A fortnight ago, we had the privilege of hosting a small party to celebrate my parents' Diamond Wedding. It was a very happy occasion – all of their bridesmaids and their best man are still alive – my brother and sister in law joined us via Skype from Singapore. Both their grandsons were there and there was much conversation... Oh! The food and wine were good too and the cake was delicious!
On a more theological note, one of the hymns they chose for their marriage service in 1959 contains this verse:
Then let us ever bear
The blessèd end in view,
And join, with mutual care,
To fight our passage through;
And kindly help each other on,
Till all receive the starry crown.
Talking with them about how they have survived the ups and downs of life, two phrases from that hymn seemed to come to the forefront: 'mutual care' and 'kindly help each other'. They were absolutely clear that the longevity of their marriage was not based on their collective earning power, the size of our family home or the newness of our car. My brother and I were not perfect children (!), my father often travelled abroad on business, leaving my mother in charge. The longevity was based on communication, sometimes imperfectly conducted, but always re-established and always one listening while the other spoke.
Reflecting on this and those two phrases, especially in comparison with the apparent absence of mutual care or kindly help in the national political life at present, I was reminded of a verse from the book of James,
"Ironically this same tongue can be both an instrument of blessing to our Lord and Father and a weapon that hurls curses upon others who are created in God's own image."
It strikes me that, in the current climate where very strong views are held on a wide variety of subjects, as Christians we can lead the way in how we speak with our family and friends, our work colleagues – not just those we agree with, but those we profoundly disagree with. None of us will agree with each other all the time, but there needs to be a consistency of respect and mutual care in all our encounters with other human beings...
In this season, when we remember those who served our country in the Armed Forces (and those who continue to do so) and also remember those women and men who felt that the taking up of arms was not appropriate, perhaps we can teach our politicians and public figures some basic lessons in humane dialogue and the art of listening as practised by a couple of octogenarians!!