Well that went well. The South West of England was suprised by snow despite Tomas Schafernaker and that weather man with the beard that looks like it has been pencilled in, warning us about it all week. Consequently about a hundred people were stuck in snow drifts on the way home and Cornwall council has had to answer many forthright and indeed frank questions about where the snowploughs were. Actually I think Devon and Cornwall only have a couple. Not much call for them usually. Normal service has been resumed now and we look forward to a week of rain, cloud and mild temperatures that my husband insists will lead to a mosquito invasion.
I have spent a week being vexed by the Internet. I have looked at beautiful young people’s photographs on the news and wept as fathers and mothers have stared bewildered into cameras as they come to terms with the idea that their babies were following suicide sites in various places and then ended their lives. I have watched them wrestle with guilt, that they didn’t see the signs but how could they? The young people didn’t need to speak to their parents. They had “friends” online who secretly shared their pain. It was truly awful.
On a different level of irritation I watched a Christian leader of my acquaintance adding to the general gaiety of the situation by putting a comment on Facebook along the lines of “The way to deal with your personal pain is to forget about yourself and help others.”
Now there are several things going on here. The first thing to say is that I know what he means. (I hope). There is certainly something to be said for not becoming self absorbed. If lots of us took the energy we waste wondering what other people think of us and poured it into supporting others, I do believe that lots of us would feel a great deal better about ourselves and there wouldn’t be such a struggle to find people to wash up after communion. The fields are white unto the harvest and it would help a lot if people stopped pouting on Instagram and did a few action choruses in Sunday school. (As Jesus almost said – very nearly)
However, Social Media is a funny thing. It takes a certain skill to make a pithy, engaging and edifying remark in two lines. It’s a skill Beth Moore has and Anne Lamott. Lots of people think they can do it and fancy the idea of making their mark – getting something they said re-tweeted and hopefully eventually embroidered into a sampler. It’s a dangerous game.
This week Megachurch pastor Jim Howard took his own life after a long battle with mental illness. It does no-one any favours to seem to suggest that really, all that was needed was for him to throw himself into his work a little more. And, although, I think that was never the intention, more care is needed.
Some of this comes from an older culture where Christian leaders are neither supported or challenged. I remember a time when those who were in leadership in the church were put on pedestals so high, it would give you a crick in your neck just to have a look at them. Some of them believed their own publicity. I remember years ago a preacher shouting that anyone not being challenged by his sermon was “under the influence of WITCHCRAFT!” (The last word being bellowed at top pitch) It would not have been acceptable to point out that it was more likely that we were being infuenced by the sermon being boring nonsense.
Things may be changing though. The pastor on Social Media faced a lot of questions about his statement and had to clarify his thoughts. And the disturbing fact of a pastor taking his own life has been met with sympathy rather than a lot of guilty behind your hand clearing of throats. We should never underestimate the impact of the darkness that people are in but also that, God is aware of the depth of the darkness. There’s a bit in Luke – a prayer by Zachariah, that always seems to me a good description of the darkness some people are in but also, unlikely as it may seem, a way forward. Gently, slowly and step by step to a place where peace once again seems possible.
Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, Shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, Then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.