To all those stranded…

Thomas Cook.

It was a household name in travel for well over a century, but yesterday one of the first ever travel companies, shut its doors all over the world for the final time.

Thomas Cook was an English Baptist missionary, intent on freeing people from spending their money on the short-lived pleasures of alcohol and other things which dull the senses, and instead helping people invest in an experience outside of their everyday world – in something that would open their minds and senses – in travel. First only using trains and short trips to other parts of England, but then finally, along with his son, in creating journeys which would take travelers on full voyages of the world! And from it, grew the world’s largest travel company (taking on various names and brands inbetween). You can read more here.

All that’s left of Thomas Cook online: a help page and this Twitter image.

Despite this, I, as a symptom of the way my generation travels, have never used them once in my life (prefering like most millennials and GenZ, to book my travels independently for cheaper), but there’s still something nostalgic that wells up inside me at the thought of them going, never to return.

Like when many companies go under, there’s infuriation from employees at the lack of communication from the top. Over 21,000 losing jobs worldwide, with families affected and very real circumstances to face tomorrow morning for many, waking up without this month’s pay and no work forseeably to go to. So often companies rely on last minute takeovers to save them, and can’t publicise their doom to employees without further risking the company’s last-minute deal making. Watching the shutters come down on our local Thomas Cook office here in Belfast, was harder because there were real people pulling those shutters down, with nothing to go back to.

But there’s also deep frustration and regret from travellers. If any are like me, we (foolishly or otherwise) don’t often spend money on travel insurance often. In fact, many these days save huge amounts or take our loans in order to afford travel. For them, although they’ll get back home eventually, the dream has turned into nightmare. And even for the many that have insurance, some have their honeymoon ruined; their family reunion shattered; their once-in-a-lifetime adventure, gone. It’s not as easy as pointing fingers at individual responsibility,

The travel brochure image that was once tangibly real and in our grasp, now lies on its way to our recycling boxes, tear stained and no longer trusted. What seemed to jump our from our Instagram feeds on our screens and be ours to enjoy in full 3D colour, has gone back to being imprisoned behind cracked screens, still as distant as ever – perhaps moreso, for the fact that our appetite to dream, to save, to book another holiday will indeed seem far less mouth-watering a second time round.

Surely many smaller travel companies, who were already be feeling the weight of major political upheavals in Brexit, or fears of terrorism in parts of the world; the closing down of travel visas; or uncertainties of environmental policies impacting travel; will sense the weakening of this type of market will indeed be upon far more than the giant corporate brand too.

However it will be only a minor hiccup and a small dent in the overall travel industry, that was already bypassing such big corporations for other ways of globe-trotting that are less prone to the direct stare of environmental campaigners like Greta Thunberg. But leaving aside such large questions as will continue to loom over the travel industry and against human nature, may I finish by doing as I do in each chapter of my book, and asking for God’s guidance, wisdom and help in all of this, as we seek to respond well as Christians? None of us can predict the ins and outs of what will happen in the future, and although hindsight is a wonderful thing, my analysis of the past (or future) will not help many, compared with the very real promises of the One who made Travel, and the panorama He gives us over all time.

For the Thomas Cook employee:

Loving, Heavenly Father,
We find ourselves facing sudden times of unexpected great loss,
Without job;
Without livelihood;
Without means of providing for others;
And even in the bitterness of how it all happened,
We turn to you.

We turn to you as the author of travel;
We turn to you as the provider of all good things;
We turn to you acknowledging that no matter how insightful we are,
We cannot predict what will come to any of us.

And so we rest on you and you alone this evening.

You are the unchanging rock.

Would you use the hard events of the last 24 hours to help us trust you?
Would you warm our hearts again with your goodness,
And forgive us when we trusted more in our own provision?

And for these moments when things are taken away,
We pray we would know your presence and leading in very real ways,
As we are united to the One who lost everything,
To provide for us.

In His name,
Amen

For the stranded traveller:

Loving, Heavenly Father,
We praise you, the great creator God,
Who made all of this earth.
We’re excited to explore it, and plumb the depths of the good things you have given us.
But even more, we’re excited to know you,
Because you will be infinitely better than your creation.

For you were the one who came to rescue a stranded creation, that rebelled far from you.
We’d love to know your heart for this world – how you see it.

And so we pray you’d do just that.
That in our disappointment, you would show us greater joys.
That in our frustration, you would create in us thankful hearts.
That in the unfulfilled longings of this world, that you would cast our minds and hearts to the new heavens and earth to come.

By the power of the Spirit,
In your Son’s name,
Amen

Urgency in Irish life

I’m not sure how much I realised culture impacts things until I’d lived in a few cultures.  Northern Irish culture; English culture; Irish culture; there’s nuanced differences between all of them.  But nuanced differences magnified by living out assumptions that there’ll all the same, sometimes make surprisingly large differences between all of them!  It’s what irks me most about comments from those who’ve travelled in eastern Europe (or anywhere for that matter) and declare all the cultures to be the same!  And sadly in my first few years of settling in Cork (and probably still) I’d a lot to grasp about those differences.  One of them is urgency.

How do we as Irish people display urgency?

I remember living with a couple of doctors once (yes, you guessed it, one of the ones who got married).  Coming down in to the kitchen one morning, already late for work, he stopped and put on the kettle and sat down to chat.  Looking at him slightly puzzled, he saw my face, said “haven’t seen you in a while bud, you want a cup of tea?”, and proceeded to chat away for another ten minutes.  Much as the British like their tea, I wonder whether they would not have scolded him and shoved him out of the door before the kettle boiled.

Equally I came from having lived in England nearly five years, where task-orientated life dominates.  You send someone an email, and if you don’t get a reply in a few days, it’s a fault on their part.  Landing in Cork, I started sending many, many emails.  I saw one recipient on the street a few weeks later who casually wandered over to me and said “ah Peter, how’s it going?  I see you sent me an email a few weeks ago.  Do you want to go for coffee now?”

Relational life is beautiful.

It took me a while to get round to seeing it as that, but it is.  At times frustrating, but still none-the-less beautiful.

A friend in Limerick similarly noted that when Limerick flooded a year or two ago, the process by which the local councillors and groups got together to work out a solution and an urgent action plan, was not a British task-orientated, exact plan.  In fact, to the on-looking British it may have even been considered lackadaisical.

Some would say to me that Irish people don’t do urgency.  But I’m not so sure that’s true, as I see plenty of situations we react to urgently, although it’s true that we seem to love some sense of spontaneity too.  I just wonder whether Irish urgency is indeed very different.  Which makes me wonder about those who believe they have an urgent message to proclaim.  Muslims, Mormons, Evangelical Christians, others.

I have sat down with Mormons who seem to have such urgency that they quite often struggle to engage with me as a human.  Perhaps their dualistic theology also leads to this (see here for more).  Interestingly many of my Muslim friends seem to get relational culture far better, as they come from even more relational backgrounds than I do (perhaps works-based/semi-pelagian religions tend towards a slower, relational lifestyle, given the impossibility of immediate, certain salvation??).  That is, until religion is mentioned, and then many that I know seem to change!

sense-of-urgency-for-change2

Similarly I’ve sat next to British or some northern evangelicals who with tears in their eyes for the lost, wonder whether anyone else really cares, because no-one else is displaying such passion in the ways they are.  Equally, the lack of effort by us to culturally engage the more African-orientated “Redeemed Christian Churches of God” (the largest protestant denomination in Ireland, I believe), has meant that much frustration and division in CUs comes through cultural misunderstanding of some of these things.  “You’re just not passionate about the good news!” will often be the accusation.

But before this gets too long, I’ll leave you with two things I’m increasingly convinced of, and questions for you, of which I’d be grateful of your thoughts.

  • I’m increasingly convinced that the gospel demands urgency, and that this is part of the offence of the gospel because it shapes our means of bringing the gospel. As a philosopher I love “other possible world” hypothesis, but as a theologian (which we all are too), I’m not sure the Bible spends much time on them.  So when a Cork church leader recently said “I think if we had infinite time, God could bring everyone to Himself because we’d have all the time in the world to show them the warmth, beauty and truth of Christ and Christian community”, I’m not so sure I can agree or disagree (though I lean towards the latter).  Infinite time this side of eternity would so bend the Bible’s message that everything else would look distorted too (election, predestination, His means of bringing Himself glory etc).
  • I’m increasingly convinced that cultural displays of urgency are very different, and that we end up judging others for the way they display it. Street preaching; four spiritual laws; very direct conversations; endlessly posting things on facebook; I’m trying to figure out how an Irish person would do these or if they would at all.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an excuse for not being urgent, just a large question of whether some British, American or Nigerian ways of displaying urgency are really superior.

And so to my questions for you: what does urgency look like in your culture?  Where is it displayed?  What factors go into making a culture’s view on urgency?  Where do Irish values stop and borrowed values start in terms of urgency?  Does Biblical urgency ever call us to trump Irish ways of displaying that?  And where does our humanity fit into all this urgency?

Over to you!