“May you live in interesting times,” the old curse goes, and it feels like 2016 has got very, very interesting. It feels like the world is shaking, like chickens are coming home to roost, like a thousand other ill-advised metaphors that don’t capture the fear and uncertainty that lies before us. No-one quite knows what’s going to happen next, not even those in power, who seem to have been caught on the hop as much as the rest of us. And in that lack of certainty, bad things are happening and we all, together, need to deal with that somehow. And no-one has a plan.
I’m trying to process the last few months myself, and I do a lot of that through this blog. So here are three thoughts on how we might start to move forward. They’re flawed and imperfect, but I need to start the conversation, even if that’s only with myself… I just hope our churches take on board that there are a lot of scared and confused and angry people out there, and we need to respond in a way that reflects Christ more than it does Christendom.
They say we’re living in a post-truth society, and it’s hard to argue against that, much less know how to fight it. The easy answer is that we fight lies with truth, with facts, but that doesn’t always make a dent, and that’s possibly down to how we communicate that truth. Rather than bringing a knife to a gun fight, it feels like we’ve brought fact checkers to a poetry slam, and then wondered why no-one wants to look at our pie charts.
Don’t get me wrong, facts are important. But facts are embodied things, they have stories behind them, they’re the product and the producer of people and places. Talking about unemployment statistics is important, but we need to show the impact of that on communities; hearing about an increase in hate crimes is vital, but we fight that dehumanisation through humanising stories. Facts and truth need to be incarnated.
People out there are scared. They’re scared because they see swastikas daubed on churches, they’re scared because they see their livelihoods disappearing, they’re scared because rhetoric seeks to portray them as monsters. And this is a grotesque way for human beings to be treated – it’s not just. We need to demonstrably show a passion and a love for justice – not just in areas that match up with our own particular hobby horses, but an expansive, holistic approach that recognises the full humanity in those around us, and, in recognising that, takes a stand.
That’s going to be tough, because that means we can’t pick and choose, it means we’ve got to recognise the humanity in the eyes not only of our allies, but our enemies too. And we can’t do that if we’re looking for the evil in them, if we’re too busy painting a target on their back to look in their face. The Church can be guilty of that – so busy looking for the Antichrist that we forget that ‘antichrist’ is more of a verb than a noun. We have to check our actions, see how they impact those around us, and reject violence of word, deed and emotion, working for the good of all. And we can’t do that if we’re busy rejecting justice in favour of self-interest.
But to pursue justice, we’ve got to acknowledge all the times we’ve failed to do that in the past; we can’t do things differently if we insist on looking at the world through the same old lenses, and we can’t change our perspective without recognising that a change is needed. That includes repenting – or a rejection – of our personal screw ups, but also systemic problems – racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, Islamophobia… Our societies are built upon foundations, and some of those foundations are pretty damn shaky, foundations resting on the blood and the bones of people who got in our way. And even though it would be more convenient to write this off as ancient history, the fact is the impact is still felt today – those foundations are far shakier for some of our communities than they are for others: if you’re a man, try asking a woman how she feels walking through a dark car park at night compared to your own experience, for instance. The word ‘sin’ isn’t exactly fashionable, but let’s not kid ourselves that the sins of the past remain in the past; they have a habit of sticking around to bite.
I know this isn’t much. Frankly, I think we’re facing some very difficult times, and I don’t know how to process that, and I certainly don’t know how it must feel for those who are going to be on the frontlines of these interesting times. But tomorrow’s coming whether we like it or not, and we have to find a way to stumble forward. And I’m trying to have faith and trust in God, but that’s got to be an active response, not a feel-good platitude that makes me feel better while others suffer in fear. There’s hope out there in the dark, and there’s a light, but we’ve got to all join hands and pull each other towards it.