Reflection – travel stretches the mind!

Grateful to have been away – grateful to be home.

Australia is an ancient land, peopled from very ancient times by what seems like an ageless race, but its recorded story is young and relatively straight-forward.

What a privilege it is to be able to move in “the old world” for a few weeks occasionally: for us this has meant in parts of Europe, the U K, and the Middle East.  It helps to keep us in touch with our lovely and interesting family, our rich cultural roots, and with what we see as God’s story and the human stories of our Christian faith and heritage.  Travel also helps us to see our vast continent but only-just-significant Australia in a broader context than most Aussies and many of our leaders seem to realise: so many of our current challenges, struggles, frustrations, outcomes and joys are not only ours but those of the world.

Three generations at one of the family celebrations we were able to join

I have written before about some of the costs and benefits of migration as these have affected me and many others.  In the light of this Helen and I want to allocate more time to spend with our family if and when we next visit “the old country”.  Now that we have retired from full-time commitments, this should be possible.  Most of my generation and also Helen’s nephews and nieces are at a stage in life where we have more time and interest in “keeping in touch” and reflection.  We certainly enjoyed the rather minimal day or two we spent with just some of our relatives – and left hungry for more: and that’s a good thing!

We were away for almost 8 weeks: first we had three days to revisit just some of our “bucket list” for London, followed by a 16 day Trafalgar bus tour of the United Kingdom and Eire.  We then flew to Schiphol and trained to Nunspeet, where one of our in-laws had booked a holiday “bungalow” for 3 weeks in a wonderfully natural and practical location and very central to the travel we and the other 5 Aussie sibs had planned for our time in the Netherlands.  After this, Helen and I then took the impressive Thalys (fast train) to Paris, where a wonderful 7 day Trafalgar tour of Paris and north-west France awaited us.

So many rich and memorable family times!  So many things shared and explored.  So many old cities, towns, cathedrals and churches, castles and chateaus.  And so much history: kings and queens, leisure and luxury, battles and endless warfare, conquests and occupations, rapes and plundering, conspiracies, assassinations, murders, quick and cruel executions… our story as Caucasians and (ex-) Europeans is far from pretty and reassuring.  It’s well-known that the Christian religion was thoroughly “used” to justify the mayhem and murder, and the Christian faith is often blamed for Europe’s sordid story.

I can certainly understand why, but I make two comments.

First, we are all children of our times.  The Church cooperated with and sometimes encouraged or supported tyranny and repression in past centuries, but I often ask myself: in what ways am I allowing myself to be used for ends that will look outrageous at some future time?

This relief at the Palace of Versailles expresses France's King Louis XIV's ambition to crush (and pillage) Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

It’s easier for me to realise this reality when I reflect on my parents and their generation.  Although we may regret some of the choices and attitudes of our parents, we must see them too in their context and be aware of the things we use to justify ours.  At least one of my parents was a passionate supporter of Dutch colonialism and her code of silence, more common with that generation, meant some of their children were not helped with some of their deepest needs.  How might a future generation regard those who today refuse to consider the possibility that climate change is (as most experts tell us) real, significant, and in part caused by our technology?  How might history students regard the self-centred humanism that is causing the increasing disintegration of the traditional family by failing to meet the basic needs of children?

To many of today’s Christians, aligning wealth, power, arrogance, self-centredness and nationalism with the Christian life-and-world view is an abuse of all that Jesus said and did.  The heart of the Christian way is (I believe) much better recognised now than through much of history, as the Christian religion and the Church have been stripped of most of their influence with power structures.

Second, all our adult and working life Helen and I have aimed to be passionate advocates of what might be called “basic Christianity”.  By this I mean the Christian “way” (including the local church as a sign of Christian community) stripped as much as possible of tradition, organisation, power-play, and meaningless or outmoded ritual and other trappings.

I don’t find it hard to realise that if Christianity had stayed “basic” since Jesus’ day, European history would be both much the same and yet quite different.  The Muslim world today is being forced to deal with much the same issue: how do we distinguish between and separate our beliefs from the ugly part of human and national aspirations?

These are just some of the thoughts and explorations we have indulged in and enjoyed during our time away.  In coming blogs I want to share not only about some great times of our recent holidays, but also to reflect on some of the issues that were raised in our minds.


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