Tuesday 23rd June 2020
Thank you for your letter, if not for the reminder that we have already passed the longest day! My preferred season is the spring and so much has been curtailed this year, even if I do recognise many benefits from this 'reckoning'. When reading your description of the garden last week, I was thinking that we, too, are a part of this nature 'red in tooth and claw' to which you referred. Unfortunately, that stark reality has been visible on our screens in these recent days, as has the courage of at least one young police officer who was prepared to risk his own life in order to prevent further harm.
Another inspirational young person is the twelve year old violinist, Christian Li, to whom we were listening. When asked about the cancellation of various planned concerts, his reply seemed mature for his years, saying that it was "a little sad, of course," but because of lockdown he could do more practice. It seemed to me that he will go far - he already has - because he has the motivation necessary and is prepared to put in the work required for success, namely, at least 4 hours practice a day. Even though he was playing a Vivaldi movement, I would guess that The Lark Ascending would be within his capabilities. Last week I forgot to mention that in the preceding days, others were talking of the skylark's song and the effects of Vaughan Williams' composition, linking them with the Divine and the connection to the depth of our souls. You are not alone, as you know.
Yet another remarkable person, although twice the age of Christian and inspirational for other reasons, was Coleman Hughes in the US who was discussing recent events, particularly in his own country. He remarked that things are not as bad as they seem and suggested that we are in a moral panic - the latter words are the title of the discussion I was listening to online. With reference to the slogans being repeated around him, he cautioned that people often utter the slogan before they know what it means. They say the words in order to sound cool and radical among their friends. This man's gentle manner and thoughtful responses support your proposition, Mark, that gentleness is strength. His persuasive conclusion was that some people measure our society currently against the imagined utopia in their minds, so that society is always found to be lacking. His view, by contrast, was that the institutions that allow us to make moral progress are the ones that recognise human nature as fixed and try to enable progress without us having to be saints, something we shall never be. It sounds like a role for the church, even if it is a tall order.
The Methodist Church is just one site of continuing debate and differing opinions. In reading your paragraph which begins 'Of late', I am not sure what happens when you have 'come to your senses'. It sounds idyllic to respond to Christ's call to come apart and rest. Being one of those 'let's get down to the nitty-gritty' types, I am left wondering what it means; for instance, whether the 'rest' is the resolution itself or whether you expect to sense later what follows this rest, a revelation. Your analogy with driving in the snow seems to fit such debates well: There are phases of clarity, but sometimes the additional light just reduces it. In terms of human interaction, there can seem to be one of those perspex screens between us. You mentioned 'tolerated' opinions and I know that I have recently read something on this subject. I think the suggestion was that tolerance can be a fairly superficial, rather than heartfelt, response to a difference, but it avoids the difficult discussions. I know that in many settings there can be a drive towards unity in the sense of no variation of thought, but seeking harmony sounds less dogmatic, allowing variation. In society at large, it's similar to whether we want equity of treatment or equality in everything - few will attain Christian Li's standard. Similarly, whether the disparities among people are necessarily the result of discrimination. The tricky question is whether being apart may be better, just as all those refugees have concluded.
Your example of people stating that they are not an expert, sometimes arises because they have been invited to speak on one subject, but the presenter sneaks in the additional questions beyond their area of responsibility. I have certainly heard many people begin with 'I don't want to make party political points over this' and of course, you can see it coming, that's exactly what they do. At the weekend somebody was reviewing the papers, noting that journalists are all following a particular stance on the main themes, not reporting any deviating views. He remarked, "They are like rabbits caught in the headlines." In my opinion, this slip of the tongue was more expressive than the statement intended! A few days ago the expected announcement about the 1m.+ distancing was reported, with the comment that face coverings would need to be worn if people were less than 2 m. apart. I was imagining a restaurant or cafe with the tables spaced at 1.2 m, customers in masks and then the food or drink is served. Hmm. I'm not an expert in this either, but the more we ask the government to micro-manage our lives, the more ridiculous the guidelines become and the more childlike we are. The formal announcement has probably been made today.
I have no doubt that you will all act with consideration and responsibility when taking the decision to reopen churches and chapels so that everybody can share that presence together. It can be easily overlooked that everybody will still be free to make their own choices, whether to wait a little longer or to go out in order to participate in what they hold dear. I am sure that the advice to be alert (attentive and vigilant) does not refer to watching out for a virus, but that is always my first thought when I read such instructions. I would think that the social distancing could be readily organised most of the time, but when that time comes, I wonder if those awful blue gloves are recommended at the Communion Table. Somehow those do not sit well with me, but the essence of the celebration remains the same. The first outward expression of this remembrance will be moving indeed.
I particularly liked your message online this past Sunday, so thank you for that. For now I shall finish with one bishop's words which I liked very much and maybe you will find them meaningful: Go now, trusting in the promises of God, in the way of Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit.