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Your wellbeing: Biff Tannen will not have the last word

Revd Chris McDermott, Lead Chaplain for the University of Sussex.

Remember Biff Tannen?

He is the bully boy (an old man by 2015 in ‘Back to the Future 2’, set in the mid 1980s) who sneaks a ride back in time to the 1950s, armed with a current almanac that records, among other things, updated information about the winners of sundry horse races over the years.

He uses the information to become a wealthy kingpin and by the time the main character, Marty McFly, returns to his own present in 1985 the world has become a dystopia. One in which Biff is not only the successful owner of casinos and a rich business man with immense power, but also is now his stepfather and married to Marty’s mother – who he fancied since their teens in the 50s.

The present had become a grim place indeed. And like all dystopias, this one exists only to serve the interests of the few – Biff and his allies in the power sweepstakes. Whoa!! Is it possible that some Donald Trump in the future discovered a time machine and… sorry, what a ridiculous thought.

The holidays now impending – Chanukah, Christmas, Rohatsu (to cite three among others) - with their themes of dedication, peace, hope and light and enlightenment - all pose a challenge to those dystopias that serve and benefit the few over the many.

‘Peace on earth’ certainly can ring hollow amid flights of people seeking refuge or facing violence in their homelands; interminable conflicts that are fed by lunatic politics and even fueled by the unhelpful interventions of Biff-like leaders (no names mentioned) or even tax reforms that weigh heavy on the poor but give cause for the few to toast their good fortunes in pubs and wine bars over this holiday season.

How can we contribute to molding a world where power is directed toward supporting the wellbeing of the planet and all its people - a world where those obstacles to achievement and human flourishing, based on wealth and privilege, are dismantled and possibilities for wellbeing opened for the many and not just the few? I think we all have ideas around this and many of us are trying to do our best. One thing in all of this is very important: attitude.

I cannot help but shrink from listening to news at times as the cynical monster inside me starts to loom large. But I do not want to react to the dystopias around me by energizing them further with my own hate and contempt. But how do we find hope among the dystopian shambles of Trump, the impending reality of Brexit (speaking of a shambles), mounting extremism and hateful populisms that are now a global phenomenon?

I am not sure that I know exactly how we do this, if I’m honest. But I do know that a part of the answer is our willingness to look for ‘the crack in everything’ because ‘that’s how the light gets through’.

Leonard Cohen fans will recognize the allusion to his “Anthem” (video below).

Look for signs of hope amid the ruins of Trump, Brexit and growing extremism: people galvanized to go the extra mile and extend love and hospitality over the rhetoric of hate; movements of protest inspired by those politics of the few over the many.

The renewed energy for compassion amid the stinting, self-serving choices that are made regardless of their impact on the most vulnerable in society; and the signs of a kind of ‘Return of the Jedi’ energy waging battle with the imperialistic assault on human rights and liberty.

Kindness, courage and compassion continue to be demonstrated by people and groups around us. These are the cracks that allow the light to get through. We can harness that energy to build a more compassionate world.

Biff will not have the last word.

Light, joy and peace for the holiday season and the new year ahead.

Revd Chris McDermott, Lead Chaplain for the University of Sussex


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Posted on behalf of: Chaplaincy
Last updated: Thursday, 7 December 2017


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