Book review: Against a tide of Evil by Mukesh Kapila

Whistleblowers can play an essential role in detecting fraud, mismanagement and corruption. Their actions help to save lives, protect downloadhuman rights and safeguard the rule of law. To protect the public good, whistleblowers frequently take on high personal risks. They may face victimisation or dismissal from the workplace, their employer may sue (or threaten to sue) them for breach of confidentiality or libel, and they may be subject to criminal sanctions. In extreme cases, they face physical danger. (Transparency International)

In March 2004 the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, went ‘…direct to the world’s peoples… above and beyond the heads of those who should have acted’ and gave a live interview with the Radio 4 Today programme. In his own mind, the culpability for the horrors being unleashed on the people of Darfur lay with both the ‘Khartoum genocidaires and those ‘good men’ who had chosen to do nothing.’ (Kapila, 2013, 222&223). His concerns about what was being unleashed in the Darfur region of Sudan escalated soon after his arrival in 2003 and his conclusion was that it was  ‘…more than just a conflict…an organised attempt to do away with a group of people… ethnic cleansing.’ (Kapila, BBC News online, 19th March 2004).

The day I finished reading Against a tide of Evil, Mukesh Kapila’s  account of the Darfurian genocide in 2003-2004, Human Rights Watch published their latest report titled: Mass rape in Darfur, Sudanese Army Attacks against Civilians in Tabi, cataloguing evidence of continued government- backed attacks against civilians in Tabit, North Darfur.  Mass rape of women and girls, arbitrary detention, beating and ill-treatment of scores of people continues to blight the peoples of a region ten years on from similar and worse events described in this book.

‘How one man became the whistleblower to the first mass murder of the twenty-first century’ is the official subtitle of Makesh Kapila’s revelatory and disarmingly personal account of the role he played in exposing the horrors of what has come to be known by many as the ‘Darfur genocide’.  His conviction, which drives his own engagement in Sudan springs from the words of British philosopher and politician Edmund Burke, ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ Biographical detail of his childhood in India during the conflict of the Partition and the impact of racial bullying at a private UK College helps the reader to understand the motivation and passion which stirs him to action. His refreshingly honest self-appraisal is very human and moving:

As I contemplated all of this, I was consumed by an unbearable sense of failure. I had failed in my duty. All the rhetoric about acting early and the responsibility to protect had proven empty ….It had happened on my watch.’(Kapila, 2013, 200).

Against this reflective and personal backdrop, the book unfolds, drilled through with detailed accounts of the horrors which were being perpetrated against Darfurian villagers and a catalogue of his attempts to strategically outmanoeuvre intransigent blocks to humanitarian assistance and intervention.  His mounting frustration is palpable; the restrictions of his official remit and the reluctance of the UN to call for Security Council action further compound the challenges and disappointments he faced on the ground in a protracted and complex gridlock of political and ethnic violence.

Convinced as he was, that government- backed violence in Darfur was ethnically targeted, it comes as a surprise to learn that the UN’s own Commission of Inquiry at the end of 2004 concluded that the Government of Sudan had not pursued a policy of genocide. It did, however, conclude that both crimes against humanity and war crimes had been committed which were just as serious as genocide. It was not to be until 2010 that the International Security Council would issue a second warrant for arrest against Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir for criminal responsibility on three counts of genocide committed against the people of Darfur (ICC, 2010).

Against a tide of Evil is a book which traces the enormous complexity which hampers humanitarian intervention and assistance. In Darfur, the ongoing political, economic and cultural marginalization, exacerbated by the regions’ colonial history, has been compounded by drought and competition for water resources and the escalation of ‘Arab’ and ‘African’ identities being invoked and used to incite violence (Hottinger, 2006).  Mukesh Kapila and those like him, who seek to ensure humanitarian assistance to those who are caught up in the cross-fire of historically-seeded conflict truly find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

This is not a book which resolves for the reader every question which inevitably arises but its strength lies in raising awareness and deepening understanding. It invites us to consider whether, in prioritising our own security and success, we ourselves might come to compromise truth and justice and compassion and become ‘good men and women who do nothing’? With power and position comes responsibility; Mukesh Kapila’s book is testimony to both the considerable challenge and opportunity that that brings. It is well worth reading.

References

BBC News report 19th March, 2004, Mass rape atrocity in west Sudan, accessed 13/2/15 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3549325.stm

Human Rights Watch Report (2015) Mass rape in Darfur, 11th February, accessed 12/2/15 http://www.hrw.org/reports/2015/02/11/mass-rape-north-darfur

Human Rights Watch Sudan (2010) ICC issue warrant for al-Bashir on genocide, 13th July, accessed 13/2/15 at http://www.hrw.org/news/2010/07/13/sudan-icc-warrant-al-bashir-genocide

International Criminal Court (2010) Arrest warrant against President Omar al-Bashir, accessed 13/2/15 at http://www.icc-cpi.int/en_menus/icc/situations%20and%20cases/situations/situation%20icc%200205/Pages/situation%20icc-0205.aspx

Julian Thomas Hottinger (2006) The Darfur Peace Agreement Expectations unfulfilled, accessed 3/2/15 at  http://www.c-r.org/sites/default/files/Accord18_14TheDarfurpeaceagreement_2006_ENG_0.pdf

The United Nations and Darfur Fact Sheet  accessed 13/2/15 at http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/sudan/fact_sheet.pdf

UN Inquiry (2004) Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the United Nations Secretary-General accessed 13/2/15 at http://www.un.org/news/dh/sudan/com_inq_darfur.pdf

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Book review – Economics of good and evil by Tomas Sedlacek

This book marks a fadownloadscinating departure from mainstream economic thought and provides the reader with a captivating smorgasbord of interactions across many diverse fields such as mathematics, psychology, theology, sociology and physics. Its essence is deeply philosophical and it seeks to synthesise a combination of narratives in a holistic manner that many contemporary postmodern readers should find deeply attractive.

Taking the earliest recorded writing, The Epic of Gilgamesh, as its starting point, and traversing a huge array of literature and thought, Sedlacek argues that at its core, economics is about wisdom and morality (i.e. emotional and spiritual intelligence); not the rather limited rational scientific game played out in spreadsheets and abstract mathematical calculations which has evolved from neo-liberal ‘principles’ characteristic of the last 40 years of global economic ‘development’. Not only has this latter approach been deeply problematic as the debt crisis of the last few years clearly demonstrates but our recent ‘take’ on economic life has marked a disturbing reductionist departure from human wisdom. This is the case where biblical truths about humanity, and its ills, have been wrongly divorced from daily economic activity. From a theological perspective then, this book is a welcome bridge in bringing ancient wisdoms and contemporary thought back into the key moral debates of our time.

Chapters 2 and 4 include a comprehensive analysis of biblical perspectives, sandwiching a revisit of Ancient Greek philosophical thought. Treatment of the content in the latter chapter reminds us that many modern conceptions of the market and exchange of goods find their genesis in the classical writings of Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle; it isn’t simply about Adam Smith and Enlightenment thinking only! The real nuggets are unearthed in Sedlacek’s discussion of the ills of our time in which he questions our insatiable ‘need’ for economic growth and our obsession with work which come at the exclusion of almost everything else.

Behaviour economics has welcome consideration in the discussion on animal spirits and the moral vacuum that contemporary economics appears to prefer and operate within. In essence, as the title suggests, Sedlacek’s book seeks to bring humanity back into economics. This won’t go down well with Wall Street, but it is a welcome re-engagement with those of us who are deeply concerned about the idols of our time; money as the bottom line by which everything else is defined and has its meaning, being chief of all (the concept of ‘financialisation’). This book is a tour de force of human development. Its trajectory clearly suggests that our ‘progress’ is not as enlightened as we often think. It is a rewarding if somewhat demanding read as it does jump around and is challenging for those not used to reading across so many fields with such diversity.

I was, however, a little disappointed with the lack of engagement with the ‘green agenda’ and contemporary environmental ethics. Dealing with today’s global ecological crises needs to be at the heart of any contemporary economic engagement. To conclude, the book doesn’t promise solutions but masterfully brings economics back within the human realm where it belongs…oikonomia truly regained! It is a highly recommended work.

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Christmas cry: ‘come Lord Jesus’

hands (1)

On Sunday at my local church we sang the Noel Richards song, ‘Great is the darkness…come Lord Jesus…’. Whilst obviously not a Christmas carol, it struck me how apt it was for the season we are in. For most of us Christmas is a mixed time; of joy and celebration as well as sadness, and even grief. A few days ago I wrote about ‘Broken Britain’, and then the tragic events in Glasgow hit our screens. I read the heart-wrenching story of the Catholic Archbishop comforting a mother whose parents and daughter were killed in that accident…what an incredibly painful experience. I wondered, what message can we possibly share with those whose lives have been shattered in the blink of an eye? Sorrow and pain are very real for many as they gather this Christmas time without the loved ones they shared last Christmas with.

The first verse of the song reminds us of the context in which we live. We may not tangibly experience this level of darkness in our own community, or even nation, although many around our globe surely do:

‘Great is the darkness
That covers the earth
Oppression, injustice and pain
Nations are slipping
In hopeless despair
Though many have come in Your name
Watching while sanity dies
Touched by the madness and lies’

Of course, Christmas is also a time of great joy and hope. A 33 year journey lived a long time ago reminds us as Christians that our faith is based on the reality that God loved His creation so much (and felt the deep pain and injustice in it) that He intervened by sending His own son to be born amongst us; to live a life of sorrow and pain as well as great joy. This was a journey that took him to the cross, suffering the cruel death of a Roman execution. Jesus’ 33 year earthly journey did not end there, however. His resurrection gives us the hope to believe, trust and know that we too can share in that resurrection hope. Hope is the powerful transforming message that the church now bears. Verse 2 of the song exhorts the church to engage in God’s mission of saving love, which is the source for such hope:

‘May now Your church rise
With power and love
This glorious gospel proclaim
In every nation
Salvation will come
To those who believe in Your name
Help us bring light to this world
That we might speed Your return’

That saving love has already been set in motion. It is an unstoppable force that cannot be quenched, diminished or destroyed in any way. That saving power, manifest so humbly in the incarnation and demonstrated so powerfully in the resurrection, means that Christmas, like Easter (the two greatest events of human history marking the beginning and closing moments of Jesus’ life) is a season where our sorrow and despair can be transformed into hope-filled expectation of what is to come:

‘Great celebrations
On that final day
When out of the heavens You come
Darkness will vanish
All sorrow will end
And rulers will bow at Your throne
Our great commission complete
Then face to face we shall meet’

I trust and hope that amidst the mixed emotions you may be experiencing this Christmas time, your heartfelt cry will be one of longing for the presence of Jesus to be experienced in your own life, in the life of your family, and throughout your community, town, nation and in our world this very day!

So, let’s be reminded this Christmas time to invite Jesus to be present amongst us through the power of His Spirit, that our Christmas cry might be:

‘Come Lord Jesus, come Lord Jesus
Pour out Your spirit we pray
Come Lord Jesus, come Lord Jesus
Pour out Your spirit on us today’.

 

 

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‘Broken Britain': what do you think are three key issues for equipping the church for mission today?

Picture2

If you were asked for your three key issues for equipping the church for mission in contemporary Britain, what would you say? I would be interested to hear your views on what you consider to be three key ones.

Here is a short reflection on what I think; not necessarily the three most key ones (up to date research would need to be done) but ones that occur to me at this time.

I don’t propose to critique the contemporary meaning of some of the key words in this title; equipping, church, mission. Of course, the concepts of church and mission are in flux – dealing with that will not be my priority here. Rather, I simply wish to reflect briefly on a few key thoughts that seek to challenge the core of what being a disciple of Jesus means for us living in Britain today, so that the community of believers may be better equipped to engage in meaningful and authentic mission practice.

A contemporary snapshot…

We live in a world of insecurity, despair and hopelessness – that is the picture for a major part of humanity as we lurch through economic crisis, displacement of identity, war, conflict and a loss of confidence in truth and meaningful existence…this presents a significant opportunity for the global church to reflect the love of God in its mission. In the West, and in the Britain in particular, fresh challenges meet us – an angry constituency demands effective political leadership and greater economic justice, as food banks dole out provisions to more and more in need each week. Distrust in authority, the erosion of purpose and tiredness of existing brittle structures, leaves the community of Christ-followers standing on the threshold of an opportunity that has, perhaps, been rarely available in the recent past – people are looking for signs of hope amid the rubble of despair and lostness, as Leslie Newbiggin once discerned and articulated. Generous dialogue with ‘the other’ is imperative in our cultural milieu.

So, I wish to raise three key dimensions as to how the church might be better equipped to engage effectively in reaching 21st Century Britain. These three dimensions touch on; where we are (the contextual dimension), who we are (the empathic dimension) and where we are going (the hope dimension. These dimensions are to be understood within an overarching framework which is the biblical vision of shalom – or in other words, being sign-bearers of God’s reign ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.

Firstly…where we are

I suggest there are 3 key issues we need to fully engage with in contemporary Britain. Firstly, our community must be inclusive and welcoming. In Hebrew life the alien was given certain protections and the Old Testament is full of provisions which sought to include the outsider and welcome the alien amongst God’s people. Contemporary migration gives the church opportunity to show loving acceptance and warm welcome, as well as change cold and oppressive attitudes. Secondly, economic inequality is rampant and a recipe for social dislocation and conflict. Challenging unjust economic and financial structures, and promoting simpler and more creative life-affirming lifestyles is part of the churches’ prophetic function. Being bold, courageous and true disciples points the way that others may follow – becoming missional communities affords that possibility. Thirdly, the Gospel of love and truth needs new forms of expression within a plethora of ideologies and worldviews. We stand at the crossroads where our legitimacy and message is questioned and critiqued as never before. Postmodernity asserts that we no longer hold to a meta-narrative of the Truth, but that we must mutually tolerate each and everyone’s truths. Secularism, consumerism, pluralism and multiculturalism make for a lively context in which to live and breathe – our voice is one of many, but our actions can be unique. So, a long hard look at our context and awareness of these three key issues which face our nation today, is a good starting point for taking a reality-check and beginning the process of equipping the church for mission.

This is the first dimension for equipping the church for mission – contextual awareness

Secondly…who we are

Our brokenness and weakness make us ideal vessels to carry the love of God; a counter-cultural message which perhaps is foolishness to the ‘Greeks’, yet carries the only power to really change things. God’s enormous love for the whole of His cosmos, somehow is enabled and manifest in each and every one of us – a love to be shared out and poured out with kenotic extravagance. This is being the missional people of God; in love with God also means being in love with His world, a world which He declared to be good. This love requires us to share the pains as well as the joys of each other.

Do we live what we proclaim? Are we pretending to care when really our love has gone cold? Do we prefer ‘the other’ when we are told ‘the other’ has come to take our jobs and suck our welfare system dry? Do we really understand what incarnational living is, when this may require downward-mobility, the relinquishing of selfish individualism and other privileges we have enjoyed? These are tough questions that cut to the core of our identity. Perhaps the world judged the people of God for who they thought they were, rather than who they really were. We need to be authentic disciples of Christ, and by acknowledging our broken reality, and our utter dependence on God’s loving grace and each other, we may be on the path to fulfilling this second dimension for becoming an equipped community.

Acknowledging our weaknesses and failures gives us hope that we may be lights in the darkness, so I suggest a missing ingredient to be unearthed again in our contemporary society, is empathy; we must rediscover our empathic nature. This is the ability to see ‘the other’s needs, feel the other’s pain and be moved to respond lovingly and appropriately. Jesus was our prime example – moved to compassion, he acted. Loveless and cold duty ultimately serves no one; if it is not done in love we are merely clanging gongs, as 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us.

See this highly watchable video on the Empathic civilisation. In it bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society. See also Krznaric’s recent book, Empathy, for more on this subject.

This is the second dimension for equipping the church in mission – becoming an empathic people, who are moved with compassion to love the unloved.

Thirdly…where we are going

The journey of life leads to certain death, and yet the resurrection narrative gives us hope to share with our ‘broken Britain’. Whilst many of our leaders are trying to steer us to ‘business as usual’, we have a significant opportunity as a missional community to model another way. Our eschatology may require re-interpretation. Our future home is a new heavens and a new earth – this world of need and brokenness, destruction and decay, of which contemporary Britain serves as a microcosmic example, is going to be refined and made good. We have a hope that is promised in Scripture, glimpsed in the books of Isaiah and Revelation, and we have been entrusted to be co-participants with God in the working out of that. And yet our hope is not just in the ‘yet to come’, but also in the ‘now’ – this is the reality of God’s kingdom which has been ushered in, and is active today. Working for the common good of His creation is demonstrated through provocatively and pro-actively calling into being this new reality; that is a very hopeful place in which to be.

This is the third dimension for equipping the church for mission – walking the hope journey, founded on an integrated eschatological vision of the Kingdom of God.

The details of this, of course, have to be unpacked – that is for another time! For now these three dimensions of equipping the church for God’s mission, the missio dei, are framed within a vision of shalom – the biblical flourishing of all aspects of life. Our God is an imminent God, intimately in love with His creation, and desiring of our worship and connection, for His glory; that is the essence of being a missional community, and the three dimensions for equipping the church are part of the process of becoming that missional community. I finish with a quote from the book Carnival Kingdom:

‘…the Kingdom is described as an ‘upside down Kingdom’ – radically different to the status quo of earthly kingdoms where power and privilege coalesce in the hands of a few, often at the expense of the majority. At the heart of the vision of the reign of God is the belief that this reign will result in shalom; the delightful and convivial energy of a community at one and at peace with itself, in purposeful service to God and the greater good of the rest of creation’

In summary, we have considered context, empathy and hope. Today we stand only a few months away from the General Election; we need to vote intelligently and courageously…not just what we’ve always voted, nor playing tactical voting ‘games’, but voting for real policies and then holding our political leaders to account to see those promises delivered.

If we have the above dimensions in mind, and the issues raised within them, then our part in helping to equip the church for mission may just help see ‘broken Britain’ become ‘flourishing Britain’.

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key issues for equipping the church for mission today – a short reflection (part 3)

In orderPicture2 to keep this short, I don’t propose to critique the contemporary meaning of some of the key words in this title; equipping, church, mission. Of course, the concepts of church and mission are in flux – dealing with that will not be my priority here. Rather, I simply wish to reflect briefly on a few key thoughts that seek to challenge the core of what being a disciple of Jesus means for us living in Britain today, so that the community of believers may be better equipped to engage in meaningful and authentic mission practice.

I very briefly raise three key dimensions as to how the church might be better equipped to engage effectively in reaching 21st Century Britain. These three dimensions touch on; where we are (the contextual dimension, part 1); who we are (the empathic dimension, part 2) and; where we are going (the hope dimension, part 3). These dimensions are to be understood within an overarching framework which is the biblical vision of shalom – or in other words, being sign-bearers of God’s reign ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.

Over the last 2 days I posted up part 1 reflecting on the first element, contextual awareness, and part 2 reflecting on the second element, becoming an empathic people, who are moved with compassion to love the unloved

Below is the third element, dealing with where we are going:

The journey of life leads to certain death, and yet the resurrection narrative gives us hope to share with our ‘broken Britain’. Whilst many of our leaders are trying to steer us to ‘business as usual’, we have a significant opportunity as a missional community to model another way. Our eschatology may require re-interpretation. Our future home is a new heavens and a new earth – this world of need and brokenness, destruction and decay, of which contemporary Britain serves as a microcosmic example, is going to be refined and made good. We have a hope that is promised in Scripture, glimpsed in the books of Isaiah and Revelation, and we have been entrusted to be co-participants with God in the working out of that. And yet our hope is not just in the ‘yet to come’, but also in the ‘now’ – this is the reality of God’s kingdom which has been ushered in, and is active today. Working for the common good of His creation is demonstrated through provocatively and pro-actively calling into being this new reality; that is a very hopeful place in which to be.

This is the third dimension for equipping the church for mission – walking the hope journey, founded on an integrated eschatological vision of the Kingdom of God.

The details of this, of course, have to be unpacked – that is for another time! For now these three dimensions of equipping the church for God’s mission, the missio dei, are framed within a vision of shalom – the biblical flourishing of all aspects of life. Our God is an imminent God, intimately in love with His creation, and desiring of our worship and connection, for His glory; that is the essence of being a missional community, and the three dimensions for equipping the church are part of the process of becoming that missional community. I finish with a quote from the book Carnival Kingdom:

‘…the Kingdom is described as an ‘upside down Kingdom’ – radically different to the status quo of earthly kingdoms where power and privilege coalesce in the hands of a few, often at tPicture1he expense of the majority. At the heart of the vision of the reign of God is the belief that this reign will result in shalom; the delightful and convivial energy of a community at one and at peace with itself, in purposeful service to God and the greater good of the rest of creation’

In summary, we have considered context, empathy and hope. If we have those dimensions in mind, and the issues raised within them, then our role in equipping the church for mission may be on the right path to help see ‘broken Britain’ become ‘flourishing Britain’.

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key issues for equipping the church for mission today – a short reflection (part 2)

In order to keep this short, I don’t propose to critique the contemporary meaning of some of the key words in this title; equipping, church, mission. Of course, the concepts of church and mission are in flux – dealing with that will not be my priority here. Rather, I simply wish to reflect briefly on a few key thoughts that seek to challenge the core of what being a disciple of Jesus means for us living in Britain today, so that the community of believers may be better equipped to engage in meaningful and authentic mission practice.

I very briefly raise three key dimensions as to how the church might be better equipped to engage effectively in reaching 21st Century Britain. These three dimensions touch on; where we are (the contextual dimension, part 1); who we are (the empathic dimension, part 2) and; where we are going (the hope dimension, part 3). These dimensions are to be understood within an overarching framework which is the biblical vision of shalom – or in other words, being sign-bearers of God’s reign ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.

Yesterday I posted up part 1, reflecting on the first element, contextual awareness.

Below is the second element, dealing with who we are.

Who we are

Our brokenness and weakness make us ideal vessels to carry the love of God; a counter-cultural message which perhaps is foolishness to the ‘Greeks’, yet carries the only power to really change things. God’s enormous love for the whole of His cosmos, somehow is enabled and manifest in each and every one of us – a love to be shared out and poured out with kenotic extravagance. This is being the missional people of God; in love with God also means being in love with His world, a world which He declared to be good. This love requires us to share the pains as well as the joys of each other.

Do we live what we proclaim? Are we pretending to care when really our love has gone cold? Do we prefer ‘the other’ when we are told ‘the other’ has come to take our jobs and suck our welfare system dry? Do we really understand what incarnational living is, when this may require downward-mobility, the relinquishing of selfish individualism and other privileges we have enjoyed? These are tough questions that cut to the core of our identity. Perhaps the world judged the people of God for who they thought they were, rather than who they really were. We need to be authentic disciples of Christ, and by acknowledging our broken reality, and our utter dependence on God’s loving grace and each other, we may be on the path to fulfilling this second dimension for becoming an equipped community.

Acknowledging our weaknesses and failures gives us hope that we may be lights in the darkness, so I suggest a missing ingredient to be unearthed again in our contemporary society, is empathy; we must rediscover our empathic nature. This is the ability to see ‘the other’s needs, feel the other’s pain and be moved to respond lovingly and appropriately. Jesus was our prime example – moved to compassion, he acted. Loveless and cold duty ultimately serves no one; if it is not done in love we are merely clanging gongs, as 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us.

This is the second dimension for equipping the church in mission – becoming an empathic people, who are moved with compassion to love the unloved.

See the highly watchable RSA animate video on the Empathic civilisation. Bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society. The video is taken from a lecture given by Jeremy Rifkin. See also Krznaric’s recent book, Empathy, for more on this subject.

Tomorrow I will post up part 3.

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key issues for equipping the church for mission today – a short reflection (part 1)

In view of space limitations, I don’t propose to critique the contemporary meaning of some of the key words in this title; equipping, church, mission. Of course, the concepts of church and mission are in flux – dealing with that will not be my priority here. Rather, I simply wish to reflect briefly on a few key thoughts that seek to challenge the core of what being a disciple of Jesus means for us living in Britain today, so that the community of believers may be better equipped to engage in meaningful and authentic mission practice

A contemporary snapshot…

We live in a world of insecurity, despair and hopelessness – that is the picture for a major part of humanity as we lurch through economic crisis, displacement of identity, war, conflict and a loss of confidence in truth and meaningful existence…this presents a significant opportunity for the global church to reflect the love of God in its mission. In the West, and in the Britain in particular, fresh challenges meet us – an angry constituency demands effective political leadership and greater economic justice, as food banks dole out provisions to more and more in need each week. Distrust in authority, the erosion of purpose and tiredness of existing brittle structures, leaves the community of Christ-followers standing on the threshold of an opportunity that has, perhaps, been rarely available in the recent past – people are looking for signs of hope amid the rubble of despair and lostness, as Leslie Newbiggin once discerned and articulated. Generous dialogue with ‘the other’ is imperative in our cultural milieu.

So, I wish to raise three key dimensions as to how the church might be better equipped to engage effectively in reaching 21st Century Britain. These three dimensions touch on; where we are (the contextual dimension, part 1), who we are (the empathic dimension, part 2) and where we are going (the hope dimension, part 3). These dimensions are to be understood within an overarching framework which is the biblical vision of shalom – or in other words, being sign-bearers of God’s reign ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.

Firstly, where we are

I suggest there are 3 key issues we need to fully engage with in contemporary Britain. Firstly, our community must be inclusive and welcoming. In Hebrew life the alien was given certain protections and the Old Testament is full of provisions which sought to include the outsider and welcome the alien amongst God’s people. Contemporary migration gives the church opportunity to show loving acceptance and warm welcome, as well as change cold and oppressive attitudes. Secondly, economic inequality is rampant and a recipe for social dislocation and conflict. Challenging unjust economic and financial structures, and promoting simpler and more creative life-affirming lifestyles is part of the churches’ prophetic function. Being bold, courageous and true disciples points the way that others may follow – becoming missional communities affords that possibility. Thirdly, the Gospel of love and truth needs new forms of expression within a plethora of ideologies and worldviews. We stand at the crossroads where our legitimacy and message is questioned and critiqued as never before. Postmodernity asserts that we no longer hold to a meta-narrative of the Truth, but that we must mutually tolerate each and everyone’s truths. Secularism, consumerism, pluralism and multiculturalism make for a lively context in which to live and breathe – our voice is one of many, but our actions can be unique. So, a long hard look at our context and awareness of these three key issues which face our nation today, is a good starting point for taking a reality-check and beginning the process of equipping the church for mission.

This is the first dimension for equipping the church for mission – contextual awareness

Parts 2 and 3 to follow shortly…

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