PCN Newsletter 16th April
The fourth of the PCN weekly newsletters.
This is the clock on the church tower in the village in which I live, the mistake on the clock is well known. There are two ways to look at this; either it is a lesson about embracing your flaws as the things that make you unique, or it is simply a picture of a village quirk. I’ll leave that choice up to you.
I suppose it is natural that in a situation like this that moods will ebb and flow. What starts as determined positivity or cheerful acceptance will inevitably give way to uncertainty and concern. The piece that I have written and the thoughts of Ben Whitney reflect this and I was torn between keeping this the light and uplifting newsletter that people say that they value, and reflecting the changing mood. So this week is not particularly upbeat but I hope it will still be of comfort to those whose moods have darkened slightly and are starting to struggle with the uncertainty.
I look forward to the upswing in mood that will certainly come and hope that you will continue to share your thoughts with me and the rest of PCN.
We start this week with a reflection from Nigel Jones, this was sent to me in response to our first newsletter three weeks ago.
(In response to some comments that were received when the newsletter was emailed I will clarify that Nigel was not breaking lockdown and the walk in question happened prior to the Government’s instructions to stay at home.)
What could be better than fresh air and open countryside at the current time? Close to nature and a sense of creation? On Monday last, I and my wife drove some distance to the valley of Pystyll Rhaiadr in Wales (the tallest waterfall in Wales) and spent 4 hours walking up and down the Berwyn Mountain in superb weather. From the top the light was peculiar, because although all views were hazy we could see the outline of every major mountain in Wales, including the Brecon Beacons. Looking East, we could see the outline of the polluted air over industrialised England. When we drove back to the nearest village, we were stopped by a group (yes a group very close to each other) of local people who stared disapprovingly at us; then we noticed they had just erected large signs saying the road we had just used was closed. Were they just being super careful and determined to keep visitors away? That is not logical, considering that we had been able to enjoy ourselves without getting anywhere near anyone else, until they appeared in our way.
The walk did me tremendous good and as my wife discovered, I felt that if I was to die soon, then after such a day I was ready for it.
The virus has reminded me of my first serious thought about my own possible death, when I was in my teens. In South Wales, our town was the centre of a small pox outbreak from which a few had died. I and my sister queued for 4 hours to be vaccinated in a tent set up in the local park.
I am tiring of so much about this virus, repetition of some of the same messages ad nauseum. I was due to lead worship last Sunday and when I heard that services were not to take place I happily accepted that. However, I contacted the church steward and with his agreement sent him a shortened version of my service, to circulate to members. I chose deliberately to stick to my prepared message focussing on how we should interpret scripture, using as an example the current debate about possible gay marriage in the Methodist Church. Although the virus was mentioned in my prayers and a quick reference in my sermon, it seemed to me important not to be diverted completely from other important matters. In this case, one of my points was about how Jesus sought to include people and not use scripture to exclude them. Maybe this thought alone raises interesting questions about human relationships in the current circumstances?
Convenor, North Staffs. Group, Methodist Local Preacher.
Is there an uncomfortable lesson to be learned from the coronavirus crisis about how we look at death? We get the daily number in the news, see their names and faces and feel hope or discouragement as a result. But at some point we will have to balance more potential deaths against the risks of the country shutting down for education, social contact and business. Avoiding more deaths at all costs cannot be the sole driver. Perhaps we will have to learn to accept them.
People die every day. About 1600 or 10,000 a week normally. In recent years we have sometimes had 30,000 extra deaths due to winter viruses, but no-one noticed. 8000 children die every day somewhere in the world because of malnutrition and poverty. Upwards of 50 million people died during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918-20. Not everyone makes it to old age. My father died at 58. My brother didn’t reach 50. Other cultures live with such realities on a daily basis. We still seem to find death a surprise.
Of course each life matters, but death is inevitable. The brilliant NHS staff (mostly from overseas) didn’t save Boris Johnson’s life, they postponed his death. It’s not just that we don’t like to talk about death, it’s that we mostly try to pretend it doesn’t exist. We hide it away in much more normal times. Or we use euphemisms to avoid the word altogether. ‘Prolonging life’, even at the expense of its quality, seems to be aim of most medical interventions, the focus of the fitness and beauty industry and behind so much of the obsession on social media with youth and physical appearance.
I don’t find much hope in the usual Christian understanding of Easter. I don’t believe there was an empty tomb; how can there have been? Even if there was, it won’t happen to me or to those I have known and loved. It’s essentially a denial of death to create the happy ending. Or we spin fantasies about a heavenly future with no basis other than our own desire for immortality. I have to stop at Good Friday. Here was a death that has to be confronted and made real. Not a glossy portrait of a God who cheated death by reigning from a tree. But a grainy black and white image of a broken man hanging by his wrists until he suffocated in the noonday heat. A real death, not Act 1 of a play when all will come good after the interval.
The Christ story relies on coming to terms with Jesus’ death, not on finding a way round it as if it never was. That will be the way it will end for all of us; just as it once began, it will one day end. What matters is living as humanly as we can, until, as cannot be avoided, it’s too late.
Ben Whitney, PCN East Shropshire member
See www.ben-whitney.org.uk for details of my new book, ‘The Apostate’s Creed: Rethinking Christianity for the C21st’.
‘Hell is other people’
Once in Satre I read
He’s definitely right
Other humans I dread
Life’s hard enough
Without bothering others
I matter the most
I’ve no time for brothers
I’m looking after me
If you want to know ‘why?’
Life’s short enough
We’re all going to die
The world’s there for me
And I’ll do as I please
I’ve no time for climate
Won’t miss a few trees
Life’s far from sweet
Suffering’s the norm
It doesn’t have meaning
No purpose we’re born
T’would take heaven and earth
To all come together
For life to be connected
By a loving endeavour
T’would take other people
Wanting me to be ‘me’
For life as relational
Not just about ‘thee’
Life would be hard
Much pain on the way
But if love’s life-giving
Let’s try it today!
1st April 2020
Two weeks into the Coronavirus lockdown, it is clear that what many of us miss most is being close, conversant and interactive with other people. These situations are our life; we need each other in order to live – to make sense of our lives and to give them purpose. All you need is love for one another!
by Grenville Gilbert, PCN member and author of More Honest To God available from firstname.lastname@example.org Price £6.99 +£3 p&p.
When this lockdown began it became apparent that this newsletter would be necessary, to keep in touch with people and to allow them to respond, should they wish to. I am glad to say that people are responding and I am in the fortunate position of being the person to whom they respond. I am beginning to see three themes and I wonder if you would agree with these.
- Being in the now. Although this was the subject of the first piece that I wrote some of the poems and thoughts that have been sent to me show that other people are also finding comfort in the present moment.
- Hope for the future. A hope that lessons could be learned, whether it is a wider gratitude to those previously marginalised, a focus on climate change, a re-examination of globalisation, or a change to the way in which churches operate. There seems to be a desire to learn from this experience and to move to a better place.
- Hope for the now. Possibly the most difficult of the three as we are not called to act, to fight or to focus on being productive. We are called to inaction and while stolen moments of inactivity are a luxury, enforced stillness is not.
I find myself in an odd emotional state. On one hand I am being asked to stay at home, I am lucky enough to have a beautiful garden, a husband I enjoy spending time with and a child who is at the wonderful toddler stage where everything is exciting. I am able to work from home and my husband has now been furloughed so our little family is safe. But when my husband does go out to the shops or to run an errand for vulnerable family members I find myself increasingly scared for him. As Tony Sanchez said last week, the world has become a place of invisible terror. When I hear of children dying from Covid-19 I hold my daughter just a little tighter, at least until she wriggles because she has seen something that needs to be investigated, and I try to quell the fear of loss and the unpleasant anticipation of grief that comes with it.
So I come back to the above; being in the now as currently my family is safe, hope for the future as we have a chance to remake the world that we will bequeath, and hope for the now that that anticipated grief is never realised.
Sarah Guilfoyle, Administrator, PCN Britain