Following the herd or heading off piste

I’ve been thinking about doing things differently. Not differently for the sake of it, but differently because you know, deep down, you ought to. And I’m not doing one of those clever euphemistic things where in 500words time you’ll realise I’m talking about wanting to become a ballet dancer or my views on the environment or any other ethical or career choice… I’m talking about doing things differently, because deep down inside you know you ought to.

That’s what lies at the heart of the passage I was reading this morning from 1 Samuel (great name for a prophet, great name for a son too, by the way). It was the passage in chapters 8-10 where the people ask for a king. It doesn’t quite come out of nowhere- there’s a history of good leaders followed by bad ones (Eli… his sons, and now as Samuel gets older it looks as though his sons aren’t shaping up too well), but the people of Israel aren’t saying to Samuel ‘we want better leaders’, but rather ‘we want leaders like the neighbours have got’. We want to be like them. We don’t want to stick out.

Sometimes its important to be like those around us- because that’s how society works. I was talking to a friend today about whether owning a house is actually something that ethically sits with the Christian faith. I was suggesting that since nothing is truly owned, why do we invest so much energy into claiming these piles of bricks; and he responded that in our society, this is how we manage the issue of who lives and sleeps where, of personal space in a crowded country etc; and so rather than reject the concept of home ownership, we should own houses well and do it in a way that honours God rather than worships the house and the money invested in it.

In a similar way, having a monarch isn’t as such a truly awful idea, but when that monarch replaces God, and we invest all our hopes and dreams in that person, its a problem. Why? Partly because that monarch will inevitably fail, and partly because in looking to that person we are looking away from God.

Sometimes we need to stop, to take a moment and ask why we’re doing what we’re doing, and maybe we then carry on doing the same thing, but with a renewed understanding (yup, I’ve thought about it and I’m happy) or recognising its limits (this isn’t perfect, but for today it’s the best available option and tomorrow I’ll work on it). And maybe we change what we’re doing, or we at least recognise that we need to change. In an article I read today in the Guardian about the Ukraine crisis it appeared that some of the freedom fighters in a unit were terrified of their own leader- they knew they were on the verge of being ordered to do something wrong, but how to change? Very few of us find ourselves in the presence of a dangerous gunman ordering us about, but it still remains one of the hardest things in the world to change our behaviour- to stop what we know is wrong and to start to do something right.

And don’t think I’ve got this one sorted. I really haven’t. I’d love to, but I haven’t.

I’m all ears, I’d love to know how anyone manages it.

Prayer? sure, that helps… but its not enough. God’s Holy Spirit? that’ll help too… but it doesn’t overcome Andy’s stroppy spirit. A verbal slap and being told off? Nope, that’s never been very successful. And don’t even think about suggesting that guilt will do the trick…

So tell me what, if anything, works for you.


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