it’s good there’s poor people

8 11 2013

“It’s good there’s poor people, because we can do mission now.”
“It’s good there’s poor people, because now they need us and when people are in need they listen.” 
“It’s good there’s poor people, because we needed to salve our conscience by helping somebody.” 

Like any good writer, I made those quotes up. Imagine how you would feel if you actually heard somebody say them? The thing is, I don’t think you have to scratch very far in many of us and our churches to find those opinions, however unspoken, however unrealised. Let me explain, and I will begin by saying some really positive things about the church generally at the moment.

The church (or a lot of it) is seizing the moment and being active among the poor and those in need, even parts of the church that didn’t used to do much. The support for FoodBanks, Street Pastors, School Pastors, debt counselling and so on is, without doubt, a Good Thing. And it is being (slowly) collectively realised that much of our contemporary worship is removed from the world in which we live, so there are (a few) songs that actually mention how we live (e.g. Bring Heaven to Earth by Andy Flannagan and Build Your Kingdom Here by Rend Collective). This is good. It almost goes with out saying that church pilgrimages like New Wine/Spring Harvest/Soul Survivor have a practical social action element to them. Brilliant. 10 years ago this was new. 

Now to the crunch though. I was recently in a meeting of church leaders in which a speaker was talking about the link between government welfare cuts and church social action projects; he said that it isn’t and never was the state’s responsibility to care for the poor, but it is the church’s responsibility, and we should see the (positively spun) welfare cuts as an opportunity for mission. To my horror, there was a murmur of approval from many of said church leaders.

Reduced to it’s unspoken core, this says it is good there are poor people, because now we can do mission. For churches who were faltering to find a place and a voice in contemporary society, and who were not engaging with people in poverty in any meaningful way, it is so easily seen that way. I will now tell you why I think this is wrong. 

1. Poverty should never be an opportunity for mission, but an opportunity for service. Service must come first. We serve the poor, relentlessly and selflessly and even if they never come to church we serve and serve.

Sutton Foodbank

2. Poverty needs more than sticking plasters. Martin Luther King said the church is great at being the Good Samaritan, but not good at going back to the Jericho Road to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Desmond Tutu said the church is great at pulling the bodies out of the river, but what we need to do is go upstream and see who is pushing them in. And stop them. Foodbanks are great, an essentially but TEMPORARY sticking plaster. There is one in my church but I don’t want it there – not because I don’t like it, I don’t think we should need them.

3. Tackling poverty is a long-term community-based issue, which means building relationships, asking questions of councillors and MPs, lobbying on behalf of those who do not have a voice. Finding out about people who are not me. 

I feel passionately about this because I am so middle-class I know how easily it is to think you’re helping by buying Fair Trade, supporting a Food Bank and shopping in Waitrose. But it’s not enough. Can you write good letters? Write them. Can you argue well? Argue for the poor. Are you a shareholder who’s CEO salaries are outrageous? Tell them. Campaigning for a Living Wage, for example, must be done hand in hand with FoodBanks, as 60% of people on benefits are IN WORK. 

We need to see the current economic situation not as a wonderful opportunity to do mission but a terrible opportunity to do service. Challenge your church leader. Ask them for a theology of poverty. Do a Bible study on Isaiah 58. And see what happens. 

I’m thinking about joining Christians on the Left (formerly Christian Socialist Movement). Have a look for yourself. 





the raoul moat of separation

14 07 2010

They say an Englishman’s home is his castle. Maybe these days it is moral superiority that is our castle. With little frame of reference for moral decisions except ‘my feelings’ and ‘what other people think’, it is easy to retreat to the safe ground of superiority, building a castle around ourselves, a castle of protection from engaging with what is outside and a castle filled with others who think the same. Otherwise we would have to mix with ‘the others’, the dirty ones who live outside my castle who think differently and might taint the purity of our community. They might ask us why we think how we do and we would only be able to answer “because I do” and that would seem childish and inadequate.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said that there should be no sympathy for Raoul Moat. The BBC reports that speaking during Prime Minister’s Question Time, Mr Cameron said:

“It is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer, full stop, end of story. I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man. There should be sympathy for his victims and the havoc he wreaked in that community. There should be no sympathy for him.”

Full stop, end of story? Really? Now, I understand how that opinion is formed. Moral indignation is a natural response. Firm leadership is required and Cameron thinks he is giving it. Point the finger, name the act, distance ourselves from it. Simple as.

The trouble is for people who follow Jesus, that simply isn’t good enough. We can of course join in with moral indignation and stamping our feet with the best of them – we are, after all, renowned for that – but we cannot stop there. The train doesn’t stop at Moral Indignation Station, it passes through to somewhere a whole lot more uncomfortable. Namely, Empathy Station. Which is on a branch line with All Fall Short, Cast the First Stone and Love Your Enemy. Those stations are rickety, tumbledown old places, full of weeds and nowhere near as strong and secure-looking as Moral Superiority Castle. But they are beautiful places that manage to hold the tension between someone doing something wrong and why they did it; between the consequences of someone’s actions and the life that led to it. That is a difficult place to be because it is so much easier to blame and point and retreat. But we walk where Jesus walked and he walked there.

I spoke to someone who assaulted someone else recently, and they said that they couldn’t help their anger because it was ‘in their genes’, it was just how the family reacted to situations. It was learned behaviour and inherited behaviour. For me, when Jesus says he has come to loose the chains and free the captives, it is this sort of thing he means. And how can he do that if we feel nothing for those who are held captive, knowingly or unknowingly? It doesn’t mean their actions go unpunished or the consequences ignored – but it does mean that it is our obligation and our duty and our will  and our desire to understand why people do what they do, say what they say; it does not excuse actions like those of Raoul Moat but we must allow ourselves to feel more than self-righteous anger.

What David Cameron has said is outrageous. He needs to come out of Moral Superiority Castle, cross over the stagnant moat of separation and meet the kingdom of God where justice and mercy meet, where the never-ending stream is full of justice and goodness; where people are messed up and broken and dirty like old cracked pots that leak and feel pretty useless and that, that is where we are and where we are a part of the repairing and restoring and transforming of the world. It is a place of tension. It is a place of unresolved hurt.

No-one said that where justice and mercy meet was a comfortable place.

…………………………………………

Click here to download We Are Blessed (Bring Heaven to Earth), and let’s move out of the castles, cross the moat and get real.

We Are Blessed (Bring Heaven to Earth)

Bring heaven to earth, Lord
Bring peace where there’s fear
Bring life where there’s death, Lord
Bring joy in these tears

Bring love where there’s lust, Lord
Bring hope where there’s pain
Bring rest where there’s chaos
Bring faith where there’s fame.

PRECHORUS

You invite us to partner with you
To see your kingdom come

CHORUS

We are blessed, to bless a world in pieces
We are loved, to love where love is not.
We are changed, to be the change you promised
We are freed, to be your hands, O God

BRIDGE

Lord we cry out to you
Change the atmosphere
Breathe new life in all who gather here

Bring home to the homeless
Bring keys to the chained
Bring worth to the purchased
And touch to the shamed.
Bring flesh from your word, Lord
Bring truth where there’s spin
Bring risk where there’s safety
And grace where there’s sin

In the broken, we shall see restored
the image of our King

Bring justice to profit
Bring patience to growth
Bring wisdom to progress
Like food for the soul
Bring freedom from debt, Lord
An end to excess
Bring closer your kingdom
By quiet success

May we grow in the knowledge of you
Through every heart and face

© Andy Flannagan
……………………………………..

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine





faithworks 2: dirty hands or helium balloons

10 03 2010

I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand, my soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

What can I say?
What can I do?
But offer this heart O God,
Completely to you

I was listening to this song by Hillsong today, a song I love and have had many ‘moments’ whilst singing, when I realised the direction it faces. Upwards. Always. We offer abstract things to God, like ‘all I am’ and my ‘soul’, my ‘heart’. Perhaps it would be more realistic to sing What can I do? Offer my money, my attitudes, my house, my time. Maybe that’s what they mean. But there is a real tendency in modern theology to offer abstract things, to sing abstract things. It’s safer.

At the Faithworks Conference Brian McLaren spoke of our theology getting exactly the results we get – we talk about extracting souls from earth to heaven, via church, which is like a big soul-warehouse where we are stored until death. So, we care and sing about souls and eternal destiny; we say soul because it sounds better than saying self, but really we mean self. God exists to extract my-self from here to there, via church, whilst stripping me of my money, and presumably any sense of fashion. We look up, forgetting Jesus came down because God so loved the world.

It’s another example of what I talked about in my earlier Faithworks post – the salvation and liberation that Jesus talked about and that the early church talked about was this but was so much more. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We are freed to be his grubby dirty hands, not to be his helium balloons floating gracefully away.

what must i do to be freed?

Brian McLaren gave an excellent example of freedom and liberation as often misunderstood. Here’s a whistle-stop tour. Read Acts 16. Paul and Silas hang out with mixed-race family, and then a gathering of women at the edge of the city. Women. At the edge. These are not the powerful people. Lydia then hosts them – the first female church leader, and their patron. A slave girl makes money for her owners by predicting the future. She keeps shouting at her owners that Paul and Silas will tell them – not her – the way to be saved. Saved? Does she mean getting to heaven when they die? I think not. She is owned and exploited. They can be free. Paul and Silas are slaves of the Most High; her owners are slaves of the system of oppression. If they are free, she can be free.

They exorcise her evil spirit (as you d0), and are imprisoned for advocating unlawful customs. What customs? Freeing slaves. They are in a Roman colony and are freeing slaves. The Roman economy is dependant upon slaves. In prison, there is an earthquake, and the jailer thinks they have escaped. He is going to kill himself. Why? He knows the system. He knows what happens to jailers who let prisoners go. He will be imprisoned. He knows what happens to prisoners. He knows that death is a better option. He is enslaved by the system.

But they have not escaped. His question: what must I do to be saved? Does he mean getting to heaven after he dies? No. I think not. He means, what must I do to get out of this horrific system of ownership, oppression, fear and slavery. What can you offer me? The kingdom of God breaking into a Roman prison in a Roman colony. How can we have missed the irony?!

Paul says, believe in the Lord Jesus (instead of the Lord Caesar – it’s wordplay, in Greek, kurious iesous instead of kurios caesar). Stop the domination narrative and you and your family will be saved. So the jailer takes the prisoners to his home, washes their wounds and feeds them. This family is having a liberated moment. This is very un-Roman. This is very Kingdom of God. This is beautiful stuff.

The next day, the magistrates want to quietly release Paul and Silas. Hush hush. Keep it quiet. But Paul and Silas engage in some civil disobedience. They refuse to go until the corrupt magistrates, who were only concerned about lining their pockets from the oppression of the slave system, have come face-to-face with their actions.

Summarising this story, Brian made these points:

  • women are at the centre of the Kingdom of God movement
  • women are released from oppression
  • the economic system is challenged
  • the political system is exposed as corrupt
  • low-level functionaries are liberated, along with their families
  • high-level functionaries are confronted with their corruption

set free from what?

So this story is way more than a Sunday-school story about an earthquake and a jailer, way more than telling people how to be saved from this earth and get to heaven. This is a get down and dirty story about the kingdom of God breaking in unexpectedly to a Roman colony, to a Roman prison, to a Roman family, to a female Roman slave. And so it is a story for us as we are called to imagine where we can be a part of the Kingdom of God breaking in to our world.

Do we simply offer our I ams, our hearts, souls and abstract selfs, or do we offer to be slaves that we may free slaves.

Dirty hands or helium balloons.

Helium balloons are fun for a bit, but end up making squeaky voices and popping uselessly. Dirty feet do get dirty, but they get things done, here and now.

What can I say?
What can I do?
But offer myself O God
As a slave to you

We are blessed to bless a world in pieces, loved to love where love is not. If you need a holy pause, download for free We Are Blessed (Bring Heaven to Earth) by Andy Flannagan. Listen, worship, then go. 

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 236 other followers

%d bloggers like this: