Posted by: rogermitchell | July 11, 2019

Love and Democracy (2): case studies

Posted by: rogermitchell | July 2, 2019

Love and Democracy

This is the first of several posts inspired by my interaction with Luke Bretherton’s outstanding new book Christ and the Common Life: Political Theology and the Case for Democracy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2019).

Two crucial reframes to recognise

1. Reframing democracy

Democracy, as popularly understood, is a system of government authorised by a majority vote of the general population, often referred to as ‘the people.’ In our Western representative democracies the people vote for individuals who stand for parliament or local councils, and in the case of the UK, as we are all currently very much aware, votes, known as referendums, can also be held on special issues of national importance. This kind of democracy can be highly problematic, as is by now obvious, as it is overlaid on established or reactionary assumptions upheld or promoted by the media and simply assumes the majority outcome is the best one for all concerned. The important contribution of Luke’s book is that it reframes democracy to include the negotiation of a common life as well as a way of structuring government.

On this definition, the Western representative electoral system is a form of statecraft authenticating the vertical exercise of sovereign power, whereas negotiating life in common requires deep listening and relationship between individuals and associations working towards the common good in a particular place. These associations for the common good can consist of a whole variety of institutions, charities, families, businesses, unions, faith communities and individuals. The latter approach to democracy is crucial for today because it has the capacity to bring about the kind of social and cultural changes which are necessary to a just and loving society.  These changes also have the long term potential to transform the deeply held assumptions of everyday life that undergird the current top-down political system.

2. Reframing sovereignty

Sovereignty, similarly to democracy, is generally understood in terms of the authority exercised by government. In terms of our Western nation states this is a hierarchical, vertical exercise of parliamentary power authenticated by regular general elections and the ceremonies of state which in a constitutional monarchy such as the UK is particularly vested in the reigning ‘sovereign’. As those familiar with my research into the genealogy of Western sovereignty will be aware, I see this as rooted in the partnership of the church and the Roman Empire back in the 4th century, and see the democratic development of universal suffrage in Western statecraft as a gradual result of the need of the rich and powerful stakeholders to eke out or multiply sovereignty to the general populace in order to retain as much of it a possible for themselves. (See my book Church, Gospel and Empire: How the Politics of Sovereignty Impregnated the West. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2011. https://wordery.com/search?term=Roger+Haydon+Mitchell%3A+Church%2C+Gospel+and+Empire).

On this analysis it is easy to see that our contemporary system of representative democracy is only apparently so, because it is overlaid on an established order that inevitably benefits the rich and powerful. Once again, the important contribution of Luke’s book is that it frames a second kind of sovereignty, which he refers to as consociational sovereignty. This is the kind of rule exercised through the conversations, relationships and organised activism of the kind of associations and individuals described above. While I would prefer not to use the word sovereignty to describe this because the baggage it carries can too easily conceal some of the same top-down assumptions as the vertical system, the attempt to extend our understanding of legitimate political authority to include the consociational is a crucial move. I’d rather call it consociational democracy, or better still relational democracy and configure it around the key contemporary concepts of “authority with” contained in the slogan “nothing about us without us is for us”.

So how is this about love?

Democracy defined simply in terms of the statecraft authorised by our current electoral system is highly resistant to love. The kind of sovereignty that has undergirded the history of the West has displaced the politics of neighbour love and well-being for the poor embodied in Jesus and replaced it with the selfish idea of peace through the sovereignty of the rich and powerful. As a result, our Western system has ultimately resisted all attempts from good and true people to change it from within, whatever their party allegiances or otherwise. While I don’t believe we should give up trying, as I have made clear in my recent contribution to AltVisions (http://altvisions.org/inseminating-love-recovering-christian-myths-for-deep-structural-political-interventions), consociational, relational democracy for the common good provides the space for genuinely loving politics. As Luke puts it in the final sentences of his book “Democratic politics thus conceived is a work of love. Absent love and it does not work.”

Comments please!

Posted by: rogermitchell | May 28, 2019

Brexit and Loving the Enemy Other

As I see it, love to be love requires an other. As I have often pointed out, this is what makes it necessary for God to be trinity if God exists and is by nature love. If God is not a plurality of persons then God has spent eternity loving him, her or its self. And if you have ever spent any time with someone who only loves themself, then it feels like an eternity! So we need to love the other, and the politics of love is an inclusive politics configured around love for the others, not love for myself. As the Jesus story makes clear, to love one’s neighbour as one’s self is not the multiplication of selfishness but the inclusion of myself in an exercise of loving the other. Trinity and incarnation put the corporate, the plural, first, not the self first. There is only one commandment “love one another as I have loved you.” This is why I have suggested elsewhere, that the myths of trinity and incarnation are so suitable for remythologising the contemporary political discourse in our post-secular West. [See my recent article “What Are the Politics of Love?” in the latest edition of Global Discourse Journal https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/23269995.2018.1512034, free pre-print version on my Academia site https://wtctheology.academia.edu/RogerHaydonMitchell, and my contribution to the AltVisions blog http://altvisions.org/inseminating-love-recovering-christian-myths-for-deep-structural-political-interventions

Configuring love politically is no easy task. As some of you may be aware, we are currently in the middle of a series of conversations about how to promote a culture of love and kindness here in Morecambe Bay https://reimagininghealth.com/love-people-part-1/. One of our speakers last week gave a great overview of British social history to the present and in the process of this she gave the BBC and the current political establishment a bit of a roasting. I agreed completely with her point and it was highly relevant to our experience of pursuing social justice here in the Bay. But it also highlighted for me the challenge of loving the other, particular the other whose politics is emphatically not about love and kindness or its promotion. As a result I volunteered to take an open space slot on the topic of loving the opposing other in the conversation that followed later in the day in which there was a brief but helpful interchange of applied thinking which has continued with me ever since.

Putting it bluntly, what about the enemy other? And in case ‘enemy’ seems rather harsh as a description of one’s political opponents, it’s worth remembering that the context of the incarnation story positions the enemy as precisely these. So it is not the case of easy love, calling one’s enemy one’s friend or configuring a society with which we all agree, enemies included, but rather treating the enemy in a loving way and configuring a society where love is the political culture in which one’s enemy is valued as a human being. There are some issues in which one must take sides, not least when one’s opponents are advocating a society in which the vulnerable suffer.  Such issues include the austerity cuts and the benefits changes of the last two or three governments. This makes them the enemy of the poor, consciously or not.  Brexit is likewise the enemy of the people despite the fact that many who vote for it don’t see it that way.  Point 94 of the UN Special Rapporteur’s UK Report on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights (23rd April 2019) states: “If Brexit proceeds, it is likely to have a major adverse impact on the most vulnerable”. I agree. https://undocs.org/A/HRC/41/39/Add.1

To redeem Brexit, a change of direction is now needed. Last time I blogged on Brexit I was discussing how it might be redeemed. All along I have recognised that there are good, if from my perspective misguided, people who voted to leave the EU. I also recognised that the referendum, however mistaken and ill-suited to a binary first- past-the-post process, was a democratic exercise won by the Leave campaigns. Given that the incarnation narrative that I apply as a hermeneutic is one about entering into and bearing with others’ wrong decisions and not giving up on them in the process, my conclusion was to go with Brexit despite the presence of xenophobes and enemies of justice at a leadership level among the Leavers. Of course the Remainers have some selfish players but the overall positioning is not the politics of selfish sovereignty in the way that is front and centre for many Brexiteers.  But since my earlier post important things have changed. The European Election results have revealed new space opening up three years on from the referendum. It is clear from these results, that despite the success of the Brexit Party, the remain vote is now significantly ahead. So redeeming Brexit as I see it now involves taking sides and facing up to the injustice both behind and in front of it and working for loving ways out of it that remedy the reasons for it.

Insisting on our own way is not the way of love.  But now that the parliamentary log jam is so huge and no constructive way forward without real damage can be found, then advocating a public vote on whatever outcome is put forward by the government, be it leaving with another deal, no deal or not leaving at all seems the only just and loving way ahead. But it must then be accompanied by a national healing conversation towards a fairer society for all the inhabitants of these islands. It will certainly require serious leadership and some of the best skills available. However it is doable with the will to achieve it.  This is the path that I now favour and any agency able to cultivate such a conversation has my backing, whether it be a citizens assembly, https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/local-citizens-assemblies-could-break-our-political-deadlock-but-the-government-have-vetoed-them/ an initiative of the art of hosting and harvesting meaningful conversations https://www.artofhosting.org/home/, a wider version of the conversation Hope not Hate held on immigration https://www.hopenothate.org.uk/national-conversation-immigration/ or something new. For this I pray!

 

Posted by: rogermitchell | April 22, 2019

Remythologising politics

I was recently invited to blog for the exciting Alt Visions Blog that Tim Stacey and Fernande Pool have set up  in order to highlight alternative visions in the public sphere – visions that break with convention to bring new hope for living well together in a divided world. You can find my post on Inseminating Love: Recovering Christian Myths for Deep Structural Political Interventions here http://altvisions.org/

 

Let me know what you think!

Posted by: rogermitchell | February 10, 2019

Redeeming Brexit

Anyone familiar with my past blog posts and more recent posts on Facebook and Twitter will know that I continue to regard Brexit as a mistake. However, it is pretty certainly a mistake that is now going to be made. So how to redeem it?

1. Two things to recognise. The first is that Brexit is the product of our deeply flawed parliamentary democracy. As my published research and writing make clear, this is the progeny of the old partnership of church and empire where the rich and powerful always dominate. The second thing to note is that the debt based capitalist economy that this partnership gave rise to, and our established system is dependent on for its survival, is in terminal crisis. These two factors, an inadequate democracy and an unsustainable economy, have opened up the new political space that the mistaken 2016 referendum was in part a response to.

2. The new political space. I have been writing about this for several years now, and some of the best work on it can be found in the recent special edition of Global Discourse Journal 8.4 on “Cultivating New Post-secular Political Space” of which I was the guest editor [ https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rgld20/current ]. All six articles and responses are well worth a read. For those who are unable to access the Journal for free via a university or college library, my contributions to the journal are also available for free via my Academia site [ https://wtctheology.academia.edu/RogerHaydonMitchell ]. The  challenge is to seed the new space with positive possibilities, and it is with that in view that I am looking for ways to redeem Brexit, which will otherwise be an ongoing cause of poisonous growth corrupting this new political space.

3. Produced space and open space. In the course of conversation last weekend, my friend Mike Love emphasised the important difference between produced space and open space. The newly opening political space is bordered by the established political system.  It is this produced political context that is poisoned by the sovereignty deception of the partnership of church and empire and the debt based nation state construct that followed. So crucially, if we are to redeem Brexit by cultivating the new space opened up by it, then great care must be taken not to pollute that space with the toxins that it was at least in part a response to. Party spirit, domination, xenophobia, scapegoating and blame now need to be displaced by a politics of love.

4. Choosing the right words. Even the word redeem, that I have chosen carefully, needs accurate filleting to cut away the toxic baggage of exchange that it has been invested with via transactional theories of atonement consequent on the subsumed theology of empire. The God of the Jesus testimony is not a God demanding payment for sins committed but rather a Trinity who pour themselves out in love into the space produced by inhumanity and injustice in order to forgive and restore. To redeem, in the way I am using it here, means to make the inevitably chaotic consequences of Brexit the opportunity for love to flow. The only way this is possible is for those with a heart for suffering Others to use every means at their disposal to work collaboratively with them for social justice, in particular for women, the poor, children, immigrants, the natural environment, the sick and those in prison.

5. A new way of relating. What we must avoid at all costs is responding to Brexit with the same self-orientated attitude that has led to it, whether from the left or right. This is why I am overjoyed that initiatives like the Poverty Truth Commission are growing organically in many parts of the country at this time [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6Itr0NlNyY ]. Being with the Community and Civic Commissioners of the Morecambe Bay Commission earlier this last week as they wrestled with practical issues of social justice, and then later in the week listening to Community Commissioners testify to cross-party MPs up from Westminster to investigate the evidence of an exponential increase in poverty, filled me with hope.  Commitment to the loving, relational, co-production of mutual human flourishing has to be inseminated at the heart of the space now emerging from the crisis of our unraveling democracy and economy. In this way we may yet see the redeeming of Brexit.

Posted by: rogermitchell | January 8, 2019

God

I’m looking forward to being involved in the forthcoming Sparks event at Ashburnham Place. This year the theme is Other Land God Self and among other things I will be leading a session on God. As part of my preparation and in response to encouragement to blog more this year, here are the substantial points that I will be making. They focus around faith, hermeneutics, and politics.

Faith

I am a person of faith in Jesus. That is to say that I take the view that the Jesus of the gospel testimony is both the Jesus of history and the God of eternity, come to show us what God is like, what human beings are intended to be like and how we can be like it. The substance of this faith is both existential and rational. It is based on a choice I made as the result of experience and relationship, and the apparently historical testimony of Jesus confirmed it. I can’t prove any of it, I can only add my testimony to the existing testimony of the gospel narratives and the testimony of countless others down the centuries since.

Hermeneutics

I follow a Jesus hermeneutic. This means that I use the gospel testimony as the lens through which I understand and interpret God and everything else. This is quite simplistic, even childlike. I make no apology. I don’t insist on being right. I only offer myself and the practical theology that I derive from it as a catalyst to my fellow human beings. We are all hermeneutes of one kind or another, whether we recognise it or not. What I find interesting is what a different view of God Jesus gives us to that which has been central to religion generally and to the Christian religion in particular. The biggest difference is that this is not a sovereign God who must be obeyed but a kenotic tri-personal God who gives themself in love to all.

Politics

The politics of the West has largely displaced a Jesus hermeneutic and replaced it with an imperial one. Instead of the way for human society being peace through love it has given way to peace through the dominance of the rich and powerful. This was precisely the way of empire that the testimony of Jesus opposed, but which has been the genealogy of the Western world since church and empire embraced in the days of the Roman emperor Constantine in the fourth century. This has been so deeply embedded in the common mindset of the so-called Christian world that it continues to determine our interpretation of God and the political system that a sovereignty view of God has legitimated, even in its secular expressions. This system is breaking down and unless something worse is to ensue we need to configure, live out and commend the trinitarian God of love.

Posted by: rogermitchell | December 10, 2018

Love Uprising

As Christmas approaches amid one of the most chaotic political moments in recent British history it is good to remember that the incarnation of Jesus is a love uprising that cannot be thwarted. I like the way that the writer of the Old Testament book of Lamentations deplores what is happening in his time yet cannot stave off hope. As he puts it: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam 3:21-23). It is not that it doesn’t matter whether we leave the EU or on what terms.  Love and hope don’t come without agency and action. I shall be spending much of the next week with a core group of activists and Europe lovers from across Europe (which includes the islands of Britain and Ireland of course) praying for the peace and prosperity of all its inhabitants, and especially the poor and the immigrant.

I do understand and sympathise with those who are sick of the established powers – those who rose up during the Arab Spring, those who voted for Trump in the USA, for Brexit in the UK and those now embodied in the Yellow Vests who became so quickly disenchanted with Macron in France. As my research sets out clearly for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, we still live with an establishment whose genealogy runs from the age old deceit that peace and prosperity come through the leadership of those with sovereign power vouchsafed by military might and money.  A lie forged in the partnership of church and empire in Roman times that persisted throughout Christendom, Enlightenment, Modernity, Secularisation, the World Wars, the Cold War and its aftermath right up until today’s political gridlock. If you are still unfamiliar with my work on this, my book Church, Gospel and Empire: How the Politics of Sovereignty Impregnated the West, together with the shorter and more accessible The Fall of the Church are both readily available electronically or in print from https://www.amazon.co.uk/Church-Gospel-Empire-Sovereignty-Impregnated/dp/1610977440

While scapegoating, blame, frustration, impatience and even violence may be the order of the day, they are not what we need, nor what is true to the underlying deep structural substance of the world.  The message of peace on earth, goodwill to humanity that the Bethlehem shepherds brought in their occupied lands of Roman times is still the hope for the occupied territories of Bethlehem and the conflicts of the Middle East today. It is still the hope for the record number of working families in poverty as a result of economic austerity and the vagaries of Universal Credit throughout the UK right now.  Of course some seasonal message of hope is not enough.  Substantial peace on earth can only come through a genuine uprising of love.  We need a practical politics of love for neighbours, yes, and enemies, lived out day by day by all who have the desire, opportunity and calling to be a subversive gift at both the personal and systemic level.  Anyone who wants to can embrace this. This is incarnation, this is the kind of hope that doesn’t disappoint, this is still available here and now.

Posted by: rogermitchell | September 11, 2018

Activating love for the rising generation

It’s been a long time – 6 months – since I last posted. So a big thank you to all that have continued to visit and make use of the mass of material that can be found here! The reason for the long break has been my engagement as guest editor of the Taylor and Francis (Routledge) published academic Global Discourse Journal. The special edition that I have edited is on “Cultivating New Post-secular Political Space” and should be available online over the next month or so. It consists of 6 great articles and responses and I will include a link on the blog as soon as it’s available.

In the meantime I’m back blogging, with this post for the forthcoming conference on Parenting for a Sustainable Future that my friends at Liberty Church, Tottenham are hosting from September 21st -23rd. I can’t be there myself due to prior engagements, but they have asked me to prepare the following brief paper.

 

Activating love for the rising generation

People filled with love don’t hate or hurt themselves or other people, so the challenge is to get our youth filled with love. The testimony of Jesus is full of wisdom about this. In this brief paper I look at and apply four particular parts of the story.

Firstly, I believe it is very significant that the background narrative to the whole story of Jesus begins with two women, Mary and Elizabeth. We often bemoan the lack of good fathers.  Of course they are important, but the problem with a lot of fathering today, right across the classes, races and cultures, is that it is too often a combination of heavy handed discipline and absence. So rather than beginning there, I suggest we begin with learning from and supporting the women, mothers and aunts who actively love their own offspring and fellows and girls generally. This is where the Jesus story begins. We don’t hear a lot about Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, or Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband. Despite his prayers, the latter was so slow off the mark he couldn’t believe that they were being answered so Elizabeth had to take over anyway! The two main things about this pair of women were that despite her own youthfulness, Mary overcame her fears and believed she could help bring about a new kind of humanity in her generation with God’s help and Elizabeth was quick to believe in God and her niece and be alongside her as much as possible. Let’s look out for and encourage women like this pair as much as possible. You can read more about the impact of women in bringing about healthy social change through love in the chapters written by my wife Sue and colleague Julie Tomlin Arram in the book Discovering Kenarchy (Wipf & Stock, 2014).

Secondly, we need the kind of political values that Elizabeth’s son, Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist, called for. When the crowds asked him what real change for the good looked like, he came back to the them in no uncertain terms. It meant wealth redistribution (Luke 3:11), fair taxation (Luke 3:13), and military justice (Luke 3:14). Jesus fulfilled this. He advocated radical giving; “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either” (Luke 6:29-30). He encouraged preferencing the poor; “Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much'”(Luke 19:8). He called for enemy love; “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). Our youth need their significant others in school, sport, music, media, politics, church and so on to live by and promote these kinds of politics instead of the individualist, selfish and exclusive behaviour of the economic and political establishment under whose norms they are currently growing up.

Thirdly, we need a move to relational, servant-hearted leadership among the people that was so typical of Jesus. One that gives clear direction without domination and above all that is marked by a real love for people and the desire to spend time with them. When Jesus appointed the apostles, Luke tells us they were those who he desired. He called them up onto a mountain to spend time with them and then came down with them onto a level place among the people. From the very beginning he had identified and welcomed a core of relationships based on recognising the unique contribution of each individual to the whole. When his disciples first saw this they wanted to know him and he invited them to “come and see” what he was like (John 1:39). The tragedy of a society like ours, where dysfunction and self interest has been the norm for generations, is a context of suspicion and fear of abuse in which close relationships between pupils and teachers, youth and adults are frowned upon and discouraged. We must find a way where the necessary safeguarding measures are in place but the opportunity for strong relationships can be built across the generations where love for others that promotes all round wellbeing can be experienced on an ongoing day-to-day basis.

Finally, we must rediscover and pass on to the rising generation the power of love that ultimately brings about real change. The story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man illustrates this well (Mark 10: 17-27). The youngster embodies all that is mistakenly honoured by the authorities of the day that Jesus came to challenge. The young man fitted their economic, educational and religious norms. He was clearly healthy, wealthy, well-educated and law-abiding. But he lacked certainty and confidence about the future. Hence his famous question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). Jesus knew that the whole contemporary system was built on sand. This pretentious fellow was missing the foundational authority of love, the only present way of life that can provide hope for the future for everyone. Jesus knew that authority. So “Jesus, looking upon him, loved him” (Mark 10:21) and that look changed everything. It cut through to the false foundation that left him, as so many of our youth today, filled with fear and uncertainty and hurting themselves and others around them. In his case it changed his whole demeanour. Nevertheless he went away sorrowful, because love can’t be forced, and he wasn’t yet ready to change. But this moved Jesus to expose the destructiveness of a society which like our own was based on the primary values of wealth and possessions. Without the authority of love, the society of Jesus’ day crucified Jesus out of the same pain, fear and anger that leads to the violence against themselves and others that typifies the lives of some of the rising generation on our streets today. Thankfully not all of them. The statistics give us cause for hope, for although a representative sample of UK adults most commonly selected ‘selfish’ (29 per cent), ‘lazy’ (27 per cent) and ‘anti-social’ (27 per cent) as terms to describe young people today, when young people themselves were asked to consider a series of statements that could be used to describe them, 84 per cent selected ‘I want to help other people’ and 68 per cent told YouGov that they had participated in volunteering or other forms of social action in the last year. http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/26562. With loving leadership our youth can be the very ones who transform our borough, our city and our contemporary society.

 

 

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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