I guess that most of us - Christian or non-Christian - have a celebrity to admire, to hold in awe, whether it would be a professional footballer or any other sportsman, a singer, an actor, or even a politician. Or a journalist or more appropriately, a presenter of a popular documentary, especially one who has TV fame. For example, I know at least two regular church-going Christians who admire Conservative politician Jacob Rees-Mogg, and there could be others, churchgoers or not, who keep their adoration for such a posh, Eton-educated politician secretly in their closets. As for TV presenters, I believe BBC naturalist David Attenborough is loved universally by the nation, while news anchor and Antiques Roadshow presenter Fiona Bruce may be admired more by men.
It's more about TV journalists that I wish to focus on here. Three immediately come to mind - the first two having university degrees: News Correspondent Andrew Marr and Professor Brian Cox. The third is Travel Presenter Simon Reeve. As for Andrew Marr, to watch him shed his business suit and tie and then see him walk through a tropical rainforest wearing an open-neck shirt - I then realise he must be human after all - yet I can't help but shake my head at his lifetime devotion and awe for Charles Darwin as the greatest Briton who ever lived.
|Both photos - Andrew Marr in Darwin's Dangerous Theory.|
According to his own admission, Andrew Marr is an atheist. To him, God does not exist, and he remains determined to stay that way. But Professor Brian Cox is more of an agnostic. He acknowledges the possibility that God might exist. Both Andrew Marr and Brian Cox have university alumni, the former with an honourable degree from Trinity Hall, Cambridge, while the other achieved a doctorate at the University of Manchester. I'm aware that Marr attended church as a boy, and whether Cox had attended church during his boyhood is not known, although he most likely has been taught the rudimentary issues of the Christian faith while attending Hulme Grammar School.
But it is Simon Reeve who I wish to focus on here. Although both Marr and Cox have aroused a level of admiration within me, their road to broadcasting fame was the traditional route through either Grammar or Public School eg, Eton or Harrow, followed by Uni. And normally, that is the route taken by nearly all TV journalists and presenters. But not Simon Reeve.
If there was a celebrity who has won my all-time admiration, it has to be Simon Reeve. Looking through Google images of Reeve, it's rather difficult to come across a snapshot of him wearing a tie or even a bow-tie, as was the case with both Marr and Cox. And that is reflected in his travel documentaries. Sporting a permanent stubble, his casual dress would have earned the description of "scruffy" by more posh or well-to-do gentlemen. He normally wears open-neck shirt and at times, a crew-neck tee-shirt, as he delivers his expert political and economic issues of the country he's visiting, as well as its natural and environmental beauty, together with having intimate communication with the indigenous residents of a shanty town or a forest hut and accepting a bed there for the night.
This, along with his experienced diving skills which allow him to film magnificent coral reefs and other marine and aquatic life, thus enhancing his programmes. His style of presentation has made some, including myself, to dub him as "just another ex-public schoolboy". It is also reputed that Simon Reeve was mistaken for Professor Brian Cox. But his style of presentation had bid me check up on his background, and I was surprised with what came up.
|Both pics: Simon Reeve out on his travels.|
As a boy, like Andrew Marr, he also attended church, but in Reeve's case, he grew up in a Methodist environment. Also as a youth, there were times when he clashed with his father, so I read, and he was known for being mischievous, including shoplifting, I assume, stealing confectionary and running out of the shop without paying. He attended a comprehensive school and left with minimal qualifications. He didn't go to university. Instead, after leaving school, he took on several jobs until he landed one as a poster boy with a newspaper. During his time there, he studied Arab history and wrote a book on the subject which was published but failed to sell well - that is, until the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center. After this, various companies contacted him about his book which eventually opened a door at the BBC as a travel presenter.
His knowledge of world current affairs along with his geography has always astonished me, I think, his stubble and casual dress enhancing my sense of awe. It is easy for me to feel a level of envy. Although in all appearances he comes over as a casual, free-going backpacker who can just knock on a door and immediately offered food and a bed for the night, it's easy to forget that he has a TV crew with him, and the hospitality shown must have been after weeks of planning. In other words, on TV, his travels look just like my own travel habits - walking to a hotel from the street and asking for a bed for the night or several nights and offered a room. But that was done on my own. No TV crews accompanying me.
And the way Simon drives his car during a shoot. Whilst doing so, he turns to talk into the camera which is set up behind him. Surely, this kind of distraction is illegal here in the UK. But I have noticed that we never have a glance at the passenger seat, which gives the impression that he is alone in the vehicle and has full control of it. But it has crossed my mind whether the car he drives is a dual-drive, as in cars used in driving schools. The camera is always placed at an angle so never to see the guy sitting next to him.
And then at one point, he makes a three-part documentary about pilgrimage, going back to the Middle Ages as well as talking to modern day pilgrims. His journey began at Lindisfarne here in Britain's northeastern coast, all the way to Jerusalem, stopping at Spain's Santiago as well as crossing the Alps to reach Rome. It was while he was still in the UK, on the Watling Street route east of London and on the way to Dover, where Simon's true character was revealed.
One of Reeve's strengths is that he shuns the stiff upper lip and is prepared to show his emotions. That is another reason why I hold him in awe. He's not afraid to be emotional. At this ancient Roman road, he met up with this pilgrim who was carrying a cross of Christ, and with it on his shoulders, walked great distances both here in the UK and abroad. During the interview, I could see his emotions rise, and Simon was close to tears. Then he uttered these words to the camera which inspired the writing of this blog. They were:
Oh, how I envy his faith!
It was as if through this simple statement the veil fell. He was close to tears. Suddenly I understood.
He has a longing for faith in God, but not for his perception of God he grew up with. I can actually say that all three of us share a common childhood factor. Andrew Marr attended a church in Scotland, the land of his birth. Referring to himself as an "irreligious Calvinist", he gives me the impression that the church he attended as a boy was Scottish Presbyterian. But whatever impression he ever had of God, I'm pretty sure that he perceived him as punitive and judgemental rather than a loving Saviour. And if I understand Simon Reeve's Methodism correctly, a repentant sinner is saved straight away, but this forfeitable salvation is conditioned on human choice and is seen as probational for continual faithfulness and holy living rather than a free gift of grace bestowed on the wicked. Being aware of areas in his life which does not meet such godly criteria, it would not be surprising that he eventually became disillusioned with the whole religious thing.
And that's why I can identify with them. I grew up as a Roman Catholic, which catechism is about a works-based soteriology. That is, salvation can only be attained after a life of confession of sin to a priest, doing penance, attend Mass every Sunday and holy days, partaking in the Eucharist, and staying faithful throughout life. If I was unfortunate to die with unconfessed mortal sin in my soul, then it's Hell for all eternity, even after decades of holy and faithful living! Little wonder that in my teenage years I hated God! And I know of other former Catholics who lived lives in hatred of anything religious.
Tying it all together, I can understand Simon Reeve's envy of the cross-carrying pilgrim. As he sees him, his constant faithfulness and actually enjoying his work to secure his salvation, and the pilgrim's ability to prove his love for God and to remain spotless from the world, Reeve is convinced that the holy man has earned the love of God and is destined for eternal heavenly bliss.
Simon Reeve perceives a God who keeps looking at his sin, his failures and his weakness instead of wallowing in God's love whose Son died and was resurrected so God can justify the wicked freely, simply by believing in the heart that God has raised Christ from the dead, without the need for works. That was how I once perceived God to be, as Simon does, as Andrew Marr does, as Brian Cox does - the need to work for salvation and knowing I'll never make it. With that kind of worldview so prevalent, it does look as if we as a church is not getting the message of God's love across adequately enough.
Also, I might add: All three presenters believe in Evolution. Because this theory concocted by Charles Darwin literally destroys the credibility of the Gospel, then why believe in a punitive and ever watching God? To them, science has proved that life is far better without him.
|Brian Cox at the Grand Canyon. Simon Reeve lookalike?|
There is something about being on a pilgrimage. The belief that going on long journeys on foot, encountering dangers, a risk to life, weariness, pain, all this cleaning the soul from sin and opens the path to Heaven. The trouble with that is, it's salvation by works, the work being on this long journey, a journey which only a few can accomplish, and the likes of Simon Reeve, such a journey is beyond his means and therefore, holding on to a false idea that Heaven too, is beyond his reach.
Poor Simon! He stands there looking into the TV camera, his face screws as if about to cry. Very close to tears, he looks with envy at the pilgrim as he walks on towards Dover, the Cross of Christ on his shoulders, pacing his way to Heaven, and admitting his jealousy at the man's faith as he compares with his own need for God his childhood experience was unable to fulfil.