When I think about it, I’ve been carrying stones all my life.
In the playground, when the ugly boy was being pushed around and pushed away by everyone else, I was always one of the crowd doing the pushing.
At the office, in the crisis which hit when the corporation was revealed to be trading illegally, something we employees already knew but never questioned, I sided with everyone else against the whistle blower, to have her first disciplined and then fired.
At the sports ground, I found myself joining in the crowd’s brutal chants against opposition team players, spitting out words not relating to anything they’d done on the pitch, but fixing on their colour, or the way they looked, or their sexuality.
On the PCC I raised my hand, just as everyone else did, to agree the decision to stop the alcoholic woman coming into our Sunday evening services, for she could be a distraction to us as we worshipped God.
Why am I carrying a stone?
Because I deeply desire to be part of the group, I need more than anything to belong, and when the group’s identity is threatened, when things look like they may be falling apart, I’m as ready as everyone else to gang up against someone we’ve identified who doesn’t fit, who we can punish or expel as the means to make things right again, to strengthen our belonging to each other.
In his essay ‘On the Happy Life’, the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote: 'Nothing is more important to understand than that we must not, in the manner of sheep, follow the lead of the flock walking ahead of us, going where they go habitually, not where they need to go. Nothing entangles us in greater evils than our propensity to obey public opinion, to regard those things as best that are endorsed by the approval of the majority. Because we are surrounded by the example of many others, we live our lives not according to reason but by imitation.'
- from Why am I (still) carrying a stone?, my Ash Wednesday talk.