Mervyn posts a reflection each week. Please join in; he welcomes comments.
Ophelia, in the first act of Hamlet (scene three) receives advice from her brother, Laertes, which she accepts while remonstrating: Do not, as some ungracious pastors do/ Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven/ Whiles, like a puffed and reckless libertine/ Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads…
She takes Laertes’ strict advice to heart because she believes it to be wise, however reckless Laertes is himself. We, too, must surely evaluate advice from any source against what we know to be good, rather than giving it honour because of who gives it. Don’t be gullible! says Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians: check out everything, and keep only what’s good. The important thing is that ideas are independent of the person handing them out. Ideas are worthy of independent assessment by those who come across them. Dictionaries of quotations lead us astray because they imply that Who Said Something determines its value.
The Lectionary for 15th September is from 1 Timothy 1:12-17 in which Paul, notable giver of advice on many subjects, confesses that he is the most unworthy of people to offer it but, nevertheless, Timothy should listen! The New Testament makes great play of the replacement of the Law by the Spirit, putting the onus on us to determine what is right and wrong, rather than depending on ancient scriptures. This, presumably, is the spirit in which Timothy read Paul’s advice, and how we should read it too.
It is, of course, a lot harder this way. The growth of churches in the UK is largely amongst those which tell people what the “Truth” is; how they should live their lives; and how much money they should contribute to the Pastor’s expenses. Churches that encourage discussion of the moral maze in which we lose ourselves at times are not so fast-growing. People do like to be told whilst, of course, reserving the right to behave just as they want to without reference to the future of the planet, the strength of community, or the ethical atmosphere to which their actions contribute.
Paul, with some justification, describes himself as Public Sinner Number One, based on his previous life as a bigot and sadist. He is no worse than most of us; I exclude Gandhi and the Malala Yousafzai of course. We all have blood on our hands: the results of slave labour gathering dust in our wardrobes: exotic food produced by people unable to afford schooling for their children rotting in the backs of our fridges. Who are we to give advice to anyone?
So don’t let’s presume to give advice; to our children, to our sisters, or to anyone else. Asking pertinent questions is much better. So, what do you think we should be doing to ensure a decent life for, as yet, unborn children? Have you found the pathway to happiness and fulfillment? Tell me!