A little closer

A few days ago Gayle and I went away for a few days. Those times have often been very fruitful with time to reflect, question, and pray. For sure the COVID lockdown has been good for us from the perspective of reflection. A while back I had (and thankfully still have) a connection with Authentic Business, who have an approach that is very people focused. Change is focused on the personal not the structural. One of the exercises they engage clients in involves discovering core process. So Gayle and I did this together.

It basically involves recounting three happy stories, then from them pulling out verbs that describe action involved in the stories and then nouns. Eventually it is narrowed down to one verb and one noun. Our process took us a couple of days, not constant, but ruminating. At the end of the two days we settled on (different) core process descriptions. It really had quite an impact.

It is great to be a little closer to discovering why one is on the planet (no need to say, ‘and you were born in 1955, what have you been doing all this time?’). Yes takes a little longer for some of us than others.

The three stories were very interesting for me. Gayle could pull out as many as you wish, I got to one story and couldn’t think of another one! The tendency was to pull on ‘when God did this’ kind of response, reflecting more a need to feel significant than discovering the happy time! With her help one of the stories I managed to get to was when she said – what about the time the police with armed rifle insisted on moving you on when you entered the zone they were guarding at the Congress building that had the barriers up? You came back from that bouncing with happiness.

What a great moment. I remember it well and it still brings a good smile to my face. The day I helped the police man be a good law-enforcing officer. My calling in life – or close to it.

Anyway… the verb I came up with was ‘provoking’. Gayle had the same verb.

A Taster

Been a while since I have posted here. I have been writing… Just completed the fourth of a proposed six-series set of book(lets). Below is the opening paragraphs, followed by the closing paragraphs, from the third volume and a chapter entitled, ‘A necessary chapter’. This volume seeks to engage with some practical areas of society, so the first chapter was on the Arts, others are on Health and Education, Business (as Unusual) and the Media.


A chapter on the arts was a nice gentle way to highlight how any communication needs more than words to bring about change. In that chapter I said that art has often been commodified, becoming the collector’s piece, sometimes because of a deep appreciation of the art but often because of the perceived investment value. One piece bought for monetary reasons while other artists, who put their heart and soul into something (not to mention many hours), cannot make a living from their gift to society. It leads me to this chapter, a necessary one, on money, work and value.
The archaeologists report that between the 10th and the 8th century BC there were many economic changes in the land of Israel. Over those two centuries a huge discrepancy grows between the size of houses. We might view it that prosperity abounded and that this was evidence as to how God had blessed, but the 8th century prophets viewed it very differently. This is the rise of the critical voices of the prophets who connected social inequality to a faithlessness to the covenant. A poignant example is in Amos 4:1-4,

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”
The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness:
“The time will surely come
when you will be taken away with hooks,
the last of you with fishhooks.
You will each go straight out
through breaches in the wall,
and you will be cast out toward Harmon,”
declares the Lord.
Go to Bethel and sin;
go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
your tithes every three years.

Continuing to tithe and sacrifice in the appointed way was exposed as a farce as there was no justice, no semblance of an egalitarian society. In the life of Israel the law stipulated an intentional levelling through the system of Sabbath, the seventh year Sabbath and a radical Jubilee every fiftieth year when there was a reboot to the whole of society.

Before wading in to some of these major issues a gentle proviso that I will try and pick up in a later chapter. The gentle proviso is, ‘but we have to be practical.’ Agreed! We are not looking for something that is perfect for we wait for the day ‘when the perfect comes’; we live in a fallen world and in that world we have to learn how to compromise. The compromises that we are to be involved in though are to be redemptive. Redemption does not bring us to perfection in the immediate but re-aligns us so that there is a before and an after, so that we are not left the same, and the after is better than the before. Jesus quoted the Scripture that ‘the poor you will have with you always’ (John 12:8 quoting Deut. 15: 11), and that surely is true.

However, we cannot use it as if Jesus intended us to be unmoved or inactive about inequalities. The Scripture that Jesus quoted, Deut. 15: 11 says:

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

There is a reality that there will always be those who experience poverty, and in the light of that there has to be a spirit of generosity, for such was the commandment God gave them. The wider passage exhorts us to be generous, to cancel debts, to help liberate and to truly work toward the goal of eradicating poverty.

The gospel sets out the eschatological focus, and then deals with the present in both real and redemptive terms. It does not call us to live with a utopian vision, nor does it allow us to be passive. The ekklesia is present in the world to bring about change, and we are in a world that is all-but a runaway train hellbent on destruction. The original sin of consumerism, of moving boundaries for personal gain has to be addressed. This chapter is focused on money (or maybe better put as Mammon), but it could equally address the ecological crisis which is yet another sign that we have, as a race, been consistently moving boundary markers for personal gain.

………

The age to come, the one we are preparing for, and the one that we are preparing the materials for, will not be an age when there will be segregation along financial lines. Yet this age has increasingly sown into that financial divide. In closing this chapter, one that had to be written, let me simply ask how we should best sow into that glorious future. If I am privileged to own my own house should I pursue an even bigger stake in bricks and mortar? Should I look to store up more for myself with a pension scheme that will only increase the money distortions of society? Should I look to leave money to my descendants so that they might have the potential of moving further up the scale than I was able to?

Hard questions? Or looking at the reality that there is an age to come and how should we live in that light of that?

What remains clear is the concept of simply encouraging believers to rise to the top 3% of the mountain of influence without any critique of the existence of the ‘mountain’, could indeed release an influence, but the influence might not be an influence for the kingdom. The mountain remaining is not a signpost of the age to come.

We do not live in a perfect world and we await the age to come. While living in the in-between time, while we inhabit this imperfect world, we have to make compromises, yet we cannot simply compromise while refusing to look at the issues that pollute our world. Mammon and consumerism have been here since the beginning, but will not be here at the end. We live in between those two points. If we allow ourselves to be dragged back then, for sure, we are not of those who are contributing to the transformation of this world, and the preparation of the next.

It’s corrupt!

Something mixed

I had an interesting reflection this week, provoked in preparing for a Zoom call. A few years back… oh yes here comes a story… while getting ready for some travel Gayle was walking and praying about what she should bring to the situation we would be in in a few weeks’ time. While walking she met an angel that she recognised, and recognised as being Gadir. The (female) angel related to our time in Cádiz whose ancient name was for a while, Gadir. She knew that the angel promised to come with us on the flight and together we knew that this angel had a particular gift to bring, the gift of digging! (Angels are fellow servants of the One true God. Partners for the release of the kingdom.)

Gayle carried a strong message with respect to misogyny and patriarchy. Of Latin America Gustavo Gutiérrez said that the women are ‘doubly oppressed and marginalised’. On one of the final evenings we knew it was the time, and that we were in the right context, to give our ‘Amen’ to the release of the angel – I am not suggesting we commission angels as they are sent from heaven, but we can align in agreement (Amen = so be it) so that they can fulfil what they have come to do. We released the digging with explanations that this was not going to stop any time soon. Since that time so much has been uprooted, so much corruption, first always inside the church then beyond. The level, to be honest, has been quite disturbing and taken a considerable amount of our time.

Corruption. Always I think money and sex when I hear that word. But as I talked this week I realised corruption is often so much more subtle. Digging, digging and mining brings up whatever needs to come up, then comes the purifying process. In certain situations this is known as smelting which takes place at a high temperature.

Corruption being exposed. The digging is revealing that the impure mix is that of ‘power’ with the Gospel. [Power corrupts…] When that happens all kinds of compromises are made with the political powers. I have a strong hunch that we will see some major implosions before this year is out, and with / without Gadir’s specific help this will take place in a number of compromised corrupted situations. What an era we are in. As digging takes place, sexual and financial issues will be exposed, but a deeper issue also – that is corrupt, what is mixed that should never have been mixed.

God in it

The Core of a Movement

In a post today Scot McKnight wrote (emphasis added):

While the liberation theology of some was not much more Marxist economics and violent revolution, but a theology should not be judged by its edges but by its center.

The latter part is what caught my attention – applicable to theology but I wish to apply it to protest movements. First a brief story.

Somewhere around the year 2000 I had a clear encounter with Spain. I was above the land and could see the entire outline of the Iberian peninsula, when what I saw began to zoom in fairly rapidly (before I was using google maps, but the same effect, zooming in and coming to the centre). So I knew that somehow I was coming to the ‘centre’ of Spain. When I got there I came to a large square that contained two aspects that got my attention. First a huge crowd that I estimated had to be around 100,000 people, and a stage at one end all set up but without anyone on it as the event had not yet started. I knew the people had gathered to ‘hear what the Lord would have to say to Spain’.

As I have written before revelation meets expectation, and my expectation was clear that one day a remarkable event would take place where a prophet would come to Spain and address the nation in a public setting of considerable size. Expectation comes from the past, revelation from the future – hence the mismatch.

Many years later I discovered that Puerta del Sol is at the centre of Madrid, and from there (point ‘Zero Kilometre’) measurements are made. It is a wonderfully active square with many protests taking place in it or ending there.

In January 2015 Gayle and I decided to travel to Madrid as a political leader was calling for a gathering from across Spain. We thought we needed to be there to catch something of the pulse of the land, so travelled up on Friday night to stay over till Sunday morning. Early Saturday Gayle received a phone call to say her dad was seriously ill and the suggestion was that she should fly to the UK as soon as possible. We booked the first available flight – the afternoon. (We were due to be there for 2 nights, Gayle had packed for herself clothes for a week as she anticipated something would disturb our plans.)

This then changed everything but as we had a couple of hours before the event we decided that we should go to the square, see what was there. By the time we left the square to go to the airport the square was packed – certainly with a crowd of around 100,000. At the far end – just as I had seen – was a stage that was empty as the event was still more than an hour away from starting.

We left. Gayle to the airport and I drove back to Oliva. Event over, though we watched it on TV but were never present at it.

Two months later I walked into our living room and suddenly there was an ‘aha’ moment. ‘Gayle we were standing in exactly what I saw 15 years ago.’

When we stood in it that Saturday morning I could not see it. It did not meet my expectation. My expectation was wrong! Every last detail fitted what I had seen, and still I could not ‘see’ it. The speaker – a professed atheist – spoke about the clock in Spain that had been stopped had started. He called out much of the corruption that day, and since that day slowly but consistently the corruption has been squeezed to the surface.

[Even after recognising the fulfilment I had to wrestle with for a while the thought that ‘maybe though there will be a future event that will really be the ‘full’ fulfilment – a Christian event.’ Expectations – so slow to give way! I now know that was the fulfilment.]

So back to McKnight’s quote. We can write off (and particularly so at this time) protest movements because they are nor perfect. In doing so we can hold them to a higher account than we do the church. If Jesus had one standard for society (no murder) but had another for his disciples (no anger) why are we critical of that which does not profess faith, and are silent about internal issues? We reverse the Jesus’ approach seeking to hold the world to a level of account that is not appropriate.

We should expect imperfection in protest movements. We should not allow the periphery to obscure the centre. We have prayed for a long time for wisdom’s voice to be heard, to be heard in the public square, to be shouted out in the street. And for those of us who have not prayed we have sung about ‘dancers who dance upon injustice’.

I have to come to believe:

  • that many of our prayers will be – and should be – answered by events in the world. (One of the central commissions for the body of Christ is to enable the world to be a ‘good’ world.)
  • That the responses will not be perfect, and that we are wrong to expect them to be.
  • That God’s voice is heard in and through these movements, and that a deafness at this time will only serve to skew the prophetic that is being proclaimed.

John Wayne to the rescue

This one is a little hard to post as I do not wish it to be read as a critique on Christianity in the USA. If there is a critique it is on the Christianity that was exported, and continues to be exported, and if one looks closely at the label it will read ‘Made in Europe’.

I post it at this time also as I am convinced that there is a ‘feminine’ world that is arising, into which those who are of a new creation are invited into – males and females alike. Probably easier for those who are female to enter it, but it can only be entered regardless of gender through the doorway of repentance (mind shift).

I picked this review of from Scot McKnight’s site today:

https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/july/what-to-call-20.html

Here then are a selection of quotes from the book:

For decades, the Religious Right had been kindling fear in the hearts of American Christians. It was a tried-and-true recipe for their own success. Communism, secular humanism, feminism, multilateralism, Islamic terrorism, and the erosion of religious freedom- evangelical leaders had rallied support by mobilizing followers to fight battles on which, the fate of the nation, and their own families, seemed to hinge. Leaders of the Religious Right had been amping up their rhetoric over the course of the Obama administration. The first African American president, the sea change in LGBTQ rights, the apparent erosion of religious freedom – coupled with looming demographic changes and the declining religious loyalty of their own children – heightened the sense of dread among white evangelicals.

Evangelicals were looking for a protector, an aggressive, heroic, manly man, someone who wasn’t restrained by political correctness or feminine virtues, someone who would break the rules for the right cause.
Evangelicals hadn’t betrayed their values. Donald Trump was the culmination of their half century-long pursuit of a militant Christian masculinity. He was the reincarnation of John Wayne, sitting tall in the saddle, a man who wasn’t afraid to resort to violence to bring order, who protected those deemed worthy of protection, who wouldn’t let political correctness get in the way of saying what had to be said or the norms of democratic society keep him from doing what needed to be done. Unencumbered by traditional Christian virtue, he was a warrior in the tradition (if not the actual physical form) of Mel Gibson’s William Wallace.

This Jesus was over half a century in the making. Inspired by images of heroic white manhood, evangelicals had fashioned a savior who would lead them into the battles of their own choosing. The new, rugged Christ transformed Christian manhood, and Christianity itself.

A Jesus in our making is always the danger. A masculine Jesus that enforces that “it’s a man’s world”. And the new creation is where there is ‘no male and female’. That is a radical world. Perhaps humanity is to carry the ability to understand that our universe is relational (Quantum Physics, not Newtonian) and that relationships are founded on, nurtured by, and develop through love… even love of the ‘enemy’.

Theology. Then there is ‘black theology’, ‘feminine theology’, ‘liberation theology’, ‘queer theology’ and a whole gamut besides. But the one simply labelled ‘theology’? Does not need an adjective as it true theology, so no need to add ‘white, middle class, male’. Adjectives!!

If the ‘Jesus in our image’ Gospel was essentially fabricated in Europe could it be possible that something is being undone here too?

Finding Our Way Back From Dualism

I have excluded the word secular from my language for many years now. I have found it to be a wholly unhelpful term, which separates church from society. Remembering that if we have the language of separation it is quite likely that we have the practices of separation too.

I have swapped out the word secular for the work ‘mainstream’ as an attempt to try and normalise it in some way, since regardless of the core meaning of secular, it has come to mean somewhere God is not or perhaps worse somewhere that God has removed himself from and should therefore be considered unsafe.

I wanted to illustrate how dualism works in a real life setting and story rather than theoretically, i guess this is my version of drawing in the sand to explain something.

Before I start that – let me tell you about my day… do you think Jesus drew in the sand at times to be sarcastic? Like, ‘you guys are never going to get this, so here is a picture of a cloud? I only ask this because today in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests i posted a map of Africa on my facebook timeline showing how it has been carved up into all of its colonial areas called ‘The Original Looting’ . One of my racist friends (i have a few as it keeps me on my toes) just put the laughing emoji on the post.

Later i found a you tube clip of the Berlin conference where interested European empires fought out their rights to different land areas and implemented ‘make believe’ but long lasting borders – a gathering which did not include a single African.

So i posted this video and wrote, ‘for the uneducated – here is a video with a child explaining the impact of the Berlin conference and drawing it all on a map with crayons’… which was true ! Ok so maybe that’s not what Jesus did but it felt like a small victory.

So – Back to my attempt to illustrate the life and outcomes limitations of Christianity, having inherited dualism.

For 6 years i worked with an international counter child trafficking ngo based out of the US as their European Operations Director (a title I was asked to invent for my business card). On visiting one of the nations in Asia where we were funding projects and contributing a few initiatives, a lovely co worker with took me to meet a guy who was working in the night clubs there. These were essentially gatherings 40% people selling sex and 60% johns going there to buy against a backdrop of a syncopated beat and lights.

My friend thought we would get on as the guy in the clubs was working where Christians refused to go, and as a result he was given the ‘black spot’ of suspicion and exclusion by them.

He would raise funds for a specific girl to exit prostitution, one at a time and gain livelihood skills as a means of sustainability. In the club we talked to a girl, she was so beautiful and seemed like a lost bird, clearly not her normal source of income. She must have been 15 at the most and as we talked she explained that she was responsible for her mother and her own education. She had come to the city for a week of selling her body to expats in the hope of funding another term at school. When we left the club i went back alone, id taken what I could from my bank account, went back in the club and put it in her hands. She looked confused, I bowed to her with clasped in full Namaste humility, and as best i could expressing ‘go home’. As the stranger in a strange land and as naive as anyone could be, it seemed the best i could do. On top of this, I wasn’t meant to be there in the place God wasnt!

The following night we went to a gathering of Christians from different groups. They were going to go an do outreach (another word for us to review) to the white males who were spending their pensions on trying to resolve loneliness and feed a predator spirit. I should have been suspicious as soon as the word outreach was used.

We walked off the busy main street where all the action was and into a small side building. We sat in a circle, we sang western worship songs with the aid of a tape player and then we broke into confession groups, males and females to talk about our ‘thought life’ and any brushes with porn so we could be cleansed and worthy for the work ahead of us.

I was feeling increasingly angry, there is no other word for it, in fact i would say, i felt offended by much of what was taking place. I am mindful of this because a fellow once told me with a voice of authority that having offence is a sin. However i tend to feel at times, it is simply being tuned in and feeling exactly what the holy spirit is feeling.

The best was yet to come… strap yourselves in.

It was time to put on the full armour of God. I mean like in full Marcel Marceau mime mode, one item at a time, the belt of truth, the breastplace of righteousness etc

Now this is where i need Jesus to explain to me, why, i am having to do all of this seeming nonsense to go back onto the street i had just walked off?

I bit my tongue and tried not to make eye contact with my team mates. i would hate for them to know i needed rescuing. Finally we split into mix gender groups and off into the world, the real one. I was with two of my co workers from the US and a lady from central America full of learned charismatic behaviour oozing everywhere. We were going to go and pray into the darkest areas of the city. My heart hit the floor when we pulled up outside the same nightclub i had been in the night before. We needed to hide in the van and pray as the lord led. After 10 minutes i thought i would explode, seemingly stretched on the torture rack in between two realities, i just couldn’t cope. A therapist would say i was ‘in feeling’ but i would just say i was just thoroughly pissed off.

However the comedy of errors was not over yet. I found myself explaining to my co prayers that i found it very difficult to be praying outside a club at a distance when i had been in the club the precious night, praying over actual people, responding to what I saw, and engaged meaningfully with at least one beautiful human being.

You get me? right readers? The Central American lady didnt. She assumed

that i was full of shame for what i had seen and had been exposed to and began to pray in tongues over me and cast out the heeby jeebies of lust.

I was just about to break religious protocol and cultural taboos by asking her ‘good lady – please stop what you are doing, there is a misunderstanding ‘ (translated in google from gaz actual speak) when suddenly i was saved by an angel, it was definitely an angel in the form of the biggest mother loving flying bug we had ever seen. The intercession turned immediately into screams of panic and wails of travail… and i was saved.

This was probably one of the most internally vomiting experiences of my Christian life, i could not pull the robes of religious constraint off of me quick enough. I really did and do love my co worker who was supporting and initiating these projects but i just had to say ‘dude wtf’.

Is dualism really that hidden, that subtle and that invasive that once we have become part of separated off from life church culture that we can no longer see the absurdity of it in our practices? Dualism more than informs us that the church as a building is a refuge, a petrol station, an anchor point to where God resides most, to save us from the world, where God is less, or even not at all.

Was it wrong for me to be as offended of the dysfunctional Christian practices as I was the sex abuse that was all around me?

Perhaps I felt it more deeply because we were meant to be their hope and here we were struggling to walk out of the door of the created world back into the creation we lived in where God resides as fully as anywhere.

After years of working with young people who still hemorrhage out of the church construct on mass each year, perhaps this is the subtle indoctrination, which leaves them to feel that they have left God in the building. As my dad might say, ‘if I had a penny for every time I have heard that’… I would have, well, quit a lot.

How far reaching, life limiting and dangerous is this dualistic thinking?

This was not an accident, this separate worlds mentality is rooted in Platonic thinking, sown at the inception of the western church as it came to us through Greece, the creation of the sacred and the secular world. If we can eradicate this idea in our thinking and from our being, I feel our ‘practicing the presence of God’ as ever present, instead of near or far, here or there, will enrich us deeply and help us stand fully as his image bearer, wherever we are. I believe that as an outflow of this will also come much deeper questions for us as individuals about the church as a centralised, high dependency human construct.

Destroying or making history?

The seven last words of the Unarmed

If you don’t get time to watch it right through try 16:00 to the end.

A statue that honoured a slave trader being pulled down in Bristol was commented on very astutely in the Guardian that this was not an act of destroying history but of making history. I note that tonight there is a possibility of action targeted on the statue of Cecil Rhodes – an interesting one as Gayle was born in Zimbabwe and we have inevitably focused prayer into the effects of his life into the ‘soul’ of Africa.

Some days I pinch myself. What era are we living through? Is this simply a pause and all goes back to where it was? Or are we really living in one of the of the greatest resets in all of history? There are some incredible momentous epochs, and for believers in the resurrection of Jesus, we should anticipate that. Time moves forward a day at a time, a tick of the clock, and when that happens little seems to change, but the resurrection distorted the time line (Matt. 27: 51-54).

‘All lives matter’ is a retort at this time. Yes but only once ‘black lives matter’.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…’

(I quote from the USA declaration for two reasons, it is easier to find a good quote there and the USA is the child of Europe, if any schisms become visible there be assured they are present in our soil. I am not quoting it as a criticism of ‘there’. My critiques are of here and of ‘me’.) In the era when that was written ‘all men’ were all ‘men’ of the male variety, and of the white European descent. We can look back to criticise, but the gift of looking back is to slowly help give us present (time and place) sight. There are truths that are so self-evident, but are totally obscured to our sight because of where we stand. The gift of the moment is not simply that voices are being heard that have been silenced but we could possibly have our ears unblocked and our sight unveiled.

I have written that many might never come closer to seeing God than to see someone… really see them. To see humanity. That for me primarily is why this could be one of the greatest moments in history. To see Jesus was (is) to see the Father. To ‘see’ and really see humanity… that is the path for many to see Jesus.

Church of Elsewhere

Much of what I pick up on the soles of my feet is something to be washed off, but at times the dust, the residue of history and kingdom moments I pass through I want to accumulate, I want to bring this with me so that it colours where I go, who I meet and what I do. This is not something you can do with the stuff you need to wash off, it wont be appreciated.

Sometimes we feel a need to visit places, touch the land, meet the people in the hope that pollination takes place. That we become infected with what has infected them and in so doing become transformed, progressed, better enabled to be what we are meant to be, in the service of others.

I had a lovely friend called Zoe who signed up for a discipleship and missions programme where you could make suggestions of where you would want to be for a period of active mission. She wanted to join a dynamic bunch doing education in schools on England’s south coast, instead she woke up to see a cow outside her window in Wales. Amazingly, a place she would stay for more than a decade.

The Jesus followers there were a prayerful prophetically, sensitive bunch called Antioch in Llanelli. At times their prophetic insights were put into video format to be passed around the country like yeast. I liked their symbolism a lot, one of these was the sole of a boot saying ‘dreams with tread on for new terrain.

I think this notion resonated with people, rejected any idea that they had arrived. It suggested that the journey was ongoing and that we needed to prepare for new things.

Perhaps the boots with fresh tread indicated that it was going to be a long walk out, in and through the creation.

I felt I needed to connect with and touch what they were about. I loved it when we got to pray together, I also loved walking down the steps of a local river where hundreds would have queued during the historical revival, to be immersed in the makeshift baptismal. I wanted some of the history to be carried on my feet.

However it was one of the prophetic, poetic videos which would impact me the most and adhere itself to my journey.

The premise was that God had placed Jesus as head of his church, his body, which was the fullness of him in and through the creation. (“And God put all things under [Jesus’] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

It was a visit to that verse which brought out the sense that the body was the mobile, integrated aspect of himself through all things, through the creation and through the life and work spheres. This imagery seemed to be the opposite of the church I knew and the one that dominates the landscape. What I saw all around me, I had for a long time referred to as the church of elsewhere.

Perhaps, I can qualify that statement a little more by saying I had experienced several group settings where I would ask those gathered what they considered to be the spheres of society and each time it would be the same, education, healthcare, business, family and church.

The problem for me here is that it was my firm belief that “church” was never to occupy a sphere of its own, but instead have fully embedded itself in all of the actual spheres of life and society. The challenge or should I say challenging question in the video was ‘what does it mean to be the fullness of him in and through education? (cue teachers voice), healthcare? (cue doctors voice), gypsy sites (cue roma) etc

To be honest, because of our occupation and strong orbit around church as a sphere, as church of elsewhere, this is actually a question that still, 2000 years on, we are unable to fully respond to.

I used to be involved in church networks and pastors networks, which I foolishly felt was a gathering of those charged with reaching and transforming our locality.

After the ritual of the male voice choir worship session at one of these, I was allowed to ask a question:

  • Do we believe that our missiology informs our ecclesiology…
  • That those we wish to reach and serve in ‘the mission’, shapes and informs how we ‘do church’?

Almost everyone nodded, in that ‘but of course’ kind of affirming manner.

I asked ‘Who of us has inherited an established ecclesiology which greatly limits or inhibits our missiology’ … cue less enthusiastic nodding.

It is problematic that we are operating out of something, which even to our own thinking I so foundationally conflicted.

The leader of the pastors network, a much respected man once gave me a sound-bite which I have quoted in a multiplicity of settings, ‘If we do what we always did – we get what we always got’ – which isn’t enough. His softly spoken Scottish accent still survives as a formative voice in my head. As someone who was working hard on the impossible task of bringing our institutions closer together, I am not sure he realizes what a critical role he played in my moving away from said restraints.

Once over a cup of tea and some shortbread, we had a philosophical conversation where I was saying that I don’t have any more energy to invest in changing a seemingly immovable object.

My heart had always been to see the church change, but I had seen little of this. Mostly, the church as a whole was pinning its hopes on the next acceptable book to read , which would help them see the changes the previous book had promised but failed to deliver.

I remember saying that I was guessing he had seen the church go through 40 years of incremental, manageable adjustments, instead of significant change to itself, so that it could finally become an agent of change in society.

I said that if this was the case, I’m not going to be sticking around. His answer I felt was deeply honest ‘ yes, I am afraid that I agree with you, the church is likely to opt for another 40 years of minor adjustments’.

Do we have an inherited system that is capable of the kind of change, which can sees its primary function as supporting the saints to come to fullness in all the spheres of society? Has it managed this so far?

When church occupies its own sphere, a physicality and a geography we visit, it can only truly focus energy on perpetuating its own existence, equipping a small percentage of the saints for works ‘in’ the service instead of serving the majority who are unsupported as they stand in and through the creation (perhaps still waiting for a call to the seemingly sacred roles of pastor, youth worker, community worker, house group leader).

The thing that excites me most about a different paradigm is that, if there is no separated off from life ‘church of elsewhere’, then there is no leadership and no ministry gifts of elsewhere.

Instead, we find those abilities helping people come to fullness in all the glorious diversity of where God has placed them to be lovers, servants and agents of change. Suddenly, I feel hope that we can actually find ourselves engaged in systemic change in the world around us, more than topically treating the suffering those broken systems create.

What makes me nervous, is it takes that misplaced sphere of church to take on a John the Baptist mantle and become willing to decrease so that, what is coming can increase. I don’t mean more manageable, incremental, minor adjustments.

It has to be significant mind-blowing paradigm exploding change.

Privilege

The privileged world-view

If you have time this is more than worth a view. Greg Boyd at his best addressing the George Floyd situation. Very powerfully exposing the dominant white-supremacist perspective. And of course that is not a comment on the situation in north America… so many of us (OK so many of me) are part of the elite who see the world so distorted yet think we see it clearly.

What a era in history… I suggest maybe on some of these big issues, a watershed.

I am not looking to add to Greg’s material, but if you did not have time to watch, consider the following:

  • The word of the Lord comes to address the privileged. The word is ‘repent’. His word comes first to us.
  • Then the word of the Lord, ‘I am with you, and found among you’, comes to those who have been oppressed.
  • Jesus in the Incarnation has privilege and lays them all down. As a Jew, he refuses to allow Jewish privilege to position him nor others; as a male he treats and responds to women establishing equal status, indeed the Gospels seem to indicate that some key redemptive doors were opened to him through his submission to women; perhaps having some financial resources he chose a path of ‘the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’.
  • Because of the above I now consider that Jesus is no longer a Jew nor a male. Those were the two key elements that were nailed to the cross, and if we include dying as a insurrectionist lawbreaker, dying among thieves and in the place of a thief (Barrabus), we have the three elements of race / religion, class and gender all nailed to the cross. Life post-resurrection is therefore ‘neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor male and female’.

The USA is a mirror for us in Europe and the West. There are some key issues rising to the surface in the West. I need sight, sight related to history, so that genuine fresh sight can come for the future.

Have I lost God?

Too easily done

I’ve never (as far as my memory stretches) lost god. Now the former sentence is not a typo with the small ‘g’. I understand what is meant by the question ‘Is Jesus God?’, but at a very real level because of Jesus we can’t ask that question. The problem with the question it presupposes we know who God is then can decide if Jesus matches up. There is God… then there is ‘god’. My god looks a little like God but on the days I lose perspective looks a little less like God than I would like to believe.

Two days ago Gayle and I had a very refreshing zoom call to a couple of guys who have made, and are continuing to make, an incredible transition in an institution that could have so easily become irrelevant to today’s world. During the conversation I realised how far away from God I had travelled and how focused I was on god.

There was no financial crisis in 2008. The market soared back and the gap between the incredibly wealthy and the ‘others’ increased dramatically. There was no financial crisis – at least not for a great number of those who were very well off prior to the ‘crisis’. Of course there was a huge crisis for many.

Here we are now at the early stages of the signs that are pointing to a global reality yet to come, and this is the context where I lost God. I was particularly pee’d off by the huge increase of money into the personal and corporate account of Amazon. (Not saying he and they are the most guilty – I just happen to know some of the figures as they are public.) I realised I went through days of internal groaning with little else on my mind, swinging between, ‘how do we pray judgement?’ and ‘if I am responsible what do I need to do?’

However… I now realise that quoting Scripture is great. Luke 3, a kind of pattern in these last 20 years, ‘In the fifteenth year of the Emperor Tiberius… the word of the Lord came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.’

How many times have I said – God does not replace Tiberius with a born again, nor even a ‘Christian friendly’ Caesar, if we look for a ‘Christian friendly person in the White House, Number 10, Moncloa, or wherever we will not be deceived we will simply reveal we have already been deceived…’ A lot of blah, blah, blah there.

So? Well I realised I have been focused on god doing something with Amazon, the big corporations that can hold nations at bay, that can decide how much (much = how little) tax they will pay. So working hard on a current translation of Luke 3 I came up with:

In the years of global crisis that began to be noted in 2020, when the big corporations who had grown to immense levels, many more powerful than nations, when they had developed without shame into huge people-eating machines, Martin looked to god to sort it all out, as he knew that it had gone too far. Meanwhile in those years God was looking to a whole bunch of unimportant people to live differently. In those years it left Martin with a choice. Would he try to align with God or would his own personal god become ever so much bigger? The years that followed would tell a tale.

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