Politics, world travel and a universalist faith

My ten-year-old grandson is already a universalist. I suspect he’ll never understand the way the Evangelical Christians insist that those who don’t “accept Jesus into their hearts” will see God condemn them to hell.


On a walk with the beatiful mother of my d-i-l and my sweet husband with the challenging Bepo.
On a walk with the beautiful mother of my d-i-l and my sweet husband with the challenging Bepo.

[Note: Jet lag still horrible and not sleeping. But wanted to get some observations out in the first leg of our trip.]

By late Saturday night, only six of us remained in this suburban London house: me, my husband, a son, his wife, and their two children.

Most of the day, there have been fifteen here: various relatives from Colombia, some Brits, including my grandsons’ two female cousins, a Frenchman, and us US folks.

The morning had started, after the usual superb omelet that emerges from the kitchen magic here, with several rousing games of ping-pong with the youngest grandson. To put it mildly, I was soundly defeated. However, my husband gave him a pretty good run for the money.

Nonetheless, nothing can beat a determined nine-year-old school table-tennis champ with a killer-spin-serve that is nearly impossible to return.

In the meantime, his older brother and dad mowed and trimmed the huge back yard. Late morning, as others began to arrive, several of us set out for a walk in the nearby fields.

Freely accessible footpaths and fantastic food

As is true all across the UK, there are dedicated public footpaths across privately held fields. We were able to meander comfortably through nearby fields of a thousand acres of sorghum and some other flowering grain.

Bepo, the one-year-old Chesapeake Retriever who comes from superb hunting stock, went through numerous training exercises but also was able to run freely, as did the many other dogs we met on our way.

After returning, the Colombian women headed to the kitchen, preparing for all fifteen of us a lovely lunch of beans, rice, pork, fried plantains, and salad. Lively South American music flooded the kitchen. The women danced as they cooked.

I prevailed on my oldest grandson to show off his increasingly expert piano skills. I knew enough to stay out of the kitchen.

 Politics: May’s troubles, Trump’s scandals, Le Pen’s ignorance

Lunch conversation revolved around politics at our end of the table (all speaking English there) and politics at the other end of the table (all in Spanish there).

Was fascinated to hear the current take on the situation in Great Britain. Theresa May, misreading her popularity levels, decided to call for this election thinking she would solidify her position by so doing.

In the UK, voters vote, not for the Prime Minister, but for their local MP’s. The party that gets most of the votes then chooses the Prime Minister. In this case, the Tories (Conservatives, May’s party) ended up losing multiple spots, rendering the likely end to May’s leadership.

There are numerous calls for her to resign. If she doesn’t, she will probably be removed anyway by the Parliament, as the Labour Party (i.e., more liberal) picked up a bundle of seats. The consensus around the table: the UK has no functional government at the moment.

Apparently, Holland is in a similar situation with a completely split government. France, however, is very, very happy with their election. Marie Le Pen made the same mistake as May: misunderstanding her popularity levels and thinking it would carry the election.

As for Trump: most Brits can’t stand him, nor can the French. My son, although fairly sure Trump would win, is now making a series of bets as to how soon the House will start impeachment procedures.

While the political conversations were taking place, the kids disappeared on a bike ride with just a “we’ll be back later” notice to their parents. None of the rest of us even knew they were gone.

A pub, freedoms of kids, and the Middle East

On a later 2 1/2 mile walk to a pub, accompanied again by Bepo in an attempt to wear him out a bit, my walking companion was the oldest of the four cousins, a 16-year-old. She and I have grown close over the years of my visits, and we delight in being in each other’s company. She also graciously provided a steadying arm on some rock-laden, steep downhill forest paths where it is easy to lose footing or trip over a tree root.

A walk to the pub

A straggling line of our house party taking the 2 and 1/2 mile walk to the ancient pub.

She told me all about the bike ride, pointing out the hills they had raced down, the games they played, the freedom they enjoyed. And no, they had not worn helmets and, no, their parents did not come with them, and no, their parents did not know where they were going, as there are miles of roads and trails around here.

When I spoke of the fewer freedoms US kids have regarding this kind of unsupervised time and imaginative play (all the children have extreme restrictions on screen time), she said, “So what happens when they go off to University? Will they have the maturity necessary to handle their freedom when they’ve never had practice being on their own?”

Wise question from a 16-year-old indeed. And I wonder the same. Other conversations with the kids indicated a remarkably high level of awareness of the world and current political events. They know well we live in an interconnected society. Far better than most US children, I would guess.

The pub, full of small rooms and expansive outdoor seating, also is a haven for dog owners. Nearly everyone had one, mostly quite large, all well-behaved. Bepo, so much the adolescent who had also taken an exuberant roll in a mud puddle, needed careful control on a tight leash, but many sat unleashed and calmly obedient to their owners.

I enjoyed a cold gin and tonic, and most others had a beer while my teen friend enjoyed hot chocolate. We all admired the other dogs around us and then headed back, with the steep uphill climbs facing us.

By 8:30, after the children had a quick swim, people began to depart leaving again the quiet household of only six.

Another superb meal followed, and we eventually tumbled into bed.

Religious Education and fledgling Universalists

Shortly, my son heads for the Middle East as part of his work. He has some fascinating insights into the situation in Qatar, where he has often, until now, flown as that airport is a great hub for most Middle East airports.

Qatar, fully desert and embarrassingly oil-rich, must import 100% of its food and the only way food can get in right now is by air. The Saudi’s have blocked all roads. Qatar’s seaport is too small for the giant freighters that deliver to nearby ports. The Saudi’s are trying to starve them out.

Before breakfast, my son and husband headed to the store and came back with a copy of The Sunday Times. From a front-page article that spoke of Theresa May, “She had a 20-point lead but managed to turn that crock of gold into a crock of shit. By the end—in a campaign against Jeremy Corbyn for God’s sake—we were even on the back foot over terrorism. This is the extent of the disaster.”

The press pulls no punches over here.

I asked my oldest grandson about the Religious Education courses he takes as part of his prep school education. They are studying all religious faiths. His best friend is a Muslim—a delightful and personable kid who was here on Friday when we arrived. Their classmates include Buddhists and Hindus as well as Muslims and Christians. My grandson didn’t know if there were any Jewish classmates.

As part of a philosophy class (he’s 10!), the instructor asked the children to define the meaning of life. I inquired how he answered. He replied, “I guess it depends on how one is raised. Those who are Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Christian will all have different ideas of the meaning of life.”

But now, the boys have a tutor here. They must prepare extensively for comprehensive exams that will decide on the schools they will start attending in the ninth grade. The environment is highly competitive and the seats in the best schools in short supply. Lots of academic pressure.

Economics matter on both sides of the pond

A few thoughts: The US is a bit of a laughing stock right now. However, political issues and economic problems are intense here. The British universal and free health care, so touted by many in the US who want a single payer system, is rapidly draining the country of resources and in danger of collapse. Not nearly enough adequate housing. The tough job situation is not improving.

Economics matter and they matter a lot.

People, both in Great Britain and in France, are also choosing not to give into fear, despite the recent terrorist acts. Although the immigration officer at the airport carefully asked about plans while here, I saw no one detained.

A walk to the pubMy grandson, the Universalist

I’m also thinking about my grandson’s religious understandings. He is, already, a universalist. I suspect he’ll never understand the way the US Evangelical Christians insist that those who don’t “accept Jesus into their hearts” will discover God intends to send them to hell. Assuming the Evangelicals are right, of course.

His world, informed as it is by international friends, major travel experiences, and coupled with a wider education, makes such narrowness impossible. So, does that mean that he, along with his brother and their cousins and extended family, will all experience eternal conscious torment? They are not regular attendees at Mass, although the boys are getting the basic grounding in their faith. Is that enough to keep them from the fiery abyss?

It’s a question to explore. But now, it is time for a walk to another pub for lunch.

All thoughts welcome.

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  • Etranger

    Travel and learning about other cultures and people and beliefs cures any sort of fundamentalism – which is what American evangelicalism is about. That is why in most of Europe – where people learn about other cultures through their language studies and where the study of literature, history and philosophy is part of high school curricula – tends to be less religiously fanatical than the US, where none of those things are encouraged or part of our culture. Good for your grandson to be exposed so early to rational, level-headed thinking!!

    • I know. I am so pleased with their education over here. Thanks for the good comment.

  • Linda Coleman Allen

    What a wonderful story of family in another country. I love the emphasis on the different cultures, food and family relations. The 16-year old who helps you on your walk, the fact that the children can go off on their own as we did when we were children before parents had to watch their children every minute of the day. I am more appalled at our education system than ever after reading about your grandsons and our adversity in this country which is supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. The political insight is great, something we might never hear in this country. Thank you for sharing.