I am not nice at present. The words ‘grumpy’ and ‘old bag’ all fit. Some might want to deny this because I’m a vicar and generally quite cuddly and a bit funny, and sometimes even lovable. But the truth is that there is a peed-off menopausal woman behind this dog-collar, and you might want to take cover! Mind you, I suspect that I am not alone in my grumpiness, so – as I pray for my own forgiveness – I’ll pray for yours too. Lockdown brings out the best and the worst in us, so if the cap (with fitted spit-proof shield made in heroic school DT department) fits, then wear it. If not, then polish your halo, sanitise and carry on!
It’s this virus business, of course. It absorbs everything like some gulping blob in a 1950s sci-fi movie and affects all of us in different ways. I am offended by the fact that everything is being held to ransom by a germ. I try, with conspicuously mixed success, to submit to God, but am annoyed at having to bow the knee to a bug with a number for a name. I’m not sure what else I expect under these infectious circumstances, but I do know that I have recently perfected the art of the Intolerant Humph. You could try it at home and then share it with your friends on Zoom. It is quite gratifying to build your personal playlist of ‘Sounds of the Virus’ – in fact, it is almost as good as watching yourself crying in the mirror when you were little. (Surely I’m not the only one?) It’s interesting how, when you grow up, all the pleasure goes out of watching yourself go blotchy, counting how many tears drip into your ears and observing with fascination what emerges from your nose, although non-waterproof mascara can still offer adult diversion at such times, I imagine.
So what occasions the Intolerant Humph? There’s one for national news coverage, about which I harbour dark suspicions. There is another because we have become a nation of experts and critics, although nobody really knows which science is right or whether our national leaders are callously gambling with our lives and economy or simply trying their best. I would not want to be in charge because nobody’s best is ever going to be good enough in our unforgiving culture. There is another Humph for all the nastiness on the internet, and (Lord, forgive me!) another one for all the saccharine niceness on the internet. I must confess that I reserve some of my most horrible Humphing for that.
A regular internet aphorism is ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’. As advice goes it is not bad, and we are seeing a lot of lemonade being made in the form of kind acts and charitable initiatives. Bring on the lemonade! And yet lemons are perfectly nice things, just a bit sour. For those who are cheerfully making the best of an inconvenience and taking the opportunity to learn new things, spend time with the family or clear the garden, it’s a great saying. For others it isn’t. Fear, loss of livelihood and prospects, separation from family, boredom, abuse and grief are real for countless people, and we already see consequences like depression, anxiety, violence, bad behaviour, broken relationships, hunger and homelessness. Telling the victims of the consequences of this virus to ‘make lemonade’ of the situation is trite and, dare I say, a bit typical of our society which prefers not to face unpalatable facts but covers them with euphemism or blames someone else.
The truth is that real strength is to be found in confronting reality head-on, crying over it and fighting on through in the light of genuine hope. That is the power of faith. I love the Psalms in the Old Testament. They do real emotion, not lemonade. The most powerful are the psalms of lament, which howl and plead and shout at God in anger and fear when life is turned upside down.
The reality today is that life has dealt many of us onions, not lemons, and the right thing to do is to make onionade and cry painful tears in front of the mirror of God’s love. Corporate lament at our losses, repentance for the uncomfortable things we have learned about our society, and hopeful, expectant prayer to God who loves us, who builds beauty out of brokenness and hope out of despair, would be a healthy way forward for Peterborough as we start to work ourselves out of this situation.
To which, of course, some may shout “Amen”, some may simply shrug and others will just go “Humph”.