Mis-fitting – to be fit for God’s world

On October 13, 2018 (Will we make a difference) I wrote:

The façades are opening. It is not simply that we will be able to see the bizarre nature of the Western economic system that only operates if there is debt (debt will always result somewhere in slavery and at some measure an inevitable eating tomorrow’s bread today) or the paucity of public political debate but we will be able to see some very deep roots… unless we close our eyes to what is being revealed. The familiar can close the façades down, although I wonder if we (believers) will even be able to do that this time round. And beyond the familiar there are factors that hamper our sight. Those will be found in our commitment to a shallow Gospel that does not challenge nationalism, patriotism, patriarchy and the deep inequalities in society. If we do not heed at this time that the Gospel is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, nor male and female we will find our eyes will not even see what is before us and we will simply look for ‘normal’ to be restored.

What is being exposed in the days that lie ahead (and I am sure much more can be added to this) are:

greed and consumerism
misogyny
protectionism that demonises the ‘other’

The inevitable result will not just be trade wars, but war. It will not simply be a major shift to extreme right wing policies (as we see rise in Europe) but the establishing of a neo-nazi totalitarianism that will eventually be seen not be favourable to faith, including that of the Christian faith.

Yesterday I read an article in the Guardian (Spain Turkey far right Vox culture war) that makes for both insightful and frightening reading. In the name of values how an anti-feminist position is central to what is taking place. The goal in Europe the article says is:

Not a new Europe, not even an old Europe, but a Europe modelled on an imaginary, mythical past. A monolithic Europe dedicated to halting and reversing progress.

‘Might is right’ has to give way to humility being the path. I remember many years ago taking a prayer week where the working together of the body of Christ was a challenge. Everyone had their own agenda and each expression was more ‘right’ than the other. As I prayed that morning I sensed strongly that a pathway of humility was the only way forward. One of the leaders who was participating in the week was away on business in London that day. He came back saying that he had been praying about the lack of unity, and as he came over a hill and could see the city in front of him the Lord said to him ‘humility is the path forward’.

As a male it is very hard for me to recognise misogyny. Is it in me? I would be foolish to claim that it was not… that is the problem so often. We assume we are free but fall painfully and blindly short.

I am more convinced than ever that there is a fresh discovery of the Gospel. Yes there will be understandings of the cross that Tom Wright describes as ‘pagan’ that will have to be jettisoned, or at least radically revised. There will be perspectives concerning the work of the Spirit that will expose the gap between being ‘born again’ and yet harbouring and fostering old fallen creation values. At the heart of all this will be an incredible new vision of humanity. This will never take place without feminisation. Whether the church leads in this or not is unimportant. The lead might well come from the world. It might well come from the political world. In Spain the dormant seeds of Paul’s Gospel are in the land (and in Turkey, referencing the Guardian article, the fruit of the seeds have been cut off – the seven churches of Revelation… but the seed remains). Maybe they are beginning to germinate at this time. Maybe this is why there is such a push for this one-cultural Europe. Maybe the enemy is moving because the Spirit of God is hovering. Certainly we need to push for this again. We have our battles in Spain. Our focus is on the political scene, ever grateful for the women who have humbly taken their place.

If there is any value in this post I dedicate it to the memory and testimony of Rachel Held Evans (photo at top… check out her writings). Too young (37 years old) to die. But the seed will continue. (Health Updates). One newspaper described her as a ‘hero to Christian misfits’. Come on you misfits!

A little more theology

Power is an interesting word. For sure there is a power dynamic witnessed by the disciples being instructed to stay in Jerusalem until they received power. Likewise authority. Jesus received all authority in heaven and in earth, and he gave authority over the works of the devil to the disciples. I consider that authority was never intended to be over others but was for others to enable them to find their destiny – hence the requirement is to submit ourselves rather than subjugate others.

In a world that has perverted the beautiful order of making space for others (using authority rightly) and retreating from space that was wrongly taken it is not surprising that we have many voices calling for their space. And all the while there is the inequality produced of occupying the space of others we should not be surprised that the cry from creation is mixed. In Scripture there is a redemptive principle where those with the power are addressed while the from-below-voice is heard. God hears the sound of oppressed Israel but addresses the Imperial power of Pharaoh with a command to repent, by releasing Israel from their captivity and giving them their space.

The redemptive principle exposes those with power as the ones who have to repent and lay down power. They have to retreat and allow space for the other. The history of the world is that there is a continual movement to take yet more power, to make ourselves even greater than before. The Christ example is to make the other greater. ‘Better I go away… you will do the works I do and greater.’

The Cross

Jesus came at the fullness of time, at the time when there was no hope in the world. It was the time in history when we have had an all-but one world government complete with a ruling antiChrist, something that the history books portray and the book of Revelation exposes in techicolour. (This is one of the reasons I do not see the Bible predicting a future antiChrist. The eschatological horizon of AD70 being the fulfilment of Jesus’ Olivet discourse and the fulfilment of the ‘man of lawlessness’ for Paul. There is a horizon beyond that of the end of all Imperial rule, which we work toward and will be fulfilled at his parousia.)

Jesus came when the demonic was at its greatest, when Israel had so lost her calling as a corporate priesthood for the nations that not even the Temple was a house of prayer for the nations, being identified as a ‘den of robbers’ by Jesus (robbery – to steal space?). At the time of no hope he came as human, specifically as a male human and as a Jew. Men, women, Jews and Gentiles – all have sinned – but the human who has taken space (male / patriarchy) and the people who did not open space for others to know God (the Jew) are specifically incarnated in Jesus. He dies to maleness for all humanity, and he dies to Jewishness for all peoples. Dying as a male he dies for all humanity, and he takes the curse of the Jewish law for the release of God’s glory to all people. Paul insists that Jesus, and those in him, are the new humanity hence

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26-28).

The old distinctions have gone, there is a new world. This does have huge implications for an Israel theology, but we positioned this understanding for the male / female or more specifically for the voice of the feminine when we were in Brazil.

A few interesting Scriptures

Mary came to the tomb, to the Garden where there was a proclamation that he is alive. This is in contrast to the Garden of Eden and the Fall where death was proclaimed. She saw Jesus believing him to be the Gardener. Her sight was correct, the original commission was being restored in him. The ‘Last’ Adam was ready to work for the renewal of all creation. She might have doubted the validity of her belief but there is something very profound to be gained from her sight. If Jesus is not seen as the Gardener any view of his Lordship will be perverted. He is not coming to take space but to make space, to shape an environment for redeemed humanity. He does not come with the spirit of Caesar to enforce every knee to bow, but when he is revealed every knee will bow. There will be space for one and all, not simply privileged and precarious position for those who comply to the Imperial spirit.

The first revelation was to a woman. In response to that testimony Peter and John ran to the tomb but as Cleopas said:

Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus (Luke 24:24).

They – the men – did not see Jesus. Mary did see him. They will later see him but before that occurs Jesus reveals himself on the road to Emmaus to a couple (Cleopas / Clopas and his wife Mary – John 19:25). We read the story in Luke 24 and the obvious redemptive re-enactment of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden is present. The original couple had left the Garden despondent knowing that they had lost destiny for humanity. This couple left Jerusalem despondent believing that even the One they followed was not able to get things back on track. Adam and Eve left not knowing that God was walking with them. Their exclusion had implications for his journey with humanity. Just as God had come in the evening time so Jesus appeared to Cleopas and Mary at the evening time. He walks with them on their journey, and later promised to continue to do just that, and not just for them but promised to walk with all who believe in his name.

There is a movement from a woman to a couple. There is something taking place that is the restoration of the male / female relationship. Unless there is room given to the feminine sight we run the risk of perverting the sight of the Lordship of Christ. If we do not welcome the sight of the Gardener we will not understand the apostolic task ahead. For only after there is a healing brought through prioritising the feminine sight does Jesus appear to the apostolic band.

When the early disciples all joined together waiting for the Promise of the Father Luke records that the eleven were with the women.

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers (Acts 1:14).

Maybe it is just a simple record of who was present but maybe there is a deeper sense contained in that phrase (σὺν γυναιξὶν καὶ Μαριὰμ τῇ μητρὶ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ). Maybe the sense is that disciples were with (σὺν) the women, more that than the women were included with them. They were together, but there is perhaps an indication that they had to position themselves to the women. Equality and certainly space preserved for the feminine sight.

Restoration is not about reversals to the point where the imbalance is put to the other extreme but where there is equal space. Space for one and all, but to see restoration the voice and sight that has been absent has to be focused on. It is not simply added to the current voice and sight but corrects and adjusts that perspective.

These are the deep foundations, and we were very glad to have Gadir with us to dig down, to dig deep.

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Backstory

The next few days I plan to blog concerning some of the themes we pushed while in Brazil. Perspectives, but of course ever so close to the truth!! The context for what we shared was a land that has seen so much church growth, yet still has very high levels of corruption and occult, and the time we were there was a very divisive time of the presidential election. It also followed on the back of suggesting a few posts ago that misogyny is one of the strongholds that needs to be repented of and broken. The concept of ‘digging’ down to foundations has been with us for a while and that will also contribute to the content of these posts.

Interpreting the Bible… so many principles in hermeneutics, a main one being to discover the author’s intended meaning. That seems pretty clear, but… what if God intended a ‘hidden’ meaning that only I could discern (not totally serious about that suggestion, but maybe the point is there could be more to the text than the author initially meant). Then there is an element of reader interpretation. Reading the Bible in a second language is always interesting, phrases sound different and provoke new ideas. This experience makes me more open to fresh readings from the text.

These posts will mix background thinking, understanding of Scripture with some of the practical outworking. Not always an easy read but hopefully rewarding.

Getting ready for Brazil

Gayle came to Brazil with a desire to see space be made for the feminine voice, not simply to gain agreement with a theological tick of ‘the Bible agrees’, but that the deep masculine (and at times misogynist) structures be challenged. There can be agreement at a theoretical level and yet no space be made for the voice of the feminine. Discussions and dialogue can be done in such a way that the feminine (and this is not simply restricted to the ‘female’) voice is not heard.

In Spain there are some great examples of the feminisation of politics. Ada Colau and Manuela Carmena being the mayoresses of Barcelona and Madrid respectively have taken approaches that are not confrontational but dialogual based on respect and listening to one another. In Brazil, however, the feminist movements have mainly positioned themselves aggressively in opposition to the status quo and to men. It was difficult to get a perspective into the various settings, but the meal table was the place where room was made and ground taken, and from there we were able to sow into the more public settings.

This aspect of the voice of, and space for, the feminine, did not simply sit there by itself but as the push was to dig into the deeper layers what began to unfold was a group of ideas that seemed to interlink. A little out there, but in the lead up to the trip Gayle had an encounter with the angel of Cádiz called Gadir, and she came with us to Brazil. There is a long background to this but our first encounter with her was in connection to the release of the young woman of Cádiz / Spain. In recent days Cádiz has been undergoing some ongoing excavations and being one of the oldest continually inhabited cities with an ancient history, we realised that her partnership was the release of the feminine and this would be accomplished by some serious digging.

The journey of the Incarnate Jesus was from on high to the lowest place and back again. He did this so that he could fill all things on behalf of his body, the church. The church then is the fullness of him who fills all things in every way (Ephesians). Many of us have been comfortable with the concept of warfare in the heavenlies, and although practice might differ we look to see limitations placed on those hostile heavenly powers. If I suggest that is to focus ‘up’ what about the focus ‘down’? Although not literally up and down, we began to see that there has to be work done to dig down to the deep structural layers that have been the foundations for society. If the Gospel is indeed about social transformation (‘there is a new world’) then those foundations have to be changed spiritually.

Foundational to creation was the creation of humanity with male and female in God’s image. When the inter-relationship of this ‘other’ is skewed then it results in a fault in the very foundations. By extension the male / female ‘other’ relationship has to be pushed to the inter-relationship to all ‘others’, the ultimate healing being the love for the enemy. Love has to be discovered and what resists love resisted.

Sin – not defined by law

Our theological inheritance is mainly from the Reformation period with an emphasis on sin as law-breaking. Usually we have understood the Torah as presenting God’s standards and Jesus the perfect One taking on the punishment for the guilt of the world. Let me suggest a different approach.

In Romans Paul seems to put forward the concept that the heart of sin is to shut God out with the result being all kinds of wrong behaviour. Wrong values (wrong worth-ship / worship) was at the heart of the Fall. The generosity of God – eat of all the trees except for ONE – was rejected with the insistence that we will take fruit from the forbidden tree. This is law-breaking, but at the heart of it is the over-reaching beyond boundaries in order to insist on our right to take. ‘I saw, I desired, I took and I ate’ is the testimony of the world’s fallen state. In the Torah there are many commands not to move boundary markers, not to take what disadvantages others, not to harvest to the maximum, to be content, to make room for those who have no space… and inbuilt was a program that when things did expand in wrong directions to put it all back with the 7 year release and the 50 year Jubilee.

Sin expresses itself in taking space that shuts out the space for the other. This was the result in the male / female relationship with the man ‘ruling’ over the woman. Commissioned to rule together the result of sin was the rulership of the male over the female. The shared commission became unequal, and even worse the focus which was to be a rule (care for) the space became rulership over someone else. The battle for space is the story of conflict, told from the underside and it is the story of slavery; told from the victor’s side and it is the military and trade victory.

Paul does not simply make the point that ‘all have sinned and so all are guilty’ but that both the Jew with the law and the Gentile without the law have sinned:

There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:22,23).

It is not changing the meaning if we were to change the ‘all’ to ‘both’. Jew and Gentile alike have sinned and that sin is defined as falling short of the glory of God. The primary issue is not law-breaking, but not living up to the creational call of God. That call was to be truly the image of God. Only Jesus came in that way. Only Jesus truly fulfilled that calling and John informs us that we beheld his glory, full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14). Truth has to come in a grace package otherwise there will be no glory.

The Tri-une God is revealed whenever one human being sees another human being and in that mutuality give space for the other to fulfil their destiny – with no strings attached but through self-giving love. This is the call in marriage but that call is not restricted to marriage, and Jesus, as single, fulfilled this call in totality giving himself in outpoured love not for one ‘other’ but for all ‘others’.

Only in this self-giving way is glory revealed. To fail to do so is to fall short of the glory of God, and Paul says there is no distinction, Jew and Gentile alike have fallen short. A very key Scripture concerning the transformation that Jesus brings to us and our world is in 2 Corinthians 5: 16,17:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

To be in Christ is to have a change of sight. We cannot see people how they are often classified: by their background, education, wealth, gender, sexual orientation; but according to their destiny. People are seen differently because – for those in Christ – there is a new world. There is a new world to come for sure, but the sight is such that a new world is already seen – along the lines of MLK’s words ‘I have a dream’.

There is a cry from creation which is a cry for liberation (Rom. 8). That cry is not always articulated well and is often expressed in frustration or anger. The cry is from the street and if what is heard can be heard beyond the painful groan then wisdom itself can be heard to be crying out. In Romans 8 there is the cry of the person that finds freedom in God’s Spirit coming to them and they cry out ‘Abba Father’. In the same way as our cry was directed to God the cry of society is directed to those who see a new world, those who are in Christ. (In using the term ‘in Christ’ I am not saying the cry of society cannot be responded to by those who are ‘not’ in Christ, but emphasising that we who belong to Christ carry a primary responsibility.)

The cry, even of aggressive feminism as in Brazil, or the cry of the marginalised peoples (LGBTQ, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and a whole host of others) is at its core creation’s cry for liberation, even at times if muffled or distorted. We cannot silence that cry for if we see differently we will hear the voice of the Spirit in the noise and clamour. The cry is from ‘under’.

Sight and sound

In the last paragraph I suggested we have to see differently to hear differently. This is something that Revelation presents with the sight either clarifying or correcting what is heard. John hears that the Lion has triumphed, but when he turns he sees a Lamb. The power language can be and is distorted to justify dominance. The sight is vital if we are to hear the sound accurately. We will never hear the cry of creation if we cannot see the ‘other’. There is a sound rising – can we see those who are groaning, shouting, screaming, even using words of hate?

More to come…

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