In a virtual age, there is still nothing like having something on a piece of paper. Having only a couple of hours to spare this afternoon, the debate about which newspapers to buy is quickly resolved. Buying the Irish Times and the Financial Times costs less than a pint of beer and they can be kept for days to come, unlike the pints, which are very quickly recycled. The Best Beloved, who never has a clue how much there might be in the bank, buys the Financial Times in order to read the columns of Mrs Moneypenny and Harry Eyres. Frequently, Eyres’ columns are cut out and filed away for future reference; his anecdotes and observations and literary quotes being of a better quality than most sermons.
Eyres is an avid unbeliever, yet his Saturday reflections frequently touch upon matters that were at the centre of the teaching of the First Century. The value of neighbourliness in a hard winter is stressed in today’s column:
In London too, our good, hospitable neighbours have seemed more important than ever. Part of the big city’s attraction for many has always been its anonymity. But nobody wants to die in anonymity, discovered weeks later in a flat full of cans of baked beans. Hard winters bring out the importance of real physical proximity, rather than the more long-distance or virtual relationships that many of us have increasingly come to rely on. Maybe those old fires, or the stoves that people sit around in Spain, which bring people physically together, are more convivial than central heating. Facebook contacts become less attractive when you’re shivering or sliding on ice.
It would not be hard to imagine Jesus, had he lived in climes more than 50 degrees North, rather than in Mediterranean heat, telling parables where the true neighbour is someone who walks three miles through snow and ice to bring food to elderly friends unable to venture out.
Eyres’ column comes at the end of a week when a free paper came from the people who run the evangelical programme, Alpha. The top half of the front page is dominated by a smiling photograph of Britain’s last Prime Minister. “An Interview with Tony Blair”, declares the headline. Mr Blair is quoted as saying, “Alpha . . . is probably the most interesting and incredible thing going on in our Christian world”.
Perhaps their timing was particularly bad, but the idea that Mr Blair, who declared at the inquiry into the Iraq war that he would still take his country into a conflict that has cost thousands of innocent lives, should be presented as commending a course that is intended to present a Gospel of peace and love seems slightly incongruous.
Could it be that Jesus of Nazareth would feel more comfortable with the caring and integrity of the unbelieving Harry Eyres, than with an evangelicalism that embraces the master of spin?