You’re walking along Oxford Street, minding your own business, when they pounce. “Have you had an accident in the last five years?” they ask. Curbing my gut reaction to tell them to piss off, I curtly reply, “Not interested.” They look at me askance. Undeterred they forge ahead. “You may be entitled to compensation.” “Sorry, not interested.” They look at me like I’m from the planet Zog.
Nowadays, whatever happens, it’s never your fault. It’s never no one’s fault either. It’s always someone else’s fault. That’s how lawyers make a living. Hence the quip: What do you call a lawyer who doesn’t chase ambulences? - Retired!
And then there are the counsellors. The lawyer’s advice “It’s not your fault” becomes, on the counsellor’s couch, “You’re not to blame.” The prevailing clinical nostrum prescribes that nothing should dent our sense of self-esteem, our feeling good about ourselves.
Indeed how one feels, rather than what is true, has become the essence of self-definition. That we are more than our emotions, that we are chronically cunning and resourceful in devising strategies of self-deceit, and that the quest for self-knowledge is a painful, frightening, and never-ending journey, have become psychological solecisms in our therapeutic society.
This is the cultural context in which the church enters the counter-cultural period of Lent. For over the next six weeks we will dare to speak of the stigmatised themes of sin, guilt, and penitence. We will seek not to feel good about ourselves, but to be honest with ourselves. We will ask not for affirmation, but for forgiveness. And we will discover who we really are not in our feelings but in the transcendent truth of God in Jesus Christ. The truth will not make us comfortable, but it will set us free - free from self-absorption and self-pity - and free for the service of others.