Wednesday 20th May 2020
Thank you for your letter, written it seems at the end of a busy week, but I hope you grasped some essential relaxation time, too.
I suppose we have both been certified at some stage. I refer, of course to the form called a 'certificate of existence.' Surely somebody might have thought that it needed more work at the design stage, long before anybody ever had to complete it. The language is so dehumanising. However, when combined with your comments about some proof of attendance at a course of dubious worth, it's probably in the same league. There is no doubt that in this century, organisations, whether a business or other workplace, a charity, some local club or even our churches, all follow the same 'processes' - risk assessments, safeguarding and the list goes on, not to mention mission statements. Yet, in my view, most of the documents represent false security, filed away in case of some unwanted future occurrence, while the conscientious and vigilant conduct of its participants is of true value, making the organisation what it is, trustworthy, safe or otherwise. Such forms are only necessary because this is the 'doctrine' that has been decided and implemented, the steady creep!
Given that the form was in your hands because of your role as 'serving minister' (is that title any better, or perhaps, minister of Christ, if it's not too pompous?), I wonder how adequate the contents would seem, if applied to Christ or God? Yes, I agree with you that a person is so much more than such documents are able to demonstrate. Furthermore, as you suggest, we do gain our self-awareness from the people who know us and sometimes, even from those who do not. Some of the remarks from such sources can be very surprising. Despite all the extra burdens that recent months have imposed on us all, I can't help thinking that absence, whether temporary or permanent, has always been a fact of life for somebody, every day. When it happens to us, we experience how it feels. While absence and appreciation do tend to go together, I suspect that simply imagining that possible situation is sufficient for many of us to know the true depth of our appreciation also.
This broad theme of what it is to be human, reminds me of those captcha tests used to determine whether the internet user is human. My heart rate must shoot up every time as I look at the squiggly letters from different angles before deciding what they are, but frequently a new test comes up to try again. Your Sunday message referred to the occasional witnessing of a passport application. On one such occasion, I reviewed the most common reasons for rejections: One person indicated that the form and enclosures had been returned with the explanation, "Head too big." Perhaps that is something we should check out more frequently than once in a decade or so! Presumably the real problem was that the dimensions of the photo itself were unacceptable.
While the words of 'Lead kindly Light' are meaningful, I really can't say that the hymn appeals to me! They say about jokes "It's how you tell 'em," so for hymns, you say, it's how you sing them! Partly because of the mellow warmth of the tune, I would choose, 'Lord Jesus Christ' or, for a hymn which has a subtle plea for guidance, I might go for 'Christ, be our Light.' While the church is not literally gathered in these times, some of the words indicate how we can still be there for others and the phone calls you mention are one example. As it happens, I heard somebody recently talking on the radio about the effect of the health shielding type of letter you described. The person had always been independent, healthy and outgoing, but had taken on a sense of vulnerability and fear. It seems as though fear has gripped more people than I would have expected. Fear itself is detrimental in many situations and can be paralysing, but I hope we shall soon be able to make decisions for ourselves, according to our own outlook on risk and most will do that with consideration for others. Some are far more concerned about the quality of life, rather than its length and while solitude may be needed at times, loneliness is different. I notice that church worship is resuming in parts of Europe, although I do not know if this is a direct result of the objections that have been expressed for a while. Somebody in this country said at the beginning of all this, that the distancing rules would have been easily achievable in their services, but to no avail.
When trying to take a balanced perspective, it seems a pity that, at an early stage, the numbers of people who had recovered from Covid-19 ceased to be published here. There are always some inaccuracies in any statistics, but clearly there are more recoveries than we would guess from the non-stop heart-break that is relayed to us. A few quick calculations, even with a wide margin of error, gives a different, more hopeful picture which may lift morale. By searching, I have found some details from several other countries concerning recovery. Overall, these also give a different picture from that of incessant gloom which may have served to heighten feelings of fear. At times it seems as if we, as people, are changing, perhaps looking at others through the lens of fear. It is not surprising, then, that responses to the presence of an unknown person may be exaggerated, even though such people may be respectfully keeping their distance from everybody around. To become more as we hope to be, we have to take the first step, being as careful as we want to be. Often, the first step is the most difficult.
Finally, even if laughter is not always possible, nor appropriate, it can be a tonic. As we have been reminded this week, laughter to the point of being speechless is even better! It is simply about being present for another and sharing the moment. An old expression that others have rearranged becomes: Don't just do something. Stand there.
May you always sense where you are most needed,