22 years ago I was a student in my last year at University. Like many I wrote a dissertation for the theology part of my joint honours degree. I can’t even remember the title of the thing but it was something about Christian existentialism, John Macquarrie and Heidegger that kind of bumf. Mostly because I was interested in Jean Paul Sartre and wearing a black polo neck and smoking French cigarettes. At the time it felt high brow and worthy. In retrospect it was obscure and pompous. I took mediocrity to a new high. It did have one saving grace. Inside the title page was a single leaf of paper with one verse on Acts 17:28 “In Him we live, move and have our being.” It’s when Paul was in Athens at the Areopagus trying to convince his audience of gospel.
This morning I walked along the river Dart to Totnes to buy some yeast and was reflecting on this verse in the light of the strange times we are living in and will probably have to adjust to in the coming weeks, months, and dare I say years. I’ve been reflecting on the way we live and move in the light of COVID 19 and the way in which we will have to change our rhythms of life. I wonder if the way we “live” and “move” has been fundamentally shaped by the global capitalist economy, the free market and the notion of the autonomous self. The idea that we can go where we choose and when we choose. That we determine our futures and that we have power over most facets of our daily lives. We hate the idea that we might have our freedoms limited. That will have to change in the coming days, weeks, months and years.
How we move – the type of travelling we do. Where we travel, when we travel and why we travel and that’s connected to the way we live. What we eat and how we eat and who we eat with will be radically reshaped. We will have to shift the obsession of the global to the utterly local – obviously these things have been called for by the movements like extinction rebellion, those who have been advocating for change not only the last two years but for 30 or 40 years. Those who have been asking us to reconsider how the economy works. The insane lust driven desire for growth at all costs. The personification of the markets as being down and up and having emotions to some extent. I wonder if all those things will change as we are forced to restrict ourselves and forced to ask ourselves “where does this come from?” Could I eat something that was grown by a farmer three fields away or village or town away.
Are we going to have to rethink how we travel? I’ve been a culprit of excess travel over the years. Many have travelled far more than me. Perhaps all that will be paused. Only travelling when absolutely necessary for the foreseeable future (next 20 years). Meetings can be rescheduled on Zoom, Skype of Microsoft Teams. We will be forced to reassess how we live and move and being aware of how our very lives are in the palm of His hands.
We have often tried to inhabit an autonomy previous generations could only dream of. Perhaps we are being asked to reconsider all that in the light of the crisis before, and in front of us. Being revealed to us over the past few days in some is a behaviour by our fellow countrymen in the UK shaped by three things – autonomy, entitlement and excess. Too many people are moving round still. Boris shut down the pubs, clubs, theatres and other entertainment venues but still the British exceptionalism innate has meant people feel they can continue to do what they like. That is in a way connected to a sense of entitlement and excess. The unnecessary emptying of supermarket shelves and stories of people wearing crash helmets so they can barge their way past other shoppers and get what they want first reveals the worst in our entitlement culture. The arrogance of empire thinking is still deeply embedded.
Since returning to the UK I’ve been reading a lot of Kosuke Koyama. He was a Japanese theologian. He taught all over the world and was well known in ecumenical circles. I’m starting to write a little book based on his writings. In his 1980 address to the World Conference on Mission and Evangelism he spoke of the whole idea of the 3 mile an hour God. That God is slow, he takes his time in his covenant relationship with his people, with humans beings. In fact God in Jesus Christ becomes totally immobile as he is nailed to the cross. I wonder whether the current COVID 19 situation will render us as the church to some extent as immobile. It will stop us from acting with the speed and showiness and success that we think is important or an indictor of God’s approval of us. The immobility of Christ nailed to the cross will be a new picture of incarnation ministry for us as we are immobile in our travel and our ability to physically meet one another. As we are immobilised in our choices about where we go and what we do. That kind of nailing down, immobility and surrender to our own will to power seems to be crucial to a theology of the incarnation that could be a starting point for us as the church in the COVID 19 era and beyond.
This Sunday many churches are moving their services online using all sorts of digital tools. It’s good in some ways. Using facebook live or Zoom is necessary at this time but it’s really just taking the attitude of business as usual online rather than pausing to radically reflect on the being church in a COVID 19 world. My prayer is that this radical disjuncture in life will help us recover the immobile saviour in new ways for our shared life together.