Today is the day after the 2019 General Election in the UK. Those who read this blog regularly probably won’t be surprised to learn that it was not the result I was hoping and praying for. So what do we do? We can stomp around in an angry huff, complaining about fairness and how the election campaign was fought. And that may make us feel better in a cathartic fashion, but it is not a sustainable solution. I want to offer HOPE and have four suggestions how we can do that:
If social media is anything to go by there will be a lot of people who are disappointed in the election result. Indeed, the way our electoral system works there are more people who voted against the new government than who voted for it. So how can you help others to come to terms with the result? Rather than ramping up the rhetoric can you offer gentle, calm words of wisdom? An offer of a cup of tea or coffee may seem insignificant but it shows you care when someone is sad. And a non-critical listening ear costs only time.
Can you explore ways of helping during the term of the next parliament? For example, can you help support a local foodbank. From being almost non-existent 10 years ago last year the Trussell Trust, which supports a national network of foodbanks, distributed ovr 1.6 million individual food parcels and they have seen a 23% increase in demand between April and September 2019 over the same period last year.
Can you help support those who feel more vulnerable because of the policies that are planned or will be maintained by the current government? It is not likely that things like Universal Credit are going to change anytime soon, so if you are aware of those who have been adversely affected by such policies try to find out whom you can help and how. It may not be you on your own, but with a group of friends you can make a difference.
We can all help with those who are lonely and isolated. Who in your neighbourhood could do with a visit, help with shopping, a lift or some lunch?
If we were to calculate the value in pounds of the work of volunteers in the UK it is estimated as about £24 billion per year! If it didn’t happen there would have be a massive hit on taxes to provide those things. This country has to rely on each other, not just on government. That includes you and me.
There is something we can all do to HELP.
There were a number of promises made by our new government during the election. There was a lot of doubt expressed about them, but we need to be vigilant now and seek to ensure that they are kept.
According to the Conservative Manifesto we should expect to see: 50,000 new nurses in the NHS; no income tax, VAT or National Insurance rises; pensions to rise by at least 2.5% each year; that no-one will need to sell their home to pay for care; progress on achieving zero emissions by 2050; £6.3bn spent on 2.2 million disadvantaged homes; a commitment to reduce poverty, including child poverty, through changes to tax and benefits; 250,000 extra childcare places; tuition fees frozen at £9,250; a new Manchester to Leeds rail line and £2bn to fill potholes; millions more invested every week in science, schools, apprenticeships and infrastructure while controlling debt; and 20,000 more police.
Those are Manifesto commitments. So lets make sure that they happen. Check your newspapers and news bulletins. Try reading reports from those who don’t share your political leaning to inform yourself. Let’s be OBSERVANT.
I don’t mean here that we try to predict the future. In the Bible prophecy is more about speaking (God’s) truth in the present. So how can we be prophetic?
We can dissent. Baptist Christians (my church family) have their roots in dissent. They spoke out against injustice and evil where they saw it. In the bad old days when it was illegal to be a non-conformist many of them were imprisoned (John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while in prison). Christians have led campaigns for social change including the abolition of the slave trade and many of the social improvements in the Victorian era. The Drop the Debt and Jubilee 2000 campaigns began with Christians at the heart of them, but it’s not just Christians. Bob Geldof led a movement in the 1980s that culminated in Live Aid and (in my view) began the process of major fundraising events supporting the poorest and marginalised in our world that continues through Children in Need, Comic Relief, Sport Relief and others. Greta Thunberg is making a massive difference by raising the issue of climate change in a way that has motivated millions so that the powers that be are being challenged to increase the rate of change.
There’s a great tradition of prophetic action in the Bible – from sitting naked on a pile of ashes to marrying a woman of dubious reputation and taking her back when she was unfaithful. I am not suggesting either of those actions, but what action can you take? It may be something simple like ensuring you reduce your plastic consumption, recycling more or walking or cycling shorter journey distances to reduce your impact on the environment and encouraging others to do the same. It may be joining in with a protest march, or signing an online petition. There may well be other things you’re inspired to do. Do them.
We can all be PROPHETIC.
This follows on from being prophetic. As well as prophetic action to highlight issues and make a difference we need to engage with those in power – those who may be able to change things.
If we see injustice we should not sit by and remain silent about it. If there are things that are wrong we should campaign against them. And if there are others who are speaking out we should support them. If nothing else we should contact our MP and point out the issues (I think I have been put on an activist watchlist by my MP (Con) because he hasn’t replied to my last 2 emails where I pointed out flaws in some of the government plans and activities, but he did reply to the earlier ones). When I lived in a different constituency I engaged with my MP (Lib Dem) about Foodbanks and he didn’t like it (you can see it here – read the comments at the bottom of the bloggage for the full account) but it got a response.
Keep going. Encourage like-minded others to join you. One thing Greta Thunberg has reminded us about is that a single voice can make a difference, but it is most effective when it motivates the many voices. Speak truth to power.
It is suggested that one letter or email to an MP is considered to represent the views of hundreds. So imagine the impact of 100 people writing to the same MP.
If you are a praying person, pray for politicians too. They have a difficult job, whatever we think of them. When they do something you like, write to encourage them. Don’t only be a moaner (I need to do something about that).
At a time when it may feel that your vote didn’t count for much, let’s remember to keep ENGAGING with our politicians at national and local level.
I am sure that by now you will have realised that the 4 suggestions above give and acronym of HOPE. Let’s ensure that hope never dies and give it to those who feel hopeless.
Be blessed, be a blessing
This bloggage continues my short series looking at different ways of praying. It started last week with ‘buffet‘. I was going to call this ‘Christmas List’ but you’ll hopefully see why I have called this ‘shopping list’ instead.
When I was a child I would often look at written shopping lists and mark them as if they were spelling tests. Not only that but I would also write things like ‘Could do better’ or ‘See me!’… I bet my Mum loved it! (Her spelling was not as bad as the list above!).
But it’s difficult to resist the temptation to mark shopping list prayers. Are they self-indulgent or are they outward-focused? Are they based on wants or needs? Are they accompanied by any other sort of prayer or is it all about the list? And so on. I want to try to avoid that. I think God loves any sort of prayer, but we can always do better.
What do I mean by ‘shopping list’ (or Christmas list) prayers? I mean the long lists of things we can bring to God for him to sort out / provide / intervene / change / bless and much more. Because he is a gracious and generous God there is the temptation to treat him as if he is a spiritual vending machine where we if we put in the right amount of praying we will get what we want. Remarkably, because he is so gracious and generous, sometimes he does respond to this sort of praying, but that can have the undesired effect of encouraging us to keep going.
Now hear me loud and hear me clearly. God does want us to bring these things to him. He does get involved in our lives at a micro-level and in the world at a macro-level and he does respond to our praying because he loves to interact with us. We might call it ‘interceding’ for others or ‘relying on God’ and those things are good, important and healthy. Do not stop with the shopping lists because of this bloggage.
But there are a few things we can do to improve our praying.
- Be less prescriptive. If I am shopping and my shopping list says ‘Cheese’ I have a wide range of possibilities to choose from. If it says, “X brand Danish Blue cheese” the choice is much more limited. Have we decided before we pray what we want the answer to be? I can remember one of our children going through a shopping catalogue before Christmas and circling the items they wanted. That way we knew exactly what they wanted to receive. Again, hear this correctly: there is nothing wrong with saying to God what outcome we would like. But there is a difference between doing that and prescribing to God the only acceptable outcome. That’s vending machine praying. God wants a dialogue rather than a shopping list, so even if we have a desired outcome, why not ask him what he would like to do? That brings me to the second thing we can do…
- Whose will is it anyway? In the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ we are taught to pray ‘Your (Thy) will be done’. That’s a nuanced difference from the shopping list if it has become ‘My will be done’. If we are asking God what he would like to do, we need to be willing and ready to accept that his will may be different to ours. And recognising who God is and who we are may help us to accept that his desired outcome may be different from ours. Which is likely to be best?
- Be willing to be changed. This follows from the previous way of improving our shopping lists. Do we pray to try to change God’s mind or to allow him to change ours? I think he rather likes using our prayers as an opportunity for a conversation with us about the issues we are praying about. But a dialogue surely contains within it the possibility of being shaped by the other person, doesn’t it? The amazing thing about praying to God is that sometimes I find that the first outcome is that I am changed even before anything else happens. And even more amazing is that God accommodates himself to my prayers too. I am not sure he always has just one prescriptive answer to every prayer. Sometimes he gives me a range of choices and all of them are good (such as which songs to sing or who to visit). Doesn’t that sound better than a mere shopping list?
- Be ready to be a part of the answer. I have found that when I pray with a shopping list I find that it is more often the case that the answer lies with me than I am willing to admit. In the Bible Jesus’ friends came to him when they were confronted with a mahoosive crowd of hungry people. They had a planned solutions to the problem – send the people away and let them find some food in the surrounding villages. Jesus answered: “You give them something to eat…” If I am praying for someone who is upset part of the answer may be for me to go and comfort that person. If I am praying about injustice part of the answer may be for me to campaign against that injustice. If I am praying about someone who is hungry what should I do…
- Be open to receiving a new list. If this praying thing is a conversation then isn’t it possible that God will respond by saying, “Well your list is interesting, but have a look at my priorities and see what you think…” My shopping list may have been rather ‘bland’, may have lacked faith or even been selfish. So seeing God’s list of priorities is worth exploring and you can find them writ large across the pages of the Bible.
Let’s not stop shopping, but let’s be open to being more conversational!
Be blessed, be a blessing
Continuing some musings about prayer, here is another of my categories of prayer:
is there anybody there PRAYER?
This sort of prayer can be the beginning of a relationship. It is a tentative exploration of whether there is a God and hoped-for responses range from a gentle feeling of reassurance through to a full-on multisensory display of the Almighty’s power. The reality is that it is more likely to result in the former than the latter, although occasionally people have had such a life-changing experience. If it is a fuelled by a genuine hope that God is there he will respond although maybe not in the way that a person expects.
Why doesn’t God give everyone the full-on show? I suspect it is something to do with him not wanting to overwhelm us. The occasions when he does are perhaps occasions when he knows that subconsciously that person is ready and willing for such a display. The rest of the time he gently cultivates the faith expressed and offers an almost imperceptible increase in awareness of who he is over time in order that the individual’s free will and fledgling faith is not stamped on by incontrovertible evidence of his existence that makes it impossible not to believe. God values our freedom to choose him or reject him so highly that he goes out of his way not to overwhelm it.
(By way of an aside, whatever you think God’s Judgment ultimately is perhaps it is nothing more than him honouring the decision we have made about whether we want to be with him or not: he’s not making the decision, we are!)
If you don’t hear him at first, don’t give up. This sort of prayer often requires persistence – not because God is silent but because we are not always well-attuned to his voice because we have not heard it before. We may not notice that he is there in that sense of peace or wellbeing. We may not recognise him in the way that other people speak to us or treat us. We may not sense him in nature around us. We may not find him in the words we read in the Bible. It doesn’t mean he’s not there, it’s just that we have to learn to recognise him (and that process continues throughout our life). We may need the help of a more experienced follower of Jesus to help us.
If so, do find someone – a friend, pastor, Spiritual Director…
More to follow.
Be blessed, be a blessing
This bloggage carries a ‘harumph’ warning. It is fuelled by deep dissatisfaction about the direction of politics in the UK and other countries and a fear that we are bumbling our way to a crisis of global proportions. If you’re not up for that I suggest that you head for the fun and funny stuff section.
You have been warned.
Is it just me or are some politicians getting more extreme in order to gain popular support? In the UK and USA there are politicians who are seeking (or have) the highest office in the land and they are making statements that are designed to attract attention and appear to be on the side of ‘ordinary people’. Or am I being paranoid?
I consider myself to be ‘ordinary’ and I can conclusively say that these ‘populist politicians’ are not on my side when they make comments that fuel racism, stoke the fires of the irrational fear of the foreigner and pander to a right wing agenda. Part of making a nation great again seems to be about denigrating other nations so that a nation feels superior to it. In the USA the President regularly tweets in a critical manner about other people, nations and situations.
Another tactic that I see at work is the ability to make statements that have no basis in fact, or at best are a half-truth. And when that is pointed out the critics are the ones branded as peddling ‘fake news’! Or am I being paranoid?
Truth is the first casualty in this campaign of contradictory communication. In the UK the Referendum on whether to leave the EU had a headline figure that was emblazoned on a big red bus that said, “We give the EU £350million a week let’s fund our NHS instead.” Now it’s arguable that the amount of money that flows to the EU is less than that (some say £100million less each week!), but this ‘fact’ ignores the UK also receives a substantial rebate, it receives agricultural and other subsidies,research grants and it benefits from the free trade environment within the EU. It’s so disingenuous, but once the headline has been released into the wild it gains a notoriety and life of its own that no amount of ‘fact checking’ can remove from the public consciousness.
It was very clever and played to the self-centredness and indignation of those who would vote ‘Leave’, but it was a lie, and has subsequently been criticised as “a clear misuse of official statistics” by the UK Statistics Authority. Boris Johnson, one of the candidates to become our next Prime Minister, was the leading propagator of this lie. In the USA the President denies that climate change is a thing or that it has its roots in human activity – denying the truth of the vast majority of scientific research. His actions in leaving international climate change agreements could condemn the planet to serious damage!
If truth becomes defined by the loudest voice then it ceases to have value and politics has become a pantomime of populist personality propaganda. The politicians that seem to be the most popular are those with the most apparent flaws in character and frequently seem to put their foot in it when they open their mouth. I don’t believe that they are as daft as this appears. It’s portayed as them being a ‘character’ or laughed off, while truth lies trampled and unnoticed in the dirt. Or am I being paranoid?
It seems to me that much of this ‘populist’ politics is led by business and financial interests. The politicians at the head of these movements are wealthy, privileged and are not affected in any way by the impact of their actions. They can cope if markets crash because they have investments in many different places. They don’t need to queue for a foodbank, live without money when their benefits are stopped while an assessment takes place or make a choice about whether to buy food or clothes for their children. Yet their policies condemn more and more people to this existence while they celebrate tax cuts for the rich and get excited about how business will save the world.
These politicians are mostly isolated from the real world – ironically the ‘ordinary’ people from whom they are seeking to win support – and seek to blame someone else (immigrants, the EU, other countries) for the negative impact of their policies on the most vulnerable in their countries. Have we seen this sort of thing in the 20th Century after World War 1 when there was a rise of nationalistic fervour and the nation’s ills were blamed on others that began innocently enough and culminated in the most hideous acts in human history? Or am I being paranoid?
And how does the prevailing economic system make sense? Almost all of the governments in the world have borrowed money in order to carry out their policies. But that has to be paid back doesn’t it? And where will the wealth come from in order to pay it back? Taxation? Maybe, but there’s only so much money available from the taxpayers. So the rest is borrowed to repay the loans. But that has to be paid back doesn’t it? The debts rise inexorably while the ability to repay them diminishes. In the UK over the life of the Conservative Government we have been treated to ‘austerity’ which was designed in order to restore our country’s finances to a place where we lived within our means. Between 2010 and 2019 more than £30 billion in spending reductions have been made to things like welfare payments, housing subsidies, local council budgets, police services and social services. And the impact has been on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society while the wealthy have carried on relatively unaffected. And have nine years of austerity reduced our deficit? Well, the Office for National Statistics tells us that the deficit is decreasing. But the general government gross debt was £1,763.8 billion at the end of the financial year ending March 2018 and it’s still increasing! Am I being paranoid?
Our political system and the reporting of it is such that personality seems to be more important than substance and the media is keener on promoting their own preferences or prejudices in the way that they report the activities and words of their favourite puppets than in proclaiming truth. And people seem to have lost the ability to discern when they are being sold a lie and take on board what they are told in the ‘news’ as being the truth. In May 2019 Nigel Farage made his 33rd appearance on BBC Question Time – more than any other MP even though his party has no MPs! And the public are unwitting accomplices in this as they forget (or choose to ignore) that they have chosen the media outlet that they prefer, which reinforces their own preferences and prejudices, rather than listening to the voice that proclaims that the emperor has no clothes. Or am I being paranoid?
Don’t worry, the harumph is nearly over. You see I believe that there is a different way. Not all politicians are like this. I see many members of parliament (of all parties) whose reason for being MPs is to serve not to self-promote. I see many members of parliament whose voices are raised in protest at the lies. I want to thank them, encourage them, pray for them and (if I lived in their constituency) vote for them. It doesn’t have to be like this.
I am not advocating communism or socialism, certainly not in their current national incarnations that lead to oppressive regimes founded on a flawed atheistic view of life where there is the same inequality between those in power and the poor as there is in capitalist countries. I am advocating a new politics based on love and justice. What if society existed to benefit all, not just the rich, and there was a model in which justice and love were the main motivators for policies. What if we really did what Jesus encouraged and ‘love our neighbour’ and seek the best for everyone else? If everyone did that, what sort of society would we live in? Or am I being idealistic?
Be blessed, be a blessing
I have a confession to make. I love fountain pens. I don’t know why but I love the combination of the concept, the feel of them, and particularly the sense of the flow of ink when writing that make up a fountain pen. I even like the sense of ancient history behind them (there are references to something that resembles a fountain pen in the 10th century, and of course quills were used many centuries before). I realise that in an electronic age (and I LOVE technology) it may seem rather archaic to enjoy fountain pens but there you go… it’s what I like.
Many years ago my wife gave me a lovely ink pen and it lasted quite a long time until it gave up and literally fell apart. I loved it so much that I tracked down another one online that looked identical and I bought it as a replacement. Then, tragically, earlier this year I dropped the replacement fountain pen while writing with it and it landed nib-down on a hard floor. The nib bent.
What had been a joy to write with became a scratchy implement that was difficult to write with and left an inconsistent and sometimes indecipherable mark on the paper. I tried to unbend the nib with as much gentleness and skill as I have seen on the BBC TV Show ‘The Repair Shop’ but I am not a skilled craftsman and the nib remained scratchy and inconsistent. I even checked to see if the old nib would fit from the previous pen, but there was a minor but important difference that meant it wouldn’t fit and in any event it was full of dry ink that would not budge. I then looked at whether it was possible to buy a new nib for the pen and was alarmed to see how expensive this would be. The problem was that these pens had gone out of production many years back. The replacement I had bought was remaining stock, not new stock, and to buy a replacement nib required a specialist shop and for specialist shop read ‘expensive shop’. I was quite upset.
However my birthday was coming up and I thought about asking for a replacement nib for my birthday. But it felt wrong to ask someone to spend as much on a new nib as the pen had cost in the first place. I decided to ask for a new fountain pen and settled on a different one that I liked the look of. I went into a pen shop and ‘tried it on’ and it felt really good in my hand. So that’s what I asked for, and that’s what my wife gave me for my birthday. I am delighted with it, it writes beautifully (even if my handwriting is a bit ropey because of how much I type now) and my love of fountain pens continues.
Why this tale of ink pens? Well, I was looking at my new pen on my desk a little earlier and was reminded of Psalm 45:1 “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skilful writer.” It’s part of a love song composed for a wedding that praises the bride and groom, but confirms that God’s hand has been on the couple. It’s a lovely image – that our spoken words are written by a dextrous wordsmith – God’s Spirit inspiring our thoughts and speech. This is true for us when we preach and teach, when we seek to speak God’s words to people, and should be true of us all day long. The problem is that while the writer always remains skilled, sometimes the pen is scratchy and almost illegible. It can happen to any of us.
It happens when we don’t take care of our souls, perhaps when we have been dropped on the hard floor of self-reliance instead of relying on God’s Spirit. Or it can happen when we become spiritually dried up rather than allowing the Spirit of Jesus to flow within us and through us. And we can even make the mistake of failing to ask the Master Craftsman to restore us when that happens. Miraculously the beautiful message can still get through even when we are scratchy or the reservoir has run dry, but that is more down to the skill of the author than the pen.
If you’re aware that you are a bit scratchy why not put yourself in for a service? Take a retreat, find a Spiritual Director, be accountable to someone else and allow these people to help you. Open yourself afresh to God’s Spirit in whatever way you find it easiest to be restored and renewed so that once again the author’s wonderful words flow well.
Be blessed, be a blessing