New Year. I don’t want to to fill my life with more stuff; material stuff or mental stuff. I don’t even want to accomplish more. I don’t want to live another year propelled forwards on an unremitting wave of ‘should have’, ‘could have’ or ‘would have’ and all their accompanying cruelties. I’m avoiding resolutions because they are hard masters.
I teach a story of Jesus every year to my class in school. These kids often tell me they don’t like RE but soon get lost in the activities. I choose the activities well. Though we enter the story throughout the plain words of the text, the lesson soon colours up with drama and real live stories and somewhere along the way the people of the story meet the kids in my class and at that junction comes the sparky discussion, bartering of views and all the issues weighed in the great scales of a child’s sense of justice (a scary thing!). I love my job.
When it comes to the turn of the parable of the sheep and the goats, I walk the line between teaching them to help others and dealing out some hard-to-reach theology of what it looks like to worship God, questions of who my brother really is and close-to-the-edge issues of heaven and hell. These kids are only 11 and 12. So we play a game: “Sheep!” is port and they run to the right, “Goats!” is starboard and they run to the left. I shout, “Feed the hungry!” and my class of thirty start shovelling imaginary food into their own open mouths, I shout, “Drinks for the thirsty!” and they mime a cup to their lips, I shout “Greet a stranger!” and they shake hands with a partner, I shout, “Clothe the naked!” and they mime getting dressed.
I show them some photos and some films of Christians round the world, a diversity of charities, organisations and churches and what they do to feed the hungry and care for the sick. I show them stories from around the world of children being given blankets against the cold in refugee camps in countries they thought were hot. We watch a video of a well paid engineer with a call in his heart to build wells in dusty villages abroad. We look at pictures of children trapped in a Philippines jails for no other reason than they had nowhere to sleep at night. I tell them how someone I know took boards games to these children who have no family, no education and no home. The class is divided into groups and each team of children takes a small part of the story and builds a drama. Our class rule is everyone joins in. If you don’t like acting take a small part or help write the plot, make sub-titles on poster paper or find the props.
When the sketches are rolled out some actors reach out in compassion towards those in need and others cruelly push the needy away, they are the goodies and the baddies in a pantomime show. The issue divides up easily: of course you should help people in need and it’s wrong to withhold assistance when it’s in your power to help. They make a freeze-frame and I take a snap. We add a title and speech bubbles, a record of our work, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25.40). And this is what this class of children can do, in Fairtrade fortnight, we will build ourselves a Fairtrade shop with cookies and brownies and chocolate and have an assembly and raise some money.
When I get paid at the end of the month I gift aid a little something to a development charity. There are standing orders supporting projects I’m linked to through friendships and through church. I watch the news and read the right books: biographies of world shakers, prophets of social justice, history and current affairs. I can rouse the youth group to make a cake sale in response to a major disaster appeal, enthuse the Sunday school to give a little each week from their own pocket money to buy shoes and pencils to send a child to school. I know a whole lot of people who volunteered short term and some who volunteered long term, I read their newsletters and pray for them each morning as I sip my Fairtrade tea. And it is good. But if there was more I could do today to bring us a little closer to the Jesus kingdom transformation of this sad world I’m volunteering right now to get that thing done.
This is not another New Year’s resolution post laden with guilt that destines you to fail.
This is a post in favour of the kind of small incremental change that will draw you and me closer to the human connections we already with the rest of our sad and beautiful world. This post asks you to use all that you are and all that you have to honour the extraordinary connections you have with the rest of the human race, but in ordinary, can-do ways.
It could work out for you in the way you love your family or in how you do the weekly shop. It could work out for you in a decision about work or play. It could be how you steward a talent or what you create and who you create it for. It could involve risk and stepping out of comfort zones but it does not shun the domestic acts of care, kindness and joy that really count for the people who see you every day.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne and all the nations will be gathered before him,
… and in the meantime we say, Maranatha! Lord Jesus come!
I’m submitting this blog post for a Tearfund competition to be part of blogging trip to Cambodia, which would certainly be something to write home about! But whether I win, or not I will still be making that one small change wherever I can and I’d love to hear about your one small change too.