I love Weymouth in the summer. I love it all year round actually, but especially in the summer when all the grockles arrive. The hordes of holiday makers, coach parties, and day trippers … from ‘far away places’ such as Manchester, Birmingham, London, Liverpool and South Wales … really liven up the place during June, July and August. When we are home for the summer (and not escaping ourselves to France) I love to sit in the town centre or by the seafront and just ‘listen in’ to the numerous conversations (in the various regional accents) and observe the various activities that these visitors get up to. It is always great fun and a constant source of amusement and entertainment for me. I often find myself getting into conversation with these visitors to Weymouth without really trying. When they realise that I am a ‘local’ they are usually full of questions: ‘Where are the best cafés and restaurants?’ ‘What are the best attractions to visit?’ ‘Is a day out to the Channel Islands really worth the expense?’ and so on.
Fascinatingly when they discover that I am a ‘retired’ Baptist Minister (as if Baptist Ministers ever really retire?) they are equally full of questions … and often confessions? Questions about the existence of God, the person of Jesus, and the state of the world, etc. Confessions about not going to church, not being ‘good enough’, not achieving enough in life, and so on. According to the media Christianity is dying in the UK and the Church is only a decade away from extinction. Don’t you believe it for one moment. I know plenty of growing, flourishing churches (of all denominations) and (judging by the questions and confessions put to me) there is a great interest in ‘spiritual things’ by ‘Joe Public’!
Anyway, getting back to me simply ‘sat sitting’ on the seafront in Weymouth the other morning, enjoying my cold drink and watching everyone enjoying the warmth of the sun and all the activities going on, on the beach, I find myself sitting on a seat next to a couple of ‘mature ladies’ obviously down here on holiday from Birmingham. ‘What’s that awful smell?’ says one of the ladies to her friend. For a moment I panic. ‘Is it me?’ I wonder. Have I forgotten to shower this morning? Have I forgotten to use my deodorant or after shave? Am I wearing clean clothes, especially underwear, or (in my rush to get into Weymouth for my ‘Full English Breakfast’) have I simply ‘thrown on’ what I was wearing all day yesterday? ‘Donkeys!’ replies her friend (who has obviously been to Weymouth before), ‘You can smell the donkeys from here!’
I find myself sniffing the air … and she is right. It is definitely the donkeys (from the Donkey Rides just along the beach from where we are sitting) and ‘you can smell them from here’! I just have to get up and walk along the promenade to the Donkey Rides to see them for myself. There are half-a-dozen shaggy-looking donkeys, with two or three ‘donkey handlers’ looking after them, and scores of children either already mounted on some of the donkeys or waiting their turn. I look at the notice advertising the donkey rides: ‘Children’s Donkey Rides’ it reads, ‘£3.50 per child’. It has been amended since last I saw it to include: ‘Children only, under 16 and under 7 stone’. I look at some of the ‘larger than life’ children in the queue, stuffing themselves with chips, and burgers, and sweets, and ice cream. They may be ‘under 16’ years of age but there is no way ther are going to make the ‘under 7 stone’ stipulation! We seem to be becoming a nation full of obese children? I wonder if the Donkey Ride has a set of scales hidden away somewhere and if they weigh ‘suspect cases’ before they allow them to mount up on a donkey?
Yes, the donkeys do ‘smell’ … but it is only the normal ‘donkey smell’ that you get from donkeys. Perhaps I have simply got used to it since we have lived in the country for nearly five years now so I am no longer a ‘grockle’ myself. And, more to the point … I love donkeys! We have two – Mozart and Beethoven – who live in our paddock during the summer. They are gorgeous … so friendly and always up for a nuzzle when Julia and I go and visit them each day … especially if we have a carrot or two hidden away. The Donkey Sanctuary at Sidmouth is also not too far from us, and we love to go and visit this splendid home for ‘retired (and rescued) donkeys’.
And then it was, of course, ‘on a donkey’ that Jesus himself, dramatically rode into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, openly entering a city where he was a marked man, thus taking that first step that would lead toward the final confrontation with the hostile powers ranged against him, and to his death on Calvary’s cross (John 12:14). Riding into the city on a donkey (rather than a war horse) signified that Jesus came to bring peace not confrontation. The Christian Gospel is essentially a message of ‘peace’, and especially about how we can find ‘peace with God’ (Romans 5:1).
As I get up from the seat to go and see the donkeys, the two ladies from Birmingham also get up from the seat. The smell of the donkeys is too much for them, They walk away in the opposite direction. They want to get as far away from the donkeys as possible. I, on the other hand, am walking towards the donkeys. I want to see the donkeys. I want to embrace their smell. I would go for a ride on one of the donkeys … if I was under 16 years of age and under 7 stone in weight!
As the Birmingham ladies and myself head in opposite directions, I find myself reflecting upon the fact that this is perhaps yet another illustration of the way in which people react to Jesus and the Gospel? As the Apostle Paul tells us in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, the Good News of all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ is ‘an aroma of death as far as some are concerned, but for others it is an aroma that brings life’ (2 Corinthians 2:16). Some deliberately walk as far away as possible away from the ‘fragrance’ the donkey carried into Jerusalem 2,000 years ago … whilst others inhale it to the full!