As we publish this, I shall be celebrating Boxing Day. In our house it is not the British tradition of handing out gifts to service people, but the Kennedy tradition of playing with all the boxes our gifts came in, rather than playing with the gifts themselves. Some scissors and duct tape and we’re good.
This buys me some time to indulge in a guilty pleasure of mine, re-watching The Crown, Season 2 on Netflix. This was a pivotal season for me, personally, because it is the season that I decided I would like to be Queen. It’s not that I am some nutty, American royalist. I would put myself at about a 6 of 10 on the weird Royal Watching/Anglophilia Scale. Part of it is that I love watching the Queen come into her own this season. Part of it is that I adore the actress Claire Foy, who portrays Queen Elizabeth. I absolutely love the way she says “Porchie.” I need a friend named “Porchie”.
Perhaps it is because I have been drowning in a sea of dog hair, tracked-in mud, buttercream, and Christmas detritus, but I so envy the pristine, dust-free rooms in every shot of The Crown (except for Princess Margaret’s slovenly chambers). I would revel in having tea magically appear before me. I would like my meals served to me. Most of all, I would like one of those little bells that signals it is time for the person you are talking with to withdraw. Bliss. I want to carry a handbag with nothing in it.
It wasn’t until Episode 6, Vergang- something-German-that-really-just-means-the-past, that I realized I might not be able to bear the Queen’s burdens. Matters of state? No problem! Attending hospital openings? A breeze! Forgiving Rotten Uncle David while being head of the Church of England? Not so much. At one point discussing the church, the Queen says, “In terms of rank, above me there is only God.” Whoa. The Queen’s role as the head of the C of E is not something we see dramatized in the modern era and something I know I am not ready to manage. The Queen herself tells us that she longs for clarity and certainty, something it is hard for her to reconcile in matters of faith and as head of the Church of England. The Queen’s worlds collide when she has to make a decision between what she perceives as the good of her country versus her Christian principles.
The cause of the Queen’s struggle with her dual roles as head of the government and church is a threat from British and American historians to publish records that reveal the Nazi past of former King and current bad guy, Uncle David. He is trying to get back into a life of service, or at least a life that would allow him to throw cocktail parties on someone else’s dime. To do this, he must get the government’s approval and the approval of his niece, the Queen. Should the Queen forgive Uncle David and bring him back on board or give him the boot? Luckily, televangelist Billy Graham is conducting his London crusade and the Queen asks for his help with forgiveness. Graham actually gives her some great advice about what to do when you are unable to forgive:” The solution for being unable to forgive: one asks for forgiveness for oneself and, humbly and sincerely, one prays for those one cannot forgive.”
I thought that was great advice. Ultimately, though, the Queen finds out that her Uncle’s actions were far worse than the records show, and that he planned to help the Germans take back the throne for himself. The head of state takes over. Still, she is civil to Uncle David and tries to forgive him for wanting to wipe out her family and most of Britain, which he tries to pass off as his way of achieving peace. I get it. You can definitely achieve peace if you kill everyone who disagrees with you. Finally, she sends him packing.
Strangely enough, it is her husband, Prince Phillip, who usually gets everything wrong, who gets this one right. In a rare non-whining, charmingly drunken scene, he comes in to congratulate the Queen. He has been out celebrating with her mother (!) and one of their former courtiers because Uncle David got the heave-ho. This has nothing to do with forgiveness, he tells her. Her decision was not a failure of Christianity. She protected her country from evil, and that is an entirely different thing. “So, it’s a gold star from Jesus,” he says, “And from me.”
I think we can all identify with the Queen here. It can be hard to have perspective on our own actions, even if we are at the top. We constantly worry if we are doing the right thing or doing enough. We may be losing sight of the effect of our actions or their import in other areas. We all have many roles, even as the head of our domestic church, and it can be hard to see which hat we are wearing. As for facing that after-Christmas mess, I suppose I will have to learn from Uncle David, who famously complained, “A life of pleasure really has its limits.” Maybe all the work is a good thing, after all.
Here’s to getting some gold stars from Jesus this year!