The Best of the West

Let me introduce you to the Wests. Perhaps I should say the “very” Wests, for George and Fiona live in Westfield Drive in the West End of Glasgow.

She is a part-time solicitor working in the city; he is the regional director of a company based in Manchester. They have three children, the youngest of whom, Sarah, is still in school; and they have three cars–one for him, one for her, and one for whichever of the older offspring needs wheels.

Sarah gets run into school each day. She could go on the bus, but her parents prefer the personal touch, even though she’s sixteen. Her mum drives into the city centre in the afternoon. She could take the train, but that would mean walking about 500 yards to and from the station and sometimes it rains. George flies to Manchester once a week. He also could take the train, but if the company is paying, why not fly?

This week has seen the Wests get hot under the collar about the price of petrol. George thinks 83 pence per litre is extortionate. He says they can’t afford it, especially as two of their cars do only 27 miles to the gallon.

Fiona was more alarmed about a news report the other evening which said that in the past year car ownership in Shanghai had risen by 60%. She can’t understand why a previously rural economy, which has done very well with rickshaws, should suddenly want to get motorized with all the noise and pollution that accompanies it. “I don’t want Shanghai to end up like Great Western Road on a school morning,” she said.

The Wests are ver y devout people. So they both felt independently that they should pray about what others are calling the fuel crisis. But what to pray? There’s the rub.

Should they ask God to persuade those two nice Scotsmen in the cabinet, Mr. Brown and Mr. Darling, to defer any increase in the petrol tax? Should they ask God to make Saudi Arabia safe so that the threat of terrorism won’t raise the price of oil? Or should they ask God to preserve indigenous Chinese culture?

Poor old God. Their prayers threatened to sound like a multiple choice question in an economics A level. As it happened, they didn’t ask for any of these things.

They opened their eyes and Fiona said, “It’s time Sarah walked to school, and I’ll take the bus to the office. There’s one every ten minutes.”

And George said, “I’m going to take the train to Manchester. It is more ecofriendly and the journey is about to get quicker.”

Together they shouted, “Let’s get rid of two of the cars!”

And they hugged each other and booked a meal at the Ping Shang Chinese restaurant to celebrate their decisions.

That’s a nice story, isn’t it? — though God didn’t have much to do in it, except encourage people in the West to take responsibility for the earth…which at the moment is a big part of God’s job.

John L. Bell is an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland and a member of the Iona Community. John is an occasional broadcaster, lectures in theological colleges in Britain and the U.S., but is primarily concerned with the renewal of congregational worship at a grass roots level through the Wild Goose Resource Group. Excerpted from Thinking Out Loud by John L. Bell (Wild Goose Publications, Glasgow, 2008). Copyright 2008 WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow G2 3DH, Scotland. Reproduced by permission.