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Parallel lives

I was watching a film about the lives and times of the actor Michael Caine called ‘My Generation.’ (It was my generation as well, though he was more successful!) The film included scenes from the 1960’s of the young Rolling Stones and David Bowie hanging around Denmark Street and I suddenly realised that just out of sight at the end of the street stood our very own St Giles-in-the-Fields. I could see it all: the loud, colourful, experimental, radical, cultural revolution rubbing shoulders with the Georgian calm and conventions of the church, its worship and ethos, with that very tradition that so many were desperately seeking to escape from. We were living parallel lives along the length of a single London street, no longer speaking the same language, nor sharing the idioms of politics or class or experience. It’s not the same today, mostly because the street’s a pale shadow of it’s edgy, creative past, being more commercially driven, and is in its own way as tied to its past as we are to ours; and St Giles has changed a little too, is less patrician and (dare I say it) less moralistic then it might once have been, for the days when the Church felt entitled, indeed obliged, to tell people how to behave has long since past. Now I see parallel lives everywhere: people rubbing shoulders as they pass in the cosmopolitan jungle but untouched by those other lives, observant perhaps, hopefully tolerant, but essentially indifferent. The social fabric has been stretched as never before and is wearing thin in parts. On the whole this is fine, indeed it can be healthy, except when it means that the most vulnerable are overlooked, and then we do have problems. Parallel lives remain, as ever, a challenge to us with Christmas approaching. This ancient story, known to most (if at all) in pantomime form, is so easily robbed of both its earthiness and its holiness. It too has acquired a kind of parallel life for many, whereas for those of faith such as ourselves, at the far end of the street, it is the very bedrock of our believing. Our longing for many to be touched by this birth must remain as strong and lively as ever, for we are not to turn our backs even on the indifference of others, tempting though this might be! A radical God meets us in the child of Bethlehem, heaven and earth no longer simply parallel and unconcerned with each other, but forever compromised: God with us, Emmanuel.

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