“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