Is £35 billion enough?

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British RailThe head of Network Rail promised today the biggest expansion of the national railway system since the days of the great Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Evening Standard, Tuesday 31st March 2009

Is it an amusing coincidence that this announcement was made the day before April Fools’ Day? £35 billion is a huge amount of money… It took only £20 billion to bail out the Royal Bank of Scotland. Of course it’s enough, but I wanted to draw some attention to a different point.

In the 1930s Roosevelt initiated the New Deal. This included major programmes of work, such as the Hoover Dam, which provided jobs and infrastructure. It is perhaps a symbol of how redundant Westminster’s power and influence has become, against the background of the greater power and influence of the private sector, when the kind of investment the UK needs is not driven by government.

This investment in the country’s rail infrastructure is long overdue. It is good for sustainable development and encouraging more use of public transport over cars and short-haul flights. It will provide jobs and training opportunities. It may even encourage some research and development into improving trains and train lines.

And according to this article at least, it will improve the life of the lowly commuter.

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family. home.

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“Most people have forgotten nowadays what a home can mean, though some of us have come to realise it as never before. It is a kingdom of its own in the midst of the world, a stronghold amid life’s storms and stresses, a refuge, even a sanctuary. It is not founded on the shifting sands of outward or public life, but has its resting place in God, for God gives it special meaning and value, its own nature and privilege, its own destiny and dignity”
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer; A Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell, May 1943)

I have found a new home away from home. My own home, the one created and shaped by my parents is still there and is still a kingdom of its own, as Bonhoeffer so beautifully describes. But here with my flatmate in a rented space I have found a sanctuary. The challenge now is to ensure that it does indeed find its resting place in God.

The context of this passage is a wedding sermon, which extols at length the responsibilities of both bride and groom to each other and to the institution of marriage. I would assume – for the time and setting of Bonhoeffer and his contemporaries – that these two, Renate and Eberhard, had not lived together before they married. And so with the newness of marriage comes the newness of communal living and sleeping: mornings and waking and dressing together, the welcome home, the kiss good night, the sleepnessness of 3am broken by another’s soft breathing; weekends of alternate boredom and activity under the watchful gaze of another’s restlessness or lethagy; mood swings and spoken word that threaten peace or soothe the tempests.

I have never lived with a lover, but I have lived with others and still do. I know what it’s like to live with someone, to leave my parents’ house and to make my own home. Several in fact – in South Africa, at university and now in London.

If the people I live with do not pray to the same God or share the same faith, can a home still be a sanctuary that rests in Him. I think so. I also think that part of the challenge of commuting is how far you can take that sanctuary with you, or how closely you can hold it to your heart. A home is more than its physical being. It is that comfort, that security which says “here you are safe to just be.”

Bonhoeffer paints it in a far more idealistic light: “It is an ordinance of God in the world, the place in which – whatever may happen in the world – peace, quietness, joy, love, purity, discipline, respect, obedience, tradition, and , with it all, happiness may dwell.”

Perhaps one of the things I treasure about my home (both the one with my family and the one with me) is that it’s not all peace and joy – there are tears and rages and worries and fears, but they are manageable and more so in a sanctuary where there is acceptance and a chance to indulge these negative feelings without recourse to professionalism or judgement or misunderstanding.

It is so strange then that we seem to approach the commute with a mixed bag of apathy and isolation? It could and should never be a home, but it is both the journey that takes us away from it and the delay before we can be safe again.

Oppressed by pleasure

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lord for the years(sorry it’s a little blurred, was trying to be surreptitious in church… i don’t recommend it)

Lord, for our land in this our generation,
spirits oppressed by pleasure
wealth and care.

(Timothy Dudley-Smith)

Mr Dudley-Smith seems a cheerful soul. This particular verse ends with the sentiment: Lord, be pleased to hear our prayer. As if, thank God, these heathens with all their oppressive pleasure have realised they’d be far better praying.

I heard a brilliant joke by John Bell the other day. A friend of his had spent his honeymoon at Spring Harvest (no comment) and when asked how it was, this friend said:
“Oh wonderful. All through the consummation of our love we would stop to get down on our knees and pray to the Lord our thanks for being there together..”

To which John says: “Well that shows a terrible attitude, because you should be able to pray in any position.”

I find trying to pray while commuting really bloody hard: it’s a difficult exercise in focus and function. Inevitably you find yourself praying in the moment, but that particular moment could range from worry over work to discomfort over your neighbour’s body odour. And I’ve seen the crazies that close their eyes and mouth their musings to the Lord (I’m guessing), I don’t want to be one of them.

Hang on, is that last sentence what Timothy Dudley-Smith meant by “care”??

Travel a new route

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botanical insitituteThe South London Botanical Insitute

I do realise that the South London Botanical Institute is not somewhere likely to blow most people’s skirts up. However, on this urban-suburban stretch of road it seems vaguely incongruous. Especially with the dodgy boxing place a few doors down.

I liked that taking a stroll rather than the bus meant I found this quiet homage to botany.

I like that travelling a new route opens up the world one small discovery at a time…

Make em laugh

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life-is-a-laugh

(Life is a Laugh by Brian Griffiths at Gloucester Road Tube Station)

You have to smile and you have to find fun, especially in the more mundane aspects of everyday life. I am a smiler… I like to smile and I love to laugh – although I do laugh a little too loudly for polite company.

Today my colleague and I were travelling from Stonebridge Park (way out North London way) on the Bakerloo to Waterloo (him) and Elephant & Castle (me) on my suggestion. We could have gone via Euston, but no. I was adamant. 20 minutes into the journey and we’d only just reached zone 2, my friend was starting to doubt the choice.

I brazenly look at the tube map above us and pronounce that by half past we will be at Oxford Circus… having no clue what I’m talking about.

As we leave Regent’s Park my friend checks his watch and it’s coming up to 5.29… The next 60 seconds were a maelstrom of fear, anticipation, excitement and tension… The second hand hits 12…. And 3 seconds later the train storms into Oxford Circus. A triumphant yelp. Not mine, though.

I like those moments where a spontaneous game breaks out. Years ago ours and another family were travelling up to Scotland. Suddenly on a lonely A road surrounded by fields our cars halt and we spend 15 minutes playing silly games by the embankment. There’s an article coming out in April’s Third Way about games and play, how important they can be to the way people interact, and their potential for churches and communities. And, I guess, commuters!

How civilised we are

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roman road

“apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us
Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Under Roman occupation one of the improvements to the infrastructure of First Century Palestine was the road system. They were widened and made stronger so they could accommodate more pedestrians, animals and carriages. Hundreds of years down the line our roads are on the ground and in the air. Bicycles, scooters, cars and public transport have made best use of the infrastructure available and government is put under pressure to improve it further.

Travel in Jesus’ day was done on foot – perhaps a donkey if you were wealthy. Two thousand years ago someone might cover twenty miles in a day; tomorrow morning I’ll be covering double that in twenty-five minutes.

Pilgrimages were done in huge groups of family and friends. It took Jesus’ parents a day to notice that he was not with them when they left Jerusalem (Luke 2:44). Today nuclear families lock themselves into their cars to make their pilgrimages: to church, to school, to grandparents, on holiday.

Is it any wonder that in trying to find a correlation between Jesus’ travels and my own I draw a blank?