Unexpectedly Crowd-Dividing Talk for Threads

Here’s what I said…

* * *

I’ll tell about three things I’m going to do this year.

The story begins with the book I wrote, Kingdom vs Empire, a feminist and anti-capitalist rampage through 21st Century Britain – our politics, economics, social structures and our culture and everything else. I deconstructed it all.

And by the time I’d finished, I realised I needed to change my way of living into something completely different – but to what? I had no idea. The way forward hardly seemed to exist.

I think the revolutionary spirit of recent years has wandered into the same cul-de-sac. Occupy has, more or less, been and gone. Russell Brand’s compelling political critique has been cheaply dismissed. We know we want change, but change to what? What alternatives are being proposed?

But while the question on everybody’s mind seems to be, with what shall we replace this dysfunctional system here in the centre of life? the New Testament tends to talk as though the world is more profoundly and interestingly transformed by how we re-arrange life on the periphery. Kingdom politics is outsider politics.

Here’s three small things I came to… the three things I’m going to do this year:

1. I’m going to move house, to live walking-distance from my church.

I was horrified that my book had pushed me towards the notion that we should live within walking distance of our churches. Why should we? The reason is this: we are socially impoverished and politically disempowered for lack of a village well… for the lack of some local meeting point where we cross paths with others in our community, even the ones we don’t like… where we go pretending we want water, but really we just want a chat… where the concerns of ordinary life are shared and thrashed out.

Modern life has no village well.

Since the invention of the car we’ve all been shopping for the church across town that meets our needs, but the Church is also supposed to exist for the transformation of the world… and I don’t think it can do that without being an actual community… and I don’t think it can be an actual community without those Book-of-Acts hallmarks of being in and out of each others’ lives and houses daily and making our resources available to each other.

So here’s one hallmark of Kingdom politics. We as a people are politically dis-empowered by our individualised rhythms of life. In the churches, God has given us a forum in which to stand together for the transformation of the world – not just another public service for a spiritual health-check. An inquiry into the meaning of the word Church (Ecclesia) may shed some light on this.

2. I’m going to subscribe to Ethical Consumer and propose a monthly boycott list for my church.

Everybody knows that the greatest democratic power we hold today is not that of the ballot box, but of the checkout – the stuff we buy every day, so it is of course embarrassing to make the point. But even though everybody knows, few people take much care to inquire about what they are voting for when they fill up their car, or go to Asda, or order a Coke, or buy any paper Rupert Murdoch owns…

I’m not going to be popular. One doesn’t expect to be told what not to buy at church. But if we’re going to continue to frown on those Christians who smoke, or cuss sometimes, the least the people of the Kingdom can do is to vaguely organise ourselves enough to withdraw our corporate support for slave labour, economic injustice, cultural oppression and environmental ravaging. With a tiny bit of organisation, the churches could perhaps make an alarming difference.

I think the key thing here is daring to move towards a corporate response. Acts 19 might give us a sense of how this could work.

3. I’m going to get together with other people from my neighbourhood and we’re going to grow, and brew, and bake and make our own stuff… our own songs, our own art, our own booze, share our own skills, and whatever else we can… 

Most would recognise this as a desirable and delightful way of living. The main reason I consider it a matter of Kingdom Politics is that of decentralisation. Generally, we live in rhythms of dependence: dependence on the supermarket for food, on government legislation for social ills, on the television for culture. Life is lived indirectly, via centralised systems of various kinds. By making our own stuff we break free of a mindset of dependence on systems, and enter into inter-dependence on each other.

I think we need to break free of a mindset dependence on the systems of the world we live in, before we have the autonomy to turn it upside-down.

All this sounds like the fetishised the idea of an organic, hippy sort of life, that’s the last thing I want. More likely I’m guilty (as ever) of being an idealistic brute. My interest in growing vegetables is mostly political (though I fully expect they’ll teach me deeper truths). This is about making my church community my community – including the people who live nearby – and contributing to it in such a way as to cultivate inter-dependence, social conscience, political savvy, and a unified voice in the part of the world we live in… to help us break free of our total dependence on centralised politics, systems and services, and to cultivate a politics and a culture of our own.


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