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

A New Year blog

30 December 2020

I wish you a happier and more settled new year than this old year has proved. It's fascinating and very disturbing to look back over 2020 and realise that a microscopically small virus has managed to achieve, in a few short months, what politicians, scientists and the military have failed to do over millennia - namely, to get humanity to face together (or at least, mostly together) a common enemy. We may argue the merits and demerits of those who have sought to combat this virus, and we may join together to clap the NHS for working tirelessly to keep the suffering from death, but we have seen government by trial and error, a stop-go tale of the battle between politics, economics and science. We may remember the days when someone we might have described as a statesman (stateswoman was never mentioned) would lead the country forward by sheer rhetoric - nowadays the rhetoric has given way to party point-scoring and our national debating chamber sounds like a street riot. Tragically and more seriously, government has lost the trust of the people.

It's also been a year in which we have broken off our engagement with our nearest neighbours, hoping that they will not think too badly of us and allow us to retain more than a little of that special relationship which we pretended to enjoy over the last forty-odd years. It is such a shame (and to our shame) that we still pretend to be a world power, when empire has given way to commonwealth and even that is crumbling. Ironically, those who give voice to adverse comment against us so often do so in our language! We really are now a small island off the coast of Europe.

And it's also been a year which has brought our planet closer to disaster by our profligate misuse of Earth's natural resources. There is enough of everything to make this planet a safe and joyous home, but western and northern supremacy and greed over the centuries have brought inequalities and slavery to millions. We agree that we should phase out our use of coal and oil, but a new coal mine in Cumbria has been given the go-ahead. Don't even mention fracking! Are we really serious about our response to climate change?

The Windrush tragedy is still unfolding, with so many loyal citizens deprived of recognition by governmental incompetence and prejudice over decades. Another example of government losing the trust of the people? And the rise of Black Lives Matter has reached our shores, with the realisation that we still, maybe subconsciously, make judgments about other people that are based on colour and education. The old adage "never judge someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes" should be writ large on every educational and governmental wall.

There could be more. But I'm reminded of the plight of the Israelites following their release from Babylonian exile in around 535 BCE. The Persian king Cyrus allowed them, encouraged them indeed, to return to their homeland to begin rebuilding their cities and their communities. The result was that they attempted to rebuild their future in the mould of the past, together with stricter adherence to the old laws (and Law), and perhaps learning little from their recent past. As Jesus said when weeping over Jerusalem, "They didn't realise God's moment when it came" (Lk 19:42). A kairos moment - a moment to think hard and make far-reaching decisions, and then take action.

2021 could be our return from a sort of exile -our kairos moment - the formation of a new way of being British that recognises each person's humanity not through any quantifiable measure but simply because they are our neighbours, our fellow-countryfolk. It will take generosity of spirit, a true acceptance of those who are "different", a clearer vision of who we are, and (most important) of what we have to do together in order to rebuild our country post-coronavirus and post-Brexit and undeniably "Green". And surely the Churches have something to contribute to this discussion. So, good luck with all that! And a Happy and Peaceful New Year to you and yours.

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