This article appeared first in the March edition of Itchen Valley News
In the final weeks of the US Presidential Campaign in 2016 Lucy and I were watching the final series in the US TV drama West Wing. It was so interesting to contrast what was happening on the BBC News to what was happening in that brilliant TV drama – where there was also an election for President of the United States between two brilliant candidates: Matt Santos for the Democrats and Arnold Vinick for the Republicans, either of whom would have made a fantastic president. And, of course, we cannot help feeling immense sadness for our closest ally, with whom we share so much in terms of history, culture, language and aspirations, that they should be subject to such conflict. Lucy and I rather enjoyed seeing the musical La La Land at the Everyman Cinema in Winchester, whilst the Presidential Inauguration was taking place in Washington DC. On the whole I think I prefer West Coast fantasies….
But as we see the checks and balances of the US Constitution come into play, it must be becoming clear to those in the current administration that the power of the President of the United States, even if he is the most powerful man in the world, is still limited. They must by now have started to appreciate that the President’s power is much more circumscribed than they might have anticipated, even with a majority in the Senate and Congress. And perhaps this is always the case for politicians in democracies. They embark with great enthusiasm on careers to transform the world, but find that they are having to address crisis after crisis and that the huge changes they were hoping for don’t seem to materialize, because in a democracy they need to be watered down to get the co-operation of those who see things differently. Indeed, wise politicians take satisfaction from the tweaks that they can make to society during their careers and do not necessarily expect to effect a complete change in the direction of their countries, which is surely the preserve of the very few.
It is so fascinating to contrast the three years of Jesus’ ministry with the political careers of even the greatest of politicians. Those few years had so much impact on the world and continue to do so 2000 years later. This penniless homeless preacher caused such a revolution in thought within the most powerful empire that the world had ever seen that, within three hundred years of his execution, Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Roman Empire, turning the pagan traditions of Ancient Rome, which had been followed since its foundation, upside down. Jesus didn’t write a book – although several were written about him. He didn’t have a political party to support him. He killed or maimed no-one. He was no friend to those in authority and power at the time. And yet he changed everything for two thousand years and over a third of the world’s population.
There is so much which is so striking about his ministry and about which we could speak in comparing him with individual politicians, we could mention the colossal importance of the witness testimony to his resurrection set out in the gospels, but a very significant point was how he dealt with individuals: his calling of the disciples, his conversations with the lame, blind, sick and the outcast. He changed the lives of individuals. He changed the world one person at a time.
And following his example, and guided by the Holy Spirit, we can do this as well.
We were so delighted to welcome the Chief Executive of Prison Fellowship to speak at one of our services in January about their Sycamore Tree course by which prisoners are encouraged to face up to the consequences of crime on victims and in which they have an opportunity to show regret about what they have done. As a result of that talk, three people from the Valley joined Session 6 of the Sycamore Tree Course running at HMP Winchester at the end of last month. They may be able to take some part in this very important ministry to bring transformation to some of the most lost people in our society and to start making an impact on the high levels of recidivism in this country.
We hope to have other opportunities for people from the Valley to get involved in work which will transform the lives of individuals and we will advise you from time to time of these opportunities.
A story illustrates the point:
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?” The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “I made a difference to that one!”
Revd. Alex Pease
Itchen Valley Parish