But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane (alone),
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
Regular readers of this epistle will probably have picked up that its been quite a tricky time these past two years being a Vicar of this (or indeed any) parish. Only this week I had the wonderful task of reading the very latest guidance from the Church of England (extremely short version - do whatever you want, but don’t be stupid..) for Parishes. Yet again we will be having to work through a new risk assessment, adapt our possible activities off the back of that and then educate people as to what we are doing, how we are doing it, and why.
So with that said you can understand my very deep sympathy, empathy and compassion for the organisers of the Olympic Games. In the best of times organising the Olympic games is a staggering feat of complexity and sensitivity, not made easier by the myriad national and international political realities lurking behind things.
But this clearly is not the best of times. What should have been a time of celebration, cooperation and excellence has been enormously affected. It almost defies belief that even as things are starting, there is still a debate about wether or not things should go ahead. Having had to cancel a few things in the past two years i have come to learn that actually when you cancel things you need to do that as early as possible - so as to give people time to find out and stand people down, and time to prepare alternatives. Sometimes as a result you have to cancel things that later turn out you need not have cancelled - but you couldn’t know at the time know at the time. It’s like in a car approaching a traffic light that you are aware has been green for a while and is probably about to change. You have to begin to slow down just in case, because the alternative is either to race through dangerously on orange or even red or have to slam the brakes on.
The pain of something like the olympics is compounded by the fact that the Japanese people had only recently demonstrated their fantastic hospitality in the Rugby world cup in late 2019, probably the last global sporting event before the pandemic hit. All those that went spoke of the wonderful welcome they had received, of the way that the different teams had been so well cared for and what a refreshing place it was to go to. By contrast for the Olympics there is understandable public anxiety about getting people together from all over the world - when we know that’s not a very wise thing to currently do. So do please even as you enjoy watching the Olympic games this year, spare a prayer both for those participating in the games, those organising the games and those who live in Japan.
What does God say about planning and preparation for things?
Well first up, he’s all for it generally - we are encouraged right through scripture to prepare well for things (voices in wilderness crying out ‘prepare the way of the Lord). Planning is important to do - as the old army maxim goes, Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents P**s Poor Performance’. Its why we train, develop and nurture things, its why we have to be intentional about growing as a christian - or put another way don’t moan about God not speaking to you if you don’t ‘plan’ to open your bible or come to church…
But while we are encouraged to make plans, secondly it is clear that we have to hold them with very real humility and to draw a very marked contrast between human plans and the plans of God. It is arrogant and wrong to think those two things are always the same.
Proverbs 16:1 reminds us:
Mortals make elaborate plans,
but God has the last word.
It is the great mistake of the church to assume that because our planning relates to Godly matters, that what we plan is therefore God’s plan. It may be for just occasionally we get it right, but just as frequently we don’t. We are called to be humble, to walk humbly and to listen humbly.
How do we reconcile these two aspects of planning - well I think we are called to plan thoroughly but to constantly sit very lightly to what we have produced. That doesn’t mean not owning what we plan, but it does mean having the spiritual maturity to not own it ‘personally and proprietorially’. It is a common human mistake to feel very challenged when something we have worked on or planned comes in for criticism or needs to change. It’s one of the reasons we don’t enjoy change much.
This is I believe the life of faith in a nutshell - we have the things we know and believe and think through (and I am all for good thinking and doctrine and the like) but we are called regularly and repeatedly to step out in faith, to step out of the boat, to reach out in the storm for the loving arms of Jesus who as ever has gone before us.
Tomorrow I will be exploring this life of faith using some more sporting examples. We will (unless plans change at the last minute!) be both online and in church.
We are as a PLT meeting next week to process the latest advice. It doesn’t look like it will affect our plans for September in any way but we do need to work through it properly.
In church we will not be making any notable changes for a while and will continue to leave the seats in their distanced format for the moment. The case rates in Brislington at time of writing are 988 per 100 000 people, one of the highest we have ever seen and I am sure like me you will know people who are either suffering from Covid or self isolating. Even a very high vaccine efficacy and delivery still leads, with the large total numbers involved, to notable hospitalisations and subsequent deaths.
Secondly while masks are no longer legally compulsory, they continue to provide protection for the wearer but more importantly for those the wearer is near. I thus consider them a Christian obligation when inside the building save for children or those with a medical exemption. So in short you are free to do whatever you want, but to paraphrase Ted from Line of Duty, For the Love of “Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the wee Donkey” please wear a mask.
Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow online or in person.
Peace and blessings