Heaven’s help needed

I do not know how much the current unrest in Cataluña is being covered in international press. Below is a link to a set of photos from the third night of unrest. At this time there are 5 marches also en route from across Cataluña that are due to arrive in Barcelona on Friday.

Photos of third night of unrest.

There are questions that arise at such times, though the questions raised are always present, just not in such a provocative way as they are currently. Two simple questions that can be asked (though not so easily answered) are:

  • How much is what we are seeing simply a revelation of what was already there beneath the surface?
  • What level of expectation can we have to see a shift in the current crisis?

The only aspect of such a clear crisis as we are facing currently is that it helps one to focus. It is ever so easy to go through life and not see what is there. We can isolate ourselves, even isolate ourselves inside the Christian community, even by experiencing heaven’s touch, but not face the huge issues around us. I passionately believe that ultimately the keys for change do not lie in a White House, a #10 or a Moncloa (or a Brussels!), but are in the hands of believers, who understand that ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ are in the hands of the Risen Lord.

Of course the current crisis has a context. A long historical context where two stories have been rehearsed. A story of oppression, restriction and persecution; and an opposing story of rebelliousness, selfishness and greed. The immediate past few days have added fuel to the fire with the sentencing of a number of Catalan political leaders. The result has been a large divide. Some of course protest concerning the harshness of the sentences – sentences for enabling people to express a vote concerning their future, and that vote facilitated by those who do not have any accusation of violence against them. Even last night from prison, Oriel Junqueras who was sentenced to 13 years, was appealing for non-violence, saying that ‘this is not who we are.’ Others have called the sentence a disgraceful sign of state weakness, calling the action a ‘coup d’etat’, and the sentences a betrayal of the constitution. That extreme view can be seen with one party leader appealing to the king to intervene as the sentences should have been up to 70 years long.

There is a context historically, but there is also a context spiritually. In a few days we should have the bones of Franco removed from the Valley of the Fallen. For some 5 years we have been praying into the constitution of Spain, and four years ago went to the Valley of the Fallen where Franco is buried, since that time we have prayed into the Transition years (1975-78) as we sensed they were far from complete, though almost certainly a wonderful result given that the country was coming out of fascist dictatorship to democracy and with a Civil War as the backdrop. Just a few days ago the acting PM said that when the bones are removed the loop of the Transition will be closed. We are grateful for that prophetic declaration, particularly as we had not seen it so clearly.

The end of a loop! Little wonder so much has kicked off. At a personal level we leave one framework and enter another one through the doorway of crisis, whether that be small or great. Likewise if this is a shift to a new framework in Spain it is not surprising that we are now facing crisis at a great level.

Without a doubt the current situation shows us what is there and things are being brought to the light. They also sadly become the soil to enable what is there to grow to a greater level. So I do not accept that we just sit back and say that it was there all along. Salt was one of the analogies Jesus used for his followers, and the salt of the NT from the Dead Sea had a strong property of preventing growth of what pollutes society. We are meant to limit what manifests as we take responsibility for our setting. The salt likewise, containing as it did phosphates, was also a promoter of good growth, a fertiliser. Our presence is meant to promote the good coming through.

We are not silent… we call for heaven’s help… we recognise the closing of a loop, the end of an era… and we call because we know that salt, as a metaphor, suggests that we do not need to see the full manifestation of unfettered division, hatred, anger and violence.

The next 20+ days leading to the national election will be very challenging indeed. Turning points often come at great expense. One of the key turning points in the original Transition took place with the non-violent response to a brutal assassination. That event was a major draw on us to live where we live, in the shadow of one of the most powerful sculptures remembering that event. We are watchful in this season for obvious reasons.

This has been a personally insulting year with many set-backs in our focus, and it probably indicates that we missed some keys along the way, yet even when we fail there is not a loss that cannot be redeemed.

What can we expect in Spain and into the crises we face? As we increasingly stand in the gap in whatever way we are led in our diverse settings we can expect a new landscape to appear that is more fertile than before. I remain ever so hopeful. None of us are alone… heaven loves to send in help. And we need it ever so much.

History – repeats or rhymes

A couple of nights ago we were in a part of the city where we do not normally frequent – the other side and not a place that pulls us. However, it was the third time in four days we had been there (circumstantially), and again in the next few days we will be there. Gayle said – must be something there that is pulling us and we had better do some research. Well no need to do research as the people we met with told us that this was where the tanks finally rolled in during the Civil War. Not sure how but being there pushed me to think about something we had not touched on before – the atrocities committed, not by the Franco side but, by the Republican side in the Civil War within Madrid. An early morning and – in brief – a few things kicked in:

  • A place to the north of Madrid just the other side of the airport where between 2000 – 10000 prisoners were taken and killed who were supporters of / sympathetic to the nationalist side (Franco). Civilians and clergy among them.
  • The government in Madrid that sought to defend Madrid at the time of the Civil War was made up of (pretty much) the same make up as the government that had supported Pedro Sanchez: socialists, a few communists, other left wing parties, Basque and Catalan members. That government eventually could not hold together and fought against each other thus being weakened Franco was eventually able to take Madrid. (This part will be very important to us in the next few weeks with the outcome of this recent election and the forthcoming elections for the city and communidad governments.)

There were so many parallels in what we read… We went this morning to the place (Paracuellos) where the assassinations took place. I wrote our friend in Calpe, Noë about our thoughts. He replied: ‘Just yesterday I was thinking to share with you on the Paracuellos slaughter.’ Nice confirmation.

When we met the couple the other side of the city a few nights ago they prayed for us. ‘You are not coming with a bright light, you are coming with salt, and it is going deep.’ We live in Salitre street – because there was a salt factory here in the past and the type of salt produced, one use was to extract old roots that were embedded deep in the land. So bags of salt and off we went to Paracuellos de Jarama.

Apart from a great view of Madrid the area had many dead burnt out trees. Gayle said let’s go over the ridge, I am sure there will be some poppies there as a sign. (Clever woman that one!)

Two poppies just where they needed to be!

There were no other poppies in that area. Later when we went down from the ridge to the river a rainbow appeared through the white clouds. Sweet!!

Hopefully a small contribution so that history does not continue to repeat or rhyme.

Close to home?

In the previous posts I have given a few windows into our attempts to cover issues from history through going on site, praying, acting and declaring. It is great to be able to connect some dots along the way, and very satisfying to see the path from 2008 (piracy, betrayal and murder) through to the day we moved to Madrid. Of course there is no way anyone can claim that one’s actions at any point were key. Maybe it all would happen anyway, or any ‘results’ were down to some other event. Faith is faith. We all have to do what we believe is right. There is no voice coming from heaven saying that God has never found anyone so obedient and smart in all of history! The great aspect also concerning faith is that it is not based on getting it right. Sometimes we have just got to do something that resonates with our spirits and the situation.

It would be great if we could show that when we faced up to the very real possible betrayal and loss of money that it had an effect into the original issues (piracy…). We certainly hope so!!

Ultimately we want to see substance, but signs are an important element on the way. Symbolism / signs in Scripture are important and seem to be two-fold in significance:

  • they point to the substance, and so are a real boost to sight. We are to lift our eyes when a sign appears so that we can see what they are pointing to. That is a real help, but beyond their obvious purpose they
  • draw to themselves the substance they are pointing to. This is so key. When the sign takes place they accelerate the shift, and act beyond a time marker. Something actually moves.

Signs can be external to ourselves, but so often the sign will manifest much closer to home. There is a reason for this. When it is close to home we have leverage, and leverage means we can move something way beyond our weight. This is something we see so often in Scripture with the prophets. They become signs and symbols, living through in their bodies and circumstances what is in the land. This was not to make them victims but to give them an authority to shift something in the land.

Of course there needs to be a caveat in all this. We can be in danger of making everything a sign… NO NO and again I say NO! Yet there are times when we have an inner conviction that what we are experiencing is a sign. Or we focus in prayer on something in the bigger picture, and then at a personal level we begin to experience the same but at a smaller scale.

Something small and personal can shift something big and societal.

40 days in the wilderness… and 40 years… 400 years… all is ready to see a shift.

There are two errors to avoid:

  • Taking on a victim spirit – this is happening because of the filth in the land and I am experiencing this because the church is so passive and lukewarm.
  • Proclaiming how victorious I am in Christ, getting personal freedom and missing what else could come through.

Both of the above are focused on ‘me’. Poor me or victorious me. The promises of God are corporate promises so that life can flow through us, not simply to us.

We have consistently had to battle through at a personal level whenever we have pushed into corporate issues. There seems to be three possible outcomes in those times.

1) a personal breakthrough but nothing changes on the wider front.
2) a breakthrough on the wider front but the personal circumstances do not.
3) a breakthrough on both fronts – that is the one we pull for!!!

Of course the third option is the one we all like to have 100% of the time. There are so many factors that mean we do not quite live in an ‘ideal’ world (as if!) but at least let’s kick in that direction.

The challenge of recounting stories is that the impression can be given that the story teller lives above all of the rest of us, with ‘I did this’ and the heavens opened and… Scripture is full of stories but not all the stories are full of ‘success’. Indeed success is not the measure, but faithfulness, and if we are faithful somehow there is an effectiveness. Success is my story; effectiveness is there is change somewhere else and I often don’t know how I contributed to it. A success syndrome means we have no need of a final assessment day; effectiveness means that on that day we will hear a voice something along the lines of ‘well done’.

So now in danger of success story-telling but seeking to outline the principle of ‘close to home’. I have recounted before of rupturing a disc in my back. Those things happen and there are so many testimonies of healing. However, it was not too long before we realised there was a major parallel between my physical experience and the land. This focused our prayers two ways – personal and land.

The final shift came when I had my back tattooed with a compass over the problem disc and the words ‘true north’ on the spine. Symbolism for sure. The problem disc was clearly where Madrid is positioned on the land and where ‘true north’ needs to bring about an alignment. (For those who want to think about the practice – I once read about someone who spat in mud and slapped it on a blind person’s eyes… just a little out there?)

We do not come with great success stories and any breakthrough is always challenged. The latest book from the Fascist wing of Spain is roughly translated ‘Vertebrate Spain’. Now there is a challenge!! That is life. A great move forward today, a kick back tomorrow… but the faithfulness of the saints is being stored up in heaven, the materials that God is building the New Jerusalem with. (Apparently ‘with’ is not how to end a sentence, but ‘with’ is a God word so no apologies there!)

Dreams can help

The above image is of the ‘Toros de Guisando’. They are ancient statues of bulls or possibly wild boars. There are a number of these in north west Spain – these ones are 70kms from Madrid and we recently paid them a visit. They are also located at a very historic site in Spain where a treaty shaped the future of the peninsula.

Gayle had two dreams about wild boars and in the first one she was being pushed around by one of them. In previous dreams concerning animals she has known that they represented something coming against her and also she has known what the strategy was to deal with those animals but this was the first with boars and in the dream she did not know how to respond. (Animals in dreams can be a challenge, for they are even that within Scripture. The serpent is on a spectrum from the devil, to a symbol of healing, wisdom right through to symbolically containing eschatological hope!) She then had a second dream concerning wild boars. The dreams were either side of a very significant women’s march in Spain, and we knew that whatever the boars represented they were at least connected with patriarchy, misogyny and the domesticating of the feminine. I was reading a book on Madrid in between the dreams and came across the many statues of bulls and/or boars that are mainly in the north of Spain. The book focused on the well known ‘Toros de Guisando’, some 70 kms to the West of Madrid. Connecting the dots we knew this was a place we had to go to and pray. They are located in the place where a Treaty was signed in 1468 that is arguably the treaty that opened the way for the unification of Spain under the ‘Catholic monarchs’, resulting in the driving out of the Muslims (1492 the last kingdom in Granada to surrender that year), the expulsion of the Jews and the sending out of Columbus (1492) to discover the new world / destroy an existing civilisation.

In these last years there has been a real battle on for the soul of Spain. At a time when there is potential for change there are two possibilities. If history is not dealt with there is a pull back and old entrenchments in the land are re-established. We have listened to language in these past months that is shocking, language literally pulling on ‘the spirit of Columbus’. A party leader recently went to these bulls of Guisando. He has taken his party much further to the right. These public figures might not know what they are pulling on but pull on it they do. Our responsibility is to be awake enough to ensure that old dangerous ‘spirits’ are not reactivated. I suspect many places are like this at this time. It indicates a time of change is here, and warns us that we could equally lose ground that has been gained thus far.

Many aspects came together in and through these recent days – we have prayed into Columbus Day and have almost certainly been on camera when we planted on the eve of that celebration some subversive art. Interestingly since the year we did that the day itself has been challenged and for the first time boycotted by certain officials. We prayed of course into the ReConquista and the subsequent events for almost a whole year.

We have had a Spanish flag for 10 years and we have known for some time that we needed to bury the flag somewhere at the right time. We have had no further discussion on this, but we both came to the conclusion that it needed to be at ‘Toros de Guisando’. Whoever said it first, the other said – that’s what I have had in my thinking for a few days… Anyway this is what we did at that place.

We first cut the flag up into 17 pieces, one for each of the governmental communidades of Spain. We did not burn the flag but symbolically cut it up, buried it soaked in oil in the ground where the treaty was made, calling for a Spain to rise up that will be a true reflection of convivencia (co-habiting of space that allows for diversity, difference, dialogue in the spirit of fraternity – which we see as the heart of Paul’s Gospel).

Part of the key response Gayle had to make in respect of the wild boars has been to hold her position and not give way to patriarchal closing down of space. This seems key at this time. There is a spirit of intimidation loosed… time to hold our ground.

Quirky Theology

OK if someone else had said that about my theology I would really take exception to it as it is ever so hard for me to think when I have been in any way quirky… and to imagine that I have ever got something wrong? But as I have put the title up there myself I must find a way of being happy with it and justifying that quirky does not mean wrong! OK one meaningless paragraph is probably enough per post so moving on quickly…

There are some quirks of practice in Scripture that really stretches theological understanding. Such as Jacob and his streaky wood seemingly determining the outcome of the DNA of the animals born. Just strange, yet that action provoked me to do something (a little more sensible) and it opened up some new relationships almost immediately. So my suggestion for today is that:

  • often in strategic prayer there will be a manifestation of what we are praying for in our personal circumstances.
  • The benefit of which is it gives us a leverage point to shift things both personally and strategically.
  • We can get a breakthrough personally but miss the bigger issue – and vice-versa.
  • Or by the grace of God get both issues to shift.
  • (The downside is it can be a real pain in the proverbials.)

I could give many examples of this but will restrict myself to one. Before that a couple of biblical backdrops. Jesus entering the wilderness for 40 days is essentially a re-visiting of the 40 years of the people in the desert. His meditations are from the Scriptures related to that period of time. This illustrates the immense leverage effect: 40 days to undo 40 years. Ezekiel is both instructed to build a model and then to lie down a day for each year of corporate sin:

Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the people of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side.I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the people of Israel.

After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the people of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year (Ezek. 4:4-7).

It is not unusual for prophetic intercession to involve symbolism. In Scripture symbolism accomplishes two things:

  • It points to the reality, and (more importantly)
  • it draws the reality (or the solution to the problem) to itself.

OK the example. Toward the end of 2013 I ruptured a disc in my back, resulting in a significant loss of mobility and pain, the most focused and extreme of which was in my right ankle. We tackled the issue in prayer and before long began to sense that the physical issue was in part a reflection of what needed re-alignment in Spain. We also then began to pray for a re-alignment of the spine of Spain. This went on in this way for the next 2 months, without too much of a shift in my lower back issue. Then in the following month I woke with a waking vision (these seem very important and are easy to miss) of a man lying on his back across Spain. I printed off a map from google maps and drew the man on the map where I saw him lying. I was shocked – his right ankle was exactly over where we were living, the problem disc was exactly over Madrid. There were many other key aspects such as where his head was (the place where new thinking was to come from), where his right and left arms were placed. We have acted on the vision and travelled to those places.

The vision gave insight beyond straightening the spine of the nation. The source of pain was from the centre, the pain might be found in the extremities but the change had to take place in the centre. This has further fuelled our move to Madrid and prayers for the judiciary and politics (in particular).

We then could notice the parallels between my physical experience and the shape of the land. For example, the moment (and I mean moment) that the Madrid central government announced that the referendum in Cataluña was illegal my back went out once again – I was not moving but simply sitting upright in a chair at the time. Freaky… quirky theology!

This battle continued until… I hesitate to write this as ‘solutions’ often become laws rather than ‘we heard God and did this in response’. This is one of our challenges with Scripture. Do we walk 7 times round an area because we heard God or because we know the Jericho story? Anyway hesitation over. We understood there was now a time for a change. My back no longer to mirror Spain, but Spain my back. That is the leverage point in these symbolic (signorific) scenarios. How do you change the alignment in something larger? God will give a leverage point close to home.

I also did one more thing. I had a compass tattooed on my back over the disc that was the problem (Madrid) and an arrow on my spine saying ‘true north’. (To lose one’s way in Spanish is ‘perdir el norte’ – to lose north.) Does that make a difference? Well if Jacob can use wood artistically I am up for a little quirk here and there.

My encouragement then is not to try to see everything as a sign, but to be open to that possibility. If it is a sign seek to go for both issues – the personal and the corporate that you are connected to. And if you get neither breakthrough all alignment to heaven has value, not simply when we get the outcome we are looking for. And in those kind of alignments the leverage effect shifts more than we realise.

A road block

One of our first purchases in the supermarket was a bag of salt. We are / are called to be the salt of the earth. My understanding that the common salt of the middle east was the salt from the dead sea – full of phosphates it had fertilising properties and was also thrown on the effluence to help stop the advance of disease and such like. Salt – to accelerate and feed healthy growth and prevent the negative. Disciples of Jesus have a privileged calling. So salt was on the list to buy, and salt has been used – a little trail already at Congress with more to come.

Toledo arch in Background – road to the south

Yesterday we went to the arch at the Toledo gate into Madrid. The road sign points to Badajoz and ‘all routes’. It was the southern gate and Napoleon was very interested in that geography. Underneath the arch he had buried a constitution that effectively made Spain subject to France; later the radical 1812 Constitution of Cadiz was placed there. That short-lived constitution has shaped so much within Europe and beyond. Once the monarchy returned the constitution of Cadiz was removed and replaced by a monarchy-friendly one! The power of locating things in the land.

Badajoz – we had some history there and were deeply impacted by the depth of the forgetfulness that the city has been subjected to. Where there is the place of deep forgetfulness it is the place that holds the memory most powerfully. The memory remains unhealed hence the power is not dissipated. This is one of the reasons why Spain in this next period has to go to a deeper level over the Civil War – and Cataluña’s memory is much deeper than the Civil War but there has to be a starting point there.

The building behind has an appropriate sign: ‘Monumental’!

We began at the statue honouring the lawyers murdered in their office in 1977. That event had a strong impact on the shift from dictatorship to democracy and the current mayoress of Madrid was part of that group of lawyers. Vengeance was not called for, and the funerals that resulted drew huge crowds but they held both their peace and their voices.A great place to start our prayer. From there we walked the ancient path to the Toledo gate / arch. Avoiding both the traffic and the police we got ourselves into the middle of the arch.

When we followed the path from the north to the south we followed the geography of the ReConquista. That is part of Spain’s past that still is fuel for the radical side of Islam. Since our journey there has been a resurgence of ReConquista language, and in the most recent aspect of it, a ReConquista of Spain starting in the South and going all the way to the north. This has to be the starting point as this was where we finished. We stood in the gate to ‘say no… and salt on the ground. Signs point to the reality… and they pull the reality to themselves. Salt that stops the growth of what should not be present.

Ephesus – a big shift

I am very grateful for my evangelical roots, coming to faith when I was 16 and experiencing the reality of a ‘personal’ relationship with God. Likewise the impact of the charismatic expression of Christianity, healings, miracles, speaking in tongues and all that goes along with that… absolutely life-changing. Backgrounds are important and I know many of my peers have sought to re-position themselves with regard to those two definitions, as labels cannot ultimately define and certainly should not restrict us. My own trajectory has taken me, not so much to move on from them (post-) but to realise that they sit within a bigger landscape. That landscape being that of stewardship of this creation both to point toward the new creation and to draw that new creation ever closer. The body of Christ, is here to bear witness to that new creation and to create space that humanity can fill as less-than-perfect, yet real stewards of, that new creation.

Ephesus was one of the largest cities of Roman Asia Minor, probably pushing toward 200,000 inhabitants. It was wealthy and as per many cities was religious. Temples abounded but the pride of place went to the Temple of Artemis, it being one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The claim was that Artemis’ image had fallen from the sky and therefore the city had a unique relationship as steward of her presence. (This could be simple myth, or perhaps a meteorite had fallen in that vicinity.) Paul’s time in Ephesus was remarkable and I think incredibly instructive. There are a set of elements that are presented in the biblical texts there that are quite incredible. It is quite hard to know were to start and how to list them, but I will try and follow how Luke records them:

  • He found some believers there whose understanding was limited, but they soon became disciples of Jesus in a much fuller way. They seem to become the core of who Paul worked with, taking them with him when he left the synagogue as his focus.
  • Artemis was worshipped throughout Aisa Minor and Paul set up his base in the hall of Tyrannus. Of course what he taught and spoke of we all interpret through our own lenses. An early version of Alpha courses? A fully fledged Sunday meeting with band in place? I don’t think so!! The result though was manifold, one aspect Luke notes is that what he was proclaiming was heard throughout Asia Minor. Throughout her former domain!
  • This can only indicate that the rule of Artemis was seriously challenged, witnessed to by the insistent cry of the populace reacting to Paul’s message: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians’.
  • Not only was her rule challenged but it was seriously weakened and curtailed. Not only was the message heard but also miracles likewise took place throughout what we might call was formerly her territory. Handkerchiefs were carried to those sick, healings and deliverances occurred. Such was the clear impact that even Jewish exorcists employed the phrase ‘by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims’.
  • Occult books were burned, Ephesus being a centre for witchcraft and magic.
  • The economics of the city were challenged and threatened.
  • The hierarchy of government was deeply touched.

There is something there for all of us. Spiritual warfare – bind and loose those powers, go challenge those demons! Public proclamation; miracles, healing and deliverances. Ephesus certainly sets the bar high for us charismatics… But there is much more. for me too much takes place for Paul’s activity to be simply an ancient version of much of our activities today, none of which I am knocking, simply suggesting that God is raising the bar enormously for us. (I think he raised the bar way high when we consider the cross and the resurrection…)

My plan then is to take some of the above themes and try and develop them over a number of posts.

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