Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Coalitions and coalitions

We're living in strange but interesting times - though 'interesting' is hardly the word for the hundreds of thousands of people out of work or set to lose work, as the budget cuts do their worst. Still, though, the Labour Party is struggling to come to terms with the new political world: a Con-Lib coalition means things have actually changed, not merely in pragmatic, 'we have to stick together or we die together' terms, but more fundamentally - the world of public compromise is not the same as the kind of compromise that goes on within political parties. Labour won't win simply by trying to pick off people on the edges of the coalition or teasing away at the cracks - it actually needs new strategies. And not least because the wider world is weird - there's less money to solve the huge problems we continue to face (tackling climate change needs money; tackling poverty, at home and abroad, needs money; tackling the hearts and minds of potential terrorists needs money; etc), and yet at the same time money was found to support the banks - and I'm not saying it shouldn't have been found (I believe it was necessary, to avert a far deeper economic catastrophe), but I am saying that, if money can be found for that, the political will ought to be capable of being organised for other purposes ...

So we need alternative coalitions. Like Avaaz. Like '38 Degrees', a newer web-based campaigning organisation. We need coalitions capable of keeping the pressure where it ought to be kept - of speaking truth to power, so that we're not co-opted into lies that some kinds of debt are unaffordable (public budget deficits) while other kinds of indebtedness (to the needs of future generations) are evidently inevitable. Of course the level of debt needs to be reduced, but even the Tories realise that this cannot be their sole raison d'etre - and it is the role of alternative coalitions to keep the dreams alive of changes which are more humane. Just because money is short, job security is in short supply, and we are living in generally anxious times, that does not mean the age of dreaming new dreams or campaigning for something better need come to an end. The kind of coalition we build determines the kind of world we believe is possible.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mission - to boldly go (and all that jazz)

What is the Mission of the Church? Yes, evangelism (sharing good news in words). Yes, justice and service (sharing good news in actions). Yes, caring for all God's creation. Yes, enabling people to fulfil their God-given potential. Yes, nurturing the skills of discipleship in those who seek to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, that is, enabling each other to be active participants in the everyday business of bringing God's 'kingdom' about on earth - fostering the strategies which Jesus taught, of loving enemies, turning the other cheek, extending hospitality and friendship to those regarded as 'unworthy', resisting the temptation to dominate or exclude, practising excessive compassion, and so on. All of those things have a ring of truth about them, but also more than a hint of difficulty. But I'm not sure any of them can be sustained without another human and biblical art - that of dreaming! We must be bold in our dreaming. Too often we neglect this. Evangelical churches find it easier, in the sense that they have a confidence about the scope of their message - but progressives ought to have plenty to dream about too! So be bold: dream of a church which signals an alternative reality, which is unashamed about its hopes for a different quality of future, where the hungry are fed, where those humbled by globalisation are blessed by the dignity of human worth, where the 'last' are put 'first', where children and the vulnerable take centre-stage, where the violent and prejudiced ways-of-the-world are no longer seen as inevitable, and where all of us know our value through relationship with each other. be bold - dream of it - and the living of the dream may just inspire others to take a look ...

Friday, May 22, 2009

I wouldn't start from here ...

It must be said a lot, but if I was going to build the kind of Christian community I suspect we're called to be, "I wouldn't start from here"! And as soon as I write it, I'm acutely aware of the arrogance of such a comment - how dare I think that I know better! And how dare I belittle the efforts of people over the recent decades, often struggling against the odds. But there remains a problem: It's genuinely hard to see how we can move our existing church communities from 'where we are' to a point where we are 'ahead of the curve', as though we could even be 'ready' for this changing world as it comes round the corner toward us. Churches are so laden with layers of cultural accretions, things which seem so self-evident to insiders, things which define people's sense of spiritual safety and identity, that it's so hard to 'see' with other eyes, to see how little some of our 'stuff' connects with people in our neighbourhoods, even those who wish us well.
Look back into the 'original' stories of Christian discipleship, and you encounter a radical message and movement of life-changing awe and vitality, but much of it feels overwhelmed by churchy expectations - things into which people have been socialised and which have conditioned their growth (e.g. the idea that worship needs to be fairly formal, non-disruptive, even though some of the most life-changing growth happens through informality and disruption!)
So how do we unearth the church's true treasures? Well, we must begin by celebrating what is truly remarkable - the commitment of people who, against tough odds, have kept things going, even if 'keeping things going' has dominated other, more liberating purposes - and we must value people's different gifts, and reconnect people with their diversity, the differences between people who are already in churches, so we can begin to see how people not in churches are also very varied, and therefore in need of a range of ways of exploring faith and discipleship.
In fact, of course, there's no such thing as 'not starting from here', except in those self-deceiving spiritualities which pretend truth is always transcendent and never anything to do with our own experience; but we'd better get better at seeing where 'here' is - by asking ourselves, 'where are we up to? what do we think we're playing at? where are we in relation to the world around us? who is around us? and what are we for, anyway?' In other words, it's time to become highly attentive to whichever 'here' we're starting from, otherwise we'll never get 'there'...

Friday, November 07, 2008

I know a man who knows Obama! (name drop)

I recently attended the best training course I have ever attended, covering so many life-changing ideas and issues in a four-day period. It was led by the man who trained Barack Obama in community organising, and it was a rollercoaster ride! We already see the fruits of the method, with Obama having not only become the first black President of the US, but having done so through building a broad-based coalition of people, many of whom had never given to any such campaign or who had never thought politics was about them. Politics is about everyone. I knew this before, but I meet many people who doubt that it has much to do with them. In fact, as the training course made clear, we have been led over several decades to retreat from the public arena, our lives preoccupied with almost anything other than public/political engagement - after all, power is dirty, isn't it, and corrupting, and politics is always disappointing, so why get into such a world? Well, because it's where things change. So I am thinking more and more that I should reclaim a public life, that my commitments and values should be demonstrated publicly - and I don't just mean the things of faith, but support for Amnesty, or fairtrade, or sustainable bio-diversity - all these things are matters of public concern. And, even more frightening, I recognise that it is Ok to have ambitions for public influence: that we are entitled, and called, to want to build public relationships, and broad-based coalitions of people, with a view to making changes for the sake of justice and peace. Too many people believe such talk is naive, or 'getting above ourselves', because of countless disappointments or how we are conditioned to be cynical, but progressive values, and progressive Christian values, need to be realised in the public realm - but what this means for me, or you, or our communities, I'm not yet quite sure, but watch this space, because, in answer to the questions, 'can we really do it?', all we can say is, 'Yes we can.'

Friday, October 03, 2008

When it's hard to show care ...

There are some people I find it really hard to show care to. Even though stuff happens to them, real shit, often again and again, sometimes I find it really hard to put myself in the position of the person offering care. The problem is that, whenever I visit or meet such people, I want to disagree with so much of what they say, and to challenge so many of their attitudes, that I find it really hard to concentrate, simply to listen to what they say in its own right. And there are people who seem to co-opt you into their world-view, who assume (by your silence) that you agree with them, that you know they are likely then to quote you as reinforcement for their view - even if you said nothing. Or to bring it back to me - even though I said nothing. But is that the very nature of care? We can't always control how it will be used. It will sometimes be draining. It will sometimes put us profoundly on the defensive; but we must simply listen and bear it.

And yet ... because there are times when we know it will be so hard, I can't help feeling that there's nothing wrong (at least some of the time) with not putting ourselves in that position. If I know I won't be much use in a particular situation, why put myself there?

And yet ... who am I to know whether I'll be useful or not? People will find my presence useful, and helpful, perhaps more than I'd have imagined, so long as I don't answer back! Oh, but god I need to be able to acknowledge when it's hard to show care ... you know the kind of person?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chaos/Kairos Theory & Climate Change

It was one of the first posts on this blog - an explanation of the chaos/kairos connection, in the sense that, if a butterfly flapping its wings might be an initial cause of a hurricane on the other side of the world, so a small thing can be an indication of God's kairos-action - the opportune event which changes the course of reality. So it is that Climate Change can be read this way: not as God's action, but as having that profoundly unpredictable cause-and-effect dynamic - by which I mean, not that we can't comprehend its causes or predict its effects, because so much of it is frighteningly clear (the rich world has caused it, but the poor world will suffer more), but that the effects of climate change are sure to be somewhat chaotic. There will be unpredictable weather events, and shocking levels of suffering - and yet we continue to resist seeing this as a crisis (kairos) moment, rather as a continuation of chronos (normal time), whereas it is essential that green politics, individual behaviour, ecological consciousness and so on should become integrated and we seize this kairos - opportunity for radical lifestyle change/s - with both wings flapping.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

One world - can we see it now?

Time for a self-righteous rant ... Food becomes more expensive, as oil costs increase, because of increases in demand, because China and India develop more western-style economies - and we can't complain, because it's how we live, consuming as though fossil fuels will last forever, consuming as though we inhabit three Earths, not one. It's also because of the pressure on land, because of increasing demand for beef, as China develops more western tastes, and cows need a hell of a lot of grain, taking up land which would otherwise be used directly for human food production - and again, we can't complain, because it's how we live, consuming as though it doesn't matter how much food we throw away, consuming as though we inhabit three Earths, not one. We thought biofuels were the answer, shifting from carbon, but they use valuable land, and aren't so bio-efficient after all - and have in fact fuelled food price increases. So the world is one, and we must learn to live as one, which means embracing green politics for hard-headed reasons, not to hug a tree, but also for big-hearted reasons, caring about those who are starving (more of them) because of food prices rising, also because of climate change spreading deserts and disease - so now is not the time to turn to the right, as though free markets will solve it all (just look at the reckless banks, demanding public help, though usually they demand to be left alone!), but to the left, to State intervention, to being led by governments on the environment (if only they will lead), and to solutions which we will resent - curbing transport growth, preaching against waste, even moving away from such a meat-oriented diet ... if only we (including me) have eyes to see ... do we? (except I like my car, my steak, my shirts, my freedoms ... hm!)