Saturday, 27 January 2018

WHY DO YOU STAND LOOKING UPWARD TOWARDS HEAVEN?

From disability and domestic violence to retirement and vocation

Whatever the topic that Dr Samuel Wells alights on, you can be sure that, having stated the problem (if that is what it is), he will turn to a carefully chosen Bible story to find a framework within which to discuss it.  That will irritate some and reassure others.  A positive response is to sit back and let him choose his ethical framework - probably as good as any - and then join in with his examination of the themes which arise.  After all Sam Wells is too intelligent and worldly to resort to Old Testament commandments or even New Testament injunctions.  These are stories as illustrations and, whatever one makes of the person of Jesus Christ, a thoughtful twenty-first century application of them to very contemporary problems can be a useful springboard to a moral discussion - as we do at Wychwood Circle. 

A soap opera ... with everything at stake 

In his chapter on Disability, Wells turns to the story of a blind man whom Jesus heals - but he calls it a 'seven-scene drama of healing, controversy and reversal', and seen in this light it is not too far-fetched to then compare it to 'a soap opera; except with life, the universe and everything at stake'.  There are important, everyday themes about how the blind man is seen by his community as a nuisance, about prejudice and stereotyping, about personal responsibility versus structural injustice, about empowerment.  Then there is the deeper metaphor of what it is 'to see' and to know and the whole discussion - as we have touched on several times in recent months - as to what reality is and how to discover it.  As the author says in his three-part analysis:
[And] the third level is a journey that makes sense of why many disabled people see their lives as more fulfilling than a conventional life.  It's about empowerment and vocation, about subversion and wisdom, about what only the blind can see and only the intellectually impaired can know. 

Being human in retirement

Sam Wells comes at Retirement from his own experience of management studies and the Four Stages of Work. In essence he wants to empathise with those who don't know when it's time to go - or if they do know they are reluctant to make the move: 
'If I don't come to work I don't know who I am - all I have left is the unresolved issues in my home, the mirror of my own mortality, and rather less money coming in to make either more palatable.'
He also makes the point that the whole concept of retirement is still quite a new phenomenon in our human history.  No wonder it is something that can be an awkward transition, if not a source of serious depression.  How nice, you might think, to find that his biblical illustration this time is 'the story and doctrine of Jesus' ascension'!  The starting point is: 'Jesus stopped because he'd finished'.  Or had he? Well, for the Christian, according to Wells:
Salvation remains today what it was on Ascension Day.  Not a life without disappointment, a life without discomfort, a life without disillusionment; but a life with a faith to look back on, a hope to look forward to, and a love to live. 

Entering fully into the more mundane aspects of life 

For Christians and non-Christians alike, though, there are some useful and applicable points:  you, as a human, 'don't have to get it all done, you don't have to leave it all tidy, you don't have to ensure it for ever remains just the way it is now.'  After all, the incarnation is about (amongst other things) being more fully human and therefore 'entering fully into the more mundane aspects of human life'.  And this, he says, is what retirement is about: 
You haven't got a mask to put on each day to protect yourself from your fragile reflection in the mirror.  But you are as fully alive as you ever were, as fully human as a young graduate starting out on a career. 
So it could mean a whole new beginning; it must be about the future, not about looking back. In fact there is a Japanese tradition that sees a whole new cycle of life beginning at 61! The question, asked by the two men in white robes when Jesus could no longer be seen, is a good one and a challenge, sooner or later, for all of us:  'Why do you stand looking upward towards heaven?'  There are new discoveries to be made, the world is full of needs to be met, and there may yet be possibilities of transformation, for us and for the communities around us. 

To join us on Sunday February 11th as we discuss Part 2, 'Being Human', of Sam Wells' book, please email david.soward@gmail.com for details. 

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