Christ Church Pitsmoor

The Cup of Tea

on March 18, 2012

The traditional post service cup of tea is often a point at which we pick up some of the more pointed or controversial things said in our ministry.

Here, Huw Thomas reflects on virals, bubbles and money.

“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come”. So begins the ‘Kony 2012’ video, a viral that thrives through the internet and has inspired our young folks to action. It highlights the actions of Joseph Kony, leader of the awfully named “Lord’s Resistance Army”, a gaggle of thugs who have terrorised the north of Uganda and surrounding areas through a particularly sordid campaign of kidnapping, abusing and brutalising their army of child soldiers.

The film has garnered detractors who point out the LRA have long been active and is now a waning force. There have been those who question the motivation of the film and organisation behind it.

I’m all for being as “wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ but coming from a faith based on a Bible full of dodgy characters through whom God sent timely messages I am also struck by anything that gets us all looking beyond viral films of dogs chasing deer and babies looking cute to turn our gaze on central Africa. Isn’t that a good outcome?

Reflecting on our theme of giving the video reminds me of the piece of neuroscience we reflected on when we studied 2 Corinthians 9 and the idea of a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9 verse 7).

There’s a classic psychology test in which someone is given £10 and left to decide whether and how to split it between themselves and another person. Usually they go 50/50. Put the person with £10 in a little room, so they don’t see the other person and most of them keep the whole ten quid. It’s a feature of human nature called “the Bubble Effect”. If you never know the needy you never feel compelled (makes you wonder about a government where half the cabinet went to private schools!).

Isolation takes away the cheerfulness of giving, which is one reason why the work of photographers for aid agencies and those who film the lives of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are so important. The ‘Kony’ video ascribes the wave of response it has created to the fact that, in a ‘Facebook’ age “The people of the world see each other”.

And that’s why ‘Kony’ has worked. Like the segments within a Comic Relief drive it has caught our attention and shown us a child, an incarnation of a bigger problem that touches us. Emotional, maybe, but is that such a bad thing?

In our own gathering we were thinking about the finances of our Diocese and the offerings we make to the work of the church. I mentioned a leaflet in which you can see how the money is spent, and the fact that the Diocese of Sheffield is in a bit of a crisis. In no way do I liken this problem to the problems in central Africa. However, I do think there is something in trying to translate that giving into terms that touch us.

Knowing that, without the Church of England’s funds our own church would be without a vicar.

Knowing that the youth work done here and elsewhere is partially administered through those funds.

Knowing that by giving to this fund we ensure there is ministry in every parish in our diocese.

Those actions are not funded by the Government or some huge bank account. It’s about us taking care of one another.

Whatever your doubts about ‘Kony 2012’ it has connected such that my teenage kids now know what happened, inspired to show compassion for that part of the world, just as an encounter with a project providing for the homeless in town, a reminder of how many young people come through a church’s youth work or just the sight of people finding a family in a congregation can inspire.

As we reflect on the theme of giving, that viral is a timely reminder of what happens when we open the door of our little room.

The question over us as we consider giving is: how do we burst the bubble?

What do you think of the ‘Kony’ video?
Is there some truth in the idea of a ‘bubble effect’?
Are we all in such a bubble?
Is it easier to give to some things than others?
Should we use emotion to prompt generosity or is that manipulative?

We’d welcome your thoughts (feel free to respond in the comments box below – comments are moderated, so won’t appear immediately).

[update] Another useful response comes from CMS, an Anglican group with long established work in Northern Uganda who work with the local church (and have worked with Invisible Children, the group which produced the video). CMS is one of the international church agencies that we support at Christ Church Pitsmoor.


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