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!
What has become of the Labour Party?! At a time when there could be some really important political debate, the Labour Party has turned on itself and is in utter disarray.
But what is going on? What lies beneath the turmoil, the mud slinging, the coup and the disunity? Jeremy Corbyn is calling for a ‘new politics, a kinder politics’ and ‘a society where everyone matters, where everyone cares for everyone else.’ He is calling for a new kind of debate and a new style of leadership. Owen Smith on the other hand, seems to be looking for some similar things, calling himself a left-socialist, but the difference for him seems more to do with leadership style and ability. He would rather ‘smash Theresa May back on her heels’ than the sort of participatory approach of Corbyn….
With so much media storm, biased reporting and contradictory messages on all sides, what are we to believe. What is to be made of this mess? I am sure one William Shakespeare would have had a field day in writing this comic tragedy ‘Love Labour’s Lost’ – or would it be ‘Love, Labour’s Lost’?!
Our political system as a whole is a bit of a disgrace. The Westminster bubble, far too removed from normal every day life, working far too much in political theory than pragmatically in the grit and grime of every day life. And we have all believed a lie. We have believed, that in the end, human beings are motivated by their own selfish needs and that the autonomous self and the desire for freedom are therefore what drives us. But this is only a shadow form of what it means to be human (Richard Rohr). To be human is far more profound than this. We have appealed to our lesser selves for far too long and we need to reclaim the deeper truth of what it means to be truly human. To be truly human is to be first and foremost about love, and not a selfish love, because love is never truly selfish. No, to be human is to be essentially loving, in the image of God. To be first motivated by a self-giving, others empowering love. And this kind of love, as preached by John Wesley is actually one of the founding true principles of the Labour Movement. Without love, socialism is just a clanging gong in the wind. Without love, it has no power to redeem, reconcile or transform society. Labour has given into fear because it sees the crumbling of the Nation State in which it has put so much of its trust and identity.
What motivates the Labour Party these days? Is it the need for power in order to transform? Indeed, power can be used to bring transformation. But power without love is dangerous. And what does it really mean to love? Martin Luther King had something to say about this – here is an excerpt from one of his greatest speeches:
In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.
And this is what Jesus means, I think, in this very passage when he says, “Love your enemy.” And it’s significant that he does not say, “Like your enemy.” Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something. There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. I don’t like what they do to me. I don’t like what they say about me and other people. I don’t like their attitudes. I don’t like some of the things they’re doing. I don’t like them. But Jesus says love them. And love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them. You refuse to do anything that will defeat an individual, because you have agape in your soul. And here you come to the point that you love the individual who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does. This is what Jesus means when he says, “Love your enemy.” This is the way to do it. When the opportunity presents itself when you can defeat your enemy, you must not do it.
Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people and keep loving them, even though they’re mistreating you. Here’s the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that. Just keep being friendly to that person. Keep loving them. Don’t do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.
And our civilization must discover that. Individuals must discover that as they deal with other individuals. There is a little tree planted on a little hill and on that tree hangs the most influential character that ever came in this world. But never feel that that tree is a meaningless drama that took place on the stages of history. Oh no, it is a telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity, and see the love of God breaking forth into time. It is an eternal reminder to a power-drunk generation that love is the only way. It is an eternal reminder to a generation depending on nuclear and atomic energy, a generation depending on physical violence, that love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe.”
(read the whole sermon here: http://mlkkpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_loving_your_enemies/)
Labour must recover love at its core. Love is the only hope we have a new politics. The politics of how we organize ourselves and live together is either motivated by the need for autonomous freedom and control, which is actually based on fear, or it is motivated by love, but it cannot be essentially motivated by both. Love is the only way for a new and reimagined future. Love is the only way that we ever deal with the needs of our own autonomy. Love is the only way to heal the divide and bring unity. Where there is fighting and hatred, name calling, slander, vitriol, violence and selfishness it must stop. If it does not, then the Labour movement will entirely lose its way. Some call the left ideology Socialism, some call it Humanitarianism. Without love as the essential driving force, both are dead. Love is found in the heart of the teaching of Jesus and it has the power to truly transform the world – some call this Kenarchy. The politics of Jesus is not for the faint hearted. It is rooted in love and its out-workings are utterly pragmatic and the antithesis of autonomy and self-preserving power. We must recover our humanity and rediscover our political motivation, resisting the tide of individualism and fear. Anyone can love their friends…..it is when we learn to love our enemies and speak well of those with whom we disagree or who harm us that we become truly human and can become truly politically engaged. Labour must recover the love it has lost.
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.
Here are some thoughts on Political Structures and the Economy:
I would want to legislate Proportional Representation for a fairer reflection of the political will of the people, with coalitions becoming the norm, leading to a more collaborative and conciliatory form of politics, involving real engagement with and empowerment of local people in their communities.
Political conversations in local communities will mean that politicians and public servants do not come up with good ideas and “do things to people”, but rather learn to form environments of participatory leadership where co-commissioning becomes the norm. “No decision about me, without me, is for me.” (Leeds Poverty Truth Challenge). This is part of the new politics we need.
Sovereignty can be understood in several ways. From my perspective there are two competing narratives that frame the debate. Sovereignty can be the right to self-govern, to be in charge of our own future and rule in such a way to ensure that this happens – that is to insist that our own freedoms matter the most and we may have to suspend the freedom of others to ensure this happens. The alternative view of freedom is rooted in the idea of ‘essential kenosis’, i.e. that true sovereignty is not the domination of the other, but a self-giving, others-empowering love. I would see this latter definition of Sovereignty to be the basis of a more human kind of leadership. Leadership is something which is from among, rather than something which is lorded over others.
I would continue with town and county councils run on this basis, with two nationally elected houses, one based in the north and the other in the south.
I would start with the breaking up of banks into smaller, regional units, encouraging a multiplicity of options, especially encouraging credit unions and cooperatives. This is a well thought through idea of what to do with RBS, as championed by the New Economics Foundation. This will ensure local lending for local people, businesses and initiatives which will lead to a more sustainable system, more similar to the German or Danish model, both of which have ridden financial storms more easily than those where larger and centralised banks are allowed to dominate the market.
there needs to be a recognition that in all of economic history that we know of, only 3 countries have ever been in surplus and each case this was in a very unusual circumstance and for a short time. The obsession with balancing the books is a nonsense. (A national economy is nothing at all like a household! For instance, we do not have a bank in our back gardens that can print money, nor do we have rich friends living with us, to whom we give special privileges whilst making others work for very little pay, refusing to help them out, but rather telling them they need to have better aspirations and work harder).
A fair society involves creating local environments in which people can work and work pays well, so that a hard days work does not still leave someone unable to afford food, shelter and warmth. A fair society means that when you are unable to work or go through a time of hardship, you will be cared for appropriately. We would encourage the formation and strengthening of unions on this basis.
We need an economy that does not allow organisations to have their headquarters in the UK, but put their profits into other nations, whilst avoiding their fair share of taxation. The UK has many reasons to attract companies here, other than low tax rates and if companies wish to hold the UK to ransom, they can go elsewhere. Instead we will build relationships with those companies that will pay a fair and living wage, ensuring a fair share of profits and contribute to the wellbeing of the economy. Trickle down neoliberalism is failing the vast majority of people, and so we will develop this new economy together.
As a direct result of the new health policy, small community practices are now seeking to federate with one another so that they can now compete (with private providers) for the services they already provide. Although most General Practices in this country are run by private partnerships (which is actually extremely different to a company limited by shares – though they can absolutely be driven by the same kind of greed), all the money they earn comes through the NHS. A practice earns money by providing various services, like vaccinations and smear tests and through meeting various targets (along with target driven initiatives like the Quality and Outcomes Framework aka QOF). The money earned then pays the staff in the practice, including the doctors, nurses, other healthcare workers, managers and administrative teams. If any provider, like Virgin Healthcare, for example, can come in and now say, we will provide all the vaccinations across the county at a lower cost than these GPs are currently able to provide, it might sound like a good idea from a strictly money point of view (I refuse to use the term ‘economic point of view’ here, because we must rid the term economics of the abuse it suffers as being synonymous with money – it really refers to how we order the house!). However, what it actually does is destabilise the economy of a practice and removes key services from a local community setting, causing staff to lose their jobs. What the government really doesn’t understand though is how important it is to form relationships with patients. Taking traditional services out of a local setting breaks some key encounters that doctors and nurses have with their patients, for the sake of saving a bit of money.
With the formation of federations, GP practices are clubbing together to basically try and bid for services en mass, but still provide them in the same way. It’s a colossal amount of work, but is also sadly going to break what has been until now a strong value within the General Practice community. As practices choose to federate with one another they basically have three choices in forming these new companies (and they do have to be companies in order to compete with the companies limited by shares whom they will be bidding against). Their first option is to become a company limited by shares themselves. The share holders would initially be the practices in the federation. In the short term, practices would chose what to do with the profits. One would hope, as they are providers of healthcare for the local community, that they would chose to invest the profits back into the health needs of their population. It is my opinion that to do anything else would be wholly unethical. To seek to make a personal profit from tax payers money, rather than using that money for the benefit of those who need it more is, to my mind, wrong. The other significant drawback of this kind of approach is that in a few years time, GP’s could choose to sell these companies at a profit and make a tidy sum in the process. In essence then, this could make a federation/company limited by shares no better than the wolves they are trying to protect the sheep they care for against. The second option is to become a Community Interest Company. This still allows profits to be made, but tends to safeguard those profits for the sake of the community. As with any legal entity, loopholes can be found to make a CIC look ethical on the outside, but actually allow large dividends to be paid to the ‘directors’ (who would be the GPs). However, one would have to chose to change the original constitution of the federation set up on this basis in order to do this, and so on paper a CIC is more likely to act more ‘ethically’ than a CLC (company limited by shares).
The third option is a potentially kenarchic alternative. Kenosis (to pour out) is one of the root words within kenarchy. However, one can be kenotic, without being kenarchic. It is possible to be a kenotic CLC or CIC, but the power dynamics do not really change. Power is maintained and held by the few and although they may seek to act benevolently, they are not relinquishing their (wrong kind of ) power. Now, power is not wrong. We have power to bring about change. However, power is very distinct from leadership. We need good leadership. But true leadership is able to allow itself to become powerless. True leadership becomes the servant so that the ‘other’ can be fully built up and truly become all that they can be. Jesus was so radical when he talked about leadership. Let us dispel the myth, that the best way to change the system is to get into the top jobs and change it from the top down. For a start, very few will ever manage to ‘get there’ even if ‘getting there’ were a good methodology through which to effect change. The sad truth is, that in aiming for the so called top jobs, much is compromised on the way, and once in the places of power, one can become utterly impotent to effect any change at all. It will also be discovered that the top jobs are really only puppets on the strings of the economic and political higher or ruling powers of the systems.
The third way is the way of co-operatives. Co-operatives give the opportunity for a radical overhaul of power, a true sharing of resource and gift and a letting go of unfair monetary advantages created by our current systems. It means the few let go of the power and benefits and instead everybody is able to share them. In forming co-operative federations (and this can apply for all practices as well – something that would be wonderful to see) there is the choice to allow all staff to become share holders together, not just the doctors. In areas where this happens (like the John Lewis Partnership or Surrey Central Healthcare or the health cooperatives of the Basque region) there is an extremely high sense of morale amongst the staff and high patient satisfaction rates. This is because of an uncomfortable truth for the powerful. It is co-operation and not competition that drives up both happiness and excellence. Of course it takes more time and effort, but relational working is so worth it and the benefits to all far outweigh the costs. However, we can more radical than just all workers being members of the co-operatives. All members of a local population could be members of a co-operative for health and this could then easily expand into education also. A greater sense of interconnectedness and less abuse of the service provided would be far more likely in such a scenario. We have to ask ourselves just how much power we are willing to give away, how much we want to know and love one another, but also to be if we want to be known and to be loved?
Earlier this week the UK parliament voted that the secretary of state for health will have new powers to close any hospital in England, should he see fit. There are a couple of caveats attached. Firstly, the local people will apparently have ‘a say’ and the local commissioning boards of GPs will also have to agree. How much of ‘a say’ local people will really get is yet to be seen and how much pressure will be exerted on local commissioning boards to tow the party line we don’t yet know.
What this highlights yet again is the complete lack of joined up thinking that happens around healthcare and the wider economy. It also reveals how utterly disempowering central government really is. How can Westminster decide what the needs and wants of the city of Leeds are, for example? What do they know about the non-economic impacts of closing a hospital? I’m not arguing that all hospitals should stay open, and there’s a good chance that some may well need to close. But it cannot be a decision from on high. Nor can it be an isolated decision. It’s too complex for that.
I find great encouragement from the knowledge that there are several towns and cities in the UK where ‘a people’s assembly’ is emerging. There are some stunning examples of this in Nottingham, Leeds and London. Across a city such as these ones, there are webs of networks and interconnected relationships that represent thousands and thousands of people. I had the utter privilege recently of spending some time with John Battle, a recently retired MP from Leeds. He carries a wealth of wisdom in understanding how to engage people from across a city to participate in key decisions. He was explaining to me that in a people’s assembly, there are representatives from many groups across the city. Each person can speak on behalf of their group and report back to them for further discussion. It’s an incredible way of involving a huge proportion of a city in a discussion.
In Nottingham, for example, at the time of electing the new police commissioner, over 1200 people, representing a vast number of networks, gathered from across the city to have a facilitated conversation about what they would hope for from their new commissioner. They were then able to ask questions to the four candidates, and were able to set up a system of accountability for the eventually elected commissioner back to the people. The commissioner understood in no uncertain terms that he was there to serve the city and the city understood that it was there to partner together with the commissioner for the welfare of the communities living there.
A facilitated conversation gives voice to everybody and sets no-one up above another. Leadership becomes about facilitation rather than dominance and control. When we talk about closing a hospital or a maternity unit or a school in an area, it is often said (as in my previous blogs) that there are some very complex things to consider. This is absolutely true. The problem is that we don’t share the complexity, we leave the decisions to so-called experts (who are at best having a good guess), and then either make them heroes or scape-goats!
National budgeting doesn’t work when it comes to healthcare. Local budgeting in isolation doesn’t work either. It’s all well and good to campaign to keep a hospital open, but we do actually live in a world of finite resources and people and so if we keep the hospital, there may be other tough cuts to make. We have separated out huge aspects of budgeting that really belong together. That is why a people’s assembly in a town/city/region doing the complex task of participatory budgeting is a possible way forward. It isn’t actually that difficult to get people together and budgets aren’t that hard to understand. I know so many people who have extremely tight and complex budgets to manage when it comes to their own households and they do it with finesse. Multiplying the numbers up, ain’t that tricky.
When a town/city understands what it’s budget is for a year (or longer) and the people can decide what the priorities need to be I think the results could be amazing. Firstly, there might be genuine partnerships formed across cities to work in more innovative and creative ways. Secondly, there would be greater engagement and social responsibility. Thirdly, there would be less waste. Fourthly there would be emerging partnerships of gift (rather than competition) between cities for various resources.
Some argue that in such a situation, the most needy and therefore least empowered in a city could miss out. This happens currently in the national setting. For me, this is where leadership comes in. Leadership is not about riding into town to shut a hospital here, or rename a school into an academy there. Leadership is about emptying power out and reassuring all that they are already empowered. It is also about helping protect and promote those who could potentially be down trodden or forgotten. It is giving a voice to those who feel voiceless and oppressed by the dominant systems. For me that would mean promoting and protecting the needs of women (for whom there is still an incredible amount of injustice), children, asylum seekers and refugees, the marginalised poor and homeless, those with physical and mental health needs and prisoners.
Power needs to be devolved from the centre to the margins (just as Gordon Brown MP stated this week). And once the power is more regional it still needs to be continually emptied out so that communities find and serve one another, so that cities become gifts to one another and we find that the order of the house (economics) is the responsibility of all.