Robin Blount: ecumenical notes, cruise ship chaplaincy and lots more


10 November 2020

Well, it's all change in Washington. For several weeks coronavirus has often lost its first place in the news while we've been preoccupied with events in the US. Now, assuming that Donald Trump loses all the legal enquiries that he has set in motion, there is a new president - or at least, there will be come January. The oldest newcomer, although he's been trying for many years.

We are caught up in a world of deep divisions. Scarcely any country seems free of polarised sectors, each believing it is right and that therefore everyone else is wrong. The situation in the US is scary - add guns into the mix and you have the potential for disaster. Add a leader who stokes the fires, and who knows what may follow.

One of Joe Biden's greatest and most urgent tasks is the healing of the nation. It seems that almost equal numbers are implacably opposed to each other; everyone is shouting and no-one seems to be listening.

A preacher once left his sermon notes in the pulpit. On them he had written in a margin, "Speak loudly, argument weak". The result of shouting is that you cannot hear over the sound of your own voice. And it gets worse if you know you're right - then you have to shout louder.

There is a need nowadays for that still, small voice of calm amidst the uproar all around us. We need to listen to other people, to understand their story, to discover what makes them believe something so fervently that nothing else can break through the noise. There is no room for fundamentalism, that blind belief that listens to nothing that might contradict its own infallibility. Religion knows this only too well. A fundamentalist is someone who hears that creation didn't happen as it says in Genesis, but remains content, knowing that scholarship and archaeology are obviously wrong. Beyond religion, millions of people hear but do not listen. The two opposing sides in the US are just the latest example of this, and it will take a patient and careful president to negotiate the warring factions and bring the nation together in a commonwealth (and that's a loaded word!). In today's UK, there is the same danger and the same potential for wilful deafness that could lead to disaster. It's the time for listening, not shouting.

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