Learning what it is like to live without control


One of my favourite songs of all time is Pulp’s Common People.

In the song, if you don’t know it, singer, Jarvis Cocker’s character is frustrated and angry with his new, wealthy Greek girlfriend. She wants to experience life with common people, but doesn’t get it.  When she finds the life of the poor funny, his anger becomes focused on her ability to escape poverty at any time.

If you called your dad, he could stop it all.

He becomes exasperated with his girlfriend’s attitude toward the poor. She’s like a tourist on safari.

So he brandishes a verbal dagger toward his wealthy, educated, middle class girlfriend…

You will never understand
How it feels to live your life
With no meaning or control
And with nowhere left to go.

I am middle class, from a mixed class background. Brought up in an idyllic rural Scottish village. I purchased shares when I was sixteen, Thatcher’s dream boy.  In my twenties, I stopped buying alcohol from the offie on the same day I was going to drink it.  I have two university degrees and chose to work overseas for six years. I reckon that makes me middle class. But more than that, I learned the attitude of self sufficiency and self dependency from a very young age.

When you have resources, it means that in every difficult situation in life, you believe you have been given the mentality, training and skill to analyse a problem, read about it, solve it, fix it.

I was trained to believe I could get myself out of any jam. And I did believe it.  I didn’t need God when he’d already given me skills and resources I needed to sort anything.

That was until 15 months ago.

A series of events beyond my control have beaten me. I can’t fix them this time. God has given me a taste what is like to live your life without control.

And so, I am only just beginning to get a personal sense of the real life issues behind poverty.

If you are in poverty, you can’t get out, without some help. When the justice system and economic policy favours those with resources, then there’s no control, no escape, just a miserable, fearful existence.

My experience has been unbelievably painful but very fruitful.

I live amongst loads of people I love, in one of Britain’s poorest communities.  I am not here on safari.  I have had that middle class mentality battered out of me. Now I am more like some of my beloved neighbours. Busted, beaten and without control.

Now I have had a taste of what it’s like a when your broken private-rented home is not fixed by a greedy landlord, who had just increased the rent to cover his loss on mortgage interest tax relief and the housing team at the council are too stretched and powerless to make the landlord fix your home.

When middle-class folk have problem with their home, they just call a joiner to come and fix it.

The list of powerless domestic situations include violence, universal credit rules, addiction and tit-for-tat reports to the police.

When people with resources don’t help, and you have none of your own, you are powerless.

The situations I have faced have been tough enough to make me think I have two ways out.

The first is death, but not suicide. I have had a strong but unhealthy desire to be with Christ.

The second, less morbid, is to leave this place. Start afresh. Live someone rural.  Bail out.  Move somewhere easier. Take control back.  Flee.  I have the resources to it, to leave, so why stay?

Why? Why stay?

This is all I have just now; I follow the king of the universe, who left the comfort and riches of glory to live with us.  To die in pain for the sins of his people and rise triumphant in eternal love.

He surrendered control, but never lost it.

I can’t control storms, disease, economies or unjust rule.  He can.

And I can stay here, as long as he is in the boat with me, healing diseases and ruling in my heart.

One day, he’ll judge us all with complete fairness.  He’ll take many humbled, trusting brothers and sisters to be with him in glory.  The wicked, unrepentant, godless and unbelieving will spend eternity without him.

He has promised that the lack of justice, legal and social, won’t last long.

See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.
Isaiah 32:1‭-‬2

He is the shelter from the storm and the stream of water in a dry land. He will do it. He is faithful. I can stay with him as my king. I can live with him and face my all my powerful enemies and help my powerless friends to trust and follow him.

About neilrobbie

I am a 6'6" formerly ginger Scot, in a cross cultural marriage to my lovely Londoner wife. We've lived in SE Asia and since 2005, I have served as an Anglican minister in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.
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