(sorry it’s long, but needed to get it out!)
Parliament is recalled and the blame-game begins. The shrill public voices of those with power or profile pronounce judgement on who is at fault and what should be done. Parents, police, education, political policy and even ‘feral criminality’ (seems tough on ferrets!), all get a mention.
But noticibly absent from the responsibility question is ‘us’. By which I mean the law abiding (more or less) majority who did not ‘riot’. ‘We’ are styled as the victims, the innocent communities left to clean up. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ description makes for easy analysis. ‘Us’, the upright and innocent, need protection and deserve safety. ‘Them’, the chaotic and immoral, must be punished and excluded. Cheap headlines, easy policy, job done.
But have you noticed how this time the ‘them’ resist our neat categories? Yes, of course, there are a good number of hoodied youths being rounded up, satisfying our need for an obvious enemy. But what about the mums and dads (some even took the kids along for the ride), the classroom assistants, the high-achieving scholar, the trainee social workers? They all feature in the court lists. Different races, backgrounds, ages and locations. Suddenly the old definitions blur. ‘They’ begin to look a bit like ‘us’. Reality is uncomfortably complex and perplexing.
So how might we understand the ‘us’ and ‘them’? Perhaps part of the answer lies in relating those two categories more closely. Let me explain.
Four weeks ago, on a warm Saturday in Kigali, I sat with a Rwandan bishop discussing diocesan strategy. He’s been in office about 6 months and I asked him about future plans. ‘It’s all about discipleship, because it must have been partly our fault’. He went onto explain that he believed the genocide, where almost 1 million people were slaughtered, must have been, in a majority Christian country, in part a failure of discipleship. In his analysis Christians who truly lived like Jesus would not murder one another. It had an inescapable logic and is a bold plan. It was a deeply humbling conversation.
Now clearly London and Kigali are miles apart. The 1994 Genocide and the 2011 rioting are absolutely different. But the central insight here is that society is connected, the ‘us’ affects the ‘them’. And on one level the bishop is rightly describing their Rwandan relationship.
Ancient Chrisian wisdom agrees by saying that the moral capacity of people is enabled, strengthened and shaped by the choices and example of those around them. Private parenting, public policy and general culture are the nurturing context for us all, with or without a hoodie, for good or ill.
So perhaps there are some firm starting points for the future of our communitues:
1. We cannot start by assuming ‘us’ and ‘them’ are unrelated. Of course individual moral responsiblity is important, but ‘satisfaction’, cheap pronouncements or quick justice must not ride roughshod over listening and understanding. This is not a liberal cop-out, but a hard human essential. Whilst not a coherent protest, some of these events nevertheless have a point (decemated youth provision, socially divisive education expenses, hopeless dissengagemnt & dissafection, gangs et. al.).
2. A society which enthrones individualism and consumerism as its twin Gods through universal media presence, and makes unrestrained choice as its prime mechanism is self-destructive. It will always diminish the capacity of people to make positive moral choices for the common good at all levels of society. In the 24/7 online ‘twitterverse’, we immediately reap what everyone sows (expenses, super-injuctions, Murdoch, riots et. al.).
Whilst the second is hard to address, the first is essential for the survival of society. We must address widening social innequality. We must get beyond those who claim to speak for the young and somehow engage young people directly. We must honour and value all ages, races and communities.
Of course, for those of us in the Christian community the Bishop’s point goes deeper. Is there any connection between our discipleship and recent events? If Churches were so embedded in, and connected to, our communities (over 40 in Walthamstow alone), was there nothing we could have done? Do our lives really offer transformng grace and our communuties structural salvation for all? Or is it all just words and hymns? Are we an exclusive, disconneced religious enclave, even when we think we’re doing well, too distant from the grassroots and too distant from where Jesus is today?
The blame-game (which this is not), is easy. The wake-up call is harder and more complex. To me the questions of Kigali seem quite close to London. Uncomfortably so?
Location:Dungarvon St,Wanaka,New Zealand