The Sykes-Picot agreement

Well if you know the content from the title you have one over on me. I read this article this morning by Giles Fraser (‘loose canon’, of ex-St. Paul’s Cathedral fame) in the Guardian that explains all. There is never a sufficient explanation for evil (‘the mystery of evil’) but there are factors that can be tracked in terms of what is sown in one generation producing fruit in subsequent generations.

Fraser’s last paragraph hits things pretty straight on:

Yes, there is much more to Isis than the desire to undo the century-long effects of British and French colonialism. But that’s a key goal. And if Iraq ends up splitting into a Kurdish, a Shia and a Sunni bit, and if Syria ends up splitting with an Alawite strip along the coast, and a Sunni bit further east, then Islamic State may end up getting precisely what its name proclaims, even after it has been defeated. These new borders will be based on ethnicity and religion rather than 100-year-old imperial design. And, this time, I don’t think western intervention can stop it.

‘Imperial design’ are strong words. Yet this is the nature of empire. The myth that all who comply will benefit, but the reality that the few at the top shape what is to be, promising benefits, but with the real benefits flowing back to the centre / top.

My guess is little real (identificational) repentance has been undertaken in the situation regarding the stitch up (betrayal) by the imperial powers of the day. And it remains a critical issue with regard to the gospel as to whether the problem is that we have had bad people at the top and all we need is to work it so that we have good people (the born again ones) at the top, or we have a fundamental issue that is contra the gospel that has to be opposed: imperial power whether the emperors are good or bad. My vote is strongly with those in the latter camp.

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves (Lk 22:24-27).

I suggest there will be a number of tracks that will run and run. IS / Dayesh might well become a lesser player in the immediate years ahead, but that is to misunderstand what is going on. An organisation can rise but unless there is something deeper that is healed the ‘starfish’ phenomenon will continue. And parallel to the rise of all despotic rule, God will continue to answer prayer for transformation and the increase of his kingdom. The result of this will be (theological) debate with regard to the gospel but the real issue will be over the fruit of the gospel – a people who rule top down or serve without asking for recognition. We can disagree over theological details but over the fruit we have to be clear.”,”post_title”: “The Sykes-Picot agreement”,”post_category”: 0,”post_excerpt”: “Well if you know the content from the title you have one over on me. I read an article this morning by Giles Fraser that explains all. There is never a sufficient explanation for evil (‘the mystery of evil’) but there are factors that can be tracked in terms of what is sown in one generation producing fruit in subsequent generations.


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A ramble

John Barr was a good friend and I still miss him at times (he passed away in 2001). His stories were always entertaining, but it was some of his insights, the dots he connected that made sense. One such piece of wisdom was – what parents do in moderation their children will do in excess. Of course like many axioms there is not an indelible straight line – after all God called Israel ‘my son'(!!) so there is a principle here that cannot be made a law.

I think though the principle remains, and I am not thinking primarily about biological family reproduction but more on the societal level. World leaders are coming to terms with what most of them knew was already going on with the Panama papers leak. This did not just ‘happen’, but seeds were sown over decades. Indeed Panama is not the biggest ‘tax haven’ but one of Britain’s protectorates, the Virgin Islands probably takes the prize for that title. The network of tax havens – which to a significant extent includes the city of London with its exemptions that have roots all the way back to 1066 – is probably something that is highly ‘beneficial’ to many Western nation-states and multi-nationals.

There are many possible imminent implosions, the fruit of ways of living and acting that has gone unchecked over decades. A politics that has become simply more and more confrontational and agonistic is increasingly non-Christlike. Imagine Jesus in politics… insults, insinuation, or working alongside?

I am a strong believer that the years of prayer for God’s presence in society is leading to two aspects. An increasing exposure of corruption and what has been hidden becoming visible, and unprecedented opportunity for the body of Christ. A while back I took part in a conference in Brazil through Skype and was asked to state what I saw for the next 5 years. My answer – exposure of corruption at all levels, and the opportunity for a move in the church of humility from the bottom up.

The two go hand in hand. Certainly the opportunity is there, and I hope that the church lays hold of the opportunity that is before us. We can seed the future with something different. To do so we have to go much deeper than politics of right / left; of the shallowness of ‘Christians in the top stratas of influence’, to a radical response to the call of following Jesus.

The UK faces its referendum in June. There are arguments pro and against, but my plea is that as believers we rise above the simple pro and against issues. I am pro-European not primarily politically, but from my understanding of the spiritual history and issues. I have maintained for many years that this continent, with its clear post-Christendom context, can and should become the place that releases another wave of the Gospel but without the hierarchical, imperial clothing that creates ghettos, but with egalitarianess at its heart that is hidden within the wider society. An opportunity that maybe has not been possible since the early centuries.

Unless statistics have changed dramatically, 1/3 of those who are happy (happy-ish?) with the label evangelical and are European live within the UK. Their commitment – whether they vote in or out – to Europe spiritually is vital. The children might be on course to do in excess what has been sown… or…

Here are two examples of voices in Europe that are sounding out a hope for something different. We can see them as ‘secular’ voices, and then look for the ‘God voice’ to rise also, or (I think much better) we can understand that the prayers of the church are not fulfilled when the Christian speaks, but when the voice of the Lord is released and we hear wisdom cry out in the public square.

The first is a long, but extremely well-written article by Yanis Varoufakis in the Guardian and the second a very short video by the mayoress of Barcelona.


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Vatican gives a home to homeless Jesus

An Ontario artist’s sculpture of a ‘homeless Jesus’ has been given a home near to the Vatican. Schmalz, the sculptor, said in an interview, “Historically, symbolically, it’s probably the greatest location for it.”

Since Pope Francis took office (March 2013) there has been an increased focus on the homeless:
last year, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, head of the charities, unveiled showers for homeless pilgrims near St. Peter’s Square and free shaves and haircuts are also now offered.

In the article it also noted that:

In London, Methodist Central Hall, across from Westminster Abbey, wanted to install it in front of its church, but the City of Westminster’s council rejected that, saying the sculpture would fail to preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square conservation area. An online petition has been launched to try to overturn that decision.

Another church in London, St Martin-in-the-Fields, rejected the statue because it has a rule banning people from lying down inside church, and there were fears the statue would expose the church to ridicule, according to the Church Times.


Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?


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The gift of isolation?

Community is in the heart of God. Trinitarian belief, the corporate ‘my people’, ‘it is not good for the man to be alone’… all point to community as not simply beneficial but healthy existence. When community is denied a person there is loss and pain. Given the norm of community and the lack of it that many experience I write cautiously what follows. I also write from our personal context here.

We have a strong conviction that over these next couple of decades many will find themselves uprooted from their former setting. We believe that thousands will re-locate to the cities and regions across Europe as the continent is re-seeded not simply with a gospel of words but an incarnated gospel of people (Mk. 13 parable #1 ‘seed’ = ‘word of the Lord’; parable #2 ‘seed’ = ‘people of the Lord’). In the relocation some will go with distinct purpose and vision, others will go by ‘circumstance’. If we come from a background of (Christian) community there are a few surprises waiting for us.

‘Clubs’ give us ready made friends. Many believers do not need to connect to others, the construct is what provides the context where they find the friends. This is not a bad thing in itself but all clubs by default insulate, they separate, and more so when we have no need of connecting external to that club. This is also accentuated if one held a measure of leadership within that club context. Friendship-making outside that context and with those who do not share the same world-view is a challenge – Paul, even with an incredibly developed world-view, achieved this (Acts 19: 31).

Appreciating beliefs that are different are wonderfully challenging. A gospel that is insulated can make sense when one is also isolated… but against the context of other beliefs can be deeply challenged. This, from what I understand, is what brought Steve Chalke to describe penal substitutionary atonement as ‘cosmic child abuse’. Our gospel is ‘foolishness to the Greeks’ but this does not mean there is no coherence to it. To re-examine the gospel is no bad thing. And certainly when one realises that the Western Protestant versions do not have a monopoly on interpretation opens up a few healthy doors.

Separation from the known, entering the liminal spaces, are so necessary for growth. Richard Rohr apparently recently described fundamental evangelicalism as ‘religion in its early phase’. He, being a Catholic, might indicate where development should take such a fundamentalist, whereas I would go in a totally different direction!

In transitioning into adulthood in many tribal scenarios there is a commonality to many of the rituals. What is in common is the removal of the known surroundings and boundaries, and the entering into a disorientating world. This is necessary for growth.

Yesterday we (Gayle and I) speculated that perhaps there is now the possibility of a fresh (Christian) movement, not one simply based on guilt and forgiveness at a personal level though probably with deep roots within that, but one focused on the body of Christ as the ‘soul’ of the world, the priesthood in the earth. If so I think that isolation will be one of the gifts from heaven to act as a catalyst for the conversion that is needed. Maybe Christian community will have to become (for a period, or maybe permanently) less of a defining element? Community, acceptance and accepting, is vital for healthy human existence, but those who have a vision for healthy community probably need to experience some measure of isolation along the way. To those much further down the road than I, thank you.


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Do not vote for the believer!!!!

I read a text yesterday that caused me to stop and think, as well as it amusing me:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor. 5:9-12)

So reading this text yesterday it caused me to think somewhat tangentially. An old line thinking was a straight line to church discipline and removal from fellowship. Easy, though defining what is meant by ‘guilty of greed’ or ‘is an idolator’ is always going to be somewhat more problematic than ‘guilty of sexual immorality’, but then even with that description we have to assume that it only relates to sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage. ‘Assuming’ and bringing definition to these injunctions indicates that it is not always as easy as appears at first reading. However laying that on one side, I had both a funny and an interesting thought…

There is a myth that if we get the right person (God’s person) to the top of government we will then move in the right direction. I describe it as a myth – it seems to fly totally in the face of Luke 3:1-3 and Rev. 4,5 and also the whole thrust of the following-Jesus subversive movement that I see in the NT. Here is the funny thought. So often we, or at least Christians with the conviction of ‘get the top position’, want to know if the person has made a confession of faith. If they have, even though they might exhibit some elements of racism, biggotism, excessive exploitative life-style, they are worthy of the ‘Christian vote’. But in the light of the passage I thought, but how are we to respond if the person has made a confession of faith but is ‘greedy’ (to pick one item from Paul’s example list)?, Does the instruction not to eat with that person mean I need to distance myself and that they of all people cannot get my vote. For once they ‘bear the name of a brother / sister’ I am supposed not to associate with them. While maybe if they were not a believer they could get my vote?

Amused me. The deeper issue remains – Caesar’s throne or heaven’s? Greatest of all or servant of all?


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Is this the gospel?

2016-03-16 10:03:39
Our friend, Elly Lloyd emailed me a poem she wrote a few years ago, saying ‘I wrote this about three years ago,I didn’t really understand it then, but I knew it wasn’t the time, so I held it. I dug it out of my rusty old trunk today knowing I should send it to you and Gayle!’

Well the timing is great… so go ahead read:

Is this the gospel?

it’s more about trusting than knowing
it’s more about becoming smaller in the worlds eyes
    than growing

  it’s more about losing
    than gaining ground

  it’s more about letting go
    than holding on

    it’s more about weakness
    than staying strong

      it’s more about walking with others
        than going ahead

            it’s more about listening
            than what’s being said

            it’s more about giving than taking
          to where more becomes less
                and poor is rich

              it’s more about revolution than revolt
              to humbly live with the questions
                and ask

              is this the gospel?


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I’ve been thinking about conversion and what does it really mean and recently a friend of mine (Michael Hardin) suggested that Saul was not actually converted on the road to Damascus but instead it was when he heard Ananias call him “brother”.

The point cannot be missed that his journey into Damascus must have been less than optimal, not knowing exactly where he would end up, his entire theological world in shatters from the encounter with the light and voice that others heard but no one saw…think it through with me…you have journeyed probably with a group of “like-minded” enforcers with legal jurisdiction to incarcerate and apprehend ANY who were part of the struggling New Community that in a collective understanding were an abomination to your way of life and faith.

He is not on the fence about this Jesus guy…he is not indecisive regarding what must be done, he is a man of action working with other men of action and he has just been confronted by the one whom he is decidedly against.

Three days he lives in darkness, led by the hand to…I dunno, where do you stay when you’ve come like a cop to arrest people but now your plans of “legally enforced entry and seizure”  have been derailed? Do you stay with the Jewish authorities in Damascus? Do you stay at some Roman citizens residence? Obviously you are not staying with a disciple, no one trusts you now…

Even Ananias as far away as Damascus has heard about the havoc and HARM Saul has done to the saints in Jerusalem, this was not Saul’s first rodeo he actually had a reputation that went out of the city into the surrounding region…

And then a man from the group you have come to violently destroy approaches you and calls you “brother”…

Let that sink in…imagine greeting a leader of Jihad with the phrase “brother” while offering to pray for complete healing for him…

This is where the real conversion takes place and not to diminish the “every head bowed every eye closed I see that hand” evangelical approach, but real conversion must take place between enemies or the gospel has not completed it’s work…

Until we have embraced our enemy with healing and the inclusion that “brother” brings we have not really done much more than shift the lines of who is in and who is out by a minus-plus equation…


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Uncontrolling Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

PPS: Link to Thomas Jay Oord’s website.


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