After the riots (6)... a time to act

    30 September 2011

    In the final article in our After the riots series, City Canon, Tim Higgins, issues a rallying cry to the local church.

    I was ashamed of myself as I watched from the sofa the spark that turned sofas into a furnace. That furniture shop in Croydon burned to entertain a global television audience. "Breaking news" became a lie with the media repeats of that primitive scene.

    The fires that have been started in our cities can give light for us to see more clearly. The easy move is this obvious pronouncement that they must stop. Seeing beyond, seeing the "new way" is the call that goes deeper with hope.

    The scenes of looting and destruction have confused some who have said, "Look at what they are doing? They are just destroying the shops and the sources of what they want and need;" and, "They are burning the homes and communities they have been promised and can choose".

    It is faith in "choice" that we are raising up as God in our public life.

    Making markets of everything de-rails our appetite for the source of life. The things of a holy communion become exchanged with commodities in celebrity Shopping Malls. The public rituals of riot this summer read like the anger of an increasing number of the disappointed and the excommunicated. We could see devotees destroying the gods that have failed to deliver what they promised.

    The vital "after the riots" response is about wearing the right reading glasses. In the stories of the Gospels, Jesus is passionate about healing people’s failure to see. Without this transforming sight we are stuck with reducing the Christian contribution to a list of what can sound like eye-wash ethics and unrealistic projects.

    "Have this mind in you, that was in Christ..." (Philippians 2). Seeing with the mind of Christ guides our reading of statistics. The rioters were not children, many had serious records and were also media agile. Seeing with this mind shows us neighbours, not aliens and enemies. We are joined at the hip. Anthony of Egypt puts it this way: "Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we win our brother, we win God."

    With this mind, what might we see after he riots?

    We might see a Church of England with a massive stake in schools. Shaping admissions policy and lifestyle for neighbours, and not for church members must surely follow.

    We might see a need for shaping gatherings for worship that raise up the lowly at the back rather than the people at the front.

    We might see faith embedded in business bending towards community wellbeing and profits that last.

    We might see church that hungers for the justice of restoration and restitution before prison and repetition.

    These are things I hear the Spirit saying in the city after the riots.


    Canon Tim Higgins

    City Canon, Bristol