Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. So goes the old epigram. The more it changes, the more it stays the same. I was set to thinking about this phrase as I received yet another call from the police about another abandoned car that had dumped on our church car park.
I was transported back to a period in which I was frequently on the phone to police, going through the same rigmarole for the third or fourth time, whereby they (and we) wanted rid of a burnt out motor, no private scrappage firm would touch it because there was no known owner, the council insisted they didn’t have the relevant powers and the police were adamant that they weren’t permitted to take it. I am, once again, having these same conversations and being shunted from pillar to post between public departments all insisting they can do nothing about the problem and sending me back and forth between each other. Happy days!
It does sometimes feel, in a community like ours, that the problems associated with deprivation never really seem to go away. The same issues rear their head, again and again. The drug paraphernalia behind our church building never goes away, no matter how many times we clear it away. The fly tipping littering the streets around our building finds its way back no matter how often you tidy it up. The stripped out vehicles continue to find themselves ensconced on our land. The stabbings and turf wars continue unabated. And all the while, different public departments tell us, ‘we’re sorry, but it’s not our area. There really is nothing we can do.’ Plus ça change.
It is a potent reminder that politics and state-sponsored initiatives aren’t going to be enough to resolve the problems in an area like ours. What our area really needs is Jesus. No amount of locking up smackheads and gang members, no amount of cozy interfaith get-togethers, no amount of government schemes is going to fix it. Only Christ changing hearts and transforming lives through the gospel is going to make a lasting impact on our neighbourhood.
Sadly, many of us in the church fare little better than the police and council on these things. We look at these things and say, ‘it’s not really my problem’. And so we stay away. We don’t feel the need to go and move to these places, to settle amongst the people, to reach them with the gospel which is the only way of really addressing the deeper problems they face. We choose to stay with those with whom we can do our nice bible studies over coffee once a week. We stay with those who are educated like we are and certainly speak the same cultural, and actual, language as us. We say, ‘we’re not setup to do that’ and tell ourselves that ‘we’re just not equipped for it’ and choose not to go.
In so doing, we are washing our hands of such people and places. Much like the police, who are the only agency with the powers to actually resolve our issue with this clapped out car, we insist that we can’t really help. Going to ‘those places’ is for people with special gifts, who are specially equipped and cut out for it, who are better suited to it. But in the end, just as what is needed with this car is for the people with the power to fix it to grasp the nettle and get rid of it, is the people with the power to take the gospel into our communities to come and do just that. It doesn’t need special people to do it, it just needs Christian people to come and do it. Anyone who knows the gospel could come and tell people the gospel and bring to them the life-changing news of Jesus that will work to transform both their lives and their area.
But all too often, we just won’t. And we are full of excuses as to why. Plus ça change.