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.

 

Will You Love Me? (A Song of the Refugee)

I was recently at a gathering of people in the city of Lancaster talking among other things about what the city might be like if it was ‘healthy’. I had the privilege of listening to a singer/songwriter called David Benjamin Blower. He writes protest songs. He was singing one song about refugees/asylum seekers and in his opening spiel, he talked about how it can be easy to love form a distance, to feel moved and motivated to “do something”. But when people come to live in our neighbourhoods or in our homes, the challenge to us is to love at an entirely different level.

The response of governments to the refugee (we cannot and must not call those desolated by war “migrants”) crisis has been slow and lacking in humanity. David Cameron will announce today how many refugees we will now (under political pressure) welcome into the UK. We must not allow these people to put into some kind of awful detention centre or in any way be made to feel unwelcome.

My wife and I (along with countless other families across the UK) would welcome a family into our home. We’ve had destitute asylum seekers live with us before through the amazing Boaz Trust in Manchester and it has been an utterly humbling and richly rewarding experience. Even if it isn’t this time, and is full of inconvenience and pain, love compels us to embrace the “other”.

I’m not the world’s best singer/songwriter, but I’ve found over the last few months that I have written many protest songs…..I will be posting them on this blog (with HUGE thanks to my friend Andrew Towers at purple videos for filming them) over the coming weeks. This first one is written, putting myself (as far as I am able through imagination) in the place of a refugee and singing to the powers – to David Cameron, to Theresa May, to George Osborne, to the other leaders of Europe and indeed the USA…..Have a listen…..It’s called “Will You Love Me?”

An Open Letter to Theresa May, Home Secretary

Dear Theresa

I hope you don’t mind the informal greeting, as I’ve never had the opportunity to meet you, but I believe in a level playing field when it comes to communication and I find that titles can get in the way of that. I also wanted to use your first name, because it is somehow more human and I want to appeal to you as a fellow human being, before addressing you as our current home secretary. There is a very high probability that you will never read this, so I thought I would write it as an open letter to engage others in a vital conversation.

The reason for my letter is to appeal to you on behalf of the hundreds of people you are currently detaining in any one of the 11 Detention (Immigration Removal) Centres located throughout the UK. There have been several reports of the dreadful treatment of fellow human beings, people we call our brothers and sisters, in this wide and varied family of humanity. Even your chief inspector of prisons calls the conditions ‘appalling’. Many of these people have been victims of torture and abuse from which they have fled only to be treated in a simply disgusting way in this nation. You are even detaining pregnant women and children (141 children that are known of in the last 5 years). These beautiful human beings are treated in an altogether sub-human way.

Georgio Agamben writes of the ‘State of Exception’. I’m sure you are aware of his writings, but if not, this ‘state of exception’ describes how a human being can be both simultaneously bound and abandoned to law. It reveals what really undergirds a nation; that which we are willing to put aside to maintain the status quo. The detention of people in this way reveals a vile underbelly and a rotten foundation to this nation state. These detention centres are our very own example of Guantanamo Bay, where people are held without hope of a fair trial, justice or human kindness. Essentially, by keeping people who are deemed to have failed in seeking asylum in these detention centres, you “erase any legal status of the individual, thus producing a legally unnamable and unclassifiable being.” (Agamben, State of Exception p7). To treat any person who does in fact have a name and a face in such a manner, is altogether inhumane and utterly wrong.

In our house, we try to live with the following kind of philosophy:

In this house

As home/house secretary, I wonder if you think the home/house we are creating in this land is reflected in these removal centres? I know you will argue that this land isn’t their home, which is why we are sending them back to their country of origin (which I doubt they could really call home or they would not have fled it). But there is something so very wrong about how you are allowing them to be treated. You know fine well from serious case reviews that terrible errors have been made in sending people back to their country of origin, leading for example to the death of a lesbian woman in Uganda. You know there have been and continue to be atrocious abuses of basic human rights in these detention centres. You know that people are being denied access to vital medical treatment (www.medicaljustice.org.uk). You know that at least one person has been unlawfully killed at the hands of your profit making making friends, G4S, who run these centres for you. Yet you are allowing it to continue. Theresa, how is this loving? How is it kind? How is it human?

I am sure your job is filled with complications and difficult decisions, and I am sure that there are some who may well need deporting to another land, but do not let the office you hold become separate from your humanity. I appeal to you as a fellow human and I appeal to you as the home secretary to do an urgent review of these centres.

I would like to suggest the following:

1) Please would you spend a day in each of detention centres and simply hear the stories of those you are detaining there. Then please look them in the eye and justify your decision to allow them to be treated as sub-human.

2) Please remove G4S from the management of the detention centres, as they have demonstrated a recurrent lack of love or concern for human welfare.

3) Please consider that detention centres could be managed instead by asylum charities, who have a far better understanding of the needs of those they would be caring for and can ensure that they are given appropriate access to legal help and medical intervention. This can be backed up with security if needed, but by changing the environment and approach of how we ‘detain’ people, I imagine we will have less security issues.

Thank you for taking the issues of human love and justice seriously,

Yours most sincerely

Andy Knox