Here is an early morning vlog to end the year – sorry, its slightly longer than usual!
Here is an early morning vlog to end the year – sorry, its slightly longer than usual!
Here is an early morning vlog to end the year – sorry, its slightly longer than usual!
I 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.
I 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, 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, 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.
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, “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.
This 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 foremost 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 like. 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 behind 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 change 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.
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!
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:
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!
It 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:
Ontology – 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 certainly 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 implications 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?
And 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.
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.
For those looking for a post about outer space and extra-terestialism, I’m sorry, you’re in the wrong place!
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the possibility of another world, a different kind of future to the dominant story we find ourselves in at the moment. Much of my reading and wondering over the last few years has been about this: Is another world really possible?
I know people have asked this question for generations and for some it has meant creating an alternative story, outside the dominant system in the hope that others will join it. For me, this is obvious in certain religious and political institutions. The same yearning has also led to many wonderful people movements (suffragettes, civil rights, gay rights etc), inventions and change. But nearly always, these catalytic shakings result in commodification and assimilation into the status quo. My good friend, Martin Scott, has written some very helpful and thought provoking things about the nature of people movements of late and I especially like the observation he makes about how such movements rise and fall. First of all they are ignored, then they are ridiculed. When ridicule fails and the movements become more threatening to the powerful elite, the strategy becomes one of hostility and when this fails, they are colonised. Colonisation leads to control.
The danger for any people movement is the acquisition of power. This is based on the old adage that all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. For me this is held fast by the current reality of the dominant system that holds its power through the triangulation of control through violence (particularly seen in the state of the exception), debt and law (both religious and political, especially when is oppresses or stifles creativity and freedom). But, another good friend of mine, Roger Mitchell, contests that love itself is the most powerful force in the universe and love does not have to be corrupted. If love is the prime choice before power, then power becomes subordinate to love and another world becomes possible (see ‘The Uncontrolling Love of God’ by Thomas Jay Oord).
Another world is possible, but my perspective is that it is only possible for it to be ‘recreated’ from within it. And that involves our eyes being opened to new possibilities and a determination that love must be our prime choice. Once we decide that we are first and foremost about love, it leaves nobody at all on the ‘outside’. It has a different set of priorities to those of the dominant form of power. It involves a new way of being together. Our systems can be transformed once we personalise them and realise that we are part of them. For me, this is the heart of what the christian narrative is all about (ignored, ridiculed, treated with hostility and then colonsied). It awakens the possibility within us, as individuals, communities and nations, of another kind of world, not a separate world within the world. A world where God is not mysterious but known to all as the One of Love, who does not dominate or control but gives love and life freely; not in some Utopian, hippy-like dream, but in the gritty reality and pain of every day life, pouring itself out from the choice of love. This kind of love does not demand uniformity, but calls us deeper into a place of union, a real belonging to the family of humanity in which our choices, values and behaviour become aligned with the hope we carry for the future. Once we decide that our underlying and first value is love, the possibilities ahead are very exciting!
We had a conversation as part of the Love Politics Initiative recently hosted in Silverdale, in which we looked at just how broken language is. So, even in writing this post, I will fall short of what I hope to communicate and recognise that what I write may be misunderstood, misconstrued or misinterpreted.
I left the weekend with three words resonating for me: recognition, rearticulation, reconnection. For me, these three words express what it means for us to recover the public space as a place of real discourse for politics/theology/philosophy/psychology/sociology all of which I believe belong in public and to the masses, not just the few.
Cognition is all about knowing things. Sometimes we can be so sure that we know something or know somebody, but then something happens that utterly changes our perspective or our previous ‘knowing’. We ‘re-cognise’ a person or a situation. We see it differently. Take the famous example of St Paul on the road to Damascus. He encounters something he previously thought he knew about and had boxed in his mind, so much so that he had given his time and energy to try to destroy it. But then he had an encounter with Jesus which was unexpected and utterly shifted what he thought he knew. Suddenly he was blind and realised how blind his ‘cognition’ had been. When his eyes were reopened, he recognised the world and humanity in an altogether different light.
So often I have made up my mind about people or made judgements about them, often based on rumour, hear say or other people’s opinions, but when I actually encounter that person, I recognise they are very different to what I had thought I knew. I wonder how much of the brokeness we find in any given area of social or racial division is based on assumption and ‘knowing’……perhaps when we learn to recognise people different to ourselves, when we know them differently because our eyes see differently, we can find new ways of being together.
I have written previously about the great work going on in Leeds with a shift from talking about multiculturalism to an understanding of interculturalism. It resists the desire for homogenisation and shifts the conversation to one of mutual respect, with a celebration of a “give and receive” way of being together. There is great work in Lancaster though the “East meets West” initiative. Work continues in Ireland in co-educating children across the old Catholic/Protestant divide. Cafes in Israel and Palestine actively encourage Muslims, Jews and Christians to eat together. We are also seeing beautiful stories emerge as various households across Europe welcome refugees into their homes. We must break down what we think we know, so that we can learn to see differently, to re-cognise each other. This breaks down fear, which is always the dividing wall and allows love to drive that fear away.
My friend, Mike Love, who is one of the best thinkers I know, recently wrote an essay on public space. He wrote powerfully about how nearly all our public space, once the domain of the male (it has nearly always excluded the female), is now almost entirely privatised and controlled. He riffed on the need for us to articulate our public spaces. To articulate can have three different meanings. It is used to describe speech that is coherent and eloquent. It has a medical meaning to describe how joints fit together and a third similar meaning in the world of architecture.
Our public conversations are currently not very articulate. Too many voices go unheard or forgotten, not given space to articulate. We have become dislocated. Our physical bodies often never meet with others and so the corporate body has become dysfunctional. The Leeds Poverty Truth Commission has done and continues to do phenomenal work in this area.
Our physical spaces, even the design of our cities and certainly some of the social cleansing we are seeing in some of our big cities is causing further separation. Where are the city planners who might know how to design space that rejoins and heals us? We need to be rearticulated so that we can recognise one another and rearticulate that it is only love that will help us find the future of peace together.
When we learn to recognise the world and all that live in it differently, and are rearticulated through the rediscovery of our shared public space and our language becomes one of healing and reconciliation in place of division and suspicion then we can become reconnected. There is a verse in the bible that I love. St Paul, who has learnt to see the whole world in a completely different way says that Jesus came to reconcile all things to himself through the cross, (not start an exclusive movement). He pulled the whole of the creation back into the flow of love that comes from God. But he also made a way for us all to be reconciled and reconnected. It is in essentially kenotic love (Thomas Jay Oord – ‘The Uncontrolling Love of God”) that we can all find hope for the future. To put that another way, when we understand that God is first love and everything else flows from this love, we find a way for ourselves to be reformed and reorientated in the world. It is in the very act of taking up our own crosses, of not demanding our own ways, of being misunderstood and dehumanised by the ‘system’ that allows us also to be reconciled and reconnected to all things.
A couple of blogs ago I wrote that I believe we need a revolution of love. I believe that repentance IS the revolution we need. And what is repentance? Isn’t it recognition, rearticulation and reconnection? All of these require a dismantling of selfishness, pride, greed, and everything that stops us walking in the way of love; everything that prevents us building the wellbeing of those around us, the world we live in and indeed ourselves! I have personally found through my own encounter with Jesus a continual journey of reorientation in the way of love. Where do we think that we see clearly, but are actually motivated by hate or fear? Who or what do we need to re-cognise? What can we co-create that will enable re-articulation and re-connection/re-conciliation in our neighbourhoods, towns, cities and nations?