We are delighted to be part of the SHOW UP campaign which is gathering steam across the UK. You may have already seen the excellent campaign video. If not, you can watch it below. You can also find more resources for the campaign by visiting this website.
The book of the campaign is called “Those who show up”, written by our director Andy, and here we can let you see a sneak peak sample of it. You can get hold of the whole thing from http://muddypearl.com/books/those-who-show-up/
In the second series of the animated TV show ‘The Simpsons’ there is a fascinating episode called “Lisa’s Substitute”. It includes an amusing subplot set in her brother Bart’s classroom in which he and his classmates must elect a class president. Their teacher Mrs. Krabappel nominates the outstanding pupil Martin, while Sherri and Terri nominate the less-than-outstanding Bart. During a ‘Presidential Debate’ Bart tells a series of infantile jokes which win the support of his classmates, much to the disgust of Martin who wants to focus on ‘the issues’. Bart is buoyed by the frenzied adulation like a teenage pop sensation. The groundswell is so overwhelming that Bart is obviously going to win by a landslide. He is in fact so confident of his victory that he does not even bother to vote. However his huge confidence has spread to his wide-eyed followers, who similarly do not feel the need to turn up at the ballot box. In fact the only kids who do vote are Martin (who votes for himself) and Wendell Borton (who also votes for Martin). Nobody had predicted that the kid famed for his nerdiness and nausea would be the king-maker!
The point here is not whether Bart should have been elected class president. This is not Florida and the year is not 2000. The point is also not whether Bart would have made a better class president than Martin (I think you may know the answer to that one). The point is that the firmly held opinions of Bart’s classmates counted for nothing because they did not ‘show up’. There is a difference between holding an opinion and actually expressing it. Then there is a further difference between just expressing that opinion out into the ether, and formally standing by it in something like an election. You can wish me ‘Happy Birthday’ on Facebook all you like, but it will mean an awful lot more to me if you actually show up at my party in person. One action takes three tenths of a second and the other takes considerably longer. Much of our modern-day campaigning is effectively ‘cost-free’. We click and share a good cause and that’s that. This book is about the intriguing discipleship and adventure that happens when what we believe starts to cost us something in terms of time, effort or reputation. Sorry – I hope you weren’t expecting a slick sales pitch.
‘Hang on, is this another book telling me how important it is to vote?’ Actually no. I can already hear you saying, “But there isn’t anyone I want to vote for – I am equally unimpressed with all of the parties”. Tell me about it. No, this isn’t another book trying to convince you to do that. It isn’t trying to get you to vote. It’s going to suggest that you could be voted for. It’s going to suggest that it could be your name on the ballot paper. Or that you could be helping someone whose name is. It’s going to suggest that in one small way, Bart Simpson could be your role model for life.
People all over the UK are unimpressed with politics and politicians. This book will delve into some of the reasons for this, but hopefully also point in the direction of some remedies. The passion expressed in the Scottish referendum campaign shows that people do care about how their countries and communities are run. The question is will we allow those thoughts to recline as mere opinions, or will we let them take a stand? All of us know the frustration of harbouring an opinion but feeling unable to express it meaningfully. In home or work contexts it usually leads to a lot of bitterness and resentment. As a nation (and especially as the church) we are in danger of sliding in that direction unless we break out of the mindset that we will simply always be the commentators, and not the participants.
THOSE WHO SHOW UP
No-one seems to be certain who first coined the famous phrase, “Decisions are made by those who show up”. Its potential authors include a range of people from former US Presidents to movie-maker Woody Allen, and it was popularised by its use in the American TV show “The West Wing”.
But whoever first uttered the phrase, it is hard to argue with. Throughout history, history has been made by those who show up. Decisions ARE made by those who show up. Not necessarily by the smartest, not necessarily by the most qualified, not necessarily by those of the best character, not necessarily by those who may have gleaned some divine wisdom, but by those who like Wendell Borton simply show up. It is sobering, but perhaps also empowering. You don’t need outrageous gifting to show up. You just need a body.
The same is true throughout the stories of scripture. Yes, at times God moves in miraculous invisible ways, but much more frequently he moves through one or more of his unremarkable people who seem to be in the right ordinary place at the right time. The CVs of Gideon, Moses, or Rahab were not exactly screaming out for their respective jobs. They just showed up in obedience.
Where do people ‘show up’? I hear you cry. They show up in a variety of places which may not always be obvious. They show up at local residents’ meetings. They show up at parents’ associations. They show up at safer neighbourhood groups. They show up at town council meetings. They show up at political party branch meetings. You may well be one of them.
You see the places that these people show up are not the fun places. These places generally involve chairpersons, secretaries, treasurers and minutes. These places are generally dusty old halls. These places don’t have Welcome teams with Fairtrade coffee, doughnuts and biscuits, and even if they manage a biccie, it’ll probably just be a Rich Tea.
But these people run the world (in the macro and the micro). There are some seriously hard yards to do. There is a lot of tiresome, repetitive work that is non-negotiable. And to get to elevated positions these people have been often been showing up at some pretty dull meetings for a long time. But we rarely think about that because we usually only know about them once they’ve got to ‘the top’.
When we reflect on history we do remember those who showed up, but our focus tends to be on the endpoints rather than the starting points. We forget that in between forming an opinion and transformation occurring a lot of hard work happened. The civil rights movement didn't just believe racism was wrong. They showed up. The Suffragettes didn't just believe women should have the right to vote. They showed up. But it cost them. We don’t often read about all the meetings that paved the way for those mass movements. And there were many of them. (but they don’t make great movies.)
For example here is a summary of the minutes of the very first meeting of a campaign group (even the word ‘minutes’ has you dropping off doesn't it?)
- They decided that the current law was bad and that the committee’s main aim was to persuade other people of that fact, mostly by producing publications
- They decided who could be on the committee and that the Quorum would be 3 members – i.e. the minimum number who had to be present for a meeting to count.
- They chose one of the group to be Treasurer but then said he couldn’t spend any money unless the whole committee said he could.
- They agreed to announce what they had decided, then ask other people to join and send money.
Then they adjourned and went for a drink. In fact I could still take you to that very pub. It didn’t exactly feel like a dramatic start. But these were the minutes of the first meeting on 22nd May 1787 of what would become the London Abolition Committee whose aim was to make the slave trade illegal. You can sit in the British Library holding those minutes, reading the original record book. There is no getting away from the fact that the meetings sounded quite dull. But year by year, through the leadership of folks like William Wilberforce, Olaudah Equiano and Thomas Clarkson, the campaign gathered steam, until eventually on 1st May 1807 the law outlawing the slave trade took effect. I think we can agree that even though it took twenty years, it was worth showing up at that first meeting.
My hope and prayer is that this book will encourage you to ‘SHOW UP’ as they did.
The SHOW UP campaign arose from a conversation between Christians in Politics and the Evangelical Alliance. It is now a growing coalition including the following organizations; the Church of England, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, National Day of Prayer, Catholic Social Action Network, Christian Aid, TearFund, Spring Harvest, CARE, The Cinnamon Network, Premier Radio, Catholic Education Service, United Christian Broadcasters, Christian Aid, Bible Society, Conservative Christian Fellowship, Christians on the Left, Liberal Democrat Christian Forum, Christians in Parliament, Fusion, FaithAction, The Salvation Army, Centre for Theology and Community, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Open Doors, Release International, Kirby Laing Institute For Christian Ethics, JustLove, Jubilee Centre, Jubilee+, and the Joint Public Issues Team.