Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Rejected in London--Reflections from the Past

St James Park, London (2014)
Leaving for London (and Oxford, Olney, Elstow, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Paris overnight on my way home) in a few days gets me reflecting on previous visits, especially the episode where I was rejected by an airbnb proprietor because I am a Christian (more below on that). Here's a few past reflections:
London, one of the world's most extraordinary cities. The place never ceases to amaze me.
It is wonderful to see and feel the hand of God when traveling alone. Bustling past me on all sides, in the tube, on the street, at the shop, or restaurant, or hotel, is a mass of humanity, many even most of whom don't look like they're having a particularly jolly time of it. Frantically trying to fill the emptiness with more emptiness. While wearing the most radical hairdos, miniskirts, and tattoos imaginable.
When you're traveling with others you talk with them, but when you're alone you tend to strike up conversations with more of the locals. Troyin from Nigeria, for example, who packaged up and shipped the books for me. There was something about him right off. I know, I know, everybody says that sort of thing after finding out the other person is a Christian. "Born again," Troyin assured me, leaning close and gripping my hand, and giving me the warmest, whitest African smile.
Then there was the street preacher standing across the street from the Metropolitan Tabernacle where CH Spurgeon used to proclaim the gospel. What boldness! Flanked by indifference and by head-shaking scorn, this fellow proclaimed Jesus to the crowds (check your Bible; the vast majority of evangelism modeled in the Bible is more like what this zealous man was shamelessly engaged in). I went up to him and shook his hand and encouraged him to keep preaching Jesus (a giant like him needed a wimp like me to give encouragement?). "What a friend we have in Jesus," he began loudly singing, putting his arm around me. I put mine around his and sang with him. Till my bus came. Which wasn't very long. Nevertheless, I felt the thrilling wonder of the oneness of the body of Christ.
Here were two men I did not know and we're grinning at each other and hand shaking and hugging like we're long lost brothers... Which, in fact, we are. Love this city! And want to see and know more brothers in it.

Denied a room by atheist proprietor in London

Yes, I know. I write fiction. Some of you may think this is fiction. But it's not. In an episode that calls up images of baking cakes, flowers, and photography, I really was locked out of booking a bnb room in London! While my dear wife was in the process of booking two nights in a London bed and breakfast for me, the booking was first accepted then rejected. We rechecked the calendar for the days I was booking and it still indicated the proprietor had room vacancies for the days I needed a room. When I sent a query to the inn, I had this amazing reply from the proprietor.
Hi Douglas,
I hope this doesn't sound too strange but I kind of think of myself as a total atheist...I love my Catholic mother dearly but still manage to fight with her every Christmas with regards to our views on religion...and wouldn't want to inflict this upon a guest. I hope you understand. I am not in the practice of being 'selective' on faith but feel from your profile yours takes a very active part in your day to day life.
Best wishes, Malika
Here was my reply:
Hi Malika,
I travel a good deal, and this is a first for me. I am a big fan of individual freedom, including the right of a proprietor of an inn to be selective about who she permits to board at her establishment. I do find one thing a bit curious, however. There is the preferred public perception that Christians are the intolerant ones and atheists are the unstinting champions of diversity and tolerance. But I guess not in this case? Perhaps we have this in common: Each of us hold to beliefs that take a very active part in our day to day life--including making decisions like the one you have made, and I enthusiastically support your right to make it. But you've given me something to muse on: Do atheists actually believe and practice their own creed of tolerance and diversity, or simply employ the rhetoric? I assure you I have no hard feelings and wish you all the best,
Pray with me that God by his gracious and sovereign Spirit will open the eyes of this woman. She responded to my reply above by accepting me to stay in the old broken down pub she managed. More from that stay:

The neighborhood I'm staying in is earthy and interesting. Definitely not the 4-star accommodations we will be enjoying on the tour. And the eclectic blend of humanity staying in this intensely out of round airbnb place is odd, fascinating, not-normal--I guess I fit right in! Reminds me of my youth hostel days in the eighties.

Malika, the proprietor, has been a real dear. It's a sad story really. The old pub she has been operating as an airbnb is slated for the wrecking ball in a week or so. Close enough to center city London, the property is just too valuable; a renovated old pub could never generate the revenue that high-rise condominiums could do on the same real estate footprint. So down she comes. I'm hopeful they'll wait until after I leave tomorrow morning!

Malika has spent the afternoon and evening plotting out a sort of end-of-life party for the old pub (she is very talented; skillfully crafted story board work for the gala she is planning with her sister and Hannah and some other friends). It's really quite impressive--and sad. An English teacher from Cheltenham and two young men from Germany and I looked on as they schemed together. The Marlborough pub as you see pictured with its warm, once-cozy fire, will shortly be no more.

It reminds me of what Woody Allan recently said when asked if he hoped his film legacy would last forever, "I don't care about my film legacy. I want to last forever."

Follow my forthcoming travels in London and the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class here and on facebook, twitter, and Instagram (bondbooks) and subscribe to my website at bondbooks.net (@gmail.com)

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