Wednesday, April 04, 2012

it sort of comes and goes

In 2008 David Cameron was quoted as describing his faith as being like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: "it sort of comes and goes". He went on: "That sums up a lot of people in the Church of England. We are racked with doubts, but sort of fundamentally believe, but don't sort of wear it on our sleeves or make too much of it. I think that is sort of where I am."

I sort of understand him.

However, times have changed. Our dear Prime-Minister Honest Dave has been braving hordes of Christian lions, and throwing himself, martyr-like, before them, both asking for - and offering prayer.

Sort of a turnaround really. Not even Tony Blair in all his pomp 'did God' (TM Alistair Campbell) so publicly. When David Frost asked him if he prayed with George Bush, Tony squirmed. Honest Dave would probably offer up the info, and sort of pray for Frosty there & then on live TV.

So what's happened?

Well, first off, this isn't a one-off. Much publicity as this year's Easter Message from the PM has received - he did do this last year. Oh yes. Here's last year's message:
I would like to send my best wishes to everyone here in Britain and across the world as we come together to celebrate this very special festival in the Christian year.Easter is a time when Christians are reminded of God’s mercy and celebrate the life of Christ. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus taught us to love God and love our neighbour. He led by example and for millions of us his teachings are just as relevant now as they were in his lifetime.As we share in this festival with our friends and family, we can all be reminded of the enormous contribution Christianity has made to our country. Easter reminds us all to follow our conscience and ask not what we are entitled to, but what we can do for others. It teaches us about charity, compassion, responsibility, and forgiveness. No matter what faiths we follow, these are values which speak to us all.I would like to send my best wishes to you and your families at this time, and enjoy a very Happy Easter.
In 2008, Honest Dave appears embarrassed by the subject of faith; he wriggles and all those verbal ticks ('sort of') come gushing out as he feels his way nervously forwards. Three years on, and PM in 2011, he is on confident ground.

OK, if we're being picky we might see a reduction of Christianity to a contribution to our country (country being greater you see in that sentence), of the message of Easter being about conscience (really? that's the central message?) and about service to others.

But in there he also picks some pretty major themes of our faith: God's mercy, the greatest command (surely at the absolute core of all Christian living) of loving God and neighbour, and even his list of 'charity, compassion, responsibility and forgiveness' isn't bad, is it?

Particularly interesting - and many commentators picked up on this last year - is his "we" and "us" language. Jesus taught us to love God; for millions of us his teachings are just as relevant now. This sort of Anglican is being pretty clear where his faith allegiance lies.

He ends with a greetings card blessing, and sends us on our way...

This year, 2012, he issued his Easter message a few days early as he met Christian leaders in Holy Week. It's been a tough time for Honest Dave. The spinning wheels are in danger of falling off the Coalition bus. Fuel crises, spats to the right, fueds to the left, and several of the leaders he stood before in Downing Street unhappy with him specifically over his stance on gay marriage and tax relief on charitable giving and secret trials and a host of other issues. So he did what he does so well - he made a self-deprecating joke: "In the past week I've felt like I've needed someone to pray for me," he said. He then looked out at the gathered church leaders & prominent Christian politicians, paused, and added: "They might have overdone it."

He addressed differences with some of his audience head-on, as well as referring to the case in Devon where councillors were prevented from praying at their meeting - till his government changed the law:  "I think there's something of a fightback going on, and we should welcome that; the values of the Bible, the values of Christianity are the values we need."

Well, frankly what else was he going to say in that company?

What else? Interestingly - this: this is this year's PM's Easter message.
Easter week is a very important moment in the Christian calendar, so I would like to extend my best wishes to everyone here in the United Kingdom, and across the world, at this special time of year.“This is the time when, as Christians, we remember the life, sacrifice and living legacy of Christ. The New Testament tells us so much about the character of Jesus; a man of incomparable compassion, generosity, grace, humility and love. These are the values that Jesus embraced, and I believe these are values people of any faith, or no faith, can also share in, and admire. “It is values like these that make our country what it is – a place which is tolerant, generous and caring. A nation which has an established faith, that together is most content when we are defined by what we are for, rather than defined by what we are against. In the book of Luke, we are told that Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” – advice that when followed makes for a happier, and better society for everyone. “So as families and friends get together this week, I would like to send my best wishes to you all, and I hope and pray you have a very happy and peaceful Easter.
Again - we Christians can be so sniffy. Is this the perfect Easter sermon? No. I saw one excellent comment say that we celebrate the "living person of Christ" not his "living legacy". Fair point. And I would say that as a politician, Honest Dave speaks inherently politically (and that's not a criticism, it's just a fact - a musician speaks musically, a climatologist, well, you get my gist). So though he speaks of Easter, as last year the values of Christianity 'make our country what it is'. Though now they aren't a 'contribution', they are the defining character of 'a nation which has an established faith'.

It's interesting to see how that works for Honest Dave. It's about tolerance, generosity & care, it's about working together and being 'defined by what we are for, rather than defines by what we are against'. He finally describes the Big Society: it's the Golden Rule. The Big Society? Honest Dave wants us to find the Better Society, and places that in a Christian context. He may or may not know that he's working out an eschatology here, a Kingdom theology. And Easter is a pretty good place to let that burst out.

I might point out that in his Bible reading plan, he's moved from Mark to Luke; expect him to quote John in 2013.

I will point out his ending.

It's still a bit greetings card-y, but in keeping with his self-identification as a man of faith ("this is the time when, as Christians, we remember") he totally outs himself and (sort of) prays for us. The PM prays for us. "I hope and pray you have a very happy and peaceful Easter'. Tony Blair never did that. I guess if footballers can Pray4Muamba, Honest Dave can Pray4U&Me.

Though another thought crossed my mind.

For it does seem to me that - and why not - Mr Cameron may be on his own sort of spiritual journey. I very much hope so. And who would be helping him? A fellow-Etonian runs the biggest outreach of them all in the Alpha Course, though he was a Cambridge man so that seems an unlikely alliance.

No - that little prayer at the end is the giveaway isn't it? After all, since he has been PM, Honest Dave has been having weekly sessions with the Church of England's Evangelist in Chief, who is currently celebrating sixty years in that role, and who also led the nation by praying for us at our last major Christian holiday. I think she is having her timeless and godly effect on our Prime Minister. That's what an established faith is for.

Oh of course you know whom I mean...

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