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.

Repentance IS the Revolution

Here we are at the start of ‘Green Week’ in which the UK government has decided to ask some experts about whether or not we should amend our target of being carbon neutral by 2050?! Talk about asking a stupid question! In the very same week, Cuadrilla will be allowed to start fracking – drilling for more fossil fuels in Lancashire, whilst those who peacefully protested are sent to prison (a little ironic!) and the Climate Change Minister –  Claire Perry, has declared it is not her government’s job to advise people on a climate friendly diet (despite the evidence, which I regret, showing that we need to seriously curtail our meat intake, especially of beef and lamb). What is the role of government, I am left wondering…….?

 

We have 12 years! That really isn’t a very long time. 12 years in which to drastically change our minds and our behaviour about how we are living, or face the devastating consequences of the impact of climate change for ourselves, our children and our children’s children.

 

Gandhi wrote so powerfully about the seven social sins, as he saw them:

 

1) Politics without Principle

2) Wealth without Work (weird how this has switched in the social conscience to poverty without work….how did poverty become the sin?)

3) Commerce without Morality

4) Pleasure without Conscience

5) Education without Character

6) Science without Humanity

7) Worship without Sacrifice

 

For the health and wellbeing of people and the planet, we need to change and we need to change now. As my friend Martin Scott says, the facades are down. We can see things clearly for what they are. That means we cannot and must not allow ‘business as usual’ to continue. This is our moment. We cannot simply carry on with the same old, same old. If ever there was a moment for us to change – it is now! Our economic model is literally destroying us. Our politics are increasingly tainted with a rhetoric of blame and fear. Unless we change now, with the backdrop of environmental disasters, food and water shortages, driven by human greed, then within a few short years, we will be facing war and humanitarian atrocities at a truly alarming scale.

 

Our only hope, is repentance. Repentance, as David Benjamin Blower tells us, IS the revolution. An old, biblical phrase which means to completely change our hearts and minds and instead live utterly differently. It means laying down our consumerism of the world and instead choosing to become good stewards of it, letting go of our own hedonistic selfishness in preference for the ‘other’ and sustainability of the earth. It means recognising that our economic model is broken and unjust, so we need to find a new way that is distributive and regenerative. It means learning to love our enemy rather than hate them, curtailing our excesses and learning to live more simply, caring for the poor instead of scapegoating them, promoting the welfare of children rather than constantly comparing and measuring them. It means breaking the chains of the global slave trade, stopping our appalling pollution now, not in 2050 and finding a way to live in peace.

 

This isn’t some hippy utopia, it is, I believe, what God always hoped for with us.  Repentance isn’t some weirdo religious experience, it is a gutsy, humble recognition that we’re in a mess and we need forgiveness from God, ourselves, each other and the planet. Repentance is a complete change of heart and mind, away from death to life, from greed to gift, from destruction to renewal, from darkness to light, from hate to love.

 

I  have found in my journey of faith in the person and teaching of Jesus, that only the love of God really changes my heart and deals with my pride, my greed and my selfishness.  Sadly, (predominantly) white, evangelical Christianity has aligned itself more with nationalism and free-market capitalism than what I read Jesus to teach in the scriptures. A dangerous theology has developed which equates a strong economy as being a sign of God’s ‘financial blessing’ and ‘favour’, giving little thought to the raping of the earth’s resources or the injustice upon which such ‘prosperity’ is built. When Jesus said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here”, he wasn’t saying that he was going to replace the Roman Empire with an even more awful and utterly destructive system. He was inviting us to open our eyes and see that the ways of God could not be more different to Empire and are about ‘life poured out love’ or ‘self-giving, others empowering-love’, where all are welcome, all are set free and all can become stewards of this way of kindness and peace. It’s not easy to go against the system – it takes sacrifice – but it is the only thing that can lead to our salvation – something we need more than ever.

 

I have little hope that any government or system, with all their vested interests, can or will take the precarity of our situation seriously enough. And so it falls to you and me – we the people together. Personal and corporate repentance. It’s time (As Michael Jackson sang) to look at the man or woman in the mirror – and make that change.

 

It is true, that our work may well feel apparently worthless, futile and achieve no result at all – in all honesty it’s why I’ve made excuses for not changing certain things (like eating beef far too often – though that changes now!)……so as Thomas Merton reminds us, we must focus on the value, the rightness and the truth of the work we must do, itself…….In the end….he says…..”it is the reality of personal relationships that save everything.” So, don’t feel overwhelmed by the enormity of it. Make your own repentance yourself and amongst your relationships and bit by bit, we might just make a difference. Doing nothing is not an option. Repentance IS the revolution – and a revolution is what we need. Grace gives the opportunity to make a fresh start. Are you ready for it? What changes will you make? If not now, when? If not us, who?

 

 

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:

 

Can You Dream a Little?

A few weeks ago I read an article in The Guardian, which has given me much cause for thought ever since. The ideas are not new to me and the conclusions don’t quite work for me either, but there is much in it that is worth exploring more about the demise of the nation state:

 

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/apr/05/demise-of-the-nation-state-rana-dasgupta?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

Unknown-1Alongside that sits my ongoing rumination about economics and politics and a need for something altogether different. Economics, from the Greek word, ‘Oikos’ literally means ‘household’ or ‘ecology’ and has to do with how we organise our household or our ecology – worth noting here that both the household and the ecology are ‘living systems’ and not ‘mechanistic’ (a word which describes many of our current approaches in how we think about economics generally). I have particularly found Kate Raworth’s book, Doughnut Economics, to be extremely helpful, along with Charles Eisenstein’s, ‘Sacred Economics’, and Tomas Sedlacek’s, ‘The Economics of Good and Evil’, in helping me reframe how I think about economics and to dream about what else might be possible for us together.

 

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from certianlyher.com

Politics, on the other hand, comes from the Greek, ‘Polis’, meaning ‘the city’ and has to do with how we live together as people. Our current political system is simply not cutting it. I’m actually not out to criticise our politicians. I think many of them are genuinely trying to do a good job. It’s the system that is broken and lacks the ability for true representative democracy to flourish. There is such a weariness with the two-sided braying and mocking, referendums which don’t even come close to talking about the real issues, media control of the arguments and social media manipulation of the mass psyche. Posturing, pedestalling, point-scoring, point-missing and powerful lobbies pulling strings……is this it? Is this the best of us? Is there nothing better that we can imagine? What I’m interested to find is a reimagining of what it means for us to live well together in this global age and hope we can find a way forward together, politically (with a small p) to face up to the major issues of our day.

 

My friend, Steve Lowton, recently did a little vlog series about authenticity and it has made my ears prick up. He stated that there are three things he is listening out for: 1) the sound of people living authentic lives, 2) the sound of the people on the streets (people movements which are emerging) and 3) creative artists/poets/dreamers who can help to open up the imagination of what might be possible. If Rana Dasgupta is right, and the nation state as a concept, is crumbling, we have 100 years ahead of us of some significant turmoil as we try and navigate our way through to a reimagined future. What if, as Bishop Michael preached at imagesHarry and Meghan’s wedding, we reimagined the world based on love?! Is it really that crazy? It is foolishness to those who deem themselves wise and experts in how things need to be run….but there is great wisdom to be found in the ‘self-giving, others-empowering love’ we find in the kenotic source of life itself!

 

Unknown-2More than ever, we need to find ways of having conversations, based on the premise of Albert Einstein, who said that if he had one hour to save the world, he would spend 55 minutes trying to find the right question and then he would only need 5 minutes to solve it. Our temptation is to dive in and fix problems, often based on our own very limited perspective, or piece of the jigsaw, which often leads to finger pointing, blaming and shaming, before we’ve really discovered what the question is that we’re actually needing to ask……The problems before us are complex and the next election isn’t going to fix them! We have an environment which is under significant stress, an economic system which is profoundly dysfunctional, global inequality at every level, major health crises, boundaries and histories which divide us and ongoing conflicts and wars. Pointing fingers and blaming ‘the other’ isn’t going to help us. We must be willing to encounter those totally different from ourselves and find an altogether better way……

 

But if you take the time to listen, there are people of authenticity making a different sound, there are people movements across the globe calling for something new and there are many creative minds, hearts and voices beginning to weave together some dreams of what might be possible……

 

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from animals.howstuffworks.com

Do you think that the caterpillar can ever conceive of becoming a butterfly? And yet….in the cocoon, in the waiting, IMAGINAL cells form – they have the potential to become anything!! It is time for a great metamorphosis, where our imaginations can dream of what seems utterly impossible…..it is time for new creation…..can you see it? Can you perceive it? Can you hear it? Can you feel it? Then be authentic and turn your face into the wind that is blowing…..because together, with love, we can!

Hope for 2017

Here is an early morning vlog to end the year – sorry, its slightly longer than usual!

Northern Powerhouse or an Empowered North?

There has recently been an excellent set of programmes on radio 4 about the North and what it means to be Northern. Some parts were hilarious and others deeply moving. Although we don’t want a North-South divide, neither do we want a homogenisation that sees a loss of identity. A Northern Powerhouse, (whoever it is lead by – George Osborne, Andy Burnham or Michael Bloomberg) is the last thing the North wants or needs. We don’t want the London model of trickle down economics. Who wants to end up with a trickle? There’s nothing worse than standing under a shower that doesn’t work properly! We don’t want the social cleansing of our cities and swathes of people feeling marginalised and forgotten. No. That is not the northern way. The North has a great history of social cohesion, people movements, social change and political debate. The promise of greater power that only serves to maintain a wounded and broken economic system, widening the gap between the rich and poor is not welcome here. We do not want to build a powerhouse. The land here remembers all too well the sweat, blood and tears of the powerhouses of the industrial revolution. If the government is serious about releasing more power northwards, then the power must be given to be worked with in a generative way, motivated by love, to create a fairer society for everyone.  Life is already too fast paced, using human beings as commodities or fuel for the fire. No, we need to rediscover our humanity, to re-humanise our systems. We don’t want a pre-thought through model. We want to shape it ourselves and create the kind of society that aligns itself with our values. We are not robots or industrial machines. It is time for the fire of the North to ignite some conversations about what kind of future we might co-create rather than have something imposed on us, if it’s all the same to you, London!

It is Love Labour’s Lost

imgresWhat 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 images-1have 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 MTE5NTU2MzE2MjgwNDg5NDgzemotional 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/)

 

imgresLabour 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.