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.

 

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.

Is Another World Really Possible?

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!

 

 

Azusa Street – Rosa Parks – MLK – Obama – Status Quo – What Can We Learn?

AzusaStreet2110 years ago last weekend, there was a phenomenon that occurred at Azusa Street, Los Angeles, which saw the birth of the Christian Pentecostal movement and forever changed the face of global christianity and society as a whole. In the gatherings and prayer meetings that happened during this time, many people encountered the egalitarian love of God and were utterly transformed by it. In a day and age in which there was still an utter domination of Black men and women by Whites and the general degradation of women of all colours and backgrounds, something incredible unravelled. Suddenly, men and women, blacks and whites found themselves to be equally loved, equally honoured and equally transformed. Sadly, within just a couple of years, much of this free and radical move of God, this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, had become commodified and controlled with the separation of men and women, black and white as entrenched as ever.

 

What we can recognise, however, is that something had been birthed that waspar0-018 unstoppable. It is without doubt, that one can trace this awakening force all the way through to the bravery of Rosa Parks and the peace-fuelled dream of Martin Luther King. But, I want to argue that between the early 20th century and the time of the Civil Rights Movement, a virus had infected the movement that has ultimately led to it being ineffectual in creating a truly egalitarian society.

 

In a recent blog I wrote on Christmas, I stated that the Christmas story is not about God changing his mind about humanity, but about humanity reconfiguring its understanding of who God is. So, it was with Azusa Street. The movement of God in the earth, what some people term ‘the river of God’, flows to “bring down rulers from their thrones and exalt those who are humble”, or to “bring the mountains low and raise the valleys up”, creating an equal playing field for humanity. To state this even more clearly: There is a whole new way for humanity to walk in together, which is utterly different from the status quo, where we move from a place in which the power and wealth is held by the few, to a ‘new creation’ of egalitarian grace for all. The Azusa Street ‘awakening’ was not given so that more and more Christians could sing more and more songs for longer and have ever more wonderful experiences. No, it was to begin something that could change the whole of society and put right age-long injustices.

 

In the flow from Azusa Street into the Civil Rights Movement, something precious was lost and a distortion took place. Azusa Street offered a new way for humanity, a partnership between kenosis and ecstasy. However, a misapplied understanding of MTE5NTU2MzE2MjgwNDg5NDgzSovereignty through a leadership of domination and control, meant that rather than creating a new dance, to which all could be invited, it was believed that it was only through the positions of power that one could affect change. So, the contemporary critics of MLK may have been onto something when they said that he should not be knocking on the door of power in order to be part of the white man’s game. Rather, the movement could have found a new way of being that they invited all, including the powerful to join in with.

 

If we take the journey right through from Azusa Street to Obama, even with a black President, the problem still remains. So much hope rested on one man. ‘Yes We Can!’ has become ‘Oh no you couldn’t’. Not because Obama isn’t brilliant (I think he was MTE4MDAzNDEwNzg5ODI4MTEwace in many ways). Not because his motives were wrong. Not even because he was naive. No, the truth is that real change doesn’t happen from the top. The positions of power are incapable of making the changes that many long to see. Generally the positions are filled with good people, but they find that the power they thought they might have is utterly impotent. They are actually powerless to do the very thing they were elected to the office to do! Otherwise, we would have implementation of Obamacare, and many other injustices put right…..only we are seeing the very opposite of this occur on both sides of the Atlantic.

 

It is the powers that have to shift and the processes that need to change. The systems are so strong and built on such endemic injustice, violence and control, that they simply cannot shift their ground.  If people movements try to get ‘the right people’ into positions of power in the hope that they will bring some kind of salvation, they will be sorely disappointed. We cannot knock on the doors of power to try to gain that power. We must fundamentally see a power shift and redistribution. This requires an entirely different kind of culture and an entirely new politics. It is the movements that must help those in power to make the shift into the new future we are all longing for, rendering the current power structures null and void.

 

 

Misconstrued Sovereignty

iu-5We are hearing a lot about ‘sovereignty’ these days, especially in the current debate about Europe. We are particularly told by the ‘brexit’ campaign that leaving Europe will give us our ‘Sovereignty’ back as a nation. We will be able to make our own laws and do things the way we want them to be done. And yet sovereignty usually means the empowerment of the few, something that absolutely must change.

 

Yesterday was Good Friday. A day when we remember the cruel and appalling death of a man who claimed to be the Son of God.  A man who touched the untouchables, healed the sick, gave dignity to prostitutes and embraced the dying. A man who set a trajectory for the equality of women and the rightful honour children should receive. A man who welcomed strangers and prioritised the poor. A man who dared to say to religious powers that God is not far away and unknowable; and to political leaders that top-down dominating hierarchy is only based on fear and control. A man who in essence gave us the foundations for true democracy (as Robert Schuman says), where we do not seek that which is best for ourselves, motivated by self-preservation; no, we learn to embrace the ‘other’ and show brotherly and sisterly love to all.

 

imgresThe cross is not about the need of an angry Sovereign God to be appeased, but rather the love of God utterly dismantling humanity’s understanding of what it means to be sovereign. So much therefore for ‘Sovereign decisions’ that disregard the need of our fellow humans. So much for the desire to be self-ruling and governing.

 

In our household today, we have been thinking together about all that Jesus took upon himIMG_0368.jpgself on the cross. Not just our own ‘Sovereign’ ways of behaving with a capital S, the thoughts and actions that demonstrate our own need to be in charge, but the things we do as humanity collectively that bring such destruction to ourselves, our relationships and the world we live in. We wrote many things down on scraps of paper and pinned them to a wooden cross (words like selfishness, greed, the arms trade, nuclear weapons, starvation in a world of plenty etc). And then we burnt the whole thing, representing to us the way that his love consumes and overcomes all of these things. It is finished. That old understanding of Sovereignty is done with. True sovereignty is to walk in the way of uncontrolling love (Jay Thomas Oord) and has nothing to do with violence, debt, control, power games or self-preservation.

 

When christians speak of the ‘Sovereignty of God’, we must be careful to understand what we mean. God is not sovereign in the way humanity classically attributes sovereignty. His sovereignty is of a completely different order. The word sovereign is unhelpful when thinking about God. It attributes all kinds of disturbing characteristics that do not belong to him at all. We must find better language that is not entangled with such confusion, or alternatively allow the word ‘sovereignty’ to be entirely redefined.
And so, when we want to make our own individual ‘sovereign’ decisions, or as a nation IMG_0371.jpgwish to do so collectively, we could perhaps think more carefully about what will happen when we act in a ‘sovereign’ dimension toward others….As english people, we are going to struggle with our own sense of sovereignty, because we have had the biggest empire in the world and have a long history of grand monarchy. At Easter, we could do worse than to reflect on the humility and grace of the cross and allow our hunger for autocracy to be utterly undone.

Kenarchy – New Hope for the Political Left

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

Healthcare Politics 2b

2b) I do believe “all knowledge is relational”. On a completely separate tack, I am passionate to see the hierarchy created by knowledge within the NHS broken down. The managment restructuring within the NHS had some great potential to create a more level paying field. But it has amazed me to see the CCG’s in England created with a dominance from doctors, only one nurse on the panel and no other therapists…..

Within general practice, it is rare to find practices where all the partners are not doctors, or if there are others, it is usually senior nurses or practice mangers. There are some exciting models where all members of a practice are partners (Bolton/Tower Hamlets in East London). Such models break down the hierarchies of money and knowledge as power and recognise the amazing contributions and to be made from across a team. Not only so, but data from these places indicates high staff morale, high patient satisfaction rates and good clinical results – a pretty awesome combination! This can work in hospital settings also and gives the hospital team and potentially the wider community the chance to participate in their workplace/heath service more holistically. It brings the possibility of participatory budgeting to the fore which is really exciting model for budgeting and corporate financial responsibility.

To flip power on its head and make it that which allows the mountains to be made low and the valleys to be raised up is at the very heart of kenarchy. Level playing fields – make for a better game!