Autobio 2000

A Personal View of the Twentieth Century

by Robert Brow  Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 2000

Chapter 11

Free to Write

After eleven years very happy years at St. James' Church I retired a month before my sixty-fifth birthday. Better leave before people think it's time you went. Mollie and I decided we should move away from the city to get out of the hair of the Rector who would take over. And for the past eight years we had loved our escape hole on Dog Lake. "Why not make it into our year round home?" We had bought our cottage in 1981 for $33,000 with a down payment of $13,000. We paid off the mortgage four years later by selling some shares we inherited from the family business in Belgium. In the summer of 1986 we decided to build an addition to give us a good sized kitchen and washroom. This was my first attempt at house building. I outlined my plan, and the building inspector told me I needed 2 x 8 spruce instead of 2 x 6 for the roof. The only disaster was laying the foundations. I had made the forms of thin plywood with inadequate supports. The concrete truck driver told me that would not survive the weight of what he had to pour. I told him they would, and as the cement rose the forms sagged ominously. I got him to pour on both sides of the forms, which cost me an extra three hundred dollars. When the Building Inspector came to check the foundations, he smiled and said "you've got some good solid footings in there !"

The inspector also said the existing pipe into the ground wouldn't do for the new bath and toilet. So our son Peter helped me dig out the hole for the 2400 gallon holding tank. We nearly gave up when we hit rock, but just managed to go deep enough for the huge concrete box to fit in four inches below the outlet from the bathroom.

Half way through the renovation the ceiling tiles fell off. Mollie thought a half cathedral ceiling would make a beautiful living room. When we were first married I used to say "Your least desire it is my pleasure immediately to fulfill." In this case I got to work the same day, and Linda Voteary and others helped us nail the pine boards to the ceiling. Since then Linda comes every year to canoe to Jumping Rock, and decides it is too high to risk the jump.

Armed with that meager building experience I drew up some plans in the summer of 1989 just before we retired. There would be a new wing with three bedrooms going out 32 feet to the south east. I had a complicated design of inside steps down to water level. Happily Andrew Merrick persuaded me to put the bedrooms on the main level and an office underneath.

He and Frances seemed to arrive again and again when I was facing construction problems. Mike Michelin, who was a member of St. James Church (and now an Anglican priest doing a Doctorate at Wycliffe College) came and laid the blocks for the office.

The most terrifying moment was when Michael Sribney volunteered to nail up the outside siding. We tied a rope round him to stop the high ladder falling backwards as he swayed in the wind fastening the heavy 4 x 8 plywood boards. Happily his wife Jane never arrived to see this terrifying sight.

I discovered the hardest part is getting the windows in correctly, and Don Cannell came out and did that, and many other items that needed skilled work. The completed cottage ended up with 25 windows, each of which looked out on water. Again and again Don would come out in the morning, tell me the work I had done the previous day wasn't correct, and he made sure it was done right.

All went well till we joined the new structure to the old cottage. When Don put a level on the old cottage to connect it with the addition, we found the walls were leaning out dangerously. I immediately went out and bought aluminum aircraft cable and steel plates to pull in the outside walls. As we tightened the swivel nuts, the building slowly came to the vertical and all was well. Without that the old cottage would have collapsed in the next heavy snow.

That was the last straw for Mollie. She had already lived with the mess since the middle of summer when we took down the poky little inside rooms.  Now there was a aluminum cable across her beautiful pine living area. It didn't help when I suggested it would do as a clothes line, or we could curtain off a stage for theatrical performances. Michael was able to sympathize with Mollie, and Don eventually built us a false beam around the cable. I called it "a cable in beam's clothing." But it looked perfect in place, and when we had a crowd in for Ruth Publicover's sixty-fifth birthday party we played balloon volley ball with the beam in lieu of a net. The only recognition Don ever got was a sign on the point to the north with the name "Cannell's Point."

I hadn't realized how the eleven years at St. James' Church had drained my energy. So for me building our retirement home was very therapeutic. Mollie found the permanent mess and carpentry noise for six months almost unbearable. But our marriage survived, and eventually we had a beautiful home with pine walls and ceilings, which we enjoyed for the next nine years. Our children and grandchildren still come to enjoy it through the summer.

Meanwhile the Iron Curtain came down without a single commentator predicting the sudden end. The Berlin wall opened up and people crossed freely on Armistice Day November the 11th. 1989. Within six weeks like falling dominoes East Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and other countries were freed from Russian domination. It was obvious that people praying had a large part in this revolution across Europe. I saw it as a "Day of the Lord" and eventually wrote Advent Interventions of the Lord Among the Nations. The freeing of Romania was particularly moving.  The whole town gathered around in support of Pastor Laszlo Tokes of Timisoara. When the Securitate police was ordered to mow them down on December 20 the crowd stood firm reciting the Lord's Prayer. When the police found themselves unable to begin shooting, Romania was freed within two days.

In 1990 the world finally began to feel safe from the threat of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). Anytime someone on either side could have launched the missiles, the other side would respond with hundreds of atomic bombs, and human life on earth would have ended . But when the iron curtain came down Russia, which had seemed so menacing, looked like an empty shell.  An Anglican minister friend, Geoff Boerger, took down the sticker from the back of his car. "One atom bomb can ruin your whole day."

For the next eight years Mollie and I took care of an Anglican congregation each year :
St. Mark's, Barriefield (1990-91), the Paphos Chaplaincy (1991-92), St. Andrew's, Abu Dhabi (1992-93), St. John's, Ida (1993-94), Christ Church, Cataraqui (1994-96), The Parish of Elizabethtown (1996-97), The Paphos Chaplaincy (1997-98).

In January 1989 Mollie and I had a holiday in Crete. We lived in a rather cold apartment in Rethymon on the north shore, and rented a car. When we asked about rules of the road, we were told "If the other vehicle is bigger, then you give way." We visited Agia Galini, where our son Peter had stayed when he went round the world after his graduation from Trinity College at the University of Toronto. We loved getting the feel of Greek life by reading Nikos Kazantzakis' Zorba the Greek, 1946, his life story and other books. Jean Norris came and joined us, and we explored the ruins of the three thousand year old Minoan cities. We took her over to Greece for several days to visit Athens and the Peloponnese.

We also attended Greek Orthodox services. It was disappointing to find that my New Testament Greek did not allow me to understand much (like trying to understand ancient English). But I discovered that the idea of -theosis- (God planning to perfect us in love) would be an important component of what I eventually called Creative Love Theism (Unbounded Love: A Good News Theology for the 21st Century, 1994, p.8).

Two years later I wrote to the Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf in Nicosia, and said we were thinking of having a winter holiday there. Was there anything we could do for him? An air mail letter came back saying "You are appointed to Paphos." Our job was to prepare the ground for the new Chaplaincy there.  We arrived in September 1991 and enjoyed eight wonderful months with the people there. We were welcomed by Janet and Alf Coulson who took us to the Peiya Taverna for a -meze- (fifteen servings of various delicacies, which you can't possibly keep eating to the end).  There had been a Sunday evening service for the mainly British expatriates who lived in and around Paphos (where you pay next to no income tax).

Before we came to serve them a Chaplain had driven in an hour from Limassol for a service. So there had been next to no pastoral care. We were delighted to visit as many as we could find with any kind of church connection in the area. The Anglican Church community gathered Sunday evening in an ancient building provided for us by the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Paphos. He also allowed the Roman Catholic community to meet there in the morning. Immediately behind me as I took the communion service was the -ikonastasis-. As the service was going on Greek women would come in and kiss these icons, which at first I found a bit distracting. But soon the awesome sense of ancient church history overwhelmed me, and I loved being part of this.
Agia Kyriaki is surrounded by the ruins of three previous churches, which have been excavated, and provide one of the two main tourist attractions in Paphos.. The Greek Orthodox Church can trace its history back to Paul's first missionary journey. The Roman proconsul was converted when the local magician who had opposed the good news went suddenly blind (Acts 13:6-13).  A hundred yards away from where we worshiped there is St. Paul's pillar, where according to tradition the apostle was tied and whipped.

Five minutes walk away archaeologists have uncovered the floor mosaics of villas which were built probably just after Paul's visit. They give a stunning impression of the opulence and lifestyle of the Roman officials of ancient Paphos which was the capital of Cyprus at that time. Ten miles away there were the ruins of the temple of Aphrodite. Before the coming of St. Paul Paphos had been ruled by a royal priesthood. A large black stone had been recovered from a meteorite, and this represented the goddess. As in Ephesus, and other places, the temple prostitutes catered to a vast tourist business. The King of Paphos even managed to persuade his subjects that it was disgusting for a girl to be deflowered by one of his citizens. It must be done by a foreigner who would pay handsomely for this privilege.

During our first time in charge of the Chaplaincy there were no funeral directors to take care of burials. We had to get permission to dig a grave in one of the Greek Orthodox cemeteries. On one occasion there was a torrential downpour. I stood by getting soaked in my Anglican robes as the two wardens and other men tried to clear enough water and sand to get the casket below ground level.

The year before we came to Paphos a man in the congregation had murdered his wife. She was a beautiful woman and a much loved school teacher. When they had a row she taunted him and said "You are about as much use to me as this lead pipe." He grabbed it out of her hand, hit her on the head, and killed her. When he realized what had happened he drove her body to a deserted beach area and buried it. But a storm washed up the corpse, and he was arrested and convicted of murder.

For weeks this was the main topic of interest in the Cyprus papers. The Anglican Bishop of Cyprus used to come down and give the man communion in jail till he was so weak from cancer that the Judge ordered him to be deported to die in England. In his will the murderer wanted to be cremated and the ashes buried at the foot of his murdered wife, whom he still loved very much. I met his daughter at the hotel, and tried to say what I could about her father and murdered mother. I hardly slept that night as I pictured the press photographers turning up, and people making objections as I had to inter the casket. Happily no one came except for a dozen members of our congregation, and a few people from the village where the couple had lived. The Greek Orthodox priest said his prayers in Greek, I did my part, and we all filled in the earth right at the foot of the murdered woman's grave.

I also had to take the funeral service for a very popular man who had a gay partner. His friend came very apprehensively to ask whether I would take the service. I spoke about the man's musical and acting gifts, his longings, and the way God perfects us for the joy of heaven. I can't remember a service in forty years of ministry where so many were so deeply moved, and expressed their appreciation at the reception afterwards.

We enjoyed our time in Paphos so much that I wrote to the Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf and asked if there was anything else we could do for him. He immediately appointed me to assist Michael Mansbridge, the Archdeacon of the Diocese, who had been sick that year. Michael was in charge of St. Andrew's Church, Abu Dhabi, and my task was to cover for him when he went all over the Middle East dealing with some very difficult problems. I quickly bought a map to see where Abu Dhabi was, and discovered it was part of the United Arab Republic. People were still recovering from the Gulf war the year before when Saddam Hussain had attacked Kuwait, and people had expected to be attacked with missiles carrying deadly nerve gas.

The Anglican compound was on land donated by the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi. A mosque had been built next door and five times a day the prayers came in to our bedroom amplified through loudspeakers on the four minarets. But the Anglican Chaplaincy was able to provide a legal meeting place for twenty different Christian denominations and 40 meetings every week. Archdeacon Mansbridge would arrange visas for the pastors of any Christian groups that wanted to come, and when they quarreled and got into trouble he acted as their shepherd.

Friday was the day off from work, and from six in the morning till late at night we could hear different groups coming in every hour and a half to worship. There were Telegu Baptists, Ceylon Pentecostals, Church of Pakistan, several groupings of Philippinos, others with improbable names.  As we came out of our own Sunday service seven hundred Mar Thoma Christians from South India were waiting to crowd in. There were eight or nine hundred Coptic Orthodox who worshiped in our church sanctuary, and we would use their little chapel for a week-day service. And when I went to a bank, oil business, hotel, or store, most of those doing the work were Christians of one kind or another.

Every other Friday we would drive out a hundred miles across the desert for a service in Al Ayn. The four lane divided highway had flowers and shrubs down the middle and grass and trees for fifty feet on either side. Every tree and shrub and patch of grass had a plastic pipe dripping water from the huge desalinization plants on the sea coast. Beyond the watered area there was desert as far as you could see. The Sheikh had seventy sons, and they would drive their Mercedes at 120 miles an hour, so hitting a camel would be fatal. That's why there was a steel wire fence on either side of the road to keep out animals and wandering Bedouin.

I also took services in places like Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah, and Al Fujairah to the east. Each of these had a community of Christians thrown together from India, Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and a sprinkling of Americans, Canadians, Brits and other Europeans. Only one tenth of the population were local Arabs, who owned the vast oil fields and fifty percent of all the companies that worked for them.

Mollie and I spent Christmas in the oil town of Ruweis a hundred miles to the west. We taught a Bible study group that had gathered there. The evening before the main service there was a party and I danced with Dr. Benita Wiley, who way past retirement came to care for the little hospital there. Next year she went out to take charge of the medical work in Aden. We were constantly challenged and encouraged by impressive Christian friends who came out to serve in that tough environment.

Our last four months in Abu Dhabi, apart for services on Friday and Saturday, Mollie and I had time on our hands. At Sutton High School Mollie had failed art, and was told she had no talent in that direction. For the next fifty years she never drew or painted anything. But now she joined a weekly women's art group. There were Americans, Iranians, Japanese, Egyptians, Europeans, working in various media and at very different levels. They encouraged her to work in pastels, and very quickly I saw an astonishing gift emerging. By the next year in Canada she was doing oils. She could take a photograph, set out it out on a large canvas in stunning colors, and you could recognize the people in the scene. In May 1997 she showed 25 pictures for the Lilac Studio Tour, and three of them were sold.. Now I delight in her paintings both on the pine walls of our cottage and at our home, 116 Rideau Street, Kingston.

In Abu Dhabi Mollie and I noticed that among Arabs the definition of adultery was very different from what we took for granted in the west. As among Old Testament Jews, a man could have several wives and concubines, and bed other women, but this was not adulterous. What was adulterous was a man getting too close to the wife of another Arab. So we wrote jointly Adultery: An Exploration of Love and Marriage. It describes the astonishing change from the patriarchy of the ancient world that occurred through the example and teaching of Jesus and his disciples.

I sent our book on Adultery, and another I had written on God of Many Names, to several publishers to see if they might be interested in working with us, but I got a string of rejections. Early in the year I had discussed with Alan Bulley the possibility of web site publication. He kindly offered to try a pilot project with "Evangelical Megashift" (Christianity Today, February 19, 1990). This had received a lot of attention, and people kept asking where they could find it. So when the door closed for getting the work I was doing printed on paper, I decided to throw my heart into digital publication on the world wide web.

I called the web site Model Theology, which is explained on the Home Page . In addition to a dozen books, and approaching eighty articles and essays, I have sections for sermons, and also for "Questions from Surfers." One of the questions I was asked was "why do you publish on a web site instead of on paper as usual?"  This is the rather testy answer I gave: I did half a dozen books which were published "as usual" on paper. One of these on Religion: Origins and Ideas, 1966, 1972 sold 20,000 copies in Britain. Another book, The Church: An Organic Picture of its Life and Mission, 1968 was published by Eerdmans, but they never even put it in their catalogue and it died soon after birth.  Christianity Today refused to review two other books, Go Make Learners, 1981, (which people tell me was the best I have written) and Unbounded Love: A Good News Theology for the 21st Century (written jointly with Clark Pinnock). Without a review, the books never get a hearing, and they get remaindered (sold off as junk) within a year.

I tried to get two or three publishers to look at God of Many Names and Adultery: An Exploration of Love and Marriage, but they were rejected. So now I put my work straight on the web site ( for all to read. This saves weeks of correspondence and editing with publishers, the material gets a hearing immediately, and I can make corrections from feedback as I go along.

The Canadian National Library Digital Archives, who also put the books on their web site, tell me I get an average of 300 accesses to the books every month. And the personal responses I get just about every day by e-mail encourage and vitalize me to keep writing. As more and more people all over the world (millions every year) begin accessing the web sites and find they can get what they need for nothing, I hope what I write will be useful. And nobody can remainder it. People ask about copyright, but at my age I don't need academic recognition.  My one aim is to get the ideas out, discussed, and hopefully corrected by feedback from all over the world. So I tell people that they can download, copy, adapt, and use anything they like in any form without my permission.

Since the material is in digital form the editor of a parish magazine in England can put in the copy as is for printing. Bible Study groups print out a whole book for discussion chapter by chapter. But, best of all, the material can be read secretly in countries which are otherwise closed to Christian literature.

During 1999, the last year of the century, I had no regular church responsibilities. This freed me to complete five more books for the web site ( In each case I gave an outline, and each chapter was sent to Les Potter as they were written. The idea was to get some feedback and corrections, but this did not happen. But the advantage was that this donkey was encouraged to plod on with the carrot of seeing some progress, and the stick of fearing the task would be left undone.

In February 1999 Rev. Bill Dickson of All Saints Episcopal Church, Dallas sent an invitation to join a Lenten reading of the whole New Testament in Greek. It was my twentieth reading of the New Testament in Greek over a period of forty years. But I did not realize how much had to be studied each day to complete it in the forty days of Lent. We had a set of readings prepared by Father Carter Paden. As I sent my daily comments by e-mail I noticed that my main interest was in looking at Greek words which had quite different meanings depending on the interpretative model which was used. I put these together and the result was a book on New Testament Greek Words and Models.

Autobio 2000: A Personal View of the 20th. Century was a rewarding task, and these last few pages were left to be completed at the end of the year. The next project was writing Why do People Quit Churchgoing ? This expressed my concern that so many previously active Christians were giving up on organized church life. Some contributions and feedback came in, which were included in the final text.

For a complete change of subject there was Ishmael the Arab, 1866-1792. This was done by taking exactly the time frame and genealogies given in the Old Testament book of Genesis. It showed that the only available origins of the Arab people, and the great future promised to the non-Jewish children of Abraham, are both documented in detail by Jewish writers.

Creative Love was a little book which set out to tie together the model of Creative Love Theism, which I had first suggested in a joint book with Clark H. Pinnock, Unbounded Love: A Good New Theology for the 21st. Century, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, Carlisle, U.K., 1994, p.8. I was encouraged that Robin and Liz Todd began a Creative Love web site to offer a means for those interested in this model to share and work together.

Meanwhile there were a large number of new essays and articles included on the web site, a collection of questions that had come in from surfers, and a growing number of sermons, which have proved to be popular for whatever reasons. The result was that by the end of 1999 an average of 700 individuals were coming into the site each week. I liked to describe this as having a hundred students in my world-wide class every day. For those who prefer computer language that translates into a daily download averaging 3 million bytes.

1999 was not only the end of the twentieth century but it was also the end of the second millennium. The previous year cranks and false prophets had begun trying to get us terrorized (and sell millions of books) with dire warnings of the end of the world and/or the second coming. So I wrote Advent : Comings of the Lord in History, 1998, which pointed out that the events of Mark 13 and Matthew 24 had happened in AD 70, and the Messiah had made advents (interventions) throughout human history.

But the year 1999 ended with a more serious concern. The early computers were set up with two digits instead of the four needed to indicate the year, and this meant that computers would imagine on January 1, 2000 (named Y2K) that we were back in 1900. As a result there were warnings of wide-spread system failures in electric and power utilities, banking, business, airline, and innumerable other vital areas of modern life. Some people laid in stores of food for several weeks, and there were hundreds of thousands of portable power generators sold. In our home we had a few extra cans of food and several jugs of water. As January the first began in New Zealand, and moved steadily across Asia and Europe, we were relieved that next to no serious problems were reported. And the end of the century and of the second millennium ended like a very damp squib.

Appendix A ...