Over the past couple of months it seems that two alternative universes have coalesced and are seeking to occupy the same physical space. They seem to operate on mutually exclusive values systems, each determined that theirs is correct, and the others are either, in one view dreadfully deceived, or in the other clearly delusional. And there seems to be no place for meaningful dialogue. Each universe is made up of people that those in the other universe thought they knew and counted as friends, and no longer recognise.
There is no longer a shared understanding of truth. While it’s easy to make him the bogey man for everything that is wrong in the world, Donald Trump perfected the art of describing everything that was unfavourable to himself as ‘fake news’. He did this on such a consistent basis that ultimately he not only had a significant number of people believing him, but more tragically also sowed distrust in the normally accepted organs for disseminating information. Now nobody who doesn’t see things our way could possibly be believed as telling the truth. We consequently retreat to our own echo chambers and will not listen to anything that comes from outside.
What about a shared values system, then? Even within the Church? What are the basic underlying principles we endeavour to live by? ‘Everyone for themselves’, or ‘We’re all in this together?’ ‘Personal freedom’ or ‘We’re our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?’ ‘Anyone who wants to keep their life will lose it’, or ‘anyone who loses their life for my sake will find it? Or any kind of response to Jesus invitation to ‘Take up your cross and follow me?’
It may be that these are simply the privileged and disconnected musings of an entitled pensioner with a secure income and the luxury of being able to spout off from the comfort of his suburban study. All true. It’s also true that I don’t wake in the middle of the night wondering how I’m going to pay my staff, or the mortgage, or my creditors, or provide for my family, or keep the doors of my business open one week longer. It’s true - I do speak from a place of privilege rather than hardship.
Yet I also speak from a place of gratitude. Gratitude for the Prime Minister and her government that have lead us through various crises over the past four plus years. And lead with such wisdom, and with an unerring moral compass for doing the right thing for the people of Aotearoa, even though it will undoubtedly prove politically costly for them in the long run. Jacinda Ardern’s handling of the Mosque shootings in Christchurch reset inter-religious/cultural relations world-wide. Almost single handedly she has shifted the discourse from one of suspicion, vitriol, revenge and mutually assured destruction, to one of repentance and reconciliation. Few of us could imagine how differently this could have all turned out.
Her quick action in shutting down the country in the face of Covid has undoubtedly saved many lives. It’s easy to imagine that because today we only have an official death toll of 53 lives lost, (I know, there are those who believe that the vaccine has killed thousands) that Covid really isn’t a thing. Compared to other nations – Peru’s death rate would translate to 32,000 dead, the UK’s to nearly 12,000, Sweden’s to 8125. Even Australia’s death rate would take us to 945. Only two countries have had a lower official death rate – China and Burundi.
I’ve also appreciated the way our prime minister has carried herself. As I’ve listened to her, rather than hearing one who is carefully stage managed as many claim, I’m hearing a thoroughly decent human being. A much better one than I am. I would have lost my rag on many occasions. She doesn’t. And that says nothing of the amount of online hate and vitriol that is directed her way.
Yet, as I hear her calm responses I’m hearing the words of Jesus ringing in my heart – “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” I did not vote for her. I wish I had.
The end is in sight, and the government is balancing opening up quickly enough to minimise social dislocation, yet slowly enough to ensure our health system is not overwhelmed. As one whose wife is in the health system and is desperate for this to be over, I have some sense of the pressures being exerted. The next three months are likely to be rough. Then, hopefully, a gradual return to a new normal.
Please friends, let’s hold the course. Let’s continue to exhibit the fruit of the spirit, that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control that God invites us to be the hallmarks of all our living. We will get through this. We need to do it together.