A while back the Conservative Party in the UK made a big play on the importance of society once again beginning to take responsibility for itself. The basic idea was that after a decade and more of ‘big government’ and the ‘nanny state’ which had turned many into government dependants, it was time for ‘us’ to begin to look after each other again:
[this] is about helping people to come together to improve their own lives. It’s about putting more power in people’s hands – a massive transfer of power from Whitehall to local communities.
Community groups are encouraged to step up to the plate, social entrepreneurs encouraged to cough up the money…and before we know it, we’ll have a society where we all looked after each other in some kind of throwback to 1950. Or something like that. The soundbite for this? ‘The Big Society‘…
Now, those of you who have followed my blog will know that I’m not a fan of the Conservative Party. And to be honest, the Big Society is a not very clever way of hiding the fact that funding for community based work has been massively cut from the centre which is deeply hurting many important services that support the most vulnerable in our society..
But, loathe as I am to admit it, the core of this idea is fundamentally right. We all have a duty to do something.
It can’t be right that people in our community are lacking some of the basic things that we could be part of providing. It can’t be right that I don’t really have a clue who most of my neighbours are and what’s going on in their lives. It can’t be right that I expect someone else to tackle the big issues in my city if I’m not willing to do something about it myself.
I was reading a list of 50 people deemed to be the ‘new radicals’ by the Observer earlier today, and was hugely impressed by the array of people who have got off their backsides to do something about their communities…both in the big and small context, local, national and global. Truly inspiring stuff here…go and take a read…it’s worth a coffee and half an hour of your time, trust me.
We have probably become far too accustomed to pointing at anyone but ourselves, saying ‘they should do something about this’. What if the ‘they’ should be ‘we’? What if the creativity, the potential, the investment is all lying in our own heart, our own communities just waiting for someone like you or me to do something about it.
I can’t help but link this to my theology around what being involved in the coming of the ‘kingdom of God’ looks like. We have a deep inbuilt responsibility for each other that cannot be shirked, much as we may find it incredibly challenging to do so. We see problems, we do something about them. That’s our God DNA at work. If the people of God are not at the centre of our communities, then what on earth are we doing?
I want to confess here that I’m as guilty as anyone in being apathetic about this stuff, so please hear me having a go at myself as well as anyone else!
In the next few weeks we’re going to be moving into another part of Exeter where a group of friends are taking this challenge on board and seeking to transform their community. It’s a really exciting time as this all takes shape, and we hope to be able to be part of helping some of it come to fruition. I guess the challenge for us when we do land in Heavitree is how serious we are about all we’ve talked about community, and being willing to move beyond where we’ve been comfortable in giving up much of our tendency towards individualism.
So as much as I dislike the ‘Big Society’, I believe in big community. This is where the adventure moves forward. It gets scary, it gets real. But isn’t that often the place we need to be to be truly living at the centre of God’s will for us?