We 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.
As 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.’