While Freddy and Matilda were at school yesterday, we drove (with Pollyanna) past Middlesbrough to deliver presents to friends with a newborn baby. On the spur of the moment, we decided to take a look at one of our favourite beauty spots, but after picking up some lunch from a butcher in Great Ayton.
At just 1,049 feet (320 m) high, Roseberry Topping may not be the biggest hill you’ll ever see, but it will certainly be one of the most distinctive. Its shape, caused by the combination of a geological fault and a mining collapse in 1912 has made the hill the most beloved landmark in the Tees Valley area. With its half-cone summit and jagged cliff, some say it reminds them of the Matterhorn in Switzerland.Source
Love it or loathe it, you’ll know that today (14 February) is St Valentine’s Day. It’s a Christian festival, but also a huge marketing opportunity for shops and online retailers. While I was a corps officer and leading worship, it was always helpful when this day fell on a Sunday, and this year (2021) it does just that.
Although there was a Saint Valentine, there are several after whom the day may have been named. I’ll focus on the traditional attribution, but you can find out more here.
Legend has it that the emperor was dismayed that the men of Rome were not enlisting for the army, because they loved their wives and families too much to become soldiers. So he decreed that engagements and marriages were against the law. Valentine was a priest and doctor in Rome, and he refused to obey. He went on marrying young men and women because he believed that was God’s way. He got dragged before the authorities in Rome on 14 February 270 (actual date not known) and, having refused to change his ways, paid the price.
We’ll never know how true the legend is, but Saint Valentine has been associated with this lovers’ festival for many centuries. As Christians, the one love story that we especially celebrate is that of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great love for us, he was prepared to sacrifice himself in life and on the cross.
Paul wrote: […] live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God
The love expressed on Valentine’s Day might be deep and meaningful, it might just be shallow and expected, and it might even be it might be a joke or a bit of fun. But the one thing we can be sure of is that we are all loved with the very love of Jesus. No one deserves it and no one is left out.
None of us are perfect, none of us deserve this love, because we are all flawed human beings. Sometimes we don’t recognise our collective failings, thus making it difficult to cope with human weakness, both in ourselves and others. Sometimes we ascribe sinfulness to others and not to ourselves, it’s the oldest human failing.
Of course, there’s clearly goodness in individuals, but we are all flawed because of our basic humanity. This is a big subject, and the discussion of inherent evil or inherent good is for another time and place.
Christian teaching shows us that we are insignificant and worthless in relation to the universe, but significant and of infinite value to God, even though flawed and without any claim on grace.
Edward Norman has written: The supreme loveliness of the life of Christ exhibited the sacrifice of God himself for creatures who were undeserving. It was not because men and women were good that Christ died for them. How can it have been? On the hills of Galilee and in the desert places of Judea the Saviour had loved those whose lives encouraged no love and inspired no pity. Nothing in human nature has changed, and it is not going to. Jesus came into the world precisely because we were not good, and because we are not capable of self-correction. People today will begin to cope with the evils of existence if only they will bring themselves to accept that their own natures are inherently flawed. And the hand of God himself extends from the cross to lift and save those who reach out to him.
Accepting responsibility for our own sinfulness can open the floodgates of God’s mercy and love in Jesus, and we can be transformed. We can also better accept the sinfulness of others. Although we don’t deserve it, God offers us love through Jesus, and he challenges us to live a life of love in response, loving him, others, and ourselves.
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2
Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:15-20
On this Valentine’s Day, do we need to give more of ourselves to God? Giving ourselves to him as a fragrant offering and sacrifice? As Rick Warren has written, let’s move from smelling the odour of waste to the bouquet of grace.
One of the largest gatherings of European royalty ever to take place occurred on this day (2 February) in 1901. Victoria’s children had married into the great royal families of Europe and a number of foreign monarchs were in attendance, including Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany as well as the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand. They all came together for the funeral of Queen Victoria. This event marked the end of an era, it had been 64 years since the last burial of a monarch.
She was dressed in a white dress and her wedding veil. An array of mementos commemorating her extended family, friends and servants were laid in the coffin with her, at her request, by her doctor and dressers. A dressing gown that had belonged to her husband Albert who had died 40 years earlier, was placed by her side, along with a plaster cast of his hand, while a lock of John Brown’s hair, along with a picture of him, was placed in her left hand concealed from the view of the family by a carefully positioned bunch of flowers. Wikipedia
The UK has now fully left the EU, something I consider to be a huge act of nationalistic self-harm.
Sadly, the reality of what we’ve lost will only be fully demonstrated in the weeks, months and years ahead. But we are where we are, and we really are all in this together. I hope all Brits want what’s best for the UK (which, of course, may now break up) and we have to make it work. Remain voters are experiencing a palpable sense of loss and sadness, and this needs to be worked through.
‘Getting over’ this will inevitably take time before we can genuinely move forward, powerful human emotions are not easily dismissed by pressing an [ESC] key.
The title of this post was inspired by a lyric from the title track of arguably Kraftwerk‘s greatest album Trans-Europe Express released in March 1977: From station to station, back to Dusseldorf City, Meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie, Trans-Europe Express, Trans-Europe Express.
Kraftwerk are (or were, I’m not sure) a hugely influential German band formed in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider. Widely considered as innovators and pioneers of electronic music, their music has influenced a diverse range of artists and genres of modern music, including David Bowie (mentioned in the lyric above). Indeed, one of Bowie’s albums is titled Station to Station, although he’s said that the title refers not so much to railway stations as to the Stations of the Cross, despite the sound of a train.
The reason for writing this post is that the death of Florian Schneider was announced today. Sadly, we’re living at a time when many of my musical heroes are being taken from us, but I enjoyed listening to this album while walking the dog this evening, albeit with sorrow in my heart.
Note: My personal favourite Kraftwerk album is Autobahn, one of my influential albums, with a magnificent title track of nearly 23 minutes.
I completely and passionately remain (did you see what I did there?) of the view that the decision of the UK to leave the EU is fatally flawed. I believe some dark forces have been at work, and feel (like many Remainers) that something of my identity has been taken away. Passions run high.
But things have changed, Brexit is happening and the legal process of leaving has begun, although the full effects will not be felt until the end of the transition period in eleven months time.
It was a divisive referendum in 2016 and continues to be a bitter debate which has divided friends and split families, but now is the time for us all to come together and start healing those divisions.
It’s not the outcome I wanted, but both Leavers and Remainers need to take positive steps to understand each other and work together for the common good, because we all want what’s best for the UK.
I apologise if any of my comments or posts have caused offence over the last few years, and I hope for a similar response from others. My views haven’t changed, I need to remain true to myself, but let’s all agree to disagree agreeably and move forward together. After all, relationships are what life is ultimately about.
PS – I’ll try very hard not to say ‘I told you so’ when things go wrong, but I can’t promise. We’re all human. John.
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
this nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Feared be their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home
For Christian service and true chivalry
As is the sepulchre, in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world’s ransom, blessed Mary’s son;
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out – I die pronouncing it –
Like to a tenement or a pelting farm.
England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds.
That England that was wont to conquer others
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
From Shakespeare’s Richard II, lines spoken by John of Gaunt.
Even though I profoundly disagree with Conservative MP Steve Baker, he fully understands the sadness and sorrow Remainers are feeling today as the UK leaves the EU. “I will celebrate. I will allow myself a smile, I’ll allow myself that glass of champagne, I will enjoy myself. But I’ll celebrate discreetly, and I will celebrate in a way which is respectful of the genuine sorrow that others are feeling at the same time.” Thank you for your empathy and understanding.
Update: Since posting this a number of people have challenged me about this and why I’m praising an architect of Brexit. My reply: I’m not a Steve Baker fan, but his attitude towards today is a million times better than Farage. That’s all I’m saying.
It seems to me there’s an element in the English psyche that needs an enemy to fight, a dragon for St George (a foreigner by the way) to slay; an element that harks back to the Second World War and an imagined golden age. In the absence of a current aggressor, that role has been taken for many years by the European Union, which the United Kingdom voted to leave in 2016 by a narrow majority in a divisive referendum.
The benefits of EU membership have never really been promoted, and often lies about the EU have been perpetuated that have established themselves in our national identity. For decades politicians have also been content to blame their failures on the EU because it’s been politically expedient for them to do so.
We dubiously lift ourselves up by putting others down, insulting the Germans (for example), and hating others rather than working together for the common good, even if we hurt ourselves in the process. The latter is especially so in the possible no-deal Brexit scenario, as this would have catastrophic consequences for the UK.
For some who voted Brexit, the ‘enemy’ is now those who voted to remain in the EU, often referred to as ‘traitors’ and ‘enemies of the people’. This attitude is unhelpful and dangerous as it opens the way for far-right extremists to gain influence and power, history reminding us this never ends well.
Somehow, our nation needs to unite and find the best way forward, but I’m not sure how this can happen, and I’m concerned about the country I love.
Last year the people of the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the European Union by a small majority. This immediately divided the nation in a number of ways and plunged the UK into a complex crisis, not least constitutional. These divisions seem to have deepened and there are ominous signs pointing to a potential breakup of the United Kingdom. I voted for the UK to remain in the EU, believing that to be the best way forward for the country and Europe as a whole.
One thing that concerns me is that such a huge change could be carried through by only a simple majority. Surely something so far-reaching should gain acceptance on at least a 60% threshold, or possibly even a two-thirds majority? With the UK split roughly 52/48 (and then not geographically evenly) there was bound to be division and tension with such a slender majority.
But worse was to follow the referendum. There was an immediate political vacuum, with no plan for what a post-Brexit UK (or disUnited Kingdom) would look like. In addition to this, it emerged that politicians (especially in the Leave campaign) mislead the population with promises from which they backtracked.
Many will say this was the democratic will of the people, but there is more to this than meets the eye, and more than I have the time or inclination to go into. Suffice it to say that many voted Leave for a variety of reasons (some simply as a protest vote) and some regretted the decision, not realising we would actually leave (unbelievable, but true), or became concerned for the negative consequences – for which we were warned.
One of the most worrying concerns of Brexit is the increasingly negative atmosphere towards immigrants and refugees which has resulted in increased hate crimes. We can all do something positive to help by reaching out in solidarity and respecting everyone.
I write as a concerned individual, seeking ways to be positive and working together with others to make our land and continent a better place for all its citizens, especially our children and grandchildren. Despite my reservations, and as Article 50 is triggered by Prime Minister Theresa May, I believe there’s hope for our nation if we and our political leaders work for the common good of everyone.
Like it or not, we are where we are and have to make the best of it, although because the negotiations with the EU going badly there is an increasing call for a People’s Vote on the final deal, and also concern we might crash out with no deal.