Surprised By Joy

Much as I treasure the memory of the day I married Amanda, I am not a fan of weddings. Neither am I an ardent royalist, so I didn’t mark the fact that yesterday was the day of the royal wedding, despite having a suspicion that it might represent a bit of a milestone in the history of arcane privilege in this country. I am delighted that a woman who proudly acknowledges her African-American heritage is marrying into the upper echelons of the British establishment, but I would still rather see that establishment dismantled. As a spectacle, the British establishment, and the pressure on us as Britons to gawp at and feel part of its showy exclusivity, feels to me like a pressure and a con, and I try to ignore it, as far as possible.

Furthermore, this country is sliding into a deeper trough of exclusion and outright cruelty, in which anyone who does not enjoy marked privilege is threatened by the spectre of real poverty. I heard, over the last few days, of people already discarded by society being harassed and further dispossessed under the cover of the coming big event. I felt I did not want any part of it.

So, yesterday, I worked on my OU course and played with my computers, walked the dog and, in the evening, after making supper, we drove over to Ventnor for a drink with Andy and Amy at a beachside bar, and I think we mentioned the fact that this ‘historic event’ was occurring only in passing, giving more time to the fact that Andy and Amy had been watching Suits on Netflix than to the wedding itself. We are just not that interested.

However, this morning, Amanda urged me to watch the sermon by the Most Revd. Michael Curry. Amanda is not a Christian, but she tolerates my belief and she shares many of the values that I draw from Christianity, chief among them being the central importance of love in human affairs.

On one level, it is hilarious. The idea of Prince Andrew, an arms dealer, sitting with a face like a bemused, deflated lemon, through the Bishop’s plea to “…study war no more” will stay with me. His two daughters, whenever the cameras caught them, seemed to be sniggering through the sermon.

Other members of the great and not-so-good seemed to get it, though. Princess Anne’s daughter, whose name escapes me, was listening with a half-smile on her face, her mouth hanging open, as though the power of the Bishop’s words had reached her, and she was sharing the good news. In the main congregation, when the bishop, who has been strong on LGBT rights within the church, leading to something of a rift between the American Episcopal church and the wider Anglican community, declared, ” Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well … like we are actually family” the camera caught David Beckham smiling and nodding in recognition.

The New Fire

The central conceit of the Bishop’s final remarks was based upon the observation by the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, that fire had been the crucial tool in the development of human civilisation and that, like fire, love has the power to drive us on, into a new era of human growth, beyond division, hatred and poverty. It sounded, to my Socialist ears, like a plea for equality and justice; the very ideas that I find whenever I read the Gospel of Matthew and that I believe represent the core of Christ’s teaching.

In a church that was built by militarist conquerors, to a social class whose modern wealth is rooted in the blood money of the slave trade, to a groom in military uniform, and a congregation among whom few had experienced a day of real material need or want, a man of God declared the value of human faith, the imperative of peace and the real, lasting power of love.

If you don’t believe me, just stop and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way.

Imagine our homes and families where love is the way.
Imagine our neighbourhoods and communities where love is the way.
Imagine our governments and nations where love is the way.
Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.
Imagine this tired old world where love is the way.

When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.
When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever flowing brook.
When love is the way, poverty will become history.
When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.
When love is the way, there’s plenty good room – plenty good room – for all of God’s children. Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well … like we are actually family.
When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.

My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family. And let me tell you something, old Solomon was right in the Old Testament: that’s fire.