I hope you haven’t missed the TV phenomenon that is Handforth Parish Council! If you have, do check out various edited highlights of a subcommittee meeting last week (see YouTube
) – and then enjoy the spoof movie trailer on Twitter
We must all be very bored to enjoy watching parish council meetings, although the 17 year old pupil who discovered it, watches them avidly for fun. In this meeting, Jackie Weaver has been drafted in by the district council to ensure the meeting goes smoothly after complaints of bad behaviour and disregard for good governance and meeting protocol. Immediately all these things are in evidence and the meeting descends into chaos.
According to family systems theory, when a community is anxious what emerges are factions, underlying politics, power struggles and poor seen and unseen behaviours. Anxiety is all around at present, so it is not surprising that in our attempts to find something that we perhaps can control, we end up losing order rather than finding it. Parliament was an anxious system during those Brexit discussions. The USA was very anxious around the departure of Donald Trump as president. Churches that are anxious will often have church members meetings that are toxic and negative, even as people honestly intend to join into seek the mind of Christ.
Reading episodes of Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s gospel recently, it is evident that the bent-out-of-shape-but-comfortingly-familiar culture of the pious Pharisees erupts in Handforth Parish Council type expletives. Is Jesus - like Jackie Weaver being either a proper officer or a clerk – a teacher, the Son of God or one sent by Beelzebul? They scream at him that he has no authority here, just as local councillors might do. And they lose their temper when Jesus does not appear to follow the written rules of how to live, minister, and teach, just like a vice chairman shouts that the standing orders have not been read.
And before we either chuckle at the council meeting or look down at the pharisees, it’s worth remembering that our own anxiety often leads us to defensive behaviour, devious scheming and then bouts of harshness. There are a series of episodes recorded in the Gospels where the disciples really do a Handforth. These come after a number of highs and lows, successes and failures. The disciples argue, put people down, and even criticise Jesus. What we can learn from them, and ourselves, is that when we are at the mercy of events, circumstances, other people, sickness, death and even evil, then our tendency will be to impose our own order on a smaller world so that we can feel in control and adequate again. This world may be our friends, family, workplace or even our own mind and body.
I notice that Jesus was also confronted by these powers – and was literally tossed around in the boat during a violent storm. But he always looked for solutions, not just procedures. He often withdrew from volatile people and mobs (prudently rather than fearfully). He managed his own grief and anger without transferring it to others. He got sleep when he could; ate with friends; prayed. I heard a church leader say yesterday that simply praying and reading the bible each morning with renewed commitment has really improved his own mental health.
Jackie Weaver – star of Handforth, the movie(!) – somehow managed to stay within it all and yet above it all. And by doing so brought genuine order and leadership, even with a smile. Jesus calls us to live in this way, too. Even though we are hard pressed on every side, he calls us to set people free rather than bind them up with our inner tensions. It would be good if that kind of deliverance behaviour went as viral as parish council meetings. And it’s not a bad thing to be able to laugh at ourselves; to diffuse the tension with some self-aware humour.You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So, I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Martin J Young