Standing at the door of the school chapel a decade or more ago, a master spoke to a fellow staff member of a colleague overseas, “the sun that shines on Edward James also shines on me.” The words quoted from John Betjeman seemed appropriate to the ambience of timelessness encountered in the architecture of Butterfield that surrounded us and to the ethos of a school where art and literature were given as important a place as feats on the sports fields.
Betjeman’s words spoke of a sense of companionship with James, even though his friend might be in some distant place. The words prompted the thought afterwards that if there was a solidarity between Betjeman and Edward James because they stood under the same sun, then was there not a similar sense of solidarity available to anyone who wished to establish a sense of connection with someone else?
In American films, the protagonist will look up to the night sky and tell his companion that whenever they looked up and saw the same star, they would think of each other. In childhood days, it was the moon that we shared, it shining upon us, watching over us, regarding us equally.
It would hardly have been a thought to which a traditionalist like Betjeman would have subscribed, but there seemed also a radical egalitarianism in his words. “The sun that shines on Edward James also shines on me” suggests an equal standing, a comparable status.
Such a radical equality was once at the heart of Christianity, Paul, the writer of numerous letters in the Bible, speaks of the essential oneness among people, speaks of there being no barriers. The church would not contemplate such a society, its power could only be exercised through the creation of hierarchies and firm lines of demarcation. Women were to occupy a secondary place so men could be dominant; those of other races were to be regarded as inferior, even slavery was to be acceptable; those of other religions were to be considered heretics, against whom bloody crusades and persecutions might be thought reasonable.
The church has never disengaged from that past. Societal change has forced the bishops to grudgingly accept reform, but not once has there been a suggestion that the hierarchy and the privilege will be given up in order to live in a way that might have been recognised by Jesus of Nazareth.
“The sun that shines on Edward James also shines on me,” is a more radical vision of equality than anything offered by the prelates.