Posted by: rogermitchell | November 14, 2010

representation and then what?

The Aston University Centre for Europe Does God Matter? conference that I have just returned from [http://www1.aston.ac.uk/lss/research/centres-institutes/aston-centre-europe/projects-grants/religion-eu/conference/] focussed particularly on whether there is genuine representation for faith communities in the EU. It raised for me the question of whether representation is an end in itself, or whether it provides a real pathway for the content of the represented voice. As I have already blogged, this is an issue with representative democracy overall. For if the opportunity for representation fails to provide access to the deep structures undergirding the status quo then the accompanying sense of participation is unreal. Worse, it easily becomes a form of legitimation because those “represented” support the status quo that apparently, but not really, empowers them.

This is highly problematic for the Christian faith communites because we are the ones who, in the course of Christendom, produced this system that allows us representation without any real voice. This is exacerbated by the way that our own ecclesial communities continue to embody the system at the deep structural level. This is most publicly obvious in the existence of the Vatican Holy See as a State and the British Queen’s role as head of State and the Anglican Church. But it is no less real in the hierarchical operation of denominations, networks and local churches with their bishops, pastors, elders, PCCs and so on. So there is a huge and largely unconscious contradiction in which the form of power that gave rise to the present system is still needed to legitimate it at the deep structural level, but kept out at the immanent, contemporary surface level. To put it another way, the separation of the so called secular powers of the state from the faith communities so that they have the right of existence but no counterpolitical voice, is really the affirmation of the past choices of Christendom without any chance of effective change in the present.

It follows that those of us who have embraced kenotic power in its fullest sense as the consummate expression of the incarnation and the loving authority behind all things [or put more simply ‘those of us who are committed to living by the same outpoured life of love that Jesus demonstrated and God is all about’], cannot avoid identifying and emptying out the power hidden in the deep structures if we are to speak and activate change in the present. If we fail in this deep structural demolition, the attempts to change the system will be left to those who realise that their surface, immanent power is unreal and think that the only way to change things is by direct action. And while I am for direct action accompanied by this deep structural work, I know that without the deeper action, the surface work will give way to frustration and violence way beyond hurling the odd fire extinguisher off the roof of the UK Conservative Party’s central office. And however tempting violent outbursts may be, history shows that for all their explosive impact on the present, the deep structures prove impervious to them.

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Responses

  1. Hi Roger excuse my ignorance but could you explain this statement to me “It follows that those of us who have embraced kenotic power in its fullest sense as the consummate expression of the incarnation and the loving authority behind all things” as I feel it is central to my ability to understand where you are going with this line of thought

  2. Here goes! “kenotic power” refers to the principle of pouring out whatever gifts we have in love for the blessing of others and especially to meet the needs of the poor in body or spirit. It is the opposite of sovereign power which operates to retain power over others.
    I qualified the term “kenotic power” with the clause “in its fullest sense as the consummate expression of the incarnation,” because some of the thinkers who use the idea of kenosis see it as something that God did just for a while in the incarnation [life of Jesus], rather than seeing that this loving way of behaving really is the nature of God’s loving authority behind everything.
    So to rephrase the whole statement “those of us who are committed to living by the same outpoured life of love that Jesus demonstrated and God is all about..”

  3. Cheers Roger ,

    I agree that the structure itself is the problem not the faces running it.As The Who song says(meet the new boss same as the old boss) but what examples do we have from history of the structure being changed by this kenotic power?

  4. There are precious few examples at a national level, which is one of the main reasons why I started out on the research I am doing. Believing as I did that unity among the people of God could change a city, I started to ask the question of what kind of transformation it would be bring. This was made more pressing by the personal experience that even among the people of God a dynamic exists that makes the existing structures of power more important than friendship, the release of individual potential or care for the poor. Believing as I do that the kingdom of God is for the here and now where it begins, as well as for the future, the need to discover the reason why there are such few examples of kenotic love breaking through becomes very pressing. For me it really is THE question. For the Lord’s prayer to be answered and the purpose of God to be fulfilled we have to understand and live the solution.

  5. Perhaps I’m feeling down tonight but I wonder how many of us, who claim to be Christians, really want to live in the Kingdom. If we are not convinced that it is great place to live then it isn’t going to happen at any level. Seems to me many of us prefer the world’s way of doing things. . . as long as we win at it.

    The other issue is that many expressions of the Kingdom, or at least Kingdom intent, are often small, and at the local level. So they are often overlooked.

    And finally, as you have so often pointed out there is the issue of structures and institutions. We seem to have a need to institutionalize all relationships. We talk of marriage as an institution and move up and out from there.

    So after all of this research Roger, which I really respect, and after all of this thinking, how do we do it? How do we actually live differently and have an impact? How can we see the Kingdom manifested, because God’s knows, it is really needed right now.

    Is there something we haven’t understood yet?

    c.


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