Dank u Nederland

flower-tulip-fields-netherlands-6Waking up and hearing the news from the Netherlands following their General Election, I feel proud to be European. Thank God for the Dutch people who have, in the words of the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, “said ‘stop’ to the wrong sort of populism”. The Dutch people have voted against extremists and halted the advance of the nationalist far right.

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While the UK continues to be beguiled by a popularist nationalism with some disturbing undercurrents, the results in the Netherlands provides some shafts of light in the dark clouds that have re-emerged over Europe and the USA in recent days. Whilst we continue to be obsessed with economics, the Dutch voters have demonstrated that politics is about more than the economy, it’s about the kind of society we want to live in, taking their part as world citizens, proud of our national identity but not to the exclusion of others. The election tested whether the country wanted to end decades of openness and centrist politics and opt instead for an anti-immigration nationalism, seeped in self-interest which was being heralded by Geert Wilders. Thankfully his popularist, anti-immigration, racist political party, whilst gaining some seats, slumped to just over 10% of the overall vote. The surprising and encouraging big winners in the election were the  pro-European left-wing ecologists who gained a significant number of seats which conceivably could see them entering into a ruling coalition with Prime Minister Rutte’s centre-right VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy). The losers were those on the far right and far left, with the Dutch Labour Party being  virtually wiped out, which should signal  another  reason for the Labour Party here in Britain to sort itself out to mount the only credible opposition possible to our present government.

Another interesting and encouraging feature of the elections is that the Dutch people, despite being bombarded by the media’s extensive coverage of Geert Wilders, were not beguiled by the clever nationalist rhetoric and ‘herd mentality’ that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche used to describe how people are influenced to adopt certain attitudes and behaviours. Would that we here in Britain would think beyond the lies and manipulation of so much of our own media.

So thank you Netherlands that you have ditched extremists, that freedom and liberalism has conquered over the politics of fear, sectarianism and division. What we have failed to do here in Britain, you have done, not only for yourselves but for Europe as a whole. Pray God, that France and Germany will follow your example.

Like your flowers that signal spring and brighten the day, you have lifted my spirit this morning and made me glad to be a partner with you, a fellow European.

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dank u.

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A Blessed St David’s Day

A Blessed St David’s Day

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Today marks the celebration in Wales of St David’s Day. Many will mark the day by wearing a leek or a daffodil, the national emblems of Wales, or by displaying the flag of St David, which features a yellow cross on a black background. Across the land there will be celebrations, festivals and in several places people will still dress up in traditional Welsh costume.

images  Territorial Army celebrates 100 years of service

It is claimed that St David was responsible for the custom of wearing leeks in memory of his spiritual discipline of fasting on water and leeks. Shakespeare popularised the idea by saying that wearing the leak originated as recognition of the Welsh soldiers bravery the battle of Crécy 1346 in his play Henry V. Wearing another symbol, the daffodil, was promoted in particular by former Prime Minister Lloyd George. Daffodil is cennin Pedr (i.e. Peter’s leek) in Welsh, easy to conflate “cennin” (Leek) and “cennin Pedr”.

But who was St. David, whose day we celebrate today?

He was a great Celtic saint who founded at least ten monasteries, establishing them in the ascetic ways of the Desert Fathers.

It was a tough monastic call for those who joined the communities. The monks did heavy manual labour and ate only bread and vegetables. They didn’t brew beer or produce wine but only drank water. David decreed that, “they should labour so hard that they want only to love one another. There should be no conversation beyond what is necessary.” He taught that anyone asking to join a monastery should be made to wait at the door for 10 days and treated in some sense with hostility. It was only if they were patient and forbearing through this treatment that they were to be welcomed into the demands of the ascetic monastic way of life. No “welcome in the valleys” for those who were seeking God in the Welsh monasteries at the end of the sixth century!

It seems incredibly harsh to us but there are some gems of wisdom to be gleaned from that early Celtic tradition:

  • A recognition that the call of God upon anyone’s life is challenging and demanding.
  • That sacrifice and simplicity should characterise disciples of Christ
  • That you have to work hard and renounce things to embrace a vocation
  • That love of God and love for one another is foundational to the Christian life.
  • That words matter whilst there may be a place for what CS Lewis described as, ‘conversational art’ – easy talking but there must be no place for gossip or endless and mindless chatter that fills the spaces but avoids depth.
  • That any call requires testing and when obstacles present themselves, the need to question one’s motivation, intention and commitment allied to perseverance and determination should turn those stumbling blocks to stepping stones.

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I thank God for Wales, its land and people and for the rich inheritance of faith that has been passed on down through the ages. A land of contrasts; snow-capped mountains, wild coastlines, beautiful green valleys, sleepy villages and energetic cities. To travel through Wales is to immerse yourself in the nation’s epic story, ancient scenery, historic landmarks and memorable characters. A land that was in many ways shaped by the Celtic saints, who laid the foundations of faith that has rippled through the centuries in the valleys, hills, towns, villages, farmsteads and cities from this small and compact nation.

A land that has witnessed several periods of revival as well as those times of languishing memories, entrenched traditions and moribund legacies that celebrate and commemorate the past but can cripple life in the present. A country, like Scotland, for better or worse, influenced and in many ways dependent upon the governance and policies of England and the Westminster Parliament that can seem removed from the realities of everyday life for people in these Celtic nations.

A country of contrasting landscapes where the beauty of its hills and valleys and coastline is contrasted with the ugly scars of post-industrial wastelands, ‘abandoned’ and ‘forsaken’ towns and villages where all that is left is memories, sport and the faint sounds of singing, spirits beaten by exploitation, neglect and disregard and all but a trace of aspiration disappearing.

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For my one year postgraduate studies at Cardiff University, under the wing of South Wales Baptist College, I give thanks to God. Nurtured in the godly but relatively prescribed and closed conservative evangelical environment of Bible College in Berwick-upon-Tweed, I found myself swimming in the waters of liberalism and contextual theology and dipping my toes into philosophy, sociology, psychology and education.

In other ways it was a very difficult year. We moved without a grant with our firstborn, ten days old, into a cold and inhospitable manse, where the church thought it was doing its student minister a great service by offering them a house free of rent in return for two Sundays, (4 services) some pastoral ministry and midweek prayer and Bible studies. I remember being awarded a £50 prize for an essay which enabled us to go shopping for a month and buy some second-hand lino from an indoor market stall to put down in our living room. Any request for some help with the house that was barely fit to live in was met with sympathy but no help. The fact that the roof of the kitchen and bathroom fell in just a couple of months after we left was either a consequence of neglect or an act of judgement, or perhaps both?… I was young, naive, liable to be ‘used’ and unable to adequately protest, petition or respond accordingly to a plight that caused my wife and young baby son to suffer. Whilst I enjoyed the comfort of a university lecture room and library, college chapel and sitting room, they were left to struggle and suffer in a cold, damp and inhospitable environment. By the grace of God we survived, not because of the situation but inspite of it.

Too many ministers spouses and families suffer inhospitable and intolerable situations at the hands of the churches they serve, many of whom are scarred for life and whose faith is impacted negatively by such experiences. There were some good and godly people in the church but the overriding culture of the place was one of ‘calculating meanness’ cultivated by some very un-godly attitudes and behaviours. I discovered that if they liked the Sunday preacher they would be given £10, whereas if they took a dislike to them the ‘gift’ would be halved. It was not that the church had no money. I discovered this just weeks before we left to return north and enter full-time church ministry and was able to dismantle the myth that the church had no resources. With the help of the church secretary we discovered that there was over £20,000 in the bank and that the church could well afford to pay half a stipend, the other half being offered by a mission agency to bring a full-time minister into the community. Needless to say the prevailing culture turned down the opportunity, held onto its money and the church continued to decline, believing that it could somehow get away with or even be blessed by God, whilst living with meanness and paying lip service to the faith that was once vibrant in the lives of their forebears.

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Another memory was that of driving our first car, a mini, bought for £150 having been pulled out of a hedge, put back together and hand-painted in British rail green carriage paint. When it rained the footwells filled with water. We needed a car to get out of the valley, over the hill and down into Cardiff for my three days a week at university. So little money, I drove as economically as I could and managed on most occasions to cruise down either side of the hill with the engine off. We hardly ever saw the fuel gauge needle get out of the red low fuel warning zone, apart from those occasions when we filled the tank and returned north to our parents for holidays, warmth and plenteous food.

I learnt a lot; mostly about how not to be church. I can barely remember anything of the lectures but I’m grateful to God above all else for the remarkable mentoring I received from a wonderful godly man and his amazing and hospitable family. T.J. Russel-Jones, renowned as a scholar and preacher throughout Wales was my mentor. Under his godly guidance, gentle influence and example I was schooled further in the discipline of spiritual formation. What had been the greatest contribution of Bible College, that of being inspired and mentored in how to love God, continued under his leadership. Like our Bible college principal Dr. ‘Doc’ Rigby, both men combined godliness with great grace and had those endearing qualities of strength with humility and abilities mixed with humour and self-deprecation. For all the hardships of that year in South Wales, the overriding blessing was that of being under the tutelage of T-J. His godly influence shaped and continues to inform my life and leadership to this day, nearly 40 years on. I learnt recently that he was a conscientious objector.

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Thank God for those older generation of leaders who see both the privilege and responsibility of mentoring younger generations and whose lives bear witness to the reality of their living faith in Christ that has not grown dim or become weary by the innumerable challenges and struggles that ministry entails.

I have forged some very good friendships with fellow ministers in Wales in recent years, both from the north and south of the country. I’m privileged to return on a regular basis to teach at the college, under whose wing I was for that year, the only Baptist College that in my training I had any connections with. It was with joy and a great sense of fulfilment that I was the guest keynote speaker at the Joint Welsh Baptist Assembly in Carmarthen a couple of years ago and I have enjoyed those occasions when I have preached and also brought Community teams to serve the churches in that great country.

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Of note, was a time when I led a Northumbria Community team as we spent a weekend in Bangor and presented Celtic Fire which I had written to tell the story of the Celtic saints which included the founding of Bangor and the monastic community there by St Deiniol.

Rehearsals over, within two hours of the performance I worked with Paul and Jill, two of our Community musicians and wrote a hymn which concluded the night’s performance. It was a fitting conclusion then and an appropriate way to thank God for Wales and to pray for its land and people today, on St David’s Day.

In the past our Celtic forebears

Brought the gospel to this land

Light and life dispelled the darkness

Lives and land redeemed by God

     God of Aidan, God of Deiniol

      Here the cry for this our land

      Here the cry for this our land

 We tonight have heard the story

Of their faith, their love of God

May like them, we live the story

Hold the faith deep in our hearts.

      Chorus

Here our cry, oh God we ask you

That our land might once again

See the faith of our forbearers

Realised in hearts and homes.

      Chorus

So to you our hope and future

We now live to sing your praise

And from here in the power of your Spirit

Go to seek and serve and share.

     Chorus

[Tune: Cwm Rhondda]

Celtic cross on Llanddwyn

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Snapshot of a few days in the life of a Pioneering Coordinator and Community leader

I was asked recently what a typical day looked like in my new part time role to which my answer was that there is no typical day or even a week. “Well, could you not give us a snapshot of what it might be like?” So, this is my response to that request with some reflections along the way as to what it means to be a Northumbria Community leader and a part time Pioneer Coordinator with the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

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Returning to work after a three-day break in the Scottish Highlands to celebrate my birthday I begin the week by ‘signing off’ the next edition of our Community Prayer Guide. A really important publication that I write with the help of a new team who help in its compilation, editing and proofreading. The rest of the day is spent making a few phone calls to people in our community and reducing the mountain of emails that had awaited my return. Having had a brilliant PA for fourteen years, her loss is greatly felt. I try to do some reading each day in addition to the rhythm of our Celtic Daily Prayer which has for many years and continues to inform and inspire my life and faith. I read Edwin Dowler’s excellent Grove booklet Inclusive Gospel? I find Grove booklets really helpful in keeping me informed and thinking about all kinds of topics covered in the areas of ethics, leadership, spirituality, biblical, pastoral and missional topics covered, see: https://grovebooks.co.uk

The evening saw me curling and whilst I returned home very satisfied with my own and the team’s performance in a creditable and very enjoyable draw, the tweak of my hamstring playing tennis on Sunday was not helped by my curling and I am now walking with a limp and requiring some remedial care and attention.

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Tuesday morning saw me driving down through the beautiful and emerging spring countryside of Northumberland to Durham to Cranmer Hall. Our Community Prayer Guide called us to pray for Trevor and Freda, “ giving thanks for the love, stability, inspiration and example they have set the Community and for their steadfast faithfulness throughout the many seasons of their own and the Community’s the life.” The 1.5 hours it takes me to drive to Durham allows me the time to not only give thanks for Trevor and Freda but to recall the many experiences of journeying together and the invaluable companionship and deep friendship that I have enjoyed for many years with Trevor as a fellow overseer. We’ve served through seasons of joy and pain, adventure and anxiety but as the older men of the community now, are able to rejoice and give thanks to God for the way in which things have developed, from early pioneering years to a good, still exploring, still seeking, yet healthier place for the growing community of Companions and Friends.

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At Cranmer I took a couple of tutorials and met with our Baptist discipleship group, comprising students training for ministry and others on the Free Church Missional Leadership course at Cranmer Hall. As I’ve said before they are a great group and if the future of church pioneering and missional leadership featured more people like these remarkably gifted and relatively younger leaders, my optimism and buoyancy would rise.

It was great to catch up with Andy my Missional Leadership course  colleague, the full time Free Church Tutor at the college and together with the discipleship group the issue of what it means to be Nonconformists, both in society and in a predominantly Anglican setting was discussed. I love my Anglican colleagues and friends and have been privileged to have been given opportunities to serve in many Church of England settings, including being made a Fellow of St John’s College but the experience, as well as enriching my own faith journey, only helps to serve my conviction that I am a monastic nonconformist! Bless them, I have to keep reminding many of the Anglicans who I am privileged to work alongside that they are not the only church and that their natural tendency to assume that they are, can on occasions, border on arrogance and a dismissing of those of us from other church traditions is a pain, hurtful and undermining of both the gospel and kingdom relationships. I’m weary of ecumenical conversations that talk the language but find it incredibly difficult to embrace true collaboration and mutual respect and honouring of one another’s differing traditions and expressions of faith.

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The journey south from Durham to Birmingham afforded the opportunity to think, reflect and pray and also take two very significant phone calls. One from one of my successors at Portrack in Teesside, where I was privileged  to serve as its first pastor back in the 1980’s. Drawing on many of the insights from the church planting movement of that era it was a pioneering situation on an urban local authority housing estate non book culture. Eight remarkably formative years that shaped so much of my thinking and  practice as a missional leader. It was very encouraging to talk with Linda, now leading the church, building new expressions of being a community church on the pioneering foundations of welcome, hospitality, compassion and service. Thank God we’ve moved beyond the confines and errors of failing to recognise the many women whom God has called to lead in both the church and society. Under Linda’s strong, strategic and nurturing leadership the church is growing and developing emerging leaders. I have been disturbed by the lack of leadership development in so many of our churches. Self preservation or a survival mentality has curtailed any notion of succession planning or recognition, training, releasing and resourcing new leaders. The second phone call came as a result of an interview I did for Radio Lancashire a few weeks ago. Someone who I’d never met inspired me in his sharing of how God had called him to plant and pioneer in Cumbria. Embracing the call to risky living which entails huge vulnerability he, with his wife and children had been led to both share the Good News with people beyond the walls of the church and serve with compassion so many people who last year had to contend with the trauma and consequences of their homes and businesses being flooded. He enlightened me to happenings in church planting, a ‘New Things network’ that would defy definition or categorisation but nevertheless reflects the creative chaos that is emerging throughout Europe of missional hubs and communities, plants and initiatives.

Driving through the busy Birmingham rush hour traffic and seeing people walking about on a mild evening, I am reminded again of the cosmopolitan nature of Britain. Not where I live in the countryside but true of so many urban and suburban areas of the country. A different world and missional context; exciting, enriching, challenging and opportune.

Arriving at IMC (BMS ~ Baptist Mission Society’s International Mission  Centre) I am met by good friends and hosts for the night, Mark and Claire. We first met on my Baptist Presidency travels ten years ago. Travelling with other Companions of the Northumbria Community, three Baptist ministers and a dance choreographer (sounds like the title of a great book) we did a road tour of Europe, taking in eleven countries in the space of four weeks. We started off as three middle aged men and a young woman but within days became three adolescents with a mother! In Italy we visited Venice before moving onto Genoa where we stayed with Mark and Claire and enjoyed their welcoming hospitality. Together we shared our Daily Office and formed a friendship that has lasted through the ensuing ten years. It was together again around a meal table that we met with two young couples, Simon and Sarah, Sam and Katie, along with two other good friends, Graham,  a Regional minister and Chris an ecumenical missional leadership enabler. Too busy sharing together and enjoying the Indian take away (Birmingham is great for its varied cuisines) and Italian red wine and coffee poured over delicious ice cream, I forgot to take a photo to record the meeting or even the meal.

We’d come together to encourage the two young couples for whom it was obvious that God was calling them to pioneering. Unconventional, radical and innovative, here were folks who had a heart to reflect God’s in reaching out to people beyond the walls of the church. For Simon, at present, this was being expressed in his work as the Bar Manager of a Sports Pavilion in Bournville which is run by the church. Among the many things that he is seeking to do is remove the wall that exists between the church community and ordinary folk who use the bar and sports and other facilities. At present the hatch in the wall that is located between the two groups of people is likened to when you are introducing a new pet into the home where there is an existing pet. You gently get them used to each other by keeping them apart but allowing them to see and sense, ‘sniff out’ and adjust to the change and new presence the other side of the wall that would be coming into a new shared space. I found the imagery that Simon painted both funny and provocative and also highly descriptive of the challenge so many churches and Christians face in simple being with people who are outside the church and its many subcultures. For Sam, his heart was in creating missional expressions within the business community. Finding ways of demonstrating how businesses can be operated and be a force for good in the world.

Two couples who were energising and passionate, thoughtful and insightful of how the world is seen through the eyes of the Millennial generation. The only sad and awkward moment in the evening was to hear how these two great missional leaders had not received the welcome, encouragement and nurturing from the institution of the church as they had hoped and were looking for.

It served for me the necessity of the ‘institution’ needing to reform itself to be a supportive, appropriately accountable, recognising and nurturing environment. It’s not that the institution, be it Association, Union or any other denomination recognition scheme is deliberately obstructive but given the issues of safeguarding, historic abuse cases etc, there is a necessary caution but this must never obstruct those whom God is calling and who have the character and gifting that is integral to that call to serve. When the pioneers, planters and entrepreneurs don’t fit, it’s time to look at changing the system and making it fit for present purposes.

We concluded our evening by praying for one another and our wider family that laughter and lightness, faith and imagination would be shared around tables wherever pioneers met to eat and drink together.

Up early the following morning, managing my sports injury and as a consequence trying to avoid walking far today, I drive into the centre of Birmingham and find a parking place just yards from the conference centre. An early morning taxi back to my hosts on the other side of the city lands me in a fascinating conversation with my driver, a third generation muslim, who only confirms my own and his fears that the way we are responding as a nation to the issues of immigration and refugees is stirring up racial tensions. He said he dreaded the elections this week in Stoke, for a “UKIP win would pour petrol on a simmering racism” that is being felt on the streets and in the neighbourhoods of Birmingham. I think as I hobble back inside the IMC for breakfast that whilst politicians and commentators talk about the economic consequences of Brexit, we need to be aware of a far greater threat to society, the unleashing and permission giving that has come as an unintended consequence by the Referendum result, a furthering and accelerating fracturing of society and the potential breakup of Europe, not just the European Union.

Returning to the conference venue, trying not to applaud my organisational efforts in securing a parking space whilst others are battling with time limited parking meters, I am met by friends from across the country, many of whom I have known for several years. Fellow pioneers and church planters, missiologists and missional leaders, most of whom are my age but there is also a good spread of younger folks and the ethnic diversity and mix of evangelical streams is heartening.

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Two good presentations highlight the work of Jürgen Moltmann on our understanding of the Kingdom of God and church planting and the practice of moving beyond established expressions of church which are stimulating. Likewise the coffee and lunchtime conversations provide opportunities for networking and the sharing of our hearts and hopes.

A chance conversation with a Salvation Army Major leads to the discovery, yet again, of the influence of Celtic Daily Prayer. Not only has he been using the Office himself for years but has passed it on to numerous fellow Officers. He takes great delight in telling me that the Office is now used at one of the Army’s training colleges in the States. Remarkable!

Each Wednesday is marked as a day of intentional prayer for the Northumbria Community. It is a day when I am often directed in my thoughts and prayers to Companions and Friends who are more alone them together in Community, geographically distanced from others yet is part of us. I’m drawn today to pray for those in Eastern Europe, for Oxana, Denys, Ruslan, Anton and his family,  Jean in Japan, Rosemary in Ethiopia and Bendang in Nagaland.

I am also remembering my mother who died eight years ago. Had she lived she would be 104 today. Precious memories of an amazing mother gave me the greatest ‘attachment theory ‘that any child could ask for. Her unfailing, unconditional love, encouragement and support along with my gentle, generous and loving father provided a stability, security and foundation for my well-being throughout life.

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Before the day is out I will return to the liturgy I wrote, In Remembrace of a Good Mother, for Volume 2 of Celtic Daily Prayer:

In you I was formed and given life. You cherished and comforted me; encouraged and enabled me, but now you are gone. 

In the absence of separation, where no voice breaks the silence,
in the abandonment that longs for comfort that only a mother can give,
I cry out to the same God who formed you in your mother’s womb,
the mothering God in whose image you were made and to whom I now, in pain and joy give thanks. 

Separated from you I cry out, in pain and in thanks, to God,
the mothering God in whose image you were made. 

Hear the pain of my heart and heal the wounds of my bereavement.
Turn my tears of sadness into tears of joy.
Rekindle within me the memories that gladden my heart. 

Comfort and strengthen me when I feel bereft,
when the child within me cries out for a mother’s love. 

Protect me as I wander through this landscape of grief without my
mother’s hand,
and soothe the bumps and bruises as I stumble onward through this
life.
Fill my memories with thanksgiving and my stories with laughter,
and may my life build on the gifts given me by a life that truly loved. 

It’s great to see some other Companions and Friends of the Community, Mary and Simon. The offer of a lift up to Leeds will give Simon and I the opportunity to catch up with one another. Still regarded in some circles as one of our younger leaders, Simon is now middle aged and the church he planted is 27 years old! But he remains an inspirational figure, theologically very astute and remarkably creative and its been a privilege to be both a friend of his and something of a spiritual director accompanying his amazing life journey, as amazing as his wife and children are.

The afternoon witnessed a great session with Andrew Vertigan who heads up the Salvation Army’s Fresh Expressions and Church Planting initiatives. His eloquent, engaging presentation about movements not falling on old ways but being prepared to move onto the new things God is calling us to and unleash a new creative imagining in our church planting.He quoted someone who was a formative figure in my early days as a follower of Christ, David Watson, the vicar of St Michael le Belfry, York who said over 40 years ago, Christian work is crippled by clinging to blessings  and traditions of the past. God is not  of yesterday. He is the God of today. Heaven forbid that we should go on playing religious games in one corner when the cloud and fire of God’s presence has moved onto another.

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The Salvation Army was called 125 years ago to pioneer with 17-25 year olds and particularly young women. Think of that; it was so counter cultural back in the late 1800’s.

The last presentation was from Emma, a young woman from south London who shared about table hospitality; simply inviting neighbours and others in the nearby area to a meal. Simple, at times challenging but so effective in forming friendships, bringing hope, healing, faith and transformation to individuals and improving relationships in a neighbourhood. I came to the conclusion many years ago that it’s when we do the simple things well that significance and transformation is realised. Her moving and honest story sharing only served to confirm my conclusion.

It was good to spend a few minutes with Ann part of the YBA (Yorkshire Baptist Association) team who I now work with in this pioneering role. She exercises both a role with the YBA and being the minister at Harrogate Baptist Church. The church that nurtured me as a very young believer when I came back from Outward Bound in Scotland in the mid 1970’s and where I was baptised, met Shirley and got married in the long hot summer of ’76. I turned up at the church with my old school mate Chris Brain, (yes, Chris of Nine O’Clock service fame that sadly went so badly wrong). We’d both just come to faith, were 17 and there was just a handful of other young people in the church. Ann told me that one of those young people, Lindsay, who has remained in the church, now married and with children, was asking after us. Her parents were fantastic folk; down to earth and so welcoming and encouraging of young people. They opened their home up every Sunday night after the evening service. In the next two years we were privileged to see a movement of the Holy Spirit that saw dozens of young people come to faith and who were baptised. We experienced ‘signs and wonders’ before we even had the language or understanding to articulate it properly and so many of us saw our lives propelled in new directions, including Chris and I into ministry. Would we have done so if we had not been welcomed, encouraged, given responsibilities as young people who were very young believers to take Bible studies, lead groups, take part in the services, etc Looking back on that time, the then minister of the church, Jack Pike, who was very conservative and traditional in his theology and character, took amazing risks in giving us the opportunities to explore God’s calling on our lives. Thank God for churches and leaders who are prepared to recognise potential and encourage young and other emerging leaders. One of the most concerning things I have picked up in conversations with current leaders is an absence of leadership development in our churches and a lack of commitment to succession planning.

The good day in Birmingham dispelled the miserable drizzle that accompanied our journey north. Simon and I had a great time of catching up and sharing and thanks to his navigational skills with google maps on his mobile we managed to miss two severe six mile tailbacks and gridlocks on the A38 and M1 due to accidents. We saw parts of the Shropshire and Derbyshire countryside that were new to both of us, particularly the ‘farm track’ that made that part of the journey like a car rally! Dropped him off in Leeds, popping in to see his lovely family and made my way over to my brother and sister in law’s for a relaxing evening, again enjoying the ‘sacrament’ of a meal and wine and good conversation. A catch up on the phone with Shirley on happenings with her and life at home, she alerts me to the prospect of snow on my returning home tomorrow. The absence of a 4×4 or winter tyres may for once prove a challenge. Driving my new ‘Superb’ car in such conditions will be interesting but having ‘rallied’ with Simon today it held the road well in near ‘off road’ conditions!

Over the last few days I have so appreciated the gift and opportunity to be able to have stimulating conversations about what’s happening in the world, mixing catching up on one another’s lives with  humour and some serious discussion. A component to life that is sadly often missing in our contemporary society.

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A more relaxed and leisurely start on Thursday morning, I feel encouraged that the reading in Celtic Daily Prayer for today includes, The first invitation of the Desert mothers to us is to stop and seek the space and time to listen. For some, this may take the form of the silent retreat. Brothers, it may entail sitting on the porch after the kids are in bed instead of listening to television. For others, it may mean not answering email getting on the Internet for half a day. Still others may discover it by being in the car alone, with no radio or music playing. The wisdom of the Desert mothers tells us that this way of life does not require a physical desert. It does require creating regular space and time to be still and to be silent. So I do not turn on my computer to look at emails until well after breakfast. Instead, I sit looking out of my brother’s window, observing the dark sky across the fields. The green of the earth carries with it the promise of new life and growth but the black sky is foreboding. Happenings across the world contain both signs of life and death, light and darkness, good and evil. I am thank God for Patrick, one of my grandchildren who is 9 today and wonder just what kind of world my generation has bequeathed him.

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I make my way to York to meet with Phil, one of our Regional ministers. For convenience we meet in the lovely hotel by the station but decide against eating lunch there given that my latte cost nearly £5! The nearby pub served burger and chips and whilst not a particularly healthy diet it did avoid us going bankrupt. The journey home, whilst not having to contend with snow, entailed driving on very flooded roads in very blustery conditions as Storm Doris wreaked havoc across the country. After the demands and responsibilities of the previous few days, I enjoy listening to the omnibus edition of the Archers, the world’s longest running radio soap opera. There was a lovely phrase that Miranda, the obnoxious, snobby wife of the city business entrepreneur Justin said when wondering why on earth they had ended up in Ambridge, a ‘godforsaken cultural wasteland…. There’s a dearth of restaurants, bars, culture. What do people do all day!?

It’s great to be back home with Shirley and the evening is spent relaxing and chilling out. Death in Paradise provides nonsensical and amusing entertainment on the TV before the realities of News at 10, Question Time and the prospects of the two by-election results emerge through the night.

I wake up pleasantly surprised that Labour held onto Stoke, defeating UKIP but any sense of satisfaction was quickly squashed when I learnt that the Conservatives had taken the Copeland seat. Gillian Troughton, a local woman, a former hospital doctor, now ambulance driver and devout Christian stood for Labour in the by-election and lost the seat. If Jeremy Corbyn is decent, honest and honourable I hope that those qualities will enable him to see that he is incapable of uniting a divided party and that he will never be given the opportunity by the public to serve as Prime Minister. I hope that he will stand down because the lack of a coherent and effective opposition to the present government it is not only undermining democracy here in Britain, but to my mind seriously damaging society and route marching us into some very severe and dark days ahead. A conviction that is only deepened by my Skype conversation call with one of our Companions  in Community this morning, who alerts me to the deepening crisis in so many parts of Britain as a result of Brexit. We spend time sharing about the changes and developments within the Community and the world and the implications we face to embrace and live out our Rule of Life,  Availability and Vulnerability.

I then turn my attention to emails (82 currently in my Inbox) and pulling together a Community team for this years Cliff College Festival in Derbyshire, I am doing so against the backdrop of enormous changes taking place in the church and wider society. The theme in today’s Community Prayer Guide is timely; Embracing Change ~ Europe. We pray for the peace of Europe, asking that the winds of change currently blowing may not trigger the re-emergence of nationalism and extremist political parties that fuel the fires of violence and war.

Much to think and pray about, thoughts to ponder, people to follow up with but to conclude this chronicle of a working week in the life of a pioneer and community leader, some words from Walter  Bruegemann: The prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial and expresses hope in a society that lives in despair.

Have a good weekend.

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The pin is out and the grenade has been thrown

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I went to bed last night disturbed by so much of what is happening in the world. The seeds of war, sown in the attitudes, policies and actions are now beginning to surface. Orwellian “alternative truth” is being deployed to manipulate and deceive the masses, undermine democracy and contribute to a world that is increasingly characterised by conflict, division, violence and war. A world that is once more seeing the rise of dictatorial leadership, capitalising on the failures of old institutions and systems and people’s fears and insecurities.

History reminds us that after economic recessions there is inevitable conflict and probable war. As nations resort to self-interest, old alliances and treaties are undermined and broken. The pin of the ‘grenade’ was removed with Brexit and after last night’s vote in the House of Commons, it has been thrown. Its explosive power will I believe cause damage and destruction to many in Britain, across Europe and the wider world. Resorting to what is right for us is an understandable but ultimately damaging policy that fuels the fires of nationalism and stands in stark contrast to the teachings of Jesus and the ways of his kingdom. Grenades which in the hands of more powerful leaders are being thrown as seen in some of the statements coming out of the White House in the first two weeks of the presidency.

The people have decided” is the mantra of those who have determined our exit from the European Union. Policies are now being pursued that reveal an increasing shift to extreme right wing measures, unchecked by disorganised, disordered and delusionary parties on the left. Very few are taking the ‘centre ground’ as Western democracy shifts from consensus to partisan, doctrinaire dictates. Of course it’s not new. History has seen this all before and in living memory for some, the 1930s in Germany.  I am not one of those who draws comparisons between Hitler and the likes of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump but I do want to alert people to the economic and social conditions, the attitudes and actions that are seen today in Britain and the USA which are similar to those in Germany before the Second World War. A period when Hitler and Goebbels used referendums to great effect to influence the masses, incite nationalism and give legitimacy to abhorrent policies that led to a world war and the loss of over 60 million people, just under a fifth of the world’s population.

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As I lay in bed with the words of Wednesday’s Felgild Compline ringing in my ears; Calm me O Lord, as you stilled the storm. Still me, O Lord keep me from harm. Let all the tumult within me cease. Enfold me, Lord, in your peace… The peace of God be over me to shelter me my thoughts and prayers went out to the people of Ukraine. A land and people, just a short while ago featuring on news bulletins and front page headlines, now largely forgotten. In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s rise to power and his links with Russia, some of them very dubious, and his floating ideas of lifting sanctions, President Putin has been able to flex his military muscles once again in Ukraine. The conflict in that country has raged for almost three years in which more than 10,000 people have died. The ceasefire that was agreed in Minsk back in 2014, in spite of the deadlock in political negotiations, has held in check some of the large scale conflict over the past two years. But in the last week the shelling and the cutting off of water and power in parts of Eastern Ukraine, experiencing temperatures of -18C have led to the loss of life and an escalation of violence and a simmering war.

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With a weakening European Union powerful dictators can capitalise and wreak havoc and cause untold suffering to those who rely upon their European neighbours for help against their aggressor. Just one example of what I believe will be many consequences of our decision to leave the EU. A union whose major achievement, recognised with the Nobel Peace Prize back in 2012, has been to keeping the Continent of Europe free of war for over 60 years ~ the very reason why the founders of the EU, Robert Schuman and other foreign ministers and ambassadors, founded it.

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There are economic arguments both ways for whether we will be better or worse off now that we are leaving the European Union. We desperately need those trade deals with the USA and other nations and good though it is for us to speak to the leaders of nations like Turkey, how sad that our ministers and business leaders were rejoicing in a trade deal in arms, weapons of war.

I have written before that I believe that we are entering a new Dark Age and like the prophet Jeremiah, I cannot speak “peace peace” when there is little, or in many parts of the world today, no peace. For the poor, for the over 60 million refugees and for my children and children’s children I lament the way things are developing here in Britain and the Western world. A lament shared by the former Dean of Durham Cathedral, Michael Sadgrove who wrote last night after the vote in the Commons;  I’m glad my German Jewish mother did not live to see this day. She died just after the referendum, incredulous at the vote. We are recklessly throwing away so much of value and putting the future of the UK and of Europe at at risk. Time for lament. Amen, Lord have mercy.

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David Lammy, a fellow Christian and member of Parliament who last night voted with his conscience, defying his own party’s three line whip against the Brexit Bill and triggering Article 5. In so doing he recalled the words of Shakespeare ; That England that was wont to conquer others Hath made a shameful conquest of itself (William Shakespeare, Richard II).

Troubling and turbulent times.

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Words that bring life and hope and words that sow destruction and evil

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As I contemplate the potential consequences of a renaissance of nationalism across Europe and the wider world, fuelled significantly by Brexit, the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, Putin in Russia and the fearful prospect of Marine Le Pen becoming the next French president, it is difficult to find shafts of light to penetrate the ensuing darkness. The complacency that blinkers us from seeing the potential implications of political decisions, movements and the law of unintended consequences is at best bewildering and at worst very disturbing. Allied to apathy, a shift to right-wing policies which are unchecked and unchallenged by inept opposition parties, threatens to undermine democracy and fragment civil society and cause the breakup of communities, nations, unions and continents.
The Slovak president Andrej Kiska at last years Forum 2000 conference in Prague said:
Only a madman would want to roll back the centuries of developments of human rights and civil society. Yet today …there is a clear and present danger which many of us thought we would not see reincarnated again. It is the rise of nationalism, extremism and racism. … We suddenly feel as if the unpleasant history of Europe is returning.
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Forum 2000 is an annual gathering of politicians, leaders, academics and other thinkers to meet together to discuss the important issues facing the world. In his keynote address Kiska went on to address the power of words, which he said can make peace but also war.

He cited populist words used by politicians in the Brexit campaign in the UK, which have led to an increase of xenophobic sentiment and violence toward people from Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East. And what is the reason? Words. Words by politicians, he said, adding that people need to be concerned about words against any religion or group of people because words can influence and  trigger damaging attitudes and actions.

How we need to listen to those whose words bring life and hope and be on our guard and discerning and reject those whose words breed division and hatred. I was encouraged yesterday to read the address given by Emanuel Macron, the French former economy minister, France’s youngest presidential candidate as he addressed thousands of people in Lille who had gathered to listen to a politician who was addressing the fears that people are experiencing at the prospect of Marine Le Pen and her far right Front Nationale growing in popularity.

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Never accept those who promote exclusion, hatred or closing in on ourselves!  he said. True words of liberté, égalité, fraternité ~ words of life and hope.

 

In a week where attention will focus on the presidential inauguration of the man of dubious and unseemly reputation, whose popularist and skilful oratory has appealed to the masses and ignited in some circles the fires of racism, sectarianism, sexism and a disturbing rise in nationalism, I remember a truly great American, a Baptist pastor and civil rights leader, Martin Luther King. It is fifty years ago that Newcastle University awarded Dr Martin Luther King an Honorary Degree, (the only British university to do so ~ good on you Newcastle!, my home city and where I was awarded my Masters). Sadly, only five months after the ceremony, when back in America, King was assasinated. Listen to the words of a truly great orator, whose impromptu speech oozes with prophetic passion, reflecting the heart of God and the vision of his kingdom here on earth, where racism, poverty, war, inferiority and injustice have now place.
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May the Lord raise up men and women, who, following the example and inspiration of Martin Luther King may speak God’s truth to power in our day and generation.
For Martin Luther King’s acceptance speech at New castle University see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwXfITDyIuY
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Winter Solstice and A New Dark Age

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No serious thinking person could surely doubt that we are  living through some very turbulent times. I cannot recall a period in my lifetime that has been so disturbing or threatening. Like the prophet Jeremiah, we cannot speak peace, peace, when there is no peace. I believe that we are witnessing the emergence of a new Dark Age, with attitudes and actions, policies and programmes that run counter to the values of God’s kingdom, the consequences of which are fearful.The seismograph now registers something more sinister than cracks; the needle indicates underlying challenges to virtually all the elements that hold a civilised and compassionate society together. The absence of moral authority has opened the door for a flurry of new ideas, alien and contrary to the values of of a Christian social order and I fear we are entering an abyss of a new dark age.

Whilst Western consumerism continues to distract or blind us to many of the realities and issues facing the world, the choices and directions which have been taken this year, will, to my mind, reap a harvest of destruction that will bequeath to our children and our children’s children a terrible legacy.

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The narratives of protectionism, nationalism, sectarianism and racism, allied to ‘post-truth’, (the Oxford dictionary’s Word of the Year) have catapulted exploitative, deceitful and opportunist leaders into power and should send a shudder of fear and concern to anyone seriously contemplating what the future may look like. My son Joshua wrote an article recently for the magazine Christianity Today which paints, what I believe is a true analysis of what is currently happening in the world and how we might respond. See: http://www.christiantoday.com/article/fascism.and.false.messiahs.why.the.world.needs.christ.more.than.ever/103073.htm

The narratives of the biblical story, in an age of post-truth lies and spin, escapist myths and fantasy legends, stand out in stark contrast for their graphic and real portrayal of truth. God’s story that goes to the heart of human nature and the consequences of living contrary to his loving purposes, not only records the historical happenings surrounding that first Christmas but remind us of the present realities of violence and brutality, power and the suppression of anyone who dares to resist or oppose, the lack of compassion towards the world’s poorest, the vulnerable; children, orphans, refugees and asylum seekers, the scapegoating of people leading to their demonisation and exclusion.  refugees-n-christmas

These are dark days, when, for example we can endorse the sale of British arms as export successes and then try to suppress the truth that British cluster bombs, banned by an international treaty, have been used by Saudi Arabia to kill innocent victims, including women and children in the Yemen. When will we wake up to the fact that if we feed people and drop bread, not bombs, we contribute majorly to world peace. Giving aid helps to end conflict, builds friendships, promotes healing and healthy relationships. Jesus called us to bless our enemies and when we bless and do good to others it should come as no surprise that they are less likely to want to kill, undermine or destroy us. Compassion, generosity and love dampen the fires of resentment, hatred and terrorism.

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These are dark days that have seen us turn a deaf ear to the cries of the child refugees and adopt a hardline attitude that has abandoned more than half of the 1900 children who sought safety and help from Britain this year, seeking refuge after the Calais Jungle refugee camp was demolished. Dark days when we have added fuel to the poisonous politics of fear that will tear the heart out of Europe with the elections in France, the Netherlands and Germany in the coming year, with Right wing, neofascist parties able to capitalise on our decision here in Britain to leave the EU and exploit the failings of the European Union.

The saddest and most disturbing email I received this year was on the morning after the referendum result was announced here in Britain. It came from a respected and thoughtful Eastern European, a former student of the International seminary in Prague. This email was short and stark; “Dear Roy, what has Britain done? God have mercy upon you and upon those whose lives will suffer as a consequence.” I have made no secret of the fact that I believe that the deceitful campaign and the decision to leave the EU is the worst political decision that has been taken in my lifetime. Nothing in the aftermath of the referendum has persuaded me otherwise and there are facets of the way in which the post-referendum debates are being conducted but I find very disturbing.

The Brexit campaigners fought under the banner of democracy and a naive vision of spurious sovereignty but many of them are now revealing a disdain for democracy by hurling insults at those who remain concerned by the implications that could lead to the breakup of the UK, the European Union, Britain’s standing in the world, an economic downturn and the prospects of conflict and war in Europe and across the wider world.

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Democracy demands debate and discussion. The referendum which was ill-conceived and its result was unexpected and unprepared for. The ballot offered a binary choice without any specifics  which now have to be addressed openly. However there is a suppression of debate and discussion on the implications of our decision to leave the EU. Anyone who questions the consequences of such a decision and suggests the idea of a second referendum, once the details and facts are known about what it really means to us, Europe and the wider world, is accused of being a sore loser.

The people have decided” is the assertion of  Brexiters. Yes, a narrow majority voted in favour of leaving but nearly half of those who voted did not. Recent research and opinion polls and petitions recently have discovered that over half a million people who voted to come out of the EU at the referendum, now knowing some of the facts, would now vote to remain. People see now that things like the £350 million a week boost for the NHS was a brazen lie. People now know that the NHS will be in real difficulty if we restrict the free movement of people and that measures that exclude or limit foreign workers will adversely  affect not only the NHS but many more public and private services, businesses and organisations here in Britain.

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The clamping down and hardline policies that are being proposed and taken on immigration, the threat by the government to firms to disclose foreign workers, (a move that was quickly retracted but the idea was clearly in the minds of government ministers) are not only economically damaging but help to sow the seeds of civil unrest.

The challenges, complexities and confusion following the referendum result demand rigorous discussion and debate, cooperation and wisdom. We need to pray for Theresa May the Prime Minister, that she may be able to navigate and have the courage to stand up to those in her party who regard anybody who voted to remain as anti-patriotic or undemocratic. Attempts by the government to challenge the Supreme Court’s ruling that the EU referendum was not legally binding is an affront to parliamentary democracy.

These are indeed Dark days where we are witnessing an alarming and increasing gap between the rich and the poor of the world.

In the words of the late singer/songwriter, We’re going to slide in all directions. Won’t be nothing, nothing you can measure anymore. The blizzard, the blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and it has overturned the order of the soul…… There’ll be the breaking of the ancient western code. 

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The Advent season takes us through the story of God’s redemptive purposes for the world that he loves. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed a promise of hope; The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  Never has there been such a need to recapture the Good News of the Christian narrative that speaks of light in the darkness, hope to transform despair and peace to counter the violence of this emerging new age. Within that promise, revealed in Jesus, is the prospect and the call for a different way of living, where love reigns, where compassion motivates and determines attitudes and actions, where justice and mercy are extended to all, where gentleness, generosity, empathy and kindness govern our lives, neighbourhoods and nations. The reality of God’s love for the world and the coming of his Son to redeem, transform and heal enables us to hold a flickering yet inextinguishable light in the ensuing darkness.

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I have returned recently to reading a book that significantly influenced me life during my teenage years. I was not a Christian at the time but Martin Luther King’s ‘A Strength to Love’ inspired me. Written during the tumultuous years of the civil rights struggles, King articulated and advocated in a very compelling way a commitment to justice. He contended that it was by reaching into the heart of God, his Word and will, by reaching out beyond ourselves to God that we discover a way of life and love by which to counter the evils that existed in the world.

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I have come to see the book as a prophetic blueprint for those who seek to follow Christ in these turbulent days. As I see the people whom Donald Trump is gathering around him in the White House, many of them political extremists, the majority of them men in their late 50s and 60s, almost all white and exceedingly rich, some of them with links or past associations with racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, I think Martin Luther King would weep at what has become of his nation. Whitewash has occurred in the USA and civil unrest is on the increase.

I apologise if you were hoping for a cheery, Merry Christmas blog. These are dark days but in the words of Luther King, a great Baptist pastor and civil rights leader, a follower of Jesus, the world’s most radical revolutionary, who inspired Martin Luther King to keep going and whose words have helped me this year, I conclude:

We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope. Martin Luther King

See: http://churchads.net/watch-and-share-the-new-church-ads-christmas-videos/

 

 

 

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Wake Up to the Dawning of a Dark Age

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The world has woken up to the news that Donald Trump has indeed ‘trumped’ his opponent, Hillary Clinton, many within his own Republican party, political pundits and pollsters and will be the next President of the USA.

Using similar methodology to those who masterminded the Brexit campaign here in Britain, Trump has captured the minds and imagination of the masses, defied many peoples’ expectations and won the race to the White House.

As previously indicated I am not surprised by his election.  I abhor many of his views and fear the consequences of his presidency. The party in Trump Tower celebrated a remarkable victory and congratulations have poured in. Far Right leaders were among the first to congratulate Donald Trump, as other world leaders and diplomats have struggled to come to terms with the US election results. While many prominent global figures reacted with dismay, rightwing nationalist leaders in France, Hungary and the Netherlands expressed their joy and congratulations. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who branded Barak Obama a “son of whore” earlier this year, offered “warm congratulations” to Trump. The US-based British historian Simon Schama said the result was a calamity for democracy that will hearten fascists all over the world. Vladimir Putin has sent Trump a telegram to congratulate him. In contrast, Garry Kasparov, the Russian former world chess champion turned vocal opponent of Putin, tweeted simply, Winter is here.

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There is no doubt that Donald Trump’s victory has made two men very happy today, key figures in their countries whose influence goes far beyond the territories they occupy; Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin.

Trump’s character, attitudes and policies call into question for me his legitimacy to hold arguably the highest and most powerful political office in the world. Ironically, the States have elected an autocrat who has bludgeoned his way through life and his business practices reveal something of a dictator who trashes his opponents, removes those who oppose him and exploit or at best, use others to achieve his ambitions. A character who is brilliant at ego and self promotion he is also adept at self-deception and plain old deception. Trump is willing to claim success even when it is not there.

He has has portrayed himself as a champion of the working class but the truth exposes how untrue that claim is. Over the past thirty years Trump and his businesses have been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits, many of them relating to the poor treatment of employees or Trump’s companies refusing to pay for goods and services they have received. His business empire has an appalling record of not paying individuals and small businesses and when those affected take it to court, Trump’s enormous financial resources and his huge legal teams are used to overpower his accusers.

Americans struggling to make ends meet on very low incomes or worried about their jobs will quickly discover the billionaire capitalist is no saviour when he undermines the minimum wage for them and gifts big tax cuts to his country club wealthy elite. The disconnection between the public’s perception of Mr. Trump as a self-made mogul and the reality of him being a rich kid who lost other people’s money and made far less for himself than he claims has gone undetected by the masses.

This is just one example of actions not matching words and there is a catalogue of very disturbing examples of a man of very poor character, who has expressed racist, sexist, xenophobic, abhorrent attitudes and actions throughout his life and who has managed to capture and appeal to the masses with vitriolic speeches and a campaign that featured fear, anger and hatred in large measures. Someone who needlessly offended countless groups of people, including women, Hispanics, Muslims and disabled people.

It concerns me that the majority of Americans who voted cast their preference for such a man. What kind of society elects such a president? I am disturbed by the thought  that he has been able to tap into aspects of racism, sexism, sectarianism and nationalism in the American consciousness that has influenced people’s voting intentions.

That is not to say that everyone who voted for Trump is racist but it is undoubtedly true that playing the race, sexism and nationalistic cards have helped Trump to become President.

The same is true of what happened here in Britain with the Referendum. Not everyone who voted to Leave are xenophobic or racist but undoubtedly, there were many for whom such outlooks, ignorance, prejudices, fears and bigotry were factors in influencing their voting intentions. I have met many sincere folks who voted to leave the EU for reasons of regaining our sovereignty. They are not racist, sexist or bigots.

However in the States, several commentators have described the result as a whitewash, a backlash to the eight years of having a black president ~ that’s racism. Many Americans couldn’t vote for a woman president, not just because it was Hillary Clinton, but because of her gender ~ that’s sexism.

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The result also causes me to question and be concerned about the nation that voted for him and if this is what democracy delivers, and it’s what America stands for, then there is something seriously wrong. How could the nation, (albeit a divided nation like Britain is becoming), elect a man accused of a series of sexual assaults who has demonised Blacks, Mexicans and Muslims, employed venomous language in his campaign be elected to the White House? Billy Bragg, the singer songwriter has tweeted: Trump has answered the great conundrum of the 20th century. How did a rational people like the Germans come to vote for a demagogue like Hitler?

There are of course also some big questions to be asked of and challenges and lessons to be addressed by the ‘political’ classes both here and in the States who are so to be out of touch with the happenings and experiences of many of the citizens they serve. Both in the US Elections and the Referendum here, there was, undoubtedly, a huge element of protest that influenced how people voted. David Cameron and his cronies got a bloody nose at the Referendum. Similarly,  the political elite, the dynasties in the States have been dealt a body blow. People like Farage and Trump have captured, and to my mind, exploited, the feelings of those who feel left behind, thousands of people who see the growing prosperity and opportunities of the wealthy whilst they are deprived, neglected and abandoned.

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This can see be clearly seen here in Britain where the north-south divide is wider than at any time since the beginning of the industrial revolution. It’s wider than when Dickens was writing about Victorian squalor, and deeper than in the Depression years of the 1930s. The regional divide is so vast that, at £13,500 per person, the economic output in Gwent, Wales, is a tenth of one of the wealthiest part of London; and in the Tees and Welsh valleys it has now fallen below that of Lithuania, Slovenia and Slovakia. Average household incomes in Wales, Northern Ireland and the Northern regions of England are under 60% of those in Greater London. Last year, when jobs rose by over 0.5 million in London and the South East they fell by 40,000 in the North-East. Property prices in the south have seen considerable growth in the space of ten years whereas large parts of the north have seen little growth and many are plunging into negative equity.

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Economic inequality, ‘opportunity injustice’, a widespread lack of equal distribution of wealth has led to anger and become a breeding ground for politicians from the far Right and Left to gain momentum and take advantage. Pour into the mix inequalities and sense of betrayal the ingredients of racism, tribalism, nationalism, (which Einstein described as an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind), fear, prejudice, blaming the stranger, immigrant, migrant, etc and you have all that is necessary to create civil unrest and effect political change.

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Staying at the delightful Scargill Community in the snow covered Yorkshire Dales I gather to share morning prayer with the community and other guests. The regular pattern of prayer is abandoned and we sit in silence, reflecting on the news of Trump’s success and quietly pray. I had been with the Community, predominantly younger people the evening before, sharing with them on aspects of living in community as disciples of Jesus. Our time together began with the welcoming in of new members to the community, a lovely Hungarian couple, who were sat next to a delightful Italian couple who are in their first week here at Scargill. The absence of any Africans was very noticeable, as on every other occasion I was delighted to meet with brothers and sisters from that continent. But as we have taken the path of suspicion and mistrust, tightened measures on who we will allow to come into our country, it is becoming impossible for the community here to get any work visas for people from Africa. The situation will only get, in my opinion, worse, if the plans and proposals following Brexit are implemented. As the evening concluded we prayed for the US election results that would come in through the night. Someone made a joke about Trump, one or two tried reassuringly to say he would not be elected but a general air of unease and fear pervaded those of us who were part of the conversation as we realised that in all probability we would wake up to hear news of his victory through the night. And we did.

These are very turbulent days and anybody who pretends otherwise is deceiving themselves or taking false comfort in the freedoms and relative security that most of us in Britain and North America still enjoy. Economically we are in for a rough ride, not so much in the short-term because the consequences of political decisions taken this year will not be experienced for quite some time yet. However the damage to civil society, to global relations is beginning to be seen. The resurgence of fascism is a growing force in global politics, (watch what happens in France and Germany next year, following and with huge encouragement in the wake of what we have done with Brexit here in Britain), nationalist extremes, the renaissance of tribalism which all contribute to conflict and war, (watch this space for what will happen in the former Soviet Union in nations like Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia for whom yesterday’s election result and Brexit, signals no help or hope).

Jimmy Carter, a much underrated former President and a very godly man, warned back in the 1970’s when he tried to bring in caps on the political funding for electioneering and curb the power of media advertising warned that without such measures the States would one day end up with a media mogul as president.

They have. A media baron called Donald Trump. Having seen the ‘trailers’ in the Primaries and run up to the election, we might just be in for a Rocky Horror series, which contains more horror than comedy. As David Lammy, MP has said earlier today, 2016 has been such a dark year. I fear the next few years will be darker still.

Placards were evident at the Republican Party’s celebrations following Trumps success, “God Bless America”.

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My prayer is; Lord have mercy

and the Serenity PrayerGod, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

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