26th January 2016

IMG_0968Dear Friends,

I wondered if you celebrated Burns Night yesterday? Scotland’s greatest poet will have been toasted around the world, pipes blown, drams consumed, haggis swallowed (I nearly said enjoyed there!), songs sung, poems recited, speeches made and dances reeled. For those who are into their Burns and love things Scottish, there is no better night in the year. Yet he was course a complete rogue; a womaniser (twelve children from four different women – one born on the day of his funeral), a roistering alcoholic, a spendthrift and a thief. Yet he was also one of the greatest wordsmiths that Scotland – indeed the world has ever seen. Does a troubled personal life I wonder dilute success you have in other areas of your life?

And I thought of this on Sunday as we sung our final hymn at morning mass. Bishop George Bell’s “Christ is the King, O friend’s rejoice”. George Bell as you will well be aware was a much admired and loved Bishop of Chichester. He died many years ago. Recently however – to much mixed response and debate – the Church of England has paid a substantial settlement out to someone who claimed that he had been sexually abused by Bell when he was Bishop of Chichester. Bell of course – long dead – had no chance to defend himself in a court of law and his reputation is now seemingly tarnished for ever. So should we stop singing his much loved hymns and wipe his ministry from the history of the Church of England?

And where do we stop or draw the line? Do we stop playing Rolf Harris records for ever? Do we dismiss how talented Stuart Hall was as a football commentator because of his subsequent offences? And going back further, are Caravaggio’s masterpieces less or more worthy of note because he was a convicted murderer? And how do we judge peoples offences? Is there a pecking order for offences? Is murder worse than sexual crimes? What about theft or speeding ? Who keeps a tally? Who is the judge? You get, hopefully, my drift. It is not easy. The fact is, that all of us to different – sometimes vastly different – extents are sinners, whether or not we choose to admit it or not. We all fall short at various times in our lives. But all of us, thanks to Christ, are offered forgiveness and offered the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and make a new start. The danger when we start to criticise others – perhaps sometimes just the speck in their eyes –  is that we forget about the log in ours.

With every blessing,

Fr Andrew