Where is the new ideology?

It is an old academic political discussion- the end of Ideology– by which I mean the end of the time of battling grand political/economic theories that inspired and fuelled our attempts to understand and shape our society. Thatcher put an end to all that in the UK- not because she had no ideology, but because she cleared the field of all opposition. Capitalism and ‘The Market’ triumphed and gifted us with the so called free movement of capital, trickle down, neoliberalism and globalisation.

Over the next 20 years, nation after nation fell in line, cajoled by the promise of great wealth or manipulated by powerful organisations who needed scarce resources or a new market.

None of this is a surprise, but what is more noticeable is the lack of viable alternative. Sure there are voices of protest- not least the Occupy Movement- but to demand change is not necessarily the same thing as proposing an alternative (I know that the OM are in discussion about all sorts of issues, but I would suggest that no real coherent alternative ideology has yet emerged.)

There was an interesting article in the Guardian today by Aditya Chakrabortty. Here are a couple of quotes;

When the history of how a good crisis went to waste gets written up, it will surely contain a big chapter on the failure of our academic elites. Because just like the politicians, the taxpayer-funded intellectuals at our universities have missed the historic opportunities gifted to them by the financial collapse. And it will be the rest of us who pay the price…

…So have the non-economists grasped their moment? Have they hell. Look at the academic conferences held over the past few weeks, at which the latest and most promising research in each discipline is presented, and it’s as if Lehman Brothers never fell over…

Chakrabortty did a search of recent sociological and social science conferences and academic papers and concluded that pretty much the disciplines were not interested in challenging the core assumptions of the dominant ideology.

So where is the challenge to come from, if not from the academic elite? And more importantly, where are the alternative ideologies going to emerge from?

I watched the two Che Guevara films recently- a time when ideology believed that revolution was possible and even worth killing for. Revolution meant overcoming the ruling elite, empowering the poor and dispossessed and bringing egalitarian justice to society. Whilst I abhor the violence, most of us will instinctively feel the pull of these ideas.

Most of us too will have heard the spoilers- the voices that suggest that such ideas are unrealistic, unobtainable, work against human instincts and have been proved to serially fail because of the repeated failures of communist regimes throughout the world. Therefore the only option left is to continue as we are- with a few tweaks to satisfy the left field.

I want to raise my own voice in protest at this hopelessness. I want to invite my friends into a journey to find a new kind of ideology. We are not there yet, but I think we have some clues;

Start small. Start local.

Buy less, want less, make more.

Reduce waste, increase sharing and holding things in common.

Increase joint social enterprise.

In all things be aware of the impact on those who have little.

In all things be aware of the impact on the environment.

For me, the other academic/social/political group that has been near silent in the offering of a viable alternative is this one- the Church. Because as I look at the economic list above, it seems to me to be also a SPIRITUAL list. Without the life of the Spirit within us, we are mere animals, scratching and scraping at one another for the meatiest parts of the carcass.

So perhaps it all comes down to the word Love. If Economics are subordinate to love, then what might the theories look like? If political science was shaped by love, how might we organise ourselves differently? Even as I write this I feel the rise of cynicism, but- love remains.

I think this is the ideology of the Kingdom of God, and the viral vitality that we can and should bring to all these debates. And we do not have to wait until the universities write papers and hold conferences- because we can make our own small economy now- here.

Kingdom of heaven, retrospective…

sharing a meal

Like many others who have found such life in and around this thing we have come to call ’emerging church’, I have such a love for these words ‘Kingdom of Heaven’.

For many years they were words of condemnation for me…

Something other.

Something distant and dangerous.

Something I had to fight to enter, and at best, I might scrape my way into on a technicality.

Something that was wrapped up in charismatic ideas of spiritual warfare and triumphalistic ecstatic wierdness.

Something that in order to serve, I needed to be Holy. And I was not.

I remember that moment when I began to catch a glimpse of a different meaning of the words- as spoken by Jesus.

Of the Kingdom of God as something that grows inside me, like an infectious bubble of blessing.

As something that is here now, but also still to come.

As something that I participate in, but is beyond my understanding.

That welcomes the weak, and the weary, and the child like.

And is glimpsed, almost as a mirage, in our communing and loving and laughing together.

And the call on us, the agents of this kingdom, not to turn the whole world blind or salty, but to shine light on truth and beauty, and to season the flavours of Jesus wherever we taste them.

If these ideas are new-ish to you, or you would like to hear some more about the context that Jesus was speaking into, when he spoke of the Kingdom- check out this excellent Aussie radio programme…


house of commons

So, the politics in the UK takes another strange turn.

The papers are full of details of expenses claimed by Members of Parliament- from the maintenance of moats, to pornographic videos.

The Speaker of the house has resigned during a sitting of parliament- for the first time ever.

Change is in the air- both in terms of the party in power, who may yet be forced to call an early election- and also the pressing need for reform of some aspects of our political system. Whether or not there will be real change, it remains to be seen. The British tend to change constitutional things slowly, and pragmatically.

Is this crisis a good thing? A good shake up and clear out of the system is sometimes good- although the moral and ethical tone of the current debate tends to be a little difficult to stomach- coming as it does from the Daily Telegraph. It is not so long ago that the out-going Conservative party fell into a trough of sleaze and allegations of ministers being bribed with envelopes stuffed with money. The Telegraph had a different set of priorities then.

But the current scandal seems to confirm a base view of politics that views all politicians as ‘the same’, feeding from the same honey pot, out for what they can get. If such a view persists, then our system of democracy is under threat.

The problem with this view for many of us, is that for many years, we believed that all politicians were NOT the same. There were ours, and theirs. Ours were politicians of conscience- men (and women) of passion and integrity- committed to an ideal of social justice and socialist principles. Theirs were out to protect their privileges- slaves to big business and multinationals- committed to maintaining inequality.

This simplistic, dualistic view of the world defined my life for years. It was a comfortable, safe place- which allowed easy categorisation according to ideology for just about everything. Things were either politically correct, or they were not. There is a naive simplicity which is still attractive to me as I remember these things-

Food– chosen according to origin. South Africa and Israel (Apartheid and Palestine) were to be avoided, as was anything by Nestle (Because of their promotion of Baby milk to sub Saharan Africa, with devastating effects.) Meat was forsaken because of the cutting of rainforests to grow beefburgers for MacDonalds, and Tuna was bad because Dolphins died in drift nets.

Clothing– was based on cheap jeans and slogan- laden tee shirts, carrying ‘radical’ messages. Accessories came from Oxfam, or the embryonic fair trade movement.

Music- had a message, or it was not worth listening to. And it had to be out message. There were some exceptions- allowed because they were good fun, and did not explicitly support the enemy.

And so on- you get the picture! All of life was seen through a world view that was defined by a particular politico-ideological perspective.

It was not simple for long. Our Heroes had clay feet. We had Kinnock, who blew it, Smith, who died on us, Blair who sold out and got in bed with Bush, and finally Brown who is merely presiding over the death throes of a party who long ago lost any sense of ideology and value base.

The thing is, I was (and am) a Christian. What I found was that it was possible to approach Jesus through the same narrow perspective. I genuinely believed that it was next to impossible to be a Christian and a Conservative. One meant life and justice for the oppressed, the other meant siding with the oppressors, which Jesus never would. For us, Jesus joined the Labour Movement. He was one of the boys. God was a socialist.

So how much harder is it then, to see the death of ideology over the last 20years? The end of politics driven by passion, and instead the easy slick accommodation of Blair- followed by the brutal prudence of Brown. A Labour Movement that found it possible to join a modern day American Crusade in Iraq and Afghanistan. That thought increased expenditure on health and education was the sum of it’s ambition. That presided over a widening gulf between the rich and poor of the nation.

And now a Labour government that came into power in 1997 promised to clean up politics. It promised a ethical foreign policy, and transparent funding processes…. and yet it ended up 12 years later with- this.

So, to the point of this piece.

Ideology can bring life. It can inspire enormous collective endevour. It pushed us towards a dream of living a better, more sustainable, ethical life. But is always falls short.

And when we promote an ideology above the author of everything- then this becomes, idolatry.

brazen serpent

So let us watch the political twistings and turnings with interest. But let us watch as people whose allegiance is not first to an ideology, but to a King and a New Kingdom.

Now is the time to scatter…


Now is the time to scatter

There is a time for all things under heaven

A time for the sent ones of God
To follow the rough roads
Into the barren broken places
To look for the marks left by Jesus
On the soft tissue
And brittle bones
Of the Imago Dei
The stinking
Image bearers of the Living God

Time for the insurgency of God
To follow the mission
Into the hostile places
To seek out the secret stains left by the love
That was woven
Into the very core
Of the Imago Christi
The failing
Manifest images of the Christ

Time for the dancers of the new Kingdom dance
To look for the music of Jesus
Amid the static and street noise
Tuning to the high fluting fragile sound
Vibrant and resonant
To the gracenotes
Made there by Spiritus Sanctus
By we discordant
Cursing and gossiping
Vessels of the Spirit of the Living God

Time for the revolutionaries of God
To follow the long hard march
Unyoked and with easy burdens
Looking for the soft places where people are
Where freedom flickers
And our hearts soar
And seek out the Participatio Christi
The weak but willing hands
And sore feet
Of those who would work where Jesus is

For now is the time for holy huddles to scatter
On the winds of the Spirit

Communing in the overlap…

Just Mooching Around (geddit?)

A story;

A man called Isaac grows and lives in a small village. He works hard on his farm, rising with the sun and tending the garden God gave him, tilling the rich brown earth. Rains come and water the green growth and plumps the ripening fruit. Life is good.

Next door lives his great friend Joseph. In the evenings they sit in the light of the harvest moon and share their hopes and dreams. They drink toasts to the future and laugh and joke and dream.

God looked upon them and smiled.

One day, Joseph inherits money from a long lost relative- just enough to buy a cow. And he walks it home up the hill and the evening light shines on its hide like velvet. He runs over to Isaac and invites him over to see the cow in its green pasture, solid and big and bountiful. “Look…” he says, “Look what God has brought to us- now we can have milk in the mornings- butter, cheese!”

But the cow became a shadow between Isaac and Joseph.

And one day, God visited Isaac and asked him what was wrong. Isaac said “It is the cow Lord- it has made Joseph into someone else. He used to be my friend.”

And God was sad.

“Isaac,” he said quietly, “If I can do anything for you- if I can grant you a wish, what would it be?”

Isaac looked up at God with cunning eyes.

“Kill the cow” he said.


As followers of Jesus, it is our calling, our aspiration, our tranforming power, and the very characteristic of the children of the living God.

Oh… and it can be hard.

Because real community implies closeness to those around us. It suggests relationships that go beyond the surface into the deep, undefended vulnerable parts of us.

And in doing this we are beautiful- as we serve and support, as we learn to love and let go our selfish stuff for the sake of the beautiful other. As we break bread and share wine.

But in doing this- we also are ugly- as we compete and squabble, as we dominate and oppress in the small things of a day, as we take in information and filter it through a screen of past hurts. As we nurse wounds and pick at the stitches until they burst and bleed on our communal table.

What was Jesus thinking of when he threw together his own band of disputing disciples? When he cautioned them that others will know that they are his followers by the love they had for one another?

Perhaps, just perhaps if we survive the examination of the stuff that we hide most carefully from the other- and we do not run away to build our own ego’s from bricks formed out of the manifest failings of our perceived inquisitors…

Perhaps then we might find that community is possible.

Because we Christians live in the overlap of what life is, and what we long for it to become.

Lessons on Kingdom from Brian McLaren…


I took a trip into Glasgow last night to hear Brian McLaren speak at Strathclyde university. His writing has been hugely influential on my spiritual life and my understandings of faith, and so I felt a bit like a groupie!

I went with a couple of friends from Dunoon, Simon and Ali, and had a chance to meet up with a couple of on-line buddies too- Stewart and Thomas. In fact, the picture above is Stewart’s- who had the technology (royalty check in t’post!)

It was a great night. Finished off by a lovely drive home over the Rest and be Thankful pass under a clear starry sky. Oh and a good take-away in Balloch…

Brian McLaren was profound in what he said- and although not much of it was new to me, the words were like food to the soul. Lots of people seem to have this experience of listening to him almost telling their story- allowing them to ask questions, and permitting them to start a new journey with God. I am reluctant to build him up with labels that will later become millstones around his neck, but he has something of the Apostle about him that is not taken, but rests as a result of who he is.

Yesterday is a case in point- it was not just what he said, but the way he said it. There was a kindness to his words- a respect for all things, but always a gentle invitation for as all to aim for something better.

Highlights? For me there were many. He got into a lot of discussion about the Kingdom of God- and old theme for me, which has been the subject of much discussion in our housegroup. We had previously playfully tried to find new names for the Kingdom of God, and I was delighted to see McLaren taking this to a whole new level.

The suggestion is, that Jesus was using the term ‘Kingdom of God’ as a way to engage with the people of his time in words they would understand. If he was here today- he would do the same, but would not necessarily use the same words.

‘Kingdom’ today ( suggested McLaren) is a word that has lost it’s potency- it is embedded in an ancient understanding of power and authority. What Jesus was doing was suggesting that there was a new way of doing Kingdom.

He then went on to list a whole series of words that Jesus might use if he was here today (Stewart gives a list of these on his blog- The Dream of God, The Peace Revolution of God, The Mission of God, The Party of God, Network of God, Ecosystem of God, God’s New Planet, Beloved Community, God’s Economy, The democracy of God.)

But there were two that I really liked.

One was

The dance of God

The idea that we learn to take part in a dance, in which we are part of an interrelated, dependent cycle of life and love- moving in response to divine music…

And perhaps most of all, I liked

The non-terror cell of God, or The insurgency of God

These seemed redolent with an idea that has been buzzing about my head for a while about a subversive group of Christians modeled loosely on the underground railway- I’ll post it soon I reckon.

Three weddings and a flash of the blindingly obvious…


We have been away in Staffordshire at a wedding this weekend- a friend of ours from student days called Gaynor, and it was great to see her so obviously happy and in love with her now husband, Chris. They became an ‘item’ on a trip up north to visit us, so all the better.

This is our third wedding of the year- all of them lovely, all of them very different. John and Fiona’s wedding in a idyllic highland chapel- a Christian ceremony, full of their own faith and hopes for the future. Then there was my brother-in-law Chris’s wedding to Emma in a Unitarian chapel. It was another lovely family ceremony, led very well by a minister, and a chance for them to make their commitment to one another before God and man (and woman of course.)

Gaynor and Chris’s wedding was an entirely civil affair- held in an old converted barn, presided over by a representative of the hotel, with a registrar in attendance. God was not mentioned, but I think he was as happy as we were to see them committing themselves to one another. There is something good and whole and lovely about two people finding one another and learning to love.

So- three weddings. One Christian, one Unitarian and one civil. May they all be blessed with long and happy lives together.

I found myself asking familiar questions again about the place of faith in the lives of those of us who live in 21st Century Britain.

For some time it seems the Christian church has had its place as a marker of life’s transitions- births deaths and marriages. For some (like John and Fiona) a live faith means that this is a natural decision. For others, the church offers a solemnity and tradition that also has its place.

But many others see this tradition as irrelevant to how they might live their lives. They might seek their own spiritual path outside the traditional Christian Church, like Chris and Emma. Or they might celebrate their life together with friends in a civil ceremony, like Gaynor and Chris- an honest and faithful statement that does not need church, and church has no honest part of the rest of life.

Now none of this is a surprise. For me, the decline in the centrality of the institution of church is not even necessarily a reason for mourning- although it could be argued even by those who have no faith that the loss of church as an anchor and facilitator for society is potentially problematic- as nothing else seems to be taking over. I have mentioned old Durkheim and the concept of ‘anomie’ before (here.)


So what about my little eureka moment? Well during the wedding, I think I found myself smacked between the eyes by a bit of an evangelical cliche.

I missed Jesus so much.

Not the Christian wedding ceremony- or church- but simply the person of Jesus.

I took me by surprise, as for some time, I have journeyed into an understanding of the Kingdom of God, and the image of God in people, that made me increasingly aware of how God is present and participating in places that we Christian’s have often regarded as Godless and secular.

But here I found myself again longing to hear the words of Jesus- longing for the words of the sermon on the mount to fall again like manna.

And for my friends to believe again in the possibility of a better way- not because it would make them (or me) better, but rather because if we set our faces to living this way, then the world could indeed be changed forever.