Here is an early morning vlog to end the year – sorry, its slightly longer than usual!
I have waited a while to write this post. It follows on in the series I started on this topic. It seems clear that the Brexit vote was about three key elements: taking control (whatever that means) of our own money, our own laws and our own immigration. I hope to write another blog on those three things another time, but in this time of transition, we must ask ourselves some questions about the kind of future we want to co-create.
I have to say that when I look at our education system, I am both heartened and dismayed. I am heartened by the amazing quality of teachers across the UK, but I am dismayed by how they are treated as a profession by our mainstream press. I am heartened by the quality of our children and young people and the hopeful possibilities they carry, but I am dismayed by the increased burden of mental health problems many of them suffer. I am heartened that there is so much great thought around education and a shared learning between nations about how to release the potential in each child, but I am dismayed by the lack of application of this learning within the UK. I am heartened that there is an increasing realisation that Ofsted reports can offer only a small snapshot of what goes on in any school and are not a fair representation of all that goes on in any one institution, but I am dismayed by our growing measurement problem. By this I mean that the constant scoring and grading of our children and young people and the comparisons made between our various schools is so detrimental to their development and achievement that we ought to seriously consider the weight it is allowed to carry in our education systems. When our children and young people are some of the least happy in Europe and live in a country where the gap between the richest and poorest, both in terms of economics and educational ‘outcomes’ is one of the worst in Europe, we have to ask ourselves some searching questions.
So, in reimagining education, let’s reaffirm that every child is unique, beautiful, worthy of love and full of potential. Let’s also recognise that our education system now is one of the few things that has not evolved since the time of the Industrial Revolution and is itself in need of serious renewal and transformation. In Germany, they have managed to elevate practical skills and knowledge to that of intellect. This has given them the ability as a nation to have a much more diverse economy, especially investing in green technologies and manufacturing in a way that cares for the future. In Finland, they have a reverence for the teaching profession that we would do well to adopt here. We need to think of teaching as a sacred gift and it needs to be taken this seriously by those who pursue it as a career. A Head Teacher I know recently told me that she no longer needs teachers who see themselves as having a job, but those who understand that teaching is a vocation and a calling. It is about being willing to parent a generation, not just fill them with knowledge.
Our educational environments must be places where we teach our children how to think, not just what to think, how to converse, not just what to say and how to listen attentively not only hear. We must help them learn about their own personalities and gift mixes. We must help them to think about the values from which they live, speak and act, helping them therefore to shape their behaviours in line with this (Steve Peters). We must allow them to question some of the damaging ways we live (war, pollution, work-patterns) and dream of and learn to create futures of peace, sustainability and wellness. We need a vision large enough to ensure that each generation creates a seedbed of opportunity for the next.
The danger of becoming more ‘in control’ (as per our Brexit wishes) is that we become more controlling. The purpose of education is not to control but to release, not to maintain the status quo but to attain a brighter future, not to perpetuate hate and violence but to breathe love and peace, not to tear down but to build up and encourage, not to divide but to build community, not to prepare human beings to be fodder for the economic machine but to ensure the economy serves them to be live a life of hope-filled potential. As with healthcare, we need to de-politicise the education system, hold dear in our hearts those given to teach, caring for their wellbeing and minding how we speak of them. We must partner with them and entrust them with our precious caterpillars as they hold them through the great metamorphosis that is learning before they spread their wings and make their flight to shine like stars in a future sky that the rest of us will never see.
There has recently been an excellent set of programmes on radio 4 about the North and what it means to be Northern. Some parts were hilarious and others deeply moving. Although we don’t want a North-South divide, neither do we want a homogenisation that sees a loss of identity. A Northern Powerhouse, (whoever it is lead by – George Osborne, Andy Burnham or Michael Bloomberg) is the last thing the North wants or needs. We don’t want the London model of trickle down economics. Who wants to end up with a trickle? There’s nothing worse than standing under a shower that doesn’t work properly! We don’t want the social cleansing of our cities and swathes of people feeling marginalised and forgotten. No. That is not the northern way. The North has a great history of social cohesion, people movements, social change and political debate. The promise of greater power that only serves to maintain a wounded and broken economic system, widening the gap between the rich and poor is not welcome here. We do not want to build a powerhouse. The land here remembers all too well the sweat, blood and tears of the powerhouses of the industrial revolution. If the government is serious about releasing more power northwards, then the power must be given to be worked with in a generative way, motivated by love, to create a fairer society for everyone. Life is already too fast paced, using human beings as commodities or fuel for the fire. No, we need to rediscover our humanity, to re-humanise our systems. We don’t want a pre-thought through model. We want to shape it ourselves and create the kind of society that aligns itself with our values. We are not robots or industrial machines. It is time for the fire of the North to ignite some conversations about what kind of future we might co-create rather than have something imposed on us, if it’s all the same to you, London!
What has become of the Labour Party?! At a time when there could be some really important political debate, the Labour Party has turned on itself and is in utter disarray.
But what is going on? What lies beneath the turmoil, the mud slinging, the coup and the disunity? Jeremy Corbyn is calling for a ‘new politics, a kinder politics’ and ‘a society where everyone matters, where everyone cares for everyone else.’ He is calling for a new kind of debate and a new style of leadership. Owen Smith on the other hand, seems to be looking for some similar things, calling himself a left-socialist, but the difference for him seems more to do with leadership style and ability. He would rather ‘smash Theresa May back on her heels’ than the sort of participatory approach of Corbyn….
With so much media storm, biased reporting and contradictory messages on all sides, what are we to believe. What is to be made of this mess? I am sure one William Shakespeare would have had a field day in writing this comic tragedy ‘Love Labour’s Lost’ – or would it be ‘Love, Labour’s Lost’?!
Our political system as a whole is a bit of a disgrace. The Westminster bubble, far too removed from normal every day life, working far too much in political theory than pragmatically in the grit and grime of every day life. And we have all believed a lie. We have believed, that in the end, human beings are motivated by their own selfish needs and that the autonomous self and the desire for freedom are therefore what drives us. But this is only a shadow form of what it means to be human (Richard Rohr). To be human is far more profound than this. We have appealed to our lesser selves for far too long and we need to reclaim the deeper truth of what it means to be truly human. To be truly human is to be first and foremost about love, and not a selfish love, because love is never truly selfish. No, to be human is to be essentially loving, in the image of God. To be first motivated by a self-giving, others empowering love. And this kind of love, as preached by John Wesley is actually one of the founding true principles of the Labour Movement. Without love, socialism is just a clanging gong in the wind. Without love, it has no power to redeem, reconcile or transform society. Labour has given into fear because it sees the crumbling of the Nation State in which it has put so much of its trust and identity.
What motivates the Labour Party these days? Is it the need for power in order to transform? Indeed, power can be used to bring transformation. But power without love is dangerous. And what does it really mean to love? Martin Luther King had something to say about this – here is an excerpt from one of his greatest speeches:
In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.
And this is what Jesus means, I think, in this very passage when he says, “Love your enemy.” And it’s significant that he does not say, “Like your enemy.” Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something. There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. I don’t like what they do to me. I don’t like what they say about me and other people. I don’t like their attitudes. I don’t like some of the things they’re doing. I don’t like them. But Jesus says love them. And love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them. You refuse to do anything that will defeat an individual, because you have agape in your soul. And here you come to the point that you love the individual who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does. This is what Jesus means when he says, “Love your enemy.” This is the way to do it. When the opportunity presents itself when you can defeat your enemy, you must not do it.
Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people and keep loving them, even though they’re mistreating you. Here’s the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that. Just keep being friendly to that person. Keep loving them. Don’t do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.
And our civilization must discover that. Individuals must discover that as they deal with other individuals. There is a little tree planted on a little hill and on that tree hangs the most influential character that ever came in this world. But never feel that that tree is a meaningless drama that took place on the stages of history. Oh no, it is a telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity, and see the love of God breaking forth into time. It is an eternal reminder to a power-drunk generation that love is the only way. It is an eternal reminder to a generation depending on nuclear and atomic energy, a generation depending on physical violence, that love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe.”
(read the whole sermon here: http://mlkkpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_loving_your_enemies/)
Labour must recover love at its core. Love is the only hope we have a new politics. The politics of how we organize ourselves and live together is either motivated by the need for autonomous freedom and control, which is actually based on fear, or it is motivated by love, but it cannot be essentially motivated by both. Love is the only way for a new and reimagined future. Love is the only way that we ever deal with the needs of our own autonomy. Love is the only way to heal the divide and bring unity. Where there is fighting and hatred, name calling, slander, vitriol, violence and selfishness it must stop. If it does not, then the Labour movement will entirely lose its way. Some call the left ideology Socialism, some call it Humanitarianism. Without love as the essential driving force, both are dead. Love is found in the heart of the teaching of Jesus and it has the power to truly transform the world – some call this Kenarchy. The politics of Jesus is not for the faint hearted. It is rooted in love and its out-workings are utterly pragmatic and the antithesis of autonomy and self-preserving power. We must recover our humanity and rediscover our political motivation, resisting the tide of individualism and fear. Anyone can love their friends…..it is when we learn to love our enemies and speak well of those with whom we disagree or who harm us that we become truly human and can become truly politically engaged. Labour must recover the love it has lost.
Health and Social Care
The UK is facing an existential crisis, especially when it comes to healthcare. I think it is part of the reason why the Labour party are in such appalling disarray at the moment. When the nation state as we have known it is beginning to fall apart, what is the role of the state? The question comes into sharp focus when it comes to our beloved NHS. The financial nightmare facing the NHS is in the press everyday. How much of this has been orchestrated by a bureaucratic system that wishes to see its demise we may never know. But the fact remains, there is a whole lot of debt, an ageing population with increasingly complex health and social needs and a significant underspend in terms of GDP on health compared to most of the other ‘developed’ nations.
Although I believe that we will (and need to) see increased localism, especially when it comes to political participation and economic alternatives, discovering together entirely alternative ways of being and organising ourselves, I still believe in a more national approach to health and social care, as for me, one of the roles of leadership is to ensure provision for those most easily forgotten about or marginalised in society.
Obviously this subject matter is far vaster than a short blog can offer, but here is a starter for ten:
I would therefore increase spending on health in line with need and GDP. I would support moves through partnerships between health and education to encourage our children and young people, in particular, to exercise and eat healthily, therefore breaking some of the health inequalities we see presently in the years ahead. I would look to improve the overall wellbeing of society, as we know that both extreme poverty and extreme wealth is bad for our health. We need to talk about physical, mental, social, spiritual and systemic health. We need a 70 year vision for healthcare, not something that changes with the wind of each new parliament. People would be empowered to care for their own wellbeing and look after one another, because where people are connected to one another, they flourish more readily. I would not privatise the NHS, but keep it public, learning lessons from around the world, ensuring our systems are continually improving and accountable but providing kind and compassionate health and social care to everyone in our communities. I would amalgamate the health and social care budgets. I would invest in measures to improve the overall mental health of the nation by looking at the root causes of our unhappiness and disconnectedness, ensuring those who need psychological therapies and psychiatric expertise are able to access this. I would ensure our staff are appropriately paid and would create a culture of participatory leadership, where we care for the health and wellbeing of those who work in the system. I recognise that health is best provided in the local community and will support the growth of integrated care communities, like those in Morecambe Bay. General Practice is the bedrock of such communities and will therefore be funded appropriately. Communication training, led by patient-experience, would be compulsory. All training would be integrative, problem based and solution focussed (that could do with some unpacking – maybe another time!).
I would break the negative cycle caused by the economics of ‘payment by results (PBR)’ and create participatory shared budgets, breaking down the walls of competition between segments of the system that need to collaborate. I would create emergency care hubs, co-locating services that need to work in an integrative manor. We have to face the fact, that it would take an enormous cultural shift to stop people walking through the doors of the ED, so let’s work with it, rather than trying to change the tide. I would want to see the 5 ways to wellbeing as part of every work place environment. In hospitals, there needs to be a focus on faster discharges (something the dreadful cuts to social care budgets across our county councils will only worsen), working with community teams to enable people to be cared for in their own homes. We need a complete overhaul of our residential and nursing home sector, finding areas of best practice and raising the bar significantly in terms of how we honour and care for our elderly citizens. We need to have a philosophical shift in our approach to death – it is an emotive subject and I have vlogged on it previously on my other blog http://www.reimagininghealth.com People need to be able to die well, and far too often they die in the strange surroundings of a hospital, cared for by people they do not know, when they could have died at home or in their nursing home, surrounded by people who love them. If only we could face up to the difficulties of death, we would embrace it in a much more healthy way…..(again I recommend Atul Gawande’s book ‘Being Mortal’).
In this blog, I am exploring how traditional views of God have dominated western thinking about the nature of power, sovereignty and systems. I am drawing heavily on three brillaint thinkers: Thomas Jay Oord and his book ‘The Uncontrolling Love of God’, Brad Jersak and his book ‘A More Christlike God’ and my great friend Roger Haydon Mitchell and his book ‘Church, Gospel and Empire.’
I agree with Richard Dawkins that there is an utter God delusion. But I disagree with him utterly about the nature of that delusion, which I will come on to. So much of Western thought has been shaped by “Christianity”, or perhaps more accurately, “Christendom”, and has very little to do with the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The dominant story, as we have it now, took it’s shape in the fourth century, under the partnership of the Emperor Constantine, and a theologian by the name of Eusebius. At this particular point in history, the message of Christianity was spreading like wild-fire throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. It very much challenged the status quo and the power dynamics of the Empire, calling for people to change the way they thought about who God is (a loving father, not a dominant emperor), to consider all people equal, to undo economic oppression and follow the radical way of love, partnering with God for reconciliation, healing and peace. This view of God didn’t suit the Emperor, nor the philosophy of Empire.
This allowed an understanding to develop that God is actually quite like a Sovereign Emperor who rules the whole world, a God very much like the one Richard Dawkins describes in his famous book – and why would anyone believe in a “jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” God like that?! No thanks! But this is the kind of God that Empires depend on. This is the kind of God that those with power through the centuries purported God to be like in order to hold onto their own power, making Jesus the great warrior and God the threatening one to be feared. Constantine understood that harnessing the message of Christianity gave him more control. The church leaders understood that partnering with the empire would mean greater safety and prosperity for themselves.
But God is not at all like the caricature painted by Dawkins. As Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” God is exactly like Jesus. He is the antithesis of a dominant Emperor. He is a loving, kind, creative, healing, perfect Father, who rather than anihilating us for our rebellion, allows himself to be utterly misunderstood and seemingly defeated by the might of Empire, only to overcome it through love, breaking forever, the power of all that stops us being truly human and inaugurating a new way for humanity – what some of us now call kenarchy, but more traditionally referred to as the Kingdom of God (a term which now has so many other difficulties that it needs reinterpreting).
If God is exactly like Jesus, then he is essentially kenotic, in other words, he is first and foremost about self-giving, others-empowering love, and therefore he cannot be like the God caricatured by Richard Dawkins, nor can he be a fluffy grandpa, a doting dad, a domineering dictator or an amalgamation of all of these, dressed up as Santa Claus. That means that the Christian scriptures have to be wrestled with and studied carefully with this lens firmly in tact. It also utterly changes the whole idea that Christianity could ever become a “state-religion”, uphold the divine right of kings (or indeed presidents/republics etc that behave in the same ways), or the support the propping up of political ideologies that lead to the oppression of the poor, marginalisation of the other or rejection of any person based on any part of their identity.
For me, the Gospel narrative is not that God made the whole world and we then messed it up, offended his sovereignty and so he needed someone to die in our place so that his wrath could be appeased. No, the narrative is something far more profound and beautiful. Brian Zahnd explains is beautifully in his ‘gospel in chairs’. My faith lies in a God who invested himself in the evolutionary process, creating a world of order and randomness in which human beings emerged, in his image, able to choose how we would relate to God, each other and the environment in which we find ourselves. But rather than choose this way of self emptying, others empowering love, we have time and again made God in our own image of power and self-centred free will. In doing so, we have wrought destruction to ourselves, to one another, to those weaker than ourselves and to the ecological systems in which we live, move and have our being. And this is why we have different versions of God painted through the pages of scripture in our desire to understand what God is like – and we must wrestle with ourselves as we read. What do our interpretations of the bible teach us about ourselves? What kind of God are we looking for?
We had so misunderstood and misaligned our very expectations of what God is like, that he came as a human being, especially as a male, as maleness needs utter redemption from the stereotypes we have created, somehow encapsulating the male and female in one body.
The incarnation is therefore not about God changing his mind about humanity, but about giving humanity the chance to change its mind about who he is and what he is like. This human Jesus, stood at the pinnacle of the Roman Empire, proclaiming himself the son of God in direct contrast to the empires of the day. But humanity did not like this image of God and so we killed him. But in his death, he took upon himself all that is broken in us and in our world and nullified its power, overcoming death through his endless, self emptying, others empowering love, and released the potential for new hope, creation and life. To me, this is the story of salvation, that out of our own selfishness, we can be re-activated into a place of love, in which we are free to choose to benefit others ahead of ourselves and bring this shalom or wellness to those around us, sometimes seeing miracles and sometimes not, because although God is good and more powerful than any other force or being, shit still happens; and because he is essentially kenotic, he is therefore unable to just intervene whenever he feels like it. He is unable to be untrue to his nature and in Him an uncontrolling love comes first.
In the end, if you want to believe in a God who is first of all omnipotent, ie limitless in his power, you can find that kind of God in the bible. It’s a bit like needing a dominating form of government, and world order in which you are free, until you challenge the Sovereign. When this happens, the nice, good, caring government has behind it the immense threat of the nuclear bomb, which I suppose you could liken to hell. Our view of leadership, our view of how government should behave, our view of the role of the state is actually pretty messed up, and I am arguing that it is messed up because it was shaped by a very warped view of God, who mostly cares for us, but has the great threat of eternal punishment for those who don’t believe quite correctly. That is not to say that all will be part of a heavenly future, but I would say that those who pursue the way of love are actually following the way of Jesus far more than those who follow the way of their version of the truth. The truth will set us free, but the truth is: (as Belinda Carlisle – that great theologan told us) in heaven, love comes first!! So when people pray the Lord’s prayer – ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ – this looks very little like our current practices of government or nation states and the ways they behave in the earth.
But if self-giving, others-empowering love is the ESSENTIAL nature of God, then this must change the way we understand everything. The glory of God is not found in might, power, dominion and sovereignty. No, it is found in his cruciform nature. And if the earth can be filled with the glory of God rather than the ‘glory of empire’, where love is the antidote to fear, joy the antedote to debt, goodness the antedote to control through law and peace the antedote to violence, then together we might begin to taste a little bit of heaven.
How might we live and organise ourselves differently? How might we live politically? How might we shape economics? How might we heal and educate? How might we care for each other and the environment? How might nations relate to one another if love and not autonomous power comes first? There is a revolution much more profound than the violent overthrows of the past. It is the revolution of love.