Fasting in the new normal

The new normal: a new perspective

Thinking about the new normal again (oh dear, did you say, we would prefer that you did not think too much): we have had a year of, in alphabetical order, Zoom, Webex, Teams and other rooms’ meetings. I suppose we are getting used to that by now. We can meet anyone, anywhere at almost any time. Some have become so accustomed to this kind of meeting that they even say, ‘Let’s meet for coffee’. The virtual room is set up and wonderful face to face chat takes place over the coffee at the your own kitchen table. Then of course are the long and tedious lunch time office meetings with bacon and avocado, ham and pickle, cheese and tomato sandwiches laid on. At least in the virtual room it is easier to pretend that you are paying attention. And the committee meetings, all day or evening, which you can now do in the comfort of your own armchair. But no matter how heavily your own table is laden with caviar, smoked salmon, trout, olives, cucumbers, garlics, brie, mozzarella, cheddar, brioches, croissants, fruited breads and oysters you cannot but yearn for the dried up ham sandwiches and soggy cheese and tomato just to be able to be with your colleagues, peers and committee members, to be able to hear their real voices instead of replicas emanating from the inside of a loudspeaker. As one of my colleagues said as the others were glued to the admittedly much better pictures on their computer screens, whereas we had simple rigged up a pinhole camera to display the event on a sheet of paper, at the transit of Venus: Come and watch the real thing. You can see the missing photons. We were watching the real shadow cast by the Sun of Venus as it happened.

But I thought, there are some good things about this virtual world, and this thought was inspired by a lady who always liked to make sure she would be on night duty at this time of the year. We have become, as we said accustomed to it. It no longer feels as unnatural as it did before. We can join in with people anywhere in the world, or even out of this world if you count the ISS among your contacts. It is good to join in with things. The physical limitations of our being have meant that we could not choose to do so wherever we liked, but the virtual world overcomes that. On a UK visit, one contact was not put off but continued to meet in the virtual gaming world with his companions until they banned him, as he had managed to secure a better connection from the UK to the controller than they could. But for a time he was effectively in two places as one. In this virtual world not only can you meet with people anywhere, you can yourself be anywhere. You can travel around the globe in a matter of minutes, though I would not recommend it as that would be rather like playing knick-knock on the doorbells down your street, better perhaps to spend a while with the ones whom you visit on the way. If you plan it well you can have morning coffee every hour for twenty four hours, and if by then your hands are not shaking your arms out of their shoulder joints, you could start again. I can think of a few people who would be overwhelmed by the prospect of such a thing especially if it involved chocolate with the coffee. So I thought I would modify my degustational habits, and as I have met a few people there, and for this purpose and this purpose only, I shall be in Alice Springs. I shall breakfast just after sunset.

But what is fasting?

Fasting is a difficult thing to do, as you will know if ever you have tried it. When you fast, anoint your face, the Lord said, so that people do not know that you fast. So you go about your business as if nothing has changed, and suddenly you notice it. It seems that almost everyone has a fixation on eating, and more to the point getting you to eat. You go to the office, and on the way the free gifts are being handed out at the station: a new energy bar. As you arrive, they are handing out the croissant: a bit of an embarrassment really, the caterers delivered the clients’ breakfast to the office and not the convention centre, and so not to let them go to waste… The catering failure at the convention centre brings some back to the office early, and they want you to join them for lunch. In the middle of the afternoon, the dreadnoughts come round: but it is Tuesday. Thursday is dreadnought day. It’s a busy day, and you notice how wherever you go, people offer sweets: boiled sweets, chewy sweets, toffee to glue your teeth together sweets, chocolate – you can’t say no to that surely. And all the while you hold your tongue and do not say ‘I can’t, I’m fasting’ but you are also fast running out of other excuses, then a ‘phone call arrives from Jim who is in town just for the day…

There are the days of course when nothing happens, until one person comes by and you are caught unawares. Deeply engrossed in whatever work you had to do, there he is someone with whom you had never spoken before. He wants to talk, he has some questions but does not quite know how to begin, so to break the ice offers you a sweet; without thinking you accept and in it goes. You can do nothing. Although it is not too late to remove it from the buccal cavity to do so would not provide a propitious opening to the conversation which was about to begin. You remind yourself that fasting is not a matter of law; your attention is given over to the business that the one time stranger has brought to you.

Fasting has benefits. There are physiological benefits, but of that I shall not speak. The time that we retrieve by not eating, preparing to eat, and dealing with its effects, can be spent in prayer and meditation.

Moses fasted for 40 full days when he received the law from God and neither ate nor drank. How did he survive that? We sometimes hear what hunger strikes do to men. The Lord reminded us that that the law itself says that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. If the Lord was able to provide manna in the wilderness for a people numbering millions for forty years, then he was also able to sustain Moses through his exhausting fast. Remember however that the miracle of the manna ceased when the people entered the promised land. The sustention of Moses does not provide us with an excuse to test the Lord by our fasting.

The Lord himself after his baptism by John in the Jordan went out into the wilderness to fast, also for forty full days. It was at the end of this time that he was tempted by the devil to satisfy himself, test God and take his kingdom in way other than that which had been planned from the foundation of the world. He rejected these things. The temptations prepared him for the work he had come to do: ‘I have not come to do my will but the will of him who sent me. I have not come to be served, but to be a servant, to carry my cross and give my life for my sheep.’

We noted that fasting provides an opportunity for prayer and meditation, but take care: Fasting does not provide cleansing, or the forgiveness of sins. These are only available because Jesus has made the only acceptable sacrifice for sin in his own death. That you fast, pray and meditate may show that you have received cleansing but it will not give it to you. James in his letter reminds us that just as we know that a tree is living when it produces fruit, we know that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation is living (real) when it produces fruit (good works, etc). The good works do not provide salvation any more than the fruit can cause the tree to live.

So, we learn that fasting, just a physical training, has some value, but it can do nothing to cleanse the soul. The Lord told us that if our hand leads us into sin to cut it off for it is better to enter the kingdom of God maimed than be cast into hell whole. The point of this is not that it is our hands that cause us to sin; he tells us elsewhere that sin proceeds from the heart. If we would be clean in heart, we shall be clean in hand and foot as well, and if we would be clean we must look to the Lord Jesus Christ and set our hope on the living God who is the Saviour of all.

So, fast if you will, but if you do not hold fast to the Lord Jesus, there is no salvation.

It is far, far better that he hold you fast, than that you hold a fast.

Existential statements

Coco thought he would keep it simple in this post and just make a big existential statement, but what in reality Coco was thinking was to discover just how many characters had to be written before the ‘see more’ message appears, and to provide a short introduction to his new art work, which has not yet been refused by the Tate and goes by the same name. This is not enough, as you can see, or rather cannot see, yet. The words ‘see more’ have not yet appeared.

So let us try again:

Coco thought that this evening he would just make a big existential statement:



Plans do not change, but minds do…

Two friends were out chatting as they do. Martina, who had finished her coffee was Italian, and Stella, still wondering whether she should put sugar in her tea, came from Essex. Martina and Stella had met on a finger painting course in the school of art studies at the university of Fortecolpe which is in the vicinity of Telavivodetto. Strangely the course had been conducted in German and had focussed on Email, which seemed, especially to Stella, quite extraordinary, but nevertheless, with Martina who understood most of it, she completed the course. They maintained their friendship, and now found themselves working in the same area in Finchley.

Stella: Ronald just doesn’t get it. We’d planned to go out for lunch. I was really busy and couldn’t take the time off, but when I said let’s just have a quick cup of tea he was really angry with me and said I was changing the plan.

Martina: Amica, he must be taught. You know always to visit have I wanted Brighton and his Pavilion. Fernando from the gym has agreed after my enormous efforts to go with me to Southend on Saturday morning to choose a present for my dear Nonno..

Stella: but you don’t have a car?

Martina: Don’t interrupt, amica mea, we know. He has a car, but he is going with me. I am taking him. Capisci? On the way I shall say to him, Are you going to go all around the M25 then? And he will say, No, we shall just cross over it on the way to Southend. But it doesn’t really matter what he says: I shall reply, but we are going to Brighton, I changed my mind. He will be furious, but then, e allora? che importa? he’s Spanish.

Stella: ???

Martina: You don’t change the plan..

Stella, finally allowing the sugar lump to fall into the tea, which rather caused an upset in the saucer: Your change of mind was part of the plan!

Otto von Bismark was putatively reputed to have said: If ever I shall be faced with a female general, remind me to negotiate a settlement before the engagement.

The choice of origin for the persons referred to in this conversation is accidental and was not planned to cause offence, irritation, dismay or distress to any of the actual or potential readers nor to anyone who has not read the words used but to whom they have merely, either in full or by gist, been reported. OvB is not related to the German chancellor of a similar name.

The new normal

Let us eat….

It has been overshadowed in the last few days by the passing of a great man. The Duke is rightly to be remembered and his life celebrated for all the good he has done and in the idiosyncrasies that he displayed. His death reminds us that life does not remain the same; time moves on; until now in recent days, and I suppose that it shall return, there had been much talk in these parts about what the new normal will look like. I don’t know what you hear elsewhere, but what we hear doesn’t sound to me very much unlike the old.

Holidays in the sun is good for vitamin D deficient sun lovers unless they also have a melanin deficiency in which case extra strong skin cream is required. Racing to return to the gym, which provides bodily exercise for those who do not have to labour hard in the acre of land that the government allows them on which to grow maize and other crops. Eating out and visits to the cinema, theatre, opera, shows, concerts, dance halls, gigs (is that orthographically correct, or should it be gigues?) and the like are, well, without the need for justification of any sort, a necessary part of the new normal. Let us eat drink and be merry¹, seems to be the message.

Are we any different? There has been much celebrated over the past year of dedication, selfless giving, service, but little (but not nothing) has been said about the cleaner who was no longer needed because her employer now WFH had recovered two hours a day not being required to travel, or the employer who simply told his staff not to bother to return the next day, they would not be paid. The poor still had mouths to feed and bills to pay.

Do not think I am about to suggest that wealth is bad, Abraham² did not berate the rich man for enjoying the things that he enjoyed in this life but for failing to believe in the Son of Man. He was not asked to give half his wealth to Lazarus who sat at his gate, but rather to remember justice, righteousness and compassion. It was this that he forgot.

In the new normal, will we simply revert to type, and behave as we always have done? Noah³ left a world that was filled with violence to sail into a new world. What sort of violence? Physical, economic, emotional, therapeutic? Did Noah hope for better in the new world into which through the flood he had sailed? But his own behaviour and that of his sons soon showed that the world that they had left behind had come with them. The new world was no better. We today seek to deal with violence, but the very need to do so simply exposes our shame that it continues to exist.

The last year is no cure for our condition; it has shown many good things about the image of God in which we are made, but it has also exposed that our condition is unchanged.

There is but one cure, the man, who himself suffered violence at the hands of his own people, is our cure. Jesus now sits at the right hand of God⁴ and will come again to take his people to a world which really shall be new and different than this one, where there shall be no violence, no hurt, no harm. That will be the new normal; it will be an extraordinary, previously unimagined normal⁵, but it is the only new normal for which it is worth waiting.

Mene, mene, tekel upharsin⁶.

¹ Ecclesiastes 8:15, Isaiah 22:13, Luke12:19, 1 Corinthians 15:32
³ Luke 16:19-31
³ Genesis 9
⁴ Mark 16:19, Luke 22:69, Acts 2:33, 5:31, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 10:12, 12:2, 1 Peter 3:22
⁵ 1 Corinthians 2:9,
⁶ Daniel 5:25


At great risk of being misunderstood, it is very clear that the age of chivalry is over. The most senior of the other two should have given up his seat for the lady. Perhaps the difficulty they had was that the first one to have stood would have been claiming precedence over the other 😉

Ahem! No seat for von der Leyen
The European Commission president had to sit on a nearby sofa as the EU visited Turkey.


It was heard said..

It was mentioned one day that a geography teacher had come across some quite interesting statistics. Well, if you are a geography teacher I suppose you would find this sort of statistic to be quite interesting. The question had been asked: How far away from where you are now living were you born? He had noticed that of people living in the UK 60% had been born within 30 miles of where they now live. In France that rose to 70% (presumably the French figure was in kilometres so the extra 1.7km would skew the answer slightly, in fact by about 6%, so even making this allowance and adjusting the 60% by 6% still shows that the French are 6% more indolent (not used pejoratively in case you are wondering) than the British).

Now the question may of course have been asked the other way around: How far away from where you were born are you now living? This produces some quite interesting and different results. The graph below shows the results in percentage terms of birth population movements for a number of different countries and other groupings. Not all nations and grouping are shown. In order to make it easier to read we have only three of the countries of the UK, France, Germany and the world as a whole (the grey line). You may be able to see some faint lines representing other nations, but I shall not comment on them here.

Looking first at the grey world line, we see that roughly 70% of people live within 50 miles of their birth place or as the French would say: accueil familial.

We notice first of all significant disparity within the United Kingdom. Whilst England (the orange line) shows slightly more mobility than the world as a whole (only 63% live within 50 miles of their place of origin) Scotland (the blue line) for example shows great movement, only 15% live within 50 miles. It seems however that most Welsh born are still within the principality (93% within 50 miles). The reasons for these we shall speculate upon shortly.

I have not included its line as the graph quickly becomes quite hard to read, but China is worth a mention. The figures are perhaps difficult to compare with other nations because of its great size, so greater movement might be expected, but there are a number of conflicting things going on. There are the local restrictions which prevent you from moving far, but on the other hand there are not insignificant large scale centralised movements of population, and nothing very much in between. Interestingly the world total pretty much tracks the results for China and India when taken together; perhaps as they are such vast regions who together comprise 36% of the world’s population it is though interesting unremarkable.

We have already commented on France (the green line) above, but the results for France on this alternate basis bear out the earlier suggestion. 80% of French born are within 80 kilometers of the place of birth. This is not a continental matter, for the results for Germany show only 45% at this point. It is to be understood however, as a desire to remain where you are. The local degustation is familiar to you, as are the cheeses and wines of your own département, why would you move to another one? Quite a contrast with England where the cheese of one area has become quite ubiquitous, so it hardly matters where you live at all. The results in Germany (the dark blue line) clearly show us the effect of unification, with large scale movements crossing what was the border. Only 45% live within 50Km, increasing to 84% within 1000.

When we look at England (the orange line); the figures are, as already noted, below the mean until you get up to over 1000 miles. The conclusion drawn is that the English just want the sun and most of those who went for it now regret that they went to live in France and Spain and so were unable to vote in the referendum which led to their alienation from their homeland of choice rather than of birth.

Turning to Wales (the yellow line) and Scotland (the bright blue) we see that they are even further removed from the world mean, and extremely so. Wales is north of the mean, and Scotland far to the south. The reasons for this if you look at the graph in incremental rather than cumulative form as here (if you are really interested I can let you have the incremental graph, but I decided not to post it here as it is rather lumpy, used in the technical sense beloved of statisticians, which only makes a complex issue even more complex). The most interesting of the two cases however is perhaps Wales, which seems to indicate not an indolent but a contented population. In Wales there seems to be little movement, 93% are within 50 miles, as people want to stay where they are. It cannot be the cheeses and wines, but something else. They are a happy and contented people, and when they do move they have to make sure they are within a couple of hours of Cardiff Arms Park which sets limits on their mobility. Those who do move far make sure that they go far enough away that they do not rue the fact they cannot get back to Cardiff for the Game.

In Scotland however we have quite a different picture. Even at 65 miles we have only 15%, but then a rapid increase; 50% at 300; 84% at 500. Where have they gone? Well such distances can only be achieved by crossing the southern border. It is suggested that it is a fear of secession from the UK hence a desire to move quickly across the border which prompts this demographic change, otherwise there is little movement because there is nowhere to go.

As interesting as such analysis might be, perhaps the conclusion that we can really draw from this is that, even though we can say 60% of people in the UK live within 30 miles of where they were born, 70% live within 100 miles, 90% live within 1000 and 100% live within about 12000 miles of where they were born, that it is astonishing, when we look at the world as a whole, in which live more than 7.1 milliards of living souls, that none of them have moved further than 20 million meters from their place of birth.

Figures courtesy of the UNONS and AF

With apologies in advance for errors of syntax, orthography and grammar which may be found embedded in this document whether arising from oversight, incorrect application of language packs or any other misadventure; and in general for any offence given, received or taken inadvertently, inappropriately or deliberately and, if you have managed to read this far, for any errors or omissions whether wilful, unintended, innocent or deliberate in the content of this article.