How compassion inhibits change

Latest contribution from Gaz

I’m going to draw an illustration from my anti human trafficking
Narrative, as it serves to map out the issue in an actual context.

The rescue of victims, survivor care homes and restoration are the ambulance at the bottom of the human trafficking cliff, it is important and wonderful work. However, if nobody builds a fence at the top of the trafficking cliff through prevention, education, legislation and law enforcement… you will never have enough ambulances.

Something that re enforces this, is that the vast majority of donor funding comes to care, not prevention, to the ambulance and not the fence and that’s a problem when trafficking’s main PR label is Abolition… ending something.

People in general, but Christians specifically, have a tendency to be motivated by acts of compassion and mercy, and so they should. Most of our engagement in the suffering of others is an emotive response to what we hear and see.

The problem with this is Christianity as a whole is likely putting considerably more human and financial investment into mopping up the outcomes of suffering that the causes of it. In short, our response is likely to be compassion driven but unlikely to be strategy driven

It is an issue which has also come up in recent years around the flourishing of food banks in response to poverty and hunger both for the least amongst us and apparently nurses and other professionals who are struggle to make ends meet.

The problem with Christian communities defaulting to compassion is that they are far more likely to set up a food bank than come to an understanding of the root issues of this poverty in the community. It is far more likely to buy extra tins of baked beans than write to the local MP, petition Government or join it.

Its easy to point things that are not working and respond instead with meeting immediate needs, but how do we address those things which are broken in society and see what is referred to as ‘systemic change’ happen.

Protest is one response, but protest with out alternative solutions does not get us far beyond a sore throat, that is why we also need alternative models, alternative economies and stories of how something can be done differently.

I used to sit around a table with more than 40 organisations, tackling human trafficking as part of the Human Trafficking Foundation, led by an all party group of Govt ministers in London. Having produced a comprehensive report on modern day slavery in Britain it seemed they had a platform to address key aspects of legislation and care in the country.
In doing further homework, we were broken into interest groups to explore in detail, what change might look like in our key area of need. I remember participant putting forward suggestion as to what specialist care might look like for sexually exploited children, whilst another participant said ‘but we should not put a good thing into a broken system’.

This was a dilemma.

It is my personal conviction that it is ‘both / and’. We can try to fix the system, but we also need models of hope, which show those responsible for the systems that there is another way. For me a model is a story of hope, not how something should be done but instead that it ‘can’ be done.

So, the next thing that catches our attention and strums our heart strings, perhaps we can hold off for a few moments. To ask ourselves in our responding with compassion, how can we also respond with innovation and strategy that will contribute to systemic change. Can we dig deep and go wide in building the fence at the top of the human trafficking cliff, addressing poverty or that our local authority has a failing foster care system which mean more kids in institutions and not families.

I will end with a story of a group of innovators in Los Angeles.
One aspect of the work cost 25 cents… they collected quarters from people so that they could open up a launderette, out of hours specifically for local homeless people. It worked. They then decided to provide mobile showers and dressing gowns so people could put clean bodies back inside clean clothes. Then local healthcare workers who were struggling to do consistent care with the homeless because of movement, recognised this was a place that they would always be, and showed up with a mobile clinic.

They are clean, healthy… but still homeless.

In the same city, a group raised money for some homeless people to be housed and not build another shelter, believing as they did that homeless people first need a home. There is not enough money to rent or buy something that substantial in the centre of LA, land is just too expensive and too in demand. Did they stop? No. They approached a group who had an open car parking lot and said, ‘ can we pay you for any inconvenience caused by building a block of apartments on this site on pillars, so you lose minimal space? We will pay you a monthly premium once it is built as additional income.

I wonder if we can create some stories, not of mopping up, but of making change up stream. Our response may always be compassion and mercy first, but perhaps it is not the last thing we will respond with, perhaps its entry level, perhaps we have been hanging around the lower rungs of the ladder?
Maybe we are too content at just ‘having skin in the game’.
Maybe its simply where we are at as church with our own need for systemic change, as we wrestle with that which holds us and seek to become those agents of change in society.

A reset but not enough?

A Jubilee

So many changes – temporary or permanent? It seems to me that the Jewish law of Sabbath(s) culminating in the Jubilee reset of all resets acknowledged that changes were temporary. Otherwise why the repetition? Change instructed by God to the government of the land because a wonderful entrepreneurial gift was often harnessed to serve self-seeking interest and so everything could quickly get out of control. The instruction to bring about a re-set. A re-set of focus every 7 days; a reset of trust in God and a confrontation of ‘drivenness’ every 7 years, and a national radical economic reset in that 50th year.

Israel, instructed by God, as theocracy which no government today is – thankfully!! To be outworked by the government of the land with Israel’s laws continuing as paradigmatic patterns for justice – but thankfully not stronger than that. A Jubilee year twice a century seemed to be enough in that culture to bring things back to a true normality, not to some untrue new normality.

A Jubilee twice a century just would not cut it for the West. A certain gentleman’s personal wealth increased recently in a day by 10bn – can’t remember whether that was $ or £ or €’s. Now that really would make a difference dependent on what currency it was in!! (What does one do with 10bn?) Economic growth in an agrarian culture of a few millennia ago cannot be compared to economic growth of today.

A ‘re-set’ for the ekklesia, a ‘re-boot’ for the oikomene (inhabited world, a very common description used in the political cartoon world of Revelation, from the root word for ‘house’ and one from which we get our word ‘economy’).

A little more negativity: with the increase of the virus so is the use of plastics increasing; plastic gloves available in supermarkets, hand-wash in yet more plastic containers, take out food in… Today I also read (an aside) that every person is using a gadget with a battery that has been produced with children (in slavery) to mine material for it. A ‘re-boot’ – really?

And for us as believers we really have got to kick out of touch the idea that this whole planet is here for us to exploit, with the ‘after all what the heck it is all going to burn up in the end’ attitude. If I had time I would go on a rant about the total un-Hebraic nature of that concept – along with a rant on the ‘rapture’, secret or otherwise. Sadly I realise that the Lord has never been interested in convincing people to believe what I believe… now just imagine a world where we all believed what Martin believed…. or maybe not!

I have very reluctantly (there is normally a screech each day of my ‘frustration tyres’ as I brake and have to change direction) come to understand that God is more interested in what rises than in what is here that resists change. (Saul’s kingdom is over, the key to the future timing-wise is in the hands of David in spite of the continuing decades of Saul as king.)

Change takes place not when Mr B turns over his wealth to help re-balance the globe, but when the widow puts her ‘mite’ into the Temple treasury, or when Judas throws back the money into the Temple. Not one stone can then remain for long one on another. The place that was to be a ‘house of prayer for the nations’ always seems to be the real key. (Private thought to myself at this point – do I think that the ‘temple not built by hands’ will ever get beyond being sold out to self-interested-nationalism?)

Maybe it is a combination of little changes that could just prove to be the leverage mechanism to move more than we ever anticipated. Maybe to simply not eat of the ‘consumerist’ tree but to eat fruit from the others might be enough.

OK… my brake is on, the tyres screeched quite a lot today. But I am saying Mr B you make your choices, I have to make mine too.

That is a LOUD voice!

It is always very interesting to be reading through the Bible. I focus much more on the Old Testament earlier on in the year when I do this, and in some of those readings there are so many challenges. Patriarchy is not only taken for granted but it seems to be endorsed as a good order. Genocide in the name of God… all there. Challenging to one’s view of inspiration and of what we mean by the canon of Scripture. I would happily see some parts within the collection of 66 books be sidelined and to be excised! One book I would not be happy to see sidelined though would be the book of Revelation (the Apocalypse). Strange as that one does not make it into a number of the church canons, and even Luther who believed it should be included in the NT list of books also suggested it be segregated with other controversial books in a “disputed” section, of ‘antilegomena’.

I did not grow up reading novels, and until recently did not enjoy many films (neither of those categories being ‘real life’! As if I know what real life is….) However, employing genre so removed from real life, and written in a way that gives the likes of me few clues as to how to read it, I have loved the book of Revelation. (And definitely a much better read when the likes of Scofield, Darby, Lindsay, Left Behind are all kept way beyond arm’s length.)

Imagery using such terms as beasts was not a new term for ancient readers. Babylon was not a new idea for Jewish believers. And Revelation really goes to town with such imagery and historical allusions. The (sea) beast of Revelation 13 was ‘given a mouth’ to speak, speaking for 42 months. 42 months is not a short time, and feels like forever. It is certainly much longer than some 15,000 days, it represents the time of conflict, being one of those ‘rectangular’ numbers in Revelation where it is the result of one number multiplied by one bigger than the first (here 6×7). Those numbers represent the times of conflict, so they are not referring to a specific length of time. Hence the voice can be louder at times than at others.

I have been very exercised in these days about the mouth that Mammon has, the voice that in Revelation will declare ‘you cannot buy and sell’. We have heard that voice, we know many friends who have been spoken to by that intimidating voice, intimidating as there seems no way past it. The voice seems to speak and control a highway, that highway at times literally being the trade routes. I am also provoked as yesterday I had a Skype call with someone who engages with those who deal with money and can make huge differences to peoples’ lives with the stroke of a pen. This person has a vision for societal transformation, and in engaging with companies his pitch is for their involvement in communities, with a twofold outcome: they will pour something back in for the betterment of others, and yet it will not mean they ‘lose’ out financially. The central focus though is the community issue. Over and over again they get excited by the vision, they are on board… until they work out that their bottom line just might be affected. Already making more than they need, they must make yet more, so again and again the vision my friend has is turned down. Sounds like a discouraging voice… but it is more than that, it is the voice of Mammon.

The 42 month period, the time when there is a loud voice speaking.

Money is a strange thing… I am not even sure what it is. The instability in the stock market yet again shows this – huge gains and losses. Maybe it is simply a measure of confidence that some exhibit. That ‘some’ being a minority of the population. If money was simply a mark of the confidence that some exhibit and that was all it was that might be OK, but it goes beyond that. It controls the destiny of people, and at a daily level who can buy and sell. We watched last night a program on the homelessness in Spain since 2008. A good number of whom were university graduates, and employed in 2008, meanwhile in the same country 40billion of public money can be unaccounted for in one year (2017). Money, a real entity? A measure of confidence? Or something standing behind it all?

Juan Mata, Spanish footballer, has his feet on the ground. Earning as these ‘stars’ do a huge sum of money he is provoking his fellow soccer players to donate 1% of their income into a foundation that can help channel that money positively. 1% of huge salaries is a large sum of money and I applaud him for this. That 1% is way more than a 10% of other money. Those actions are to be applauded. But…

The system remains.

What if Revelation was holding out the tantalising hope that we are here to see the system change? What if the Gospel is the announcement that mountains will be made low and valleys raised up? What if the body of Christ is truly ‘elect in him’ to the pulling down of strongholds and releasing a new way of being?

42 months. Patience marking the new apostolic. Applauding where 1% is placed in a foundation. But with a long term vision. A beast without a voice is intimidating, but a beast with a voice, that is at a different level all together.

In 2009 as clear as an audible voice I heard a challenge from heaven, that if those with significant financial resources were not stewarding their finances how was I going to do that? I am still on the journey toward that – I have certainly not made it through 42 months, not even sure I have made 24 hours into that journey, but I cam off the Skype yesterday with a small piece of the puzzle in my hand. I said to Gayle, we start relationaly. We connect. Not to the rich and famous, but to the ones and twos who dream of societal change, some of whom are not afraid of money nor success but neither of those commodities are the bottom line for them. The journey ahead is, of course, a corporate one. There needs to be eyes, hands and feet. The eyes cannot say… the feet cannot say… The beast is not confronted by a yet stronger beast. 42 months… and as always there has to be a human ‘lamb’, a people who find each other where no one takes the spot light, no one becomes the new controller of the resources, as if replacing the bad with the ‘good person’ would ever be the way to bring about change. An old centre is not to be replaced by a new, but good one, but as is evidenced in the breaking of bread and in Pentecost, a huge dispersal marks the shift.

Patience. Long term. Should not be surprising that is needed. This journey did not begin a few years ago with 1994 being such a turning point for many. It did not begin with a new perspective on Paul and his gospel… It certainly had major starting point in Jerusalem when the hegemony of religion (and ‘good’ religion at that) was broken. Those 42 months seem to stretch back a long way. What a diversity of voices have spoken in those ‘months’ and at times the voice of the beast has seemed the loudest. However, I don’t think that s/he with the loudest voice wins!

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Why the focus?

Gayle and I have had a focus on shifts in society for a long time. Gayle was involved in education and taught in schools that were not rated highly in government statistics. In that context she saw people come to faith, and early one morning when having arrived before anyone else was in the school she then thought someone else was also in and playing music… but no, simply some angels had also (got up early?) and come to add some music to the prayer. My push was simple: through prayer the church would shift demonic powers, discover the gift of the city / region and people would come to faith. As I developed that focus I moved from a simple vision of something that might look similar to classic revival (Finney, Welsh, Hebrides etc.) to a presence of God’s Spirit and people throughout all society. Influenced by Anabaptism the challenge was how to see that outwork practically. Thankfully the journey of understanding the nature of the imperial spirit ran parallel to the push toward the emphasis on salt in society. So an understanding that was in contrast to anything top-down developed.

Three years ago, this month, it became clear that a sharp focus for us was to be the opening up of space for a new politics to grow in Spain (and beyond in Europe). This was something left of field as neither of us have a background in politics. And if we were to see some kind of shift here so what? Why this focus? If we did have a top-down perspective this might be easier to understand, but we see the drive to get the Christian PM / President as misplaced. We do not think that all that is needed is to get the right party in power. The party governing can change but unless the very shape changes nothing really changes.

CamisetaWe will soon have lived in Spain 9 years and in this apartment for almost four of those. In the past 9 years we have dug deeply into the history of the land, both recent and ancient. We have witnessed an increasing exposure of corruption, of cases going to court. (Fancy buying a T-shirt with an extract from handwritten notes printed on it? The handwritten notes of the governing party’s illegal accounts and who was paid. This T-shirt has the extract of one of the many names: ‘M Rajoy’, and one of the payments he received from an account that has been run for decades.) There is a long way to go but there are shifts. We sat recently with a senior bank employee who told us in no uncertain terms that we needed to understand that ‘corruption is part of Spain and will always be here’.

The mainline press and TV channels do not cover a lot of the corruption. Thank God for social media and some very honest journalists. This past week a set of conversations have been recorded between a ring of at least 100 national police. (Thankfully there are many good and honest people involved in law and order.) However the conversations have not only been highly negative about the Catalan situation, but have talked one to the other of their hope that certain people will be destroyed and blown up. They have named journalists and the mayoress of Madrid among others.

The Catalonian crisis continues. Are the current Catalan political leaders ‘political prisoners’ or not? Even Amnesty International has said that they are not. At the same time as this goes on, greater clarity is coming into one of the big corruption cases, with the clear implication that many politicians in the governing party, including the PM, have received large illegal payments. The same party has failed to give an explanation for 40billion euros that has disappeared from public funds. The other main historic party has just had a huge debt written off by the banks. (Contrast this to a 42 page letter we received from the government saying that if we did not respond within 10 days we would be fined 70,000euros. Our crime was to send some money to a friend who was threatened by the banks and had no money to buy food.) The Catalan leaders have not been granted bail while a member of the governing party was granted bail and the next day one of his houses (in Mexico) was raided and 5million in cash was discovered. I could go on – almost 900 senior members of the governing party are either now in jail, court, indited or suspects in corruption. Our banking friend was correct – corruption is part of Spain… Corruption continues! But the future?

Anyway I am a little off track with this post. We are committed to seeing the corruption exposed and old ruling families from the Franco era no longer shape the future with that agenda. But so what? Why the focus? In making a response I note that something continues for us both – shifts in society; but the change of focus indcates that there have been some paradigm shifts.

  • The levels of corruption indicate that there is the presence and effect of the demonic that is unacceptable. Demonic powers do not just focus on one area but look to destroy humanity. We are their nemesis, created in the image of God. They look therefore for all kinds of partnerships, all of which focus on the dehumanisation of humanity. The corruption indicates their presence. That is almost reason enough to focus this way!
  • We see the body of Christ carrying responsibility for the world. This is God’s world, everything is in God, for in him we live and move and have our being. We owe it to the world so that living within boundaries they might seek and find him. That is certainly a significant reason.
  • Justice is called for and this has led to a new word – we are not looking to Christianise the world (as per Christendom) but to heavenify it. By this I mean a greater measure of heaven’s love, freedom, servanthood and justice to be made visible. All good gifts come from heaven.

We are deeply grateful to God for both evangelical and charismatic foundations. We pray that those we meet and increasingly share life with will find Jesus in a not-too-dissimilar way. We continue to seek to be a witness, bearing testimony to new creation realities… but our focus is on the politics, to push back space so that those who, knowingly or not, partner with demons will no longer be able to do so, and those who manifest love and justice will find space to yield their gifts for others. That is our focus in the foreseeable future as we believe that is our responsibility.

We have been here almost 9 years, by the end of 12 years we expect to see something shift beyond recognition. The next years… a focus that needs to stay sharp and a bumpy ride!

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Child-poverty, housing – Spain

The Panama Papers highlight the obvious corruption that many are happy to propagate and be part of, or at least the lack of willingness to use whatever they have benefited from to be of help to others. I suspect that the remaining years of this decade will see greater protests concerning the myth of the ‘trickle down’ effect as the results of austerity produce a continuing flow up of resources.

In Spain a government has not yet been resolved (elections were Dec. 20th, 2015 and since then there has been a lock up) and it is at times hard to get a real grip on what is in the land. Travel here as a tourist, live in certain parts and the shiny BMW’s, Mercedes, or SUV’s will be visible. Certainly there are more than a few Spanish whose names are appearing on the Panama list. Yet there is something, hidden from many, that is all to visible to those that the statistics affect directly:

Here are a couple of articles:

This second article says that statistically child-poverty in Spain is second only to Romania’s in Europe, (another article interpreted the figures and placed Spain third lowest, behind Romania and Bulgaria).

Here are a few paragraphs from that last article:

Child poverty in the European Union has increased from under 20 percent to more than 22 percent in the last three years, reaching 29.9 percent in Spain, said the organization’s general secretary Jorge Nuño Mayer.

That puts the country only second to Romania and closely followed by Bulgaria and Greece.

Even Cyprus, long considered an affluent society, also has a poverty rate of over 29 percent among older people, the report said.

“Austerity measures have failed to solve problems and create growth,” Mayer warned, adding that “the European project and cohesion in our societies is at stake.”

Many unemployed and uninsured have turned to their families for help, particularly in southern Europe, but after years of recession, this resource is also running dry.

“Families are now exhausted, they cannot continue paying,” Mayer said. “A second wave of poverty is expected… the negative impact can last for decades.”

In Spain, the economy could take 20 years to recover to pre-crisis levels, he added.

If we add to the above the most recent statistic on empty homes in Spain – 3 million. And Spain with a population just over 40 million. So many properties, but where re-possessed many not on the market so as prices are not lowered.

And on the housing front try this article:

This article says included were:

1,860 homes, which had been originally rented out as part of city programs to assist low-income families and the young. Many of these tenants had signed lease options with the EMVS, giving them purchase rights over the homes after seven to 10 years of renting, depending on the contract.

The result has been evictions with many more to come.

Protests on the streets? Yes, that is sure to be part of the future. Protests that produce change? I think so if they can be impregnated with the hope that Jesus gave.

In a weekend that celebrates an anniversary of Azusa Street, the outpouring that many would see as the first of three distinct outpourings in the 20th Century, it is worth remembering that this was not just an outpouring of ‘power from on high’ but of social justice that crossed the very real racial and gender barriers. Egalitarian at heart it gave to the disempowered dignity and significance. Without that effect we have no gospel.

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