About 15 years ago, an Evangelist called John Masters came to our Church in Long Eaton. As it was so long ago, as you might expect, I don’t remember everything that he spoke about!
However, one thing I do remember is the way he opened… He said, “I have news for you, non-christians don’t go to church!” He is of course, right! For all of our efforts to get people to come along on a Sunday, our efforts often fall at the first hurdle because their first thought is, “why would I want to go there?!”
This year I have started to perform some of my poetry in Spoken Word events. I have taken the decision to not censor my poems, by not leaving out the ones which make deliberate reference to my faith, because in my life I have spent far too long being one person on a Sunday and another the rest of the week! In other words, I was a hypocrite! I am a christian 7 days a week so it doesn’t seem odd to me to take my faith into the pubs and clubs where I share my poetry.
On Friday night I had the privilege of being involved in an event called We Shall Overcome. The event combined live music and poetry. Some of the rhetoric was very anti-Tory and pro-Socialism, it was inspiring to see the spirit and courage of these individuals and bands in defying the austerity policy of the current administration.
When my time came I shared a poem about being bullied as a kid, then I shared one called Hope which I wrote when I was in a low place, feeling suicidal after the breakdown of my marriage. I openly and candidly shared my struggles and pain.
There is a lot of love for Jeremy Corbyn in Nottingham. In fact, it was at a rally in this fair town just a few weeks ago that his leadership campaign first gained true momentum when people queued around the block to hear him speak!
So, in the middle of my set, I took the time to acknowledge the passion for justice that the people of this town have and to congratulate them on their contribution in propelling a relative outsider to leader of the opposition.
The way in which I approached it though was a little enigmatic. I said there’s a lot of love in this room for a bearded social reformer with the initials JC who recently won a leadership contest…
I said, “I want to share with you the political manifesto of my favourite social reformer:
“This is the kind of path I want you to take: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your integrity will pave the way for you.
“If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s faults and mistakes, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.””
I said “in case you haven’t guessed yet, my favourite social reformer also had a beard, and also had the initials JC… his name was Jesus Christ! He didn’t seek to bring social reform through his position, by changing laws or through politics but by changing people’s heart attitudes!”
The passage I shared was taken directly from The Message version of Isaiah 58! This ancient book is still resonating with people today! The organisation that Jesus set up has been going for 2000 years and still continues to feed the hungry, through the foodbanks, to house the homeless, through hostels and charities and clothes the poor.
It may seem ludicrous to you that a man who voted Tory, would choose to spend an evening listening to socialist folk songs surrounded by punks and hippies but it was a very enjoyable evening, these people were real, their stories were human and their songs, hopeful!
So I didnt’t think it presumptuous or inappropriate to read a passage from the Bible in a pub like that… Because the thing about the Bible is it is most profound when it is revealed to the ordinary man on the street.
If non-christians don’t go to church maybe we should go to them! In the gospels, Jesus spent a relatively small amount of time preaching in the temple, he spent significantly more time in the marketplace, having meals round people’s houses and generally enjoying life! I like his style!
Jesus, a man who died at the tender age of 33, 2000 years ago, continues to inspire me. Let him inspire you, too!