The Second Coming.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are the words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
We’re vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, it’s hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
It is fitting that the vision of an Irish poet could so beautifully capture the stuttering lamentations of the confused soul of Britain. Britain has always been an island nation of ‘firsts’ and a post Brexit Britain, fractured, dis-united, floundering in a sea of nostalgic entropy, is the first western nation to step into the tangible decline and uncertainty of the post-western hegemony. She has become a sign and symbol of the malaise that is now descending upon our world. A world where people have understandably lost faith in the symbols and institutions of state and their false promises of continued power, prosperity and security. Brexit was a democratic exercise in the right of the people to call a lie, truth. Brexiteers knowingly lied to the people and the people willingly believed it.
But this is not a uniquely British problem, it is now a condition that is blighting nations across the world. Trump’s dystopian vision of America, Putin’s aggressive Russian nationalism, Brexit Britain, Norbert Hofer’s far-right Austrian Freedom party, Marina Le Pen’s French National Front, Islamist Erdogan’s post coup Turkish clampdown and of course ISIS’s perversion of Islam. Murdoch’s 24/7 fear mongering chorus lets loose the voices of fear, hatred and nationalism – painting fears as freedoms, prejudice as common sense and racist hatred for others as patriotism and national security. The centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. It is as if a seal has been broken in heaven and a third of the earth has been plunged into open anarchy, confusion and blindness.
Perhaps there is a deeper causation to the rudderless ship of unfettered individualism, economic greed and moral relativism that we seem to be chained to? Have we lost our language that speaks to God? I do not talk of the god of private piety, the god of the right wing evangelical folk religion, the god of our military prowess who blesses our bombs and bullets. I speak of The God of creation’s origins, the God beyond the expanding universe, the God of mystery, the God of service and humility. The God who dwells within our noblest thoughts and acts of compassion, the God of peace and the common good. The God who choose to dwell in the person of Jesus.
At our recent gathering in Wandsworth (of which this blog is the summary of my notes) one of our participants, associated with the Black Majority Churches here in Britain, spoke of how some of the Windrush Generation of the 1950’s and 60’s voted for Brexit. The pain and confusion was palpable, as this culturally counter intuitive action was summarised by the phrase, ‘We as a people have forgotten our story and our history’. The lamentation was followed up with the deep anguish of ‘Where is the Church (body politick) in all of this?’ I honour Archbishop Welby at this point, he was publicly clear about why he was voting Remain. He recognised the unholy trinity of racism, nationalism and violence that was being let loose on the streets of Britain, a racism and national superiority complex hiding behind the respectability of controlling our borders and making Britain great again.
On a slight digression, alternate Welby’s stance with other Christian leaders who offered a pallid, insipid, non-descript conceptual framework for making a decision. They did not offer clarity, conviction, a confession of where they stand. Or the social media theologians of myopia who preached our European neighbours are pawns in a demonic conspiracy to usher in the anti-Christ. Yes, some ultra right wing confessing Christians actually believe the EU is the harbinger of the anti-Christ!
In a world where the institutions of state and their custodians deliberately lie, no longer act for the common good of the people, do not protect our climate from the ravages of over consumption or confessing Christians engage in fantasy fiction, the actions of local communities consistent with the integrity of their stories offers the final anchor point with ontological truth. When these stories are abandoned, forgotten, no longer recited and then exchanged for material comforts, we abandon our true selves to self-centredness and become protectionist. We now have something to protect, we have achieved an economic security against overwhelming social odds and we are not going to share our accomplishments with migrants. The irony is palpable. We are now anchor-less, afloat on a raging storm of ever more extreme opinions, desperate to find meaning in any errant political vice that feigns a solution. Donald Trump is the current exemplar of this very fact.
For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? (Mark 8:36).
You would be forgiven for assuming having read the above, that I am a pessimist and have abandoned all sense of hope for the future. Strangely no. I confess I am feeling a renewed sense of clarity and conviction. A renewed sense of faith and future and a willingness to invest myself going forward. This is not however an investment into business as usual and a propping up of the status-quo. Nor is it an intentional move towards the extremities of the current political discourse. It is a refocusing of values, meaning, heart and spirit. A radical simplifying of what is important and an understanding of what the task at hand now is. We must start again.
There is a national and international community based network embedded into every village, town, borough, city, nation of the world. A community based network of activists whose raison d’etré is to act on behalf of others. A network with land, buildings, resources and staff (paid and voluntary) who are not party political in motivation. Are not seeking the reigns of power, seeking Daily Mail headlines, interested in becoming a celebrity, or needing the endorsement of one. A network of every creed, colour, ethnicity, language, disability and sexuality (despite the politically correct stereo-type). A network whose primary existence is to benefit its non-members and is the custodian and originator of the idea of the common good.
I speak of course about the Church of Jesus Christ. I am not naive or being openly romantic in outlook to speak of the Church as I do. The church is no where near perfect and struggles with all the human failings humanity suffers from. Yet it offers a genuine means by which we can aspire to a better life and co-existence. But it too needs to change and evolve if it is going to become a custodian of hope for a nation/s riddled with division, descension and despair.
So I offer a 5 point plan that I believe will help the Church to overcome its timidity and rediscover its original mandate.
1. We must liberate the assets of the Church; finance, investments, buildings, from serving the worlds value system and redirect them to serving the poorest of the poor. Archbishop Welby must dismantle the structures that stop economic redistribution within the Church of England. This will mean, in part, removing the faceless bureaucrats and commissioners who prevent wealth reaching those who need it. The commissioners who think investing into unethical large-scale mining companies is a good idea. The church is a social enterprise for the common good. That was after all how it began (Acts 2:43-47).
2. Renounce misogyny and theologies that support it. Networks like New Frontiers who perpetuate misogynistic ideologies like male only leaders, are relics of a by-gone era. When women are in charge things get done. They understand community, family, egalitarianism, and gestating the next generation much better than men. Men simple cannot understand what it means to carry the expectation of being a bride. Men are wholly unqualified to lead the Bride of Christ towards its eschatological consummation. God is after all neither male or female, so why one gender should have a monopoly on positions of authority seems somewhat unintelligent.
3. Renounce a sacred secular divide. All of life is sacred, all communities are sacred, all of creation is sacred. Expression of faith, worship, prayer, witness must become public acts of hope for all rooted in the landscapes were we belong, amongst the people who are our neighbours.
4. Become the champion for the ecological integrity of our communities and nation. I do not have to rehearse here the climatic challenge we face. Climate change deniers indulge in an extreme form of anal gazing. They strain the gnats of pseudo science whilst ignoring the bigger issues of how it impacts the lives of the very poorest. Pope Francis’s summary of humanities care for creation is withering ‘If we scan the regions of our planet, we immediately see that humanity has disappointed God’s expectation‘ (Laudato Si, VII.61). Arocha’s EcoChurch initiative has the potential to tangibly address this ecological deficit and accelerate the UK Church from being an ecologically invisible force to being the national champion for environmental transformation. Quite simply every Church in the UK should register.
5. The poor should be the primary participant and consideration in our Churches decisions making process. The poor are not projects, nor should they be the recipients of our Friedmanesque trickle down charity theories. The poor and vulnerable are not pawns to be used in political power struggles between right-wing pseudo fascists or left-wing Trotskyite revolutionary socialists. To be truly in favour of the poor demands that a simple question is asked before any decision is taken, ‘How does the decision we are about to take directly benefit the poorest, the most vulnerable, the refugee, the migrant?’ The Church will do well to listen to the words of Jesus, when he said ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40) These are the family values of Jesus, enfranchising the poor.
I conclude this blog where I began, asking the lamentable question where do we go from here? For the institutions of state and those who are invested into that temporal struggle for power I honestly have no clue. For the body politick of the Church the road is no more fraught with danger than the road the political powers tread. However there is a definable difference between the two. For the Church principled leadership must be offered as service without reward. The poor must be prioritised and the environmental sustainability of our nation must become a clarion call for every congregation. I hazard a guess that this is what people expect the Church to do as a matter of course. When the Church behaves in a way that is consistent with the deepest needs of the human spirit it becomes an attractive and satisfying community to be a part of. God knows the Church has the resources to deliver on this, the question God asks of the Church is ‘Why don’t you?’ Conversely when it behaves as an institution of power, hoards money, restricts access, becomes culturally conservative and preaches exclusive moral piety, it becomes a repugnant odour to the human soul and the people rightly walk out the door.
Hope is a burden men and women of good conscience and faith carry with dignity and it is into this message of hope, as opposed to a message of fear, that I choose to place my faith and invest my life. For perfect love casts out all fear.
Greg Valerio is the Founder of The Society of St.Columba