Sunday, 16 September 2012

Dare To Be A Daniel

Lions are scary creatures.  A few weeks ago we, as a family, visited the safari park at Longleat – and we got pretty close to some lions.  When one walked right in front of our car, even with staff nearby and knowing that kind of thing was happening all the time, there was a sense of unease amongst us.

In C S Lewis’s classic book for children, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, the lion Aslan gently pads round the edges of the story, appearing at strategic moments to save four lost children from despair and guide them home.  Hearing about him for the first time from a couple of friendly beavers, the children have doubts about whether they are looking forward to meeting him.  ‘Is he quite safe?’ asked one of the girls.  ‘I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.’  ‘That you will, dearie, and no mistake,’ said Mrs. Beaver, ‘if there is anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just silly.’ 

‘Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy.  ‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver.  ‘Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.’

Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book “Preaching Life”, comments on this passage of Lewis’s – “The King is not safe.  The King is sovereign, which means that he is frightening, because his subjects have no control over him.  He does not ask their advice before he acts.  He is no one’s pet.  His rescue of them may be as hair-raising as what he is rescuing them from, but he is good, which means that he can be trusted.  If they will just press through their fear of him, he will save them.  If they will just climb on his back as he tells them to and hang on for dear life, he will carry them home.”

I wonder how Daniel really felt as he walked in to that lions’ den.  And what are the lions’ dens into which we have to walk?  And how do we feel as we do so?  Are we quietly filled with hope or are we scared stiff?  We live in a day when we are called to insure against every remote possibility – and yet God calls us to live lives of risk.

When Tony Benn published a brief volume of autobiography in 2004,  designed to serve as a prelude to his already published eight volumes of diaries, he gate it the title “Dare to be a Daniel”. 

In fact, the original working title was 'The Weetabix Years' , a title suggested by Tony Benn's son, Joshua, whose idea it was to write the book at all.  The reasoning was that this title would reflect a happy family at breakfast.  And Benn wrote to the chairman of Weetabix asking if the product might be used in the title.  Sir Richard George, the said chairman, replied that he was perfectly happy for that usage, but he felt that he ought to point out that Weetabix was not available when Tony Benn was born.  And so it was back to the drawing board and back to a phrase that his Dad had often used to give him advice: 'Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone.'  Benn's choice of title says a lot about the roots of his radicalism, which he has always attributed more to the Bible than to Marxism.

It actually seems remarkable that, in the increasingly post-Christian ethos of British public life and politics, Daniel’s name should still be so used, and understood, but it is.  This Hebrew hero, who stood as a minority of one at the court of pagan kings and yet turned the fortunes of the empire around; this political operator who was also a person of prayer; this wise and tactful prophet who dreamed of a different future for God’s people: there is something about this man.

Daniel remains one of the most influential figures in the Biblical record.  Generations of Jews and Christians have been moved and influenced by his story, empowered and inspired by his example.  Yet it’s still true that a Daniel attitude is all too rare in the contemporary church.

The courage and power to swim against the tide of majority opinion; to recognise and resist the idols of our context and culture .... Maintaining belief whilst living in Babylon – singing the Lord’s song in a strange land, being ready to go into the lions’ den – is a deeply challenging concept.  Daniel’s context is very different from ours, and yet I believe his example and experience can speak very directly to us. 

No comments: