– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 6th June 2007.
Good afternoon. The first item of business is time for reflection. Our leader today is Mark Greene from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
Mark Greene (London Institute for Contemporary Christianity):
It is extremely good to be here. Before I begin, I need to tell you that I used to work in advertising, so you can trust every word that you hear from me this afternoon.
If someone asked you for just one piece of advice to help them in all their life, what would your advice be? Would it be practical enough to help them with all kinds of decisions, such as whether to buy a television for their kids, close a community school or build a tower block?
When a young rabbi was asked, "What's the most important piece of advice?", his answer was soundbite simple and slogan succinct:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your strength and with all your mind" and
"love your neighbour as yourself."
Those words are so familiar to us that we might not see their critical relevance to our culture.
To a culture that is trying to push God to the periphery, Jesus says, "Put him in the centre", because human beings are spiritual beings. To a culture that is obsessed with rights and the dead-end trinity of me, myself and I, Jesus says, "Focus on others." To a culture that is suffering from epidemic levels of loneliness, alienation and depression, Jesus says, "Focus on community." Finally, to a culture that is obsessed with acquiring quality things, Jesus says, "Focus on building quality relationships", such as a quality relationship with God and with other people.
This question then becomes the main criterion for making any decision: how will it impact on relationships? Of course, as a Christian, I would say that the power to truly and selflessly love a stranger, an alien, the Opposition, a neighbour or an enemy comes from God, but even if you do not embrace God's warm invitation through Jesus, Jesus's relational criterion of love is a wonderful yardstick to evaluate almost any decision.
For example, should I buy my kids a TV for their room as do two thirds of British parents? That is fine, but do not complain when they stop talking to you. Should we close that community school and bus everyone to five different schools around the region? That is fine, but do not complain if the closure rips the heart out of that community, as it did in ours, and the crime bill soars. Should we have built those tower blocks, as we did in London, which housed humans efficiently but destroyed relational dynamics?
Everyone knows that relationships are critical to personal happiness, social stability, educational attainment, and sustainable business success. We just find it tough to put practical, relational thinking where Jesus puts it—at the centre of our decision making and our policy making. If we did that, it would be good news for a lot of people, and it could change this country. May it be so.