The Crown (TV Series)

The Crown is one of those television drama series that divides opinion, partly because of the range of views people have about the monarchy, but also because the script is largely speculation. Naomi and I have just finished watching Season 4 on Netflix.

The fourth season covers the time period between 1977 and 1990, is set during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, and introduces Lady Diana Spencer and Prince William. Events depicted include the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, their 1983 tour of Australia and New Zealand, the Falklands War, Michael Fagan’s break-in at Buckingham Palace, Lord Mountbatten’s funeral, the Princess of Wales’s appearance at the Barnardo’s Champion Children Awards, and Thatcher’s departure from office. Wikipedia.

Whatever your feelings about the monarchy or the drama itself, the series has been beautifully crafted with some great acting performances. Olivia Colman is wonderful as the Queen, Gillian Anderson portrays Margaret Thatcher brilliantly, and (especially in one episode) Helena Bonham Carter gives the performance of her life as Princess Margaret. For the full cast, see here. The magnificent theme music by Hans Zimmer is also worthy of mention.

It’s worth watching, but just remember it’s drama not history in the strictest sense, it’s only dramatising the thoughts we probably all have about the Royal Family. Monarchists will complain it’s making them look bad, others will argue that they’re doing a good job of this themselves, as this article in the The Guardian suggests.

Note: I’ve never been a Margaret Thatcher fan, so I especially enjoyed watching her downfall. Yes, very naughty of me!

For the Fallen (Laurence Binyon)

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

Gethsemane 1914-18 (Kipling)

The Garden called Gethsemane
In Picardy it was,
And there the people came to see
The English soldiers pass.
We used to pass – we used to pass
Or halt, as it might be,
And ship our masks in case of gas
Beyond Gethsemane.

The Garden called Gethsemane,
It held a pretty lass,
But all the time she talked to me
I prayed my cup might pass.
The officer sat on the chair,
The men lay on the grass,
And all the time we halted there
I prayed my cup might pass.

It didn’t pass – it didn’t pass
It didn’t pass from me.
I drank it when we met the gas
Beyond Gethsemane.

Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Remembrance Sunday 2020

Bible Readings: James 3:17-18 & Matthew 5:1-12

We all carry assumptions that influence how we think about every aspect of life and person we encounter. Unfortunately, some of them are likely to be wrong or unfair. Yet, I imagine life would be impossible if we didn’t make some basic assumptions to help us navigate our daily lives.

Something that’s very central to my Christian faith is how Jesus teaches us to question our assumptions, encouraging us to glimpse the world through the very eyes of God. Jesus’ teaching remains challenging because it calls into question many of our everyday assumptions, often turning our understanding on its head.

On Remembrance Sunday it’s easy to assume that Jesus and his followers represent a cosy religious inoffensiveness filled with sweetness and light, sentimental love and peace, whilst those involved with the military are people of violence who espouse hate and glory in violence.

Of course, we admire the dedication, professionalism and bravery of the men and women of our armed forces, but we can’t help thinking that their very existence is a consequence of human failure.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need armed forces, but the reality is we do, and there are times when when we realise that the the veneer of civilisation is very thin.

I feel uncomfortable with the amount spent on weapons, and the time and effort used to devise ‘better’ ways to kill and maim, especially through nuclear weapons. Surely our only possible reaction is that of sorrow and penitence.

Love isn’t simply being loveable and nice. Christian love, expressed most fully in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is a determined commitment, the opposite of indifference rather than the opposite of hate. Also, we often see it in the most unlikely of places, again challenging our assumptions.

The old hymn Gentle Jesus, meek and mild is misleading I feel. Yes, he’s attractive and captivating, but I’m not sure about some of the other traditional pictures we might have about Jesus. He was brave and committed.

The Christian Gospel isn’t about liking people or being liked by them, it’s a total commitment that’s divine love in all its fullness.

We recognise true selfless, loving commitment when we see it. We long for that wisdom from above which, in the words of James, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits. Love, which even in our fallen world, we sometimes glimpse in the most unlikely of places.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

On Remembrance Sunday, I want to remember and honour individual and personal examples of brave commitment and sacrifice in the lives of those tragically given or permanently changed by war, whilst also remembering the supreme love of God shown in Jesus. See also here.

They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old;
age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun
and in the morning,
we will remember them
.

A Celebration of Terrorism

Following the receipt of an anonymous letter which was passed to King James I, a search of the Palace of Westminster was conducted in the early hours of this day (5 November) in 1605. Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder were found, enough to obliterate the whole ruling class of England later that day as they gathered for the State Opening of Parliament.

Guarding the barrels, carrying a lantern, and wearing a cloak and hat, was Guy Fawkes, although the Gunpowder Plot was masterminded by Robert Catesby. His ancient family dreamed of returning the English people to the Roman Catholic faith, and saw this act of terrorism as the means to an end.

It didn’t end well for the conspirators, but we continue to celebrate every year on Bonfire Night.

Greater Love (Wilfred Owen)

Wilfred Owen died on this day (4 November) in 1918. He was an English poet and soldier. He was one of the leading poets of the First World War. His war poetry focussed on the horrors of the trenches and gas warfare.

Red lips are not so red
As the stained stones kissed by the English dead.
Kindness of wooed and wooer
Seems shame to their love pure.
O Love, your eyes lose lure
When I behold eyes blinded in my stead!

Your slender attitude
Trembles not exquisite like limbs knife-skewed,
Rolling and rolling there
Where God seems not to care;
Till the fierce love they bear
Cramps them in death’s extreme decrepitude.

Your voice sings not so soft,-
Though even as wind murmuring through raftered loft,-
Your dear voice is not dear,
Gentle, and evening clear,
As theirs whom none now hear,
Now earth has stopped their piteous mouths that coughed.

Heart, you were never hot
Nor large, nor full like hearts made great with shot;
And though your hand be pale,
Paler are all which trail
Your cross through flame and hail:
Weep, you may weep, for you may touch them not.

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen (1893-1918)

Respect the Poppy

With Remembrance Sunday approaching, I wish people would refrain from sharing images of the poppy for ideological purposes or political point-scoring.

Unfortunately, many politicise and weaponise the Remembrance Poppy for their own agenda, when it’s actually a symbol to unite.

Can we agree that all those who gave their lives for our freedom should be afforded this respect? Is it too much to ask to forget politics and cheap point-scoring at this sombre and thoughtful time?

Similarly, fake information is often shared that poppies are not sold in certain areas for fear of offending minorities. In reality, posts that suggest this are most likely promoting far-right bigotry, hatred and racism. We need to think before sowing seeds of division and hatred. Truth and integrity are vital in today’s world.

Some choose to wear a white poppy for peace (one which also signifies remembrance) and some wear both. They are not contradictory, both poppies can and do grow together. Remembering past sacrifices and working for peace are both needed in our troubled world.

So, however you commemorate Remembrance Sunday this year, wear your red poppy with pride and keep a white poppy of peace in your heart all year.

Black and British (David Olusoga)

The phrases ‘White Privilege‘ and ‘Black Lives Matter‘ are often misunderstood; sometimes wilfully, sometimes for political advantage, and sometimes in ignorance. But, when you’ve read a book like this you realise there’s no equivalence between the overall experience of black people and white people, either historically or in the present day.

This book, which I’ve read during Black History Month (October 2020), demonstrates clearly the disadvantages faced by black people, compared with the ‘privileged’ position of white people. That’s not to say there aren’t individual or specific examples where this isn’t the case, but simply that the broad sweep of history (right up to the present) shows the widespread discrimination against black people.

There was much I already knew, but it was presented in a new way. Equally, there was also much I learned; often in surprising ways, with a few epiphany moments.

Reading this book, with a genuine desire to understand the experience of black people, highlights the shallowness of saying that ‘All Lives Matter’ or ‘White Lives Matter’ in response to black calls for equality and recognition of the challenges they face in society.

Of course, all lives matter, but there’s a difference between equality and equivalence. The difference is that white people are not disadvantaged by their colour, black people are. Equality is not achieved by imposing equivalence of experience when it doesn’t exist, it merely compounds and perpetuates the problem. Realism is required in the cause of equality, rather than imagining it already exists.

I don’t expect everyone will agree with me, but this (as a white man) is the result of much soul-searching on my part into understanding the black experience and situation. Grace and peace to all, John.

Remembering John Lennon

There’s nothing you can say that’s not been said.

Apologies for slightly altering one of his lyrics, but what can you say that hasn’t already been written on what would have been John Lennon‘s 80th birthday? Born on this day (9 October) in 1940, just think what this music legend and peace activist would have achieved had he not been shot dead in 1980?

I’m just going to let the lyrics of one of his songs speak for itself:

I’m sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth
I’ve had enough of reading things
By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth

No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
With just a pocketful of hope
Money for dope
Money for rope

No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
With just a pocketful of soap
Money for dope
Money for rope

I’m sick to death of seeing things
From tight-lipped, condescending, mamas little chauvinists
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth now

I’ve had enough of watching scenes
Of schizophrenic, ego-centric, paranoiac, prima-donnas
All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth

No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
With just a pocketful of soap
Its money for dope
Money for rope

Ah, I’m sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites
All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth now

I’ve had enough of reading things
By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth now

All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth now
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth

You can listen to the song from the Imagine album here.