The Streets of London
Yesterday, I, along with some 12,000 other runners, ran in the inaugural Bupa London 10km race. I don’t think I’ve experienced such terrible weather conditions for a running event or triathlon. It poured and poured and the rain only stopped about half-way through the race. One guy told me, “I did London [the recent London Marathon held this past April in rain, sleet and occasional sunshine] and New York and lots of other races, but this race is the worst in terms of weather!”
Nevertheless, the race organizers, stewards and officials did an outstanding job! They were as wet as we runners and they were still smiling through it all.
This inaugural run was routed along parts of the proposed 2012 London Olympic marathon route. So we started in St James’s Park and passed Parliament Square, along the Embankment, into the financial district, through Leadenhall Market, afterwhich we turned back past St Paul’s Cathedral, along the Embankment again, turning to head down Whitehall, past Nelson’s Column and Trafalgar Square to finish down the Mall looking towards Buckingham Palace. All along the way we passed some of London’s best and impressive sights: royal London, political London, financial London, ecclesiastical London and market London.
As one who now calls London home, I was thrilled to run this race. The history of the streets on which we ran is mind boggling. The sights were stirring. Equally the people standing along the way, behind the barriers, cheering us on were impressive. OK, they weren’t all from London to be sure. At the same time many of them were: including the several jazz bands and drum bands that played underneath some of the famous London bridges — which protected them from the rain and gave extra acoustics which “pumped up” we runners. I was immensely proud to say (sure, with an American accent) “this is my city!”
At the same time — over the same weekend –18 year old Rob Knox was stabbed to death in Southeast London. His senseless murder is the 14th violent murder of a London teenager this year. Once again knife crime grabs the headlines, politicians give “sound bite” commitments and the police face a growing demand that they and the courts do more. Truth is: no one really knows what to do, never mind what to do more.
London has always been this paradox: impressive sights and depressing violence. I’m finishing the superb “biography” London (London: Vintage, 2001) by Peter Ackroyd. He uses a powerful simile, “London has always been a vast ocean in which survival is not certain.” (7) Ackroyd, a Londoner himself, would probably point to the recent Bupa 10,000 race and the latest knife stabbing and tell us this is London’s painful paradox revealing that survival on the streets of London is not certain. Whether it be as a runner, a City Banker in the current financial downturn, a homeless person, a refugee from one of the many war ravaged parts of the world or a teenager out for the evening: our hold on survival is tenuous.
But I guess this is true for wherever we live. Every place has this paradox: there is that which inspires and that which depresses. We cannot have one and ignore the other. We cannot celebrate one and shrug off the other.
I have no clear idea about the causes of knife crime. Some commentators say it is due to economic inequality. Others insist it is the fault of lenient sentencing. Others argue it is part of a larger breakdown of social cohesion which in part healthy families provide. There is probably some truth to each and all of these opinions.
At the same time, however, I cannot run through London or watch the TV News without heeding the Bible’s take on all of this. London — like places everywhere — is a place “where survival is uncertain” because we refuse to acknowledge and revere the one true God. As the apostle Paul put it in his letter to the church in the city of Rome, “…since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.”
Some 12,000 people yesterday ran in the pouring rain through parts of central London — they were committed to “run the course”. I’m glad I was there but I now wonder: what if over 12,000 people were committed to “run the course” of loving London enough to live lives of repentance to God, live lives of faithfulness to God, serve others in the name of God and tell people of the gospel of the Son of God. Do we love the streets of London enough?