Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage


This article was written on 17 Mar 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Christianity IS political

When an idea or concept to exists out in the world, it almost inevitably becomes political, aligned through a complex process, between right and left, libertarian and authoritarian. For me, faith is just such a thing. As I go into my place of worship, I don’t set my politics to one side any more than I might set aside my brain. Politics are part of how we all make sense of the world and to pretend that we hear testimony or hear a sermon without engaging that part of ourselves seems bizarre to the point of impossibility.

For just over a year, I was part of a URC church and was lucky that I had a female minister who I’ll call K to save her blushes. Although she only preached a week out of a month, as the church was part of a circuit and she had other congregations to see, the sermons I heard her give were the perfect reflection of the idea that to be a person of faith is to be a political person, as we were encouraged to think about deprivation and the challenges faced by people in other parts of the world, the refugee crisis and immigration. You were called to take a stance on these things and by taking a stance, you were choosing to align yourself with one particular faction.

You won’t be surprised, if you’ve read my other blogs, that I’m a bit of a lefty. The sermons I heard at the URC buttressed that opinion, just as when we were doing Street Pastor training and learned about safeguarding, it struck me that the social worker who was teaching us had a faith that was strengthened by her job, and vice versa. And that’s how it felt to hear K’s sermons and how it feels now that I’m a year further down the line in my faith. My politics and Christianity are indivisibly intertwined and how I relate to people is, I hope, a reflection of that.

Jesus was singular in his dedication to people who the rest of society regarded as outcasts or as unworthy of any close attention. In fact, they were the focus of his ministry and teachings which always returned to the theme of humility. There were fishermen, lepers, tax collectors, the poor, the sick and the marginalised, references to people touched by his preaching throughout the gospels heavy with the idea that these were not generally those on whom the authorities, both secular and religious, would smile. But Jesus appears not to have been concerned.

He said that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Equally, He pointed out that whatever was done to those who were considered least in the eyes of the world was also done to Him, which sounds to me like a three line whip. The first, in His words, will be last, and the last will be first. If the point of theology is, as that impenetrable genius Kierkegaard said, to obscure the word of God, then it has to work pretty hard here. And when it comes to feeding the five thousand, Jesus didn’t ask people to fend for themselves, but fed them, this odd carpenter and son of a virgin mother.

The Christ who introduces himself to me from the gospels, then, is utterly unambiguous when it comes to the poor. He feeds them, he cares about them and he tells them that the kingdom of heaven is more of a sure thing for them than it is for the man in the palace. And he was not born of affluent parentage. He never seems to have had anything more than was necessary to sustain life and seems to have relied solely on the largesse of others, so by modern-day Republican parlance, this means that the Son of God was no better than a panhandling freebooter who doesn’t seem to have embraced the wonderful opportunities offered by the free market.

In short, and although this seems like heresy, I wonder if Jesus might not have been a bit of a socialist and his example commends itself to me now. This is not to say that I’m anywhere near to practicing what he preached, for all that I think I have sympathetic politics. A few hours ago I was in a garden centre where a young man who, his leaflet said, once worked in the London advertising industry, was offering free samples of a tea that his new company had made. Reader, I nearly beat him to death. Whether it was his risibly posh first name, his deck shoes or his faintly vile way of engaging with people, I don’t know, but I imagine that Jesus would have been considerably more tolerant than I was minded to be.

Momentary annoyance to one side, when I’m working as a Street Pastor, I can feel my heart going out to people who look as though they’ve had the absolute living crap kicked out of them. And it doesn’t matter whether this is because I think they’ve made bad decisions or just been unlucky in their choice of friends, parents and coping strategies. I don’t care. I’ve made enough bad decisions and done enough stupid things to float a battleship but I’m fortunate in that there have been people around to insulate me from the worst consequences of those and prevent me from ever being homeless or turning to intoxicants to blot out my agony.

There’s another blog on this same site about a lad called Fitz who we helped last time I was on a Street Pastor patrol and, for the time that we were with him, the outside world could have melted and fallen away. It felt like there was just me and Fitz or, more precisely, me, Fitz and the mental demons that he’d conjured into being through drug use. I felt unbelievably protective of him, at least protective enough of him to stand between him and a man who had come to laugh and gawp. When he said that he was worthless, and should die, this hit me perfectly on my sweet spot.

Why? Because I’ve had a million internal conversations on just that theme. I give platelets once a month at the blood donation centre and I’m on the register for bone marrow donation, should it be needed. And I’m a Street Pastor. All because I want to matter, want to count, and want desperately to know that my existence isn’t of no discernible use to anyone. Fitz, then, was talking to the right person. And I tried to say the things that I thought Jesus would have said, briefly with tears in my eyes. I said that he was fiercely loved and that he counted for more than he would ever hope to know. I believe those things politically and I believe them theologically. But ask me to tell you where the boundary was between the two and I couldn’t.

To people like Fitz, clumsily clattering through a life that has kicked him and making decisions that will never, ever, reward him with love and acceptance, I feel that we owe everything. There are people living in ease and comfort who don’t interest me to the same degree although, were they to need help while I was working as a Street Pastor I would endeavour to provide it. But people like Fitz command a special and sovereign place in my heart. Had he punched me to the ground and kicked me in the head, I would still say the same, for the love that Christ showed, beyond his own physical death at the hands of people who mocked and taunted him, calls for it. His ministry is real and deeply political. We owe it no less than to take it seriously. On both counts.

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