The relentless fight for political freedom from the market, a missional response

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At the height of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln gave and address at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 that contained these words. “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”  What we sometimes forget, is that this battle was directly related to the global market system of the time.  The battle in the USA was whether the State was there in the vision of the founding mothers and fathers of the nation to be centred on human freedom, or like many other nations, end up just another expression of an oppressive feudal state where the uber rich oppress the many.  The battle at the heart of this civil war was for the right to enslave human beings as the cheapest form of labour in the growing of global commodities of the time.  Lincoln won the battle, but I do not think he won the war.  Looking back at the USA now in 2020, I think we can clearly see that the market won and civil rights has never been fully delivered in one of the most divided and unequal societies in the world.

What exists now in the USA and now in the UK is economic slavery, maintaining cheap labour with reduced employment and terrible wages.  The Global Market won, and democracy and equality lost out.  We are now all commodified and where human dignity is now in decline.  You could argue that actually there has been a constant state of battle in the Western World ever since the Black death in 1346, when the feudal system and oppressive market society collapsed in the pandemic, as there were too few workers, so that wages and freedoms had to rise to ensure crops and industry were sustained. It was purely economics that drove this social change, and that since then there has been a battle between a society of justice and fairness v a market feudal oppressive system culminating in our current society.  Until recently you could argue the market had won, but now in another global pandemic, will this give us an opportunity again to diminish the power and relentless scourge of the market society? Or will it actually make a more feudalist system more likely to be reimposed? How does the church respond?

We remember that Jesus’ entire ministry happened in the context of the oppression of the Jewish people under the super power of the time, and that included the imposition of an international market system at the time.  It has always been a personal bafflement to me why Jesus did not call out this oppression at the time, other than Jesus being clear about money about fairness and money being of this world in Caesars name. The only hint of challenge to this, are the words of Jesus before Pilate after he had been flogged where he says “I am not of this world’.  Chad Myers helpfully reminds us that the greek here for ‘world’ here is ‘Kosmos’ the same as ‘domination system’.  With this in mind, Jesus is calling out the Roman Empire as a militaristic market society as a domination system and so we Christians, holding onto our understanding of Jesus ‘now but not fully yet’ Kingdom in the context of having to live in a domination system, but not of a domination system,

I want to point out at this point, I am not being an extreme Socialist or Communist, this is the stories of the Gospels and and Letters of the Apostles, and my thought has always been that more conservatively inclined Christians really need to get back the Gospel narrative, as you will be in for a shock!

So how do Christians react to the reality that our market society continues to oppression and now leads to destruction with global warming and ecocide.  Mission has to start with economic, ecological and social justice.  These are the heart of the Judaeo-Christian understandings of stewardship, jubilee and the Kingdom.  We can not idly sit by and see successive governments just continue to oppress people.  What will it take for Christians in the UK to stand up to the oppression of the market and the invisible power of the super-rich as Jesus sides with the unbearably poor?  What will it take to seek a Government that prevents the excesses of the market system by what used to be called a mixed economy?  What will it take for this to be seen by the church to be a missional priority?  It is not just about evangelism , fresh expressions and new ecclesial communities.  like Jesus turned over the market stalls in the temple for causing de-sacralisation, so we as Christians should be challenging and turning over the market stalls threatening the wellbeing of people and the continued existence of our planet.  It is high time that the Christian Church rediscovered it’s calling and historic roots. Now in this pandemic, can we face this calling to prophetic witness and prophetic living.

Is the normal we once knew worth returning to? – 10 Hyperglocal tips for a different future after lockdown

I’m fascinated by the ramping up of the magnificent marketing machine preparing the way for a return to consumerism. Yes I’m looking forward to the freedom post lockdown but if we come out of the situation unchanged I think we need to ask some pretty big questions of our own humanity. It’s great that so many people are considering whether the normal they once knew is worth returning to. There have been a few memes floating around and they are asking the same question in different ways and Russell Brand pretty much hits the nail here.

However what I want to suggest are 10 Hyperglocal tips towards a different future.

Glocal was a term mainly coined in business terms around how to be a global brand that rolls out local variations to suit a local market. Think Macdonalds offering different burgers in different cultures. Later the term was taken up by environmental activists exploring how to address climate change by thinking of the global climate crisis and acting locally. What I mean by Hyperglocal is about both the small elements of activism we can do locally but also share globally through social media networks etc so the first tip is just that:

1. Be Hyperglobal – share your thoughts and small acts of resistance to the normal, that once was, with the wider world. Whether you are a poet, a pray-er, a philosopher, a carer, a doctor, or a nurse, and let’s be honest, the voices of nurses and bus drivers questioning the lack of PPE and dying as a result of their jobs, are some of the most heart wrenching stuff we will ever hear.

2. Be Courageous – call out the bad normal that once was. I love that Captain Tom Moore has raised over £10,000000 for the NHS and I’m not criticising him, but why the hell does the NHS have to be supported by additional charity, not to mention that we have been underfunding the NHS and undervaluing key workers for decades.

3. Be Aware – Take time to respond to the feelings you are having about questioning the normal that once was. Pause and reflect and throw those questions and angst out into the ether of social media, you might be surprised who responds and how this can equip you to move forwards.

4. Be Attentive – Notice the small things. People have talked about hearing the birds in Wuhan or seeing the mountain goats in Llandudno, notice this stuff in your locality and use it to resource your resolve when bombarded by busy-ness on the return to “normal” either by noticing those small things that continue, or their absence when they get squeezed out.

5. Question Language – In fact question most stuff that’s media and marketing related. Already the marketing machine has shifted its message to being “with” you at this time, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos saw his wealth grow by $24BILLION since the start of corona, whilst many of their workers fear for their health, and when the chancellor suggests we need to get the balance between health and the economy, what does that really mean, and what is your local response to all this? Yes we might question the long term economic sustainability if we are trying to return to the normal we once knew but remember that normal was a mirage, so we don’t have to play the same game any more. Research and support different economic possibilities, suppliers and use the questioning of language to help build some resistance to the lies we were once sold and will be re-ramped up as soon as lockdown ends. Indeed we are likely to see marketing messages about returning to “normal” as doing our bit to help economic recovery, when what we really need is a recovery package more like the 12 step programme to challenge our addiction.

6. Help others find a new vocabulary – keep reinforcing the message that the real key workers aren’t the business bosses. Start locally to do stuff that helps by giving the supermarket workers a thumbs up, gifting something to the refuse workers, etc and share your ideas and actions with others. Look for the positives of the lockdown (I know for some this will be easier than others depending in circumstances) and frame your language around this to explain and remind yourself of different possibilities.

7. Act yourself into new ways of being – Learn different ways of doing, behaving and belonging. Do-Be-Do, don’t rush back to the old ways but pause and reflect each time after picking up an old activity to ask if this is needed, helpful, healthy or simply a quick fix to the false normal. Take time to learn how to grow your own food, get an allotment, learn how to meditate, make that career change/move you have always wanted.

8. Live a different rhythm – many people are putting in different spaces into their day to help them cope with the lockdown, time to read, time to chat online with friends, experiment now with what works for you and join online groups or connect with friends to help you keep these up afterward.

9. Keep being Neighbourly and keep volunteering – If the lockdown has taught us anything it has been the rise of good community neighbourliness. From the practical support to simply chatting over fences. We too easily exist in social media echo chambers, but we rarely choose our neighbours, and so they are a great resource for hearing difference. Equally the massive response to the request for volunteers was great, and volunteering is a great way to open yourself up to newness and break out the bubbles you’re in.

10. Be still and Still Moving – many people will have to for a time at least return to jobs they no longer really want to be in. But can we cultivate a stillness deep in our being that will carry us through as we take the steps we need to change to the new normal we might be dreaming of.

I want to be a simple soul, and live in the Jesus way

I want to be a simple soul, and live in the Jesus way….
I won’t draw lines of exclusion – because when you do Jesus is on the other side, or there with a giant eraser.
I won’t pull up the drawbridge, close the door, shut the gate – because when you do Jesus cuts the strings of security, invites the stranger in swings wide the opening.
I won’t give in to the power to perform, possess, or provide – because Jesus resisted and found the better way of love.

Co-creating rites of passage

I love it when worlds collide and so often something amazing happens. Core to a good experience is that both worlds enter into the conversation and work out the way forward together. Grayson Perry has done this brilliantly with the first of his rites of passage pieces on Channel Four. The way he curates the living wake is simply beautiful, for the individual involved and the community around him, it is the best example of co-creating space I have seen in a long time.

As I reflected on the programme it made me reflect on how of all the major rites, perhaps, death is the one where the church is at its best. The process of developing the funeral service is co-created between the ministers and the family, its personal, its poignant because the space is co-created, it doesn’t matter where on the faith journey the participants are, their opinions and ideas are valued and included where possible. Perhaps something similar happens at weddings.

This co-creation of space is at the heart of the emerging church for me. It is what helps it move from a position of power to service, from orthodoxy to grounded orthopraxis, and make real connections that help us all discover the g-d we don’t yet know.

Pioneering Transparent Ops and Real Relationships

One of the issues I have struggled with most since moving from an organisation that has always been outside the institution and committed to the liminal spaces, to within the structures of the church, is staying true to the calling I think I have. It is very easy to tone stuff down for political expediency and so loose that sense of who I really am. Im fully aware I need to take care about the HOW of what I say what to whom, and I have always done that in no matter what role I am (good adult to adult honest and real dialogue in pretty short supply in the church), but Im not sure I should ever change the WHAT. Real Relationships for me is a two way thing, I can’t be in a real relationship with those I am serving in the institution if I am not being honest about the what of who I am and the what of what Im doing. I remember saying to students (usually in the first week or so) when I used to teach mission and theology that I wanted to be really up front and I saw part of my role as about corrupting them with the christ who would spend time on the margins with young people outside the church. Likewise with Transparent Operations I needed to be clear and open about what the third space fresh expressions were. That they were deliberately playful, pushing boundaries, pathfinding projects, about their failings and successes. I can be great at putting a positive spin on stuff but more often than not be too brutally honest about stuff so people end up thinking Im grumpy or negative. But my own self awareness has to be key to Transparent Ops and Real Relationships if we want to see increased impact and capacity and enable others to catch the vision.

Speak from the podium not the pulpit

This is a kind of follow on post from the royal wedding. Millions of people would have seen Curry preach that sermon. However a quick trawl of you tube for the wedding sermon shows the three top hits of the whole 13 minute sermon were that CBS had 620k (split across two videos) BBC had 900k views. Then a few days ago Chris Pratt did the above speech which so far has 1.9m views on the MTV you tube site alone.

So there are some sound bite and length things, context driven things and audience issues, but a few observations. As a piece of public speaking it for me it captured the balance of fun and points well, it was challenging in an inductive way, provoking more questions of the post christian audience than it provided answers.

As I was reflecting on Pratts talk a Church Times article also popped in my news feed which suggested that even brilliant sermons like Currys would fail to draw in a significant number and I don’t think Chris Pratts style would either. Culture has shifted, if there is still a place for public speaking, thats now the podium (public square) rather than the pulpit.

I know the arguments for the pulpit is that people need teaching, but the evidence is that learning is most effective when not upfront, talk driven. Perhaps the argument is exhortation, but isn’t this more effective if people shared what they had done that week and encouraged one another, built in accountability and wrestled with their own discipleship. We have to accept that the culture has shifted and stop hanging onto the pulpit like some sort of holy cow.

Cmpfire

Today I had the privilege to sit with 20 or so pioneers from across Cumbria. It struck me as I did the summing up at the end what a amazing array of experience was in the room. I was probably the only person who knew what everyone else was doing in their own context, and that in itself was humbling. We opened the day, thinking about the good stuff happening in our areas wether they were seeds of ideas just planted, seedlings needing nurture and just showing a few leaves, or flowers in full bloom. Then we thought through What shape were you as a pioneer. Following that the honesty people bought to the challenges was great. We put post its on hurdles and invited people share whilst holding a talking stick, from the outset we said we weren’t here to fix stuff, and it was amazing to stand in silence alongside our fellow pioneers as people shared their pain. Some breathing and mindfulness, and lecto divina, before I wrapped with strange fruit. I blew my budget on exotic fruit that people didn’t recognise so it was great to bless each individual with a peice of strange fruit and encourage them to stay away from the Granny Smith mentality and to mention briefly the array of work, those working in charity shops, changing their houses for homeless, doing church on the hills, or in community gardens, or in schools, on the estate. Reshaping family stuff in village churches, Messy stuff, and alternative stuff, faith stuff, and food based stuff, a bunch of people getting stuck into their communities with the stuff of life. THANKYOU

Trying capture the pioneer dna

How do we capture the pioneer dna to learn without crushing? Here’s my attempt for a local gathering based on something I did a while back anyone else got any ideas, about how the glean the wisdom without loosing the nuance?

I am experimenting with a new type of pioneer gathering called Cmpfire to replace the old Cumbria Pioneer Network. The first one will take place in Xxxx and I would love if you come and join us 9.30 – 12.30 with breakfast and plenty of coffee provided.

If you’re wondering why you are getting this email, its because I reckon the work you do and how you think about it is pretty pioneering and takes us a bit beyond the traditional ideas of Fresh Expressions and church, so it would be great if you can join us. Its not an exclusive gathering but we recognise that often it is helpful to meet with people where you don’t need to justify what you do, who you are and why it doesn’t fit the norm and we are only inviting a handful of people for this first one.

The aim is to create a space to hear stories, reflect and be, a bit like a chat around a campfire that goes late into the evening on a starry night where we can wrestle with what the pioneer DNA is really about.

Cmpfires are about getting practitioners together in a room with a couple of people with a bit of theological nouse and an artist who will somehow record and interpret the event. We will use an artist to capture the conversation as its not a training event, and we are not trying to fix anything. We don’t want to loose the nuance, the metaphor, the life and breadth of the pioneer charism and hope the artist will capture this better than notes. So you don’t need to do any prep just turn up and be yourself!

Xxx is doing the catering, so the food will be excellent, and I am planning the gathering with Annie Grey (Hospital chaplain) and Caroline Kennady (Uni and school chaplain), both of whom are doing some excellent innovative stuff. We will be joined by Jane Dudman who specialises in art and sound, so she will capture the gathering in various ways and we will make this available down the line.

A new way of being Christian and/or the ancient future faith

Instinctively I think we need to find a new (and rediscover some of the old) ways of being Christian, particularly if we are going to help people connect in the dance. I was talking about this on Facebook and a good friend asked me what I meant. My reply was it was at all levels sociologically, functionally, eccesiologically, culturally etc.
I don’t think we realise just how masked, how clouded and how hidden the message of love has become behind the layers poor behaviour, intolerance, judgment, harshness, unkindness, exclusivity, insistution, and general ineptitude.
The task of the Christian in every generation, in every culture, in every situation is to love. It is to start at the beginning with the words of Jesus and accept that no matter how hard they are they cannot be changed. To love our neighbour, to love our enemy, to forgive 70 x 7, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile calls us to find ways beyond judgement, unkindness, intolerance. I love the way Stephen Backhouse talks in the latest Nomad podcast states how when it comes to just war (and many other issues) we simply have to put Jesus in the “no column”. We might have great reasons, sociological, cultural, intellengence, for just war but you just can’t get beyond that Jesus says love your enemy.

The reality is that Jesus is the still point in the turning world, and his words take us far beyond just war. So we have to find ways to be honest with our selves and our neighbors about this reality but equally honest how we fail to live up to those ideals, how we come up with systems of thinking and ways of operating that help us function, acknowledge that whilst these might go someways towards love be honest that in many ways that are pale imitations of the words of Jesus. Honest that our walls are more about protecting us from the words of Christ that actually call us beyond. That our safety and security is still found in the paypacket, rather than like the birds of air somewhere else.
Perhaps when i can be that honest with myself, g-d and my neighbours i start to work out what this Jesus is really all about and call those walls to dust.

Beyond the argument to earthing

As a sophisticated society we can construct many arguments against God, and apologetics can deconstruct some of these, and so we can go on round and round. Likewise people of faith can construct many arguments and others can deconstruct. The sophistication of humanity means either side this can construct seeming meaningful arguments for science and theology through logic and reason, and yet it is the development of science, philosophy and science that a over many years begins to pull the rug out.

I am a huge fan of CS Lewis but Maybe like Lewis moved away from apologetics into fiction and art, Do we need to let the theologian and scientist fade to help us earth lives of love?