call, Democracy, Politica, trust, values, vision, vocation, Vote

Voting is a lifestyle…

Today people will be voting in the general election, for who they want to represent and govern them. It is really important to vote, so if you’ve not done it already go and do it!

Yet democracy ought to be more than marking a bit of paper every four years? As I began to think about it, we actually vote all the time, often a vote for the status quo, but a vote none the less.

It has been said that every pound you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in, scary when we think that if we have the internet in our homes we are in the top 4% of the worlds richest people. How we spend our money shouts loudly to this capitalist world.

Interestingly if we look back to the 80’s when many banks wanted to invest heavily in South Africa at the height of the apartheid they stopped doing so when people -mainly students and the now infamous picture of Jeremy Corbyn getting arrested- boycotted their banks.

As consumers what we think really matters, if in any doubt look at the millions that are spent devising algorithms to match our viewing habits to commercial sales.

So, although it might be only a baby step even a facebook share or twitter comment at least does make something of an impact.

The lie we are fed is that we are too small or insignificant to make a difference.

Yet as Confucius once said “Too small to make a difference? Try spending the night with a mosquito”. -He also said, that “A mosquito on your testicles teaches man that not every problem is best solved with violence”-.

The problem is that we are often don’t make a stand about anything much at all. A great question that has always challenged me is “would my bank manager know I was a Christian by the way I lived and spent my money?”

What are my choices when I buy, do I seek to be an ethical consumer? Do I value fair-trade? Do I enquire about sourcing? Or animal welfare? Do I ever do any on-line research about company ethics? Is there anything I boycott due to ethical grounds? -How does our (honest) answers on this chime with our response to a position of God entrusting us with the responsible stewardship of creation?

Yet, I think that we can do more than spend wisely, read labels and write strongly worded tweets on social media.

I passionately oppose the sale of weapons especially to states with awful records on human-rights, but yet I have never been on a protest, or picketed and arms faire, if I care about this issue I need to step up to the plate and make my protest felt.

Although Christians statistically are good citizens when it comes to doing their civic duty and vote, we perhaps need to be better at protesting against injustice, do we sign petitions? Do we write to our MP’s? Do we go on marches? Do we campaign for a better world?

The truth is that if the people of God don’t step up for the things that are upon the heart of God then who will step into that void?

So a call not just to vote, but live a life that seeks to usher in and advance the Kingdom of God, voting as a lifestyle each day, choosing to be a campaigner for the Kingdom of heaven and the cause of the heart-cry of Christ.

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Dreams, hope, Politica, steadfast, vision

Things can only get better?

Yesterday it was the 20th anniversary of Tony Blair’s historic Labour landslide in 1997, for many of us it was our first time voting in a general election, also the Tories were all we could remember, they had (it seemed to us) been there forever.

I remember a couple of weeks before the election and a friend said in the pub “I still reckon that some how those unscrupulous Tory ******* will some how get back in!”

Yet here before our eyes we saw history being made, as seats bluer than Bernard Mannings joke book became New Labour Scarlet, and many of the giants of the Tory Party were felled by the voters.

I have heard people say that the biggest killer is apathy, but my generation wasn’t particularly apathetic, I voted first thing in the morning as soon as the polling station was open, and at work the next day many of us were bleary eyed from staying up until about 3ish -“did you see Portillo?”

Britain was changing and would never be the same again.

For us, we saw that our vote changed things. That change was possible. That what had looked like it was set in concrete wasn’t. More-over the mistakes of our parents generation (not that my parents have ever voted Tory I’m pleased to say) could be rectified, this was a generation forging its own future with a new set of values.

I remember the song that was the Labour Parties Election theme “Things Can Only Get Better”, I remember being struck by the message of Hope, bill-boards said “Labour: Class sizes will get smaller” or “Labour: wages will increase”.

Fast forward a few years and I remember 10 years ago Barak Obama getting elected the first black President of the United States, the same message of Hope, “YES we CAN!” -in fact Obama called his autobiography “the Audacity of Hope”. It is incredible to think of a black president of the United States of America when as recently as the 1960’s Blacks and whites weren’t even allowed to sit together on buses.

I remember reading “Rosa (Parks) sat so Martin (Luther King Jr) could walk, Martin walked so (Barak) Obama could stand, Obama stood so our children can fly”.

The idea that we are making history and the world a better place for our children is a compelling vision.

Yet fast-forward to today.

Sadly the achievements of Labour were blighted by the Iraq war and the global recession and they are back in opposition, the Tories look unbeatable again.

Young people who probably have seen both Labour and Conservative in power probably think “why bother”, and ask does my vote change anything.

Obama’s “YES we CAN” has been replaced by the world asking of America “They Can’t Can They?”

This election is not fuelled by hope but fears.

“Things can only get better” is not the mood of the country which is more fearful than I can remember in a long time.

So, is this blog about my political viewpoint? well no, actually it is about something far deeper, it is about not letting a dream die.

It is easy to say “wasn’t that good” or be nostalgic for the good old days, easy to set a moment as a ‘golden era’ never to be equalled let alone excelled, it is easy to think that the hopes of our youth have matured as we have become more jaded, cynical and our defeatism can have an older sounding rhetoric.

It is amazing how quickly we forget that things can and do change.

It is amazing how quick we can feel disenfranchised again, how discouraging circumstances stop us dreaming those big, crazy audacious dreams of a different world.

More over if we stop dreaming that a better and different world is possible, we wont bother to fight and achieve it.

Take hope out of our hearts and we are lost.

The Tories are saying they are going to defeat Corbyn with a landslide, and is a clever tactic because if people give up before the start then we have lost.

If you don’t play to win in sport you nearly always loose.

Battles that are fought are won or lost in our minds.

Some one once said “do events happen to us, or do we happen to events?”

It is amazing how the radical revolutionary sinks back into the mire of the despondency.

Imagine for a moment the earliest of disciples, locked in the upper room for fear of the Jews, hidden away, and when the Holy Spirit came they were filled with boldness (which is a fruit of Hope) and this small group of uneducated artisans went out speaking to the people and changed the world forever.

Yet despite seeing thousands come to Christ, soon persecution happened and things went badly wrong, and yet despite their change in circumstances, the challenges and the opposition they kept on going…

Here is Paul talking about his recently Missionary endeavours “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers” 2 Corinthians 11. Yet Paul never gave up.

So, as we approach this election, as we are in very different circumstances in a time that feels very different, my message to myself and to anyone who reads this blog, is don’t let discouragements and oppositions burst our dreams of making the world a better place for our children.

In fact the world seems a darker place than 20 years ago, but when it gets darker the light shines more brightly.

when times are at their most challenging and depressing we need the dreamers and the prophets more than others.

Anyone can be an optimist on the mountain top, but it takes bravery and courage to be an optimist in the valley.

we may live in a very different time, and the world may feel very different, but lets “not grow weary in doing good for at the right time we will reap a reward if we do not give up!”

In the film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves Robin is fighting in the water and he shouts to Azeem his friend to ask hat to do, and Azeem tells him to “get up and keep fighting”. I think that is a message for all of us who maybe feel a bit weary and battle warn, when maybe Hope feels more like a distant memory that a present reality.

I’ll end wth a quote from CS Lewis who said “You are never too old to set a new goal or dream a new dream” -So let’s keep dreaming and fighting to turn these dreams to reality.

I

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Fear, hope, Politica

Presidents Obama and Trump, Hope or Fear?

One thing really struck me with the Inauguration of President Donald Trump, was the difference between himself and President Barak Obama.

Barak Obama’s final speech as president was one that could have been summed up by one word “HOPE” -in fact “HOPE” has characterised both his presidency and him as a person, his autobiography was called “The Audacity of HOPE”.

Yet much of Donald’s Trump’s campaign was summed up by one word “FEAR”.

Former Bristol MP said: “Hope is the fuel of progress and fear is the prison you put yourself”.

A similar sentiment from the film Shawshank Redemption “Fear hold you prisoner, but Hope can set you free”.

As I thought of this image it made me realise that the toughest prisons aren’t those with bricks or bars but the icy strongholds in peoples’ hearts and minds.

This prison though is one that many can be swept into, we have all been in meetings when a fear-monger has turned the mood of a room or a decision of a meeting; yet too the reverse can happen, people can be liberated by the freedom that Hope brings, a person of hope-filled faith can inspire people to stand and to step out.

A poem about Hope : –  “Rosa (Parks) sat, so that Martin (Luther King Jr) could walk, Martin walked, so that Barak (Obama) could stand, Barak stood so all our children could fly”. Hope is aspirational. Hope re-writes a new future, where-as fear if often a pessimistic self-fulfilling prophecy.

As I thought about my life, I asked myself the question, “is my life ruled by Hope or Fear?”

I want it to be ruled by Hope, yet sadly more often than I want I am ruled by fear.

“It is so easy to break down and destroy, but heroes are the ones who make peace and build” said former South African President Nelson Mandela.

The fictional President Matt Santos from the West Wing said “It is easier to throw stones at a house than to try and build one”.

Fear paralyses and keeps people rooted to the spot like a rabbit caught in the car headlights.

Fear divides.

Hope unites.

Fear builds walls.

Hope builds bridges.

Hope causes us to lay down our weapons, whereas Fear causes us to blame, lash out and pick up our weapons.

For the Christian Hope is not a “wishful thinking naïve aspiration that somehow everything is going to be alright in the end”, no we have a “hope that does not disappoint us”, “our hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth” -it is a hope that “moths and rust cannot destroy” but rather is based not on a vague idea or concept but on a person, Jesus Christ, described by Peter as our “Living Hope” -our hope is in the resurrected and victorious son of God.

Our hope is that the God “who began a good work will see it through to completion”.

Our hope is that “he that is within us is greater than he that is in the world”.

Our hope is in Christ who said “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against them”.

Yet how do we be people filled with Hope and not Fear?

Often we start full of hope, but the stress, strains and pains of the world can often leave us feeling jaded, cynical, deafest, we too often let hope slip away, evaporate, and fear creep in and slowly take root, and become a spiritual stronghold.

We often don’t talk about being controlled by fear, but rather we use expressions like being “pragmatic” or “realistic” or “worldly wise” -often we allow ourselves to be often somewhat superior and patronising to those pursuing a message of hope, painting them as naïve and dismissing their view as “youthful enthusiasm”.

So, how do we keep Hope alive within us?

Prayer is the antidote to defeatism, as our focus leaves the size of our problem and places our viewpoint on the size of our God.

Interestingly those who are most vocally defeatist/negative are also those who attend prayer meetings the least, I do believe that this is not a coincidence.

So, let us be Obama’s not Trump’s, people of Hope, not people of Fear.

And I’ll close with a prayer Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome:


May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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faithfulness, Fruit and fruitfulness, Giving/Generousity., grace, hope, justice, Kingdom, Politica

Jesus for President.

Jesus for President, was the title of a book by one of my heroes Shane Claiborne, the title made me think, firstly I thought Jesus never wanted to be president, he was offered all the Kingdoms of the world when he was tempted by the devil, and yet he turned it down.

Instead Jesus was a nomadic preacher, with nowhere to lay his head, former child refugee who advocated loving enemies, rather than clicking his fingers in the board-room he took a towel and washed his disciples feet, including the one, Judas, who betrayed him.

Yet Jesus is the one I want to follow, his Kingdom may appear upside down to most of the world but to me I think it is the right way up, and his Kingdom is what I want to devote my life to building. The Lord’s Prayer seeks for Gods Kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven” so clearly something of the rule and reign of God can be seen today in real lives and communities, not as some weird theocratic rule, but in hearts and minds transformed by God and living out their faith in radical Kingdom ‘salt and light’ living.

As I was thinking was does a Christian world view look like, I am often confronted by the phrase ‘Christian Values’  which is often condensed to anti-abortion and anti-gay-marriage and whose rhetoric often sounds pretty un-Christ-like –God hates fags? No, of course he doesn’t, he loves each and every person he has made. and longs for all peoples to come into relationship with him.
More over much of the American Christian Right seems very pro guns, anti health care for the poor and pro death penalty and I struggle how we can link these heinous ideas with the Jesus I find in scripture.

Yet surely If we are called to have Christian values, if we really believe Jesus meant it when he called us to “love our neighbours as ourselves” then we are called to care about the welfare of the planet, foreign aid, education, justice, health care, civil liberties, community cohesion and ethical investment in economic policy.

A Biblical world view is about bringing people together rather than building walls between each other… The Old Testament repeatedly tells Gods people not to I’ll treat the alien who resides in their country because they themselves were slaves in Egypt.

A Biblical world view talks about sharing our wealth with the poorest and most marginalised, the parable of the Good Samaritan works for nations too, and we need to heed the words of scripture that says “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”

A Biblical world view is one that is outward looking and not inward looking, “I am my brothers keeper”, inward looking ideals end in implosion.

A Biblical world view realises that “the love of money is the root of all evil” and realises that financial prosperity and true happiness are not bedfellows.

A Biblical world view sees us from every nation as Gods children and extreme nationalism seems to me like a idol or fake God than needs to bow the knee to Christ, an illusion that hoodwinks many people.

A Biblical world view sees enemies being loved, the other cheek turned and the myth of redemptive violence seen for the lie that it is… As Ghandi said “if we take an eye for an eye then the world we be blind”. When we think of Christ entering into the city he came on a donkey like the ones we see at Weston, not on a war horse or sitting on an amounted vehicle or tank, this Prince is called the Prince of Peace, and at fulfilment of his Kingdom will see swords turned in ploughs and people practicing war no more.

A Biblical world view effects how we see one another who made in the image of God, can we imagine Jesus calling a woman –or anyone for that matter-  a “fat pig”? In fact, as Christians we are called to fight for human dignity “to bless not curse”, we need to see the rest of the world as precious to God, whether they be a Mexican refugee, a community leader in Iraq or someone who has a different opinion to you.

When I think of Jesus for President, I think the reason why I follow him is I can trust him, “let your yes be yes and your no be no”, when Jesus speaks we know it is the word of truth.

Sadly in the American election the major parties seemed less interested in their candidates character talking more of the competence or rely on their charisma, however “competence and charisma without character often results in Catastrophe”.

In a “Dog Eat Dog” world with people scrambling to be top dog we see Christ saying the last will be first.

My prayer for whoever is president is that they may “Do Justice, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly before their God”… Knowing that with great power also comes great responsibility, the call to steward what you have been entrusted with well, knowing that are all answerable and must now the knee before Christ.

Leadership is costly and sacrificial… Jesus said that he had  not come “to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”.

This leader isn’t hidden away in a bunker with other soldiers fighting on his behalf, this King, this servant King, gave his life that we may live.

This Servant King I will follow, and his upside-down Kingdom I will devote my life to seek and advance.

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Brexit, Disappointment, hope, Politica

The Morning after…

This morning I’m trying to work out what I feel this morning is a strange feeling.

It is a step into the unknown, it is a time of change.
Some might feel worried, others jubilant, possible others a mixture of the two.
Actually at the moment, I’m slightly stunned by the result…
Reminded a little of ’92 when my generation realised the power of the vote to change things, when most of us who were too young to remember any other government, saw the Tories out of office… that felt like a new era of hope, but this feels very different.
Today I just feel a bit sombre.
As I reflect back on the campaign, it was one filled with scaremongering from both sides, misrepresenting other peoples’ points of view, some shameful scapegoating and I think it has shown just how polarised our society is, particularly it has made us more aware of how disenfranchised many people feel in our society. (At least whatever your political views I think people have been reminded that voting actually really matters, and for many this was the first time many people who feel very disenfranchised engaged in the democratic process).
I think the question is not now whether we leave or remain, -after all the vote has happened- but how best we can build/rebuild this nation to be better than it is now… The debate now is how does this look? How do we do we do it?
It may meaning enter into conversations with people whose view point we struggle with and finding common ground with ‘the other’?
To me the big two questions we face as Christians is how can we see the most disenfranchised, normally seen as labour voters who clearly feel that no one speaks for them be heard and seek to bless, love and proclaim authentic hope (not just warm sloppy platitudes) and build real relationship s in these communities (often when the Church seems to too often struggle).
Alongside the question, how can we be people who oppose the horrific scapegoating of the refugees, asylum seeker and migrants. How we can genuinely see community cohesion rather than trying to pretend that there aren’t problems here? How can we be real about struggles without resulting to knee jerk reactions and scapegoating of minorities.
How do we move forward with a vote that needs to be respected, but half the population wished hadn’t happened.
As Christians, the gospel of Christ is  a bigger and greater story of hope, of love, of unity and embracing rather than rejection, a message so transformational that has the power to silence the deeply disturbing voice of the right and far right with a vision of humanity coming together in loving community seeking the best for our neighbours? This big story is the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of heaven as it is sometimes called. The Lord’s Prayer urges us to seek Gods Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, the call that is in no way altered by results of referendum, in fact let this result and living in changing times be the spur to go deeper to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before our God”.
And as we think of this challenge within the UK, we realise this is a challenge for us to work out what it means afresh to be loving neighbours advocating justice, compassion and hope to not just those within Europe but actually want it means afresh to be a global citizen.
As we talk about now about trade, I hope too that we also talk about trade ethics, do we continue to hold fast to the rights for workers that was advanced and influenced by the EU for workers in the UK? But do we ask the more thorny issue of universal workers rights for everyone we trade we, as surely a Indian or Chinese life is worth as much as that of a European, as I believe there is only one race, the human race, all made in the image of God. As we try to put the parable of the Good Samaritan into practice as we seek to be good world neighbours acting with compassion for the weak and fighting for justice against the powerful and exploitative.
You might read this and think, I can do anything to support this as I’m not a politician or a leader in big business… Yet we fall for the lie that as people we can’t make a difference, we believe that we can only play it small.
In the West Wing President Bartlett quotes Margaret Mead saying “never doubt that a small group of dedicated people can change the world, for, in truth it is all that ever have”, and although this is undoubtedly true, we have a greater truth of “he (Christ) that is within us is greater than he that is in the world”… “The same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (is active in you and your life)”…  The power of the global Church, filled with the Spirit of God, has option to stop fighting amongst itself and look out and transform the world for the glory of Christ and the salvation and good of its inhabitants.
Yesterday at our third outing of school pastors Jackie shared the call to “be bold” in speaking of Christ (she had led a number of people to Christ recently) but believe her words are larger than just the context of evangelism but rather true for the mission of God in his world…
At times of transition we need to be Christians that step up to the plate and echo the words of Isaiah “here I am send me”.
Irrespective of how we voted, the challenge to build a better world for Christ’s glory and for the sake of our children and grandchildren remains, for some the mountain may feel it has got higher, yet lets not the size of the task daunt us, let us remember the size of the God we serve and his saving and equipping power.
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expectations, Fear, hope, Hopes and Dreams, Neighbour, Politica, Risk and Change

Project Fear? Message of Hope.

On the eve of the referendum in have been thinking about risk, about fear, about the familiar and the security of the status quo, even if the status quo isn’t always great, often people want to stick with it just because it is familiar.

Most people fear change.
Risk is something most of us deep down are a little adverse too.
Yet we forget that actually everything changes, and the phrase “remain’ sounds like something unmoving, yet actually Europe is also an evolving movement, the truth is that both are a risk as none of us know what the future holds.
We cannot avoid risk, change of the unknown actually by voting either way in the referendum as both staying or going are not static places.
Sadly too, there has been scaremongering happening about ethnic minorities, asylum and immigration, which has caused us to fear one another, our neighbours and our friends.
The debate has also frightened people with institutions like the NHS and its provision, causes us to fear for our future.
The debate on both sides has got so nasty that it has been dubbed project fear.
Tony Benn talked about “Hope is the fuel of progress and fear is the prison we put ourselves in”
Yet I would say whatever your views don’t let fear take you prisoner, or push you around.
The greatest prisons aren’t places with bars and gates, but actually are in hearts and minds, fear paralyses us, fear reduces our expectations, inhibits our vision and hampers our judgement.
Whatever your views let’s vote from a place of hope for a better and brighter tomorrow.
Knowing that it’s not just a better Europe we are working towards but actually an advance of Christ’s Kingdom on earth we are seeking to live out and usher in.
Remembering that our citizenship is not of Europe or the UK, but of heaven, an inheritance which won’t spoil, fade or spoil.
Yet I was struck by the truth that the Bible says 365 times “Do Not Be Afraid”, one for every day… We are reminded too that “Perfect Love Casts Out All Fear”, and the one who loves perfectly is Christ himself.
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Brexit, Immigration, Politica

More EU thoughts… immigration…

I wanted to blog on immigration as it seems like this is a subject no one wants to talk about properly and if you read that odious rag the daily mail or the Tory/UKIP voices from the leave campaign I fear verges on the xenophobia, where everything wrong in the world is blamed unfairly on migrants.

One of the phrases we sometimes hear is “foreigners nicking our jobs”, but let us unpack this phrase a little…

Firstly, who are foreigners? Most of us if we traced our history back far enough probably has some non-Anglo Saxon in us, we are a nation that has always had immigration, and sadly migrants have often been scapegoated of all societies ills!

Also the idea of “our” jobs is an interesting concept, we live in a multicultural society in a globalised world, and as such we will meet different people from different nations in the jobs pool, the idea that where we were (or weren’t) born should give us any extra advantage (or disadvantage) is actually pretty offensive, the best person should get the job by nature of being the person those conducting the interview thought was the best candidate.

Yet it is worth pointing out that migration is only one small factor in the whole employment debate… Here is a few more…

In many areas jobs haven’t been taken by migrants rather they have been shipped out overseas to avoid paying proper wages to their workers, in what is one of the great scandals of our generation when we think of the amount of slave and sweat shop labour exists in this world. Countries where workers have rights, unions and legislation to protect them loose out on employment possibilities due to this despicable practice, which disproportionally effects people on unskilled and semi skilled work.

Criminalisation occurs where many migrants are exploited through human trafficking and illegal working hours with cash in hand payments, which is again is not migrants “nicking” jobs but rather the culture of exploitation both legal and illegal bring far to pervasive In our society which hurts not just those caught up in these despicable trades but the poorest in our society.

In the 80s many of our employment industries such as coal mining, steel works and shipyards decimated the employment prospects of many areas, especial rural areas in the north of England, Scotland and Wales.

As the 80s progressed the technological revolution made many jobs obsolete and continues to do so, as the age of 3D printers dawns how is this going to effect our manufacturing and industry?

The truth is irrespective of immigration employment in many areas been in crisis in many communities for decades.

Many of those caught in this cycles of unemployment, poverty and depravation feel marginalised and disenfranchised, one estate I worked in had really high proportion of young people classed as Neets (Not in Education, Employment or Training) were described as having ‘poverty of aspiration’ which many of us felt it was also matched by ‘poverty of opportunity’, so tragically, but not unexpectedly there are vast numbers of people who never reach their potential and feel ‘the system failed them’.

This is a national problem that is acute in places both with high immigration as well as areas where immigration is low. To me the real question how can we engage with disenfranchised communities in regeneration and transformation?

To people feeling excluded it is easy for narratives of jealousy and injustice to rise up where migrants get scapegoated.

Many areas of high immigration often already placed in deprived communities with existing tensions, sometimes the work which again get exploited by unscrupulous and irresponsible right wing political narrative.

The solution to employment is not blaming immigration, but talking about global ethics and local community regeneration and transformation.

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