His grave has become a place to which to go to reflect. Standing contemplating the inscription, there is a awareness that the world in which he worked was infinitely worse than that which we inhabit a hundred years later.
The Revd G.A. Studdert-Kennedy, known to the soldiers on the Western Front as “Woodbine Willie”, wrote a collection of poems called “The Unutterable Beauty”, a collection which contained the poem “Indifference”.
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do, ‘
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.
In student days, it was a piece read by those who disliked the secular world that had emerged after the 1960s. The poem was used to suggest that the times of tolerance in which we lived were simply a cover for a lazy apathy seemed unfair. There was every reason to disagree with their contention. Surely, even Studdert-Kennedy, who died in 1929, would have agreed that the times of tolerance were better than the horrific wars of the first half of the Twentieth Century.
With the passing years, though, there is a sense that Studdert-Kennedy had perceived a nascent deep malaise. How might he have responded to the complete practical indifference of generations raised on social media?
The online, virtual world has allowed people to convince themselves that they are active and engaged in the concerns of the world whilst taking no action whatsoever that would demonstrate a real and material commitment. The distancing required by the present times of plague may leave a legacy of even greater disengagement. When people have learned the rules and practices of a remote existence, what need have they for the inconvenience of engaging with strangers on a street?
Were Studdert-Kennedy writing a century later, it is difficult to imagine his opinion would have changed.
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