A hallmark of a useful phrase or idea is that it stays with you. I always think the best teaching is simple but profound. You get it but it has depth and resonance, it speaks into your life and works through it like the yeast in a loaf that Jesus uses as an analogy of the Kingdom of God. God's transformative spirit on the move breathing his life into ours.
The phrase I'm thinking of is very simple: 'people are more important than projects'. My wife, Louise, heard this when she was part of a community of young adults 20 years ago – it is a maxim which has stuck in the Luck household.
Let's put it another way – don't chase projects at the expense of the people in your lives.
A friend of our family very kindly sent us a couple of books recently. One was called Party Animals: My Family and other Communists by David Aaronovitch. It's a fascinating but sad book about being brought up in a British Communist family in the 50s and 60s. Not only were Aaronovitch's parents fervent Communists with a life built around meetings, campaigns and the party, but his father Sam Aaronovitch was also a leading party member and employee. In the book, David Aaronovitch goes from being an innate Communist to losing faith in the cause. His disillusionment with Communism is mirrored in his growing alienation from his parents.
At the heart of the malaise of the Aaronovitch family was the serial adultery of Sam, which eventually led to his marriage breaking down. Sam's marriage to David's mother Lavender was his third. Earlier in the book my assumption was that this third marriage was not due to earlier infidelity but rather that he was married to the party. David's account is of a father who was rarely at home and when he was there tended to be disengaged from his children. Evenings he often worked late, weekends were filled with meetings and even when his father was at home he spent his time studying or writing one of his books.
In short, beyond his propensity to play away, Sam's passion for Communism was more important to him than his family. Communism was the cause of his life – a quest for a better world and in pursuing it he was prepared, knowingly or not, to neglect his own family.
This reminded me of friends at university whose dads were vicars. The sad thing was they all seemed to tell the same story – while growing up they had barely seen their fathers. They were always working, always at meetings. If they were at home they were probably in the study preparing a sermon. What good is it to shepherd a flock if you don't care for your own family?
When my boys were young I was working for my church. When I got a job in the council I continued to be involved in church leadership. There was always lots to do but I knew I had to make sure that there was time for my family – whatever responsibility I had to the church and to other people, I knew that my family was my primary responsibility. If I didn't give them time and attention, I couldn't expect others to fill the gap.
However, I remember vividly the area I got most wrong. We were once away on a Christian holiday and my wife took the opportunity to get some pastoral support. She was suffering with depression and the counsellors advised her to take a break from leading kids' work in church to get time to have her needs met. My initial response was, 'You can't stop leading children's church. Who else is going to do it?' I was wrong, though it took a bit of persuading to get to that place. The project of church had taken over and my wife was supposed to fit in. My first reaction to the reality of my wife's needs was to find it an inconvenience.
I learned from that. I learnt that my wife was more important than the church and the church couldn't be built at the expense of its people.
We cannot justify sacrificing the welfare of the people we love to some higher cause. I know my God wouldn't ask me to – he calls me to be a good husband and father. The cause may be vital and exciting but I believe we should change the world a person at a time, starting with loving those closest to us.
Brexit is a classic case of politicians doing the complete opposite: using people to further their projects.
Brexit has been a lifetime's goal for some politicians and advisers who are generally from backgrounds comfortable enough to be cushioned from the impact of a flagging economy. Somehow this ideological dream has managed to over-ride immediate political concerns like education, health, jobs and poverty. Leaving Europe seemed to trump them all. The cause of leaving has certainly taken precedence over any consideration of what the consequences might be or how it might work in practice.
During the campaign, Brexiteers seemed to be willing to say anything to get people to vote for their cherished ideal of 'independence'. What was the campaign really all about? Was it a campaign for a better life for the British people or an opportunity to win an argument? Were the British people the beneficiaries or the means to an end?
The Brexit project won. I fail to see how the people will benefit.
Dave Luck is the author of 'What Happens Now? A journey through unimaginable loss' and blogs weekly on www.daveluckwrites.co.uk. Follow him on Twitter @dluckwrite or on Facebook at the 'Daveluckwrites' page.