some things cost more than you realise

15 05 2013

This is a video commissioned by Muse and MTV Exit as an initiative against human trafficking. 

It is easy to think it happens somewhere else. Next week I am going to a conference in nearby Croydon called Preventing Modern Slavery/Human Trafficking in Croydon. Because it happens on my doorstep. And yours too. And we wear it. Some things cost more than we realise. 

For more information about human trafficking see Stop the Traffik or YCAT. Because people shouldn’t be bought and sold, and slaves should be free. If it’s works in your community, use this video to spread the word.  





slave waver

10 02 2012

there was no apple

When the writers of the Bible talk about people in being in slavery to sin it all seems a bit, well, harsh. Slavery? How many of us would say we are enslaved to sin? The language calls to mind images of the devil binding us in chains or possessing us in some scary poltergeisty sort of way. We may prefer to think that we flirt with sin, we may clothe ourselves occasionally, because actually it is just a bit of fun. Isn’t sin more fun anyway? Better to be in slavery to sin that befriended by boredom? Read here about evil and sin actually being pretty dull and banal and boring.

I  had 2 conversations with people a while back that went something like this.

Conversation1:

Me: Why did you assault my friend?
Person a: I had to defend my family.
Me: Perhaps that wasn’t the best way to react?
Person a: I can’t help it, it is how my family always react. It is in my genes. It is just the way I am.

Conversation 2:

Person b: why did you grass on my son?
Me: Because he was doing something dangerous and illegal.
Person b: We don‘t grass on estates. You want to be careful doing things like that round here.

My point is that neither of those men would say they are enslaved to sin; I would not say that to them either! But their reactions as grown men to situations around them come from a position of slavery. To the gene pool, to the domination system, to ‘the way things are’, the way that oppresses freely because that is how life is. I don’t say that as a value judgement on them. I honestly think they think they have no choice. They have seen no other way that works. As I wrote following the Faithworks Conference, that is exactly the kind of slavery that Jesus came to free us from.

It does not need to be that way. Our character need not be defined by our genes, our family and our upbringing, though they will always be part of who we are. Our character can be defined by the Holy Spirit living in us. The system of domination and fear that we live in and support by living in it does not need to define us. We can be defined by the kingdom of God not the kingdom of fear.

I pray for slave waver in our community. Where anger is replaced by patience, fear by love, fists by feasts. When teenagers talk about something other than sex and slagging each other and don’t need to get a rush from being (nearly) nicked; when men can  be real men instead of being something they think they ought to be and women can be themselves without fear of being judged or taken for granted or simply ignored.

My deepest longing is that this slave waver happens because people meet Jesus and by his Holy Spirit they are transformed and sanctified and other wonderfully big words and maybe I even mentioned being saved but… but… I kinda just want it to happen anyway whether or not they discover Jesus. Through our influence or through nothing to do with us. If slaves waver and the world gets better and looks more like the kingdom, I’m not so worried about why…





doctor who. protest. forget. abdicate.

12 04 2010

[Warning: Doctor Who plot spoiler from 10/04/10]

which doctor

So the Star Whale takes Starship UK on its own back to lead it from danger. A willing sacrifice made to save the human race (well, the UK) (except Scotland) (no change there) from destruction. The human race does not trust though, does not believe, cannot see a selfless act as just that: a selfless act. It captures the whale, forcing it to power the ship, torturing it in order to force it to do their will.

All the adults know this. They know that they have taken the very last Star Whale, and are torturing it to death, slowly, and feeding it with their own flesh and blood. They know, but they cannot live with it. So they are given a choice. They can protest against the treatment, the murder, the Police-state. But protest leads to their own death. The other option is to forget. Memory is erased, everyone carries on as if everything is normal. Fine.

Protest, or forget.

The Queen gets another option. She also knows. She is the highest authority. She can forget, or abdicate. She forgets, everything carries on. If she abdicates, the Star Whale is freed, the ship loses power, and everyone dies. Everyone. Every 10 years, she chooses to forget.

a different kind of queen

This is of course not real life, but Doctor Who: The Beast Below. There are parallels with the red pill/blue pill in The Matrix. And many parallels with life.

Having recently watched BBC Panorama’s Chocolate: the Bitter Truth, is it about the secret that we know most of our chocolate is produced using child slave labour  but we choose to forget. Because if we remembered, we couldn’t live with it. Children, fed to the monster. Protest? And not eat our favourite chocolate? Fat chance. We choose to forget, every time.

forget

Is it about the fact that our economic system, built on debt and gambling and insatiable greed, is unsustainable, rewarding those at the top of the pile for gambling with someone else‘s money and laying off those at the bottom of the pile at the first sign of trouble. We all know, but we all need it, or we wouldn’t have our mortgages, our credit cards, our overdrafts. Protest, we lose easy credit and our greed is unsatisfied and we have to look inside our own heads and see how unfulfilled we are. Or forget, carry on as before, even after the great crash of 2009.We choose to forget, every time.

Or maybe it is about the one and only of his kind, not a Star Whale but the son of god, who took the world on his back and carried it to safety, but was mistrusted, tortured, and left to die. He who when people looked into his eyes, they could never forget, and ended up protesting too much. We try to forget, every time.

Maybe it is about us, we who know what Jesus has done, but cannot handle it, cannot accept it; who instead of accepting his sacrifice tie him up and want him to do our bidding, to do it our way, with us in charge, not accepting selfless love but making him a slave to our bidding. That, or we forget, we ignore it, we allow our relationship to become a habit to become a religion to become a prison and we ignore the Star Whale that powers the ship that leads us through the asteroid belt and to safety before we even asked it to.

Protest, forget, or abdicate? Abdicate. Hand over the power. Leave the world in the hands of the dying whale, and watch everything die with it. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll be surprised that once you hand your power to the whale, the whale chooses life. Your life. Our life. My life.

To gain your life you must lose it. To hold power you must be prepared to give it up. Long live the Star Whale.

who's smiling?

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faithworks 2: dirty hands or helium balloons

10 03 2010

I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand, my soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

What can I say?
What can I do?
But offer this heart O God,
Completely to you

I was listening to this song by Hillsong today, a song I love and have had many ‘moments’ whilst singing, when I realised the direction it faces. Upwards. Always. We offer abstract things to God, like ‘all I am’ and my ‘soul’, my ‘heart’. Perhaps it would be more realistic to sing What can I do? Offer my money, my attitudes, my house, my time. Maybe that’s what they mean. But there is a real tendency in modern theology to offer abstract things, to sing abstract things. It’s safer.

At the Faithworks Conference Brian McLaren spoke of our theology getting exactly the results we get – we talk about extracting souls from earth to heaven, via church, which is like a big soul-warehouse where we are stored until death. So, we care and sing about souls and eternal destiny; we say soul because it sounds better than saying self, but really we mean self. God exists to extract my-self from here to there, via church, whilst stripping me of my money, and presumably any sense of fashion. We look up, forgetting Jesus came down because God so loved the world.

It’s another example of what I talked about in my earlier Faithworks post – the salvation and liberation that Jesus talked about and that the early church talked about was this but was so much more. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We are freed to be his grubby dirty hands, not to be his helium balloons floating gracefully away.

what must i do to be freed?

Brian McLaren gave an excellent example of freedom and liberation as often misunderstood. Here’s a whistle-stop tour. Read Acts 16. Paul and Silas hang out with mixed-race family, and then a gathering of women at the edge of the city. Women. At the edge. These are not the powerful people. Lydia then hosts them – the first female church leader, and their patron. A slave girl makes money for her owners by predicting the future. She keeps shouting at her owners that Paul and Silas will tell them – not her – the way to be saved. Saved? Does she mean getting to heaven when they die? I think not. She is owned and exploited. They can be free. Paul and Silas are slaves of the Most High; her owners are slaves of the system of oppression. If they are free, she can be free.

They exorcise her evil spirit (as you d0), and are imprisoned for advocating unlawful customs. What customs? Freeing slaves. They are in a Roman colony and are freeing slaves. The Roman economy is dependant upon slaves. In prison, there is an earthquake, and the jailer thinks they have escaped. He is going to kill himself. Why? He knows the system. He knows what happens to jailers who let prisoners go. He will be imprisoned. He knows what happens to prisoners. He knows that death is a better option. He is enslaved by the system.

But they have not escaped. His question: what must I do to be saved? Does he mean getting to heaven after he dies? No. I think not. He means, what must I do to get out of this horrific system of ownership, oppression, fear and slavery. What can you offer me? The kingdom of God breaking into a Roman prison in a Roman colony. How can we have missed the irony?!

Paul says, believe in the Lord Jesus (instead of the Lord Caesar – it’s wordplay, in Greek, kurious iesous instead of kurios caesar). Stop the domination narrative and you and your family will be saved. So the jailer takes the prisoners to his home, washes their wounds and feeds them. This family is having a liberated moment. This is very un-Roman. This is very Kingdom of God. This is beautiful stuff.

The next day, the magistrates want to quietly release Paul and Silas. Hush hush. Keep it quiet. But Paul and Silas engage in some civil disobedience. They refuse to go until the corrupt magistrates, who were only concerned about lining their pockets from the oppression of the slave system, have come face-to-face with their actions.

Summarising this story, Brian made these points:

  • women are at the centre of the Kingdom of God movement
  • women are released from oppression
  • the economic system is challenged
  • the political system is exposed as corrupt
  • low-level functionaries are liberated, along with their families
  • high-level functionaries are confronted with their corruption

set free from what?

So this story is way more than a Sunday-school story about an earthquake and a jailer, way more than telling people how to be saved from this earth and get to heaven. This is a get down and dirty story about the kingdom of God breaking in unexpectedly to a Roman colony, to a Roman prison, to a Roman family, to a female Roman slave. And so it is a story for us as we are called to imagine where we can be a part of the Kingdom of God breaking in to our world.

Do we simply offer our I ams, our hearts, souls and abstract selfs, or do we offer to be slaves that we may free slaves.

Dirty hands or helium balloons.

Helium balloons are fun for a bit, but end up making squeaky voices and popping uselessly. Dirty feet do get dirty, but they get things done, here and now.

What can I say?
What can I do?
But offer myself O God
As a slave to you

We are blessed to bless a world in pieces, loved to love where love is not. If you need a holy pause, download for free We Are Blessed (Bring Heaven to Earth) by Andy Flannagan. Listen, worship, then go. 

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2 fingers to the inheritance of vipers

15 12 2009

No babes in mangers but broods of vipers. No chestnuts roasting on an open fire but the rotten fruit of the children of Abraham. No royalty privilege but repentance.

brood of vipers

The set reading for this Sunday was a bit of surprise for those who think Christmas has already started. According to the Church of Retail and Commerce, it begins in September when the suntan lotion is replaced by tinsel and baubles. But according to the Church of England lectionary (like Pictionary only without the giggles), we are still firmly in advent. So, for us this week there were no shepherds or kings, no stables or donkeys. Instead, some fiery John the Baptist having a pop at his own followers.

The crowds follow him, as he preaches his message of repentance. He spots a bit of hypocrisy. Some people coming who are in it for the ride, going through the motions, don’t fully get it. He doesn’t have a quiet word. “You brood of vipers!” Wow. These are the people who are coming to him; not the classic scary street preacher having at go at those who don’t come. Why does he do this? Because repentance is a serious business. There is no room for elitism. And definitely no room for hereditary holiness: “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our Father'”. To a nation and belief system based on the assumption that they were the chosen ones and therefore were ok, this is big stuff.

We, of course, would never fall into that trap. We, the Church of England, the ‘proper’ church. We would never be arrogant enough to assume that we had it right. That all others were a pale reflection of proper worship, proper repentance, proper priesthood. Would we? We, the nation of the United Kingdom, a ‘proper’ country, would never assume we have a right to be healthy, wealthy, rich and comfortable at the expense of any others. We are the good people.  Aren’t we?

christmas crunch

When questioned, John goes on to give examples of living out true repentance, rather than paying it lip service. “Anyone who has two shirts should give to one who has none. Anyone who has food should do the same.” Here comes the Christmas crunch. In a time of excess of things and food, we are called to share. Our food our clothes our presents our chocolate our families our wealth. Not just some loose change as an after-thought.

This is bigger than you, me and our next-door neighbours. A global economy means global consequences. Who makes the clothes we wear? Who makes the chocolate we eat? If we close our ears to those difficult, very un-festive questions we are no better than a brood of hypocritical vipers looking for a salve to our conscience without a change to our lifestyle.

know this logo

Did you know that if your chocolate isn’t marked as fair-trade, then there is no guarantee the farmer was adequately paid? Or that slaves were not used in its production? Slaves! Often children. Most of our cheap chocolate comes from the Cote d’Ivoire, where use of chocolate slaves is rife. Now, thankfully there have been some significant victories in the world of chocolate production recently. Some of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bars are now Fairtrade. Nestle have recently announced that their 4-finger Kit Kat bars will be Fairtrade from January. These are big hitters and this is big news. It is an encouragement to people who have been campaigning for years. But it is still a tiny proportion of the market.

christmas crunch

If we want to take seriously John the Baptist’s challenge; if we want to take seriously the true, raw, honest and painful meaning of Christmas; if we want to be followers of Christ and not the crowd, then we must act differently. It may make us unpopular. Our families may not like us only buying fair-trade chocolate as presents. It is more expensive, so we buy less. (Why is it more expensive? Ask Tescos why they cannot absorb the extra cost into their vast profits.)  Our families and friends may not like us turning our lives around to fit Jesus in rather than just turning the lounge around to fit the tree in.  Tell them why.  And tell Cadbury’s, tell Nestle. Thank them for the fair-trade 4-finger Kit Kat, then give them 2 fingers, and ask them why not that bar too. Because we have no inherited right to chocolate produced in the dark, underbelly of slavery. We have no inherited right to have 2 shirts when others have only 1. We have no inherited right to speak of repentance if it does not impact us where it hurts.

Now that is a Christmas message. And John ended up dead for it. Nice.

For more information on these issues go to the Stop the Traffik campaign, the Fairtrade Foundation, visit your local Oxfam shop, and remember to always ask for Fairtrade coffee in in your local coffee shop. Contact Cadbury’sNestle and Mars here to thank them and ask them for more Fairtrade products.








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