Roy and I stayed up till 2.45 a.m. yesterday following the coverage of the London riots on the Guardian’s live blog and other media and social media.
It was grimly fascinating watching the protests, rioting and looting spread from London to Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol, Nottingham and Kent.
There were however some peculiarly British features which separated the riots from those in Mogadishu to which the German magazine Spiegel compared it
A burning capital city. Marauding bands stealing whatever they please. A police force that appears to be impotent. And a fire brigade that can’t put out blazes because its rescue forces are attacked by a mob. The television images dominating screens this week could be right out of Mogadishu. As difficult to imagine as it might be, the pictures aren’t from Somalia, but from London, right in the centre of Europe. And they will never be forgotten.
One of these which greatly amused us was that the looters queued outside the jewellery, sporting goods, electronics and mobile phone shops they had come to loot . First come, first served!
I read much commentary on the effective disenfranchisement and disengagement of the young (90% black according to eyewitness accounts) looters from society. In a milieu in which people are defined by what they possess, and wear, and in which the money to buy and own these coveted things is not easily come by, walking into a store cushioned by the safety of numbers of a mob and just picking up an iPod, iPad, sneakers, smartphone, gold chains, diamonds and bling must be an irresistible temptation. Big wants, small or no earnings–that probably played a role in the riots.
Sociologists will be dissecting these riots for a long time. I guess it was a toxic mix of underemployment, an unsatisfying education, poor career prospects, boredom, disaffection, racism, low stakes in one’s community and society. Perhaps the handouts of a welfare state reduces the incentive to be entrepreneurial, and invent the rags to riches, Horatio Alger autobiography so beloved in America–and which continues to be written there.
Since I couldn’t sleep, I decided to pray. I have long stopped praying about things I do not feel passionately about–because I sense such prayers do not reach the heart of God. And so, instead of praying that the riots stop (which, of course, I should have done) I found myself praying for the individual looters. Young, frightened, confused, insecure and very, very angry people. Praying for a transforming spiritual encounter for them. That they would know the peace and comfort and fellowship of friendship with the Living God.
I would rate my own experiences of the living God somewhere near 1 on a scale of 100 compared to, let’s say, John Leonard Dober and David Nitschman the Moravian missionaries who sold themselves into slavery to reach the Haitian slaves. But how life-transforming and peace and joy-giving this friendship has been!
I used to think the biggest field for evangelism in Britain was the Asian community–Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and ethnic Chinese, with their various religions. The Afro-Caribbean community are nominally Christian, and indeed church–very lengthy, joyful services with much singing, smart suits and dresses and fancy hats–is integral to their community life (as I observe on Oxford Sundays).
I heard the Ugandan bishop Zac Nyiringe say at St. Aldate’s that he wished his Ugandan people would love church less and religion less, so that it could spill out of a Sunday morning celebration into weekday life to a far greater degree.
And that is a challenge for all of us!