Last Saturday I went along to an event at St Michael Le Belfrey called ‘Solutions for a broken world’ held in response to the Occupy movement. I live blogged the introduction from the Bishop of Selby as well as the three sessions asking what’s broken?; what does the Bible say? and what would Jesus have US do?. We also heard from York CVS and Besom about how we could get involved through their organisations.
These are my reflections on the format and overall theme of the day. The content itself threw up some more questions and I’ll try to get those out later this week.
Hearts are in the right place.
The day come from an unmistakeable desire from Mel, Martin and others within the church in York to seek answers to some of the questions that have been asked. There’s also a clear and passionate desire to see those situations transformed. That was brilliant to see.
A worrying demographic
However, for whatever reason this day did not capture the imagination of a balanced audience. The majority of people were older than 50 and whilst that’s great, my generation needs to be engaged and we were not there last Saturday. Given the focus placed on students at St Mike’s I found that strange.
Whatever the reason for their not being there I know that they’re engaged, active and passionate. But they’re getting on and doing something about it – the things which are going on outside the church, often being driven by secular organisations on behalf of the last and the least, are practical attempts at identifying solutions and building collaborative communities that put them into action.
What was pitched as offering real solutions to real problems ended up being an excellent exposition of the state of the world and a tremendous theological grounding in God’s character. But the solutions were fairly standard – Christians, live like you believe the Gospel; be engaged with your society and volunteer your time.
That is good stuff certainly but, and this is no criticism of those who put together the day, it feels at odds with those mechanisms being explored by people with concerns about the world that prize tangible outcomes. A day like last Saturday could have been a great opportunity to wrestle with specific needs and to innovate around them – Restore have done so, and so too has GeniUS York.
One of those is a Christian organisation, the other entirely secular. And it was good to see us invite the CVS to stand alongside Besom because that’s the same dynamic. It’s important for us to be eager to work with all those driven by injustice, whose focus is compassion and with a passion for transformation.
There’s a tendency to believe that our role as God’s people means our position on serving the world is the best. It’s almost as though we can’t see past ourselves as the custodians of truth and transformation. Whilst the community of the church should be an exemplar for life lived well (central to Al’s teaching), I think our starting point has to be Jesus’ definition of our neighbourhood.
What Jesus said was revolutionary – neighbour isn’t family, it isn’t friend, it isn’t the person like you. He says your neighbour is actually that person who you wouldn’t even give the time of day to. In its very content the Parable of the Good Samaritan should challenge us on another level too: it was the person from outside the community of God who acted.
In pursuing justice, compassion, mercy, humility, grace and any other goal which the church talks about, there are non-Christians doing an incredible job of expressing God’s character. And we need to build relationships with them and serve them and be salt, light and yeast. God is glorified when lives are transformed but we do not hold a monopoly on that activity.
Nor am I convinced we should wait to get our own homes in order before we look outwards. I’ve always been struck by this passage in Joshua whose message to a certain chunk of the Israelites is that you’ve got what’s coming to you, be secure in that but first go and make sure everybody is safe before you build your houses.
The truth is that our priority should be both and, not either or but we seem to tend towards cloistering ourselves away: after we’d heard about the resources provided by York CVS to identify opportunities for volunteering someone stood up and said that what we needed was a central way for the church to accredit voluntary opportunities in the city. For him the secular one we’d just heard about wasn’t suitable because it wasn’t avowedly Christian; I’m afraid I disagree.
The world is fab
When I was thinking about how to tweet from the event on Saturday my first stop was looking at the acronym for the event – solutions for a broken world would become sfabw and in the middle of the word saw ‘fab’. Hence #fabworld.
It’s not exactly a popular expression but we know it means good things. And personally I don’t want to write off the world as broken – in the midst of everything we share breathtaking examples of love, joy and transformation. Yes, it’s easy to focus on the negatives and those signs of good are frequently almost overwhelmed but the world is incredible whilst full of hurt; creation is glorious though scarred; relationships are harmonious but fractured.
And you know what, it’s unacceptable for Christians to take that kind of defeatist attitude.
We believe that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection set the restoration of the world in motion. As much as we live in that future we need to be rooted in that reality today because we believe God’s transformation is present and ongoing. And that should move us to get stuck in with the people whose lives point to the character of God whatever their wider belief structure might be.
Maybe we didn’t get into the practicalities of finding solutions for a broken world and that was a bit disappointing but if we lived out Micah 6, Isaiah 58, Luke 10 and Acts 4 it would be a pretty different place. If we start from that premise as Christians then maybe everything else would fall into place?