Reimagining the United Kingdom

imgresIt is no secret that I voted to remain in the EU. All 3 generations of my family, who were eligible to vote, also voted to remain (and my kids would have voted the same way, had they had the chance – under no parental pressure, you understand!). And yet, as my long departed Nanna would say (the one, who knew all the names of her grandchildren after her stroke, except mine, and called me, Edith!)…. “Well, here we are….”

 

Here we are indeed. I am disappointed and sad, but here we are. We have some deeply painful and complicated times ahead of us, but for those of us who voted to remain, what we must not do is retreat into a finger pointing woundedness that is willing to embrace the ‘other’ in Europe, but the reject the ‘other’ in the UK, who felt that Brexit was the way to go. No. In a world where we long for a positive approach to peace, for reconciliation under-girded by our first value to love one another, we must hold ourselves to account and dig deep to remember who we are and what kind of future we want to build together.

 

There are some really really important conversations for us to have right across the UK that will help us to face up to and heal the wounds we have exposed. Both sides of the debate over the EU have some significant hurts and many of them go deeper than a simple in/out referendum could ever address.

 

So, how do we engage together and have conversations with people from different sides of the dividing line about what kind of UK we might see develop? What might we reimagine together? Is there a hope of a Union left? Here are some things that I would like to explore in some upcoming blogs and see what conversations emerge:

 

imagesOntology – what?! Yep – in the end, so much of who we are and how we live, what we align ourselves with and how we would choose to shape our future together depends on this. Basically – why are we here? What is our purpose? We need to understand this at an individual and a corporate level. As I have suggested in my other blog (www.reimagininghealth.com) our health and wellbeing actually depends on having a life that aligns with this sense of knowing why we are.

 

Theology and Philosophy – what?! Yes – again, so much of our life in this nation and imgrescertainly our politics is under-girded by things people have/have not believed about God and his/her interaction with the world. Whether you are a person of faith or not, it is difficult to deny that for good or ill, the geopolitical worldview of the West has been hugely shaped by the partnership of church and empire over the preceding several centuries. This area of thought and study especially shapes our understanding of ‘Sovereignty’.

 

Economics – this is more obvious. How we choose to “order our house” has huge imgresimplications of how we then live in the world. David Cameron tells us there is ‘no alternative’ to the Neoliberal economic agenda with its reliance on the ‘benevolent’ free market, competition, privatisation, biopower and austerity. And whether the UK or the EU is the worst proponent of this, I’m not sure, but perhaps other options are available to us. Maybe we don’t need to have an ever widening gap between the rich and poor. Maybe we don’t have to have a London-Centric (or even with the emergence of a Northern Powerhouse, a Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-Centric) economy. Does our economy always have to grow? If it does – what does this mean for the creation of a peaceful world or our ecosystems? Isn’t it high time we had a good hard look at what our policies are doing to the world we live in, or demand in terms of war and self-protectionism? I recently trained as an executive coach – I can tell you for sure, there are always options…..it is a lie to say that we have no alternative. We do. We can have a fairer society and perhaps it’s time for us to say to the corporate giants who threaten us that they will up and leave if we don’t give them enormous tax breaks and turn a blind eye to their greed, that we will find a kinder way of being without them. There are options open to us of renationalisation of some things, co-operatives, credit unions, gift economies, time banking and many other things explored by top economists, which the press give no voice to.

 

And then we have more surface issues. What about our relationship with Europe and the rest of the world now? Surely we aren’t going to believe we have some kind of Empire-like influence in the world anymore? The British Empire and Christendom are both over! So, now that we don’t have them and we’re not part of the EU – what kind of partnerships do we want with other nations?

 

imagesAnd what about education? Is it OK that there was such a massive split in how people voted according to what they had achieved at an academic level? Are we developing academic snobbery? Are we developing education systems where there is an understanding of important issues like the one we’ve just had a referendum about? If it wasn’t for our dinner time conversations, my kids would know nothing about the EU – but thanks to Michael Gove, they can tell me about subordinate clauses and modal verbs! There is something very wrong with that.

 

5517007247_63d55ac8f5_m[1]For healthcare – we already know that the Brexit campaign told us a complete lie about how much extra funding would be available to the NHS. But here we are! Given our current economic policies, it is difficult to see how our Nation’s favourite brand will survive. You cannot believe in an ever shrinking state and increased privatisation and continue to have the best and fairest healthcare system in the world! This is why we need greater participatory leadership and truer representative democracy!

 

Ecology, peace-making and so much more need to be the discussions around our kitchen tables, on our walks and in our cafes and pubs. Enough of the hypnosis by our media! Let’s find each other again, heal our hurts, listen, seek to understand and together find solutions for how we are going to live in this world. Here is to a future of love, hope and peace. I will explore some more of this in the coming blogs.

Understanding Neoliberal Economics

I am a big fan of the New Economics Foundation.
Here is a really helpful 6 part introduction to neoliberalism, how it has come to dominate the world economy and what some alternatives might be. Well worth a listen!
Beginner’s Guide to Neoliberalism by New Economics Foundation

https://itun.es/gb/Absg-.c

Political Parables – Education as a Revolution

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Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire was an educational revolutionary who saw that the poor, marginalised and oppressed in Brasil, took on the world view (or “social construct of reality”) of those who were their oppressors. More than this he described how the educational system was used like a “banking system” to deposit the world view of the dominant class, (with their wealth, power and privilege), into the hearts and minds of the lower social classes, therefore maintaining the status quo.

He spent loads of time with the “peasant classes”, (after a financial crisis in his own family left them very poor) and learnt that they were certainly not unintelligent and although illiterate, had an incredible language of their own. He went on to devise an educational program which enabled these “peasants” to learn rather than to be taught and in so doing released them to begin a revolution in which the powers were challenged, the presumed ‘ways of being’ were shaken and new freedom was found. Unfortunately, this was crushed by the military coup of 1964, but it left Freire never again to “underestimate the vested interest of political powers in controlling the production and distribution of knowledge through their system of schooling” (see amazing work on his by William R. Herzog II in Parables as Subversive Speech).

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William R. Herzog II

Herzog goes on to draw some extraordinary parallels between Paulo Freire and Jesus Christ, whom he asserts both hugely confront the power paradigms of the day and in so doing bring good news to the poor, freedom for those held captive to oppressive systems, sight for those who had been blinded by the worldview of the ‘mighty’ and light for those living in darkness.

Walter Brueggemann

Walter Brueggemann

Mitchell, in his book, “Church, Gospel and Empire’ demonstrates how Jesus directly challenges the Imperial System of Rome. Brueggemann (in “The Prophetic Imagination”) contends that Jesus (as a prophet and much more than just a prophet) is fulfilling the prophetic tradition of those who have gone before, criticising the oppressive systems and energising a fresh imagination of how radically different a future built on the foundations of (God’s) love could be.

I wonder how many teachers these days see it as their role to teach and train their pupils in the ‘national curriculum’ and the ‘social constructs of reality’ to which we all subscribe? And how many see their role as revolutionaries who dare to allow our children to believe that the world we live in can be radically different in the future; where instead of an economics of affluence, we have an economics of equity, instead of a politics of oppression, we have one of justice and compassion, and instead of a religion of immanence and law, we have one of true freedom (again, see Brueggemann) – I don’t know, but if you’re out there – please keep going!

Political Parables – A Mini Series

UnknownI love reading. For lent this year, my wife and I have switched off the TV and are giving our noses some more book time. There are two books I’ve read this past 12 months which have impacted me deeply: “Parables as Subversive Speech – Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed” by William R. Herzog II and “The Prophetic Imagination” by  Walter Brueggemann. I would seriously recommend them to you, whatever your faith or political background – they are challenging to the core. I want to blog a mini series on lUnknown-1essons I have learnt and thoughts that have provoked me as I have read.

One of the people whom I hugely admire is Mehdi Hassan. I admire his courage to speak his mind, to be unashamed about what he believes as a Muslim and his passion in debate. I have felt challenged by the way he puts his faith front and centre whilst engaging deeply in the political issues of our day. I make no secret of the fact that I am a man who loves and follows Jesus (not very good at it, but hey-ho!). The more I have discovered about Jesus, especially over the last few years, the more I have found I love him. My world view is shaped by his radical love for ‘the other’ and for ‘the enemy’, his prioritisation of women, children, the poor, the sick, the prisoner and those generally hated or ostracised by society. There is no-one in history who has ever brought such a sharp critique of Imperial Systems that commodify human life like fodder to feed an economic machine or challenged the status quo mindsets to the extent that he did. Nor did anyone else release such deep hope of a reimagined future.

And yet, those of us who claim to follow him have so often utterly missed his point and have been more caught up in creating a religion around him that he never intended anyone to build, partnering with empire in the process rather than criticising it and bringing transforming love and economic justice to all of the creation.

I hope this mini-series inspires some good conversation, either online or around some dinner tables about the world we live in and how we engage with it. For me, the parables of Jesus have as much dynamic power to shock us today as they did for his first listeners. Put aside any hang ups about ‘christianity’ or ‘politics’ and let the subversive stories make you think.

 

Independence?

imgresAs a family, we were down in Sussex over the weekend spending time with our best friends. Whilst there, I read a newspaper in which a local baptist minister was giving his reasons for standing as a UKIP candidate in the next elections. His reasons were really two fold. Firstly, he feels that UKIP will will help restore the UK to being a ‘Christian Nation’ and secondly he feels that the UK needs to be protected from a ‘bleak and intolerant Europe’.

Quite honestly, I am baffled! On his first point, my agreement lies entirely with Rowan Williams, who this week stated that the UK is post-christian. That is not to state that the UK does not have many christian principles under-girding its laws and organisational structures, it surely does. But that doesn’t make this a Christian Nation. The UK is, at best, a nation in which the majority of people (still) claim to have have some sort of christian faith, having been influenced by christian values. But to state that the nation is therefore “christian” is confusing to say the least. I mean, how “christian” is the UK? The UK invests heavily in weapons of war and breaks international law to engage in combat with other nation states. It protects the super rich and punishes the poor with a combination of tax and welfare cuts. It partakes in the global oligarchy that is the G8 and wields it power to extend its own interests internationally. It upholds global capitalism, as though it were this form of economics that will save the world, and in doing so is fully complicit in the global slave trade which upholds it. The church, like Jesus is to be the pedagogue of the oppressed, not those who make life more comfortable for ourselves, shutting our eyes to injustice whilst some moral principles feel safeguarded.

On his second point, I struggle hugely with the whole issue of independence, because whatever we may want to believe, we actually need each other. We need reconciliation, not division. We need love, not suspicion. We need gift not greed and we need collaboration not competition. How this is organised institutionally and structurally can be debated well, but to me the entire concept of independence stinks. I need you and you need me. The UK needs France, Germany, Romania, Sweden et al. and they need the UK. Where there are barriers and walls of division, we break them down, we do not create more for the sake of self protectionism – I cannot think of anything less christian!  We are not made for independence, but for interdependence, for community and for relationship.

Devolving Power from the Centre

Earlier this week the UK parliament voted that the secretary of state for health will have new powers to close any hospital in England, should he see fit. There are a couple of caveats attached. Firstly, the local people will apparently have ‘a say’ and the local commissioning boards of GPs will also have to agree. How much of ‘a say’ local people will really get is yet to be seen and how much pressure will be exerted on local commissioning boards to tow the party line we don’t yet know.

What this highlights yet again is the complete lack of joined up thinking that happens around healthcare and the wider economy. It also reveals how utterly disempowering central government really is. How can Westminster decide what the needs and wants of the city of Leeds are, for example? What do they know about the non-economic impacts of closing a hospital? I’m not arguing that all hospitals should stay open, and there’s a good chance that some may well need to close. But it cannot be a decision from on high. Nor can it be an isolated decision. It’s too complex for that.

I find great encouragement from the knowledge that there are several towns and cities in the UK where ‘a people’s assembly’ is emerging. There are some stunning examples of this in Nottingham, Leeds and London. Across a city such as these ones, there are webs of networks and interconnected relationships that represent thousands and thousands of people. I had the utter privilege recently of spending some time with John Battle, a recently retired MP from Leeds. He carries a wealth of wisdom in understanding how to engage people from across a city to participate in key decisions. He was explaining to me that in a people’s assembly, there are representatives from many groups across the city. Each person can speak on behalf of their group and report back to them for further discussion. It’s an incredible way of involving a huge proportion of a city in a discussion.

In Nottingham, for example, at the time of electing the new police commissioner, over 1200 people, representing a vast number of networks, gathered from across the city to have a facilitated conversation about what they would hope for from their new commissioner. They were then able to ask questions to the four candidates, and were able to set up a system of accountability for the eventually elected commissioner back to the people. The commissioner understood in no uncertain terms that he was there to serve the city and the city understood that it was there to partner together with the commissioner for the welfare of the communities living there.

A facilitated conversation gives voice to everybody and sets no-one up above another. Leadership becomes about facilitation rather than dominance and control. When we talk about closing a hospital or a maternity unit or a school in an area, it is often said (as in my previous blogs) that there are some very complex things to consider. This is absolutely true. The problem is that we don’t share the complexity, we leave the decisions to so-called experts (who are at best having a good guess), and then either make them heroes or scape-goats!

National budgeting doesn’t work when it comes to healthcare. Local budgeting in isolation doesn’t work either. It’s all well and good to campaign to keep a hospital open, but we do actually live in a world of finite resources and people and so if we keep the hospital, there may be other tough cuts to make. We have separated out huge aspects of budgeting that really belong together. That is why a people’s assembly in a town/city/region doing the complex task of participatory budgeting is a possible way forward. It isn’t actually that difficult to get people together and budgets aren’t that hard to understand. I know so many people who have extremely tight and complex budgets to manage when it comes to their own households and they do it with finesse. Multiplying the numbers up, ain’t that tricky.

When a town/city understands what it’s budget is for a year (or longer) and the people can decide what the priorities need to be I think the results could be amazing. Firstly, there might be genuine partnerships formed across cities to work in more innovative and creative ways. Secondly, there would be greater engagement and social responsibility. Thirdly, there would be less waste. Fourthly there would be emerging partnerships of gift (rather than competition) between cities for various resources.

Some argue that in such a situation, the most needy and therefore least empowered in a city could miss out. This happens currently in the national setting. For me, this is where leadership comes in. Leadership is not about riding into town to shut a hospital here, or rename a school into an academy there. Leadership is about emptying power out and reassuring all that they are already empowered. It is also about helping protect and promote those who could potentially be down trodden or forgotten. It is giving a voice to those who feel voiceless and oppressed by the dominant systems. For me that would mean promoting and protecting the needs of women (for whom there is still an incredible amount of injustice), children, asylum seekers and refugees, the marginalised poor and homeless, those with physical and mental health needs and prisoners.

Power needs to be devolved from the centre to the margins (just as Gordon Brown MP stated this week). And once the power is more regional it still needs to be continually emptied out so that communities find and serve one another, so that cities become gifts to one another and we find that the order of the house (economics) is the responsibility of all.

The Ring of Power

I’m currently reading Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings to my eldest son. We have just finished that part in ‘The Two Towers’ in which Gandalf has returned to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli at the turning of the tide. He makes this awesome statement about Sauron the dark lord:

‘That we should wish to cast him down and have NOONE in his place is not a thought that occurs to his mind. That we should try to destroy the ring (of power) itself has not entered into his darkest dream.’

There are still the stirrings of revolution in many nations. But revolution that is based on violence and only replaces one form of dominant power with another sort of hierarchical dominance is no revolution at all.

Kenarchy is about the emptying out of power. It comes from an understanding that the politics of Jesus were about emptying out power and utterly transforming it. Leadership is not only to be kenotic (that is poured out for others), it is to be kenarchic (that is emptied out) so that we begin to understand that the lowest place is the highest place. We begin to understand that level playing fields are the order of the day. We are not looking for new political parties, but a new politics, that is a new way of relating to one another. We are not looking for new economic regulations, but a new economics. We are not searching for peace maintained through violence but a genuine love of one another, including the love of our ‘enemies’ that transforms how we live together as humanity.

William T Cavanaugh gives a radical reinterpretation of the christian eucharist in the light of this. We live in a divided world in which the ‘powers’ crush and break the multitude. When Jesus breaks bread and gives it away, he is not looking to form an exclusive club. He is, rather inviting us to partake of this kind of givenness, to embrace brokenness in the face of violence and to find that this way of life-poured-out-love finds hope in resurrection. As we eat the bread, we receive life, we become life and we give life as we share with others. The bread is given and is available to all who will receive it. Our barriers are broken down, our borders and our flags lose their relevance. We become part of this trans-local body that only exists to bring life, love and peace. There is no politics (way of doing life) that is more radical than this.

The nation state project holds power at the centre. It uses the components of money, law and control through violence to do this. I believe that as we build relationally in our localities we can find new ways of being. This is happening on a vast scale already and many stories are emerging of alternative ways of being that provide a different narrative to the dominant (economic and political) one of our day.