dancin’ like Mrs May

woman in peach color and red floral sweatshirt holding gray jacket
Photo by Godisable Jacob on Pexels.com

These week TV news programmes showed us the British Prime Minister Theresa May on a trade visit to some African countries. And we were shown two separate occasions when she attempted to dance as she was welcomed in the traditional way with singing and dancing.

At first I cringed. The dancing was on a par with my ‘Dad dancing’, for which I get mocked at weddings, and the whole world was watching! Social media has subsequently enjoyed the opportunities to mock and ridicule with lots of different memes emerging.

But this morning I paused as I watched a video of Mrs May with superimposed bandy elastic legs and I decided that not only was I being unfair to her, but I was also missing the point completely. I don’t agree with much of what Mrs May is doing politically, and she is being hamstrung by a party that is riven by those with their own leadership ambitions, others who believe she is too liberal and others who believe she is too right wing. It’s not an easy job.

But here, knowing that in all likelihood she would be ridiculed for it, Mrs May took the courageous step to respond to her hosts and to dance as part of the welcome she received. Well done Mrs May. It would have been easy to stand still and applaud politely in true British fashion but she entered into the spirit of things and in doing so made a strong statement that she was willing to risk her reputation in order to honour her hosts. Good on her.

I also wonder how many of those who are now mocking Mrs May would have had the courage to do what she did? I am not sure I would. And how many of these people have somewhere got a poster, a sticker or a picture saying, “Dance like no-one is watching”? How do we dance when someone is?

Be blessed, be a blessing

playground politics

Picture of Childrens Playground - Free Pictures - FreeFoto.com

A long time ago I upset our local MP by posting a bloggage that revealed how he had voted against a motion that highlighted the issue of the growth in demand for foodbanks. You can see it here if you want, and it led to a lengthy correspondence with him (he was still unhappy at the end of it). But it was an unusual occurrence because although I consider myself to be a political person and have strong opinions about many issues, I don’t tend to post them here. But it may be time to upset some more politicians…

And it’s because of playground politics.

I would like to think that those who enter politics do so in order to serve the country. I would like to think that those who enter politics do so particularly to care for those who are weakest and most vulnerable in our society. I would like to think that those who seek office do so in order to make a positive difference. And I am sure that if you asked any politician whether this is the case they would respond positively (or if not they would evade the question by answering a different one they would rather have been asked).

But increasingly to me it appears as if many politicians are acting in the interests of their party rather than the interests of the country, and some are even acting in the interests of their own political ambitions above even the interests of their party! How can that serve the interests of those who are most vulnerable and marginalised?

There are all sorts of allegations being made about lies and broken promises by each of our political parties and by the different sides of the EU referendum but the level of disingenuous rhetoric that I perceive is greater today than at any other time. One of the most obvious examples is the £350million for the NHS promised on the side of the notorious bus was an outright lie and nobody now is making that promise. It really bothers me that some of the leading Brexit politicians in this country are busy squirreling their wealth overseas while telling us that there’s nothing to worry about.

But what really bothers me is when politicians (in the UK and USA) label opposing views with a blanket phrase that allegedly discounts them immediately without engaging in the issues being raised. So in this country any criticism of the Brexit plans (or lack thereof) is labelled ‘Project Fear’ and by doing so the criticisms can be ignored in one fell swoop. In the USA criticisms are labelled ‘Fake News’ in the same way. And people believe this because they trust the politicians. If we let our politicians get away with this we may not be surprised if we eventually find that they have removed any sense of personal or corporate accountability for their actions.

It feels like the playground when a child’s taunt would receive responses like, “I’m rubber, you’re glue: whatever you say you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” Or the annoying constant retort, “I know you are, but what am I?”

So what can we do?

Write to your MP when there’s an issue that concerns you. You can send them an email through https://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp/ They are obliged to write back. And if the answer is unsatisfactory, write again. You can use the same process to write directly to the Prime Minister or any other politician (email addresses are firstname.surname.mp@parliament.uk).

Join campaigning groups.

Join with others who want to make a difference to their community in groups such as Citizens UK

Join with your local church who will (hopefully) be working to make a positive difference to some of those on the margins of our society.

And just maybe we can leave the playground and return to the nobler purpose of politics.

Be blessed, be a blessing

post-truth?

the-truth-shall-make-you-free-1201069

The word ‘post-truth’ has been declared the Oxford Dictionaries word of 2016. It is an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. It emerged this year to try to describe the way in which the UK Referendum on EU Membership and the US Presidential election were conducted and how people voted.

I am not keen on the word. It’s not because I don’t think that both the UK and US campaigns were marked by misleading, emotive and undeniably false claims and statements aimed and getting an emotional response and appealing to less honourable human instincts. It’s not because I don’t think that people were unaffected by these claims and statements. It’s because I don’t think that ‘post-truth’ is the root of the problem.

People have always responded to others with a combination of heart and head. And that has always been exploited from the time that Thag persuaded Ug (remember them from yesterday?) to come hunting with him with the promise of a full tummy at the end of it right through to advertising campaigns and political debates today. What I think has changed is that those who are seeking to affect public opinion are no longer being held accountable for what they say.

Part of the responsibility for this lies with us, the general public. We have allowed things to slide: by not challenging disingenuous statements in the past an environment has evolved in which it is acceptable knowingly to make outrageously false statements and get away with it.

Part of the responsibility for this lies with the media – television, TV, radio. They need headlines that grab our attention. Why else do newspapers devote so much of their front page to a few words in massive print? Why else to news programmes trail the rest of the programme with sentence summaries of what is coming? And the more outrageous the headline, the more likely we are to pay attention to it. Why else did a bus get driven around the country with “We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead” plastered down the side? It got a lot of publicity because it was considered headline-worthy, even though those who were funding it had no intention or power to use any saving from leaving the EU to fund the NHS.

Part of the responsibility (and I think the biggest part) lies with our culture in which ‘the end justifies the means’ has become one of our mantras.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to buy the goods we want for the cheapest possible price because we want to maximise what we have while ignoring the price paid (literally and metaphorically) by those who are the sharp end of the production process.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to tell lies about someone else in order to protect or enhance our reputation without considering the impact on the other person.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to feel okay about polluting our planet in order to allow the rich minority in the world to continue to live in the manner to which we are accustomed.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to salve our consciences when innocent civilians are killed by ill-directed bombs or drone strikes in the so-called war on terror.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to make false statements in order to try to get elected or the outcome we want from a referendum.

I don’t like to think we are in a post-truth era. I think we are in an era where we are reaping a harvest from a lack of love. Not mushy romantic love or sweaty sexual love, but dogged, belligerent, ‘want-the-best-for-you’ love in which we value every single person has as much as we value ourselves.

You see, when you love someone like that you don’t want to deceive, dishonour or destroy them because they matter so much. Rather you want to respect, encourage and bless them with the way that you speak to them and treat them. You are not indifferent to their suffering, anguish or despair. Rather you want to alleviate suffering, comfort and affirm them.

Perhaps we are not in a ‘post-truth’ society so much as a ‘post-love’. What would a political campaign look like that was based on that sort of love? What would a life look like that was based on that sort of love? (Hint, if you want to know read one of the Gospels in the Bible).

Be blessed, be a blessing

signet rings*

 

Last Sunday I had the unusual experience of hearing a sermon preached from Haggai. BIG points to any of you who have ever preached from Haggai, bonus points if you can find it without having to rummage through the Minor Prophets!

It’s a fascinating little book that dovetails particularly with Ezra and the rebuilding work following the return from Exile under Nehemiah. The preacher based his sermon on two phrases in Chapter 2 verse 4: “Be strong… and work. For I am with you.” There’s a lot in that alone, but later on I read the whole of the book and was fascinated by God’s promise to Zerubbabel (governor of Judah) that God “will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you.” (Haggai 2:23) That’s an unusual phrase, isn’t it?

I wonder how Zerubbabel felt when Haggai delivered those words to him from God. Was he hoping for something a bit more dynamic, a bit more impressive or a bit more visible? I turned to my three commentaries on Haggai (yes, three! (although they are all collections of Minor Prophets)) and discovered that Zerubbabel was not only the bounciest man in the Bible but was a grandson of King Jehoiachin, so therefore was part of the royal line of David. In Jeremiah 22:24 God had described Jehoiachin as being like his signet ring that he was going to take off and fling away (into Babylon) because of his sin. Now God is ready to put his signet ring back on, having retrieved it from down the back of the sofa of the Exile. To take the language of Habbakuk, in his wrath God had remembered mercy. And the line of David could continue through to Jesus.

A signet ring in those days was not a mere piece of jewellery. It signified the King. (Pharaoh put his signet ring on Joseph’s finger to give him his authority, for example). It was as important as a crown and was used to seal important documents to prove that the King endorsed them. God calls Zerubbabel his ‘Servant’ not ‘Governor’ in this prophecy, which is a messianic description too. However we don’t hear much more about Zerubbabel after this moment, except that he appears in Jesus’ family tree (Luke 3:27).

sealedSo what do we make of all this? Is it just interesting historical analysis? Is it merely fascinating Biblical cross-referencing? I think it’s so much more than that:

  • it’s a reaffirmation that God is still King of kings (which is why he wanted them to get on and finish the Temple rebuilding (see earlier in Haggai)) even though his kings had let him down;
  • it’s a reminder that God is the thread of continuity in history (despite the bleak present God will still be King in the future);
  • and it’s a reminder that God works through people (including political leaders). He spoke through Haggai and he planned to restore the monarchy through Zerubbabel (ensuring Jesus’ royal lineage). As God’s signet ring Zerubbabel would be God’s seal of endorsement on his activity. He would be his proxy.

These thoughts spoke to me in our current circumstances in the UK – where there is turmoil and a need for a reconstruction of society. We need to ensure that God’s visible presence (which is what the Temple was, and we now are) stands strong and proclaims that he is still King of kings. And we should remember that God fulfils his purposes through people – those in low positions and those in authority too. He longs for us all to be his servants and to use us to be part of the answer to Jesus’ prayer that “Your Kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Perhaps we might even dare to consider that as co-heirs with Christ we too are signet rings – signs of God’s rule and authority, and his proxy in his world.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*this was first sent out as a ‘thought for the week’ sent to Baptist Ministers in the Eastern Baptist Association

breakfast with a politician

I have written three times recently to my local MP (about different aspects and issues relating to Migrants,  the Jungle Camp clearance in Calais, and votes in Parliament). To his credit he has written back twice (the third one was only this last weekend so it’s a bit too soon to expect a reply). But his replies were immensely frustrating because rather than answering questions I asked and responding to points I made, he wrote about things he and the Government are doing which did not address those issues directly. He left me frustrated and annoyed that he had ignored the key points but probably felt that he had answered me. There is a difference between an answer and a response!

It got me wondering about what life is like in a politician’s house (at the risk of generalising about politicians). It’s breakfast time at the Politician’s house…

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAPolitician’s Spouse (PS): Darling, please will you take out the rubbish bin?

Politician (P): I am glad you asked me. Did you know that I have taken out the rubbish bin every week for the past three months? And did you know that the Council has not failed to empty it on any of those occasions?

PS: Thank you dear, but please will you take it out today?

P: I have plans to take the rubbish bin out every week from now on. The future rubbish-taking-out needs of the household are in safe hands.

PS: But it needs taking out now.

P: Thank you for bringing this to my attention. As a household we have significantly reduced the amount of refuse to be collected since we started recycling.

PS: I will ask you a simple question and want a simple answer. Are you going to take the rubbish bin out?

P: That’s an important question. But a more important question is to ask whether our neighbours have taken their rubbish bins out – my actions on their own won’t make any difference.

PS: I can hear the refuse collection lorry coming. Just take the bin out now!

P: Do you realise that if I had not taken the rubbish bin out in the past we would have a big mound of rubbish in our back garden that would constitute a health hazard. My actions have prevented that.

PS: [screams in exasperation] YOU’RE TOO LATE!

P: I don’t see why you are so upset with me. The rubbish is everyone’s responsibility, not just mine.

Why is it that some politicians seem to have developed the ability to answer the question that they wanted to be asked rather than answer the one that has been asked? Reflecting on this I realised that Jesus sometimes did the same thing. He might be asked a question and instead of giving a straight answer he would respond with a question or a story. Was he being as evasive as some politicians?

The difference is that when Jesus responded he was seeking to reveal the truth – the true (and sneaky) motive behind the question, or the reality of how God sees things and open people up to the possibility of positive change. Politicians when evading questions are seeking to obscure truth, avoid the awkward questions and close down any possibility of changing their mind or policies.

It’s a shame because, as Jesus said, “The Truth will set you free…”

Be blessed, be a blessing

the bloggage where I get a bit political…

Warning. This bloggage may start off a bit warm and fluffy but it has teeth!

Tomorrow I will be performing some of my tricks for a party for people who are being blessed by the local Christians Against Poverty team. They are great people, and so are the CAP team! CAP works “to lift people out of debt and poverty. We offer free debt counselling through a network of 239 debt centres based in local churches.” (from their website)

Earlier this week there was a debate in Parliament on a motion…

“That this House notes that the number of people using foodbanks provided by the Trussell Trust alone has increased from 41,000 in 2010 to more than 500,000 since April this year… and further calls on the Government to bring forward measures to reduce dependency on foodbanks, including a freeze on energy prices, a water affordability scheme, measures to end abuses of zero hours contracts, incentives to companies to pay a living wage and abolition of the under-occupancy penalty.”

There was also call for an inquiry into the circumstances that had led us to this situation in our society.

20131219-221301.jpgRegrettably, or (in my opinion shamefully) the Government voted against this motion. There were some scenes during the debate that made me ashamed. Government MPs shouted, ‘hooted’ and ‘brayed’ as the motion was being put (it was proposed by Labour). Responses from the Government were not delivered by the Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith (who left before the debate had ended) and were at best evasive and at worst wrong (Esther McVey the Government Minister in her response said that there were only 60,000 Foodbank users, for example). Worst of all was when MP’s on the Government benches were actually laughing out loud when a Labour MP was saying that some people were so poor that they were fighting over the discounted items in supermarkets. The Mirror newspaper got rather upset.

The motion was defeated. If you want to know who voted against it, there’s a list here. I am sad to see that my local MP, Sir Bob Russell, was among them. (For clarity and by way of balance I would like to make it clear that he was not involved in the behaviour above, and is a supporter and Trustee of our local Foodbank. His reasons for voting against the motion were to do with the party political nature of the motion.)

The official line from the Government was to ‘welcome’ the rise in Foodbanks. And that rather missed the whole point of the debate. Yes, it is good that people are rising to meet the challenges of poverty and debt in our society (and many are Christians). But rather than welcoming the rise in charitable support why isn’t our Government addressing the causes of this increased poverty? And if there were some aspects of the motion that the Government felt they could not support, why not put in an amended motion that at least addressed some of the issues or promise to do some things to address the issues raised?

If an MP’s house had a gas leak would they open the window to get rid of the smell of gas or would they sort out the problem at source? Well, in my personal opinion, something stinks in our society and those who can do something about it seem content that charities just open the windows and decided not to address the leak.

This is not a party political issue. To amend something I have said before on this bloggage –  when Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you” the correct response is not to jeer, bray, shrug your shoulders and blame someone else it’s to join forces with those who say, “Challenge accepted!” and do something about the causes of poverty as well as treating the symptoms.

Be blessed, be a blessing