Newsletter: March 2018
Dear web friend
Greetings again, and as Snowy McSnowface and Blowcold McFreezefeatures linger a little, I need your help. No, I don’t need a shovel; but I think I need some space.
And before I go any further, I know every generation does it and I know it’s like the record’s got stuck, and yes, I’m also aware that it might be construed as downbeat when really, these days, a few more episodes of the endlessly uplifting Call the Midwife is all the world needs – but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to do it too.
And what I speak of is the sense that, wherever I look, our present times are entirely mad. I’ll leave you to join the dots on our political, social, ethical and religious landscape… there are a lot to join; and it can be disheartening. Our hearts can feel entirely dissed by the news… which is why I ask for your help in giving me this space to ponder. Your kind listening will save me.
John Gray, the famously nihilistic philosopher, was asked whether he was optimistic about the future of the world and he said, ‘I’m not optimistic – but I am hopeful.’ He’s not optimistic, because all progress has a shadow side, and all reform, a dark side. So you invent the fantastic car for more convenient travel and in so doing, you create inconvenient pollution and a catalogue of road deaths. Or you have a revolution and overthrow everything that’s crap in society and all you need five years later is another revolution to overthrow all the new crap that has replaced the old.
Humans don’t do progress. It is not in our personalities, and the political game is certainly never the answer – which is why history is not the steady journey towards wholeness and light, but rather, travels in cycles, staggering from one thing to another. Things lost in one generation are found by another as the new truth; but while they proclaim their new truth, there are many old truths they ignore, and so the things they’ve lost need to be found again by the following generation, who in turn proclaim their new truth, and so on and so on.
If history was a journey towards the light, Trump would not have followed Obama, Putin would not have emerged from the Gorbachev era, and no parent would now be damaging their children.
So I agree with John Gray: optimism is not an appropriate word for this unfolding of events. It’s a poor description of a repeated cycle of truths gained and truths forgotten. Yet – and you may be wondering the same – somehow this nihilist is hopeful! I don’t know why Gray is hopeful, because he believes everything – morality, freedom, selfhood, justice, God, humanism – is delusion. His hope, perhaps, lies in us seeing that this is so – I have heard him say this. Yet humans, in his picture, are no different from mould slime, so really, what value in such sight?
I too am hopeful, perhaps ridiculously so – but then I don’t equate humans with mould slime. I don’t find humans to be particularly healthy (I don’t find myself to be particularly healthy), but I know there is health in us. I know there is extraordinary health in everyone, often untapped, often savagely buried, but there – moments of nobility that echo down the centuries, moments of kindness, insight, gratitude, honesty, being, courage and awe which sing more beautifully than any choir.
The good life gathers itself around such moments, and history is littered with them, strewn with remarkable moments; I’ve even seen them myself, on a cloudy Tuesday in February. So how can I not be hopeful, despite the heavy blanket the news can sometimes throw over hope’s fire?
Things pass, good and bad; but the moments keep coming, rising like a phoenix within. You’ll have one today, perhaps more. And that is enough hope for now.
So thank you for allowing me this space (he says rather presumptuously, as if anyone is still reading). You don’t need to agree, of course, that is not my interest; but sometimes I need to find a way to carry on amid the news madness, and when so many of the supposedly ‘hopeful’ things on offer appear shallow and foolish, and I begin to echo the writer of Ecclesiastes: ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!’
But – deep breath – it isn’t; all is not vanity, for these moments keep whispering hope.
In the meantime, my wedding day in February was the wettest in the history of the universe, but wonderfully happy, and ‘The Shepherds’ Farewell’ (about the Christ-child, but composed by the atheist Berlioz) played beautifully during the signing of the register. If you’d like to hear what we heard…
For a fuller record of the event, warts and all, go here: ‘My big fat registry office wedding’...
Enough. I wish good moments for you, and hope’s gracious visitation, as the daffodils wait to be freed from Snowy McSnowface and Blowcold McFreezefeatures.
With the best of wishes