It is a hot spring afternoon, and I am but a drop in the sea of commuters on which the watching sun casts her rays. This is the Camden Town Underground Station, buzzing with the eclectic bustle of market goers, football supporters, urban travellers; London’s great and small. Each is contained in the self-indulged bubble of his or her own travel trajectory; this is the soundtrack of the City, everyone occupied in the bubble of their own business.
Camden’s ground-level entrance, on a Saturday afternoon, is a slow moving bottleneck; movement is sluggish as a hundred commuters worm their way through turnstiles not designed to anticipate this volume of people. So there I stand, watching, waiting, enjoying the last of the sunlight before I take the plunge beneath ground.
It is in this spirit, of the observer, that I notice two things worthy of note. First, on the left of the entrance, quietly stands a well-dressed lady with some pamphlets and free literature. Behind her, a stall stacked with give-away books, each bearing the title: “What Does the Bible Really Say?” She, a well meaning Jehovah’s Witness, I am sure, stands like the unseen pebble in a fast moving river.
Second, I notice on the right of the entrance, a man sat on his rucksack; this backpack probably contains all the possessions he owns. He has no home, no bed but the concrete. He is silent, nameless, barely perceived by the tide of passing eyes. And, just like this acquiescent pamphlet-provider to my left, he is ignored.
They are separated by barely metres, the Jehovah’s Witness and the man with no home, yet they might as well have been worlds apart. The entrance was narrow, but it might as well have been a chasm. Her books claimed to tell me what the Bible “really says,” while his situation was so far detached from hers, it seemed absurd.
Now, I am sure this lady was well-meaning and operating to the optimum in what her faith requires of her. And yet, as I pressed through that station entrance, I wondered, considering my own faith in Christ: how can any of us, of any faith, claim to have an inkling of what the Bible says, and yet still pass the homeless man without batting an eyelid?
And yet, having made this observation, it was I too who kept on walking, caught up in the self-consumed flightpath as everyone else. Her, the street preacher, and I, the commuter, obviously had very little knowledge of what this Word does; her, the Jehovah’s Witness, and I, the Christian.
When did we start finding it necessary to impose on people vast annals of literature, endless reams of doctrine, libraries of well-figured arguments, and stopped seeing the Word for what it does, the way it works its way out in our lives?
When did we start standing on street corners with the message on our lips, and yet no bread in our hands for the homeless?
For this, I realised, is what has come to compose my Christianity, our Christianity: words with no deeds, argument with no substance, doctrine without justice. We debate to no end about the subject of that lady’s books, “What the Bible Really Says,” and yet we have neglected what it does. We walk through the open station doors with our lofty opinions and well-formed theologies, and yet lift no hand for the needy in the scorching heat of day.
When Christ walked the earth, he did not stand in the pulpits or the meeting places debating the moral implications of gay marriage or women bishops or our other institutional controversies. Instead, he set the pattern of what the Word meant; his life was an active demonstration of what he said. He, the Word became flesh, lived out a law of love, of justice, of mercy, of compassion. And, with that spirit, he openly denounced hypocrisy. For, in observing the religious institution of the day, he saw the bankruptcy of their faith. He saw in them, as there exists in me, in this generation, a dichotomy between what we say, and what we do.
It is my contention, my struggle, that we need to read the Word with pragmatic, not theoretical, minds. Rather than consuming ourselves in the fires of our own doctrine, can we not live united by Christ, a life of freedom, whose yoke is easy and burden is light? For Christianity was never meant to be a subscription to an academic school, but a renewing of the mind, a transformation, eternal life.
Christ’s love is simple to understand. We’ve made it complicated. Quite simply; Act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)