The Jam’s great 1980 hit "Going Underground" is an edgy, powerful and raw indictment both of a society which fails to challenge and stand out against the values and decisions of its political leaders, and of those leaders themselves. Written against the backdrop of the Cold War and the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation, Paul Weller’s lyric’s suggest that ‘Going Underground’ is therefore a logical non-violent response for those who are disillusioned and alienated from corrupt, compromised and self-serving politics which is addicted to military might and the threat of war.
"You want more money – of course I don’t mind To buy nuclear textbooks for atomic crimes And the public gets what the public wants But I want nothing this society’s got I’m going underground….
What you see is what you get You’ve made your bed, you’d better lie in it You choose your leaders and place your trust As their lies wash you down and their promises rust You’ll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns And the public wants what the public gets But I don’t get what this society wants I’m going underground"
"Going Underground" is a protest song which captured the angry counter-cultural mood of many young people at the time. I was newly graduated myself and so felt firsthand the seismic shift in social attitudes which the Punk era represented and ushered in. And the following 32 years have demonstrated how adept political systems are at maintaining the status quo, even in the face of growing voter apathy, disillusionment and disengagement. However, the vision of a fairer, more just, compassionate and equitable society and of a nation which is at peace with itself, with others and the planet is one that just does not go away. In every generation there are those who are enthused by the freeing and inclusive ideology of this vision and inspired to make it real and solid ground it experientially for the benefit of everyone.
In the Bible they are called prophets. And they provide the hopeful imagination which enables God’s people to go underground within society; to get deep down beneath the surface of issues which divide and behaviours which exploit, remaking and reshaping the nation from within and in so doing resisting the powers which hurt and diminish the majority for the benefit of the few.
The Bible calls this God’s Kingdom. And it is this which took Jesus to his Roman Cross. Because God never gives up on us or the Kingdom vision. God never ceases to subvert violence with peacemaking, greed with grace and indifference with solidarity. God is always going underground.
At Easter Jesus proves this to be true definitively and eternally. Throughout his ministry Jesus went underground into all the hurt, pain, cruelty, sickness, mess, confusion and death which comprises human life and transformed it. On Good Friday he did this once and for all. And underground, beneath our all our science, technology, philosophy, politics, culture and hubris as a species, beneath time and space and understanding, God’s love is seen to be the ultimate given of existence.
And in love God gifts Jesus back from death that we would see this for ourselves. Overground we come face to face with God’s Underground truth. For that is what happens in the locked room as the disciples encounter the Risen Christ.
"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." (John 20:19-23)
The disciples are commissioned, empowered and tasked with going underground as God’s shalom-makers. In this they are to be as Jesus was and to do what Jesus did. And as such they will be the very antithesis of political leaders and powerful oppressors. Going Underground their God inspired and God sustained movement will embody God’s Kingdom of love for all and be signs of God’s presence to raise everyone to new life in Christ.
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ." (1 John 1:1-3)
Peace-making, forgiveness and prayer are what these first few men and women will use to transform the world. Going Underground into the depths of the world’s need they are to be a true community of the ordinary who do extraordinary things in the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. And because they do this and live like this, others will see and touch the presence of Christ for themselves. And it does not get more counter-cultural than that.
"On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one. Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need." (Acts 4:23-35)
Going Underground God’s Easter People confound the ways of violence, intimidation and conflict. In them we see that there is a better way. God’s way. The challenge in our time is to live it as resolutely, confidently, prayerfully, faithfully and generously in our communities as they did in theirs.
And as nuclear tensions rise again in the Middle East and the warmongers stir, who is prepared to have God’s prophetic peace-making Spirit breathed into them and to be those for whom "peace be with you" is a vocation given by Christ Jesus himself?
(Casing of a "Little Boy" Atomic Bomb in the Imperial War Museum, London)