political paranoia

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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

what right do I have not to be offended, outraged or indignant?

Hatred of the most despicable kind was on display in Charlottesville (USA) last weekend. We saw what happens when racists get together and find the cowardly courage of the crowd to shout and march and chant. The mob mentality encouraged them to make public the acidic bile that has rotted their souls: it is easier to wear racist emblems and make nazi salutes when there are others alongside you doing the same.

I have been hesitant about writing anything about what happened in Charlottesville because I am a middle-class white male who has only experienced any sort of discrimination in the form of bullying at school because I am a Christian. I have been hesitant to write about the predatory attitudes that we find skulking in the shadows of all cultures, thinly disguised as nationalism and preying on the insecurities of those who consider themselves to have been hard done by because I have not suffered in the way that others have at the hands and mouths of prejudiced bigots.  What right do I have to be offended, outraged or indignant?

But then I thought, “What right do I have not to be offended, outraged or indignant?” I may not know how it feels to have suffered racist abuse or violence but I do know that it is a nauseating stench in the nostrils of all that I believe in and stand for.

Regrettably that rally would not have received the publicity it did if it was not for the death of one brave person. The evil that reared its hideous, heinous head in the land of the free and the home of the brave was focused for the world in the act of one person who decided to use their car as a weapon of mass destruction and drive into a crowd of people protesting against the racists. It is tragic that Heather Heyer’s life was taken by that fascist-fuelled act and that others were seriously injured. It is tragic for the families affected and yet Heather’s last post on social media has become a rallying cry against such attitudes:

“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”

I want to say the loudest possible ‘amen!’ to that statement. I am outraged. I don’t want to make her a martyr to a cause because first and foremost her death is a family tragedy, but she was (along with many others) a brave woman who refused to stand by and allow evil to go unchallenged. I hope and pray that history will reveal this as a turning point when ordinary men and women across the world rose up against these attitudes. As Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr said:

“For evil to succeed, all it needs is for good men [and women] to do nothing.”

stop

So what does ‘not doing nothing’ look like for me? This blog is one small thing – seeking to add my small voice to the many other small voices across the world that denounce racist and fascist attitudes so that together we might become a resounding roar of resistance against racism and leave no room for doubt that these people are a small minority of small minded people whose myopic and bigoted view of humanity is so far out of focus from the truth that they will never prevail.

We can expose lies with the truth. We can dis-empower evil by calling it what it is. We can not only stand against injustice but we can act for justice. If we ever encounter such discriminatory attitudes let us resolve that we will not leave them unchallenged. We will stand in protest. We will stand in solidarity. We will speak out against them. And at the same time if there is one present near us whom the bigot would try to make into a victim with their vile evil lies let’s be determined to stand with that person and for that person and ensure that they know that they are not alone. We may not be able to walk in their shoes but we can walk with them.

I have no wish or intention to diminish the hurt and insult that is felt by those who are subjected to racist taunts and attacks by claiming that we are all victims of racism. I cannot know how that feels. But by sub-humanising one group of people on the basis of their ethnicity racists are actually sub-humanising themselves and the poison of racism pollutes all of humanity. If one person is considered less than another we are all diminished by that attitude. So let’s resolve to honour and value and respect every single human being – even (or perhaps especially) those with whom we disagree. A powerful antidote to the poison of racism is the refusal to dehumanise racists: to refuse to fight fire with fire, hatred with hatred, evil with evil.

We can restore the dignity that the undignified are seeking to destroy by recognising that dignity is not only something inherent within all of us, but it is also something that we can give to others. If someone seeks to diminish the dignity of another we can enhance it by giving greater dignity in response. Look at the way that Nelson Mandela showed dignity and gave dignity in such a way that the racism of apartheid crumbled.

In response to the attack in Charlottesville President Obama tweeted a quotation from Nelson Mandela’s book The Long Walk to Freedom:

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Jesus Christ said that we should love our neighbours. More awkwardly he also said we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. That’s easy to say but it’s not easy to do. We don’t have to agree with them. We don’t have to allow them to succeed. We don’t have to submit meekly to those whose perverted view of people leads them to despise others – non-violent resistance has been at the heart of some of the most powerful movements in human history. ‘Turning the other cheek’ is an act of defiant rebellious love – responding extraordinarily to violence inflicted upon us and demonstrating an undiminished resolve not to retaliate and take revenge upon that person.

Loving our neighbours and our enemies does not mean that we cultivate mushy romantic or familial feelings for them. It means that we want the best for them (surely that includes that they recognise and repudiate the inhuman nature of their attitudes). So I also resolve to pray against the evil of discrimination that seeks to undermine the value of another person on the basis of difference and pray for a change of heart and mind for all who hold such views.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

how do you read the Bible?

How do you read the Bible?

bible genesis
Open Bibles are generally easier to read than closed ones.

That question has a range of answers from the simple: “You open the book and read the words on the pages” to the complex: “You need to understand the culture surrounding the events and you need to understand the form of literature that you are reading.”

Actually both are accurate and fair answers to that question. But I want to frame it slightly differently: do you read the Bible searching for answers to life’s problems and complexities or do you read it looking for wisdom to help you work out how to approach life’s problems and complexities? It may seem like an esoteric exercise in semantics (and tricky words) to pose the question that way but I think the answer is important because it affects how we approach life.

I have a book on my bookshelf that I have had since I was a teenager. No, it wasn’t written on a scroll, but it was published in 1978. It’s called The Answer’s In The Bible. And I think for a lot of my life that’s how I have approached the Bible – looking for answers. I have looked to find out what the Bible says about issues that I face. Sometimes, I admit, I have even naively used it to justify my own actions by taking some verses out of context as an answer (you could use Matthew 25:27 as an argument to save money in a bank and not give it away, but that’s not what the parable is about). But the Bible doesn’t have direct answers for a lot of the questions we might ask today because those things could not have been anticipated in the days in which it was written. It does not have anything to say directly about the internet, computers, cars, aeroplanes, television, space exploration and so much more that we take for granted in our 21st Century cultures and lifestyles. And the Bible’s silence on some issues causes us problems if we are just looking for answers on what to do when…

Okay Christians, put the stones down gently and step away. Or at least don’t lob them at me just yet, please – read on…

You see I do believe that the Bible gives us access to God’s wisdom which enables us to work out what to do and how to approach life’s problems and complexities. The wisdom of God is contained throughout the pages of the Bible*. But there are two overarching themes through the Bible – God’s LOVE and JUSTICE – and they are at the heart of his wisdom.

They trump anything else. And if Love and Justice seem to be in conflict then Love wins every time in the form of grace and mercy. If you want the ultimate example of it you find it in what the Bible has to say about Jesus’ death and resurrection: God’s love and justice are both involved, but love wins even as he dies. (The resurrection proves it!)

So if you decide to look for Biblical wisdom rather than answers what does the Bible say about the internet and computers, for example? Nothing directly, as I have said. But it talks (from a starting point of being loving and just) about being honest, not gossiping, not lusting, not expressing hatred for others, good administration, and a lot more. That wisdom can shape good use.

And the great thing about seeking Godly wisdom from the Bible rather than just answers is that the wisdom crosses boundaries of time, culture, geography, ethnicity and any of the other things that can make it difficult for us to apply those words to our lives today. The Bible is not a rule-book to be followed or an instruction manual to help us maintain our lives. It is God’s wisdom expressed as love and justice seen through his interaction with humanity (especially seen in Jesus where the two are combined wonderfully).

So how do you read the Bible? Searching for answers or looking for wisdom?

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Even the apparently esoteric rules and regulations of Leviticus contain wisdom: not wearing clothes woven of two different kinds of thread (Leviticus 19:19) is about ensuring that clothes will last and provide value for money because when washed different threads are liable to shrinkage and may either weaken or even tear the garment, which could also lead to public embarrassment.

loopholes?

gavelWhat do you do when there are no rules? What happens when new and as yet envisaged circumstances arise for which no rules have been written? To an extent that seems to be what is happening with social media and how it is being used in our society. we are having to work out the best ways to use social media and what to do with use that could be deemed inappropriate. The companies that run the social media software have their own rules and parameters, but they do not have the same weight as laws written in statute or handed down by courts as legal precedent. There has been significant litigation recently from people who claim that they have been libelled through what has been posted on social media. There was another case not so long ago where a ‘super injunction’ became redundant through the sheer volume of sharing of the subject of the injunction that spread virally through social media. Lawyers have great fun (at our expense) exploiting legal loopholes in these circumstances.

So what do we do?

One possible response is anarchy: everyone does what they want. The problem with that is that you will end up with conflict between those whose actions are incompatible with each other. Another possible response is that someone makes up the rules as we go along. Of course that ‘someone’ has to be given authority that everyone accepts, and we would have to accept short-term chaos until the rules have been written. A third possible response is that we rely on our legal system to extend and apply existing laws as far as possible based on precedent and ‘common law’. but that is cumbersome and expensive and there is a legal maxim that ‘difficult cases make bad law’.

So how do you apply that to the Bible? The Bible has nothing explicit to say about nuclear weapons, the Internet, global warming and many other significant influences on our contemporary lifestyle. The 10 Commandments say nothing about driving cars. If we were to seek to live our life solely by the rules in the Bible there will be significant gaps where we would have to say that it has nothing to say.

That is where we rely on principle rather than rule to guide us. Arguably you could summarise the principles of a biblical lifestyle as living lovingly and justly. That is very crude summary that it would cover any and every situation. We could ask ourselves what is the most loving thing to do and what is the just thing to do. If there is conflict between the two I would always err on the side of love. When godly love and justice combine we end up with grace, forgiveness and mercy and we find ourselves at the foot of the cross.

Some people are much more comfortable living by rules while others find them rigid and insufficiently flexible. Others are happiest living by principles while some find that too vague and uncertain. Obviously a happy balance has to be found but it is worth recognising that behind every rule is a principle. Principles of love and justice lie behind the 10 Commandments for example. And if you extend them through those specific Commandments you can find freedom and certainty in the same place, which I think is what Jesus was doing in the Sermon on the Mount.

For example, the 10 Commandments say “you shall not murder” and Jesus said that we have broken the Commandment if we are angry with another person. The principle could be that because we are called to love as God loves we should respect and honour everybody. we should keep our emotions in check because we can be hurtful and violent with our words as well as our behaviour.

if we start from godly principles we will find that the Bible has plenty to say about every subject. They may not be explicitly worded rules and regulations but principles of love and justice are always topical.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the appeal of Jesus

It was Friday. Mid-morning.

The court had given its verdict, albeit following a trial that ‘stretched’ the rules. They had found the defendant guilty on all counts.

And the Court of Appeal, one judge sitting on his own, had conceded that the verdict, albeit rather unsafe, was expedient. He too found the defendant guilty on all counts and had sentenced him to death.

But now the defendant had appealed to the International Court of Human Rights. He had enough of the snide comments about his beliefs, muttered behind his back as he worked. He was fed up with being the victim of persecution and oppression, accused of immoral behaviour and consorting with known criminals. He did not like the unjust way his case had been handled.

So Jesus appealed against the verdict and sentence. No longer was he going to be their whipping boy. He was ready to stand up for his rights and see to it that none of his followers ever had to go through what he had experienced. He did not want his friends to have to give up everything to follow him. He no longer wanted to be identified with the poor, the downtrodden, the weak, the oppressed, the abused, the unloved, the victims of life.

And he definitely did not want to wear a cross to work.

 

Inspired(?) by this news story.

unjustly accused

I had a worrying moment yesterday when a message appeared at the bottom of my screen informing me that I did not have a legal version of Windows 7. That was alarming at first, given that I had paid for this a long time ago, that it had been validated and accepted as genuine by Microsoft, and that everything had been running smoothly.

I checked online and there were lots of other people who had had the same problem, which was comforting in the same way that it is comforting to know that other people are suffering from a cold when you are. I did not like the look of some of the technical advice on offer, particularly meddling with and amending different system files, and decided to try the Tech Support approach to resolving the problem… turning it on and off again.

And

(long pause as it rebooted)

It worked. The message has gone and my legality is no longer in question. Hooray.

Until the next glitch.

At this point I could draw parallels with the forgiveness that God offers through Jesus – a reboot, a fresh start, a removal of the stain, and so on. But the point I want to make surrounds how I felt when I was wrongly being accused of pirating software (aharr matey). I felt indignant that my honesty was being questioned, that my integrity was under review and upset that what I knew to be true was being doubted (even if it was by a software glitch).

We don’t like injustice when we are the victims. We will fight tooth and nail to prove our innocence if we are. We will go to extraordinary lengths to establish that we are not at fault.

So why don’t we go to the same lengths for others when they experience injustice?

If you want to make a difference to others, how about standing alongside someone at work who is being mistreated? How about writing to your MP about global trade injustice? How about promising to pray for an organisation like International Justice Mission (or support them more directly)? How about standing with someone who is being bullied at school or college, and refusing to join in when someone else is ridiculed? How about committing yourself not to tell any more jokes about blondes, ethnic groups, or others who are ridiculed in the name of humour? How about going to an appeal with someone who is struggling to cope with unfair decisions made about their benefits?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A police officer in a small town stopped a motorist who was speeding down the main street.

“But officer,” the man said, “I can explain. It’s an emergency…”

“It always is!!!” snapped the officer. “Be quiet…or I’m going to let you cool off at the station until the Superintendent gets back.”

“But officer, I just wanted to say….”

“And I said KEEP QUIET! Now you’re going to accompany me to the station!”

A few hours later, the policeman checked up on his prisoner and said, “Lucky for you that the Superintendent’s at his daughter’s wedding. He’ll be in a good mood when he gets back.”

“Don’t count on it,” said the man in the cell. “I’m the groom!”

 

choose your battles wisely

GavelI used to be a litigation lawyer. I say this by way of a statement of fact, not as a confession. One of the things that the solicitor who was the head of the litigation department taught me was to discern which cases to settle and which to fight. This meant that when I went to court I knew I had a strong case that I could defend with confidence rather than a dodgy claim in which I hoped I might get lucky. It also meant that clients were happier with the outcomes.

Choose your battles wisely. That was also good parenting advice I have read (although not always taken on board – sorry kids!).

So when I read about cases like the council that fired a Christian for having a cross in his van, and him claiming unfair dismissal, I am not sure what to think. Have they chosen their battles wisely?

I have a suspicion that the employers are technically correct. If there is a ban on any personal items in company vehicles then that should apply to everyone. I suspect it is to prevent employees customising their vehicles or diminishing the impact of the corporate identity. But this has been seized on by those who see an anti-Christian conspiracy everywhere and is now another case being fought on behalf of oppressed Christians. If my suspicion is correct, and if the case goes to court, a judge will have no choice but to find in favour of the company and this will then be proclaimed as yet another anti-Christian judgment in this increasingly ungodly country.

It’s the same as the furore in the past about a nurse who could not wear a cross on a chain around her neck at work in a hospital. The reason given was not an anti-Christian agenda, it was that any chains around the necks of nurses were potential strangling hazards for the staff if a patient grabbed them. But again it was fought in public as oppression of Christians. A judge decided that this was a rule that was based on safety not on an anti-religious agenda and found for the health authority.

Comparisons are made with other religions, whose adherents are allowed to wear the symbols of their faith such as turbans. But these are essential aspects of those religions. Nowhere in the Bible are we told that Christians have to wear or display crosses. Instead what we are told to represent our faith with is the way we treat other people, the way in which we are in the face of adversity, the way we love one another, and having ‘the aroma of Christ’, being followers of Jesus who went the way of the cross.

I do feel for the individuals involved in cases like the ones above. I empathise with their sense of injustice (if they are the ones being told not to wear or display the crosses). But I also feel for those who are called on to enforce the rules and are vilified for it by Christians. I also wonder what will happen in France where wearing of Muslim veils in public is now illegal and Muslim women are wearing them in protest. Will Christians be as willing to stand up for their rights?

It is right for us to highlight and fight against injustice and oppression. It is right for us to be proud of our faith and willing to stand up for it. We should never be ashamed of being Christians. We should never shrink back from being the people Jesus calls us to be. We should always be seeking the fruit of the Spirit to be growing and evident within us.

But aren’t there worse injustices in the world and isn’t there greater oppression than Christians not being allowed to show or wear a cross? Aren’t there better ways to demonstrate our faith? Isn’t the way we are more of a witness than what we wear? Is the Spirit bearing evident fruit?

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Where’s the fruit of belligerence? What about the fruit of contentiousness? Why no fruit of litigiousness?

I feel the need for some more lawyer-related jokes to calm me down:

Q: Why won’t sharks attack lawyers?
A: Professional courtesy. 


Q: When lawyers die, why are they buried in a hole 24 feet deep?
A: Because deep down, they are all nice guys! 


Q: Have you heard about the lawyers’ word processor?
A: No matter what font you select, everything comes out in small print.


Q: Did you hear about the terrorist that hijacked a 747 full of lawyers?
A: He threatened to release one every hour if his demands weren’t met.

Q: What is the difference between a lawyer and a herd of buffalo?
A: The lawyer charges more. 


Q: Did you hear about the new microwave lawyer?
A: You spend eight minutes in his office and get billed as if you’d been there eight hours.