Playing the role in front of us

Monday, 30th August 2010 at 6:00 UTC Leave a comment

Recently I’ve been doing some big reassessments of where I am and what I’m doing. Its a pretty tough process, and will involve pulling out of at least a couple of groups, somewhat facilitated by the range of fresh issues and challenges being foisted on the British activist in the wake of the change of government. Into this, I’ve been hearing, in more than one place, the need to “play the role in front of us”.

It first came up at Soul Survivor, with a talk by Mike Pilavachi. It was, if anything, a reminder to not plan the far future, but instead to go out and do what we can. He took as an example Mother Theresa, starting her life of service, unable to consider the immense impact she would have, but rolling up her sleeves and getting busy regardless. I suppose in a sense, there is a reminder that to be truly great, you have to start acting, not wait for an opportunity for greatness. Of course, this tends to conflate greatness and celebrity, and perhaps to miss out the difficult and painful task of pursuing any true kind of greatness.

But at its heart the message was this: we can’t know where we’ll end up in 20 or 30 years time, but we can become better people here and now and we can act within our contexts. Its come up again within the questions at a Greenbelt talk, and I suppose in this instance it was as much about leading by example in our own contexts.

I guess this all sort of connects with what Marx said when he announced that ordinary people, even oppressed people, can make history, but not in the circumstances of their choosing. We should probably stop trying to choose and start trying to build from where we are.

The biggest thing that struck me whilst working at Momentum was the difference in people’s levels of knowledge of World and UK poverty. Ask people for 3 practices that could lead to ending world poverty, and FairTrade and Debt Relief are probably immediately brought to mind. Ask about UK poverty, and people need a whole lot more prompting. Perhaps they don’t even know what poverty in the UK actually looks like, or the scale of the issue, or they have read one too many news story blaming the poor for their own condition or painting them as cheats.

This seems to tie in with the difference in attitudes to mission. Jesus commands his disciples to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and even to the ends of the Earth. In modern terms, this might be York, Leeds and Manchester (sorry Lancastrians) and then the rest of the world. What UK Christians hear (and no doubt many non-Christians) is that they should go to the ends of the Earth, as somehow a proof of commitment to the cause. Perhaps staying at home is too simple, perhaps we realise that we might encounter our own direct involvement in creating injustice, perhaps we want the option to remove ourselves “once the job is done”, rather than admit that the task is all around us. Either way, we both patronise Africa et al (they can’t help it, can they?) and abandon those down the road, across the street, or sleeping in the park.

Whatever the reason, there is no reason to believe that commitment to those directly in front of us is less worthy, and its a role many more of us should take. It should be our default position, rather than assuming that the rest of the world needs us, as individuals, more than our local communities. The global margins, after all, run throughout the world. If anything, playing the role in front of us is much easier than going overseas; perhaps it feels too easy, or just too mundane. Whatever that reason, surely we should stop the excuses and get to work.

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Entry filed under: Activism, Community, Faith, Participation, Personal.

Individualism & Momentum: the unanswered question Has New Labour left British activists spoilt?

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