From the Rector

Dear Friends,

 

We live in perilous times.  Whether it’s our national life, the workplace, our streets, the family, the church, or the planet itself, it seems to me the times we live in now are as difficult as they ever have been.  However, it’s fundamental to us as Christians to try, in some small way at least, with God’s help, to make the world a better place; and, in whatever we can contribute, to make a difference.  But how do we do that?

Forgive the simplification, but I find, at least in general terms, we divide ourselves between those who chose the path of protest and those who follow the way of power

The protestors are rather to the fore at the moment and I am full of praise for climate change activists bravely trying to push Brexit off the head of the News because, after all, the planet could be facing up to extinction.  The wonderful Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, leads the way along with representatives of the world’s children. They follow a great tradition of protest movements that have changed the course of history and arguably made us more civilised.   Yet, we still have far to go. Casual racism and sexism, for example, both appear to be expanding rather than receding helped by the diminishing standards of our public discourse.  I can’t help thinking that protest alone is not the answer, not the only way or even the major way in which we effect change for the better in our world.

What of power? Does it work to change the world by seeking high office, by rising to the top, or at least by joining a political party and seeking to have an influence on policy?  It does seem now that our major political parties are seeking to respond in a much more proactive way on the issue of climate change.  Yet, it is a rather well-worn reality that most political careers end in tears followed by memoirs full of excuse and recrimination – I mention none in particular!  Can we have a lasting influence for the better by becoming a captain of industry, a school leader, a media mogul?  Do we have at least some power, some spheres of influence in our everyday lives and if so how do I maximise this for the better?  Indeed we do, but it is worth being salutary about the limitation of using power to effect change for the better.  There’s a famous quote attributed to the 1950’s prime minister Harold Macmillan that a person all too often rises to the top only to find that all that there is there is dust.  In other words, strangely, the more powerful you become, the less powerful you actually are because there are other people who pull the strings and tie your hands. 

I have found personally that there is another way that somehow straddles both and has the promise of achieving more - being a subversive.  This is less an action or a position and more of a mentality, one that recognises the place of self-interest and the importance of pragmatism whilst looking to manipulate both to undermine the status quo.

A book that’s had a great influence on my life is Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, published in 1982 and a decade later made into a film.  It tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a self-made entrepreneur who found himself almost by default saving the lives of Polish Jews from the Nazi death machine.  He is a flawed hero in numerous respects and his life and career after the War were unremarkable, dogged by a sense that he could have done more and haunted by what he had seen.  And yet, countless numbers, the famous Schindler’s List, owe their lives to him.  He worked on the inside, as a Nazi, alongside senior Nazis whom he bribed to at least for some subvert the horrors of the holocaust by keeping victims working in his factories instead. 

I find myself able to relate to him more than a better class of hero and to his methods though I have never bribed anyone!  I spent several years working for the prison service.  For much of that time I led a chaplaincy team in a youth prison.  On my first day, when I saw those scared teenagers behind bars walking along the corridor next to my chapel, I seriously wondered whether I would be able to stomach working in such a context.  I did not like all that I saw.  And yet, if there is a measure of our success and the humanity we sought to bring as a team into that environment, it would be that our prison, once the second largest juvenile establishment in Europe, eventually closed its doors to young people because there were not enough in North West England, where we were, being incarcerated any more.

It’s not easy being a subversive.  A protestor or policy maker can much more readily stand on principle, do or die. However, even though we may feel ourselves compromised, treating others with kindness and respect, whatever the context, most often brings out the best in them and can make for a very different world.

We all have different contexts in which we operate and stories to tell.  We may have a workplace, a family, or at least some sphere of influence where we can make a difference.  If that’s your determination, fuelled by your Christian faith, I encourage you not to walk away in frustration but to start to recognise the difference you can make simply by  your presence, by having a respectful and professional approach that in the world as it is may sadly not be par for the course at the moment and you may stand out as different; but where also , if you’re wise, you’ll keep your profile a little low, choose carefully when to speak out and make the largest difference by being subversive.

With warmest good wishes,

Nick

 


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