Archive for January, 2012

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?

I had the privilege of running a workshop at the Bank of Ideas today with Simon Jones & Rob Schellert.  I have been following the Occupy movement enthusiastically and I thought the creation of a bank of ideas was inspirational.  The movement has been criticised for not offering any solutions as alternatives to their angst against the current state of things, but in an age when you just know that something is wrong the most important thing I think you can do is create space to think and dream, to dialogue and listen, to share and hone ideas.

When the camp first emerged outside St Paul’s Cathedral there were many creative banners and pieces of artwork on display.  If you visited you would be hard pressed to miss the many posters and scrawls which asked what Jesus would do or stated categorically that if Jesus were here today that he would be encamped with the initiators of the movement rather than allied with the 1% (which sadly at the early stages often included the ‘church’ as a whole in people’s thinking).

I found these references to Jesus intriguing and it showed that there must have been some with Christian heritage involved in the movement, yet looking at the programme of topics at the Bank of Ideas there seemed to be few opportunities for continuing Christian thought to be engaged with.  I was aware that some Christian organisations had organised helpful debates with influential business people and had invited members of the Occupy movement along to state their case, but it seemed sad to me that yet again ‘the church’ was inviting people to ‘their’ comfort zone rather than going to engage on ‘their’ turf.

It also frequently occurs to me that the question ‘What would Jesus do?’ is often an un-constructive place to start, and this was my opening comment when I started the workshop today. Whether you believe that Jesus was a good man, a prophet, the Son of God or even an alien, the general consensus is that Jesus was something somewhat ‘other’ than us mere mortals.  He was either super-duper good or supernatural to varying degrees, (I’m on shaky theological ground I know, but you understand the range of what I mean, I hope!).  In our minds this often makes us feel that his actions and life-choices are difficult, if not impossible to imitate as fully as we might like to.  However if we unpack the lives of his early followers, I thought, we might unearth how someone we may consider to be a normal, regular, joe-bloggs human being lives out the teaching of Jesus that they took to heart so earnestly.  Given the place and residency of the Occupy camp, St Paul seemed the obvious choice!

So I hesitantly proposed an event via the website, and was delighted when it was accepted.  Simon was on standby to bring the historical and contextual background as well as a broad understanding of Paul’s economical ideas and Rob was on standby to bring some of his story and experiences of being a Jesus follower who seems to be making a habit of getting arrested for being kind!

You can read Simon’s presentation here if you are interested.

We had five enthusiastic people attend our workshop who each contributed some great insights.  At least four of them would not call themselves ‘Christian’ but were intrigued by the story of Paul and together we discovered that the cathedral’s namesake seems to have much to say into today’s challenging context.

I am off to ponder a brilliant experience and may write more later…