Yesterday evening I enjoyed a lovely meal with a group of girlfriends I hadn’t seen for a while. On previous such occasions the main focus of our conversation would be about the personal details of our lives “how are the kids doing?”, “Where are you going on holiday?”, that type of stuff.
But last night we talked more about politics and cultural shifts in society than anything else. And not in any dry disconnected, impersonal way. We shared deep despair and anxiety about what we see happening around us.
We reflected, and this has been said many times already in the last month, that we have been living through “momentous times” but when I came home from the evening out and heard the news of yet another shooting atrocity, this time in Munich, it struck me that the true nature of this period of history will only actually be known with hindsight.
It had seemed to us, talking quietly in a beautiful garden on a lovely summer evening that the world around us was going mad: children mowed down by a truck at the seaside, an unarmed black man with his hands in the air (a position of total surrender and vulnerability) shot by police in America, racism and xenophobia seemingly legitimised by the Brexit vote.
Our lives are touched by these events in different and personal ways, each of us unique. For Matthew, our son, the love of his life is a wonderful girl called Stine, who happens to be Danish and is planning to come over here to live and find work in order to be with the person she loves. There is nothing wrong in that but will she be made to feel welcome, I hope so. Emma and Ben, our daughter and son-in-law, were on holiday near Nice last week and could so easily have been on the seafront but even when not on holiday they both live, work and travel in places that might be considered terrorist risk areas.
One of my friends told me about a mutual friend who has worked for a big national UK company for 20 years and is married to an English woman who was asked by a colleague, in all seriousness, on June 24 “what are you still doing here?”. Our friend is French. My own husband’s firm employs numerous foreign nationals partly because there simply are not UK engineers out there to be recruited.
Even in my local, mainly white, mainly middle-class neighbourhood, someone had gone around posting stickers on lampposts each with the phrase “gas the immigrants”.
“Grossly offensive” doesn’t even begin to cover that message. Horrific shades of extreme right-wing Nazi politics which tapped into the downtrodden and those who felt hard done by in Germany. All this and I tremble when I hear Donald Trump declaring that he is the candidate of the poor and the downtrodden.
I’m sure in many places in the UK and all over Europe groups of friends may have gathered on similar sunny evenings during the summer of 1939. They might have anguished and worried about their world ‘going mad’. Possibly they also knew that they were living in “momentous times” but just how momentous would only be revealed with hindsight.
What’s all this shows is that ALL events and ALL attitudes have the potential to be momentous. All it takes to bring about a huge change is for the myriad small actions and attitudes of people to accumulate to a tipping point. Like the myriad of ‘protest’votes that were cast for the leave campaign “because I really didn’t think it would make any difference”. The upside of this argument is that a myriad of small positive actions and attitudes can also make a huge difference.
Who knows how momentous the summer of 2016 might be for our world or what might unfold in the next few years. But, as in 1939-45, so now: it is the individual acts of kindness, generosity, welcome, inclusion, compassion and forgiveness that are the only thing that will turn the tide against the rise of evil.
When Jesus spoke of the end times he spoke about a diminution of kindness “for many others, the overwhelming spread of evil will do them in, nothing left of their love but amount of ashes”. (Matthew 24:11, 12 Eugene Peterson The Message).
The stories we prefer to recall from World War II are precisely those stories of people who took extraordinary personal risks to save the outcast and oppressed (the Jews), those who showed compassion as well as courage. And also those who, when the darkness was passed, worked hard for reconciliation and peace.
As I’ve reflected on all of this this morning, three things have given me hope.
Firstly, a snippet of information from the Munich news story about social media being used positively by ordinary people to rescue terrified people stranded in Munich city centre after the public transport was closed. On Twitter many city centre residents posted #offeneTur which translates #opendoor, meaning that they would be willing to take in any stranded strangers needing shelter or hospitality. What a brilliant example of the power of ordinary people to make the world a safer place for complete strangers who they recognise as simply other human beings in need.
Can we also be those who ‘hold the door open’ to our fellow human beings who are frightened, rejected, to the the stranger, or to someone who simply speaks English with an accent or has a different ethnic heritage from our own.
(The whole idea of an open door is a metaphor that resonates very deeply within me – struggling as we do with a physically closed door)
Secondly, we watched a brilliant documentary about the making of the opening ceremony for the 2012 games in London
Imagine: An extraordinary night http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p041g600
This was a reminder of a period in our history only four years ago, when we felt as a nation jaded and cynical, lacking self-confidence. The documentary was a story of how a group of volunteers helped to create the incredible pageantry and story of the opening ceremony in which the lives of ordinary people was celebrated and shown to be powerful.
The opening ceremony was followed by another huge success, not the games themselves necessarily but that other volunteer group called “the games makers”. People who brought transformation because they served selflessly according to values such as welcome, hospitality, kindness, generosity, helpfulness. Values espoused by all major religions but expressed supremely well as the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22.
I recommend this documentary to you if you need a dose of hopefulness in a dark world, to be reminded of the power of creative teamwork and the excitement generated by generous and committed service.
Thirdly, my final encouragement this week was reading a book called “Wonder” by R J Palacio. A children’s book, it can be read very quickly but is very powerful in its message. Deserving of a review all of its own I will blog about it another time suffice to say that it is the story of a young child going to school for the first time at the age of nine, this child has a severe facial disfigurement due to a genetic problem.
Here is the line that impacted me the most most.
“If it comes down to a choice between being right or being kind: choose kindness”
This has relevance to the political issues this post has been discussing (and aware that not everyone I know, nor everyone who reads this blog or knows me will have voted in the same way all have the same views that I have)
“Faith, hope and love abide” said St Paul, “but the greatest of these is love”