I have a story which I like to tell because it has changed my life, but very often I feel uncomfortable sharing it because the words I have learnt to use make sod-all sense to anyone! But today as we ran our workshop at the Bank of Ideas I felt that this story, this Gospel, became more fully alive as we sought to understand how Jesus’ teaching can be lived out in practise.
Simon’s historical overview of St Paul highlighted his strong endorsement of equality and ‘mutuality’ (ie I help you out of the surplus I have and when I am in need you will help me out of the surplus you have). There is a link to Simon’s whole presentation in my previous post.
After this Rob went on to share some thoughts about what this means in practise. He suggested that the opposite to love is not hate, as we so often suggest, but that the opposite to love is selfishness. If we truly loved each other we would be generous out of what we have. But we live in a global culture in which those who have simply want to accumulate more for themselves. We talked about how supermarkets throw away tonnes of absolutely acceptable food every day simply because they will not give it away, even to those increasing numbers who are in dire need. This does not arise from their hatred of people but their selfishness to accumulate as much as possible.
And then Rob went on daringly to use the S word! He called this selfish action ‘sin’. For one of the first times in ages I did not cringe when I heard this word said, for I understood totally that it explained the selfishness witnessed which is causing protesters so much angst. Why do people want to accumulate so much? Why do footballers get paid so much? Why do bankers and CEOs need such huge bonuses? When people have SO much surplus why do they not use much of it to help those in need? And why do I feel the temptation to be discontent all the time – can’t I be more like Paul who learnt to be content in all situations?
In conversation we then went on to explore how angry many of the protesters are feeling, so much so that of course some have given their lives in the cause of revolution in some parts of the world (makes our complaints about camping in the British winter seem totally petty really…she says as someone who hasn’t camped with Occupy but understands how tired and exhausted many of them are). But interestingly we asked the question about whether there is ever a time to let that anger go. How do we live with ourselves as people who are unable to make all the changes we feel are needed, who are aware of how complicit we are in all the ‘sins’ we accuse others of, when we recognise our own limits of love and our own selfishness which is always so hard to keep under control?
I came away pondering that out of recognition of ‘sin’ comes recognition of the need for forgiveness. Some in the movement seem to be asking big questions of the world we inhabit and this naturally leads to questions of ourselves as individuals. When faced with big questions and uncertainties people search for answers. Perhaps as we confront ‘sin’ we become more open to forgiveness?