There is a Chinese curse which says, “May he live in interesting times.” Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. – Robert F. Kennedy, 1966
Although Robert F. Kennedy spoke these words over 40 years ago – and there was in all probability no such Chinese curse – the idea of “interesting times” as a curse has been with me over the past week as we reflect on the political situation that arose out of the General Election of the 8th June.
The election campaign was one in which the idea of British values’, and how we apply them to building society was at the forefront of political dialogue. In political campaigns, individuals and their experiences are reduced to caricature and distortion, pitting “Benefits cheats” against “the Just About Managing” and “the Muslim Terrorist threat” against the idea that Britain is a “Christian Country”, but behind each of these labels are lives and experiences that can’t be captured in a soundbite. In the face of the tragic deaths in the Manchester Bombing, the London Bridge attack, and the Grenfell Tower fire. In the stories of schoolchildren and their parents attending a conference, friends sharing a drink, and multi-generational families sleeping in their homes are woven the full narrative of human experience and history.
Tragedy and turbulence have a way of focusing us on what is important, and it is no surprise to me that the values of people of faith are being examined so closely at the moment. Unfortunately, with Tim Farron’s resignation, and the well-publicised Calvinist conservatism of the DUP, the old stereotype of Christianity as an authoritarian and socially destructive force has reared its ugly face. I am grateful, therefore, for our Muslim brothers and sisters whose Ramadan suhoor (morning meal) was interrupted by the news of fire and who took to the streets to provide food and comfort to people watching their lives and families torn apart. They model the faith that I hope we, too, show to our communities. They simply serve, with no questions asked.
The Apostle Paul knew more than most of us about ‘interesting times’. When he wrote the letter to the Romans in the 6th or 7th decade of the first century, the Emperor Nero was in the habit of executing Christians for entertainment, and he himself had been complicit as a young man in the religious execution of Christians in Jerusalem. He put himself in harm’s way to protect others and share the life-changing Gospel. His perspective on political authority in this context is an interesting one, In Romans 13, he spells out that civic authority is put in place for the common good (Romans 13:4), and that moreover that government’s authority is an important arbiter of our values. In other words, we are responsible to the people we elect, but also responsible to consider the role of civic authority when we hold them to account.
If the role of Christians is to offer Christ’s hands and feet to the world, and to build the new realm, the question for us in this time of of uncertainty is how we can best do that. The answer, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Creator-Parent, and of the So,n and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Simply that. Our responsibility remains to spread the Gospel of love, to feed the poor, to clothe the naked, and to love our neighbour. Never has it been so important.
May you be Christ’s hands and feet in the world today.