Thursday, October 28, 2021

£1,866,666 for a youth club?

Here's another corker from the Budget yesterday: "we’re providing £560m for youth services, enough to fund up to 300 youth clubs across the country."

Firstly, funding for youth services has been cut by £1bn since 2010, so this restores about half of what was taken away.
Secondly, what? This is £1,866,667 per youth club. Our parish has 2 youth groups, run by a part-time youth worker, plus volunteers, in church premises. Even if those groups were run by 2 full time youth workers, in hired premises, it would only cost £50,000 a year.
So either:
a) Rishi is promising to fund youth work for the next 38 years
b) Most of this money will go on building youth centres (daft idea - hire other local premises and support them instead)
c) Most of it's going to be spent on consultants/managers.
Seriously, give the money to the Church of England (or any church network doing youth work). We're in every community, we already have 900+ churches running youth groups of 25 or more at a fraction of this cost. We have premises. And we have continuity, so youth clubs will be less at risk of death by the annual local government funding cycle. £560m will pay for the equivalent of 2.3 full time youth workers in 1000 places for the next 10 years. That's enough for 3,000 youth groups, let alone 300.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Random questions

 Q1. Would we want as our prime minister someone who can be as easily bullied as Keir Starmer? One day he is, rightly, celebrating the contribution of Jesus House in London to overcoming vaccine scepticism within the ethnic minority community, along with their food and other relief programmes. Then following a complaint from a Labour LGBTI+ pressure group he disowns them and pulls a video complementing their work. It seems that, no matter what you do, if you don't hold to a particular line on sexuality then nothing else really matters, including saving black lives. 

Q2. Can we come up with a better title for the founder of Islam? Coverage of the latest school cartoon protests in Batley, in the mainstream media outlets, had universal references to 'the Prophet Mohammed' with a capital 'P'. I'm not sure how many people outside Islam would accept the title, let alone the capitalisation. He claimed to be a prophet, and many believe him to be so, but an even larger number believe him to be mistaken, to put it kindly. The Quran flatly contradicts both the Jewish and Christian scriptures, if Mohammed is who he claims he is, then Jesus isn't, and if Jesus is who he claims he is, Mohammed isn't. And if the Prophet Mohammed, then why not the Lord Jesus - a title absent from the BBC and elsewhere even at Easter. Mohammed of Mecca? The so-called Prophet Mohammed? Mohammed the founder of Islam? Any other suggestions? 

Q3. Has anyone actually read the racism report in full? There are over 250 pages in the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. Nearly all of the quotes and media coverage on the day of publication can be traced to pages 6-8, the Foreword by the Chair of the Commission. Dr Sewells careless comment about a 'positive story' emerging from slavery wasn't very clever, and unfortunately it's spared lots of people the effort of engaging with the report. The report recognises both the reality of racism, and the progress made in the UK over the last 50 years. It repeats in several places a warning against a victim mentality - of low outcomes becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy because ethnic minorities believe the system is more stacked against them than it actually is. That's not to say the system isn't stacked at all, it is, but incidents of racism and race conflict/protest make the news more often than instances of harmony and progress, so its easy to internalise a pessimistic story because that's the story we're regularly told. The dropping of the BAME catch-all definition makes sense as soon as you see the data broken down at a deeper level: with high educational achievement and wage levels relative to white people within certain ethnic groups, whilst other groups (e.g. Black Carribbean, but not Black African) faring amongst the worst. That leads to questions about culture (e.g. culturally, Bangladeshi women tend not to go out to work, which depresses average household income relative to other groups), family structure (fatherless families much more common among Black Caribbean, but very rare amongst Indian extraction families), and geography - members of the same ethnic minority communities do better if they live in London than in the North. 

(Intermission: here's a very different view of the CRED report)

The late Hans Rosling spent his life trying to educate Western audiences out of an outdated view of poverty, which saw the world split in two: the prosperous West and the poor. He argued it was both more complicated, and more hopeful than that, and that too many of us were still living off a picture of the world that was true in 1970 but way off the mark by 2010. Despite its flaws, perhaps the Commission report is trying to do the same on race. Unlike Sam Tyler, we are not stuck in 1973. Those guys kneeling on the football pitch just before kick off, a lot of them are millionaires. 40% of NHS consultants are from an ethnic minority background, as is the Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer and shadow Foreign Secretary. 65 ethnic minority MPs were elected in 2019, in 2001 it was 12. Rosling never pretended poverty wasn't a problem, but he wanted people to see that things were getting better, to motivate them to see how things could be better for everyone. And if you see yourself as a victim of circumstance and irreversible institutional prejudice, how high will your aspirations be? Schoolteachers will testify that one of the biggest factors in educational achievement is expectations and standards - and the higher the horizons both for the teachers and for the students, the higher the attainment tends to be. Twitter makes it easy to a) simplify and b) scapegoat. What if reality is a bit more complex? What if its important to listen to voices we might disagree with, and data which might challenge our worldview? 

Friday, April 02, 2021

Good Friday - Still Happening

 In the 2000 years since the crucifixion of Jesus, the human capacity for inflicting unspeakable pain hasn't dimmed. We are still as broken and fallen as we ever were. David Alton writes powerfully of how the fake trial and sadistic torture and death of Jesus are duplicated across the world right now:

Last weekend, on Palm Sunday, radicals acting, not for the first time, in the name of religion, laid bombs in a church – this time in Makassar in eastern Indonesia, injuring twenty people.

This week, the most important in the Christian calendar, is a favourite target of jihadists. Recall the Easter Day bombings in Sri Lanka in 2019, and the Easter murders of church goers in Lahore’s Gulsha-i-Iqbal Park, picnicking after their Service.

But for many the agonies of Good Friday are a daily occurrence.

Think of Northern Nigeria where Leah Sharibu, a young schoolgirl, remains in the hands of Boko Haram, having been abducted, raped, forcibly converted, and married. Since last Easter, more than 3,000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria – a country which last year received an average of £800,000 in UK aid every single day.

In Pakistan, another Commonwealth country, Maria Shahbaz is just one of around 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls, aged between 12 and 25, who are abducted annually – with impunity. Ten years ago, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian Minister for Minorities, was assassinated. No one has been brought to justice. During the same period, Pakistan has been in receipt of £3 billion of UK aid, little of which reaches beleaguered minorities.

Think, too, of the personal Calvaries of China’s religious minorities: the genocide against Uyghur Muslims; the incarceration of Christians in Hong Kong;  Tibet’s suffering Buddhists;  murdered Falun Gong practitioners ; bulldozed churches and arrested pastors – such as Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Church, now serving nine years in prison.

In neighbouring North Korea, another atheistic regime has created  what a UN report describes as “a State without parallel” .  A North Korean escapee from one of the concentration camps was a witness at a hearing I chaired in Westminster. She told us: “They tortured the Christians the most”.

There are twitchings of recognition from the UK government towards being part of the solution, the Truro Report into global persecution of Christians reported to the government in July 2019. Hunts successor Dominic Raab is saying something about China, rather than nothing. But as with most issues, covid has taken up most of our effort, thinking and priorities over the last 2 years. 

One of my favourite movie lines (bear with me) is from The Negotiator, "You have no idea what I'm capable of", from Kevin Spacey's character. In the case of Spacey himself, it turns out we didn't. Good Friday shows us both what we are capable of, and what God is capable of. It faces us with the dark heart of human evil and violence - everything from sadism at school to genocide - and the astonishing hope of a God who can reach into all of it and redeem it. The Lord of the Flies meets the Lord of Glory.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Easter Playlist

 Derri Daughtery & friends 'Beautiful Scandalous Night' Mark Heard 'Lonely Road' Iona 'When I Survey the Wondrous Cross'

The Choir 'Enough to Love' Newsboys 'God's Not Dead'

Sorry about the ads, can't even escape them at Easter!

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Living in Love and Faith: Please Reschedule

 It was an unfortunate bit of timing. The Church of England has spent several years producing a suite of resources called Living in Love and Faith, including a 450 page book, dozens of videos, a course and over 300 linked resources for further study. The purpose is to create a constructive space for  this question: How do questions about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage fit within the bigger picture of the good news of Jesus Christ? What does it mean to live in love and faith together as a Church?

The LLF resources are a brave attempt to help the church, locally and nationally, to engage with the massive changes in culture around identity, sexuality, relationships, marriage, behaviour etc., and to bring that alongside Christian teaching and thinking. To say that traditional Christian teaching (God made us male and female, made us sexual beings and made marriage - a lifelong exclusive covenant between a man and a woman - as the good and right context for sexual intimacy) is out of step with UK culture is a bit of an understatement. The culture itself is in serious flux too, and the ongoing sexual revolution faces some fairly fundamental questions of its own: if gender is fluid then what's wrong with so-called 'conversion therapy' if people want their desires to be different to the ones they experience? Is it child abuse to give minors puberty blockers, in response to them identifying as the biological sex other than the one they were born into, given that 5 out of 6 of them will eventually revert to identifying as their 'given' sex, or is it a therapeutic act of kindness? 

I say 'brave' - I can't think of a cultural moment when it would be tougher to try to create a respectful context for deep listening. But that's what the CofE is trying to do. Because most of the sides in this debate haven't listened, or haven't listened well - too painful, too sure of ourselves, too much effort to think things through, whatever the reason. It would be a counter-cultural miracle if the Church could provide a lived example of people with diametrically opposed views, on issues which cut to the core of who we are and how we live, finding a way to hear each other out and live well in one community. 

However: The resources were launched last year, and the central team is currently going around the Dioceses (via Zoom), taking us through them all, and how to use them. The plan is for churches to run the course in our parishes, and report back to a national process by the end of this year. Realistically, that's November, as its too dark/cold/wet/close to Christmas to get churches together in person after that for a 5 session course. 

Um, covid. 

A conversation this important isn't one you can have over Zoom, which for all its benefits isn't brilliant for intimate communication, and excludes a fair proportion of church members who haven't got, or haven't mastered, the technology. In theory we could meet in groups of 6 from May 17th, in our churches that would give me 25 groups to get round. And the social distancing review, if it retains social distancing, could completely scupper any attempt to get the whole church together at all. The earliest we could realistically plan for 'normal' church life is September, and there are more pressing things for us as local churches than LLF, after 18 months of partial or complete lockdown. The materials themselves need some fairly major adaptation - several of the sessions are pretty scattergun, some of the teaching material is very poor, and it needs a lot of work to make it usable in normal parish settings. One vicar I spoke to has several adult with learning difficulties in her congregation, and was saying it would take her months to adapt the materials to make them suitable, and that would be in normal times. 

Us vicars, along with our congregations, and most of the country, are exhausted. It makes no sense to stick to the prearranged timetable. We need until Easter, or even Pentecost 2022, to have time to go through these materials face to face, with our congregations, at a time when it's likely to work well. I can already hear the howls of protest from the pressure groups, who believe that the current teaching of the CofE is abusive, and for whom the only acceptable outcome of this process is the wholesale embrace of just about everything Stonewall and Mermaids say. But if LLF is not about one side winning, but about all of us learning to listen properly to each other, then I think its foolish to pretend covid hasn't happened and stick to the current timescale.  

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A Leaf

 A friend of mine posted this on Facebook the other day. It's beautifully written, and very powerful, so I hope it blesses you:

A story about a leaf.

 Today I sat in the sunshine outside my workplace.

 To be honest it's been a really hard few weeks, lots of ups but also some awfully stressful downs. So anyway, I was sat in the sunshine and enjoying the birds singing and feeding my soul with some peace. All on my own as I usually am.

 As I sat on an old partly rotting railway sleeper round the edge of the raised bed outside my workshop a leaf wandered by. I heard it first. A kind of rattling noise to the side of me. I heard it tap tap tapping it's way over to me and I wondered what the noise was. Then I saw this dried up, dead, light brown little leaf cartwheeling in the breeze towards me. I said out loud "hello little leaf."

And it stopped right in front of me as the breeze died down. And I pondered. In its lifetime this little leaf had been green and fresh and part of a tree or bush somewhere nearby. While it was alive it would have done its thing every day for a whole season drawing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen. Enjoying the sun and the rain alike and just keeping on doing its thing day by day.

I was really struck by how this now dead leaf had once been alive and should have been completely unnoticed in my world. Yet he came cartwheeling by as I sat in the sun. In its life this little leaf had made oxygen for me and others. Unbidden. Unthanked.

 I said "thank you little leaf". And off he went cartwheeling away in the breeze once more.

 All any of us can do is just keep doing our thing each day. We are surrounded by so many clamouring to be great. People being inspirational, influencing, brave, heroic, rising up, succeeding, championing, trailblazing, overcoming, being victorious and shining brightly... It's all so exhausting and frankly... Soul crushing when you feel you're going through crap and can barely brush your hair or you're just plodding on through life and don't feel very worthwhile or successful.

 More of us need more often to just be like my little leaf friend today. Just be. Just do the little thing that you do and don't worry about anyone else. Breathe in. Breathe out. Hang on in the rainy times. Bask in the sunny times. And then when you've breathed your last, maybe you'll get to cartwheel in heaven, not because you've been so brilliantly successful but because you are loved.

 The little leaf wasn't a superstar flower or a springtime blossom. Just a little leaf, probably hidden and unseen during its life. But I met him today and he impacted me, even after he was done and all dried up. You never really know what impact you have on others when you just quietly be you.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Covid Carols

Good King Wenceslas logged out
Feeling much dejection
All the slots had been booked out
For Tesco collection
Not deliveries there were
For his sauce and pasta
He would have to fight his way
Through the queues at ASDA
Angels from the realms of glory
Kindly stay right in your place
We’ve no wish to get infected
Have you heard of hands face space?
Sing that song at us
Don’t you realise
Droplets travel further
Have to isolate
We can’t emigrate
No way through at Dover
Wash you hands and please don’t sing
Now mask ye quickly gentlemen don’t mingle here today
We need your names for track and trace the church guidance doth say
Our distanced seating’s full so please book in for next Sunday
And we’re streaming on Facebook and Zoom
Meeting Room
And we’re streaming on Facebook and Zoom
See them dining now in Tier 4
Masks at table and an open door
All precautions so the covid spores
Don’t land on the Christmas turkey
How to eat up Brussel Sprouts for 10?
We disinvited
Aunty Gwen
At least we won’t get ugly socks again
And bits of gaudy paper chain.

While Donald watched the count at night
Saw he was losing ground
Upon his laptop did alight
And tweeted all around
"Fear not", said Pence, for mighty dread
Had seized his coiffured hair
"That Biden's old, he's got not chance
So please Boss don't despair"

All lawyers heed, clear schedules now
And double up your fee
For Trump will not admit defeat
Till 2023

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Reality Check

I've just has this in an email, relaying a Zoom conversation with Christians in Madagascar. 

The diocesan economic development coordinator Ialy has recently returned from a trip to his village in the far south of the island. Good time? Patsy asked. No, Ialy said. His aunt had been used to monthly visits from his cousins, who live 75 km away in a village which is even more remote than hers. Last month they didn’t turn up; nor this month. So she decided to go and see what was happening. She travelled the 75km by ox cart, which is the usual means of transport, and arrived to find that the entire family, parents and three children, had died three days earlier from starvation. They hadn’t been able to come to town to sell their charcoal because the oxen were too weak; they themselves had been too weak to walk. So they hadn’t been able to ask for help.

 One story, one family. But that story is being repeated all over the far south of Madagascar, which falls within this huge, young diocese. They are trying to get rice and beans to the area to keep people alive.