Here’s the text for the 6 December 2022 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Breakfast Show with Zoe Ball on BBC Radio 2. Listen here.
My first time on the Tube after moving to London, I asked the guy next to me about the book he was reading – and he looked at me like I intended to kill him. Very quickly I learned one of the rules of Southern English culture: by all means move right down along the carriage to make room for people, but please don’t talk to anybody while you do it!
However, I recently discovered an inclusive way to break this rule when I took our newly-adopted dog for a short trip on the Piccadilly line. Iris is a super-friendly, two-year-old black Labrador, and as soon as we sat down, our previously quiet carriage came to life.
A man reading his newspaper said: “Oh, isn’t she good!” Two women dressed up fabulously for a night out said: “She’s so cute! What’s her name?” A group of kids in their football kit asked if they could pet her.
Iris became the centre of attention – but I noticed how quickly we moved from talking about her to talking about our own lives. Over the course of just a few stops, that man with the newspaper confided how anxious he was about the economic crisis. The women going dancing told us why they were celebrating. And those kids shared the secret of what was on their lists for Father Christmas.
For me, the whole conversation felt like an early Christmas present. Through the ministry of Iris, we discovered there was room for more kindness and human connection than we might have expected from a bunch of strangers on the tube.
In the Christmas story in the Bible, one of the big plot conflicts is that there’s no room for a traveling family to give birth to their child – there’s no room for them in the inn. And so – spoiler alert – they have to make a bed outside, among the animals.
It’s an ancient story, and as Christian, I believe it’s still a story for today: how God wants there to be room for all people. How God breaks the rules of our cramped hearts and sometimes closed-in cultures – to get us to see each other, and listen and talk to each other. To put more chairs around our tables, more gates in our fences, to trust there’s more room and more to life than we thought.
And to help us, I believe God shows up in unexpected ways – as a baby, in a migrant family, maybe even through the ministry of an adorable Labrador.