I conducted two memorial services on VE Day. The afternoon service was three of us – myself, the wreath bearer, and the piper all very physically distanced. Yes, those in the houses nearby came out and watched and pedestrians slowed, stopped and watched – again people stayed apart from each other – and even the cars stopped at the silence. The afternoon ceremony was similar to other public commemorations – minus the crowds – but a few did see it all.
It was the dawn ceremony that was different. This time it was only me, my smart phone and a ladder! I worked out where to put the ladder, how to secure the phone, where to stand, when to move in and out of view and this all had to be recorded in one take, one go. I recorded it – watched by the occasional car driving by – and sent the video to be posted online for the Sea Cadets.
Why mention any of this? Because the thing I remember wondering about in all this was ‘Do I need to shine my shoes?’! Yes, the thought came into my head! No one was going to see my shoes. Do I need to make the effort?
Everyone could see the afternoon ceremony unfold. The cadets could only see the smallest of views of what the camera saw. Anyone driving past could see a padre talking to a smartphone attached to a ladder. But no one could see me on the inside. My thoughts, my feelings, my hopes, my grievances – whoever I am. Sometimes people might get an idea about me but a big part of our living is that we recognise a demarcation between our public self and our private self. And no one could see or was close enough to see my shoes!
So if we have an inner and an outer self, which influences or controls the other? Do we let the people and circumstances of the moment govern us? Does society or the peer group have that much power? Often, the answer is yes. Or do we say ‘This is who I am and I don’t change for anyone’? If that was really true, would any of us want to stay close to such a person? We might appreciate commitment and conviction but what if it is stubbornness and selfishness?
Many people have spent more time at home these past 8 weeks than almost ever before. Many of us are spending a lot more time on phones and video conferences. People are seeing ‘parts’ of us more and more. There’s even the smiles when people talk about wearing work clothes for the camera but the rest of them is their pyjamas! Who are we? Creatures trapped by an airborne virus? Something else? Something more? Who are we inside and out?
Religions, politics, psychology, philosophy, and biology all have answers. We are brought up with answers from our first moments and memories. We learn to be individuals in communities.
And along comes the story of a crucified man and an empty tomb who says to people, ‘I know exactly who you are and where you are and how you are and even why you are – and I love you’. This message – and lots of other words about him – gives new life. We are still us – inside and out – but now there is someone who sees us and knows us inside and out – and never walks away or stops being gracious to us. Yes, we’d like to control him and get him to do what we want but we discover that he doesn’t work that way. What he does is always for our good. And we learn, over time, to trust Jesus inside and out.
In a world of public and private, inside and out, having someone who sees all might be confronting, even fearful. But when it is Jesus who sees all, sees us inside and out, and loves us – then it is life changing every day. His love can cast out all fear.
PS. Yes, I did shine my shoes!