Posted by: rogermitchell | March 16, 2018

The Centrality of the Poor

I recently gave a presentation on The Centrality of the Poor to the Society for Pentecostal Studies’ joint conference with the Wesleyan Theological Society at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland Tennessee.

It centred around three things: incarnational hermeneutics, three generations of Holy Spirit outpouring and the cultivation of emerging new political space.

Firstly, I looked at the implications of an incarnational or “Jesus” hermeneutic for reinstating the poor as the primary focus for theology.   I  emphasised the centrality of the poor as a defining characteristic of the gospel of the kingdom of God and explained the tendency for Jesus’ focus on the poor to be displaced throughout the history of the church.

Secondly, I gave a personal testimony from my own autobiography. This looked at the way that the last three generations of Holy Spirit renewal may be evaluated as the reinstatement of the poor as primary agents of the gospel.

Thirdly, I attempted to explain and outline the new post-secular political space in the western world. I suggested that this is exemplified by the inroads of Islamic extremism, Trump’s populism and the UK’s Brexit. I then described this space as a prophetic fulfilment of the consequences of empire and presented the poor as a current political category and the role of the ecclesia as servants with the poor in cultivating the emerging new political space.

The presentation is around 25mins long and you can listen to it here: https://spaces.hightail.com/space/nxVT8MjuQd

You can also read the paper on my Academia site here: https://lancaster.academia.edu/RogerHaydonMitchell

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Posted by: rogermitchell | March 9, 2018

In the middle

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: rogermitchell | November 8, 2017

The Kingdom and the Glory: conclusion

Throughout this book Agamben has been achieving two main things, political genealogy and theological insight.

Firstly, he has been offering a genealogy of the current political situation of the contemporary West. Secondly, and simultaneously, he has been providing vital theological insight into the politics of incarnational, trinitarian, faith. In the final pages of this last chapter “The Archaeology of Glory,” these two strands come together in Agamben’s return to his exposition of katargēsis as “inoperativity,” which he identifies with the Sabbath rest of Hebrews 4:1-10 (pp. 239- 251), and in the image of the empty throne that occurs in early Christian architecture and symbol (pp. 243-245). Depending which of these two strands we are following, we find ourselves encountering the same political space but in two very different ways. On the one hand is a vacant space where glory and government never coincide and the biopower of contemporary government is left legitimated and unchallenged by any alternative zoē or life force, and on the other, is an invitation to recognise a space of potential fullness where a mutually affirming plural transcendence might yet bring together kingdom and government in an oikonomia of love. Without recognising these two strands as they intertwine in the final chapter readers may find themselves quite conflicted – is Agamben offering hope or despair? On my reading, neither. Rather he is offering us the opportunity for both recognition and choice, and the degree of hope or despair will depend upon the verdict of the reader. As he puts it “Glory, both in theology and politics, is precisely what takes the place of that unthinkable emptiness that amounts to the inoperativity of power” (p. 242).

Glory as sustenance for God and government

We left the last post with Agamben drawing on Mascall’s work to explore the role of acclamation in sustaining God. This included the suggestion that Jesus himself initiated a self-conscious transformation of acclamation into affirmation in such a way that glory became sustenance for God and government. If Agamben’s purpose were to press home the full incarnational implications of this, he could have well referred to the Johannine prayer of Jesus in John 17.  Here the eternal life of God, even before the world was made, consisted of this mutual affirmatory acclamation, “the glory I had with you Father before the world was” (Jn 17:5), and is the self same glory that Jesus came to share with his followers. However while Agamben does expose this theological insight, his purpose is to disclose the outworking of the mysterious economy, not to advocate the good news that Jesus ostensibly came to make known. So instead he follows Mascall across to the Vedic scriptures where a similar relational acclamation is applied to corporate transcendence (pp. 232-234).  If such a sustaining glory is the nature of transcendence you would expect signs of it to shine through wherever the image of God is carried. I like it!

Glory and the media

Rather than exploring this further, Agamben returns to the primary strand, his genealogy of contemporary political space. He progresses this via an examination of medieval hymnology and the concept of Sabbath rest in the epistle to the Hebrews and comes inexorably to the conclusion that these modes of glorious inoperativity find their contemporary expression in the media. This explains a lot!  Bringing together Debord’s description of globalised capitalist economics as “an immense accumulation of spectacles” together with Schmitt’s analysis that “public opinion is the modern type of acclamation,” Agamben underlines the way that the media dominates every area of social life in “nothing less than a new and unheard of concentration, multiplication and dissemination of the function of glory as the center of the political system” (p. 256). It follows that the tension between western representative democracy’s government by consent and the media’s role in forming and affirming public opinion reveals the same inoperative space that Agamben has been considering all along.

In conclusion

So to return to our two strands, Agamben’s genealogy has revealed the character of the seemingly irresolvable impasse between the vote and any possibility of substantial deep structural change in our contemporary western democracies. However, if the mysterious economy consequent on the subsumptive partnership of church and empire is really a reversal of the good news of the economy of the mystery made known in incarnational faith, then a glorious acclamatory, affirmative politics of love may yet resolve the impasse. This latter potentiality is what my coming book on the Politics of Love will attempt to configure, hopefully, once again, with the help of interaction with you clickers and surfers via this blog.

 

Posted by: rogermitchell | October 26, 2017

The Politics of Love audio

I gave a twenty minute talk to World Vision Canada that spells out how I see Jesus’ politics in their context. My friend Michael Lafleur has kindly provided this link to the talk and I have added the PowerPoint presentation that I used at the time. If you open the PowerPoint and then click on the link it should hopefully provide a reasonable audio visual experience!

The Politics of Love World Vision Canada

https://spaces.hightail.com/space/yLaLd3cYb2

Posted by: rogermitchell | October 23, 2017

The Final Chapter: “The Archaeology of Glory” (i)

In the previous post Agamben made the crucial claim that glory, understood in terms of acclamation and ceremony, is more significant in impact than any ballot. It follows that the challenge of the new politics is to reinvest glory with love and transform the economy of government by it. In this final chapter Agamben examines the outworking of glorification from the gospel era onwards until today.  He begins by distinguishing his understanding of glory from Balthasar’s attempt to rescue the concepts of lordship and sovereignty from the sphere of government by transferring them into the sphere of beauty.  I draw positively on this move by Balthasar in my chapter “Authority Without Sovereignty” in Towards a Kenotic Vision of Authority in the Catholic Church https://tinyurl.com/novfaov. I suggest there that his recognition of the need to proceed beyond truth and goodness to beauty marks his insight into the consequence of a historical subsumption of the first two transcendentals. 

However I now think that Agamben is right in affirming that biblically “glory” (Hebrew kabhod; Greek doxa), is never primarily to be understood in an aesthetic sense. Its true reference is to the impact of the real presence of God upon persons.  As such its implications are properly political. As he goes on to underline, in the transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament this is even clearer, and from being “an element external to God,” glory becomes “an expression of the internal relations of the Trinitarian economy” (p. 201). Referencing the gospel of John, and the writings of Origen, Augustine and Moltmann, Agamben reaches the conclusion that “the economy of glory can only function if it is perfectly symmetrical and reciprocal. All economy must become glory, and all glory become economy” (p. 210).

This presents us with the core political challenge of the chapter, and indeed of the book. Namely, how to achieve the demystification of being and doing in the operation of glory and power, kingdom and government, economics and politics? That is to say, how can we live in the good of the oikonomia of the mystery “now made known” in the incarnation? Agamben recognises the difficulty of this, and the paradoxes through which  theologians have prioritised glorification over glory. He exposes Barth as the precursor to Balthasar’s attempt to aestheticise glory, and regards this as a reduction of creatures to their glorifying function reminiscent of behaviour demanded of their subjects by the profane powers in Byzantium and even Germany in the 1930s.  Read More…

Posted by: rogermitchell | October 7, 2017

The Kingdom and the Glory: two final chapters!

Despite not yet having completed my posts on Agamben as promised, the keen prophetic insight of his work has continued to illuminate my thought and practice over the intervening weeks. This has included another exciting theology dig at Ashburnham Place, a prayer event for Europe on the rock of Gibraltar and a varied week of events with our friends in Mississauga, Canada. So I’m more convinced than ever that my attempts to make his work accessible as tools for penetrating the contemporary crisis of the West to deep thinking folk is seriously worthwhile.

Chapter 7 is entitled “The Power and the Glory” and takes the distinction in the way the early church theologians configured angels a step further. You may remember from the previous post on Chapter 6 that Agamben notes a division between the angels of worship and the angels of government that parallels the divide between the traditions and rituals of government on the one hand and the practice of government on the other. The former are raised above law and democracy and therefore out of reach of the supposed instruments of political transformation and change, and yet the latter are legitimated and seemingly made permanent by them. In the same way that Agamben emphasises Paul’s argument that the law is de-activated and fulfilled by the potential power of love that lay behind it, (remember his emphasis on the function of  katargēsis in The Time That Remains), Agamben argues that the bipolar operation of the angels is likewise resolved. In this way, as he puts it, “Pauline Messianism …acts as a corrective to the demonic hypertrophy of angelic and human powers”  and reconciles them to God. The way that the incarnation works is to bring to an end the law and the understanding of the angelic that upheld the law, but to draw through the potential loving purpose that lay behind them. Thereby the fullness of divine intention, in Thomas Jay Oord’s terms “essential kenosis,” or what I call the kenarchy of God, is established.

In chapter 7 Agamben takes this a step further with recourse to what he  regards as a ground breaking essay by Erik Petersen entitled Heis Theos. Agamben regards this as “a sort of Political archaeology of liturgy and protocol,” or “an archaeology of glory. ” (It’s worth noting here that this was written before Petersen’s conversion to Catholicism, and that Petersen’s own biographical journey may help explain the at times seemingly self contradictory positions within his developing thought, to which I have referred in earlier posts). The radical insight of this early essay of his, is the disclosure that a genre of acclamation that includes early Christian acclamations such as “There is one God and Christ (Heis Theos kai Christos) was basic to the ancient world.  This genre had profound political importance in that it expressed “the people’s consensus” and in so doing provides the “essential link that unites law and liturgy.” That’s to say it reveals the practical link between the two parts of the bipolar structure of sovereignty and praxis which legitimate and paralyse our contemporary Western states.

Agamben then notes the way that Carl Schmitt refers to this work by Petersen to make the point that the original phenomenon of all political communities is not the vote but acclamation. The fundamental point being made by all three thinkers here, Agamben, Petersen and Schmitt, is that it is scientific fact that acclamation precedes the ballot in impact and importance. In my view this is of enormous significance. It discloses the source of a core problem for our western representative democracies. Namely the hidden assumptions about the primary role of sovereign power, status and money that universal suffrage appears to leave unchanged are upheld by acclamations that constitute the rituals that surround the institutions of state, education, religion, sport, entertainment and so on. These liturgies have far greater influence than any party manifestos and elections.

To recognise the power of contemporary socio-political ritual is to discover a key to accessing the deep structure of the western world.  Agamben proceeds to draw on the work of Andreas Alföldi, Ernst Percy Schramm, Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus and particularly Ernst Kantorowicz to trace the clear imperial function of the genre. However, while affirming that acclamation has this imperial role, Agamben disagrees with what he calls “Petersen’s antimessianic strategy” that assumes that the people of God continue to carry this legitimating function of acclamation. Rather Agamben’s application of the word katargēo to show how the new humanity renders inoperative the ambiguity of the angelic function at the end of Chapter 6 continues to point the way forward into the final chapter. As he puts it “Paul’s Messianism must be seen from this perspective.” For there is an end to the politically legitimating function of acclamation too in the life and function of the the new humanity.  This has significant implications to the nature of spoken and sung worship, a lot of which still consists of imperial acclamations about God that continue to have the effect of subliminally maintaining the paralysing social order under which we live. The final chapter will hopefully disclose the messianic strategy for undoing the closed system of power and glory that holds our Western governments in thrall.

Posted by: rogermitchell | August 15, 2017

Back to Agamben

There are still three remaining chapters of Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory that I haven’t blogged on yet.  A variety of events and presentations intervened including: My paper for the Theology Society, https://www.academia.edu/32653186/Peace_postsecularity_and_political_activism_contemporary_resources_for_a_politics_of_lo                                                                             A blog on the lead up to the UK general election for Nomad, http://www.nomadpodcast.co.uk/church-empire-politics-love/, ongoing developments of the Richardson Institute Critical Thinking Group and its various initiatives towards a culture of positive peace for Morecambe Bay, exciting happenings at Ashburnham Place, engagement with the Business Connect Jersey Host event, the general election and holidays!

Despite the passage of three months I will attempt to complete my commentary on the three remaining chapters over the next week or so, beginning today. (Realistically this should now read “over the next few weeks,” given that preparing my new book outline for the publisher has already intervened since I first wrote this!).

Chapter Five brought us to an interim assessment of the paradigm of government through which the Western powers currently operate.  It is a political world in which the multitude are only apparently free and within which deep structural change is impossible. This is because the bipolar structure of sovereignty and executive which legitimates our contemporary Western states is disconnected from the immanent realm of praxis. Or to put it another way, our paradigm of government is the opposite of incarnational. The rich and the powerful establishment have a separate and permanent existence over against the multitude and its seemingly “democratic” freedoms. In the real world, individuals,  parties and corporations that progress into the existing established order simply enter the arena of a barren transcendence of government and are rendered inoperative. Nothing changes deeply or permanently. It follows that the only way to ontological, deep structural change is via an alternative, grounded, incarnational transcendence outside the established order and ultimately disregarding it. It is what the Johannine writer advocated and is often paraphrased as “being in the world but not of the world” (cf. John 17:14-15).

Chapter Six boasts the intriguing title “Angelology and Bureaucracy.” To understand what Agamben is doing at this point it is necessary to get hold of, or recollect, his application of katargēsis in Paul. You may remember from his commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans The Time That Remains, or from my own writing on the subject, that Agamben uncovers Paul’s original use of this term not as a destruction but as a progression that pulls through or fulfills the thing subject to it. In this chapter it becomes clear that Agamben doesn’t only see this as applying to the Law, but the whole hierarchy of authority. So while law and authority have been permitted, even ordained by God, in a progressive way alongside the genealogy of human activity and our journey through history, the coming of the Messiah brings it to an end or fullness.  Agamben also describes this action of katargēsis as “rendering inoperative.” So the angelic authorities, “principalities and powers” who are at times indistinguishable in the gospels and Paul’s epistles from the human authorities and sometimes even the demons, are also brought to an end or katargēsis in Jesus. This being the case, Paul’s theology points the way to render the government of the West effectively inoperative and of living the radical life of the incarnate Messianic new humanity instead. So in the same way that Jesus and therefore the Messianic ecclesia bring through what is good in law into a whole new expression in the new commandment to love, so they also draw through what is good in the authorities and powers into an egalitarian oikonomia of love.

The chapter begins with what is, for me, a highly surprising exegesis of Erik Petersen’s short treatise on angels Das Buch von den Engeln. Stellen und Bedeutung der heiligen Engel im Kultus, 1935. This seems to be at odds with M J Hollerich’s helpful explanation (see post 6 in this series) that the reason Petersen is so ill at ease with the phrase “political theology” is because he aligns the idea entirely with Roman imperialism. But here Agamben’s exegesis of what seems to be Petersen’s original work and intent suggests that the reason Petersen is uneasy with the term “political theology” is because he regards the Church’s task wholly as a spiritual engagement with the heavenly order of things which the angels represent. Whether or not this is Petersen’s position or whether he set it up in order to reject it, is not clear to me yet, although if Hollerich is correct as I suggest in the earlier post, then it will be the latter. But in either case, for Agamben, it is enough to affirm that angelology generally has two functions: to assist in the divine worship and to administer the divine government of the world and these two aspects correlate with the contemporary bipolar operations of the governmental machine.

Agamben refers to, among others, Dante’s The Banquet (Book II, Chapter 4, p. 49) for evidence of this dual role for the angels. In this light they and the principalities and powers through or by which they are expressed are not eternal determinate forms of the heavenly sphere, but rather concepts and perceptions akin to the Hebrew prophetic configuration of the apocalyptic, where the transcendent vision of the future relates to the critique of the immanent political world. This latter is the world that Messiah is bringing to an end in the new humanity of the kingdom of God. This is borne out, as Agamben emphasises, by Paul’s famous statement  “then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when he has abolished all rule and all authority and power” (1Co 15:24). As with Walter Wink’s exposition of Paul’s understanding of the powers, I am minded from experience to grant them more substantial existence than Wink’s or Agamben’s perspective requires. Nevertheless, the encouragement to draw on the transcendent unity of being and doing that they represent as a resource to a new humanity that disregards the contemporary and increasingly inoperative Western machine of government is exciting.

Posted by: rogermitchell | June 21, 2017

What a shift in the social imaginary!

The unexpected result of the General Election is, in my view, evidence of an exciting change in the spiritual climate of the UK. 

Despite and perhaps, redemptively, even because of the terrible terrorist atrocities including the murder of Jo Cox MP and the poverty and austerity related horrendous Grenfell Tower fire, something is shifting in the social imaginary.  After attending the Manchester vigil for the victims of the arena bomb, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party,  observed that what we need is love and solidarity. As a proponent of the politics of love I could not agree with him more and am super encouraged by the emphasis on love in the current political vocabulary.

This evening, once again, I have been facilitating the Richardson Institute Critical Thinking Group with its commitment to cultivating a culture of positive peace for Morecambe Bay. We heard reports of the start-up group of the local Poverty Truth Commission that it helped initiate, the developments around Infrastructures for Positive Peace that we have been focusing on since a successful conference last November and interacted with Dr Andy Knox’s recent blog post on his strategy for health as a social movement http://reimagininghealth.com/social-movements-and-the-future-of-healthcare/. All of this gave substance to the conclusion that not only is there a shift in the social imagination, these are signs of real traction on the ground.

Clearly we need all the resources we can find to articulate and practice the politics of love.

For which reason I’m glad to say that among these the Political Theology for Peace certificate of postgraduate achievement that I teach is available again in the coming academic year. This exciting postgraduate resource for those grappling with the challenges to peace and justice in and through their occupational spheres and localities is provided through the Richardson Institute for Peace Studies and located in the PPR Department here at Lancaster. The course runs from January to April 2018 and is taught via an intensive residential teaching weekend and five online webinars. Assessment is based on a 5,000 word mini-dissertation on a subject central to the main obstacles to peace within the personal work-life situation of the student concerned. The course is ideal for those seeking to discover and apply love-based contemporary theological resources to their field and in some exceptional circumstances evidence of parallel life experience may be accepted in place of a relevant first degree.

This is likely to be the last year I will be delivering this course, as my seven year research fellowship is coming to a conclusion, so this is a final opportunity to take on board a unique resource which past students have been very positive, even euphoric about! The course carries a postgraduate certificate of academic achievement and costs £805 (unfortunately £1720 for non-EU students). The initial residential weekend is scheduled for January 19th-21st 2018. The syllabus is attached as a separate blog page (see above) and the link to for enrollment is here: http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/postgraduate-courses/political-theology-for-peace-distance-pgcert-of-achievement/ Online registration is now open, and applicants are recommended to begin the process as soon as possible. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions about the course. If you commence the online process, please let me know too.

Posted by: rogermitchell | May 29, 2017

So what for the coming UK general election?

I was invited to be a guest blogger for @nomadpodcast in the run up to the general election. Here’s my take as a disciple of Jesus on where things are at: http://www.nomadpodcast.co.uk/church-empire-politics-love/

Posted by: rogermitchell | April 21, 2017

economic theology or political theology (7)

In Chapter Five of his book The Kingdom and the Glory “The Providential Machine,” Agamben adopts the word archaeology to describe the deep-structural task of exposing the genealogy of political concepts and institutions. As he puts it: “archaeology is a science of signatures (segnatur), and we need to be able to follow the signatures that displace the concepts and orient their interpretation towards different fields” (p. 112). This encapsulates what it is about Agamben’s methodology that I find so helpful. We inhabit a western world  system in which a seemingly opaque constructed imaginary presents itself as unchangeable reality. Unless we can expose the concepts and interpretations of past thought and practice that have brought us to this point there is little hope of finding faith to configure a more loving, kenarchic alternative.

Agamben begins this chapter by explaining why he thinks Foucault failed to follow the signatures properly and as a result inadequately exposed the providential machine of contemporary government. Quoting Foucault’s Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the College de France 1977-1978 (pp. 234-5), Agamben shows that according to Foucault, the continuum from sovereignty to government was translated from God to men in a ‘political order’ rooted in the ecclesiastical pastorate that was broken for the first time in the sixteenth century. At this point a series of new paradigms, from Copernicus’s and Kepler’s astronomy to Galileo’s physics, from John Ray’s natural history to the Grammar of Port-Royal, demonstrated that God “only rules the world through general, immutable, universal, simple and intelligible laws” and so “does not govern it in the pastoral sense [but] reigns over the world in a sovereign manner through principles.” Agamben however has shown “that the first seed of the division between the Kingdom and the Government is to be found in the Trinitarian oikonomia, which introduces a fracture between being and praxis in the deity himself” back in the first centuries of church history (p. 111).

The current technique of government that Foucault terms biopower is summarised by Agamben on the first page of The Kingdom and the Glory (see Post 1 below) as “the current triumph of economy and government over every other aspect of social life.” This is the commodification of life itself that is the current fulness of capitalism and variously described by Agamben elsewhere as “bare life,” by Walter Benjamin as “mere life” and by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri as “naked life.” In my view this biopower is legitimated par excellence by all the offices, ceremonies, architectures, social symbols, monarchs, aristocrats, celebrities and massively differentiated wage structures that affirm the established western status quo where wealth and status reigns while all manner of so-called democratic government whether relatively good or bad continues. (Which is why, unfortunately, general elections don’t really change things). Agamben, as I read him, is arguing that this legitimation is rooted in the mystified notion of divine providence, itself rooted in the inversion of Paul’s mystery of the oikonomia. This is the bipolar providential machine that drives the western world, not the supposed separation of powers between religious and secular but rather the legitimated separation between the rich establishment and the multitude.

Agamben states: “If the Kingdom and the Government are separated in God by a clear opposition, then no government of the world is actually possible: we would have on the one hand an impotent sovereignty and, on the other, the infinite and chaotic series of particular (and violent) acts of providence” (p. 114). It is the notion of divine providence that attempts to hold together God’s rule as separate but not absolutely divided from his government. Agamben tracks this development of the theology of divine providence, with its differentiation of rule to legitimate the practice of government, via the 3rd century BCE Stoic philosopher Chrysippus’s Peri pronias (On Providence), the late 2nd century Alexander of Aphrodisias’s La Providenza, Plutarch’s treatise On Fate, the 5th century Questions on Providence attributed to Proclus, Boethius’s 6th century De consolatione philosophiae, back to the 5th century bishop Salvian of Marseille’s De gubernatione Dei and finally on to Thomas Aquinas’s De gubernatione mundi. He concludes that “the economic-governmental vocation of contemporary democracies is not something that has happened accidentally, but is a constitutive part of the theological legacy of which they are the depositaries” (p. (143).

In conclusion he sets out seven characteristics of “a kind of ontology of the acts of government.” Briefly put, these can be summarised as i) Government as we experience it in the west has developed from the attempt to reconcile a separation between divine being and behaviour (in my terms caused by assuming God had to be separate from or above incarnation as a result of the subsumption of transcendence by sovereignty); ii) This resulted in a paradoxical ‘Christian’ understanding of government which assumes “an imminent government of the world that is and needs to remain extraneous.” For Agamben this is exemplified in the “great western powers” and particularly the USA “where a country – and even the entire world – is being governed by remaining completely extraneous to it.” In this context the tourist “is the planetary figure of this irreducible extraneousness;” iii) The two separate elements of being and practice, rule and government legitimate each other; iv) In our western system this is all that acts of government are: collateral effect, mutual legitimation that doesn’t really change anything; v) The division of powers is necessary to this mutual legitimation; vi) The ontology of the acts of government is vicarious, each deputises for the other. So there is no substance to power, only an economy or an operation of it; vii) There is some freedom in this in as much as the separation of the first and second causes presupposes the freedom of the governed to act “through the works of the second causes” (pp. 140-141). However this is not a freedom to change the prevailing ontology.

In this way the contemporary western bipolar providential machine of government legitimates the status quo and precludes the good news of a trinitarian incarnational oikonomia and thereby the politics of love. We need an unsubsumed economic and political theology to dismantle this machine.

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