A Mandate for the Wonderers
“All too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.”
Martin Luther King
The polar icecaps are melting, this is a fact, and they affect the jet stream and the jet stream affects our weather. There is 4% more water in the atmosphere because of the warming planet; this affects the way it rains. Our weather will never be what it was. And we are just a small island. Globally the picture is as unstable - New York has been hit by a hurricane; Australia by temperatures in excess of 50 c. There’s been Typhoons in China; floods in Brazil and Africa. In fact all across the globe the weather is acting in extreme, life destructive, ways. On top of this we are facing a whole new raft of diseases – Sudden Ash Die Back, Acute Oak Decline and Sudden Oak Dieback, are killing our trees, whilst Blue tongue and Schmallenburg are killing our sheep and cows. Nobodies sure what’s happening to our bees except that they’re dying in vast numbers, and there’s more to come by all accounts. Our natural world is in trouble, which is very bad. However we are also running out of oil, which for oil based economies such as ours is a problem. Both the wars in Iraq and Libya have been in oil rich countries that have ended in greater oil security for the Western world, strange coincidence! It takes 10 calories of oil energy to produce every 1 calorie of food in America, when this is combined with the affects of weather on food production there is every reason to believe that food shortages are going to become a very real global phenomenon. Perhaps not affecting us directly but pushing our food prices up further and poverty up with it. And of course fuel and heating prices will continue to rise (In 2011 Oxfam predicted that food prices would continue to rise for the next 20 years).
On top of that we are looking at the collapse of our social and economic structures. Most pundits predict that our children will be significantly poorer than us. I bought a 3 bed house in the 90’s for 3 times my wage and I was working in a factory, who could do that now? If you can’t afford to live in a secure home then you, your partner and your children will suffer. The divide between rich and poor is growing ever wider and the idea of Britain being a meritocracy, has all but vanished. The young and disadvantaged can no longer afford university tuition fees (£9000) and are being offered apprenticeships at McDonalds and Tescos. And besides, when so many of our young people have taken the only path available to them and saddled themselves with huge debts in order to get a degree, having a degree has become common place and worthless. They have not been educated for the real world, but to get a job and there are no jobs (according to government figures the unemployment rate for 16 - 24 year olds is 20% and that’s not including those in education) and let’s face it, how many of those in work have proper jobs; with a future, sick pay, decent wages, 40 regular hours? How many of those who look at the future we have won for them thank us?
Make no mistake, we are looking down the barrel of a revolution. And it is in this crucible, that historically, the church has sprung up anew. It is a furnace in which certain things are burnt up and new ideas are refined. We see the signs around us as more and more Christians turn their backs on conversional church, in fact we are seeing the growing irrelevance of the church in the lives of the people it seeks to reach; it is getting burned up but what is being born?
As a third generation Christian, struggling with bills, work, grown up children and a fascination with what’s happening in the world and Christianity/Church/wholeness I feel that my life was two narratives. The first is my Christian narrative and the second is the story of me developing as a human being. There is so much in my faith that I could not, quite literally, live without and yet the practices of the church and the ideals espoused by “Christendom” leave me despairing. On the other hand I find life (interestingly Jesus is the source of life, John 1) pulling me away from much that the church teaches, it asks questions of me that the church has no answers for. So I find myself both torn and informed by both narratives. For me, it is in this place that new ideas are being born and I would like to share a couple with you. I will just give a brief overview of these two viewpoints.
There are at present several versions of mainstream Christianity, all with different interpretations of the bible; Protestantism, Catholic and Orthodox are three that are big enough to confidently claim to be right whilst viewing the other two as mistaken. Within the protestant tradition is the Conservative Christian or “born again” tradition that I was brought up in. It is different to the other three in many ways, however, it too believes it is right. It took me many years to realise what I can now say in two words; it isn’t. It is that shocking realisation that allows the door to unlock on so many questions and breaks the log jam of a stultifying faith. It is the same reason why Jesus was so angry with the Pharisees, they too thought that they were right and were so sure of it that it was inconceivable for them to frame the universe any other way. They were so sure of being right that it made sense to kill the son of God in order to defend it. It is called being self-righteous, it is a killer, and tragically it is an ideal that the church encourages. In starting to question my faith several things are happening; I am growing as a person; I am growing away from the central portion of those practicing my faith (see James Fowler, Stages of Faith); I am growing in trust in God and I am traversing new ground.
Here’s a different story
The modern, scientific view of humanity is that our genes are playing a trick on us. All those things we love in films, books and songs are just chemicals popping in our synapses. Our love for our children is a chemical, our belief in good; a psychological hangover from the Stone Age. Science seems to have answers for everything but it has no art, colour, beauty or love. We may offer it intellectual assent but if someone came up with a more humane rational we would grasp it with both hands.
On the other hand is the religious world view; one that gives love credence but comes with a raft of self interest, rules, codes and claptrap. Inhabiting the middle ground between these two ideologies is an ever growing section of society who are cherry picking an amorphous spirituality that is private, individual and unique. But which is trying to grasp with the problems we are facing and feels a genuine compassion for those who are struggling.
I guess to a certain extent I too am a member of this rag tag group. Tying whatever we can find together in order to make a raft that will keep us from sinking, both practically and theologically.
The question I’ve been asking of myself for the past decade is how can my faith offer a better story, a better raft, a better foundation. One that starts answering the questions a growing number of spiritual seekers are asking, I feel that Christianity had reduced itself into a corner. We are obsessed with conversion, which develops a “them and us” ideology, with God being on our side and the other side being Godless. This of course means that we can only conceive of the “Kingdom of God” being what we have. We cannot conceive of the Kingdom of God being about work, or housing, or social justice, or friendship, or the planet; unless there was a chance of converting people, because that would place it on the wrong side of the line. One of my huge frustrations with this is the way it refuses to tackle what is happening to the planet. It will sleep through a revolution when it should hold in its hands the answer to the problem. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus prayed – Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We have a mandate to build the Kingdom of God on the other side of the line.
For me, the solution to the deepening divide in my faith and beliefs came in a torrent of realisation. I realised that Christ was not man and God in the sense of some mesmerising, cosmic conjuring act, but in the sense of a new creation. His great gift to humanity was not, primarily dying for our sins, as I had previously believed, but was about exemplifying a new way of being. About saying you too can do this, the route to God is not through religion that causes us to look to heaven for salvation, but by entering into your humanity. It is not a search for perfection but the embrace of the broken. This is actually a very ancient Christian interpretation of the nature of Jesus and an idea that the Orthodox church continues to hold dear. You see Jesus said things like:
Mathew 25;37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
I had always assumed that Jesus’ identification with the poor was ideological. I now believe that he was being literal. This is the good news and it is The Kingdom of God and it is very exciting! It gives us a framework for our Christian faith which not only pushes it beyond the fence but decamps back there and can start to get real.
Just to reiterate: God is humanity and if we love him we need to look for him there.
At the start of this article I outlined the difficult situation we find ourselves in and then went on to describe a way of re-imagining our Christianity in order to make it more relevant. I do this because I am looking for the scent of God, because it is my belief that a world that has lost faith in money and is pressured by overwhelming imperatives is open to re-imagining human worth. In short, is on the verge of something wonderful and it needs our message of hope like a heart needs a beat.
, Jon Middleton
, Kingdom of God
, Martin Luther King Jr.
, Matthew 25
, Social Action
, Social Change