When stuck in our bubble.
Late start this morning. Our country may be experiencing a seismic shift but a granddaughter’s school nativity play always has the priority. And as ever, it’s one surprise after another - the angel Gabriel, manger, shepherds and then out of nowhere, the three kings. Life is full of surprises. Certainly last night’s exit poll came – it would seem – as a huge surprise to nearly everyone, however they may have voted. So much so that I immediately went online to see how accurate such polls usually are. And as we now know, the exit poll got the result more or less right. Out of interest, I then looked at the Twitter feed to see people’s reactions - #exitpoll. Nearly all the tweets were from Labour supporters, shocked and devastated. They simply had not seen it coming. There was one early theme which caught my attention. Essentially: how could Labour possibly lose when me and all my friends voted Labour? That’s what social media does to you, the echo chamber effect, as our friends as well as those we follow online will have similar views to our own, almost by definition. We hear our own views and prejudices bounced back to us. For the record some academics dispute whether such an echo chamber exists because, they argue, we get our information from all kinds of sources and not just Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. However, you could clearly see evidence of the “Labour bubble” on social media last night. And bubbles are dangerous: they burst. As Shadow minister Clive Lewis admitted this summer: “However, outside the Labour bubble, our prospects are looking rather scary.” As it happens Lewis managed to hold Norwich South for his party. I’m not trying to make a political point here. I’m sure there is a Tory bubble – although my guess is that Tory supporters, possibly for demographic reasons, are not as active or as vocal online. It was the Tory bubble, you may remember, which gave us the Poll Tax, oblivious of its widespread unpopularity. However, there is certainly a Christian bubble – for exactly the same reasons. Nearly all our friends may be Christian, we follow Christian twitter feeds and belong to Christian Facebook groups. Our social activities are essentially church based. We may even make it through the week without having a meaningful interaction with a non-Christian. I realised this some years back when doing summer chaplaincies on the big French campsites, hugely enjoyable. Over the whole summer a special holidaymakers service would take place each Sunday morning on a particular campsite or a convenient chapel. For the two weeks of my own stint, on most evenings, Jacqui and I would visit the various campsites in our areas, inviting people to this service. This was a highly cost effective means of making contact with a huge number of people. Folk would be sitting outside their tent in the cool of the day with a glass of wine in their hand, open to conversation. We soon realised how few Christians there were, hardly any it would seem. Of course I knew, at least on an intellectual level, that only a small proportion of people in our communities are active Christians, maybe 5%. However, to actually experience this was something of an eye opener for me. After all nearly all my time was spent with church members and those in contact for some reason with the church. “You are the salt of the earth,” taught Jesus. (Matthew 5:13). However, the danger for his followers is that we enjoy our company too much; while at the same time being wary of the world and its challenges. So we stay in the salt cellar, safe and dry. Clearly when Jesus uses the metaphor of salt, he was thinking of how a relatively small number of people can transform a community, even a nation – as long as we are sprinkled widely. Similarly, yeast – it has to be kneaded in. Over the last few days Jacqui has become a chocolate cake manufacturer – on the basis that you cannot have too many chocolate cakes in the house over Christmas. Mixing the ingredients is hard work: it takes some effort. (As it happens she uses a mixer, which kind of spoils my metaphor) Similarly as Christians we need to be proactive and make sure we belong to social groups outside the Christian family. It may take some effort; it may even mean we miss a church meeting or group. For myself the Ormskirk ParkRun was such an opportunity when it began five years ago. Here was something I could do each Saturday out-of-role. I’ve made some good friends and as it happens it’s evolved into a low-key chaplaincy-style ministry, being asked to conduct funerals, for example Of course as a vicar you prize the resources of your church people. House groups need to be led, different ministries performed – and so the temptation to hang onto your members rather than let them loose into the community. And as disciples of Jesus, sadly we may find it easier to stay in our church huddle rather than to go out into all the world. It’s a challenge we have to meet head-on. I’ve blogged before about the ministry of Andy Flanagan in encouraging Christians of all political persuasions to get involved in the political party they voted for. I guess the need is greater now than it has been in recent years – both to the benefit of our national politics and the Kingdom of God.