The Great Divide

In a recent article in Scottish Review1, Gary Hasson powerfully opens a lid on what is possibly the biggest problem threatening our society, yet is hardly ever spoken about. It is the festering wound and the major source of division in contemporary Scotland. It is the elephant in the room, the war we mustn’t talk about, the brother we never had.  It is starkly illustrated by the sharp difference between life in the peripheral housing schemes and the leafy west ends of our cities. Yet it is possible to live out your life without ever noticing it. Maybe you have to be in a prison waiting room, be searched and have your arm stamped or live in a burned out close which has become a shooting gallery, or see a gang fight explode at close quarters, or be routinely insulted and humiliated by some wearied official behind a grill, or just had to learn to accept tenth rate service from medics, educationists, and councillors just because they can get away with it.   It sounds like something that every politician should be agitating for but I do not believe it is within the gift of politicians to fix even there was the will. I don’t believe it is to do with money or a solution could be bought. I don’t think the psychology and sociology and educational theorists have the whole answer either. Neither Darwin, nor Marx nor Freud,  “Three most crashing bores of the Western world” 2come anywhere near. The problem lies much deeper. On one side is the arrogance, greed, pride and indifference or simply obliviousness of those who have the power the wealth and the wit to be sorted, on the other an almost total lack of self-esteem, self-worth and self-respect of those on the other side of the tracks. Apart from the odd outburst, the odd riot, the odd march, there is a resigned acceptance that this is just the way it is. It all became very clear to me early on in my work with the Mains of Fintry Urban Ministry Trust and it is not new. Nick Davies wrote about it in 1997 “Dark Heart, the shocking truth about hidden Britain”3. The book was, and is, a desperately depressing insight into the underbelly of urban life in the late 20c, but he was simply an investigative journalist and had no real answer.  The crippling lack of self-worth and the sense of being trapped with no way out is deeply ingrained in the psyche. It is reinforced with every attempt by those with the resources, time, skill and money to help. “You are only helping because you can and we can’t”  Even the acknowledgement of gifts, the positive strokes, the affirming comments are taken as yet another nail in the coffin “You are only saying that to make us think we are good when we know and you know we are rubbish”  It is seen as yet another patronising put-down.  Our Kosovar friend made an interesting comment on this. When volunteers and NCO’s came to her country to help rebuild the nation, after the war, they were treated with disdain and suspicion.  “They must have done something really bad to be sent to a dump like this” was what they said.  It was only later that she saw the thing differently.

So what is the answer?

I have only one: one solution, one way, one truth, one life- Jesus. If God was prepared to become one of us and go through unbelievable pain and suffering and die for me then I must be worth it and that changes everything.

But it is also not just a theory. I have seen it happen. I have seen people find God and become Christians and find their lives being transformed. They were no longer cowed and subservient but, without turning their back on the traditions, families and cultures, they stood tall with dignity. I have seen it in both individuals and in communities in the east end of Glasgow, in the north end of Dundee, in the pueblos Jovenes in Lima and in the Quechan communities in the Sierra of Peru. It was something that even an atheist like Matthew Parris recognised, after visiting Africa in 2008 “Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good…..The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world, a directness in their dealings with others – that seemed to be missing in traditional African life”. 4

So, for me, the hope for our nation does not lie with politicians, civil servants and the ruling classes, nor with the educationalists, sociologists and social scientists, nor with the economists, entrepreneurs and  traders in money, nor  with the artists, poets, musicians and architects, nor with the entertainers, celebrities and comedians but, strangely as it may seem, with the humble preacher, who faithfully and carefully studies the bible and brings out its truth and majesty in words that people can understand.  In this simple act the whole of life, for the individual and the community, can be transformed and the great divide breached.

Crawford Mackenzie

1              http://www.scottishreview.net/GerryHassan145.shtml

2              William Golding: Marx, Darwin and Freud are the three most crashing bores of the Western World. Simplistic popularization of their ideas has thrust our world into a mental straitjacket from which we can only escape by the most anarchic violence.”

3              Nick Davies: Dark Heart, the shocking truth about hidden Britain, 1997, Vantage

4   http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article5400568.ece

The Servant

his hand

I heard a sermon once and it changed my life.  The time, location and circumstances have faded with the memory but the vision has remained clear. It was in the letter that Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi, in the second chapter where he quotes a hymn:

Christ was truly God. But he did not try to remain equal with God. Instead he gave up everything and became a slave, when he became like one of us. Christ was humble. He obeyed God and even died on a cross. Then God gave Christ the highest place and honoured his name above all others. So at the name of Jesus everyone will bow down, those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. And to the glory of God the Father everyone will openly agree, “Jesus Christ is Lord!”

It was a picture that was thrust into my mind and burned into my memory, of a hand that could have grasped, could have held on, but let go, willingly let go.  There were lots of questions: What kind of person would willingly let go of his right and come to this life where he would suffer be tortured and die?  For what purpose?  And what did it mean for me? The thought, uninvited, which broke into my ordered world, carried an unavoidable and unmistakable challenge. It was about attitude, about my attitude. Paul was saying: we should have the same attitude as Christ Jesus.

Many years later sitting with a group of international students, some believers and followers of Jesus, other unsure, while others Buddhists, Atheists, Hindus and various strands of religious background, we were thinking about Peter and the call from Jesus at the side of the lake to “come and follow me”. One of our international friends asked “If I decide to follow Jesus, will I have to give up everything too?” As usual I didn’t know how to answer the question, others stepped in to do that, but afterwards thinking about it, I knew. The answer had to be “Yes”. Yes it did mean giving up everything and yes it did mean not grasping what you thought was your right but letting go and giving it up.  It would look different for different people.  What it meant for others was not my business. I knew what it meant for me.

Now as almost everyone pitches in with their take on the life of Nelson Mandela, there is one thing that strikes me, more than anything else, about the man: his humility. How he seemed to continually stress that he was not a prophet or a king, but a servant. That is true greatness.

Crawford Mackenzie

Why do people hate Jesus?

I was coming back from the shops with my oldest grandson, down the steep cobbled lane with the early morning Saturday sun hitting our faces, past the tiny gospel hall and the Hindu temple next door, looking down towards the river with the railway bridge snaking its way round into Fife; when he stopped, retraced his steps, and said “Look”.  Pointing to the noticeboard on the wall he read “I am the way the truth and the life – Jesus“  Having recently discovered the new world that had opened up to him through the joy of reading, he read everything. “Good” I said and trundled on. “No!” he said pulling me back to the spot “Look” and pointed to a large “X” scratched across the glass. “Someone has done that – someone who doesn’t like Jesus” We walked on for a bit and then he asked “Why do people hate Jesus?”. At once two thoughts rushed into my mind;  “out of the mouths of babes and children… “ and  “Why do they always have to ask such difficult questions” and so I mumbled something like “I don’t know, but I think it is because Jesus is so good that people hate him”.  He was silent for a time and then, totally unconvinced, responded  with a “So that is it?”

As always happens, I thought about the question afterwards. I tried to come to a better answer but the more I did the more I became convinced that that was, in fact, it. People hate Jesus because he is good. Good people are often admired but seldom liked. It is as if  a good life points up how shallow, selfish and self-centred is our own and faced, with a pure one, we are so aware of our own hypocrisy, greed, lust, deceit  and pride. It is best to keep a good person at a distance. It might actually bring out hatred. At the root of most of the emotion is not so much over what Jesus said or who he was but what he did. What he did when he allowed himself to be led through the suffering and torture to his execution on a rubbish tip outside of Jerusalem 2000 or so years ago. I remember listening to a tirade from someone about the film “The passion of the Christ”. They hated it and went on and on about the violence. Somehow they could take Tarantino excesses in their stride but Mel Gibson’s portrayal of Jesus’ suffering was just too much to stomach. I am not a fan of Mel Gibson nor the film but was taken aback at the ferocity of the attack.  Violent the film certainly was, gratuitous perhaps, but the context and meaning of the film was clearly stated in the words from Isaiah, shown in the opening sequence -“by his stripes we are healed” and I think that was what caused the most offence. If the son of God should have justly suffered all of this, and if it was for me, then I must be totally messed up. My life a hopeless sham and the good that I thought I was, could be nothing more than pathetic childish pretences, what Paul calls “filthy rags”. That truth is hard to swallow and so much easier to ignore. But because it is true, then we hate every reminder of it and hate the person who, by their very presence and existence, reminds of it. That, I think, is why people hate Jesus.

Crawford Mackenzie