We watched the unfolding of the Catalan (non?) referendum yesterday appalled at the violence with over 800 injuries some serious. Glad to see that those who resisted did so (in the main) non-violently. It is never easy to be a law enforcement person in those situations, but the way the Catalan police behaved was very moving indeed confronting unnecessary force by police from outside Cataluña. The intransigent stances of central government and the separatist movement in Cataluña and the resulting clashes was at a level beyond what would be expected in any Western country. The video below will give some indication of the level of tension on the day:
No one is the victor after such a day. It was Wellington who was credited with the statement that the only thing sadder than a battle won is a battle lost. Yesterday highlights the deep wounds in the land, and (being optimistic!!) those wounds have to be exposed for there to be healing. We anticipate a few years of unrest and tension. Into that has to come the good news of Jesus that is intensely political. Not political in the sense of party politics, but in the sense of how we live together.
‘Convivencia’ was a term used to describe the era when there was majority Muslim rule in Spain and those of the three faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity, were living together. Whenever we look back we can often romanticise about a past era, and I am sure it was not perfect, but there was something taking place that was good. The repair of the damage caused to the land and the corporate memory of the (re-)conquering of Spain for the Christian faith and the subsequent expulsion of both Jews and Muslims is what Gayle and I have given ourselves to this year. If there has been any shift in that then what is beneath the surface will become very evident. As we travelled we became convinced that the Pauline Gospel has a message for society that is well summed by the word convivencia.
Words have some measure of intrinsic meaning but they essentially carry the meaning that is injected into them. In that way a word can change meaning over time, or be used in different ways by different people. We want to use the word ‘convivencia’ to express that the Gospel gives space to one and all to live together, with their differences honoured, and with a specific watchful eye to make sure that those who are marginalised have space to live. I would not consider that Paul was looking to ‘christianise’ but that he understood the church as royal priesthood for the wider world.
So we have been using the word as a shorthand way of expressing our desires for society. Maybe the word has always been in the vocabulary of the politicians in Spain, but over the past days, and yesterday in particular I don’t think a politician has talked into the Cataluñan / Spanish situation and not used the word. In the few speeches we listened to yesterday it must have been mentioned 50 times. Maybe we are now hearing it and it was always there, but I have my suspicions…
The word is now in the spiritual realm to re-shape hopes and release substance. At that stage the next element that happens is a strong attempt to colonise a word. In colonisation something is owned, redefined and rendered as a result powerless. It seems that when the word was used yesterday convivencia was fought over to mean, you have to live the way we say and that is convivencia!! Control and conformity, and certainly any confrontation or opposition has to be resisted otherwise convivencia will be broken.
Convivencia can never be shaped that way. It is something given away; it will result in messiness, difference, tension, conflicting ideas… but in listening and dialogue. It is a Gospel gift, for it is in God that we all move and have our being.
One huge aspect that first placed Spain on the map for me was in 2001 when in response to a question I made a totally non-pre-meditated response that Spain has no need for a revival history and that it was the only nation that on biblical authority could claim that there were first century apostolic unanswered prayers in the land.
If convivencia is a useful word, and if it is the outworking at a societal (political) level of the Pauline Gospel then we should anticipate a battle both over the word and the reality these coming years. And if there are a handful of believers who will see their faith as calling them to seek the true welfare of the city (polis / political space) these next years might just yield some very interesting results that could just smell a little like heaven. Not a Christian country (where did that myth come from!!??) but an environment where all can dwell – where the gates are never shut.
Yesterday was a catalytic day. Maybe this week Cataloña could declare independence. The narratives spun by central Madrid and by Barcelona will continue to gain traction. But there is another narrative, and we expect that narrative also to be spoken. It is not down to the church to speak it but to take responsibility for it to be spoken. The word is now in the the spiritual realm ready to re-shape hopes and also release substance.