I have been surprised to find myself increasingly sad at the death of Prince Philip. This may seem odd as I never met him. So why am I sad? I have been pondering this and have identified four reasons. And what can I do about the sadness? Nothing – but I believe it will pass and I will settle into a hope founded in the Easter story which is, after all, the great surrounding narrative of the week in which Prince Philip died.
The short version: Our present way of dealing with COVID-19 is insane1That’s not “insane” as a slur but “insane” as in an action no sane person would take after informed, considered reflection. Let’s not turn this into a personal dig against policy makers, though, who are under immense pressures from all directions. It’s more of a corporate insanity.. Of the only two sane approaches, both require intolerable levels of restrictions over a sustained period. In one approach these gradually scale back and COVID-19 kills a significant fraction of a year’s worth of normal deaths over about 6 months. In the other, the intolerable restrictions remain for an unknown period of more than 6 months and possibly years but COVID-19 kills almost no one. I would love to be wrong about this, but I don’t think I am. The choice before us sucks. Take your pick.
The longer explanation…
|↑1||That’s not “insane” as a slur but “insane” as in an action no sane person would take after informed, considered reflection. Let’s not turn this into a personal dig against policy makers, though, who are under immense pressures from all directions. It’s more of a corporate insanity.|
As expected, the UK government announced yesterday that the present “lockdown” restrictions would remain for the present. Nonetheless, it is becoming clear that now is a time when critical decisions must be made. No one can be certain when we will reach the “peak” (and we won’t know it was the peak for certain until afterwards anyway) but it is clearly some time around now1We know this because the rate of growth in infections has now descended to around or below 1. I could write a whole article on this, but this tweet captures it..
At this point it is vital that we know what kind of endgame we wish to target with COVID-19. We will make dramatically different choices depending on this choice. And I suspect the best endgame may not be the one we are drifting towards.
I wish to register a complaint. It’s about how we, the church, talk about giving1The word “giving” in this context can be ambiguous. I am using it in this article to refer specifically the contributions made by church members to the common funds of the church.. I don’t mean them, the big stage TV millionaire prosperity doctrine teachers or the shady con men who ride on the back of honest Christianity. I mean us, the well-meaning local church which never has quite enough funds or willing hands for the work before us. The church which loves God, loves its members, loves its community, loves the wider world. The church which is not looking for a quick buck and will use well the money people offer. We, this church, are rubbish at talking about giving. Continue reading
|↑1||The word “giving” in this context can be ambiguous. I am using it in this article to refer specifically the contributions made by church members to the common funds of the church.|
I would hope that anyone who has experienced any significant measure of the grace of God would be able to agree that the phrase “fight fire with fire” isn’t really the sort of thing we hear Jesus saying. I would hope that we’d be more inclined to fight fire with fire extinguishers. To pour oil on troubled water. But, I wonder, is this enough? Might it be that one person’s “fire extinguisher” is another’s “fire” or, at the very least, the other’s “water cannon”? Might one person’s oil on “troubled waters” be another’s oil on a “raging blaze”. Recent escalations in the disagreement between a number of prominent (on social media) Christians seem to suggest so.
Who can comment with any certainty on the current state of British politics? In the surge of the present media maelstrom, so many words and phrases have bubbled briefly to the surface before sinking again out of sight. Chaos reigns. But in the chaos, I think some things can clearly be said and, indeed, need to be said to call our leaders to account. Indeed, it is the very chaos which most excites comment.
Where does this chaos originate? Why could calm not have followed in the wake of last week’s referendum? Indeed, would a period of calm reflection not have been exactly the thing that was needed in the circumstances? Do we not, in emergency situations, praise the people who are able to keep their heads and help everyone else to respond calmly? What airline would want the crew to ran about screaming and inciting chaos in an emergency? Or to begin fighting each other? Indeed, cabin and flight crew are trained to do exactly the opposite: to keep their cool and to help everyone else to respond in a calm and ordered manner.
Yesterday for morning prayer, we had the story of Caleb and Joshua and the spying out of the promised land from Numbers 14. I was struck by how the Israelites were so fearful of entering the promised land, full of God’s bounty and, instead, wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt. I think we are often like this: God’s generosity is an unknown quantity and feels scary. Egypt is unpleasant but it is a known quantity and that feels safe.
Isn’t this true? Do we not all sometimes think “Better the Egypt you know than the promised land you don’t”?
What is so sad about the Numbers 14 story is that the promises were lost to the people. That entire generation had to pass away. Forty years had to pass by before God’s promises could, finally, be fulfilled.
Oh Lord, help us to trust you and not to rob ourselves of the bounty you have laid up for us.
Wonky veg has been all over social media recently since ASDA began selling their Wonky Veg boxes. ASDA is now promising to roll these out nationwide. I first became aware of the great wonky veg waste problem through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the BBC show Hugh’s War on Waste. The problem has been that supermarkets will only sell the most regular-shaped vegetables, whilst nature stubbornly insists on producing vegetables of all shapes. This results in farmers having to destroy large parts of their crops because they simply cannot get the supermarkets to sell the “wonky” vegetables. Bad news for the farmers and bad news for a planet in which there are people starving.
So, everyone is excited to see the supermarkets beginning to move on this issue. However, at this point I want to sound the alarm bells. This latest move could prove disastrous. The trouble with demanding that supermarkets sell wonky veg is that we fail to see the real problem, which is more about overproduction than about wonky vegetables. The real problem is that people in the UK eat far less veg than the farmers produce. So a lot of veg has to be destroyed regardless. That it happens to be the wonky veg which is destroyed is almost a side-issue.
For some years now, I have been increasingly convinced that God is calling us to ways of being parish church which will take us into a much deeper form of community. Over the past year, I have discovered that many other clergy (and some laity) are thinking along similar lines and that a movement appears to be beginning around what we have come, tentatively, to call “Parish Monasticism”.
In this, my first post on the subject, I am beginning a journey of exploring how parish monasticism might work out practically in a Church of England parish context. I will be using this and future posts to help organise my thoughts on the subject, so what I say is tentative and feedback is welcome.
For other thinking on the subject, you might like to read Ned Lunn’s detailed exploration through the lens of St Benedict’s Rule. Holy Trinity Salcombe’s mon2sat and Walk the Extra Mile websites are also very relevant. If you wish to find other people interested in Parish Monasticism, you’d be very welcome to join the facebook group.
Friday’s attacks in Paris were horrific and shocking, as is the emerging story about the terrorist bomb which destroyed the Russian plane over Egypt. 129 killed in Paris and 224 killed in the plane crash. Non-combatant civilians indiscriminately slaughtered. Horror. Our sympathy rightly goes out to those who are left behind.
But here’s the deal: the only power terrorism has is the power to invoke fear and anger. So we need to be very careful about how we respond to these atrocities. President Putin has, reportedly, vowed to “find and punish” those responsible. President Hollande has referred to Friday’s events as a “act of war”. This is fighting talk: retribution and war. The message is that we are frightened and angry, which is exactly what the terrorists want.