Remembrance Sunday – Are we in danger of forgetting?

Later this month we will be observing Remembrance Sunday, the annual occasion when we as a nation can come together to mark and remember with gratitude all those who gave their lives serving their country throughout two world wars and other conflicts. This simple act of remembrance is supposed to encourage us to strive for peace as we appreciate the incredible cost of war and the damage that it does to all concerned. Yet it seems as if the world in which we live is more fragile than ever, not only in terms of the environment marked by the COP26 climate conference, but by the volatile nature of world relations. Although we may have got used to the almost routine launching of missiles by North Korea over the seas of South Korea, the world was shocked by the belief that China had launched a hypersonic missile that flew around the world at five times the speed of sound. Senator Lindsey Graham said, “If in fact, the Chinese have developed a hypersonic missile that can deliver a nuclear weapon, it’s a military game-changer when it comes to nuclear forces – God help us all”.  “We have no idea how they did this,” another US intelligence official is quoted as saying. Despite the fact that the Chinese may simply be developing their space technology and that respective nations are still seeking investment and wishing ‘to do business’ with China, the International Institute for Strategic Studies has concluded that its global ambitions are clear, for in terms of tonnage, China has launched more submarines and warships than any other nation, equivalent to the entire Royal Navy every four years.

And yet, as recent events in Afghanistan remind us, military take overs by dictatorial regimes do not always lead to greater freedoms, security, prosperity or peace. We seem to be in danger of forgetting ourselves and the terrible cost of war and hostility. Surely, the heart of the problem is the problem of the human heart! – especially when people, countries and nations seek to manipulate, gain control and take advantage of those around them. The Christian will be mindful of the words of Jesus, who reminded the crowds that “out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, .. theft, murder, .. greed, .. arrogance and folly” (Mark 9.21-22). The recent death of Sir David Amess was a tragedy, but his family were absolutely right when they called for a change of heart. “Our hearts are shattered,” they said. “We ask people to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all”. Jesus had said something similar when he had commanded his disciples “to love each other as I have loved you” (John 15.9). Loving like this requires a real change of heart, mind and perspective; one that does not seek to simply better oneself, but puts the other person first so that collectively we might all live better lives of freedom, love, joy and peace. These are the goals, values and ambitions that we should strive for and those that previous generations fought so hard to protect at great cost. So let us all take a moment to come together this Remembrance Sunday – ‘lest we forget’.  

  

Be careful … that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Deuteronomy 4.9

Lorry Drivers, Climate Change and Harvest

Later this month the UN climate conference known as COP26 will be held in Glasgow. Its main aim is to bring the leaders of the nations around the same table not simply to discuss climate change and global warming, but to be the forum where governments can set ambitious targets and make binding decisions that will mitigate the effects of global warming and climate change around the world; such as ending the use of coal, preventing deforestation, switching to electric vehicles and investing in renewable energy. It would be nice to think that everyone would be ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ but no doubt there will be a lot of ‘last minute’ debate and argument (and bartering for compensation) going on between the more developed richer nations and those poorer, less well developed nations ‘playing catch up’. Let’s hope that the conference delegates, politicians and diplomats will be able to set just the right political climate for genuine positive good.

Closer to home, we are concerned not just about the effects of the weather, (hotter days and more floods) but the lack of both economic and agricultural workers to help sustain and feed the nation coming out of the coronavirus pandemic. Most notably, the shortage of lorry-drivers who haven’t been able to keep up with demand resulting in shortage of food and other commodities on our supermarket shelves. Already some politicians and newspapers are voicing their fears for Christmas. This is why harvest is such an important time of the year! It allows us to focus our minds on the good things that we have and enjoy, rather than the things we do not! Compared to so many people in less fortunate parts of the world we are well and truly blessed. When natural disasters caused by climate change, and manmade disasters caused by war and conflict have caused so much devastation in so many other parts of the world, it doesn’t seem right that we should be so stressed about whether we have a turkey for Christmas or not!

However, climate change is important and that is why we should all look at the way we live and consider how we can live more sustainably making the most of scarce resources. That is why at this year’s harvest service at All Saints Necton we are supporting the Send a Cow ‘healthy harvest’ appeal which teaches people in Africa, not only how to grow food in order to support and feed their families, but how they can do so while combating the effects of climate change such as soil erosion and drought.

This harvest let us be grateful for what we have and focus on the needs of others as we do all that we can to encourage one another to live more creatively and yet sustainably.

Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us. Psalm 76.6

“Are We Nearly There Yet?”

I’m sure we are all familiar with the concept of the plaintive cry of a small child on a long car journey who cries out – “are we nearly there yet?”, usually when going on holiday or travelling a great distance across the country. Well, this week we heard plenty of other distressed ‘holiday cries’ as people discovered that the government was imposing a 14 day quarantine period upon all travellers and holiday makers returning from Spain who it feared might be harbouring the coronavirus. Not only did the suddenness of the announcement take holiday makers by surprise, but holiday companies, travel firms and airlines were all equally caught out and swiftly started to complain that the government was being too heavy handed and extreme in its response which they thought unreasonable. Naturally, the Spanish authorities were indignant that they had been singled out in this way, and upset about the effect that this restriction would have upon their tourist industry and economy, arguing that many of their choice tourist locations were better protected and managed than their equivalents in the UK. But within a few days and with the number of Covid-19 infections rising in Germany, France and Belgium, it became clear that the government’s concern was far wider, fearing that a ‘second wave’ of the pandemic might be looming and swiftly sweep across Europe towards the UK.      

Apart from the obvious imperative of the government to protect its citizens, this episode demonstrated the sombre truth that despite the relaxing of lockdown restrictions and greater public freedoms, the virus had not gone away, and these latest measures politically symbolised the government’s resolve and willingness to act. Indeed, despite huge progress being made in terms of testing and the development of a vaccine, it was abundantly clear that as far as this particular journey was concerned, we weren’t ‘nearly there yet’; in fact we would still have to keep travelling and working together for some considerable time if we were ever going to reach our final goal and long held desire and ambition of a virus free future. This was a point made by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the World Health Organisation who despite telling the World’s media that the pandemic was accelerating (16 million cases of coronavirus had been reported to the WHO), still insisted that “We are not prisoners of the pandemic. Every single one of us can make a difference. The future is in our hands.”  If we are going to achieve our goal then we need to work together.

St Paul reminded the early church at Philippi that if they wanted to successfully overcome the trials and tribulations that came their way, then they needed to become more like Christ in both their attitude and outlook, for Christ had not avoided suffering but pushed his way through it in order to win the greater prize of eternal life and the forgiveness of sins for all those who put their faith and trust in him. It was Paul’s ambition to become more like him, thinking about and loving and caring for the world in the same way that Christ did. Now of course, nobody wants to suffer or likes it, but it is the manner in which we face it and lovingly support one another through it that makes all the difference and will ultimately help us overcome the trial before us and reach our destination.       

Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4.13-14


What Are Your Hopes For The ‘New Normal’?


Despite the fact that, at the time of writing, we have the second highest infection rate in Europe (Sweden is first) bringing with it fears of a potential second wave of coronavirus infections, it certainly appears as if the government is slowly and determinedly bringing us out of lockdown! Thousands of non-essential shops can open as of the 15th June, along with zoos and safari parks, and churches have been told that they can reopen for ‘private prayer’. People may meet outside in groups of 6 as long as social distancing is observed, and single adults may form a ‘support bubble’ with one other household. However, as previously mentioned by the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, the restrictions will continue to ease in slowly and people will have to get used to a ‘new normal’. So what will life be like post this coronavirus crisis, and what are our hopes for the ‘new normal’? Well for some the new normal will be very painful as they miss loved ones who have sadly died, but others have expressed a hope and a desire that we might move into a new kinder, gentler society, where people of all persuasions, classes and colour are valued for who they are and adequately rewarded for the work they provide. Indeed, this terrible experience has shone a light upon the status of those who were previously considered to be in low paid, menial employment but whose roles have now been properly recognised as being essential to the wellbeing of the country. This was illustrated by the ten week period of ‘clapping for carers’, which initially started off as being purely for the NHS, but rapidly expanded to cover carers, ‘key workers’ and other essential services as people’s awareness and appreciation of one another grew. This kindness is certainly a lesson that we will need to carry on into the new normal, as no doubt there will be many more in need of such kind consideration as they struggle to make ends meet due to the loss of jobs and the nature of a weak and fragile economy.

The Christian will be reminded of the famous words of St Paul who, when describing the young church at Corinth reminded them, “That the body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all it’s parts are many, they form one body….the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you! On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12.12,21-22). Of course, although this lesson was aimed at the Christian church, it is equally applicable to any Christian in society, indeed it’s a mark of good neighbourliness, care and concern. It encourages us not only to not take one another for granted but also demonstrates that we are all important and that we all have a role to play. I think this is fairly well summed up in the song that we so often hear the children sing in school:

When I needed a neighbour

Were you there, were you there?

When I needed a neighbour were you there?

And the creed and the colour

And the name won’t matter

Were you there?

If we can confidently sing the last verse ‘wherever you travel, I’ll be there’, then perhaps the ‘new normal’ will be something that we can all look forward and aspire to.


Love the Lord your God with all your heart. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. Mark 12.30-31


A Week Is A Long Time In Coronavirus Politics

It was former Prime Minister Harold Wilson (c1964) who is attributed with the phrase ‘A week is a long time in politics’, suggesting that the fortunes of a politician or political group can radically change for the better or worse in just the course of a single week. This certainly appeared to be true for the Prime Minister’s Chief Aide and Special Advisor, Dominic Cummings, who allegedly broke his own ‘lockdown’ rules to travel with his wife and young son to County Durham to self-isolate on a property belonging to his parents whilst his wife appeared to have coronavirus symptoms and he also feared that he might be coming down with the illness. This episode was made worse by his own admission that before travelling back to London, and worried about his eyesight, he and his family went on a 50 mile round-trip ‘test drive’ to Barnard Castle. The media storm which followed was inevitably ferocious, culminating in Cummings giving a press conference in The Rose Garden of Number 10, which was in itself unprecedented. For days, his apparent denial of responsibility or recognition that he had done anything wrong angered the Press, political foes and the public alike, and the Prime Minister’s backing of Mr Cummings was considered partially protective. The story took an unexpected twist when Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis used her programme’s introduction to fire a blistering attack upon Dominic Cummings and Number 10, claiming that the public had been made to ‘feel like fools’ which resulted in her being taken ‘off air’ and subject to an inquiry.

Now of course from my perspective it’s very difficult to make any sort of comment or offer any sort of reflection without it appearing as if I’m taking sides or running the risk of upsetting someone – but I’d like to give it a go, being as fair as I can, stripping out the personalities and looking at the bare facts. Dominic Cummings (and the government) have been accused of hypocrisy and of being two faced summed up in the often quoted statement that there is ‘one rule for them and another rule for everyone else’. This is a considerable charge and one that’s easily understood to cause outrage to all those who have been caught up in the coronavirus crisis and particularly those who suffered because of it, and nobody wants to demean or denigrate the suffering of others. This was in essence Emily Maitlis’ charge and one that brought her considerable admirers. But Cummings pleads ‘not guilty’ because he doesn’t believe that he has actually broken any rules but has simply taken advantage of a certain leniency that was always ‘built into’ the system. His position seems to be one that was backed up by County Durham police who simply said that if they had bumped into him they would have advised him to return home but ‘wouldn’t be taking the matter any further’. This response inevitably causes outrage by those who assume ‘he must be guilty’, whether they be political rivals (of all parties) on the opposite side of the Brexit debate or those who are hurt because they’ve suffered but feel they had no other choice than ‘to do the right thing’ and stay at home – just as the government advised. But even if Mr Cummings hasn’t broken any rules, surely, he’s broken the spirit of the rules and should apologise? In normal circumstances, the answer would be an unequivocal ‘yes’, it’s the only decent thing to do, but of course these aren’t normal circumstances, and above all this is politics! No self respecting politician (or political advisor) can ever be seen to apologise, because then it would feed calls for his resignation. So until we create a climate where it is possible for politicians to apologise without fear of losing their jobs, we will never get the politics we want or deserve. So ‘by hook or by crook’, Dominic Cummings remains in his position. However, Emily Maitlis may have felt that she was ‘speaking truth to power’, but as a journalist employed by the BBC, it’s hard to see how she was being impartial – in which case she did break the rules of her position, which is why she was taken ‘off air’ (or voluntarily stood down) and is subject to an inquiry. Will she be subject to the same level of scrutiny as the Prime Minister’s Chief Aide and be asked to apologise or even resign? Only time will tell!

So where does this leave us? Well, I suppose in the first instance it reminds us that ‘people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’! It is all very easy to point the finger at others, but what does that say about us, our character and our motivation for doing so? Are we driven by a real sense of injustice or are we driven by some less righteous motivation or anger? Do we want to get even and get our own back?

The Christian will remember the story of the Pharisees who brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in the act of adultery. This wasn’t simply a religious matter or of righteous indignation; it was highly political. Would Jesus condemn the woman to death, which only the Roman authorities had the right to do, or would he let the woman go, in which case he was seen as weak minded and not respectful of the religious rules of the day? Either way, Jesus was caught on the horns of a dilemma, so what did he do? Well, he simply said ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ (John 8.7). The result was that all the woman’s accusers melted away because his question had required them all to look inwards and consider their own motives and religious standing before God. Perhaps there are times when we should do the same!

For ….. all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Romans 3.23



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