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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Mind your language

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One of our grandchildren rushed into the kitchen to report that he’d heard someone on a childrens television programme using a swear word. He was shocked and felt we needed to know. “He shouldn’t have sworn should he Grandad?”. “ No Patrick. He shouldn’t”. He will remember that programme for all the wrong reasons.

It seems as though the idea of minding your language no longer applies, not just on the television but across the whole spectrum of private and public life.

The tongue and language generally is a powerful tool as the writer of James in the New Testament says. It has the power to bless or curse, to help or harm.

Language, words, stories and narratives shape, consciously and unconsciously, individuals and societies. The brilliance of the Brexit campaign with its slogans, many of them blatant lies, captured the imagination of the public and won the Referendum, winning the argument over an insipid and inept Remain campaign, adopting their own language of fear. The language that was so evident then, among politicians, was brutal, partisan and divisive. The language that has ensued in the wake of the Referendum result has been vitriolic, discriminatory and incredibly damaging.

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Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster criticised the “self indulgent way” in which some Britons have been expressing a hatred of people they see as different. He said society had to have a “fundamental generosity and respect” and warned of a “them and us” attitude to the migrant crisis, which he said “denies our common humanity“. He went on to say that the very real issues facing society, including the immigration crisis, was almost impossible to discuss in an atmosphere in which fear and hatred are the dominant features. He cited the example of migrants from Poland and Africa who had been left uncomfortable at the way “arguments around the referendum on EU membership were conducted“. He said that “expressions of hatred” on social media as well as racist graffiti were “creating a culture of fear among people who have been welcomed here, never mind those for whom we do have a responsibility because of their desperate need“. On politicians and the media he said: “What we seem to be living with is a kind of popular leadership which is basing itself on fear. It’s almost trading in fear….As far as I can see that is the worst kind of leadership.” He went on to say that, “Sometimes it is the media that gives an opportunity and creates an environment in which every item of news about migrants in this country is negative. And that is I think untrue to the reality of this country and corrosive of our best nature and our best contribution.” Thank God for a church leader, who carries far more weight and influence that I do who has named the language being used as damaging, rooted in fear and fuelling hatred.

Think about the abusive and disrespectful language dominating the US Presidential election. Hillary Clinton has been acidic in her denunciation of her Republican opponent Donald Trump. He in turn has conducted a master class in appealing to the baser instincts of humanity, playing on peoples fears, trumpeting false hopes and unrealistic and simplistic solutions, blaming others, especially non whites, particularly Muslims, Mexicans and migrants. I find it extraordinary that it is likely to be conservative Evangelical Christians who will be a key factor in electing him to the White House. Should that happen it confirms to me finally that evangelicals there have forgotten the roots of their tradition, namely the authority of Scripture and what it says on issues of lifestyle, immigration, refugees, justice and God’s bias for the poor, to name but a few things.

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To hear the language of Trump, not just what he said ten years ago but throughout the election. He has described women as, “pigs, dogs and slobs”, that he could “grab them by the xxxxx“. He has spoken of Hillary Clinton as “deranged… an evil woman”. Labelling Mexicans as people who were “bringing drugs and bringing crime. They’re rapists …… He says he plans to deport 11 million “ethnics” if he becomes President. His language is one of defamation, which is defined as, ‘intentional false communication, that harms a person’s reputation; decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which a person is held’.

The language that Trump and indeed his political friend and counterpart here in Britain, Nigel Farage, uses, induces disparaging, hostile opinions or feelings against a person. It is slanderous and incredibly damaging, not just for the individuals to whom it is directed but for the wellbeing of society.

As Cardinal Nichols said, respect is at the heart of any civilized society. Lose respect and society crumbles. The Ten Commandments, God’s foundational decrees for human life in society, is shot through with respect. Lose it and society falls ~ read history!

It’s easy to point to what’s happening in the States but here in Britain the same defamatory and damaging language is evident. Take for example this week’s Spectator’s Parliamentarian of the Year awards, where Nigel Farage was awarded the Political Comeback of the Year award. His language now as throughout his political career has been toxic. He was presented his award by the former Chancellor, ‘yesterday’s man’, George Osborne, a man he not so long described publicly as a “pasty-faced bastard”.

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For a momentary more humourous note during the evening’s awards, there was the wonderful clumsy moment when Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary referred in his speech to Brexit as a ‘titanic success’. No wonder Theresa May put her head in her hands as people reminded Boris that the titanic sank!

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Another danger is the language of spin. This week saw Sir John Chilcot, who headed up the inquiry into the Iraq War, before the Commons Liaison Committee. He said that Tony Blair’s case for war in Iraq went “beyond the facts” in a way that caused long-term damage to the public’s trust in politics. Close to saying that Blair had spun the evidence when he claimed Saddam Hussein posed a ‘real and present danger’ to the UK, he told the committee that there was “no imminent threat” to Britain and that it was not “reasonable” for the former PM to put an “inflection” on the caveated intelligence. “A speech was made in advocate’s terms and putting the best possible inflection on the description that he used,” he added, going on to say that,“I absolve him from a personal and demonstrable decision to deceive Parliament or the public, to state falsehoods knowing them to be false…. However, he also exercised his very considerable powers of advocacy and persuasion rather than laying the real issues and the information to back the analysis of them fairly and squarely in front of either Parliament or the public. It was an exercise in advocacy.” Chilcot insisted that he was not saying Blair had “deliberately spread falsehoods” but felt he had behaved more like a lawyer and politician rather than “laying the real issues and information” before Parliament and the public. He went on to say that he believed that the consequences of such ‘spin’ had eroded trust in politics. And that is what has played into the present turmoil in society, a belief that politicans tell lies and can’t be trusted. Chilcot added that it would take a long time to restore the voters’ trust in their politicians. Speaking after the session, Treasury Select Committee chairman Andrew Tyrie said: “Sir John’s evidence confirmed what many of us have long suspected; in making his case for war, Mr Blair went beyond the facts. In doing so Mr Blair eroded the trust of the electorate in its leaders, a shocking legacy.”

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The consequences of the media not watching its language is equally damaging. Take for example the headlines in most newspapers following this week’s High Court judgement on Brexit. The Daily Mail ran the headline, ‘The Enemies of the People’ when describing the three High Court judges who ruled that parliament should get a vote on triggering article 50. Papers like The Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The Sun have made some serious and unjustified attacks on the judiciary after the High Court’s Brexit decision. Such headlines undermine the important issue of the independence of the judiciary.

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The media, far from contributing to the rebuilding of a broken society, exasperates the problem and incites hatred. For example. we are faced currently with a very divided and increasingly fracturing nation, where hate crimes are rising disturbingly. We are faced with the reality that the referendum has divided the nation. 17,410,742 (51.9%) people voted to leave and 16,141,241 (48.1%) voted to remain. It was a narrow victory, with a 4% margin. Every other referendum across the Western world would have viewed the results as advisory and seen the result as an indicator of a divided nation that required careful handling. Look at the headline facts; Scotland, Northern Ireland and London voted for Europe. The North East, where there are just 19,000 East Europeans living and working, voted against Europe. Young people voted for a future in Europe. The elderly, mostly said No.

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The articles within the inside pages of The Mail went on to talk about the sexuality and civil partnership of one of the judges, as if that was a contributory factor in the judges unanimous and unequivocal judgment.

The hatred that has been meted out to the businesswoman Gina Miller since the hearing is wicked. She has been subjected to racist online abuse after her lawsuit forced the Government to put its plans to leave the European Union to a Parliamentary vote. She has received emails and texts saying she will be gang raped, knifed and many of her detractors have made overt reference to her Guyanese heritage, with huge numbers saying she should ‘go back to where she belongs’ and leave the UK.

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Watch your language for, as the writer of the book of James says, the tongue is a powerful weapon. He charts the potential for evil rather than the potential for good with one’s tongue, citing the dangers of the tongue’s ability to spread evil, (James 3:5-6). He uses several images in the opening chapter of the letter depicting the power and potential of our tongue; waves, a horse’s bit, ship’s rudder, and a fire. James chose to portray a spreading destruction. An ax destroys one tree at a time; with our tongues, one act of evil starts a destructiveness that spreads beyond the initial act.

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Politicians, journalists, broadcasters, parents, let’s all of us, for the common good, guard our tongues and mind our language.

 

 

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Canada, Compassion and Concerns

I’ve never been to Canada but know plenty of people from our own Community and other friends who live or have visited the country. It’s vast landscapes, unique and tolerant blend of cultures and multifaceted history make it a really interesting place. One of the world’s wealthiest nations and second only in size to Russia, it is a big country! Though similar economically to its neighbour to the south, the United States, there are significant differences between the two countries

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Shaped and influenced by immigrants primarily from Britain and France, Canadian citizens are reasonably happy with their European heritages.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the children have just returned from Canada and Prince William said that he and his family were, incredibly grateful to the people of Canada for the warmth and hospitality that they’d experienced as a family. He went on to say, We have loved our time in British Columbia and Yukon and will never forget the beautiful places we have seen and the many people who have been kind enough to come to welcome us in person…..We feel very lucky to have been able to introduce George and Charlotte to Canada. This country will play a big part in the lives of our children and we have created such happy memories for our family during this visit. Canada is a country of optimism, generosity and unrivalled natural beauty. I hope we have helped all Canadians celebrate what makes this country great. We will see you again soon. So well done Canada!

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A country, not without its problems but in this regard and in relation to your welcoming of refugees, a country with a big heart, showing compassion, reaching out to support, responding to the cries of the desperate.

A news story broke last week about how a Syrian refugee come to the rescue of the Canadian bride. Just a couple of hours before her wedding the zip on her wedding dress broke and despite the efforts of her bridesmaids, the problem remained. In desperation they went over the road to a neighbour’s house for help. They went to borrow some pliers from the neighbour and in the process discovered something much better. Their neighbour was hosting a family of Syrian refugees and the father was a master tailor and was only too happy to help. Within minutes, the taylor and his son arrived to help, sewing kit in tow and rescued the situation. The whole episode was recorded by the wedding photographer, Lindsay Coulter. She learnt that the Syrian refugee family had moved to Canada just over a week ago. They didn’t speak a word of English and had been communicating with their Canadian host family using Google translate. She went on to say, Every weekend I take photos of people on the happiest days of their lives, and today one man who has seen some of the worst things our world has to offer came to the rescue. I am so proud to live in Canada, a country who has opened our doors to refugees countless times. I’m in awe of the families who have welcomed these strangers into their homes and lives, and I’m inspired by the resilience of the Syrian people. We are truly blessed. In a later interview on Canadian television news, the Syrian father and master tailor said, (through a translator) that he was happy to help; I was so excited and so happy to help Canadian people like other people have helped us.

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It’s a heartwarming story of compassion and the blessings of both giving and receiving.

We have much to learn in Britain from such a story.

Yvette Cooper, wife of the former Chancellor Ed Balls, (renowned now for his cowboy themed Charleston in last night’s Strictly Come Dancing show on TV and who has survived and dances on for another week!) is calling upon the British Government to intervene in the refugee crisis. In a fresh plea to the government Cooper points out that 500 of the estimated 1000 orphaned refugee children will be left stranded and prey to traffickers as the French authorities bulldoze and demolish the Calais Jungle. Nearly 100 of these 500 desperately vulnerable refugee children have relatives living legally in Britain and yet our British authorities are not allowing them to enter the country. God have mercy upon us! Cooper has visited the ‘camp’ on several occasions and was dismayed and angered by our failure, together with the French to resolve the problem. She says, The talent of our two nations drove the industrial revolution, the best medical advances in history, and the creation of the world wide web. It is not beyond the wit of our two great countries to solve the problem of Calais. In the last few months, I’ve travelled to Beirut, Lesbos and Calais talking both to those who have fled their homes and to local authorities who are struggling to cope. This work isn’t intended to be party political – we want to build a consensus on tackling the greatest humanitarian crisis since the second world war. How are we letting this happen? 

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Complex as the whole issue of immigration is, compassion has to govern and inform our attitudes and actions in response to the needs of others. Theresa May’s refusal to lift a finger to help the world’s most vulnerable at the recent UN refugee summit contrasts with that of Angela Merkel’s principled Christian stand to alleviate the trauma of multitudes of refugees, despite the political cost to herself.  Charities, religious leaders, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the SNP have all criticised the government for agreeing to take only 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees over the next four years, even though places for them have already been found with local councils. The prophet Micah clearly declared, He has shown you what is good and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8.

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I was thinking this morning on a bike ride round where I live of how blessed I am in so many ways. The Maslow Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological tool that gives a 5 tier pyramid model of human needs. Maslow wanted to understand what motivates people and he came to the conclusion that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some of those needs take precedence over others. He said that our most basic need is for physical survival and this will be the first thing that motivates our behaviour. Once that is met, we move on of the pyramid to the next level, safety, and so on, (see the diagram below).

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I am in that privileged place of realising all of those needs but in contrast, the plight of millions of refugees is such that they are being denied very basic human needs; food, water, warmth and rest. They have no safety or security. A failure to respond to them is to damage them further as human beings. So in Christ’s name and for humanity’s sake, let’s respond to the cry of refugees.

Sadly, I fear that too many hearts are closed, ears deafened and attitudes hardened. I hope and pray that Theresa May, promoted by several newspapers yesterday on the eve of the Conservative party conference as the vicar’s daughter will deliver on some of the values that were shared in the vicarage as a child and during her teenage years. Talking soft left and sounding compassionate but delivering hard right policies is contradictory and damaging. She has an unenviable task, in a party that is like Labour, riven with divisions but I pray that she will be true to some of the words she spoke on the doorstep of number 10 when she assumed the leadership of the party and became our Prime Minister. It haunts me to think of a previous woman prime minister quoting the words of St Francis of Assisi on her taking up office; Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope’ …   The scars of Thatcherism bear testimony to a huge disconnect between those words of St Francis and the reality of government policies under her reign as Prime Minister.

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It’s obvious now that there is going to be no U-turn on an opportunity for the public to have any say on the issues and implications following Brexit. As Theresa May has stated today, There will be no unnecessary delays in invoking Article 50. We will invoke it when we are ready. And we will be ready soon. We will invoke Article 50 no later than the end of March next year. Britain will be out of the EU by 2019.

A decision I believe that we will, in the course of time, come to regret. We’re told, the British people have decided “unanimously”. In truth, the referendum result was won with a narrow majority and has been previously stated in my blog, the British public were lied to and those lies formed the propaganda that produced the result.

I am dismayed by the result and the way in which it was deceiving and manipulative, a point not lost on the BBC’s John Simpson, the corporation’s world affairs editor who speaking yesterday said, The BBC failed its viewers in its coverage of the EU referendum. He said the Brexit result could have been different, had broadcasters and newspapers held politicians and campaigners to account. That is exposed their lies.

However my greater concern is what the result has unleashed within the consciousness, the hearts and minds of too many people. It’s the law of unintended consequences, when something that is designed to do one thing, actually contributes to something quite contrary or gets out of hand. A happening or experience that triggers something that is potentially very damaging and dangerous.

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Let me illustrate what I mean. The other evening I watched BBCs Question Time, which came from Boston in Lincolnshire, an area that had voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. An area where the issue of immigration and migrant workers is heightened. It still puzzles me when driving through Lincolnshire a few years ago, seeing the site of migrant workers on their hands and knees, working in the fields of a farmer who had large posters encouraging people to vote for UKIP. Surely a contradiction in terms?! Anyway, on Question Time, the issue of immigration inevitably was raised and took up half the programme in debate and discussion. I was shocked and saddened by what appeared to be the majority of the audience and most of the panel, by the attitudes towards refugees in particular. One member of the audience drew huge sympathy and much support when he expressed his horror at the idea of a refugee being invited and being welcomed into the home of “we British people”. He went on to say that he didn’t know where they were coming from, what they would like, that they may be the potential terrorists, murderers, thieves etc. Now I am not saying that there are not some very complex issues and some real concerns but this is just the kind of language and narratives that were prevalent in 1930’s Germany.

I recently attended a symposium on Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Durham and was asked to give a short paper and sit on a panel as we discussed his book Life Together. In preparing for such an occasion I reminded myself of the context in which Bonhoeffer wrote. It was quite frightening to read about some of the things that were being said, written and broadcast in Germany and to see that some of the narrative and attitudes prevalent in 1930s Germany were being echoed in some of the comments that I heard the other evening on Question Time. Bonnie Greer, jeered at times by the audience for her contribution as a panelist, pointed out that it was from England in the 17th cebtury, that people, wanting to be free of poverty, injustice and serfdom, left our shores and sailed to America and founded places like Boston, Massachusetts. Most people didn’t get the point she was making. Comments in contrast from other panelists and most members of the audience appeared reasonable and understandable but from a theological, biblical, Christian point of view are simply unjustifiable and incompatible with the values of God’s kingdom.

My fears were confirmed by the vast majority of people at the symposium that I was able to speak to, far more able and intelligent, thinking academics, each one coming to similar conclusions, that the attitudes and prevailing thinking that Bonhoeffer was contending in speaking out against are to be found again, not only in Europe but across the Western world. To name just one ‘evil’; the rise of nationalism. Allied to the emergence and renewal of tribalism, we find ourselves in an increasingly fragmented, divided and partisan culture, where difference is regarded as a threat and diversity, far from being celebrated is something that is seen as damaging.

The law of unintended consequences is I believe contributing to a move from patriotism to divisive nationalism. A move that segregates and separates people. A shift in consciousness that leads to sectarianism, racism, a blaming of the stranger, social unrest, violence and ultimately to war.

I’m writing this blog with an eye on the Ryder Cup. The vast majority of the crowd, behaving patriotically and supporting their USA team but to the listening ear as well as reading the reports of what happened yesterday, there are clearly some sections of the crowd that are venomous in their behaviour towards the opposition.

These are worrying trends, disturbing traits and turbulent times. They call for us to be contemplatives in a world in action, able to think and pray, to observe and discern the signs of the times and like Bonhoeffer protest, alert, warn and take appropriate action in response to the challenges ahead.

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Lord have mercy.

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