The Reverend Speaks
And now, without further ado, I would like to introduce our main speaker for today, the Reverend Bernard Railing, who I believe is better known to some parishioners as the Railing Reverend. Take it away, Bernie.
Thank you, Canon Fodd . . . er . . . Hodder. I had heard that you can always be relied on for a snappy intro. Good morning everyone. It surprises me to think that although I have long been a resident of our fair community, I have never before addressed you here. I know that you have often heard from within these walls and others like them, speeches laden with words of fire and brimstone. You will not get that from me. Instead, you will hear a message of comfort. My theme is thanksgiving – and not of the kind most often expressed in this place. I am thinking of how much we owe to so many groups who have been instrumental in making our much-admired society what it is today. Let me mention some of them.
We give thanks to the politicians, reckless spendthrifts on the left and frothing misanthropes on the right, for in the fullness of time they shall meet in the middle and all shall be well. We are particularly grateful that their deeds do not match their words, for if they were ever to succeed in that respect, our leaders would always be doing something and we would never have a moment’s peace. I think it was Will Rogers who said that we should be thankful that we are not getting all the government we are paying for. We are vastly indebted to the foremost statespeople, past and present, who have exalted patriotism and persuaded their populations that foreigners are a devious lot and not to be trusted an inch. Without such cautions, ordinary folk of various countries might have mingled more freely in times gone by, and possibly have become friendly. Perish the thought!
We give thanks to the bankers, for their tireless efforts have satisfied so many of our material requirements. Through the exertions of those in the financial sector, we have, among other things, been able to continue selling our houses to each other at ever-higher prices until recently. That is no small achievement, since it fosters within us a sense of wellbeing. There are those who say that as a result of this phenomenon we are buried under a mountain of debt. But is this not a question of attitude? One might argue that rather than considering our position from under that mountain, we should think of ourselves as seeing the world from its summit, with the magnificent vista such a vantage point offers. Is that not a better way to view the matter? We need only preserve our equanimity to see the merit of this perspective.
We give thanks to the economists, for they remind us that we are negotiating treacherous waters. We are grateful also that every expert in this field is cautious enough to predict all imaginable outcomes, thus ensuring that one or other forecast is likely to be right, whatever happens. I recall hearing somewhere that if all the economists in the world were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion. That is clearly not so, for taken collectively – and sometimes even individually – they reach all possible conclusions. I would rather accept the other well-known remark, to the effect that if all economists were laid end to end, nobody would be in the least surprised.
We give thanks to the rating agencies, whose combination of assiduousness and wizardry led those in charge of monetary affairs to accept that bundles of sub-prime mortgages were first-class securities, almost as good as gold. Without the assurances given by the agencies, we might have thought of the bonds as well-nigh worthless. How sad that would have been. And how beneficial it is to us that these rating people have long been able to do their work unhampered by a credible supervisory body to rate them. I think of the Romans who two thousand years ago pondered on the question of who should guard the guards.
We give thanks to the lawyers, whose serpentine casuistry enables us to resolve our differences by resorting to convoluted legal procedures, rather than dealing with them by the barbarously primitive method which we used to call common sense, but which, thanks to litigation, is no longer necessary. Were we not foolish to trust each other for so long, when we could have availed ourselves of more sophisticated channels?
We give thanks to those engaged in sport, especially the professionals, for they give us joy in more than one way. We marvel not only at their prowess but also their peripheral antics, such as shouting, swearing, grunting, spitting, tantrums, biting of opponents and various kinds of cheating. In the last month or so, I have heard of impropriety in association football, cycling, athletics, horse racing and even cricket. I am also appalled by the continuing stories about people who take drugs to enhance their performances. This whole area has reached the position at which I feel it appropriate to make a suggestion. I propose that in each field of sporting endeavour there should be two strands of competition, one for those who play by the traditional rules and one for the dishonest types. I even envisage that when a season ends in whatever field, the champions of the two strands should have decisive encounters to see which method prevails.
We give thanks to the journalists, for whom good news is no news. Without their unflagging efforts to acquaint us with every detail of every mishap and misdeed throughout the world, we might find ourselves dwelling upon the fact that probably ninety-nine percent of us usually go about our daily business quietly and uneventfully. Perhaps we should ask ourselves whether we would be happier not allowing ourselves to be distracted by the many sensational and salacious occurrences presented to us by the media.
We give thanks to the broadcasters, whose daily quota of syntactical and grammatical gaffes offers us so much entertainment. Without their contribution to our lives, we would be deprived of a great deal laughter. Only yesterday I heard a presenter, speaking of a task on which he had been engaged, say that he had made an effort to attempt to try and do the job. While no lexicologist, I would say that, at least in the case I have cited, the words effort, attempt and try should be regarded as synonymous. Perhaps the fellow had been struggling to swallow a thesaurus. I also wondered why one would try and do something. Surely one tries to do it.
We give thanks to a large number of those in my own line of work, for verily many representatives of the clergy – I hope I may exclude myself here – have sought and still seek to keep us close to the straight and narrow path by constantly reminding us for centuries of how evil we are. Were it not for this continual castigation, some of us might well have felt that we were not too bad. That just wouldn’t do, would it? I am reminded of the observation that puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere might be having fun.
We in our town give thanks to the tourists, for we live in a seaside resort and are largely dependent upon these worthy people for our wellbeing. However, I am sure that we would appreciate the day-trippers bearing with them coin of the realm for procurement of their sustenance while among us, instead of bringing their own food and drink.
I could go on, my friends, but I begin to suspect that you have heard enough for the moment. I am also aware that we have reached the time of day at which most of our splendid hostelries are beginning to open their doors, and I can offer you no wiser counsel than to follow my example, for I shall proceed to the nearest tavern and take unto myself a sinful skinful. Make haste!
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