A divide

fall_of_churchNo easy solutions to the issues we all face. But ‘we’ have been here before. What about life under Rome in the first century? ‘We’ (believers) in every generation have to learn how to negotiate discipleship of Jesus in the context of anti-Christ spirits. In this short post I simplistically suggest that it might come down to how we view one central element of our faith, and how we approach this will probably manifest in a divided response among us who claim to follow Jesus of Nazareth. (I appreciate what follows is either simply simplistic, or it is at core simply simple. I was told years ago that truth though profound is also simple’).

Power – what kind of power does God call us to share? Did he intend that the church have power at the centre to shape from the top-down? Or to be the salt in the land and the light to the land? Legislation is important… any legislation that dehumanises by intention is anti-God. The resurrection being an enormous God-speech of ‘yes’ to humanity. Maybe there is good and necessary legislation that will unintentionally dehiumanise – the effects of what could be good but applied in a fallen world. But anything that intentionally or overwhelmingly dehumanises has to be viewed from a ‘there is something wrong with this at the core’.

I believe in the transformative power of the Gospel and not just at the personal level, but for the land(s) beyond the personal. I think that is the Pauline gospel and there is a shift from 12 core disciples to 12% of the Roman empire who were willing to be be marginalised and give their lives for Jesus that took place across the first 3 centuries. From an obscure sect in Israel to spreading right across the Imperial lands. That is transformation. For a kingdom that is not of this world that is quite an impact on the world!

It is this tension – a kingdom that is not of this world, and if it was then all the normal means of exercising power would be validated (including the sword, which is simply the final outworking of top-down authority); yet it is a kingdom that challenges all the power-structures of this world to a higher calling, the higher calling of love, compassion and care.

Two views of power, hence two views of the cross (a call to our death in the context of the world, or a symbol by which we may conquer), and ultimately two views of the one true God. How does he ‘rule’? I think (simplistically) it comes down to that. If, as I have been suggesting for some 2 decades, that Islam is a mirror religion of Christendom, maybe shifting our view of the rule of God could be very vital as we learn how to live as disciples of Jesus in our challenging context.

[The image of course is to the book by Roger Mitchell. Available also as a kindle book. The Fall of the Church is far more profound than I had anticipated. I thought pre-Constantine ‘good’, post- as ‘bad’. Alongside other books, such as Thomas Jay Oord’s Uncontrolling Love, these writings are great resources to help us re-think the rule of God and therefore how we are to live.]

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Life as an immigrant?

Living in Spain as an immigrant who has been welcomed in is a huge privilege. Seeking to be a contributing immigrant is of course the challenge. Contributing through paying taxes is the easiest one (though why are the taxes so high?); contributing to the future welfare of the land and people is the deeper challenge – though this is our declared purpose.

I had a conversation way back pre-the vote on the referendum concerning the UK and the EU. A Brit in conversation with me insisted there was only one way to vote, and furthermore he explained to me

It’s all about the country first (the UK), and it’s obvious we are different. There are two different words, mate, they’re immigrants and we are ex-pats.

No we too are immigrants. Or biblically ‘foreigners in the land / aliens’.

Thank God that as immigrants we have the Bible defending us, asking that we be given space in the land.

Dependent on how far back we go of course many of us are descended from immigrants. Many in the West and indeed Jews – did not Abraham come from Ur of the Chaldees, even before they came out of Egypt under Moses?

Yesterday in Barcelona there was a huge and wonderful street protest. Organisers suggested 500,000 and the official sources 160,000 (so probably around 200,000 which roughly translates into 1/10 of the population of the city) gathered and marched under the umbrella of welcoming refugees, giving a sign to Spain and to the world. In 2015 Spain agreed to accept 16,000 refugees – to date 1000 have been allowed in. Barcelona has been pushing for the quota and more to be allowed in saying ‘we are ready to receive them’. For certain countries in Europe there is no need to build a wall – stretches of water like the Mediterranean are the wall built without cost!

Here are two videos from yesterday. The first gives more of the facts and figures, the second some small footage.

The issues that we face today are complex. There are no easy solutions, but compassion and welcome has to be at the forefront, seeking to do everything possible to welcome the stranger. Thank you Barcelona, thank you Ada Colau.

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Casualties & fear

I enjoy when I can get out and run, or at least the first two minutes or so! However, while out I often meditate and pray – other times I am as blank as I am at other times of the day. Whatever! Anyway while out a couple of days ago as I was thinking about the whole issue of preparing and researching for the prayer into the ReConquista (the military conquest to drive the Muslims out of Spain, culminating in 1492 and the fall of Granada), I remember the phrase concerning ‘needless casualities of war’. What follows is not a comment on the book of that title as it contains so much good material, but I was thinking about the issues surrounding kick-back and also – perhaps the greater element – of fear. The ‘fear narrative’ is so predominant and is feeding a surge of less-than-democratic processes that seem to be increasingly part of Western political world.

Fear or faith?

Fear is very real. I love the Psalmist when in subsequent verses (Ps. 56: 3,4) he makes two very important statements:

  • I trust in God and am not afraid (brave and courageous, the kind of leader we all want and need to follow!)
  • When I am afraid I trust in God – this I can identify with, or at least the first few words. Getting to the second part is not so easy.

The Psalmist reverses the order I put the two – probably indicating that his (probably a ‘he’) is further on than I am. However, apparently what we do with fear, and this will depend on the reason for the fear, is so important.

I have heard over and over again about the fear people have and therefore they want to withdraw to ‘safe’ boundaries. On the big stage I have heard that Europe (as in the EU) is an evil institution, Brussels being a platform for the antiChrist, with the following step being that of withdrawal. If I were to assume the former then what would be the appropriate response as a believer? Withdraw or be present? (I use the example purely as an example with no comment on the rights / wrongs of the Brexit.)

My point is about withdrawal and separation that is the response of fear. Or if we have strength we attack, maybe cloaked in doing the right thing but it is more often about self-protectionism.

What though is the faith response? It must be to take the presence of Jesus into the (perceived) darkness. I think someone once prayed along the lines of ‘I pray you do not take them out of the world…’

If I set my boundaries by fear I will not be involved in very much. If I set my boundaries by faith I might not be involved in very much as my faith is not so wonderful. In other words my outer life might look very similar, whether I set the boundary by faith or by fear. However, my inner life will be different. Also how ‘safe’ I am will be different. Fear is not a protection, but faith is called ‘a shield’.

If we have the life of Jesus we have a vital question to answer. He became through the resurrection ‘a life-giving Spirit’, hence we have to answer where are we to bring life. We might not have an infinite level of life but life in Jesus is present in order that we might become life givers. We have to discover what we have. We can say ‘silver and gold I do not have’ if we can also say ‘but what I have I give to you’.

We are focusing on the ReConquista with the belief that through repentance there can be a healing on the land that will help shape the future and open possible doors for the Spirit of God to work in the Muslim world. In the past we have certainly experienced some strange manifestations and maybe we will experience some kick-back. Jesus never promised we would never have kick-back. Avoiding kick-back is not the issue, doing what one needs to do with faith is what is important.

So we have a personal agenda in making sure fear does not shape any boundary, and the need to discover what we have faith for. If we are arrogant (a cover for false courage) we will receive more than kick-back and that we need to avoid. But beyond the personal agenda I am very concerned…

The fear narrative is reaching new levels. It is the necessary forerunner for levels of authoritarianism. That concerns me, so my appeal is we have to dig deeper. We as believers in the resurrection surely must find faith and be those who speak of faith. If we simply repeat a ‘Christianised’ (for that read a Christendom-inspired) version of fear we will live to regret it enormously, and in particular will fail to be what we need to be in this season of enormous opportunity. Retreating will give us respite – and great gatherings – but only for a season. And a respite with great gatherings is not exactly what the resurrection opened up for us.

Well a bit of ramble… and at whatever level there is value in this post here are the bullet points:

  • Set our boundaries by faith not fear.
  • Stop feeding off the fear narrative. Life is too short!
  • Discover what life we have to give so that we can say ‘what I have I give to you’.
  • Find the location of vacuum or darkness where we can become a place of entry for light.
  • Move forward with humility – it is the major cloak of invisibility.

So to those who like me that are often confronted with the small level of faith that we have be provoked. Even if our faith is as a mustard seed there are a few mountains to shift.

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An open future

Uncontrolling LoveI have for long leaned toward what is termed ‘Open Theology’, and perhaps Thomas Jay Oord’s book ‘Uncontrolling Love’ is one of the best presentations of it, presenting some fresh perspectives even beyond those of Pinnock et al. Of course there are always Scriptures that can be quoted with a loud voice that will denounce any opposing theology. This post is not to defend Open Theology as a theology but to suggest that we are at least to live as if we can shape the future.

Narratives (beliefs) shape the world we live in. I have no doubt that the Western world is going through a major shift, and the one who can predict what it will look like in 15 years time either has some incredible insights or are rather naïve. I have many times written about the predominant spin of the fear narrative as something we must reject. We see this so strong at this point in time: create a fear scenario which then allows / legitimises an authoritarian response which leads to the ‘state of exception’. The political realm is awash with this, in some places so visible, but in other places just under the surface. And sadly the extremes are pulling what was once more moderate increasingly in that direction.

At a time of crisis (the 30s) the oft-repeated phrase of ‘We have nothing to fear except fear itself’ was spoken in the inaugural speech of Franklin D. Roosevelt. I am suggesting (as I write as a believer) that maybe now we need to say:

We have nothing to fear except a church that has bought into the fear narrative.

There are those who draw on the research of, for example, The Fourth Turning, which suggests a cycle of 80-100 years, the final stage being that of crisis which opens the door to war and then a rebirth. This writing is apparently fuelling the ideas being fed into the current administration in the USA. War – inevitable in this stage? Dayesh (ISIS) holds to the eschatology of a Middle Eastern Armageddon so the drawing of the major powers into that arena is not something to be avoided as eventually once that takes place this will precipitate the return of Jesus… and not on the side of the ‘Christians’. Others of the Christian faith also hold to such an eschatology, so the idea of working for peace is to be avoided also. Interestingly ‘Woe to those who say peace, peace’ would have been a reference to the Pax Romana, the false peace that was offered to all who complied and was implemented and sustained by war. No different to the current peace and safety being offered in the West.

There are myths that abound, and narratives that sustain the myths. We have been instructed to be armed! I was once told in no uncertain terms that ‘Pacificism will not cut it these days!’ (BTW pacificism is not the correct term for a non-violent position.)

We have to live from a different narrative. Here is where at least the outcome of an Open position should help us. We do not have to adopt that view theologically. Even if we are of the most hard line ‘all things have been predestined’ we are still to live from faith in God and live out our lives trusting God and living as though we can affect the future.

I believe we are responsible for the politics, but we are never to put our faith in the political system or those elected. We are responsible for the world we live in – the buck stops here!

So back to where I started. The fear narrative is linked to a fatalistic one. It is pessimistic in the extreme but with a twist – there is a human / political saviour who will steer us through this. Believe the narrative, let increasing authority and therefore power flow to the top and we will get through this. Such a narrative is sadly antiChristian.

The crisis in the West is secondarily a political crisis. It is primarily a crisis of faith. This season will polarise things increasingly with respect to what it means to follow Jesus. Either the cross will be emblazoned on the sword or we will recognise it as the symbol of a life laid down. ‘As often as you do this do this in remembrance of me.’ Amidst all the narratives we cannot afford to forget him.

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How much apology?

I posted yesterday the apology toward the native (north) American nations which prompted a great comment / question from Nigel regarding national repentance and forgiveness. He wrote:

At what point is the issue considered dealt with?

With personal issues,
apology + forgiveness = closure

With nations though, does each successive generation need to re-repent? I’m thinking maybe of Germany and the Jewish people here. My cautious first answer would be no as generational guilt is not a good thing.

Also, within a repentant generation, what proportion need to be truly repentant of the issues? Leadership repentance on behalf of the nation is valuable but if the nation itself doesn’t see the issue…..

I am glad Nigel asked my perspective – I can give that but the definitive answer? I don’t think so. Let me start by acknowledging that the approach to apology / identificational repentance (from now on IR) is diverse among theologians. Indeed the weight of opinion is probably against it as being something valid in the sense of shifting anything spiritually. At best it might be seen as accomplishing something psychologically, rather than actually dealing with anything substantial. A Western individualistic mindset does not lend itself to validating IR. ‘I was not there…, I did not steal the land…’ Biblically quoting verses that suggest God will not hold the children to account for the sins of the fathers also are thrown in, along with the ‘where in the NT do we find this?’ Under that weight the answer is easy – OK do it if you wish but there is no need to answer the questions as there is nothing objective taking place simply something subjective. However, I beg to disagree!!

There are numerous Scriptures along the lines of ‘If you confess your sins and the sins of your antecedents…’ and living examples of, e.g., Daniel or Ezra, making confession of the historic sins of the nation. That seems based on an understanding that each generation is connected to those who have gone before, and that both sin and righteousness are trans-generational, being sown into the land. I find no convincing way to understand the baptism of Jesus in any different light. He confesses sin – otherwise there is no submitting to John’s baptism, and he confessed the sin of the people as if it were his own, thus fulfilling what had been lacking – all righteousness. He does this at the key point – the geographical point of entry to the land, at a key time, when there is the hope of the end of exile (NT Wright et al., linking exile and forgiveness of sins). His repentance there is the carrying of sin, which he carries to the cross. He is crucified for Israel as the ultimate suffering servant, and thus for the sins of the world. So I do not see the cross as bearing the anger of God, but wrath (if you like) in the sense of the consequences of sin. The cross is the point of reconciliation because it is the ultimate point of God’s identification with humanity.

Jesus work is then finished. The work the Father gave him to do. His work is not finished though. The body of Christ carries on the work of Jesus. ‘All that Jesus began to do and to teach…’ ‘I complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ…’ kind of Scriptures are what I appeal to there, as well as the close identification of Jesus and the body – ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ This shapes my eschatology that the end cannot come until the body has completed her task of providing the materials for the age to come (silver, gold, precious stones of 1 Corinthians and Revelation).

So my convictions are rooted in what is here today is the result of what was sown yesterday. Where that is sin – betrayals, illegal moving of boundaries, bloodshed, tower of Babel pride etc. – it will be dealt with through repentance. If that is accepted, the inevitable questions arise such as ‘how much repentance?’, ‘who is involved?’ and the like.

So my perspectives follow!

1. Body of Christ has the primary responsibility for the health of the world. Change is not from no. 10 etc, but a movement has to be present in the church. That essentially means a different flow of life. These are the huge challenges when living in the world, but not being of it. Those working in the economic world, for example, have a huge task of working out how to truly be Christian. Negatively I suspect that when the believers predominantly live from the same spirit that their contribution to bondage is even greater than that of non-believers.

2. We own not our own sins alone but the sins of the community, or whatever part of it we can identify with. Jesus had the calling and capacity to identify with the sins of the world… in the big scheme of things the body of Christ maybe can and should do the same corporately.

3. Confession is connected to conviction. I have a conviction that the Crusades, the Inquisition, Christendom, conversion of the heathen by any level of force and that whole gamut to be anti-Christian. I appreciate there are others who hold to the view that those who fought to protect ‘the faith’ view it differently. On that we are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. All I can do is follow my convictions… so on Spain and the Reconquista, Gayle and I have to take responsibility for what took place. What was done in the name of Jesus implicates us. The repentance has to begin with us, not in some superior way that we would not have done that. The same sins are in us, and as I have repeatedly written in many posts, the sin of dehumanisation is ultimately a denial at some level of the Incarnation – and that spirit John says is the spirit of antiChrist.

4. God looks for someone to stand in the gap. He can work with a ‘someone’. The ‘someones’ are often not the right people. They are from the ‘not many mighty, not many noble’ kind of people. It seems that is all God needs to get something moving. If it is done from conviction, and that has to go beyond the level of simply doing research then ticking the boxes as each thing is dealt with, then there seems to be a real shift. That shift seems to (often / always?) release a greater level of awareness and others get on board to make apology / repent. Often ending with governmental representatives making apology and reparations put in place.

5. I do not think this has to be repeated generation upon generation. Sin can be dealt with – or maybe better in the context I am writing about, the effects of sin can be dealt with. Hence I do believe without dealing with the root issues of the Reconquista that no wall or foreign policy can keep Spain free from future terrorist attacks. As I wrote a couple of posts ago, my expectation would be this year or next. If we take responsibility, with the full expectation, that many have already done much more before us, we can see a shift here in Spain, and in such manifestations as Dayesh. I have the firm conviction that the roots of a militant Islam lie within Christendom.

6. I do see IR as coming to a place where it does not need to be repeated. Same as at a personal level. My sin is dealt with, but it is at times not unhelpful to soberly revisit the effect of my sin. I consider this to be the situation in Germany. Her sin is forgiven, but a sober revisiting of the Holocaust is necessary to live differently in the light of the forgiveness.

7. The percentage who repent? An unrepentant church would for me be the largest presenting problem. And that raises the tough issue of when is a brother / sister no longer a brother or sister. Jesus makes it plain that when we show hatred we are of our father, the devil, who is murderer from the beginning. I cannot answer easily for those who have a conviction (from Scripture) about the death penalty, or what I would consider excessive military response. I have to live with my convictions, but my concern is that such ‘biblical’ convictions are causing us enormous issues. My priority is not to judge but to respond to God and therefore live with a measure of personal integrity. As Jesus said to Peter concerning a fellow disciple, ‘what has that got to do with you?’

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