The Church and the World

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This may seem cowardly, but I’m going to start with a disclaimer. What follows is meant to provoke, and perhaps challenge – not to say “this is how it is”, but rather “maybe this is partly how it is”.

I’m honestly not sure how well it represents even my own views, so I’ve no idea if it represents Speak’s. Observations are based on what I hear from Occupy London, and what I saw earlier in the year of a similar protest by “Los Indignados” in the Spanish city of Zaragoza, where I live. That protest was in turn inspired by the thousands who camped in Puerta del Sol, Madrid.

What if the ‘Occupy’ movement is occupying space that we, the Church, should have been occupying? In many ways this is obvious: denouncing injustice and the structures that support it, actively exploring alternative visions, calling for change, etc. These are all part of the Church’s calling that we’re probably pretty comfortable with, at least in theory (as an aside though, we should beware theoretical comfort! In practise, doing these things can make life very uncomfortable). I’d like to suggest something deeper though. What if, in their very nature as well as their day-to-day practicalities, the Occupy protests are occupying a space where the Church should have been for about the last 2,000 years?

Here we have a radical community which meets daily, is of one heart and mind (NOT in agreement on everything, but then I don’t think that’s ever what that meant), and works together in commitment to an active hope that there is an alternative to what the world currently offers. They are not sacrificing people to their vision though – they take each other’s welfare seriously, recognising perhaps that as soon as they start seeing people as a means to an end, all is lost (are we not living stones? Are we not ourselves the building material for the dwelling of God?). They give space to study, education and empowerment. They recognise that the needy (the homeless, the alcoholics) will be attracted to their little society for very practical reasons, and they don’t shrug this off as an unintended consequence. Instead they try to make sure the needy of their community are fed and empowered – because they want to see the needy of the world fed and empowered, and they recognise that charity begins at home (though it doesn’t end there).

I have no wish to idolise, and my point is not “lets all be like them”. Instead I’m suggesting that maybe they are there because we were not. I gladly acknowledge the role the Church has played in the fight against evils global and local throughout history, but in my opinion anyone who has never looked at the life of Jesus, then looked at the Church today and thought “2,000 years? How did we get here?” doesn’t read the gospels enough. Lets see this movement as a challenge and an inspiration, as well a reminder that the kingdom of God is among us (as well as within us). We have to take the world as it is, firstly because that’s how God takes us and secondly because, as a friend of mine once said “You don’t get very far otherwise”. But just as God loves us too much to leave us caught in our chains and our destructive habits, lets love the world enough to be part of movements for freedom, messy though they be, and lets pray for the church and for the world (thanking God for his goodness), that both would be bold to try radical forms of honesty, community, societal organisation and, dare I say it, love.

Michael Bourne