London Postcard: A City of Contrasts

London is at an interesting intersection of two contrasting phenomenon. On the one hand it is the capitol of a nation that has elected to pull out of the European Union and retreat into the womb of sovereignty; on the other, it is a kaleidoscope of ethnic diversity: Anglo, Indian, Middle Easterners, Caribbean Islanders, Eastern Europeans, and Asians. I had conversations with people from Hungry, Romania, Spain, France, the USA, China, and India.

Since March, London has been attacked three times by terrorists and suffered a devastating fire in a high rise housing complex that took dozens of lives–––the deadliest London fire since World War II. Yet the people are out and about enjoying the parks, theaters, stores and restaurants.

Conservatives dominate the UK parliament and are leading the march toward Brexit. But London’s mayor is a liberal, a Muslim man who marched in the city’s Gay Pride Day Parade. This liberal in a nation governed by conservatives is the most popular politician in the United Kingdom. There is hope on the horizon.

The British Open: A Teaching Moment

I had a morning through noon engagement outside of town on the Sunday before my departure, but returned to  London in time to watch the last nine holes of The British Open golf championship in a pub near the train station.

It was nice to hear a room full of British men and women clapping their hands and cheering for two young Americans who were leading the tournament as it made the final turn.

As the two leaders approached the 14th tee, a woman seated next to me in a row of barstools was effusive in her cheering for Jordan Spieth. Why? The 23-year old from Texas had led the tournament through the first three rounds, but faltered badly on this last day and had dropped into a draw. He hit an errant drive on the 13th that flew not only out of the fairway but over the rough, over a hill and onto the downslope that paralleled another hole. On the way to earth the ball hit a spectator who was watching two other golfers, and it ended up in a thicket.

Not only had Spieth lost the lead and fallen into a tie in what many golf fans consider the world’s premier tournament, he now had to take a penalty and hit a blind shot back across the hill. He faced the certain prospect of falling at least one stroke behind and in danger of a complete collapse.

But he didn’t pound his club, cuss and stomp angrily through the crowd in search of the ball. Instead, he walked calmly up the hill, sought out the man who the ball hit and shook his hand. It was a moment of grace from a young man who was looking at a humiliating defeat in front of a worldwide television audience

Emma, the woman to my right, noticed his gesture and she loved it. Many of the men in the pub ridiculed Spieth as a choker, and sarcastically suggested the handshake was the gesture of a loser who wasn’t tough enough under pressure.

He ended up with a bogey and fell one stroke behind with five to play. He had seemingly lost his momentum. But, as if buoyed by Emma’s shouts of encouragement, Spieth proceeded to finish his round with a barrage of incredible golf shots, going birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie, and par to win going away. Emma was beyond ecstatic, cheering loudly for his every movement.

When it was over and Jordan Spieth had become the youngest man since 1979 to win the British Open, Emma stood and spoke: “The lesson here, blokes, is that you will be rewarded for good behavior. Good guys definitely can finish first. Jordan got good juju for what he did and the golf angel rode on his shoulder those last five holes.” She had all of us in the pub on our feet laughing and cheering.

I am not sure what “good juju” is, but I would love to have an email address for the golf angel. Maybe I cold get a reservation for her to ride on my shoulder the next time I play a round.

Postcard From London

Coffee Shop Conversations: Is There Hope for America?

I am in London to work on my millennial-elder project. On Thursday I met and talked with four British college students at a Café Nero coffee shop.  All four are interested in and well read about US politics.  All four are baffled, wondering how a great democracy that thrilled the world with Obama’s election can tumble so far so fast. They are not sure if we will ever recover.

But the general sense I am getting from talking with various folks in the UK is that they have more hope in us then we have in ourselves. As a vacationing Canadian academic I met at a sidewalk cafe said, “The world covets American leadership. It seems that no matter how bad things might appear to be, America has always been a light that leads out of the darkness.”

When I asked how he could think this after our years of blundering through Iraq, Afghanistan and other skirmishes of choice––– and now by blundering in our domestic politics with the election of Trump–––he responded, “The redeeming thing about your country has always been your resilience. You recognize and acknowledge your faults, then turn onto a new path.

“After the Bush years you elected Obama, and despite a brutal assault on everything he tried to do, he made a positive mark internationally on issues of climate change and human rights. He confronted brutal dictators, and supported international cooperation and partnerships. He stood firm in repudiating the “American first and America alone” philosophy of his political opponents.

“Electing Trump was a huge setback for the U.S. and for the world. The question now is whether that disastrous mistake becomes a death march away from hope and into the darkness of isolation; or, a resurgence of your natural progressive spirit that will lead into the renewed light of hope.”

The British Press and US Politics

The Guardian’s Steven Thrasher wrote: “Six months into Donald Trump’s term, and Democratic politicians’ ability to be an opposition party is, in a word, pathetic. When the poll came out saying that “Democrats stand for nothing more than opposing” Trump, I thought to myself, ‘If only that were true!’

“But they can’t even do that well. When House Democratic Caucus chairman Joe Crowley was asked by the Associated Press just what his party’s core message was, he “hesitated” and then said, “That message is being worked on.”

Who Is to Blame for Obamacare repeal Failure?

Molly Kiniry writes an American Values column in The Sunday Telegraph. Today she wrote about the apparent demise of the Republican commitment to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). “Who is to blame” for the failure, she asks. “Some point to Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader who failed to corral his party into backing an Obamacare replacement. Others say McConnell was left with an impossible task by Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who steered the bill through the lower chamber fully aware it would be dead-on-arrival in the Senate.

“But the sad truth is that this morass is no one’s fault. Rather, it is a symptom of a deeper disease in Washington. The modern two-party system prevents meaningful legislative action except in emergency situations. Individual politicians are so dependent on the party machine that none will break ranks, even if their constituents would benefit from bipartisan cooperation. Disloyalty to party can lead to swift retribution or an evaporation of funding.”

Later in her article she writes, “A failed healthcare system means sick children out of school, and missed cancer diagnoses. This is the sort of human misery which no responsible government should inflict upon its own people—and precisely the sort of indifference which has relegated the Republican Party to the pariah status among those concerned about the welfare of America’s poorest.”



Travel as a Political Act

“Travel rearranges cultural furniture and wallops ethno-centric self- assurance.” Rick Steves, Travel as a Political Act

It has been my privilege to have my cultural furniture rearranged several times since 1995. I’ve been immersed in different traditions and have in engaged conversations with a variety of extraordinary people: from England, Ireland, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and Belgium… to Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Israel/Palestine, Japan, Korea, India and Ecuador. Continue reading “Travel as a Political Act”

Traveling for the Purpose of Traveling

purpose for travel“For my part I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake.” Robert Louis Stevenson

I am one of those strange people who is infused with energy simply by the act of traveling. I enjoy airplanes and airports and my campervan. I enjoy sitting in parks and watching and meeting people. I enjoy conversations with strangers in coffee houses and pubs. Continue reading “Traveling for the Purpose of Traveling”

Easter in London

P1000075Easter in London was a wondrous experience. I know that this will surprise those of you who know me well, but on Holy Saturday evening I attended a candlelight Bach concert at St. Martin’s in the Fields: the Easter Oratorio and the Magnificat.

While my taste in music is more towards Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Mose Allison, and Eva Cassidy—this presentation moved my spirit.

Then on Easter Day the community of St. Luke’s in Islington took me even deeper.  The building looks like a traditional English parish from the outside, but inside it is one of the warmest and most hospitable churches I have worshiped in. Chairs were arranged in a horseshoe, with the Holy Table in the open space. Continue reading “Easter in London”