Thursday, 11 April 2013

Thatcher's place in heaven

While others condemn her to burn in the fires of hell, I honestly believe Margaret Thatcher is probably in heaven.

Anyone who knows me well, or even a little, has probably guessed that I am not exactly a great advocate of Thatcherite politics so perhaps I need to explain myself.

Like millions of others, I do not like the legacy of self-centred egotism which Thatcher has left our country. Though I am too young to properly remember most of the eighties first-hand, I think her actions on both the national level and on the international stage were harmful and destructive. In many cases, I do not think evil is too strong a word for the views she espoused and the crimes she committed.

But I still believe she is in heaven.

I believe she is in heaven because I believe in a God who is Love and a Heaven which is the place, or state of being, that is fullness of communion with a God who is and only can be love and would not, does not, even by his very essence cannot exclude anyone from that love. I believe she is in heaven because my belief in a God of Love precludes the possibility of believing in eternal damnation.

I believe she is in heaven because it is evil which builds the walls which separate us from one another whilst love extends outstretched arms of inclusive welcome which draws us together. It is evil which turns the key to lock the gates with some kept on the outside. In the all encompassing love of heaven, there is no-one or nothing to shut the gates and turn the key. The gates of heaven are resolutely open to all who would enter.

I believe she is heaven because if she is not, and heaven is merely the exclusive club of those who think and feel as I do; where entry is about striving for personal salvation and individual gain to the detriment of others left to one side along the way then how is it any different from the Thatcherite principles I wish to condemn?

I believe she is in heaven although actually, I can well believe it may be her own personal purgatory of realisation, as she finds herself rejoicing in the socialist, perhaps even communist society of heaven; and recognises the gift of a love which drives out the fear which was the very basis on which she built her life and her political career. But while I can believe it may take some time for her to accept and fully appreciate the joys of a society built on love, justice and compassion; I don't believe that she died to find the gates of eternal paradise locked against her.

I believe she is in heaven; which is not, of course, to say that I am going to suddenly love and accept all that she did and stood for. Because I also believe that whatever may be going on in heaven, wherever that may be; back in our own real world, there is still plenty to be done challenging the insidious integration of Thatcher’s individualistic ideals into the accepted rhetoric of our society.

Perhaps it is time to leave Thatcher to God but to deal with society ourselves.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Walking towards Easter

One positive side effect of our premature departure from Corrymeela was being able to walk Student Cross again during Holy Week. After an emotional couple of weeks saying goodbye to a community of people I love, it turned out to be exactly what I needed, even if waking up to several centimetres of snow on the day you are due to set off on a 120 mile walking pilgrimage is not exactly an auspicious start!

In my search for genuine Christian Community, Northern Leg, although only a brief interlude, expresses much of what I seek. While I am not going to pretend that it would be possible to live year round as we lived last week: that level of sleep deprivation can only be suffered for so long, maybe it is closer to "the real world" than it first appears. In its ability to create an intense community experience and build genuinely close relationships in the space of just one week, Student Cross surely holds lessons for what is required to build community.

Student Cross is Christian to its very core: carrying a life size wooden cross for over a hundred miles could hardly be anything other. The very act of being part of student cross is already a prayer, an act of faith. But because the Christianity is so ingrained in its very being, Northern Leg has no need to pretend to be any more, or any less, than it really is. We are pilgrims throughout the week, in all that we do: we are pilgrims on the road, walking with the cross, and pilgrims in the churches we visit and the prayers we say. But we are no less pilgrims when we are drinking in the pubs in the evening, or singing irreverent songs. The irreverence is deeply ingrained with a faith we are already living.

For a whole week, we walk. We stay up late and sleep on hard church hall floors, and then walk some more. This shared physical challenge and discomfort is an important element of building a community that is mutually interdependent. A community that learns very quickly to care for and support each other. A community that is too tired to hide behind masks and pretend its emotions aren't real, that sees each other in its moments of vulnerability and weakness: and loves each other anyway.

In the space of such time and distance, with nothing to do but walk and talk, we are sometimes silent together, but often speaking together; with conversations which range from serious discussion to ridiculous banter. Both are inevitable. Both are essential. I love the rambling theological discussions, the willingness to share deeply personal stories, the hours spent resolving the ills of the world; but I recognise there is no less value in the ability to laugh at and with each other in between. In order to take ourselves and each other seriously, it is important not to take ourselves too seriously (and that makes sense to me even if it doesn't to anyone else!)

These are among the key elements that I think make for the real Christian Community I am seeking. I found them last week. So thank you, Northern Leg, see you next year!