“…and what have we done?” I make no apologies for using John Lennon’s words every year at this time. Aside from it being from a wonderfully relevant song, even after all these years, it is always a question worth asking as we reach the end of one year and look ahead to the next. This season is always one where lists are drawn up of the best this, and the best that, of the past year. So some reflection is always timely in this, our last issue of 2018.
You will notice that we have a rather large Special Christmas Section this year: with input from young school children as well as a look back more than a century to what was happening in North Grenville and Merrickville-Wolford long before our time. It’s always good to have some perspective on things; to realise that we are just the latest inhabitants of our communities, and wisdom did not begin with us.
Perhaps this is even more important this Christmas. We tend to think that life was always like this, and always will be. Or else, that life is better now than before, and always will be. It’s the “always will be” part of that idea that can lead us astray. Because it seems to be the case that we are actually living through the end of one era in history, and the future is not as predictable as we might have assumed a year ago.
History is like that, I suppose. We take things for granted. But, looking back, we can see that this is not a sensible way to view the world. For example, in the 25 years between the start of the French Revolution and the Battle of Waterloo, Europe was constantly at war, France against the rest, until Napoleon was defeated and Europe entered a period of relative peace and prosperity for almost 55 years, until the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.
A state of unrest and conflict disturbed Europe for 30 years, from 1914 until 1945, after which institutions were established to try and keep the peace and bring prosperity. The United Nations, World Trade Organisation, NATO, the European Union, and others actually saw Europe and North America prosper for decades. But that state of affairs is changing once more.
Putin is the new Czar, perhaps the new Stalin, and has challenged Europe and the Americas in new ways. Brexit and the rise of Trump has encouraged right wing, and even autocratic, leaders around the world. The old system is failing. Of course, much of the apparent concord and open respect for human and civil rights, the rule of law, international diplomacy, etc., of the past was quite superficial. But holding to the ways of traditional diplomacy has now been abandoned. Respect for rights of any kind has given way to what Kissinger and his like termed realpolitik.
Trump has shown that lying, boasting, and simplistic appeals to grievances, emotive tribalism and providing permission for racist, misogynist, bigoted and sexist expression in public forums has changed the political atmosphere around the world, and not for the better. The apparent success of Vladimir Putin in affecting American and British politics, at least, has altered the way we have to look at international, as well as national, affairs.
Terrorism has come to the streets of the world’s cities in new ways. In the past, particularly since the 1960’s, terrorism has been a homegrown phenomenon: the IRA, Red Brigades, Black September. But now people are being run down by trucks in cities around the world for no political aim, but simply to wage war and kill ordinary people, with no narrow political aim.
This is not your typical Christmas message, but we are seeing a radical shift in world history and it has to make one think at this time of year.
Christianity continues after two thousand years, in spite of all the revolutions and changes. It has often been stained and discredited at the hands of those who claim to be followers of Jesus, but were not. Killing in Jesus’ name is not the work of his followers, but of those who are disobeying him. Likewise, those who hate, discriminate for various reasons. Armies are blessed in his name: wars are waged in his name against other countries that also claim to be fighting in his cause. None of this is Christian. None of it is in accordance with what he taught and what he is.
It is time that the world took another look at Jesus and who he was, is, and taught. In a time of darkness, we need light: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” [John 1.4-5]
Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us at the Times