a partly political broadcast

Iceberg 1999 by M A Felton

Regular readers of this irregular blog will realise that I am rarely overtly political in what I write. I am certainly not party-political, preferring to keep my allegiance to myself, however much of what I write will have political overtones and undertones. You can’t write about poverty without being political. You can’t write about truth without it being a political comment. And, I dare to believe, you can’t write about faith without being political because faith is not lived out in a vaccuum, but is all about matters of life and death, right and wrong, hope and expectation and these are all political issues.

On the whole I have kept quiet about the defining political debate of this generation – Brexit. But the recent parliamentary debates on this have left such an unpleasant taste in my mouth that I feel I need to put fingers to keyboard and commit some more words to the millions that have been written about this so far. So if you don’t want to read a rant, look elsewhere, because this is most definitely one of those!

This whole brexit debacle has revealed the deep flaws within our political system in the UK, and in particular that party-politics has put our country in deep peril. We were led into a referendum on this subject by a Prime Minister whose party was threatening to fracture on this fault line (and who has been notably absent since his resignation when his ‘remain’ campaign lost). He gambled that he would win the referendum and therefore keep both his party together but lost and his party is even more divided than before.

The Prime Minister who replaced him has always been struggling with the establishing some sort of coherent policy in spite of the divisions within her party (and perhaps even within herself as she had voted ‘remain’ but is now resolutely determined to lead the country out of the EU). How many ministers have resigned during her leadership? This was most notable after the disastrous Chequers cabinet meeting in which she declared that she had established unity about the way ahead and within a matter of a day or so several significant members of her cabinet had resigned and declared the plan ‘unworkable’! These politicians have put self-interest before the interests of the country.

There was the ridiculous 5 day debate in Parliament before Christmas when Parliamentary time was dedicated to the question of whether to support the Prime Minister’s deal that she had negotiated with the EU and when it became clear that because of the divisions in her own party and the lack of support within Parliament for her deal the PM suspended the debate without a vote. When it was repeated in early 2019, with no substantive amendments to the deal being debated the PM suffered a humiliating defeat.

And most recently Parliament has debated a number of amendments and voted for one that says that we must renegotiate the deal when the EU has said that there will be no renegotiation on the issues that have proved so contentious. In the midst of the discussions and debate party-politics and personal ideologies seems to have taken priority over the needs of the country.

It’s as if we are on the Titanic steaming fast towards the Iceberg and have voted that the Iceberg needs to change direction!

And, in case you accuse me of solely anti-government bias, I do not think that the Leader of the Opposition has done much to help in this time of national crisis either. Instead of holding the government to account he seems to have resigned himself to a quiet acquiescence that we are going to collide with the iceberg and hope that in the ensuing wreckage there will be an opportunity for him to launch a lifeboat that makes him PM instead.

The country needs to change course drastically!

There have been so many false promises that it is impossible to list them all, but each time they are broken the public trust in politicians is eroded just a bit more. Politicians have made outrageous claims about what will happen in the future when they know that they have no way of backing them up with facts or proof. Fantastical conjecture has been cynically peddled as certain reality (‘£350million for the NHS’ on the side of a bus, by way of example). And some newspapers have been guilty of perpetuating and propagating these lies in the guise of facts in order to further the thinly-veiled political aims of their owners who hide in the background in their wealth-protected bunkers. Others have even protected themselves by investing their wealth overseas, and some in EU countries!!!

You might be able to discern how upset I am about all of this. I did vote ‘remain’ and still believe that leaving the EU is a massive mistake. I fervently believe that what is euphemistically called a ‘no deal brexit’, ‘hard brexit’ or even a ‘clean brexit’ would be catastrophic for the UK, and in particular for those who are most vulnerable in our society. To me it is a devastating indictment of many of those whose voices are loudest about how we should leave the EU that they are among the wealthiest in our country and least likely to be adversely affected by the economic tsunami that I believe is threatening on the horizon.

I am praying hard that somehow in the midst of the parliamentary chaos voices of reason and truth will be heard and listened to. I have written to my MP (who I have seen on TV pronouncing how ‘brexit means brexit’ and how we should leave with no deal, so I don’t expect him to listen to me). I hope and pray that somehow, when peering over the edge into the abyss of brexit, enough politicians will find the courage to set aside party allegiance, to ignore the whips and vote in a way that puts the interests of the poorest in our country first. Trust and truth are not the only victims of this.

Whether or not you agree with my analysis or political standpoint, I hope that you will at least be praying.

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.

 

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

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

eh?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A mixing up desk

As I was driving home after spending an inspirational morning with one of our Chaplains I was listening to some music and realised for the first time that I had misheard some of the lyrics, and had kept that misheard interpretation in my mind for many years.

Coincidentally I also saw a post on Facebook about misheard lyrics today.

Here are some of the best:

The Police had a song when I was a teenager: “So Lonely” but it sounded like they were singing about a newsreader of the day: “Sue Lawley”

Johnny Nash’s iconic song lyric: “I can see clearly now the rain has gone” sounds like “I can see clearly now Lorraine has gone”.

Instead of “diggin'” the dancing Queen it sounds like Abba had a more violent lyric: “See that girl, watch her scream, kicking the dancing queen”. And in the same song, “Dancing Queen, feel the beat from the tangerine.” (“tambourine”)

“It doesn’t make a difference if we’re naked or not” was not what Bon Jovi sang in ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’: “It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not.”

I honestly can’t remember what my epiphany was today, but if I do remember I will add it to the list above.

But it also reminded me how a wrong idea, a wrong perception of someone, an erroneous misunderstanding, and even a prejudicial assumption about someone can remain with us for such a long time. We can remain oblivious to the truth and unaware of the error because we have become comfortable with the mistake.

When I was in year 7 at school (we called it ‘First Year’ in those days) a friend invited me to go with him to the cinema. He said it was to see a musical called ‘Greece’. At that time nobody else in our class had seen the film but because I had in mind some sort of opera about Greek myths I decided I didn’t want to go. It was only later, when everyone else was saying how great it was and had all seen it, when ‘Summer Lovin’ and ‘You’re the One that I want’ were all over the charts that I realised that it was ‘Grease’.*

What assumptions have you made about life, about people, even about Jesus? Are they based on fact, on reality, or on what you have heard someone say that someone else told them that their friend’s cousin had read on someone’s blog?

It’s worth checking for the truth. Don’t just take my word for it! After all it probably does make a difference if we’re naked or not!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*(In case regular bloggists are having a sense of ‘deja vue’, yes I did use this story in a bloggage in August 2014)

 

in a spin

I have been preparing for Sunday evening and looking at Acts chapter 23. This is what happened previously, as described in Acts chapter 22:

Paul had been attacked by a mob in Jerusalem and rescued in the nick of time by some Roman soldiers, who had to carry him into the barracks because of the hostile crowd trying to kill him. In their sensitive and proportionate way the Romans decided to find out what had happened by placing him in chains and stretching Paul out to flog him and interrogate him. At this point Paul gently dropped into the conversation that he was a Roman citizen…

[Bear in mind that it was illegal for a Roman citizen to be placed in chains and tortured. Indeed it was so serious an offence that the commander may have feared he would suffer what he was about to subject Paul to.]

Suddenly the mood changed, Paul was released from chains and they decided not to flog him after all. He was brought in front of the commander and treated much more humanely. Later a plot was discovered to assassinate Paul so for his protection the commander had him escorted out of the city by about 470 soldiers and taken to the Regional Governor. The commander also sent a letter of explanation. This is what it said:

To His Excellency, Governor Felix

Greetings,

This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen…

PinwheelSome serious first-century spin-doctoring had taken place. The order of events was changed, no mention was made of chains, floggings or interrogation. The commander was covering his back and making himself into a hero for protecting a Roman citizen. His story had a rather big hole in it: he did not say how, in the midst of a howling lynch-mob, he had ascertained that Paul was a Roman citizen prior to intervening!

When we have made a mistake we can be tempted to try to cover it up, to spin what happened, to try to present things in a more positive light. We can blame someone else. We can tell half-truths. We can try to save our own skin or our reputation. We can try to make ourselves look good.

But in my experience it is better to admit when we have made a mistake, to apologise, to ask for grace and forgiveness and to make a fresh start. That’s worth doing when it comes to other people. It is the way of Christ-like humility. And of course, since he already knows the truth and there’s no point in trying to fool him, it’s the right approach to God too.

If we find ourselves in the position of the one who has been wronged, we also need to follow the way of Christ-like humility: the way of grace, forgiveness and reconciliation. When we do we often find release and joy. In the Lord’s prayer we pray for God’s forgiveness as we forgive others. It’s difficult to ask for forgiveness when we have not forgiven. But it is also a joy to be forgiven and to forgive.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

 

words

a long time ago in Croatia…

Warm air has been flowing up and over cold air and the water vapour from the warm air has super-cooled to form tiny ice particles, which have been precipitated across our part of the country.

It has snowed.

This morning my wife and I coordinated 34 facial muscles and 112 postural muscles, particularly the orbicularis oris muscles, and applied our lips together in an embrace to signify our affection at a moment of separation.

We kissed goodbye.

Isn’t it wonderful how we can say the same thing in different ways. In both cases above both statements are correct (I think) but they tell us different things.

We use language differently on different occasions. You may want to communicate a technical description of snowfall or a kiss. Or you may simply want to state what happened without the technical specifications.

We sometimes commend people for ‘calling a spade a spade’ (as opposed to a hand-held manual soil redistribution implement). Sometimes that is necessary. But sometimes we need to be a little bit more circumspect. We need to be gentle with our words. We might sometimes withhold a piece of information because we know it will upset someone, or we might explain a situation with a lot more words than usual because we want someone to understand all the circumstances rather than the plain facts.

‘I punched him in the stomach’ may be factually correct. But if we knew that the circumstances were that the ‘victim’ was choking on something and by punching them in the stomach we dislodged the obstruction it takes on a very different complexion. (Yes, I know the Heimlich manoeuvre is recommended in those circumstances).

When I look at Jesus he was fairly straight talking. Especially when he wanted people to understand the truth that was contrary to their previously-held assumptions. Or if he was correcting the abuses of the religious elite (Ministers and Vicars should always be especially wary). But he also demonstrated compassion.

I hear a gentle tone in his voice as he corrects Martha when she had a go at her sister for not helping her with getting the meal ready.

I hear compassion as he is reinstating Peter after breakfast on the beach.

I sense incredible gentleness as he asks John to take care of his mother, even as Jesus is dying on the cross.

As followers of Jesus and free samples of him to others, let’s try to ensure that we don’t only speak truthfully, but that we also speak lovingly. And I reckon if there is any conflict between the two, love wins.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Apparently women think dogs are better than men:

Dogs don’t have problems expressing affection in public.
Dogs miss you when you are gone.
Dogs are very direct about wanting to go out. 
Dogs mean it when they kiss you. 
When dogs play “fetch”, they don’t laugh at how you throw.
Dogs understand if some of their friends aren’t allowed to come inside.

You can train a dog.