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?

Biopower and the NHS

Here in the UK, we are increasingly seeing biopower at work in the national health system (NHS). A target driven culture allows patients to be treated like numbers or labelled as disease entities. It is common place to hear of people referred to as ‘Diabetics’ or ‘Asthmatics’ rather than understood as a person, with a name, in a particular life context and set of relationships who has diabetes or asthma. In my area of work, that of general practice, a huge part of our income every year comes through meeting ‘QOF’ (the quality and outcomes framework) targets. The idea behind such targets is to ‘drive up standards’ and ‘improve patient care’. In real terms, however, people can end up having various changes and increases to their medications, so that their blood pressure meets a government target, for example. The ill effects of this, particularly on old people has been recently well documented. Clinicians work hard to get everybody’s blood pressure below a certain value, but due to a lack of research and understanding behind the targets set, especially for people over the age of 75, lowering the blood pressure too much has been causing an increase in falls, fractures and long hospital stays! This is one of many examples where ‘payment by results’ is actually subtracting from patient centred care.

In the recent top down re-organisation of the NHS, which has cost more than £2billion, despite a government promise that such a reorganisation would not happen, more services are being driven out of a traditional hospital setting into the community with no extra resources or time provided to do this work. The new clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are the new local governing bodies, which have replaced PCTs (primary care trusts). The idea behind this is that GPs, clinicians who know their patients and areas well, should be those who commission services rather than non-clinically trained managers, as they potentially have a better knowledge of the needs of patients. However, it transpires that if the government don’t like decisions being made, they can simply dismiss a board and replace it with another one which will comply with their wishes or cause them less of a political headache.

The implication of the EU-US trade agreement has opened the NHS in a way, like never before, to the forces of the free-market. This is based on a philosophy that competition drives up standards of care, and that private providers should be able to bid for services. At first this sounds like a credible and plausible idea. If another provider can offer the same service for less money, surely this is a good thing? Actually it is problematic on two levels. Firstly because the philosophy is deeply flawed. Competition does not drive up standards. It increases stress and breaks apart well integrated services. It destabilises services which currently work well in a symbiotic manner. For example, if Spec Savers offer a cheaper hearing aid service than the local hospital, then they can win a bid to provide this service. But it destabilises the hospital audiology department, which then has a knock on effect to the ENT department. The private company benefits, but in the long term the local population does not. Secondly, when companies limited by shares become the providers of care, care begins to play second fiddle to the need to make money. And here is a major stumbling block. The marginalised poor and the chronically sick do not make good financial sense, and share holders who live in another part of the world care little for their needs, but care a lot about making more money for themselves. So, we will find that those who need care the most will be unable to access it, as greed becomes the driving force. This is sadly proven in the US health system, where this philosophy is rife and 50 million people cannot afford healthcare and 40,000 people died last year as they could not afford the operations they needed. It is only media hype that causes some to believe the US to have the best health system. Most consider it to be inequitable and highly wasteful of resources.

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.

Sacred Economics – The Trouble With Property

Sorry it’s been a while! I was trying to do a chapter a week of this awesome IMG_1638book and then a few things converged at the same time and conspired to make blogging more tricky than I would have liked. And then, I went on holiday with my awesome wife and children and we had some QT in La Belle France. But, now I’m back and ready to plod on….

We were hoping that Charles might be coming to Lancaster, to speak at the Richardson Institute (a centre for peace studies at the university) in the late autumn, but alas, we cant make it work – but he is in York, giving the Schumacher Lecture, Friday 22nd November and then in Leeds on 23rd. (I’ll be in Toronto…..wooot, but sad to miss him!). Go if you can!

Onwards! This chapter is challenging to the core. The age of separation has reached a fullness of times. We find ourselves in cyclical crises, (so if you were thinking that the mini property boom in London is an indication that it’s back to business as usual, then think again!) and the trauma of this separation from one another, our community, nature itself and the divine have remedied themselves in self protectionism. The tragedy of this logic of me and mine, as CE rightly points out is that we seek to recover our loss by expanding and protecting the separate self and its extension: money and property.

So, the modern concept of property, or the ownership thereof is a symptom of imgresthe sovereignty of the individual. If we claim ownership of that for which we did not labour, the land, the rivers, the trees, the resources of the earth, which are a gift to us, then this is tantamount to theft. It was Marx, and others like him that proclaimed “property is robbery”, as the origin of most property was taken by force – witness most of the United States of America as just one example! It was the rich and powerful who seized the land and made the laws. So if property is robbery, then the laws which protect private property, so CE argues, are those which perpetuate a crime.

But he is not advocating the abolition of private property for three reasons. Firstly because abolition is a forceful imposition on the unwilling. Secondly, private property is only a symptom of the deeper sickness of separation. Thirdly, the problem is not necessarily ownership, per se, but the unfair advantages of having it.

So, what do we do? Sell everything we have and give to the poor? A beautifully radical way to live. Jesus challenged a rich young man to do just that. He couldn’t do it, because he loved his wealth and it gave him a status and position that he held too tightly. I often wrestle with wondering if I am like that man…..But then Jesus also says – to whom much is given, much is required…..

Perhaps if we embrace gift, we understand that nothing we possess is really ours. And so we must ask ourselves how we steward that which we have been given, so that it can be given again to the community in which we are embedded. Can our properties become gifts?

The Problem with Dreams

If we are to reimagine the future, we must allow dreams of a different future to penetrate our subconsciousness and impregnate our thoughts and subsequently our actions with new possibilities. As many across theMartin Luther King world have reflected on the remarkable life of Martin Luther King in these past days, and read again his phenomenal speech of his preferred future, his dream of a different life ahead, of justice, forgiveness, togetherness, friendship, equality and love; I have been struck by the power of the actions that began to make that dream a reality. The kind of loving actions which are tough and unwavering in the face of injustice. The kind of loving action which does not lie down and take it, but turns the other cheek, demanding love on an equal footing.

I have been thinking about what our dreams might be for the future. After all the debate in the USA over gun control, we find it easy to make crass judgements about a culture we don’t fully understand. We happily point the finger, whilst the UK government continues to make appalling investment in the arms trade and nuclear weapons. It makes us feel better to focus on ‘the other’ and their problems. But which of us dreams of a future of violence? We say we want peace, but do we? Is enforced peace really peace, or is it a fear based behaviour? True peace involves taking our weapons and transforming them into tools for goodness.

Martin Luther King 2If we dream of a different future, how many of us are willing to change the way we vote around that issue? How many would refuse to vote for a party which supported any arms agreement or nuclear armament? How many more of us could rise to the great protests on the streets? Why do we not hear more political debate on real alternatives to the armed forces and to war? The problem is, deep in our psyche, we still believe peace comes through control, violence and dominance rather than through violent love. We may believe this is how God operates and so if we’re the ‘goodies’ built on ‘good foundations’ it justifies our violence…….

The gun lobby argument that the weapon makes no difference is ridiculous. The more we arm ourselves with weapons of violence, the more likely we are to use them to do violence. I don’t just dream of  people laying down arms in the USA. I want people everywhere to lay down their arms. I believe this is a dream of most people. I think the challenge to us is this: what are we going to do differently to make the dream a reality?

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…..