See, I am doing a new thing (Isaiah 43.19)

A blog by the Rev Dr Norman Shanks The Good Old Days

When we first got a television set in the late 1950s one of the programmes I remember enjoying with my parents was The Good Old Days ¬– a variety programme recapturing the spirit of the music hall tradition, full of memorable songs and entertainingly dubious sketches. My thoughts have been taken to ‘the good old days’ particularly by a sporting headline last week expressing the sentiments of a leading English football manager – ‘It could take 10 years to get back to where we were’.

In the middle of this pandemic, still ‘locked down’ and ‘socially distanced’, do we really want to turn the clock back to ‘where we were’ before Covid-19 came into our lives? Nostalgia maybe has its place, but I wonder if your recollection of the past, like mine, tends to be selective – through rose-tinted spectacles: many of us have the capacity (maybe as a kind of psychological ‘survival strategy’) only to remember, and perhaps idealise, the good times, while conveniently blocking out the not-so-good.

Of course there are things we are missing at present – above all no doubt the direct face-to-face contacts and interaction, the communal experience: speaking personally I can’t wait to be with our families and friends again; and I’m missing too, alongside Wellington, my weekly Citizens Advice Bureau volunteering, going to the cinema and to watch the Warriors at Scotstoun. But I am hoping that lessons are being learned about the positive aspects of the current situation and that these will be carried over into our post-pandemic future.

The need for and possibility of change lies at the heart of the Gospel message – which is about not only personal but also social transformation. Yes, this concerns us individually, promising wholeness and growth, healing, deep and lasting contentment – which is really what ‘salvation’ is about. But there is an inescapable communal dimension too: in ‘the kingdom of God’ we are offered the vision of a better, fairer society and world. So this crisis is a time of opportunity, for appraising priorities, looking at the way things are, and hoping, dreaming and planning to do and make things better.

We can readily see that what lies ahead, as restrictions are eased, is a gradual process towards a new future, and that things are likely never to be the same again. Over recent weeks and through the coming days a series of columnists in the press have been offering helpful comments and opinion; the May Life and Work is full of articles with similar analysis and reflections. But the fundamental question is: have we the courage, creativity and will to carry forward the insights we have gained and, trusting in God’s grace, to make this ‘new thing’ happen – within the political and social order, within the church, within our own lives?

Many of us are benefiting from a more relaxed life-style, from the cleaner atmosphere with fewer cars and emissions, from increased awareness of the importance of our connectedness, belonging, relatedness and interdependence. But we have recognised too that all is not right within our society where the inequalities have become more marked and obvious than ever, where essential services and key-workers have for years been undervalued and deprived of resources, where public expenditure priorities need to be reordered, and social injustices remedied.

WellbeingThe recent evidence of a spirit of generosity and solidarity and the upsurge in collective action, mutual aid and neighbourly concern is to be welcomed. The report from a recent opinion poll that the public are more interested in social and personal health and well-being than economic growth/GDP is immensely encouraging. But have we an adequate system and the right political leadership, with vision and the capacity to communicate effectively and secure public trust and confidence, to achieve the reshaping of society that is needed – to overhaul our democratic processes (not least through electoral reform for Westminster; and a more consensual approach instead of the present confrontational point-scoring Punch and Judy show), to develop more acceptable and equitable policies on, for instance, income and employment, tax and welfare, wider issues such as climate change and defence? And what part have the churches – and we both as citizens/electors and church members – to play in bringing this about? What a challenge!

The old order changeth yielding place to new
And God fulfills himself in many ways
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world. (Alfred, Lord Tennyson -Morte d’Arthur)

For anyone united to Christ, there is a new creation; the old order has gone; a new order has already begun (2 Corinthians 5.17)

Every blessing!

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