5 things to thank Trump for

31 01 2017

It might seem early days to mark a debt of gratitude, but in a spirit of generosity and hope there are several things about this Trump presidency, even after a week like this, to be thankful for.

  1. people suddenly care about refugees
    Following an EU referendum campaign and US election campaign that shamelessly played heavily to fear and xenophobia about refugees, suddenly there are mass protests saying “let them in”. This rebalancing of public opinion – and the reporting of it – is a good thing.
  2. people suddenly care about racism and sexism
    For a long time we have pretended racism and sexism were relics from a bygone era, whilst knowing they really weren’t, especially those of us who are white middle-aged men. After all, we are the least affected. But Trump’s behaviour and policies have forced us to be vocal about challenging both, clearly and confidently, because they are wrong. This is a good thing.
  3. people suddenly care about news bias
    We know the news we read is filtered through a bias all the time, but we conveniently forget. The Trump presidency has highlighted the issue of ‘fake news’, aka lying, propaganda etc…, and made us reassess everything we read. Once we know that whether we read the Daily Mail or the Independent, watch Fox or the BBC, everything is given an angle and we need to switch our brains on. This is a good thing.
  4. people suddenly care what is Christian  
    Huge debates are being sparked in the Christian world, as the ‘evangelical right’ is hijacked by Trump to an extreme even they can’t handle. Old divides are cast aside as Christians stand together to condemn xenophobia and racism, and claim Jesus’ words about love and welcoming the stranger. Can you really claim to be pro-life, yet condemn the living to death? The old ‘moral majority’ are no longer the vocal majority. This is a good thing.
  5. people suddenly agree that some things are just wrong 
    In our increasingly relativist culture people have found it hard to say things other people do are wrong. Live and let live, it’s up to them, everything happens for a reason… Well, thanks to Trump suddenly people are rediscovering a confidence to say some things are just wrong. Claiming to grab female genitals, boasting about sexism, lying, not paying taxes… some things are just wrong, morally, and people are being more confident in saying so. This is a good thing.

I find it hard to agree with much of what Donald Trump says or does. He is not my enemy though, because that language is not helpful; but I have found myself talking about him as if he is, getting enjoyment when things go wrong for him, and feeling self-righteous that I am not like him.

So, I offer these as reminders that whilst we can’t change him, we can change ourselves; that how we behave matters and what we do matters; and if a Trump presidency can raise us from political apathy and despair into a force that challenges oppression in all its forms then let’s celebrate that, even as we check Twitter again.

Because we have all fallen short and need grace, not just him.

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The Women’s March. From BBC News, Getty Images 





in.awe.guration

27 01 2017

There was a fine sense of timing last weekend as a very large inauguration speech  was followed hot on its heels by a very small one. Well, the text we looked at in church anyway.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

It is interesting to compare the two. One spoke to a massed crowd of 1.5 million 250,000 750,000 a bigger / smaller* [*delete according to TV channel] crowd than Obama’s lots of people. The immediate discussion was how many. My crowd’s bigger than your crowd. Size matters. Especially for boys.

Jesus spoke to a crowd of virtually nobody. And those that were there were just working fishermen. No power. No influence. No money.

One speech used revolution language to talk up power and influence. To make an impact. Enforce law. A lion marking his territory.

Jesus speech began with one word. Repent. Meaning, turn around. Change your ways. Admit you’re wrong. Admit your frailties. Vulnerabilities. Show your weakness. Come, follow me.

One message was one of national self-interest, of protecting our own, of putting ‘our people’ first above all other considerations.

Jesus’ message is one of outward-looking action; his kingdom is one that reflects the Jewish theology of being a blessing to the nations around, a light that shines in the darkness. We repent and then we are to be a blessing to others.


I say this not as a comment on US politics. This is not about that. Rather, we use it to highlight the kingdom of God’s alternative way.

The way of weakness, not strength.
The way of humility, not boasting.
The way of vulnerability, not power.

We all find this hard. We are all drawn to strength. We need strength and power sometimes.

But maybe we could use these turbulent and troubling times of shouting and protesting and flagrant displays of power to think about how we live our lives. We may not be people of much influence. Maybe we are. That does not matter. Jesus invitation is to all of us, from Presidents to the poorest: repent, turn around, change, admit your weaknesses. Stand up to power and stand up for the weakest. Don’t stand for yourself. Place other people’s needs before your own. Maybe even your enemies…

Yes it’s a foolish way to live. I am in awe of anyone who manages it. Jesus’ plan of gathering 12 nobodies to inaugurate his kingdom with him was surely not wise.  It was worth it though.

And as inauguration speeches go, I know which one I am most in awe of.

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legal. tender.

25 01 2017

There isn’t much tenderness in public conversation. Human lives are reduced to economic units. Economic units are
traded
bought
bargained.

Given value. Have value taken away.

whatislegaltender

Some people have larger economic value. They tend to be in charge. Society values economic value. It proves something about being successful. In collecting units.

Those units are described as money. Legal tender. But there’s not much tender about it  in public conversation.

Being every job lost or gained, there are people with a story.
Behind every business growing or struggling, there are people with a story.
Behind every Foodbank client, there are people with a story.
Behind every Brexit promise of prosperity or poverty, there are people with a story.
Behind every cleaner struggling on a ‘living wage’ cleaning the offices of the wealthiest bankers, there are people with a story.
Behind every ‘workplace assessment’ there are people with a story.
Behind every commuter’s season ticket, there are people with a story.

When talking about what is legal tender we need to talk more tenderly. Because it is never just numbers, economics, figures. It’s part of someone’s story.
The economy is not an ‘it’, it is ‘us’.
It is not over there, it is in here.
It exists only as a collection of human relationships and decisions.

We are not subservient to it, we are inherent within it.
We are relational humans, not neutral units.

We do well to remember this, in a world that separates people from the economy we serve, and prizes the collecting of units above all else. It is legal tender, so let’s tender it, legally, with tenderness.

Because people are not units to be
traded
bought
bargained.

We should give each other value, not take it away.

 

 





sunglasses over my soul

30 06 2016

there’s a reason I wear sunglasses
over my soul
you know, that deep place
within us that
sees
truly sees when people hurt

sunglasses because I don’t want
to see, fully
sunglasses because I don’t want
to know, really

I know I could just shut my eyes
but then I can’t see
I might fall over
and we can’t have that

the sunglasses are for protection;
dark enough to shield me from seeing fully
but not so dark I can’t see anything;
dark enough that you can’t see my eyes
but not so obvious as if my eyes were shut

what might you think of me then?

if I take the sunglasses off
i can see your pain and it hurts…
me
I don’t want your pain in my life
because it makes mine seem so…
small
and I feel ashamed
and so I hide
as your pain cuts me deep

it cuts me, but nothing like you’ve been cut
it offends me, but nothing like you’ve been offended
it violates my life, but nothing like you have been violated

perhaps all I can do is remove the sunglasses
that dull me to your pain
so that I simply know
and you know that I know
so that I can see you with open, unshielded eyes
and you can see into my soul through mine.


I hope this poem speaks to you about how we see other people’s pain, and try to hide from it. I wrote it during a 6th Form RE Conference on FGM/C (Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting) & Child Marriage with Sutton Schoolswork, amid questions about what we can actually do about it.

There’s a lot of pain in this world, now more than ever; pain in our communities, now more than ever. Sometimes seeing, and showing others that we have seen and we care, is the first step to doing something about it.





blind in the mind

15 09 2015

When things go wrong, we pretend we don’t believe we are being punished for what we did in this or a previous life; but I’m amazed at how many people think that they are. Not in a Hindu reincarnation-type way, just in a ‘there must be a reason for this’ type way. My success is down to me, but my failure is someone else’s fault. Or, if my success is due to God’s blessing, then my failure is down to.. what? Punishment, clearly. At least, that’s the theological cul-de-sac where so many end up. Let’s call it the Hoddle waddle. Everything happens for a reason, right?

In a series on Jesus’ “I am” sayings, we looked at the account of the man who was born blind, and who Jesus healed; this account includes discussion about who’s fault it was he is blind – his? his parents? nobody’s? – whether religious rules are more important than people, and ultimately that his physical blindness wasn’t due to sin, but sin can lead to spiritual blindness.

As it was an all-age service, I wrote the talk as a spoken-word poem in language for all ages, hopefully. Here it is:


the man was born blind
but it was the pharisees who couldn’t see
well, they could see, see
but they couldn’t see, see
they could see with their eyes
but not with their hearts
they could play I-Spy
but they took any chance
to keep other people in darkness
and themselves in the light

like the man who was born blind
who actually couldn’t see
they behaved so unkind
they pretended they couldn’t see him
him who had to beg at the roadside for money
whilst the pharisees feasted on olives and honey

jesus turned this all upside down
turned the smile on the pharisees into a frown
and the blind man who had been so full of worry
turned his face around so he could see the funny
side of being healed with spit and mud
and nobody believing it was really him
and he didn’t even know which man Jesus was

but this story isn’t really about this kind of blind
Jesus was really talking about being blind in the mind
the kind of blind where you find people being unkind
blind to their kind, unkind in their mind
and thinking this kind of unkind mind is the mind
of our God

you’re blind Jesus says it’s like all you see is black
but I am the light so don’t turn your back
like a smallest of candles that can light up a cave
i am the light of the world that God gave

the light that shines in the darkness so you can understand
from a candle to a fire that the Holy Spirit fans
I am the light of the world Jesus said for people like you
the question is now – what will you do?
will you hide you light under a bucket so nobody can see
or pluck up the courage so that you can be free
and show Jesus the light to all people around
and his light will surround and dumbfound and confound
but the darkness will be bound – in fact it will bound away
when Jesus’ light switches on it’s like a brand new day

so let’s not be like the pharisees blind in the mind
but like the man who was blind who let Jesus be kind
and jesus led him from fear to be free
I once was blind but now I can see

© 2015 Kevin Lewis 





the man with the white stick

9 09 2015

Today I was out running, and came across something that almost literally stopped me in my tracks. What happened next felt like such a cliche, that I found myself almost not doing it.

Before I tell you what happened, here’s a few questions that may or may not have run through my head:


  1. It was his own fault if he couldn’t go any further. Shouldn’t he have stayed at home if he couldn’t manage?
  2. I was in a hurry, at some point someone else would have come along and helped him. Why interfere with my life?
  3. I’d probably offer help in the wrong way, or he would be offended, so wasn’t I better off walking on by?
  4. It’s not like I was going to walk with him any further, so why help him at this point?
  5. If I helped him, wouldn’t that encourage him to take more risks that might endanger himself, or car drivers? And maybe more people would come and get stuck, and need help?

So all it was was helping a man with a white stick to cross the road. That is all. He was halfway across on a traffic island at a roundabout, and clearly struggling to know when it was safe to carry on. The reason I am writing about it is not because I have done anything you wouldn’t have done.

It’s just that as I walked on, smiling to myself (it’s amazing how doing helping other people makes us feel better, even if that’s not the reason we do it), I thought to myself:

What if he was a refugee in a boat on the Mediterranean? 

That is why I thought of all those questions. Reasons we think of not to help. Re-read them with that in mind. Because this man seemed to me suddenly like a parable of the crisis: a man on a journey, stuck halfway, danger everywhere. Yet not someone incapable, he had got this far, he was braver than me – he was just in need of a fellow human to get alongside, walk with him, and then go. I happened to be there, I could help, so I did. Do you see the connection?

I’m not naïve enough to think the refugee crisis will be solved with this kind of simplicity. Or am I?





unexpectedly political values | redemption

29 03 2015

When you believe anyone and everyone is loved by God, and he would willingly adopt them into his family; when you know Jesus saw nobody as beyond hope; when his very name means ‘the Lord saves’; then, hope; then, redemption.   

Good theory. For good people. In practice? Let’s think politics. Justice. Hope for the convicted criminal? Redemption for the perpetual reoffender stuck in HMP Revolving Door? Aren’t they just criminals?

Is the addict who reoffends to steal for drugs a criminal by nature? No. They are addicted. Take away the addiction, they no longer need to steal. For example.

redemption

Redemption means we see cause, not just effect; a victim, not just perpetrator; a son, not just a criminal. Out-working redemption theology in political practice, this means not consistently criminalising. It means early intervention. It means good long-term support. Proper probation.

Speak ‘son, not ‘criminal’. Or daughter, of course. 

This isn’t going soft on crime. Early intervention is not soft; it’s hard, it’s labour intensive, it involves treating people as people, not cattle or economic entities. But for those for whom money is the overriding value, it’s cheaper in the long run. 

So. Sure Start centres. Social services. Youth provision. Early intervention. All unused with hope. And the easiest to cut. But theologically unjustifiable. 

Redemption: an unexpectedly political value. 

This is part of a mini-series looking at values in the run-up to the election.





gerrard stamps, but still sets an example

23 03 2015

If you saw Steven Gerrard’s red card on Sunday, and if you know anything about football, you’ll know how out of character it was. But that 38 second substitution appearance wasn’t the only remarkable thing to happen involving the Liverpool captain.

Courtesy of BBC sport

After the game, he gave an interview during which he did something so rare for public figures, from politicians to sports stars. He apologised. But that happens all the time doesn’t it? Yes, but he apologised for what he did, not just for the consequences; and he took responsibility for his actions, instead of blaming someone else.

Top-level football is in desperate need of role models, and although I do declare an interest as a Liverpool fan, his loss at the end of this season will be remarkable. For his passion without petulance; for his loyalty to local club over big-money moves; for his quietly powerful leadership skills; yes, but for me, it moments like that apology that mean just as much.

As someone who has led youth football up until recently, and still play, I see the corrosive influence of top-level bad behaviour replicated in the park. It is hard to stay calm, but it’s possible; it’s hard not to lash out, but it’s possible not to; and it’s hard to take responsibility, maybe that’s the hardest of all, but it’s possible.

We’ve all seen red when playing sport. But having the humility and grace to admit it, apologise and take responsibility? Among the many lessons Steven Gerrard teaches, this is one of the greatest.  Read the rest of this entry »





comic relief | conscience relief

14 03 2015

At face-value, Comic Relief is A Good Thing. I’ve supported it since the first one, although being 11 in 1988 I gloriously missed the point and made my own red nose for free. Comic Relief has moved on since those early days… or has it?

Back then the passive telethon-style fund-raising – entertain me, show me a heart-rending film, I give money – was all the rage. It worked. And it still works. But should it?

There’s something missing from Comic Relief. It isn’t comedy, or relief, that’s missing. It is a sense of social justice, corporate responsibility; currently it’s the perfect consumer-poverty experience. It demands nothing from us, the viewer, other than the simple text donation. £5 text sent, 2 mosquito nets bought, job done. Conscience relief.

Particularly for the African segments, the presented narrative is very old-school: terrible poverty, money needed, problem solved. There’s little mention of long-running projects, usually run by churches or Christian charities (never mentioned in Comic Relief, except to poke fun at); and there’s no mention of the underlying causes of the poverty.

These days we know the world is interconnected. We know about Fair Trade, trade justice; we  know about multinationals exploiting local labour and dodging taxes. Comic Relief, for all its good points, and there are many, I think could take a much stronger line on this. We, the public, need to be reminded that every time we shop, we contribute, positively or negatively, to poverty. Challenging poverty is more than buying a red nose. Sainsbury’s take note. Challenging poverty involves challenging my lifestyle. 

This is where we the church are way ahead, and can show the way. We’ve been involved in trade-justice, in micro-finance, in child-sponsorship, in medical provision for decades. And lifestyle challenge forever. Comic Relief doesn’t seem to have realised.

I love Comic Relief. This is constructive-criticism from a friend, not cheap shots from an enemy. But it’s time for the BBC, so often accused of being lefty, to change their approach. Children – and adults – need to recognise our responsibility for poverty, our contribution to global injustice. It’s not as straightforward as the tried and tested method. It is political – but not more than the old-school generous-but-disconnected philanthropy it currently is, in which we (the wealthy) give hand-outs to them (the helpless poor).

78 million changed lives would make even more difference than the (frankly amazing) £78 million. Challenging our lifestyle would treat us like adults, the recipients like equals not underlings, and then will actually be Comic Relief, not just conscience relief. 





natural (s)election 2015

6 01 2015

Darwin’s theory of natural selection sounds quite lovely, as soft-focus nature browses to select the prettiest flowers to match it’s rousing theme music. But is actually part of the cruel evolutionary process of survival of the fittest; or, elimination of the weakest. Funny how we don’t call it that. Such a cruel process of nature, it was one of the reasons Darwin, a ‘sort of’ Christian, began to question faith in the God of natural theology. How could there be such cruelty in a godly world?

We humans like to think we’re above the cruelty of nature, but in these turbulent political times I think it’s clear we’re not. Christians can be unpopular when we talk about humans being innately “sinful”. It sounds unfair, harsh, after all, just look at all the goodness in the world… But it is in our nature to survive, our instinct to preserve our own at all costs. That’s why Jesus’ teaching about actively loving those who are not our kin were controversial then, and still are now. Which is how we get from Darwin to the election.

This upcoming election will not be about the economy, or immigration, or the NHS, although it will look like it is. Instead it will be about innate human selfishness. It will be the election of natural (s)election – the ‘what’s in it for me’, survival-of-the-fittest generation grabbing whatever toys they can and clutching them like angry toddlers. Black Friday in a suit. 

Or can we be better than that? Can we choose to vote for policies that don’t directly benefit us? Can we put our own situation in second place to society’s need? Will wealthy Christian individuals and business leaders openly speak out for intentionally paying tax? Will the capable and motivated campaign for issues that do not just affect them, but the weakest around them?

The Christian story doesn’t stop at the sinfulness of humanity. Our story goes on to speak of the generosity of God, of his grace that transforms our sinfulness into love and kindness and sacrifice. Our story overcomes natural selection to a very unnatural selection, in which our model is Jesus, who did not clutch his equality with God like a toddler, but made himself nothing for us; in which we look to love and support the weakest, not eliminate them.  

May this upcoming election campaign be one that does not degenerate into a selfishness competition, in which our greatest value is tolerance; but one in which outward-looking values of love, generosity, humility and loving our neighbour triumph. To do that, it must begin with us. 

thingsjesusdidntsay8tolerance








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