Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Community

I've been doing some thinking with regard to various things and want to revisit my previous post on the topic of the recent riots. As I mentioned before, I do see them as a symptom of something far larger... an inconvenient truth that is being swept under the carpet because it presents us with something ugly that we ALL need to deal with.

It was very interesting to see the different responses of Tony Blair and David Cameron with regard to their perception of the social problems at the heart of the issue.  Cameron put it like this:
"The greed and thuggery we saw during the riots did not come out of nowhere," he said. "There are deep problems in our society that have been growing for a long time: a decline in responsibility, a rise in selfishness, a growing sense that individual rights come before anything else."
However Blair countered this by stating Britain, as a whole, is not in the grip of some general "moral decline"and that:
"The big cause is the group of young, alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour. And here's where I don't agree with much of the commentary. In my experience, they are an absolutely specific problem that requires deeply specific solutions."
In my own view, there is truth in both their perspectives... just not the complete truth. I do believe we have witnessed a moral decline in our society... but I think it is wrong to put this down merely to a blurring of the borders between right and wrong. I believe it is down to a shift in perspective of who matters. Western society has become decadent... and as we are increasingly dazzled by the sights and sounds of this material world, the still small voice of calm that speaks of mutual dependency and connectedness can get drowned out.

It is interesting how materialism actively encourages us to gravitate away from "us" and more towards "me". Just look at the products out there and how they have become named in such a manner as to glorify the self:

iTunes, iPlayer, iPad, iPod, iTeddy, iDog, iPoo (yes... there apparently really IS an app for that... ugh!), i Robot (well.. maybe one day, we can hope), and the Independent's sister newspaper simply called "i".

Everything it seems is i... i... i... or actually... is it really "ME! ME! ME!"?  

It is at this point that I rather sheepishly look at the header of my own blog and ask myself if I am enthusiastically hurling stones whilst standing in a glass house. I don't think, but do call me on it if you disagree.

Community means looking beyond ourselves... together.

Yes, there has been a rise in selfishness... but I believe it is wrong for us to lay the blame solely at the door of disaffected youth. Is it not true that bankers and rogue traders have demonstrated a selfishness unique to them... one that led to the economic crisis we find ourselves in now? Is it not also true that the MPs guilty of misusing expenses for personal gain were also guilty? Or what of the energy firms who continue to push up prices regardless of the damage it causes to people who can scarcely afford to keep themselves warm in the winter months. Or how about greedy property tycoons who allow for house prices to inflate to such a level that only a select few can afford to live in them... and then they wonder why there is a crash because people can't reconcile their finances with the amount the property prices have risen to. The tendrils of self centredness creep in to every part of society and try to choke each one of us into turning away from the importance of community. Some are more affected than others, but make no mistake... it crouches at the door of all of us and we must do what we can to reject it or at least keep it in check.

When treating an illness, a doctor may prescribe more than one medication. One kind will deal with the root cause of the illness... whilst the other will act as symptom relief. It occurs to me then, that we too must do something to treat the wounds of our society. The problem of disaffected youth is a symptom problem and not a root problem. As Blair suggests, it does require a specific solution... but any work done to resolve it will be undone within less than a generation, if we do not at the same time treat the pandemic.

We've seen part of the bigger solution in the way many people have rallied to clean up, repair, restore and help victims in the wake of the riots... but it needs to go beyond this.

Community needs to be more than reactive. Community needs to be proactive.

We need to look beyond our cliquey little cells and our ivory towers and mingle. We talk about disaffected people or uncultured people, or irresponsible people... but how can anyone learn a culture unless someone shares it with them? How can someone belong... if others are not daring enough to go out there and invite... not from afar but shoulder to shoulder?  I know what it is like to stand on the outside looking in... and I'm ashamed to say that I know this from a Christian perspective. If *I* feel that way and am part of the family of Christ, I can only imagine how someone who has no connection to the Church feel when all they see is a closed door.

One of the things I hate about modern politics is how it has become more and more about focus groups - looking at the specific wants and needs of particular groups and currying favour with them in order to gain power. I think this is counter productive; if we value any part of society over another... it breeds isolation and disaffection and groups with very different aims or attitudes begin to come into conflict.

Community must rise above this, it must be so much more than this. We need to draw the threads back together and learn that our actions have consequences for everyone else and not just a select few people who we meet regularly.

Community... it's a big word... isn't it? As it should be. If we truly value it, we must stop thinking in terms of our private universes. It is not enough just to think of yourself and/or your spouse and/or your children. Yes... these things demand time and maintenance but I put it to you that by robbing others of your own input in their lives, you in turn rob yourself of the help that can come from them in return.

Christ summarised the Law in two concepts - loving God above all and loving your neighbour as yourself. The apostle John went on to say that anyone who loves God but mistreats his brother man, is a liar. Now in the Old Testament, God gave his people a hard time through the prophet Malachi. He cautioned them that the difficulties they experienced were because they were not giving him what they owed him... but that if they changed their hearts and fulfilled their obligations, he would pour forth his blessing in amazing ways.

In a way, I want to draw all the points in that last paragraph together. Those of us who call ourselves Christians do our best to try and live in a way that pleases God, we try to give him the worship, the love, the time and resources befitting of a relationship with him. However... if we do that and don't invest time, resources and love in our brother man - our community, isn't that counter-productive? As much as Malachi's people robbed God directly... are we not doing the same indirectly when we neglect to benefit the lives of those around us?

One can be the loneliest number... and yet when we learn to use that number in the right context it is the least loneliest. The spirit of true community means understanding that we are all one... not just in times of crisis, but all the time.

We are one.

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