Monday, 27 June 2016

Who's Kingdom is it?

In this week's live talk, I explore a Christian response to Great Britain's EU Referendum result. The bible reference is Matthew 21: 33-46.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Queen refuses hot dog

In 1999, whilst I.was working for a multinational energy company, Queen Elizabeth II was to visit our headquarters as part of our centenary celebrations. I was running our UK filling station business at the time, and was asked to show her round a mock-up of one of our convenience shops.

As the afternoon of her majesty's visit approached, I remember feeling rather apprehensive. Would this be her first experience of such places? Was she familiar with the concept of snacking on the move?  As the afternoon arrived, the Queen was shown around various exhibits, until she arrived at my store and I was introduced.

My feelings at the time were a mixture of terror and anxiety. I responded, as I sometimes do in moments of panic, by striking an air of slightly false informality. After a few introductory remarks, I led her majesty and her retinue towards the roller grill section, which was proving so popular in our Scandinavian operations.

Informality held sway over sober judgement: "Would you like a hot dog?", I asked the ruling monarch. The uncharacteristic speed at which she moved on to the car care section told me all I needed to know. The next morning, the Times reported on its front page "Queen refuses hot dog".

I offer this story, partly as a reminder of the type of situation with which the Queen has graciously dealt over many of her now ninety years. But I also offer it on my own account, not in confession, but as a reminder of the errors of judgement we all make during our lifetime. This particular one was not disastrous, merely a minor breach of royal protocol.

I was recently asked over lunch by friends: "what advice would you give your 16 year-old self?". Re-reading Richard Foster's words on confession, I might be tempted to advise not to go through life afraid of our making mistakes, but in wrongdoing against God, to embrace the cycle of confession and forgiveness we receive through Jesus Christ. When so embraced, we carry with us the desire to 'lead better lives' that is rightfully the burden of authentic Christianity. We will never be without sin, but to live without the heart to change is the worse fate.

I later discovered that I was not alone in having offered a reigning British monarch a hot dog. Roosevelt as President of the US, (back in June 1939) had served two hot dogs to the current Queen's mother and George VI in Hyde Park, Washington DC. Had I been a better historian, I might have pointed this our to our Queen back in 1999. How she would have replied will remain a matter of speculation.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Love Remembered

Bob and Olive lived in a tiny village, by the sea, a couple of miles south of Amble in Northumberland. There was nothing beautiful about the village but it was situated just above the endless, hard, flat sands that are characteristic of that part of the North East coast. It still has that wild beauty.

Both were born in the 1890s and had lived in that tiny hamlet all of their lives. Bob had worked as a coalminer and his hands had severe arthritis from the relentless and hard nature of his work. When I knew them, as a weekend and holiday visitor, both were in their 70s. Bob was mobilised for the First World War but never got further than 'Bormin'am'. Olive had never travelled as far as 'N'cassel', only 25 miles to the south.

Their marriage and lifelong commitment to each other defies many contemporary descriptors of relationships, but I was reminded of those things in reading Richard Foster's chapter on the discipline of service.

Neither had ever enjoyed alcoholic drinks. Olive loved lemonade ('pop') and Bob would walk into Amble and back to bring her a fresh bottle or two, and take the empties back. They would pick blackberries together and make a pie with the fruit. If one was ill, the other would sit with them until they got better. The service of small things. Theirs was a life of complete co-dependence, mutual service and care.

Their tiny home, ten yards from the beach over which the Northern winds blew, was a place of the most generous hospitality. All and whatever they had would be made available to guests. A bowl of pease pudding was a favourite. Conversation was boundless and Bob would fuel a fire with the sea coals he had collected from the beach. For one who had seen so little of the world, Olive had endless funny stories about people and their idiosyncrasies. Service was not limited to each other, but something extended to those who visited, even those from very different backgrounds.

To enter into the spirit of service, not just once a day but as a way of life, might be the most challenging call we receive. Bob and Olive's world was a simple one, but they kept it so. Their devotion was Godly, it was to each other and those put in their path.

As Christians, the 'narrow way' set out for us is one where service is not just a feature of our closest relationships, but of our approach to all those we encounter....believing that, by humbling ourselves to serve others, we bring our God in Jesus Christ the greater glory. We may sometimes feel overwhelmed by the scale of the task of service, but God sees that we are strengthened and not diminished by it.

My recollections