod to the organist, who'd push all the tibia and flute stops and turn the vibrato and leslie up to full, and quietly throb away with Just As I Am.
While the evangelist gave the appeal. For folk to put their hands up. Come out to the front. Be saved.
The first time I made a decision was a big disappointment . Blushing furiously, I stood at the front with a line of others as Tom Rees or Roy Hessian - I forget which - prayed a sinners' prayer which we obediently repeated.
Then, into the back room where a counsellor gave me a John's Gospel, checked that I attended Sunday School, discovered my father was a minister and said "Oh, that's all right, then".
That night I read a chapter from the Gospel instead of whatever was my usual Bible reading, and prayed as I had always done. At school the next day I witnessed to some uninterested classmates.
The second decision was no different from the first. Nor was the third. By which time I was all of fifteen. If my home environment hadn't been religious, that would have been that.
But our family centred on denominational activities. Everyone knew we went to meetings. So, mentally I reviewed the decisions I had made. Whatever I'd been expecting hadn't happened.
Don't get me wrong - I hadn't been looking for thunderbolts or voices. I was an evangelical, not a Pentecostal. All the speakers had promised was "a wonderful new life, a tremendous adventure; the unbounded joy of being a Christian".
Maybe that was just hyperbole. Rhetoric. Something they said. Like at funerals they always said what a wonderful husband and faithful deacon and glorious saint. When everyone knew he'd been rotten to his wife and caused row after row at meetings and was heartily disliked by half the town. But you had to say these things.
So perhaps a decision was, well, something you just did. Okay, I'd done it.
Baptism was next.
I got baptised.
And Christian Endeavour. And taking a Sunday School class. And speaking on Youth Sunday. And this. And that.
World without end. Amen. (Only that's Anglican. I was Baptist.)
In short, I learned to fit in. The people I was with didn't swear, didn't smoke, didn't drink, didn't dance, didn't gamble. Radio was okay. (T.V. hadn't reached Scotland). Cinema was fairly okay, but you didn't talk about it much. Music had to be either Christian or classical. Ice skating was wicked.
I fitted in. Because as far as I knew, everybody else was fitting in as well.
There was a system. We went along with it.
If anybody had anything going with God, they never mentioned it. Only the odd book written by an occasional missionary suggested that anything really "happened". But then, they were working with natives, weren't they.
And that was different.
It was "somewhere else".
For evangelicals in ordinary everyday life, nothing really happened.
Getting folk saved was darned hard work. And once they were saved, staying saved was even harder. The world with all its temptations would try and drag you back. All the things you'd given up for God would seem so attractive.
Still, there was always the hope...
Every now and then there'd be a sermon on the Second Coming. Lurid newspaper headlines and magazine articles would be held up in the pulpit as signs of the times. Any moment now the heavens will be rent asunder and the Lord will return. And we shall be caught up to meet Him.
Let us close by singing hymn number 267: When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder.
And everyone would tiptoe from the church looking expectantly at the night sky and feeling intensely hopeful and spiritual.
But came Monday morning, it was the same old uphill slog of trying not to backslide before the midweek service.
Oh, I've no doubt that Scottish evangelical groups in the 'forties and 'fifties didn't have the most lively programmes possible to enthuse their members. But even the more imaginative and active ones seemed to lack - something.
Our Edinburgh Baptists held open-air meetings around the council house estates. The tract band went door-to-door. Groups of us took a soapbox to the Mound - the speakers' corner of the north - and harangued the crowds and were heckled goodnaturedly. Bible class . Youth clubs. Choirs. Inter-denominational rallies.
There was always plenty to do.
It was just that it was always a bit of an effort.
Where, you might ask, was God?
Good question. Answer, keeping a low profile. Because nobody really wanted Him any other way. Oh, we were bored, all right. We weren't getting any satisfaction out of what we did. But nobody ever got to the point where they'd had it up to here, and yelled out "c'mon, there's got to be something better; this is just crummy."
We prayed "thy kingdom come" in suitably reverent tones with bowed heads and closed eyes week after week. Unfortunately, someone had said a long time before that to take the kingdom one has to use violence.
We were far too genteel for that.
* * *
ROMEO AND JULIET
So much for me in the icy remoteness of Scotland.
What about Eileen down in the sunny south of England?
She lived in a different world.
Not for her the mindless trivialities of us evangelicals.
Hers was a quaint eighteenth-century form of worship, a sombre and stolid religion that took itself most seriously indeed.
The label was "Strict and Particular Baptist". Strict Baptist for short.
There's a lot of 'em, scattered round England. They don't like Catholics. Or ordinary Baptists. They believe God chooses who goes to heaven - and He doesn't choose many. It's awfully presumptuous to know you're saved; it's even naughtier to evangelise or be a missionary.
Like I said: quaint.
Okay, chapels varied a bit here and there in the amount of jollity they permitted. But you'll get a fair idea if you imagine a gothic-style funeral...
Music was regarded suspiciously. So hymns were confined to a cluster of dirges known as "Gadsby's Selection" and started off by a leather-lunged precentor armed with a tuning fork.
And lest one became carried away by the emotion of a snail's-pace singalong, each and every verse was read out by the senior deacon before it was sung.
Actually it was a legacy from the days when most village folk couldn't read. Only the Strict Baptists hadn't noticed the advent of free and compulsory education. Sermons were long. And dismal. Eileen became adept at adding up the numbers on the hymnboard, counting knot-holes in the varnished planks of walls and ceiling, identifying the sources of surreptitious snores, and other devotional exercises. The young were barely tolerated. You weren't expected to make a decision and become a member as a teenager. But there were a whole list of do's and don'ts to be obeyed without question. Sunday was everso holy. No worldly books. No toys. No games. It was also called the Sabbath to make it sound scriptural. Cinema was wicked. Smoking was a bit bad. Alcohol was quite okay in moderation. Ice skating was allowed.
The whole emphasis was on (to use a Strict Baptist word): Sovereignty.
Now - when religious folk talk, it pays to listen out for the capital letters. These are a kind of verbal body language to warn you that something is being said that has as awful lot of overtones, undercurrents and hidden meanings.
(Like when a Pentecostal says "Ministry Gifts", or a Nazarene says "Total Sanctification", or a Catholic says "The Real Presence"...)
To most folk, the sovereignty of God would mean His power, or His role as king, full stop.
Nothing so simple to a Strict and Particular Baptist. The Sovereignty of God - said with emphasis - implied that every event was destined to occur, that it occurred remorselessly, inexorably as part of a massive, rather impersonal, plan of God. And if, perchance (oops) things went well for a while - watch out, because that's just to lull us into getting all heedless and presumptuous. Especially presumptuous.
Now - it was a clever line for a denomination to take. At one go it made most other groups seem trivial and irreverent by comparison. And it made all the sincere little Strict Baptists scared of stepping out of line because of the severity of their strict and particular God.
Consequently there wasn't much shopping around for a better deal elsewhere.
Okay, what's new?
But sometimes, just sometimes, the heavy teaching of the Strict Baptists would have a result that its clergy never intended.
Some simple soul would feel so downcast and wretched and insecure that they'd get all desperate and really begin talking straight to God. Risk His wrath and rejection - and get through.
Then you'd hear whispers in the pews, or after the service with little groups muttering among the mossy gravestones. Or over the tea-table, obliquely, so that the children wouldn't understand.
Someone had had a vision (a genuine vision, not just a mental impression) of actually being in the Lord's presence. And even now they were conscious of Him beside them.
And one old dear had actually broken her leg. The hospital had x-rayed it. Set it. But she was in agony. Talked to God in a way she'd never been taught. And the leg was okay. Mended. There and then. Home from hospital the next day, she was, plaster cast removed from her leg and medical staff still staring blankly at the x-rays.
Here and there, odd things happened. Stories - with names and places - went around. Nobody quite approved.
Nobody quite dared to disapprove.
The fact was - wherever someone, for some reason, goes against the system they're in (be it social, political or religious) and makes some move to God - click, that's a bit of kingdom in action.
And the tighter the system, the greater the chance of the impossible occurring. Anything can happen.
But - regardless of things that happened, Eileen and I had a problem.
One: we hadn't met.
Two: we were in different countries, some four hundred miles apart.
Three: our religious backgrounds were totally incompatible.
Not exactly the perfect scenario for the steamy romance we were both dreaming of. Logically I was all set to end my days in a wee but and ben with some coldblooded Scots lassie, while Eileen marched down the aisle into safe and predictable union with some apple-cheeked farmer's son.
But Someone, somewhere, had other ideas. Out of the blue, my parents discovered Calvinism.
They'd read some talks given at Keswick by Donald Gray Barnhouse. The doctrinal emphasis had quite a novel approach. A few enquiries, several hefty tomes purchased from the Presbyterian bookroom and carried furtively away in plain wrapper and - bingo!
As a system, it's got a lot going for it. For one thing, it takes God out of the sentimental, largely ineffective pleading-at-the-door-of-your- heart sidelines to which the evangelicals exile Him. 'Nuther thing, it's logical, fundamentalist, and larded with lashings of proof-texts.
As a family, we were sold on it.
Not so our Baptist group.
They wondered what'd hit them.
So Scotland is Calvinism's second home? So John Knox stamped the thundrous doctrines deep into the nation's soul? So what! He hadn't affected the Baptists.
And the abrupt transition from a whizz-bang sermon with a tear-jerker of a closing illustration to a learned doctrinal exposition - overnight - was too much for our Edinburgh congregation to handle.
They stuck it for a few months. Then called a business meeting. And with many a solemn "hoots mon, the noo, ye ken", we were out.
Give 'em their due - we had the manse rent free for a further six months. Not many places do that when they off-load their minister.
But when the time was up, and no eager Scottish Baptist groups had come beating a path to the manse door in search of the better mousetrap, we packed our bags, hopped on an overnight bus and bade Caledonia (stern and wild) a fond farewell. An' a' that, an' a' that.
Bye-bye bluebells; hello Bow Bells: Peckham, London.
Aunt Beatrice - Mum's sister, living with her cats in the ancestral two-up, two-down and outside bog, was delighted to find Pa, Ma, me and kid sister moving in at short notice. I mean, it doesn't take much to make some folk happy.
It was a bit of a squeeze, fitting us all in. And life in South London was somewhat different from that of Edinburgh.
For one thing, Scotland might have its gloomy, smelly tenements. But this was communal living, English style. Two rows of no-front-garden terrace houses facing each other across a narrow alley. By day a million hyperactive urchins played cacophonously only inches from the net- curtained windows. By night, drunks ricocheted from one side to the other, singing snatches of popular ballads as they progressed to the next pub.
There wasn't time to sit and watch the quaint behaviour of the natives. Britain was currently being mismanaged by a well-meaning Sir Anthony Eden, and he'd gotten involved in some disaster around Suez. Callow and unprotesting youths were needed to fly the flag and teach those foreigners a lesson they wouldn't forget in a hurry.
Well, callow I was. Unprotesting I wasn't. As far as joining the armed forces was concerned, I'd decided some years earlier that scripturally it was a no-no and had registered as a conscientious objector.
It hadn't seemed quite right that a government should decide moral values for me. Like killing people.
Oh, sure, armies have been normal since history began. But that didn't make 'em right. And okay, God used to lead His people into battle. But everything changed after Jesus was born. We were supposed to love our enemies.
Not exactly a popular outlook. If someone says ridiculous, I'd agree with them. But let's face it, it's not up to me to make the rules. And also, just for the record - even governments and things half-pie acknowledge that life has changed since BC became AD. The business of divinely guided mayhem and slaughter is decidedly illegal. Try proclaiming that God has called you to go kill somebody and you'll find the Armed Offenders' Squad at every window while patient, understanding, white- coated men lead you away to a plain van.
But whether pacifism is trendy or not, and whether the law allows some blokes to opt out of military activity or not, the Bible is pretty clear on the subject. We're not allowed to follow the crowd and mouth glib phrases like "my duty" and "my country" when the government of the day tells us to.
We're supposed to be answerable to God. Even when it's important. That's fairly easy when it's just you and an overworked clerk at the Labour Exchange and likely that nothing'll ever come of it.
It's a bit scary when a summons arrives ordering you to face a tribunal to explain why you think H.M.'s government should let you skive off when everybody else is obediently Doing Their Bit.
The fateful day came. I shaved for the second time that year, donned my best suit - my only suit - and sallied forth.
The tribunal (as best my nerve-shattered memory can recall) was made up of two bored military gentlemen, one bored legal gentleman, and a bored superannuitant who acted as clerk.
These worthies clustered around an oak bench at one end of a long hall, while us youths - all pimples and brylcreem - shuffled about at the other end. There was an anxious and well-meaning sprinkling of clergy and parents.
It quickly became obvious that the world-famous principles of British justice were enjoying a day off. In bewildering succession the young fellows were called to the far end of the room, a question or two was barked at them, an answer was stammered out, and a verdict was given.
Thumbs down. Every time.
The tribunal were not impressed to find that my minister was also my father.
"Obviously your views have been more than a little influenced by both your church and your home".
The clerk read a letter from my old headmaster which said that my views were my own.
One military gentleman asked if I knew that God had led armies into battle.
"Er, yessir. But that's Old Testament. They weren't Christians then. Christians are told to turn the other cheek." The tribunal members conferred briefly.
Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Or pounds, in Britain.
I had the choice of joining the army or being locked away at Her Majesty's pleasure.
A few days later, through the mail, came confirmation of the tribunal's say-so. Amid much fine print was the advice that I had the right to appeal. But (warned the document with ifs, buts and whereupons) I had to have genuine grounds, not just be brassed off with the verdict.
Gloomily I shuffled the papers. Reread my headmaster's glowing little testimonial, remembering the day at school I'd plucked up courage to ask him for it, wondering how the old war-horse would react.
There at the bottom of the headmaster's letter was his well-remembered signature, R.L.S. Carswell.
Neatly typed - Lt. Col.
Which the dear clerk of the tribunal, bless his bleary bifocals, had totally failed to read out. Drunks in the alley outside paused in their erratic course as a yell of youthful glee rent the air.
I had grounds for appeal.
Miscarriage of justice. Suppression of evidence. Concealment of a material fact.
Never has indignation been so righteous.
And apparently somewhere in some civil service enclave, some legal beagle agreed with me.
For after anxious weeks of nailbiting, I was informed that no longer did I have to choose between military service and gaol - I could discharge my obligation to the law of the land by spending two years and sixty days working in a hospital.
As orderly, porter, stretcher bearer or stoker, no less. Had I been the agile, athletic type, I would have leaped up and down, clicking my heels in the air. God - even though I didn't know Him personally - was playing an active part in my life.
So for a year or thereabouts I took a number 12 bus from Peckham to Dulwich Hospital and earned my living as a porter.
It was varied. Meals to wards. Patients to theatre. Corpses to mortuary. Spare limbs to incinerator. Working the switchboard. Oxygen cylinders and laundry bags. Night duty, security patrol.
Loved every minute of it. But then came another move.
Because (if you'll excuse the big-name dropping) Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was acting as a kind of behind-the-scenes bishop in the southeast corner of England. Which meant that somehow he linked up a little pastorless chapel in Hastings, Sussex with a chapelless pastor in Peckham.
A few trial sermons and our family was in business once more. Papa became the minister of the Independent Calvinist Baptist Tabernacle in the historic town of Hastings. (For the unenlightened - where William the Conqueror was an illegal immigrant and overstayer. Before your time, prob'ly.)
We all moved down. And I began working at the ex-workhouse (I joke not) known as St. Helen's hospital, looking after intellectually handicapped children.
And not only was God doing a few upheavals with our lot, but Eileen was getting her share of the dealings as well.
She'd just completed a secretarial course and was shortlisted for a job at the offices of the Tenterden Rural District Council, when she knew - beyond any doubt whatever - that she was to become a nurse.
Like in Hastings.
And (coincidence, coincidence) one of her ward sisters turned out to be an ardent Strict and Particular Baptist. Learned of her religious upbringings and promptly took her under the proverbial wing.
"Now nurse, you're entitled to have your off-duty times arranged so you can attend a place of worship. If it suits the work of the ward, of course."
"We are favoured with a very sound Strict and Particular Baptist chapel in this town. Unfortunately it is too far away for you to reach and return from in the time available."
"So regrettably we have to make do with something second-best. There is an independent chapel. Calvinist, I do assure you, so you will hear no error. But not one of ours if you know what I mean."
"They have a new minister. From Scotland. I shall take you myself this coming Sabbath."
"Yes, sister. Thank you, sister."
Eileen and I were being manoeuvred onto a collision course.
There was one hiccup. Soon after the ward sister had pressganged Eileen into attending the Tabernacle, I happened to politely hold open the chapel door to let someone through.
That someone was Eileen. In her off-duty just-left-school mufti she looked about fourteen. What the Americans succinctly call jail-bait. I said good morning. Nothing more.
She looked at this fellow who was being a son-on-best-behaviour and thought he was pushing thirty. So said good morning. Nothing more.
It was two long months before the grapevine let it be known that she was every bit of seventeen and he was only twenty.
That was different. So my parents decided to give events a little helping nudge. One sunny spring afternoon (fade in violins and bluebirds twittering) Eileen was summoned to the manse for tea and bikkies.
We were formally introduced. It was instant alchemy.
And from then on, "us" meant Eileen and me. Just as it will in this book.
If you'd hoped for a graphic account of our passionate courtship... sorry, our word processor couldn't handle it.
Be content with a terse but adequate description:
(And just for the record, nothing's changed after thirty-plus years.)
It was fun to catch up on all the details of each others' life. I learned that Eileen had been born in Croydon where her parents had built up a highly successful retail coal business with a fleet of trucks.
Family and business survived the London blitz and prospered in postwar years.
Success, however, wasn't enough. There had to be challenge. So the coal firm was sold, and father, mother and three daughters moved to Kent. On a smallholding, growing strawberries.
I was town born and bred; anything rural was unfamiliar.The trauma of formally meeting Eileen's parents was eased by my venturing into a deep-litter house where hundreds of chooks querulously muttered to themselves and scratched in the straw; stroking behind the ears of a magnificent Saddleback whose ten piglets sprawled lazily in their sty; admiring row after row of orderly, well-hoed strawberries on which the family's income depended.
And I went to the village chapel.
To be fair, Eileen had warned me what to expect. And doctrinally, the Calvinism of the Hastings Tabernacle was close enough to that of the pukka Strict Baptists.
It's the culture shock. The jolt at finding another little religious world, totally self-contained, doing everything their right way, oblivious to your right way.
I only dropped one clanger: warbling verse two of the first hymn while everyone else silently waited for the deacon to read it. Eileen's urgent elbow dug me in the ribs and I fell mercifully silent.
Other people's religion is a funny business.
Between us, though, we had no problems.
Well, maybe just one. I'd "made a decision" at fifteen, had been baptised, took communion.
Eileen - hadn't. They don't go along with the idea of "choosing God" in the S.B.'s. They wait for God to make the first move. So, to be pedantic, she wasn't really a Christian. And I was. But as it only really mattered at communion services, I magnanimously decided to ignore the situation.
The months zapped happily by. My time of compulsory work at the hospital was coming to an end. I had sat and passed the "Open Executive" - a national Civil Service exam that led straight into the middle echelons of Britain's foremost paper-shufflers. When my two years and sixty days ended, there was a good career waiting for me, with a guaranteed pension starting in the year 2000.
Enter Holy Joe. Brian Masters, his real name. A highly vocal, hallelujahing, Bible-thumping Pentecostal who embarrassed everyone he met.
For a while he'd been an enthusiastic Sally. Until he'd stood outside the pub beside the Hastings memorial - in full uniform - physically restraining would-be customers from entering.
The front windows of his council house were covered with texts. Which was all the more outlandish for being in the no-nonsense, respectable days before the hippy thing, the Jesus People and the charismatic move.
Nobody felt very relaxed in his company. Anything could happen when he was around. And - the trouble was, he was genuine. I didn't pretend to understand what made him tick, but I knew (as did everyone who met him) that his behaviour wasn't denominationally motivated, but sprang from a vigorous and practical relationship with God. Which was meaningless to me.
And I had the misfortune to work at the same hospital as Holy Joe.
Normally I gave him a wide berth. Everyone gave him a wide berth.
But it was lunchtime. Blowing a south coast gale with slashes of rain for good measure. So to get to the hospital dining room from ward 14 I used the tunnel which ran under the road and joined both halves of the large complex.
As I entered the tunnel, a hand clamped on my shoulder.
"George, my brother! Praise the Lord, George!"
"Ah, er, hello, Brian. Horrid day."
"George, the Lord has a word for you, saith the Lord - "
Holy Joe's voice had a fair bit of volume. Echoes slammed back and forth along the tunnel. I cringed at the thought of being discovered by other nursing staff.
" - thou shalt not do as thou hast planned and take that Civil Service job thou art offered. Nay! Thou shalt continue here and yea remain nursing at St. Helen's Hospital. Saith the Lord."
I was annoyed. Very annoyed. In no uncertain terms I told him that he might choose to struggle on a pittance to support his family, but I was planning to get married and had accordingly sorted myself out a career. With a good salary plus pension.
The letter that arrived soon afterwards from the Civil Service Commissioners confirmed my executive status and tersely advised me that I would be posted to Maidenhead, a hundred miles away. Millionaire filmstar country, where houses and flats cost an arm and a leg to rent, and even bed and brekky gouged massive chasms in anybody's salary.
I would have been far better off staying in Hastings on the grudging pittance paid to nursing assistants. Okay, maybe I could be excused for not recognising a prophecy when it hit me between the eyes. But the sheer common sense of what Brian had said ought to have gotten through.
Not to me. I had a career. Even though it meant that Eileen and I were to be separated for most of the next eighteen months, finding it heavens hard to save up for our wedding.
Stubborn, that's me.
Patient, that's God. He was laying a bit of a foundation. I'd been brought up to be all hard-headed and plan for the future. Being born in the Depression meant that a good safe job with lashings of promotion prospects was everything.
God wanted to get through to me that He knew best. It was His place to call the shots, tell me when to jump, jack up where my next meal was coming from. And even provide the fun along the way. He calls it 'kingdom'.
Do you know that awful sinking feeling when you've made a wrong decision? It was bad enough to say goodbye to Eileen. It was no fun finding myself in a strange town.
But as I walked into the office that was supposed to contain my working life until the end of the century, I knew I'd made the wrong choice.
A desk. A telephone. A filing cabinet. Wastepaper basket and chair. Blotter, datestamp and pad. Neatly stacked files in the in-tray.
And row upon row of men and women at identical desks, doing identical work that I would be doing.
Until the year 2000.
God was in no hurry to get through my thick skull. He'd got several lessons He wanted me to learn, and He'd all the time in the world to teach me.
Trouble is - we've got our set ideas of how God should function. The more religious we are, the more set our ideas are. We pray "thy will be done", but what we mean is "thy will be done within certain limits". Like - within the range of beliefs and actions tolerated by our church. Like - within the range of behaviour approved by our friends, our society. Like - within the range of activities permitted or commanded by law. Otherwise, sorry, Lord. Nothing doing.
This is why it's hard for us to recognise God at work, often enough. Sure, there are times when He acts inside the funny little rules and traditions we've gathered around us.
That's not kingdom, though. Kingdom is where we ask for His will to be done in us, here and now - in the same way it gets done in heaven. Which we assume is unquestioningly. Without restrictions.
Somehow I can't see an angel saying to God: "Actually, Sir, I'm one of Raphael's people. We do things a bit differently. Perhaps you should ask Gabriel's lot - I gather they're a fair bit more liberal."
Could Michael scratch his head and say: "If you really want to descend with a shout and with an archangel's trump, Uriel will have to do the blowing; I'm post-millennialist, myself".
Kingdom is giving God a book of signed blank cheques.
The hassles we go through are God trying to teach us that it's worth it. That He's not going to have it any other way. That our ideas, laws, customs, doctrines are funny-ha-ha to Him at best. And downright blatant rebellion at worst.
Meanwhile - back at Maidenhead...
The months to our wedding dragged by. Eileen and I wrote every day. Well, not every day. Only six days a week. Which added up to a suitcaseful of letters, eventually. (Just for the record: we burned them when number one son learned to read. We're not daft.)
I boarded with a Jewish family who had survived the Holocaust. Became a lay preacher on the local Methodist circuit.
Until. At last. The great day. Me and her became Mr. and Mrs. An ordeal of a ceremony. A dry reception because my parents were hotly TT, much to the chagrin of Eileen's side. Then off to Weymouth for a week at a luxury hotel, followed by a week in a cabin cruiser on the Norfolk Broads.
Even as starry-eyed honeymooners we were intensely religious. God'll get you if you miss chapel had been dinned into us from the earliest days. So on the morning after the night before, we scrambled madly into our Sunday best and rushed off to find a meeting or something. Our sense of timing was, alas, somewhat adrift. Our arrival coincided with the congregation leaving the building.
On the second week we were a weeny bit better organised. We swung our boat smoothly alongside a jetty, moored with a carefully-practised clove hitch and prepared to enter the cute old steepled building beside the river.
A cluster of worshippers had watched our arrival disapprovingly. One pointed a sanctified and bony forefinger at the boat.
"That," he declared, "is pleasure!"
There is scarcely a greater sin than doing something that you enjoy... on the sabbath. On the way to worship. In the minds of some religious types.
Finally we had to return to everyday life. I'd located a one-room flat with a Baby Belling stove for Eileen to learn cookery on. Two single beds tied together for safety, a radiogram, table, chairs comprised the furnishings. With pay day a fortnight away, we made the discovery that we had the equivalent of $2.50 to feed us until then.
Cabbages and pilchards are cheap and nourishing. We also engineered a surprising number of invitations to dinner.
Pay-day came and went. So did my pay. Too much month, too little money. And it wasn't that we were leading a riotous and sinful. Couldn't afford to. It was the rent of the flat.
Eileen had the bright idea of getting a caravan on the never-never. That needed a deposit. So out she went to a plastics factory, making cheap 'n' nasty pencil cases. It paid nearly as much as my middle-class desk job.
Then a compassionate friend found her a real money-spinner as a temp. with Road Research Laboratories at Slough. Crazy sort of job. Paid about twice what I was getting. Involved sitting at the side of the street - counting the traffic. Operating the original version of the electronic speed trap. Being chauffeur-driven up and down motorways classifying vehicles over measured routes. And pumping the pedals on a Hollerith punch-card computer to analyse traffic problems in (believe it or not) Lagos.
Not to be outdone, I scraped together a couple of weeks leave and took (against the rules of the Civil Services) a job with Koola Fruita, making ice blocks. Mostly sitting underneath a conveyor belt while millions of the things marched overhead. I had to chip at any dodgy ones. Even that paid more than the Civil Service.
It didn't take long for the cash to build up. In no time at all our brand-new caravan was delivered.
To the corner of a cabbage field. Close to a horse trough.
Maidenhead and district was (then) a bit too up-market to have anything as nasty as a caravan park. Fortunately we found a friendly farmer.
At last we could afford to live. Okay, we were in hock to the finance company (whose book-keeping errors operated consistently in their favour - we quickly learned to keep all receipts). But we had our own four walls around us. All the cabbages we could eat. And the water in the horse trough just needed the odd tadpole flicked out now and then.
My activities as a Methodist lay preacher continued. As a young orator I was a dismal failure. It didn't help, the fact that I'd never met God. It didn't help, the fact that the Bible was an anthology of prooftexts for my Calvinism. It didn't help, the fact that the congregations didn't expect anything better.
All around the byways of Bourne End and the highways of High Wycombe I dragged Eileen to the dozens of little chapels built during some long-forgotten revival. And harangued the cluster of little old ladies and restless infants and the inevitable po-faced elder on the complexities of predestination and the perseverance of the saints.
If we were lucky, our bus fares were reimbursed. More often than not - not. If we were very lucky, there was an invitation to lunch.
That was good, but needed a measure of tact with local politics. Like in one village where two Methodist chapels faced each other across the green. I'd preached in one; we were dining in a cottage next door. Innocently I made the observation that I was scheduled to take the afternoon service at the chapel over yonder.
We were coldly informed that the two had quarrelled a hundred or so years ago and had nothing, but nothing to do with each other since.
The rest of the meal proceeded in total silence.
Meanwhile, back at our little home-on-wheels.
Caravans upset local authorities in Britain. They think of gypsies and tinkers and get all agitated.
Substandard, they cry. Despite the fact that the facilities in a 'van are often superior to many of the flats available. Detrimental to the amenities, they cry. Which can be true within cooee of a row of spec-built executive homes, but not in a side road to nowhere tucked out of sight behind a hedge.
We'd been rumbled. We were told to go. Forthwith.
I tried a delaying tactic. Applying for planning approval. For a one-caravan park.
Okay, it hadn't a snowball's. They knew it, we knew it. But these things have to go through the channels. They take time. Especially if you, oops, ever so sorry just happen to miss the quarterly meeting, or leave a signature off a vital document.
Then there are the appeals.
We spun it out for months.
Until, a few days before we would have been legally banished, the Civil Service decided I ought to be transferred.
It's snooty, is Bexhill. Although it's seaside, caravans are only tolerated for holidays. We settled ourselves in a romantic apple orchard on the edge of the town and prepared to play the planning permission charade again.
I mean - what's a bit of anarchy when you don't know any better?
However, God wanted us to stay for more than a few months. When I went to the council offices to pick up the planning application forms, the clerk shook his head.
"You won't get it. The approval, I mean."
"I know that," I snapped. "But I'm entitled to apply!"
"Oh, yerss. Just that it's a waste of time, innit. For all of us. Look - ". He glanced round cautiously, then leaned over the enquiries counter until he was able to whisper in my ear.
"Join the Caravan Club. You're mad on touring. Become a member."
I shook my head vigorously. Why should some nincompoop of an official tell me what to do? I assured him I couldn't care less about touring.
"No, no, no, no," he expostulated, gazing skywards. "Listen, will you! The Caravan Club have been given automatic exemption from planning regulations for all their members. As long as you can prove you've paid your sub, our boys can't touch you. Get it?"
I got it. I catch on fairly fast after a while.
We enrolled. Paid the quid or two, had our membership card receipted. And with the natty green and white club logo displayed in our caravan window, we were untouchable.
Anarchy's one way. God can do better, though.
Quickly we discovered why we were given the chance to settle in the orchard. Moving day from Maidenhead to Bexhill had been significant in more ways than one.
Eileen was pregnant. Gosh.
Okay, we hadn't got electricity. Calor gas and a hissing Tilley lamp were adequate, sort of. Okay, we'd no running water. Every drop had to be carried from a nearby house. It didn't worry us half as much as it did our parents.
Funny things, parents.
* * *
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