Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Disobedience vs Disorder

I've been way too quiet on my blog in recent weeks, so I thought what better time to enter the fray again, than when the nation is up in arms with regard to the recent riots.

In fact I was partly inspired to write this article on the basis of a Freudian slip. Sunday's preacher had intended to describe the riots as civil disorder... but he accidentally described them as civil disobedience.  Nobody really noticed it except me... and he admitted it was slip when we spoke after the service.

A rioter stalks the streets against a fiery backdrop of disorder
There's an extremely large gulf between disorder and disobedience. If we categorised the English city riots as civil disobedience, we put the perpetrators  in the same bracket as activists such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Being somewhat a fan of the philosophies of the latter two, the contrast is glaringly obvious.

Gandhi developed a philosophy called Satyagraha which influenced the politics of civil rights campaigners such as King. Satyagraha as a philosophy is designed to nullify antagonism and injustice without causing harm to those who are the source of the antagonism or injustice. One of the founding principles of Satyagraha is that when appealing against a perceived unfairness in society, protesters should go to great lengths to uphold the other laws in society.
Gandhi and Martin Luther King utilised civil disobedience to demonstrate
the rightness of their cause, without resorting to violence, anarchy or disorder

What unfolded last week then, was clearly not Satyagraha or civil disobedience... it was blatant  lawlessness.  People stormed the streets to unlawfully take what they deceived themselves into believing was their deserved  slice of pie. Properties were destroyed, livelihoods ruined, passers by deceived, beaten and mugged... people fleeing for their lives and in some cases... losing their lives.... and for what?  Had this been a  genuinely political movement, order would not have been restored  by a change in the weather, or the threat of more severe law enforcement... because when people believe something deeply wrong is worth fighting against... no cost is too high. What we saw was mere opportunism.

I am not certain the perceived catalyst for the events was entirely justified either. Whilst the death of 29 year old Mark Duggan at the hands of police marksmen was deeply tragic and the apparent misinformation to the press by the Metropolitan Police inexcusable; the fact remains that the man had an activated firearm in his possession, one that had a bullet loaded into the firing chamber. It is illegal. He had NO business carrying that weapon... and if you are going to walk around with a illegal, loaded gun... there are going to be dire consequences if/when the authorities discover that fact.

Some commentators have been quick to point out that it is the dire poverty of the perpetrators that fuelled their actions... and yet we see that it is not just the most deprived in society who are being brought to justice for the crimes. In fact, I would argue that there is a moral pandemic at the heart of our society... and wealth, or lack of it is not the root cause.

It is said that nature abhors a vacuum... and while this is true, I believe the same can at least equally be said of the soul (if not more so). Shun God and you leave the door open for other things to creep in. Each of us if we took a frank look at our lives could admit to areas or things where we know there is a lack of submission or deference to God. On an individual basis, this is bad enough... but what happens when a society neglects Godly principles? Are we seeing the first fruits of this now

The set readings at church on Sunday had been abandoned in favour of ones that better suited a talk on the week's events. This was the chosen epistle:

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
Romans 8:5-11
The passage talks of those who live according to the flesh (living just for this life, without God's direction), as having their minds set on what the flesh desires. Are we going to be snobbish and suggest that this is a malady that only affects the poor? Of course not! Without divine guidance there is a strong temptation become like spoiled little children. We see what we want and if we can take it, we grab it... if we can't take it, we become envious... bitter and resentful. This isn't just about material goods either... it extends right out and permeates our interests, relationships and personal ethics. Without the Spirit's guidance

The Gospel reading was equally poignant but not touched upon in the sermon:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
Matthew 7:1-5
I think this verse is particularly important as a response to some people's reactions to the riots. A recent Downing Street Petition has requested that any rioter claiming benefits should have all their benefits removed. I don't think this will solve anything. If poverty is a part of the problem, then how will making people destitute change their ways? It won't. It will encourage further violence. It would be like the perceived wisdom of water putting out fire... except that this would be like trying to put a chip pan fire out with water... it would have the opposite effect and would instead be explosive.  There were people far away from the cities... even in my Facebook feed, who were calling for the police and army to use LIVE ROUNDS on children. As terrible as the crimes committed were, do we really want to start shooting people dead in the streets? When people start acting in a feral, inhuman manner... do they really cease to be people? Or do we merely just say that to put distance between us and them... to comfort ourselves - that we are part of a quasi different species that is not associated with others who commit such acts? People are people... and you will never solve a human problem by treating another person being as anything less than human. It isn't easy. I think those found guilty of rioting/looting need to have punishments that reflect what has happened collectively and also point out the error in their perception. I don't think looting a shop in one part of London should be marked as a separate crime to the murder of a mugged individual somewhere else... because they were interconnected crimes... one facilitated the other. Irrespective of the length of jail sentence, It might be an idea to see the crime of manslaughter/murder added to the criminal record of those involved in any part of the riots. They need to know that their actions had consequences that resulted in someone losing their life. Or... having taken the spotlight away from the situation in the Horn of Africa... perhaps they should be sent away as unpaid aid workers for a time. If they truly feel they have nothing, perhaps they should understand what nothing truly means... in another context.

I have been deeply moved by Tariq Jahan's response in the wake of his very personal tragedy. Mr Jahan is a Muslim from Birmingham and during the riots, three young men were run over by a car and murdered. Mr Jahan helped administer CPR on the scene and discovered that one of the boys was his own son, Haroon. He had more reason than most to fly out in rage and curse those who stole his son from him... and yet, it was he who was appealing for calm and for the rioters to see reason and turn away from their actions.

In conclusion I'd like to reference my Bible notes from today. Selwyn Hughes has been discussing the positive example of the Early Church in Antioch, and how modern Christians should seek inspiration from that particular community in seeking how to relate to the world today... and how to rejuvenate the modern Church.

Today's reading came from Colossians:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.  Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:1-17
The early Church knew in a very special  way, how to connect with people. It appealed to people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities and classes... and made no distinction. There are people out there who belong to nothing and nobody... or at least feel that way. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as we used to be and remember that we are all part of Christ's body. If we don't stop valuing our cliques more than our communities... how will we ever be able to reach out to them properly and with Spirit filled sincerity?

" Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who should come"
Casting Crowns

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