Losing Faith in Our Democracy?

Today, the Primeminister, Theresa May, said that if Brexit doesn’t happen….and let’s face it, no one really knows what’s going to happen anymore…people will lose faith in our democracy….

 

Are you losing faith in our democracy? I hope so! It’s high time we woke up to the fact that we don’t actually live in a participatory democracy, and the views of the UK are not fairly represented in the first-past-the-post 2 party system. Our political system is broken – both in the UK and in the EU. It is simply unable to help us create what we now need in society. It is built on multiplied sovereignty, simply the child of empire, and needs to be completely reimagined for a future that is more socially just and environmentally sustainable.

TIGgers and a New Politics?

For several years now, many people across the UK have been calling for a ‘new politics’ and ‘new economics’. There is a growing weariness with the current systems, behaviours and ideologies which are incapable to give us the future we need – a future in which we take climate change, the sustainability of the planet and social justice really seriously.

 

So, what hope do TIGgers offer us?  I had the pleasure of meeting Heidi Allen MP a couple of weeks ago, when she came to Morecambe with Frank Field MP to better understand the issues of poverty and in particular the effects of government policy on the lives of human beings. I watched her sit and really listen to my friend, Daniel Burba, with tears streaming down her face, as he told his gut-wrenching story of lived-experience of poverty and how he deserved to be treated as a person with a name and not a mere number or statistic. I watched her quit the Conservative party, citing the failure of the government to make any difference to the issues of poverty, but rather to have worsened them. I admire politicians who are willing to really listen to what is going in commmunities, examine whether or not policies are actually working or in fact deeply failing people and be willing to make changes accordingly. People with lived experience of poverty are fed up to the back teeth of being told that policies are working, when they live on the receiving end of the harsh realities involved.

 

And so, now we have the formation of this new “Independent Group” – an interesting mixture of MPs who have, for a variety of reasons formed together on the ‘centre ground’ of British politics. But is this the new politics? Well….if anything helps break up the dominant 2-party, first past the post system with less braying across the isles, then maybe we can get somewhere towards it. If it models a new way of building relationships, then all the better!

 

But do TIGgers really signify a genuine shift towards a new politics for the people and the planet, a politics based on love and kindness, and politics of collaboration and genuine listening and care, a politics that is together with, not to or for or over? I’m not sure it can be – for such a politics can not be ‘independent’ but must be ‘interdependent’. Such a politics cannot rely on such a broken economic model as neoliberalism but be willing to make a shift into the doughnut, ensuring business can thrive in a way that does not mean destruction of the planet or a widening of inequalities! Nor can it be agnostic over the issues of climate change. It needs to mean the breakdown of powerful lobby groups and a more open, honest and accountable way of operating.

 

No, a new politics and economics will enable us to truly face up to our colonial past and the ‘hostile environment’ we have created and instead help bring communities together to build relationships and embrace interculturalism on a foundation of self-giving, others-empowering love and kindness. It will put the environment and social justice front and centre.  It will ensure we focus on age old inequalities, and ensure that no child goes hungry and every life matters. It will build the health of people and the planet into every policy decision and co-create a more flexible education system that is a work of art. It will be more honest about the resources we have available and be collaborative with communities about how we use them best. It will be humble in its approach to International relationships and development, looking to build positive peace.

 

I am a tigger, but not a TIGger. ‘TIG’ does not yet signify the new politics we are looking for, but at least it is calling for it – and that is very welcome.

Enough Now!

Here is a poem I wrote, after hearing an amazing head teacher, called Jill Wood speaking about why she had taken the decision for her Year 6 Students not to take their SATS tests (compulsory exams for our 11 year old in England). She was giving her “enough now” to the detrimental effects testing can have on children. Here is what she inspired in me:

 

Reimagining the UK post Brexit – Education

imgresI have waited a while to write this post. It follows on in the series I started on this topic. It seems clear that the Brexit vote was about three key elements: taking control (whatever that means) of our own money, our own laws and our own immigration. I hope to write another blog on those three things another time, but in this time of transition, we must ask ourselves some questions about the kind of future we want to co-create.

 

imgresI have to say that when I look at our education system, I am both heartened and dismayed. I am heartened by the amazing quality of teachers across the UK, but I am dismayed by how they are treated as a profession by our mainstream press. I am heartened by the quality of our children and young people and the hopeful possibilities they carry, but I am dismayed by the increased burden of mental health problems many of them suffer. I am heartened that there is so much great thought around education and a shared learning between nations about how to release the potential in each child, but I am dismayed by the lack of application of this learning within the UK. I am heartened that there is an increasing realisation that Ofsted reports can offer only a small snapshot of what goes on in any school and are not a fair representation of all that goes on in any one institution, but I am dismayed by our growing measurement problem. By this I mean that the constant scoring and grading of our children and young people and the comparisons made between our various schools is so detrimental to their development and achievement that we ought to seriously consider the weight it is allowed to carry in our education systems. When our children and young people are some of the least happy in Europe and live in a country where the gap between the richest and poorest, both in terms of economics and educational ‘outcomes’ is one of the worst in Europe, we have to ask ourselves some searching questions.

 

So, in reimagining education, let’s reaffirm that every child is unique, beautiful,images worthy of love and full of potential. Let’s also recognise that our education system now is one of the few things that has not evolved since the time of the Industrial Revolution and is itself in need of serious renewal and transformation. In Germany, they have managed to elevate practical skills and knowledge to that of intellect. This has given them the ability as a nation to have a much more diverse economy, especially investing in green technologies and manufacturing in a way that cares for the future. In Finland, they have a reverence for the teaching profession that we would do well to adopt here. We need to think of teaching as a sacred gift and it needs to be taken this seriously by those who pursue it as a career. A Head Teacher I know recently told me that she no longer needs teachers who see themselves as having a job, but those who understand that teaching is a vocation and a calling. It is about being willing to parent a generation, not just fill them with knowledge.

 

Our educational environments must be places where we teach our children how to think, not just what to think, how to converse, not just what to say and how to listen attentively not only hear. We must help them learn about their own personalities and gift mixes. We must help them to think about the values from which they live, speak and act, helping them therefore to shape their behaviours in line with this (Steve Peters). We must allow them to question some of the damaging ways we live (war, pollution, work-patterns) and dream of and learn to create futures of peace, sustainability and wellness.  We need a vision large enough to ensure that each generation creates a seedbed of opportunity for the next.

 

The danger of becoming more ‘in control’ (as per our Brexit wishes) is that we become more controlling. The purpose of education is not to control but to release, not to maintain the status quo but to attain a brighter future, not to perpetuate hate and violence but to breathe love and peace, not to tear down but to build up and encourage,imgres not to divide but to build community, not to prepare human beings to be fodder for the economic machine but to ensure the economy serves them to be live a life of hope-filled potential. As with healthcare, we need to de-politicise the education system, hold dear in our hearts those given to teach, caring for their wellbeing and minding how we speak of them. We must partner with them and entrust them with our precious caterpillars as they hold them through the great metamorphosis that is learning before they spread their wings and make their flight to shine like stars in a future sky that the rest of us will never see.

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.

Questioning Our Foundations

I am increasingly aware how much we believe, simply because we are told it. We are educated in schools of thought, rather than taught how to learn and how to wrestle with ideas. I am so grateful for some brilliant teachers in my life who have consistently challenged me to think outside the box. If we are scared of questions we will never find the future we hope for.

I believe if we are to reimagine the future we have to be able to faithfully question some  of the streams of thought that we have taken on hook, line and sinker into our corporate soul. To me it is clear that much of western thought has been shaped/is under girded by a Judeo-Christian theology of God and scripture that does not align itself with the way of love and peace that I see in Jesus. How is this so?

In this 15 minute video blog I unpack (in no great depth) some ideas from a fantastic book I read (and kind of wish I had been clever enough to articulate and write!) by a chap called Derek Flood. The book is called ‘Disarming Scripture’ (well worth a read – whatever your faith perspective).

In future video blogs, I hope to unpick some more about the currencies of empire and how they are still foundational in our western thought, but utterly opposed to a reimagined future of love and peace……

Sacred Economics – Gift 2

Eisenstein uses his opening chapter on Gift to set a contrast for the rest of Part 1 of his book. He is introducing us to the notion that economics and the use of our money, in particular, is a sacred thing.

Charles paints a picture using the natural world around us to challenge the perception that evolutionary biology is a cut throat, competitive business , which is all about survival of the fittest, driven by our “selfish genes”. He argues that in nature, “headlong growth and all out-competition  are features of immature ecosystems, followed by complex interdependency, symbiosis, cooperation and the cycling of resources.”

The violent, competitive, growth-driven, accumulative, oppressive, marginalising and hoarding economic of today is an aberration. It is time for humanity to enter a new phase of life. It’s grow up time! “Money may not disappear anytime soon, but it will serve a diminished role even as it takes on more of the properties of the gift. The economy will shrink (do not fear this!) and our lives will grow!”

It is crazy that money was originally a means of connecting gift with need. Yet now we often find ourselves in deadening jobs out of economic necessity, with crazy phrases like “I can’t afford to do that,” or “the cost of living is so high.” But CE goes to town on this! “Our purpose for being, the development and full expression of our gifts, is mortgaged to the demands of money, to making a living, to surviving. Yet no one, no matter how wealthy, secure, or comfortable, can ever feel fulfilled in a life where those gifts remain latent. Even the best paid job, if it does not engage our gifts, soon feels deadening, and we think, “I was not put here on earth to do this.”

The day of falsely separating our world out is over. There is no sacred/secular divide, everything we do and touch is sacred, because life is sacred and we need to start viewing both work and economics as truly sacred things. In the next blogs I will explore what Charles calles the ‘Economics of Separation’, its main components and how it has landed us in the mess we find ourselves in.

When we stare the beast in the face, we will see that we are tired of its ugliness and want to be part of a movement that is far more creative and beautiful. Surely, we do not want to align our lives with something which causes devastation and destruction but rather that which perpetuates life in all its fullness. We are tired of being commodities, we want to be gifts. The way we use money will form a part of this story, as we recover together a new economics for a reimagined future of reconciliation and peace. If we begin to choose to enter the economy of gift then surely every mountain can made low and every valley raised up – an economic level playing field, where lambs can play with lions!