Every year in the North, I would go on summer holidays and vow that when I returned I would not get pulled down into the quagmire of petty disputes that would surround church life. I would not get caught up in the endless arguments about marching or not marching, or protesting or not protesting. I would not worry about jibes from Pastor McBigot from the First Fundamentalist Free Church that we were all going to Hell. I would not get caught up in the pointless politics of church life, about who was on which committee to stop someone else being on it. Of course, come the second week in September, I would be knee deep in arguments, never being able to keep my mouth shut.
On moving to this jurisdiction, I vowed that life and ministry would be much more gentle and benign, that I would get into arguments with no-one. Most of the time now I manage to bite my tongue and say nothing. One of the things I always promised myself was that I would have a hobby that would enable me to escape from things, something to take my mind off the price of curtains, or the statement by an African bishop, or the latest piece of gossip.
When my mother-in-law died last year and left me a few shillings, I decided I would buy something worthwhile, something lasting, something different. I bought a telescope, persuading myself that the perfect way to escape from worldly annoyances was to look heavenwards. It has not been as tranquil as I thought it might be!
Buying myself “Astronomy for Dummies” I discovered that the first thing about space was that there was a lot of it, a whole lot more than I had imagined. Even our little solar system, which always seemed quite manageable on school posters, is hugely bigger than I had ever imagined. Distances to even the nearest stars were unimaginably large and there were all sorts of mysterious things out there, like Black Holes and Red Dwarfs and White Giants. It was unsettling trying to take it all in.
The second thing I discovered was that space was not only big, it was also dangerous. There were very scary things. Astronomy Ireland have lectures called things like “The Day the Sun attacked the Earth” and “Near Earth Asteroids“. I do not want to know about the sun attacking the Earth, I want it to shine nicely, particularly when I am on holiday, and I want asteroids to stay where they are meant to be, which is not anywhere near the small planet I inhabit. (Haven’t they enough room for flying around in without annoying us?)
I was particularly concerned that the asteroid Apophis might so like the Earth when it passes by in 2029, that it might come back to embrace the Earth in 2036. (This will play havoc with my pension plans as I had worked out that I will need to live until 2040 to get full value from my pension).
I’m a beginning to worry that looking through the telescope might provide not calm reassurance and escape from the things of this world, but a vision of something hurtling towards my little bit of the cosmos. All in all, it might be worse than meeting Pastor McBigot on a bad day!