banishment, statelessness and the cost of love

14 11 2014

Love may cover a multitude of sins, but wouldn’t prison be better? Or if not prison, the good old days of banishment, when sinners were cast out of the city walls to fend for themselves. Guilty or not guilty, being suspected was enough to pacify the mob. Send them out! Scapegoats, if you like, carrying the sins and fears of the community on their backs. Out of sight, out of mind.

The struggle against fundamentalist jihadists is a real problem for our liberal democracy. Many are genuinely reaching the end of their liberal tether of benevolence and free speech. Deeply and firmly held beliefs about a god other than Economy terrify the policy-makers and the tabloids and therefore everyone else. So if someone sets out to destroy – or even challenge – the way that we live, increasingly the reaction is as fundamentalist and those we are ‘against’.

Just look at the reaction to the Occupy movement in Parliament Square over the last few weeks. Ordinary people challenging the priests of Economy, faced with detention and arrest. For what? Standing? And if we cannot cope with dissension from within, how on earth will we manage dissension that is far, far more serious. Like returning jihadists.

The option the Government want is more powers. Powers to barr them from entry, to take passports, effectively to render them ‘stateless’, someone else’s problem. Banishment. Suspects, that is. Whilst I understand the thinking behind this – how can we welcome home people who have engaged in a war on the other side to ourselves? – love steps in.

Love? What’s love got to do with it?

Love – love as action, love as intentional choice, love as principle – love says that the rights of those we disagree with are just as valid as those we agree with. Love says that a citizen of this country is exactly that – a citizen, therefore afforded the rights of a citizen, which include innocent until proven guilty (remember that?). We are not a totalitarian dictatorship intolerant of dissent or free-thinking; we are a liberal democracy with all the freedoms that brings. And a consequence of that freedom is people are allowed to exist who disagree with us. Who even want to destroy us. 

We cannot allow ourselves to arrive at a place where people can be arrested or de-citizened for being suspected of something, without going through the proper criminal justice system. It can be hard to understand how frightening this policy is unless you put yourself in the place of someone it might apply to, which is unlikely to be the standard middle-aged white males in an office who write this stuff (stereotype alert, apologies). 

Whilst it may pain us to stand up for the rights of people who are different from us or who we vehemently disagree with, love commands us to do so, because love is not sentimental mush but a hard-core challenge to our desire for self-protection and to look after those who are ‘like us’.

Instead of increasingly oppressive edicts from above, the Government needs to work hard at local community level to get alongside and understand what makes young men go to fight in Syria. One way this could have been done is through statutory youth work provision, but the priests of Economy think that is too costly. Sutton’s local council youth budget was cut by over 50% in 2011.

But love is costly, love takes the long view. And love does not banish. 

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destroying the arrogance of mans

24 09 2014

Two very different incidences this week revealed the way we men so often accidentally – and not so accidentally – assume and adopt positions of power and dominance that should not be acceptable, but are. The first is the way that Emma Watson gave an excellent speech for #HeForShe about not demeaning and sexualising women, which the Daily Mail reported by reviewing her outfit and the Telegraph used a stock picture of her in a more sexy outfit than the one she actually wore. The second is David Cameron’s ‘She purred down the line…‘ throwaway comment about the Queen’s response to the Scottish referendum result.

Emma Watson then. She takes the mantle, knowing that she will be demeaned for talking about not demeaning; abused for talking about not abusing. Barely has she finished when the repercussions start. Men, we can stop this. To support and uphold and stand by women is a totally and truly and utterly Christian – and human – thing to do. Jesus was touchy about demeaning women. After all, his own mum would have been rejected as he was born a bastard. So he made a beeline for abused and hurting women in order to restore them. To restore them. Not to humiliate them, not to act out some domination fantasy over them, not to replay years of cultural stereotypes over and over again. 

Men, when we join in sexist jokes we are part of this hateful and horrible bullying. When we judge women by what they wear and not what they do we are part of it. When we do that, we show ourselves to be as weak as classroom bullies usually are. To be truly human, to be truly man, is to stand up for women until they are not demeaned, abused, hurt, sexualised and judged. The changes start with us, in our families, homes, workplace, cars, colleges, schools. 

David Cameron. So much to say, but in that throwaway line he revealed a great deal about how men present to the world. Confident, capable, in control. We all know the Queen does not ‘purr’. She may well have been pleased. But she is not a cat. To talk about her as if she is a domesticated animal, and he is the warrior hero rescuing her country from the brink… no, he was desperately relieved, he massively miscalculated, and she is very much above him in the order. But the archetype dominant man cannot have that. So we use language, the way we tell stories, to keep ourselves dominant and in control. 

It’s not just a ‘posh’ thing, though it is easy to attribute some of it to that Etonian, private-school self-confidence in which success is assumed, mistakes are someone else’s problem, and the distance between revealing the pain of our hearts to the world is about 1000 miles. But we see it all over the place. We men will make jokes about our insecurities so that nobody else can, and more often than not will demean someone else in order to cover our own sense of shame. Most of us do not do than in conversations about the Queen. It may be about our wives, the ‘girl’ at work, the woman walking down the street, or what Emma Watson wore whilst giving her speech. 

Men, this matters. Disappearing Page 3 matters. Judging women by appearance matters. Talking disrespectfully about your kids mum matters. Christians must be at the forefront of standing up for this, because Jesus stood up for women outrageously and took the rap for it. It’s not actually about being feminist, it’s about being human.  

See how you can change a conversation, hold in the sexist joke, and say positive things about women around you today.





the sinister subtext behind the ‘hard-working family’

9 10 2012

Politicians often use the phrase ‘hard-working family’ to describe those who they say they support. The Conservatives use it a lot. They are not alone, but they are the most guilty. Guilty? Why… surely a hard-working family is the ideal, isn’t it?

I want to challenge a few assumptions that lie behind the phrase. Because it sounds fine, but masks a more sinister prejudice and a particularly prevalent point of view amongst the ruling elite from the aspirational classes. 

1. The first relates to hard work. Not everyone wants to work hard. Gasp. A lot of people do, but many just work because they have to. This is fine. It is ok to work, to get by, to pay your taxes, to keep your family afloat. Also, not everyone can work ‘hard’, if hard is defined by set hours, intense work, a regular job. Again, for a variety of reasons (e.g. physical/mental health, family, addictions). Some can only work a little bit. Are they scroungers?

2. Which leads to the second assumption: that there are two kinds of people, those who are hard-working and those who are lazy scroungers. This is not true. There are many people who fall in-between those two extremes. Not everyone is aspirational, for a whole variety of reasons (education, health, mental health, family, experience…). Should everyone aspire to work hard and make a ‘better life’ for themselves?

3. The third assumption is that hard-working people are well-paid and ‘successful’, i.e. have accumulated baggage they are entitled to because they have worked hard, therefore shouldn’t be chased for higher taxes. This falls down on at least two counts. A lot of people are wealthy and do not work hard. A lot of people work hard and are not wealthy. An overnight shift in Tesco’s stacking food we don’t really need is hard work. A long day in the City moving imaginery money nobody sees is (presumably) hard work. They pay very differently. Only one contributed to the financial crisis. For some, it is hard work simply keeping the family together, even without paid work. Being a mum is hard work. Being a single mum is extremely hard work. 

4. The fourth assumption is closely linked and is that ‘hard-working’ families are essentially the middle-classes and above. This is not true. Here’s an idea. Instead of having to tax these ‘hard-working and deserving people’, how about one type of hard-working family – the wealthy – redistribute wealth (in a much fairer way than higher taxes) to the other type of hard-working family – the poor or struggling. It’s called a fair wage. It’s called not paying your CEO 100x more than your lowest paid staff, plus non-performance related bonus. Then more money is put back into the economy rather than stored in the (offshore) accounts of the wealthy. It’s also called fairness, justice and is the opposite of greed. 

5. The fifth assumption is that hard-working (middle-class) families shouldn’t have to make any greater sacrifices than they already do through the tax system. Here’s another idea: maybe some hard-working families – though entitled to tax credits and child benefit and winter fuel allowance and free travel – don’t claim if they don’t need them. A huge saving could be made, leaving more money for those who need it. Of course there are flaws in these arguments. Maybe I am wrong about these assumptions. But I am finding the rhetoric of Cameron and Osbourse more and more sinister, more and more divisive, and more and more at odds with a Christian view of justice, grace and caring for the poor. Of course some people will abuse the welfare system. Others abuse the right to register income abroad and avoid tax. Yes, families who live entirely on benefits need educating about responsibilities. But often we are talking about people with learning difficulties or emotional difficulties or mental health or just people who have not learned to think ahead and consider consequences.

We are, according to Osbourne, apparently all in this together. Hmmm. Mocking the idea of taxing the rich, and then raiding the welfare budget of the poor? Well, it just stinks. Whatever type of hard-working family you come from.  





the raoul moat of separation

14 07 2010

They say an Englishman’s home is his castle. Maybe these days it is moral superiority that is our castle. With little frame of reference for moral decisions except ‘my feelings’ and ‘what other people think’, it is easy to retreat to the safe ground of superiority, building a castle around ourselves, a castle of protection from engaging with what is outside and a castle filled with others who think the same. Otherwise we would have to mix with ‘the others’, the dirty ones who live outside my castle who think differently and might taint the purity of our community. They might ask us why we think how we do and we would only be able to answer “because I do” and that would seem childish and inadequate.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said that there should be no sympathy for Raoul Moat. The BBC reports that speaking during Prime Minister’s Question Time, Mr Cameron said:

“It is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer, full stop, end of story. I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man. There should be sympathy for his victims and the havoc he wreaked in that community. There should be no sympathy for him.”

Full stop, end of story? Really? Now, I understand how that opinion is formed. Moral indignation is a natural response. Firm leadership is required and Cameron thinks he is giving it. Point the finger, name the act, distance ourselves from it. Simple as.

The trouble is for people who follow Jesus, that simply isn’t good enough. We can of course join in with moral indignation and stamping our feet with the best of them – we are, after all, renowned for that – but we cannot stop there. The train doesn’t stop at Moral Indignation Station, it passes through to somewhere a whole lot more uncomfortable. Namely, Empathy Station. Which is on a branch line with All Fall Short, Cast the First Stone and Love Your Enemy. Those stations are rickety, tumbledown old places, full of weeds and nowhere near as strong and secure-looking as Moral Superiority Castle. But they are beautiful places that manage to hold the tension between someone doing something wrong and why they did it; between the consequences of someone’s actions and the life that led to it. That is a difficult place to be because it is so much easier to blame and point and retreat. But we walk where Jesus walked and he walked there.

I spoke to someone who assaulted someone else recently, and they said that they couldn’t help their anger because it was ‘in their genes’, it was just how the family reacted to situations. It was learned behaviour and inherited behaviour. For me, when Jesus says he has come to loose the chains and free the captives, it is this sort of thing he means. And how can he do that if we feel nothing for those who are held captive, knowingly or unknowingly? It doesn’t mean their actions go unpunished or the consequences ignored – but it does mean that it is our obligation and our duty and our will  and our desire to understand why people do what they do, say what they say; it does not excuse actions like those of Raoul Moat but we must allow ourselves to feel more than self-righteous anger.

What David Cameron has said is outrageous. He needs to come out of Moral Superiority Castle, cross over the stagnant moat of separation and meet the kingdom of God where justice and mercy meet, where the never-ending stream is full of justice and goodness; where people are messed up and broken and dirty like old cracked pots that leak and feel pretty useless and that, that is where we are and where we are a part of the repairing and restoring and transforming of the world. It is a place of tension. It is a place of unresolved hurt.

No-one said that where justice and mercy meet was a comfortable place.

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Click here to download We Are Blessed (Bring Heaven to Earth), and let’s move out of the castles, cross the moat and get real.

We Are Blessed (Bring Heaven to Earth)

Bring heaven to earth, Lord
Bring peace where there’s fear
Bring life where there’s death, Lord
Bring joy in these tears

Bring love where there’s lust, Lord
Bring hope where there’s pain
Bring rest where there’s chaos
Bring faith where there’s fame.

PRECHORUS

You invite us to partner with you
To see your kingdom come

CHORUS

We are blessed, to bless a world in pieces
We are loved, to love where love is not.
We are changed, to be the change you promised
We are freed, to be your hands, O God

BRIDGE

Lord we cry out to you
Change the atmosphere
Breathe new life in all who gather here

Bring home to the homeless
Bring keys to the chained
Bring worth to the purchased
And touch to the shamed.
Bring flesh from your word, Lord
Bring truth where there’s spin
Bring risk where there’s safety
And grace where there’s sin

In the broken, we shall see restored
the image of our King

Bring justice to profit
Bring patience to growth
Bring wisdom to progress
Like food for the soul
Bring freedom from debt, Lord
An end to excess
Bring closer your kingdom
By quiet success

May we grow in the knowledge of you
Through every heart and face

© Andy Flannagan
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personality and premiership

3 05 2010

The final week. Whoever you chose at the beginning of the race, soon you will know if you were right. The nation waits, with baited breath.

The 4-horse race that became a 3-horse that became a 2-horse race. Liverpool’s campaign disastrous; Arsenal’s another ‘almost’; United and Chelsea another display of the power of the substitutes bench. The question is, was it a battle between Ancelotti, Ferguson, Wenger and Benitez, or was it something bigger than that?

The 2-horse race that became a 3-horse race. Labour’s campaign disastrous, Conservatives’ another ‘almost’, Lib Dem’s a display of the power of disenfranchised voters..? The question is, is it a battle between Brown, Cameron and Clegg, or is it something bigger than that?

The power of personality can sometimes dominate. The football season is often characterised as individual battles between the managers competing for the Premier League, rather than whole teams. These personalities can have huge influence, but if they are not backed up by results, the personalities must be irrelevant. Flamboyant managers are interesting, but not popular with everyone. Just ask Mourinho. At the end of the day, good results under an unpopular manager are better than bad results under a popular one. Rafa is a case in point (I speak as a Liverpool fan…).

The power of personality can sometimes dominate. The General Election is often characterised as individual battles between the party leaders campaigning for the Premiership. These personalities can have huge influence, but if they are not backed up by policies, the personalities must be irrelevant. Flamboyant politicians are interesting, but not popular with everyone. Just ask Blair. At the end of the day, good policies under an unpopular Prime Minister are better than bad policies under a popular one. Which of them is a case in point I am not at liberty to say…

Jesus chose an unexceptional group of personalities to be the leaders of his movement. They were not all eloquent or intelligent; some had dodgy skeletons in their closet. How they would get on in a leaders debate or a post-match interview who can say. What they did have was genuine passion and commitment to their cause; they were prepared to be mocked and beaten for Jesus’ message of revolution and resurrection, liberation and redemption, of good news for the poor and freedom for the oppressed. They were not out to win votes, a popularity contest or an annual competition. And they were in for the long haul.

The Premier League will not be won on the personality of the manager, but the quality of the squad over the 38 games. The Premiership should not be won on the personality of the party leaders, but the quality of the policies over the parliamentary term. As we prepare to vote, we would do well to bear that in mind.

And may next year be Liverpool’s year. Maybe with the flamboyant Mourinho at the helm…?

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in different ideology

14 04 2010

I was lucky. I first voted in 1997. I was part of the revolution that finally demolished the 18 years (almost my entire lifetime) of Tory rule. I even went to a Blair rally! I didn’t sing along to Things Can Only Get Better but I held the coats of those who did. And I have a signed copy. Democracy felt good, felt real, felt necessary. There was fear in the Tory eyes, mine was the only Labour poster in a uni hall of residence full of Tory public school boys… And we won! My poster stayed up for ages. And will we ever forget the face of Portillo?

style or substance?

It’s never been quite the same since. Tony Blair stole the Tory policies and New Labour never looked back. Without a real difference in ethos or ideology between the parties, it was all on the charisma of the leaders and the art of communication. For all his faults, Blair won that battle hands down. He still would. And now…?

Finally it seems there is a difference. First Labour launched their manifesto. I think it was about economics and deficits but I was bored. Brown does not have charisma. Then the Tories launched theirs, and something happened. I heard something different. It’s not about charisma, Cameron is about as vacuous as the power station he launched the manifesto at. It is about ideology.

a little presumptuous?

They want to ’empower communities’, they want us ‘the people’ to be more responsible for our own government. It’s the classic party division. It’s an ideological difference, an ethos. Remember those? Blair sacrificed ideology to gain power, and Labour have managed to hold on since, claiming to be for the ‘working people’ but really hoovering up the all-important middle-class votes. Now, in the absence of policies that are much different, the Tories have rediscovered ideology.

Ideology is what makes politics interesting. Ideology is what should drive policies, not the other way around. At least with an ideology you and I can argue until the cows come home about how things should or shouldn’t be done in general, because we can do that. What most of us can’t do is argue about whether Capital Gains Tax should go up or down. Because most of us don’t know what it is.

I think the Lib Dems have an ideology too...

So, finally, we can talk about the election. Winston Churchill said that democracy is a terrible system of governance, but the best one there is. So, do you think local people should have more say in local policies? That means you, by the way – do you actually want more say, will you actually volunteer to help run things or get involved, or is it a good thing for ‘other’ people? I certainly know there aren’t people queuing up to be school governors, Scout leaders, local councillors… Call me cynical, but just as an aside, isn’t this ‘community’ that Cameron trusts to be empowered the same ‘broken Britain’ full of scroungers, illegal immigrants and yoofs on ASBO’s that he always goes on about?

I think the 6 weeks of election indifference just got a little more interesting. We should not be indifferent to ideologies. We should have different ideologies. We should believe in different ideologies. We should believe in ideologies that benefit the poorest people in society, which may not be us. Societies should be judged on how they treat their poorest members. So, which ideology is it?

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Postscript: see St Aiden to Abbey Manor blog for what the three main leaders have to say to Christian voters…

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