God, Power and the Western World

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, Constantine“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.

 

UnknownThis 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 imgresforemost 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 imgreslike. 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 unclear about copyright on google imagesbehind 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 images-1change 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.

My Manifesto for the UK post-Brexit (Part 1 – Immigration)

I was having a conversation with someone recently and they challenged me to write a manifesto for the UK, to help put a bit of substance to my various thoughts. What follows is by no means a finished article, nor am I likely to do much with it, but I have found it helpful as an exercise and it serves as a starter on a few issues to spark discussion and also to help me shape my own thoughts further.

I am also a white, privately-educated, “middle-class”, married with 3-kids, “christian” male and so I recognise an inability to communicate, except from the perspective of power and privilege – I can’t change this, but I just want to say that I know it means I can’t see very well.

I hope what I have written is founded on the values of self-giving, others empowering love, the desire to build with positive peace and with hope for a fairer society for everyone. I will start with the area that caused so much debate over the last few weeks and has opened up some deep wounds – let’s see where this goes!

Immigration

I recognise this is a very real and important issue and it is not one that we should be afraid to face up to. My approach would be five-fold:

  1. Our education system will look at the damaging effects of empire and colonisation. We will look at the issue of white and male supremacy and work together to break down these deep set corporate worldviews that we find hard to name let alone own up to. We will help our children and communities face up to the bias and prejudice we all live with and learn from organisations, like the NHS that have done much to tackle them. We will encourage an understanding of the ‘other’ and the benefits of inter-culturalism. We will also work with charities like “together4peace” in Leeds to encourage intercultural dialogue and relationships.
  2. We will introduce a basic rate of pay, guaranteeing a fair and living wage for all of £10 per hour (see economy section for how this is affordable – austerity is NOT the only option available to us!). This will encourage people into work and we will ensure good support of small businesses to make this attainable i.e. the government will give means tested grants to businesses to support them in this. In this way it pays to work, but we will not have a society in which we punish or vilify those who are unable to do so, for whatever reason (see later policy on welfare). It will be illegal for any individual or business to employ workers from overseas or the UK for less than this. This must be legislated and so breaches of this will ensure a heavy fine and/or community service. A second offence would lead to a prison sentence. We cannot endure a culture of westernized slavery that leaves areas impoverished.
  3. We will create local jobs, especially in the places in the UK which have felt forgotten. This will come through a restructuring of the banking sector to encourage local investment in local businesses, as seen in Germany and Denmark. Our banking system is far too centralised and remote. Job creation will come through the creation of locally and/or publicly owned energy, utility and transport services. These might be structured in several different ways and therefore will not take us ‘back to the 1970s’ but create alternative and better ways ahead for local communities.
  4. We will allow the free movement of people but not the free movement of capital. It is not possible to have both. Money created in the UK will stay in the UK ie companies who do their business in the UK will pay their fair share of tax, rather than ship their profits overseas. This will include open but monitored borders, so we are clear who is in the UK, from a security perspective. But overall, we would seek to be a country that welcomes those who want to come here (it’s really not as many as we have been lead to believe!), especially those who need our help at times of crisis in their own nations.
  5. We will encourage every person who lives in the UK to be a net contributor to society where this is possible. We openly recognise and celebrate how many of our public services have depended on the great diversity brought by migrants and refugees from all over the world. We recognise that migrants make a net contribution to our society and give far more in terms of money, skills and rich diversity of culture into the UK than they take. We will ensure welfare for all those who need it, but our international development work will ensure we are able to work with countries to help people where they are to build a future of peace and prosperity (see later post on this). 

 

Obviously all of this needs a great deal of fleshing out, but these would be my overarching principles as points for discussion at this stage – I’m sure it is terribly lacking, so go easy on me – I’m looking for a conversation not a battle!

Kenarchy – New Hope for the Political Left

Michael Sheen wrote a brilliant article in the New Statesman this last week (https://t.co/64vmmjC0if), asking some serious questions of the Labour Party. Here is my personal view about where new hope can be found for the political left (not that labour necessarily represent that anymore…..)

Political Parables – Can Systems Change?

In this mini-series, I am not going to look at all of the parables that Herzog covers in his aforementioned book “Parables as Subversive Speech” – it is a meaty and in depth study and is packed full of punches. Rather, I will focus on the ones which impacted me the most, which caused me to sit up and take notice and forced me to re-examine how I had read it up to this point. I love it when an author/teacher does that – forces you to see something you have never seen before….it’s so good! I hope that whatever your faith background there is some stuff to really engage with here……

As a backdrop, it is important to make three brief statements:

Firstly, Herzog does an incredible job in the early part of his book in peeling back the layers to reveal what was the sociological context of the parables. If we do not understand the nature of the oppressive systems both of the temple and of Rome, then we will miss what Jesus is addressing. Herzog calls this ‘codifying’, a term also credited to Freire in his work with the ‘peasant’ classes in Brasil. These are not twee stories to make us think about cute scenarios. These are hard hitting metaphors which strike at the heart of society and call it to account. Jesus wasn’t crucified because he simply decided to hand himself in, as if all along this was his plan. He was crucified because he challenged the powers head on and there was nowhere else for them to go but to kill him (more on this another time).

Secondly, Herzog asks us to really get to the issue that Jesus was speaking to, not how we choose to clumsily interpret it today nor even how Matthew or Luke emphasised a parable one way or another. He asks us to be faithful to the text by being faithful to the speaker…..

Thirdly, any interpretation of scripture, from my point of view, must begin with Jesus, it is what is called a Jesus hermeneutic. If one starts anywhere else, it is possible to end up with a very different version of God than the One Jesus reveals the Trinity to be. Therefore, when characters are given the role of ‘God’ in these stories, we must ask ourselves if this really represents a true understanding of what Jesus is telling us that God is like i.e. exactly like him.

So, here is the parable of the Unmerciful Servant:

Matthew 18:21-35English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.[a]

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.[b] 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.[c] 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant[d] fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii,[e] and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,[f]until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 18:22 Or seventy-seven times
  2. Matthew 18:23 Greek bondservants; also verses 2831
  3. Matthew 18:24 talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years’ wages for a labourer
  4. Matthew 18:26 Greek bondservant; also verses 2728293233
  5. Matthew 18:28 denarius was a day’s wage for a labourer
  6. Matthew 18:34 Greek torturers
English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

For a far better and in depth study and exegesis, you really are going to have to read the book! But here is my clumsy attempt to pull out some of the key challenges as I see them.

If it is true (and I believe it is) that Jesus is constantly speaking ‘good news for the poor’, causing people to see things they had not seen before and setting people free in the process, then we must ask what he is hitting on here.

The suggestion is this. The ‘ruler/king’ is not initially to be understood as God, but as representing the royal court of the day, which was hugely harsh on its ‘lords/managers’ and expected them to do exactly as ordered in dealing with the peasant classes so as to maintain the status quo. The first servant, who represents a manager type role has somehow got himself into a bit of a pickle and is unable to pay his debts. Jesus then invites the listeners to imagine the unimaginable. Imagine that instead of the usual, same old story of dismissing this servant, the ruler chooses to be unbelievably kind, cancel the servant’s debts and forgive him! WHAT? Totally unthinkable. That would NEVER happen in a Royal Court. There are so many others vying for the position of that manager. He would be out on his ear and the position filled by someone else who would be a more efficient bully (I wonder how many instances we find, of this latter more likely situation, in the NHS/education/MOD/businesses of various sorts….?).

Then, this same manager who receives a ‘get out of jail free’ card, goes out and finds someone who owes him a whole bunch less of a debt than he has just been forgiven. And instead of passing on the same grace and enacting a new way of being, he goes back to the same old bullying culture he has always known and been schooled in and kicks the guy whilst he is down to ensure he doesn’t lose face and his department can keep running smoothly.

The thing is, the manager is only acting in the way that he has always been taught. Top down, top dog-style leadership, running a tight ship, not taking any nonsense etc etc.

Jesus is hitting two things very hard. The first is a reality check. He is saying that it would be entirely possible for the Messiah/God himself to come and enact a whole new way of being, a modus operandi of forgiveness and mercy and for nothing to change, because we have grown so comfortable with the ways that things are that we don’t really want to change or know how to. 

Walter Brueggemann highlights something similar in his comparison of Moses and Solomon. Moses hits at and critiques the entire world system of the Pharaoh, challenging head on the numbing effects of Empire. But by the time we reach Solomon in Jerusalem, Pharaoh is back on the throne in a different guise. Solomon has become the antithesis of all that Moses was about. And so, when Jesus comes to challenge the perceived ‘wisdom of empire’ by revealing an entirely different kind of king and kingdom, the previous system is so well rehearsed and imbibed hook, line and sinker that it is highly possible nothing will change……..unless…….

Secondly, I believe Jesus is revealing the very reason why he didn’t come as the ‘Emperor of Rome’ or a ‘King of Judea’. Perhaps it is nigh on impossible to undo a system from the top down……unless…….

The Myth of the Nation State

Here begins a mini series, which will take a few blogs to get to where I want to go, but please bear with me, as I give some background to where my thoughts are currently!

I had until fairly recently misunderstood what is meant by a myth. I thought it to be a story which lacks truth. This can be the case but is only one of its meanings. It can also describe “a traditional/legendary story which may or may not have a factual basis and is used to explain some part of life.” Or it can refer to “an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify a social norm.”

If we are going to reimagine the future, we must become more aware of some of the myths we believe to be true and question their basis for having shaped our thinking. I have recently been reading a book entitled ‘Theopolitical Imagination’ by a chap called William T Cavanaugh. It is deeply challenging. Cavanaugh argues that all politics is a practice of our imagination. The state itself, he argues doesn’t actually exist. It exists only in our imaginations. What actually exists are things like buildings, tax forms, border patrols and aeroplanes. “What mobilises these into a project called ‘nation-state’ is a disciplined imagination of a community occupying a particular space with a common conception of time, a common history and a common destiny of salvation from peril’. Our belief in this myth is so strong that a young man (or woman) from a rural village can become convinced that he/she must travel to another part of the world to kill people he/she knows nothing about. (Think on that for a minute or two). We have become reliant on the state for our provision and protection.

The nation state, as we know it, is relatively young, having only found its place in history within the last four hundred years. Cavanaugh argues that the myth was born out of the context of the ‘religious wars’ in Europe (in the sixteenth and seventieth centuries) to ‘save us’ from the ill effects of religion and enable us to live peacefully. The hope being that the borders and flags to which we would give our allegiance would save us from the divisions that plague us. Yet this has not been the case. The borders and flags in fact deepened our sense of the ‘other’ and created barriers where previously there had been less. Cavanaugh would argue that it was the ‘spirit of empire’ that used religion as an excuse for the wars, that was the real culprit. Mitchell would argue, however, that it was a complicit agreement between Church and Imperial powers that lead to the vast blood shed in the 30 years war that in turn gave way to the enlightenment and the creation of the nation state. What’s the point? The point is that the nation state is not our saviour. It is built on exactly the same foundations of empire and employs the same currencies – money, law and violence.

If you don’t believe me, then witness the economic threat of Westminster towards Scotland, or see how much clout the banks and huge corporations play in their lobbying power of government and ability to run the show. Or think about those who are held in the state of exception in our eleven detention centres around the UK alone (plenty of examples in other countries) where law is put aside to maintain the status quo, revealing the true foundation of ‘the law’. Or have you noticed how we now talk of those who die in war as being ‘martyrs’? I am not saying that we shouldn’t remember the lives of those who were given so appallingly in war, but let us also clearly see the undergirding message that strengthens the myth of the nation state. “War brings peace”. ‘dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’…. it is sweet and right to die for one’s country…….

The nation-state project is both waning and failing. But the myth which perpetuates it is incredibly strong and acts as a huge barrier to our imagination of anything different. Peace will not come through a remodelled version of empire. True nationhood will not be recovered whilst configured as states. But there is a hope rising of something different, of new ways of being. Sometimes we have to tear down some mindsets in order to think in new ways……

Revolution and Spiritual Transformation

Yesterday we were at the house of some of our best friends and I picked up their copy of the New Statesman. Given my last blog, you would think I had already seen it!  So I was excited to read from a selection of contributors what “revolution” means to them. Noam Chomsky starts by quoting Rosa Luxemburg’s ‘eloquent critique’ of Leninist doctrine: “a true social revolution requires a spiritual transformation of the masses degraded by centuries of bourgeois class rule”. Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick give a powerful rebuttal of those like Stalin and Mao who stole the concept of revolution in the pursuit of power and control. They are equally scathing of trivialising the very idea of revolution in the west by a pathetic misapplication of the word to things which matter very little. But they show that these things have not discredited the true idea of revolution, just as 2000 years of Crusades, child abuse, warfare and oppression perpetrated in the name of Christianity have not discredited the social revolution of Jesus Christ.

To my mind there has never been and will never be a more revolutionary person than Jesus. And if it is true that revolution requires a spiritual transformation of the masses, in my view, it is to him that we should look. Jesus had no qualms about deliberately setting a political course which utterly undermined the bourgeois class of his day. When he declared himself to be the son of God, he was directly challenging and undermining both the religious and political authorities. He came to declare that God can not be put away in a temple or related to by only a few special people, but is here to be known by everyone, whoever they are and wherever they live. He came to demonstrate that God has nothing to do with empire in any of its forms and is in fact the antithesis of it. He came to reveal the priorities of God lie not with the rich and powerful, but with the poor, the broken, the marginalised, the sick, the refugees and asylum seekers, the oppressed – in particular women and children and those in prison. His life was one of extreme love and his leadership was that of servanthood, quite different to the image of God many of us conjure up in our minds when we think of the divine….

His death was not caused by an angry God needing retribution for all the ways we have offended him. His death was the result of a life laid down, loving other people, which so challenged the status quo that they wanted rid of him. And in the moment of his death, instead of calling for retribution on his oppressors, he makes a public demonstration of how appalling human behaviour and the powers can be at times, calling us instead to the way of forgiveness. In his death we find the forgiveness for all our fallen humanity, all that seeks to control, abuse, and destroy ourselves, our communities and the earth we live in. But in his resurrection, we find hope that love is in fact stronger than death. So, when we set our lives in the way of this revolution of overcoming love, even if we lose our lives in the process, they are not lost. The ‘ruling powers’ have already been defeated by this way and one day all things will be made right, every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more war. And the fruit of our toil, no matter in what arena of life we work will be seen in those days. Jesus never came to found a religion. Nor did he come to make himself emperor. Slowly, after centuries of believing some contrary things about him, we are coming full circle to understand just how utterly radical he is.

His invitation is still there for us to stop living for ourselves, change the way we think and to follow him.  To make his priorities our priorities and in so doing to transform the world we live in. And better still, he doesn’t leave us alone, but has given us the same spirit that is within him, to be in us, so we can also recover what it means to be fully and truly human. We can be healers, reconcilers, forgivers, servants and revolutionaries just like him. As I have followed Jesus, I have found my life has been utterly transformed and I am finding the grace and power to live in this radical way. By no means am I perfect and by no means have I made it, but in him I find the hope for transformation. You can believe whatever you want to and go wherever you want to go, but if we want to see a real revolution that changes the world for good and forever, I commend Jesus as a really good place to start.

Kenarchy – the beginning of a series

Yoda_SWSBI was watching ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ with my eldest son a few days ago – love that film. There’s a brilliant bit in which (for those odd ones of you, who aren’t into Star Wars) Yoda (the Jedi Master) is training Luke Skywalker to become a Jedi. Luke catches a glimpse of the future and asks Yoda what will happen. Yoda tells him that the future is always moving, and so it is difficult to see. We live in a moment in time, when so much of what we have taken for granted until now is crumbling around us. The ‘rich west’ is no longer the great power that it once was. The globe is changing. Free market capitalism is failing, democracy is being revealed to be the child of empire that it really is and the nation-state project isn’t working. Yet, at a time when everything is shaking, and uncertainty taints our sense of stability I feel a deep hope that there is a future, which though uncertain on one level, due to the dynamics of human interactions, complex choices and external pressures beyond our control, could be one in which the peace and love that humanity longs for, could be more real.

There’s a guy, I like a whole lot! His name is Walter Brueggemann. One of the things he says is that “we must be unafraid to subvert the dominant realities of our time.” There are things, which we assumeWalter Brueggemann to be true, things deep in our psyche which we hold fast that are not really in line with what it means to be fully human. These mindsets, fit into three main categories – firstly, our paradigm, or worldview, secondly our praxis, politics or how we live and thirdly our personhood, or how we see ourselves. If we don’t face up to some of the ways we think and challenge those things then maybe the future is inevitable……

Over the Christmas period, I always love listening to Handel’s ‘Messiah’. I especially love that famous piece from the book of Isaiah, found in chapter 9 v 6 and 7. It says: ‘For to us, a child is born, to us, a son is given. And the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of Peace there will be no end.’

Jesus was born at a moment in history when Caesar Augustus, the first emperor to call himself the ‘Son of God’ was in power, in Rome. He comes onto the scene telling people to ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near’. Repent, change the way you think about God, the world, the way you live and who you are. Think differently about the future and what is possible.

Firstly, He challenges the paradigms of the day. Who is this Messiah you wereimgres expecting? You wanted a warrior? Oh, different kind of warrior am I (I’d love it if Jesus spoke like Yoda!). What do you think it means for this Messiah to be called ‘the human one’ by the prophet Daniel? Who do think God is? You think God is a Sovereign Dominator who needs all to submit to Him? “No”, says Jesus, ‘if you have seen me, then you have seen the Father. I and the Father are one. And I have come as a servant, one who pours out his life for others.” Caesar, the one who calls himself Son of God, has not even begun to understand the nature of God. Jesus declares himself to be God and shatters any other understanding we may have.

Secondly, He challenges the politics. He prioritises those most forgotten and marginalised in society. He is the champion of children, he breaks cultural taboos and promotes women. He goes to the poor and the sick. He associates with those of disrepute. He champions the foreigner and the refugee. He declares a new Houses of Parliamenteconomics in which you either serve money or you serve God. He devalues money to be a resource not a ruling power. He stands in the shadow of temple mount, and declares that ‘if you have seed as small as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mountain (this whole system established over centuries, which has ended up oppressing and suppressing people) be thrown into the sea, and it would be done.’ At a time when the romans were establishing ‘ecclesia’ as the ruling councils of their cities, Jesus establishes his ‘ecclesia’ made up of a mixed bag of the un-elite, whom he wants to learn how to steward the resources of a city for the good and peace of those who live there. He comes to a contested city, Jerusalem and declares that we are to love our enemies and turn the other cheek…….Shane Claibourne has recently written a phenomenal piece on what Jesus would say to the NRA, in the Huffington Post and it is worth a read.

Prodigal SonThirdly, He calls us to see ourselves differently. To be those who carry light into dark places, hope beyond hope to those who have lost their way in disillusionment, peace to those who are torn apart and warring, love to those filled with hate and grace to those who are broken and rotting. He calls us to recover our humanity, to become like him, the human one. To be those who forgive and so find forgiveness and freedom. To be free from all that which makes us less than human (aka sin), that which destroys ourselves, relationships, other people or the planet.

And so, in challenging the paradigms of the day, the politics (and economics) and even the person as to what it even means to be human, he challenges the powers. It turns out, the powers don’t like it. And so they kill God! And as they kill him, instead of smiting them all, Coventry Crosshe declares forgiveness, he sucks up all the ‘sin’ into himself, like a cosmic sewer, and then declares all things new. A chance to start again. A chance to live and hope for something other.  You see, the powers never counted on resurrection, but love wins! It is, as Aslan calls it, the deeper magic. Love is stronger than death. And so the one who is love, defeats death and brings life. Then He gives us the substance of Himself, the Holy Spirit to fill us and help us and calls us to follow Him, to the same radical, life-laying down love that holds no fear of death because in Him is life in all its fullness.

But something terrible happened. In the 4th century, a theologian called Eusebius and the Emperor Constantine worked together on a theology, or way of thinking about God, that led us to believe that GodConstantine is not just like Jesus, he is, rather, like an angry emperor that wants to dominate other people and have them all come and bow down. So church and empire got into bed together to try to create peace through dominance and created a mish-mash of children, including the Nation State, Western Democracy, Free Market Capitalism, Communism, but none of them come close to the radical Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of. Too often christians have aligned themselves with these things, rather than having railed against them. Too often, christians find themselves yearning or harking for the ‘good old days’ of the ‘christian nation’. There is no such thing. A nation is not ‘christian’, just because it seems restrained, or has the ‘right’ kind of laws in place. The days of ‘christian dominance’, or christendom, are over. We cannot go back. The context we find ourselves in now, is completely different. It is the future that calls us forward. That does not mean a society cannot be transformed, but top down dominance is not the way of Jesus!

Empire, in any of its forms has nothing to do with Jesus or his life-laying down kingdom of peace.

My friend, Roger Mitchell, honorary research fellow at Lancaster University calls this emptying out of power – ‘kenarchy’, a word coined from the greek – ‘keno’ to empty and ‘archy’ power. It is this that I want to explore more in the next few blogs and what it might be like if we were to embrace this way of life more fully.

What if to have a ‘God complex’ was not to misuse power but to be servant-hearted and to be a one who facilitates and makes room for others so that they can become fully what they can be? What if we were those who chose collaboration and partnership instead of control, manipulation and dominance through competition? What if business, The Futurehealthcare, education, government, finance, media etc were based on these kind of principles? What stories might be told to future generations? My challenge this New Year is to realign my mindsets again with those of the One who is Love. My allegiance is not to any flag or nation-state. I believe our hope for the future comes from embracing an altogether different paradigm, politic and personhood. It is peace I hope for, and peace I pursue and that is going to mean some radically different choices for us as humanity than the ones we are currently making. This year, I resolve to choose life.