Speaking "ORDER" into chaos
"Resume your seat! Resume your seat, young man!" For a moment I thought Sergeant at Arms would have to frogmarch Ian Blackford out of the Chamber as the leader of the SNP held his ground. But only for as long as necessary to make his point. Then he strode out of the Commons and out of my sight. As it happens Jacqui and I were in the Strangers’ Gallery for this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, courtesy of our MP, Rosie Cooper. We were certainly given value for money. Blackford’s stunt meant that the half hour allocated for PMQ was stretched to 59 minutes 26 seconds! From my perspective Speaker Bercow at no time lost control of the situation. What appeared to be a direct challenge to his authority did not seem to faze him at all. In fact, the way he handled the Commons was akin to looking after the 4thyear in the dining hall on a wet Wednesday afternoon with Games cancelled. He reminded me of my deputy headmaster in his use of jocular humour along with the ever-present threat of Saturday detention. I was impressed. Of course in the British parliamentary tradition and in contrast to the presiding officers of legislatures in many other countries, the Speaker of the House of Commons is to be strictly non-partisan, above party politics. They are to ensure fair play by making sure that everyone keeps to the rules. Otherwise, like Speaker Bercow on Wednesday, they show the red card. Talking of red cards, I've just googled to discover that the term "referee" originated in association football. Originally, in the days when EFC was founded in 1878 as St Domingo FC the team captains would consult with each other in order to resolve any dispute on the pitch. That certainly wouldn’t work today. In fact, it didn’t work too well then. So the next step was for the two teams to each bring their own umpire. Again, I can’t see that working too well today either, especially if Sir Alex is around. And so a third neutral official was added to be "referred to" for disputed decisions, a referee. And from 1891 he was running the match, ensuring – like Speaker Bercow – that everyone plays by the rules, that the match is well-ordered. And talking of order, we are back in the House of Commons, for I soon lost count of how many times Speaker Bercow said the word “order,’ sometimes in a sequence of fives. When the apostle Paul wrote to the unruly Corinthian Christians he reminded them that “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14: 33). Here is was making a powerful point – that God brings order to our unruly lives. In fact, the Bible opens with God creating order when “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” (Genesis 1:2). And of course, God creates in an orderly way, day by day until day six when “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” In contrast, sin disorders. Just look at our chaotic lives, just look at our disfigured environment. Theologian Tom Wright sees salvation in terms of God restoring order as Jesus establishes the Kingdom of God against the dominion of darkness. And now God summons us to re-order the whole thing according to his pattern. We see this most vividly with Jesus stilling the storm. As Mark recounts: “Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” (Mark 4:39) One fascinating insight is how Jesus brings order to a disordered world is when he instructs his disciples about to feed the 5000 to make the disorderly crowd sit down in groups of hundreds and fifties. (Mark 6:40) Order makes people more free, not less so. You don’t find the word ‘referee’ in scripture, even the Message translation - but you do find the word judge, someone who judges. As Wright observes: “In the Hebrew mind, ‘judge’ doesn’t mean ‘condemn’. It means to put things right at last, where things have been out of joint. What a judge does is restore order and balance to the world. So God is coming to sort the whole thing out, and the Christian message is – God has actually done that in Jesus.” In this we invite the God to reorder our disordered lives. In the words of John Greenleaf Whittier. Take from our souls the strain and stress, And let our ordered lives confess The beauty of Thy peace.