Well, That Didn’t Last Long image

Well, That Didn’t Last Long

It’s been a difficult week in my town (and I’m not even talking about the football). We led the news headlines yesterday and again this morning after half a million people came to enjoy our beaches on the hottest days of the year. To put things in context, that’s about 100,000 more people than live here. Predictably, things got ugly.

There is concern that having 500,000 people on the beach will lead to a spike in the virus – though the more immediate dangers were sunstroke, drug and alcohol abuse or getting into a punch-up.

At the same time all this was going on a large group of Travellers set up camp in our local park. This happens every summer and always provokes fury from residents but the ire seemed particularly fierce this time. Everyone has gone lockdown crazy.

At the start of lockdown I initiated a neighbourhood WhatsApp group. It’s been great. We’ve got to know who lives nearby like never before and there has been a lot of neighbourly help and encouragement going on. But with the arrival of the hordes from out of town the tone and volume of messages on the group started to get out of hand; and now a whole bunch of people have left the group as they didn’t like the tone and volume.

It only lasted three months. But then the human capacity for breaking good things fast has been much in evidence ever since the garden of Eden. Combine run of the mill human self-righteousness, three months of lockdown, a couple of boiling days and sweltering nights, and things are well set to get tetchy.

I don’t think I’m responsible for policing the opinions of my neighbours but I do feel responsible for having started the group, and am sorry that it is now splintering. My aim was to strengthen the neighbourhood, not create a platform for new animosities to form.

That’s the trouble with social media, and a reason why I came off Twitter and Facebook a couple of years back. People tend to say things online in a way they wouldn’t when face to face and every opinion quickly becomes an argument rather than a debate: no-one’s mind is changed; positions become more entrenched.

All this makes me increasingly aware of my own need of grace. How am I going to be good news to my neighbours if I’m not being shaped by the good news myself? I love what Paul says to Timothy about this,

The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:14-15)

On an objective scale we might not rate Paul as the worst of sinners but the extent of the grace he has received makes him feel the extent of the sin from which Jesus has delivered him. That’s self-righteousness dealt with. That’s a gospel to proclaim.

Lockdown won’t last for ever. The virus will pass. The sun goes away and with it the crowds from London and Birmingham from the beaches of Bournemouth. But the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus remain. Grace, abundant grace, now and forever!




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