Have I lost God?

Too easily done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A re-set coming?

I made the mistake this morning of reading an aspect of what is taking place in the midst of this crisis. Tough when you have to look facts in the eye.

I read how the world’s richest person is some $5.5bn richer today than he was at the beginning of the year. We all know his company as being the supplier of books and all good things, while many of his employees will tell stories of their appalling work conditions. He also made a nice ‘generous’ donation into the current crisis. Money is only money but the Scriptures are so strong on their critique of the accumulation of the ‘m’ word.

The Sabbath re-set was in-built to the way of life. Weekly, 7-yearly and 50th year Sabbaths, although not always implemented were set in place to help facilitate a healthy society. Translating that from an ancient agrarian economy to our Western society would indeed be very challenging and shocking. A 50 year jubilee would probably come out as a 2 year cycle. Scripture is ‘stupidly’ radical.

I was glad to read the article though as it leaves me with the ongoing challenge of how do we contribute to change. We are at such a turning point in history (co-inciding with the ‘fourth turning’ in the cycles of four) and being a follower of Jesus holding to a view that our little lives have to point to a new world (and therefore a new world economy) and that how we live is the leverage point for the big picture. Yes, the ‘in’ but not ‘of’ the world scenario.

There are other articles that can be read that are using the ‘re-set’ word, that the next few weeks will hold the key to what kind of world comes through the other side of the crisis (and maybe we should be using the word ‘crises’ as this is not a health crisis alone, and not simply a financial one but something that is bringing to a sharp focus the crises of the past years – immigration, borders, globalisation vs. nationalism, ecological… and something hidden deep within it all a machoistic / misogynist culture that fights against the humanisation of one and all – hence something deeply demonic).

So many things in the balance – maybe the balanced see-saw is here now? My strong suspicion is post-this-crisis (there is a ‘post-‘?) there will be two worlds emerging. A few who make a 5.5bn increase in profits, and a majority who question where true justice is to be found. I maybe cannot make a difference to the 5.5bn group – though one of the strongest words I heard from the Lord a few weeks after moving to Spain was the challenge of learning how to ensure that world changed (a long story…) – I can though make a decision as to my direction. I just hope I am not too compromised.

Will we make a difference?

HEALTH WARNING attached!!

If what I write below is close to what is here and coming then taking heed could really unlock some health into our world and for the next generation. If we do not heed it…

I have been very exercised about some of the significant global crises that are on the horizon. For the past 3 weeks I have been seeing a very serious economic upheaval. Then a few days ago the global climate report was published with the ‘we have twelve years to address this’. It would be crazy to dismiss this report, as crazy as if I had a group of credited medics in front of me all pushing for the same diagnosis but I argued for something different, someone with no medical expertise. The only, and invalid, reason for dismissing this UN climate report would be because of the economic ramifications to the world we have created.

We have entered a window of time when the façades are opening again, so I wish to repeat a dream I had at the beginning of the decade and in the same season as another dream that seemed to indicate that it was relevant for this decade. For those who have read this before feel free to jump ahead.

I was in a town square and simply standing at one side of it.. I was observing the buildings on the other side and knew that they represented every institution that had shaped the public space as we have it today: education, health, government, business, trade, church, etc. were all present. With no prior warning and all at the same time the fronts of the buildings came froward and then up as if they were on a hinge. Anyone could look inside the buildings. My first thought was I need to warn those on the other side of the square as buildings acting like that will soon become very unstable and fall over, so I considered anyone close was in real danger. I got ready to shout my warning but soon realised that the buildings were not going to fall over. I then held my warning as I tried to work out what was going on. I felt a sense of danger but knew it was deeper than ‘get away from the buildings’. While I am contemplating what the danger was someone began quietly to sing a well-known worship song that focused on the Lordship of Jesus. There were obviously enough people in the public square with Christian faith that a second person added their voice, then a third and so on. The volume of the singing rose some, and then when it reached a certain level, all the buildings simply closed up again. I was very disturbed by what had happened and did not know what I should shout out. While pondering this, trying to get a handle on the appropriate warning I heard an audible voice that came from just behind me (I never looked left nor right but simply focused on the buildings that were across the square.) The audible voice said:

It is the familiar that restores the status quo, that brings everything back to where it was.

Now I knew the warning I needed to get across. The warning was concerning pulling on the familiar, and the shock in the dream of course was that the familiar that caused the façades to close up was the response of singing by those of faith – but familiar is familiar however we define it.

Knowing what the warning now was I cleared my throat, took a deep breath and then shouted out: ‘It is the familiar…’ I got those four words out and a person from my right side stood right in my face, eye-balling me, to intimidate me. I was determined that I would not be put off, so stepped to my left, cleared my throoat, and then once more got the first four words out and the person repeated their intimidating action. This happenned one more time, so three times this person prevented me shouting out the whole warning. I stepped aside once more and again shouted the first four words. This time the person finished my sentence (‘It is the familiar…’) with the words

that brings things back to normal.

Similar but such a false representation.

Given that I consider Scripture calls the body of Christ to act priestly what takes place in the public square is our responsibility. There might be a battle, it might take time for a change to come, we might well also have ‘failures’ as we engage, but the point is we have to step up to our responsibility. We cannot control what happens there, but through our positioning in the world and our petitioning to heaven we can shift the spiritual atmosphere and create boundaries so that there is an opportunity for the growth of righteousness. In the light of that it is not surprising that in the dream it was the response of believers that short-circuited what was happening in the public square. There is evidently a time to sing, and there is a time not to. I say this as I am convinced that the façades are opening up again. We have to learn what the right response is in this season.

An aside on some current reflections – with the acknowledgement they might not be the most relevant and tomorrow they might not even be relevant. Many Western nations are not willing to engage in any level of sanctions against one of the main human rights violators (Saudi Arabia) because they purchase arms from us – this is certainly true of Spain, the UK and the USA. Economics triumphs over ethics. Mammon or God, Jesus said, and although we would be naive to expect some kind of ‘Christian’ standard in a nation we do have the right to expect a level of right action, and nation after nation are putting economics before any humanitarian perspective. In a few days we are in Brazil and will be there for the final vote for the presidency. A figure who seems to have huge support from many Christians is of course pushing a strong agenda that might increase their economy but at what cost to the environment and to the marginalised? No candidate is perfect but to get behind someone because they are pro-a-number-of-moral-issues and pro boosting the economy as if they are God’s candidate is extremely naive. Maybe we can suggest at times a particular approach better accords with our beliefs but it really is time to drop the idea of a God appointed candidate or a Christian nation.

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.

I suggest we have the next two years, when either a level playing field will be established or we will leave the next generation a Herculean task to bring things forward to something that resembles a God shape for society.

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Have you seen my feet?

Not sure how your feet look today, but mine? Really bad and not sure what I am going to do with them. Filthy, so filthy, and hope that there is some way I can get them cleaned up – otherwise it will be so embarrassing.

Actually my feet have been dirty for a while. Dirty because I am so privileged. And that is the heart of the issue. How to keep some semblance of cleanness on those feet when privileged.

Gayle and I are actively pursuing an apartment in Madrid, and although there are many complications with the purchase such as the possibility that we could end in court concerning the issues on the whole block, we are actively making drawings of what we can fit in there. (Did I write ‘we’? I should have put Gayle, she is the expert on that, seeking to work out what can go in to an apartment of 18 foot x 14 foot (5.5m x 4.3m).) Property – such a great investment. Put your money in bricks and mortar, prices go up, particularly in a city – so goes the advice.

Now that is where the dirty feet come in. Madrid, like most major cities, has so many properties that have been bought up simply so as they can be rented out with the result that rental prices are going up, many locals no longer being able to afford to live in the area. This is no exception in the area where we have for years prayer walked and homed in on.

We can lay out all the reasons why we want to live there, the prayers, the prophetic words, we can lay out our finances etc., and we can do so with a clean conscience. We have stood in front of Madrid when Mammon spoke loudly to us and said ‘you cannot enter here’, and we spoke back saying that we are not coming to make money or to exploit. We have simply asked for a place to enter, somewhere small, somewhere from where we can make space for others to find their place in the city. Yet, assuming we get this property, just by moving in we will contribute to the rise in prices.

Hopefully then we have a clean heart but in the very act of pursuing this apartment our feet are already dirty. That of course was the issue that Peter had to face up to. He did not need to be washed throughout, just his feet. Maybe as a reminder to us the barrio where we are looking to move is ‘Lavapies’ – feet washing!

How do we respond? With humility has mark the start of any entry, and we probably have to do something in the early days that is not simply counter-cultural but counter-spirit. Money makes the world go round (often in the wrong direction), so to turn the rotation, something always has to be done. Jesus, with choice of treasurer, did that in a big way. Sabbath and Jubilee ensured there was a jolt to the ever present ‘invisible hand of the market’, and the entry to the land was marked by gaining nothing materially at the first point of entry (Jericho). I have sought to do that in certain places. I had books published in Korean, Swedish, German, Portuguese and in the USA. In each situation I decided to take no royalties. A small response as sometimes one can only make a small response.

Once we get this apartment it will be eminently rentable, but we will have to, in the first season make choices that do not benefit us financially, otherwise even if our hearts remain clean we would be making no real contribution to the rotation of the city. Hopefully as we walk the city our feet will not get too dirty, in fact the very act of walking will help them be a little cleaner than they would be otherwise, but for sure they will never be spotless. And seemingly that is the way it is meant to be.

The percentage share of global wealth

Comparatively, our wealth, puts us in the top perentage of those considered wealthy in the world. We have food, we have a roof, we even have a car, both of us have cell phones. Wealth.

How then do we live with privilege? That is the issue.

Years ago the discussion about ’emerging church’ and the like could be seen as a luxury that many in the world could not afford to engage in. Live in a favela, or to be living under constant scrutiny for one’s faith in certain countries, and then suggest that what they should do is hold a conference on the nature of emerging church would be an insult. That was the privilege (luxury) of living in the west with our resources and heritage.

University education, the world of academia… In Spain so many of those who are pushing for political change are university graduates, some having been professors. A privileged world seeking to bring a difference to those who have been silenced. Does one have to go into academia to make a difference? (For me part of the attraction of Liberation Theology was the privileged interpretation of Scripture by the poor. The suggestion was that they could understand Scripture in a way that no academic theologian could, being one of the outworkings of the ‘preferential option for the poor’.) I write from time to time about money, but I do not understand economics. I probably do not have the ability to grasp the issues surrounding economics, so some of what I write those with greater understanding could probably drive the proverbial bus through. So is real change only effected by those who can study and intellectualise at that level?

In theory I do not like the world of privilege, hence I am not a royalist, and I find it easier to spell the word ‘socialist’ than ‘conservative’, yet I am privileged and if I had one regret in life it would be that I have not always rocked the boat when I should have. Ah well – learn from past errors.

With all my questions over the privileged worlds of home ownership, academia and the like, I remain convinced that amidst that luxury there is space to use that for the sake of others. Discussions on ’emerging church’, ‘the nature of Imperial power’, or ‘how church and theology have been subsumed by sovereignty’ are not simply luxury discussions. I think they are also essential so that something is sown into the wider world. If we can have those discussions and seek to influence one another there will be substance stored up also for those who, in the future, move beyond living in survival mode (where the society is hostile to the Christian faith) or move beyond the heady days of revival growth.

We have to live in at least two worlds. The small world where we find ourselves, and in our situation that small world is a highly privileged world. And the bigger world of the world the corporate ‘we’ have created. We cannot simply live in one of those worlds. In our world we have to use any privileges we have to undermine those very privileges and to contribute to the shift in the rotation of the big world. Probably we will only make a small contribution. Maybe that is all we are meant to make, and to ensure that the small contribution has eternal value, we probably have to look quite often at our feet.

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Wealth or Money?

‘Money makes the world go round’… and round… and round… or so it seems. Pensioners were out in force this past weekend in most of the cities of Spain protesting. The government has used money from the pension fund on at least 3 occasions to bail out financial institutions, and other businesses the government wished to favour. A while back a woman working in the political scene in Madrid told us that anyone 55 and under should have no expectation of a pension at retirement, the money will be gone. Never enough money in the pot, until it seems it can be found for something more important than those who need it!

A few years back we heard an African preacher (Langton Gatsi) push hard on the difference between creational wealth and money. Money can be here today and gone tomorrow, creational wealth continues. The stock markets can ‘miraculously’ lose money one day and gain it another. This is why in most Western nations the amount of money that is real is about 3%. 97% does not even exist, and by that is not meant that only 3% is in the form of currency, something deeper is implied. 97% are figures on a spreadsheet. A run on the banks would be disastrous, and not surprising when the system survives through debt. Without debt the western economic system collapses.

‘Can’t buy and can’t sell’. So the beast says. Trading with money.

However, there has to be a pragmatism. Jesus even said as much with

I tell you, make friends for yourselves by your use of dishonest wealth, so that, when it fails, they will welcome you to eternal dwellings (Luke 16:9).

We live in a fallen (dirty?) world, and only at the extreme end does there come the call to ‘come of her’. So assuming we engage, there is an inevitability of our ‘feet’ becoming dirty and needing to be washed. Dirty feet seems to be unavoidable, but what must be avoided is having a dirty heart on these matters.

Here then are a few bullet point thoughts:

  • wealth cannot be defined by money. Wealth consists in who we are, wisdom, insight, humility.
  • the counterbalance to ‘buy and sell’ has to be ‘give and receive’. Gift is not blind charity but rooted in grace and mercy it will manifest generosity without any guarantee of return, but is given to make possible a person moving toward their destiny. Trade is based on the so-called ‘bottom line’; gift to release destiny.
  • If we can learn the ‘give and receive’ and seek to implement this maybe we can also ‘buy and sell’ without the numerical mark?

A few days ago I re-posted the material on Judas where I consider there is a strong element of Mammon running throughout that narrative. Jesus was not conquered at any level by Mammon, and the strategic victory takes place in the wilderness where he refuses the offer of ‘the kingdoms of this world’. Then on a daily basis the presence of Judas was where that battle continued. Never once did Jesus put money before Judas, always people took precedence over money. I suggest that en route to breaking the hegemony of religion the refusal to submit to Mammon was a necessary step. Money is neutral but the system locks money up under the spirit of Mammon, the result is the reward of some (but not their release) and an increasing captivity of a majority.

I consider that Jesus conquered the spirit of Mammon decisively. This gave him authority to break open the religious spirit that is so often twinned with Mammon. The Temple in Jerusalem, now had fallen to the extent of being a den of robbers. This did not mean that people could not meet God there, for God can show up in the most dark of places. Even Judas seems to unknowingly act out that severing of the tie between Mammon and religion by throwing the money back in the Temple! It is not his act that makes the break, that is done at the cross but his act is a powerful sign of what has been done at the cross. The lie of Empire continues (make Rome great and the world will be blessed) while the real flow is ever to the centre. Religion of all kinds, theist, polytheist or non-theist, can be seconded to the Imperial power to promote the well-being and continual existence of the Imperial powers. Indeed I suggest religion becomes more important to the Imperial powers at two phases: at a time when there is a push for even greater level of greatness or when there is the fear of losing control.

All three have something in common. They draw a line of who is in / who is acceptable. The language is different but the effect is the same.

Jesus, nor Paul in the ‘secular’ outworking of the Gospel allowed faith to become the support for the status quo, but considered that faith was there to challenge the world order as is. Surely that approach continues to be the call to those of faith?

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You’ve got to laugh!!

Mammon with a voice!! A loud voice at that. Gayle and I had to make some choices this past week, the exact nature of which is inappropriate to put here, but having heard the voice of Mammon shouting loudly, ‘Not enough!!’, we then had a choice to make which if we followed it would involve making us less capable of confronting Mammon on its terms. Choices though, when possible, need to follow convictions. So we went ahead and made the choice.

Having acted on it as we drove back home, we reflected on Jesus and his radicality.

1) Take the money and knowingly give it to a thief to look after.
2) Send out the disciples instructing them to take nothing. You won’t eat unless they feed you. And to compound things, because there are wolves out there I will send you as their food (lambs).

You just got to laugh!! Not a strategy to win the popular vote. Maybe we could write him off – after all what does a 30 year old know about such issues? The idealist will grow out of it.

In that context though… heal the sick, cast out demons, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead. Proclaim the kingdom of God has come near.

You just have to laugh. The whole situation is crazy. Yet maybe we got to laugh at ourselves when we realise how little of the Jesus message we have understood.

Although I will post this a day after the post on Mammon’s loud voice, I wrote them at the same time. If a part of the puzzle is relational, another part has to be laughter. A good healthy dose of laughing at ourselves, of the madness of taking ourselves too seriously, as if we could change the world! A healthy dose of laughter at the teachings of Jesus, so that we are a little more vulnerable to them gaining an entrance to our hearts.

‘He who sits in the heavens laughs.’

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