I had sincerely hoped I would never need to write this post. On Monday and Tuesday, I was (prematurely and inaccurately) heartened that Manchester had not fallen into the same disorder and desperate, woeful state that parts London, Birmingham and Liverpool had.
It doesn’t even make me angry any more, it makes me desperately sad.
I’ve read a lot already on this and some very insightful people have posted some apposite and informed views. (see The competing arguments used to explain the riots, Rosamicula and Kester Brewin.
It seems to me that we are all to blame in some respect. And in all the different areas of trouble, the variety of those people rioting and looting is astonishing, see the Guardian’s article on who took part.
Yesterday, listening to a BBC correspondent who had spent the day in a magistrate’s court hearing those arrested and charged from some of the London rioting, I was somewhat surprised to hear there were a lot of young professionals involved in the looting. A graphic designer, a care worker, someone who had just joined up for the army. Not all of them were from the local area, many had driven in, taken part and then, to quote the correspondent: ‘driven off to the next location to cause trouble in their Golf GTIs’.
Last night’s trouble in Manchester is also not all from some kind of ‘underclass’ there seemed to be plenty kids from ‘middle class’ families looting for all they were worth. Kids as young as 9 (estimated) were seen in gangs, separating in two, one group to divert the police while another group smashed in and looted a shop.
I think there are many, many different and complex reasons for this upheaval but it is endemic of a society that has lost it’s way.
Maybe we all need to take a step back and have a long look at ourselves.
Why are we all so interested in the news about the riots? Is it perhaps because somewhere within us there is a deep need to acknowledge that this kind of behaviour is the kind of behaviour that we are capable of? Is it that by reading and watching about it, in a voyeuristic way, we can somehow, exorcise it from ourselves? Are we somehow connecting with it for cathartic reasons, in that were it not for other people committing these acts now, we indeed could or maybe would?
At a push, maybe I could loot somewhere to provide for my family if things got really bad. And scenes like we saw last night are just a couple of rungs down the moral ladder.
In an interview with Jane Clayson of the CBS Early Show on September 13, 2001, Billy Graham’s daughter Anne Graham Lotz commented on the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 and I think that much of what she said is relevant here in the UK at this time. (I have yet to find a full transcript of the interview but you might be familiar with the paraphrasing.)
“I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has
calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?”
What we see may be the result of many things building up to a flashpoint, but the one single common factor is the fact that by and large our country has turned it’s back on the values of true Christianity. The church is as guilty as the rest and I’m surely just as culpable.
We have turned our backs on God, we have not been careful about what we have let into our hearts and we have reaped the consequences.
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
For ‘mouth speaks’ read also ‘hands do’ or ‘feet follow’.
“You are what you eat” is the other phrase that comes to mind, and the diet that we feed our hearts and minds on surely impacts the actions we end up taking.
I am reminded of a story by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek:
A man thinks he is a grain of seed. He is promptly taken to the mental institution where the doctors eventually convince him that he is not a grain of seed but a man. But, just when he’s apparently cured – convinced that he is not a grain of seed but a man—and permitted to leave the hospital, he comes back instantly, trembling with fear: his next door neighbour has just started keeping chickens and he is afraid the chickens are going to eat him. “Come now,” says the doctor, “you know full well that you are not a grain of seed but a man.” “You and I know that,” the patient says, “but do the chickens know?”
The point is, that most of us don’t need convincing that a new car or bigger house, pair of fancy trainers, plasma tv or a diamond ring will not make us happier or more fulfilled, it’s the structure around us, the magazines and tv programmes, the society we live in and participate in that needs convincing of these things.
For me that’s what church is about, creating an alternative structure that then convinces the chickens because of the way it operates.
Churches need to be alternative communities, places that poke holes in the lies of the world and say “that’s not true, and you know it’s not true” and through our relationships, through our living together in this alternative way, we can encourage each other to live a different way to the way the world pushes us.
We need to be careful we aren’t laughing at the materialistic consumerist society, condemning those chasing it, whilst at the same time fully participating in it, because people won’t listen to us if our lives don’t match up to what we say we believe. (I preached on this earlier in the year)
Now is the time for Christians in Manchester (and London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, etc. etc.) to kneel in prayer, for forgiveness that we haven’t yet enabled God to use us powerfully enough to prevent these dreadful things happening, for the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do it.
We must pray that we can be seen to be instruments of God’s love. Conduits of God’s grace. Bringers of God’s restoration, renewal, and revival.
And lets, wherever we can get involved in the clean-up, not just of the cities, but also the minds and lives of the people who are so misguided and misled that they rampage through the shops looting things that perish and spoil.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.