|Pen and Ink Reflections
What do sheep and shepherds mean to you? They are very much part of my story but I often struggle with them theologically in my context today. This photo is from Forest-in-Teesdale, near where I was born. Indeed, the farm in the centre is one I knew years ago, working with local farmers on pressing issues of rural stress and suicide, social and economic survival, and other faith and environmental issues. For sheep and good shepherding, literally and spiritually, is crucial to the Durham Dales. High on the roof of England, though we once had the greatest silver mine in the world, even subsistence mining of many important minerals is now near impossible. The great hunting lodges of bishops and kings have gone, disappearing with the remaining tree cover swept from the fells. Only occasional rich people’s grouse shooting really accompanies sheep today, together with the ambiguous harvest of tourists sampling one of England’s last wildernesses. Shepherds, particularly on the highest ground, therefore remain heroic figures to me: extraordinarily resilient, weathering so many vicissitudes; and, above all, deeply, intimately, connected to their/my land and its communities. No wonder Cuthbert, the greatest saint of the North, began life as a shepherd. Sheep, and good shepherding, are part of the lifeblood of my native people. What however of other peoples? In these lands now called Australia colonial society was notoriously built ‘on the sheep’s back’. Whilst that was lifeblood for some, for others it meant the blood of death and dispossession. For in the pioneering work of John Macarthur and others, the sheep was arguably a weapon of mass destruction, and shepherds key players in frontier warfare. So what kind of shepherd do we value today?...