Ken's Letter for October
As we leave summer behind and enter Autumn, we have had the pleasure of celebrating Harvest together and taking time to thank God for all that we receive from His bounty. This we have done during recent shortages which have perhaps reminded us of how much we often take for granted but have also shown us once again that circumstances bring out both the worst and the best in people. Brawling on petrol station forecourts has been much in the news as the media have been keen to play up the idea of shortage into a crisis. People’s selfishness has been their observation and accusation! Without a hint of irony, they have reported behaviour which they themselves have in part precipitated, and this in pursuit of their own ends: those of selling newspapers, attracting viewers, and gathering followers on social media platforms.
What has not featured, however, are the countless acts of selflessness that have also accompanied these shortages: people making journeys for their neighbours, tradesmen lending their vehicles to their trades’ colleagues who are out of fuel in order that they might go and complete jobs for vulnerable pensioners, even going with their colleagues to help for free on their day off! These stories, and more besides, were featured on the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2 this afternoon as I was driving back from a meeting in Oldham, and this kind of use of a media platform must be applauded. Even one garage firm was featured as providing free petrol to a lady who has to make a 50-mile daily round trip to see her husband who is on a life support machine in hospital in Oxford, and who was unable to do so recently because she couldn’t afford the fuel to wait in the queue to get to petrol pumps that would likely be dry when she did!
In all this I am reminded of a recent lectionary passage in the Gospel of Mark (7:14ff) in which Jesus challenges the contemporary idea that religion is all a matter of observing traditions and abiding by conventions. Such religion fails to engage with daily life and seems to only concern itself with pleasing God while ignoring the plight of others.
Jesus taught that nothing that enters a person can defile them but rather that which comes out of them, i.e., their actions in response to circumstances. So, keeping clear of things which we feel may be displeasing to God but nevertheless failing to act for the benefit of our neighbours is of little religious use! In short, and to be clear, let’s not only express our disapproval of outrageous forecourt behaviour such as brawling but let’s also ensure that we are not in that petrol queue unnecessarily ourselves!
Traditionally we bring gifts of food for others in need when we gather to thank God at Harvest, and I am sure that this practice pleases God. Let’s however be mindful of those around us who are maybe impoverished in other ways and let’s respond to the current shortages with more than criticism of others’ selfishness but rather with demonstrations of selflessness like those featured on Jeremy’s programme today who show us the way with countless acts of generosity towards others. This will surely please God too.
Yours in Christian love,