A friend told me this story recently (Thanks Audrey- or Alistair?)…
Inside Victorian prisons, a regime of order and control regulated every aspect of the lives of the inmates. There was a way of doing everything- eating, sleeping, talking/not talking, working and…exercising. In this way it was hoped that people would find redemption and restoration to the society that the grew from.
Exercise was important- to escape the harmful miasmas lurking in the damp prison air- to fill the lungs with clear clean (but regulated) air. Exercising was done in in the exercise yard, and like all things, there was a right way to do this.
Men walked in clockwise circles, one behind the other.
Apart from the lunatics. For prisons then, like now, contained many folk who had mental health problems.
The guards discovered that trying to control these folk was a waste of time, and so they were allowed to walk in the direction that suited them- even anti clockwise.
I have been thinking a lot about change recently.
How do things change? How do we take something that seems like it has just always been- and move on to something new?
Perhaps most of us are like me- we simply do not change things easily. Stability is our goal- a maintenance of what is, lest the future bring a feared but undefined consequence. Better to walk in the circles that are trod by others, and leave the wandering to the lunatics.
Except that as much as I worry about change, I am also drawn to it.
I am tired of walking the same circles, and long to wander free- to adventure…
So it occurred to me again how grateful I am to those people who dared to defy convention, and show another way.
I have to confess that the image of prison described above brought to me the image of institutional church. Not bad– well regulated in fact, well thought through, run by fine upstanding people in the pursuit of a worthy goal.
But somehow stuck. Held in by walls- made of stone and doctrine. Built on a solid foundation of faith and fervour, but now somehow set in cold stone. An organisation that grew in reforming zeal, and remained anchored to the culture that formed it whilst the world drifted away…
And let us not kid ourselves that only traditional ecclesiastical forms of religion fall into this category- because I would dare to suggest that almost any organisation (perhaps especially faith based ones, for all sorts of complex reasons to do with the mixing of organisation and ‘election’) will concrete itself into an exercise yard within 30 years of its inception.
I have walked those circles for too long. Time to find a road that goes somewhere else…no matter how uncertain.
And that is where I still find myself- on the road. It does not come easy to me, as I am happiest at home with the people I love, and love me in return.
But there is this thing that draws me onwards.
But back to the point of this post- those folk who walk in other directions.
I confess to doing this reluctantly myself, and with considerable caution. And so I am very grateful to those others who first broke away from the circle, in the face of approbation and punishment. Risking the label of the lunatic, or worse, heretic (they still burn those don’t they!)
Because where would we be without our agitators, our eccentrics, our malcontents? Where would we be without our lunatics (if you will forgive the use of such a pejorative word?)
So thanks Rollins, Maclaren, Bell and Pagitt. Thanks too those countless others who stand up and say that there is MORE. There is a better way to be in this place we find ourselves in.
We can follow after Jesus.
But I suppose the lesson to all of us is that in about 30 years, it will be time for others to break down the walls we erected.