A time to welcome the outsider

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Opinions differ on whether we’re to have a cold winter or a repeat of last year’s dreary murk.  In the cities, where roads are well gritted, gas mains reach every household and there are hundreds of corner shops and supermarkets to hop into when the milk runs out, a blast of snow in early November might have seemed like reassurance that climate change hasn’t had the last laugh – at least yet.  Out here in the Dale, a deep freeze would be somewhat more inconvenient.  Either way, whatever winter throws at us we’ll need to be prepared.

In this year of upheavals in the national and international political climate it can be tempting to take on the uncertainty of the world in our lives, by putting off decisions perhaps, tightening our belts and focussing in on our own immediate concerns.  I know that can happen in my case anyway.  But turning inward doesn’t stop the problems of the world from building up.

A few days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre nearly two years ago I was reviewing papers on a breakfast radio show.  Pressed by the presenter for some kind of response I reached for the nearest cliché, saying that at these times instead of turning away in suspicion from people we think we have little in common with we need to reach out to exactly those people.  It wasn’t especially profound but it was said as much to myself as to the listeners.  Those people are the newcomers, people in other ethnic or cultural groups, people in our workplaces we thought we didn’t like, the side of the family we don’t see any more, neighbours with alternative political views, refugees…  Looking people in the eye and thinking ‘you’re as valuable as me, and what hurts you hurts me’ can be challenging when we’ve our own worries; but it’s what makes communities and society at large work.  If only we could manage that at a global level too we might start looking for and really committing to the solutions to economic degradation, extremism, environmental destruction and climate change.

journeys-endWriting this in mid-December I could hardly blame readers from wondering why I haven’t explicitly mentioned Christmas yet – in fact at this point you might be forgiven for imagining saying ‘bah humbug!’  But perhaps I have been talking about just that…  Experienced by probably the majority in this country as a time for families to draw in together, huddling round a hearth or its modern equivalent, the 42” TV, the message of the Christian Christmas is at least in part almost the exact opposite of that cosy vision.  It’s a message that I’m reminded of whenever I greet visitors to the Meeting House or Barn.  It’s that the outsider sometimes holds something far more valuable than we can supply on our own or from our innermost circle: the invitation to look outwards and upwards to the wider world, to sound the depths of our humanity and realise the potential for human communities when all people are included.  Now that’s something really worth preparing for, winter or summer.

Quakers may not mark Christmas in their worship but as individuals we do join in with the seasonal fun & festivities… so if you’re reading this in December, have a very happy and restorative Christmas – and we’ll look forward to seeing you in 2017!