In or out?

Not sure if I need to reconfigure the words of the rhyme to make them mine or not, but they certainly have the potential to be a song that could inspire and define a generation. Stay with it I have not lost the plot completely…

We could apply it to the Brexit: in / out? But at least we have to shake IT all about. No change takes place without shaking and the in / out debate can miss the point if we are not committed to shake things. Only shaking releases what cannot be shaken, and that is described in kingdom terms in Hebrews. (An aside: Why is it called HEbrews if it was written by a woman?)

I am not writing though about the ‘B’ word but about our continual pursuit of social transformation. Change I have suggested is from the bottom up and a truly apostolic vision has to be marked by patience, knowing that the task is to sow the seeds and that it might take a generation, or even some centuries to grow, but the patience means that the process is not abandoned. True patience is not passivity but gives energy to persevere. In suggesting change is bottom up, beginning in the desert, this is not to say that a disciple of Jesus cannot be at the ‘top’ and occupy a position of power. What is done with the power is of course the key, but if the body of Christ continues to hope for appointments to the ‘top’ so that we can dictate behaviour it seems to me that we are aligning ourselves with a process that is alien to how the Gospel brings about change. A change culture is where the body of Christ changes the spiritual atmosphere so that space is created for people to grow up to fulfil potential (regardless of faith response), and with a change of atmosphere an openness to the salvatory elements of the Gospel message also.

In this post I want to open up the question of how do we engage the powers – is it from within or without? If we take a ‘powers are appointed by God’ approach we will be tending to look to reforming those powers, whereas if we emphasise the otherness of the kingdom of God we are more likely to look to stand outside the structures viewing powers as more or less necessary evils, but still essentially evil. As for the powers being instituted by God (Rom. 13) – a great text for those who believe Christians should not be out there causing havoc by protesting what their beloved leader is up to – we can see how Paul is relativising the authority of human leaders and not normalising their behaviour. It aligns with Jesus words to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. A relative response to Caesar, working out what he is ‘owed’ and an absolute response to God to whom we owe everything. What do we owe the powers? Submission or confrontation?

Engage or disengage? I think both can be prophetic, both are called for, both are powerful and both are subject to deception. There are OT prophets whose context was deeply inside the structures and there were those who were speaking and acting from the outside. To the extent that they both aligned their perspective to God’s they were being prophetic.

The two descriptions of ‘salt’ and ‘light’ also point in these two directions. The salt is immersed in and has a role to inhibit the growth of the negative and promote the growth of the positive; light illuminates and shines forth as an alternative so by implication is somewhat separate to what needs exposing. I consider then that it is not an either / or approach, and that some will be led in one direction and others in another direction.

An immersion in the structures requires a wisdom as to how to work with compromise. Structures are not perfect, even the best ones are imperfect and all structures have a default to demonisation (the biblical material on the city is key to understand this… and it is important to understand this not simply in relation to ‘secular’ structures). Some aspects of our western world (in particular parts of the economy) have been uncritically baptised by the Christian world, and we should be more suspicious of how we engage with such areas. If something can be redeemed then we have a reason for involvement. Redemption requires a connection, a connection will necessitate a compromise, but that compromise has to be redemptive to pull it toward a more wholesome position. I consider the test has to be how an area of society humanises (or not). To dehumanise is to act demonically.

How we approach this is so challenging. One organisation might be happy to draw funds from sectors of the financial world that facilitates the ever-increasing divide in our world and then use such funds for good – others might view the very source as untenable. This goes far beyond the rights or wrongs of drawing on, for example, lottery funds.

Different levels of faith probably are one aspect in how we respond, though sometimes I think an uncritical approach has silenced the questions that have to be asked if we are to discover what is truly a faith response. What is sure is for anyone dealing with change from the inside they will require two aspects of cleansing – a continual washing of the heart otherwise they will be soon in trouble, and the washing of their feet regardless of how clean the heart is. Our feet will always get dirty when seeking to walk through this world’s dust. That is not a problem as Jesus made clear to Peter. We cannot always make the right response, but we can seek to make the redemptive response.

Given that so much of our world has evolved on an economic myth (this does not mean that it is all therefore bad) there are those who will definitely be much more comfortable in stepping outside what is considered the norm. I have long advocated that for the sake of believers today and in the light of what is coming we have to find new (and really they are old) views of work. It has to be unhooked from monetary reward. Paul never said ‘if you do not earn you should not eat’, but it is hard to find anywhere that is able to define work other than in a monetary way. There is a very real place for the stepping to the (out-)side of society, of not conforming to the status quo. Maybe long live the hippie in all of us. The danger is of course of defending the non-taking of responsibility as being prophetic!

Dangers, dangers and more dangers. But if we are focused on change the direction our feet might take us could just surprise us.

Some opt to be in, some choose out… some will be in today and out tomorrow and vice versa. Whatever our response, let’s not forget to shake IT all about, or at least participate in the shaking that God is doing right now. The façades are opening again.

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Beyond mind to mind

Gayle found a little phrase that I said a few months back when ‘true north’ was a focus. It was:

This is not a time for mind to mind communication but for mouth to imagination inspiration.

Maybe the ‘mouth’ word needs some tweaking, particularly in the light of the previous arts post, but there remains something key in the quote.

The mind is to be honoured. Great thinkers, even some of whom have had inadequacies socially, have brought about change. We are told to love the Lord God ‘with all our mind’. We are given instructions as to what to think on in Scripture. I am deeply grateful for those who have abilities I do not have who have opened up whole new avenues of thought and insight into both the Scriptures and the world.

I appreciate the deep surprise when I say I am not of a Reformed persuasion (!) and I cannot square the passion some of those from that camp have to share their faith and by ‘all means win some’. I might be wrong but I cannot see how the theology and the passion connect. Those from the opposite viewpoint (e.g. Open Theology) could be viewed as surely being insecure about the future and God’s intervention. Regardless of camp we might think we can square all the corners that need squaring, even if how we do that is a mystery to those of an opposite persuasion. What is sure, regardless of doctrinal belief, is that passion transcends beliefs.

Mind to mind communication is not wrong, but it does appear that God does not put too much weight behind convincing others of how correct my beliefs are. I found that out a long time ago! Some people track with Gayle and I because they can see the journey we are on is consistent, others do not track because… Now if only God could recognise how important it is for all to embrace my beliefs!

Mouth (arts / imagery / sounds etc.) to imagination inspiration. This is what is needed. Once the imagination is inspired we might well need to examine the validity of the inspiration so as we do not simply embrace a fantasy (vain imagination in Scripture), but something has to begin in the imagination to bring about an inspiration that we might not even be able to square with our beliefs. It does not seem to me that there will be too many questions on the final exam paper concerning doctrine, and certainly none about how well we did in convincing others to accept the finer points of what we thought were our important beliefs. The ‘questions’ apparently will be over what we did. I hope I go beyond my beliefs.

I think we find out that true imagination transcends fantasy when we hit adversity, and the challenge of what we see around us. And one aspect that is hard to quantify is how much transformation will we see prior to the parousia. I am no scientific expert (and maybe the word ‘scientific’ was superfluous in that phrase) but the mess we are making of the planet and the pollution to the oceans, the waters, the land, global warming etc. challenges any imagination for a different future. To proclaim ‘I have a dream of the coming back to life of species, of clean water, of climates in balance’ would either take great faith or be simply the empty words of fantasy… unless we can see that what we sow now will carry through to the age to come. We are the ones preparing the material for what only God can put together. Maybe the original creation was ‘ex nihilo’, maybe God worked with some already existing material that was chaotic. The new creation though does not come about ex nihilo, but from material that God himself will, and only he can, work on to produce something beyond our dreams. That material will come from our works and our imagination.

It is not a time to pump out meaningless fantasy, but it is a time to allow our communication to focus on the imagination. Bless the mind and the intellect, but we have to elevate the imagination in this season. Not simply imaginations that will enable us to survive but that can set something in motion for our world.

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We still dream

In looking at Pentecost and the background of the tower of Babel narrative there is the implicit message of a boundary being removed. God inserted a boundary at Babel so that there might not be a level of unity whereby ‘whatever they put their mind to they will accomplish’. He did this through the confusion of the languages. At Pentecost where everyone heard them speak in their language there is the gift of languages so that there might be a working, a planning together so that what was in their hearts might indeed be accomplished. Pentecost unlocks the imagination so that possibilities open up.

The imagination is so important. The ‘I have a dream’ speech of Martin Luther King resonates because there is something so strongly of God’s character in it. The dream is of a different future:

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.

As believers this is what we bring to the table. Something not based in the Enlightenment ideal of progress, nor in the Marxist ideology of change through conflict, but based on faith in an ‘optimistic’ life-giving God who demonstrated this in Jesus. What we bring is more than a good idea, or simply an ‘imagine all the people’ that Lennon invited us to. We are to bring a faith that true imagination unlocks the activity of heaven. Paul put it like this:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us (Ephesians 3: 20).

God can do, but we have to do something too – it begins in the imagination, in the asking. What God does is in proportion not to his power, but in proportion to his power that is working among us. That power is not simply measured by how many miracles we can testify to (though that is important) but how much the power of God is transforming our lives from self-centredness to God- and world-centredness. As that takes place and there are imaginations fuelled by God’s loving, redemptive agenda so God shows up. I am convinced it was that intangible, yet very real presence of God that provoked non-believing, with a lot to lose, people, the Asiarchs, to connect to Paul in Ephesus.

If we can move beyond that of ‘saving souls to get them their ticket to heaven’ and see that God is in the business of rescuing people from life as it has been sold to them, to enabling them to engage with his dream and activities of aligning the world with a visible manifestation around us of heavenly values. This is what Luther King articulated.

There is now an incredible battle on for the soul of the world. Conformity, monochromeness that obliterates difference has incredibly become an agenda that wins votes. We were made for difference and it is fear that is the fodder that turns those votes. When the media is in the control of the elite it should not surprise us that it can quickly be labelled the ‘enemy of the people’. Any activity that challenges the status quo becomes sidelined and illegal.

There is something bigger at stake than Britain leaving the EU… the bigger is the reshaping of Europe regardless of levels of government. For any reshaping to be redemptive I consider that the wonderful body of Christ needs to dream again. The future context (and the one that is already here and has been for well over a decade) is so different to the one in which ‘Toronto’ occurred. But ‘Toronto’ prepared us for this. We have been prepared to go places we have never gone before, to no longer exercise in the playground at the set time, but to live with a soul bared, wind in face, looking the conflicts in the eye and proclaim – we still dream.

A while ago I declared a new media is here. It will come. It cannot be silenced, for God is a communicator. I declare today the dream is on. It cannot be stopped. A shift of time is literally now on the EU agenda. From the shift of time comes the setting of ‘true north’. The setting of direction for journey. People have been moving at an alarming and unprecedented rate these past years. The issue now is the setting of true north for people movements in Scripture indicate a great shift in time. There are political and economic decisions that will have to be made… but first has to come the unlocking of the imagination about a future that has not yet been shaped. For this we make room for the artists, the cartoonists, the graffiti-ists, the writers. They will both articulate and make room for the imagination.

The adverse winds are blowing… but I think the dream is still on.

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Wednesday, May 23

A date in the calendar in Prague. The second ‘defenestration’ of Prague took place on this day (and date) 400 years ago. We were there today beneath the window where it took place on the same day and date, just separated by some 400 years. A small event when protestants took into their own hands dealing with ‘justice’ and throwing the three Catholic lords out of the window. Unbelievably all three survived, put down to the luck of falling on manure that broke the fall (the protestant version) or saved by the virgin Mary (Catholic version). This event is what sparked something much bigger, the outbreak of the devastating and continent-shaping thirty years war. This has been our focus for today.

A focus on the past is so important to deal with, and getting the focus ‘right’ between past and future is perhaps more important and also extremely challenging. In Prague there is a real sense that the city and nation should be setting the right time for Europe. We began today, and will on each successive morning, by meeting at the metronome on the hill overlooking the city. Marking a rhythm this large metronome replaced where the statue of Stalin was previously, and only placed there temporarily until they knew what to put there. If ever something spoke and cried out for something to fill it… and that is the issue, what will fill this space, where time is being marked?

That is the question for Europe. Leave it empty and there can only be a reversion to what has been before, so there is the necessity to call for the future reality to press in and fill the gap. This is a pressing issue for us in these days, as Prague is a clock for Europe, and it is some hours behind.

In Prague there is a gift / a pride / a knowing who they are of valuing truth. Both from a Christian point of view with the heritage of Jan Hus and others who held on to truth, and at a national level they too see themselves as founded on truth. But yesterday’s truth only gets us so far. Our last place to pray this morning was in a strategically placed jewellery shop whose owner is a believer. It was as we stood in the shop I saw that:

  • Truth can anchor us in to what we have inherited, but
  • only the imagination can open up the future.

Truth is important. It stimulates us but does not by itself lead to the future. It can anchor us but to move beyond, it is the imagination that has to be engaged. Truth says ‘do not let go of this’, but the imagination has to see a new community, a new way of living, a new value system. Once the fresh future is seen truth that we once held has to adapt, for we only ever see and believe in part. Fresh revelation is always waiting to break forth, and having held on to truth that both anchored us and got as far as we are now, we then find that that element of truth was (only) ‘truth as we understood it’. Fresh understanding has to update our truth. We can never update the Truth (a Person) but we can certainly update our understanding of truth.

Artists, the artistic community, the arts are vital for this to happen. They help the imagination grasp other possibilities, even other realities. If that can happen then not only what we once held on to so strongly gets adjusted, but there is the potential in the community to shift values that have been attached to things, to products and the like. There can be a revaluation. So a two-fold shout. Come on San Lorenzo! Come on you artists!

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