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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Conversion

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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Preaching to whom?

In a few weeks time we will be part of a small group of people coming together for a couple of days to share our journeys in Spain with the backdrop of ‘what is the Gospel?’ to give some shape to our sharing. Thinking through what the gospel is presents quite a challenge – or maybe coming to terms with what was the ‘Pauline gospel’ is where the challenge lies. We know what a version of the ‘evangelical’ gospel looks like and that shapes our lives to one degree or another.

This year I have set out a Bible reading pattern that is a new one for me, and this morning it sets me Romans to begin with. Of course, Romans is where we find the clearest (?) presentation of the Pauline gospel. It is the clearest but not all parts of it is clear to us! It is great where Paul begins and he is pretty much straight into it with his ‘I am not ashamed…’ statement. The section before that is what struck me this morning with his expression of desire to get to Rome where he anticipated there would be the impartation of a spiritual gift and a mutually beneficial interchange. Then he seems to sum up his desire with this phrase:

So I really want to preach the good news also to you who live in Rome (Rom. 1: 15)

Taken at face value he is not saying I want to preach the good news to those who are outside the Christian community (an evangelistic crusade?), nor that he wants to train the church so that they together can evangelise the city. He wants to preach the gospel to the Roman believers. (We could translate the whole phrase as ‘evangelise’ the church as he simply uses one verb.)

This is not a normal evangelical approach. Train in evangelism, take an evangelistic meeting – those we can relate to, but preach the gospel with no-one there who is needing to raise their hand? Food for thought… what does Paul have in mind when he wants to evangelise the Roman church?

I suspect there are depths yet that have to be dug out with respect to the apostolic gospel that will mean that our evangelical interpretation is only the tip of the iceberg. Maybe the Alpha course is aptly named… just a few more letters in the alphabet I think?

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What do we know about omniscience?

God is traditionally: omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient.

Omnipresent: a definite

As far as I can work out I can affirm omnipresent in that s/he is present in the now everywhere. Hence when we try and appeal to Einstein and relativity as a means of suggesting God has to be outside of time I think it fails for omnipresence reasons. There is no ‘delay’ in time for God such as for us with light reaching us now being actually from the past. We experience an event now that happened then. There is no such experience for God. It is also interesting that there is no suggestion that the (chronological) future is experienced now. The miracle of the resurrection is though that the (eschatological) future is experienced in the now. And events ‘reserved’ for the future could take place now – for example the resurrection of ‘many saints’ in Jerusalem along with Jesus, the firstfruits, on the resurrection morning. An event took place that elsewhere seems unequivocally to be reserved to take place at the parousia.

Omnipotent: but what does that even mean?

Omnipotence, if we want to keep that category, it needs to be qualified. I touched on this in an earlier post, and also referred to a post by Boyd that suggested that God could have made a creation that did not allow choice, and he even seemed to suggest that s/he could also have programmed us to believe we were making choices. That is based on a ‘God can do / God is free to do whatever s/he chooses’ – an omnipotent God without boundaries.

There is a tricky element for those of us who wish to centre God somewhere different to ‘he (and I think we can drop the s/ this time) is bigger than all others and subject to no-one so whatever he decides is what is right. Might is right.’ We who want to make the centre outpoured love face the issue of, if God could do no other than love in what sense is that freedom? Does s/he love because of choice? And if there is no choice in what sense is that truly ‘love’? As much as it might confuse me I think I have to go with God is love, maybe with the proviso that love was an eternal choice. His nature is love… hence s/he loves. I see this as no different to our future. The choice to sin in the sense of being able to make that choice will have gone, not because we have lost the ability to choose, but because we have become like him (Jesus). All bugs will have been removed, the hardware will not crash, we will become what we were intended to be. (Please remove the machine type language, but I think you get what I mean. Healing of humanity brings us to the place of true holiness, true love.)

If therefore we centre God on love, we have to be careful what we then insist about omnipotence. The rules are not made up simply because of power, the limitations within which we have to live (do not consume, but eat of everything except) are not arbitrary rules but a pathway to be able to eat of the tree of life. Similarly there are limitations on God because God is God and there is none other.

I suggest then that the term omnipotent is not too helpful a term. It can lead to a gross immaturity of ‘My God can do…’ with no analysis of what we mean by that; or disappointment when God does not act for us; or we act in the image of the God we serve and power rather than a servant response that is content in the place of anonymity.

Omniscience: what does ‘omni’ mean this time round?

Full omniscience in the sense of God knowing all past, present and future events has been based (often though not always) on God being outside of time. But the bedrock of this view of omniscience is founded either on what has been predestined is known (foreknowledge based on predestination: a common Calvinist approach) or on something termed ‘middle knowledge’. I have memory – knowledge of the past but my knowledge does not dictate the past; God has knowledge of the past and also of the future but in a way that is analogous to my experience of memory. That knowledge of the future does not dictate the future. This leads to the common Arminian approach where the predestination of God is based on foreknowledge.

Now laying on one side that I do not see ‘predestination’ or ‘election’ as being about individual salvation as they both relate to Christ as the predestined or elect one, so all who are in Christ are predestined (their destiny is set) and are elect in him, what do I make of omniscience or in particular absolute foreknowledge?

Let me start with God knows all things that are knowable. But are all things knowable? Many things are easy to predict. If this, then that. Should one have infinite insight then of course the level of the accuracy of the ‘prediction’ would be, at least, very high. The real issue comes with absolute foreknowledge concerning the predictability of future events that involve creatures who are endowed with the ability to make choices. The response of ‘the choices of a free-will creature cannot be absolutely predicted’ has to be offset by, ‘but sadly we are not totally free in our choices’. Even if we react to the implications of ‘the total depravity of humanity’ we can clearly acknowledge that we are all damaged and thus not totally free in our choices – there is the bondage and dominion of sin the reality of which all humans have to acknowledge.

We could also (strangely) say that we can foreknow what God will do – or at least we could if we had a grid to understand what the truly loving choice would be. So perhaps it can be said that God can make a contrasting but equally accurate knowledge of all future human acts? Maybe the one difference in this though is the word ‘truly’. God makes the truly loving choice – always. Humanity is not evil, they are fallen. The adverb ‘truly’ cannot be applied to us – we are mixed, one day good choices, other days bad ones.

For the Calvinist the future is fixed – fixed by decree. Foreknowledge then is absolute. For many of those who are Arminian-biased the future is also certain and knowable, but not so by absolute divine decree. For the Open Theologians the normal response is the future is partly open, with certain things being not open – so some future events are totally knowable, whereas others are not (and this would include the choices made by individuals). The analogy of the game of chess is suggested, the end-game is fixed, the tactics along the way are adjusted, but adjusted perfectly. Thomas Oord (Uncontrolling Love) has gone one step further and taken away the ‘parts are not open’ option. Brave man!!

Unless we dismiss the texts as purely anthropomorphic there are numerous Scriptures where God makes a response to how the people behave. A classic would be in Exod. 33:5

Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a vstiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.

So absolute definite conclusions on the matter of absolute foreknowledge? The only real conclusion is ‘what do we know..?’ But my tentative conclusions would be that given the nature of the world God has created not all future events and choices are knowable. God has perfect knowledge of all things that are knowable. The future is open:

either partly as per Boyd, Pinnock, Sanders et al.
or even totally as per Oord.

Whatever our conclusions, from fixed, partly open to totally open practically we live as though the future is open. We are called to participate with heaven in the shape of the future. I do not read the NT any way differently. I do not read it as a set of predictions about an antiChrist, a one world government etc., but I do read it as inviting us to contribute to the future knowing there will be a future judgement (assessment?) when our contribution will make it through or simply be burned up. I think that is the practical response because I think it is the theological reality. The future is essentially open, with the characteristics (‘no more crying’, ‘no temple’, etc.) fixed, but the pathway is not.

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We can do?

‘Without me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5) pretty much puts us in our place!! Of course that has a context so I am going to press some other directions as to our ‘place’.

The original Genesis pictures are of some measure of delegation of authority to humanity with respect to the earth, which is re-iterated in, for example, Psalm 115:16

The highest heavens belong to the Lord.
But he has given the earth to human beings.

The freaky part would be if in this aspect of delegation there was an inevitable limitation that God embraced. For me this makes sense at every level. The ensuing conflict and hostility is not between God and the serpent but between the seed of the serpent and the seed of woman. This is followed through with the Incarnation (born of a woman) who comes at a time of fullness to ‘destroy the works of the devil’. This overcoming is seen in the wilderness time of trial, and in particular at the cross. There seems a good basis to suggest the wilderness was with regard to the effective kingdom expression in the context of the remnant of Israel (the 12 + wider community of disciples), so that through the cross there can be a declaration of the kingdom throughout the inhabited earth.

Can God do nothing without us? This does not seem to be the case as from the beginning s/he enters the world of Eden, later we read of the protection of Cain, so s/he is not totally on the outside looking in. In Isaiah 59:16 we read

He sees that there is no one who helps his people.
He is shocked that no one stands up for them.
So he will use his own powerful arm to save them.
He has the strength to do it because he is holy.

It is probably hard to go to the extreme that there is no intervention from heaven, but it is probably possible to hold that there are certain interventions that do not take place without invitation, and that the norm is for divine intervention to follow human invitation.

It would seem to me that the issue Jesus came to settle was the restoration of humanity to their appointed place. His claim to having received all authority has the (implied) consequence that this authority has been released also for those who ‘go’.

In these posts that are exploring the conceptual elements of time, timelessness etc., the real issues are ‘so what…’ If there is traction in what I am suggesting then I think there are at least two key implications.

1) how the body of Christ positions herself with regard to the world is very key. If it is ‘rule over’ I cannot see that as embracing the cruciform path. It needs to be one of servant to the world so that the outworkings of the cross (the ‘it is finished’ part) can be seen in evidence in the world. Where the body of Christ does not follow this path, perhaps the resulting problems could be greater as a result.

2) the invitation to God to intervene becomes one of the key roles for the body of Christ. Prayer, but intercession at the deepest level of positioning then would be very key. Standing between what is and what is to come would be the requirement.

If we place this again in an eschatological setting we can hold that the age to come breaking in fullness is not dependent on a future calendar date but to a fullness of contribution that the body of Christ has made.

All in all, for me makes sense of the apparent lack of interventions from heaven; presents a challenge to discover ‘what do you want me to do?’ and ‘how do you want me to live?’. Then getting the balance of we are not created as workers but as companions to the God of heaven is important, because it is certainly not down to us in the sense of performance. Work without relationship is not going to be the way forward.

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God can do

It always sounds right to say that God is omnipotent and there is therefore nothing s/he cannot do. This becomes more problematic (morally) when it is suggested that God can do whatever s/he chooses simply because s/he is God: a might is right approach. Maybe less of an issue when that viewpoint is hidden behind such things being a mystery as to why God makes the choices s/he makes (predestination). While accepting that there are mysteries an over-appeal to that element does not sit well with me as in Jesus God becomes knowable. When the suggestion is that God can do something simply because s/he is God it might seem to elevate the otherness of God but makes this God unknowable. In Jesus this God who created and sustains all things is strangely more like one of us than not. So let’s get into this.

Omnipotence is a necessary affirmation that there is no ‘god’ greater than God, and that there are no limitations of power, however it cannot be taken to mean God can do whatever. There are the well known logical fallacies (can God make a four sided triangle, can s/he make a rock larger than s/he can lift) that are kind of fun to play with, but the more critical issues, though, surround questions of morality, with the very real question of ‘If God has all power why does s/he not stop suffering’. To suggest that s/he cannot stop suffering can sound as if that is a denial of omnipotence, but even Scripture is clear that the first line of defence of God is not one of omnipotence for we read: ‘God cannot deny himself’.

God is love, which is a stronger statement than God loves, and if we need to affirm that love is a choice maybe we have to go to a ‘love is an eternal choice’ by God. That kind of God-love is defined as a pouring out of life for others, even love that embraces the other, and that s/he cannot do anything that is not love. That love is not sentimental nor weak, but we can be totally assured that all s/he does is consistent with love. We have every reason therefore to trust totally in God.

So far I think no level of controversy there. It is when we push this into the realms beyond that it gets interesting. So:

Are there areas where God cannot intervene without our invitation (prayer being one way)? If I understood Oord (Uncontrolling Love) correctly he would be suggesting this. We could read that as ‘God is powerless to stop…’ which would be very insulting to those from a certain theological background, or we could understand this as ‘we can co-operate with God to change situations’. Certainly if we are not willing to travel any distance on that road we will find that defending God with regard to the problem of evil becomes more difficult. The free-will argument is surely necessary, what Oord has done is to push it further with God does not and will not control.

This, in simple terms, challenges us to determine whether love is the primary determining characteristic through which God is expressed and is known, or whether we resort to God is bigger than all other beings and it is power that is the primary expression of God’s own being.

I suggest then that there is only limited value in claiming ‘omnipotence’ for God, rather to claim love as being the core of God’s being is what we must focus on, which will put limitations on how we express the omnipotence of God. Indeed omnipotent language might prove to have limited usefulness, and unless we were to qualify what we meant with the word ‘omnipotent’ we could find that the word actually distorts the image of God.

Now if God has given freedom to humanity the issue of absolute foreknowledge is also raised – another post, another day. However, a post before that I think needs to explore the necessity of our invitation or co-operation for God to intervene.

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When was the beginning?

God, time, timelessness, God created time, time is in God, God made room for creation… theo-philosophical questions which we probably cannot give a final answer to. I suggested in an earlier post that the idea of God living in an ‘eternal now’ presents so many more difficulties than the simple view we have in Scripture that s/he lives with creation, that past events (e.g. the Exodus) are past events for God and future events (e.g. the parousia) are future events also for God. The Scriptures also affirm that God is not to be identified with creation. S/he is separate from creation. It does though beg the question of when was ‘the beginning of creation?’

There is nothing intrinsic within Scripture to suggest that creation as we have it was ex-nihilo. ‘In the beginning’ can indicate a ‘when God began creating’ and that he worked on stuff that was already there: ‘surface of the deep’, ‘without form and empty’. We also have a major issue as to what sense we can make of ‘God as creator’ if there was (a time verb) when there was no creation. It is almost as bizarre as claiming to be an artist but to have never picked up a brush, canvas and sought to produce something.

The Scriptural stories are to teach truth, not a set of facts. Truth transcends facts. So I do not find myself bound to believe there was a time when God created or that there was necessarily a historic day when humanity fell. Yes, I could be persuaded to believe that creation is eternal, or that what we term the universe is not the ‘first’ creation. We believe in an infinite God so there is no necessity to believe that this is the only universe that exists. However, it is the only universe that exists for us, and until we can master space travel, the planet we find ourselves on is the only planet for us, and the street where I live is the only street where I can live out a life of discipled integrity.

An eternal fall? Why not. Unless one feels obliged to take Gen. 1-3 as essentially literal we could take it as a comment on the history of humanity, falling short of the glory of God, choosing to believe a lie about God, refusing to live as s/he lives (within love boundaries) and seeking to consume whatever takes our fancy has produced the universal sickness called the bondage of sin. If we took it that way we would be thinking more about the sick needing healing, rather than the guilty needing forgiveness, though once healing was experienced at any level I think the automatic response would be ‘I have been guilty all these years of mis-representing God’.

So philosophically I am probably pretty much in the camp of creation is eternal, the fall is a statement of humanity’s bondage. Theologically I am very happy to affirm a beginning, the start of the project which has an end (in the sense of eschaton not telos). I am happy to say ‘we fell’ and without the second Adam are doomed.

I am also very happy to affirm that when we talk theology (God-talk) we don’t always know what we are talking about!

More to come – omnipotence and omniscience.

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God and time

It is so common to hear or read that ‘God is outside of time’, or in the more classical old-style theological way ‘the eternal now of God’. Language when applied to God is problematic, but this concept of time owes more to the influence of philosophy (Greek based) than to the Hebrew scriptures. This does not make it wrong in itself as to think about the issue and to decide that what we have in Scripture is language rather than a description of the reality is valid.

Timeless or temporal (but without beginning or end) are the two options. The first might sound more ‘God-like’, but I consider it runs up against numerous issues.

Personhood. God is described as a Being with thoughts, actions, emotions and interactions (and even of learning). All of which imply some measure of temporal sequence. Of course it could be that only we cannot conceive of personhood without time, and that the Scriptures record God in such ways simply because there is no other concept of personhood that we can relate to.

‘In the beginning’. The timeless view suggests that creation also includes the creation of time, and before this there was no time. Again, language has its limitations, but what does the word ‘before’ mean? The words of creation do not necessarily mean creation ex nihilo, but they do seem to attribute to God that he acted inside time. To suggest that God was existing as trinity and decided (‘when’ was the decision taken?) to create humanity to share life with and this was also the beginning of time seems to run up against so many difficulties as a concept.

The Incarnation. The eternal Logos became human. The Logos was not incarnated from all-eternity, there being a change within the Godhead at the Incarnation and for ever. Timelessness seems to me to suggest that the Incarnation would need to be an eternal situation rather than an eternal intention. So there is a very real change for the Trinity – a before Incarnation, a while incarnated on earth, and a post-resurrection but continuing incarnation. Timelessness necessitates that all events (from our perspective – past, present and future) are now all instantaneously occurring within the experience of God. Maybe that makes God sound awesome but in what sense can we say that the future has already been experienced (or more correctly is being experienced now) by God? The return of Christ, the ‘God will be all in all’, ‘his dwelling place will be with his people’ are all descriptions of a future event for us… and I suggest that those also have to be future experiences for God.

I appreciate there are some real difficulties in the issue of time and God. What would it mean that he lives in time? (I suspect that maybe we should be more profitably exploring that time is in God – therefore any creation has to exist in time.) It certainly would not mean that God grows old or decays, nor that s/he is growing in strength and wisdom, as if given another opportunity the next creation project would be better – though we do have the ‘God regretted he had…’ statements in Scripture.

So however challenging the philosophical nature of this discussion is, I find the concept of timelessness all-but impossible to embrace. There are difficulties with God in time – hence the concept of time being in God might be the way forward – but for me I have to lean heavily in this direction. There is a future for God as well as a future for creation that we (God and creation) are waiting for.

So we have to affirm there never was (a time word) when God was not, and there never will be when God will not be. S/he is not created, but has eternally existed, and will eternally exist. I can experience God by the Spirit today, but more remarkably I can equally be experienced by God today. There are no surprises to God in that relationship but I can certainly give pleasure to the One who redeemed me.

The present two-way relational experience is not dependent on our view of God and time, but seems more consistent with with the God of the Scriptures.

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Talking definitively about God

The huge advantage of the influence of Anabaptism is that by starting with a Christology we end up with a God who looks like Jesus. Any other ‘god’ is to be rejected. Now the counter from some quarters is the claim that the Christology being referred to is no more than a Jesus-ology, meaning it is drawn from 3 years of incarnated life rather than the eternal existence of the Logos. That does not convince me as the Jesus-ology gives us the essential and true character of God, who cannot act differently to how he is revealed in Jesus.

Yet regardless of how Christology affects our Theology there are questions that remain about the being of God, such as were raised by Oord’s book that I recently read and reviewed. So I want to touch on some of those in a few blogs. (After all it is February and time for some lighter issues to consider.)

  • God and time
  • God and creation (and fall)
  • God, freedom and foreknowledge
  • God and the eschaton.

And of course, although this site is called Perspectives, all thoughts here will be definitive and the final word on all the above – as if!! Yet that is how we can hold our beliefs in God at times. When Open Theology (the future is not fixed, but free-will agents shape the future) gained some traction with the publication of ‘The Openness of God’ there was a debate and a vote in ‘The Evangelical Theological Society’ as to whether those who subscribed to those views were to be allowed to continue as members.

Defining orthodoxy is increasingly difficult for many evangelicals as there has been a shift in how the definition of ‘evangelical’ works. In 1995 Robert Johnston gave a paper to ‘The American Theological Society’ entitled:

Orthodoxy and Heresy: A Problem for Modern Evangelicalism

(A modified copy can be found here in pdf format.)

In his presentation he suggested that there has been a move from a set of boundaries that once a person strayed outside of them they could be classed as a heretic, to using a core to define the term evangelical. At the core of the core (?) were how two questions were answered:

  • By what authority do you believe what you believe?
    Answer: the Scriptures
  • By what means is a person reconciled to God?
    Answer: through the cross of Christ.

Now we can perceive the issues that are raised. Scriptures: but which of the numerous canons do we mean when we use the term Scriptures? and the critical issue of our hermeneutic – after all we can defend (insist upon) slavery, subjection of women, beating the rebellious child etc. if our hermeneutic allows. We can also defend genocide – indeed we have to use a brave (and necessary) hermeneutic to get round some of those passages. And for most of us we have no effective hermeneutic, but simply a sub-conscious mental tippex (wite-out).

And the cross. We can affirm the above position as a ultra-Calvinist with only the elect being reconciled at the cross, or as a Universalist, and everything in between!

Hence the problem.

I can totally answer the above two questions in the affirmative, and so can carry the label of ‘evangelical’. If however, we were to continually add definitions to the term, my answers would probably go from ‘maybe’ to ‘I don’t think so’ to ‘No way’.

So if the original writers of ‘The Openness of God’ escaped the sword, but only just, I am confident that I have not strayed too far, but also affirm that we need to ask the deeper questions that do not shake our faith but push us toward a deeper trust in the God revealed in Jesus, rather than a dependence on our beliefs. Our beliefs are not the same as saving faith. So as I get time I shall be writing.

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Gates of society

I have written at times on what can be variously termed ‘gates’, ‘spheres’ and (one I object to) ‘mountains of influence’. Recently though I have been thinking again about these aspects. So first to note that language, with all its weaknesses, is important. Language carries concepts, hence the ‘mountain-type’ language I consider very unhelpful as it embeds the continuing belief of hierarchy and top-down change. It is not compatible with the kenotic / uncontrolling love of God.

I started this past week to think about the myth that we now have of the interdependence of the spheres. In the UK – and indeed much of Europe – there is a continuing wonderful health service available to one and all. Increasingly though this is being placed under threat and the response of junior doctors in the UK to the cuts that have been made to the NHS is more than understandable. Likewise, we see threats to education with an inevitable preferential treatment given to those from more privileged backgrounds.

Myth 1. The ‘gates of society’ are not as simple to define as interdependent spheres. Politics rules over, for example, the gates of education and health. We have an education minister and a health minister who shape up how the education and health spheres are developed. Some consultations are made, of course, but how much do those consultations shape the outcome? Ask the teacher in the classroom or the doctor / nurse in the hospital and hear what they think about the policies that they are instructed to implement.

Myth 2. The political sphere is not the top. But there is a top! Something is out of control. Take the payment of tax made by Google in the UK. When Mr. Corbyn asked on behalf of ‘Jeff’ in PM’s question time about the possibility of the individual coming to the government to make the same agreement about the level of tax to pay as Google had just done, the response revealed the situation. There was no effective response other than ‘we did better than former leaders of the house’.

So seems there is a hierarchy (particularly at the global level) with economics occupying the top seat. What if all institutional power needs a voice? Maybe politics is now fast becoming trapped in a double minded prison, seeking to reign in what is out of control, and yet defending it. (Consider the unusual symbiotic yet antagonistic relationship of the beast and the prostitute of Revelation.)

So what conclusions do I come to? Tentatively:

1) at the individual level we have to continue to move into the ‘spheres’, ‘gates’ (or whatever) in order to dismantle mountains – or at least hilltops!

2) we look to the truly uncontrollable areas such as the arts to disturb. Thanks Banksy!

3) we look to see a media that becomes free. (In Spain the majority of channels are controlled by the conservative government, with one channel being owned by a certain infamous Italian politician! In the UK just check the ownership of the press.) The underground press is increasingly important. And as we have been praying for a regeneration within the media, a new media, we have to ask as those shaped by a kingdom mentality, how we define ‘media’ (communication and language). Is it defined by what is or by its purpose?

4) we provoke democracy, not simply the democratic process. And by provoke we do that at whatever level is appropriate – and this has to include prayer to shift the mountains that are now eating democracy, often through the democratic process.

5) that we look for the voice of the street to rise. Untidy, not so articulate, but full of wisdom.

6) that we call for a new landscape while believing that there will be monumental shifts in the structures that have gone out of control. Wholesale collapse is not the way forward – we need to see low-level alternatives springing up.

The European project is rightly being challenged. The fault lines are becoming increasingly visible. There are signs of hope at grass roots, and the way of mercy has to be the way forward.

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