Preach what you practice

In the Creeds in the making, Richardson outlines how the early creeds were a missionary apologetic to what god was doing in the early church. For the last two or so decades my friends and I and many I encounter at conferences, gatherings and festivals, have followed the missio-dei as we minister to and with the LGBTQ community. It has often been misunderstood, been under the radar, or simply not shouted about because as Primate Michael Curry so brilliantly put ““Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.”
But perhaps it is time for those agencies to start to preach the inclusion they practice. Indeed many local churches practice a level inclusion way beyond the statements espoused by their governing bodies, and so perhaps it is time for us all to preach what they practice because we need to find an apologetic for what god is doing in so many lives and communities, and to create a pathway for those still suffering oppressions and violence in other places.

Institutional prophets

Time and time again the prophets called out for justice, mercy and love. On occasion they acted and orchestrated acts of justice that brought their calls for justice to the lived experience of those suffering injustice. They acted knowing that what they did was out of love and thet their actions were more important than their words. They knew their action challenged the words written down on tablets of stone as the law, and they knew that at times these tablets had been so consumed by those in power that people hearts has also turned to stone. So the prophets spoke out, the prophets acted knowing there would be consequences and they would face exclusion and be misunderstood. The presence and practice of Jesus is clear in the actions of the Old Testament prophets, and the modern justice seekers who put orthopraxis before orthodoxy.

I see the person of Christ, and the prophetic call to a new way of being and acting in the Episcopal Church and its primate Michael Curry. His statement to the primates is full of grace, and reaches back beyond the roots of slavery to a love that was embodied in the person of Christ, and it keeps me hanging their by my fingernails.

“Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.
“For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain,” he said. “For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain. For many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our church opening itself in love was a sign of hope. And this will add pain on top of pain.”
Curry told the primates that he was in no sense comparing his own pain to theirs, but “I stand before you as your brother. I stand before you as a descendant of African slaves, stolen from their native land, enslaved in a bitter bondage, and then even after emancipation, segregated and excluded in church and society. And this conjures that up again, and brings pain.
“The pain for many will be real. But God is greater than anything. I love Jesus and I love the church. I am a Christian in the Anglican way. And like you, as we have said in this meeting, I am committed to ‘walking together’ with you as fellow primates in the Anglican family.”

When I first met Rowan Williams when he was archbishop I was so taken by his ability to listen, perhaps I was a little in awe but I sensed in him a willingness to stand with me on the edge. It is early days, so I do not want to jump to conclusions about what the decision to exclude the Episcopal church means, but struggle to see how such a fracturing move can be an act of grace. So I am keen to know how both Curry and the current ABC Justin will respond but My prayer for all the primates is that they will have the eyes to see and ears to hear and grace will find a way.

Lead us out of exile

It has been so encouraging to see the recent discussion on the role of women in the church sparked by the huge inequality highlighted in lack of women speakers as mainstream conferences. Jenny has a great post here that tracks the conversation and expands the issue.
However we recognise the representation is only part of the issue, and i want to suggest that the changes required run far deeper and may not be possible in the current paradigm. As father to two amazingly gifted daughters 6 and 16 I am always on the hunt for stuff to help them grow into the people they are called to be. I am so greatfull to know people like Jenny Baker and Sally Nash and other female leaders of great integrity, who I go to with questions and guide me to resources and books such as Maya Angelou that I can share together with my children. But there is massive lack of radical faith inspired feminist writing aimed at teens and younger girls or at least stuff I can find.

The recent discussions raises two issues for me, that are connected. The first which Jenny already highlights in her post, is the issue of mentoring and supporting young women into leadership roles. Again I think this is a paradigm issue, one of the strengths of the early feminist movement was its clarity in setting up alternative structures and spaces to the established systems. I would like to suggest that the emerging church has far more to offer my daughters and is already encouraging them towards fullness of life not because of a quota, but a commitment to inclusivity, different leadership approaches, and humanity. For example Cakeful our Sunday thing, is often led by our 6 year daughter, and recently she asked to lead a session around time, and asked for support from Tracey an adult in the group. Tracey was amazing she offered Indi a planning meeting mid week, despite a busy schedule sat down with her, and planned together, which simply made my daughter beam. Watching this process was truly emancipating for my daughter and myself. I believe it is this type of approach that if practiced consistently is the best hope for young women in the church but more that that the best hope for the church to be led from its self induced exile due it’s inherent sexism and lack of inclusivity at all levels. So the second issue (sticking my neck out here and more than a little nervous in saying this) is a call for the amazing female leaders I know and thousands I don’t, to embrace the new paradigm, to create alternative structures and spaces, radical resources and methods, that directly challenge the status quo, rupture the institutions, recapture the feminist agenda in the minds of young people, and lead not just other women but eventually the whole church out of exile.

Our best hope is not in playing by the rules of the dominant, where position, gender, wealth, and power dictate, but in embracing the upside down Kingdom, of powerlessness, servanthood and grace, and it is those who have experienced oppression of the powerful that have so much to offer.

Could the 16 year old me survive today?

I wept this morning. I cried for young people who have been have been vicitimised, marginalised and oppressed by the governments response to the recession of cutting services, I cried with the young people who will continue to be the ones who suffer most as we enter economic recovery which the government wants to promote with further cuts. The latest government proposals on young people, demonstrate a society that has lost its way, a society of selfishness, greed and power.

I wept this morning as friends responded to my post on facebook about my own situation as a NEET (not in employment, education or training) 16 year old. I left home, not willingly, not out of choice but out of necessity after my father who had been sober for 5 years started to drink again. My sister helped, the state helped, I was not stigmatized, I had time to get my head together, I had time to start to find out who I really was, out of the shadow of my father, I survived, I flourished. As I write the tears start again for the young people I met this week on the streets who do not have the same opportunity I had, I see them in my minds eye and I am simply distraught at what the future holds if current government plans continue.

Out of the shadows of my childhood, I began to explore my vocation, and pathway into youthwork. Unsurprisingly I left school with no O’levels but at 17 I was accepted to do a further education City and Guilds course in Leisure and Recreation. A course I started late because it took a while to see if I could get a grant and benefit to live and study. I moved onto to do Social Care and an A level, with a student grant and working nights in a printers and the fabulous support of my sisters family who let me live in the caravan in the garden, I began to mature and come to terms with who I was. At 19 I thought I was ready, but quickly realized I needed to go to Uni if I was going to do the youth work stuff properly, and that meant I needed more grant support. At that time automatic vocational grants (the first to go) had been cut and I remember sitting around an appeals table in County Hall in Exeter explaining my case to a panel of 15 adults, and making a simple promise to come back to the county for at least a year once graduated to help other young people.

Two years later, JNC youthwork qualification in hand, I returned to my sisters garden to live in her shed (the caravan was rusted away) and make good the promise I made in County Hall. At 21 I established my first detached youth work project in Devon, I worked part time and received housing benefit that helped make ends meet. I remember the young people I worked with 23 years ago, I remember them coming to the shed (my house) to plan how to establish a youth centre for the area, I recall the youth centre that was built on the basis of these proposals, and I still hear occasional stories from my sister about the work in the town. For those of you who know me, you will be familiar with the rest of my story, my long history with Frontier Youth Trust. My first paid post working and living on a difficult estate in the Midlands as part of YFC,(which incidentally encouraged my dad to shake my hand before I left Devon as he thought I had a proper job!) It was on this estate where I met real need first hand in my neighbors and began to learn what it means to be real community from them. Leaving to work for Worth Unlimited, with a job brief to make it work or close it down, but who now do an amazing job under a great CEO in Tim Evans in so many difficult areas across the country. Then more recently into StreetSpace who now meet over 8000 young people a month on the edge a month. I recall these stories, not to say look at me but to simply ask would the 16 year old me survive today. Asking this simple question causes the tears to return again as I know the answer would be no. Tears of gratefulness to my sister’s family and to the state without who I would not have survived. So the tears of thanks turn to a weeping that flows freely for the 1000s of young people I still hear about as youth worker, who share elements of my story, or far worse circumstances, growing up in a society that has lost its way…

Uneven Cuts

Hope has sustained me, but as I look at the situation in our country and how uneven, unfair and unjust a situation we find ourselves in, my hope is waning. The reports coming out from organistions such as the highly respected Joseph Rowntree Trust, or the National Council for Voluntary Youth services show how the poorest and most marginalised are bearing the brunt of the cuts. The wholesale dismantling of the youth service at a time of highest youth unemployment is one of the stupidest and shortsighted practices of the last 100 years. Usually the optimist in me would see the idea of the Big Society as an opportunity but already I see that again that it will be the most marginalised that will be most affected. It is already becoming clear that the investment needed to resource work with hardest to reach young people will simply not manifest itself, either in terms of people, skills, or money, as the voices of a powerful few sweep up the crumbs of what money is left, or baton down the hatches and become even more insular, to weather out the storm, and unfortunately this is a pattern I see both in the church and the local authority.
Occupy offered me hope, and as the leader of StreetSpace which has to be one of the fastest growing youth work agenicies my hope is still an ember, but I have to remind myself and challenge to church to recognise the inequality of the cuts, the simple injustice, that the poorest communities and young people are not to blame to for the situation we find ourselves in… so here is my reminder……

Being there costs fathers

I haven’t really talked much about the personal effects the current government system has on me and how it penalises people particularly fathers who try and be there for their children. I want share from my own perspective, – Tuffty and Clive are great kids and I want to be around them as much as possible, so they stay with us three nights a week, and at their mums four nights – it is the closest we can get to genuine shared care. So I am in an enviable position for many fathers who have restricted or no access. The issue here however is that although I have the children for almost 50% of the time, I cannot get access to working families tax credit, or share the family allowance and still pay maintenance. Based on our family income (which working for a charity is modest) if tuffty and Clive were registered at my house or stayed here for four nights instead of three we would qualify for working families tax credit of £256 a month and get family allowance on top another £120 a month.

Now I have no issues with fathers being expected to pay maintenance or that there some poor examples of men out there who try to duck their responsibilities, but I have already had to sell one house due to the child support agency fiasco – which does not truly recognise equality, and impinged such high maintenance costs on me and didn’t take into account that in order to see my children regularly I had to make long journeys to work. What was worse was that Tuffy and Clive didn’t receive any of this money as their mum was claiming benefit.

the 10 pence tax rate was not the only issue that government did not examine the detail on.

Debt Money v. Banked Money – a Gold Problem

This is a post that continues a casual series about debt (here is the previous post).

Most money in circulation today only exists because someone took out a debt from the banking system, which promptly created the money from nothing. The simple way to express this is it is just like giving someone an IOU: If you want to trade with someone and you have nothing you can promise them something in return – so your promise is a debt to the person who gave you something of value in return for your promise. This is the concept of debt money.

Alternatively we can have money that is based on the value of something that is stored away. For example at one stage money used to be issued when you stored gold in a ‘bank’ (a bank being a store where things of value could be kept). Let’s call this ‘banked asset money’ – when you give the money to someone, they effectively become the new owner of the item kept in store.

I’ve commented on the problems of debt – that you become endebted to someone, you owe them and you are therefore controlled to some respect by the need to pay them off. However, most of our money in circulation is based on debt, by holding some money you are either in debt to someone (because the money is a loan) or someone else is (because the money is a loan).

It is my preference to not owe the loan myself, but to hold money that exists because someone else took out a loan and spent it and the money came to me (eventually). Is this a tacit acceptance of debt? Hmmm. I’m not sure that it is, but how about using ‘banked asset money’ where there is no debt at all?

The problem with ‘banked asset money’ is that there are loads of assets sitting in a bank doing nothing! Rather unproductive and inefficient. In this scenario it costs a lot more to have money because of the overheads of storage and the fact that stored stuff doesn’t get very well used.

I just had an email in about gold and the ethical problems of gold production. Much gold is basically stolen from the people of the country that it was mined in and also a lot of pollution is produced to create gold. If you have gold based money you are necessarily causing gold to be mined – as if you mine some gold you can exchange it for money. Using precious things as money tends to stop that material being used for useful purposes as it has an exchange value far in excess of its useful value (value to do something useful).

Most gold spends its time being valuable either as ingots or as jewellery (which has status because of its value) – only a small proportion of gold spends its time being useful – perhaps in electronic goods or dental fillings. (I’m basing this judgment of how gold is used based on this info: http://www.goldsheetlinks.com/production2.htm which states there is probably 3/4 of an ounce of gold per person and I reckon that an average person does not typically use that much gold for utilitarian purposes – I know that I have some electronics, but it won’t have that much gold in – therefore most gold must be used as a store of value instead.)

If gold is used to back money then we are poorer because it reduces the amount of gold being used for more useful purposes that would make us wealthier (in a practical way).

Storing grain instead of gold isn’t an ideal answer for ‘banked asset money’ either as storing grain has costs, unless you happen to be storing it anyway.

So using asset based currencies aren’t necessarily the right answer to the debt question.

To be continued…

Bristol Baptist College – Politics Sessions

If you were at the Thursday (30th Nov) session on politics I recommend having a look through the ‘Government‘ category on this site.

Some summary points:

    Blood and Chocolate trailer

  • Politics is basically the relationships that give us power over others.
  • Power over others is a facet of fallen society.
  • Power over people is being superseded by the new enabling power of the New Kingdom.
  • The New Kingdom ushers in an upside down paradigm – the last shall be first, the least, the servant, submission, love.
  • The Messiah was expected to be a political power – to relieve Israel from the conquering nations that had troubled it and the Romans who occupied it. However, Jesus Christ did not so much as lift a finger against the Romans, who’s empire later caused immense damage to the church.
  • We see the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-25) who Christ recommended to give away all of his wealth. This would result in the giving up of power.
  • The church has historically decided to utilise the power of the state and has not kept itself as a separate entity.
  • Evil is separation from God and as such cannot be stopped by legislation.
  • We are judged on our heart, our motives, not our actions (although our actions display the nature of our hearts!).
  • Sin is simply separation from God – the acts we do are not either more or less sinful, they are either sinful (coming from our separation from God) or not (coming from our relationship with God). When we focus on sinful acts we tend to forget that the thing that matters is the sin inside – the Beattitudes (Mat 5:21 etc.) illustrates this sea change from the Old Testament where the focus was on sinful acts.
  • Law cannot bring justice, it is merely privilege and counter-privilege piled high.
  • Justice and freedom only come through a relationship with God. The New Kingdom of submission and love for one another is the only way that we will see true freedom and justice.
  • Accept persecution rather than legislate to prevent people doing it to us – Romans 12.
  • Even though we become Christians we remain in a world that continues to oppress us. Christ was oppressed, but simultaneously had freedom from oppression. Similarly Christ has relieved us of oppression and set us free.
  • In the same vein we can still be fulfilling God’s mission for us even when we are in submission to the authorities and powers that God has allowed to rule (Romans 13, Matt 22:15). However, everything we do should be in obedience to God – just that a lot of that will also be obedience to government or simply submission to others.
  • We do see a difference between how Jesus acted towards the leaders of God’s people and towards others. He did bring critical prophetic word to leaders of God’s chosen nation of Israel.
  • We see ‘easy Christianity’ where people just have to chant a formula to apparently meet God, but we mustn’t forget that we often practice ‘easy evangelism’ where we duck out of the ‘hard’ submissive, powerless lifestyles that Christ’s example urges us to take. Often we try to paint an attractive picture of Christianity after we fail at living a sacrificial life.
  • Using legislation to force our society to do ‘good’ to others actually includes forcing people to pay more taxes or lose their ‘freedoms’.
  • George Muller of Bristol never asked for money for his five homes for orphans. He focussed on God’s task and God proved to be the provider, meaning that George never needed to push people to provide.
  • Non coercive power is basically the power to persuade people whilst giving them freedom of choice. Christ’s power is persuasive, but he does not negate people’s free will.
  • We do see that Christ will bring judgment, vengeance, get rid of oppression, rule with an iron rod, but this is to come and is not now.

Some points that I missed:

  • Talk is our major form of interaction with others and as such can be our major source of coercion as we attempt to bend people to our wills. We need to ensure that our talk liberates others.
  • Other forms of coercive control include temptation. This could include deceptive marketing (as per lifestyle consumer goods) . Are certain forms of evangelism merely types of deceptive marketing that don’t spell out the truth of the total cost and the total gain of following Christ?
  • Look at the accounts of Jesus reaching out to various people throughout his lifetime – do you see a tendency to control?
  • Moderation of those inside the church appears to be by exclusion rather than control. We are called to judge inasmuch as to understand whether it is healthy or productive to our mission to spend time with particular people. However, our response is still to love, but bearing in mind that we are called to love others too.
  • Some in the church are trying to usher in a utopia, trying to create a poor copy of the New Kingdom, by using fallen methods such as coercive control.
  • Education can be a form of non-coercive power. It is therefore very political, but in a very different manner to attempts to control the behaviour of others. However, education done without humility is often coercive. Education is best imagined as a fellowship of explorers rather than a structure that brings one person’s ‘truth’ to many.
  • We need to ask ourselves whether we should be utilising the power of the state – such as using the police (as we have a civil right to) or using our vote.
  • We see that the most extreme form of persecution, martyrdom, is a greatly effective and persuasive act. However, it takes the ultimate sacrifice (this is not to be confused with being killed whilst killing others).
  • If we feel that we need to abandon behaviour that seeks to control others we should not only question whether we should work in the military sphere, but also whether we should participate in various areas of law enforcement.
  • We also need to assess whether our trading habits involve unfair control of others. Are our trading partners on a level playing field with us? Do we reinforce the controlling behaviour of some businesses by trading with them? Do we strengthen the hand of exploitative and manupulative employers?

I recommend visiting the Ekklesia web site. It is an interesting approach to politics for Christians. Whether they get the balance right is up for debate, but this is a very interesting outline The King Maker buy from which I have learnt much.