Twice blessed

Breezy reflections on Thought for the Day this morning on a gun amnesty, the quality of mercy and God’s choice to forget our transgressions.

As ever, you can listen again here at 01:23:09, or read the text below.

If you’ve got an old gun kicking about, then now is the time to do something about it. Police Scotland’s two week amnesty means that any unlicensed firearms and ammunition can be surrendered without prosecution. Although firearms offences are at a low level, the aim of the exercise is to remove the potential for guns to fall into the hands of those who might use them in the pursuit of criminal activity.  

The word ‘amnesty’ is an interesting one. Many of think about the work of Amnesty International, an organisation that has campaigned for justice for individuals for almost 60 years, but the root of the word has more to do with mercy and pardon than justice. An amnesty is an intentional choice to forget, a decision to release another from an obligation in order to win peace. It takes courage and a willingness to lay aside our desire for victory but, as Shakespeare wrote, mercy bestows blessing on those who receive it and those who give it. 

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
(The Merchant of Venice IV, 1)

The act of forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian message, and in the psalms we find verses that describe the mercy of God in his amnesty towards human selfishness. 

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
(Psalm 103:12)

Acts of amnesty, or mercy, bring freedom and fresh beginnings for nations and individuals. Scotland has a low gun crime rate at present, and bold initiatives such as the Violence Reduction Unit have seen a decrease in knife crime over the past decade, but we all carry anger and grudges in our hearts. Perhaps an amnesty on words, rivalry and hatred would also set us free and bring some peace to our lives.

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On Randomness and Powerlessness

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This morning’s Thought for the Day drew inspiration from a quote I read at the weekend. It’s from a book entitled The Descent of the Dove by Charles Williams, author and member of the Inklings literary circle, and is quoted in Eugene Petersen’s helpful commentary on Jeremiah, Run With The Horses. The full quote refers to the Church, but I felt there was a relevance to the broader culture in these times of uncertainty and fear.

You can listen again to the Thought here by scrolling to 01:23:06 or you can read the text below:

Charles Williams, literary contemporary of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, once wrote that:

“At the moment when it is remotely possible that a whole generation might have learned something both of theory and practice, the learners and their learning are removed by death…The whole labour of regenerating mankind has to begin again every thirty years or so.”

Thirty years is no time at all. It seems that, just as one generation gets to grips with the world, everything shifts, the wisdom we have accrued is lost and we need to begin all over again.

My generation grew up during the Cold War. The seeping fear of nuclear threat permeated our understanding of politics and the future, yet the threat of monolithic global conflict seemed both remote and impersonal. This week, as parliament debated the rights and wrongs of maintaining a nuclear deterrent, violence and conflict seem closer to home, more individually driven, more likely to erupt at the end of my street. The sense of powerlessness and uncertainty is as overwhelming as thirty years ago.

In Baton Rouge, Nice or Istanbul, we observe the apparent randomness of events, and the deep-seated anger that drives individuals to behave violently towards others. How can peace ever be won by human endeavour when anger lurks in all of us? Not the righteous anger that rails against injustice, but an anger rooted in the hatred of others, acting in rebellion against peace.

Out of powerlessness, I find myself responding in the words of the psalm that asks the question. “Why. Why, Lord, do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” And the more I contemplate the random nature of violence in our times, the more drawn I am to the words that follow:

“You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror.”

Perhaps we must learn again to look beyond ourselves to find the deep-rooted peace we are craving for the next generation, and for our own.

Early Radio Times

COR5YDvWsAAZZVU.jpg-largeThought for the Day is variously perceived as an archaic throwback to Reithian values, a direct affront to the liberal values of secular Britain or an opportunity to boil the kettle before the news.  You don’t meet many people who are big fans of the two minutes of religious or philosophical insight that appear on the radio each morning.

So, what I’m about to say might shock and surprise you.

I like Thought for the Day.

I’d even say that I’m a fan. Yes, it can be twee. Yes, the presenters sometimes ramble on. Yes, I often find myself shouting  at the radio because I don’t agree with what’s being said. But it makes me think. And I like the idea that people of faith have the opportunity to share something with the nation amongst the news stories.

So, whether it’s the erudite pontification of the Today programme 7.50am slot or the jolly banter of the 9.20am Chris Evans’ breakfast show version, I enjoy figuring out how natural or otherwise the presenters sound as they read their carefully prepared script. I admire the people who can tell a story well and draw out a profound thought in 120 seconds (Rhidian Brook is the king of this, in my humble opinion). And if it makes me think for the rest of the day then so much the better. CO7Gb_lWIAAZdm9.jpg-large

Over the past few years I’ve been fortunate enough to become a regular presenter of TFTD on BBC Radio Scotland. The thought is broadcast live but written the previous day on a current affairs topic. It has to be short, it has to fit with BBC editorial guidelines and it has to be presented at 7.20am. Some may object to the idea of being edited, complaining that the gospel is being watered down but I relish the prospect of choosing words carefully so that everyone is included. I enjoy finding a way of saying something that might help, encourage or challenge someone as they drive to work or eat their cornflakes (hopefully not at the same time). And it seems to fall neatly within the remit of the fool.

And it’s interesting how many random people seem to tune in at 7.20am.

Nobody wants to assault someone else’s ears, mind and heart, especially when they’re just waking up, but what an opportunity to speak truth and grace to lots of people. It’s a privilege that I don’t treat lightly.

I was on this morning. So, in case you were still sleeping, here’s the text of what I said. I hope you it makes you think a little.

 

I once had a colleague who lived in a tiny studio flat and was the proud owner of a very sophisticated robotic vacuum cleaner. His rationale for owning it, despite having very little carpet to clean, was that, growing up in the 1970s, he believed that by the time he was an adult, robots would be everywhere. The vacuum cleaner was the closest he could get to realising his childhood dream. If reports this week are to be believed, many of us may find our jobs being done by robots in the next few years. While some will be excited by that prospect, others will find it frightening.Technological advance is amazing but, like Pete’s hoover, the reality isn’t always all that we dream.

If we had known even 10 years ago the impact of social media and smart technology we’d have been astonished. It is amazing to consider how connected we are. We have libraries, maps, news and entertainment at our fingertips, and all delivered at an increasingly high speed. We have all the knowledge of the world, but I wonder, are we any the wiser?

A study presented last week about teenagers’ social media habits concluded that sleep quality, anxiety and emotional wellbeing were all affected by its use. While the study was concerned with the psychological impact on adolescents, there’s no doubt in my mind that constant exposure to a stream of information and visual stimulation has an impact on my wellbeing, and that of people around me. Far from making life easier, technology leaves us more stressed and lacking peace.

We’re all searching for peace in a noisy world, and I think many of us recognise that we thirst for something deeper. The psalms in the bible are helpful here. They talk of delighting in God and meditating on his word and of having our souls restored as we walk by quiet waters. ‘Be still and know that I am God’, says the psalmist. There is peace to be found, but we need to choose to seek it, to force ourselves to be still. Maybe it means switching off a device or two for a little while, confident that rather than missing out, we might get a better night’s sleep and maybe even rediscover who we are.