Sunday, April 14, 2013

sticks and stones

Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister when I was in my first year at grammar school. She left office in my first year at theological college.

Let's just think about that for a moment.

She was PM for almost all of my secondary school education. She was PM all through my Oxford undergraduate years. She was PM while I had my first job after college. She was PM when I moved to the US for six months, and was still PM when I returned. She was PM when I moved back to Oxford and started to train to be a vicar.

It's reasonable to say that that's a fairly formative part of my life.

Twenty three years and a whole world away from where we are now. At the end of the seventies, democracy was in a strange place. In school, we genuinely believed the nuclear bomb might fall. At any time. There was a feeling that some kind of revolution was not impossible. The traditional ruling classes were fleeing from the Unions. Some Unions seemed to want to destroy society every bit as much as those who were hell bent on destroying the Unions. Terrorism stalked the streets in balaclavas and bombs blew innocents to shreds as people fought for their causes through hunger strikes that had no picket lines.

We don't live in that country any more. Is this place perfect? Far from it. Is it better? 1979 is 34 years ago. 34 years before that was 1945. Let's get some perspective.

There is always a tendency to judge one age by the standards of the next. We look back and wonder how people ever did what they did, wore what they wore, thought what they thought. We judge.

So easily.

I happen to think that judgement is a particular curse of the internet age. Comments proliferate with anonymity. There is no responsibility on the webpages of the Guardian or the Independent or the Telegraph (left or right makes no difference) as people let rip and curse the thoughtful and the considered and rush to bring down the generous and the gracious. Let's have a 'Social Media' campaign to offend a grieving family and call Mrs T a Witch! Ding Dong!

Well, Art Garfunkel was no 1 in the charts with Bright Eyes on May 4th 1979. Vanilla Ice was there with Ice Ice Baby on November 28 1990. If the campaigners get their wish today, this is the company they unwittingly join.

Politicians are people. Prick them, they bleed. People go into public life for many reasons - but most of those I know well honestly work from a desire to make things better. They work from different priorities, different ideologies, different backgrounds and understandings of the world. As soon as they open their mouths, they get mis-reported. That's what the press do.

And their families suffer. They see too little of them. They get lonely. Sometimes bullied. Sometimes ostracised or burdened with false friends. Yet they serve on.

And at the end?

Christians should stop and think and understand something. We are to be a people of gratitude. A people who give what we would like to receive. A people of grace and generosity and of seeing and making the best. And where all we can see is hurt, then we are to be forgivers. We don't forgive because it didn't really matter, but because it did; and because when Jesus died, there were those then who threw a party and exulted in his death, and he prayed, 'Father, forgive'.

We honour those who serve, even when we disagree. Because we honour people. God judges. And he judges us as part of that deal.

I'm grateful for a towering political figure who stands over such a vital part of my life. I'm grateful for the memories of debates and conversations and for the years that happened and the pain and the opportunities of those days. I'm grateful we are in these days now, with these debates and opportunities and pains and challenges too. I'm grateful for friends who take the risk of public service. I honour them, and pray for them, and I hope that they might understand that if I sometimes disagree I will always love them and always be grateful for them and to them for what they do.

And I pray that the culture we have of judging without responsibility, of comments with anonymity and bile and no grace or humanity, might fade and be replaced by something kinder.

Sticks and stones and nuclear bombs didn't kill us in the Eighties after all. So neither will the names ultimately hurt us; but we can do better. People are people.

That's not about hagiography. It's just being a decent human being.

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