I headed out early on a day which would be defined by rain to hear John bell tell us a bit about England from the perspective of a frequent Scottish visitor in his talk called ‘ A Thistle in a Field of Roses’. As I neared the tent I realised I had left it too late get a seat inside as there were hordes of Greenbelters huddled at the entrances, trying to get a glimpse of the man. I joined the throng and managed to hear snippets of his talk, criticising the UK’s reluctance to offer reparation for colonial sins and calling out British hypocrisy, encouraging self-determination for the Falkland Islands while removing the population of Diego Garcia to make way for an army base. He went on to suggest that democracy was under threat from the Oxbridge monopoly of power in the institutions of influence, all located in London, where the lack of affordable housing was a symbol of an out of touch elite. It was at this point the rain started falling and the snippets I was hearing could be heard no more.
I abandoned John Bell and sought shelter in the Christian Aid tent, taking with me a sense of frustration at John’s familiar complaints and lack of hope or solution. It was thanks to the rain diverting my plans that I ended up hearing two events offering two different responses to my frustration. One memorable moment was the fabulous Dave Andrews who I instantly recognised as the Australian Santa Claus my friends had spoken of yesterday. He was on a panel celebrating Christian Aid’s 70th birthday and offering ‘reflections from the road’. He was one of those inspirational characters who took literally and personally the call of Jesus to sell everything and give it to the poor. He talked about the abuse he received from Christians full of hate because of his work with the Muslim community. He told of the need to go deeper than a response of anger, to the root cause and acknowledge the hurt beneath. This he said was the basis of forgiveness and non-retaliation. He was also an advocate of tears and the way he spoke persuaded me of the real value of crying with those who suffer, a simple act of empathy with a real power to do good.
The second solution was the interview with someone from Christians in Politics, whose aim is to encourage us to get involved in the messy business of politics instead of complaining from the sidelines. It was pointed out that our holy book has politics running through it like a stick of rock, calling for debt relief and protection of migrants as examples. She reminded me that the Bible is full of political characters from Joseph who becomes, in effect, the prime minister of Egypt and Daniel a civil servant in a very dubious regime. Sometimes it feels like our churches have lost our voice, scared by the sometimes dubious politics we deal with and the potential conflict. This despite being involved in very political activities such as foodbanks and debt advice. When we do engage, too often our voice is that of the critic standing back rather than stepping up and joining a party, getting involved in influencing our politics from the inside. For me this is the positive action needed when overwhelmed by the ways in which we fall short in a world where inequality and sin are rife. I need to move on from pessimism and guilt and be encouraged into hope and action. The inspiration of Dave Andrews and Christians in Politics were the encouragement I needed. Thank God for rain.