Well, it’s been quite a year, in my book. Internationally, it’s been a bit of a mess, with seemingly endless blood-letting and just some hopeful glimmers such as the breakthrough in the Iranian nuclear talks. Nationally, it’s hard to know what to think, with, apparently, economic recovery on its way (hurray!) and yet, clearly, standards of living still falling and food-banks multiplying. So leaving things too complicated for me aside, let me reflect on my own past twelve months.
Early in the year, the two big ecclesiastical appointments caused me to suspect that the Almighty hadn’t nodded off. He’s the one to break the mould – and in Justin Welby first and then in Jorge Mario Bergoglio the world was suddenly faced with an Archbishop and a Pope of very different characters from any of their predecessors right back to the first century. Justin Welby today concurred with Time magazine’s identification of Pope Francis as Man of the Year. I must say for me they are both outstanding examples of Christian leadership, men with the moral mettle to practise what they preach. Francis “almost persuades me” to be a Catholic - good thing Justin's there too!
I’ve been kept quite busy talking about ending life well, a number of times at St Mellitus’ College in West London and a couple of times on TV. The former I especially enjoyed. I suppose it was partly the erstwhile teacher in me; and it was partly having a sympathetic audience prepared to take the trouble to understand my gob-stoppered speech. It’s something, as you know, that I feel strongly about, and which I think is under threat in the very country where the hospice movement began. As Dame Cicely Saunders, its pioneer, once said, “You matter because you are you. You matter to the last moment of your life, and we will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die.” That should be the motto of all geriatric and terminal care.
Well, certainly, helped by Jane and family and friends, this year I have continued to live – and to live a fulfilled life. I have had moments of desperate frustration, part and parcel, as a friend of mine recently put it, of “The joy and depths of this terrible, painful and yet wonderful journey of loss, disability and dependence - the gift that has been given to us.” Yet I have had times of great joy, such as the week’s holiday with all our family in the middle of Devon in the sunniest August for years; getting down and into the sea perched on a bulbous bouncing beach wheelchair; getting to know our daughter’s rapidly growing special needs’ therapy puppy, and getting to know new friends.
Two particularly special friends we made this year are Esther and her partner, Julie. It’s not often that a chance encounter completely changes one - I'd call it a "God-moment". But hearing Esther explaining vividly the prolonged pain and exclusion she’d endured among Christians because of her sexual orientation was the final confirmation for me that I and many like me had long been responsible for a gross injustice in the very community which should be marked by justice and love. Followers of this blog will perhaps remember that I have long admired faithfulness in same-sex friendships. However now I believe something more, and that is that sexual orientation is not a lifestyle choice, but an innate given, or gift. How can we withhold love and welcome from our sisters and brothers? I think we should bless them. It will for many seem an unremarkable conclusion. Equally for many it will seem heresy. There it is. It seems I keep on learning - slowly.
I’ve not been able adequately to express the power of that meeting and my present conviction. The best I can do is recommend my book of the year, given me at Christmas: Unconditional by Justin Lee (subtitled “Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs-Christians Debate” published this year by Hodder & Stoughton, also published as Torn in the US). If you don’t understand the hurt gays endure in the Church, this will give you some idea.
My DVD of the year has to be Les Misérables, that remarkable achievement of performance, cinematography and, of course, of story-telling. I forbad myself seeing it in a cinema suspecting I would weep uncontrollably and loudly, and so waited for the DVD to come out. I didn’t weep uncontrollably, although I confess Anne Hathaway’s extraordinary "I dreamed a dream" did reduce me to tears. However it’s the film’s unbearably potent message of forgiveness and love that most moved me and conjures the dream of how radically revolutionary a society based on it would be. It would be the Kingdom of heaven.
My woman of the year, apart from members of my family, is, I think, Jack Monroe, a deservedly popular blogger, A girl called Jack looks back, who in her own words “started this year living – existing – on a £10 a week food budget topped up with five items of food from the Storehouse food bank once a week. (And) ended it with a recipe book deal, baking biscuits on Woman’s Hour, with a Guardian column, a debate in the House of Commons and regular political and campaign pieces in the Daily Mirror.” She came across my radar when she was campaigning for the poor and petitioning for a parliamentary debate about the rise in food banks. I just like her.
My man of the year, apart from members of my family again, is – sorry to be predictable – Pope Francis. Here’s quite a good summary of why (not mine): Why Pope Francis is person of the year. I’m sure there are thousands of less high-profile people who are equally acting out the good news of Jesus Christ, but it is quite something to be in a position of such power and temptation and to maintain one’s integrity and humility. No doubt he has made and will make mistakes. After all he is human.
Talking of the all too human, my sporting flop of the year has to be the England men's cricket tour of Australia this winter. What a craven capitulation! The less said the better. And is the sporting triumph the second consecutive “British” win of the Tour de France by Chris Froome, or the “British” Men’s Singles victory at Wimbledon for Andy Murray? I guess I'd go for the Scotsman.
My outing of the year - well, I'll choose our two to Stratford on Avon, first to see As You Like It, with Pippa Nixon outstanding as Rosalind, to celebrate our wedding anniversary, and secondly to see Nancy Meckler's brilliant production of All's Well that Ends Well in company with our delightful out-laws.
So another year ends. And I’m looking forward to my favourite morning. Tomorrow, I hope to wake up beside my lovely wife and realise that I’ve been spared to enjoy yet another year of discovery, starting with the Vienna New Year's Day concert, coffee and croissants..., and then who knows what surprises and new or renewed friendships? Lord, bring it on!