When I was younger, and just starting out as a pretend geologist in South Africa, crossroads meant just one thing. It was the name of an informal township near the airport outside Cape Town, and had been the subject of countless raids and hassling by the South African police. I remember Christians (many from St John’s Wynberg) being part of the robust and prophetic response to the way that the government deployed the police and exploited conflict at the time, and I remember it as a “live issue” in the press and radio, as I disembarked a SAA flight from London nearly 40 years ago. Crossroads was burnt badly in 1983-84 as a result of fighting between the United Democratic Front (affiliated to the ANC politically) and older residents who resented their political interference. Many of the residents fled to a place called Site C in Khayelitsha, where we learnt to know some of them in the church we attended from 1986-1991.
I was thinking about this (just by instinct on hearing the word) when reading Jon Kuhrt’s blog post this morning about standing at the crossroads, that serves as an excellent new year meditation. Jon reminds us that part of standing at the door of the year is the requirement to stand at the crossroads and “ask for the ancient paths” where the “good ways are” and where we will “find rest for our souls” (Jeremiah, 6:16). Read his blog for a really helpful, practical and insightful check-up on how you are internally as you start the year, especially the reflections there by Michael Ramsay for his clergy (frequent thankfulness; taking care to confess our sins; being ready to accept humiliation; not worrying about status; using our sense of humour).
I have found reflection and stillness difficult this year, and need to persist in it in a much more structured way in 2021, so I was quite seriously challenged by Jon’s post. Starting a new role this month means that I have had to think about the structures of my day and week much more carefully, deciding on how to tackle work that will be largely remote (at least to start with) and mainly determined by me and my assessment of the work needs. I have been reading the wonderful Exiles on Mission by Paul Williams (CEO of the Bible Society) and have been particularly struck not just by the need to take our own discipleship seriously, but by the requirement to pray into each situation we enter, that we might be truly ambassadorial for the kingdom. This might seem obvious, and it is (!), but Paul puts it in a way that is fundamental to our identity as a Christian in our culture. Paul’s book is the best thing I have read that links discipleship, work and mission, and it lies in the tradition of Lesslie Newbigin, Dallas Willard and others who see the requirement for the church to understand, love and speak into our culture as intentional disciples of Jesus Christ. It fills my mind, even now, as I stand at the crossroads of this year, and seek the ancient paths.
This picture is where we were today, quietly walking the New Year in, in the grounds of Calke Abbey in Derbyshire. This feels like the right image for the year. There is an old path, visible in the snow and from a distance, giving you a strong sense of the overall direction to go, but when you actually walk on it, you constantly have to check that the path actually exists. There were times today when the ice was so slippery that all we could do is to keep our eyes down for safe footing. It feels like that kind of year coming up, being highly observant, learning to rely on the Holy Spirit moment by moment, but, as Jon points out, being rooted fully in the scriptures so we can take time to see the broader path and the destination we are heading towards: a deeper love of and knowledge of Jesus, as King and ruler, so we can bless those we are given to bless, and walk in the good works he has given us to do.