You’ve got nothing to come
I have to admit it stung me a little. On my day off, I went to one of my favourite golf courses in my home town of Sheffield. The lady in the pro-shop spotted that I wasn’t with my usual golf partner: a close friend who I have played golf with for over twenty years. ‘No’ I said, ‘I’m afraid my friend has emigrated to Thailand with his new wife, and so I won’t be along with him any more’. ‘Well’ said the lady, ‘there’s no future in this country is there?’ As someone who loves both this country and also enjoys being abroad, I couldn’t disagree more profoundly. I have travelled as extensively as anyone in the British Isles, indeed I once did the ‘end to end’ and cycled from Land’s End to John o’Groats and I can testify that you would be hard pushed to encounter another country with such a rich diversity of landscape, terrain and scenery. From the grandeur of the Scottish Highlands to the salt marshes of Kent, these tiny islands are packed with vast tracts of uninterrupted beauty. In addition, we enjoy one of the lowest crime rates of any developed, industrialised country; our people live in comfort compared with many other States and our educational and health systems, despite manifest problems, are still the envy of the world: consider how many people come to our universities from abroad. There are other factors that also make the country worth sticking up for: we have a long history of amicably accepting new people into our country and helping them thrive, and an equally good record of having little truck with fascist political trends. Yes, I know that there are blips here and there and that sometimes we get it badly wrong: our treatment of some migrant workers, for instance, gives me great cause for concern (cf: http://www.migrantworkers.co.uk), but all in all I certainly would not put our country down as ‘having nothing to come’. This is not the empty rhetoric of blind patriotism, for I am not that, but a warts and all appreciation that Britain is a good place to live.
All of this has been backed up by my working week: consider seven days in which I have interviewed good decent people wishing to put themselves forward for the priesthood; spent a whole day with one of our women priests who has become an indispensable part of one of our towns, and daily she works with the psychiatrically ill, the young and the lonely. On Thursday, I went to the celebration service for a large primary school that has asked to become a Church school. The politeness and attentiveness of the children belies any modern accusation that ‘the young people of today are ill-behaved’. And on Sunday I ordained two young people to the Diaconate: a continuing sign of health and vitality in an ever-changing Church. The enjoyment of driving around Lincolnshire from one hopeful engagement to another just confirms me in the knowledge that we live in a country that has lots to come.
However, the lady in the golf shop did have a point, because she was making her assessment about the state of the nation from her own perspective in a major city where some ten percent of the population live in deprived circumstances. Surrounded by such stark reminders that our country is ‘a work in progress’, she was justified in averring that, for some at least, there is no future in this country (cf.www.jrf.co.uk/knowledge/findings/socialpolicy/9.30asp) The vast majority endure a life of penny-pinching poverty and some even rise above it and are shining examples of contentment with their lot. However, there is sufficient evidence to link deprivation with all sorts of social ills: drug and alcohol abuse; petty crime; high infant mortality; high suicide rates and much, much more. There was a time when we were all agreed, no matter what our political hue, that we could make the world a better place: build the Kingdom of God on Earth in faith terms. Today, we seem content to keep a percentage of our people in perpetual deprivation whilst our politicians tinker around the edges of change and the rest of us aspire to living in the splendid isolation of gated communities.
a Greek saying tells us that ‘a nation grows great when old men plant trees that they know they will never sit under’. If there is truly to be a future for all in our land, we all of us now need to be planting the seeds of
justice for others to enjoy.