Over a cliff?

Giles Tremlett is British but has lived in Spain acting as a correspondent for the Guardian newspaper and is occasionally interviewed also on Spanish TV. He authored a book which we read early on in our time in Spain, ‘Ghosts of Spain’. Reading the book it became clear that he had embraced the land and the article that I reference here gives a good current read on the Catalonian situation: Catalan separatists prepare for war of attrition against Madrid.

In it there is a telling quote from Fernando Garea of El Confidencial (online newspaper):

Now that we are at the cliff edge, it seems that there is no option but to step over it. We can then continue arguing from the bottom of the gorge.

The situation changes day by day. Almost certainly this week the government will have ratified the use of article 155 and impose direct rule on Catalonia. How will this work out? Will the Catalan police (the Mosos) take orders from Madrid or defy them? The same police who were praised across Europe for their handling and swift response to the Barcelona attack, and then heavily criticised for their refusal to exercise force (violence?) on the day of the referendum. How comfortable will it be to be one of the drafted in police personnel to restore order to a territory that you do not identify with? And what about if you are one of the suited people brought in to replace a local person in an administrative position?

‘Fake’ Image from October 1?!!!

Over the weekend the foreign minister was interviewed on British TV and he held that many of the images of violence were ‘fake images’ or ‘fake footage’. How this term,’fake’, is being used and now part of political speech is seriously alarming. The media being silenced is such a sign of oppression and dictatorial rule.

In most situations, such as the current one, there is propaganda on all sides. Stubborness and pride is evidenced on both sides. What is sure there will be more losers than winners in this conflict – witness already the departure of over 1000 businesses from Catalonia.

Maybe as an observer the hardest part is seeing the squeeze on Catalonia not simply from Madrid, but from Europe. Refusing to get involved (officially) but clearly all the powers are on Madrid’s side. The main European powers are involved but are not involved at a peacemaking level. They have not pressed Madrid to take in their quota of refugees – in direct contrast to Barcelona’s powers that have sought to open their door and heart to refugees.

We have prayed over these years into divisions within the land. First into issues surrounding the civil war, then into the both the Jewish and Muslim expulsions. Such divisions have to be healed and what we are witnessing today in Catalonia is not a recent division, but a historic wound that is being re-opened (time does not heal, reconciliation does). It is being re-opened either because it cannot be covered over for ever or the situation is being deliberately manipulated. Either way we believe that what is taking place – in terms of exposure of the division – is necessary. The conflict, the pride, the suffering of people is not necessary, but will be inevitable unless healing is brought. Oppression through article 155, loss of economic power through companies relocating will not resolve something. Nor, should Catalonia get independent status, resolve something either.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

We have prayed often for one peacemaker, Ada Colau, mayoress of Barcelona. From an activist background, not an independista, and one calling for dialogue.

We also carry a perspective that, whether it is Catalonia, or the Brexit (or Lomabardy and Veneto in Italy, and probably a growing number of other European regions) that there is something deeper taking place. There is a re-shaping of Europe that we believe is surfacing. Our biggest concern on the Brexit was not of Britain leaving Europe (and of course there was a rhetoric ‘we are not leaving Europe only the EU’!!) but of a disengagement from believers in the UK with the political, social and spiritual development of Europe. 500 years on from a Reformation that changed so much, yet left so much (christendom) in place. I am not a Zionist (surprised?) but there is something of a move back to Jerusalem, not for some doom and gloom Armageddon (the place does not exist – John makes the name up!). That move back – and I have been declaring this since the late 80s is back through north Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle Eastern nations. What would a Jerusalem look like revisited by a (political – small ‘p’) gospel recovered that Paul and others were passionate about? Surely marked by convivencia (the co-habiting of space by those who have found a way through their differences). This is not about a political solution, but a spiritual one with a deep political and social manifestation.

It is very hard to know how to respond to the current crises. We have thought about renting an apartment in Catalonia and taking shoes of peace on the streets. We might need to do that. But there is always something we can do today. Align not with a ‘side’, but with justice and seek to see everyone as ‘human’. Maybe then we will get fresh sight on the one true human.”,”post_title”: “”,”post_category”: 0,”post_excerpt”: “Now that we are at the cliff edge, it seems that there is no option but to step over it. We can then continue arguing from the bottom of the gorge (Fernando Garea on Catalonia and Spain).


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Europe’s opportunity

Yanis Varoufakis writing at SocialEurope.eu makes some insightful points and worth a ponder. He suggests:

The duty of progressive Europeans is to reject both: the deep establishment at the EU level and the competing nationalisms ravaging solidarity and common sense in member states like Spain.

The Catalonia crisis is a strong hint from history that Europe needs to develop a new type of sovereignty, one that strengthens cities and regions, dissolves national particularism, and upholds democratic norms.

in the article he also highlights the approach of Ada Colau in Barcelona, who is pushing for a redemptive way through the current lock up. As mayoress of Barcelona her administration had created excellent housing for 15,000 refugees only to find that central government barred entry to the refugees. It is always amazing what is termed illegal by those in control (referendum = illegal; banning refugees that Spain was mandated to accommodate by the EU is not illegal?).

It is naive to think that anyone – Colau or whoever, or proposals of a new approach – by Varoufakis or whoever, will produce heaven on earth – as if!! But when we understand that the body of Christ is to open space so that it can be occupied by those who will create shapes for convivencia there are exciting possibilities that open up. This I believe is one of the central thrusts for this time, and is part of the recovery of the radical social outworking to the Pauline gospel.


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Catalonia out?

I was very briefly in the UK 5th – 7th October. Hand luggage only I picked a small bag that we often use. When I arrived in England I noticed an old tag on the handle and thought ‘why have I not ripped that off before’. I grabbed it and was about to pull it when I saw what was on it ‘Catalonia OUT’. I have no idea where nor when the label was placed there. It looks like a hotel luggage label but where from I have no clue. I paused to think and thought ‘surely not’.

The ‘train crash’ that occurred here in Spain was perhaps always coming. Certainly Ada Colau, mayoress of Barcelona, suggested that, but she like others has expressed the shock that it has now taken place. We watched the vote in parliament, and of those who voted the vote for independence was overwhelming. We watched Rajoy, Spain’s president, give the government response. Two stubborn minded approaches, with no real give on dialogue. Meanwhile Colau asked a simple question amidst her rebuke for both sides – ‘have you ever thought about picking up the phone?’ This is what democracy has come down to. Now central government will restore law, order and democracy!! They have dismissed the Catalan government, the government that a few hours earlier declared themselves the government of a new republic.

The economy will suffer, tourism will be affected. But the suffering over the days ahead will be once again the people.

We went to Tarragona a few weeks back to pray. Tarragona being the place where the independista campaign was launched. Were our prayers ineffective? Possibly. ‘But God is in control’ has been one response we have had. The problem with that phrase is what on earth (and I mean ‘on earth’) does that mean? Does God control? I have the perspective that either that phrase should be dropped or it needs a huge amount of modifying to have any meaning ‘on earth’. God is at work in and through the process for sure. He is found in all the mess that we create, and that gives us hope. Prayer has to engage with what God is doing in and through this situation.

For three years we have been praying into the constitution of Spain – next year will be 40 years on – so again we are discussing how we up our level of focus on that. Whey do we want the constitution changed? Because for us it is binding Spain in a way that does not allow the diversity to flow. Together, juntos, and the word we are using more and more ‘convivencia’ is not simply about borders, and certainly not primarily about ‘sovereign nation states’ but about being together for ‘the other’. The illegality of a distinct people to have a referendum to decide their future does not accord with either the UN nor EU articles, but the constitution of Spain does not allow for such.

At the same time as the ‘illegality’ of Catalonia’s government the central government is busily avoiding answering where 40billion euros of public money has disappeared! The same party has some 8000 scandal cases documented against it.

Summoning and applying all the discernment I can find I think something needs to change!

Our task in these years has been to seek to hold space where a healthy politics can develop. For that to take place healing of deep wounds has to occur. That task is evidently not close to being over. What is deeply encouraging though are the few voices that are not taking sides but calling for a fresh path of dialogue and respect.

Elections have been called for December 21. The shortest day of the year. And 12 years to the day that Steve Lowton and team arrived in Rome, having walked from Whitby to proclaim that ‘from now on the day will get longer in Europe’. Back then we thought much more about ‘the church’ at the centre of it all. Now we think of the need for the body of Christ, hidden and humble, carrying the responsibility for our society. Much more demanding, much more exciting, and much more necessary.

That means a leaving a place that has defined us, that has affirmed who we are, and being willing to enter a vacuum (by definition a place ‘vacated’ or ’empty’). What has the church vacated? One string violin – the calling as royal priesthood, the calling to see a world shaped by eschatological values, a living out of a new set of values (thank you San Lorenzo).

Into or toward the vacuum is very provocative and sounds just a little dangerous. Indeed it is, hence the important strong words of Jesus ‘I am with you…’ Time to go further than ever but with him. And if we don’t go further then probably the Presence of Jesus will be diminished where we are – though the corporate memory is so strong that we will still experience his presence – but mediated through the power of memory not the living presence of the Spirit.

The façades closed up, cemented back in place by that public statement. However, in that dream the audible voice I heard was somewhat different when it was clear that the church’s love of the familiar shut the façades back up. That voice said:

It is the familiar that restores the status quo and brings things back to where they were.

Not a time to go back to where things were. Not a time to restore the status quo. (Gerald Coates once said that the status quo is simply Latin for ‘the mess we are in’!!)

These next months are months to prepare for the next stage of the bumpy ride. Old certainties being challenged. Time to anchor to the cross. ‘Take up your cross…’ and walk toward the unknown.


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Optimism is the first option!!

Half full or half empty? There is a lot to be pessimistic about such as climate change and seemingly endless conflict across the world. No person in their right mind can be naively optimistic given the unbelievable human capacity for stupidity. Yet on some issues and situations I am optimistic. The EU with all its failings has one of its major sources in the vision of Robert Schuman, who pulling on his Christian take believed that we had to find a way of being together across the continent where the (world) wars had ravaged, in order to avoid such conflicts again.

Since moving to Spain our focus has been on the healing of the land. (So glad that there are things that are not main stream for us and those things are down to others to pick up. We all have whatever focus is given to us.) We have touched on the civil war and on some of the prayers could pinpoint newspaper headlines where a straight line could be drawn from what we have prayed to what they have printed. This past year has been very profound for us with the Muslim rule and subsequent ReConquista and expulsion being the focus. Few things have impacted us so much as giving ourselves to that. Now there is a serious conflict not simply brewing but bubbling up with hard to predict consequences. The Catalonian situation (and even what spelling to use is a challenge – Spanish, Catalan or Anglicised spelling?).

How do we read this? Well I am opting for an optimistic response, and not simply because it is easier and less painful but I do believe somehow that these conflicts are the consequences of prayer. By that I do not mean ‘we’ (how important are we!!!) have prayed and now look at how powerful our prayers are(!!), but that the Lord is way ahead of the game and there has been much prayer focused to bring the nation to this point.

Prayer into history does not lead to our straight line of answer. Wounds that are there are to be healed but the first step is that of exposing what is there. Seems to me there is a pattern – a handful pray, probably naively expecting everything to be sorted, then what they have prayed into surfaces (in the land and in them too). What happens at that stage is important. If it surfaces in them – or in the wider community of faith – how they deal with the issues will be very important. Every big issue has a leverage point in the community of faith. The leverage point is not at the same scale as what is manifesting in the land, but is of the same spirit (cf. Jesus words on adultery and lust; murder and anger). In the current situation it is a ‘Spain / Madrid’ is correct; or ‘Catalonia / Barcelona are in the right’. In other words it is a taking of sides. However both with Joshua at Jericho and his ‘are you for us or for them?’ kind of question, or our core prayer instruction from our Teacher – ‘let your kingdom come’ there really is no ‘Madrid is right’ or ‘Barcelona is right’. Of course there might be a ‘I lean this way because it is more redemptive’ but the idea it is right is a myth. This is the fault line that is being exposed in the West at this time. I see many appointments not being the answer to prayer in the sense of we now have our ‘person in the WH / #10 / Moncloa’ or wherever. Where did we get that idea from? However I can accept them as appointments to expose the lies the faith community that owns the name of Jesus has bought into – that faith community that has been claiming a kingdom vision for years!!

What is manifesting now in Catalonia is a divisive spirit. What is manifesting from central is a divisive spirit. One manifests as separation, the other as control but they are one and the same. We have focused on the Muslim expulsion – this was Spain controlling Spain (excuse the anachronistic nature of those words), Spain evicting Spain… we began our journey praying into the first Christian martyred by fellow Christians pulling on Imperial power, the death of Priscillian. One could be pessimistic. After all that prayer now what has changed?

What has changed is what was simmering below the surface and therefore would never yield to healing is above the surface. I referred to a pattern above. Something begins with believers who pray. Then things seem to get worse – NO they become very visible. In the current generation the issues get flushed right to the surface there being nowhere to hide. There are no political solutions, but there is a solution which begins with a pathway of humility. The humility leads to dialogue and through the dialogue solutions are found.

I have no doubt that Spain has a calling now to lead the way to find a path of humility for the sake of Europe. Maybe the EU has had its day? But Schuman’s vision of being together has definitely not had its day. That is a vision of convivencia, of co-habiting / co-stewarding the same space.

There is so much more I could write on the current situation, suffice it to say that the struggles will not go away quickly – and for there to be healing they really cannot. Conflict will be here in Spain for the next years. We have to engage with it, calling for the third way of the cross.

A few years ago we had a very helpful dream sent to us. Gayle and I were standing at our table looking at invites and situations from across Europe. We did not know how to respond to the person standing there waiting for our response. Eventually I looked up and said to him ‘We will go and talk with the man of Spain and he will help us make our response’. This past year we have met the man of Spain – Al Azraq, Al Avez, Priscillian and many others we could name. People of the land – and from that era the majority were men. We are now needing to open space for a new manifestation of the ‘man of Spain’ to rise. This will not be one person, nor male, but a new humanity occupying space, regardless of faith, with the humility and grace that will be recognisable as containing heavenly qualities.

Amidst all the conflicts, Spain and Europe is such a wonderful place to live. Conflicted space, at the small level we have here, is a creative space.


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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.


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