This article appeared first in the May edition of Itchen Valley News
‘Conscious un-coupling’ is a phrase that we have heard something about in the news recently. I think the basic idea is that a married couple separate (‘with good will, respect and honour..and [as a]..wholesome process’) when the relationship no longer works for one or other of them.
Now I know nothing about the relationship between Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin and would not presume to comment upon it. However, I was fascinated to hear an extract from the Radio 4 Programme Last Sunday presented by Paddy O’Connell – you can hear it at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03z3l2b (you need to scroll to about 13 minutes in). It was a discussion on this subject between Harry Benson of The Marriage Foundation and a lady called Catherine Woodward Thomas who has, it seems, had some role in coining this phrase. At one stage Harry Benson says “the success of relationships is how we treat each other – it’s other centred rather than self-centred”. Catherine Woodward Thomas responds in a fascinating (and surprising way): “in the post-modern world…we have really come to a place where we do think more in terms of me”.
Jesus’ life pointed in totally the opposite direction. In all his relationships, in all his teaching and in his life, Jesus’ idea of love, described in Greek as ‘agape’, is always other-focused and, of course, was ultimately self-sacrificial. The wonderful passage in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 describes love as ‘not self-seeking’. Christians believe that agape love is the essence of the character of God. It is this kind of love which a Christian would say should be at the centre of a marriage; certainly a marriage which is going to survive a life time. The church stands in contradiction to the direction of society on this, as on many other issues. This is one of the reasons why I am so optimistic about the future of the church in this country, as society’s shallow preoccupation with self will eventually begin to pall.
But it is also at the centre of how the church should deal with the world – to be other-focused. Indeed, during Lent, we have been running a course entitled ‘Living the Mission of Jesus’. This is a course put together by Bishop Tim and his colleagues in the Diocese. He wants the churches in Winchester Diocese to be increasingly focused on mission – this means increasingly outward focused – focusing on others. As it seems does the Prime Minister, if his Easter message is anything to go by: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5bVh97sCOk&feature=youtu.be
This has been the direction in which Andrew Micklefield has been leading us during his time in the Valley. We are so sorry to see him go. His wonderful skill of building relationships with all in the community of the Itchen Valley has been constantly mentioned to me as I have travelled around the parish. It has been a great example to me personally. We all wish Andrew and his family well in their future in Alton.
We will try hard to carry on the amazing work which he has started in the Valley.
Revd. Alex Pease