Monday, 27 February 2017

Can't you see what's happening here?

“It’s a wonderful life” is a great film.

It tells the story of an idealist. One man who, despite his inclinations to run away, keeps struggling against a system which continually seeks to drag him down. A system which seeks to dehumanise his local community, and which sees ordinary people as no more than a resource to be milked for profit. The film is the story of how this struggle against the prevailing powers can take someone to the very edge of their capacities tipping him over into self-destruction.

There is a key scene mid way through the film in which there is a run on the bank. A crowd gathers at the Bailey building and loan demanding their shares be cashed. The crowd are afraid, they are panicking. George Bailey offers the incisive challenge of the film: “Can’t you see what’s happening here?”

I quote this scene because I think the same challenge is pertinent to our 2017 political reality.

Last week Labour lost in Copeland. The media instantly focussed in on Jeremy Corbyn, the story was simplified and we were presented with a simplistic narrative. Labour lost because of Jeremy Corbyn. Supposed fact? The media from day one of his leadership has projected Corbyn as incompetent and unelectable, the narrative is decided, and will be pursued from now until 2020 regardless.

The current Conservative government would like us to believe that they are simply pragmatists doing their best in difficult circumstances. The majority of the media has followed this message, presenting Cameron and May as benign leaders merely doing what needs to be done.

We each have to make our own mind up as to whether we accept these portraits? Personally I do not.

What I see is a Conservative government ideologically committed to neo-liberal economics, a government keen to privatise public services, destroy the NHS and the welfare state, reduce corporate tax and regulation, and allow the city of London to dictate economic policy. A government which will let the financial sector do whatever it wishes while guaranteeing that it will be bailed out if its risks go sour. I see a government engaging in direct and proxy war in the middle-east while building ever higher walls around our borders. I see very little being done in response to the imminent threat of climate change.

As I say, make up your own mind, do your own research, you might want to take a look at these sites:

On the left:

and on the right:

What Jeremy Corbyn represents is an alternative. While we have Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader there is a real political choice, he is seeking to change the core economic ideology under which the UK has operated for the last 35 years. This is precisely the reason why the media is attacking Corbyn because he is challenging the status quo, the private media is controlled largely by super-rich people who are doing very well out of the status quo.

Corbyn is "unelectable" precisely because he won't accept this status-quo. Any other Labour leader who fails to accept it will equally be considered "unelectable"; because in the eyes of the media the only way to be "electable" is to follow this narrative.

So whoever offers a real choice will be attacked. we aren’t going to get intelligent policy analysis or intelligent discussion about economic policy, we aren’t being led to feel like we can each make a real choice based on reasoned thought. Instead what we have is personal attacks, ongoing commentary on political gossip, and analysis of what the latest opinion poll might mean. We are being cajoled into thinking that politics is about how much your suit costs, or how witty your come-backs are at PMQs. 

It's all about fear. We are being encouraged to believe we don’t have a choice, we are being encouraged to be afraid. When we’re afraid all of us make un-thought-out decisions. We panic. What better reassurance than a calm leaders who tells us not to worry. They know what they’re doing. Just relax and don’t worry your head with complicated things you don’t understand. And so we are like leaves swaying in the wind blown in whatever direction the wind blows.

Much like medieval culture kept the bible out of the hands of the masses, so our current rulers would prefer that very few of us are fluent in economic theory.

If the only thing that mattered was to get the Labour Party into power then yes the easiest route would be to ditch Corbyn, to appoint leader who will accept the neo-liberal consensus, a leader offering what would amount to Tory-lite government, a leader who will not object to the city of London influence, nor to selling weapons to the odd dubious regime, nor to an occasional war to secure our oil supply. Such a Labour leader would likely create a situation whereby the rich elites can’t really lose in 2020. The centre-left would be deluded into feeling joyful as Labour takes power, just as we all were in 1997.

What we are currently seeing is a clear attempt by the media to destroy Jeremy Corbyn politically. But much more deeply than this what we are seeing is an attempt to convince us all that the neo-liberal consensus is the only game in town. If the media can hound Corbyn out of office then the message will be very clearly understood, this kind of politics is not allowed. It will be another generation or two until we get a real choice that means anything in a general election. (or at least until climate change transforms everything)

The powers that be don’t want us to have this choice in 2020.

Right now with Corbyn we will have a real choice in 2020. I am not asking everyone to vote Labour or for any other party. What I am saying is that in a mature adult democracy we would now have three years to engage in intelligent adult discussion about economic policy. In a mature democracy we would have a public service media which saw its role as being a facilitator of this public debate so as to allow us to form well reflected and thought-out opinions. Sadly we do not have this media. The information we need will not be given to us unless we seek it out. If our democracy is going to something real then each of us has a serious responsibility to seek out a broad range of information and to intelligently assess and make an informed choice.

If after careful thought neo-liberal economics is what you believe in then you are right to vote Conservative, likewise if you want a government which is more interventionist in providing public service then vote Labour (or Green). But please don’t vote for anything without knowing what you’re doing.

It’s a wonderful life ends with redemption. It is the people George has fought so long to keep out of poverty who come good and rescue him. We do have a choice.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

The words below are a sermon shared by my Grandfather, Terrence Bailey, in August 1957, he was 27 years old. Terrence died long before I was born so his sermons are an important window into the life of someone I have few ways of knowing. I share this today because it speaks to us here in 2016 about how we find a Christian response to current circumstance.

Matthew 5:43-44.

Judging by one or two novels I’ve been reading lately, it seems to be the impression that the parson is meant to instil into the people on Sunday the sort of airy-fairy platitudinous idealism which nobody in their right senses would dream on trying seriously on Mondays. From what I gladly know of Methodist Worship, I am convinced that that is quite untrue (it was probably true of the Church of England of 1730!), but occasionally it crops up, and with certain themes: “Love your enemies.”
            It’s an idea we laugh at – secretly – and it’s certainly one we don’t take much notice of. We miss (and it is a real loss) we miss its challenge and its opportunity because we misunderstand “Love”. Let me try and suggest to you some of the masks of the love of God, which, reflected, becomes our love for those who have no time for us, and I hope that by them I shall assure you that this is nothing pasty-faced, but virile, and positive, and triumphant. I don’t want to argue about pacifism or anything like that (you can do that afterwards): all I want to establish is something worth working on, something which will challenge, something which will make us think again.

I think a lot of the difficulties about the suggestion of loving enemies is the picture of the Christian as a door-mat. The Christian, it says, isn’t supposed to show any fight: love is to take what is coming to you (whether it be a punch on the nose or an allegation about the church) with passive equanimity (emphasising the passive).
            In the Gospels there seems to be two totally conflicting pictures of the attitude of Jesus towards his enemies (so much so that some people have felt that this disproved his sinlessness, in that sometimes he didn’t seem to be loving his enemies). Compare those occasions – the fierce denunciations of the Scribes and Pharisees, “hypocrites”, or the expulsion of the black marketers from the temple, with the cross: “Father, forgive them” (and the “them” applied to the same the same men). People have seen in the cross an offensive on the part of the enemies of Jesus, matched by a passive Christ who let himself be crucified, let himself be slandered and spat upon, without a murmur. And that, they say, is loving your enemies.
            That conception, which seems so very close to precious facts, has, I am sure, one vital mistake. It was Jesus who started the battle. (Excuse all these military metaphors: they have always been appropriate in the sense of spiritual battling against the forces of evil, although it is rather outrageous that – on those grounds alone – people have justified Christians fighting in the literal sense (the “logic” goes: Paul uses warfare as an illustration, therefore warfare must be Christian; on the contrary, this morning I used as an illustration a slogan advocating the drinking of Pimms No.1 – so what?!). But that is a parenthesis.)
            It was Jesus who started the battle, and not those who crucified him. If it hadn’t been for the deliberate intention of Jesus, the crucifixion would never have happened. But, in fact, he arranged the whole situation: when they in a fit of rage wanted to seize him while he was still in the rural backwaters, he evaded them, but when he moved towards Jerusalem, nothing the disciples could do could stop him: he placed himself where he knew they would respond, because he knew it was the only way that men could be shown in unmistakeable terms the sin of man and the love of God. Calvary is like (if it isn’t too crude an illustration) a place on an arterial road with two great floodlit hoardings which no one passing by car will miss, and on the first one there is a cross with the words “This is what sin can do and has done”, and on the second a cross, and the words “But love is stronger.” And it was Jesus who, by the determination of his fearless love, erected both signs.
            The offensive was the active love of Christ trying somehow to break through, and, by the side of that, the trial, the scourging, the spitting, the crucifying, are a mockery of a counter-attack that failed.
            Now I want you to apply that – to the opportunity of loving those who are set against us: love is active. It doesn’t look like it, I know; it looks as if, like Jesus, we are letting them with their weapons, do what they will, letting them hit the other cheek while we do nothing. I think the reason Jesus talked about turning the other cheek was this: you are meant to be so totally concerned with this active mental and spiritual weapon of love, so totally given over to caring for the other man, that you haven’t time to care for yourself, and if they choose to go on counter-attacking (in the only way they know, like Caiaphas and Pilate), that’s their concern and not yours.
            You know (or you ought to) the story of Edith Carell, who because she was a Christian decided that her nursing must not be confined to the wounded of her own country, and she started caring for Germans and English when Germans were enemies. Her conduct made both sides suspicious of treachery, but she knew it wasn’t true, and continued that work. Eventually in desperation they shot her, but men take notice of Edith Carell now: she had a vital active power which men are beginning to appreciate: love is active.

I chose that word rather impishly, because it is another of these words that has been devalued in meaning, so that[i] it has come to mean something soft, which, for the sake of not giving offence, lets evil run riot – and that’s a hint of another misunderstanding about loving your enemies. But I want to use “benevolence” literally: love is concerned with doing good to those who are doing evil. Extend it a bit and say that love is something which is working by all means to redeem, to change, to save the objectionable and the evil. And the thing that must be emphasised is this: that when those saving purposes demand it, love is tough: it does not, and it must not, mean tolerating evil.
            Let me use a rather weird sort of analogy. If a couple of mixed race (for instance, the husband an African and the wife English) go into South Africa – if they were allowed in – and at any stage they wanted to go into a park and have a rest, they would come to not one seat but two, the one marked “Europeans Only” and the other “Natives and Coloured Only”, so that man and wife would have to sit on separate seats. To us that separation is unthinkably wrong; but that ought to be true too of another apartheid: the supposed incompatibility between love on the one hand (which is soft) and discipline and severity and anger on the other.
            Love is “benevolent”, writing for good, for the good of those who are evil, AND DISCIPLINE IS ONE OF THE INSTRUMENTS OF TRUE LOVE. I think that’s why Jesus attacked the Pharisees in the terms her did: somehow he must try to shatter their thick-skinned superiority. You don’t stand much chance of getting inside the skin of a rhinoceros with a pea-shooter, and Jesus knew that, if he was to stand any chance at all of making the Pharisees come to their senses he would have to stab, and stab hard, until it hurt: “Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” – that is one of the ways of love.
            You know examples of this which bear out what I’ve said. Those of you who are Mums and Dads (this is where I venture into unknown territory, but I think safely!): when one of the children (what shall we say -) drops a bottle of ink, and splashes the wallpaper, you punish the child (not maybe by giving it a hiding, because some Christians seem to have other equally effective ways, but none the less really), you punish the child so that it may do better, so that it may realise what when children are naughty it costs trouble and time and money, so that they may grow up more responsible. Sometimes those aren’t the motives (sometimes it’s because all the fuss has interrupted the telly!), but true parenthood is built totally on love which uses tough ways where tough ways are necessary.
            The other example is an obvious one: prison life (as men are caring to see it). A man is sent to prison, not to get rid of a nuisance, but to change a nuisance, to try (and it’s sometimes successful) to send him out a responsible man. If ever there was a loving purpose, it’s that, but it is built on tough discipline (and I wish the people who talked about prisons being soft would try one).
            That’s the second thing I want you to think about – the benevolence, the working in all ways for the good of the wrongdoer which characterises true agapé. Build that into your ideas of loving the enemy.

You’ll see that if we trace back for a moment men’s ideas of retribution. We read the cruel story of Achan, where, because he disobeyed orders and brought defeat on his side, not only he but his wife and family and his livestock were all killed by the tribe. There was a reason for that kind of retribution, because they thought that, because children had the same blood in their veins as their father, they had the same characteristics, and would only do what their father had done. But retribution for the crime was worse, and went further than, the crime itself. So you see how much of an advance it was when the Jews said, in effect “only one eye for an eye” – when someone kills your brother you must only kill him (not his grandma and first cousins into the bargain). “Let the punishment fit the crime” – retribution and crime are equal. But then Jesus comes along and takes it to the third stage: Love which is prepared to reprieve and punish and build again. Mary Magdalene, or the man on the cross, were emphatically sinners, self-acknowledged ones, but for the sake of building in them something worthwhile, Jesus befriended and forgave. Love is totally unrelated to merit in the other person: love is (to use this topical word) unilateral.
            I think it’s time we questioned this word “love”. If you often go past Piccadilly Circus (says he, looking straight at the gallery!) you will immediately know what I mean when I say there is a thing in the middle up which people three parts gone climb. And the little winged statue of Eros is a symbol of “Epos” one of the Greek words for “love”, and it means something mutual, something which both people find evoked in one another; there is something lovable which makes you want to love. I hope no young ladies feel embarrassed at this stage, but I want to illustrate. If you go to the office the morning after a date, and say “he kissed me last night”, I don’t think you’re being honest; if you were truly representing the action, I suspect that you would say “We kissed one another last night” (you had more of a hand or lip in it than you make out). Epos is something mutual, something (if you like) “bilateral”. But that is never used in the New Testament.
            The New Testament word is Agapé (and, in case you don’t know how to spell it, its got a code number: 727, look up in the hymn book, and you’ll find that no. 727 has a tune called “Agapé”). Now ἀyaπɳ is totally different: it is almost unknown in anything earlier than the Greek Bible, and it means a love which is not shared, not evoked, but a ‘one-sided’ love. The ἀyaπɳ of God is like that, God loves us, not because he sees something in us that is worth loving, not even because he sees potential good in us: ἀyaπɳ is just something unrelated to merit. (You remember St. Paul’s words: “God shows his love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”) Unilateral ἀyaπɳ.
            You’ll soon think of examples of where that idea is needed. I can’t resist saying that it is no wonder that Communists have got this spurious name as peacemakers: however empty their offers may be, it is repeatedly the Communists who make the offer, which we sit tight and say “If you come half-way to meet us – first – we’ll follow.” But I want to leave it there, because it is you who must apply it – in your own situations.

Love is active, and not passive; love is (in the real sense) benevolent; love is unilateral. I’m told (by those quite a bit older than myself!) that during the Great War a poster appeared, with the finger of Kitchener pointing, and the words “Your King and Country Needs YOU;” there is a poster with a Cross, and the words “God and Every Nation Under Heaven Needs You,” to attack your enemies, and to destroy them – by making them your friends.

[i] So that it immediately conjures up a picture of the aged and no doubt saintly vicar who potters up to the local village louts who are throwing stones through the stained-glass windows and who says to them: “Now, children, you really shouldn’t do that should you now?” And when he gets a straight retort merely potters away muttering something about what children are like these days – WITHOUT DOING ANYTHING. That’s a caricature – and it’s a caricature of love.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Where do we go from here - part 2

So a month on, a few more thoughts on the aftermath of the referendum.

Why did we vote (narrowly) to leave? The truth is that there is no simple answer, and not everyone voted LEAVE or REMAIN for the same reasons. (So please don’t read what follows as claiming they did.)

My feeling is that the dominant issue at the heart of this referendum was immigration. I think it boils down to a stark reality, our personal experiences of immigration and our perceptions of immigration is starkly different.

For many of us, including myself, our experience of immigration has been overwhelmingly positive, I’ve friends who are immigrants, I’ve travelled to other countries, I’ve lived in France. I like the fact that I could live anywhere in the EU, I like the fact that other EU nationals have been able to move here. For me immigration is a social Good. The economic benefits are a secondary concern. I like being European. That is the experience of many people I know.

But what this referendum has made clear is that there is another side to Britain whose view of immigration is very different. Their experience of immigrants has been negative, they have not made friends, they have not enjoyed travelling to other countries, they have not lived in other EU nations. Their perception is of immigrants who take their jobs and are too often involved in crime.

One of the difficulties I’ve been pondering quite deeply over the last month is how to have a constructive national conversation.

The Referendum campaign was extremely divisive. Big lies were told on both sides. Where is this £350m a week for the NHS then Mr Johnson? Where is your emergency budget Mr Osborne? For weeks we were bombarded with a few lies, a lot of half-truths, and a mountain of spin. None of that makes an honest constructive conversation possible, all it does is make people angry and shouty.

This is nothing new. For decades our governments have not attempted to rule by consensus. We have in effect been ruled by the biggest minority. In 2015 The Tories won on 36.8% of the votes, in 2005 Labour won on 35.2%; in neither David Cameron nor Tony Blair’s victory speeches did either acknowledge that a majority of voter did not vote for them. No, they proclaimed a majority government and proceeded to implement their policies without a passing glance to the 60%+ who did not support their manifesto, nor to the great number who did not vote.

To me such leadership is weak. And I think it is at the heart of what has brought us to the divisive referendum on the EU. As a nation we have no culture of consensus building discussion. We either shout at each other, hurl abuse, and treat any kind of compromise as a betrayal. Or we retreat into liberal platitudes, ”everyone is entitled to their views” or “all views should be equally respected” simply stating our views without listening to anyone else or challenging each others lines of thinking. Our media doesn’t help, political interviews are either about catching politicians out or are completely superficial. Often all we get is the soundbite or the slogan, our attention span has been trained to get bored with more than a minute of well constructed rational argument.

In his book “The Pedagogy of Education”, the Brazilian education theorist Paulo Ferriere makes the case that whenever someone has the freedom to make a decision they must always be allowed to experience to full consequences of that decision. I think this point has relevance for our politics. For too long we have allowed a minority (just less than 40%) to elect our government. Then we all walk away and the consequences fall where they will; sometime they touch us sometimes not. But on the whole our blinkers are put on and we take only a fleeting interest in that which doesn’t pertain to our daily lives. We are not listening to those who feel the pain, and when it’s us that feel it no one is listening to us. Hence we have a sense of disconnection. When election come round again all we consider is our own narrow corridor of experience. Our politicians know they only need to appeal to their favoured 36% (ish), so who cares for the experience of all the others?

This is where we are. A nation of shouters who have never learnt how to listen. We have not listened to those who felt afraid (rightly or wrongly) by immigration, we have condemned before finding out why. We have not listened to those who’ve felt like they have no voice, those who are never among the winning 36%, and so live frustrated that they are never consulted or even have explained to them, decisions which transform their lives. We have not listened to those who been denied stable jobs and permanent contracts, finding themselves stuck on zero-hours minimum wage jobs. We have not listened to those who work long hours in jobs that give them no satisfaction, year after year. We have not listened to those who can find no meaning beyond longing for the next consumer possession. We have not listened to those who feel like they’ve failed in life because things haven’t turned out as they’d hoped.

We have not listened! When no one listens to us some of us get frustrated. “why is no one interested in me!” Others shrink away into solitude.

We have not listened; but equally we have chosen to ridicule privately rather than challenge openly. So we allow the racist joke to go unchallenged. We allow the made up statistic to stand as fact. For the sake of peace we choose to accept the received wisdom we don’t really believe. When open disagreement appears we quickly change the subject to something less controversial, or we make the proponents feel as if their being antisocial or a bit boring.

None of this makes for a healthy national debate! Nor is it really democracy.

How we change things? Now that is the real question.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Where do we go from here?

I am very disappointed by the result of the referendum. My initial reaction was one of panic, real heart-racing panic, that in time turned to anger and frustration, then sadness. Yesterday was an emotional roller coaster. Some will have shared my experience, others the opposite reaction; and still others would have been less emotionally affected.

Initial reactions are what they are, the important question for us all is where now?

One reality that is patently clear in the aftermath of the referendum is that the UK is a divided nation. 51.9% to 48.1% is not a resounding mandate to LEAVE nor would the opposite have been a clear mandate to REMAIN.

The public proponents of LEAVE would have us believe that their reasons for leaving were THE reasons for leaving. In the coming months we will undoubtedly see these public figures attempt (and perhaps succeed) to negotiate a new relationship with the EU on the basis of a majority backing for their reasons for leaving.

The stark reality is that we do not know why those each other voted as we did, nor why 27.8% did not vote at all.

There are a large range of issues relating to the EU, democracy trusts that before voting each person made an informed and considered judgement on the basis of the pros weighed against the inevitable cons of such a course. To believe any different is to question the validity of democracy. We have to trust that those unwilling to consider seriously would have the maturity to abstain.

It is patently obvious that not everyone who voted LEAVE agrees, nor those who voted REMAIN. The judgement call was not as binary as the ballot paper.

So we now need a really honest national conversation, not just a chance to rant, much more important is a chance to really listen to those who disagree with us. This conversation can only happen if we are all willing to be challenged in our current view, and willing to change our minds on the basis of what we hear. 

Voting is simply one aspect of the democratic process; binary votes are always divisive unless they are accompanied by a process of discussion, both speaking and listening. This discussion should have happen before the vote; but it is now imperative that we decide together what kind of new relationship we want with the EU. What the election campaign made clear is that we cannot trust our political leaders nor our media to constructively facilitate such a process; nor can we leave it to social media (like this blog) where like often groups with like.

On both sides of this issue we need to make this reconciliation happen locally.

Perhaps Farage and Johnson are right in this respect; it is time for us to take back the power to make our own decisions. That means realising that there is a long process of consensus building ahead of us. It will involve sacrifice and humility, such is the responsibility of democracy.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Why I am voting to REMAIN

The EU referendum is tomorrow so I thought it was time to offer my contribution to the debate.

I want to begin by saying that I totally understand at least some of the reasons for Brexit. There is a democratic deficit in the EU, it is very hard to answer the question which Tony Benn asked of all in power: “How can I get rid of you”. Furthermore the EU has at times enacted policies which disadvantage the global south. And across western Europe immigration has been used as a tool to keep wages low, workers from the east of Europe (and in earlier era, Eire, Portugal and southern Italy ) have been willing to move to the west and work for wages which we in the west aren’t willing to work for. There is a legitimate argument to say that without immigration wages for fruit pickers, cleaners, and manual jobs, would have had to be higher, it’s simple market economics. For more than a generation the middle class has enjoyed low prices for services on the back of low paid workers, immigration has been used as a tool to bring this about and as a consequence we’ve created the phenomena at home of the disenfranchised poor who are angry at being stuck at the bottom of the social ladder. This is not the fault of those immigrants, but it is they who feel the consequences of the anger of those who feel they have no voice.

I understand all this, but let’s not pretend that for the last 43 years Britain has had this rise in inequality forced upon her! Britain has been at the heart of driving through these economic realities; more and more of our national freedom has been handed over to undemocratic bodies willingly and enthusiastically by the politicians we have elected. It isn’t just the EU, it is the WTO and the IMF as well. Why has this been done? to lock us into the neo-liberal economic system, to prevent us, "and our hard working families" from democratically changing this reality. 

If these were the arguments for Brexit being proclaimed publicly then I would have some sympathy. But as it stands I see no reason to believe that outside the EU that our government would act any differently, do we believe that the Conservatives or Labour are about to tell the middle and upper classes that retail prices will have to rise because there needs to be a higher wage incentive to encourage British workers to pick fruit and vegetables? Do we believe that our government is going to forego the easy option of immigration and instead invest billions more into vocational training so that our home workers will have the skills to do the jobs currently been done by eastern European plumbers, builders, nurses, etc?

I don’t believe much would change under Brexit. For too long British politicians have pushed EU policies which favour the wealthy, while using the EU as a scapegoat for the negative consequences of policies that they have passionately advocated and would have done so in or out of the EU.

What's more employment justice and fair wages are not something I want just for British workers, I want them for everyone, everywhere.

So I get some of the reasons for leaving. However I don’t think any of these are the reasons why most Brexiters are considering voting leave. I think it comes down to a far simpler national mindset, Fear.

I have met people from all across Europe, I have visited several EU countries, I have lived for a time in France. These experience were vastly easier because we are in the EU. All across Europe millions of people are enjoying the same privilege, to visit or to live and work in a different country, to learn a different language, to eat different food, to expand their vision of the world, to meet different people.

There are many Brits who take up this opportunity which being in the EU affords us; but on the whole it saddens me that as a country most of us don’t. We don’t take seriously learning other languages, our young people don’t take seriously the opportunity to live for a time in another EU country, we even turn our noses up at subtitled films; far too often we look across our channel with a measure of suspicion or ridicule.

Why? I think it’s because we are afraid. Fear is a natural reaction to the other, but the mature reaction to fear is to get through it, to be able to see a higher good beyond the fear. The immature reaction is to cower, to move backwards into a hole and then justify our cowardice with self righteous affirmation. For too long this is how we as Brits have acted towards our European neighbours. We are a nation of unadventurous cowards who spend way too much time blaming others for our problems. We mask our insecurities by consoling ourselves with a “we won the war” superiority complex which just assumes that we are better than anyone else.

We have a media and a political class that feed and manipulate our fears. Because we are afraid we fall for their lies, to build higher walls, to create more scapegoats. It is to our shame as a country that we feel so threatened by Syrians and North Africans living in abject poverty in Calais. These people are not our enemies,

This is not healthy. As a nation we need to address this fear.

Tomorrow I will be voting REMAIN.

Because I believe that all the very real economic injustices facilitated by the EU would be pursued with just as much vigour by the British government outside the EU. While at the same time any more progressive voice we might one day have would be locked out of the conversation.

Above all else I am voting REMAIN because I don’t want to live in a country which fears the outsider, I want to look out across Europe with a sense of hope and adventure, how incredible the opportunities we have! How amazing the peoples and cultures that we can encounter! How privileged we are to be able to work and live anywhere we want across our continent! How brilliant it is that we can build friendships with Romanians, Bulgarians, Poles, Czechs, Belgians and Swedes.  How impressive it is that Europe has lived through so little war in the last 70 years! How fortunate we are not to have felt the pain of famine at any point in our lifetimes!

So please, my fellow Brits, vote REMAIN, but don’t just vote remain we need to do more than this; make the most of this opportunity, encourage the young to learn languages, encourage them to live and work in other countries, make the most of what we have; and beyond everything else when you feel the fear of the other rising in your gut, stand up to that fear and force yourself to look outward.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

What does the bible have to teach us about Climate Change?

Over the last few decades climate scientists have been warning us with greater and greater levels of alarm about the potential dangers of human created climate change. While the exact outcomes of a warming world will always be a matter for debate it seems to be more and more clear that whatever the eventual effects, worse-case or best-case, this is a problem that we need to take seriously and to which we need to find solutions.

In our modern world the realms of science and religion have entered a quiet truce. Post-modern science has become less sure of its own certainty, while mainstream Christianity has become less strident in its truth claims. The Church has been pushed, or retreated, to the margins of many areas of public dialogue. In the eyes of most in our society Climate Science is principally seen as a scientific problem to be solved with scientific and technological solutions; religious salvation is an individual and private spiritual matter.

Such a worldview is very modern. Ancient cultures did not think in such compartmentalised ways. For many of our ancestors it was quite natural to believe that a bad harvest could be the result of having displeased God, or that a medical illness could be the result of a human conflict. Ancient people had a much more symbiotic view of different elements at work in our world. We moderns have thrown out many of these ideas as mere superstition, and perhaps rightly so in many cases, but we need to be careful that in throwing out this old bath water we do not lose older wisdom that might now be needed.

Is to understand Noah’s flood as a punishment for human sin (Genesis 6:7) that much different from attributing increasingly violent weather to our having burnt too much coal? Or is to understand the drought during Ahab’s reign as a consequence of idolatry (1 Kings 16:31-17:7) so much different from accepting that human caused climate change is causing the increased desertification of North Africa? Perhaps the stories we read in our bible about climate chaos and human action contain deeper truths than might be apparent from a simplistic reading. Many of our biblical stories are parables or vignettes which were edited and refined by generations of oral tradition before being committed to writing. The way an ancient less-scientifically educated people made sense of the world is very different from how we might, but that does not mean we should ignore their experience.

In Genesis 2 the first human is created by the combining of both the earth and the breath of God[1] (Genesis 2:7). Thus humanity is the fruit of a sacred union between God and the earth. We are dependent on both, called to be attentive our dual nature. We are images of both God and the natural world. In genesis (Genesis 2:15) humanity is asked to garden till the soil and to take care of the earth; these are words which come from the realm of agriculture not politics. We are placed in a relationship of inter-dependence, the earth relies on us and just as equally we rely on the earth for our welfare.

It is significant that the breaking down of humanities relationship with God involves an alienation from the earth and expulsion from the garden, the snake and the soil are cursed by God (Genesis 3:14,17-18). Perhaps in this ancient story we can read a warning as to what happens if we commodify and functionalise the natural world, seeing it as existing only that we might exploit it. We are called to be part of a partnership, not to dominate and subjugate for our own short-term benefit.

As the biblical narrative advances we are told stories of nature asserting itself against humanity. Noah’s flood (Genesis 7-8), the famine predicted by Joseph (Genesis 41), the ten plagues (Exodus 7-11), Ahab’s drought (1 Kings 17) and Jonah’s storm (Jonah 1) are all example of this narrative.

For the bible the salvation offered by God is rarely a matter of individual redemption but of fullness of life offered to all of creation, the restoration of the original Genesis 2 partnership between God, humanity and the natural world. This restoration involves a three way process of healing, the healing of our relationships with each other, with God and with nature.

So perhaps it is time to listen more carefully to the words of Job, “Ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you.” (Job 12:7-8). Isaiah 35 speaks of the wilderness and dry land being glad, natural phenomena responding to divine deliverance. Ezekiel 36 paints a picture of renewal as abundant fields and fruit laden tree (36:29-30). In the New Testament, Paul tells us that salvation is not just for humanity but for all creation which waits with eager expectation for the coming of Christ (Romans 8:19-23); in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus (like Job) encourages us to take our example from the birds of the air and the lilies in the field (Matthew 6:26-29).

Are we in these more environmentally aware time beginning to realise that these words, which we had assumed to be just symbolic, are filled with greater meaning than we had until now realised?

[1] The text contains a wordplay in Hebrew, humanity (ha-adam) is made from the earth (ha-adamah)

Saturday, 28 November 2015

When you hear of War and Rumours of War, do not be alarmed (Mark 13:7)

Sometimes the lectionary throws up very timely readings. After Friday 13th November, a day which saw deadly attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, on the Sunday (15th Nov) we were given Mark 13, perhaps the longest teaching on how Christians are called to respond to War and violence in the whole of the New Testament. The following Sunday (22nd Nov) we read another pertinent text from John 18; Jesus tells Pilate “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over...but as it is, my kingdom is not from here”. Tomorrow we have another text of war and turmoil, Luke 21:25-36. “There will be signs ... nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world”

These readings speak very powerfully in the context of a wealthy world racketing itself up with war fever; in a context of millions of refugees fleeing war and seeking safety elsewhere; and in a context of multiple guerrilla armies, backed up by religious beliefs, filled with young men willing to die for their cause.

The bible’s words read in the current international climate have much to teach us, I urge all of you to spend some time reflecting on these passages. I believe they proclaim a very different gospel from that of our tabloid newspapers and political leaders, and equally very different from the ideology of Islamic State.

We are in a moment when the loudest voices on all sides are proclaiming a message of redemptive violence, if we kill these bad guys then all will be well. This message is fatalist, there is no other way, only through the use of violence can we end this evil which threatens us. Evil must be separated from good in very clear and distinct ways, our group is Good and the other is Evil. Righteous are those who strike to destroy this evil.

Against the overwhelming momentum of this ideology of redemptive violence those voices speaking for a different way will likely be drowned out, too quiet to be heard above the shouting, those that advocate alternatives will be quickly attacked as being weak, or dangerous.

Our gospels were written in a context very similar to that in which we now live. Mark was likely written in the midst of the Jewish Roman War of 66-70; Matthew and Luke were written in the decade or so after the war, John a little bit later still. War, destruction, refugees and persecution of the losing side are realities which hang over the gospels.

Mark 13 was probably written during a moment of crisis. The Jewish rebellion of 66ce has momentarily been successful, but everyone knew that the Roman Empire will return for revenge. In this moment of coming war each side is polarised. Both sides’ absolute belief in the justness of their cause is solidifying, no dissension from this ideology will be tolerated. Each person must decide, are you with the Romans or with the Jewish fighters.

Jesus’ words in Mark are striking, his advice is that his followers should run away! Redemptive violence is a dead-end, so run for the hill (Mark 13:14). As Christians we are instructed to reject the very idea of participating in this violent struggle and simply step aside.

This stepping aside, or running away, is not a passive act. Mark 13 makes it clear that non-participation in violence is itself seen as a threat to those who have chosen the way of violence, persecution will follow from both sides.

Following Mark 13 in which the myth of redemptive violence is thrown down, Mark’s gospel moves into the passion narrative in which Jesus’ alternative ideology is presented, the way of redemptive suffering, or as we modern day Christians might call it, the way of creative non-violence. Jesus does not run away from conflict but neither does he participate. His way is to challenge the very heart of our belief in redemptive violence, to make visible in his own body the consequences of such a path. The centre of Christian discipleship is to embody this way of peace.

We are not called to simply ignore the suffering of others and pontificate on the wrongs of war from the comfort of our cosy warm homes. We are called to challenge the ways of redemptive violence wherever we find them and to risk the consequences of walking such a road. We are called to suffer alongside the victims of violence.

We find ourselves in an historical moment with many similarities to that of Mark’s community in the midst of the Jewish Roman War of 66-70ce. A radical, violence group, motivated by a religious identity of martyrdom and willing to fight to the last man, has taken control of a large swathe of Syria and Iraq. The great military powers of our world are preparing to engage this group in battle.

As Christians we need to find a response fast. All too quickly events will leave us behind. Some Christians will actively bless this coming war and declare it righteous. Most of us will likely find it all too depressing and turn over to watch Bake-Off, Strictly Come dancing or the Premier League.

The real question for all of us is how to avoid these two temptations, how can we reject the ideology of redemptive violence? While still taking the suffering of Syria, Beirut, Iraq, and Paris seriously?

“What I say to you I say to all: Keep awake!” Mark 13:37b. Events are moving very quickly.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Washing Feet

In Matthew, Mark and Luke we can read the story of the last supper, the first eucharist or communion service, Jesus’ new Passover meal. From the very earliest times up until today Christians have regularly shared this meal in many and varied forms.

It is worth reflecting on the fact that in John’s Gospel we do not find a Last supper meal. Instead we find the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. It is curious to reflect on how the Church might be different if from the earliest times we had regularly followed Jesus’ instruction to was each others’ feet? Not just our own feet but those of our neighbours and friends. Would we have had so much division over questions of who was allowed to have their feet washed by whom?

In getting down on his hands and knees to wash his disciples feet Jesus took the lowest place, the lowest social position. We can sense the scandalousness of the act in Peter’s reaction. Is this love taken too far? And yet it is only a precursor to an even greater act of love a few hours later on the cross. What Peter is not able to understand is that Jesus is not able to love from a position of superiority. Love can only ever be incarnated in weakness, from below. If Peter is to receive love then he must allow Jesus to lower himself. Peter is not the source of love, only if he receives can he in turn pass on this love to others by washing their feet. None of us can remain faithful to living the radical love of the gospel unless we are open to receiving this same love.

At its heart the way of Jesus Christ is very simple, we are called to welcome love into our lives through prayer, through accepting the service of others and through our reflection on the bible. If we devote ourselves to these practises with all our hearts then we will not be able to do anything but let this love flow out to others, slowly God will transform us and convert us into a community of love whose most natural inclination is to wash feet. 

Sunday, 4 October 2015

You are the Salt of the Earth

To follow Jesus is to be Salt in our World (Matthew 5:13). What can we make of this obscure metaphor?

Salt has many uses. In cooking it is best used in moderation, just a small amount of salt in a pot of food can make a difference while too much can spoil a meal. We are often called to be this gentle, almost imperceptible, transforming presence which makes a positive difference to those around us. This difference can be so gentle that it can be all too easily missed by the wider world. Simple acts of kindness, money given without great fanfare, hospitality offered, the homeless fed and sheltered, food banks stocked and staffed. As Christians we are called to a gentle gospel of quiet humble service to those most in need. Even if we can only do a little bit it is important to begin, to do something and to trust the fruits to God. 

But salt is not always a subtle substance. There is the expression “To rub salt in the wound”. Salt can be used as a way of cleaning wounds, in the immediate moment this cleaning causes pain but this pain is for a greater healing. As Christians we have a vocation to be this salt in the wounds of humanity. There are times when we are called to make painful challenges in the pursuit of healing. We are called to challenge our society’s addictions to over-consumption, to sectarianism, to excluding the foreigner and to the accumulation of wealth. We are called to challenge unfair trade, tax evasion, the trade in arms, destructive fossil fuel extraction and cuts in services for the most vulnerable. We are called to challenge the demonization of the poor, the immigrant and the Muslim. When we become this salt in the wounds of humanity those we challenge will inevitably feel pain, and in their fear will undoubtedly send some of this pain back in our direction. Such is our privilege as part of the body of Christ, to share in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24).

We are salt of the earth. We must not lose our saltiness.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Preparing for War

This year we mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. It is a time when we should be encouraged to remember, to reflect, to study and to debate. By coincidence this centenary moment is likely going to coincide with a pullout of American and British troops from Afghanistan. It is already a couple of years since our British soldiers left Iraq. Perhaps the heightened present of the military in our culture is about to diminish. Time will tell.

So how best can we use this coming time, when images of war, both historically and present-day, will seem further away from our everyday experience? Emotions might become less heightened, debates less controversial.

I would like to propose that it is precisely during these moments of quiet that we are called to re-begin to think about war, spiritually, biblically and theologically. History tells us that war will return. In the moment of crisis there is never enough time to decipher fact from fiction. There is never enough time to go through a long process of spiritual discernment about rights and wrongs. These moments of crisis come as if from nowhere and call us to action, the question is not whether or not we will respond, the question is how we will respond. Doing nothing is always a decision to side with the most powerful.

When the moment of conflict looms (and be sure it will loom again) the nature of our response will be determined by the work we have done during the lull. It is in these moments of quiet, in the space we’ve been given to dig deeper foundations, that we will prepare ourselves to find a way through the confusing fog of war fever.

In 2001 There were 25 short days of calm between the 9/11 attacks and the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. Suddenly the whole world was asked to declare its allegiance; the Church was no exception to this call for polarisation. Christian people across the world were forced to reflect very quickly on ‘what would Jesus do?’ Some chose to actively support the American military, others spoke up for peace, most failed to react at all stunned into inaction.

Given only 25 days most of the Church failed to respond, not because they were not moved by the events unfolding on their screens, rather because they were unprepared, Few had thought deeply about how Jesus might respond to the realities of modern warfare and religious extremism. And so we were paralyzed, the churches either took the road of least resistance backing the home side (so to speak) or we retreated from the public conversation to concern ourselves with raising money for our roofs or to organise another social event.

There are still a lot of people who are justly angry at the way our world is organised; history tells us that it is not difficult for promoters of violence to harness this anger. So we are called to do all we can to work for justice, we are called to do all we can to live much more simply, and to be ready to respond when the next moment of imminent crisis suddenly darkens our horizon.

A longer and more details version of this article can be found

This post has also been published on the Put Down The Sword Blog

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Jesus is a super hero?

An article written by me, recently published in the Carrs Lane church magazine.....

A few weeks ago, during Sunday morning worship at Carrs Lane we sang a new hymn. It was an action song, as we sang about Jesus having the characteristics of various super-heroes we were encouraged to display the appropriate action for that super-hero. As a song it was perhaps simply a bit of fun.

And yet it got me thinking. There is a strong tendency within present-day Christianity to look upon God as if he were a superhero. Much of our prayer is formulated around our belief that an all-powerful God is present to us and is able to grant our requests. We often imagine God in the position of a benevolent king or of a just ruler. We imagine a God who is set apart from our reality, looking down on us from above. This God, like a super-hero, is able to fly in to help us, or to grant us super-natural favours.

If we believe in this image of God, then this belief will inevitably be reflected in our worship and in our practise. We will develop forms of worship which are about offering business deals to God; we will attempt to exchange worship and praise for help and assistance. If we believe in a super-hero God then this will be lived out in our models of leadership; we have pushed God away from our reality into a faraway heaven, and so we will push our leaders away, onto an elevated pedestal, we will emphasise their superiority, their difference from ourselves, their set-apart-ness. In the act of pushing both God and our leaders onto a pedestal we infantilise ourselves, pushing away our own importance and agency.

When I look at the British Church of 2014 I see this ‘Jesus is a super-hero’ theology all around. Such theology has the potential to be very dangerous. How can such a theology deal with human failure? Or with human pain? How can we understand an all-powerful God who chooses not to heal our friend’s illness? Who chooses not to prevent deadly earthquakes and typhoons? This image of God can draw us towards an unhealthy relationship, God is our master and we are slave, this super-hero God is someone we must obey, not a person we can get to know.

At the beginning of the bible we meet a very primitive understanding of God who gives us the impression that he is a super-hero. Then gradually, as we read on, the bible takes us on a long journey of incarnation. The all-powerful image is slowly unmasked, humanity comes to see that God is weaker and more vulnerable than we could have imagined. This God is not a shouter but a whisperer. God is not sat on a heavenly throne directing Kings and Generals, no; he is whispering love into the souls of the excluded, the hungry and the exploited. In the Gospels we meet a God who is not a super-hero, he is human, just like us; he is exposed to the same weakness, temptation and fragility as are we. This God approaches us from below, offering to wash our feet, inviting us into a relationship of love and friendship, not servility and domination. Each of us is invited into friendship, we are invited to follow.

A Church which worships the ‘super-hero’ God will always remain at a distance from those it is called to serve. It will give to others only out of its surplus. Just as the ‘super-hero’ God lives in heavenly comfort so will we. We will emulate the one we worship, and think of ourselves as generous while doing so!

A Church which attempts to follow the ‘incarnated’ God knows that it has received all it has as gift; that which has been received is there to be given in turn. This Church will know that it is no different from those it is called to serve.  Just as God gets down and washes our feet, so it too will get down on its hands and knees to wash the feet of others. Just as God became like a slave; so as it will humble itself to be alongside those who are excluded and exploited by our society. This Church will give generously, not from its surplus, but rather from the very best of what it has, because it knows that everything it has is gift.

Worshipping the ‘super-hero’ God seems attractive because very little is asked of us, while it seems to offer so much. In truth, I believe, such worship only offers us an illusion. It is in following the ‘incarnated’ God that we are enabled to enter the heart of God; it is only there that we will find the inclination to give deeply of ourselves and to discover fullness of life.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Story of Stuff

I recommend this video, it is a very interesting introduction to the economics of our modern world.

If you want more then take a look at the Econowhat introduction to economics.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Is this really the kind of society we want to live in?

This week has involved much to prove the maxim that all political questions are in the end economic questions, and I might add that perhaps most of our economic questions are in the end philosophical or theological questions.

This week we have seen senior church leaders from the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, URC and Quaker denominations speak out on behalf of those in food poverty and against the welfare policies of the current government.

Over the last few days in response to their words articles have been written questioning whether Church leaders should get involved with politics, articles condescending them as being naive, articles slurring them as being from the lefty north and articles making (the sometimes valid) criticism that the Church’s own wealth is not always spent on helping the poor.

Alongside these direct challenges have been a number of other articles aimed at undermining their wider argument.  Today’s Sun headline being a clear example: “Welfare Madness Exposed, Benefits made me 23st”. Or the constant claims made by the coalition government that people must take responsibility for themselves and stop relying on handouts. Recent programmes such as ‘benefit street’ or longer ago ‘Shameless’ reinforce this ideological message.

The reality is that the government spends a far greater percentage of the welfare budget on benefits for those who are in work but whose wages are aren't high enough to provide even a subsistence living; than it does on supporting those who are not working. These working poor who receive very little reward for their labour are hardly the irresponsible class David Cameron and Nick Clegg would have us believe they are.

The wealthy beneficiaries of the current status-quo don't want us to understand these realities. Much better that the working poor direct their anger and frustration against the relatively few non-working poor, than that they direct it at their own employers who refuse to give them a living wage or secure contracts. Much better that these “Hard working families” are deceived into believing their bosses earning six figure salaries have to be rewarded for their exceptional talent while they struggle to get by on minimum wage, in some cases needing to visit food banks in their lunch break. Much better that we allow the Sun to find convenient weak scapegoats for our society’s ills.

And what of the educated middle class? Those with a little more money and a little more natural intelligence are normally able to climb a little higher up the income ladder. Their own middle class gifts being “they believe” worth more money than those of the people who clean our toilets and stack our supermarket shelves. The only request which the market economy asks of this group is simply to close its ears and eyes, live in your middle class suburbia, feel a little bit superior to those not so fortunate perhaps throwing them a few surplus pounds not needed for your morning coffee in Starbucks, and throw your energy into following television non-reality shows, the premier league, planning your next holiday or redecorating your home.

Is this really the kind of society we want to live in?

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Words of Wisdom from Jean Vanier

People come to L’Arche (or to community) to serve the needy. They only stay if they have discovered that they themselves are needy, and that the good news is announced by Jesus to the poor, not to those who serve the poor.
Mission, then, does not imply an attitude of superiority or domination, an attitude of: ‘We know, you don’t, so you must listen to us if you want to be well off. Otherwise you will be miserable.’ Mission springs necessarily from poverty and an inner wound, but also from trust in the love of God. Mission is not elitism. It is life given and flowing from the tomb of our beings which has become transformed into a source of life. It flows from the knowledge that we have been liberated through forgiveness; it flows from weakness and vulnerability.

Jean Vanier in Community and Growth (page 99, revised edition published in 1989)

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Thoughts on Matthew 11:2-11

This morning Steph and I had the opportunity to speak at MCC-Journey a church based in the city-centre of Birmingham.

We spoke on today's lectionary readings - Matthew 11:2-11 & Psalm 146.

Here is what I spoke about. Notes on Matthew 11 and Psalm 146

Friday, 6 December 2013

Some Words from Nelson Mandela

Some words from Nelson Mandela which I was sent earlier today and thought were worth sharing .........

“It was during those long and lonely years  that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed... The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”
“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”  

(Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, the last page)

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Prayer: A Challenge of Authenticity

The Below is an article which I wrote for the Carrs Lane Monthly News Booklet December edition ....

The Carrs Lane Lived community is now entering its fourteenth week; it is still very early days, we are still working out slowly what this step into the unknown is going to become. One question I have been asked several times over the last few weeks is “How are the prayers going?” a simple question without a simple answer.

Our Gospels are stories of light and darkness, of brightness and shade. As we read the intensity of this paradox gradually builds, the contrast becomes uncomfortable; we are drawn forward by the light of Love and yet repelled by the reality of where living this “Good News” seems to inevitably lead. The Resurrection is both a present and a coming reality, we can continually rejoice in our freedom; and yet the cross stands unavoidably in the way.

This spiritual tension sits at the very heart of prayer; I have felt it intensely over the last few weeks. In prayer there are times of light, and times of darkness. There are times when the joy is overwhelming, and times when a sense of despair is all encompassing. At times I can be inspired with possibility and energy, at other times stricken with a sense of palpable panic at what God might be calling me to do, and at still other times I can be lulled into a sense of unhealthy self-righteousness. There are days when I feel close to God and other days when he feels a long way away. Some days I am a pillar of salt, other days a sea of emotion, and on still other days I pass through our times of prayer with my conscious mind half asleep.

For me all of this is part of prayer, I can only pray as I am, not as the person I would like to be. But being who I really am before God, is at times hard work. Allowing God to love me just as I am is not a simple task. In prayer there are times of emptiness which make no sense, defying all rational explanation. Emptiness and vulnerability are part of prayer. There is always a strong temptation to be like Jonah and run away.

I was struck by an article which Neil Riches (URC minister here at Carrs Lane) wrote in last month’s Journey, he wrote about the temptation which we all experience to become “Functionally Atheist”. For me this temptation lives itself out most deeply in my times of prayer. In prayer it is very easy to become what the Gospels call ‘Play-actors’1 , we pretend to seek a relationship with God but are all too aware how challenging that encounter will be, we know deep down that we are called to give everything, and so, because we don’t want to lose our comfortable existence, instead we pretend to pray. There are times when make-believe religion seems very attractive; I find it oh so easy to convince myself, and everyone else, that it is the real thing!

Perhaps it is for this reason that we need community, I am too weak to be able to really pray alone, I am realising slowly that it is better that way.

[1] The Greek work ὑποκριταί (hypokritai), used 17 times in the New Testament (13 of those in Matthew), means “an actor playing a part in a play”. It is by extension from this meaning, and possibly due to the way in which Jesus uses the word, that it has come to take on our modern day definition of “hypocrite” as one who says one thing and does another.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

At The Edge

The word ‘Christian’ means ‘Follower of Christ’. As Church and as a Christian community we are aspiring and I hope attempting, imperfectly, to follow Jesus. Not an easy task! I am often astounded that we dare even to state such an aim.

If our intention is to follow someone then the first question which needs asking is a geographical one, where is he? Where can we find this Jesus?

The New Testament gives us a clear but challenging answer,

Jesus most often placed himself at the edge, at the edge he is a compassionate servant to the poor, the marginalised, the ill, the possessed and the forgotten. But his presence at the edge is much more than that, Jesus incarnates not just as a human being  but more deeply than that as a human being at the edge. The mystery of the incarnation is that whenever we exclude, oppress or ignore another person it is with these very people that Jesus seeks to be incarnated. To follow Jesus is to be a moving people, moving towards the periphery, incarnating ourselves, at the edge.

But Jesus is also present at the centre, he does not live there but he does make regular visits. At the centre he is a courageous prophet speaking truth to power on behalf of those at the edge, taking the risk of being smacked (and sometimes actually being smacked) by those who neither want to listen or to let others hear.

As Christians we are called to attempt to follow along such an incarnational path, to reject the lure of the comfortable, to spend most of our time at the edge, to be compassionate, patient and servant-like to the victims of our society. The asylum seekers, the homeless, the addicted, the depressed, those evicted by the bedroom tax, those far from a familiar home, those separated from family, those on zero-hours contracts, those crippled by debt, those forced to pay exorbitant rents and energy bills; we are called to be among those without hope.

We are called to occasionally take trips into the centre, to protest, to criticise, to be among the 75’000 at the conservative party conference lobbying for the NHS, to be among the 25 at our local drone factory protesting about killing in Pakistan and Afghanistan, to be outside the DSEI Arms fayre in London, to write to those imprisoned in the pursuit of right, to write letters to our MP and MEPs.

To attempt to be a Christian is to seek to be incarnated with those at the edge and to risk rejection from the centre, not an un-daunting calling ....... We have a long distance yet to travel.