The Christian calling is to be interdependent, looking to one another’s needs
Peter Seal, 9 December 2018
Baruch 5: 1–9; Luke 3: 1–6
On Tuesday Mary Copping and I were at our monthly meeting with other local clergy. We had a wonderful reflection for Advent by Peter Lippiett, who led our men’s weekend. Peter was reflecting on the challenge of these pre-Christmas weeks for all Christian people, and particularly for clergy and their families. What he was referring to was the challenge of trying to keep the season of Advent, with its great themes of watching and waiting, amidst a world where Christmas celebrations are already in full swing.
He said that in psychological terms this could be described as cognitive dissonance. I looked it up to check: ‘“Cognitive dissonance” refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviours. It’s the mental discomfort experienced by someone who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory convictions.’
If we think the Advent Christmas challenge is hard, it feels as nothing compared with the B word. Perhaps rashly, I said last Sunday that I planned to preach about Brexit.
Please be reassured; though I have my own personal views, this is absolutely not the forum for me to express them. What I believe is very important is that we, together, as the family of God in this place, think and pray together about the enormously important times we are going through – and, particularly, the effect decisions made in the coming weeks will have on the younger generations.
You could say that our whole country and especially our political processes are in a state of cognitive dissonance. That is: a situation of conflicting attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. What are we to make of it today?
Well, we can, and should, engage in the primary activity of Christian people, which is, of course, to pray. We’re called to continue to pray fervently for all members of parliament as they prepare for the historic vote on Tuesday. We trust that they will faithfully represent those who elected them. We acknowledge the Houses of Parliament as the right and long-tested forum for every view to have its democratic opportunity for expression.
In encouraging one another to pray, we remind ourselves that God’s primary way of working is through human beings. This is hugely important. There is no magic solution that God can bring about that will suddenly please everyone and make it all alright. There is no perfect solution.
It’s interesting to note how politics has changed in recent decades. Last week, following the death of George Bush, John Major was commenting that politics has become more adversarial. He said that during his time as prime minister his opponents were never his enemies. Social media and the speed of communication have changed the way politics works.
Many would agree that our system of party politics is under severe strain. They suggest that, by its nature, it’s simply too short-term to cope with the increasingly complex and urgent issues of our day. Education, the prison system, defence, health care and climate change, to name but a few, need medium- to long-term, ongoing, consistent planning and implementation which extends far beyond the election of any one political party for five years or so.
Connected with this, many would say that we’ve become too binary in our thinking. What I mean is: the conviction that this party or that party, this leader or that leader, has all the answers; that this opinion or that opinion is the solution. You could say: we’re in a binary bind.
I’m reminded of the spiritual writer Richard Rohr, who runs a Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico. He said that of those three words ‘Action and Contemplation’, the most important word is ‘and’.
Either this/or that seems to be an increasingly limited way of tackling the big issues of our day. Both this/and that would seem to offer a more sustainable approach to complex challenges.
We’re in a binary bind. Either this/or that seems to be an increasingly limited way of tackling the big issues of our day. Both this/and that would seem to offer a more sustainable approach to complex challenges.
As I think about our place as a country in both Europe and the world as a whole, I’m reminded of Brother Sam at Hilfield Friary in Dorset. He was talking about how the community there make their own bread. He described how they had established a relationship with the farmer who grew the wheat and all the other folk down the line who were involved in producing the flour that was eventually used to bake delicious, wholesome, life-giving, fresh bread.
Someone asked Sam, ‘So is the friary community self-sufficient?’ Sam paused and then said, ‘Self-sufficiency is not part of the gospel message’. He paused again and said, ‘The Christian calling is to be interdependent, looking to one another’s needs, realising we are a global community and that we really do need one another’.
I remember talking to an elderly member of our family, who Julia and I love very much and have the greatest respect for. Somehow we were talking about all this sort of thing, and she said something like, ‘We need to make sure we’ve got all we need before thinking of the needs of others’. I sort of understand where she’s coming from, but that’s not the gospel message. The radical teaching of Jesus is to look to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable as our first priority. We’re challenged to seek ways to identify with them totally, amidst all the multi-layered and often messy complexities of their lives. We know from experience that when we do this, life begins to change – for them, but especially for us.
It’s when we’re generous, really generous, in whatever way, to those who are beyond ourselves, that we begin to feel what it’s like to be truly free. We discover a deeper way to give and not to count the cost.
It’s when we’re generous, really generous, in whatever way, to those who are beyond ourselves, that we begin to feel what it’s like to be truly free.
In recent weeks I’ve picked up a number of striking quotes as I listened to the radio and television. I offer them to you:
- ‘The power of kindness in a time of darkness.’
- ‘Europe is no longer war-torn but it is fractured.’
- ‘There’s an extraordinary danger today of polarisation.’
- ‘We live in a world of mistakes but with checks and balances.’
- ‘Together we can go on thinking about the lessons from the past for our own day and for the future, especially after our respective lives on earth have ended.’
- ‘Party politics may be badly limited but it’s the best we’ve got.’
- ‘Kindness needs to become a political word. In politically divided times we need kindness which is neither saccharine nor sweet but exhausting. Kindness costs.’
- ‘Policy is never the final word – we need kindness and courage.’
In conclusion: as we continue to keep the vigil of Advent amidst the politics of these days, we acknowledge together the challenges of our times, the cognitive dissonance we are called to live with and the hope we are given in Jesus Christ. I end with a prayer being used in many churches today.
God of reconciling hope,
as you guided your people in the past
guide us through the turmoil of the present time
and bring us to that place of flourishing
where our unity can be restored,
the common good served,
and all shall be made well.