Psalm 145:10-21 New International Version (NIV)
10 All your works praise you, Lord;
your faithful people extol you.
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts
and the glorious splendour of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
and faithful in all he does.[a]
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfils the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
Let every creature praise his holy name
for ever and ever.
I pulled up the car on Otley Chevin at Surprise View on 31st January 2020 at 22.40 and two other cars immediately left. I picked up my ‘pipes to play a set of slows and airs, as I described on Rawdon Our Community Facebook Page, in order to assuage myself of the feelings I am harbouring now that it is clear that the UK has officially left the European Union…. and was met with an eerie silence. I remember having a similar feeling not far short of 20 years ago when we observed the total eclipse of the sun, though of course this time all was clothed in darkness Complete calm and quiet for a few short moments. Indeed an unusual experience, when there is no movement, no sound of birds or animals, humans or traffic. Then the Wharfe Valley resounded to the lilting strains of “Macrimmon’s Lament”, “The Battle’s O’er”, “Highland Cathedral”, “Amazing Grace”, “Auld Lang Syne” amongst others. Before I packed up at 23.00, I had been aware of the arrival of another car and as I returned to mine, the young lady occupant said she had enjoyed the performance, though she had wondered what was going on and had live-streamed (I believe that is the term!) it to her sister. I explained why I was there and, resisting the temptation to ask her the same question, got on my way.
So, whilst the Union Jack has been lowered for the last time in Brussels, I have quite clearly nailed my flag to the mast! However, I am not so blinkered as to think everyone else agrees with me, for I know that is not true. Our country is riven, pretty much in two, thanks to this issue. It is not a respecter of family ties, friendship groups or regions, though some of the latter have pronounced relatively more so or less so in favour of remain or leave. Some of our European friends will be sad to see us go and others may well be rejoicing. I can imagine Général de Gaulle whispering a quiet “Comme je vous l’avais dit!” (“I told you so!”) with a wry smile to accompany it. So there is perhaps little that can be done now other than to make this work in the best way that it possibly can. However, British negotiators will have their work cut out if they wish to secure a trade deal anything like the one we had, without acquiescing in some of the demands from their former partners, all 27 of them!
This is not to mention the difficulties over the Irish border, the newly reconvened Stormont Assembly and the increasingly vocal secessionist lobby in Scotland. For, as I have said before, we are a deeply divided country and a Disunited Kingdom (ditch “Brexit” and replace it with “DUK”?). We are still in some kind of limbo, as we continue to negotiate the terms of our departure in a period of transition until the end of 2020. The referendum and ensuing political chaos have opened up sores which I fear will continue to fester over the coming months and years. Populist policies and purportedly simple black-and-white solutions have only served to reinforce divisions and have allowed extremist elements to thrive.
This last month has been a momentous one. Last week saw the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Concentration Camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. If ever we needed one, this was a reminder of the evil of extremism and its awesome and destructive power. In terms of world history this is a mere blink of an eye from where we are now. The European Union, the descendant of the European Coal and Steel Community and then the Common Market can take a good deal of credit from the fact that through its efforts, implacable opponents have learnt to listen to each other, to talk to each other and to avoid resorting to armed conflict. On the negative side, it has sometimes been powerless to stop conflagrations on its borders, most notably in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia in the 1990s, where one could be forgiven for thinking that nothing has been learned from history! The rise of extreme, neo-Nazi parties and factions throughout Europe is truly alarming. Just as worrying and distasteful are the extreme forces in Israel, where a different type of nationalism thrives in an environment of fear of extinction. It is clear that there will be no shortage of issues on which our battle-hardened foreign correspondents can report, though even they fall prey to the hazards of their profession. Even the most hardy amongst them witness to the extraordinary and noxious effects on their mental health of what they have witnessed as they bring us the news from areas of strife all around the world. Now Fergal Keane, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, has made a move away from conflict zones in order to aid his recovery, having famously reported on the worst excesses of apartheid in South Africa and the genocide in Rwanda. It is certain that amongst those who have survived to tell the tale, such as Jeremy Bowen, Kate Adie, Lyse Doucet would testify to the stresses imposed by their out-of-the-ordinary work.
Not long before this commemoration was the economic summit in Davos. The most striking thing is that the most powerful man in the world appears to deny the existence of a climate change problem and all he can think to ask of Greta Thunberg is how old she is. One very unkind commentator on the Radio 4 News Quiz suggested that this was because he was used to asking such questions of young girls. This is whilst Antarctica melts and Australia burns. Surely the most deeply entrenched ostrich would be able to see that: “Houston! We have a problem!”
The news emanating from Antarctica … I have this on good authority, as my nephew has in the last three months begun his third and longest stint yet on that continent, this time at the biggest British Antarctica Survey base where there are currently not far short of 1000 staff … is becoming more and more alarming, almost by the day. The state of the art and much-vaunted set of space-age pods at Halle, only about 3 or 4 years old, has now had to be abandoned by all personnel and has effectively been cut adrift (remind you of something?) to suffer the attack of storm and ice and whatever this unforgiving climate can throw at it. In a matter of one or two decades, some of the world’s largest cities will be under threat of inundation and complete obliteration by rising sea-levels and so Shanghai (“on-sea”) for example could soon become XIàhai (“under-sea”) unless radical steps are taken to arrest this out-of-control train of destruction. The devastation to populations in such cities would make the effects of the Coronavirus, serious as it is, pale into insignificance.
It is time that we look the glaringly obvious straight in the eye. Whilst our negotiators seek to establish an alternative set of arrangements which will hopefully ensure our future prosperity, they will do well to remember that it took 47 years to construct the still imperfect system we have had until now. Whatever they do will be irrelevant unless they put alongside these negotiations, those measures which might arrest the damage caused to the world environment over this same period.
As the psalmist said:
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
The small actions of each and every one of us, upholding our faith in God, who became flesh in Jesus Christ and who lives amongst us through the Holy Spirit are the way to see that his dominion endures and thrives.
Isaiah (chapter 26) has the last word this month…
5 He humbles those who dwell on high, he lays the lofty city low; he levels it to the ground and casts it down to the dust.
6 Feet trample it down— the feet of the oppressed, the footsteps of the poor.
7 The path of the righteous is level; you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth.
8 Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.
9 My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness.
10 But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the LORD.
Peter Lambert – February 2020