As a teenager, my peers taunted me; ‘his mind is made up, don’t confuse him with facts!’ It is an old saying and I felt the injustice of it. I was a rational youngster and open to evidence, or so I thought.
The trouble is there are beliefs that get hold of us and they slip through the sieve of reason. Doris Lessing, in her forward to Lawrence Vambe’s An Ill-Fated People, writes, ‘I had spent fifteen years arguing, day in, day out, with my family and almost all the white people I knew, about the monstrousness of the (Rhodesian) society we lived in. All that argument had not changed anybody’s mind by a fraction. People’s minds are not changed by argument…’
What can sometimes change minds is taking people out of their environment and exposing them to different ideas and experiences. Air-lifted into Africa in my mid-twenties, I had the good fortune of leap-frogging white prejudices when sent to teach at a school for black students. I was able to see immediately the ‘monstrousness’ but, with the passing of time, I have also modified my views and understand better how whites came to their beliefs, given the circumstances of their arrival in Africa. They would have needed the imagination, courage and patience of a saint to have so acted as to pre-empt the catastrophises that overtook us from the 1960s onwards.
And now we are grappling with our lack of the same imagination, courage and patience in dealing with the catastrophises of our time – whether it is the particular tragedies of Afghanistan and Ethiopia or the general ones of climate and Covid. I recommend a two minutes meditation on the Google version of the song from Les Miserables that is the title above. A groundswell of feeling stirs a revolution. The obstacle to action that always seems to lie before us is an inability to see ‘the signs of the times.’ We can’t seem to understand, whether in our personal lives or our life as a community on this planet, that the forces we are vaguely aware of can, if ignored, grow until they become ‘monstrous’.
We are always free. The readings we have this week, whether from Joshua 24 at Shechem or Jesus by the lakeside in John 6, present us with people showing vague curiosity which is not deep felt and they give up after a while. Are we so saturated with ‘words’ that we hear nothing? Or can we really hear and catch the word in flight?
22 August 2021 Sunday 21 B Josh 24:1…18 Eph 5:21-32 John 6:60-69