Anticipating a change of the tide

Low tide at Freshwater, Isle of Wight, photograph from

These are very uncertain and changing times in the UK. I have found that metaphors help to facilitate the exchange of ideas for anyone who likes to think visually or relationally, which leads me here to suggest we are at a spiritual low tide at this moment. That does not stop the tide going out even further in the short term, but it helps explain why we find ourselves staring at so much unattractive estuarine mud just now.

While I admire the work of people like politicians and economists, I don’t think it is at all fair to view our national predicament as simply an economic problem or to expect these people alone to get us out of this mess.

In our case, though, things are not automatically going to get better in the nation. Tides are not directed by a human hand, even if some channelling can be done. I suggest we greatly need God’s help and perspectives as well. If we seek and find it successfully as a nation, it is likely to be called a revival. That at the very least, involves serious, sustained and heartfelt prayer.

This ‘change of tide’ metaphor is not entirely original on my part. I would like to acknowledge all the thought and attention given to this same subject by Terry Virgo, the founder of Newfrontiers, which is a family of more than 1500 churches spread across more than 70 nations. Terry wrote the book The Tide is turning, published by New Wine Press in 2006. He has just recently used the tide metaphor again, in an article entitled ‘Whatever happened to the promised revival?’ in the November 2017 edition of Christianity magazine. This leaves him in no way responsible for what I might write or say on the same subject.

This blog follows two guest blogs on Think Theology that I wrote before and after this year’s UK General Election. In the months ahead, I plan to explore what a change in the spiritual tide in the UK might look like, as seen primarily from a Christian perspective but no doubt informed helpfully by others too. I hope it will also serve some useful purposes for our friends, compatriots and well-wishers in other countries, who care more about us than many of us in the UK seem to realise.

The traumatic Grenfell Tower fire shook many in the country and indeed many people in other countries too. Our hearts still go out to those who have lost others in that tragedy and homes and treasured belongings. There remains much to be learned from this multifaceted episode.

I have gone on being struck by the parallels between the Grenfell Tower disaster and the Titanic disaster. The Titanic was a very lengthy object, the longest moving human object ever made until its launch (269.1m). It was said it couldn’t sink, due to its separation into watertight compartments. It was apparently also thought that Grenfell Tower (67.3m) could not catch fire as a whole: its compartmental design and concrete structure made that impossible. Tragically, the supposedly unsinkable ship sank and the supposedly inflammable building went up in flames. Both disasters prompted a government enquiry. The Titanic enquiry did much to improve safety at sea and, hopefully, the current enquiry will do much to help improve safety for those living or working in tall buildings.

However, there was apparently not so much reflection following the Titanic disaster about the implicit rebuff it gave to pride in human advancement. The world stumbled into a devastating world war just two years later, as if nothing had been learned about the awesome destructive capacity of where misplaced confidence in modern technology could lead. I rather like modern technology myself, but godless pride in ourselves, our systems and our achievements can easily get us stumbling – if we are not careful – on a pathway to disaster.

I suggest that the Grenfell Tower disaster should mark an end of some previously cherished assumptions. Perhaps most importantly, it gives notice to Post-modernism, of which Grenfell Tower was a classic Brutalist example. I started reading ‘Architecture and Fine Arts’ at the University of Cambridge in the year before the building’s construction stated. After a first-term lecture series from our Course Director, including ‘The historical fallacy’ (asserting that contemporary architecture has nothing to do with history) and ‘The aesthetic fallacy’ (asserting that contemporary architecture has nothing to do with beauty), I regretfully concluded that I did not fit in there. I left the course after just that one term.

In all its unrelational design and original concrete ugliness, Grenfell Tower was the product of a view of the world, not just an architectural style, that has now all too brutally been shown to have had its day. I plan to elaborate on Post-modernism at some point in the coming year. Meanwhile, I hope this will give some cause for reflection and discussion.