We are all used to the convenience of modern appliances, and most I suspect would be lost without them, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. They enable us to do more with the same span of time, and so they give us more leisure. A side effect is that they also generate their own levels of stress in choosing, buying, installing, operating and repairing them. That however is a side effect for more central is the way we power them. We agree that they need to be powered, but it often stops there. If power stations have to be replaced, then how and where and at what cost? Coal? Carbon emissions. Nuclear? Safety, the costs of decommissioning and the treatment and disposal of wastes. Oil and gas? Carbon emissions and possibly a diminishing local supply rendering us susceptible to instability abroad. Windmills? Visual intrusion, costs and the reliability of power supply. The point of all this is that we want the end product but recoil from the means and their costs. Instead of seeing solutions we see obstacles.
And that is a relatively simple part of our national life. What then about our welfare state which promises – or used to – care from cradle to grave. We all want its benefits, but when it fails to meet our expectations, then somebody must be to blame and must pay the penalty. We are carefully screened from the possibility that our own attitudes may encourage politicians to promise far more than what they can remotely deliver. Again, we are part of the process of demanding the fruits and refusing the costs. And to say “tax the rich” is fine until we find that our own homes and pension plans are caught up in the reckoning of just who is rich and just who should pay. Do we really want inspectors searching our homes for jewellery, artworks, or silverware in order to tax our wealth?
A perfect society would be wonderful provided that it is others that do the straining to pay for it and to maintain it. It all points to others doing the heavy lifting – or maybe that “society” should do so: disembodied and impersonal.
The picture of the church is rather different. It is a body rather than an organisation, governed by life rather than aims or objectives, budgets or programmes. But a body filled and possessed with the Spirit of Jesus Christ. This means that all members belong to one another, especially when they are different. That variety in itself ensures vitality and dynamism. More than that however is that its members should be able to care for and indeed take responsibility for one another. When we look at Paul’s description of love in 1 Cor 13, we note that it is all about relationships and attitudes: the way we treat others and not our expectations at how others should treat us. This is far more than what we are obliged to do – it is more about what we should be doing automatically.
Out own lives are however highly individualised. We have our own homes, styles of life, tastes and preferences and circles of friends and relations. We have our own obligations to those who rely upon us. But perhaps this Lent we might start thinking about just how far we really do belong to one another, what hinders us and what helps us. The results may be quite surprising.