Gates of society

I have written at times on what can be variously termed ‘gates’, ‘spheres’ and (one I object to) ‘mountains of influence’. Recently though I have been thinking again about these aspects. So first to note that language, with all its weaknesses, is important. Language carries concepts, hence the ‘mountain-type’ language I consider very unhelpful as it embeds the continuing belief of hierarchy and top-down change. It is not compatible with the kenotic / uncontrolling love of God.

I started this past week to think about the myth that we now have of the interdependence of the spheres. In the UK – and indeed much of Europe – there is a continuing wonderful health service available to one and all. Increasingly though this is being placed under threat and the response of junior doctors in the UK to the cuts that have been made to the NHS is more than understandable. Likewise, we see threats to education with an inevitable preferential treatment given to those from more privileged backgrounds.

Myth 1. The ‘gates of society’ are not as simple to define as interdependent spheres. Politics rules over, for example, the gates of education and health. We have an education minister and a health minister who shape up how the education and health spheres are developed. Some consultations are made, of course, but how much do those consultations shape the outcome? Ask the teacher in the classroom or the doctor / nurse in the hospital and hear what they think about the policies that they are instructed to implement.

Myth 2. The political sphere is not the top. But there is a top! Something is out of control. Take the payment of tax made by Google in the UK. When Mr. Corbyn asked on behalf of ‘Jeff’ in PM’s question time about the possibility of the individual coming to the government to make the same agreement about the level of tax to pay as Google had just done, the response revealed the situation. There was no effective response other than ‘we did better than former leaders of the house’.

So seems there is a hierarchy (particularly at the global level) with economics occupying the top seat. What if all institutional power needs a voice? Maybe politics is now fast becoming trapped in a double minded prison, seeking to reign in what is out of control, and yet defending it. (Consider the unusual symbiotic yet antagonistic relationship of the beast and the prostitute of Revelation.)

So what conclusions do I come to? Tentatively:

1) at the individual level we have to continue to move into the ‘spheres’, ‘gates’ (or whatever) in order to dismantle mountains – or at least hilltops!

2) we look to the truly uncontrollable areas such as the arts to disturb. Thanks Banksy!

3) we look to see a media that becomes free. (In Spain the majority of channels are controlled by the conservative government, with one channel being owned by a certain infamous Italian politician! In the UK just check the ownership of the press.) The underground press is increasingly important. And as we have been praying for a regeneration within the media, a new media, we have to ask as those shaped by a kingdom mentality, how we define ‘media’ (communication and language). Is it defined by what is or by its purpose?

4) we provoke democracy, not simply the democratic process. And by provoke we do that at whatever level is appropriate – and this has to include prayer to shift the mountains that are now eating democracy, often through the democratic process.

5) that we look for the voice of the street to rise. Untidy, not so articulate, but full of wisdom.

6) that we call for a new landscape while believing that there will be monumental shifts in the structures that have gone out of control. Wholesale collapse is not the way forward – we need to see low-level alternatives springing up.

The European project is rightly being challenged. The fault lines are becoming increasingly visible. There are signs of hope at grass roots, and the way of mercy has to be the way forward.

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Uncontrolling Love

uncontrolling_loveNot everyone enjoys what I enjoy, but read this book and of course you will love it! Oord is one of the leading ‘relational theologians’ and this is the first book of his I have read. It is well written and easy to read – I read it right through in a few hours. I have been heavily influenced by Open Theology, ever since having a connection with YWAM and the teaching of Gordon Olson, then the works of Clark Pinnock and Greg Boyd (and… and…), and of course the main sticking point for those who come in the opposite direction is that of ‘but God has absolute foreknowledge of all things’.

Oord begins with a strong defence of Open Theology, that the future is not predetermined in terms of its details, and is defensive of ‘accidents’ as being ‘accidents’ and not part of some ‘mystery’. I have never been comfortable with the inevitable (sorry for the illustration) that the drowning of tens of thousands in the Med is part of God’s allowed (or predetermined) plan that we do not understand, so his full-on attack of such explanations resonated strongly. Nothing new in that area but his breadth of apologetic was appreciated.

He, however, moves beyond some Open Theologians (he uses John Sanders as his dialogue partner in this) where he posits that we have to understand God kenotically. God is not to be understood as sovereign in the sense of ‘all-powerful’ but his government is one of self-emptying love. This to me, of course in resonance with Roger Mitchell’s works, was where the book became very exciting and provocative. The ‘core’ of God’s being kenotic – from this a position that he cannot act differently other than to pour Godself out. For many Open Theologians freedom is before love… but Oord seems to reverse this. God is love, he creates and gives freedom to creation.

In a very real sense – and here is where I am most exercised – God cannot ‘do’ certain things in this world. He needs our co-operation. Now then ‘come on intercession’, stand in the gap, act as a conduit for change from heaven to earth.

An easy read, harder to process the implications. I probably need to read it again to let it get deeper under my skin as (a very important area) it could really provoke also some fresh thinking on the atonement, prayer and miracles.

PS: For those who advocate ‘God is all powerful’ this always has to be qualified with what that means. He cannot make a four-sided triangle, a stone heavier than he can lift (logical fallacies), through to moral issues – ‘he cannot deny himself’. The ‘but God is all-powerful’ is not a good fall-back position as it is at best a theoretical position. Hence, for all, other than the real extremists the omnipotence of God will always need to be a qualified position.

PPS: Link to Thomas Jay Oord’s website.

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Eschaton or ‘end’ (telos)

Just a short post exploring a possibility. The ‘eschaton’, with the concept of the ‘end’, the age to come etc., is the common word used to describe what is coming. Hence the events (many past) which will include Easter, Pentecost can be described as eschatological events. We then have in that wonderful chapter of 1 Cor. 15 such statements as ‘The last (eschatos) enemy to be destroyed is death’ and Jesus is describes as the ‘Last (eschatos) Adam’.

The word telos is also a word for end but more in terms of a goal to be attained to, so is there a significance that eschatos is used not telos?

Maybe it indicates that the eschatos is bringing all of creation not through to its ‘goal’ in the sense of final destination but to its place of fullness through which multiple ‘goals’ can be reached. Maturity might not be the finality but the removal of the potential to foul up the self-giving purposes of God, hence the list of ‘no mores’ when the ‘end’ (new beginning?) comes, and the burning up in the lake of fire of all that is oppressive.

Just a random thought.

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Why Theology matters…

Very well done interview (about 38 minutes) with Douglas Campbell where he sort of unpacks his theology a bit, I found it very helpful, not a little entertaining and with enough practical influence to keep my brain cells from imploding…

Please enjoy if you have time, I found the discussion about why these things matter very instructive.

I have not arrived at reading much of his stuff yet, it is in the pile…

(I feel at times that my years of life in church were not as beneficial as they were long…I am just now learning that you only see what you shine your own light upon…Oy Vey!)

“We find a hundred and one different ways of mitigating and postponing the reality of God so we don’t have to be responsible for what He’s asked us to do…one of the ways we do this is we push the Christ event into the future”

He also dips a little into the conversation on “othering” in light of the refugee crisis…

Chris Tilling Douglas Campbell on Paul and Theology

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Get a sword

I have seen a little bit of to and fro on the ‘get armed / right to have guns’ scenario and this little problematic verse from Luke 22:36 thrown in:

But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.

The issue with the Bible is that it does not give us a set of rules, a checklist that we can tick off. Checkbox with ‘buy a sword’ is not how it works. We have to wrestle with the Bible, and eventually these issues are issues of faith. How do I read it in the light of the call to follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

So what thoughts on this verse? I am not swamped in books here so cannot even say ‘the Bishop says…’

1. The times are changing is the context of the question. Remember when I sent you out – no sword, no provision and all that? Did you come out of it OK?

“When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” (22:35)

That was then… now you need to expect something different (‘but now’). This is not a time of being accepted but of being rejected.

2. The immediate reason for the instruction is in the verse that follows the sword instruction:

For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”

So a very plausible explanation is that there was a necessity of having some weapons among the arrested band of disciples so as there was guilt – transgression (and certainly transgression of the Sermon on the Mount) – that could be put on them. If this is the reason once Jesus found out that they had two swords he said – ‘enough we don’t need any more than that’. Just enough evidence but certainly not enough to respond in violence to the accusers.

And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

Jumping forward when Peter did use the sword, presumably one of the two, Jesus very quickly responded with his rebuke of Peter:

And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22:49-53)

The rebuke in Matthew is even stronger

And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled. (Matt. 26:51-56)

So if Jesus is literally saying we have enough swords so don’t go and buy any more (‘It’s enough’) the reason for the swords could well have been on let’s give them some evidence. The rebuke when the sword was used was absolutely clear. ‘Put your sword back in its place’.

In John 18:36 we have:

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

So again it is clear that violence was eschewed by Jesus. Whatever he meant by the sword was not ‘get armed’ and certainly not ‘the kingdom is under threat so be armed to defend it for righteousness’ sake!’

There might even be one more possible way in to the Luke passage. What if Jesus was provoking the disciples to a higher understanding? What if they were to make a response of ‘but we take your teaching seriously and we are not planning on buying a sword’? Maybe that is why Jesus is not simply saying two swords are enough, but maybe in response to the ‘we have two’ that he is somewhat exasperated with their lack of kingdom response and he comes back with a ‘That’s enough of your nonsense’.

Anyway… no way can I consider this verse the endorsement for possession of weaponry!

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Last half of the decade

We are entering the second half of this decade and we continue to have a focus on the two dreams that spoke into the decade. (I have written in more detail of those two dreams before but include a summary again.) The first with the see-saw and the years coming down on each side of the see-saw (20 – 10, then 20 – 11 all the way through to 20 – 20 when there was a new alignment and balance). The second where the façades came off the institutions that had shaped the Western world, with the accompanying sobering reality that the familiar brought things back to a so-called normality. The even more sobering part of that dream was the disconnect of the body of Christ with the (God) activity of the exposure. The disconnect was through the body resorting to the familiar (by default so-called God focused activity but by default insulating behaviour). The body being the major spiritual contributor embracing familiarity inevitably became the major factor in returning things to ‘normal’.

Our focus for prayer has been the Western world, the consumer of an inordinate amount of resources, just as Rome was in the ancient world. We have also come to realise that our focus has to tie with our responsibilities. There are many perspectives we might have on other parts of the world but we are increasingly looking to tie our perspectives to where we have a responsibility. This has been an important step for us. We can have perspectives but have little to say as there are others who are responsible for the future of those places.

The work of Christ is a finished work. But the work of Christ does not finish everything, or at least the work of Christ at the cross did not finish everything. Paul spoke of filling up ‘what was lacking’! Not lacking because Jesus was not able to finish it, but because that was not his work to do. He finished the work the Father gave him. He continues to work but in and through his body (Acts 1:1). So we (the body) are here to be the door from heaven to earth, the holy priesthood of intercession (in the fuller sense of ‘standing between’ not simply ‘prayer’). We are responsible for the future, not keepers of the past. There are however specific fields where the Lord wants us to work and take responsibility. When we discover those fileds we take responsibility though we might not ‘succeed’ (not a kingdom word unless success embrace a cruciform shape) but we are to be effective. As salt we are to inhibit certain growths but foster good growth in society.

So our responsibility in this season is Spain. The future of the land is something that we are responsible for. We have now entered our 8th year here and probably have not done very well, but last year was the crossover point of the land not being able to evict us. We might still of course need to be ‘evicted’ by the Lord if we mess up. That crossover point is what gives spiritual leverage, so we know that we are to pull for a future in these next years of this decade.

We have been very blessed to watch the language of some that we pray for nationally. One such person recently said of Spain that where we have arrived is at a point where the old does not have the power to pull things back to what they call normal, but that the new rising at grass roots does not yet have the power to pull things through to the future. His description was so reflective of the see-saw and the shifts. And the language of old/new I do consider so appropriate when applied to Europe – she is like an old woman. In Spain we see mirrored again and again the issue of whether the (often literal) old woman will continue to occupy the centre and rob the future or whether the young woman will find the voice that is now being required. It is not primarily about the young taking centre-stage but of the voice being heard.

The above paragraphs are to give a background to what I now share. The perspectives are shaped by our personal journey and there could well be a measure of projectionism in it. The first half of this decade has been one of finding space and room in a new way. The encounters on the way have been many, but I believe it is so that there can be space to take responsibility for whatever aspect of the public square that is appropriate. So weigh what I write. The next half of the decade begins now.

2016: signs of the direction ahead

Here is the core of what I see in this year. I also see what is happening this year as a pointer to what is to happen in the next five years.

A year of unusual turbulence. Not simply turbulence, but unusual turbulence. There might be a pull to what is normal, but the Lord will mark things by ‘this is not normal’. A year marked by storms (I am struck by the first hurricane in the Atlantic to form in the month of January since 1938 is happening right now as I write). The storms though are not simply weather storms and I saw them ripping through the tops of trees. The tops are where the winds will blow. This is a year when there will be storms that hit the high and mighty. Mountains not to be occupied but to be made low.

It is a time for family legacies to be established. The ‘me generation’ is fast producing a narcissistic generation. But it is not too late. There has to be an unseating of the ‘me’ that has plagued the West. This focus I see as being strongly aimed toward the 50+ bracket. The clash between the strong personality and those who step back from the ‘self-claims’ but clearly carry a focus for the future will be visible for all to see. There has to be some incredible acts of courage that take place – the voluntary unseating from positions of so-called power and influence. So look for resignation – due to the storms and due to voluntary stepping aside, no longer running on the treadmill of performance and notoriety.

Open doors and high fences. Doors open to the other or fences that will accelerate the decline through inbreeding. It is no longer possible to spiritually deal with what needs shifting through the so-called indigenous people of the land. Of course this has applications politically but as I always see the body of Christ being responsibility for society the primary way I am looking at this is concerning the body of Christ.

Patterns for the coming years. This year will afford responses that will both be signals of what needs to be responded in the years that follow, so there will be responses that we do not feel ready for. When we hit the strange challenges we need to be very slow at judging the response by what we know. If we go slowly we will gain insight of what we will need to come to terms with in the years that follow.

Always… every year and very day is a gift. An opportunity to hold things back or to help facilitate an acceleration.

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Alive and well

Well that has been a LOOOONG time since I have been here on the site to blog. Partly we have been focused with travel, catching up with family and friends, and now trying to come round from 26 hours of travel, jet lag and all that goes with that. Partly too as I wanted some down time to reflect as the year ends and another one begins. So this post is a short catch up in headline form.

Spain:

Spain is still locked up. One of the political wise-ones wrote that ‘the old no longer has the power to pull things back to normal but the new does not yet have the power to pull things through to a new future’. So reminiscent of the dream of the see-saw. Although things are locked up there has been a seismic shift from the former state of play that has dominated for 40 years. As we truly enter the second half of this decade we expect things to shift yet further.

While lying awake last night I was reflecting on the vision I had of the man lying across Spain – I am thinking of a couple of short videos on this in the coming days – and realised that his positioning was over the four official languages of the nation. His head was on the Basque country (Euskadi), his right arm over Galicia (Gallego), his left arm over Barcelona (Catalan) and his body of course over the remainder (Castillian). The Catalan area is very pumped at this time and is still pressing along a course for secession. Our prayer and the obvious battle since making this a focus for prayer is that of allowing the regions to express their identity within the unity of the nation. Sadly the king did not give a reconciling speech this Christmas.

Gift:

I have been watching some short clips from John Barclay on his new book on Paul. I am asking do I really want to spend that on a book? and do I really want the New Perspective to be challenged? However the food for thought coming out of what I have listened to is quite profound. The main part that surprised me is that he holds that our view of gifts as being without strings attached is a very modern one and not one that Paul would have shared. (In the world of theology this cuts across cheap grace – there is an expectation of response.)

Now what has provoked me is that if we follow this through we have to think of giving as different to that of ‘charity’. In charity we can be absolving our conscience and could even be awarding ourselves with a righteous accolade for not looking for something in return.

So what is being looked for in return? A relationship. If I understand his perspective rightly and were to push the trajectory (no idea if he is going there) gifts are given with an expectation of return. Not strings attached, but they are given to humanise, to equalise the relationship.

Now imagine this with the current refugee situation. This is not charity as they enter the nations of Europe, but gifts freely given so as they can give back, and indeed with the expectation that they will give back. For that to happen room must be given.

For anyone who has read Barclay – go gentle with me as my thoughts are based on a few clips!! However, I am thinking… God gives freely, so that we can stand up and make a contribution. He then steps back some so as we grow up. Again that outworked horizontally…

Glad to be back home. Don’t think there will be another gap of almost three weeks in the blogging scene any time soon.

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