Entering the Wilderness: Come join the winning side

wildernessWe live in bleak times. We are bombarded by bad news.  At times we may feel discouraged, hopeless and impotent in the face of spending cuts and rising prices, whose impacts are bearing increasingly heavily on the lives of the some of poorest and most vulnerable in our communities. In a bleak climate, whither do we turn?  I, for one, don’t have all the answers – but here are a few thoughts.

Hearing the cry of the poor: A community of faith?

If we are entering a period in the Wilderness, do we need to return to our roots?  To find ways of embodying the core values and beliefs that many of us hold dear?  As Christians, these must surely include a duty to speak up for the poorest and most vulnerable  – articulating God’s bias to the poor – naming injustice as an act of faith and discipleship.

In a society which has seemingly lost its moral compass, can we find ways together of being a beacon for an alternative set of values? Can we find ways of becoming a community, for those who feel isolated, downtrodden, and (sadly) sometimes even ‘outsiders’ in their own church for holding true to such beliefs?  Surely there is no task more important for those of us who seek to follow in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth?

Speaking truth to power:  A community of witness?

Secondly, are there ways we an act as a community of public witness:  not just ‘speaking’ out, but offering a voice to those who are, normally, voiceless and marginalised? ‘Speaking truth to power’ is always counter-cultural and certainly a challenge to the ‘powers’ of the world. Even if no change is brought about as a result are not such ‘acts of witness’ intrinsically valuable?  It has certainly been encouraging in this regard to see church leaders from across the denominations speaking out strongly and persistently in the past few weeks about the growth of poverty and hunger, and the erosion of the welfare safety net which we all have to rely on when times get hard.  But what of our own role in such a community of witness?

Change agents: A community of solidarity?

Thirdly, is there also a role for us as agents of change?  I know from my work with Church Action on Poverty that empowering people with the skills and confidence to speak and act in their own right – can transform their own well-being, and lives and livelihoods are changed as a result.  More than this, through acting together we are able to bring about concrete changes in policies and institutions which affect peoples’ lives on a larger scale.

But, in the face of a Government determined to force through the deepest cuts in a generation, whilst denying that these cut have anything to do with the huge growth in foodbanks and hunger, it can feel like no change is possible: What happens if our actions appear to have no meaningful impact?

Taking the long view…

The end of slavery, the end of segregation, the end of apartheid… Each only came about as the result of a long struggle against a clear injustice (at least clear in the minds of those opposing it), a determined movement combining those directly affected and those whose faith drove them to campaign for the rights of others, and a passionate belief that another world was possible.  Even when all appeared to be hopeless, the candle of hope burned bright and in each case, the movement survived, regrouped and came back for more.

So let us not become disheartened.  As we enter the Wilderness, let us take the long view.  Let’s hold true to our faith, be steadfast in our witness, and courageous in our acts of solidarity.

Desmond-Tutu-001As Desmond Tutu famously said, in the face of the seemingly all powerful apartheid regime – ‘you may have the guns, you may have all this power, but you have already lost. Come: join the winning side.’ 

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Entering the Wilderness: Come join the winning side

  1. agewait says:

    A word in Season….

  2. Niall, since I too am a socialist it’s not difficult for me to sympathise with your analysis of what is going wrong in our society and with your ideas as to how we should set about doing something to rectify the situation. What puzzles me, however, is that you seem to think that, as socialists, the Bible is on our side. For, even from what you say yourself about people who are ‘outsiders in their own church’, it is clear you realise there are thousands of conservative as well as liberal Christians who are just as certain the Bible is on their side. You don’t have to convince me these people are all wrong. That said I am just as convinced you are wrong too. Let me be quite frank. It is no use thinking that the Bible is driven by socialist ideas since there is no evidence of a proletarian revolution in the ancient Near East. This means that I remain unconvinced by your use of the liberationist mantra about God’s bias for the poor since there is no shred of biblical evidence for that either, Gustavo Gutiérrez notwithstanding… and, I repeat, I say this as a socialist myself. What there is plenty of evidence for in the Bible is that Yahweh was the god of the Hebrew marginals but that provides us with a completely different political perspective… one that I am afraid often makes my own socialist perspective appear alarmingly oppressive and blind.

    • niallcooper says:

      Andrew, thanks for the comment! I agree that, clearly, all readings of the Bible are contested.. but I take heart not just in Gutierrez, but also Wink, Bruggemann and others – and also in the increasingly strong stance being taken by church leaders across the denominational (and theological) spectrum in speaking out about the violence done to the poorest and most marginal by cuts to welfare and the language which demonizes them in the process. If everyone in the church held this view, there would be no need for Church Action on Poverty – but for the time being, it is still encumbant on those of us who hold the flame for ‘God’s bias to the poor’ to keep it alive – and to grow the movement. Don’t think Tutu had the whole of the church in South Africa behind him in the struggle against apartheid, Luther King in the struggle against segregation or Wilberforce in the struggle against slavery. They too spent many years in the wilderness, but it didn’t mean they weren’t right – or didn’t win out in the end…

      • niallcooper says:

        … and although in many ways I’m a great fan of socialism, I’m lothe to be pigeonholed as one. I’m certainly not willing to suggest (or accept) that its only ‘socialists’ who have access to truth (Biblical or otherwise). In the struggle for social justice I’m happy to work with folk of any political persuasion (and none) – as per Tutu, Wilberforce, Luther King, Beveridge et al.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s