Fernhurst, Lynchmere and Camelsdale Churches
A note from the Vicarage...
Ah, babies’ first words. Mine, apparently, was ‘no’. One of my brothers’ was ‘bang’. Other common ones, we’re told, include mama, dada, ball, bye, hi, dog, baby, woof woof, and banana. These days, however, I reckon that they’re just as likely to be words like ‘unprecedented’, ‘social distancing’, and ‘face covering’. Because those are the words they’ll hear so frequently in conversation and on TV and social media …
Words can be powerful. They can inspire us, make us laugh, move us to tears, mock and wound us, enrage us and lead us to hate. They can take root in our souls and shape how we think and behave. And it’s all too easy for people to take to social media to vent their feelings without thought for the impact on those on the receiving end. In an age of mass media, we can feel overwhelmed by the deluge of words that wash over us on a daily basis. And currently, in the midst of a pandemic, anxiety, fear and despair can spread just as rapidly as the virus.
It’s so easy for good news to get lost among the bad news and the fake news. Christmas is coming, and while we may have to celebrate it differently this year (how I long to sing some carols!), the message is unchanged. Christmas is fundamentally about good news for the world, a message of love from God.
He didn’t send an email, post a tweet, come up with a soundbite or generate a sensational headline. He came in person, Emmanuel – ‘God with us’ – as a vulnerable baby. As he grew, and throughout his lifetime, he experienced all that it is to be human, including being ‘socially distanced’ by those in power, as he challenged fake messages about God and spoke of God’s heart for all his creation.
I don’t know what Jesus’ first word was, but I do know that he embodied God’s Word to us. Which is ‘love’.
With every blessing,
In 1866, an experimental steam carriage was built in the United States of America – in New York, to be precise. It was rather tall and uncomfortable-looking, with solid wheels, and had bench seats high up above the boiler. It’s now preserved in the Smithsonian collection, and even featured on a 1991 stamp:
The designer and maker of this magnificent device was one Richard Dudgeon.
And the reason for telling you all this, of course, is so that I can point out that it really was possible, once, to ‘drive off in high Dudgeon.’
So…. now that the groans have subsided, let me reflect that being in a state of ‘high dudgeon’ (‘feeling or exhibiting great resentment or indignation; taking great offence at something’) is all too common in today’s society. In fact, many people seem to take offence at the proverbial drop of a hat, particularly if they perceive that they are not being ‘respected’. They’re suspicious of anyone who doesn’t share their values, preferences and prejudices. They’re hypersensitive about having their rights infringed (whether those rights are real or imagined), or their perceived status diminished. They don’t like anyone telling them what to do, particularly when it comes to Covid restrictions. People are outspoken about their ‘rights’; but seem not to have the same enthusiasm for their responsibilities. And you can’t have one without the other.
But I recently heard someone say that it had been estimated that 90% of the unhappiness in the world was due to people not being treated in the ways that they thought they deserved. Whatever the truth of that statistic, it makes you think, doesn’t it? Perhaps we are too demanding. Perhaps we’ve believed all that advertising stuff about being ‘worth it.’ Perhaps we need to be more realistic and active about what we can contribute to society rather than take from it. Of course, it’s not ‘one or the other.’ We do need to respect one another properly. But we also might need to be less ready to take offence if our particular bubble is pricked!
I’ve got one final thought, though. What a shame that no one by the name of ‘Huff’ went into the car manufacturing business…
With every blessing,
I’ve got to be honest.
Engaging with the news at the moment is difficult. What with the pandemic, and all its threats, restrictions and difficulties; the worsening global environmental situation; the dreadful injustices faced by millions across the world because of war and oppression; and all the rest – it makes for a stressful daily intake. The media are very efficient at bringing us news of war, disaster, crises and suffering from anywhere and everywhere in the world.
It all gets a bit much at times. And rather overwhelming. Whether spoken or unspoken, the question rumbling away within me is always, “What can I do about it?”
In a real sense, of course, I can’t personally deal with the enormity of the world’s suffering; no human being has the personal resources to take it all on board. But I don’t think that I’m alone in feeling guilty that we might not be as passionate as we should be about the troubling issues all around us, or that we don’t personally do much more about them than donate money via a credit card from the comfort of our own homes.
What should our response be, as responsible human beings and as Christians who take our faith seriously? There’s a quotation from the Talmud that brings a good perspective to this:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
As with most things in life, we need to concentrate on what we can do, in the situations in which God has placed us, rather than what we can’t do.
And, thinking about that, here’s a story that I often reflect upon.
One day a man was walking along a beach after a storm when he noticed a boy ahead of him going to and fro across the beach to the water’s edge, repeatedly picking objects up and gently throwing them into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing these starfish that have been washed up back into the sea. The sun is hot and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds and hundreds of starfish? It’s a waste of time; you can’t possibly make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the sea. Then, smiling at the man, he said,
“I made a difference for that one.”
With every blessing,
Holiday? What holiday?
That’s how most of us feel, I should think, about the summer we’ve just had. Most people’s holiday plans have been wrecked in some way by the pandemic. So, inevitably, we find ourselves thinking about what we’d like to do next year. And, perhaps, reflecting on holidays we’ve had in the past…
Once upon a time, Anita, Erin and I were having a wonderful week in north Pembrokeshire, staying in a cottage not far from Strumble Head. The weather was for the most part sunny, the scenery was spectacular, and we met some really nice people. Highlights included horse riding on the beach, a visit to St. David’s Cathedral, and seeing some wonderful wildlife, including seals and a dolphin. One day, we visited Ramsey Island, and saw seals by the hundred.
At one point we were looking down from the cliffs on a beach that was a mixture of sand and rock, and I could see clearly a pup basking in the sun, with its mother in the water close by keeping an eye on it. I was delighted. It was the first pup we’d seen, and I pointed it out to Anita.
But she couldn’t make it out.
I was puzzled. To me it seemed as clear as day, and I said as much to Anita, who still couldn’t see the pup at all, and was getting increasingly exasperated by my insistence that it was really easy to see, it was right there by that big rock, it couldn’t be more obvious; what on earth was the problem?
But then I took off my sunglasses to see what difference it might make, and immediately realised what the problem was. We were both wearing sunglasses – but they were different kinds of sunglasses. Mine were polarising – and hers weren’t.
The great advantage of polarising sunglasses is that they filter out most of the reflections from shiny or wet surfaces, and enable you to see colour and detail without being dazzled. That’s why I could see the pup. Without those sunglasses, all I could see were shiny rocks. The pup vanished, as if by magic. That was the problem. Anita needed different sunglasses.
Reflecting on this (if you’ll pardon the pun!) it seems to me that it’s easy to get dazzled or distracted as we look at the world around us. We’ve got all sorts of things constantly coming at us, to do with the pandemic and what we can and can’t do; confusion over where we can and can’t go; the pressures of daily life and who we can and can’t meet up with; and so on. In the midst of all this, it’s easy to miss things that are significant. They get hidden by the ‘reflections’. Like the seal pup – alone, vulnerable and, well, invisible.
Unless – we make an effort to ‘filter out’ the other stuff. Then the true pattern of things can emerge and we and might see, perhaps, the small, delicate and vulnerable matters that are important and significant; the reality of things as God sees them.
With every blessing,