The freedom which Jesus gives to those with the famous parent syndrome.
“Church asks tourists to keep unholy racket under control.” This headline in today’s Times caught my attention – another grumpy vicar story, I thought. A colleague in arms. So the story unfolds: “Priests at one of England’s most visited parish churches have expressed concern over the unholy racket made by tourists who feel obliged to photograph everything they see.” And it’s a church I know. In fact, I married one of my daughters in this eminent edifice: “The University Church of St Mary the Virgin, in the heart of Oxford.” It seems that the hordes of tourists visiting this church were not behaving themselves, talking and taking photographs. And the vicar isn’t happy. Hardly a news story – except it wasn’t the vicar moaning. Rev William Lamb is given a quote but only at the end of the article by which time most readers would have moved on. No, this is the associate priest writing in the church newsletter bemoaning the conduct of these trigger-happy tourists: the Rev Charlotte Bannister-Parker. For this is the real story which caught the attention of the Times sub-editor. Mrs. Bannister-Parker is the daughter of Sir Roger Bannister. And should anyone in this land not know who her father is, we are informed that he is “the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes.” My hero. In fact, only yesterday I quoted Sir Roger in a conversation, such is his prominence in my life. His was the first ‘grown-up book’ which I read and inspired me to great things. In fact, whenever I ran on the old 440 yard track at Iffley Road (where he ran the first sub 4 minute mile on 6 May, 1954) I always felt I was running on holy ground. Now at this stage I have no idea where this blog is heading but hey, this is stream of consciousness writing. So let’s see where this subject takes us, if anywhere! Clearly Rev Charlotte is proud to bear the family name, to be known as the daughter of the greatest British athlete of all time, a remarkable person who went onto to become a distinguished neurologist and then Master of Pembroke College, Oxford. So she writes a few throwaway lines in her church weekly newssheet – and hey, next moment she finds herself being quoted in our most distinguished national newspaper along with her photo. However, more often than not it is a burden being the offspring of a famous person. This was certainly the experience of fashion designer Stella McCartney. Here I paste from Wikipedia: “Despite their fame, the McCartneys wanted their children to lead as normal a life as possible, so Stella and her siblings attended local state schools. . . McCartney has said that while attending state school, she was a victim of bullying, as well as being a bully herself.” Famous parent syndrome was very much the theme of the 1998 novel by Nick Hornby, “About a Boy.” We are introduced to Will Freeman who is not a free man at all but trapped in a meaningless but comfortable existence through the success of his father. He is forever in his father’s shadow. For we all long to be known for who we are in ourselves and not simply in reference to someone else, our parent or even our partner. This is very much the heritage of the New Testament, something so obvious to us and yet totally revolutionary at the time, that is my decision as an individual to follow Christ which ultimately defines me as me. So the apostle Paul can reject everything that would have otherwise defined him – belonging to the people of Israel, being a member of the tribe of Benjamin, even his status as a leading Pharisee. “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ,” he argues. “More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:7f) This has become so much part of our Western culture that we simply take it for granted – that I have value as an individual in my own right. Above all I can choose my own destiny. For now, following the resurrection of Jesus, I have freedom to choose, an opportunity for anyone and therefore for everyone, regardless. As Jesus promises “Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37) Jesus invites: “Follow me.” My free choice, which I cannot delegate to anyone else, such is the power of the cross.