Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

Faith & Religion

Faith & Religion and GeneralWednesday, May 25th, 2011, (4:05 pm)

With the end of the world now postponed to October, perhaps I should not have been surprised when a religious icon appeared to me in the most unexpected of situations.

Holy Mary Mother of God appears in my coffee.

It’s a sunny autumn afternoon in Melbourne, Australia. The cool afternoon air is filled with the sounds of traffic, sirens, tram bells, and the mêlée of a thousand conversations swirling around and tangling with one another as people negotiate their path through the busy sidewalks.

I’m making my way to a little laneway café called Manchester Press. Its rustic decor is made from recycled machinery and items that look like they might have been salvaged from the former printing press workshop the café is situated in.

Once there I order my usual caffeinated fix: a cappuccino. Australians are pretty serious about their coffee, and as such, living here has cured me of my penchant for whipped cream topped coffees drowned in flavoured syrup.

I take a seat at a wooden bench that was once a large door, then get out my laptop in preparation for a couple of hours of work.

At the table next to me a group of girls are gossiping about some Facebook drama and a girl who “totally should have known that would happen.” I’m curious about what “that” was, but her transgressions are being drowned out by the blend of rap music and coffee machine harmonics.

My cappuccino arrives while I’m searching (fruitlessly) for a wifi network. ‘Ahmed the Second’ and ‘The Comeback Kid’ are interesting network names, but they’re protected by passwords much like the Facebook girl’s transgressions were protected by noise.

I look over at my cappuccino and I’m stopped in my tracks. Holy Mother of God! The Virgin Mary has appeared in my coffee!

I look around me. It feels like this should be shared, but with whom? The server in his red hat, the chattering girls maybe? I look back at the cup, moving in to examine it a little closer. Is the Virgin Mary smiling?

Maybe she’s laughing about the fact that the world didn’t come to a crashing end at the weekend, despite the forecast of an ageing American preacher. I suspect she’s in the know about such things, but as curious as I am, I’m not about to start talking to my coffee.

I snap a few pictures of the drink. I mean, it’s not often that a deity appears in your coffee. I shoot from this angle, and that, which draws sideways glances from a man in a suit sitting at a nearby table.

“The Virgin Mary is in my coffee.” I tell him. He nods and returns to his paper, probably thinking to himself that the world is full of weirdos and he’s in no mood to engage with one today.

I look back at the cup, pick up the sugar. I’m not saying Mary wasn’t a sweet girl, but I like a little lift in my cappuccino. Then I notice that it seems like she is wearing lipstick. Lipstick on the Holy Mother of God? I wouldn’t have expected that.

Maybe she’s loosening up in these more liberal times, and you know what, a smile and a little lippy is working for her. But wait a second, what’s up with her eyes? Is she… surely she’s not… it can’t be! Is the Virgin Mary winking at me?

Manchester Press
Believers baffled as world doesn’t end
Immaculate confection
Halloween coffee art
Friday evening latte

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Faith & Religion and GeneralSunday, April 4th, 2010, (8:05 pm)

The Easter Bunny rose from the dead today. Well okay, the easter bunny didn’t actually rise from the dead today, but on this day we remember his resurrection when he became the first and only bunny to hatch from an egg, right?

Holy Easter egg

Okay, so it turns out that the Easter Bunny was never actually crucified and chocolate eggs have very little connection to the religious reason behind this holiday weekend that marks the miraculous resurrection of Christ.

Nevertheless it strikes me that there is a significant amount of brand confusion between chocolate eggs and Jesus coming back to life. So with that in mind I had an idea that I thought might help the Christians get their man back into the public eye… Behold the chocolate Jesus!

Rather than pointless eggs and bunnies, Christian folk could give their friends a chocolate Jesus instead. Variations might include the Good Friday version where Christ is affixed to a candy crucifix, or the perhaps more palatable, but no less tasty, Christ without the cross.

Children and adults alike, who might not ordinarily give Jesus a second thought as they go about their Easter weekend activities, would now have pause to think about the risen Lord as they contemplate what part of his anatomy to bite off first.

Indeed, choclatising Jesus in the same way his followers Christianised the pagan festival of Eastre (the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe) is surely a fantastic way to put the subject of Jesus Christ back on centre stage of this increasingly secularised holiday weekend.

Yet when I suggested this idea to Christian friends of mine it was curiously met with looks of disdain and outright offense. “I can’t talk to you about Christ like this.” Said one of my friends before abruptly ending our conversation. Another told me the idea was “profoundly distasteful.”

But seriously, what’s the big deal? Why is the idea of a chocolate Jesus more offensive than a regular Jesus? How come it’s acceptable to cast a crucifix in gold but not in candy?

I guess I don’t really care. I like eating chocolate and I’m happy to relax over a four day weekend for any reason. But I do find it somewhat confusing as to why the idea of a chocolate Jesus is met with such utter derision by the very people who decry the removal of Christ from Christmas.

Now, if I really wanted to offend people, then I would have suggested something far worse. Just imagine the outcry when the crucified chocolate easter bunnies hit the store! Eat your heart out Glenn Close.

Hiding Easter eggs

The Pagan origins of Easter
Happy Eastre

Faith & Religion and GeneralThursday, April 30th, 2009, (3:39 am)

Shortly after strutting her stuff in a bikini in front of a TV audience of millions tuned in for the Miss USA beauty pageant earlier this month, Miss California, 21 year old Carrie Prejean, was asked for her opinion on same sex marriage by a pageant judge, Perez Hilton. Smiling while speaking, as all beauty queens should, Miss California gave her answer.

“I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And you know what? I think in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that’s how I was raised.” She said.

Her response created a tempest in a teacup which the U.S media has treated as a welcome distraction from the economic doom and gloom. Gay rights groups decried Prejean’s opinion as Christian groups hailed her as heroine for the cause of keeping marriage between a man and a woman.

Nearly two weeks later with the subject still in the news, it seems that while she didn’t win the crown of Miss USA, Miss California certainly stole the show. Her comments have put her right in the middle of the debate over same sex marriage that rages across the United States.

A religious and political group called the National Organization for Marriage plan to use her comments in a new TV ad. The group recently ran a controversial TV ad entitled ‘A Gathering Storm‘ which they claimed brought viewers “face to face with the growing religious liberty threat posed by same-sex marriage.”


I’m not trying to be controversial here, but maybe someone could explain what the big deal is with this subject? Surely couples who make a lifetime commitment to one another should be afforded the same rights under the law regardless of their race, religion, or sexual orientation. In the UK we have civil unions which, as I understand it, are essentially the same as a marriage in all but name. Would this not work in the U.S, and if not then why?

Is it because the Bible says something about marriage being between a man and a woman? If so then why is it that groups like the National Organization for Marriage don’t object to non-Christians getting married?

Is it because of some moral objection? In which case why aren’t Christian and moral groups equally as impassioned and vocal about moral issues such as world poverty, social justice, and women being portrayed as sex objects as they parade around in bikinis at meaningless beauty pageants?

Taking the heat and the hate out of this question, can anyone explain to me why same sex marriage is such a problem?

Miss California gets heroine’s welcome at San Diego church
Miss California to star in TV ad from conservative group
Miss Teen USA 2007 : South Carolina answers a question
Miss Rehab USA
Some people are gay, get over it
[Video] National Organization for Marriage : Gathering Storm
[Video] Miss California speaks about marriage at pageant
[Video] Miss USA bikini contest

Faith & ReligionWednesday, June 18th, 2008, (6:49 pm)

Sometimes I feel sorry for preachers. They are the easiest people in the world to shoot down because their position as moral leader, guardian, and teacher, elevates them to a level where they almost cannot afford to fail, yet because they are human they screw up and make a mess of things the same as anyone else.

Jesus in an interview to become a Minister of the Church

Last Friday an ordained pastor of a church I once attended made something of a fool of herself when she ran out of the birthday party of a mutual friend in an unnecessarily dramatic fashion due to my arrival. Our paths briefly crossed 14 years ago and for reasons that I won’t bore you with here, she managed to develop an intense disliking for me.

I don’t blame her for not liking me, after all, everyone is entitled to their opinions, and our views about her church (The Wirral Christian Centre), which I once attended, are quite different. However, I had hoped that time might have mellowed the newly ordained Pastor and that despite our very different opinions we could politely avoid any kind of friction at our friend’s birthday, but alas it wasn’t to be. Within a week of preaching about forgiveness the pastor had already failed to live up to her own sermon. She had, in effect, fallen at the first furlong.

While I could be angry at her for being so apparently hypocritical, I am in truth just sad that she couldn’t find it in herself or her faith to act in a more ‘Christian‘ way; if not for me, for our mutual friend, his other guests, and for those of her church who had to witness the way she fumbled the situation. Christians often like to ask “What would Jesus do?” and given the chance I would put that question to her right now too.

Make no mistake though, I do understand that it must be hard to be a preacher. Failure to live up to the words that you preach is not just a possibility, it’s surely something of a certainty. To execute the role of preacher successfully one must be able to draw on gigantic reserves of humility, something that is surely difficult to do for someone who is used to commanding a crowd and leading a congregation.

Sadly the pastor involved has chosen not to apologize for her behavior, and has instead allowed our mutual friend, the host, to come under fire for inviting me in the first place. That’s a shame though because I had hoped that despite her initial gaff, the pastor would fix the situation with a quick apology to the host allowing everyone to move on and forget about it.

Maybe the hardest thing of all, for someone in the role of preacher and moral leader, is to remain truthful about their own failings. Allowing yourself to be judged by those whom you are charged with guiding might very well take the biggest leap of faith yet.

Hypocrisy is the greatest luxury
In Gods House
Wirral Christian Centre Watch
Wirral Christian Centre

Faith & Religion and Found on the webSaturday, June 7th, 2008, (10:38 pm)

I have a lot of respect for religious people. I find their ability to believe and follow in faith admirable, and perhaps even enviable. But if you were a con man looking for a new gig then picking on the legions of happy clappy hands-in-the-air Christians might just be as easy as taking candy from a baby. – Enter, a website that enables subscribers to send emails to their loved ones after the Rapture! Hallelujah!

Jesus is coming! That’s been the battle cry of many a God fearing Christian over the years, and according to the Bible when he does all true Christians alive on the earth will ascend into heaven to meet the Lord. This is called the Rapture. Clearly there are some obvious logistical difficulties about ascending though the earth atmosphere, but it’s all part of the Christian faith to believe that God has got you covered, so there’s no need to go out and buy a pressure suit and breathing apparatus moments after singing ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ for the first time.

The problem with the rapture is that loads of people will be left behind because they didn’t choose to become Christian or they gambled their eternal soul on the ‘wrong God.’ That’s where comes in, a $40 per year subscription service for Christians who want to have the opportunity to send a final email to loved ones left behind after the Rapture.

According to the website the company has set up a system to send documents to the email addresses provided by paying subscribers six days after the Rapture. “Our purpose is to get one last message to the lost, at a time, when they might just be willing to hear it for the first and last time.” Reads the website.

The site claims to be programed and run by Christians, for Christians. Rapture monitoring is done by five, presumably qualified, ‘true Christians.’ who each have to log in at regular intervals in order not to start the automated Rapture delivery system.

According to the site, the Rapture delivery system starts “when 3 of our 5 team members scattered around the U.S fail to log in over a 3 day period. Another 3 days are given to fail safe any false triggering of the system.”

Business website says. “There are probably enough [Christians] out there who will sign up and make this site a success. The cost of $40 per year is pretty reasonable if that means that you give your friends and family a chance to re-think and go and meet the Lord.” However they site also have some doubts about viability issues, asking; “Will the Lord accept people who needed an email to convince them to become true Christians?”

In an effort to help its subscribers know what to write in a final message there is the youvebeenleftbehind blog from which to garner some inspiration. In one example Heather writes “Dear Freind,” That’s her typo, not mine. “I’m sure you’re terrified and confused by all of the terrible events that have occurred. I’m sure you have heard the Rapture theories by now, and you may wonder why I’m gone and you’re here.” She then links her would be recipients to a website about getting ‘saved’ before signing off her email with one alarming addendum; “PS – Look out for the guy who wants to bring peace!”

The site encourages subscribers to make use of their alloted 150Mb of encrypted space in which to store “personal and private” documents. A now removed portion of text on the site (found in Google’s cache) read; “In the encrypted portion of your account you can give them [friends and family] access to your banking, brokerage, hidden valuables, and powers of attorneys’ (you won’t be needing them any more, and the gift will drive home the message of love). There won’t be any bodies, so probate court will take 7 years to clear your assets to your next of Kin. 7 years of course is all the time that will be left. So, basically the Government of the AntiChrist gets your stuff, unless you make it available in another way.”

Bruce Schneier, a security technologist from California is concerned. “What if the creator of this site isn’t as scrupulous as he implies he is?” He asks. “What if he uses all of that account information, passwords, safe combinations, and whatever before any rapture? And even if he is an honest true believer, this seems like a mighty juicy target for any would-be identity thief.” Worse still, despite the sites claims that the data can be encrypted, Schneier says that the encryption key is stored on the server with the data.

Of course, I’d like to believe this is a joke, perhaps by the same people who created all the hoopla that surrounded the God Hates A Fag music video, but I’m not sure. It could be a scam, but there’s something about the hair-brained amateurish nature of all this with its poor execution and flakey forethought that screams ‘Christian’ to me. So you see, it might be worse than a scam, it might be real! (For all your Rapture needs) press release
God Hates A Fag music video
Dodgy website targets US God Squad
Stuff Christians like (Your post rapture letter delivered by hand!) (Sell your assets in a rapture futures market)
[Video] Classic ‘Six Feet Under’ start scene

Faith & Religion and TravelTuesday, April 29th, 2008, (10:06 pm)

One of the things I find most fascinating about mankind is how different cultures across the world have come to recognize and celebrate spirituality. India is often the place many people go to in order to explore aspects of this, and as much as it might be a cliche, it does seem to be the case that India is somehow more attune or open to the unfathomable.

Tiruvannamalai main temple.

Visiting temples and shrines here makes me feel like I’m caught up in a conversation among poets. I stand there and nod at random intervals hoping that nobody will realise that I’m faking it, and that I’m no poet, I don’t read poetry, and that it just isn’t really my thing. I do spirituality like I do golf. I know there’s a method and that practice will bring improvement, but on the rare occasions I find myself on a golf course I just slug the crap out of the little white ball in the hope that it will land somewhere relatively near the green.

Tiruvannamalai main temple.

Standing at the foot of one of the ornately decorated temple towers, called gopurams, I look up at the structure that dates back some 1,200 years and marvel at the fact that this was built to glorify the Gods. It is, in effect, a spectacular monument to mankind’s relationship with that which we cannot control or fully understand, to a drive that has inspired us to build radically different monuments all over the world and throughout all of time.

I can’t tell you much about the temples and shrines pictured here. Instead I’m sharing these photographs with you more for the opportunity to once again look upon them and wonder how it is that they came to be. How something that inspires such beauty can at the same time unleash such unholy horror.

Another temple in Tiruvannamalai.

A shrine to Nandi on the road around Arunachala, the holy hill.

Another temple on the road around Arunachala, the holy hill.

The temple like roof of a public toilet and baths in Tiruvannamalai!

Yet another temple on the road around Arunachala, the holy hill.

The roof of just one of the many temples in Tiruvannamala.

Somewhere away from the politics and power struggles of the various religions of the world, there is a faith and connection in the hearts of many that is so moving and powerful that it has led the creation of some truly awe inspiring buildings, shrines, and art works.

If God is a creative power, then maybe when we’re not blinded by our differences, mankind’s truest reflection of God is in our ability to create.

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