Sue and Roger Mitchell have been very supportive of our travels in Spain. In a few weeks’ time we will have them with us for a few days. Always there is more in it those days than we initially realise. The interaction deepens our perceptions. Sue has recently written about the ‘mid-point’ of our time through the four years from 2016-2020. Her insights and prophetic vision have always stood the test of time. Not only is the content that is reproduced here worth digging in to and meditating on, but she also sends out such a clear signal in her communication of where we have to travel: a communication that both those standing in a historic Christian position and seeking to face outward, and those who do not share a ‘Jesus-faith’ but are equally focused on transformation can find clarity for hope, faith and love.
Roger writes regularly. Follow him on twitter or at his blog
Here then is her post, first with the introduction by Roger on his blog site:
We all have a context and a background, a worldview, social construct, call it what you will. The important thing is to recognise it but not be bound by it, let alone be dogmatic about it. I rather like theologian Graham Ward’s standpoint theology approach where we recognise where we started and where we are now but keep open to the impact of others and their standpoints. Exercising prophetic sight from the context of this kind of open standpoint is costly but crucial. So I am everlastingly grateful to my partner Sue Mitchell for continuing to pursue such sight. I for one need it, and in its light will be ready to start once again blogging more resources for kenarchy practitioners and love-activists generally. Thanks to those who continue to visit this site and peruse the material whether I’m blogging regularly or not. It’s certainly encouraging to me. So here’s the first installment of Sue’s latest sight. It’s quite long for a blog piece, but needs exposure. In a week or so I’ll move it to her page so that we can continue to draw on it while I continue to blog forward.
IN THE MIDDLE (MUDDLE?) OF 2016-2020: MOONS, MEANINGS, TIMES AND SEASONS
TIMES AND SEASONS AGAIN …
It’s been a long while again since I have written about our times and seasons as there are so many perspectives to take into consideration. Desiring, like so many, to be inclusive and learning, I find it increasingly challenging to express a worldview which, while based, hopefully not dogmatically, in the Jesus narrative is meaningful for all, draws nonetheless on a transcendent, spiritual and moral dynamic that not all will recognise. Nevertheless I offer this in the development of an interpretation of the last three decades which, though somewhat ‘sub-cultural’ in its earlier expression, is now fairly well attested by significant events. My hope then is that it help ‘church-background people’ to re-imagine ourselves as active participants in the social justice challenges of today’s world, and ‘non-religious/non-christian people’ to re-consider the possibility of a powerfully loving, non-controlling, Jesus-defined God, involved in helping us all towards a radically new ‘humanifesto’.
POST-VIRAL PARALYSIS, LOVE-BASED COMMUNITY AND LABOUR PAINS …
On a journey to find a radical form of organisation which could express love-based relational community as an alternative and antidote to a mechanistic social determinism, many of us were engaged in a ‘new church movement’. It was a modern-day attempt at reformation of an ageing institution which nevertheless had transcendent love in its deepest history. From both within and outside that lived experience, much has been written about the human and supernatural dynamics, the development and settling back of that movement. My own interpretation, alongside Roger’s much deeper and academically rigorous research, views that 20th century experience as a concentrated exposure in a single generation of the history, the ‘rise and fall’, of an alternative society, or ‘church’, originally inspired by the exemplary man Jesus. Focusing on his inspiration, teaching and hermeneutic, we offer this fall as sign and significance of similar, earlier falls in the history of family, tribe and society, and of the virus that transfers in the DNA from generation to generation.
The inspiration and desire to love, belong, care and be loved is challenged, infected and often overwhelmed by power and institutionalisation. This often defaults to the seemingly necessary hierarchical, ‘representative’ management of social organising, rather than the relational wellbeing of all people and creation. Nevertheless, alongside the pressure of the virus in this 20th century church experiment, we did experience some truly remarkable transcendent interventions when the love of God impacted and strengthened the originary, creational impetus to love, and significantly challenged some of the post-viral structural paralysis in both church and social bodies. For example in the Pentecostal outpouring in Los Angeles, the love of God radically affirmed black, white, male and female as fully and equally valued. Martin Luther King then carried this revolutionary message to American society.
2016-2020: A PULSE OF ‘DESPERATION’ …
Jesus is well-known for his teaching of the ‘Beatitudes’, calling blessed those who mourn, who are hungry and thirsty, poor and despised. Clearly he is pointing to those not in positions of power and nothing to lose in the present system or social order, because another social order, or era, is about to dawn. His hearers can receive this new ‘kingdom’ with joy because they are not invested in the present, unjust and oppressive one. This hungering and thirsting is for righteousness, this poverty is of value and respect, this mourning is for the loss of the God-given image of humanity and creation where all live in peace and each has her own, rightly shared provision. But those ‘who are full now’, the rich and the satisfied, already have what matters to them so have no sight or longing for anything different, or of greater value. The labour pains of longing or a desperation for justice are a pulse we, particularly in the well-off northern hemisphere, must discipline ourselves to seek, challenging strongly our own self-interest in the present system. The traumas of the ups and downs of the market, whether we will be economically better or worse off after Brexit, and other such media narratives are the immediate concerns of this present age. Yet the increasing numbers of the homeless poor in our cities, the incarcerations of refugees and the unreported genocide (again) in the Congo are clear evidence of an ‘un-rightness’, which those, such as followers of Jesus, who aspire to a new social order, to a new humanity, must address.
MOONS, TIMES AND SEASONS …
I have to admit that foreseeing (as long ago as 1996; written up fully by 2007) that this four-year period would be one of ‘desperation’ (with hindsight better termed ‘disruption’) was not a great help when it did dawn! More recent statements I made such as “the shattering of Western imperialism is irrevocable and … a United Kingdom will … face considerable internal challenges and disunity (and) the shuddering will continue” can themselves cause desperation and not the blessed kind unless we keep the bigger picture in focus. As a seasoned melancholic, that is as great a challenge to me as to anyone. So the vivid and somewhat unusual lunar event in late January this year was a great, and literal, wake-up call.
In September 2015, the ‘early’ beginning (‘head’ of the Jewish new year, or in the West as the ‘academic’ year begins) of the 2016-2020 period, the fourth of an unusual 4 lunar eclipses in one year was a super, red, harvest moon. Termed ‘super’ because it appeared larger than usual at the nearest point to the earth in its ellipse, ‘red’ or ‘blood’ because of the effect of an eclipse, it was called ‘harvest’ for the season. Now at the head of 2018, two years into the period, two super moons occurred in the same calendar month. The second, also a blood moon, was termed a ‘blue’ moon because of its rarity, but also from an ancient linguistic root to betrayal, where 13 moons occur in a 12-month year. It references 13 apostles (Matthias was elected, or Paul emerged) in the framework of the original 12 after Judas’ betrayal. Moons turning to blood is a biblical reminder to take notice of times (chronos) and seasons (kairos) changing. And here was a super, blood, ‘betrayer’ moon!
In short then, my enquiries into what this might signal suggest that two eras or epochs (as in kairos in NT Greek) are contending for our one chronological or earthly present time period (chronos in NT Greek). The fullness of one era is being challenged by another, and they are beginning, unusually, to appear together. The ‘betrayer’ moon speaks firstly of Judas who betrayed Jesus, accepting money to do so in the ‘era’ or culture of the Pharisees’ collaboration with the Roman system, and indeed in the marriage of church with the imperial system since. Secondly and redemptively it references the apostle Paul who chose captivity as a prisoner in order to go to Rome to incarnate love in the very heart of the Imperial era. It appears then, that the love impulse which prioritises care for the poor, the gentle, the outsider and the oppressed, is again growing to a fuller strength than we knew and is shining alongside this ageing world system. It was incarnated by Jesus, released ‘on all peoples’ in the spiritual outpouring of resurrected humanity, imitated by Paul and subsequent generations, and in this time of our lives is growing again like the day. Now that is worth waking up for!
Will we then, ‘at this time’ see the era of wealth and power again restored to the church and/or the good people of the Western world? This ironic question is the excitable disciples’ question to Jesus (in Acts 1) reworked for our ‘time’. The answer is the same now as then. If that is our expectation or our desire, we cannot know or discern rightly the times and eras that are ours to live in. To look back, hoping to restore what was comfortable for us reveals a ‘fixed’ or closed, culturally dominant worldview. But Paul reminds us that if we are alert and sober, not easily distracted in a season of confusion and good desperation, we do know “full well” about times and seasons (1 Thess 5:1). Stealthily and carefully a new day (era) is beginning to dawn, but it comes about through labour pains! The metaphor is of the night, and a darkened mind, being about false “peace and safety”, so don’t sleep, but labour for a new birth, for a new era.
SO, BREATHE …
If then we are encouraged to hope for and believe in a growing social movement towards justice and compassion, it might look something like the Victorian pattern. The socio-political interventions for prison reform, the better working conditions for the poor, the end of child labour, new education provision and so on of the Victorian era was itself a dawning of a new day for many. It too succeeded a ‘reformation’ or awakening of the church to its original calling. But we are moving forward, not harking back to an earlier ‘Christendom’. What are the challenges of today’s social and moral injustices in a globalised and multi-cultural world? How do we now engage effectively, soberly but energetically? In my view the challenge of two moons in one space is huge. The parable of two harvests sown in the same field is apt (Matt.13:24ff) Tearing one up will damage both, but doing nothing is not an option. There is a transcendent element with angels becoming involved, responding to the ‘time’ and to ‘those who will inherit salvation’. So those seeking to share in the inheritance of the new humanity, first embodied by Jesus who persevered to fulfil all the hope and promise of a person committed to pour out life in love and the pursuit of justice, must work likewise with our time and with transcendence. And on one specifically challenging note, we must work this year with a sensitivity to betrayal. This is not to increase suspicion and neuroticism in our relationships, but to check our own choices and behaviour, like the disciples at the Passover. Not, “Is it he or she who will betray me?” but rather, “Is it I, Lord?” who might become a betrayer. If betrayed, to meet it with the forgiveness, love and freedom with which Jesus included Judas. To be true to our values, our covenants, our God, and our spiritual, moral and emotional responsibilities is our challenge.
BREATHING EXERCISES …
Some will know of the five ‘graces’ or pulses I have written of before as an interpretative gloss of our learning experience of the last 30 years. I suggest now again, that just like breathing exercises in childbirth, they are to help us manage these labour pains. We can and must be deliberate and thoughtful to help a reconfigured society, an ironic ‘kingdom’ or a new ‘era’ come to birth as fully and safely as possible, in our times. But they develop with each new phase, so I will write further in the days to come in fresh detail. It’s probably not just moonshine!
Sue Mitchell, March 2018.