There is no doubt that this past year has been a very difficult time for us all, and for those who have sadly lost loved ones it will be a year which they will never forget. Although no one would pretend that the government has got everything right when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s roll out of the vaccination program with nearly 25 million people receiving their 1st dose of the vaccine as I write this letter, has been well received and applauded. This wonderful progress gives us all a sense of hope, that there is indeed ‘light at the end of tunnel’ and that hopefully one day soon our lives will be more like normal. Which is why the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine in at least 13 countries across Europe seems strange. Fears that the vaccine may cause blood clots has prompted the EU to follow ‘the cautious principle’ and restricts its distribution until they are confident that it is safe to do so, despite the fact that both the World Health Organisation and indeed Europe’s own European Medicines Agency has consistently said that there is no evidence that the AstraZenica vaccine is unsafe, and with only 40 suspected cases of blood clotting being reported out of a distribution pool of 17 million, the rate is less than that you might expect to find in the population generally. With many scientists feeling baffled as this development, the general conclusion is that this move is more politically motivated than data driven.
But of course, any delay in vaccine distribution has the potential to sadly cause more suffering and death.
However, this sense of jumping to a conclusion without due consideration of the evidence is precisely how many people behave when it comes to thinking about Easter. They like the trappings of being with family and friends (in normal times) as we move into Spring and the Easter holidays, complete with chocolate treats and Easter eggs, but they don’t give any more serious thought to the significance of Easter than they do the ‘Easter bunny’! But this is a shame, because, if they were to really consider the Easter story, and contemplate the significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, They would discover that not only is there a compelling case for Jesus to be the Son of God and the Saviour of the World, where the ‘facts’ speak for themselves, but the debate is much more significant, lively and robust that they would imagine. In fact, it’s life changing and life-giving!For you see, at the heart of the Christian gospel is the ‘Easter story’ which brings light into the darkness, life over death, and hope where there is despair. For many it would seem ludicrous to pass over the hope of a life-giving vaccine simply because one had been failed to give due weight to the evidence or come to it with some form of unfounded prejudice. It’s my hope that you won’t treat the Gospel story with the same distain, but allow a new day to dawn in your heart as you consider the evidence, ask all the right questions and come to it fresh and with an open mind.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy Easter.
Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. John 20.8
THE NATIONS MORALS ARE LIKE ITS TEETH, THE MORE DECAYED THEY ARE THE MORE IT HURTS TO TOUCH THEM” – George Bernard Shaw
At the start of the year many of us made New Year’s resolutions and will do our best to keep them as the year progresses (lose weight; give up smoking; pass a driving test or embark on a new career etc, etc). Sometimes our thoughts are more reflective as we consider our place in the world and the lives of those around us, often culminating is a silent prayer for the world to be more peaceful, kinder and charitable than it was the year before. Sadly it doesn’t seem long before the very next calamity or personal tragedy pops up on our television screens or appears in our newspapers to dampen our New Year optimism. ‘What has the world come to?’ we say; ‘Doesn’t the world have any standards?’; ‘Things weren’t like this when we were young!’
What we are doing is lamenting the passing of standards or a moral code by which people commonly live; a moral backdrop, climate or culture which protects us from the negative excesses of society. And yet to speak about morals makes us feel uneasy. We don’t like it! We don’t like people interfering with the way that we live our lives or questioning our standards, or the way we behave – we just simply don’t like being preached at!
The problem is made all the worse because we don’t know or perhaps can’t agree on what standards are acceptable. This is because we have made relativity a virtue in its own right! There is no such thing as absolute right or wrong, just what is right or wrong for me. We are all like Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” who said “When I use a word …. it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”. The problem with each person choosing their own set of values as if ‘no one else matters’ is, that ultimately they don’t – each person does their own thing and can’t be held responsible for going their ‘own way’ even if the effect is to hurt or grieve another.
You don’t have to be necessarily rigid or religious to appreciate the need for a common set of values, and yet as a Christian minister I can’t think of any better guide to live by than those found in Scripture, based upon the message of a loving creator who nurtured the understanding that each person ‘made in his image’ was therefore special. So special that through the life, death and ministry of Jesus, God demonstrated his love for the world and encouraged his followers to do the same. Perhaps the answer to the world’s moral malaise (at least in our own small corner) lies not just in what we do but in what we believe. It always, always starts with us.
“ Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Mark 12.30-31
Sexual impropriety has always been with us, but when the film mogul Harvey Weinstein was accused of a series of sexual misdemeanours last October, the public was shocked by the scale of it all as actress after actress (and some actors too) lined up to accuse the film producer of misconduct against them. The #MeToosocial media campaign went viral as people standing in solidarity with Weinstein’s victims sought to publicise the widespread nature of sexual assault and harassment within society as they told their own personal stories of unwanted sexual abuse. Like a stone cast into a pond, the effects of this movement soon rippled out into every quarter of modern society – from the music and entertainment industries to politics and the workplace. But, undoubtedly the most shocking story of this type is the recent news that staff working for the Oxfamcharity paid vulnerable people for sex when they were supposed to be distributing aid in Haiti, made worse by the fact that the organisation failed to sufficiently report the matter to the authorities or warn other aid agencies about their former staff members who sought new employment with them.
The sexual revolution kickstarted by the arrival of the contraceptive pill in 1961 has certainly transformed women’s lives for the better, giving them a much greater sense of peace of mind as they control their bodies, and enjoy the ability to choose whether or not to have children – but in the light of the current scandals it could be argued that the glamour of the swinging 60s has somewhat faded, as men (and particularly those with power and influence) who have grown used to uncomplicated sex without restriction or entanglement seek to exploit others for their own personal satisfaction. The men who take advantage of others as outlined above may think it’s ‘just sex’ and consensual, but if you expect favours in return for giving a new acting role, a promotion, money or aid, and threaten to withhold them if you aren’t treated, then it isn’t consensual at all – it’s coercive!
Most people appreciate that there is no such thing as ‘just sex’ because our bodies are not really designed to exploit one another but to joyfully love one another, because as the Christian will understand true love is not ‘self-seeking’ (1 Corinthians 13.5) but self-giving, of which sex in marriage is the ultimate expression – which is why we call it ‘making love’.
This month, we are in the season of Lent, in which we are as Christians are invited to contemplate our own lives in the light of Jesus who loves us, his life, death and resurrection. It’s a time for sober reflection and penitence, a time for ‘turning around’ and seeking God’s forgiveness. I would therefore like to suggest that there is no better time for putting our lives straight, for reflecting upon our own attitudes about sex and the way that we treat each other. We may not be able to do anything about the Harvey Weinsteins of this world, or those who wilfully exploit and take advantage of others, but we can make sure that we are not like them, by putting our own house and lives in order and being determined to really, really love one another, just as God intended.
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth – for your love is more delightful than wine’ Song of Solomon 1.2