I am the lost innocence 

5 06 2017

I  am the van driver on the bridge, I am the Manchester bomber, I am the lost innocence of an evening walk on London Bridge

I am the bombed, I am the broken body, I am the shattered mind, I am the lost innocence of the right to the absence of death

I am the terrifying realisation that I am no better with my my insidious creeping anger, plots of intrigue and revenge 

I am those we call them, the evil, the inhuman 

I am a million steps from love

I am but another frail and hopeless and broken human in need of more. I am the scandal on the shoe of all that is beautiful 

I am in mourning for my pride and arrogance and self-centred posturing about being better

Take it so it is gone. Because

I am asking for forgiveness. I am no longer editing out the deaths of the perpetrators. I am standing with Manchester and Kabul and London and Baghdad and all those who suffer at the hands of I, of us, of humanity in all our terrible disposition towards evil because

I am no better. I am only saved from giving in by the strength of the love of Jesus of Nazareth and his Holy Spirit. I don’t always want to be saved from myself or my evil side. I am me because of who he is, as he holds back my anger and dissolves my rage into a unwanted love for all who break and are broken even when I want to embrace its fierce and forceful drive to the destruction of what ends up being

 me. Us. 

We are us. We stand with them. All the thems. We stand for love. Because he is love. #lovewins





intentional disillusionment

12 02 2017

Leadership. Wow. So many models. CEO, manager, teacher, mentor, shepherd, autocrat. Cultural life these days is like a case study in leadership, or mis-leadership. From leadership in sport to politics, church to the media, the judiciary to education, you name it,  it’s probably been dissected, criticised, humbled or idolised. Coe, Corbyn, May , Trump, Welby, Hodgson, Ecclestone, Murdoch.

I am currently reading about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor-theologian in the 1930s-40s who was martyred in a concentration camp. Stay with me, there is a link. He wrote about leadership. In his context, writing in 1933, he was addressing a Germany in pieces, desperate for strong leadership, of any kind, to pull it out of its post-WW1 mess. A culture was growing around the need for a strong leader, any leader, who would bring change. Any change, just to do something. Ring any bells? And I’m not talking about the England football team.

This concerned Bonhoeffer, and he preached this, in 1933:

A true leader must know the limitations of his authority. If he understands his function in any other way than as it is rooted in fact, if he does not continually tell his followers clearly of the limited nature of his task and their own responsibility, if he allows himself to surrender to the wishes of his followers, who would always make him their idol – then the image of the Leader (German: Führer) will pass over into the image of the mis-leader… The true Leader must always be able to disillusion… He must radically refuse to become the appeal, the idol, i.e. the ultimate authority of those who he leads… He must let himself be controlled, ordered, restricted.

Wow. Bonhoeffer here is calling for substance, not personality; for leadership rooted in principles of humility not just for the sake of power.

We have a crisis in leadership at the moment. For many good reasons, the status quo is being challenged, authority is being questioned. However, we must not let that gap be filled with low-grade ideas, cheap populism, or personality cults. For him, all authority ultimately comes from God, so we cannot place ourselves on a pedestal above God. For me too, that is the case; if you don’t believe in God, I think the principle is still the same. Pedestal? Off.

Humble leadership, in which we intentionally disillusion those who would make us idols, is the solution to ultimate-authority leadership. Humility is not weakness, and it encourages collaboration, shared power and a servant-heart. That is true across sport, politics, church and the media.


I end with a poem I wrote about leadership in the church, which can be particularly pedestal-hungry, originally posted here, entitled I am nothing:

I am nothing
I am just me
I have no divine right to speak for you
or to you
I have no pedestal I can call home
Though some would try and barricade me on one
And have me live their faith for them
I am nothing
I am just me
I have no certificate of authenticity
Or qualification
I have nothing from my ordination that sets me apart from anyone
I am nothing
I am just me
I have no power residing in my fingertips
I cannot command holiness to appear at will
I cannot pray in a way that bypasses the queue
I am not owed any favours by God and
I cannot command him with my whispers
I am nothing
I am just me
Anything else I appear to be
Any power
Any wisdom
Any heroic tendencies
And that recurring pedestal of owning holiness
Anything I appear to be
That is beyond anyone else
I repent of
All I am is because of who He is
And I claim nothing as my own.





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.

93736387_washingtonmarch

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.

7775cb8eb3ca6216b92cdfa15cd49731

 





straw men & brick follies | the EU Referendum and why religion doesn’t have a monopoly on control by irrational fear 

1 06 2016

Critics of the religious and our history tend to point to a chequered history of control by fear. Invent a fear, give it a godly theme or a loose Biblical basis, and just keep on repeating it. Through that you will have control.

Rational 21st century people, who have discarded such medieval notions, don’t think like that anyone. We deal in facts, figures, not the straw men and brick follies of invented fears.

IMG_0679_Snapseed

Folly’s are so last century. Aren’t they?

Or. Do we? The EU referendum – or rather, the political posturing around it – appears to show that the religious don’t have a monopoly on control by irrational fear after all. The modern-day priests, people of a privileged caste who serve the god Economy, are prepared to say almost anything that will whip up enough fear among the common peasants in order to prevent them overthrowing the Lord of the Manor, who generously keeps the church Westminster in business.

I cannot excuse the history of my own faith, nor sometimes that we still control by fear. But one good thing about the decline in religious adherence is a near obliteration of the over-confidence by which the church controlled people. Many in the church (especially my own brand the Church of England) haven’t yet noticed that the majority of people don’t notice us, let alone listen to us, anymore. So we have been humbled into realising we cannot control people, and actually that is not what we should have been about anyway.

What we have to do instead is give people vision, hope, something to look to. Because whilst our influence and control has waned, our passion for our message hasn’t. Gone are the days of shouting the ‘turn or burn’ on street corners, hijacking Old Testament prophets or Jesus or Paul for our own purposes. Here are the days of Healing on the Streets and Prayer for Sutton and Food Banks and Debt Counselling and playgroups and coffee mornings and listening to people and living whole lives of hopefulness.

Meanwhile we look on in dismay as our leading politicians go all medieval on us, shouting on street corners wearing sandwich boards with misquoted scripture economics taken out of context to serve their own purpose. It should make us smug, to see how far they have fallen from hope to fear, these priests of privilege. But it doesn’t.

It just makes us weep for what could be so much better.





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?





food banks, polling stations and the colour of hope

8 05 2015

As I try to untangle my thoughts across the worlds of politics and faith and family and community and my own selfish interests, you will know that politically I land on the left. And so this photograph, from outside our church yesterday, sums up the last 5 years for me, and the disappointment I feel about the result.

2015 polling station foodbank BA

My prayer is that with the Conservatives in power, they will

  • have the will to challenge their own obsession with austerity, which hits the poorest hardest, as we all know, but for some reason think they are worth sacrificing;
  • that they will have the will to challenge the obsession with private business running public utilities and services for profit;
  • that they will own up to the clear fact that unaccountable private individuals cannot (in large part) be trusted to redistribute wealth through better pay, and it needs to be done through good taxation and a Living Wage. Which is not perfect, but is at least accountable.

In 5 years time

  • I do not want to have a Foodbank in our church.
  • I do not want the poorest taxed for a ‘spare room’ when there is nowhere else to move them;
  • I do not want target-led benefit sanctions,
  • I do not want blame culture for the jobless, and these lies about people ‘on benefits’ who are so lazy, when the majority are in work, it’s just so badly paid they need to claim welfare to pay for living costs,
  • I do not want housing association properties sold off for private profit, the extension of ‘right-to-buy’ which benefits a few individuals and many landlords who gladly receive housing benefit from their tenants (1/3 of Tory MPs are landlords, maybe there’s a connection). 

If you are a business owner, pay your staff what you can, not the least you can get away with. If you are a taxpayer, pay your tax. If you can work, work. If you read a newspaper, never read the Daily Mail, especially since this headline “Trust Labour? I’d rather trust Jimmy Saville to babysit my kids.” If you care, get involved.  

There are many political questions that remain the same regardless of who is in charge. Europe, the UK, Scotland, debt, jobs, the environment, energy, fracking, the cost of living. As Christians we do our best not to get personal, but to get community. My prayer for us is that we get stuck into our communities, serving, helping, campaigning and hoping on behalf of others, prioritising the poor, the marginalised, the vulnerable as our God commands and exampled us to do time and time and time again throughout our salvation-history story.

Whatever colour we are. 





education is about learning life, not becoming productive economic units

30 04 2015

People are not economic units. One reason we are so disengaged from politics is because almost every subject is reduced to economic units. Schools, homes, families, work – everything becomes about its economic merits. Low-income families are described as ‘benefit units‘, family homes are assets, and perhaps worst of all, education is described as in this local Tory party election leaflet as a

…system which prepares young people for work so that they can compete and win in today’s competitive world.”

Reading that, the rest of the political rhetoric falls into place. I know that will appeal to a certain type, and I know that one of the aims of education is that people have the skills for work at the end. But if the sole – or even main – aim of education is work-preparation to win in the competition of life, I think we are presenting an incredibly shallow, and dangerous, ideology. And for that matter, theology. 

Thankfully, there are few who are actually involved in education who subscribe to this harsh economic view. Teachers and teaching assistants and lunchtime supervisors and heads, they all know that they are preparing children and young people for life, not just for work. They are working alongside families to raise good citizens, community members, who alongside becoming adults and parents and scout leaders and athletes and musicians and friends and maybe even politicians, may also become employed. 

Our value as human beings cannot and should not ever be limited to our economic potential. The value of our education system cannot and should not ever be limited to its ability to produce workers. If so, what is the point in learning about volcanoes or Henry VIII or vascular bundles or philosophy? And that becomes pertinent as we see this government narrowing the curriculum, the side-lining of ‘non-core’ subjects, the repeated mantra of students no longer taught to read around subjects, but simply to ask “Do I need to know this for the exam?” 

I loved my time in the education system, or as normal people call it, school. I learned loads, about subjects yes, but mostly about how to be a person. And I was prepared for work by going out to work. From 13 I helped my brother do his paper round (he got the pounds, I got the pennies), from 16 I had a Saturday job in a hotel, in the holidays I worked in plastics factories and Boots and making fishing tackle. 

That prepared me for work like nothing else. If we want our young people to have good jobs, then we need an all-round education system that, alongside families, helps them become good, well-rounded people. That is what I see most teachers passionate about, when I am in schools doing lessons and lunch clubs, when I am dealing with the SENCO in my son’s school, on committees or governors and dealing with actual people, rather than economic-theorists-in-offices.  

What we don’t want is a system designed by, and intended to produce more of, the finance-obsessed bankers and politicians who worked together to produce the economic crash, which turned out to be a competition in which they were the only winners. Because when you present life as a competition, you by default place more value on the ‘winners’, therefore less on the ‘losers’.

And who are the ‘losers’, in this system? *awkward pause*

The radical nature of Jesus’s teaching is that we are valued because we are children of God, whether female or male, slave or free, productive or non-productive, educated or not. We are never just economic units integrated into God’s business, but children adopted into his family, with a mandate to love and to serve. Not win. 

Thank God for that, and thank God it’s teachers young people spend time with, not political policy-writers. 





unexpectedly political values | being taken advantage of

26 04 2015

In this world of Katie Hopkins-style vindictiveness and politicians’ obsession with only supporting “hard-working families”, I know I’m onto a loser with this next in the series of ‘unexpectedly political values’: being taken advantage of. advantage Is that even a value? Isn’t it a bit… negative? Well, Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, which is actually about humiliation not fighting. When you are slapped on your right cheek, it is because you have received a publicly humiliating back-handed slap. So to turn the left cheek means intentionally offering yourself more humiliation. Being taken advantage of.

Jesus said if a soldier taken your cloak, give him your coat also. This is in military dictatorship. They didn’t ask, they demanded, and even if it was your only cloak, you complied. Jesus says offer more. Be taken advantage of. In these times, with vindictive welfare cuts and Mediterranean boat people and a continuous attempt to hold tightly to what is ours at all costs, we need to learn from Jesus.

To be taken advantage of. On purpose.

How does this work out in practice? Take Foodbanks – people have said to me, don’t people take advantage of it? My response: yes, some will. But it is worth it for those that don’t. Take the welfare system. People say some will take advantage. My response: yes, some will. But it is worth it for those that don’t. Take the tax system. Won’t some take advantage? Yes, but we don’t stop the system because of that. 

When the young people would hang out on the church roof and we befriended them, there were times they took advantage of our kindness. But we were ok with that, because it was worth it for the times they didn’t. The same goes for being the local drop-in for a hundred different things, as I talked about in knock knock, with this selection of items we’ve been asked for:

string for conkers / stamps / broadband / cookies / postman’s wee-stop / trampoline storage / trampoline usage / duct tape / brownies / a football / puncture repair / advocacy / fixing up a gate post / cushions / banter / first aid / Facebook / umbrella / a step ladder / laundry / a garden fork / oranges / downloading Enrique Iglesias / telephoning social services / a shower / odd jobs / water / a lift in the rain / a youth club / Nesquik / time

It is an unexpectedly political value to accept being taken advantage of. It doesn’t often feel noble or heroic. Usually it just feels like being taken advantage of. But the Jesus we follow was taken advantage of, and did not retaliate. In fact, he voluntarily gave his advantage away. There’s a challenge. 

Will we allow ourselves to do the same? Will we give our advantage away? Or are we too proud, or too scared of what we might lose…

Other posts in this series of unexpectedly political values:
introduction: the values vacuum
redemption
confession
resurrection





a hustings in search of hope

21 04 2015

Our local election hustings (Carshalton and Wallington) was in many ways a great success: 5 candidates, over 350 people, well hosted by St Helier Radio and organised by local vicar Warner Pidgeon. It was well-behaved, a few heckles, nothing serious. What was serious, though, was a lack of vision, of hope, of imagination. 

today I shall wear grey

today I shall wear grey

They are from left to right: Tom Brake MP (LD), Matthew Maxwell-Scott (Con), host David Blackmore from Radio St Helier, Ross Hemingway (Green), Siobhan Tate (Lab), Bill Main-Ian (UKIP). 

As a local resident on the St Helier estate, and vicar of the parish with one of the highest levels of deprivation in the borough, I am interested in hope. I am interested in what these people say they are going to do for those at the bottom of the pile, those who can’t speak for themselves, who are not part of the vested interests or corporate power struggles. What I want to hear from them at a hustings is their vision for the future. I went home disappointed. 

I played 2 games of bingo, won one lost one. The first was ‘blame’ bingo, in which the past is blamed for the present, e.g. ‘the mess the previous government left us in’. Tom Brake and Matthew Maxwell Scott revelled in that one, especially the latter. When your vision-setting begins with an excuse, I’m afraid you don’t inspire hope, especially when your government has made things worse for working-poor.  

The second bingo was ‘immigration bingo’, which happily I lost. It wasn’t really mentioned, even by UKIPs Bill Main-Ian, who I christened “32 Bill”, as all problems can apparently be solved with the £32 billion saved by leaving the EU. 32 Bill spent that money at least 5 times in the evening, solving education, the NHS, and housing with it, because clearly in his world the only thing that solves problems is money. And lots. Of. Pauses. 

Siobhan Tate, a teacher, also didn’t excel in her presentation, but did at least draw people’s attention to Tom Brake’s bizarre ‘Save St Helier’ petition, which has been going for years, but it addressed to nobody, and is never handed in. It is not clear who  he is saving it from, or for what, but it looks good for an MP to save a hospital. Meanwhile she claimed he votes for anti-democratic NHS policies.

Siobhan Tate and Ross Hemingway were the only candidates who seemed aware that austerity isn’t working; that the poor are being blamed by the ruling parties; and that St Helier is an area of great need. However, Matthew Maxwell-Scott got away with mentioning the ‘economically illiterate and morally wrong‘ (Daily Telegraph!) expansion of ‘right-to-buy’ to Housing Association properties without being challenged at all on this.

St Helier's silver lining

St Helier’s silver lining

As a floating voter, with a leaning to the left, an interest in the fair distribution of wealth and resources, and a strong incentive to look out for our neighbours, whoever they may be, this hustings left me with these impressions:

Tom Brake MP: Tom is local and likeable, with a good following; however, his hospital campaign is wearing thin, the coalition links him with the worst of Tory politics. I think he is trusting in people preferring the status quo than voting for anyone else. He didn’t cast vision, but was confident he didn’t need to. 

Matthew Maxwell-Scott: sells himself as as local, energetic, smiley and committed, but by supporting selling of social housing and not replacing it, presumably that energy does include protecting the poor on our side of Carshalton. An identikit Tory candidate, still blaming Labour for anything he can find, he didn’t inspire confidence, though he did at least have passion. But being passionate about being passionate smacks of Cameron’s empty ideology. 

Ross Hemingway: the stand-out candidate for me at this event, he had passion and enthusiasm, he challenged the status-quo of current politics, and included broader things such at TTiP. He clearly had an agenda to get across, and did this whatever the questions were about. Whether the Greens have the ability or costings to implement their policies is a big question, but their increased visibility in this election is absolutely A Good Thing for the challenge and breath of fresh air it brings. 

Sioban Tate: Siobhan came across well as one who would represent the area, with good local and work experience. She challenged Tom Brake on the NHS, Matthew Maxwell-Scott on standing up to corporate interests, and the government on their Education policies. She had clearly done her research, but was let down by her presentation, which meant she didn’t inspire confidence if faced with a bigger parliamentary situation. 

Bill Main-Ian: 32 Bill did not come across well at all. Despite the size of their manifesto, UKIP are a one-trick pony and this was clear, as he didn’t have a clear answer to anything at all. Except the £32 billion. 

Conclusions
Sadly, this debate suffered from being the last in a series of 8 or 9 hustings, which meant the candidates has done this  many times before. And it showed. Although not in being a faultless and clearly-presented argument. Which in itself is strange. Practice makes… worse?

I think it was an indication of what is being demonstrated around the country, as pointed out by Aditya Chakrabortty in The Guardian today: that the three main questions in this election are simply being ignored. They are:

How are we meant to live?
Where are we meant to live?
And who is meant to live here?

Only Ross Hemingway attempted to cast a vision for how we are to live; everyone else was just rearranging the furniture.

Maybe it’s the preacher in me,  but I want somebody to cast a vision for a society in which all are able to play a part, in which wealth and resources are fairly distributed, and where we take responsibility for those around us. I want somebody to talk about care and compassion and community and actually mean it, not just a cover-up for accountancy in favour of the wealthy. Our society is selfish, and getting moreso. We need our leaders to lead us into selflessness.  

The status quo is not ok. I am not ok with ok. Politics should be better than this. The only way that change is if we get involved.    








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