Closer to Home, Closer to the Heart

I wonder if you’ve ever had the experience of something very close to you suddenly featuring on the national news? For most of us, most of the time, the news is about other people in other places. And that’s a blessing, I think, when you consider that the news tends to focus on disaster, scandal and controversy.

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Many years ago, when I was involved in the controversy surrounding the Government’s White Paper on divorce law reform, I discovered (in a small way) what it is like to open the papers or turn on the news and find my daily work featured on a regular basis. Recent events in the fishing waters of the Channel Island of Jersey have provided a faint echo of that experience. Jackie and I were married (30 years ago this June) in Jersey and still visit her family there.

The point I’m making is that we feel differently about things when they touch us personally. They cease to be just stories. The ease with which we form opinions about other people’s lives and actions from the safety of great distance evaporates when we have a personal stake in those issues. When it’s your own advice to a Cabinet Minister that’s being debated on Newsnight, or when it’s your own family that risks losing its electricity supply as a result of a dispute over fishing rights, you are denied the luxury of objectivity. You care about what happens in an entirely different way.

Our Christian faith calls us to radical compassion. That means, I think, trying to see everything that happens through the eyes of those most deeply affected. It means voluntarily surrendering the option of seeing some things as impersonal. It invites us to enter into an emotional and imaginative engagement with the lived experience of those most intimately involved and to respond, as the Good Samaritan did, with practical support that makes a positive contribution to their wellbeing.

This has been an observable feature of the life of our wonderful parish church, and I am very moved to see the acts of practical compassion that have carried on gently and faithfully throughout some of the most challenging times any of us have ever faced. But I wonder what transformation the Holy Spirit might be able to effect in our lives if we were to watch the news prayerfully and compassionately, as telling us things that are happening to people just like ourselves.

May God bless you all,