by James Morley.
Delegates at a Methodist gathering were asked to engage with the Biblical tradition of lament – an expression of “grief or mourning”.[i] The invitation came as part of a response to the latest Statistics for Mission from the Methodist Church of Great Britain presented at the 2017 Conference which state that:
“Since the previous triennial report (2014), membership numbers have fallen annually by around 6,780, or 3.6 per cent year-on-year… This is high in historic terms”.[ii]
Leaving aside the question of membership figures being a meaningful measure for Methodism today, the numbers alone suggest that Methodism is in a different place now to where it has been in the past. Whether this is necessarily a cause for lament and/or for sensing opportunity and possibility may well depend on individual and corporate discernment of God’s mission.
Watching coverage of Glastonbury in the summer those Statistics for Mission were published I felt that lament was also being voiced in the fields of Worthy Farm, Somerset. For example, Stormzy paying tribute to, and demanding accountability for, the victims of Grenfell.[iii] Then there were the chants of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”[iv] by thousands of the so-called “snowflake generation” who, rather than melting, expressed their grief at the current world situation by cheering their agreement with a call on President Donald Trump to “build bridges not walls”.[v] There was also the prophetic (forth-telling/speaking out) poetry of Kate Tempest giving voice to the injustices, fears and hopes felt by her generation. For me, Tempest’s prophetic lament is powerfully loud in her work Europe Is Lost. [vi] For example:
“I am quiet, feeling the onset of riot
Riots are tiny though, systems are huge
Traffic keeps moving, proving there’s nothing to do
‘Cause it’s big business, baby, and its smile is hideous
Top down violence, a structural viciousness
Your kids are dosed up on medical sedatives
But don’t worry ‘bout that, man, worry ’bout terrorists
The water level’s rising! The water level’s rising!
The animals, the elephants, the polar bears are dying!
Stop crying, start buying, but what about the oil spill?
Shh, no one likes a party pooping spoil sport
Massacres, massacres, massacres/new shoes
Ghettoised children murdered in broad daylight
By those employed to protect them
Live porn streamed to your pre-teen’s bedrooms
Glass ceiling, no headroom
Half a generation live beneath the breadline
Oh, but it’s happy hour on the high street
Friday night at last lads, my treat!”[vii]
If Methodism is in a different place then it allows us to ask, with the lamenting Psalmist, “how could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”[viii]. Perhaps it is lamenting prophets like Kate Tempest who allow us to step into, and have a map for, the terrain which is now a context for God’s mission. If we respectfully engage with this new context we may find that, instead of the babble of Babel, the lament voiced by Tempest and her generation coming from a place of concern for people and planet is a common language shared with all God’s people who believe in a creation that carries the divine image and which has been seen to be good[ix]. Maybe then, the conversation in this contemporary context might synthesize[x] into something new as, together with Kate Tempest, we counter-culturally articulate the theology that is already everywhere and we all sing the Lord’s song in this strange land – a song of justice, peace and hope.
[i] Coogan, Michael D (ed) 2001. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 2278.
[ii] The Methodist Church 2017. Statistics for Mission 2017 [Online]. Available at: https://www.methodist.org.uk/downloads/conf-2017-42-Statistics-for-Mission.pdf. [Accessed on 10/08/2018]
[vii] Tempest, Kate (2015). Let Them Eat Chaos [Kindle]. London: Picador, pp. 13-23.
[ix] Genesis 1:1-31
[x] Bevans, Stephen B 2002. New Models of Contextual Theology. Maryknoll: Orbis.