Patience Is A Virtue – Even In ‘Lockdown’

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Every Thursday evening my family and I, like many others, have stood outside our house clapping our hands, applauding the sterling work of the NHS whose doctors and nurses have been battling on the ‘front line’, looking after and caring for sick coronavirus patients. But over the weeks our appreciation has grown as we have become more aware (and thoughtful) of all those who are playing such a massive part at this difficult time, not just the doctors and nurses but all employees of the NHS; alongside care workers in care homes (the new and perhaps previously forgotten front line?); ‘key workers’ in so many various and different fields (supermarkets, schools, and utilities) and not forgetting the increasingly significant part played by funeral directors, whose own personal ‘risk’ is not inconsequential.

The panic buying of the first few weeks has been largely forgotten by the many acts of kindness that we have seen by members of the public as they look after and support one another, especially the vulnerable, at this difficult time. We have seen real acts of courage, bravery and sacrifice undertaken by those whose professionalism and dedication to public duty and care has put themselves at risk in the service of others. We remember especially all those doctors, nurses and care workers who have died, largely and inexplicably from the BAME community. All this has been coupled with massive acts of generosity as people have rallied to support one another and the NHS behind such inspirational figure heads as Captain Tom Moore.

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But of all the virtues we have witnessed there is one that seems to be in increasingly short supply (particularly in the media) and that is – patience! Despite being told from the outset that this crisis would be more like a marathon than a sprint, we were barely ‘locked down’ for a fortnight before the media started to ask as to when the lockdown might be lifted. This question gained momentum from business and opposition parties as the cost to business and the economy started to bite. In one sense these are natural questions to ask and no one underestimates the very real pain and uncertainty that people are feeling and experiencing. The costs and pain to peoples’ lives and livelihoods at this time is immense, and yet I would suggest that it is nothing compared to the pain of losing a loved one. For many life will go on, even if it is different, but once you have lost someone you can never get that life back! That’s why it is crucial that we all pay attention to the rate of infection (the ‘R’ number) and follow the government guidelines. Until we have ‘flattened the curve’ and this number becomes ‘1’ or ‘less than 1’ it would be irresponsible to lift the restrictions. The cost to the economy and people’s lives would be much, much worse if we allowed this rate to increase again – which it could easily and very rapidly do. At the time of writing 26,771 people have died of the coronavirus in the UK alone, a rise of 674 from the previous day. These are unprecedented numbers which is why we must hold on to our nerve and our courage! We must bravely hold on to our resolve and our dedication. We must continue to have faith, courage and patience! As tempting as it may be to return to work, to enjoy the sunshine and pick up our normal lives once again, we can’t until it is safe to do so. Neither can we allow the sacrifice of others to be wasted, nor destroy our hope for a better future.

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The Christian will be aware that Jesus also undertook a very long, arduous and painful journey towards the cross. The shadow of his looming death must have been a constant and fearful presence, and yet he bravely continued on, knowing that it would be the only way by which others might be saved. So, at this time of national crisis, let’s continue to embrace the path which is set out before us, doing so with the same love, resolve, determination and kind generosity of spirit – and let us be patient!  


4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud…. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

            1 Corinthians 13.4,6-7


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What Can The Coronavirus Teach Us About Human Kindness?

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Today, we learnt that Sally and David Abel who were among 74 British nationals quarantined on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Yokohama, Japan had tested positive for the Coronavirus. Their frustration with the British Foreign Office for not being able to get them off the cruise ship and home was obvious, particularly in the light of the fact that American passengers had been repatriated only the day before. The sudden appearance of this hitherto unknown virus remains something of a mystery, but its ability to spread quickly from person to person before symptoms became obvious was alarming – hence the need for a recommended 14 day quarantine period. The problem is that while the vast majority of people will only experience a mild illness, a few (currently 3%) can become critically ill, usually those who are already elderly and frail with respiratory problems, or health workers who have been exposed to the virus over a lengthy and sustained period. Despite the draconian measures, the Chinese have been largely praised for their handling of the situation and even here in the UK, Parliament has passed measures allowing the Police to force those at risk of coronavirus into quarantine, with the Health Secretary warning that the spread of the virus is a ‘serious and imminent threat’ to the British public. So should we be alarmed?

Well yes and no! We shouldn’t be alarmed i.e. panic, but we should be concerned – and our response should be kind, careful and considerate. Should it become evident that we have the coronavirus within our community, we shouldn’t be alarmist, but we should take care not to cough, splutter and sneeze over one another. We should be disciplined when it comes to our personal hygiene, washing hands etc and sufferers should be willing to self-isolate themselves and contact their GP by telephone as soon as they feel poorly.

In many ways these simple but profound measures may be viewed as wise and prudent acts of kindness which demonstrate a natural and loving concern for one another as well as for one’s self. Whereas the situation could be so easily exasperated if we mistakenly think that we are somehow immune to the illness or that it’s someone else’s problem. Christians will immediately see the significance of the Biblical command to not only love God but to love one’s neighbour as one’s self (Luke 10.27) in such circumstances, because it’s only by paying due regard to each aspect of this command (neighbour and self) that we can truly look after each other and protect our communities.


Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble. Psalm 41.1


Finding Common Ground After The Election!

It’s 12th December and I’m writing this letter on the day of the General Election! Although it may have been interesting to write after the Election and once the result is known, I thought that perhaps it might be fairer and more helpful to write a comment before we do so! Because it seems to me that one of the things that the election has drawn out and made clear is just how divided we are as a nation! It’s not just simply a case as to whether one voted Labour or Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Brexit or Green – the divisions in our society are much broader and deeper than that; whether one voted for ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’; whether you be rich or poor; privileged or disadvantaged; old or young; male or female; employed or unemployed; from the north or the south; socially conservative or liberal; married or not – and all these things challenge and shape our perspective. Not only this but despite the fact that our parliamentary system isn’t supposed to be presidential, the focus was very much on personalities rather than policy – with some of the language used being vile and abusive. So where can we find unity and how can we develop trust?

It’s interesting to note that the BBC wrote an article entitled Crossing Divides – What unites us: 10 reasons why we’re not a divided nation, in an attempt to find and construct a new sense of unity, being:

1. Being faithful to our partners
2. The principle of equal pay
3. Viewing a woman’s role as no longer in the home
4. Seeing gay relationships as “not wrong at all”
5. Supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion
6. Trusting science and scientists
7. Believing in the NHS
8. Believing the Royal Family is important
9. Thinking climate change is at least partly caused by humans
10. Loving David Attenborough, health charities, Heinz, Lego, Google Maps and Malteasers

Whilst the majority of Britain’s may agree with some of these attitudes, it only takes a moment to appreciate that not everyone will agree with all of them, particularly those of a more traditional, socially conservative or religious persuasion. Perhaps in truth this list reflects more of a ‘wish list’ held by those who run the BBC.

For as John Stevens an online commentator observes ‘unity cannot be established or maintained on the basis of values and attitudes that do not in fact capture the hearts and minds of the vast majority of the people’ and I would like to add that it cannot be imposed upon us either.

The Christian will immediately recognise that what we need is a higher narrative, something that looks beyond our immediate, narrow and somewhat self-absorbed (and perhaps selfish) perspective and gives us a new standard and guide to live by, something that transforms our hearts and minds for the better. No one is saying that the Church is perfect or that it can’t ever make mistakes or disagree, but it does have a larger vision than that presented by party politics and a common framework by which it can promote reconciliation and encourage unity and trust within itself and the wider community. A kinder, gentler politics always has to begin with us as we try to serve one another in the loving manner that Christ served us, and I’d like to encourage you all to give it a try.

May I wish you all a very happy and peaceful new year.


“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3.5-6


 

Who Says Politics And Religion Don’t Mix?

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The Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent speech to the TUC (Trade Unions Congress) to mark their 150th anniversary was well received by many who saw it as a wonderful example of the Church ‘speaking truth to power’ and standing up for the marginalised and the oppressed – and particularly workers’ rights. It was also heavily criticised by the Tories as being party political and not the sort of behaviour expected from an Archbishop. Indeed, Phillip Davies MP said “Mr Welby should quit his position as the head of the church and join the Labour Party properly if he wishes to comment on issues of government”, suggesting that the Archbishop “ought to consider removing his dog collar and replacing it with a Labour Party rosette”.

It always amazes me the number of times that we hear people (usually politicians) trot out the old adage that ‘Politics and Religion shouldn’t mix’ as if they have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and of course in reality this statement couldn’t be further from the truth. People of all descriptions have every right to challenge the authorities on political matters whenever necessary and Christians are no different. It’s just that their particular understanding of the world is inevitably coloured by their religious faith and perspective – a perspective which sees all people as equally important ‘made in the image of God’ and loved by him. Although nobody would suggest that Christians have a monopoly on moral goodness or social fairness, matters of mutual love and respect, service and justice are biblical themes repeatedly seen in the lives of the prophets, Jesus and the apostles as they sought to transform a broken and sinful world into ‘the Kingdom of God’. It was Archbishop Desmond Tutu who once exclaimed that “I don’t know what Bible people are referring to when they say that politics and religion shouldn’t mix”, because the Bible is full of politics.

The simple fact is that Christians are not motivated to be a thorn in the side of any one political party, but all political parties if their programmes and policies undermine and speak in the face of Christian values and principles, and in truth this is what being a prophet is all about. It’s about bravely speaking God’s truth into the world wherever necessary without fear or favour, appropriately challenging and encouraging it in due portion. Indeed, the Apostle Paul always felt that his task was to preach on ‘the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20.27) and he wouldn’t allow any ‘political’ party or those in authority to prevent him from doing so, for usually the people who make the loudest protest about the mixing of religion and politics are those who fundamentally misunderstand the nature of Christian witness and would rather avoid the glare of its inspection.


And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6.8


To Print Or Not To Print – That Is The Question!

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Let’s ‘print and be damned’ has often been the unsaid mantra used by journalists, newspapers and media outlets for many years, and is ironically said to have arisen from a statement uttered by the Duke of Wellington, when confronted with a letter threatening to reveal salacious details about an affair. The Duke would not give in to blackmail and so suggested that the publisher should print as he wished and therefore reap the consequences.

The consequences can be profound as we have seen from the recent case between Sir Cliff Richard and the BBC, when the High Court judge Mr Justice Mann ruled in favour of the singer and awarded him £210,000 in damages, agreeing that promoting unsubstantiated accusations against Sir Cliff and publishing sensational video footage of the singer’s home being searched when he was never arrested or charged, was a ‘serious invasion of his privacy’. In response, the BBC were considering an appeal, suggesting that not being able to publish the name of a suspect prior to a formal charge was a serious restriction of the ‘freedom of the press’ and would not be in the public interest. This overlooks the terrible hurt personally caused to Sir Cliff and the irreparable damage done to his reputation, coupled with the judge’s own conclusion that ‘no matter of public interest’ was served in this case. Although emotionally unable to comment on the steps of the High Court, Sir Cliff made it clear in his interview with ITV that he had no desire to curtail the ‘freedom of the press’ but to ensure that the privacy of the individual was respected until the point that a formal charge is made. After all, it is a fundamental principle of our society that all people are innocent until proven guilty and as Sir Cliff himself observed ‘freedom without responsibility is anarchy’.

It seems to me that although it’s right to promote openness and transparency, we all need to accept that this doesn’t give us an automatic right to know everything about every individual or institution. The problem is that we are all nosy, and gossip sells newspapers, and we simply can’t bear not knowing and this is where the dilemma lies – we expect to have everything laid out on a plate and become frustrated and disgruntled when it isn’t so. The BBC may have hoped that its reputation for rigorous journalism would be enhanced, but they forgot (or perhaps didn’t care) that it’s prize scoop came at the expenses of trashing the reputation of an innocent person.

Perhaps we should all remember that only God knows everything and that one day our lives will be judged by him as if it were an ‘open book’, but until then we need to live, love and respect each other with as much grace and dignity as we can muster. Doing ‘to others as you would have them do to you’ (Luke 6.31), otherwise we will all have to suffer the consequences.


 “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6.8


Can Evangelical Christians No Longer Be In Politics?

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Naturally, our hearts go out to all the people that were caught up so tragically in the fire that destroyed the Grenfell Tower in North Kensington. We pay tribute to the fire and other emergency services and we applaud the amazing generosity, love and charity demonstrated by the people of the local community. We pray for all affected and hope that lessons will be learned to prevent such tragedies in the future.

However, on the same day another interesting story took place when Tim Farron announced that he would be standing down as leader of the Liberal Democrats citing the pressures that had been placed upon him by the media due to his Christian convictions particularly over the matter of ‘Gay Sex’. “A better, wiser person may have been able to deal with this more successfully, to remain faithful to Christ while leading a political party in the current environment. To be a leader, particularly of a progressive liberal party in 2017 and to live as a committed Christian and to hold faithful to the Bible’s teaching has felt impossible for me,” he said.

The irony of all this was that Tim Farron’s voting record had been exemplary in the support of gay rights and as a politician he had publicly and passionately supported peoples’ rights to live in whatever way they chose, regardless of his own personal thoughts or opinion. Knowing that biblically and theologically speaking, the bible does regard gay sex as a sin (it’s hard to come to any other conclusion if you read the Bible honestly) the media saw this as a stick to beat him with and wouldn’t let it drop, despite the fact that Tim Farron had represented all of his constituents with integrity to the best of his ability (even though the Office for National Statistics itself believes that the gay community only represents 1.5% of the population). It’s interesting to note that the media didn’t bully Muslim MPs in the same way, even though the whole matter of gay sex is just as contentious in the Qur’an and Islam as it is in the Bible, which once again is an example of systematic media bias and spin.

The problem with our society is one of an extremely bad and intolerant ‘political correctness’ which doesn’t only wish to restrict any form of language which might offend, marginalise or disadvantage people on grounds of race, sex or religion (which is good) but actually stifles debate in the process (which is bad) and is intolerant of anyone who doesn’t hold the commonly held party view, regardless of its failings.

Over the years many Christians have faithfully and passionately sought to serve their communities with ‘love and devotion’, seeing it as part of their Christian and political vocation to make the world a better place. We have a proud Christian heritage which has shaped many of our laws and influenced the way we govern ourselves and look after one another, based on mutual understanding and the traditional Christian values of love, justice, equality and the intrinsic worth of the individual made ‘in the image of God’. It would therefore be such a shame and a real detriment to our communities if Christians were discouraged from entering politics or thought that their contributions to society were of little value or worth.


“Love the Lord your God with all your heart … and love your neighbour as yourself.” Luke 10.27