I have always been fascinated by this extraordinary image. A photographer in Texas was apparently taking night-time photos of a nearby oil rig. In one of those serendipitous moments his finger clicked on an image that is both awesome and terrifying. As lightning streaked to the ground its greater light exposed a looming tornado that was lurking in the darkness – invisible to the artificial light of the oil rig. Light shatters darkness; it reveals uncomfortable truths; it exposes harsh realities .
As I write this blog, way too early on a Monday morning, I am conscious that we are living as a nation through extraordinary times. 78 of the 160 Dail seats have been filled, 29 of them by Sinn Féin, its candidates attracting huge surpluses. It is a very different ‘Green Wave’ than that which was expected or envisaged nine months ago when all the signs were that the Green party was gaining momentum. It is fair to say that nobody saw this coming, certainly not Sinn Fin who cautiously fielded 42 candidates reflecting their struggles in recent local and Presidential elections. It would appear that Ireland does its populism to the left of centre.
There are a number of ways that this image can be applied to an unfolding political reality. The oil rig could represent the establishment, blithely and complacently continuing on its merry way, drilling deeper into the political landscape with its presumed two-party system – completely unaware that change is fast approaching. Like all tornadoes the changes that this election brings to our society will be seismic and challenging and maybe even dangerous.
In this scenario, the lightening represents the electorate, shining a powerful light on the failure of the established parties to deal with such critically important societal needs as homelessness and healthcare. This then can be seen as a warning call to all political parties. We, the electorate, have short memories, we will very quickly move on from our apprehension about Brexit and economic collapse, we will live in the moment – and those who capture our mood will win big whatever their history or ideology.
But there is another way of looking at this image. The oil rig represents Irish society, all of its fragmentation, individualisation and brokenness glossed over in the twinkling lights that make for a lovely picture. Unbeknownst to all but a few, a brutal and shattering reality is approaching. Following decades of racing to the lowest common denominator – populism is on the rise in a nation that is still reeling from a financial crisis that shook us to the core. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this emerging election result is a consequence of some form of national post-traumatic stress disorder, there is a wildness to our collective mood swing that suggests even greater change and challenge may be coming. In this scenario the lightning can and needs to represent the Christian voice bringing to light the looming dangers of populism and selective memory loss. Unlike the political system the church can be free from the craven need for popularity – let’s be honest our prophetic message has rarely been popular. However, we have a huge amount of work to do to re-establish our collective credibility as the voice of reason, of Truth, or hope and of Love.
Our journey of brokenness as Christians in recent decades has rightly brought us to our own collective shame and grief as we have begun to realise who far we have strayed from the Gospel. If we have the courage and the humility to surrender completely to God’s will and his way, I believe there is an opportunity for us to ‘shine a light’ into the darker parts of our modern society and to speak love, peace and even joy into this season of confusion and fear. Despite all our failings as a church, we are still ‘ present’ in every local area of this nation. Some of our church communities have turned inwards – seeking the safety and security of like-minded people. A few have turned outwards – reaching out to those who need us most: if we are to be a God-given ‘Light to the Nation’ we need to live beyond ourselves, to put aside our petty squabbles and our inconsequential agendas; to be ready to serve, to lead and to obey our calling to be the ‘Light of the World’