Wednesday, January 18, 2006


We followed Sheila Hancock - actress and widow of actor John Thaw - as she traced her family tree on Who Do You Think You Are? tonight. This is a fascinating programme (now in its second series), and Sheila's story was one of the more interesting episodes I've seen.

One of the things Who Do You Think You Are? highlights for me is how mobile people have always been. We often hear pop-cultural commentators - such as the media - talk about the rise in mobility since the Industrial Revolution, conjuring-up images of previous generations whose horizon was just beyond the edge of the village. But, though we can trace geographically-stable families down census reports, there has always been a counter-beat. Humanity has been incredibly mobile (restless, even): usually for economic reasons; often (also) for reasons of persecution. It is that trade mobility that spread ideas - in every sphere of culture - sometimes over vast distances and across multiple language/etc. barriers. We have our contemporary expressions - from asylum seekers to blogging hubs - but none of this is new under the sun.

The spread of Christianity across Europe, the first time around, and every time around since then, is as much (perhaps more so) the story of such mobile traders and refugees carrying their faith as it is the story of set-apart 'professional' missionary monks. Somewhere along the line that confidence has been lost - in no small part because of an increase (or perceived increase) in competing ideas and voices. But moving our ideas, beliefs, values around is part of being human. Perhaps it is more the sphere of the apostles and evangelists - the pioneers and enthusers - whether apostles and evangelists for the Gospel or anything else. But that doesn't entirely rule everyone else out. Let's be human. Let's be carriers. Let's network.

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