One of my favorite places to visit in London is the House of Commons, part of the seven-hundred-year-old British Parliament. Here, members in green leather benches debate in a raucous fashion that is both remarkable for its tradition and inspiring for its passion.
Parliament was last shut down due to plague in 1349. But what was old is new.
When the House of Commons reopened its doors Tuesday, the gold ceremonial mace was in place. The speaker was in his canopied chair. But screens dotting the room were prepared to link up to 120 lawmakers via Zoom.
According to tradition, the original debating chamber was designed with a social distancing of sorts—the opposing benches were two swords’ lengths apart to avoid lawmakers dueling. That design was preserved when the building was rebuilt after World War II.
Now the members will have to duel virtually.
“I am not sure how we are going to make those impassioned speeches into a television screen,” said one lawmaker. They won’t be able to chant “hear, hear” in agreement with others. Alcohol will not be served in Parliament’s numerous bars and restaurants, which seems to be the first time that has happened since 1653.
Lawmakers are nonetheless expected to dress in suits or formal wear when appearing on Zoom. “It is really important that old democracies like ours continue to set an example,” as one explained.
Making changes to preserve what must not change
The coronavirus pandemic has forced changes everywhere we look.
I’ve been working from home for weeks now. I’ll be teaching a Bible study later today via Zoom, talking over PowerPoint slides that I hope those in the study are able to follow on their devices. I was on a conference call yesterday with leaders of the healthcare system I serve as an ethicist, listening as they discussed innovations they have enacted to cope with this crisis.
But we are making these changes to preserve what must not change.
The House of Commons will meet via Zoom to continue practicing democracy. Our Bible study has made changes so we can study the unchanging word of God. Healthcare systems are changing methods so they can continue their unchanging mission.
When I was a seminary student many years ago, I was studying a philosophy textbook and found a statement that still impacts me today. Dr. Yandall Woodfin made the assertion that the Bible is always relevant because human nature does not change. Our job as communicators is not to “make” God’s word relevant to our lives but merely to demonstrate all the ways it already is.
For instance, our culture is accustomed to the concept of “good Samaritans.” In Jesus’ day, however, Samaritans were despised by Jews and vice versa. When we explain this fact and the other cultural factors surrounding our Lord’s famous story, its power comes to life.
This fact is still a fact: “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). When we spend time in Scripture, we are meeting with the living Lord himself.
When was the last time his unchanging word changed your life?