Have you ever visited a restaurant, ordered your favourite dish, and then come away disappointed because the balance of ingredients wasn’t quite right? Have you ever sat through a film, play or concert and then come away disappointed because one little piece of the ‘magic’ was misplaced, mistimed or missing altogether? Have you ever experienced a moment in a relationship where the balance of ‘ingredients’ that made up the ‘magic’ between yourself and someone else had become skewed in some way? Have you ever found yourself saying or thinking: “If only there was just a little more of that je ne sais quoi?”
By the time this article has been published England will have been living through two weeks of unrestricted ‘normality’. The long-awaited ‘Freedom Day’ will have happened and, if the medical and scientific evidence proves to be correct the number of Coronavirus infections will have grown exponentially. Politicians and pundits have tried to bring us to an understanding of why this is the optimum moment for the relaxing of the rules. But, in my daily contact with a wide range of people, there remains great uncertainty and fear. No one can deny that we are in need of a loosening of the Covid regulations, but total laissez-faire is not really what is supposed to be happening. When the Prime Minister and his advisers spoke to the nation on 12 July, they spoke of ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘caution’. They spoke of us all taking care of ourselves, and of others, as we seek a path that in some way conjoins our personal hopes and the reality of a virus that is not going to go away. The blanket lifting of the Covid regulations does not represent the opening of a floodgate, rather it represents a placing of even greater responsibility on the shoulders of every one of us. It demands that we do our best to seek out and celebrate that ‘magic ingredient’ that will ensure a new way of living in a world that contains a significant level of danger for a significant number of people.
When the pandemic first hit our communities, people across the country formed groups of volunteers who offered their time, their skills and their resources to help those less fortunate than themselves. As the Prime Minister’s ‘Freedom Day’ has drawn closer it has become obvious that people are feeling less altruistic and philanthropic. The word ‘we’ has been transformed into the word ‘I’. There are increasingly voluble statements being made about the rights of the individual. The vulnerability that has not vanished from society has been pushed to the margins of our consciousness once again. But, that on-going vulnerability is still there!
There are many people who feel that the lifting of all Covid regulations has sent them back into isolation, lockdown and sheltering. The many, many people who are still clinically extremely vulnerable now feel as though they have been marginalised, if not sacrificed. As they began to dip their toes into the water of shopping, eating out and visiting the door has been slammed in their faces … or that is how it feels for many. The ‘it’s all over now’ attitude leaves them not knowing where they dare go and who they dare see in a face-to-face situation. ‘Freedom Day’ definitely does not represent freedom for everyone.
This is a bleak picture, but there is a way in which we can all play our part in making it far less bleak. We can seek out the ‘magic ingredient’ that will prove our willingness to take seriously the call to exercise ‘caution’ and ‘personal responsibility’. The television shows us many examples of people getting it wrong, but that does not have to be the norm. Our adherence to one of the basic teachings of Jesus Christ will prove that there is a better way. We just have to ‘love our neighbours as we love ourselves’, and we have to ‘love our neighbours as Jesus loved us’, that is, without limit and without reservation.
I have often been asked what the word ‘neighbour’ means in this context. Those who have asked me, including those who would claim to have a strong Christian faith, are often trying to place boundaries around the word. They are trying to rationalise ‘neighbours’ into something local and personal. That was not Jesus’ meaning at all. Jesus spoke of Christian love being a gift for and between every single human being. As we celebrate our newly awarded personal ‘freedom’ let us add that extra ingredient that will make all the difference. Let us truly live a life of Christian love and not personal self-indulgence.
Revd Stephen Buckman