This is a tentative post. I know I’m not much known for being tentative in what I have to say. Sometimes it would probably help me if I was a bit more restrained. That said, what I am sharing this morning has been on my mind for a number of weeks and it just won’t go away, so, in a sense, I need to write it, even if you don’t need to read it. That’s most of the reason people write and say things anyway isn’t it, the faintly ridiculous conception that what we have in our minds is so crucial, so necessary for the future of mankind that we have to get it out immediately. I’m fairly sure that most of my opinions, including this one, have been written and talked about by other people in the past. They must have been. After all, if nothing else, theological college taught me there’s no such thing as an original thought. So, with various caveats in place, and having lowered your expectations of the quality of this piece sufficiently, here goes…
I think as a society we have fallen for something which I’m grandly (see, it is capitalised, that makes it grand) calling The Seduction of Difference. Just this morning, I heard UKIP’s Health Spokeswoman (apparently they have one, although it has to be said it sounded as if she’d just got in from a heavy night out) declaiming loudly that we don’t want “Health Tourism”. “We” in this case is us, you and me, right-thinking British people, unsullied by foreign genes or history, unless they “add” something to society (the “adding” is a nebulous concept. I think we all get to collectivise together and decide just how much “adding” is sufficient in order to pass go, collect £200 – but not Universal Credit, oh no not that for Johnny Immigrant, unless they pass a test, which we set, naturally – and keep Pall Mall to ourselves). We wouldn’t give a Work Visa to someone with a pre-existing health condition. Nobody wants this. Apparently. Well, I for one have never thought about it, but on reflection, as I sit here with my pre-existing health condition (the mind boggles at what a post-existing health condition might be, I suppose that’s death, unless we’re being eschatological this morning) I am not sure that I want to be disqualified from anything simply on the basis that my health might have some impact on my productivity, should I ever wish to emigrate. That day marches ever closer. House for Duty Priest in the Bahamas I’m looking at your job description.
So far so flippant. But is it? You see, it is logical to say that someone who doesn’t “add” to society shouldn’t find a welcome in it. After all, if they’re foreign, they have a society of their own. Apart from those who are fleeing persecution, genocide or other things like that. Seems to me they are of no fixed societal abode. But where does it stop? If we keep out those who are not indigenously British, and have a pre-existing health condition, isn’t it logical to extend the exclusion to those who are British and have one? After all times are hard for the economy. We all pay our taxes. We don’t want our taxes to support anyone but us. We don’t want to consider ourselves a society, least of all a compassionate one. It’s survival of the fittest dontcha know. And any time it feels like we might not be the fittest, the goalposts must be moved, so that we can feel good about ourselves again. Until our world becomes so small, so inward-looking, our perspective so warped, that we consider ourselves the centre of the universe, and all other people merely irritations in our glorious orbit.
Fortunately I’m a Hard Working Man, from a Hard Working Family. Some days I think I might count as a Real Person (seriously, that’s a slogan being used in the election rhetoric. What’s an Unreal Person? Boris?) so I’ll probably be ok, but we’re on a slippery slope that I’ve written and spoken about before. We are Seduced by Difference. We are fearful of the other. We want to protect ourselves, more than caring for the poor (who will always be with us, someone famous said that once). We want to protect ourselves, only seeing others flourish if we can flourish along with them, or at least on their coat-tails. We are told we deserve this. We are told, therefore, that anything that stops us flourishing must be quashed, squashed, eradicated. Scared of homeless people? Ignore them. Want an excuse for your lack of contentment? We’ll find one. It’ll probably be economic. Want a vision for a better, brighter future? We don’t really have one of those.
Except we do. Some of us at least. We just celebrated Easter. The recognition that someone who was so radical, so different, so uncontrollable that the authorities of the day had him killed, changed the world, the entire course of human history. Jesus stood up to the injustices meted out against humanity and defeated them. He also took the consequences of any just judgement which might be counted against us. He did this so that we, you and I, might have life, have it to the full (what an idea), and that we might share that life with others. Sure, Christians bang on about eternal life all the time, but what’s the good of that? Well, in my opinion, eternal life starts now. We’re called to a life of holy improvisation. God has shown us how to live. We’re to love him with everything we have, whatever that looks like for each of us. We are to love others, putting them before ourselves, to be a compassionate society, to suffer with those who suffer and rejoice with those who rejoice. What would society look like if we did that? If we committed to the “other” in the full and certain knowledge that we are exactly the same “other” to someone else. What would it be like if we drew that “other” closer, rather than pushing them away? If we were brave, believing that all people are of equal value, regardless of ability or lack of it, economic contribution, education, ability for self-knowledge and awareness or lack of it.
After all, what makes us human? It is that God pursues us as his beloved creation, constantly, consistently and without reservation. He did this to the extent that he died for us. He didn’t die for us that we might impose strictures on anyone else, elevate ourselves above them so that we feel like we have power or authority which has been ours all along. No, God calls us to a radical kind of self-love which has at its core an awareness that without God, and without others, we are not ok. It is only when we love God and others that we can truly love ourselves, because we see ourselves in the context of God’s passionate love for us. We are important, because he says so. So is everybody else. Because he says so.
So health tourism? What nonsense. Oh for a nation which puts the needs of others before its own. A nation that truly understands what a privilege life is, so much so that it shares that privilege as widely as it possibly can. Let’s not live fearfully. Let’s not vote fearfully. Let’s hope and pray for local and national leaders who rise above the petty, the soundbite and who ignore the temptation to score cheap points with policies bred on fear, which only spread its power.
So it’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about us. What are we going to do to share life, love and hope together? That’s a question worth asking, and answering in the way that we live our lives, today and tomorrow. A day is coming when there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more suffering, no more death. It is. Honest. I know it doesn’t feel or seem like it, but it is. In the meantime, we have God, the Holy Spirit to be our friend, guide, counsellor. We have ourselves, and we have each other. I’m more confident standing with you than against you. Can we do that? Can we stand together?