Saturday, 7 March 2009

Green Custard and Pacifism.

As anybody who has lived through the dark ages of British Television will tell you, Saturday night was dominated for years by Noel Edmonds, who bounced back from his popular show which managed to kill a poor contestant to host Noels House Party, the highlight of which was watching someone being enclosed in a plastic tank and covered in green gunge, presumably some sort of custard. Peter (Lord, but he as good as bought it) Mandelson, right hand man of the New Labour regime and performer of more comebacks than Noel Edmonds and Frank Sinatra put together, found himself in the gunge seat yesterday when a lady protesting about climate change and the new and utterly unnecessary runway at Heathrow which Mandelson has greased through took affirmative action with a bucket of green custard. I was at work listening to the morning news when Lord Mandy came on air blathering about the 'danger' of the experience and that he did not want to go back to the 24hour security he used to have when he was (to everyones surprise) Northern Ireland Secretary but after this 'threat' he would have to take advice from the Police, who clearly know a thing or two about green custard and its threat to life and limb. Take it on the chin Peter, worse things happen at sea.

What the 'attack' does prove, happily, is that we do not live in a Police state. The protester was not dragged away to a secret location and beaten, indeed the first response of the Police was to look amused, which is unlikely to be the case if it was Barack Obama being gunged. We are slipping into a surveillance society, I remember as a schoolboy being able to walk past Number Ten Downing Street and stand on the step outside next to the Policeman for a photo, now the whole street is fenced off, like the Coronation Street film set in Granada Studios here in Manchester, the action going on scripted and closely monitored by spin doctors and advisers rather than directors and lighting engineers. The celebrity culture in, in my opinion (and probably Jeremy Paxman's too, must check this with Trish), is more to blame than the security of politicians for the increasingly restrictive movement around the capital. Traditionally ones house and club were private, now celebrities insist on shops being closed for them, private rooms in restaurants - or that they eat only in the company of other celebrities - lest the bubble burst and they realise that they have just been very, very lucky and that their luck may run out at any given moment. (Yes, I would like a Bristol car as well, but cannot sing or dance, so am unlikely to have one).

Privacy outside of the home is for the first time in recent history being linked to wealth, the thought of philanthropy being closely tied to publicity raising exercises, carefully balanced to produce an impression of kindness and a rise in album sales. That is, when the celebrities concerned do not gain their album sales from a reputation as gun wielding ex-con heavies, spawning the sort of behaviour in pre teenagers which irritated me yesterday morning as I ate my mushrooms on toast in the Morrisons cafe in Eccles. However, as you know, I do not like to moan about the state of the world, firmly believing that God knows the place we are in and has put us here for a reason. My neighbourhood and Church, a pretty standard terraced house suburban area, are both full of what the Daily Mail would call 'broken homes', this gives the Church extra grist to its mill and another spin on our prayer wheel, another opportunity to share the grace of God, by which we are where we are, not born to die in poverty in the majority of the world. In our industrialised society of clean streets and strong buildings, (which is reliant on the internal combustion engine, not God, for its survival) we are apt to find new things to worry us, status, celebrity, fame or our own survival as Anglo Catholics. In Rwanda, Pakistan this week, Zimbabwe and many many other countries, our contemporaries and equal inheritors of the Kingdom of God have other concerns to tax them, like what to eat and will I survive another day?

This is not too say that green custard and Lord Mandelson should not occupy our thought any less than the people of God who directly surround us, but if Lent can do anything, it can help, by our internal retreat into the desert, to put our life into perspective and to find a new reliance on the grace of God, which has put us here, in this place, at this time. This reliance on God, I would suggest, will strengthen our resolve to work for the coming of His kingdom, for us and for those with whom we share the world, in justice and in love.

Peter Brown argues in 'The Body and Society', that it was the pacifism of the first three centuries of Christians which spread the Word and formed Christianity as the religion it is, from tiny roots. For without pacifism and a refusal to change their actions one iota, even to choose death over the casual burning of incense in front of the Emperor's effigy, the martyrs were created and it was shown that Christians had faith so strong, they feared nothing, not even being covered in tar and lit to illuminate entertainments. This mixture of pacifism and absolute resolve is, to me, an example that we can learn from at this time of change and uncertainty.