It was all their fault…


Peter CheesmanTaking into account the context, the Bible can often be stunningly accurate in describing human nature. When I heard Eliza Manningham-Buller, former head of MI5, present “The Blame Game” on Radio 4 last month my thoughts went straight to Leviticus 16 – I’m sure you know it my heart! The programme described how when something goes wrong some one person had to be found to blame, freeing everyone else from responsibility. It’s wasn’t about truth, putting things right or even justice..

In Leviticus, Aaron, lays his hands on the goat’s head confessing the people’s sins and the goat is sent out into the wilderness taking the sins with it. William Tyndale, my hero of faith and English, named it the scapegoat.

Of course sometimes people do have to face the music for what they have done. However, finding a scapegoat doesn’t necessarily make things better. For example, the Air Accident Investigation Branch’s purpose is “to improve aviation safety… by determining the causes of air accidents… and making safety recommendations… It is not to apportion blame or liability.” Flying is very safe.

Perhaps in, say, medical accidents, hospital overcrowding, school performance and many walks of life a similar approach might cause greater improvement. Could it be that the scapegoat we wish to send out into the wilderness has the knowledge, skill and especially the incentive to make the difference?

By the Revd Peter Cheesman, Civil Protection Advisor, Gloucestershire Churches Together and the Diocese of Gloucester.


Not just talking but listening

Peter CheesmanTelephone by Michel Quoist is not a novel, but a short pithy prayer. It ends: “Forgive me, Lord, for we were connected, and now we are cut off.” The phone call was one-sided. There was no communication. We also know that it’s possible for two people to have a conversation – but neither listens to the other. And so misunderstanding arises and often from misunderstanding comes conflict. It can be one factor in a failed relationship. For me, it is typical of ‘debates’ on television or radio. I’m not worried if there are no TV debates for the coming elections. They may reveal skills in debating or memory but they rarely help us to truly understand the issues.

This is not taking sides or an attack on politicians. Not listening is a very human trait.

Many times we don’t understand because we don’t listen. What we don’t understand we often fear. Or worse, we fear the people we don’t understand.

Think for a moment of the people or things you fear. Is it because “now we are cut off” and don’t communicate?

It’s a very corny saying that we have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally. The alternative, this Lent, may be to the find the prayer* and pray it with meaning!

* Prayers of Life by Michel Quoist

Revd Peter Cheesman; Civil Protection Advisor to Gloucester Churches Together & Gloucester Diocese