Thought for the Week: 11th April 2021

Our thought this Sunday is by Louise Hampson

Living in unity


All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. Acts 4: 32

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! Psalm 133: 1

In today’s psalm and New Testament reading we are shown a vision of unity, of an equal world where everyone has enough, and all strive together for the good of all. This is a model which mankind has tried to follow repeatedly over the centuries, so far without lasting success. The letters of St Paul amply demonstrate how quickly the ideal state of affairs adopted in the early church set out in Acts degenerated as the church grew. Fast-forward 1900 years and in the secular world, the ideals communism set out by Marx and Engels and adopted in theory by the revolutionary leaders of Russia and China were almost immediately undermined as the societies they created threw into even sharper relief the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, but this time with added menace associated with conformity to the party line. Those in favour were rewarded, those who were not were punished – the very antithesis of the ideals they professed. As George Orwell wrote so tellingly in his satire on communism, Animal Farm, ‘all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’.

The pandemic has thrown this divide in our own society into even sharper relief. For some, the ability to work from home and the consequent savings in travel, work lunches and office clothing have brought great benefits, in some case allowing people to escape the burden of debt or even pay off their mortgage! But for many the loss of income or job has brought hardship, anxiety, and despair. Some have lost homes and careers or become mired in short-term loans, mounting credit card bills and the prospect of having to start over in a new career or field as jobs dry up in hospitality and retail sectors. Use of foodbanks has soared with many churches hosting or establishing ones for the first time, more children than ever need free school meals and the health problems of poverty mount.

But as a world, we have more than enough to go around. It is said that during the second world war, rationing not only meant no-one went without enough to eat (possibly for the first time ever) but as nation we were healthier nutritionally than any time before or since, with obesity almost non-existent. As a society we baulk at the idea of such state control today, but as a country we wasted 6.7 million tonnes of food in 2019, thrown away through over-buying, falling for multi-buy deals or because we seem to have lost the ability with our highly processed supermarket offering to tell for ourselves whether food is good and safe to eat or not. Our other resources are seemingly squandered without thought. So why do we find it so hard to share the world’s riches and ensure everyone has enough? History shows us that as a species we are hard-wired to strive for ourselves, to ensure we have enough first before we are willing to share with anyone other than our own offspring. Beyond that, we often have a fear that we are being ‘taken for a ride’, our goodwill exploited, that we are working hard to provide while others sit back and reap our rewards. In the ideals of the welfare state, whose anniversary we celebrated recently, everyone was treated equally but our underlying suspicions pop up regularly in the press with (often spurious) stories of benefit scroungers and dole cheats, feeding our fear that we are being done out of something by the undeserving. It is somehow that having enough is not enough for us, we always want more.

In his Easter message last Sunday, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the golden chance we have as a society to press ‘reset’ as a result of the pandemic, not to return to the old ways of widening wealth divides and planetary destruction, but to choose new ways of living which share resources and opportunity equally and which restore the planet God gave us to health and balance. This is ambition set out in the psalm, in Acts and in the Christian message - let’s make 2021 the year it finally starts to happen!