So, I put it to you that the consequences of distraction can be large. Those of us with Irish DNA need to hear the challenge that our obsession with the border has led to us not loving our neighbour as ourselves and stolen decades of healthy existence from our island. But might it be wise to at least consider that the distraction of Brexit has stolen and may continue to steal decades of focus on climate change, strengthening family life, healthcare, immigration, economic justice, international peacebuilding, and maintaining local service provision from local councils. In short, ‘things that matter’.
The temptation is to see distractions as whimsical, temporary things. We think, “ah that quick scroll through Facebook or Instagram may make me less efficient, but it won’t kill me”. But that is exactly how temptation works. If you believe in an invisible battle between good and evil (and I do), then there are some dynamics that are worth considering. If there is a person or an impersonal force tempting me, then it is unlikely to tempt me to do things that are socially and culturally inappropriate in my world. I am not likely to be tempted to murder someone this morning. That would be an inefficient tempting strategy. But it would appear from the state of the world that whoever is in charge of tempting is actually quite good at it.
That’s why I believe we are more usually tempted not to swing dramatically one way or the other but by a small shift of the needle. Just a little bit more than the day before. Not tempted to kill someone but tempted to score that point in a social media discussion. Not tempted to rob a bank, but tempted to ‘creatively’ adjust small increments in our tax reporting. Not tempted to commit adultery, but tempted to linger too long in a conversation or on a website.
The force(s) of darkness are not idiots. They don’t waste time for most of us tempting us with the big stuff. In short, they try to distract us. Just a little wander off the main path. Won’t hurt anyone. Won’t take up much time. Except that habits form and unhealthy practices and opinions start to solidify, and ever-so-subtly the wheels may start to come off. Multiply that by a few million people and a whole country can end up hacking through gorse and bushes rather than driving on the track.
Sure, a marriage can be patched up after innocent distraction becomes a porn addiction, but there will be wounds and scars. We need to acknowledge and repent to allow healing. The people of Northern Ireland know all too well that real reconciliation needs the hard yards of repentance and forgiveness.
My prayer for the new Northern Ireland executive is that they can avoid further distractions and keep the main thing the main thing. At present only seven per cent of young people in Northern Ireland attend an integrated school. That means that the vast majority of people are growing up not getting to know kids from the other side of the religious divide. In that vacuum the fear, ignorance and prejudice can fester. Our own secret apartheid. That would be one place to start.
Speaking of which. Get back to work.