For What We Will Receive…
In a few hours we will begin to get an idea of how the people of Scotland have voted, and what leaders they deserve. Personally, I think all the main players would be better suited to occupations other than leading a kingdom – United, or otherwise. I imagine David Cameron as the avuncular but boorish landlord of a smart country pub, Ed Milliband as a darkened-room-number-cruncher, Nick Clegg as the headmaster (or deputy head) of a minor public school, Alistair Darling as a rather earnest GP and Alex Salmond as the somewhat jolly, somewhat bullying host of a current affairs talk show.
Last month I visited Geneva, stood by Calvin’s chair (a very small, very hard chair), pondered the Reformation and was amazed by the contemporary city. Never have I been anywhere with so many well dressed, tanned, and extremely fit looking inhabitants – an army of Roger Federer clones. Nowhere have I seen so many Ferraris. And nowhere outside Arabia have I seen so many Arabs in close concentration – ownership of an oil well being the prerequisite for affording Geneva’s prices. After a couple of hours wandering, the extraordinary ostentation of the very high-bracket fashion and jewellery emporiums made me feel slightly queasy. I wondered what Calvin would make of modern Geneva. To me it certainly felt like Ichabod – the glory of God exchanged for the more tangible entanglements of mammon.
Last week Ian Paisley died. I’m sure he would have felt more at home in Calvin’s Geneva than contemporary Geneva. Growing up in the 1970s, Paisley was always a bogeyman – the rabble-rousing, fire-spouting stirrer of Ulster’s troubles. Then, twenty or so years ago, as I read more about the Reformation, and read some things written by Paisley himself, I came to realise that for Paisley the Reformation was still real – that the battles of the sixteenth century were still on-going, still as important, still as life-or-death vital.
There is an irony in Paisley, arch-unionist, dying a week before the Scots vote about independence. In all that was said about him, everyone agreed he was a leader, whether or not the people of Northern Ireland deserved him.
Leaders come and go, and generally we get what we deserve. Sometimes there is an extraordinary demonstration of God’s grace in leaders who emerge: times when the reap what you sow karma is broken – by a Samuel, a Lincoln, a Mandela, a Calvin, even. We do not live in such times. We get what we deserve, and in such times we can feel restless, wanting to cast off the leaders we have received.
For me it will be a great sorrow if when I wake up tomorrow the decision has been made for Scotland to separate herself from the rest of this United Kingdom. It would feel like a divorce, on insufficient grounds. There are never any winners in that kind of divorce.
So I go to watch the 10 o’clock news and get a feel for what the exit polls are saying. And I raise a glass of single malt to toast the Union, and the hope that one day grace will intervene again in the shape of the leaders we receive.