Thought for the Day

This is my Thought for the Day for BBC Scotland on July 5

The schools are on holiday but the holidays are not the same.  The United Nations reported recently that the crash in international tourism due to the pandemic could cause a loss of over $4 trillion dollars in 2020-21.  Much of that loss will be felt in the economies of the developing world which benefit disproportionately from world tourism.  So many jobs in the travel and hospitality industries depend directly on tourism.

My family have been part of that change.  We too took the staycation option and have just returned from the Island of Lewis and the North West of Scotland.  We had some amazing weather – the scenery is utterly spectacular.  And even this year it wasn’t yet crowded.

 But sometimes you stumble across the unexpected which catches your attention and which you won’t easily forget.  At the entrance to the magnificent Loch Ewe we found the memorial to the seamen who sailed on the Arctic Convoys in World War II.  The convoys would gather in Loch Ewe before sailing to Iceland and on to the northern ports of Russia.  There is poignancy about it because for a long time the sacrifice of the 3000 sailors who lost their lives was not fully recognised.  We stood quietly and looked at the memorial to Charles Edward Kennerley and his fellow crew on HMS Bramble who were lost in the Barents Sea on 31 December, 1942.  And we thought about the dreadful weather and endless winter nights and the constant fear of the torpedo which would end it all coming from a hidden U boat.

 Absorbing that unexpected richness of memory and experience is what turns a journey into a kind of pilgrimage – pilgrimage in which we learn and are changed by what we experience.  It may be a staycation.  But it’s an opportunity to get closer to our own context and history and so to learn more about ourselves and who we are. 

Thought for the Day

Voices from around the world speak about the Covid experience. We need vaccination for all. My Thought for the Day on BBC Scotland yesterday

Covid has changed the lives of all of us – constraints on what we can do, anxiety and, for too many, painful bereavement.  

We focus on the figures and statistics – including of course the hopeful vaccination figures.  But we need to hear the voices and the lived experience of people – and not just in our relatively hopeful context.

I was fortunate to travel a lot as a church leader – I have friends and contacts in many places.  I listen to their voices.  From Brazil, where there have been 16 million cases and nearly half a million deaths, a friend says – ‘it’s sad to hear at an increasing pace news that people we know, including friends and relatives, are dying because of the virus

Another in South Africa said, ‘We used to hear figures and now we know names’

And from a children’s HIV/Aids Hospice in Kolkata, India, which I have visited, and which people in our church support – they tell me: ‘All the children live in communal spaces meaning the spread of Covid could be severe.  Every child is affected by HIV meaning they are immuno-suppressed’

I’ve now had both my jags.  It was a good moment – a slight ‘lump in the throat experience – a time to be thankful for what science can do.  But another voice said, ‘None of us is safe until everybody is safe’

The virus mutates and the variants spread – Kent, India and now Nepal.         The policy of trying to determine which places are safe enough for us to visit on holiday is now chaotic.  In those very limited terms, nowhere is 100% safe.

There is a logistical challenge about how we vaccinate the world population. It will be discussed at the G7 meeting this week.   It is also a conceptual, moral and spiritual challenge.   The question to Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbour’ can have only one answer in this case – it’s everyone and everywhere.  It’s now also the question for us.

Thought for the Day on St Patrick’s Day

This morning’s Thought for the Day for BBC Scotland. One of the great blessings of these strange times is that I no longer have to go to the studio – just nip upstairs to a spare bedroom!

My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. 

It’s St Patrick’s Day – and these are the words of St Patrick himself – the opening of his Confessions, his statement of faith.

So forget the St Patrick’s Day razzmatazz – the parades, the green beer and the rest – which have become part of St Patrick’s Day as the Irish diaspora celebrates its identity.  Patrick is simplicity, humility and quiet faith.

Covid of course has put us in a place where that’s what we are left with in the world of faith.  Churches are closed.  Organised and institutional religion can’t function as it usually does.  A priest writing in the Irish Times recently said, ‘The pandemic means religion for religion’s sake is gone. That’s not a bad thing.  Leadership will not come from a moribund clerical caste, but from those who must now step up to the bar’

None of us can know what the long-term impact on faith and faith communities is going to be.  But I suspect that there is going to be, as that article suggested, something of a shake-out.  Authenticity will trump tradition.  The spiritual will outweigh the institutional.  Spontaneity and the personal will outdistance routine.

I haven’t mentioned the snakes – because of course St Patrick is also celebrated for getting rid of snakes from Ireland.  And that is seen as symbolising the driving away of evil.

So Patrick can also stand for better and more wholesome lifestyles

We are just beginning the long process of coming out of lockdown.  We crave social contact, friendships and ultimately the ability to move around.  But it won’t just be the same.  We are living in a time which gives us the opportunity of rediscovering simplicity –greener lifestyles, better relationships, a focus on home as a place of family but also of work and learning – and maybe a little of Patrick’s spiritual simplicity.