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Stopping the Traffic

Stopping the Traffic:  Rev Canon Andrew Studdert-Kennedy joins MNO’s squad of columnists

When Baroness Ashton became Vice-President of the European Union in 2009, a number of commentators remarked on her comparative obscurity.  Despite the significance of the post, her low public profile meant that she was never going to ‘stop the traffic’.  The implication being, of course, that the degree to which a public figure stops the traffic is indicative of their status.

About a month ago, on a Friday evening in Marlborough, the traffic most certainly did stop.  Crossing Herd Street at 8.30pm five or six motorbikes, blue lights flashing, roared up the hill.  They were followed by at least six large (stretch?) Range Rovers which themselves were followed by a further half dozen motor bikes.  It was all over in a flash and no other traffic was to be seen.

Only the next day, when reading about President Obama’s visit to Stonehenge, did I realise that the convoy roaring up Herd Street on the Friday evening was part of his entourage - unless it was a diversionary tactic and the President himself was in one of the seven helicopters that flew from Boscombe Down to RAF Fairford for his flight back to the United States.

Two things struck me about the incident.  First it was a reminder just how hard it must be for public figures to stay in touch with real events on the ground.

Understandable security concerns insulate world leaders from everyday people and events: no queuing in supermarkets, no casual conversations with by-standers.  It is so easy to be surrounded by people who tell you only what they think you want to hear.

More strikingly, as the convoy disappeared over the hill, the impression it left was not one of power but more of fear.  How strange that the most powerful man in the world, should appear to be on the run.

Perhaps power and fear belong together.  The more you have in life, be it power, possessions or money, the more you have to lose and so anxiety and even paranoia can creep in.  On the other hand, the poorest and weakest in life have little or nothing to lose and this can lead to a particular kind of security and freedom. Does this explain why the poorest of people are often the most generous?

When Jesus told his followers that those who cling to their life will lose it, whilst those who lose it for his sake and the sake of the gospel will find it, he was making much the same point.  True power and freedom belong in unlikely places and reside in unlikely people.

This is one of the hallmarks of Jesus’ teaching – he changed the way people thought about themselves.

Things are not always as they seem. Stopping the traffic may not be quite the status symbol it appears to be!

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