Reluctant Anger

I often write angry letters and emails and never send them. A while back I remember getting my secretary to type a letter (immediately you know that really was a long time ago). I had scribbled it out in fury after been treated very badly. The indignation spilled out of me and I squeezed every bit of venom out of my pen. When she gave me the draft, she just looked at me and uncharacteristically offered some advice “That’s a really good letter” she said “It’s well written and totally justified .. and … you should bin it.”  It was a snatch of wisdom I haven’t forgotten. It is always a good practice to leave something you have written in a kind of quarantine for a while before you send it. Because, as we all know, it is too late afterwards. It can’t be unsent. 

I have been holding fire on a letter (one of many) to our first minister for over a week now and it was about to be dropped in the bin, but on hearing the daily briefing yesterday and hearing of the distress to a very good friend, I caught it just before it fell.

She is a dear friend and is quite distraught because she is prohibited from being at the funeral of a family member because of the ridiculous and wholly arbitrary cap of 20 persons. Because of these cruel regulations she is unable to be physically there to support her own daughter at this critical moment. The moment when a physical presence is so important.  It is so cruel and it is so unnecessary. It points up how serious this whole thing is and there is no end to the folly of it.

Anyway, this was my letter and I suppose, in journalist parlance, it is now an “open letter”


Rt Hon Nicola Sturgeon

Dear First Minister


I am sorry to add to your inbox with yet another letter. I guess you may not have the time to reply or perhaps even read it, but I am writing out of sheer desperation and not a little anger when I see the continuing and needless destruction of so much of our national life in the fixation and obsession with this virus and the folly (for that is clearly what it is) of the continuing and re-introduction of lockdowns and all the associated restrictions on the business of living.

This is not about me or my family or my grandchildren but the health of our people, physical, psychological, mental, social and spiritual, which has been severely damaged by this obsession and the ugly business of the state interfering in our own personal lives, treating us like children and scolding us on our behaviour. I can tell you it is a painful and embarrassing business listening to the daily reprimands and the patronising and condescending encouragements to be subservient.

Is this what an independent Scotland is going to look like?  Will this be the new normal?

My particular responsibility, as an elder in our local church, is for the care of our people and the community around us. From the start we have obediently followed all the rules and the guidance and have shut up our building depriving the people from coming together to worship God, to pray together, to sing and to hear the Gospel  and all the unseen pastoral work that goes along with that, for almost half a year now. The damage that has been done and continues to be done to the lives of so many, some who are very vulnerable people, and to our society as a whole, is uncalculatable. It is difficult to put into words what a terrible thing this is. The trouble is that it is not seen. It does not register in hospital admissions or Covid positive cases. It does not directly impact on the economy. So, it is extremely galling that we are still under the burden of these quite ridiculous regulations.

Really, First Minister, if anyone actually thought about it for a moment, they would realise that it is wholly unjust and discriminatory and does not make sense at all. To allow pubs and cafes and restaurants to open almost as normal yet impose insane restrictions on churches is quite bizarre.  You can have a glass of wine and a pack of crisps in a pub but you cannot share in a communion service. Children can return to school but cannot go to Sunday School.

I wonder if anyone in your advisory team actually knows what happens in churches or how it works? The church is not a club of people with a niche interest, people who like and are helped by that kind of thing or a fringe group weirdly concerned with airy fairy spiritual things. People don’t go to church, like they would to dancing classes, yoga or meditation or because it works for them. It is something quite different. The church is the people gathered from all walks of life and backgrounds, languages and cultures to worship God. And It is a family. It is understandable that people who are not involved in church perhaps do not realise this. We are a family made up of old and young, singles, married, young families, internationals, professionals, tradespeople, unemployed, students, confident and vulnerable. It is anathema to expect our church family to que at the door, wear a mask, be shown to a seat, arbitrarily distance from others, not to talk, mingle, speak before during or after the service, not share a cup of tea not sing, to have their details recorded and to leave without the chance to share fellowship, problems, worries, struggles, happiness, joys and every human experience. We would be exchanging an atmosphere of welcome to one of suspicion, instead of inclusion, exclusion, instead of help and support, distance and cold detachment, instead of comfort, a cold glass of water.  It would be like treating people as lepers. People who might have a terrible disease and might infect us, or we them. We can’t do that. We can’t live in fear. We have to follow Jesus who touched lepers when no one else would.

Meeting like this, whatever you might call it, is not a Worship service. A family would not exist or function under these restrictions. It is like saying the pubs can reopen but no one is allowed to drink, or the shops, but you must not purchase anything.

Today, a dear friend of ours explained how she would not be allowed to be at a family funeral and not able to be present and support her grieving daughter at this most critical time, and all because of an arbitrary cap on numbers at funeral services. She is distraught. We can hardly believe it and are saddened and quite appalled.

Please, please, this has gone for far far too long. The risks are so negligible. What people lose over this time cannot be recovered. The lives of our people are so much more important than not losing face or doing another Uturn. Continuing with these restrictions is completely disproportionate to the risk . Please, please, lift all these restrictions now.

Yours most sincerely

Crawford Mackenzie

13 thoughts on “Reluctant Anger

  1. Jesus touched a leper and Francis of Assisi embraced one but I guess neither would have done so if they thought they might be in danger of passing on a dangerous condition them themselves had or suspected they might have. And even if you believed that the whole Covid thing is a scam you would avoid freaking out another (who took it seriously) by getting too close, I presume. Also are you really saying that as an elder you have not undertaken any pastoral work since lock-down? Really? I hear of lots of imaginative and caring responses to the restrictions and they impress me more than repetitive complaining. Today (although not a Quaker) I joined a responsibly conducted open-air Quaker meeting,with distancing and all, and it had all the elements of a regular meeting apart from the handshake at the close. I think, too, that constant moaning has a depressive effect on readers, something we can do without at a time of general mental pressure.

    • On constant moaning, that hurts and I don’t think it is true or fair. I left facebook because people were telling me to be shut up on certain issues. I left twitter for the same reason. My weblog by any standard is pretty obscure and no one needs to bother reading or to look at it. I am sure there are lots of more interesting ways they could spend their time.

      • Sorry that my remark was hurtful -“constant moaning” was careless and harsh from me. Agreed no-one has to read the blog – it’s just that I am interested in what you say and many of your posts are beautifully written. I also like to check in with what people outside my comfort zone are saying. Interesting that in my ideological corner there are more covid deniers/sceptics showing these days.

      • Detail of adjusting pastoral action? Beginning to feel I am in the dock and needing to justify myself, but OK, will try.
        I can really only speak for myself. There is no particular top down or even local strategy on this. Actually, it is interesting, from the National Church Office it has been pretty much negative advice – ie what you cannot and must not do, what you are allowed to do and what measures and restrictions you must put in place. It just sounds a bit like the mouthpiece of the government with bible texts added. Certainly nothing creative. They specifically say you should not be trying anything new. We have to think the thing out for ourselves. But that’s not a problem. I would rather do that.
        Basically, its about keeping contact, by whatever means, meeting with folk for coffee, lunch, walks etc and simply listening being the big thing. We have small pastoral groups which are pretty diverse (age and background and nationality too – Irish, French and Egyptian in our wee group) and I meet regularly with the other (2) leaders to talk about how we do it and try and watch out for folk slipping through the net. We also have two weekly zoom meetings with the group, chat, bible study and prayer, which all sounds fine but the zoom meetings have tailed off in the last while. Folk seem a bit fed up with it and others have just dropped out and are sometimes very hard to contact.
        That’s the biggest challenge, because the direct physical personal connection has always been what gave the relationships meaning. It was the life blood. It was also a changing, a moving thing with new people coming across our path all the time, sometimes just for a relatively short period. Sometimes people end up in a church and don’t know why they are there. So we have lurched suddenly from a pretty open scene to an extremely closed exclusive set up where people have to register and get tickets and give contact details, and all that kind of thing. And its not good, which is why I am trying my hardest to free us up again.

      • I’m not sure if you were thinking of me with your reference to leaving Facebook. I requested you not posting content likely to upset your nephew who followed you on FB and struggled with rejection because of his orientation. I certainly didn’t tell you to ‘shut up’.

      • No, you didn’t tell me to “shut up”. No one did. It was hyperbole. It was a feeling. A perception that people objected to me writing what I did and expressing views which, up until last Saturday, were considered orthodox. I decided I didn’t need these platforms, they didn’t seem to work for me and I tried to find better ones. Ones that people would have to make a wee bit of an effort to find. I didn’t want to be in people’s faces. You could say, I couldn’t stand the heat, so I got out of the kitchen. Most of the things I wanted to talk about anyway needed more than the tight mediums that required to be snappy and concise and at the same time were easy targets for put-downs which often spiral into abuse. On the question of causing upset, that’s a tricky one. I don’t think I would deliberately or unthinkingly write something that I knew would cause offence, but I can’t second guess what might upset someone and they wouldn’t necessary know what might upset me. If you feel that you are being pressured into double checking every word, every nuance, every metaphor, every joke, every hyperbole there comes a time when the ink dries up and you think “Ah forget it, I don’t need to do this”. I guess that was what I meant about “shut up”.

    • On Pastoral work, yes of course I and others do, through the lock-down. And yes we work hard and rack our brains to find creative ways of getting round the regulations. But if I think that the rules are arbitrary, disproportionate, absurd and in some cause cruel and unjust, which I do, I think I have the right and maybe duty to complain and make representation to those who are thinking them up. There is surely nothing inconsistent about doing your best to mitigate bad governance and at the same time doing your best to change the status?

      • Agreed – no inconsistency in that but I haven’t seen you post any detail of adjusting pastoral action to the situation – I would be interested in that.

    • On Jesus and Francis, neither, as far as I know, were lepers or had a dangerous condition, so the analogy is a bit lost to me in hypothetical-ness. My point was that we shouldn’t treat people like lepers. Now I know I might be the carrier of some deadly disease that I am completely unaware of but if I am pretty sure that I don’t. And I can’t go through life letting the faint and remote possibility that I just might be the one in ten thousand who has it, dominate my social contacts. I don’t think anyone would. I do recognise that others might be worried about getting it from me and I would always respect that. “Because you seem frightened and I don’t want to frighten you more I will keep my distance and cover my face”. Yes, of course. People have always done that with cold and flu. But there is another side to it too. I get kind-of get freaked out, at first, when I see people with masks in shops and streets. I do get over that pretty quickly and sigh at the silliness of it, but I think, masks actually communicate fear. For me, it is the opposite of reassurance and I am sure others will think the same.

      • I think my point was that in keeping my distance I am not treating people as lepers but simply recognising our mutual safety. Actually for me getting on the bus it’s the mask-less faces that worry me. So I suppose it comes down to a fundamental disagreement about the reality or otherwise (or the toxicity or otherwise) of the virus, or a disagreement about whether the cure is or is not worse than the disease. My doubtless imperfect scan of the situation suggests to me that the cure is very bad indeed in lots of ways (economic and mental health impacts mainly) but nowhere near as bad as the disease allowed to run unchecked (deaths, economic and mental health impacts, social disruption etc.). This US study is worth a read:

      • Thanks for that, It is, I think, a difficult argument to conduct because we can never really know what might or could have been. Is it really possible to be certain either way? Lock-down may have saved lives but there is no actual proof that it has. There is no actual proof that it hasn’t either. The best we have is worst case scenarios and models. What we do know is that it hasn’t saved lots of lives. My hunch is that in the long run lock-down won’t have made much difference to the spread of the disease, although it will have delayed it. It may also have protected the NHS, although I think the NHS was in fact protected by the almost wholesale abandon of all but essential services to concentrate on this one thing. But I could be wrong about that. We are already seeing the massive health cost of this and I wonder if the whole episode might ring the death knell of the NHS with it only surviving as a pale reflection of itself. But I could be wrong about that too.

  2. Thank for your latest comments. Your description of pastoral initiatives within the restrictions is exactly what I would have expected you to be engaged in, although from some of your posts I had the impression that nothing much was possible. And yes, we don’t know how the cost benefit analysis will end up – who can? As to NHS, during the lock-down i have benefited from two quality appointments with my GP (who was moonlighting at the time on Covid work), and two investigative procedures (both thankfully clear), although the delay in intervention for lots of people has been serious. I also think things are probably going to get tougher over the next six months and we have to work hard at maintaining social cohesion in the middle of it.

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