by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of Via Media, Director of the Ozanne Foundation and a Member of General Synod
“Real power lies in the people!”
Earlier this week I was privileged to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu say these powerful words during a characteristically direct address ahead of a private screening of an epic new film about Africa, climate change and migration, The Great Green Wall.
He was keen to draw on the words of Thomas Sankara, that set the tone of the film:
“We must dare to invent the future – everything humanity can imagine we can create”
For the last three months on Via Media we have had 24 vastly different and yet uniquely personal blogs from a range of contributors addressing the subject “We Can’t Go Back…” They have touched on a truly diverse set of topics from power and inequality to social care and justice, and from topics relating to our buildings to those relating to our well-being and mental health.
For all their differences, they have each dared to invent a new future, to imagine things as they could be. Indeed, the series itself found its genesis in words spoken by the Archbishop of Canterbury during his Easter Day sermon, televised to the nation from his kitchen at the start of the lockdown, where he shared his own vision of a future filled with resurrection hope, saying:
“After so much suffering, so much heroism from key workers and the NHS, so much effort, once this epidemic is conquered here and round the world, we cannot be content to go back to what was before as if all is normal. There needs to be a resurrection of our common life, something that links to the old, but is different and more beautiful. We must dream it because it is the gift of God. Then we must build it in partnership with God.”
But the million-dollar question of course is – will things actually really change?
Or perhaps more importantly – what will it take to bring about the change so many long for, write for, march for and in some cases, even die for?
I suggest that there are three things that we can each do to help bring about the change we seek. For power truly does “rest with the people” – we just need to understand how much power we have and how it can be harnessed, released and used to transform our Church, and our world.
The first is, we need to pledge to always “call things out”. We need to name the elephants in the room. We need to stop admiring the “emperor’s new clothes”, and instead have the humanity and the decency to tell the emperors that they are in fact naked, that we will not go along with their charades any longer. It takes courage and wisdom, and it requires a tone that is full of love rather than accusation – a balance that is not easy to strike. In essence we need to stop colluding. We need to stop colluding with the lies that have kept us all bound and which have often left us feeling that we have no option but to conform.
What sort of lies?
Well those that say our Church is not rich. We are rich. It is just that the money is locked up in ways few can access, and it is this that needs challenging. It is the lies that say we, the Church, are united, when we all know that we are deeply divided and that it is those without power and influence who end up leaving by the back door, with few seeming to notice or care. It is the lies that say we, the Church, have a respected voice in our nation, when in fact few are listening and frankly many no longer care as we lost their respect the moment we started preaching love to them and abjectly failing to show it to some of the most vulnerable in our midst.
The second, which is closely related to the first, is that we need to stop being so deferential. This does not mean that we stop showing respect to people, that is quite a different matter – mutual respect is healthy and essential. However, there is an unhealthy level of deference in our Church that seems to put senior religious leaders on pedestals from which they can only fall. They are human beings just like the rest of us. They bleed, just like the rest of us. They make mistakes, just like the rest of us.
If we are honest, deference can act both ways – it can be as much about people in power expecting it as well as those “in the pews” kowtowing to it. It may well have been an unspoken norm from our past, but it is not the model that Jesus shows us as he interacts with people around him – in fact quite the opposite. The religious leaders of the day may have expected it, but He modelled something quite different – much to their frustration – and the people loved Him for it!
Thirdly, we have to believe in ourselves. “There can be miracles, when you believe..” is not just a song sung by Mariah Carey. It is something we each have to embrace and hold on to. Right now there is so much that could happen, if only there were people willing to step forward and lead change. We are in the midst of a major “reset” – there is a “reboot” that is happening not just in our Church, but in our nation and in the world itself.
Never has there been such an opportune time for people to stand up and say “enough, I want to do things differently!” What is stopping them? Mostly, although I appreciate not always, it is their own levels of self-confidence and sense of self-worth.
We are the key – we are also the barrier. Change lies with us!
So, in the words of Archbishop Tutu, who closed his address to us with the following challenge:
“Let us not forget the transformative power of hope and imagination – we must dare to invent the future!”
We must “dare”, and we must “do” – for real power lies with us!