When I was not much older than 17, I stood with a group of other lads my age and ridiculed some poor soul for the clothes they had shown up wearing to a non-uniform day. I can’t even remember their name. I do remember, however, that I had come to school that day worried that I’d suffer the same fate. All I wanted was to be either anonymous or popular; being the joke was not an option.
I felt so vulnerable at moments like that, as if the whole world depended on fitting into a group. I would often be anxious about going to school. What if, all of a sudden, nobody liked me anymore?
The older I get the more I realise that this is a widespread phenomenon. There are millions of us getting up afraid of being unloved by those we will encounter that day. We wake up and wrap ourselves in clothes to hide our flaws and show off our best bits. We groom ourselves and pack our bravado, brilliance and banter into our bags and head off to face the world. We are still 12 years old, heading to high school hoping someone will be our friend. We still live as if our entire worth is dependent on fitting in and making the right joke at the right time.
I think of the stag dos and nights out of my past; the parties and the lads nights and cringe with embarrassment. I think of the jokes I’ve made, desperate for the approval of the group. All machismo and chest beating and terrified that nobody will laugh. Somehow, my worth depends on it.
Now imagine that for your whole life you’ve been groomed for greatness. Imagine that your future career actually depended on moments like these. You’re surrounded by expectation and you must live up to it. Imagine you’re 18. Imagine you’re away from home and just in need of some real friends, as terrified as the day you first went to boarding school. Will anybody like you?
I have no idea what it is like to grow up in a super-wealthy, elite world. I don’t know what having access to seemingly endless excess is like. I also don’t know how I’d have behaved at 18 if all my peers had been in Bullingdon or Piers Gaveston. There are some things I like to think I wouldn’t have done but there are some things about which I am not so sure about the choices I would have made.
What I do know is that at 18 I was frail and scared at uni. I felt alone and disconnected and nobody knew it. I did things that I can’t imagine ever doing now. The desperation of youth is a powerful thing.
I don’t think we should ignore the pasts of our leaders but nor do I think the foolishness of youth should be held against a middle aged man, even when it’s as foolish as this weeks papers allege.
It’s been sad to see fellow left leaning Christians joining in the mockery of the Prime Minister. Anger against what we deem cruel policies against the poor seems to be spilling over into revenge. I feel sad for Mr Cameron’s children who have to go to school this week.
It’s easy to mock the powerful and rich. We show our compassion to the poor and weak. We take time to understand their situation and the pressures that push them to bad decisions. That’s what Jesus did right? He had compassion for the weak and voiceless.
But we also have to do work through Jesus response to people like Zacchaeus and Nicodemus. These two men who by profession oppressed people. One oppressed people financially under duress the other religiously through building a religious system that it was impossible to stay pure within for normal person. He showed them as much grace and as much love as he did the others.
So as we rightly petition on behalf of the weak and marginalised may we remember that even within the most powerful man in our country has lived a scared boy surrounded by his peers being egged on to acts that appall us.
May we afford him the same grace which we afford the teenage versions of ourselves and continue to passionately debate and question his policy in place of dragging up his distant past to laugh at with our leftie mates.