Will spotted it first; a tiny shape nestled into the hedge.
S/he staggered on ungainly tiny legs, watched from distance by an anxious mother before settling down, quivering slightly, over-reliant on speckled disguise.
I was in Edinburgh on Sunday with an old old friend, Simon. We were there to take Will to play cricket- a region match, West Scotland against the East. West won easily thanks to a century from one of the lads. Will only bowled 3 overs (1 for 11.)
Simon and I found time to walk the streets of the posh part of the city. It seemed like a place in a country I did not recognise; massive houses, posh cars, private schools (we were overshadowed by the massive gothic confection that is Fetters College, Blair’s place of unfortunate education.)
We stumbled across Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and as Simon is a Landscape Architect by profession we had to go in. Not that I minded- I love gardens. I love the tranquility that an organisation of green things can convey. It was a lovely thing to do- walking round the place with my old friend, not needing to worry about silence but still quick to find slow moments of humour. It was hard to escape a slight feeling of unreality though- all the plants are imports, aliens, refugees, asylum seekers. Some were stolen by Victorian plant hunters and collected for their sheer weirdness, even though their survival in this new climate required a vast heated glass house. In the midst of those wealthy tartan streets it was easy to empathise.
The gardens are free to enter, although you have to pay to go in the glass houses. It is worth it though. (Locals to Dunoon- you get in free if you are a Benmore Garden ‘friend’.)
The election is over and they won.
I am not quite sure who ‘they’ are any more- but I know them when I see them, I know them when I hear them. They are the ones who have an agenda that is motivated by many things but whose compassion is buried deep; it is not entirely absent, but is nevertheless entirely subordinate.
We have been fed a great deceit; that in a time of austerity, self interest is the only logical path. We have allowed ourselves to be convinced that efforts towards social justice are politically naive, as the poor only have themselves to blame. We have been convinced that the heroes of our society are the ‘wealth creators’, whose laudable desire to accumulate is the only social good that matters. The outsiders? Keep them out. The sick? Let them suffer quietly (and cheaply). Those fleeing violence and wars and poverty from other parts of the world? Not our problem.
So it is that our leaders are about to do away with the Human Rights Act- who wants Johnny Foreigner telling us what we should or should not be doing to the weakest in our society?
So too are they going to find ways of cutting £12 billion from our welfare budget- at a time when our population is aging and suicide rates are on the rise from all sorts of brokenness at the cutting edge of austerity. (Remember that only 6% of Welfare is spent on unemployment benefits. Pensions are by far the biggest share.)
Up here in Scotland we can feel slightly smug- after all, a surge of left leaning politics means that we are different. Except this difference comes at a cost- the old cross-border alliances are broken.
It is all about leadership, some say- we chose the wrong man, perhaps the wrong brother. He did not get his message across. Perhaps not, but I find myself wondering again- where did the compassion go?
I will not believe that this is the best we can do. I will not believe that self interest is ever the route to happiness and healthy societies. It walls us off in our small private spaces, counting each precious pinched penny and jealously guarding every inch of privet hedge- as if this was the way that life could be measured.
Christians should know better of course- we have read the beatitudes, but set them aside in favour of a twisted version of John 3 v16. We pretended that sober respectability equated to a very suburban kind of salvation, forgetting that our Saviour was homeless, workless and consorted with all sorts of unproductive people reliant on benefits and charity for their daily bread. Forgetting that at the end of the day, only three things remain; faith hope and love…
And the greatest of these is love.
We are just back from our annual Aoradh Wilderness retreat. This has become the highlight of my year for a whole variety of reasons; the chance to be deliberately reflective and prayerful, to share a beautiful place with others, to make new friendships and to reconnect with old friends.
A few days before I went I was rather dreading going though- I was extremely busy, chasing myself in all directions to try to pull things together for work, for various cricket matches and for the plans for the weekend. Several people were not able to come leading to the last minute scramble to make sure transport arrangements were viable. All of this meant that actually all I really wanted to do was to spend the weekend at home in front of the TV. However, the island cured all of that…
This year I had decided to give Cara a try- an island just below Gigha- but the weather meant that a risky transfer from boat to tender to beach was just not sensible, so we defaulted to an old friend, Eilean Mor in the MacCormaig islands. I have been there many times now and as it is such a tiny island I have come to know every inch of it. As Crawford said however, after the slight disappointment of not going somewhere new, this familiarity helped some of us to wind down and just settle into the lovely place.
The weather was foul for some of our time there too so the fact that Eilean mor has a bothy turned out to be something of an advantage. The other low point of the weekend for me was that I decided (for the first time) to take an air bed. I was the oldest there after all so I felt I had earned the right. Unfortunately I failed to ensure it was not punctured and like my dreams of comfort, it surely was. Not even a valiant attempt to mend it with melted plastic was able to solve the problem.
The weekend was really wonderful however- I laughed so much it hurt and had some really lovely conversations, both earthly and heavenly. There was much profanity, no small amount of flatulence and food was abundant. The otter was glimpsed by most, we took in a sea eagle or two and our wildlife experts had much to inform us of.
Thanks friends for our community and our shared journey- particularly those who traveled far (in a breakdown truck!)