I am writing this blog from our rented flat in Battersea, on the hottest Easter weekend on record, and with the constant rumble of trains passing our window – making me feel like a goldfish in a bowl. Seven million passengers a year could wave hello as they complete the journey in and out of Victoria! We also overlook the four huge chimneys of Battersea Power Station, currently a monumental building scheme with 32 cranes on the skyline. Constant noise, crowds of people, dirt and pollution make me ask myself “Why, oh why am I sitting here breathing polluted air when I could be fishing and breathing salty sea air in sunny Bournemouth?”
The answer is found in the book of Jonah and I see God challenging every single part of my life through this reluctant disobedient prophet. What does Jonah really believe about the nature of God, what of his worldview, his prejudices and comforts? “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it.” This astonishing short story bores deep, like a dentist drill into a root canal, to really get on our spiritual nerves. It asks embarrassing questions; it flicks the light switch on our dark cellar of fears and emotions that personally I don’t want to even admit are there.
Let me be brutally honest and perhaps help and challenge you as you read this article: I like my comfort, I like people like me in looks and outlooks. I want my life to count but I am counting on God to not ask anything that a 58 year-old cannot accomplish with some finesse and ability! I enjoy preaching about “going not knowing” but the reality of London city life often sucks! I don’t want to be back at school, learning a new way to live in the hustle and bustle of London life. I don’t like crowds, or broken nights with sirens. I know God loves the world, but the world sure doesn’t seem to love God in Jesus: our multicultural capital city is full of militant faithlessness or many different faiths.
I want to believe the UK is a caring hospitable middle class society where everyone gets the same opportunities and freedoms, but walking the streets of London you are confronted by the vast chasm between rich and poor. The well-heeled super-rich Westminster residents tucked up at home with their G&T’s, whilst on the streets there are shadows of the many homeless bedding down in tents and doorways, flotsam and jetsam tossed aside by our capitalist society.
I also believe in my heart that the church is the answer, that Christians will step up to the City transformation challenge, but the sad reality is a mile from this hope.
Cities cost, they demand their pound of flesh, they squeeze the lemon of available time dry. Willy Wonka’s golden ticket to Tarshish(Spain) is sadly most city-slickers’ dream. How many times do I hear people say, “London is for the young, single, looking to make a shed-load of money, then head for the ‘burbs to a small friendly village church and retire with your own allotment and fruit tree.”
So, back to Jonah and the unanswered questions in the text for me and for each of us reading this blog:
Will you hear God’s heart for the lost? Cities are not some elitist calling, but they are full of millions of hurting, lost people crying.
Will you swim against the flow, determined to head in Western society’s opposite direction?
Will you embrace cost; be that finances, health, friendships?
This is a time in my life when I’m supposed to be thinking about security, mortgage, pension etc. and instead I’m being asked to risk all on the promise from God, “I have many people in this city.”
My bigger question is, will we encourage an army of people to join us (Heather and I) in building, planting, and long-term committing to establishing city centre churches that are lifeboat rescue centres within each city community? I guess only time will tell.