Author Archives: Ian-Luke Penwald

About Ian-Luke Penwald

A Londoner and a Brit working in niche media in the UK.

Before. During. After.

imageI recently came back from Denmark. In my previous blog post I wrote of my state of mind prior to going and why I went away. From time to time a read a Christian devotional called ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ written by Oswald Chambers (again see last blog post for more on him). This is the reading for the 3rd April, a few days before I flew away, which pretty summed up my state of mind at the time:

If Thou Hadst Known!

If thou hadst known . . . in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. — Luke 19:42

Jesus had entered into Jerusalem in triumph, the city was stirred to its foundations; but a strange god was there, the pride of Pharisaism; it was religious and upright, but a “whited sepulchre.”

What is it that blinds me in this “my day”? Have I a strange god – not a disgusting monster, but a disposition that rules me? More than once God has brought me face to face with the strange god and I thought I should have to yield, but I did not do it. I got through the crisis by the skin of my teeth and I find myself in the possession of the strange god still; I am blind to the things which belong to my peace. It is an appalling thing that we can be in the place where the Spirit of God should be getting at us unhinderedly, and yet increase our condemnation in God’s sight.

“If thou hadst known” – God goes direct to the heart, with the tears of Jesus behind. These words imply culpable responsibility; God holds us responsible for what we do not see. “Now they are hid from thine eyes” – because the disposition has never been yielded. The unfathomable sadness of the “might have been!” God never opens doors that have been closed. He opens other doors, but He reminds us that there are doors which we have shut, doors which need never have been shut, imaginations which need never have been sullied. Never be afraid when God brings back the past. Let memory have its way. It is a minister of God with its rebuke and chastisement and sorrow. God will turn the “might have been” into a wonderful culture for the future.

On the 11th April I flew to Denmark. On the 12th this happened to me. This is the post I put on Facebook at the end of that day:

Something happened to me today. Another one of those God things that have happened in the past. I’ve tried to blog about it here in my hotel room in Copenhagen but I’ve given up so here it is:
I came here to seek solitude and reconnect wit…h God. I’m meant to be having breakfast in the hotel this morning but the restaurant is full. I notice it’s sunshine and clear blue sky outside (a rarity in Denmark I’ve read). I decide to skip the breakfast I paid for and head out. I’ve started to pray again and keep on doing as I try to find my way to the Little Mermaid statue without a map. I find it. It’s beautiful outside. Then as I head back to the city on foot I hear words in my head. Not words from me. Words outside me yet in my head.

Open your heart to hope again.
Open your soul to believe again.
Open your mind to imagine again.

Things like this have happened to me before. I have blogged about it and put it in the public space for anyone to read. To try and describe how these words sounded would be impossible yet I knew they were not from me. I have had a few very strange encounters with God which I have openly blogged about. They are very, very rare. But with all my heart and honesty I attest to them as true.
The time this happened as I walked though the Kastellet, an old fortress and former military barracks by Copenhagen harbour. It was around 9:59am. Why do I know this? Not because I had a watch and iPad on me but because there is a church on the Kastallet – looking like any English country church – that started to peel the 10am chimes. Just before then I had stopped, got out my iPad and had recorded a note of the words I heard. As I finished the church bells started to chime. Those chimes ended in a full verse played by the church bells of a hymn we know well in the UK:

He who would valiant be against all disaster
Let him in constancy follow the Master
There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent to be a Pilgrim.

I stopped walking and just listened to the chimes. It was as if all my inner turmoil was being addressed in those bells.
Funny how my day would have been so different had I decided to stay at the hotel insisting on the breakfast I paid for.
For me, the words and the peel of the church bells spoke exactly into my life and where I was and am right now. The shock I felt has remained with me all day. This post won’t make sense to some of my FB friends or be welcome by others. I can’t apologise for that but if you have known me to be mates with me this long this will not come as any surprise. I am just me on here, warts, wounds and all. For my FB friends who understand and welcome this post. We are never too long in the tooth or too buried in life’s shit to be disqualified from a visit.

Then when I returned to London travelling to work on my first day back, I was still trying to take in my encounter in Denmark. I turned once again to that day’s reading in ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ and found this:

Can You Come Down From the Mountain?

While you have the light, believe in the light . . . —John 12:36

We all have moments when we feel better than ever before, and we say, “I feel fit for anything; if only I could always be like this!” We are not meant to be. Those moments are moments of insight which we have to live up to even when we do not feel like it. Many of us are no good for the everyday world when we are not on the mountaintop. Yet we must bring our everyday life up to the standard revealed to us on the mountaintop when we were there.

Never allow a feeling that was awakened in you on the mountaintop to evaporate. Don’t place yourself on the shelf by thinking, “How great to be in such a wonderful state of mind!” Act immediately— do something, even if your only reason to act is that you would rather not. If, during a prayer meeting, God shows you something to do, don’t say, “I’ll do it”— just doit! Pick yourself up by the back of the neck and shake off your fleshly laziness. Laziness can always be seen in our cravings for a mountaintop experience; all we talk about is our planning for our time on the mountain. We must learn to live in the ordinary “grey” day according to what we saw on the mountain.

Don’t give up because you have been blocked and confused once— go after it again. Burn your bridges behind you, and stand committed to God by an act of your own will. Never change your decisions, but be sure to make your decisions in the light of what you saw and learned on the mountain.

I am still walking in the light of all the above and will be flying away again very soon for part two of my personal retreat. I wonder what deeper insights await?

My utmost for His highest

imageIt’s rare that I recommend a book essentially because I am a poor reader but if I were ever asked to go on the radio show ‘Desert Island Discs’ and name my one luxury item to take with me other than my record choices, the Bible and the complete works of William Shakespeare, it would be this book.

I can’t remember which friend it was of mine who first introduced me to it when I found faith. It’s written by British author with the unlikely name of Oswald Chambers in 1924 after his death in 1917. Chambers came to faith via the early Pentecostal movement in the UK and My Utmost for His Highest was written as a summary of his teachings to students of his Bible College and soldiers on the battlefields of the Middle East. MUFHH became one of the most popular religious books of all time in the UK. Sadly I don’t hear much reference to it nowadays. The writings were turned into daily devotionals spanning each day of the year and then repeat. For me, after the great CS Lewis, Oswald Chambers is my favourite modern Christian author (if 1924 can still be classed as modern).

imageWhat comes through his writing that touches me every time is his clear living relationship with the God he writes about. He knows Him as friend, father, teacher, Lord, comforter, encourager, chastiser and so much more. It is impossible to read any one of his daily devotions and not be caused to ponder in a good way deep inside. Often the thoughts provoked will remain with you all day and beyond, which is why it is best not to be tempted to read more than one devotion a day.

There are no rules to reading the book. Though each reading is set over each day of the year it is entirely valid to not move on to the next because you are still taking in the last even if that means you are out of kilter for the rest of the year. Likewise it is entirely valid to dive in at any random point you choose. The readings are not timed to coincide with seasons or the church calendar. In short, bite-sized written thoughts oozing to overflowing with more than your 5-a-day in spiritual goodness I would recommend every Believing household has access to this book.

imageI’m going away shortly on part 1 of a two-part spiritual retreat to three cities in foreign places I’ve never been to before. I’m going on my own yet taking two friends with me. Mr Chambers will be one. The other will, by His own unique magic, be both travelling with me and awaiting me on the other side. I need to get away. The need for some clear head space since last year has been crying out to me for a while. Yet so much of the working out of my faith is under question. The person of God and his reality to me is not under the microscope. The day that He became for me something beyond the stained glass windows and ceremony to being a living person who wanted to interact with me and have relationship with me is still too real in my memory. Yet Christianity I see in the UK today does seem to be in a quandary as to what it believes and I’m caught up in that too.

It is because I am secure in my still living personal relationship with God that I am in no sense of crisis and am open and honest enough to make my feelings public. I don’t expect to come back from my two retreats having had a life and perspective changing experience. Of course that is what I’m wanting but my faith is not based on feelings and holiday memories. What I do know I will get is the reconnect with the God I chose to follow that I have allowed life to rob from me. I’ve done huge amounts of prep on the 3 cities I will visit but doing and seeing all those things are 2nd priority to the main goal: to come away with Him. For the record, none of the cities being visited has any religious significance. They are just 3 cities I’ve never visited.

My relationship with church and church leaders has never been the easiest, though I still do strongly believe in both. But it seems to me that the Church and Christians at large are in a quandary as to what they believe and I am caught up in that quandary too. I need time out to seriously realise what I, Ian-Luke, believe and where I stand with God. More so than that, I need to get away for a while from the politics and debate of all around me – not easy to do when you work in a major Christian multi-media hub – and enquire of Him what He asks of me in these times. In the many periods I have had out, though, the writings of Oswald Chambers has been my friend reminding me of the goodness and dynamism of a God who still wants to be in relationship with me even though I shut Him out so much of the time. And so I end this post writing to anyone reading who is in a similar place or who is taking time out of church, reading the Bible or possibly out of faith completely. This book is for you. It won’t preach at you (though I’m talking to Christians here). It won’t chastise you in a way you won’t be up for. You won’t find hypocrisy or thoughts too difficult to grasp. Oswald puts some hot stuff into his mugs of thought. The good news is that he always leaves you with a handle on it to pick it up and not scald yourself. You’ll find honesty and an intermediary between you and the Friend you think you have fallen out with.

My Utmost for His Highest is available in book form at any good online retailer or Christian bookshop. It is also available as an App or you can read and sample for free here.

Questions not to ask your Romanian taxi driver

imageI had to go meet with a client across the other side of London today. The Tube line I needed was down and it was important I was there on time so I booked a private hire cab. It arrived bang on time so off I headed into the London traffic. The meeting was not one I was looking forward to at all and being late was not an option. The normal course of red traffic lights started to fuel my angst so by means of a distraction I decided to break the golden rule of London taxi riding and decided to talk to the driver. I detected he was not native British and so I asked him where he was from. Not looking like a native Brit myself I often get asked the same question in return by drivers. “Rrromania!” he declared and then most unusually he paused. Now would have been a good time for me to just let the moment pass, but I could feel a proud and eager grin staring back at me from the rear view mirror.

Of all the questions I could have asked on the first time meeting a native of a country I know hardly anything about, like ‘which city are you from?’ or ‘is the weather nice there?’ or ‘have you met Count Dracula?’ or ‘so how many of you are actually over here then?’ what did I ask? “Tell me…why does Romania always sing their Eurovision Song Contest entries in Italian?”. Uh-huh. Yep. Well that set him off didn’t it. Instead of stalling for anything to say he launched into an animated explanation as to why Romanian is more Italian than Italian and how it is the true successor of the Latin language and how much nicer it sounded than that “ridiculous Polski sheet!!!”. Good job he had his side window down or his occasional vehement spitting would have ricocheted off it back onto me. I’m convinced he was actually speaking English or some form of it. I did manage to extract that he’s been here for 14 years.

In a desperate attempt to try and keep up with him (though Lord knows why as I also had a nervous eye at the lack of speed on his dashboard, his SatNav map and the clock) I asked him something like “oh…so did the Romanians come from Rome then?”. Freaking idiot. I studied Ancient History and had never once heard of Rome spawning a new nation to the north of the Danube how stupid am I but off he chuntered again. More animated, faster speech, more enthusiastic grinning from the rear view mirror and thankfully less spitting.

He had by now lost me and my mind wandered back to my impending meeting but I was aware of the now almost permanent grin staring at me in the rear view mirror. I tried to keep up with my lesson on the origins of the Romanian people and their language and occasionally recognised the odd word: ‘Discovery Channel’, ‘Sumerian Tablets’ and ‘Etruscan artefacts’, ‘Dan Snow’. I thought I would divert the conversation. I remembered watching scenes of the Romanian revolution on TV when their former Communist Dictator Nikolai Ceausescu was deposed and executed. “I say…that Chow Chess Cue fellow was a bit of a git. Glad you got rid of him aren’t you?” What are the chances of me landing up trapped in the taxi of the last die-hard Ceausescu militant supporter west of Transylvania? The mood darkened and more worryingly, his front side window went up and I was in the line of fire from vehement spittle bullets. I wiggled my bum over onto the seat not directly behind him.

He chuntered on. By this time I was reduced to uttering the occasional “really?”, “oh dear” or “oh that’s good” just randomly peppering them about so he felt I was still with him. Every now and then they seemed to match with whatever it was he was spouting on about: “you think so too eh? This is my point. It’s why the EU are two timing b*******!”

Thing is by now I could see 4 minutes on the clock left to when I should be with my client and nothing but red traffic lights. My stress levels were at maximum and when in such situations I just can’t start myself doing the right thing for doing the wrong. My mind now totally focussed on arriving for my meeting I mused “Well things could be worse. I mean we could all be in Ukraine…” My Taxi driver exploded “THOSE IMBECEEELES IN KEEEYEV NEED THEIR ARSES KICKED!!!”

I very much thought he should keep the change and also keep His driver side window shut as I stepped out of the car at my destination, just 2 minutes late for my meeting. I think I will be taking the Tube home somehow.

Dawsons Field: Part 1

EL ALThe Pilot suddenly plunged the airliner into a steep nosedive throwing the two hijackers off their feet. Back in the passenger cabin, Flight Attendants grappled with the female on the floor. Also thrown, the male in desperation hurled his hand grenade down the aisle. By some miracle it failed to explode. As he pulled his gun and shot and wounded a Cabin Steward, he was hit over the head with a whisky bottle by a passenger. The last thing he heard was the bullet from the gun of the Sky Marshall that brought the heist to and end. With all passengers shaken but safe, the airliner made an emergency landing at London Heathrow and the hijack was over.

No, not snippet from a thriller novel or my first attempt at a short story but what really happened on EL AL Israel Airlines flight 219 from Tel Aviv to New York via Amsterdam with 148 on board in September 1970. If you have forgotten or are too young to know, 9/11 was not the world’s first spectacular multiple hijacking. Why September seems to be the optimum month for such events I do not know and how much a part the events of 1970 had to play on the timing and style of 9/11 can only be guessed at. As events unfolded, they threw the world at the time into chaos causing acrimony between the UK and the USA, leading an Arab state to implore Israel to strike other Arab states on its behalf, almost bringing the entire Middle East to war, superpowers to loggerheads and shaping the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it stands today.

imageEL AL 219 was one of three international flights originally targeted for hijack along with TWA 741 from Frankfurt to New York with 155 on and Swissair 100 also with 155 on heading from Zürich to New York. What is it about New York and hijacks? The Israeli plane was seized shortly after leaving Amsterdam and due the swift actions of the Flight and Cabin crews the male hijacker was killed in the air and the female, a Leila Khaled, was overcome and handed to the UK authorities where she was interned. What no-one knew, and again in a chilling similarity with 9/11, was that not all the hijackers had made it on board. Two were left at the gate in Amsterdam. Not to be thwarted, these two bought tickets to board Pan American 93 heading from Amsterdam to New York with 162 on board. Seems like hijacking planes was as easy as stealing cars in those days.

Dawsons field

Dawsons Field

With the EL AL jet safe on the ground in London, the TWA and Swissair flights headed to a little known former Royal Air Force Base in Jordan known then as Dawsons Field (Zarka today). The Pan American flight, a Boeing 747 and the largest of the 3 airliners captured, needed a longer runway to land on than Dawsons Field offered. The flight touched down in Beirut to pick up additional hijackers and explosives, and then headed for Cairo. All in a 1970′s hijackerman’s normal working day really.

The last and unexpected piece of the puzzle was the taking of British flight BOAC 775 heading to London from Bahrain with 114 on board. 775 joined the party with the Swiss and American flights at Dawsons Field while Pan Am 93 sat on its lonesome in Cairo.

And so the eyes of the world focused on the remote and little known former RAF base in the deserts of Jordan known as Dawsons Field from where ripples would spiral bringing superpowers and global allies to logger heads and the armies of the Middle East mobilising for war.

(to be continued…)

A random thought and then…Copenhagen.

imageEver woke up one day as realisation dawns that the fantastic dream you were having is not the reality of your life and thought: ‘I think I’m going to book me a flight to Copenhagen’? Just me then. Well, yes that kind of did happen to me just this week. Now I’m £350 poorer and am booked to fly non-cattleclass out of Heathrow to the Danish capital for a 4 day stint in a 4* hotel in a few weeks.

Why Copenhagen? I’ve no idea. It randomly popped into my head on the routine Tube ride into work mid-way through another week of my life that never changes. This will be a first for me. It will be the first place I’ve visited totes on my own for the very first time with no friend or anyone I know waiting for me the other side. Perhaps it was a positive outcome of the extended 2.5 hour each way commute during the recent London Tube strike that got me thinking where else could I get to in the world in that time other than my desk at work or my bed at home. As it happens, Copenhagen is less time away – 1hr 55mins according to my flight schedule. I do have a thing about Scandinavia though. Iceland was amazing (though not strictly part of the region) but the other 3 (leave out the Fins or they will slap you if you loop them in) were completely unaffordable was my perception. While that could be said of Sweden and Norway as I drilled into Expedia, apparently not so for Denmark. So Copenhagen hear I come.

On the subject of pre-conceptions: what do I ‘know’ of Denmark already? I’m probably going to see lots more blonde people than I normally do. I figure they invade, rape and pillage less these days. I know that the genetics of our Royal Family is shared with theirs. I know about Hans Christian Anderson, the Little Mermaid statue (not story), Legoland, and the Tivoli Gardens. I know William Shakespeare set one of his best known tragedies there. I know I also know about the current global infatuation with ‘New Nordic Cuisine’ and that the world’s No.1 rated restaurant, Noma, is in Copenhagen (tried to book a table but 2014 pretty much sold out). Beyond this the city and the country are there to surprise and educate me.

I downloaded a free sample of the Lonely Planet guide to Denmark and in its introduction this is what it had to say:

It’s heart-warming to know that there is still a country where the term ‘fairy tale’ can be used freely – from its most enduring literary legacy to its fine textbook castles. In a nutshell, Denmark gets it right: old fashioned charm embraces the most avowedly forward-looking design and social developments, and wins a regular chart-topping place on lists of both the most liveable and happiest nations on Earth. You won’t have to search to find some much-prized hygge , an untranslatable and uniquely Danish trait that has profound influence on the locals’ inestimable happiness. Hygge is social nirvana in Denmark: a sense of cosiness, camaraderie and contentment, when the worries of the world have been set aside.

With all my heart I hope this is true because I could really do with a large dollop of that just now.