June 2017

Is it really better to be safe than to be sorry?

I am writing this after spending a few hours doing a Safeguarding Audit at a local primary school. (I get all the best jobs: incidentally, I think I was appointed Safeguarding Governor at a meeting which I failed to attend - a warning to us all.) Safeguarding is, for all sorts of reasons, of primary importance at a school, as there is obviously nothing more important than safety, is there?

Well, actually, I am not so sure. At the beginning of this month we celebrate - at the third most important feast in theChurch’s year - the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In the old translation of the Bible in St John’s gospel, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as The Comforter. Which is nice, as it makes the Holy Spirit sound like a comfort blanket. Which it isn’t. I am afraid the boring classicist comes to the fore here, but, in this instance, the word ‘comforter’ has two Latin roots: the ‘fort’ bit comes from the adjective fortis meaning something like ‘strong, brave, courageous, powerful’ while the com- prefix means ‘together’. Put them together, and it becomes clear that the Holy Spirit makes us brave and courageous together. That throws the whole thing into an entirely new light. And it should not be an unexpected one. Jesus is, I so tediously often say, is the greatest radical the world has known, yet there are Christians who seem to think that following Jesus means leaving everything as they are, thank you very much, as we do not want there to be any change. Well, you need only the most superficial knowledge of the bible to see that that is not the way in which God works, right from the time when he called Abram , as Abraham was them known, at a ripe old age, to leave his home and country and travel to an unknown land. Jesus calls us to do exactly the same thing: he calls us to turn our backs on the values of the kingdoms of the earth and embrace the values of the kingdom of heaven: and he calls us to do that now.

That is not comfortable. But then it shouldn’t be. You cannot follow Jesus if you remain exactly where you are, spiritually, emotionally, personally and, perhaps, physically. And perhaps the most difficult part for all of us is the need to get to know ourselves as we are and to use ourselves as we are for the service of God. And we can;t do that, actually, unless we are prepared to take risks.

In my days as a housemaster at a boarding school, I would always tell the boys in my care that, if they are given the chance to do something - within the bounds of law and common sense - that takes them out of their comfort zone, they should always say ‘yes’ and worry about the details afterwards. Otherwise you can never find out the full truth about yourself and your potential. It is a rule I try to follow, even now. A while back I was asked to preach at the annual Thomas Traherne Festival. Now I know a bit about Traherne, and, like many, I love the Traherne windows in Hereford Cathedral, but I am not by the stretch of anyone’s imagination an expert, and so I obviously said ‘yes’. And it has given me real joy since then discovering more about Traherne: whether it has given any to those who make the annual pilgrimage to his festival will be clear by the time this appears in print. 

But I think we have a strong message here about our role as pilgrims on the Christian way. And that is that - again within the bounds of law and common sense - it is never better to take care: it is always better to take risks. As individuals and as a Christian body, we will never fulfil our vocations individually or collectively unless we are prepared to step out of our comfort zones and just see what we can do. Or, to put it another way, it is never better to be safe than to be sorry: it is always better to be sorry than to be safe. It is always better to try something and find it does not work than never to try it and leave that well untapped. Although I am not necessarily sure that that is how I will put it in my Safeguarding Audit Report.

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