Have you noticed politics weaseling its way into pretty much everything? These days you can’t even listen to a decent Hollywood awards speech without it getting political – that is, unless someone announces the wrong winner, but let’s be honest, when does that ever happen?!
Philosopher and author James Davison Hunter would tell you it’s the telltale sign of society’s fragmentation: an indication of the widespread assumption that the only way to create change is to obtain power. Only in the political sphere can you make laws, set regulations, lock people up.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but when a whole society sees only power as the answer to the world’s problems, then that society is in big trouble, because it points to the fact that most people are thinking what’s needed to put the world right is control over others.
The trouble is, power is seriously limited in its ability to bring about change.
You probably remember Aesop’s famous fable, where the wind and the sun have a battle: “Who’s the strongest?” They spot a traveller with a thick coat, and determine that whichever causes him to take it off is the winner. The wind goes first, blowing with all its might, but only succeeds in forcing the traveller to button his coat even tighter. Therein lies power’s limits. When you set laws, preach loudly or rant on social media without first winning people’s hearts, you tend to find barriers go up: coats gets buttoned more tightly. Power and force never bring lasting change.
A classic example of this kicked off as Lent began this year, when the member of parliament for Glasgow north-west, Carol Monaghan, was caught on camera with a cross on her forehead on Ash Wednesday.
“It’s unacceptable,” said some. “Should be banned,” others suggested. Predictably, the wind started to howl. Coats went on; people got angry; the BBC got a kicking for even questioning its appropriateness.
Time for the sun to step in. In Aesop’s tale, as it shines in all its brilliant glory, the traveller takes off not only his coat, but his jumper and shirt as well: contest officially over.
Love is such a remarkably stronger force than power, that it’s a wonder more people don’t choose it.
Some 2,000-year-old wisdom makes an extravagantly bold claim that it never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8). Next time a television camera alights on someone with an ash cross on their forehead, perhaps they should be encouraged, even applauded; along, of course, with other expressions of faith, culture and individuality.
We live in such a technologically-advanced world, that it’s not hard to find someone who disagrees with us. Most people tend to hunker down with those who think like them, rising occasionally to throw stones at those with different viewpoints. It’s nothing but a gust of air, as predictable as it is powerless.
When Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, I’m struck by how he eschewed power as much as he did food. I’m sure the temptation to rule the kingdoms of the world was just as enticing as the one to turn stones into bread.
If we all gave up power for Lent, who knows what barriers would come down?
Compassion. Forgiveness. Service. Love. A listening ear. Understanding. Dialogue. Friendship.
If we really want to change the world, it’s time to start warming up.