Wednesday 10th June 2020
Thank you for your latest reflections, some of which refer back to matters touched on at the end of May, so that's where I'll start. I know well the skylark's song, associated in my mind with some specific, special places which the birds must also favour. Together with the wonderful music, you have specific associations, too. Last Friday, it seems almost as if you were 'gently lifted' by this sound, as others might have been. Perhaps the skylark you heard was the 'whisper' that you spoke of previously - not a low whisper this time, but a high, lilting one - and for me, it's the still small voice. The photo of the stink lily is impressive, but I shall not be hurrying down to the garden centre to buy one. Your initial comments on learning the truth about it could also be linked to ourselves, getting to know a few home truths perhaps, but my light-hearted summary of your conclusion might be that the truth is right under our noses!
I think you already appreciate that the whole issue of fact, opinion and truth in the modern world, is one that I would love to get to grips with, fully. In the example of the lily, it seems much easier to determine the facts and whether the odour is exquisite or unpleasant is clearly subjective, a matter of opinion. As for truth, it seems to me that just as the appearance in any photo can now be air-brushed, so can truth, metaphorically, by means of carefully sown seeds of doubt or falsehoods. When put alongside the words in the poem, 'hard and trampled like a yard,' does any parable come to mind? Unfortunately, not everybody knows there is a difference between fact and opinion; they have been fed the idea, so it's true. It is a struggle, I agree, to know what is right and wrong. However, our desire to be right seems acceptable, since who would seek to be wrong?
Your reference to God's desire and Jesus, instantly called to mind the parable of The Good Samaritan, as well as that of the adulterous woman to be stoned - and let us remember that this still happens in some countries, even when she has been attacked. When reading or hearing the texts, I find myself picturing the scene described. In the latter parable, I just love the part where Jesus bends down to write on the ground, before and after speaking. I wonder if he wanted to keep the others waiting initially, given that their trap was already set, or whether he was collecting his thoughts for a measured response. How good to know that the accusers retreated, leaving the private and sensitive time with her. Not only is He right, but I love the way the situation is handled. I believe I've heard that a carpenter's rule is 'measure twice and cut once' so verbally, maybe if we can, it's good to think twice before speaking at all. However, such sensitivity may lead to the loss of truth or even to the wise not daring to speak.
Treating everybody with gentleness and respect sounds like the solution to world problems, especially if everybody does it. Let's face reality, we are not handling delicate butterflies all the time! My adult view of Jesus is not the one I had when singing 'Gentle Jesus, meek and mild' in Sunday school. I like His more robust gentleness! Gentleness is not weakness, I agree, but are you saying that it is always strength? Or, is the opposite of gentleness - whatever that is - a weakness, in your view? I am recalling situations where one person was gentle, but somebody else was walking all over them. Speaking out seems right! Perhaps it's about transforming style, whilst not losing substance. You referred to an 'inflammatory comment' and in public spheres, we frequently encounter the statement, 'I am offended.' This could go on, "So am I." In practice, we usually see that the personality has apologised - the language in recent years has changed to, "I am (very) sorry" which often saves that person's job. To me, it seems best if those words are uttered when really meant and then, hopefully, forgiveness follows. Has forgiveness been lost? Currently, I wonder how much more has to be raked up from the hard ground, before it is time to plant the seeds, tend them and see if they flourish. When we were writing of Thomas, I think you quoted the same relative who seemed to recognise direct honesty. What an old-fashioned idea that it is our character, not our outer wrapping, which is significant. I agree with him. Respect can still be there, without sugar coating the words until they are sickly. The bookmark in my Bible quotes Proverbs 22: 1 and it currently rests on a page that I turn to frequently, Philippians 4: 7-8. Both seem relevant to our current situation.
During recent months, most of the information about Covid-19 that I have read has come from journals and sources that I have found reliable in the past. There is a doctor, specialising in pathology at cellular level, whose writings interest me, on issues such as the accuracy of diagnoses, the transmission of disease, the reliability of the statistics, the unintended consequences of certain policies and more. When discussing the polarisation of opinion on the handling of this disease, he mentioned a book which is not a new publication, but I intend to get a copy as soon as possible: "The Righteous Mind - Why Good People are Divided by Politics & Religion" by Jonathan Haidt. The clue is in the title, I think, but I have listened to the author speaking recently, where he refers to himself as having "a hope sandwich." He speaks of "a giant slab of despair," then hope and another slab of despair. It sounds as if the outer layers are too thick, but his description draws me towards whatever is written in his book. In looking at a summary of his ideas, one suggestion is that the role of religion in western societies has faded, so people find themselves without purpose and then, social, political causes have taken its place.
At the weekend we watched a film, Life of Pi, which we had not seen before, even though it is not a recent release. As you probably know, it is about an Indian boy who survived the sinking of a ship, leaving him in a small lifeboat on the Pacific. More than one interpretation of the events is possible, but one overt part of the story throughout, is his faith. There were some wonderful lines and although I did not write them down precisely, one quotation at the beginning went something like, "To know God, you have to be introduced." Later on he says, "Faith is a house with many rooms" and as for doubt, "Plenty, on every floor.........You cannot know the strength of your faith until it is tested." Rather poignantly, comes the line, "I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye." However, in the midst of everything, he tells himself, "Above all, it is important not to lose hope" and concludes, "If every unfolding we experience takes us further along in life, then we are truly experiencing what life is offering." Even if you have seen this film, I think it is worth watching again.
Keep on keeping on,
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:7-8