This article first appeared in Itchen Valley News December 2019
It’s all coming very, very soon. All the preparations are being made. Everyone is going through their time-honoured rituals. We all have a key role to play. A role which makes a difference. What happens at the end of it all will say something about who we are, who we aspire to be, and set the framework for all our most important decisions going forward, which will affect our children and grandchildren’s future, not to mention our own. It’s exciting.
But is it Christmas or the General Election that I am talking about? There are many reasons why not to hold a General Election on 12th December – it’s probably cold, it’s undoubtedly dark for much of the day, there will be those who get depressed or grumpy at this time of year and some may vote accordingly. It’s not as easy to persuade people that a bright dawn lies just over the horizon, when all people can see is slush or rain and the journey to and from the polling station is in the dark.
Everything, of course, is complicated by the back story about Brexit. Like the first few bars of the soundtrack from Jaws, we are constantly brought back to the less than melodious unfinished insistent business of Brexit. We are returned over and over again to a reality of division and even hatred of those of different opinions to ourselves, which we just cannot shrug off. Some of us have managed to demonise those of a different opinion to ourselves to such an extent that we actually believe that they are hateful, rather than just people like us, but who hold a different opinion. This is particularly sad because so many of them are, or were, our friends and even close relations. Whatever the result of the election, whatever the result of any subsequent referendum, we fear that these emotions, like the furies released by Pandora, may never get back in the box and the relationships may be permanently damaged.
But despite the gloom, there is something to be joyful about. On Christmas Day we celebrate that the Creator of the Universe came to live amongst us, in a family, in a village called Bethlehem, as a baby in a crib. Because we are so familiar with the story, we can easily forget its significance. The person who made you and who made me, chose to live among us, in a village! He lived in the sort of community that we live in. Ultimately, he died in great suffering to carry the consequences of our dislocation with God, what theologians call ‘sin’, which is at the root of all the problems that we face in the world, including even the unpleasantness stirred up by Brexit. Jesus knows us and yet he still loves us and died for us, even while we were still sinners. In fact, surprising as it may seem, he loves even those Brexiters, even those Remainers, who some of us may be tempted to abuse, just as much as he loves us. It is the main thing actually that we, as humans, all have in common. He wants us to mirror that love that he has for us, in our love for one another.
It’s difficult to love strangers. We can easily imagine all sorts of things about people that we don’t know. We can demonise them and call them all sorts of names. But in a village, we can and do actually get to know almost everyone, with their strengths and weaknesses, whether we agree with their opinions or not. In our villages, our neighbours are not strangers. Our neighbours are not going to disappear, they are not going to be out of sight and out of mind, they will still be living next to us, after any encounter that we may have with them in the pub, or on a dog walk or while resting between scenes at the Panto. So we are wise to learn to be circumspect in how we express ourselves to them and about them, particularly on contentious subjects like Brexit. Ultimately, we realise, it’s more important that we maintain that relationship than getting our opinion across. Just as we don’t poison a pool which supplies our drinking water, so it matters how we get on with those who share our community.
In the 1990s Hillary Clinton wrote a book while Bill Clinton was President. It is called It takes a village 1https://www.amazon.co.uk/Takes-Village-Hillary-Rodham-Clinton-ebook/dp/B00AHEKU4U/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=it+takes+a+village+clinton&qid=1575109901&sr=8-1 and was written to encourage people to recognise that we live in an interdependent world. We should, she argued, be ‘more village’ in our approach to others. The title is a reference to the old African proverb that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ . She describes her own upbringing: ‘Our community was a visible extension of our family. We were in and out of our friends yards and houses constantly. We played softball, curb ball, and…..we staged elaborate team contests modelled on the Olympics….there were plenty of….caring, responsible adults who did their best to see that all the children in the community were getting the attention that they needed……adults looked out for us, made sure we had enough to do and a place to do it’ . It’s an idyll which sounds quite like the life today in our Itchen Valley villages. It’s certainly what we want for our children in this community in which we have put down our roots. Our children encounter so many of our neighbours in the wonderful life that we lead here, it’s so important that we, their parents, are on good terms with them. We can and do make it a priority to ensure that we are.
I think this Christmas we, who are so fortunate to live in Itchen Valley, have an opportunity to show, by our example, our friends and relations (and even those we engage with on line) how to be ‘more village’ in the approach we take to others we encounter; how to be circumspect in expressing our opinions on political matters, how to treat others as if every encounter matters; how to relate to them as if they were living next door and as if keeping a good relationship with them was precious, not only to us, but also to our children. So, in short, two slogans for Christmas 2019: #everyencountermatters! and #bemorevillage!
Perhaps, we in Itchen Valley might be a model for how to behave generally towards our fellow Brits. In doing so, we will show that we know that the people we encounter daily are loved as much as we are by the Creator of the universe, born in a stable on Christmas Day.