When I had a study I wished I worked in an office. Now I work in an office and I wish I had a study. (Interesting that I use the verb “work” only in relation to the “office”). I was shy about the “study” because I didn’t think it had the street cred of the offfice. Like many of my peers I referred to my study as the office. Now I find myself fighting for the place of the study in ministry which seems to have less time for it.
In a recent blog post, Sam Charles Norton has some wise words as he contrasts efficient and resilient systems. An efficient system “is one in which each resource is being utilised to the greatest possible extent.” We love efficiency and worship its icon of the (upwardly mobile) graph which is the prerequisite of any office wall. Norton suggests that the Church of England is hell-bent (my words) on a drive towards efficiency which is (mis)-guided by a spirituality “which is based upon a fear that all that seems to be going wrong will continue to go wrong.” According to Norton, we have forgotten what it means to believe in God. “The Church of England will only be saved by those who are not consumed with conviction about how to save it, and who sit lightly at the prospect of the Church of England not being saved – simply because they are utterly committed to the sovereignty of the living God, and they trust in his provision, rather than our own choices.”
A “resilient system” is what the Church of England has been as it “has emphasised the importance of the local and the different, the queer and the inefficient”. Resilient systems have resources within them which enable them to withstand shocks and trauma. These “unexploited” resources aren’t built or stored in offices. That would be too inefficient. Many of our offices stand empty with their enterprise blown away by the latest economic shocks to the system. Offices are only open for business and efficiency. They are closed to resilience and their house is blown down with but one puff.
“Happy are those who delight in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all they do, they prosper.” (Psalm 1).
The occupations of Occupy London are, according to their website, “about social justice, real democracy and challenging the unsustainable financial system that punishes the many and privileges the few”. But the juxtaposition of the protesters’ camp and St Paul’s is challenging those of us on the inside of the Church of England wearing the vest of vested interests.
The juxtaposition highlights the challenge that has faced Christians down the centuries. Juxtaposed is the soft and the hard, the fixed and the flimsy, the playfulness of the tent and the seriousness of established tradition, the movement and the institution. These contrasts are not new. Paul, to whom the Cathedral is dedicated, was, as Giles Fraser pointed out, a tent maker and missioner of no fixed abode. Tonight a friend who is beginning to explore the Christian faith emailed me her puzzlement that “God and religion don’t seem to match”. What has been happening in London seems to be another replay of this mismatch. (Is it either the grace of God, or prophetic imagination and energy that makes more of a match?)
Madeleine Bunting has written of the spatial aspect of the paradigm shift represented by the protest. For her, the protest is about “seeding questions in thousands of minds, shaking certainties and orthodoxies so that there is space for new alternatives.” It is about “taking key symbolic public space … to use it for conviviality, living, learning and participation.” To me that sounds exciting, and something which Christians should be engaging with. In fact, it represents the very heart and aspiration of Christian practice. Conviviality, living, learning and participation are fundamental to the intention of Christian liturgy.
The British Jewish community seems to have responded to the protest positively. In the statement they have published today, they “welcome the movement’s openness, pluralism and commitment to imagining a more just world.” Their statement includes a reminder that “the Jewish heritage includes a long tradition of reshaping society to help the least fortunate, from the teaching of prophets like Amos and Jeremiah, to Rabbi Hillel, to modern figures such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Naomi Klein.” The church shares the same Jewish heritage, but the juxtaposition and apparent conflict of tent and Cathedral suggests the ease with which an institution can forget its origin as a movement of liberation.