Summertime and the living is easy or in my case, with holidays and the need of a break from blogging, it’s summertime and the writer has been lazy.
My last blog on the day after the Referendum signed off on what was really a very sad note. The result has cast a huge shadow over the summer. Two months on and I still feel sickened by what happened. I recently had the opportunity to speak with a senior, long serving politician, no longer in the House of Commons but now sitting in the Lords and he only confirmed my fears when he said that what we had witnessed was one of the worst political decisions in his lifetime and one that would bring considerable challenges and problems, several dangers and very little to help the poor of our society and the wider world.
The referendum was ill-conceived and the debate was poor on both sides. Operation fear was misguided and backfired and my concerns that half truths, propaganda and unashamed deceit and media manipulation, allied in some circles with racial undertones would win the day and to my mind, they did. Those who exaggerated lost and those who lied won. As Helen Lewis, the political commentator for Radio 4 noted, “if there is one sentence that explains the referendum result, it’s the one from the Advertising Standards Agency website: For reasons of freedom of speech, we do not have remit over non-broadcast ads where the purpose of the ad is to persuade voters in a local, national or international electoral referendum.” In other words, political advertising is exempt from the regulation that would otherwise bar false claims and outrageous promises. So, whilst it’s illegal, for example, to claim a cure for baldness by drinking herbal tea and standing on your head for an hour a day it’s okay to claim that £350m a week will go to the NHS instead of the European Union. The brains behind the Brexit campaign victory discovered this loophole in advertising standards that enabled them to lie and deceive millions of people.
‘An extra £350 million a week to spend on the NHS across the UK’ ~ extremely misleading and deceitful. The slogan, “Let’s give our NHS the £350 million the EU takes every week” was painted on the Leave campaign’s poster ~ an outright lie that hoodwinked a largely undiscerning public. Immigration Controls; it was front and centre stage of the Leave campaign, with posters warning of increased numbers of people arriving from Turkey if it ever actually joins the EU. Boris Johnson claiming the population would grow to 80 million if we remained in the EU ~ lie upon lie. A man who is a habitual liar, someone who was sacked from a previous post because of his lying, who is now our Foreign Secretary! As Helen Lewis went onto write in the New Statesmen on the Brexit politicians: These people promised us a unicorn and now claim they merely hinted at the possibility of a Shetland pony.They won by pretending there are simple answers to our problems and the inadequacies and failings of the EU. They spurned complexity, nuance, compromise and trade-offs. They won an astonishing and unexpected victory. But at what price?
Yes a cloud of unease hangs over me still, and a feeling that the Referendum, far from serving democracy, has revealed some of its weaknesses. I am also concerned that we will witness an increasing harvest of attitudes and actions that have sprung up from the seeds of fear, mistrust, ignorance, nationalism and a veiled racism, all of which are alien to the values of God’s Kingdom and do little to foster solidarity with the poor and cooperation with those across Europe who are working and striving for peace, justice and the wellbeing of their own and other world citizens. We are being led now by those who never expected to win, who had little or no plan for Brexit beyond the referendum and who are now in charge of our exit process. Few principles, little values, no progress and very little clue as to how to proceed.
So what has cheered my spirits? E.M. Forster wrote, A Room with a View set in the Florence. Two rooms with a view that I’ve sat in over the summer have helped me to disperse some of the gloom that I have felt in the wake of that fateful June 23rd. Both at Letterfinlay at Ballydugan in Ireland and yesterday looking out from the balcony of a friend’s house on the West of Scotland by a beautiful loch, I have enjoyed the time and space to reflect on what has been a challenging and demanding year.
As life often is, this year has been a paradoxical period of joys and sadness, pressure and pleasure, challenges and opportunities, farewells, bereavements and new beginnings.
As I look out over the loch I am reminded again of some of the good things in life which are a blessing: Observing the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. The air is still, migrating birds are passing through on their journeys south to warmer climes. Trout are jumping to feed on flies that hover just above the surface of the water. Within minutes of arriving in this serene and beautiful place the other evening we caught sight of two deer quietly and gently moving through the reeds to drink by the water’s edge. A hen harrier swooped across the loch before disappearing into the marshy reads on the far bank. Pine Martens, otters and osprey are frequently seen here.
The silhouette in the loch of a horse that has meandered down to the water’s edge to quench its thirst, both setting and subject striking in their beauty, reveals the West Coast of Scotland at its best as summer gives way to autumn.
I came to faith whilst training to be an Outward Bound instructor in the Cairngorms here in Scotland. I felt the call to ministry at Stag Rock at Bamburgh on the Northumbrian coast and being outside, appreciating creation, with every sense alive and aware of its beauty, complexity and wonder, rejuvenates my soul and refreshes my spirit.
Reminders of the goodness of God, as in how we came to find ourselves in this beautiful place, staying unexpectedly with folks we haven’t seen for years. I’d been sailing with some of my friends for a week earlier in the summer and mooring in the nearby marina went for a walk one evening, popping into a church building on the side of the loch with the most bizarre three pulpits and before leaving signing the visitor’s book, ‘Roy Searle, Northumbria’. Unbeknown to me, the folks that we are now staying with had retired from Cheshire five years ago and were now elders at the kirk. Seeing my name, rekindled memories of time spent when I used to travel across to teach on an MA missional leadership course for people in the Manchester area. So they found my contact details, issued an open invitation to visit them and here, several weeks on, we are enjoying their warm hospitality and the amazing eco-home that they have designed and built by the loch side. Following breakfast we shared Morning Office, discovering, as I have done so many times, people with whom we have had little contact with but who appreciate using Celtic Daily Prayer as their daily devotion for years. It never ceases to amaze me how God has blessed and used the Community’s Office to speak into the lives of people right across the world.
So the gift of being reminded of God through his creation, the hints of his presence in the gift of friends lifts the spirit. Time spent on holiday in Ireland, back for a weekend with good and close friends at Ballydugan. Deep friendships, great neighbours with whom to share deeply is easy, where caution is thrown to the winds and conversation flows naturally about serious as well as mundane matters. Or catching up with another dear friend at his cottage by the sea in Ireland, reminiscing, sympathising with one another and again with ease discussing matters of life and faith and also the challenges and very real fears that Brexit poses the North and south of Ireland. Cycling around the country lanes of County Down near the border with the Republic of Ireland, mindful that not so long ago this area was deemed ‘bandit country’ where many families and communities were torn apart by sectarian violence and acts of barbarous terrorism, it is salutary to hear the fears and concerns of intelligent and knowledgeable people, both sides of the border who fear the consequences of Brexit and the resumption of border controls and return to the echoes of The Troubles that plagued Ireland and scarred its citizens. I’m thankful for friends either side of the political and religious divide and very heartened by the growth of our own Community and its influence in breaking down the walls and removing the barriers between people.
The blessing of close friends in Scotland with whom we attend an open-air staging of Hamlet on the banks of another loch with a gentle warm breeze, keeping midges at bay and us warm as the play unfolds before the setting sun. Another close friend who knows me so well that they are able to speak so powerfully and accurately into the internal workings of my life with insight and compassionate encouragement. The welcoming of my Belgian friends for a summer holiday sailing in the Inner Hebrides. The friendship of my spiritual director at whose Jubilee celebration of their profession as a nun I am asked to speak. The help of a friend in easing some anxiety. The gift of friends, Companions and colleagues in Community are a rich source of joy and encouragement. The emergence of a new generation of Community folk, many of them as young as we once were in the early days of the Community’s life. Given the challenges that we have faced as a Community following a pension cessation issue which has cost the Community a huge sum of money to pay our, (the employers), share of the Baptist Pension Fund deficit which ran into serious difficulties following the global recession of 2008, it has been remarkable to see how by God’s grace, people’s generosity and sacrificial giving, we are in a place where we have been able to face the challenge and indeed implement policies and measures that have turned the problem into an opportunity. The right people, in the right seats, with the fitting task, I am thankful to God for wise and trusted fellow leaders, trustees and advisers; people of integrity and ability who have grasped the implications and responsibilities that they carry as Companions on behalf of the wider Community.
The blessings of friendship echoed in the blessings of family, all of whom we have seen over summer, each member a source of joy and pleasure, each one enriching and with whom to share our lives is a joy and privilege. Children and grandchildren, brother and sister, niece, cousin and in-laws have all woven into our lives the threads of happiness. Our time in Ireland included taking our three Belfast grandchildren away on holiday. Aged 9, 8 and 6, a blissful time was spent that rejuvenated the spirit and replenished the adventure, excitement and sense of discovery that childhood possesses.The joy of taking our two Oxford grandchildren to a farm park in the Cotswolds; fun filled and fascinating to view life and happenings through the eyes of two young children.
A new bike and rediscovering cycling, not racing but pedalling in relaxed mode through the lanes (and hills!) of Northumberland, the Scottish Borders, Norfolk (pleasantly undulating!), Ireland and now the West Coast of Scotland and as of this evening, leaving the car in Oban we’ve brought our bikes on ferry to Colonsay.
A hot tub at my cousin’s farm in Norfolk, one of life’s sheer indulgences, enjoyed to the full; glass of wine in hand, sitting in its therapeutic waters in the heat of day or by the light of the moon.
The missional initiative that we started in Glendale five years ago now realising the formation of a strong and committed core group; people sharing life, faith and friendship together, reaching out and serving this beautiful but very needy area of Northumberland. The pride and pleasure beamed on the face of one of our guests, an environmental agency worker, staying with us whilst working on the repair of a broken bridge at one of Northumberland’s wonderful valleys, as he described his beautiful disabled 18-year-old daughter. The conversation that I witnessed between two sisters in Newry, Northern Ireland; one severely disabled with tremendous speech impediments yet understood by her sister, they shared and laughed, observed and commented on the happenings in that coffee shop for over an hour. It was highly entertaining and a joy to behold such acts of unfettered love, compassion, understanding and human joy.
Middlesbrough’s return to the Premiership and a good number of new signings this season and the prospects of just surviving in the top league is a possibility. A day sailing on a Dutch schooner in the Parade of Sail Regatta prior to the start of the Tall Ships Race from Blyth to Gothenburg.
And to cap it all the celebration of our ruby wedding anniversary; forty years of married life in which we have been remarkably blessed and which is a cause for much thanksgiving. Plans for a large gathering of family and friends, for understandable reasons, never materialised and instead we celebrated quietly with a posh afternoon tea at the Slieve Donard hotel in Ireland, where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.
And now we spending a few days away here on the West Coast of Scotland.Back in the manse on this lovely Hebridean island, memories come flooding back of delightful, happy holidays with our parents and children. Again we share Office and pray for some Companions in Community and marvel at the timing of the entry in the Prayer Guide. As the compiler of the Guide I am constantly amazed and awed by how often the entries, (written months before) turn out to be so appropriate on the day the Community prays for people and places. We pray the family mentioned, discovering today that the elder son had an interview for a job in Scotland on the day he is prayed for and he has been successful and starts work later this month. Praise God!
Settling for the night with old friends from our Portrack days we drink wine and in reminiscing, mark with thankfulness God’s goodness to us over the years of our lives. So with thankfulness permeating the dark forboding clouds I fear in the wake of Brexit, we move on with a renewed confidence and trust in God, in the words of the hymn Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided, urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way.
So onward and upward as autumn dawns.