01 May 2009
Seeing through the credit crunch
The Alliance's director for Scotland, Fred Drummond, tries not to get lost in the fog of recession...
I have recently watched a few old movies starring Basil Rathbone as the great detective Sherlock Holmes. One of the funny things about these films is that whenever they are chasing a villain in the streets of London a fog descends making it that much easier for the bad guy to get away. I am not sure how foggy it was in London during the times in which the movie was set, but the producer obviously thought that a good plot device was to make fog so thick that you could cut it with a knife.
Fog has been on my mind recently. The image came to me after two conversations with friends who lead Christian organisations. Both expressed concerns that the credit crunch had affected their spiritual vision.
They were spending a lot of time reworking budgets, looking at staffing levels and encouraging supporters to think about their levels of giving.
Both recognised that these exercises could be useful and that pruning can ultimately lead to growth. They were also aware that these same issues affected almost everyone, and we could not hope to avoid
some fallout from the terrible financial situation that the country is in. However, their main concern was that the credit crunch was having an effect upon vision and faith.
One told me that, in the midst of trying to maintain the organisation, it was easy to lose sight of who it
was that had called him and why he was actually in the role in the first place. The weight of maintenance was destroying the joy of mission; the stress to make savings was diluting the thrill of relationship with Jesus. "It is as if the view of Jesus is somehow restricted," he said.
I remember being out with friends on the Isle of Skye when fog suddenly descended. I vividly recall what happened: our view became more restricted and seeing ahead became almost impossible. Not being able to see ahead had a huge impact upon our confidence. We were unsure where to place our feet. When trying to move forward, tentative steps replaced big strides. Fear of the unknown meant that we would rather not move at all than twist an ankle or break a leg.
Why not just stand still and wait until things change? There are two dangers with not moving. One, of course is that you don't know how long you will be standing still, and the other is that you might just get hit in the back from someone who is still moving. Eventually, it took courage - and the desperate desire for a stiff drink - to ward off the cold and move on.
I believe that the recession gives a chance for the Church to speak prophetically about the future. We could be the people who can open a creative conversation within our society about worth, status and hope. Many people have seen their dreams and aspirations suddenly taken away without warning. There is real tragedy taking place, as advancement and opportunity for the future seem to have vanished.
New and unexpected pressures are piled up on families who are struggling to find any light at the end of a series of dark tunnels. So we have an opportunity to dialogue on issues of human identity and the future we
face together. We could be challenging our society by the quality of our communal lives.
Bonny Thurston, writing in Spiritual Life in the Early Church, concludes that this sense of togetherness "pervaded the whole of life and called persons from isolation into communities of concern and self-giving love. These communities were extraordinary. People noticed them and wanted what they had to offer."
The early Church was a radical countercultural body: flexible, open to God and bristling with energy. It was marked by sacrificial, costly love.
A real opportunity
In a time when people have been let down and trust appears to be at an all time low, we have a real opportunity to present the radical alternative: Jesus' way. It's a community of faith marked by its authentic relationships, honesty and a passion for Jesus, who calls us to a different life and a different lifestyle.
Here is the dilemma we may find ourselves facing: just at the time when we have a great chance to show the world a better way, we find that we may lose sight of our very calling. As the mists of job uncertainty and rising levels of debt begin to fall, is it actually beginning to prevent the Church from being bold and exercising faith? Could it be that we too may lose sight of the one who has called us and of all the benefits that are ours in Jesus?
As believers in Jesus, we are not exempt from the real hardships and pains of this present difficult global financial situation. However, the question for us is how we respond to the situation. The challenge is to meet the difficulties with sacrificial love and renewed confidence in God's grace.
As Lesslie Newbigin says in Proper Confidence, "The confidence proper to a Christian is not the confidence of one who claims possession of demonstrable and indubitable knowledge. It is the confidence of one who has heard and answered the call that comes from God through whom and for whom all things were made: 'Follow me'."
- For resources and stories that can help us face the recession, visit: lifebeyonddebt.org