Onward and upward is a frequently used popular phrase by some of those declaring their intention to continue doing a job in hand with a view to a positive outcome. It is also the title of the sequel to my book “Outside the Camp” that reflected on my community activist career up to three years ago and as well as making pertinent observations regarding what is involved. “Onward and Upward” continues that story but more from a secular point of view. I don’t claim to be anything special but it seems to me that there are many opportunities to serve in the community as well as many potential pitfalls. I argue there is a place for all of us to do something positive and to make a difference according to one’s situation.
“Theological musings” is another sequel but continues the story more from a spiritual point of view and establish a theological rationale for community activism, something I have found to be important. It is not that secular and spiritual are mutually exclusive. In fact these are complementary and a proper theological understanding should inform and inspire one’s community activism, and it does mine. As a young Christian, I came under the influence of a neo-fundamentalist group, that is seen in some quarters to be rather narrow, called the “Plymouth Brethren”, yet I have remained with that group for much of my life (my reflections on the Brethren are included in my paper: “Who are the Brethren”). One of the positives I picked up from belonging to the Brethren was the importance of regular and in-depth Bible study and it is this that particularly informs my theology which in turn governs my community activities and approach. It is not that I ignore church tradition e.g. as emphasized by the Catholics nor do I ignore worldly wisdom e.g. as emphasized by the Liberals, but given the Bible is the Word of God, it trumps both church tradition and worldly wisdom.
The study of theology is a lifetime activity and an important one, although I have come to realize many committed Christians will not see it quite in this way. While many think that such understanding matters merely to help us in living a good life with God at the centre, it is also needed when tackling the great imponderable questions around community involvement. It helps us to make sense of the issues and events of the day, which often perplex many, and how we are to respond. By understanding better the mind of God, we better understand other, often contrary, viewpoints. Even so, we may well need to work out many of the details of what we are meant to do from day to day and in order to best plan for the future, even though trusting God to guide us. Not having God’s detailed preferred pathway for ourselves and other Christians written in stone often gives rise to differences and dissent among Christians. Because I feel folk, believers and non, are often ignorant and misinformed when coming to terms with these matters, do I consider these with reference to wanting to know what God is saying, which brings us back to the importance of studying the Bible.
Recently I read of one fundamentalist preacher taking to task those Christians that emphasize social action but neglect the preaching of the gospel, knowing full well that for other Christians it may be the other way round. The problem is that many Christians emphasize one or other aspect of God’s heart, and sometimes things that God is not interested in, whereas what is needed is a balanced view and here a theological perspective might be of help. My theological understanding is that we need to live a good (holy) life because that is what we are called to do. We also need to be socially active given God is concerned for the poor and when it comes to matters of social justice and he is continues interested in His creation and our stewardship of it, despite it being “fallen”. There is also an imperative to preach the gospel of salvation to those who aren’t saved, and the practical question as to how we go about this. A study of theology, if undertaken in an attitude that desires truth, ought to show us that all these things are important and why, and also helps us come to a balanced understanding. It should point us to the great commands about loving God and loving our neighbor, which should be the spur to do all these things.
All this begs the question where we go from here? For those who don’t endorse religion, there seems little point hammering on about theology. I like to think that there are other reasons given in my writings for being active in our communities and doing so usefully although equally if God is taken out of the equation there is no imperative to do anything moral. For those who do believe, there are all sorts of reasons for being active in our communities, not least we are commanded to love our neighbour, but this must also be balanced out with our family obligations and our duties as a citizen and in the workplace etc., as well as maintaining a healthy work / life balance. I am mindful that as age creeps up so energy levels and physical and mental capacities will decrease, and this needs taking into account too. Retirement is an opportunity to relax and doing things they enjoy etc., for some but I would rather major on making a difference. So that is what I will do in the few years I have left. And it is not enough to talk, read and write about these things, although that may be useful if only to encourage others, but rather the world needs unostentatious doers, and while there is the matter of what, I like to think there is still stuff I can do which will benefit others.