I have to confess that I’m with Lewis Carrol who thought that royals were only another topic of desultry conversation:

The time has come, the Walrus said

to talk of many things

of ships and shoes and sealing wax

and cabbages and kings ……

He puts the kings at the end of the line after the fascinating topic of cabbages.06D8AD76-06E0-406C-A0A0-78234C651CE3

The UK Media have been congratulating themselves, the nation and the newly engaged couple, Harry and Meghan, for proving how tolerant we Brits have become in that we can consider one of our royals marrying a divorced woman, of mixed heritage, who is an actress! Golly gosh, we are so modern; we hate incomers enough to vote for Brexit, yet our big hearts are open to this very special, mixed heritage newcomer. Indeed we are so sensitive we don’t even want to mention the mixed heritage bit too often, for after all, it’s not as she’s black, heavens no, coloured, yes, but in the nice shade you’d want to be after your holidays.

By mixed hertitage naturally we mean she’s got some Afro in her, unlike us who are pure…well pure something or other, Aryan maybe, or is that a Nazi word, well, let’s just call it Anglo- Saxon, pure Anglo-Saxon, that’s us. Except, that rather forgets the Picts and the Celts who were here before the A-S’s, and the Normans who came afterwards, not to mention the Vikings with their rape and pillage, plus the black slaves who have been here for four centuries at least, plus the numerous official and unofficial mixed heritage partnerships from all corners of our beneficial Empire, plus of course the fact that all human beings are descended from the original homo sapiens from Africa. Yes, that’s how “pure”we are.

Being a master race however, the possessors of an empire on which, as I was taught at primary school, the sun never set, we reckoned that some mixed heritages were acceptable and could be forgotten, while others were unaccpetable because they were inferior, meaning OK as servants but not as husbands or wives. And we didn’t actually call them people of mixed heritage, we had a large and interesting vocabulary to describe them:

coconut, coloured, coon, creole, dusky, fuzzy-wuzzy, gollywog,  half-breed, mongrel, mulatto, octoroon, quadroon, and many more.

No newspaper was celebrating Prince Harry’s engagement to a mulatto, for example; even normally racist red tops avoided that sort of language. It’s worth looking at that word as an example of our past thinking. We borrowed it from Latin America where it means a lttle mule. Indeed the simple word mule was also used to describe people of mixed heritage. The idea is that a mule is the offspring of a horse and a donkey, a freak of nature which produces a useful beast of burden. That’s how our ancestors thought, most of them, until comparatively recent times. The question is whether our attitudes have improved or merely our vocabulary.

My best guess is that many of those who are celebrating this royal engagement are the very same people who feel anxious about our native traditions being eroded by a “tidal wave” of immigrants, forgetting that as far as eroding such traditions is concerned, we Brits are in the Premiership. Where are the native traditions of Gibraltar, for example, or the Falklands? The polite language we use about race remains evidence of our inherent racism, which still wishes to categorise some of the people whom we perceive as different from ourselves, as of multiple or mixed hertitage, when in fact every single human being has multiple heritage. F13CC667-D18B-4F77-AF54-842B21A8E5EF

One of the great benefits of the human genome study is to show how much of our genetic identity is shared, not only with all other members of the species homo sapiens, but also other hominids like Neanderthals, and with the great apes, and even the fruit fly.  Take the eye as an example. Eyes developed from about 540 million years ago, in a variety of species, first of all as a simple mechanism for detecting light, then as a means of sensing food or prey. It is possible that eyes were lost and re-invented a number of times in the course of evolution. Human eyes are sophisticated but cannot see the infra red end of light spectrum which is visible to some insects. A golden eagle’s eyes can clearly see a mouse from a height of several hundred feet. An octopus’s eyes unlike ours, have no blind spot. All human eyes are the same and have the ability to see colour.

It’s ironical that an organ which reveals how much we share with many other species in the house of life, and with all our brothers and sisters, should be used to detect a difference in skin colour that is made the basis of division and enmity. Jesus said that if our eye was sound our whole body would be sound, but if it was afflicted with moral darkness, we would be blind indeed.

He taught that we all belong to the one source or father, who also exercises his care over the birds and the plants. We share living space with other  members of the family of this planet, and the greater living space we call the house of God, in whom we live and move and have our being. The most important education we can all receive is the factual evidence about our place in evolution and the moral evidence about the equality of the creatures that share the one house of life, which is God’s creation.EDD5E85A-BC02-4B00-BDF4-14EEF23AA7E4

Two  decent young people have got together; let’s celebrate that. But don’t lets give ourselves unearned points for racial equality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my last six blogs, I’ve tried to present some elements of what I have called OIKOS theology, that is, a way of thinking about God as a house for creatures, and about human beings as, potentially, a household of God. New readers might take a look at these blogs before reading this one. I have suggested three disciplines appropriate to dwelling in or being God’s house, all of which contain the English form of the Greek oikos( Greek for house): ecumenism, ecology and economy, a modern version of faith, hope and love.

This blog takes a critical look at the UK Government’s budget, which was unveiled this week.

It is not an ecumenical budget. Its language and philosophy ignores the major problems of the planet, but expresses the narrow interest of the UK; and not even of the whole of the UK, but mainly its financial sector and the kind of businesses which are opposed to any in rise in taxation. Its analysis fails to challenge the “little England” culture of  Brexit enthusiasts, and looks to a sunny future where Britannia rules the waves again, and all our butter comes from New Zealand. It has little to do with global warming or with the already massive problems caused by climate change, including the huge loss of habitat and the consequent movement of refugees into Europe. It expresses a sectarian ideology which defends the interest of the wealthiest in society while categorising anyone who does not want to work for inadequate wages as lazy or addicted to benefits. Can this be the language of one household of humanity or even one household of UK citizens? Only if we think of a  Victorian country house, where the family occupy most of the property and the lower orders are segregated downstairs, except when needed.

Because this budget puts no trust in anything more than markets, it rests on fantasy rather than faith, prejudice rather than fact.

It is not an ecological budget. By that word I am not just referring to its lack of attention to global warming but also to its lack of interest in the landmass of the UK as a house  for the living beings who maintain the health of our soil or the fertility of our trees or the purity of our air. Nor does it make the polluter pay: the oil companies and the automobile manufacturers are treated as honoured guests rather than as the vandals they are. The development of alternative sources of energy and the infrastructure required for their use, is left to private companies, rather than funded by government as present job creation and future prosperity.

Above all, it betrays no understanding of either natural or societal ecosystems, of how the lives of creatures and human beings intertwine with their fellows and with each other. It does not appreciate how communities of insects and human beings struggle against the different kinds of pollution that affllict them; of how bacteria at their level and poor people at theirs share their survival wisdom. It has no inkling of the courage demonstrated by a single mother with three kids, nor of her triumph if she gets to the end of a week without more debt.

Because the budget has no sound knowledge of the lives for which it legislates, it fails to be ecological and offers no real hope.

Defenders of the budget might react to the above by arguing that after all its just a budget and is only meant to deal with the economy. But in my theology economy is management of the one household and its family, with equal concern for all. Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard sets out the ideal that economy means “from each according to ability, to each according to need.” All should have the dignity of contributing creatively to the common wealth, all should receive enough from it to live well.

Obviously the budget is not based on that sort of economy, but rather on a narrow neo -liberal capitalist economy which makes paramount the interests of the possessors of material wealth in any of its forms, and attends minimally or not at all to the abilities or needs of the poor. I emphasise abilities, as well as needs, since the poorer people of our society have abilities and skills which they want to use in work that gives them a fair reward. The whole disgraceful farce of Universal Benefit began with the warped perception of a politician who thought poverty was moral degeneracy rather than injustice, and it has continued in character with the supposition that the poorest people in the land can easily wait six weeks for the benefit to arrive. The budget made some tiny administrative improvements to this system but it remains an example of how welfare provision reveals the bias of the legislator.

Another, less obvious bias of the budget is the way it ignores the true wealth of society, namely the shared life of families, communities, associations and workplaces, where rich humanity is given and received. The material wealth of individuals and society has its real value in enabling these precious interactions. Christians believe in what the early church called the “economy” of God in which the generous creator gave life to all; and when it was impoverished by human evil, became poor in Jesus so that many could become rich in goodness. A good budget would plan for a just and balanced material economy as the basis of a fruitful life for all its citizens. This one does not do so, but in fact disables its poorer citizens by failing to fund adequately the public services on which they rely.

The economy of God’s house is love for all; this budget is loving to some; indifferent to many.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m with my family in Windermere, where we have come for a few days walking and reading, but so far walking has been almost impossible because of the weather, continuous heavy rain with gale force winds. We drove the short distance to Ambleside this morning which have us a chance to appreciate the utter inability of the County Council to provide adequate drainage for their major roads, so that we got lots of practice negociating massive puddles. Still, it’s the Lake District, not Scotland, and the differences are noticeable. The temperature is almost 10 degrees warmer than Dundee’s; the autumn with its colours has lingered longer here; there is a delicate knobbliness to the landscape which is unlike anything in Scotland; and the lakes themselves, which are similar to some Scottish lochs in position, extent, and history, contain their own special secrets like the Vendace, a fish which was considered extinct in the UK but continues to swim in Bassenthwaite Lake.D9A8AA36-431C-42D2-82D9-C351C5B66782

The landscape of the Lake District is civilised compared with that of the Scottish highlands; as its farmers insist, it has been shaped by farming over thousands of  years; as walkers insist, it has been opened up by their habitual routes, the thousands of paths which traverse its hills and dales. Whereas the narratives of climbing in the highlands emphasise wildness and even heroism, Lake District walking has its classic expression in the dry and meticulous descriptions of Wainwright.

When I walk here I now automatically readjust my focus. In Scotland my eye tends to be on a more or less distant horizon, a ridge, a shoulder, a peak. Here I focus on the path and its immediate surrounndings; on the steep bulge of a fell rising from the road; on the trees, shrubs, wild flowers, sheep. Of course all these exist also in Scotland, but because the distances covered by walks are often greater, I am accustomed to a more comprehensive view. My love for disparate landscapes is expressed in different expeditions, different perspectives, different discoveries. But it is love, a kind of biophilia directed at particular emvironments.FA0B6D4D-1431-4E6D-9B9E-7C5C25396631

I have been conscious or this love since early childhood, when the combination of holidays in the highlands and school terms in Glasgow produced in me a passion for the former and an ability to find and cherish bits of wilderness in the latter. It still draws me to find such places, a beach maybe, or a hillside, for a walk or a run, every day, because this contact nourishes me. I think the natural world can do this because I am its child. As one of the 8 species of great apes, humanity has developed from the biosphere’s continual interaction with the rocks and oceans of our planet, and their interaction with the universe, especially with the sun. My body, mind and spirit are made of the same stuffs as the stars and all other living things,  drawing on the same sources of energy and contributing my wastes as energy for others. I am part of the web of life, except that because of my intelligence and immorality I also contribute to the pollution of the planet and the extinction of countless species from that web. All other species of life on earth, on the other hand, are perfectly obedient to the natural laws generated by the web itself because their mental and phyical processes contribute to the generation of these laws. They are wholly integrated with the web of life, whereas I am able, to some extent, to free myself from it and its laws, a freedom used for example by Leonardo da Vinci to paint the Mona Lisa and invent numerous clever ways of killing people.

Still, my love for the earth is genuine.

My tradition of faith has invited me to imagine the universe and its living beings as existing within the life of One who is not the universe, but has created it, loves it, and keeps it.

He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath Being by the love of God. In this Little Thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it, the third, that God keepeth it. (Julian of Norwich, Showings, chapter 5) 10594E22-01A3-447F-9216-F36C7004B492

According to Julian, the universe which is unimaginably huge to me, is small in the hand of the great God and has its true being through him/her. Like me, the One who is not the universe, loves it, and gives it house room within Godself. Out of love too God makes him/herself small enough to enter the universe, seeking a house, but experiencing rejection: “ Foxes have holes and the birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhwere to lay his head.” Still he seeks lodging in human lives, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.”

Can I say that this creator God is like me in being afflcted with biophilia, and understands the affection with which I look at the empty picnic tables on the wet wharf?

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are people who claim that they have had immediate experience of God, but it seems to me that anything human beings can experience is by definition human and worldly. So I think they are mistaken, in some cases, dangerously so. For myself, I am content to have faith in God, for faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. God is not part of my experience but rather an interpretation of it.

Moses was not given an appearance of God but the symbol of a bush burning in the desert, plus a set of instructions which were an interpretation of all his previous experience: that as a former slave and part of a slave people, he Moses could lead them to freedom. Who told him this? The one called, “I AM” who “spoke” in Moses’ mind, without being visible, without proof of identity, although he / she claimed to be the ancestral God of his people. The initiative seems to be with “God” but who decides that God is speaking? Moses.

Elijah in despair at the power of idolatry in his nation, went to the traditional mountain of God to be strengthened by a divine revelation. And he got the stage show: wind, earthquake and fire, but God was not in any of them. And after the fire, a still, small voice. Who decided that this stern and commanding voice was God? Elijah, who realised that there were  plenty people on his side and there were things he could and should do.

In both cases the human being is ready for revelation but God never becomes an item of experience, never gives proof of his presence, but meets the person as his past experience, his present decision-making, and his future destiny. Of course there have been people who had similar experience, decisions and destiny without reference to God. The content of worldly experience might be the same, the difference lies in the faith which is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Faith interprets the experience as a revelation of God, using an imagination which has been informed by a tradition of faith. The exhilirating, terrifying, nature of faith is that it has to take human responsibility for its own vision. When it claims that it is compelled by an experience of God which has authorised its absolute certainty, it is either mistaken or lying.

When Luther, faced with the absolute certainty of the Roman Church, said that his conscience was in chains to be the Word of God, “here I stand, I can do no other,” he was saying that he interpreted his interpretation of scripture as the voice of God. Or he should have been saying that, for as became evident over time, his absolute trust in his own interpretation of scripture became divisive and sectarian.

When I say that the “house of God” theology I’ve been outlining in the past series of blogs expresses my experience, I do not mean that I have some special experience of God which justifies this this language about God; but rather that my experience of life and my knowledge of the Christian tradition, illuminated and made meaningful by personal faith and the shared life of the Christian community, are expressed in this theology. I have spent some time on that last sentence, which remains clumsy but is essential for my argument.

From now on, I’ll refer to the theology I’ve sketched in these blogs as oikos (Greek for house) theology.

I find it meaningful first of all because it helps me to understand myself, others and human community if I imagine them as possible dwelling places of God or of the powers of the world. I do not think of the individual self as a fixed identity but rather as an embodied mind-and-spirit, part project and part memory, co-existing with with other identities in society and nature. For such identities to be closed off is death -we need physical, mental and spiritual interchange in order to live- but openness also has its dangers: we can be overwhelmed by grief, betrayed by love, infiltrated by greed or ambition, possessed by hate.

That’s why I like the metaphor of the self as a house which we may share with the spirits of our dear ones, of the transpersonal powers of society, of the groups with which we identify, and of God. When I look back I realise how much I’ve been moulded by these indwelling spirits, some of which I am glad to have evicted, once I saw what they were doing. I grew up with the prejudices of the British Empire, the self-righteousness of the middle class in Scotland, the protestant superiority to superstitious Catholics. These spirits lodged with me, influencing my attititudes to people and events until I recognised who they were and showed them the door. But these spirits are respectable compared with the vicious arrogance which at times inhabited my life, leading me into words and actions of which I am ashamed.

Jesus taught that the human “house” cannot remain void but will be occupied by evil if not goodness. This checks with my experience of myself, that only a conscious hospitality towards goodness protects a person from being invaded by evil. The moral philosophy of Simone Weil emphasises that a connection to divine goodness is what makes us human. The neo-liberal ethic which assumes that we are all decent people with the right to be prosperous in this world, denies that the self can be a house of good or evil and promotes the savage blandness which, even more than savage sectarianism, destroys life.

 

 

 

 

 

Regular readers of these bogs – if there are any- may by this time be wondering what relationship this “house of God”theology bears to traditional Christianity. I hope that they may have noticed my frequent biblical references, but perhaps something more definite is desirable.

I have put forward the practice of “House of God”ecumenism, ecology and economy as the virtues required of contemporary followers of Jesus, and indeed as desirable practice for all people. What is the relationship of this triad to the traditional theological virtues of faith, hope and love? My perhaps rather surprising answer is that they are precise interpretations of them for our time.

So ecumenism = faith?

oikumene = inhabited world

The biblical word faith (pistis in Greek) is used in two ways: firstly as denoting the trust that a person or community may put in God; secondly as defining the content of that relationship.

Jewish faith, originally in a tribal God, gradually discovered that true faith can only be placed in the one and only God, whose goodness is offered to all people. If Israel is the chosen people she is chosen to bring God’s blessing to all the families of the earth. This quality of faith is difficult, for such a God is uncomfortable, cannot be seen or held in the hand like an idol, cannot be relied upon to do what the community wants, may indeed turn against the community for sins that cannot be sorted by sacrifices, or may even, as in the captivity in Babylon, abandon the people to destruction. Israel’s faith in such a God, expressed by  prophets and lawgivers, is her great gift to the world. It is an ecumenical trust which can be shared by any person or community anywhere, anytime. This is the faith expressed  by Jesus. One may say that his trust is more radical because it emphasises God’s complete trustworthiness while also protesting at being abandoned by God. Perhaps we can say that the ecumenical trust of Jesus especially includes sinners and the god-forsaken.

The content of that trust is also ecumenical. God is declared to be the one creator of the universe, the giver of life, who provides for plants and birds and animals as well as all human beings. Faith in Jesus is trust in his way, and in His life, death and resurrection as God’s declaration of love for all creatures. The content of trust written in the books of the New Testament is explicit that Jesus the Son of God is the universal rescuer, that the Holy Spirit reveals to all people that they are children of God, and that God the Father has through his son broken down all racial, political and religious divisions so that his family can be one.

The content of faith must be ecumenical, for example it must leave behind customs that belong to one culture only, and it must be translated into all human languages. The truth of faith, the Gospel, must be made accessible to all, and must be re-stated and re- practised by those who receive it. We do not fully know the truth of God until we have heard from the lips of all peoples. We do not fully understand Jesus as Son of God until we hear his story from the lips of all peoples. So we won’t ever have the full truth on this earth, but only when we join the saints from all peoples in God’s kingdom. But faith whose content denies ecumenism is not Christian faith: a racist faith is not Christian; a macho faith is not Christian, a fundamentalist faith that puts the bible in the place of God, is not Christian. Of course prejudiced or dogmatic people may be Christian, but not the content of their faith. Faith in a God who creates the universe and loves all its creatures cannot be a sectarian faith: it is universal or nothing.

Hope = ecology?

oikologos = understanding of the universe as a house for life

Today there is news of the discovery by astronomers of an exo-planet within our galaxy which might be suitable for the kind of life we know on this planet. It is about 11 light years away, and its temperature varies from -50C to +20C like Scotland in a bad year. Atronomers will continue to focus on this planet, analysing the light that comes from it to see what can be deduced about its chemistry.  As i understand it the farting of billions of microbes, such as pioneered life on earth, sends a distinctive methane signal; and it pleases me to think that this is how extraterrestrial life might introduce itself to us.

Thanks to the development of physical, cosmological, biological, and ecological sciences since Darwin, we are able for the first time since we were all hunter-gatherers to see homo sapiens as part of the web of life on planet earth, rather than separate from it. It is our understanding of that web and its history which allows us to look more intelligently for life in the rest of the universe.

Ecological thinking however, is at first sight not hopeful for homo sapiens, as it has established clearly the facts of global warming caused by human destruction of forests and ocean, and our pollution of the atmosphere. Of course there are many powerful people who don’t want to admit any fact which might occasion a fall in profits, and many poor people whose struggle for mere survival is so terrible that they have no energy for anything else. But for millions of people ecological understanding is a precious addition to human wisdom which enables them to see the intricate web of life for the first time, and to appreciate the delicate balance which makes life possible. The simple revelation, for example, of the symbiosis between our lives and the biomass of bacteria in our guts, lets us see how intimately human life is bound up with non – human.

The latest ecological predictions, issued this week, point to an accelerating catastrophe which is overtaking many species on earth, brought about by loss of habitat to human industry or housing, the widespread use of toxic substances in agriculture, the gas emissions which cause global warming, and the persistent gross stupidity of human governance being given into the hands of those whose maximum attention span is until the next election.

So how can I say that ecological thinking is hopeful?

It’s hopeful because without it we and many other species are dead. It’s hopeful, if you like, because it’s the only hope of fruitful life on this earth. It is the necessary form of hope for our time.

But what about God? Aren’t we told to place our hope in God? Well, it may be the case the God can rescue our lives from the death of the earth, but the biblical witness is that he desires to rescue the earth as a house for God’s  creatures. The message God sends to Noah doesn’t sound too hopeful in the first instance – a great flood is coming- but it is the only hope for all life on the planet. House- of-God ecology gives us facts and tells us that if we can face the facts, we can live.

But doesn’t Jesus promise to rescue us from the cataclysm which will come upon the earth? Jesus promises that the Father will rescue his children and establish his rule on earth, but disclaims all knowledge of when this will happen. He does however promise that their individual lives are precious to God and that they will abide in God’s house forever. Meanwhile they should as persons and communities allow God to abide in them: one day they will dwell in God’s house, but now God will dwell with them, if they keep his commandments. The assurance Jesus gives for the future enables his disciples to live creatively in the present.

That brings us back to the present in which through his ecological prophets God commands all people to face the facts of their sins against the earth, to stop doing what is wrong and to learn to do what is right for the one household of God’s creatures. Yes, God’s creatures, for ecological hope tells us that we cannot be rescued without them. The one house of God includes all forms of life.

But how can the history of ecological evolution bring hope when its record shows at least two major extinctions of species, and we rediscover continually the dry bones of creatures which have preceded us on this planet? Certainly we should abandon any magical view that God will protect our species from extinction. God has given total freedom to his creation, right down to the behaviour of subatomic particles and God’s hope for the perfection of his creation requires its cooperation, and particularly ours. Through the free process of evolution homo sapiens  has developed the capacity to protect life on this planet, if he wants to.

The desire to protect the planet and its creatures exists in such a small minority of human beings at present that the hope of whole nations cooperating to do so seems no more than a pious wish. The importance of house-of – God ecology is that it is eschatological, pointing to something already present but not yet fully realised. The effective human desire to protect the planet would be an a emergent stage of human evolution. Ecological thought and action are forms of hope for our time.

love = economy

oikonomia = the management of God’s house (hold)

This may seem at first sight the most perverse of my re-interpretations: how can the precious emotion of love be identified with the down and dirty business of economy?

The early Christians nevertheless used this word to desribe the whole process of God’s  love: the creation of a universe; the gift of life; the choice of humanity then Israel to represent his economy on earth; the mission of Jesus as God’s son; the gift of the Holy Spirit and the call to all people to unity in the one family and household – these were described as the elements of God’s economy, which is love.

In this theology, love is no mere emotion but rather the practical wisdom by which God woos humanity to share his life in the one house. (in this is love; not that we loved God, but that God first loved us and sent his son as the reconciling sacrifice for our sins. Ist Letter of John 4) This overwhelming generosity, expressed in the whole creative enterprise of God, is the “economic” model for life in the one house of God. Church communities are not called to preach a different economy from the capitalism that dominates the world, but to be a different economy in which life is shared equally and the generosity of God is made available to all. This, rather than anything less definite is the love that moves the sun and the other stars.

 

In my last blog but one I suggested that the meaning of a positive concept like “House of God” might be clarified by an example of what it is against.  One of the positive aspects of God’s house is its economy ( Greek: oikonomia = household management) The early Greek – speaking churches used this word to designate God’s management of the universe from creation to final perfection. They described it as a process of complete generosity, designed for the equal good of all creatures, requesting the cooperation of all creatures, so that they might have the dignity of contributing creatively to the future of the universe. They knew that out of arrogance and greed some human beings not only refused cooperation, but actively worked against this economy. They therefore emphasised the central act of God’s generosity as the gift of Godself to the universe in his only son Jesus, through whose dangerous living of God’s generosity in the face of human evil, the divine offer of cooperation might be made more powerful. St. Paul described this rescuing action in the words, “He became poor to make many rich.” 92926414-8EAE-4F76-8773-C0C8A9DBAA72

This kind of “economy” is obviously opposed to the ethic of global capitalism by which many are made poor in order that a few may be made very rich.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been amongst economists and politicians an assumption that capitalism is the only game in town, and we’d better get used to living with it. Not only should we accept its rule over world production and trade, but we should give it an unopposed rule because there is simply no alternative. Given the global triumph of capitalism any attempt to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor, say by taxation, would simply result in capital interests removing their business from that country to one less demanding.

One curious contradiction in the current ideology of capitalism, is that it claims to be a global system which demands global thinking, but on the other hand, has little or no concern for a country in financial extremity like Greece lately, and will destroy its economy, and harm its people, as if it were  somehow outside the one world economy. My house-of-God economy also argues that we live in the one house, but insists that every inhabitant is of equal importance, and that what hurts one, hurts all. It also emphasises that economy is not an isolated sphere of human activity but rather the management of the one house. Economic brutality, it says, like any other brutality, has consequences in the human household, as for example, the rise of Nazism in reponse to the poverty in Germany after the first world war. Clearly the one-house economy of the Christian faith is at odds with the global capitalism which dominates the production, trade and marketing of the world today.

1. The one- house economy is against capitalism’s view of wealth, as consisting in property, power, credit, goods and services, security, inheritance. Jesus was a small trader, used to working in an economy where many services were still provided for something other than cash, for reciprocal services, for example. Credit in the form of say, having a shed built, would be given on the basis of all that was known about the person and his family and its place in the community. This pre-capitalist economy was in the process of dissolution in the face of the proto- captalism of the Roman Empire.

Jesus taught that material wealth was an idol which you served to the exclusion of God and your fellow human being. The service of wealth and its accumulation of consumer goods blinds people to the loveliness of the world (the wild flowers that outdo King Solomon) and to the richness of human character and relationship. In particular it deprives people of the wealth of shared living which offers access to the lands, possessions, goods and humanity of others as part of a communal life of generosity. It’s no accident that in the UK at Christmas time we await the latest multi-million video advert from John Lewis, which year after year celebrates some rich and touching aspect of our humanity; designed to persuade people to buy stuff!FE65636E-F9CD-4307-8B2D-5CD6D5D5C487

2.The one-house economy is against the capitalist goal of unlimited growth. Jesus knew the earth as finite and fickle. Treasure on earth is subject to natural wastage (moth and rust) and to the criminality of others (theft). The man who decides that his already successful business must grow, finds that alas, he is mortal. If a person is always looking for guarranteed and spectacular growth he will miss the importance of the small things, which like the mustard seed have the capacity for lavish growth. And the sower of seed knows that not every seed will come to fruition.

The sheer bulk, wastage and pollution of unchecked economic growth are toxic for both human happiness and for the ecosystems of the earth. The state capitalism of  China is trying to manage continuous economic growth and protection of ecosystems  at the same time, but already there are signs that these aims are not compatible.

The teaching of Jesus on the contrary equipped people to form communities ready to build a shared life, without making inordinate demands on the earth, because they found “ treasure in heaven”, that is in justice, caring, hospitality and in the gentleness that made them fit to “inherit the earth.”

3. The one-house economy is against the injustice of the capitalist system. Just today I read that a woman who runs a large string of betting shops paid herself £217 million for last year’s work. It’s the highest wage in the UK. At the same time a woman employed as a carer in an Residential Care Home for the elderly is paid just above the minimum wage at £7-50 an hour. Any sane society would pay the one to whom we entrust our dear parents much more that the person who runs a facility where idiots queue up to hand you money for nothing.

That’s only an extreme example of the grotesque and habitual injustice of a system which calls those who exploit the labour of others, “wealth creators” and labels those who fight through unions for better pay and conditions as “troublemakers.” Karl Marx analysed the injustice but also the genius of capitalism, which was in his day transforming the world and has continued go do so. The economy of God’s house views the injustice of capitalism as a crime which deserves punishment. In Jesus’ story of Dives and Lazarus, the real crime of the rich man is to make a great and impassible gulf between himself and the poor man at his gate. In the comic noir scene of his life after death, the rich man finds himself being tortured by flames and asks if Lazarus who is in heaven can bring him some water. Ah no, he’s told, there’s a great gulf between that place amd this place….. the punishment precisely fits the crime.

The gulf is a way of saying that there is not one house.

4. The one-house economy is against the capitalist ideology that what you earn or gain in wealth is your own and that taxation is theft. You would think that only very stupid people could hold this view, but such is the prestige of capitalism, many who are not otherwise stupid, do so. It should be obvious even to the smallest human intelligence that especially in an advanced capitalist nation, people can only make money because they and others are educated, because there is a maintained system of communication, because there is law and order, because there is a system of government, because essential infrastructure is maintained, because in civilised nations there is a public health service, because… past generations have contributed in wonderful and sometimes sacrifical ways to the present conditions which allow citizens to earn a livelihood.F4EFA597-6F3C-429B-ADF3-096B64F351D7

For people stultified by capitalist ideology, they are not part of this good household management which enables their lives; they are self-made winners who want to behave like pirates predating a ship, who at least had the good grace to take their spoils and bugger off, whereas these people want to stick around and argue that their piracy is nobody’s business but their own. The recent publication of the so-called Paradise Papers in the UK has shown the extent to which rich individuals and corporations will go to avoid paying perfectly reasonable taxes.

The result of this piracy is that services which are not best run for profit, like medicine, education, age-care, social work, civil and criminal justice, police, armed forces and the like are deprived of adequate funding, and in some cases, infiltrated by the same pirates who deprived them. The generous people who are at the heart of house-of-God economy are angered by such meanness and the ideology which justifies it.

I have heard tell of  Buddhist ecomomics, although I don’t know what they are; I have once been invited to share in Islamic economy by putting money in Bank which neither pays nor gains interest on loans. But I have heard little of Christian economy, except the practice of some Christian business people of greasing each other’s palms. These notes are intended to argue that it’s quite clear that the Christian tradition is anti- capitalist – indeed until the late middle ages, the church ruled that usury, that is, lending money at interest, was a mortal sin.

 

 

 

 

So this house of God, is it any more than a piece of poetry, a fancy way of talking about ordinary matters, a mystification?

Certainly it’s a way of speaking, derived from the Bible, where it refers to the theological idea that God can dwell in places and people; and that people before and after death can dwell in God. So it depends on a language already established which speaks of God as part of the experience of human beings. So language of God’s house is a metaphor based on the more fundamental metaphor of God. But do I intend it as a description of biblical language or as a description of human experience?

Both.

I have referred to the richness and variety of the biblical “house of God” language elsewhere, for example in emmock.com oikos; and emmock.com bible blog 289; which the reader can access.8B0509CC-2451-4A70-9A03-D5AC5B3FBB89

If I want to use it as a description of human experience, I should explain first of all what I mean by the person as a dwelling place of God. Jesus told a brilliant story about an evil spirit who has been expelled from his human dwelling place, but later returns to find it clean and tidy and vacant. He goes and gets his mates and they take up residence. This story pictures the human being as a house which has room for more than the self, and can therefore be tenanted by destructive powers, or by God’s nourishing spirit. No house is void for long. As Dylan sang, “it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve someone.”

This fits a modern view of the self, which sees it as an identity only defined in relation to other identities both personal and societal, and as something always being negociated between new experience and memory. But often the indwelling spirit of God is then pictured as a disembodied gloop that somehow comes to take up space within the person, or as a psychological influence which has a superhuman origen. Neither of these appeals to me as they are both magical and I don’t believe in magic.

Instead I would ask the reader to take seriously Paul’s quotation from an anonymous poet, “In God we live and move and have our being” and imagine that this space within Godself, from which God has withdrawn so that the universe can exist, is analogous to a mother’s womb, from which she is absent, alhough it is sustained by her life. If the child in the womb could be fully conscious of its existence, it would  realise that its developing self was continuously nourished and enabled by another life, in symbiosis with which it can reach perfection and be born. The faith that God’s spirit dwells in us, is our awakening to our true environment as nurturing and to ourselves as a developing perfection.

Our willingness to be a house for God is also the knowledge that God is a house for us. God’s house is a place where God’s children are born, like God’s child Jesus, whose birth happens through crucifixion and resurrection. For being born as a child of God is not some mystic spirituality but a representation of God’s life in the face of all the worldly powers; suffering is inevitable, but the child of God hopes that the life is invincible. The conflict and the suffering are signs that God’s house(hold) is a worldly fact and not a pipedream; the hope of invincible life is the conviction that the bouse is an eschatological reality, already present under the constraints of evil, but not yet the place where God wipes all tears from her children’s eyes. This fulfillment can only be apprehended by faith, which is the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11)

The universe is in God, as in a womb, held and nourished by God’s life but not interfered with, not prodded in the direction God wants, but created with all the means necessary to be born as God’s child. The non-human universe will, according to St Paul, share the glorious freedom of God’s children. The story of evolution of which we know only a few isolated chapters, is the story of the birth of God’s child. In order for this development to take place God has granted utter freedom to the universe down to the smallest particle, as our science has realised. This birth is desired by God but the perfected universe is no more known in advance by God than a mother has full knowledge of the child to which she gives birth.

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Eschatology 4 horsemen

The birth and its perfection are intended by God, but not as if by an engineer with a blueprint. Each new develoment of the universe is an emergent property which issues from the interdependence of all its elements, like the stages of growth of a human being. The development is always more than the sum of its parts and cannot be fully predicted in advance, but it  does not come about by magic or by supernatural guidance. When I say that the house of God is an escahatological reality, I mean that those fruitful emergent properties I see in people and communities are for me tokens of the emergence of the universe as God’s child.

In understanding what is a fruitful development I am guided by my trust in the Jesus of the Gospels as the wisest teacher and best example of fruitful living I have encountered. There is nothing religious or mystical about his teaching or life story; he dealt always creatively with the most recalcitrant powers of social and personal life without ever losing the passionate sanity which is the distiguishing mark of his character. He lived out the ethics of God’s household, refusing to depart from them even when threatened with death, a death through which there emerged the community of faith called the church or assembly of Jesus, which proclaims that he too, has emerged from evil and death, to inhabit the household of God in the world and to prepare their dwelling places in the everlasting household.

When the church looked back on his life and death in Palestine, it portrayed it as an eschatological event, as an emergent reality which would not be subsumed in the final emergence of God’s household, but only confirmed. That’s why their Gospels tell the story of Jesus as if in his actions God’s household has arrived in its fullness. Each act of kindness or healing is a transformation, each confrontation with  evil a victory, until the last confrontation, which in a wordly perspective is a defeat. The fact that even Jesus’ victorious risen body bears the scars of defeat, is a recognition that the household of God and Jesus the first child of God, are still part of a conflicted history. The reader of the Gospels has to read back the wounds of Jesus into the stories they tell.

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Eschatology

The Bible has many ways of presenting the household of God as an eschatological reality, amongst which the Letter to Hebrews is one of the best. It defines faith with the phrase quoted above, “the substance or things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” and goes on present Abraham and his family as the great exemplars of this quality. Abraham becomes a traveller with no fixed abode, because God commands him to journey; he and Sarah are childless yet they trust in the promise that from them will come descendants, “as many as the stars in heaven for multitude or as the sand which is on the sea shore, innumerable.” They and people like them, who journey away from one dimensional life are said to be “strangers and sojourners on the earth,” and to be in search of a “city with firm foundations”. We are told that God is “not ashamed to be called their God for he has prepared for them a city.” This city or house of God is the true dwelling of people who have faith and do deeds of which “the world is not worthy.”

The author gives an eloquent account of those who trust in the eschatological promise and become the emergent reality of God’s house.