Two news stories have caught my attention in this first week of Advent, and provided contrasting commentaries on the theme of the season.
The first was the kidnap of Norman Kember and his fellow ‘peace activists’ in Iraq. The outline of the story, westerners abducted, lives threatened, is both familiar and shocking, as is so much news coming from that country. The details, as they emerged, tell a less common story. After years of commitment to peace and reconciliation – and a history of opposition to the invasion of Iraq – Norman Kember decided that demonstration, meetings, the Greenbelt peace tent, weren’t enough. ‘I’ve done a lot of writing and talking about peacemaking. I’ve demonstrated, you name it, I’ve been on it, but I feel that’s what I’d call cheap peacemaking.’ He presumably knew the risks he ran in going to Iraq as a westerner, a professing Christian, and operating outside the protective structures of the occupying forces. Prophetic wisdom, or wild folly?
The second story was the Adair Turner report on pensions, which has prompted discussions ranging well beyond the issue of state pension provision. Without doubt, the discussions are much needed, and any outcome will require wisdom and foresight in planning for a future which is sustainable, in which those in greatest need can be supported, in which skills and gifts are used for the common good, and a proper balance is found between rest and continuing productive economic engagement. Sadly, much of what has been said and written has focussed either on individuals or on a sense of unfairness which reminds me of my own childhood dissatisfaction that my brother had a Christmas stocking until he was 13, while for me the cut-off point was 10!
Both stories, for me, echo the Advent theme of preparedness. Norman Kember has left behind security, certainty, physical well-being, and stepped into a world where he must have been prepared for the worst to happen – and it has. The discussion over pensions is a search for the very opposite; it is about preparing for security, for assurance, for the certainty that each of us will be able to live in at least moderate prosperity for the later part of our lives.
I’m 99% sure that I shall be looking for a secure pension in a few years time, not abandoning all assurance in the pursuit of peace. But I found myself wondering whether the Advent call to readiness was really about investing in pension plans; I suspect Norman Kember’s attentiveness to the people of Iraq is closer to the watching and waiting required.