Saturday, February 4, 2017

I can't watch the news

Over the last few weeks I have noticed that I, a compulsive news watcher, am finding it harder to watch the news.  There is plenty going on in the world and there are plenty of things worth following
closely, but something has changed – for me it is as if the chemistry has changed and something no longer quite works the way it should.  I suspect that it is attributable to what we may call the ‘Trump phenomenon’; and I assume I possibly echo other’s emotions when I say that I was appalled by President Trump’s alleged and unwarranted rudeness to the PM of Australia – at that twist the world seemed to have changed.  Where we once thought we knew what the USA stood for and where it stood (however much we might have disagreed), now everything feels uncertain.

If I am right in understanding the cause for my sudden aversion to the news, then I am disappointed.  When things are going wrong, and the world feels disjointed, this is no time for any of us to hunker down and shut ourselves away from the things that disturb us.  This is no time for us to be passive or silent. 

It may be that we are confused and uncertain about the right course of action; we may lack vital information – all of that is possible.  But that is no reason for us to behave as if there is no one at home!  On the contrary, we have an obligation to speak and to act on our beliefs. 

This fragment of the gospel, associated with the Sermon on the Mount, is a radical expression of what is to happen when the principles (or beatitudes) are lived out and expressed in our actions: there is a transforming effect, it is like ‘salt and light’ in action.   So, maybe we are disturbed, depressed, alarmed, even frightened – but this is not the time to withdraw or be silent.  We are to be like salt; like light – we are agents of change, neither bland nor secretive.

That is an uncomfortable demand.  It allows no room to hide.  The dilemma is not a new one – it has teased the Christian conscience in all times of crisis – especially of persecution – from the earliest days to recent times.  In Nazi Germany Martin Niemoller preached to his congregation, reading out the names of members who had been arrested by the Nazis or were missing.  He rallied his people:

“And the other picture which the Lord Jesus Christ holds up to us: "Ye are the light of the world": we hear these words and are reminded by them that we worry about something that ceases to exist in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. What are we worrying about? When I read out the names, a little while ago*, did we not think: "Alas and alack, will this wind, this storm, that is going through the world just now, not blow out the Gospel candle? We must therefore take the message in out of the storm and put it in a safe nook."

It is only during these days that I have realised - that I have understood - what the Lord Jesus Christ means when He says: "Do not take up the bushel! I have not lit the candle for you to put it under the bushel, in order to protect it from the wind. Away with the bushel! The light should be placed upon a candlestick! It is not your business to worry about whether the light is extinguished or not by the draught." We are not to worry whether the light is extinguished or not; that is His concern: we are only to see that the light is not hidden away - hidden away perhaps with a noble intent, so that we may bring it out again in calmer times - no: "Let your light shine before men!"” (Martin Niemoller 1892-1984, from a sermon ’Church Members Missing or Arrested’, just before his arrest by the Nazis)

Now I know that this sermon began with me having an argument with myself (not watching the news) but that brings me back to the critical point of how we engage with the world; how we reveal Christ.  It may be in small matters or by great, but we are to reveal in our living the Christ within us.   Whether we pen a letter to our Member of Parliament, post a cheque to Save the Children, or stand in a protest: Christ speaks through us and little by little we and the world are changed – we are salt and we are light.  This is no time for us to sleep or look the other way … we are salt and we are light.

You will remember Niemoller’s famous speech, rousing us all to action:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

“We are salt and we are light”

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