“When the lightning flashed, I saw that what I had thought to be a city was in fact a deserted plain and, in the same sinister light that revealed me to myself,
there seemed to be no sky above it. I was robbed of any possibility…
…the end of all worlds drifting blackly in the wind, misshapen, anachronistic, without the God who created it, without God himself who spins in the dark of darks, impossible, unique, everything. If only I could think! If only I could feel!”
Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
It is the end of November 2018 and I’m in a house in Godalming. It is too early for Christmas.
I’ve been here previously at this time of year. This year there is something different. I can sense the difference but I cannot put my finger on ‘it’. Then I realise that the answer is all around me; staring me in the face; so obvious I have overlooked it.
Their Christmas decorations are up. Everywhere. You could light a runway with the number of bulbs beside the wood burner. More lights and decorations than ever before, yes. But that isn’t what’s giving me a sense of disquiet.
Then the couple speak. “It’s the decorations, isnt’ it?” They say. And then I understand. “We usually put them up in mid-December but we decided that with everything going on in the World and UK we needed some extra cheer, early.”
‘with everything going on’
The next few days are important for the United Kingdom and the EU. For many people “everything going on” is deeply unsettling, perhaps because what they hoped for does not appear to be; or what they feared appears to be. It is as if Pessoa’s phrase ‘I was robbed of any possibility’ has taken root. Some hoped for limited Brexit, others none; some wanted total Brexit and yet others wanted control of borders, or immigration, or…the list goes on.
The reason for the early Christmas lights is more than ‘just’ Brexit. The term for this is ‘synecdoche’; where something represents an amalgamation of things. There’s so much going on and no-one quite knows what, where, when, how… about anything anymore. This erodes trust and when trust goes, anything can happen.
We appear to be in an Epoch where, for many, there is a sense of a changing World; of certainties becoming uncertainties; ways of being and doing becoming fractured; realisation that my view may not be their view and that this now matters; a sense of alienation or of being passed by; resurgence of opinions and ideologies across the Globe which were thought to have been locked in the past; developments which are destabilising and uncontrolled; of nation states with changing objectives; and at a personal level, for many, a question of ‘what will my job, company or employer be like in 3 or 5 years from now’?
What is our response as Christians to someone who puts their Christmas decorations up early and adds extra lights in the hope that it will bring salve in this worried World? Within ourselves, what’s our own response to everything going on?
Some passages of Scripture come to mind; John 14:27; Psalm 146:3-4; John 17:14; Titus 2:7. They point us towards a purpose at this time which is entirely within with the World, with a deeply Christian perspective and approach about how we engage with people; and what we do, whilst being mindful that we are not merely people of this World as we have the capacity to look beyond.
We are called to be in the World (not to withdraw). When Jesus prays for his disciples he specifically prays that they will not be taken ‘out of this World’ but are now to be ‘sent into the World’. They go with a transformative good news narrative and perspective on life. Hopelessness is not an option.
We are called to be engaged with people and situations (not berate or alienate) as bearers of Good News rather than purveyors of gloom. We are called to bring possibilities and resolution. Our country has a long history of good Government, fair decision-making and equitable negotiation where everyone is usually able to leave the table with a degree of satisfaction and confidence. We have amongst the World’s oldest Parliaments (Iceland’s being the oldest) which has been shaped and reshaped by changing circumstances since the 1300s. It is robust and adaptive and based on scrutiny, rules and processes. Those who serve in Parliament are often people who have given up much and there is great cost to being in the public eye. We are called to pray for those who wrestle with decision-making and to assure them of our trust in their integrity, even in the midst of disagreement.
We are called to be models of good works and purveyors of God’s Peace. Part of this is to show how disagreement can be done well. As Christians, where our views are tempered by our understanding of the uniqueness of all people no matter if they agree with us or not, we are called to be able to see beyond our own perspective. As purveyors of Peace we have to be able to glance not in the mirror at our own opinion reflected back at us but through an open window where we seek to comprehend why there is another opinion which differs from ours. The Samaritans UK has a five-point process for listening, the first four being:
· Ask open questions
· Summarise what you feel you have heard
· Reflect this back
The ability to model a way to disagree is deeply Christian and about taking our place in our immediate world around us at a time of division. Families are divided about what it means to be ‘European’ or ‘British’; caricatures can reduce complex opinions to a single-issue; regions of the UK might be generalised as identifying in various ‘camps’; and friends and communities have strongly differing opinions where one person’s view may be perceived as threaten the job security of the other. We offer a model of how we hold ourselves which brings Peace by our presence and our doings.
We are called to have an answer for the hope which we have. The destabilising sense which led a family to put their Christmas decorations up early is a sign of the reality of the World we are so ingrained in. While we are called into this World, we are also called to a deeply Christian distinctiveness which means we are recognisably ‘other’ from Worldly perspectives.
We are called to point to a hope which goes beyond the temporal and finite. The Temporal often provides purpose and stability, offers a sense of identity and gives belonging. Much which is Temporal in our World and is good comes from deep Christian foundations going back over millennia but even the best of the Temporal is not the true reason for Christian hope. Hope which looks beyond is one which unites. We are people who offer unity rather than division.
A changing Epoch is one where we are called to have a voice in which we shape both today and the future. If we are silent in our hope which is to be ‘beyond princes and mortals’ then we are withdrawing from the very World which we have been sent into for a time such as this. Perhaps we can learn from a 14-year-old girl named Anne Frank who, in the darkness of her war-torn situation wrote in her famous diary, “I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
We are called to our knees in prayer. We are called to do as Jesus did in John 17; when he sent the disciples into the World he did so through the power of prayer. Our prayer is not ‘my will be done’ but that, through Christ, God would be glorified. This is the eternal perspective that only a Christian can bring to bear on the current situation.
It is Anne Franks’ beauty in the misery;
the landscape of God revealed when the lightning flashes across Pessoa’s the dark sky;
and the tangible answer of hope beyond extra Christmas lights and early tinsel.
For such a time as this
This is the hope we bear witness to this Christmas season. Beauty, God and hope. As we lean not on our own understanding but on the wisdom of the Holy Spirit we are called to be:
signs of God’s Peace,
models of good works,
extending the invitation to listen to alternative views,
seeking good disagreement which leads to mutual compromise
where all have a sense of achievement,
pointing to hope which is beyond temporal human construction;
immersed deeply in the structures, decisions and aspirations
of families, communities, companies and employers,
have an answer for the hope we have found in Christ Jesus – for the beauty
rather than misery,
people of faithful prayer for times such as these