As I was praying and preparing what I might say at the parliamentary launch of ‘Christians on the Left’, the phrase, “They came expecting fireworks” dropped into my mind. It seemed an appropriate starting point for an event happening in the Houses of Parliament on the night of the 5th of November!
It's in the nature of a launch, with a new website (already visited by people from 42 different countries), a storm of twitter messages and huge amounts of enthusiasm in the room (140 people squeezed into every crevice of Committee Room 11), to look for some fireworks and glitz. I was able to encourage everyone that in the 24 hours the site had been live we had already accrued a raft of new members. Energy was high.
So I went on to point out that..
In first century Palestine, they also came looking for fireworks. An oppressed people were looking for liberation and they wanted it now. They were hoping for a mighty explosion of energy and light that would restore their status as God’s chosen people, back in charge of their own destiny. They were looking for a military extravaganza. And it looked like this carpenter of Nazareth was going to light the touchpaper.
They came looking for fireworks, but they got a story about something practically invisible. What they got was a man who said “The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed”. He said, “This isn’t going to be fast. This is going to be slow. He said, “This isn’t going to start huge, it’s going to start infinitesimally small”. The Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama has written a book about this kingdom called ‘3mph God’. Our God seems to move slowly, because he moves at the speed of relationships. For him ends never justify means. For him it is about people, and he cares as much about the journey as the destination. He cares as much about the method as the product delivered. That is why it is a slow, long journey. That is why in politics especially, we must be in it for the long haul. We are in it for the long haul because we care about people. We care about process as well as product.
We must not get sucked into the instant culture of the 21st century, where everything is about overnight sensations and ‘next big thing’s. We must be prepared to do the hard yards of relationship building. Change in political thinking and practice is rarely fast, but we must believe that that mustard seed will produce fruit. There is also something of sacrifice and death about that seed. We will not necessarily be lauded for what we do, but unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies…
Are we ready for the long haul?
There is encouragement, because we know that this slowly replicating, sprawling DNA of the kingdom is not ours. It is God’s. Incredibly each of us are formed with this divine DNA inside us, made in the image of God. Every tree has within it the potential to start a forest. The seeds are there. Every human has within them the potential to start a movement. The seeds of reproduction are there. The kingdom is unstoppable because it is in our DNA no matter how much we try to suppress it, by choosing the easier paths of disengagement and complaint. Those moments of slow growth happen with every moment of righteousness and justice. They happen every time we choose the King’s way rather than the easy way.
Ask yourself why you joined this movement. It probably wasn’t through the impressiveness of the website, or an eloquent piece of writing. It was probably through a person. You knew a living breathing flesh and blood human being who gave you the nerve to sign up. Knowing someone and knowing that they are not mad (well at least not totally mad!) is often the key element in someone joining.
It’s people who draw people to a movement and sometimes it’s not just the leader but the first follower that is most strategic in movement-building. Check out this video clip to see why…. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fW8amMCVAJQ
This is why as our website develops it will feature simple portraits of many ‘Christians on the Left’ explaining what makes them tick, what they get up to, and why they are Christians on the Left.
We also know that this kingdom will spread because our political system is crying out for integrity, creativity and vision. All across the country this sort of vision is being shown by believers who are finding creative ways to tackle the challenges in their neighbourhoods. Whether it is befriending schemes for pensioners, or debt counseling programmes for those in fear of the bailiff, or lifeskills classes for at-risk teenagers, the church is stepping up. That energy is already starting to feed through into the political realm and we have the privilege of being part of that transformation.
So as we attempt to influence the political realm, let’s remember again, it’s a long haul because our God is a God of relationship. In his very essence, God is a team. He cares as much about his mission in us as his mission through us. But relationships take time and relationships take effort, especially if they are being formed with people who we may well disagree with on some things. That is the road less travelled. As humans we generally form tribes and stick with the folks who won’t challenge us, but transformation happens when we stick our necks out beyond those comfort zones, to not just say something and run away, but to build relationships.
We have what I would call a ‘relationship deficit’. People draw people to a movement, but as Christians we are still too separate. We have allowed the silo-ing of society to happen. We have allowed spheres of life to float off like a broken Newton’s cradle.
A perfect example of this is the sphere of economics. I will never forget sitting in a meeting in Lambeth Palace in 2008. Rowan Williams, the then Archbishop of Canterbury had invited some of the key players in the banking and financial services industry to tea. The seismic events of the global economic crash were just a couple of months ago. I was hoping it would be a kind of group confession. The CEOs of a range of banks and other financial agencies (who will remain nameless) were all sat around the meeting table. The opening gambit was thrown by Mr. A. He said, “We’ve got to remember that this is not a moral crisis, it is an economic crisis”. Eyebrows were raised by some (including the Archbishop, whose eyebrows are better than most), but silent politeness reigned still. Mr B chipped in, “Indeed, we have to realise that in the last thirty years there have been very few ‘losers’. The only ‘losers’ are those as yet unborn.” At this point, I and others simply couldn't hold ourselves back. How could they not see that that was a ‘moral’ statement! That the fact that it was alright to mortgage the future of our children was not a moral decision? As you can imagine, a sturdy discussion on the need for ethics in the world of economics ensued. Then another bank chief stepped in. “Well, it’s all very well to talk about applying ethics to economics, but we are so multicultural now, it’s almost impossible to know which ethics to apply!”
My chin was on the floor at this point. These gents (interestingly, they were all gents) were meant to be at the top of their trade, but they were talking at the intellectual and philosophical level of the kids on our estate. They really couldn't see beyond their immediate turf.
What was worse was that this was what they were saying just months after the most embarrassing indictment of their system in living memory, while sat in a room in Lambeth Palace opposite the Archbishop of Canterbury. Goodness knows what they were saying 6 months earlier in a boardroom at the top of a Canary Wharf skyscraper!
It was the scariest evidence of groupthink caused by a silo mentality that I had ever seen. These people were only talking to other people like them, or perhaps they were talking to others, but only listening to people like them.
The carnage happened because the only people that were allowed to speak into the world of economics (without being sneered at) were economists. Every sphere needs outside wisdom or it will descend into self-service (including the church!) We are desperately in need of people who will straddle the worlds of the church and economics, the church and the media, and especially for our context, the church and politics. We need people who will be able to speak the language of both spheres, and do a job of translation between them.
However we need to fiercely encourage these ‘straddlers’ because as any straddler will tell you, it’s an uncomfortable place to be! When you have your feet on two mountains, there is only so far up either one you can get. This is not an ideal career path for advancement. From a financial and a status point of view, being a straddler is not a good move. You will spend more time in the shadows than in the limelight. But you will do some important kingdom work.
That is why we who are called to this slow, mustard-seed, uncomfortable, straddling experience need each other. That is why Christians on the Left exists. We need to support and pray for one another. I see that happening to an amazing extent with the CotL Future Candidates group. From each other and God they glean the energy to keep going when things are tough. When they have knocked the 300th door that day, they know that someone who understands is only a phone call away. When they have been excoriated at a public meeting, they are reminded that their identity doesn’t depend on what others think of them.
Am I selling this to you?
I want to be honest, rather than a salesman. This is a tough road, but a crucial road, and you should see the fireworks at the end of it. If you want to go fast, go it alone. If you want to go far, go together.
I’ve signed up to COTL and trust the public launch goes well!I’m a fellow Northern-Irelander,now resident in GB,seeking to shake some salt and shine some light in my centres of influence at College,Church,and Community.First heard you at Summer Madness,some years back,then enjoyed listening to you share at Regents Theological College,Malvern,Worcs,in 2011!Keep up the good work!Rev Gordon Graham