As a new academic year begins, under extraordinary conditions, I imagine teachers, not unlike church ministers, feel as though they are having to negotiate
their way through regulations and guidelines with the skill of a tightrope walker. Never having a head for heights, I have always been puzzled why anyone would
want to place themselves on a narrow wire, dangerously far off the ground with nothing more to protect them than their sense of balance and a long balancing pole. One tiny step off-line and they fall.
Over recent months I can all too clearly empathise with someone on a high wire. In a world that continues to be filled with danger, we need the skill of the tightrope walker. Going too far towards the side of safety and caution means that we can easily cut ourselves off from so much that is of value and benefit as we experience very little of life first-hand. Going too far towards recklessness, with a disregard for safety, can bring us,
and those we come into contact with, into terrible and unnecessary danger.
Throughout the story of our faith, the followers of God’s way have found themselves caught between risk and safety. There were times when Elijah, the prophet, stood up publicly and fearlessly against Ahab, Jezebel and the priests of Baal. There were also times when he hid. John the Baptist died for his fearless and outspoken criticism of Herod and Herodias, but he spent most of his time in desert isolation. Moses challenged Pharaoh face to face, but the same Moses had once fled from Egypt in fear of his life after killing the taskmaster who was ill-treating a Hebrew
When Jesus was tempted at the beginning of his public ministry, he refused to put God’s protective providence to the test by making a spectacular jump from the highest point of the temple, but he did not hesitate to use his power to still the storm, when it was necessary. God never wants us to take unnecessary risks, or to act rashly or recklessly. Only a very stupid person explores a pothole when heavy rain is expected, and their stupidity endangers those who volunteer to rescue them. God does, however, expect us to follow the way of love, justice and peace, regardless of the cost to self.
That is why Christians down the centuries have gone through jungles and swamps, across deserts and mountains into leper colonies and tropical fever hospitals in response to the call of Christ even though a risk assessment would suggest it might be safer to choose a different path. They did so because they followed the one who went away by himself to pray, but only to pray for the strength to confront the powers and authorities of his day, knowing it could lead to death on a cross.
The One who died on the cross, provides us with the balance pole we need to negotiate our current tightropes. We are not alone on our high wire. May God in Christ be with teachers, pupils and all who work in education this coming academic year.
With love and prayers