Azusa Street – Rosa Parks – MLK – Obama – Status Quo – What Can We Learn?

AzusaStreet2110 years ago last weekend, there was a phenomenon that occurred at Azusa Street, Los Angeles, which saw the birth of the Christian Pentecostal movement and forever changed the face of global christianity and society as a whole. In the gatherings and prayer meetings that happened during this time, many people encountered the egalitarian love of God and were utterly transformed by it. In a day and age in which there was still an utter domination of Black men and women by Whites and the general degradation of women of all colours and backgrounds, something incredible unravelled. Suddenly, men and women, blacks and whites found themselves to be equally loved, equally honoured and equally transformed. Sadly, within just a couple of years, much of this free and radical move of God, this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, had become commodified and controlled with the separation of men and women, black and white as entrenched as ever.

 

What we can recognise, however, is that something had been birthed that waspar0-018 unstoppable. It is without doubt, that one can trace this awakening force all the way through to the bravery of Rosa Parks and the peace-fuelled dream of Martin Luther King. But, I want to argue that between the early 20th century and the time of the Civil Rights Movement, a virus had infected the movement that has ultimately led to it being ineffectual in creating a truly egalitarian society.

 

In a recent blog I wrote on Christmas, I stated that the Christmas story is not about God changing his mind about humanity, but about humanity reconfiguring its understanding of who God is. So, it was with Azusa Street. The movement of God in the earth, what some people term ‘the river of God’, flows to “bring down rulers from their thrones and exalt those who are humble”, or to “bring the mountains low and raise the valleys up”, creating an equal playing field for humanity. To state this even more clearly: There is a whole new way for humanity to walk in together, which is utterly different from the status quo, where we move from a place in which the power and wealth is held by the few, to a ‘new creation’ of egalitarian grace for all. The Azusa Street ‘awakening’ was not given so that more and more Christians could sing more and more songs for longer and have ever more wonderful experiences. No, it was to begin something that could change the whole of society and put right age-long injustices.

 

In the flow from Azusa Street into the Civil Rights Movement, something precious was lost and a distortion took place. Azusa Street offered a new way for humanity, a partnership between kenosis and ecstasy. However, a misapplied understanding of MTE5NTU2MzE2MjgwNDg5NDgzSovereignty through a leadership of domination and control, meant that rather than creating a new dance, to which all could be invited, it was believed that it was only through the positions of power that one could affect change. So, the contemporary critics of MLK may have been onto something when they said that he should not be knocking on the door of power in order to be part of the white man’s game. Rather, the movement could have found a new way of being that they invited all, including the powerful to join in with.

 

If we take the journey right through from Azusa Street to Obama, even with a black President, the problem still remains. So much hope rested on one man. ‘Yes We Can!’ has become ‘Oh no you couldn’t’. Not because Obama isn’t brilliant (I think he was MTE4MDAzNDEwNzg5ODI4MTEwace in many ways). Not because his motives were wrong. Not even because he was naive. No, the truth is that real change doesn’t happen from the top. The positions of power are incapable of making the changes that many long to see. Generally the positions are filled with good people, but they find that the power they thought they might have is utterly impotent. They are actually powerless to do the very thing they were elected to the office to do! Otherwise, we would have implementation of Obamacare, and many other injustices put right…..only we are seeing the very opposite of this occur on both sides of the Atlantic.

 

It is the powers that have to shift and the processes that need to change. The systems are so strong and built on such endemic injustice, violence and control, that they simply cannot shift their ground.  If people movements try to get ‘the right people’ into positions of power in the hope that they will bring some kind of salvation, they will be sorely disappointed. We cannot knock on the doors of power to try to gain that power. We must fundamentally see a power shift and redistribution. This requires an entirely different kind of culture and an entirely new politics. It is the movements that must help those in power to make the shift into the new future we are all longing for, rendering the current power structures null and void.

 

 

Political Parables – Free Market Economics

Unknown First of all, I listened to an awesome radio 4 show this week, which is part of a brilliant series called “Promises, promises: A History of Debt”. This week’s short program was entitled: “The International Politics of Debt” and serves as a good backdrop to challenge some of our world-view before embarking on this next parable, which to be honest, interpreted through the lens of Freire and Herzog, blew my mind! Have a listen: http://bbc.in/18eAr6m The parable in question is that of  “The Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27)

Matthew 25:14-30 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Parable of the Talents

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants[a] and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents,[b] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[c] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the imagesone talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 25:14 Greek bondservants; also verse 19
  2. Matthew 25:15 talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years’ wages for a laborer
  3. Matthew 25:21 Greek bondservant; also verses 232630
English Standard Version (ESV)The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. I have sat in so many different church contexts over the years and heard this parable taught the same way. “Use your talents/gifts/money for God, because God doesn’t want you to waste what He’s given you. You are supposed to multiply it and increase it and use it for His glory/for good/to show others His blessing…..” But, hang on a minute. What if we turn this parable on its head? What if Jesus is not casting God as the master, but he is again directly speaking into the societal set up of the day? What if this master is in fact a ruler in an agrarian society, with a governing class beneath him, a section of merchants, retainers and priests with a few artisans thrown in underneath that and a bunch of unclean/degraded/expendables at the bottom of the pile? If this is so, (and I’m not sure the master fits the bill in terms of who Jesus is revealing the Father to be), then what might the parable mean? Is it possible that the radical person is not the one who doubles the money of the “unjust ruler”, who reaps where he doesn’t sow etc etc? Rather, could Jesus be highlighting the one who choses to challenge this way of life, that in effect keeps the ruler rich and powerful, or gives increase to the ones who are willing to increase their wealth through defunct systems of usury, to be the real radical/irritant/one of another kind of Kingdom? It’s not to say that God doesn’t want us to use gifts he’s given us for the benefit of others…..but maybe that’s just not what this parable is about. Too often, the parables of Jesus are used to uphold and justify a certain way of doing economics and perhaps we don’t want to engage with the hard-hitting realities of what he might really be saying…. If we assume that this master does not represent God, then what might a modern-day reading of it be (also given the context of international debt)? Maybe something like this: For it will be like the CEO of a big chocolate company, who went to the Ivory Coast to ensure a good flow of chocolate into the West and ever expand his chocolate empire. He called three of his most entrusted leaders to himself, and asked them to ensure more chocolate at a lower price. He set one of them, with the most experience over 5 factories, the next one over 3 factories and the last one over 1 factory. The first two set to work, thinking about how they could make more chocolate for less money in order to keep their boss happy and the business functioning well. They knew if they did well, they would secure their own future in the company and good income for their families. Understanding capitalism, they came up with a cunning plan. They decided the best way would be to get cheap or even free images-2labour. So, they enslaved children from the surrounding area and nations with families who were too poor to keep them, and put them to work in the fields, picking the cocoa, or in the factories at the grinding machines, under terrible and dangerous conditions, in which many of the children died or were abused by hard task masters. images-1The last of the workers, saw what the other two were up to and it made him sick to the stomach. He refused to enslave children in this way and couldn’t understand the motivation of the CEO. He chose to pay people a fair wage, keep their working conditions good and have strong morale amongst his team. The CEO returned. He was willing to turn a blind eye to the methods and was full of praise for the ‘business acumen’ of the first two. He paid them well, ensuring his ‘fair trade’ logo and set them up over even more projects to continue achieving brilliant results. The other guy was out on his ear, sacked from the company with no right of appeal. Confused and dismayed, what was he to do? End his life? Beg for his job back and act the same way as the others? No, he continued Unknown-1to try to live a life that restored people’s humanity and hoped for “the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible”. So, who is the radical carrier of the Kingdom of God here?

Revolution

Ok, I can’t sleep. I’ve been needing to write this for ages. I know my voice is small and I live somewhere in the north of rural lancashire in the UK, but I want to add my voice to the growing song that is rising in the hearts of the multitude. We need a revolution and we are in the midst of one, but we don’t fully know it yet. It is stirring in our hearts, the yearning for something truly and radically different. Russell Brand gave voice to it, in his interview with Jeremy Paxman. You can see it on youtube.

I watched question time the other week, and I nearly threw my shoe at the television. I was filled with such indignation at the lack of real debate.The ‘right’ and the ‘centre-left’ may as well be saying the same thing, the odd difference in policy, but a maintaining of the status-quo. We cannot and must not allow the wool to be pulled over our eyes. We cannot and must not allow ourselves to be hypnotised or enslaved in our thinking and believe that things cannot and will not change. Part of my job description at the moment is to try and help save/cut 70 million pounds from the health budget for the Morecambe bay area. Save 70 million pounds! I ask you! When there are billions of pounds in off shore tax havens?!

You see we do not dream of a future in which we allow competition and greed to drive us. We do not dream of a future in which our african children starve to death or our afghan brothers are killed by our european ones. We do not dream of a future in which our children are commodities, eaten up by an economic system that pitches them one against another. We do not dream of a future in which we value our children by their grades and devalue education to the degree that we measure success by literacy rates at the age of 16. We do not dream of a world where healthcare is about profit and the ones who need it most cannot access it. We do not dream of a world where we continually rape the earth of her resources and leave an unsustainable planet. We do not dream of a global economy in which the rich are protected and given more and more privilege whilst the ‘feckless poor’ are punished and scapegoated. We do not dream of a world in which girls are slaves within a sex industry. We do not dream of a world in which there is such disparity between rich and poor. We do not dream of a world in which we spend trillions of dollars on war because we have such a skewed idolatry of nation states. We do not really believe that war will eventually bring real peace. We do not dream of a world in which billions of dollars are siphoned into tax-free havens so the rich can build their super yachts and we have to cut back our public services to the extent that the only other alternative on the table becomes to privatise everything and increase yet more competition whilst sacrificing our very souls. NO!

We dream of something different. We imagine a very alternative future to the dominant reality of our time. We hope for something far more beautiful. We are in a change of eras and we must not be scared. We must not be silenced and we must not give up. Something is stirring in our hearts and we must let it stir us more into love and action.

Can you imagine a world in which we didn’t send young men and women off to war, but instead trained them to rebuild cities that have been devastated, like Damascus, or taught them to irrigate deserts so that streams would flow there and there would be no need for starvation? Can you imagine a world with multiple economic systems based on gift in which the primary drive was giving and receiving instead of buying and selling? Can you imagine people living where they want to, not only where they can afford to? Can you imagine excellent healthcare available to all people everywhere, not just in the rich, developed lands, but given freely to all who need it? Can you imagine a radical overhaul in how we create energy? Can you imagine a government which doesn’t dominate or control and isn’t in the pocket of multinational corporations, but rather serves the real needs of the peoples and partners with other governments to ensure everybody has enough, through a sharing of resource and ideas? Can you imagine businesses which are not driven by greed, but by the needs of the communities around them? Can you imagine laws that really free us to live and breathe and have our being, but protect the most vulnerable rather than exploiting them? Can you imagine education that celebrates difference, creates a genuine love of learning and inspires the next generation to go even further in love and creativity? It’s not beyond our imaginings! It is the longing of our hearts. It is what God gave life to us for……to love, to create, to heal, to steward, to tenderly care for, to enjoy.

There are many solutions to explore. There is much co-creating to be done. We must end the commodification of human beings and the earth and treat one another and the land as friends. We must resist the temptation towards violence and hate. We can dismantle the old oppressive systems whilst building together a wholly different future. Do not be put off by a seeming lack of answers. If we ask the questions, more questions will come! And from more questions, we will together discover some answers we hadn’t thought of before. The earth is calling for it, our hearts are longing for it, the spirit groans for it. It is time. It is time for a deep and long-lasting revolution of love.

Healthcare Politics 3a

3a) Healthcare is diverse

We are in danger of making healthcare too narrow in our understanding. Here are a couple of posts on its vast spectrum!

Healthcare is in part about curing people.

Cure involves quick access to urgent care for all people of all backgrounds and need. I know of some great emergency departments and I know of some that I would never want to be admitted to (and some of those are ones I have worked in!). And the difference is not usually to do with levels of expertise (although sometimes this is the case), but far more to do with the morale, ethos and culture within the department. Where the staff are cared for, nurtured and supported, I guarantee the care they give is excellent. Where there is a  top down, bullying approach to management with a culture of lying and blame, I promise you, the care is less than good……We need those departments to be filled with caring, patient-centred professionals, who are able to hold compassion at the fore when pressure and circumstance squeeze them from every side, so that people receive excellent care.

Cure is also about having access to affordable drugs and other treatments like surgery – and not just here, but everywhere….in the USA, where the pharmaceutical industry holds far too much power, and uses it to dominate, rather than serve and benefit others, especially the poor, many drugs are inaccessible. Surgery is too expensive, due to corruption in insurance. I love the way people movements, like those spoken of by Shane Claiborne in the ‘Irresistible Revolution’, are providing alternatives to the greedy insurance companies and challenging the ethics of these often appalling empires, who crush the very ones they are trying to help. Surgery made possible, by the generosity and sharing of others. If you haven’t already done so, get involved with #nicsfight, here in the UK.

And then there is the minefield of cures being deliberately withheld from the developing world because they do not make financial sense…..I listened to a fascinating talk by a lady called Landa Cope recently who challenged this concept head on. She said that the areas in which to invest, if you want to see the biggest growth and return are actually among the poor…….but our motivation must be love not financial gain……but for those motivated by money, the health impact fund and a rethink of international development policy could help!

When Jesus ‘healed’ people, there are 2 different words used. One of them is ‘Iomai’, meaning ‘to cure.’ He took time with those who needed it most to cure them. Where we have medical or surgical cures available, how can we withhold them from people who want and need them? If healing others is part of what it means to be human, as Jesus, ‘the human one’, demonstrated, again and again, then we need to make cures available to everyone. A cure is not earned, it is given! Let’s take the gifts of a cure that we have and make them available to everyone, everywhere…..

Healthcare Politics 2a

2) I do believe “all knowledge is relational”. I wrote to the secretary of state for health in the last government and suggested that we coud join up some thinking between the dept of health and the dept for international development. How often do we hear that the money given through aid has been squandered, wasted or siphoned off into some terrible and corrupt dictator’s pocket? And this then gives UKIP or the Tories scope to try and slash our aid budgets to the developing world. But, we also have a surplus of trainee doctors…..

My idea was this – instead of giving money into situations to help with health, we could give our doctors, nurses and midwives to work on an optional (rolling) basis as part of their training. We have loads of GP, surgical, medical, paediatric, anaethetistic, emergency, nursing and midwifery specialist trainees (to name but a few), who finish their training, or who get to a certain level and then cannot progress further due to a bottle neck in the system. We have some the best trained medical professionals in the world waiting for jobs. We also have, for example, the same population as South Africa, and ten times the number of doctors…….

What about piloting some schemes, where we allow relationships toimgres develop between partner hospitals and communities? We can send some of our best trained people into the developing world, paid for by a joint arrangement between the DoH and DfID. Our trainees would get some of the best experience, with on the job training available and return with richer and more diverse skills. They would build friendships and receive as much as they would give, learning about communication skills in difficult circumstances, reaching through cultural barriers and expanding their knowledge base. The host hospitals/clinics would also benefit from the sharing of knowledge and skills and therefore an increased level of expertise with which to help their communities. There would also be fresh supplies and medicines, homeprovided, for example, by the incredible work of the International Healthcare Partners or the Health Impact Fund. It is vital that such partnerships include community medicine as well as hospitals, because we need a sustainable model for the future. Plus we need to breakdown traditional views of who is ‘qualified’ to be a healthcare professional! Basic signs of illness could be taught to community members, so that the right treatment is given for the right condition. There has been some fascinating work, of late, in helping communities recognise when something is malaria and when it is not – the results have been staggering. It’s a scheme which involves partnership, honesty, sharing resources, using aid budgets in a relational and focussed way and could, I think, be really transformational! Aid that is relational and reciprocal – breaks down some of the power dynamics and utilises resource as gift. Sounds like good stewardship. The british government didn’t think so and were rude and dismissive in their reply!!

Healthcare Politics 1

1) Great health care should be universally accessible to all. I tweeted recently that I was pleased that Obama was re-elected, not because I think his politics are particularly more radical or really that different from those of Romney, but so that Obama Care could have a chance. A chap from the states tweeted back that nothing in life is free, it’s just not the ‘American Way’. The politics of Jesus is clear. He goes to the poor, the marginalised, the rejects and the outcasts. He never creates loopholes to exclude them! He treats the foreigner with dignity and cares for the unlovely. His politics are far more challenging that we would ever allow ourselves to believe! There is no toxic distinction made between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. That is a repulsive notion that we must not allow ourselves to be aligned with.

Homeless ManWhere the rich can access better healthcare more easily in the ‘christianised’ west, we need to ask ourselves how and why on earth we have let this happen – the answer is not a comfortable one. When 50 million americans cannot access health care, and a black man living in New York has a life expectancy of just over 40, also true of a homeless person living in London, we have to wonder about our priorities. You are far more likely to die young in an inner city estate from chronic disease than if you live in a middle class suburb. And that is only the health injustice in the west.

We bury our heads when we begin to think of the life expectancy of our brothers and sisters in Africa, in South America, in parts of Asia.kevin-carter-vulture We focus on increasing the life expectancy of the rich (white) ones in the UK to 85 or more, and feel a deep sense of achievement, while all the time, children die of diarrhoea (can you imagine if that happened here?), starvation, malaria, things that are genuinely and inexpensively preventable?! I don’t come at this naively. I don’t think the answer is a quick fix, but there is a kenarchic challenge – to those whom much is given, much is required. So often we hang on to human rights, and make them about me and my rights. We want to become our own mini emperors, where we demand the best for ourselves and the self protectionism sadly drowns out the cry of others. The truth is, we don’t need to make healthcare everywhere worse for good health care to happen everywhere for everyone.

However, we need to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable about the amount that is currently spent per head on healthcare for a wealthy child compared to a poor one…….we need to find new ways to protest, new ways to give, new ways to redistribute resource. But we cannot remain silent and we cannot do nothing. We cannot be like the fat cats who sing our happy songs and forget about justice for the poor. The millenium development goals are now, sadly, a total joke, and yet we could have gone further…….we blame, amongst other things the banking crisis. This is plainly a lie. If we want to live in a way that is like God, and really see justice and mercy filling the earth we live in, then we must learn to prioritise those He prioritises.

Kenarchy and Healthcare – Paradigm

I think a lot of the time about healthcare. I guess, it’s because it’s the arena in which I spend a huge bulk of my time. I’ve studied and worked within this sphere for nearly 14 years now and it’s something I care deeply about. I think what I will write here will be helpful and applicable to other realms of work, but this is what I know, and so this is where I start – ha! though it won’t be where I finish!!

If kenarchy is about emptying out the places of power, lives laid down in loving and serving other people, then caring about the health of others is a good place to apply it! If kenarchy can be applied to our paradigms, praxis (or politics) and person, then wherever we work, whatever we do, we can use its lens to help us get some focus in each of these areas.

Were I to try to blog all in one go on a kenarchic paradigm, politic and the personal impacts on healthcare, then this could end up being the longest blog post in all of history! So I will break it down into the three subsections, starting with a kenarchic paradigm (the way we see the world). This is big picture stuff and doesn’t massively deal with specifics! For some, these thoughts are nothing new, for others I hope they spark challenge and debate!

Paradigm (with some politics thrown in for good measure!)

These are some initial thoughts on how my thinking about health care has been shaped in terms of the big picture.

1) Great health care should be universally accessible to all, and all should have access to the same standard of excellence, love, and care. I do not see health care as something which is earned or a privilege, but something which is freely given. Of course there are economic implications here, but perhaps if we stop thinking in terms of an economy of buying and selling (trade) and rather think of services that are given and received (exchange) then this may help us. It also questions the huge drive to privatise healthcare, in which money and profit are dangerously the motivating factors, rather than equity. Many of political philosophers writing currently, are calling for a new moral foundation or frame-work from which to establish new ways of being and living. The kenarchic basis here is that God is love and God is healer. God calls us to be like him and we too are therefore to be those who primarily function out of love and to be those who bring healing. Freely you receive, freely give…..

2) As my great friend, Roger Mitchell says “all knowledge is relational”. Too often, especially with intellectual copyright laws and big pharma, knowledge is power. But it shouldn’t be. If we gain knowledge, it is for the benefit of others, for their empowerment, for their betterment. That doesn’t mean there isn’t expertise, or specialism, far from it. We need one another’s knowledge, to honour and draw on one another’s gift, but if we hide it when it could help millions of people, or focus our knowledge on helping those who can pay us most, we need to question our humanity. So much of what we do in medicine, is a symbiotic relationship of learning and teaching. ‘Knowledge power’, just like any power, is not there to be lorded over others or enslave them to us in any way, rather it is for the service of others. An uncomfortable challenge. Knowledge needs wisdom for it to be used properly. The wisdom of God is found in a cross, where the human one, Jesus, gives his life in ‘foolishness’, refusing to bow to the status quo or powers that “know what to do”….but when we keep knowledge for our selves, or use it to make ourselves look clever and wonderful in the sight of others…..we are being less than human…..

3) Health care is diverse. Health care is not just about curing people. It involves some curing, but also some discovery, some therapy and some suffering with others over long periods of time. It is mental and physical and spiritual. It is natural and supernatural. It is about helping people to live well, die well and choose well. We must be very resistant to that which commodifies it into being about cures and results. We need to ensure we honour and use the vast breadth of care available especially for those, who don’t make financial sense or produce obviously fast results!

4) Healthcare is most effective when there is collaboration in place of competition. Time and again studies show that where teams work together to bring out the best in one another and collaborate together, outcomes are far better and those working are far happier than where competition is used as the model. The Kings fund and others have done so much work into this, and there is little else to comment on.

5) Healthcare is service. It is not about profit, or glory or self promotion. It is about serving people. That’s why I love that the health system we have in the UK is called the NHS. Working in this environment should remind us what we’re here for and what our motivation is.

6) Universal healthcare is affordable. It is a complete myth and a lie that we couldn’t afford to give good health care to every one on the planet. We make ridiculous choices as humanity to destroy one another, when we could be living very differently. Healthcare for everyone does not mean poor health care for everyone. Here is a brilliant TED talk by a truly excellent thinker, Thomas Pogge.

http://www.ted.com/talks/thomas_pogge_medicine_for_the_99_percent.html

7) Healthcare involves joined up thinking and new partnerships emerging. We are stuck in a crazy cycle of a lack of joined up thinking between so many aspects of life and the economy. Plenty of examples of this in the next blog……but for example, health, education, international development, media, sport, as a starter for 10!

My hope is to take these 7 paradigms of kenarchic healthcare and apply them politically and personally……As it says at the top of my blog, when paradigms change, the world changes with them……