Deliberations and Resources on Radical Christianity


Between Protesters and Police, Principalities and Powers…

For the last few days, I have been in attendance at the so-called Camp for Climate Action, or “Climate Camp” for short, a now annual mass activist rally which serves to protest major governmental sources of environmental negligence, as well as a spontaneously-formed decentralised community which gathers to celebrate sustainable living. This year, the location was within a village in the Kent area, just shy of the site for Kingsnorth, a new proposed coal fire power station which, if built, would emit up to eight million tonnes of CO2 per annum.

There is much that could be written about this event, but it summarises itself as part of a growing decentralised social movement which is acting to prevent climate change. Grassroots movements like these emphasise their lack of leadership in the conventional sense of the word, focusing instead on the importance of consensus-based decision making, in which every participant is granted the potential to have a say in all processes, and whereby each person’s voice is heard with equal validity.

Because Climate Camp is composed of many different individuals, each one having a different idea of what this movement means to them. Many come from the more “radical” end of the political spectrum, identifying as anarchists, for example, whereas others might come from a liberal perspective, believing the state can be reformed as opposed to feeling it must necessarily be abolished. All members of this diverse gathering, however, unite with a common vision not only of protesting major causes of climate change, but also holding the present authorities accountable for their part in it.

And for some reason, this time round, the state is thoroughly pissed off.

At last year’s Camp, which took place a little north of Heathrow Airport as a protest against its proposed third runway, police presence was fairly prominent and in some places quite aggressive. However, having now attended both last and this year’s events, I have to say that the police have been prominently more aggressive both in their presence and tactics with the current protest. At this point, it is wholly worth pointing out that as well as being a decentralised movement, Climate Camp collectively considers itself to use tactics of nonviolent direct action. That is, as an entity, it does not incorporate tactics of violent opposition against state authority into its overall ethos. As another fellow camper put it to me, “you probably won’t find a fluffier bunch of hippies anywhere else in Britain at this time.”

Why, then, was every single participant forced into a stop-and-search procedure before they could enter into the camp? Why was the entire community awoken at five o’ clock in the morning the day after opening by a mass convergence of police officers at both entrances? Why did these officers feel the need to get into full riot gear and attempt to force their way past campers at the gate who had done nothing to provoke such a reaction aside from standing their ground (Which was being done anyway)?

Every person with whom I personally spoke has viewed these tactics as unnecessarily excessive, and I have heard accounts that even some of the officers themselves weren’t aware of exactly why these measures were being taken. Some reports even suggested disgust from some of the officers themselves, not only at the extremity of the measures, but also at the fact that they were being exacted in the presence of women and children.

At this point, I want to stress that I am not using this blog post to turn the police establishment into an enemy, or to suggest that the individuals involved are somehow evil or sinister. However, I also firmly believe that there must be a necessary separation between the individual and the institution of which they are part. The tension that exists between the policeman’s orders and his own personal beliefs would seem to be a good demonstration of this.

Moreso, however, I am also interested in the reaction of the state authorities to a gathering like this. Doubtless Climate Camp is one of the most prominent grassroots social movements to have arisen in recent times, and I can’t help but be fascinated at how much the powers that be perceive it to be a threat. In their eyes, you can’t possibly have a good two thousand people spontaneously gathering as a community to demonstrate an alternative way of living unless someone is up to no good. “Intelligence suggests that someone in the camp is planning to commit criminal damage,” was the excuse I heard from some officers. And with that alone, it was just cause not only to violate people’s personal rights by forcing them to be stopped and searched, but also to exact violence and intimidation upon them. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the early church community, who weren’t persecuted by the Roman authorities for being violent revolutionaries, but for the exact opposite – namely, preaching peace and nonviolence in contrast to Caesar’s sword, living as an economic community which turned Rome’s upside down (Acts 4, for example), and by loving those within and without the community with shameless passion. There comes a point when these values of living become so radically subversive and seemingly contrary to human nature, that the authorities cannot accept that this is the end of the story. Something is awry. What are these people thinking and doing?

Indeed, it seems plain from stand-offs such as these that the State does not like being challenged, and will necessarily work to both defend its actions and preserve its own agendas, even in a supposedly “democratic” society such as Britain. But even more unsettling than this, is the apparent reality that a political superstructure such as a government reaches a point when it is no longer a mere collection of people working within a hierarchy, but rather becomes much more than the sum total of its parts, to the extent that its individual members no longer have control over it, much in a similar manner to how certain members of the police truly don’t want to be ambushing a protest, but have nonetheless found it a necessary part of their function to be co opted into doing so.

Some of you will know that, in October last year, I was arrested for taking part in a protest to blockade the entrance to the UK’s nuclear weapon base in Faslane, Scotland. I wrote about the experience here, but the ultimate point of my intentional arrest was to draw criticism toward the state, in that it was forcing its police service, an institution supposedly in place to serve and protect the general public, to instead protect and serve the state’s own interests and violent inclinations. My primary observation was that while these individuals of the police service doubtless had integrity and sincerity about them, perhaps having joined the force to help establish justice, these values were nonetheless being suppressed by the overriding authority of state service. Having encountered a similar spirit in the police authorities during this year’s climate camp, I am convinced now more than ever that not only will police function ultimately be forced into subservience to the state’s own interests, but that this function is characterised by an insidious violence. I would submit that within these professions, one’s individuality is lost and coerced into silent conformity by the Empire. For these reasons, I would not encourage any Christian, or even any person who is willing to fight for justice in this world, to join in such ranks, lest their personal values become either corrupted, or else left intact and met with inertia. The best thing someone of sincerity and integrity could do within the police service is, in my opinion, to leave it and begin asking questions about a better way to lead the way for justice in this world.

Social movements such as Climate Camp may be proving themselves quite powerful, but they are still in a process of growth and adaptation, and the hope for many involved is that these movements are the beginning of a new way to fill the void left by the crumbling state authorities. While the world still has a need for these powers and their military/police wings to exist, it may be that a new way of formulating peace and establishing justice in the world is emerging, and it will be through the cultivation of the human spirit through communities holding a common vision and practicing an alternative way of living in the here and now. As a Christian, I believe that this is something the church must necessarily be doing if it is to stay true to those Biblical values of peace (shalom), justice, mercy, equality, and everything else we could possibly think of which is the outworking of God-inspired love. I don’t know how sorry or encouraged I should be in saying that we could stand to learn a lot from these radical political groups, who often seem to have the Image of God shining forth from them far more than we holy people do.


Prophetic Imagination in a Crumbling World

Some of you will know that, for the past month or so, I’ve been travelling around the United States to meet up with various friends and generally see a little more of the world at large. I was urged by many of my friends to keep a travel blog as I went along, which, alas, I haven’t really done. This has been a combined result of not having a great deal of opportunity to do so, and also the accumulation of some quite personal experiences which I wouldn’t feel comfortable publicly blogging on at least for the time being. Suffice it to say, however, I have had some encouraging experiences while here, and met some thoroughly inspiring and interesting people, whether old friends or new friends alike. With many ups and downs, this journey has proved to be something of a personal pilgrimage.

One thing that has struck me in my short time here are the differences which exist between British and American culture. They are often too subtle to even beggar some kind of articulate analysis, but one which has particularly stood out for me is the almost absolute necessity for an average American citizen to own a car. I have commented to many of my friends here that, were I back in the UK, I would be quite used to being able to hop onto a bus or train to most places and actually lead quite an affordable existence doing so (with some shrewdness, of course). In the States, many towns and even big cities are that sprawled that travelling as a pedestrian is difficult at very best and downright unfeasible at very worst. While these fine people have a good enough interstate bus and train system to boast of, the localised public transport leaves a fair bit to be desired.

If you’re wondering why I’m opening up on a blog article about this, it’s because a few things during my stay here have led me to think upon how much I take my own life for granted back in the UK. Being (hopefully) socially-conscious, there isn’t a great deal of difficulty for me back home to lead a moderately “alternative” lifestyle, whether by shopping from a local cooperative supermarket, supporting small businesses, or by getting along just fine without having to own a fuel-guzzling vehicle of my own. It would be significantly more challenging (perhaps not impossible, but certainly more challenging) to lead a similar life here in the States. It could be that I would have to settle down into everyday life here to know all the ins and outs of ethical practicalities, as I am aware that many American communities and groups do great work in minimising their dependencies upon the systems of the world, but for now I am aware of how much I have perhaps been taking for granted in my own small area of the Globe.

Additionally, seeing more of our Trans-Atlantic Western society has made me see even more just how collectively gripped within and enraptured by the Empire we really are. I use the word “Empire” here in the same kind of sense that many Biblical scholars and preachers have before me, not to describe any one particular superpower as we would understand it, but rather the cumulative systems of wealth and political power we human beings have set up for ourselves which deliver the vast majority of resources and the means of production into the control of the privileged few. In a conventional scholarly sense, it is used to refer not only to the ruling powers of the day, but also the economic system of production over which they reign. In our times, we would know this system as Capitalism.

A recent conversation with some friends of mine highlight an interesting ambivalence regarding our Capitalist society, in that it seems rather strange for anyone to criticise it. After all, as some (myself included) have noted, our economy offers quite an extraordinary amount of freedom and security, as well as opening us up to a seemingly better quality of life; whether this includes the ability to traverse the world, the opportunity to dine on diverse and delicious foods accorded by the global market, the availability of fine fashions and clothing, etc etc ad nauseum. It becomes rather difficult to find fault with a system that seemingly provides many high quality services and gives its citizens a good standard of living.

So the common question arises, then, “What is so bad about Capitalism?” I hasten to note that I am not a very big believer in someone describing or defining themselves by the thing that they are against. Terms such as “anti-capitalist” leave something of a bittersweet taste in my mouth since they are an automatically negative connotation, necessarily having to be qualified by something else if they are to be taken with any kind of seriousness or credibility. Nonetheless, if we are taking on a system of ethics which purports to be against something, then we had better explain why. Capitalism, as noted, accords us an excellent range of opportunities… but at what kind of cost? We might enjoy a wide, diverse, globalised market, but one which is essentially driven by the commodity of oil. The recent explosion in fuel prices has indicated not just an increased consumer demand, but in the eyes of many also highlights the danger of a high-polluting, non-renewable, and unsustainable energy source upon which to found our modern technological society. We may have the luxury to travel to our hearts’ content and to reap the benefits of a globalised market, but at what kind of cost to our limited resources and the environment?

Of course, that is only one problem, but I am reminded of many others. Being involved in campaigns work, I strive to become more aware of my consumer choices and to make the link between my purchases and the end producer. When one does this, they increasingly learn of an every-growing list of corporations which appear to have escaped any kind of moral accountability. Just a few examples of this include:

Coca-Cola, with their tendencies to deplete water from developing nations and leave their existing water supplies poisoned and polluted.

Wal-Mart’s lack of accountability involving ethical standards, particularly in their hesitance to reveal the identities of their overseas contractors when questioned about allegations of sweatshop labour
(A matter regarding which the major UK clothing outlet Primark is also guilty).

Beyond these specific examples, the more general tragedies of negligence and corruption at the corporate level can include (but are not necessarily limited to):

Intensive factory farming – under which masses of animals are kept under horrifying conditions, at the expense of increased levels of warming gases and the further depletion of agricultural resources.

The supply of foods from developing nations leaving many farming communities in a locked-cycle of poverty due to not being paid a sustainable living wage.

It’s not often popular to talk about these issues. Particularly when one is accepting a friend’s hospitality, they don’t always want to hear about how their purchase of Coca-Cola or a certain brand of coffee beans or a particular clothing line is indirectly causing the suffering of individuals and communities on the other side of the world. On the flipside, aren’t these issues about which we as Christians should fundamentally be concerned? After all, if there is one thing upon which Jesus will hold us to account on the last day, it will be how we responded to our neighbour.

The main difficulty lies in that not many of us will always make the connection between our seemingly idle place within the economy to the consequences which lie elsewhere, unseen by our own eyes. Being more aware of such issues requires us to push our vision beyond the scope of our individual lives, allowing it to transcend into a place that acknowledges our role within the interconnected nature of all things, wherein we are no further from the Guatemalan coffee farmer or the Chinese clothing worker than we are from the homeless man down the street from us. I truly believe that if we would open ourselves up, God will give us the heart to effect this vision as part of the personal transformation He accords us in Christ Jesus.

Another problem lies in the images of legalism which might get conjured up by topics such as this. We Christians emphasise a salvation which comes as the gift of grace, justified by faith in Christ alone and not by anything we could have done ourselves. What use is this grace, one might ask, if we are going to spend our energies boycotting certain goods and concentrating on buying Fair Trade?

I would direct any arguments back to the narrative in Matthew 25, in all honesty. We should be careful not to live by guilt or shame, or to become unhealthily obsessive about our place in the world, but that should not in any way negate our responsibilities to strive for the same kind of transformation on this earth that God has begun as a work in our own hearts. If this were not the case, what good would it be to pray. “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven?” If Heaven knows no suffering, no death, no pain, then let us follow our calling to effect that prayerful vision for those around us.

Our efforts to understand our place as global citizens should not end with simple ethical consumer decisions, however, as these limited choices are only the beginning of a much larger calling. The increasing list of examples involving corporate irresponsibility and ethical unaccountability are themselves symptomatic of the larger problem, in that the Empire will ground itself upon a production-consumption system which takes the means of production from the masses and places it into the hands of the wealthy few (Walter Brueggemann has done some brilliant work in explicating the Biblical narrative in this regard and placing it within the context of our own time). In doing so, this oil-driven technological economy we inhabit is proving itself to be dangerously unsustainable, leaving a bloody trail of environmental destruction, ecological extinction, mass poverty, warfare, and death its wake. The Empire founds itself upon the human spiral of violence.

Of course, this is all bearing in mind what I said earlier on, in that it is often futile to define ourselves solely by the thing we are opposing. If the Christian has a place forming a critique of our Capitalist society, then, what is it we are to do as an alternative?

I am reminded of the creation narrative in Genesis when I consider the problem of our technological society. I no longer look at this portion of scripture and see some worn-out debate between Evolutionism and Creationism, but rather an illustration of how God desired His relationship with humankind to be; That is, both male and female made in the Image of God and thereby accorded common dignity and standing in all of creation, made as responsible stewards of all the earth, living at peace with each other, with God, and with the animals/creation, without any need for coercion, heirarchy, or violence to exist between them. Those human characteristics are outlined by this story as having arisen from Adam and Eve’s/humanity’s decision to disobey God and turn inwardly to themselves and their own desires, a condition we call “sin.” Thus, the peace that could potentially exist between God, man, and earth is tragically inhibited by our own selfish desires which set us at odds with one another and alienate us from our neighbour, giving rise to the proceeding Biblical narratives from thereon regarding the human construction of cities, kingdoms, and empires, together with all of the tragedies they entail.

I think it is significant that, prior to the Fall, Adam ad Eve share a vegetarian diet together with the animals of the earth, and there is no need for any living creature possessing “the breath of life” to kill any other for food. Instead, they all enjoy the produce of the earth which God freely gives, negating any need for either a) violence, or b) land ownership. Capitalism is based upon the entire prospect of certain groups of people taking a controlling interest in the earth’s resources, whereas the Biblical vision is more one of the community receiving the gifts of God through the earth. After the Fall, it is then that humanity is seen to be exacting violence upon the earth, whether through hard agriculture or through the killing of animals for food and clothing. From this, as well as from other ways in which God attempted to guide His people, such as through the Jubilee, a contrast can be discerned between the human narrative of Capitalism and the Biblical narrative of a sustainable economy whereby community is the focus rather than the individual. The original vision was set in place as a means to ensure that all peoples’ needs were accounted for, by emphasising God’s supreme ownership of the earth’s fullness, together with our responsibility as stewards of that which God has given us. In this sense, the system of private ownership emphasised in our modern economic society makes little sense, as we Christians look to God as the landowner, with our own role as moreso renting out and acting in loving responsibility of all that we have been apportioned.

At this point, one might say, “This is all very well, but how on earth is that practical for the here and now? Whether the Bible does or does not describe an alternative way of living, that doesn’t change that we are all part of the Capitalist system, and it doesn’t look as though things will change anytime soon.”

A very valid point, were one to bring it up, and this is where I personally feel the community is paramount in addressing this problem. After all, I am sure the early Christians would have felt the same way and would have asked similar questions when they were living in Rome’s economy. “How can we set ourselves apart from Caesar?”, “How can we live without the Empire’s market?”, “We need the Empire to be able to eat, drink, and trade!” and so on.

What this illustrates is the problem of striving for absolute purity, when really what we are called to do is understand our place within the system and to continue asking those questions about what we do as both individuals and as a Christian community called to be set apart from the ways of the world. We may not be able to live without the control of the production-consumption system, but we should never turn that fact into an excuse to resign ourselves over to complacency and futility. God endowed us with a prophetic imagination to be able to work as agents of transformation for the world around us, to effect His salvation on every level from the spiritual to the material. It is with this imagination that we have the power (God’s power) to indeed live as a people set apart from the world’s systems, if not in an absolute sense then in a sense which demonstrates to people that another way is possible, and that we don’t always have to give up on ever trying to carve out new visions and fresh ways of approaching our lives.

What could this mean? It could mean that we’ll keep buying tea and coffee, but we’ll buy it Fair Trade certified. It could mean that we’ll still buy clothes, but we’ll get them second-hand from thrift stores and charity shops, or maybe even make them ourselves. It could mean that we’ll keep buying from corporations, but we’ll also be growing our own fruit and vegetables. It could mean that we’ll continue relying on the Empire’s market economy, but we’ll also live in simplicity, consume as few resources as possible, and recycle as much of our waste as we can. It could mean that we’ll still be driving, but we’ll also be carpooling wherever possible and maybe even converting our vehicles to run on used vegetable oil. It could mean that we’ll still be buying property, but we’ll also gather together in community with one another and discuss new and interesting ways in which we can exercise that creativity which will radiate God’s love to the world around us.

It could also be that, as communities of people who gather together, we will move from the limited things we do to lead sustainable lives (ethical consumer choices, switching appliances off when not used, switching to renewable energy, recycling, gardening, simple living, etc) and onto those larger ways in which we will question, challenge, and change the system of which we are all part. And as more and more people come together to do this, we could come even closer to receiving God’s Kingdom in fullness, not just in a way that saves people from the devil, but causes them to become born again in the fullest possible sense – to escape from spiritual, human, economic, and social oppression on every single level.

Our Western civilisation might be crumbling and decaying around us… but the Church will be the light that guides the way. So what are you waiting for? Go out and express some of the divine creativity and prophetic imagination in your own life today!

An Open Letter to my Readers (Whomever you may be)

Ah, yes, so here we are again. I would imagine there may be five or so people who read this blog on any kind of regular basis and with any form of remote enthusiasm, but even so, I realise it has been a while. I profusely apologise.

This is not so much a blog entry per se, but rather an “in-betweener” of a few things I would like to address. The first is, as might be an obvious point, the long absence of any kind of regular work from me here. One of the primary reasons for this stems from undergoing a period of realising just how little I know and how much more I wish to learn and articulate. This does not mean that I am feeling any less fervent in the convictions I espouse, but I wish for a season to be a little more of a listener and a little less of a talker. So that’s the first point.

A couple of other points I need to address, are those raised by a recent commentator on my blog who brought up some interesting critiques. Now, I did think about just leaving a comment in return, but since these were very valid concerns and ones which might possibly have been concurred by others who visit here, I felt best to address them somewhat more openly.

Anyway, the commentator in question, a Mr (Ms?) “N. Inquisitor” challenged me in the following ways (And by the way, if you’re reading this, I wish to thank you both for reading and for commenting): It was said that my posts come across as quite complicated when Jesus’ teachings were themselves very straightforward, that they appear to be lacking in love, and that they are perhaps overtly political.

All great points, I’m quite grateful they were raised. This is going to make me think a little more about how best to present my thoughts in the future, but for now I wanted to provide a bit of a defense.

The apparent “complexity” of anything I post is acknowledged, but I’m not necessarily certain that anything I’m putting forward is anything particularly mindbending or hard to understand. I have had certain friends comment on my “intelligence” upon their reading of my work (And I am very flattered by this!), but I’m not convinced that aptitude has much to do with it. I consider myself to be a faithful (and failing) Christian, constantly seeking new growth in my relationship with God in Christ, and striving not only to articulate my convictions but also to search out the ways in which I know I must myself change and repent. I do agree that Jesus’ teachings are (or at least ought to be, for us) very simple and straightforward. What I find unfortunate is that we in the church don’t always find this simplicity to be very practical, and so we invent new ways in which to contort and stretch out scripture in a way that makes us feel more confortable. It is exactly this type of thinking which I oppose, and for this reason I almost feel like I must make out arguments which end up detailed, in an effort to allow us a return to the radical simplicity which leaps at us from the Gospel. I do not consider this to be any kind of skill or intelligence, lest I be arrogant enough to assume that I am capable of holding onto truths which others are not. If ever that were to be the case, I would hope to know instantly that it were not a truth from God, who has hidden the things of Heaven from the wise and revealed them unto children.

The next point… that my posts lack in love. This too concerns me, that I might often fail to convey that Godly love which is absolutely central and paramount to the Christian faith. While I understand how this might happen, and while I promise to watch how I express myself in this regard for future posts, I would say that everything written here… is most definitely done in love. My vision is for Christians to reach a realisation of love in the fullest possible sense of the word. This also ties into the whole point of “simplicity” that you raised, my fellow Inquisitor, when you spoke of how Jesus’ teachings were often straightforward. Well, I would be ecstatic if more of us within the church were to view, say, the Sermon on the Mount with precisely this mindset. To me, there is little more that is plain as the commandment for us to love our enemies, and yet many of us in the church have tragically dismissed the simple nature of this piece of scripture and approached it instead with the attitude of “Jesus couldn’t possibly have meant what this appears to say, He must have meant something different.” And we have fallen into the trap of believing that we can still love a person while having them sentenced to death, that we can still love someone with the love of God and shoot at them in the battlefield. If my posts appear to lack love, then I must apologise for that, but my wish is for my readers to journey with me in understanding what the love of Christ really means and how we effect that in the here and now.

Which somewhat conveniently ties in with your final point… that my posts are overly political. Politics is ultimately reduced to the ways in which human beings interact with one another and with the world around them. In this sense, there isn’t much in the world quite as political as this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your strength, and all your mind. And you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus did speak of saving souls and bringing healing to those who suffer, absolutely. I identify as an Evangelical Christian and would never wish to remove the vital spiritual component of the Gospels. However, if I get political, it is because I see salvation as a very present event which brings transformation to people in the here and now. I also see healing not just as something miraculous (which it is), but also as something we effect by being agents of the Holy Spirit. I wish to love my neighbour as myself. If my negligence in caring for the environment is inadvertently contributing to a detrimental livelihood for the poorer sectors of society and consuming valuable resources from the earth (thus negating my very spiritual role as a responsible steward of God’s creation), then that is a political matter about which I must necessarily be concerned as a follower of Christ. If I habitually buy from a clothing company which produces its goods off the backs of families in developing nations who are paid well under a sustainable living wage, then that is a political matter about which I must necessarily be concerned as a follower of Christ. If I see my fellow spiritual brethren coopted into nationalistic service of a military which thrives on upholding order by lawfully killing others, then that is a political matter about which I must necessarily be concerned as a follower of Christ. If I am called to love my enemies, and to love my neighbour as myself, then those are political matters which I feel require the attention of any person professing to be a Christian. When all is said and done… love itself is political. Not party political, though, I must add.

I hope this provides some insight into why I often post the way I do. With all of that said, I am going to see if I can keep these critiques in mind when I post from now on, in the hopes that there will be a little more of that fiery Christ-centred love present in my work. Who knows, I may even try to be a little less academically-minded! 🙂

An actual, “proper” post coming soon. Watch this space (Or Bloglines… or Facebook… etc).

Prayer – Part II

The impetus for this second in our perhaps ongoing series on prayer comes from a recent discussion I had with some friends on the beliefs of John Shelby Spong, the former Episcopalian Bishop of Newark. As some of you may know, Spong is a somewhat controversial figure for being ultra-liberal to the point of divesting Biblical Christianity of most of its supernatural themes, and this stripping it down into something that only vaguely resembles Christianity at all. In his “12 Theses of a New Reformation,” Spong cites this as his 10th:

“Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.”

I cannot help but be somewhat perplexed by the idea that anyone laying claim to the Christian faith could not bring themselves to believe in the power of prayer. Now, this is not to say that I am unable to understand such inclinations. Part of the reason I was inspired to write this series (however sporadic and infrequent it might be) is because I understand the human frustration with the transcendental all too well, and prayer is no exception in these frustrations. How often have we felt that our prayers go unanswered? How often have we felt completely helpless in a situation and believed in our hearts that, as much as we prayed, nothing we did could even fractionally remedy the problems we sought to resolve? Indeed, even when we have brought our burdens and concerns before God, how often have we felt completely and utterly resigned to the sheer mystery of what prayer is? As a good friend of mine often says to me, “I’ll be praying… I’m just not sure what it does.” My own guess is that we feel this way about prayer a large majority of the time, no matter how weak or strong our faith might be. I consider that to be, simultaneously, something of a comfort and a concern.

The point is, many of us might be tempted to renounce the belief we have in prayer altogether. After all, if we don’t see it “do” anything, if it doesn’t seem to help, if we seem to pray in vain, then why bother? Surely, we might say, we can be Christians without having to believe in prayer?

This is my own point of puzzlement… On many different levels, I don’t see how someone could be a Christian and disbelieve in the power of prayer; not because I’m getting on a pedestal here and talking about doctrinal differences, but to go back to what Spong writes, he (apparently) believes that “prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.” Is this is but one particular definition we are choosing to place upon what prayer “is,” then at least a few things come to mind for me personally:

1.) Regardless of our beliefs regarding the Incarnation and the Trinity, what is the life and ministry of Jesus if not one giant manifestation of God “acting in history?”

2.) Even if we did strip away every single supernatural underpinning of the Gospel, we are still nonetheless left with a ministry and following which was rooted entirely in the inspiration of morality as perceived to be from God. If this inspiration comes from some form of knowledge or experience about God, then what is this if not God acting in history? Which leads me onto:

3.) What on earth use would it be now to seek an articulation and praxis of morality based upon the Gospel, upon teachings regarding humanity’s exemplification of God’s Law, if we do not believe that God will act within human history?

In other words, it seems to me that anyone who wants to bear the title of “Christian” does so because they wish to enact in their lives, and possibly in their surroundings, a system of ethics they perceive to be based upon the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Now if we choose, then, to believe in God, then I would have to take issue with the idea that God has not acted within human history via the process of prayer at all – simply because that by virtue of living out this inspiration within our own lives, God is acting.

I recently read an interview by Steve Chalke, a prominent (and also controversial in his own ways, surprise surprise) Baptist minister in the UK, who had these words to say on the subject of prayer:

“Prayer is a longing. You do not say it, you long it, dream it, imagine it, give your life for it, weep over it. It keeps you up late at night, it is your soul crying out and not just neat words with an amen at the end. If you mean it you will live it. The words rest on your soul and grip you.”

This rings true with my own very, very, very limited understanding of what prayer is and why every Christian must consider it their duty – In prayer, we are not just committing our burdens, longings, and hopes to the Almighty God, we are committing ourselves to Him as well. As Chalke says, we must live prayer, not just speak it. It makes no sense to pray for injustice to cease if we are not enacting justice in our own lives, nor does it make any sense to pray for peace if we are not being peacemakers in our own lives.

This is not to say, I must add, that I am centralising the conceptual power of prayer entirely within the realms of human action, less the reality of God’s own power be invalidated. However, before we can even begin to have faith in the miraculous (which I trust is partially the reason why so many Christians, myself included, struggle with prayer), we must have faith in the miracle that God has enacted within our own lives as well. Namely, confirming us as made in His Image, then sanctifying, inspiring, and empowering us through the name of Christ. When we have faith, and when we act in that faith, it is then that we see the power of our prayers at work.

Good Citizenship

Simon Barrow at Ekklesia writes:

“Good citizenship is not about flag-waving, metaphorically or otherwise. It’s about the just practices, shared habits and practical ways of organising our public lives which enable people to belong to one another across boundaries like those created by nation states, not in subjection to them.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Meditations on Community

It’ s quite strange that as for the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about the idea of community within a Christian context, the good folks over at Jesus Manifesto have written an article which expresses my thoughts almost word for word. It was enough to make me wonder whether repeating such thoughts here beyond simply linking to them would even be necessary. However, you can’t keep a good man down, can you?

To compliment my earlier posts on state non participation and the contrast between idealism and realism, the question remains that even if Christians are to remove themselves from the myriad power structures of the world which breed and exacerbate injustice, then what exactly is it that Christians ought to be doing themselves? Surely being a peacemaker means more than simply disbelieving in violence? Does not being defender of the weak constitute some form of action? And if we are to speak out against injustices in the world, then how should we be acting in order to compliment the voices we raise? The fight for justice most surely means far more than endless ranting.

The difficulty is found in that the individual is left wondering exactly what it is they can do about these issues, and the article at Jesus Manifesto to which I linked highlights this problem somewhat. While the individual is certainly empowered within their own sphere of influence, there is inevitably (and perhaps somewhat tragically) a limit at which their efforts will prove fruitless. This is actually through no fault of our own, but rather due to the fact that Christianity is not meant to be an individualistic faith, but rather one which is pursued in the solidarity, accountability, and community of others who are working toward the same spiritual and social goals. While our relationship with God in Christ will certainly call us to periods of solitude and private contemplation, these periods are usually followed by a call to sharing and action among others. This is true even of the monastics, who, though they separate themselves from society, nonetheless commune with one another rather than constantly being in solitude. When all is said and done, we are formed in the image of community for the purpose of community. Just as God resides as an eternal expression of relational love, so we too who are created in His image find our ultimate satisfaction within relating love to others.

This ties in well with the quandary faced by Christians at large today, about how to possibly combat so many social issues and injustices. It is possibly time to consider that the reason we so often feel inadequate and lacking in resourcefulness is because we are taking on an individual fight when in fact the fight is served in community. This realisation is especially pertinent to a time when many who feel burdened or disillusioned with situations in the world will compromise themselves and turn over control and responsibility to those very power structures from which we are called to be separate. And who can blame us when this happens, in all honesty? We’re all guilty of this, this sense of feeling so helpless and exhausted that we search within the realms of partisan politics and capitalist economics in order to provide our salvation. “Perhaps we can reform the system! If we vote a certain politician into power who defends some of the issues we believe in, then we can make a difference! If we support this corporation, we can provide jobs and aid for the poor!”

Many don’t perceive there to even be a problem with this line of thinking, and I perceive this to be a great tragedy of how we as a Church (and indeed, as a human race) have been so heavily duped by the trappings of Empire that we can see no distinction between our operation as Christians and their operation as institutions. These thoughts are even more heavily highlighted when one stops to ponder that many simply don’t have time and space in order to commit themselves to working in ways that would otherwise directly tackle such problems, and therefore the decision to place reliance upon the institutional frameworks of society seems all the more justified.

The solution is not in such insidious compromises, but rather in the effort to return to our state as a community operating together in the unity and sanctity of the Holy Spirit. Rather than investing ourselves in partisan politics and inequitable economics (which stifles our prophetic voice by restricting the power of God to act through us), the time has come to embody an alternative to such systems. As much as we might try this as individuals, and even succeed in some places, such witness against injustice only comes from our collective effort as a body of believers who commit ourselves daily not just to our respective positions of work, but also our primary work as people called in the Spirit of Christ to love. When this happens, even those whose professions demand copious amounts of time find themselves able to live out the changes they would wish to see in the world, by actually living as the change themselves. Community is more than combined effort; it is the embodiment of an alternative economics, and an altogether way of life. Martin Luther King Jr. recalled in one of his addresses that when the early Christians entered a town, the status quo became disturbed by their very presence, and were often the target of incredible accusations such as “turning the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6-7) The Christians’ way of life was too much for the people around them, it was TOO BIG to even measure. By the otherwise simple actions of sharing wealth, renouncing possessions, and loving each other, the Church was set at odds with Caesar, and the Empire trembled.

Does the Empire tremble today? It doesn’t have much reason to, we keep electing its officials into power and relying on its corporate outlets! How are we disturbing the status quo today? Are we providing a witness to the Caesars of our time? Or have we tragically become Caesars ourselves?

The time has come to “come out from among them and be separate.” (2 Corinthians 6:17) Not in the sense of being completely dissociated from society, but rather impacting it and transforming it. Instead of stifling the power of God in our lives and being spiritually estranged from one another, let us seek the alternatives in our time, in the here and now, and no longer relinquish our control over to the god of this world. Let us embody a better way to live, so that as Mary herself sung, kings might be shamed, the rich made low, and the poor brought high. May all of us come and stand together in the equalising reign of the Almighty God, whose Kingdom usurps all other kingdoms before Him, and whose economy will never leave the poor unattended.

Blessed are the…?

Presumably I wasn’t supposed to find this ironic…