We are in need of deep structural investigations which can shed light on why the BAME community are so harshly impacted by Covid 19. Back in September I posted the review I wrote for The William Temple Foundation on Black Theologian Anthony G. Reddie’s important book Theologising Brexit (Routledge, 2019). Now that the UK general election’s sweeping endorsement of Brexit, together with the Coronavirus, has clouded our memories somewhat I am strongly moved to repost my review here. Sadly the pandemic brought about the cancellation of the Society for the Study of Theology’s Annual Conference at which Reddie’s vital thesis would have had greater exposure. Reading my friend Professor Imogen Tyler’s wonderful and excoriating critique of Western governments in her recently published work Stigma: The Machinery of Inequality (London: Zed Books, 2020) I was reminded of just how important Reddie’s book is for political theology. (I look forward to reviewing Imogen’s book here in due course).

Whatever the epidemiology of the Coronvirus among Black and Asian peoples, the indemic racism of the Western system clearly plays a very significant part. While I acknowledge that many among Brexit’s supporters repudiate its racist aspects and have commented strongly against any such suggestion, I believe that we need to let Reddie’s critique reach more deeply into our hearts and mindsets. I also respect the the qualifications placed on his thesis by friends of mine within the Black community. Nevertheless as a white British theologian I strongly suggest that we should expose ourselves to the sharp end of Reddie’s scholarship. Putting it bluntly, Reddie describes Brexit as underpinned by a rising tide of White, English nationalism, and we need to beware it. When I posted this review before, I broke it up into two posts. This time I’m putting them both together. This makes for a longer post than usual, but I encourage readers to give time to it, nonetheless.

The aim of Reddie’s book is to provide a prophetic, postcolonial model of Black liberationist theology. With it he challenges the Church and wider society to live out the gospel of Jesus and reminds us that a so-called Christian nation has to be one in which there is justice and equity for all and not just a priveleged sense of entitlement for only some. Reddie’s ten chapters are wonderfully discomforting and for me fulfil Walter Brueggermann’s description of genuinely prophetic work, namely to provide a critique of the contemporary society and release the passion to act for the common good. Chapter One exposes the link between Christianity and empire, and the White English exceptionalism that remains an unresolved set of religious and theological ideas that have helped to shape the national identity, and continue to resource the White, English nationalism that underpins the Leave vote. Chapter Two outlines ways in which notions of British cultural superiority and the lament for a time when we were a great empire still persist. It exposes the way that the church has often conditioned Black people into internalising the tropes of empire within their psyche alongside their White counterparts so they end up defending these ideas and behaviours, and some of them end up supporting the Leave campaign.

Chapter Three explores the role of what he describes as imperial mission Christianity in the propagation of empire and colonial thinking via Christian education and discipleship that has generally although not always served to undergird White British exceptionalism. He suggests that this has had a corrosive effect both on those who would identify themselves as White and those who are constructed and identify as the other. Chapter Four asks what it means to be a ‘proper’ human being in Britain and explores the invisibility of Whiteness and how its hidden nature causes the sense of entitlement and normality that underpinned the Brexit vote. He offers this as a starting point and gift to us White British to help us deconstruct our destructive inherited notions of entitlement, whether middle or working class people. Chapter Five addresses the struggle that Black and other minority groups have experienced in the attempt to find genuine belonging in British society. It challenges the xenophobic backdrop of Brexit, and offers Black and minority identities as the means to challenge the suffocating boundaries of a reactive White British culture.

As you can see, this is a polemical and unapologetic critique of some of the underlying causes of the Brexit phenomenon. I am suggesting that the impact of the Coronavirus on the BAME community is at least in part evidence of the same endemic racism. As I have already emphasised in my various posts on Brexit over the last several years, I am not accusing my Leave voting friends of consciously holding these views. However, with Reddie, I do believe that these are the substantive motives behind the desire for Brexit in the corporate life of the nation and we all, however we voted, do well to reflect on the perspective of a brother Englishman with a life time’s oppressive experience of the powerful ongoing residue of White British imperialism and cultural supremacy.

In Chapter Six he tackles head on the hermeneutical problems associated with systemic frameworks that assert particular practices and ideas as normative. This involves a very interesting and clear overview of Black Christianity and the Bible in Britain. He notes the way that many Black majority churches remain wedded to a form of nineteenth century White evangelical biblicism. This is of course, as he recognises, equally true of swathes of contemporary evangelical, charismatic and pentecostal churches generally. Those familiar with my own work will know how unhelpful I also find the biblicist approach, bringing as it does unconscious perspectives on God, the church and the world which are rooted in the Christendom partnership of Church and empire. Reddie’s alternative to this is a two-fold hermeneutic in which the sacredness of Black bodies and the realities of Black suffering and struggle provide the lens through which to exegete the scriptures. I would wish to root this in a specifically Jesus hermeneutic, of course, but it provides a crucial supplement. Chapter Seven demonstrates the attempt by Black theology to offer transformative methods of education such as Paulo Freire’s concept of conscientization through which poor and oppressed people become politically aware of the dehumanising circumstance in which they live. As Reddie puts it, “it is essential to critique the overarching power of White top-down knowledge that underpinned the Brexit process.”

Chapter Eight presents us with the positive challenge provided by interfacing with those who seem to be ‘Other’. He offers three critiques of normative White British culture; Rastafari theology, Black theology and Womanist theology. Whatever we ultimately make of these, can I emphasise right away that alternative lenses of an honourable ‘Other’ can only help us forward toward overall wellbeing. We need help to undo what for many of us is a still persisting subconscious or unconscious patriarchal, White majority expectation of our national future. Just as Luke Bretherton’s draw on Black Power as a source for democratic common life that we looked at in previous posts on Christ and the Common Life gave us important insights, the same is the case with Reddie’s recourse to Rastafari. While clearly distinct from mainstream Christianity because of its central revelation based on the association of the coronation of the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie with the second coming of Christ, it represents a significant form of Black religio-cultural resistance to British Nationalism and White supremacy in the United Kingdom. Reddie sees this form of resistance as complementary to Black theology which while more focused on Jesus specifically interprets the meaning of the incarnation through the experiences and activity of Black people in contemporary Britain. This is substantially complemented by Black Womanist theology which uses the experience of Black women as a further lens to challenge the contemporary tripartite ills of racism, sexism and classism.

Chapter Nine is one of the most innovative chapters of the book, bringing together as it does Caribbean theology with cricket and the socialism of Fidel Castro. This is of course extremely topical in the light of the oppression and deportation of some of the original British Caribbean elders since the EU referendum. Entitled “Doing It Our Way” the chapter is a wonderful demonstration of the gift of the Windrush generation to British life and culture. It combines the post-colonial focus of Caribbean theology with the ability of Caribbean cricketing legends to act creatively outside the box and the inspiration of Castro’s socialism. The impact is to provide a transnational, Black Atlantic, anti-Brexit focused theological rationale for empowering those who are othered in the body politic of postcolonial Britain. Finally, Chapter Ten, entitled “Telling the Truth and Shaming the Devil” outlines the way in which the complex identities of diasporan African peoples in Britain, informed by postcolonial theologies, can give rise to hermeneutical tools for prophetic truth telling. Drawing on the anecdotal wisdom and story telling of an earlier generation of Caribbean grandmothers and its interface with the existential threat of the oppressive and retributive power of English colonialism and empire, it provides a splendid context to the recent prophetic sense that the redemptive gift of Britain to the rest of Europe and the world is as an edgy grandmother!

Posted by: rogermitchell | May 14, 2020

The rule of law

I am always delighted when someone trawling this blog stumbles on something truly sensible and helpful I said in the past even if it was years ago! That happened today, and as this is a time when the rule of law is being applied in draconian ways ostensibly to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, it seems a good time to think again about the legitimate use of law. This is particularly important as we come out of the lockdown and rethink the use of law in our 21st Century so-called Western representative democracies. So I am updating and reposting a piece that I first posted in 2011.

When Paul says that there is no authority [exousia] except from God (Rom 13:1), it is an authority forever defined by Jesus in terms of life-laying down kenotic love, or what I call kenarchy. This means that everything else Paul says about submitting to authority needs to be measured in these terms. So from this perspective, when Paul introduces the vocabulary of the sword [machaira] and avenger [ekdikos] (Rom 13:4) our understanding and application of the meaning and role of these components must be submitted to the authority of love.

I am helped by Paul’s practicality here. For I am not an idealist and I don’t think Jesus was one either. The gospel testimony is specific about the existence of sin, and the reality of evil. So while the disciple takes up the cross daily and living under the ultimate authority of Jesus’ kenotic love “does not resist one who is evil” (Mtt 5:39), I also believe that there are times when we need a practical means of protecting the poor and the weak from the evil intent of others. That is to say we do need some temporary kind of law and physical prevention of evil which I take to be what Paul describes as the government’s use of sword and vengeance in this passage.

The big question is how to make sure that this sword and avenger is submitted to the ultimate authority of love. And this is no small matter. The difference between the authority of sovereign power and the authority of kenotic love is categorical. Sovereign power is at the expense of every other life save that of the highest power, which in imperial terms is preferably me. It leads to the commodification of life itself and the destruction of the planet. Kenotic love, on the other hand, is for the blessing of everybody, beginning with the poorest. This is available because of the inexhaustible gift of divine love embodied in Jesus’ life death and resurrection and received by me.

It is important to note that the translation of the word ekdikos as ‘avenger’ or ‘revenger’ has already imported the sense of the retribution of offended sovereignty. It is better translated as “carrier of justice” and in the original, literally means “without law.” This literal meaning is reminiscent of Giorgio Agamben’s concept of the state of exception which I have explored in previous posts, where the real authority is exposed to be the transcendent power which lies behind all government or rulership. He argues that this is manifested in the nuclear warheads and the torture of non-persons at Guantanamo Bay that sustain the Western order. To this I would add the UK government’s commitment to economic recovery at the expense of the poorest after the 2008 financial collapse.

I agree with Agamben that this is the sovereign power that lies behind the authority  of the contemporary West. However I don’t believe that this is the nature of divine authority, which Jesus’ incarnation reveals, or is the authority which Paul is referring to here. The “without law” state of exception that exists behind the sword that Paul exhorts us to submit to is rather the self-giving love revealed in the cross. So the question is what does it mean for the sword to be submitted to this kind of love? Ultimately it must mean an end to the sword, and I believe it will. But this goes beyond what Paul is saying here. He is speaking of the role of loving authority in the in-between-time in which we work for the fulness of the kingdom which is coming.

Any use of the sword in preventative action against evil that is in line with God’s authority can only be protective. It cannot be retributive, or for punishment or for preventing peaceful demonstration and has to be as non-violent a sign with as limited application as possible. This makes sense of Jesus’ identification of a time when “he who has no sword should sell his coat and buy one” (Lk22:36) and yet his admonition to Peter “put your sword back into its place” (Mtt26:51-52). In terms of contemporary implementation a stick or truncheon is much preferable to a gun, which arguably has far more devastating effect than a sword. Possibly a sword is still best.

This all gives us a huge challenge as the ecclesia to reconfigure the whole role of law and its enforcement. My research convinces me that the partnership of church and empire has brought about a legal system based on sovereign power, not on love, and that this rendered the sword the violent and retributive imposition of law and justified its replacement by vastly more destructive implements. My re-interpretation of Paul is that now is the time to challenge and change it. When I talk of now being the time for kenarchic action I am seriously calling for a complete reappraisal and reconfiguration of the foundational politics of the Western world!

Posted by: rogermitchell | April 12, 2020

Easter!

Here we are in the midst of the dystopian, apocalyptic opportunity to rethink the death and resurrection of Jesus for today. My great friend Andy Knox tested positive for the coronavirus on Good Friday. As the NHS Director for Polulation Health in Morecambe Bay and one of the leads on this pandemic, his Easter reflections carry weight and integrity. I recommend to you at this time! You can find them here https://reimagininghealth.com/easter-reflections-a-new-world-is-possible/

Posted by: rogermitchell | April 2, 2020

Covid 19 and facing serious personal questions

I recommend this sensitive, loving, necessary input from my much loved friend and NHS Morecambe Bay Director for Population Health Dr Andy Knox.

This is what love does! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePSJTZsowBQ&feature=youtu.be

Posted by: rogermitchell | March 17, 2020

There will be redemption in this

The threat posed by Covid 19 to human life, social interaction and work is unparalleled in recent history. I think that now goes without saying.

But apart from that I have two things to say.

1. The first is that the new political space I have been thinking about, writing about and participating in is upon us. It is likely that the Western biopolitical system will be severely weakened if not mortally wounded by the coming months of lock down. But this provides a moment, an opportunity, an imperative for stopping and thinking, and for many of us there will be plenty of time to do it. This is what it means to exercise our spirit. The apostle Paul put it clearly when he remarked “For who among humans knows the thoughts of a human except the spirit of the human which is in them?” (1Cor 2:11). This is, I think, what Giorgio Agamben describes as inoperativity, a special kind of praxis and potential that gives human beings the capacity to adapt creatively to all sorts of situations (See “What is the Act of Creation?” in Creation and Anarchy: The Work of Art and the Religion of Capitalism. California: Stanford University Press, 2019). This viral crisis is a massive opportunity for us to reflect on the kind of future we wish to be the agents of. No doubt those committed to the current system will be poised to double down ready for a massive resurgence of the exploitation of life itself including the planet, animal and plant life and every aspect of the human condition. Including ways of making the virus itself an opportunity for profit. But at least for a few months, and probably a lot longer, the Western system will be much more precarious and vulnerable to alternatives than it has been for generations, maybe millennia. We need to imagine the alternative!

2. The second is that ironically, despite the requirement for social distancing, this will be a time for horizontal relationships, a time for love and community. If you haven’t listened to my talk on the politics of love yet, this could be a good use of your excess time! https://reimagininghealth.com/love-politics-part-3-roger-michell/ Already people who care – what Jesus calls children of peace, and the ecclesia – are mobilising everywhere. They are imagining and putting into practice myriads of caring initiatives that find a way through the necessary precautions and restrictions aimed at constraining, delaying and preventing the virus from killing the vulnerable. See for example https://covidmutualaid.org/resources/; #viralkindness. This is tapping into what I have described elsewhere as “the love stream” and which has always provided the resource for human flourishing throughout the exigencies of human history (see my academic work Church, Gospel and Empire: How the Politics of Empire Impregnated the West and the more accessible The Fall of the Church. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock 2011 & 2013; also Discovering Kenarchy. Wipf & Stock, 2014, which I co-edited with Julie Tomlin Arram). The flow is still with us and will beyond doubt survive and replenish humanity going forward. These are exciting, as well as distressing times.

Posted by: rogermitchell | March 14, 2020

Corona Virus

Great advice from my friend Dr Andy Knox, director of population health here in Morecambe Bay and one of the NHS leads on the corona virus here

https://reimagininghealth.com/corona-virus-advice-time-to-be-serious/

Posted by: rogermitchell | February 29, 2020

An alien at home on the mainland

Here waiting for a train in Frankfurt without the citizenship stolen by Boris Johnson and his supporters, I find myself reflecting once more on the demonic concept of sovereignty. As the German and pro-Nazi philosopher Carl Schmitt so clearly explains, sovereignty involves an enemy that must be othered and dominated if my supremacy and/or that of my family, race or nation in a particular geography is to be maintained or advanced. One would have hoped we had learned that lesson by now. Sovereignty has to be bordered and boundaried and eventually defended violently if necessary, particularly when it encounters a seemingly competing sovereignty. This is why the EU is so much more preferable than Brexit Britain because the EU dissipates and diversifies sovereignty by encompassing many national geographical goups in broad agreement. It is also why the UN has such wonderful potential for advancing the kingdom of God. But little Britain and its supporters foolishly imagine we will somehow benefit from pulling up the drawbridge. We won’t.

People tell me that open borders are idealistic and let in criminals and terrorists. Of course they do, and I am not advocating borders with absolutely no checks for weapons, toxins and the like. I know that criminals and terrorists used the opportunity provided by the continental freedom of movement that was our past inheritance within the EU. County lines and terrorist atrocities ensued. But I would argue that the loving risk of open borders is not only an intrinsic good of a loving society but pragmatically less destructive to human life and wellbeing than the wars, armies, weapons and deterrents required to defend sovereignty. The threats of terror acts toward our families and friends or criminal seduction of our poor or vulnerable youth need to be resolved by continuing to work together for a radically loving society not by strengthening the domination of rich and powerful sovereign elites. Of course the coronavirus is giving a further excuse to close borders, and where there is a specific local outbreak, temporary quarantines makes sense. But we must beware of fear induced arguments for asserting our sovereignty to preserve our health. Once again the argument must be to have reasonable precautions in the attempt to preserve public health, but never at the expense of love and freedom.

I need to catch my train to Brussels! More another day!

Posted by: rogermitchell | January 31, 2020

A dystopian present

Today, as I write, Britain turns its back on a generation of peace, collaboration and friendship with its European neighbours.

This was not something that a majority of the people voted for, not even a majority of those of voting age. A backward turn that is evidence of both our dystopian present and likely dystopian future. This at a time of climate and planetary crisis that calls for greater solidarity between nations, not less. While the mainstream media in the hands of the rich and powerful bamboozled many, the deeper problem lies with the age-old deception of peace through sovereign power that darkens all our perceptions. This deception has so deeply infused, colonised and subsumed our mindsets with the toxins of empire that is nearly impossible to penetrate such darkness with ordinary language.

I recently discovered Terry Brooks’ Shannara fantasies which I’m appreciating immensely.

For the unitiated, they explore a not unlikely dystopian future through the genre of fantasy and faerie. I have long engaged with Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles and Cosmic Trilogy, Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and I think I’ve read pretty much everything Stephen Lawhead has written. So unsurprisingly I am an avid fan of their earlier extraordinary muse, the ineffable George Macdonald. My hope is to make the next iteration of my political theology of love somewhere between faerie, fantasy, bibliography and historical novel. Nothing pretentious then!

There are at least two reasons why I like this genre:

1. The present is much more dystopian than we know

My research investigates and attempts with some success to explain how far the human race and history have strayed from love’s origins, at least in the history and backstory of the West. If you are unfamiliar with my work so far, please investigate my seminal academic work Church, Gospel and Empire: How the Politics of Sovereignty Impregnated the West; Wipf & Stock, 2011, or the shorter, easier The Fall of the Church; Wipf & Stock, 2013. https://wordery.com/search?term=Church%2C+Gospel+and+Empire; https://wordery.com/search?term=Mitchell%3A+The+Fall+of+the+Church. So much has been lost and so much that seems normal and natural for us is truly abnormal, unjust and inhumane.

2. Making sense is much more complex than it appears

So-called plain speaking, literal, rational, truth-telling are all too often the communications of blind leaders of the blind and the sounds of those with no ears to hear. Our failed social constructs, jig-saw puzzle-like mathēses or what Giorgio Agamben calls the Apparatus of our world, conceal the deep structural configuration of our shared being. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear this veil was pierced long ago with the incarnational language of soul and spirit that Jesus and his parables typified. I have for long used theological and academic language as an enlightening, unlocking toolset for those with the inclination, perseverance and skill set to understand. Some have grasped what I’m attempting to communicate, some have not. Now I’m hoping to provide another alternative. I will write some faerie stories. It will take some time to evolve, but I sense that the continuing new political space is calling for it.

Posted by: rogermitchell | January 5, 2020

NEW YEAR’S PRAYER

Here’s a poem for reflection as we take our leave of the first decade of the 21st century from my friend David Benjamin Blower, posted by permission.

For all the days and nights been and gone
This last orbit around our star 93 millions miles
And about it all are the everlasting arms
Arms to hold
Not to control
Though we sometimes prayed that they would  

For every step taken on this turning sphere
On soil, rock, grass and composting life
Over concrete and tar-mac,
Amidst the discarded packaging for expired mis-creations
Across Lino and mundane patterned carpets, and buzzing appliances
With purpose and misgivings, contentment and want, thrill and boredom
Wherever we have placed our feet
We stand on the horizon in the eyes of some far-away other
and beneath us and them are the everlasting arms  

For the gentle tasks of being
The cleaning, washing, sweeping and clipping back
And putting things from here to there
The lighting of fires and the warming of ovens
Cutting and measuring and folding with singing 
Or silence
Or the recorded voices of others somewhere and sometime else
With many thoughts and cares
Or with spacious hearts open to the merry wind
Amidst all these – and they are a dance 
Amidst all these are the everlasting arms  

For all the struggling and rushing against time
And bags, and keys and tasks
From necessity, or from the wearying chain of command,
Or from the restlessness of gut and heart
In Sysyphan futility with aching bones
With no margin between work and sleep
And sleep and work
Because, why?
And Why? Because
And ever present to the often hollow beating drum are the everlasting arms  

For every moment we looked up at the day lit sky
To be with its plain light
To stop time for a moment and to be in all of it at once
By being out of it all for a moment
For all the silent drifting clouds, that say nothing, but know
For all that birds that flew by, knowing nothing, but were just were
For all the trees reaching upwards, truthful and content
Through them all are the everlasting arms  

For all the talk and noise around tables and desks 
And smoke and drink
Shouting against road traffic
Into phones and screens 
Stood with coffees in old halls
Sideways amidst sounds and voices and infants
Talking and shifting weight between the many threads of it all
Musical, joyous, noisy, saturating, ringing and tiring
 
For all the words shared with the other with care and thought
eyes into eyes and silences held
Shoulder to shoulder 
Guts uncoiled into landscapes
and breathing to the slow core
Bread broken and drink taken
Here too are the everlasting arms  

For every one of our given thoughts and gestures thrown back to us
Or passed by as a nothingness, unheard
For the closed down spaces and thoughtless encroachments
Or the outright theft of place and presence by belligerent will 
Who knew what they were doing
Or did not know
Or both somehow at once
Amidst all of this are the everlasting arms  

For every careless mark we made
And every dent we left behind us
For the ones we left feeling heavier than when we found them
left lighter headed and ringing with the sound of us
For when we knew it, and when we wandered off unaware and hapless
Present to all these are the everlasting arms  

For the numbing hollow granite gut
The heart gone hard and cold, the knot
The breath that goes in and out from some hellish nowhere
Where nothing has its mooring
And everything calls to nothing and stares vacantly
Here in hell too, weak, immoveably present, are the everlasting arms

For every room we closed the door
And slid backs down it to the ground
To place heads in hands and fall apart unseen
For the rare howl and bellow into pillows
Into the nights, the earth, the elements
Faces lodged in elbow crooks to calm
And gentle about us always the everlasting arms  

For the days and the times when we have
Sailed our broken boats close to the edge of the world
Because, so the wind lead us, and we needed to feel and to know it
Dubious, fey, mad,
Gambling with God, who seems also to gamble madly everyday
And when we went over the edge into oblivion and dread 
And into new worlds beyond where there are healing tears
Here also are the everlasting arms  

For the moments we rested our attention on the stars
And were held by their wonder
Are they there for us, or are they just there?
We are lit by them either way
And they suspend the sound and the fury, 
And hold us for a time in deep time  

For all the days and nights been and gone
This last orbit around our star 
And the 93 millions miles next to come
And about all of this are the everlasting arms
Arms to hold
Not to control
Though we sometimes pray that they would
And yet, it is said, all things work somehow for the good.

Love, laughter and Wonder
DBB   
 
Posted by: rogermitchell | November 25, 2019

Climate Change and Assembly

My friend David Benjamin Blower is one of the most awake and insightful people I know. The latest piece from his Soil Journal [ https://tinyurl.com/voxqj5d ] is so relevant that I asked if I could include it as a guest blog here. Please reflect and comment:

THE ASSEMBLY 

Last week I spoke to the climate scientist Kevin Anderson. I asked him about the balance between making changes in our personal lives and calling for change from power. He responded by saying that the two are connected. He said top down and bottom up power are two sides of the same coin in the bigger vision. And he went on to describe the thready and echoey world that connects the two. 

The changes most of us can make in our lives are hardly significant in terms of carbon emissions, but, he said, we have to open up space for local dialogue. All the studies show that those conversations go nowhere if those having them aren’t practicing what they’re talking about. Everyone knows, if you’re not doing it you don’t really care.

Crucially, he said, dialogue about change must happen across social boundaries. Different groups and cultures need to find their way into the same room to talk and listen and imagine: the old with the young, the privileged with the powerless, the religious and the not-religious, this religion and that one. These are rare scenarios. We need gatherings. We need assemblies.

A few days earlier, I’d been hosting a conversation near Hastings about the ekklesia. This greek word means assembly or gathering. From about 600BC there was a regular ekklesia in Athens. Male citizens would gather to discuss and vote on matters of the city. The first century messianics adopted the term for their own gatherings, but they radicalised it: here the ekklesia was opened up to include women, slaves, immigrants, religious difference… everyone. And they kept the practice of all eating round the same table a meal of rememberence for a murdered peasant messiah. This was a way of recognising the seeds of hope, not among the powerful, but among the oppressed.

Their ekklesia was a diverse assembly, gathered around the suffering of the world, in order to reimagine a different kind of future.

In the New Testament the word ekklesia is translated church. I don’t think this is quite the right word. The etymology of church goes back to the greek Kyriakon, which means House of the Lord. So while ekklesia is civic, kyriakon is religious. While ekklesia is the language of dialogue where the collective understanding of the people is expressed through the voice and participation of all, kyriakon is the language of temple, where the way is expressed through its priesthood, to the people. Ekklesia is a sort of pop-up flash-mob phenomenon, made up of people who gather and then disperse. Kyriakon is an unmoving object, a house, a building. Crucially, kyriakon is a place, but ekklesia is a space.

I’m oddly enthusiastic about churches, temples and religion, actually. Ekklesia might even happen in such places. But these two ideas are not quite the same thing. Today we need the ekklesia, like never before: diverse assemblies, gathered around the suffering of the world, in order to reimagine a different kind of future.

I’ll resist making a lot of defensive clarifications (as we always want to when prodding religious language). You can email me if you want them. I also want to hear about the unexpected places you’ve encountered these kinds of ekklesia spaces.

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