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. 

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unexpectedly political values | confession

1 04 2015

When you know you have mucked up; when you know One who will take that burden from you; when you know the one who sees all things has seen your life and still says come; when you can no longer live the lie of 21st century consumers trampling on others and just need release; then, confession.

It may sound a bit religious, granted. But the value of living a life in confession cannot be underestimated.

Confession demands humility, you see. And humility means no longer lording it over others, no longer blaming others but taking responsibility for your own cock-ups. Taking responsibility, owning up, confession. This is the stuff of liberation. Freedom. New life. Confession leads to restart, reboot; confession means owning up and asking for help – help! – in not repeating the same negative patterns. It’s repentance, lived out. 

confession

Thinking politically, this takes me to those who hold the money and the power; those in the financial industry who gambled and lost the country’s money; those who rewarded themselves grossly, yet when it all went belly up have taken no responsibility.

It takes me to the interconnected politicians who have fed the public the lie that the poor are to blame and must face the consequences. Who have moved discussion away from Hedge Fund Street to Benefits Street; and a media who have colluded, joined in, protected their own interests.

Confession says we mucked up, we take responsibility; we’re the grown-ups, we can look you in the eye and apologise. Confession is not just me in my little world; or us in our church; confession is an unexpectedly political value that could bind society together, rich and poor, strong and weak; confession says we’re genuinely a community, in humility, under God, who sees all things, knows all things, loves all things.

Confession is and could be an integral part of life, lived as community, in humility, together. If we want that. 





institutional disgracism

26 02 2013

We can’t move for distrust at the moment. Trust in the institutions we know and take for granted is being dismantled, news report by news report. The BBC, the Police, banks, MPs, supermarkets, Lords, the EU, the Church, the NHS, Premier League… by the time you read this I will have been be discredited for talking out of my horse.

I’m not sure if it’s real news or lazy news. It is important if there has been a cover-up of historical wrong-doing, yes. Meanwhile Syria burns, Sudan falls apart, and UKIP pretend their breed of selfish nationalism is ‘mainstream’. 

What does it all mean? I know every generation has its ‘what is the world coming to?’ moment, and maybe this is mine, but really, what does it all mean? A suggestion. Our culture has a few meta-narratives that don’t quite work together. One is that the individual is the most important thing. Me and my life. The most important thing is that am able to ‘be myself’. Great. This could work, if humans knew when to stop.

Another meta-narrative is that ‘I’ can be trusted. We don’t need old-fashioned regulation and supervision, we are post-modern, civilised adults. Trust me or you disrespect me. This could work, if humans knew when to stop. 

Worked through to its logical conclusion, without a framework of accountability you end up with people in finance making money for themselves whilst society pays the price. Well, nobody told them they had social responsibility. You end up with politicians/supermarkets/NHS contractors getting the best deal for themselves (and their friends) whilst society pays the price. Well, nobody held them accountable to their social responsibility. The same goes for the church, the Police….

Our institutions are a disgrace, at times, because they are full of disgraceful people, at times. At least, they are full of people. A meta-narrative I hold is that we people, whilst we try to be good, are not very good at it. This is why we ask God to help us. This is why each week in our church we say the sorry prayer, the confession, remembering our wrongdoings of action and inaction. This prevents us from joining in the sport of institutional disgracism, in which we point the finger at everyone else for their wrongdoing, setting ourselves apart from them with the arrogance that comes so easily in the self-righteous. Remembering being the opposite of dismembering. Remembering, in order to put things back together.

Image from ASBO Jesus

This is not to say we let the disgraceful behaviour go on. Of course not. But we challenge is fairly and robustly, and where we are a part of it we do our best to influence for the better. We try not to generalise, ‘all bankers’ are not bad in the same way Jesus did not say all tax collectors were bad. I believe he invited one into his inner circle.  All priests are not bad, in the same way Jesus did not say all Pharisees were bad. I believe he was very kind to Nicodemus.

Jesus slated the institutions as much as we do for their dishonesty, hypocrisy and oversight of the important things. But he did not just shout and point and lead a high horse to an abattoir. No, he was about redeeming from within. Questioning, challenging, holding to account especially for the needs to society over the individual; specifically, the weakest of society over the strongest of individuals. 

So as we continue to hear more and more about why we cannot trust anybody or anything, remember that our third cultural meta-narrative is called inaction. Disconnection. It’s got nothing to do with me. It’s their fault. Abdication of responsibility. Combined with individuality and freedom from accountability, this is the fatal third blow. And as followers of Jesus we cannot subscribe to it.

We are to be people who think and who act, who get cross and then act against injustice or inaction or wrongdoing or whatever. Knowing we too are sinful and we too need forgiveness. We cannot rant and then sit down. Our institutions are people. We are people. Let’s claim them back, not just shout at them. 





MPs, bankers, police and media: powerful reasons why free will doesn’t mean free reign

3 07 2012

they didn’t look like this

He started with Adam and Eve, kept doing it through the Old Testament, peaking with the Top 10 and then carried on with Jesus who made it worse by making us have to go to church as well as behave ourselves. All that ‘do this’, ‘don’t do that’. Isn’t God just a rules-based kill-joy who wants us to stand in straight lines and do as we’re told? Isn’t it better to take the rules away and give ourselves freedom? After all, we’re all grown-ups, living in a civilised society these days. 

I’d love to say yes. I’d love to say that now we’ve gone through the Empire-building evolutionary-scoiety Enlightenment stuff about being brilliant, now that we’re aware of the consequences of our actions on a global scale and have social consciences regularly pricked by Pudsey and Gary Barlow, now that we are grown up, we could leave the rules behind. Like joining the sixth form and no longer having to wear uniform and sit with 12 year olds. Free reign. Freedom! 

But if the moral crises of the last 4 years have shown us anything, it’s that there is nothing more dangerous than humans without rules. Like out of control Victorian public-school prefects, without a framework for their freedom humans just cannot control their insatiable desire for power, for selfishness, for self-protection, and for financial gain at other’s expense. 

The economic boom was built on a lie, that financial people knew was a lie until they told it so many times even they thought it was true. The MPs knew their expenses system was dubious at best and corrupt at worst but it was in all this best interests to keep quiet and carry on. Our politicians and our Police knew their relationship with the Murdoch Empire was dangerous and wrong but it was just too good to stop because the perks were too attractive. 

It wold be very easy to cry “Moral outrage! Repent and bring back gospel values!” in a shouty-street-preacher sort of way. Or at least be heard as saying that. Because, I think I am. The more I see our society frame its ethics and moral around a the jelly of “what works for me”, “it’s a victimless crime”, ‘it feels good” and “I’m too big to fail”, the more I feel like donning a sandwich board. 

no irony in the name

Each time something like this happens, our ineffectual and highly-implicated-in-it-all Prime Minister (or one of his clones) says something like “This is terrible and it must stop”, and yet offers absolutely no alternative. And neither does anyone else. Regulation? But based around whose principles? Unless there is an over-arching and generally agreed framework to work from, it’s meaningless.

What God has constantly given us is a framework on which to base society. That framework has shifted and changed depending on where that society is, but even before Jesus the Law was not there to kill joy, but to provide a framework for it. And what Jesus did was raise the stakes even higher, because our motivation to follow the framework was no longer “because we follow the framework’ but “because we love”. 

It is because he loves that he gives us free will, but not free reign. It is because we love that we operate within this framework which is summed up in the two greatest commandments, which are themselves about love: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbour as yourself.” We need to restore those as the centre of who we are. And if we don’t do that ourselves, then we cannot point the finger at others for not doing it either. 





creating a devil

4 11 2011

where shall we throw our anger
that the treasure in our barns has been stolen
by those with more treasure than they can

treasure

we create a devil to blame
to shout at

a devil
an other
a figure of hate

the MPs
the bankers
the stock exchange gamblers

but these devils have skin that is too thick
they can shed it like snakes
their arguments are too complicated
their planet too far from ours

the benefit cheats
the immigrants
the feral youth for taking all they can
and rioting whilst we look on with detached distaste

but these devils are are too slippery
like catching eels with vaseline hands

Image from BBC News

let’s create a devil in the church
the cathedral for their vain money-grabbing
for their human weakness
let’s create a devil in a stereotype
of the privileged religious
easy-pickings for a world in need
of simple so
undbites
and caption competition photographs

better to create a devil you know you can beat

in a fist-fight
in a carefully crafted statement
in an opinion poll
in a picture

better to create a devil you know you can beat
from a distance

better to create a devil you know you can beat
than face the eyes that look back at you

in the mirror

and allow them to create a change
in you.





comedy hedge fun(d)

23 06 2011

I have a heavily suppressed competitive streak. People who rarely win tend to suppress it. Even deny it. I support Liverpool, so I guess that’s understandable. Now I am a regular runner the competitive streak peeps out a little more… though hopefully any (small) victories I have are tempered by the knowledge of what it is to regularly lose. I said hopefully.

going supersonic...

Recently I took part in some leadership training. Part of this was a day run by someone from an unfamiliar world to mine. As an inverted snob I have to make a special effort with the office-based chinos-and-polo shirt chaps, especially when you think they might actually play polo. Anyway, this friendly man with an elusive job description led us in a series of (admittedly great fun!) outdoor puzzles and games in order to stimulate our team-working brains and teach us lots of things that were quite obvious.

That many of us are not primarily motivated by winning. That competition doesn’t always work.

This wasn’t his aim.

puzzled?

He put us in boys & girls teams and set us the task of completing a jumbo jigsaw puzzle as quick as we could. He was very excited by the thought of a competition. We, on the other hand, were excited by the fact he had included “fun” on his list of essential factors in a team. So we decided to include in our timed puzzle challenge a comedy run from the nearby hedge. It was a sunny day after all.

This bothered him. But it will slow you down, he said.

Yes, we replied, but think what fun we’ll have!

We were both right. The girls team figured out a more efficient way of building the puzzle. It seems working in silence and the absence of a comedy run makes building quicker. But they looked so serious! We were actually not far behind them, and yet seemed to have a lot more fun. And winding up polo-man far outweighed the cost of not winning a little made-up competition.

We could draw many tenuous sweeping conclusions from this experience. I just throw it into the current political obsession with competition and market-forces being the solution to all problems. Competition may be the core motivation for a certain type of human in a certain type of environment. Like the ones in power. Wealthy successful white men love a competition especially when the dice is loaded so they always win. See banks. See Serco. See power companies. See privatisation.

Competition is not everyone’s motivating factor. Plain efficiency is not everyone’s aim. Think of farming – when efficiency becomes the primary motivation over love, care and time then the land starts falling apart and needing artificial help to stay productive. Like over-used fields many of us are needing artificial help to stay productive, in the form of tablets or alcohol or therapy. This is not  life in balance. This is not how we are meant to be.

Let’s not get drawn into constant competition to generate the mirage of perfect efficiency. We are all humans after all. There is no such thing as an economy, just humans relating to each other. So if you are a boss, if it is up to you, I invite you to lead by example and institute the comedy run today.

You may even find people work harder. I’m sure they’ll be happier.





anyone for a coffee (and tax) break?

3 11 2009

Death and taxes. Fewer things are more inevitable, frankly spoke Benjamin Franklin. Except maybe the twins reaching the semi-finals. Yet fewer things have such a bad press (except the twins, but so they should). Now I know I’m a bit of an oddball, but I’m not much frightened of either (I am frightened of the twins. Enough of the X-Factor).

I worry about the consequences of my death; but I am not hugely frightened of death itself, most of the time. I certainly don’t avoid talking about death like many people. And perhaps more oddly, I secretly quite like paying tax. It makes me feel grown-up. It also gives me roads to drive on, infrastructure to rely on, governments to complain on, schools to compare and many other good things.

Pret VAT sign

VAT nightmare?

This photo was taken at Pret a Manger, when I paid for my coffees and via VAT contributed to the infrastructure that enabled me to buy it, pay for it, drink it, and not have to wash up afterwards. I like Pret. They are fair-trade and tasty and fresh. But their attitude to VAT is somewhat negative. They encourage the view that it feels inconvenient, annoying, even an abuse of my rights to a cheap coffee. “VAT nightmare!” they scream. If you can’t read it because it’s a bit blurry (my phone was drunk) it says “We’re legally required to add on VAT when you eat in. Nightmare.”

eat my taxes

But is paying tax a “nightmare”? Really?

Why should we have everything for free? We demand, we consume, we don’t want to suffer the consequences. But surely we should be willing to pay our way, to contribute to the communal fund. To be generous.

It is unpopular to many, but our taxes allow all of us to live as we do; and allow many people to simply live, as they have no other income, no other way to pay for food or housing or a present for the kids. The vast majority of people who receive benefits are not wasters and scroungers. I want to support them. I know that is not all that taxes pay for. I know that much tax-payers money is wasted, much like my own (on a smaller scale!). I know the banking system has swallowed an awful lot of it this year and is laughing loudly whilst we squirm is disbelief. But still.

Are taxes inevitable? Yes. Are they a bit of a pain? Ok, yes. Are they necessary? Yes. Are they a nightmare? No. Do they give us a higher standard of living than so many across the world? Yes. Do they give some people life for whom everything else is only death? Actually, I think they do. Maybe we should be grateful we live in a country that can tax, unlike many where it is just a pipe-dream, so infrastructure cannot be built without bribery and corruption. Maybe we should be grateful we live in a country with a lower minimum tax threshold of 33%, like Sweden. Though they do have Volvos.

So,  hooray for taxes. And as Jesus demonstrated in the transformed life of one, hooray for the tax man.

Now I can drink my coffee without having nightmares.





the unlikely profiterole

2 09 2009

Mmm, tasty

Mmm, tasty

There is something wonderful about profiteroles. Something enticing, enchanting… the darkness of the chocolate melting over the softness of the pastry, ebony against the ivory of the Devonshire cream… I can visualise the M&S advert now: “These are not just ordinary profiteroles…”

Yet behind every profiterole lies a dream dashed, a hope lost, a potential future lost like a kite torn from the hand of a child by a gust of wind… Ok, maybe not that bad, but do profiteroles not disappoint every time? Do they not promise greatness – rich chocolate, soft pastry, full cream – yet pretty much always leave you thinking “is that it?”

James Murdoch, son of Rupert and heir to the News Corporation (owner of Sky, The Times, The Sunday Times, News of the World, The Sun, HarperCollins Publishers, FOX TV), made a much publicised speech recently in which he decried the lack of ‘independent’ news coverage, because in this country, unlike the US, there are rules about having to give a balanced view. This makes him feel stifled, because he is forced to present news as opposed to opinion, and he wants a free reign.

Ruperts bear

Rupert's bear

James Murdoch’s argument seems to me a bit like a profiterole. It looks good on the outside. We need opinion, we don’t want over-regulation, we want a ‘free press’. Amen to that. But read his final sentence, and see where the lovely profiterole suddenly becomes simply a recipe for heart disease.

“There is an inescapable conclusion that we must reach if we are to have a better society. The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.”

What?! Seriously, you’re having a giraffe. And this profit is coming from where exactly? From advertisers, customers, subscribers. So who do we aim the news at? Those who the advertisers need, those who can pay the money to subscribe… So news is skewed because of the need to make money. It is not rocket science. It is not independence. Check out Fox News for all the evidence you’ll ever need.

I could say a lot about this. But instead of attacking him (or discussing him further), let’s see if we are any better.

Because churches can be drawn down this ‘profit’ road too. We have news to share. We need money to share it. So, are we tempted to tailor our (good) news to those who will keep us financially viable? Do we try not to upset the wealthier people because we need them more? Do we pray for the streets with new cars rather than mouldy sofas on the drive? Do we rejoice more at the thought of a Premier League footballer being told to sell all he has and give it to the poor (bingo!), or a delivery driver? After all, we need to pay the gas bill, the maintenance bill, the parish share. My church has a leaking cellar, no heating in the hall and a broken front door. Are we ever tempted… honestly?

To paraphrase Jesus, we’d better not be. I’d better not be. We spread the news of life to all, regardless of the depths of pockets. What we offer is a prophetic vision of lives transformed and fountains of hope springing up from barren places: we have the prophet’s role of good news of life in all its fullness, not the profiterole of hypocrisy in all its foulness. If we ever let the need for money in our churches influence our good news then we are, as Jesus called the Pharisees, no more than hypocrites, actors, pretenders; white-washed tombs, as in looks good on the outside but contains only emptiness and death.

Profit can be good, for it subsidises those with none, like the ancient OT laws about not harvesting the edge of your field, so the poor can come and claim some. But it comes with  a stark health warning. Thank you James Murdoch for reminding us, in an unlikely prophetic role.

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blaming the goat

25 08 2009
blame the goat

blame the goat

I am always at it. Blame the goat! You know, that thing we do when we make judgements about people, and always say ‘them’ – that imaginary ‘they’, the third person I remember learning in French that always seemed to be entirely irregular. What third person? Well, there’s you, there’s me and there’s ‘them’, ‘the other’. The goat. And they are always to blame.

When society appears to be falling apart (has it ever not seemed like that?! ask an older person about the war…), we are so quick to blame ‘them’. Whether it is politicians, single-parents, terrorists, religious fundamentalists, Chelsea fans… the dodgy family a few doors down, the farmers, foreigners…Sometimes we can all get a bit Daily Mail and point the finger of blame. Goats, the lot of ’em.

We like having someone to blame. It makes us feel secure. The problem is labelled and dealt with. Maybe not solved, but there is a door to lay blame at. And it’s not mine. So we can make scapegoats of social workers if there is an abuse going on that wasn’t acted on as we would like, even if life and family intervention is a whole lot more complicated than that allows for; we can blame ‘Muslim terrorists’ for wanting to destroy our way of life, especially if that means we don’t have to hold a mirror to ourselves and ask why.  We can pin the whole blame for Lockerbie on one man, who is now dying of cancer, as if he alone was responsible; we can blame ‘the bankers’ whilst forgetting perhaps it was us who enjoyed the easy credit as much as they allowed it.

The thing is though, with the Jewish-Christian lens we look through, it is much harder for us to point at others and say ‘them’. Instead, we point at ourselves and say ‘we’. Someone once (annoyingly, to be honest) said that when you point one finger at someone, three fingers point back at you. Probably annoying cos I was the one pointing. Anyway… If I am a part of society, and society is producing terrorists, then I am partly to blame. If I am a part of society, and society is producing overweight, under-active teenagers having too much sex (is than an oxymoron?), then I am partly to blame. If I am a part of society and society is producing paedophiles and perpetrators of abuse, then I am partly to blame.

Ouch.

But… but… it’s not me, I didn’t do it, I am a good person, how can it be me? How, indeed. Well, we each may not feel we contribute to things we disapprove of, but we are a part of it, simply by being there. To say otherwise would be to be a grain of sand on the beach and deny you were part of the beach, or a raindrop splashing in a puddle and claiming to be from a different storm. The story of Adam and Eve in Genesis, whether a literal account of real people or a allegory laden with meaning, points us to this. As humans, we are together, one – we all looked longingly at the tree, we all offered the fruit, we all ate. So there is no them, only us.

Does that make us feel hopeless, or hopeful? Hopeful (I hope) because God does not cruise earth searching for individuals to rescue like some kind of cosmic kerb-crawler, but he drives a huge ocean liner (mixed metaphor!) so full of space and grace and says to us all, as you all share the guilt so you can also all share the grace, you can all be redeemed, you can all come aboard. This is wonderful stuff! Though to many will seem unnecessary, because still theyf blaming other people and feeling better about ourselves. we (oops) will cling to the life-raft o

But we no longer need the scapegoat, which comes from Leviticus 16, when an actual goat took on the sins of the community and was sent to its death. And we no longer need to shoulder them ourselves either. Because God as Jesus came to take that burden from us, to painfully and wholly free us from the guilt our human nature ties us to. But, interestingly and so importantly, not then to remove us from the society of which we are a guilty-but-free part, but sends us back there to disrupt and irritate the guilt, to be light in the dark, flowers in the desert, love in the blame, a peaceful voice amidst the finger-pointing in anger.To be part of the story of the redeeming of creation that his resurrection began.

So the challenge to them us is to live as us, not us and them, however painful and illogical it seems. We are them. They are us. Live deeply and be free. Most of all, free the goat.

(p.s. be part of freeing the goat without needing to keep checking my blog, by clicking on the new ‘subscribe via email’ link on the right- it will let you know when there’s a new post to read so you don’t have to keep checking)








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