C.S. Lewis on coping with 2016

Lenin observed, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” I’m not sure how the maths of this translates to a year but I expect many of us would consider 2016 to be well above average for Events.


C.S. Lewis advocated reading dead writers more than we read living ones. As a professor of mediaeval and renaissance literature, his library was larger and deeper than most of ours but reading Lewis himself (1898-1963) is at least a start. Awareness of the past prevents us from savouring the subtle pleasure we take in saying how unique the times in which we live are. However much technology advances and sin metastasises, “there is nothing new under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and reading those whose wisdom has survived decades and centuries will likely teach us this.

Here, then, is Lewis’s advice to people living in the 1940s with a new and imminent threat of death by nuclear warfare. We can substitute whichever of 2016’s ills that grieve us most in its place:
In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors - anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things - praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts - not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
(From On Living in An Atomic Age)
Despite first appearances, this is not "keep calm and carry on". A poem he wrote on the same theme explains his perspective:
On the Atomic Bomb (Metrical Experiment)
So; you have found an engine
Of injury that angels
Might dread. The world plunges,
Shies, snorts, and curvets like a horse in danger.
Then comfort her with fondlings,
With kindly word and handling,
But do not believe blindly
This way or that. Both fears and hopes are swindlers.
What’s here to dread? For mortals
Both hurt and death were certain
Already; our light-hearted
Hopes from the first sentenced to final thwarting.
This marks no huge advance in
The dance of Death. His pincers
Were grim before with chances
Of cold, fire, suffocation, Ogpu, cancer.
Nor hope that this last blunder
Will end our woes by rending
Tell us herself asunder –
All gone in one bright flash like dryest tinder.
As if your puny gadget
Could dodge the terrible logic
Of history! No; the tragic
Road will go on, new generations trudge it.
Narrow and long it stretches,
Wretched for one who marches
Eyes front. He never catches
A glimpse of the fields each side, the happy orchards.
In both prose and poetry, Lewis tells us to look elsewhere when terror is before us. The lovely mundanity of domestic life, the tentative offering of creative acts, the warm affection of friendship, and the happy orchards themselves... these aren't means of escape from the real world, they are the signs of a better, truer world.

The tone of this may seem all very British - but it is a Britain steeped in the hope-full gospel of Jesus Christ, who ate and drank and laughed and walked and talked among us, and who promised to return to this world and wipe every tear from every eye in His great and final victory over death, sin, and darkness. In its description of the abundant eternal life to come, the book of Revelation mentions trees bearing fruit which will sustain us at all times - quite possibly Lewis's "happy orchards". By focusing on these real hopes, we can see evil for what it is and face it head on: it will not last, it can be confronted, it need not dominate us:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

(Philippians 4:8-9)

Euro 2016 Team of the Tournament

So ends a generally underwhelming tournament that is unlikely to be high on the list of things that the summer of 2016 will be remembered for, unless you're Icelandic, Welsh, or Portuguese. Each of those countries fit in well with the current underdog narrative: Leicester City and the ex-sheet metal worker Jamie Vardy have been followed by Portugal (Denmark are the only winners of this competition with a smaller population) and their winning goalscorer Éder, who was raised in a care home and began 2016 as an unused substitute in Swansea’s FA Cup defeat away at Oxford United.

Perhaps more pertinent is the fact that scoring goals is really difficult in football: in the three most recent European Championships the winning teams have conceded just one goal in ten knockout games. This explains why strikers continue to be the most valuable asset a team has whilst simultaneously being the most noticeable failures.

Here then is my team of the tournament, which looks better at stopping goals than scoring them. As Euro 2016 had an average of 2.12 goals per game (lower than any World Cup, and all but two of the last ten Championships) this is probably appropriate.

Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
This is harsh on Portugal’s Rui Patricio, who made a record-equalling seven saves in the final and was a key part of his country’s success, but when there are national anthems to be sung, crossbars to be swung on, and slow-mo’s of passionate expressions to be had, there’s only one man in contention.

Pepe (Portugal)
A divisive character at the best of times, Pepe generally avoided histrionics and overt cheating on this occasion to provide the stability and obdurance that Portgual required and opponents rarely matched.

Ashley Williams (Wales)
The kind of centre back and on-field leader that we’re told don’t exist anymore, at least in England. He scored and prevented goals, and carried on playing in one match with his arm left barely attached to the rest of his body.

Joshua Kimmich (Germany)
As Germany spluttered through the tournament with a squad of familiar names and missing some old favourites, Kimmich gave a hint of the next generation coming through.

Neil Taylor (Wales)
Like his goalkeeper, Raphaël Guerreiro is kept out of the team by the power of narrative: there are plenty of other Portuguese players here, and Taylor’s last goal before slotting home (at the second attempt) against Russia was in front of a crowd of 298 in April 2010 for Wrexham.

William Carvalho (Portugal)
The nattiest moustache of the tournament was complemented by smooth performances in Portugal’s midfield. More a defuser than a destroyer, he was an essential part of their plan. Whether you liked that plan or not, he helped make it happen.

Aron Gunnarsson (Iceland)
For throw-ins, having the best beard, and to lead the rest of the team in the Icelandic thunderclap.

Andrés Iniesta (Spain)
Yes, Spain underperformed, but he was still a joy to watch and can’t be blamed for the lack of quality around him. Included also to prove that noticeable facial hair isn’t a requirement of this midfield.

Moussa Sissoko (France)
Given his place mostly on the basis of his barnstorming runs that reminded me of Sol Campbell in his galloping prime, and the fact that he was the only French player to finish the final with his head held high.

Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)
Included because of one moment of magic, his hip-swivelling scissors kick was my favourite goal, being the most gob-smacking piece of skill I saw. These were few and far between in general (though chapeaux Robson-Kanu’s Cruyff turn, Modrić’s volley, Boateng's goalline claearance, and Payet’s no-look pass), and it could be argued that Shaqiri’s inclusion is emblematic of a Championships that promised more than it delivered.

Antione Griezmanm (France)
He missed two good chances in the final but still scored more goals than anyone else. His awful goal celebration dance almost cost him his place.

Stade Vélodrome in Marseille. It’s a troubled city with a stunning stadium and fervent French support.

Steve Wilson with Martin Keown. Wilson’s wit brings light relief when everyone else thinks football matters So Much, but he also describes the game well. Keown’s enthusiastic immersion in every contest can be exhilarating, if a little odd.

We know almost nothing but what we can know is more important than anything else

“We don’t know anything yet” was the mantra of every person I saw on the BBC’s referendum results program until I went to bed around 1am. A week later and the confession still holds true. The dust won’t be settling for a very long time, and nobody really knows anything apart from that.

Politics makes this most plain at present. If I had written this a couple of days ago, I would have confidently predicted that Boris Johnson was well on his way to be Prime Minister, and flourishing a line I’d come up with about him seeming to be a man with the bonhomie of a minor Wodehouse character and the ambition of a Shakespeare villain. Instead, in a speech that included a quote from Julius Caesar oft mulled upon by Jeeves and Wooster, he announced that he would not be running for leadership of the Conservative Party. Michael Gove has shown himself to be a Brutus.

We can’t be entirely sure what all this means for the country except for a prolonged period of political uncertainty, which usually leads to economic instability, which can cause social upheaval. But that’s probably upon us already, isn’t it? It has been since at least the start of the financial crisis in 2008, depending on who you are and where you live. No wonder millions laughed with Gove when he derided expert opinion during the campaign - experts had caused this mess but not suffered its consequences.

We can’t fully know ourselves, either, especially if we are delighted or distraught about the result. For those who voted to remain, your social media echo chamber will not have prepared you for this because it actively works to put people in front of you who are like you. Alan Martin wrote about this in 2013 and his article is helpful if you want to develop your online self-awareness. If you don’t know anyone who voted otherwise to you, you can’t understand their motives and are thus at liberty to characterise them with your worst suspicions. John Harris was one of a very small number of writers who was prepared to listen to people radically different to him and his world. John Stevens, in what is probably the best summary and conclusion I've read, has examined this from a church leader’s perspective, coming to the unarguable conclusion that “contemporary evangelicalism is predominantly middle-class, well educated, wealthy and southern, and this ought to be a scandal to us.” (As a side note, this result has dealt a powerful blow to my confidence in Timothy Keller’s assertion that where cities lead, the culture follows.)

If your conclusion from this is to read more broadly, you could start by browsing Alan Jacob’s collection of articles giving various perspectives on what has happened / is happening / will happen. But even then, those are all written by and for the well-educated. I used to think I was diverse in my reading of British politics because I’d look at both the Spectator and New Statesman, but really I’d need to start reading tabloids for this not to be a claim of extreme naïveté. (On the terrible tone of the media throughout all of this, Ian Burrell’s explanation of why newspapers act the way they do is insightful.)

If you are upset, you can't be sure who to blame (not that it will help you). A howl of youthful protest against the selfishness of the old was muted when it was discovered that less than half of all 16 to 24-year-olds voted. Rupert Murdoch wanted this result, but Scotland's edition of the Sun did not support Brexit because it knew the nation disagreed, which gives caution to an accusation of almighty media. You can blame Nigel Farage for lying, Jeremy Corbyn for not trying, Boris for flying by the seat of his pants, the EU for supplying plenty of ammunition to be fired at it, but really it's more complicated than any of that. Writing from his own perspective as an accepted, educated immigrant, Tunku Varadarajan is persuasive that the vote to Leave is understandably British. His key point, and I suspect my immigrant grandfathers recognised this or at least subconsciously acquiesced to it in a way that other migrants haven’t, is that Leave voters “want those who are in their midst to show that they belong. They want proof.” To more fully understand the history of immigration and Britain, I recommend Bloody Foreigners by Robert Winder.

Scotland’s future seems slightly clearer if no less complex: independence will be the focus once again. The SNP’s cake-and-eat-it playbook is already in full force: for 2014’s shared pound / BBC / Queen, read 2016’s EU membership and an open border with England that no immigrant-phobic country would allow. Chris Deerin is one of many who voted No in 2004’s referendum but is now open to having his mind changed. If the Britain you wanted to be part of isn’t there any more, what ties are there left to bind you? (I make no mention of Northern Ireland because I know even less about that situation, but let’s be praying for peace.)

I have sympathy with Deerin’s position, a feeling of dis-location. I have always considered myself to be British, and by implication European – what I am used to this meaning will cease to be an option. I feel a sense of loss that I can only partially define, the sentiment that played such a strong part in me voting to Remain (just as sentiment motivated many to vote Leave). This is perhaps no bad thing for a Christian whose ultimate allegiance is not to this earth at present. Charles Spurgeon spoke to the Victorians about how God sometimes shakes everything so that we see what cannot be shaken and trust in that alone. With this in mind, a Christian’s reaction to the chaos around us should be much more restrained and loving, whichever way we voted. Making prophetic statements about political events is best avoided because it's too easy to get wrong and tarnish Christ's reputation. Remember that a lot of what you read will be written by people who have no hope beyond this life. I helped write advice to the members of King’s Church Edinburgh, and I appreciate Terry Virgo noting the parallel between the consequences of this vote and Paul’s grace to those who forced him into a storm.

As I woke up to the news last Friday morning that we did know something now, that Britain had voted to leave the European Union, I put together a list of Bible passages that I considered helpful – truths that could be known, whatever else was unknown. If you want to follow Christ through all of this, you are going to need to spend more time reading His Word and praying than you do reading the news and sharing opinions. What you read may confront you at first, jarring with how you are feeling, what you are experiencing, what matters most to you currently, and how you want life to be. It’s good to realise when the truth does that, to confess it to God and talk with Him about what He has said and how you can obey Him. He invites you to ask Him for His divine power to make you more like His Son, the King of kings and Prince of Peace, whose life, death and resurrection is of "first importance" (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Response to referendum from King's Church elders

Here's what we wrote to our church in response to everything that's been going on with the referendum...

To the members of King’s Church Edinburgh,

As elders, we want to help you love and obey God in this time of upheaval and uncertainty. The vote to leave the EU will have delighted some and caused others deep sadness. Its impact on Scotland’s political future will be causing some to look forward with excitement, and others with despair. Events and opinions continue to swirl all around us, with no-one really knowing what is going to happen. Christians may be blown around by these strong winds if they are not careful. We must be rooted in God so that we can provide shelter for others.

1. You are secure in Christ

Whatever is happening and whatever comes to pass, a Christian’s security in Christ is untouchable. No one and nothing can take us out of God’s hand (John 10:28-29). You need to know this if you’re to faithfully process how you’re feeling, and live wisely. This isn’t about denying your emotions or these important events but putting them in their proper place.

The most important thing that could ever happen to you has happened: Jesus has died for you and been raised to new life. This means your sins have been forgiven, you are adopted as a child of God, and you will spend eternity with Him in joy. Hebrews 12:26-29 tells us that God is pleased to give us His Kingdom, “a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” Whether you currently feel desperate or delighted, Jesus is your true security.

If you feel less aware of this and more aware of everything else that is going on, we suggest that you turn off you phone / computer / TV, and get before God. Open His Word and ask Him to show you wonderful things in there about Himself so that your confidence in Him would be strengthened.

2. You need the Holy Spirit

This is always true but when we look at the familiar list of characteristics that the Holy Spirit grows in us, we’ll see freshly how much we need Him in these days:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
Ask Him specifically to grow these in you as you co-operate with Him.

3. Because you are secure in Christ and have been given the Holy Spirit, you can bless others  

We should think far more about others than we do about ourselves – a message that has been almost entirely absent from the debates and the fallout. With God’s strength, we can do what Jesus commanded us to:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36)
“Know this, my beloved brothers and sisters: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)
There are people around us who despise those who voted differently to them, and are expressing this loudly (especially on social media). This would have happened whatever the result. We cannot be like that if we’re following Jesus. When we resist these temptations by the power of God in us, we will be used by Him to bring love and peace to others. This will give us opportunities to talk about Jesus, the source of our peace and the hope that everyone needs to hear about. These principles must be adhered to whether you’re chatting to a friend, posting on Facebook, working through the coming consequences, or getting involved in politics at any level.

4. Let’s believe that God is at work

We believe that God reigns triumphantly over all things, and that He knew this was going to happen, but we are wary of Christians confidently declaring exactly why it has happened, and what it means. What we can know for certain is described by Paul:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
This gives us plenty to pray for and plenty to do! Our focus will continue to be the preaching of the good news of Jesus through building churches that demonstrates His love and resurrection life, and planting others that will do the same. In God’s timing, our new preaching series, “How to Live a Life of Hope” begins this Sunday. It will help us to set our sights on the guaranteed joy we have to come, and share it with others.

We’re living at a time about which much will be written in decades to come. May it be that those accounts will say God’s people trusted Him and blessed those around them, and were used by Him to do glorious things in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain, and Europe.

Praying for you,

Matthew and Luke

A Victorian preacher comments on Brexit

A friend has pointed out this entry by Charles Spurgeon (1834-92) in his Morning and Evening devotional book, to be read on the evening of June 22nd - the night before the referendum...

"That those things which cannot be shaken may remain." — Hebrews 12:27
We have many things in our possession at the present moment which can be shaken, and it ill becomes a Christian man to set much store by them, for there is nothing stable beneath these rolling skies; change is written upon all things. Yet, we have certain "things which cannot be shaken," and I invite you this evening to think of them, that if the things which can be shaken should all be taken away, you may derive real comfort from the things that cannot be shaken, which will remain. Whatever your losses have been, or may be, you enjoy present salvation. You are standing at the foot of His cross, trusting alone in the merit of Jesus' precious blood, and no rise or fall of the markets can interfere with your salvation in Him; no breaking of banks, no failures and bankruptcies can touch that. Then you are a child of God this evening. God is your Father. No change of circumstances can ever rob you of that. Although by losses brought to poverty, and stripped bare, you can say, "He is my Father still. In my Father's house are many mansions; therefore will I not be troubled." You have another permanent blessing, namely, the love of Jesus Christ. He who is God and Man loves you with all the strength of His affectionate nature-nothing can affect that. The fig tree may not blossom, and the flocks may cease from the field, it matters not to the man who can sing, "My Beloved is mine, and I am His." Our best portion and richest heritage we cannot lose. Whatever troubles come, let us play the man; let us show that we are not such little children as to be cast down by what may happen in this poor fleeting state of time. Our country is Immanuel's land, our hope is above the sky, and therefore, calm as the summer's ocean; we will see the wreck of everything earthborn, and yet rejoice in the God of our salvation.

Now what?

There's plenty I'd like to say about the referendum result but it's much better that we listen to God, whatever our opinion on what has happened...

"The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!" (Psalm 97:1)

"It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man." (Psalm 118:8)

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures..." (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

"The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:5-7)

"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me." (John 14:1)

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil." (Proverbs 3:5-7)

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-39)

"If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." (Romans 12:18)

"If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet." (Proverbs 29:9)

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9)

"...but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect..." (1 Peter 3:15)

"Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." (Matthew 6:9-13)

20 questions for the EU referendum

Questions for anyone able to vote

Why has almost all of this debate been about what's good for us, rather than what's good for others?

Why has almost all of this debate been about economics, rather than peace, goodness, creativity, love?

Why do the questions above sound ridiculous in a country that calls itself "Great"?

How do you think Britain can best influence the world for good?

Can you acknowledge that both sides have some arguments worthy of consideration, and that both sides are guilty of speculative / fraudulent uses of statistics? (The BBC's Reality Check could help clear this up.)

What are the best arguments against your preference, and how would you respond to them? (I imagine The Spectator’s case for leaving and The Economist’s for remaining would be among the strongest.)

Are you aware of the biases in the news sources you use? (A report on newspaper coverage credits The Times with being balanced in its coverage, so here's their editorial on which side they are supporting.)

What is the most emotive part of the discussion for you, and is this clouding your judgement? (Mine is the fact that both my grandfathers were European immigrants - one was fleeing tyranny and the other was seeking opportunity; both found a home here and blessed the land.)

Who in Britain, Europe, and around the world, support each side of the argument, and why?

If you had watched the country you were brought up in change in the staggering ways Britain has over the past 50 to 60 years, and felt excluded by much of that, might you not hope that things could be changed back?

If you were under 30 and never known a Britain that wasn’t cosmopolitan and multicultural, with international cuisine, travel, and communication, might you not be confused by people wanting to separate themselves from their nearest neighbours?

Have you considered that voting to Leave will probably be used by the SNP as the reason for another referendum on Scottish independence, which they're more likely to win than the previous one?

Do you realise that this referendum will not affect our involvement in the European Court of Human Rights, all European sporting competitions, and Eurovision?

Will you accept the result and resist grudge-bearing, despising, and sneering “I told you so”, whatever the fall-out in the coming years, given how divided the country has become over this?

A question for the Prime Minister

If leaving the EU would be such a massive disaster as you keep saying, why did you risk such a terrible possibility by calling a referendum out of sheer short-term political expediency?

Questions for Christians

What would be loving to our neighbours? (Remembering of course that the question "Who is my neighbour?" has been asked and answered before.)

What would most help more churches be planted across the UK and Europe? (On a similar line, Steve Homes has an interesting comment on religious liberty and the EU.)

Are you praying that God’s Kingdom would come, and for those in authority over us, as per Matthew 6:10 and 1 Timothy 2:2?

Have you read anything by thoughtful Christians to help with your decision? (The Evangelical Alliance has written several articles.)

Will you be "voting as though not voting"?

How I intend to vote

With reservations and with hope, as usual! Some of the questions above express the ambiguities I have felt and observed during a torrid campaign. I think that Christians can vote in good conscience either way but giving weight to what I believe the most important issues are (which are very different to those either campaign has focused on), I have concluded that it is better to remain than to leave, so that is how I intend to vote.

Euro 2016 first week review

We have been lent a larger TV for the tournament, which is going to work especially when the end of group stage games are being played simultaneously.

On the telly

In the contest between ITV and BBC for best coverage I’m calling it a high-scoring draw. ITV’s commentators are generally weaker but they make up for it with Slaven Bilic in the studio, whereas their rivals continue to employ Kevin Kilbane. When the BBC brought in Gianluca Vialli (who quoted Aristotle) for analysis alongside Thierry Henry and Rio Ferdinand, it was genuinely interesting to listen to guys who had played the game at the highest level and knew how to express their thoughts about what they’d seen.

The other key area in this competition is opening titles. Neither theme song has the singalong joy of “Bra-sil, Bra-siiil” from two years ago, let alone "Sing Sing Africa", but I like them both. The BBC went for a typically chic cover of La Foule by Izzy Bizu (no relation to Bixente Lizarazu) but the accompanying graphics based on fish-eye lens views of France is comprehensively outplayed by ITV’s art deco tour of the country by the tournament’s likely stars, soundtracked by Charles Trenet’s La Mer.

As usual, neither broadcaster can admit that the other exists, pretending that the only way to watch some games is on their late-night highlights packages. Clive Tyldesley had the decency to say about England against Wales (which was live on BBC), “If you aren’t able to watch the game live, we’ll have highlights later” but that’s as good as it gets, which is silly.

There are no good adverts relating to the football. This is almost always true anyway but the current dominance of betting companies and their laddish idiocy (“Oi mate, want us to shaft you whilst making you feel like a top fella? Give us your money then, get in!”) leaves little space for anything other than anodyne car adverts. Mars rather naively chose to make an advert based on the invasion of France by English stereotypes, an example of art not so much imitating life as failing to anticipate it. What none of these can match, however, are the toe-curling movie tie-ins that Manchester United have thought are a good idea. X-Men: Apocalypse was bad enough but Independence Day: Resurgence is somehow even worse. The players seem to be having fun when not being asked to speak, but the whole thing is more embarrassing than Bebé.

Off the pitch

It’s been a horrible mess, hasn’t it? Sport is so often an escape from the real world but there’s just so much real world happening at the moment. No doubt we hear more reports about the bad things than the good (or the plain normal) but that’s because violence and death are generally more important. My daily Bible readings currently happen to include Proverbs (how to be wise or a fool) and Revelation, in which God amidst chaos triumphs over all evil. One day that will be the real world.

Le plats du jours

After the success of Football Fan Food at the last World Cup, Deb is cooking meals from all the participating countries again. French onion soup with large cheesy croutons started things well, Flying Jacob is a crazy but somehow pleasant Swedish casserole, Belgian beer and beef are delicious when cooked together for a long time, Russian blini were a bit average (and thus considerably better than anything else Russia has brought to this tournament), Maria’s Ukrainian honey cookies were sweet and sticky, a blueberry jus works well with lamb chops as any Icelander will tell you, and Welsh rarebit with beer and bacon was a great way to toast England’s last-minute winner (you see what I did there).

Star spotting

According to the ITV title sequence, these guys were due to be the stars:

Paul Pogba (France). A mixed first game saw him dropped for France’s second, only to be introduced at half time against Albania as manager Deschamps realised it wasn’t working without him. A 70-yard pass set up the breakaway goal that sealed their win but the host’s real hero has been the man who scored it: Dimitri Payet.

Robert Lewandowski (Poland). Greater than the sum of the parts around him but he hasn’t received a great deal of service so far. A star striker rarely is enough for a team to succeed in a tournament and some of the top teams seem barely to be bothering with one at all.

Gianluigi Buffon (Italy). I cherish him as one of the few players in the tournament who is older than me. He and his fellow Juventus defenders were in full “You shall not pass [in Italian]” mode against Belgium. He is the classic Italian tournament stereotype of passion and experience, but he shouldn’t try swinging on the crossbar when celebrating again.

Gareth Bale (Wales). Two belting free kicks made mugs of goalkeepers, and he was good fun in the build-up to the England game. I can’t work out whether his or Andy Murray’s mouth opens larger when they roar, maybe it’s a Celtic thing.

Robbie Keane (Republic of Ireland) and Jonny Evans (Northern Ireland). Perhaps included in the title sequence to make up the home nations and neighbours numbers, but Evans was the perfect combination of Manchester United big-game player and Tony Pulis disciple in his side’s wonderful victory against Ukraine. Keane, however, looks like he’s been enjoying American cuisine a bit too much.

Christiano Ronaldo (Portugal). After his sixth 50-goal season in a row, he looked a little out-of-sorts against a spirited Iceland, and then moaned about everyone’s new second-favourite team celebrating a draw. As someone said, he really should take a long hard look at himself in the mirror – except he probably already does.

Thomas Müller (German). A victim of Germany’s failure to play a real striker, he isn’t getting the space he likes to “interpret” because defenders aren’t having to worry about someone ahead of him.

Zlatan Ibrahimović (Sweden). A buffeting game against the Republic of Ireland was a pretty good introduction to the Premier League he is apparently considering moving to. Even further ahead of his compatriots than Lewandowski or Ronaldo, he was isolated for most of the game but still set up Sweden’s goal.

Andrés Iniesta (Spain). The puppet-master was at his imperious best against the Czech Republic, with a pass success rate of 90%, finding unseen angles, pulling and probing the entire opposition, and setting up the winner, whilst probably wishing the options ahead of him were a bit more like the ones he’s used to at Barcelona.

Wayne Rooney (England). It isn’t saying a lot to suggest that this is already Rooney’s best tournament since he took Euro 2004 by storm. Comparisons with Paul Scholes are ridiculous but he has now settled into a midfield position and is leading his team. Those who suggested that England’s most experienced current player and record goalscorer shouldn’t have even been in the squad should have revised their opinions by now. It’s not his fault that he can’t act.

Match reports for the short of time / attention

I’m writing a six-word summary of each game (up 20% from 2014, because 6 and 16 sound better in a phrase) which you can keep up to speed with at #Euro16in6

Week 23 miscellany: Ramadan, theology made visual, EU "facts", Yorkshire, getting pure

This was the view from our holiday cottage in Whitby. This was the only moment that it was sunny.

Ramadan started this week, a month in which Muslims fast and seeking God. The 30 Days of Prayer website has a daily prayer topic for Christians, along with articles to help them understand Muslims and Islam better. If you want to see how those prayers are being answered, David Garrison has some amazing research results.

If you find most church powerpoints not that great but still better than just a load of text, you might like Tim Challies and Josh Byers' book, Visual Theology.

The EU referendum debate continues to be tedious and annoying in proportion to how important it is. Martyn Lewis has made a helpful contribution by pointing out that the decision is less about facts and more about preferences and appetite for risk.

As he so often does, Andrew Wilson sifts a theological debate charitably and wisely: this time it's about Bethel Church.

Joe Shute reports on the Archbishop of York's pilgrimage around his diocese.

For those battling with issues of lust and pornography - or any other sin - Jimmy Needham's advice on what really matters and how to achieve it will be encouraging.

Staying Out For The Summer (of Euro 96)


They say that the music you loved as a teenager are the tunes you always cherish the most. Maybe that's true of football tournaments too. Alan Shearer's BBC documentary, Euro 96: When Football Came Home, laid the nostalgia on thick and I have wallowed happily in it, experiencing the triggering of many faded memories.

It was a summer of firsts: I started my first job (£2.63 an hour to wear a white polyester trilby at Littlewoods café), went to my first gig (the astonishing Smashing Pumpkins, with Arthur and Tom) and even got a girlfriend for the first time (a little too soon after she'd broken up with Tom, if we're being honest).

Shearer’s show reminded me of many of the other moments I loved during that summer: Tony Adams’ searingly honest expression as he admitted that for too long England players were known for being “all heart, no brains” (a quote we repeated to each other frequently). Baddiel and Skinner sitting on their Fantasy Football sofa, which made me feel again the flash of excitement at staying up late to watch them. My proud prediction that this would be the tournament that proved Alan Shearer was rubbish (he scored five goals in England's five games, and was successful in both penalty shoot-outs). More strangely, during the documentary I saw a clip of a woman in the crowd wearing a loose red shirt (pretty much all 1996 clothing was loose unless you were in the Spice Girls), waving her arms and hollering in celebration, and immediately remembered seeing her twenty years ago and thinking she looked funny but it was ok because everyone felt like she did. Of course Three Lions has stayed in the memory, along with most of the lyrics and even the clips of commentary they used.

Jonny Clark's house was the usual location for our socialising and so played host to boys passionate about football and girls laughing at them. That’s where I saw the scarcely believable 4-1 thrashing of Holland, by which time our involvement had developed from general interest to innocent expectation of glory. Those friends were vital to getting me into and keeping me in church. When the quarter final against Spain came around, we, the church youth band, were in a minibus somewhere near Milton Keynes, trying to watch the penalty shoot-out on Ging's Sega GameGear with a TV adaptor. Unsurprisingly, it was only later that we saw Stuart Pearce's raging catharsis. The semi-final saw another new venue: youth leader Simon and Gwen's house, with the game frequently interrupted by “Tobi checks” as we turned the volume off to hear if our screams had woken their sleeping infant. He slept through another Shearer goal, a disallowed German golden goal, Gazza's agonising miss, and Southgate's misery. Mark gave me a lift home in his Fiat Panda for the umpteenth time.

Seeing players you first knew two decades ago, you can't help considering how they have aged. Alan Shearer has clearly always been a man in his mid to late-forties, as the interviews from 1996 show. Teddy Sheringham seems unchanged in a different way, and could probably still play a glorious sideways pass to Shearer when it looked for all the world that he would shoot. He was perhaps the least troubled by what might have been, perhaps sated by his treble-winning experiences of 1999. Terry Venables was living the dream in Spain but wanted to swap it all for a tournament win. Seeing Gazza was, of course, desperate. Ravaged by alcoholism and hopeless without football, he’s aged forty years since his finest summer. The sadness of what has become of him tinged everything else, making the story both better – it was only a game of football – and worse as you looked at the guy now and wondered what would be next for him. He clearly wanted to live in the past, and who could blame him?

Euro 96 confirmed a turning-point, however. It seems incongruous that John Major was still Prime Minister then, for this was very much a Tony Blair-era event: the country seemed colourful and confident again. Football mirrored this, leaving behind much of its working class white male background in a process that had begun after Hillsborough and the introduction of all-seater stadia, and continued with Nessun Dorma and Gazza's tears at Italia 90, and the formation of the Premier League in 1992. On the first day of the season after Euro 96, David Beckham scored that goal against Wimbledon and was described by John Motson in commentary as “surely an England player of the future”, which is exactly what he was.

Perhaps the only thing that hasn’t changed is that sickening feeling of hope deferred.