Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Election Misdirection

Its a common tactic of magicians to use misdirection - get the audience's attention on one thing so that the real trick can be executed elsewhere.

This is a misdirection election. Directly after winning a Commons vote on his Brexit deal, Boris Johnson dissolved Parliament. Why? Because his only way of winning an election was to pitch the Conservatives as the Brexit Party, knowing that the Remain vote would be split and leaderless.

Take Brexit out, and who would win? Without 'Get Brexit Done', what else have the Conservatives had to say? Vague stuff about unleashing potential, statistically false claims about hospitals and nurses, and restoring police numbers to almost what they were pre-austerity.

Beyond that, as if reflecting the fact they have very little else to say, the Conservatives have disappeared from everything except their own staged events. Andrew Neil is the tip of the iceberg, they have systematically avoided interviews, debates and phone-ins throughout the campaign, Victoria Derbyshire noting this morning that following a month of daily requests not one cabinet minister has ever been put up to appear on her morning TV/radio discussion. People who avoid scrutiny have something to hide.

Labours use of the NHS has a big whiff of misdirection about it too, the documents released mid-term don't really prove its up for sale. Yes it's underfunded and stretched to breaking point, but like the Tories, Labour see in the NHS their own giant trump card that just about hides the other weaknesses in their hand.

This Sunday, Anglicans will hear of John the Baptists question from prison 'are you the one, or should we expect someone else?' Expecting a Jesus bringing judgement and upheaval, instead John suffers the limitations of the Herodian prison system whilst the hoped for Judeaxit from the Roman Empire is nowhere to be seen. Jesus reply: open your eyes. Notice what is happening - to the blind, the lame, the poor, the deaf, the excluded. The good news is coming first to the people nobody reports on.

Open your eyes. Don't follow the magic show. Notice what is happening to the poor, the disabled, the excluded, the hungry. Notice what is happening that politicians never talk about, in the very foundations of our society in families, parenting, culture, values. Notice the things that don't come down to money, and numbers of people employed to do x or y. Love, justice, the planet, kindness, truth. Notice the people that don't register - asylum seekers, food bank users, children in the care system, the isolated elderly, the people affected by UK foreign policy, the anxious and depressed.

Once you've seen how the trick works, its not magic. Turn away from it, and the daily insistence for the last month that this is all we should be noticing. What else do you see and hear? What else do you notice? If you remove the magic trick from the show, what else becomes important instead?

And please vote tomorrow.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

The Election - a Little Church of England Issue

Justin Welby is currently 63, and has been Archbishop of Canterbury for the best part of 7 years, since March 2013. His immediate predecessors were:

Rowan Williams retired at 62 after 10 years
George Carey retired at 67 after ll years
Robert Runcie retired at 70 after 11 years

Under the fixed term parliaments act, the next election after this one isn't supposed to be until December 2024, by which time Justin Welby will be 1 month off his 69th birthday, and will have been in office for nearly 12 years.

So based on recent form there is a very good chance that the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be chosen by Boris Johnson, or (long shot) Jeremy Corbyn. The former is likely to plump for a white, male privately educated Oxbridge graduate, given the opportunity, and the latter is likely to choose for a left-leaning female, given the opportunity. (update: I've been put right on this - the process is now that they get 1 name to approve, with another in reserve)

All the candidates will be capable - the shortlist of 2 traditionally given to the PM comes out of an intensive process of prayer, interviews, advice and selection. But neither potential PM is particularly keen on the church and what it stands for. Though being shortlisted for ABofC is one of my worst nightmares, it would be even more of a nightmare to think I was appointed to the job by a man who'd broken in letter or in spirit nearly all of the 10 commandments, and thought Christianity was a myth made up by a bunch of religious zealots on the fringe of his beloved Greco-Roman society.

Both have pledged some reform of the constitution in their manifestos, including this rather startling proposal from the Tories After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people. ... In our first year we will set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission that will examine these issues in depth, and come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates.

Throw into the mix the age of the Queen, and the 'Defender of Faiths' line taken by the next in line to the throne, and there is quite a shake-up coming down the tracks. The end of the Elizabethan age will see a massive rethink about the role of the royalty, and once you pull at that thread it isn't long before you get to the Church.

Here's my take: disestablishment is coming, whether the good old CofE wants it or not. It has already started in lots of small ways - e.g. the series of changes to marriage law over the last 20 years. The question for the next Parliament is whether the church will get ahead of the curve on this, or be dragged along by events. The CofE needs its own vision of what a post-establishment Anglican Church could look like, rather than have one forced upon it by politicians who see neither merit nor votes in working with us. The Estalibshment of the church belongs to a previous age, it will go sooner or later, and as we have seen with attitudes to trans issues, the political and cultural weather can change very suddenly, and very fast.

Part of Justin Welby's legacy needs to be this: to get the Church of England thinking this through, and leading the debate, before a bandwagon appears from elsewhere - whether that bandwagon is driven by events, electoral reform, ideologues or royal succession. By then it will be too late to do our thinking.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

'Affordable Childcare' - parents?

The nationalisation of parenting continues apace: 
‘High quality affordable childcare’: all parties are promising it in various degrees. The Conservatives wish to extend wrap-around childcare at school and holidays for working parents. Labour promises an extension to 30hrs a week for two to four year olds and to extend provision for one year olds and the Lib Dems promise to deliver the best start in life for children by extending childcare provision at 9 months.
All these so called ‘family friendly policies’ are offered to mothers only if they agree to hand over care of their children to external settings and get out of the home. Care, which was once done for love and supported through family tax allowances, is now only recognised and supported if it is a traded commodity and measured as growth.
High quality long-term committed stable child care is a mother at home or a father or a grandmother – even a childminder in a home setting, but none of these qualify for any support. Economic pressures aside, spending more time with their children is what the vast majority of mothers want, and I daresay if one year olds could speak (some scream at the nursery door at being wrenched from their mother) is what they would prefer too.
But their voices are ignored at best or at worst misrepresented in political debate and policy circles. One freedom the ordinary mother no longer has is to choose to care for her own children: Mothers say choice is ‘virtually eradicated’ (Netmums: Great Work Debate) . 88 per cent of mothers with very young children said the main reason for returning to work was financial pressure’, according to the Centre for Social Justice.
And yet there is a clamour for childcare and a desperate need to help families struggling with debt, rising rents and living costs. Families are drowning and asking for a helping hand. They are not asking how they got into the river: they are too busy swimming to survive, and ‘affordable childcare’ appears to be a way to enable the mother to work to plug the income gap.
But is ‘affordable childcare’ the answer to relief from poverty? It is not – and unfortunately families will find out all too late that both parents are working very hard for very little extra disposable income. What they will have lost is family time; time with their children, which they cannot recover.
read the rest here

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Opinionated Vicar Election Awards

In the seasonal spirit of reviewing the year before it is completely over, here are some interim awards for the 2019 Election Campaign

The Where's Wally Award, for people conspicuous by their absence
Winner:
Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is exercising common sense, following advice and staying in his room.
Runners-Up:
Emily Thornberry. Apparently she's shadow foreign secretary. It can't look good if Labour think Richard Burgon will do a better job than you.
Diane Abbott. Apparently she's shadow home secretary

The Pinocchio Award
Winner
Charlie Cleverley, for the fake 'fact checking' Twitter account
Runners Up
Charlie Cleverley, for the doctored ITV footage
Charlie Cleverley, for the doctored BBC footage

The Who Do You Think You Are? Award, for odd choice of spokesperson
Winner
Nicky Morgan, not prepared to stand as an MP on the current manifesto, yet sent in against Piers Morgan to defend it.
Runners-Up
Donald Trump, representing the Brexit Party
That Conservative guy on the BBC leaders debate last night. Who was he?

The Side-Of-A-Bus Award for creative mathematics
Winner
The Conservative 50,000 nurses pledge, which turns out to be mostly nurses who are already in post.
Runner-Up
Labours claim that nobody outside the top 5% of earners will pay more tax. I earn less than the average wage and I will be paying more tax under Labour, because I'm married.

The Theresa May Award for avoiding journalists, and the general public
Winner
Boris Johnson, passing up 2 opportunities to appear on TV opposite other political leaders, and trying to wriggle out of the Andrew Neil 30 minute BBQ event.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Labours Race and Faith Manifesto

Fair play to Jeremy Corbyn, at least the Labour party have made a public statement of their policies relating to racial minorities and faith groups. The Conservative strategy, as evidenced by a manifesto roughly half the size of those of the other main parties, is that the less you say, the less you can be tripped up with.

Labours Race and Faith Manifesto, published yesterday under the shadow of the Chief Rabbi (of which more later), is a creditable attempt to analyse a major area of social injustice, and put policies in place to tackle it. Most of the manifesto is about racial inequality, expressed in pay, poverty, under-representation, policing, policies towards immigrants, right through to climate change and how aid money is spent. There is a series of policies aimed both at correcting outcomes, and at influencing culture. The former includes greater investment in mental health, using monitoring and regulation to increase BAME participation in academia and business leadership. The latter includes changes to the education curriculum and policing culture.

On Faith, there isn't quite so much - an early paragraph commends 'the contribution of faith groups in filling the gaps left by austerity Britain', and nearly all of the policy stuff is about supporting freedom of religious expression at home and abroad, and combating hate crime and anti-religious prejudice. Page 5 includes a commitment to "ensure the views of communities with or without faith are respected and protected across our society". That's a big one, if they really mean it: the liberal social agenda expressed elsewhere in Labours programme won't be one supported by faith groups.

Yesterdays spat with the Chief Rabbi, and the response from the Muslim Council of Britain, throw all of this into sharp relief. There should be no tolerance of anti-Jewish racism or anti-Muslim prejudice. However the notion of Islamophobia itself needs some refining, and both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are sometimes used carelessly - someone who criticises the actions of the state of Israel is not necessarily an anti-Semite, and someone who criticises aspects of Islam is not Islamophobic.

Whilst some of the standard antisemitic formulas centre on an imagined global financial conspiracy, there is real evidence of the influence of hard cash elsewhere. Whilst some  Muslim students, among others, don't feel that university is a safe place to be themselves and express their views, academia itself is coming heavily under the influence of oil money from the Middle East. This impacts on the freedom of universities to maintain standards of critical scrutiny of Islam, its sources and its history. This isn't isolated of course - we're seeing universities caving in to China, gender lobbyists, you name it, with 54% actively censoring free speech in some form or another.  But intellectual freedom and free speech are not qualities prized by Muslim governments and their billionaire leaders who finance faculties from Exeter to Edinburgh. The same goes for China - is it possible for a Labour government to 'respect and protect' the views of Chinese students who try to shut down protests about Hong Kong on British campuses?

The Muslim Council of Britain, representing 500 mosques, schools and organisations (for comparison, my own Diocese of Bath and Wells represents over 500 churches, plus dozens of schools and other organisations), not so long ago boycotted Holocaust Memorial Day. Ironically, in a move which parallels the Conservatives decision to broaden their Islamophobia investigation, they once called for the day to be expanded to one covering all forms of genocide.

Just as with the gender and sexuality debates, emotive labelling can be used both to shut down uncomfortable criticism, and to identify real examples of the things it refers to. Most people reading a tweet don't have time, or don't bother, to work out which of these is at play.

 This is a subspecies of the debate over rhetoric and hate speech, and one of the major challenges of making a multi-cultural society work. It is made even more difficult by the lack of an overarching narrative: our current post-Christian liberal Western democracy has evolved from a mishmash of sources. In a postmodern culture which no longer recognises overarching truth or grand narratives, be they Christian, Marxist, Muslim or The American Dream (itself, like Marxism, a heavily morphed version of the Chosen People/Promised Land motifs of the Old Testament). We are left with competing visions of life, sets of 'rights' which keep colliding with each other, and only Tolerance and Respect to hold ourselves together. It may not be enough.

Labour, at least, are trying to address some of the fallout from this. There is no sign of it in the Conservative manifesto at all. Search the document for 'race' and the only return is the word 'embrace'. 'Racism' occurs once, in the mother and apple pie statement 'we will tackle racism', and the most concrete expression of free speech is the scrapping of the Leveson enquiry, which tells you just a little bit more about the malign influence of money on UK life and politics. In respect of the Conservative policy on race, religion, culture, community cohesion and tolerance, how can you blog about and criticise something that doesn't exist?

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Coldplay: it's getting crowded in Ed Sheerans boat

This week Ed Sheeran got planning permission to build a giant boat on his property, a space for prayer and contemplation.

Maybe he needs something this size to fit in all the pop collaborators who've put God at the centre of their work. Superstar rappers from both sides of the pond, Stormzy and Kanye West, both wear their faith on their sleeve. 

The latest addition to the congregation is Coldplay, who've been gone a while from it but now...

Everyday Life is wildly uneven, held together only by its thematic obsession with religion: disc one (Sunrise) literally ends with a hymn, disc two (Sunset) with Chris Martin singing “Alleluia, alleluia”. You lose count of the references to God, church and prayer in between. What this signifies remains a mystery: has Chris Martin, a lapsed Christian, rediscovered his faith? Is it intended more in the vein of Nick Cave’s recent line about how “it doesn’t matter whether God exists or not – we must reach as if he does”? The answer remains elusive. As, alas, does the balance between world-beating commercialism and experimentation.

Stormzy and Coldplay both take a leaf from the U2 playbook, who tried to keep their rock credibility by peppering their more religious offerings with regular swearing (e.g. Acrobat, Wake Up Dead Man).  Or maybe that's just how everyone speaks these days and I'm just a reactonary old fuddy duddy. Scatology meet eschatology: ultimately will Jesus be more bothered about how we expressed our faith, or whether we expressed it?

Like ancient Athens, our culture is bursting with attempts to connect with God. More and more of them are outside, rather than inside, the historic churches, but Augustine still holds true "God you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.'

Married Couples Tax Allowance - is it 'Discrimination'?

In the Friday evening leaders questions, Jeremy Corbyn described the marriage tax allowance - currently worth £250 to married couples - as a form of discrimination, which he would abolish*.

Is it?

Is the tax on plastic bags discrimination against people who don't use paper bags, large pockets or cardboard boxes?

Is the tax on petrol and diesel discrimination against people who use cars rather than bicycles?

Is the tax on alcoholic drinks discrimination against people who prefer beer to lemonade?

Is a higher rate of tax on people earning £80,000 or above discrimination against the better paid?

Most of the taxes above are attempts to influence behaviour, and raise/redistribute money at the same time. And there is a very good case for influencing the behaviour of couples towards marriage. People who are married report higher satisfaction in the relationship than cohabitees, and cohabiting parents are 3x more likely than married couples to split up before their children reach 5. The high divorce rate comes a distant second to the breakup rate of cohabiting parents. The relative stability of marriage compared to the alternatives is clear, and consistent.

There are other factors - marriage is still the 'done thing' amongst the middle classes, and those with higher education, so there are cultural factors. Also, the financial barriers to marriage which come with the consumer add-ons now considered normal (dress, reception, gifts to the guests) make it prohibitively expensive, ruling it out for most people on low incomes. But despite this, married couples make a public commitment to stability and faithfulness, which when seen through is of huge benefit to the couple, to their children, and to society. So why shouldn't the tax system give this a little bit of encouragement? It's not discrimination, its encouraging beneficial behaviour.

Discuss......

*(Incidentally, the Labour manifesto doesn't refer to this policy, or at least any search for 'marriage' 'couples' 'tax' 'allowance' etc. doesn't find it, but if you've the time to read the whole thing and I'm wrong, then mea culpa. The Lib Dems have the same policy, and their manifesto has it in print).

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Families - The Lefts Blindspot

Search the Labour and Libdem manifestoes for any mention of family breakdown. Go on, it won't take long.

Disintegrating family life is a blind spot on the left of British politics. Half of British children born today will experience the breakup of their parents by the time they get to 16. This in turn increases the risk of those children experiencing poverty, educational failure, mental illness, drug abuse, early pregnancy, and difficulty sustaining long term relationships. The estimated cost to the UK is £47bn per year in economic terms, never mind the emotional and social cost to all those caught up in the tragedy of family breakdown.

And what has Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson to say about this? Nothing. There is some admirable stuff on reducing poverty, which will alleviate pressure on poorer families. The two policies directly addressing family structure - legislating for no-fault divorce, and removing the Married Couples Allowance - make it a) easier for families to break up or b) harder for those who have entered the most stable adult arrangement, marriage. The renewed investment in Childrens Centres is welcome, it would be even more welcome if they were Parent Centres too, and the system around ante-natal and health visitor support also brought in an element of relationship support for the parents, alongside the current support for the mother. The quality of family life and parenting will be the biggest factor in life chances for any child, but we do absolutely nothing as a country to identify and promote good practice, for fear of being seen as a nanny state, or of 'stigmatising' parents.

We know that Boris Johnson is no fan of family life, having seen off two marriages and several affairs, and is unable to publicly admit to how many children he has. Does he even know? So I'm not expecting much better from the Conservatives. It pains me to say it, but on this David Cameron has the best record of recent prime ministers, initiating the 'Troubled Families Programme' and at least making some effort to do something about family breakdown, rather than ignore it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Manifestos: First Impressions

Having read the Green Party Manifesto, and skimmed the Lib Dem Manifesto (being launched about now), I'm left with one question.

Why are these two groups of people campaigning as different parties?

The Libdems are a slightly paler shade of green than the Greens, but 95% of what is in one of these manifestos would sit quite happily in another. The Green manifesto puts climate change and zero carbon front and centre, and the traditional hot button issues of NHS and schools are buried deep into the document. But both seem to be driven by a very similar core set of convictions: environmentally conscious, fairness, localism and democracy, pro-Europe, liberal on social issues (sexuality, drugs, immigration), education and skills, and protecting the vulnerable.

The main difference is the urgency of climate change. If you think it's a really urgent issue, vote Libdem. If you think it's a really really urgent issue, vote Green.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

(Discr)Editing

We've recently switched over to ITV rather than BBC news at 10 - mainly because Tom Bradby is a more entertaining presenter, but they do also attempt to dish up facts now and again, rather than intrigue.

This evening was a reminder to take it all with a pinch of salt: a heckler of Jeremy Corbyn - which could have led into an explanation of what the heckler was on about (either to nail it as an urban myth or analyse why it was a issue) was dismissed because he had 'posted homophobic tweets'. So what? A broken clock is right twice a day, why is that a reason to dismiss their views on other things? ITV was effectively saying that if you take a certain view on sexuality, it invalidates all your other views too. Really?

The brief clip of Jo Swinson standing alone in a boxing ring trying to look combative looked limp, there is footage of her sparring which looks a lot better, but we didn't see that. And both ITV and the BBC are making a big thing of 1 Lib Dem candidate standing down. One candidate. How about reporting on their policies?

And nothing on food banks. Bring back Paxo.


Food Bank Use Up 23% on last year. (Will this affect your vote?)

The latest Trussell Trust report shows food bank use is accelerating, up 23% year on year. Our local food bank, the Lords Larder, has seen a rise of over 25% in the last 2 years, and is a reminder that Trussell Trust figures cover around 60% of UK food banks. That means over 2 million emergency food parcels are given out each year.
Here's what the Trussell Trust say. Please put this to your local election candidates.

“This is the busiest six months we’ve ever seen – more people than ever are being forced to food banks’ doors. Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty, but currently thousands of women, men and children are not receiving sufficient protection from destitution. This is not right.

“But we know this situation can be fixed – our benefits system could be the key to unlocking people from poverty. This General Election, all political parties must pledge to protect people from hunger by ensuring everyone has enough money for the basics. We’re asking politicians to start working towards a future where no one needs a food bank by ending the five week wait for Universal Credit; ensuring benefit payments cover the cost of living; and investing in local emergency support for people in crisis.

“Together, these three changes will put money back into the pockets of people who most need our support. It’s in our power as a country to end the need for food banks. This can change.”

If you vote for a party which isn't proposing to scrap the 5 week wait for Universal Credit, and thinks benefit levels are fine the way they are, you are voting for this to continue. I'll be watching with interest to see how much airtime this is given today by our well fed journalists (so far the BBC has completely ignored it).

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Calls for National Emergency over Flood of Politicians

There are calls today for the declaration of a National Emergency over the visits of politicians to areas affected by floods.

"We've been absolutely inundated" said Mabel Soggy of Doncaster "its like someone opened the floodgates - Corbyn, Swinson, Miliband, we're just thankful Boris Johnson is so scared to show his face in Yorkshire that he stopped at Matlock. There's been a constant stream of politicians taking our mops to appear in photos, or interrupting volunteers and the emergency services whilst they're trying to do their job."

Local geologist Abdul Strata added a further note of concern: "there is very clear evidence that the ground itself is sinking. Once a political leader turns up, with their entourage of advisors, minders, photographers, reporters and film crews, the combined weight compacts the ground, already softened by flooding. Areas visited by politicians become more vulnerable to floods in the future."

A passing local estate agent sounded a different note. "Fishlake? Clue's in the name son."

Have you experienced a deluge of unhelpful politicians? Have you had to put sandbags across your property to protect it from film crews? If so, don't worry, by next week everyone might have forgotten all about you.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Nigel Farage Negotiating Strategy

We've never seen Nigel Farage in negotiation with the EU, he tends to turn up, criticise, and only stop on the way out for his pay cheque. However we now have an insight into what a master negotiator he truly is:

Step 1: issue an ultimatum to the Conservative Party: drop the current EU withdrawal deal or face Brexit party opposition in every seat. 

Step 2: Conservative Party ignores the ultimatum.

Step 3: unilaterally decide to make life easier for the Conservative party by withdrawing 317 candidates in seats they are most likely to win.

I'm now trying to imagine an EU withdrawal agreement negotiated by Nigel Farage. After an ultimatum to drop freedom of movement, customs union, EU courts, and leave without a financial settlement, he then calls a press conference to declare that we're joining the Euro.


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Linguistic Slack

What word can we use today?

15 men from Preston Plucknett, at the time a village of just a few hundred, died in the first world war. 232 men and women from Yeovil died in the 2 wars combined. And that is a drop in the ocean compared to the (literally) countless millions who died across the globe. We simply don't know, it could be 100 million, a few million more, or a few million less.

How do we describe that? Many vicars and service leaders today will be turning to poetry, and all of us will be turning to silence.

Language tends to get hyper-inflated during an election campaign. Add that to our growing culture  of conversing in feelings and interpretations (usually highly personal ones), and that's a toxic brew for anyone who values meaning.

In his TED talk 'How to speak so that other people will want to listen', Julian Treasure asks 'Exaggeration: it demeans our language - if I see something that really is awesome, what do I call it?' A few years earlier, Jesus put it this way: "Let your yes be yes, and let your no be no, anything beyond this comes from the evil one". Embroidering our language, exaggerating for effect, ultimately renders language useless. God is a communicating God, his first act is to speak creation into being, and part of being in God's image is the ability to communicate. Without truthful, clear language, communication, and ultimately relationships, are impossible.

Remembrance Sunday reminds us of lots of things. Maybe it reminds us too to leave ourselves some linguistic slack. Whatever we are tweeting our response to, whatever x or y is supposed to have said or done which cuts across our interests or personal space, it is minor compared to 100 million deaths. We cannot use the same language about it, or its perpetrators. For example, you aren't a fascist or a Stalinist, you're just someone who thinks the state should be slightly less, or slightly more, involved in taxation and spending.

Lets rediscover adjectives which de-escalate strife, rather than those which amplify it. The Great British Understatement deserves a comeback, because there are only a few things which are truly worthy of our most extreme language, and fewer still to which the only true response is silence.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Doctored

I find it impossible to believe that the video of Keir Starmer was doctored within hours of it being originally broadcast. I tried to get doctored last week and the first available appointment was December 4th.

https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/james-cleverly-defends-doctored-video-of-keir-starmer-in-fiery-exchange-with-piers-morgan-on-good-a4279796.html

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

How Gender Studies Actually Works

ooops

I was wrong. Or, to be a bit more accurate, I got things partly right. But then, for the rest, I basically just made it up.
In my defence, I wasn’t alone. Everyone was (and is) making it up. That’s how the gender-studies field works. But it’s not much of a defence. I should have known better. If I were to retroactively psychoanalyze myself, I would say that, really, I did know better. And that’s why I was so angry and assertive about what I thought I knew. It was to hide the fact that, at a very basic level, I didn’t have proof for part of what I was saying. So I stuck to the arguments with fervor, and denounced alternative points of view. Intellectually, it wasn’t pretty. And that’s what makes it so disappointing to see that the viewpoints I used to argue for so fervently—and so baselessly—have now been accepted by so many in the wider society.
Christopher Dummitt, gender historian. Read the rest here

Friday, August 30, 2019

Breaking: Brexit Causes National Outrage Shortage

Expert in psychopolitics Dr Pavlov Kneejerk today sounded the alarm over the UK's national stock of outrage. "There is a danger of a serious shortage" declared Dr Kneejerk. "Until this week, there was a chance we had enough national outrage to share between child poverty, knife crime, food banks, global warming, the growing divide between the wealthy and the poor, and Brexit, whilst leaving a small percentage free for taking offence at complete strangers on social media."

But recent events have run national outrage levels dangerously low. "A sudden and disproportionate flow of outrage can seriously affect storage capacity" said Dr Kneejerk. The huge response to the prorogation of Parliament, which will result in the loss of only 4 days of Parliamentary time (9-12th September, as they do very little on Friday and Parliament was then due to close for 3 weeks for the Conference season), has led to emergency efforts to source additional outrage from new sources.

"There is a simple solution", offered Dr Kneejerk. "All it would take is an offer from Jo Swinson or Jeremy Corbyn to cancel their party conferences, which would free up a week of time for MPs, and would rebalance outrage stocks by matching actions to words."

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Love is a DIY Kit

Love is a do-it-yourself kit. We have to work at it, put it together day by day, piece by piece, little by little. We have to work at love. It doesn't just happen. 

Furthermore, love is not an emotion, a feeling. It is a commitment to another person: 'I love you. I am going to be what you need me to be. I a going to do what you need me to do. I am going to say what you need me to say. This is what I mean when I say "I love you". If you succeed I will rejoice with you in your success. I will be in the first row of your cheering section, clapping my hands off for you. If you fail, I will be sitting there quietly at your side, holding your hand. this is what I mean when I say I am committed to loving you.'

Love is a sweet and beautiful thing. It also will challenge every ounce of determination and courage in us. It is a gutsy commitment that invites another to 'take us for granted'. Take my love as a given. (John Powell SJ)


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Dominic Cummings

If the mainstream media was all we had to go by, the only 3 things we'd know about Dominic Cummings are 
a) Benedict Cumberbatch 
b) he said rude things about Tory MPs 
c) he didn't show up to a select committee. 

If they'd spent as much time actually reading his blog as they did trawling it for headline-worthy quotes we might all benefit. There is some pretty incisive critique of the way we do politics ("it is impossible to describe the extent to which politicians in Britain do not even consider ‘the timetable and process for turning announcement X into reality’ as something to think about — for people like Cameron and Blair the announcement IS the only reality and ‘management’ is a dirty word for junior people to think about"), and a guy who has thought and read deeply about how we do decision making and deliver results. 

Fascinating and rewarding read, if you have a spare hour. dominiccummings.com/

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

We've Had Our Eye On You For Quite Some Time Now, Mr Parker

It took a few hours for the parallels between The Matrix and Spiderman: Far From Home to finally compute. Like all postmodern superhero movies, they have a conflicted lead character, with a mentor, an antagonist, a global threat, and a girlfriend. But it's the final showdown (spoilers follow) which seemed so familiar.

In The Matrix, the final confrontation happens in a corridor, with Neo at one end, and Agent Smith at the other. Neo is 'resurrected' (long story), and finally sees reality for what it is - a computer generated illusion. He can literally see the code, rather than the objects they are rendering. It's an ability only he has, and it enables him to see what is real, and what is not, and to defeat (sort of) Smith.

In Spiderman: Far From Home, the final confrontation happens in a corridor - the viewing gallery of Tower Bridge. Mysterio, the villain, has control of an army of drones who can project an alternative 'reality' so real that it fools everyone. The movie up to this point has referred a few times to Spidermans 6th sense, his 'tingle'. As Mysterio turns the corridor into a fake 'reality' projected by the drones, Spiderman uses his 6th sense, rather than what he can see, hear and touch, to combat what is really there, work his way down the corridor, and defeat (sort of) Mysterio.

Both movies are built on the same premise: instinct is a better guide to what is truly real than the senses. Spidey is on a class science trip across Europe, which is a great excuse for the movie to destroy several famous landmarks across the continent. One of the science teachers has an explanation for all the weird things that keep happening: 'witches'. So much for science, despite the fact that the whole scenario depends on a stack of high level science -drones, holograms, satellites etc.

But the big message is underscored by the two post-credits scenes. In the first, Spidermans defeat of Mysterio (recorded on camera) is re-edited to make it look as if Mysterio is the hero and Spidey is the baddie, and presented by the media to the world. Fake news - what can you believe? In a clever throwback (one of several), JK Simmons plays the Daily Bugle newscaster who presents the story, having played the editor of Tobey Maguires Daily Bugle newspaper back in the last reboot of the franchise. In the second post-credit scene, Nick Fury is shown to have been a shapeshifting alien all along, allowing the real Fury to have a holiday (on a beach which also turns out to be fake).

What is a more reliable guide to reality, instinct or sense perception? (and why does it have to be an either or?). What, if anything, can we trust?

If scepticism extends to everything we see, then lets go there: can we trust this film? Or my reading of it?

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Ron Weasley, Political Commentator

Boris Johnson is Prime Minister
Dominic Raab is Foreign Secretary
Priti Patel is Home Secretary
Gavin Williamson is Education Secretary

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Ben Elton, where are you now?

So there's to be scrutiny of the support given to guests on reality TV shows. I'm guessing once the Kyle furore dies down, not much further will be done, and the digital Colosseum will continue to trade in bread and circuses for the good and pampered citizens of Panem.

At the turn of the century, Ben Elton penned 2 novels about reality TV and public media consumption, both squirmingly close to the bone, and both relevant to the current public outcry. (Funny that last week nobody had a problem with Kyle). Dead Famous is a parody of Big Brother, but core to the plot is the production team engineering a murder in order to push ratings. Popcorn is even more brutal: 2 vigilantes set up a live TV feed into the house of the man they've taken hostage, along with a monitor which shows them how many people are watching. They tell the viewers: switch off, and we'll spare his life, if you don't switch off, we'll shoot him. The viewers don't switch off.

The likes of Kyle, Big Brother, Love Island, all happen because we provide it with an audience. Maybe it suits us to count ourselves as passive consumers of TV, but in the digital world, everyone knows who's watching, what, and for how long. Every viewing minute is a vote in favour of the programme I'm watching.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Phobia?

This week Parliament will debating something other than Brexit. I know, hard to believe isn't it. The subject in question is a definition of 'Islamophobia' drawn up by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims. Ahead of the debate, the government has already rejected the definition.

Here's the definition
“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.

Where to start? Well, several other people have, so I won't, much. But a few thoughts
1. It's not a definition, unless you take off the first 8 words

2. Where 1 type of Muslim attacks another type, for being the wrong type, is that Islamophobia? Or is it more niche- Shiaphobia, Sufiphobia etc.? Or does it depend on whether they come from a different racial group?

3. To pick another trending phobia, homophobia is variously defined, but the definitions all cluster around an irrational fear, dislike and aversion towards homosexuals and homosexuality. This overlaps reasonably well with the psychological definition of a phobia as an unreasonable fear of or aversion towards x (where x is clowns, spiders, enclosed spaces etc.) If Islamophobia really is a word, and not a slogan, then why not define it in the same way: "An unreasonable fear, dislike and aversion towards Muslims and Islam." That sort of definition is transferrable to prejudice against Jews, Christians, Buddhists, devotees of the Flying Spaghetti Monster et al.

4. In the political and public sphere, us of the '...phobia' label carries more than just the connotation of fear and aversion. It is mainly attached to words and actions, rather than mental states. The label is often used in a similar (but less potentially fatal) way as accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan - someone has said or done something you don't like, and an accusation of 'xphobia' is the easiest and clearest way to label them as an enemy of the people, and someone to hate, ignore and pour invective upon. Whereas a medical diagnosis of a phobia is descriptive, a politically defined phobia is performative, it is public language used to claim or defend territory, to win or shut down discourse, rather than a description of a psychological state.

5. But does that help? In the Islamophobia definition, there is no reference to fear or psychological states at all. It has cut loose from its etymological moorings. It also, oddly, brings in racism: a Christian living in Pakistan may have an irrational fear of Muslims, but it's more likely to be based on Islamic terrorism and mob abuse of the blasphemy laws than on race. In fact, they may have a deep fear and aversion towards Muslims which is entirely rational, if their experience includes repeated examples of anti-Christian violence, church burnings etc.  Some Islamophobia may have a racial component, but some doesn't. So if it doesn't, would it qualify for the APPG definition, or is that something else? What if Muslims themselves are irrationally afraid of their fellow Muslims, and their forms of 'Muslimness'? Or rationally afraid of them?

6. At what point does a 'definition of Islamphobia' cease to be a definition of Islamophobia, and simply be a definition of something else, which has been labelled 'Islamophobia' for political and rhetorial reasons? In the film The Princess Bride, antagonist Vizzini keeps declaring that things are 'inconceivable!' eventually sidekick Inigo responds "you keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means". Repeated use of a word to mean x doesn't entail that x is what the word means. Humpty Dumpty famously declared "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, no more, no less", which results in 'impenetrability'. If the definition of a word is down to the user, rather than a commonly accepted meaning, then we lose the ability to communicate, and with it the ability to reason together.

7. The medical definition of a 'phobia' carries no moral baggage, but the political definition does. With two diverging understandings of what a phobia is, which one will give way first?

8. There is a danger that Islamophobia, and along with it homophobia, transphobia, and all the modern phobic family, will cease to mean anything. That it will just mean 'Booooo!', rather than communicate any clear content. If a word becomes 100% condemnation, 0% content, then another word will be needed to explain the phenomenon behind it, if we are actually serious about tackling it.

9. In order to be fair, we would not just need a working definition of Islamophobia, but a word for every other form of irrational prejudice and antagonism towards other social, racial, religious and demographic groups. At what point does this just get silly?

10. The (hopefully) blindingly obvious point that any definition needs to allow for rigorous analysis, critique and legitimate criticism of Islam, from historic sources right through to contemporary behaviour, without being used to shut this down.

11. And finally, which is more effective, running backwards away from something bad, or running forwards towards its opposite? It's easier to avoid negative behaviour if there is a positive culture of love, respect, hospitality, generosity and altruism. Focus on those positive things, and the negative behaviour withers away. Perhaps our focus on phobias is a symptom of a wider dis-ease, that we no longer have a shared ethos of goodness which we strive towards, and to which we can hold one another to account. Wrapped up in the supremacy of individual personal choice, a culture of rampant individualism is barren ground for a communal ethic. So more and more we find ourselves policing language, attitudes, and behaviour, so that you cannot be a threat to my rights. That's not a way of being society which has much of a future.

Maybe one day a traveller in an ancient land will stumble across a plaque, inscribed with descriptions of all the phobias defined in the early 21st century. And around it, the lone and level sands will stretch far away.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Why think when you can emote?

I've been following the Roger Scruton saga with interest. Scruton was recently sacked as an unpaid government advisor on housing, following an interview in the New Statesman. The selective quotation of Scruton by the journalist, and faux outrage on social media, led to a rapid sacking without, seemingly, anyone exploring the evidence, or the agenda of the journalist involved. The Spectator has got hold of the interview tapes, and Scrutons remarks, in context, are often saying the precise opposite of the spin put upon the by the journalist.

It's tempting to see the parallels between this and the recent no-platforming of Jordan Peterson by Cambridge University. In neither case has there been an attempt to engage with the actual thought of the person concerned. Instead, short circuit to dog whistle, emotional responses, and play your chosen  Ace of Trumps ('Offensive!' 'Racist!' 'Homophobe!') so quickly that nobody can check you actually had it in your hand, or whether it was produced from a secret drawer under the table.

Are we losing our ability to think? I'm no great letter writer, but the advantage of handwriting is that it takes time. And by the end of the letter you've maybe already decided you're writing nonsense, or you know that by the time it's written, sent, and received, the party at the other end has already had 3-4 days, and so have you, to gain a longer view of whatever you're writing about. For a philosopher like Scruton to be publicly accused, tried and found guilty within the course of a day, none of which would be possible without the social media/24 hours news cycle, is a worrying development. George Orwells '5 minutes hate' has become a daily feature, or even hourly feature, of social media. We know what trigger words to use. We know how to stir the crowd. We know how to signal virtue, and which virtues to signal - the protests over Donald Trump's visit will dwarf anything seen for the savage despots of China and Saudi Arabia.

Another post on the Scruton case laments the disappearance of serious thought within the Conservative party. It has disappeared in the nation at large too - a telling example of this was Tim Farrons (electorally disastrous) attempt to explain how liberalism works in practice. That someone might hold one set of views, but believe that the ideal democratic state was one where people could hold other views and openly practice them, seemed a thought too far for Farrons critics. Far easier to play the Ace of Trumps and add another body to the pile.

Orwells 5 minutes hate had two objectives. One was catharsis for the baying mob (who have always needed it, the cries of 'Crucify Him' echo down through history from the first Good Friday), and the other is to intimidate anyone who might feel like identifying with 'the enemy'. Alongside this was 'newspeak', a progressive editing of language so that it became impossible to think in a way which the state didn't want you to. I re-read 1984 last year and it was chilling to see how prophetic, still, Orwells depiction is. If you fear actual engagement with opposing arguments, its obviously tempting to simply erase them, saving you the bother of a) debating and b) the terrible inconvenience and existential threat of discovering you were wrong.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Who Do We Talk To?


A YouGov survey published this week found that 71% of us have someone we can talk to about big personal issues - 76% for women, and 65% for men. There's a sizeable chunk of people who have nobody they feel they can turn to, and not far off half the population who only have 1 person they can turn to. That's pretty precarious. 

A lot of services I'm aware of, both Christian and secular, have some form of mentoring, befriending or accompanying scheme, recognising that accountability and ongoing support help people with life change, and perhaps reflecting the scarce social resources out there to many millions of us.  

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The End? The gospel (of Sherlock) according to John



Good Friday: 'The End'
Easter Sunday: God adds a question mark

Of course, the two characters in the final scene would have to be called John and Mary, the first two believers in the resurrection. I'm sure it's coincidence...

Happy Easter! Christ is risen!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

What to Boycott - Cut Out and Keep List for Celebrities

Brunei is late to the party, Saudi Arabia has had the death penalty for homosexuality, along with conversion from Islam to any other religion (Brunei just did that too but nobody noticed because it's not about sex), for as long as anyone can remember. Brunei has simply caught up with what a raft of hardline Islamic regimes have been doing for years.

I obviously don't need to point out the irony of Elton John using Twitter to promote a boycott of hotels owned by Brunei, when Twitter itself is part-owned by Saudi money.

So just to help Elton, George Clooney, and the couple of dozen other people who can afford to boycott the Dorchester hotel chain, here are some of the institutions supported by Saudi money in the UK, just to help you avoid them:

universities
Oxford University
Cambridge University
Durham University
Newcastle University
Exeter University
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
Edinburgh University
Dundee University
Bristol University
University College London
London School of Economics

Media and PR
The Independent
The Evening Standard
Vice
Freuds
Snapchat
Deezer
Virgin
Twitter
Snapcat
and several others

Industry and Commerce
BAE systems
Jersey Financial Services
HSBC
Uber
General Motors
Standard Chartered
The Savoy

It's also worth checking the money trail behind whichever Premier League football club you support. The UAE also has the death penalty for homosexuality, and 'apostasy' (conversion from Islam). Arsenal play at the Emirates stadium. Nobody has mentioned that. Strange.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Cambridge University goes on the 'avoid' list

Should university fees be paid to institutions which support censorship? The case of Jordan Peterson, a Canadian academic whose invitation to a visiting fellowship Cambridge was withdrawn via a tweet, highlights again the erosion of free speech in our supposed centres of academia. The vast majority of universities have restrictions speech or publications. At the acceptable end, I'd happily back anyone who didn't want sales of the Sun on their premises (until recently I'd have said the same about the Mail, it has moderated a bit under a new editor). At the unacceptable end is the 'no platforming' of speakers whose views are too difficult for tender liberal ears to listen to.

Universities are places of learning. Part of learning is working out how to defend your own ideas, and to critique those of other people. We have anti-terror laws to police the worst excesses of hate speech and incitement to violence. But hearing a view which makes you feel uncomfortable is not the same. As a Christian, I heard lots of things said at my university, many by lecturers, which I found offensive, insensitive or just difficult to hear. I even went to a debating society which featured Jacob Rees-Mogg and lost a robust debate on whether capital punishment should be brought back (you can guess which side he was on). But I'm glad we could debate it. It helped me think through my own position, and the arguments I used to back it up.

In a few years time I may become a 'customer' of one of these universities, what with being a parent of children at secondary school. I'm already composing a mental list of the ones I don't want to finance, if this is what they are going to do with the money. Cambridge has become a house of fools if it thinks the best way to advance learning is to no platform one of the leading public thinkers around. It's on the list.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Brexit: Pictures from an Alternative Aural Universe

first meaningful vole

second meaningful vole

third meaningful vole

indicative vole

cut-stems onion
peoples vole
gin rail all-action

There, I hope that makes sense of everything.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Trainee Youth Worker Opportunity in Yeovil

From September 2019 our churches are looking to take on a trainee youth worker, through South West Youth Ministries (SWYM), for 1-3 years. Details are here, and applications can be made through the SWYM website here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

If you thought Brexit was a mess.....

A British journalist is being interviewed by the police for 'misgendering' the child of a high profile transgender activist (update: the case also involves tweets labelling the treatment given to the child - not presently offered legally in the UK - as 'mutilation' and 'child abuse.'). The activist, Susie Green, runs Mermaids, a charity which supports young people who think they may be experiencing gender dysphoria, and also runs national campaigns and advocacy programmes. Mermaids recently received a £500k grant from the National Lottery which is now under review. Meanwhile the Tavistock Centre, the one specialist youth gender clinic in the UK, was subject to a critical report earlier this year, and questions have been raised about the quality of care for young people who are prescribed puberty blockers.

This is a deeply personal and potentially very distressing area. Research suggests that a significant percentage - possibly a majority - of teenagers who consider themselves to be born in the wrong body, no longer hold that view in adulthood. That still leaves a significant percentage for whom it is a settled reality that persists into adult life. At what stage is medical intervention wise, or justified? If adulthood may not fully kick in until you're 30, how long should people wait, or be made to wait? (Susie Green flew her child out to Thailand at age 16 for medical procedures not available in the UK, and for which Thailand has since raised the minimum age to 18). Are the other issues experienced by children with gender dysphoria related to it, or are they exacerbated by the isolation, bullying etc. which can go with being 'different'?

Unfortunately, like Brexit, this debate has taken on all the appearances of two pit bull terriers fighting over a rabbit. With a rapid rise in the number of referrals for childhood/adolescent gender dysphoria, and increased public profile (and debate - see the current issue in athletics over what categories trans athletes can compete in, or what prayers vicars are allowed to say with people who have transitioned), this is something which needs careful, evidence-based, serious discussion, not flame wars on social media and the police being called in on people who disagree with you.

Fewer of us are in, or grew up in, stable family relationships than previous generations. There is a higher level of sexual confusion, mental distress, and risky sexual behaviour than we have seen for generations. It's no longer possible to advocate a 'normal' or 'ideal' vision of sexuality, relationships and human thriving without being labelled as psychologically unbalanced (or 'phobic' to use the shorthand). Everything goes, and tolerance is the prime virtue. At one level, the flux gives us a chance to discuss previously taboo areas, at another the level of confusion makes it highly possible that we will botch things. Where mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing are at stake, we  - and especially those wrestling with questions about their gender identity - are not served by hysteria, prejudice and trench warfare, on either side of the discussion.

update: major piece in the Times about the Tavistock clinic (paywalled)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

We're out of Cake

Brexit Metaphor of the Day



Having voted for 'no cake' and 'no death', John Bercow has informed Parliament that they won't be allowed another vote on the choice between them. Theresa May wants a further three months to decide between the two.

There is no majority in the house of commons which can agree whether the withdrawal agreement is actually cake, or whether it's death. Whatever it is, it will have run out by March 29th.

Jeremy Corbyn, whose 'cake tests' (is it a cake; are you sure it's a cake; can it be cut so that everyone has exactly the same size slice as everyone else) have been routinely ignored, now thinks there should be a national taste-off between the two options, except when he's asked about it, and then he doesn't. 

This metaphor is incoherent. Which makes it all the more suitable as a Brexit metaphor.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A good day to bury bad priorities

Today the government is expected to announce continuing benefit freezes and tax cuts. On Friday Comic Relief will be asking us to donate to projects which deal with poverty and financial hardship, homelessness, mental illness, and providing hope and a future for young people.

I wonder if these 2 things are, in any way, related?

If the government is officially outsourcing the welfare state to the charitable sector, I'd rather they came out and said it rather than did it by stealth.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Meaningful Vole

It turns out that all those statements which Theresa May has been reading from were written on a faulty typewriter with a broken t key. Here is what she will be offering the House of Commons on Tuesday

It may appear to be about to dive headfirst down a dark hole, but any similarities to the position of the Prime Minister, House of Commons, or indeed nation as a whole, are purely coincidental.

PS whilst we're on Brexit, I'm a Remainer but even I think the BBC's coverage of this stinks.  For example their '10 ways you could be affected by a no deal Brexit' completely fails to mention that changes in tariffs could mean prices go down, as well as up, and that reduced house prices will be good news to the people who have been priced out of the market since the 1980s. The housing market is vastly overinflated, with a ream of social, relational and financial consequences both for home owners (who are paying a higher slice of their income in mortgages) and non-owners (who can't get into the market at all). I'd rather we weren't leaving, but at least present the facts in a balanced way. I guess I should know better than to ask that of the Beeb by now...

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Booing the Bishop

Last week I watched a school performance of Les Miserables, a great performance and a powerful story of redemption, mercy vs justice.

It wouldn't be anything like so popular if Jean Valjean, after stealing silver from the Bishop, was simply sent back to jail to rot. Instead, the Bishop lets him go free, plus some extra silver candlesticks, with the lines

But remember this, my brother
See in this some high plan
You must use this precious silver
To become an honest man.
By the witness of the martyrs
By the passion and the blood
God has raised you out of darkness
I have saved your soul for God

We all applaud a story of mercy shown to an undeserving man, and redemption from a destructive lifestyle. Ok it's fiction, but it's also the gospel. What might happen to Shamima Begum if she encounters mercy, rather than strict justice? Or should we have applauded the implacable lawman Javert and booed the Bishop?

Monday, February 18, 2019

Split Ends

Who would have imagined that the Conservative Party would be the last to split over Brexit?

In December, 8.5% of the Libdem parliamentary party resigned the party whip over the issue. Ok, that's only 1 person...

Just over a week ago Nigel Farage registered a new party, and claims that 100,000 people have 'signed up', though there's some debate over whether that means they're supporting it, or have just subscribed to the live feed for a bit of political entertainment. This follows the resignation of most frontline UKIP figures over the last year.

Today the 7 Labour MPs  - at only 3% a disappointingly small split compared to the Libdems - handed in their cards. It's hard to see where they'll end up without some real heavyweights in the ranks (Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn etc. - Burnhams Twitter feed has been strangely quiet today). But there are plenty of moderate Labour MPs facing deselection from their own constituencies due to Momentum infiltration. Like Russell Crowe's gladiators, they may decide they're better sticking together than being picked off one by one.

That leaves the Greens - who with only 1 MP can't really split - and the Conservatives as the only national UK parties still in one piece. For the PM it's a staggering achievement, in both senses of the word. I'm guessing that being in power is a key gravitational pull on some of Mrs Mays backbenchers, they all saw what happened to Douglas Carswell.

Update: ooops, spoke too soon. Still, they were last to split, even if only by 48 hours.

Update 2: no reference to the Conservative Party on Justine Greenings Twitter feed or homepage. It's quite an achievement to complete her whole biography with no mention of the Conservatives either.


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Church of England - Evangelism on the Agenda

It would seem an obvious thing for a church to prioritise evangelism. Jesus parting words were 'go and make disciples of all nations' (Matthew 28), and the outcome of Pentecost was that the first disciples would be witnesses to Jesus (not 'do' witness but be witnesses). After a serious finger burning exercise in the 'Decade of Evangelism', it's exciting to see the CofE picking the ball back up.

General Synod next week has a large chunk of time devoted to evangelism. I used to witter repeatedly about the failure of the national CofE to engage with mission, one reason this blog is a bit quieter than usual (apart from having 2 1/2 years without a full time colleague) is that I've less to complain about.

As well as debates on Estates evangelism, and growing faith in families and schools, Synod is also going to be asked to approve GS 2118. Calm down now, I know you're excited. If approved, the national parliament of the CofE will be signing up to 4 headline commitments
1. That every worshipping community makes evangelism a priority
2. That every parish gets involved in 'Thy Kingdom Come', a (now global) prayer initiative focused on seeing more people come to faith
3. That every diocese helps all their members to find more confidence in sharing and living the good news of Jesus in daily life
4. That the church be held to account for 1-3, plus a cluster of other recommendations (see below).

Readers of this blog from other church streams may be slapping their foreheads repeatedly at this point. Surely evangelism as a priority is a no brainer? Well a) not if you're Anglican and b) not if you're British. We've never been that comfortable talking about faith in public, and indeed when we do it puts a substantial number of people off.

There are several key ideas underpinning the report
 - The integration of evangelism and discipleship. I remember the stir caused by William Abrahams 'The Logic of Evangelism' in the 1980s, reminding evangelicals that we are called to make discples, not converts. The report therefore sees evangelism as an integral part of discipleship, not a separate activity.
 - The work of LICC and others in exploring 7 day a week discipleship
 - The word 'confidence', which keeps recurring - as a church, and as individuals, many of us lack the confidence to share our story, or even invite people to a church event.

The report sets out 6 'operational priorities' for the next few years. These are going to be challenging, but exciting, if we take them seriously
a) Every person equipped to be a witness - 'mobilising the million' CofE members to be more confident in sharing their story and Jesus' story, and developing a culture of invitation in the church

b) Every person released to live out the gospel 24/7 - which links up with the discipleship/setting God's people free agenda currently being rolled out nationally.

c) Every church prioritising children and young people in evangelism  - with the startling statistic that 65% of CofE churches have less than 5 members under 16, and half of these have none.

d) Every church a welcoming community, both as people and as places, and makes the most of 'life events' to connect with the community and build an ongoing relationship

e) Every church considers developing a new worshipping community. London diocese has traditionally led the way on strategic church planting, but it now looks like this will become a national expectation

f) Every leader trained and equipped to be competent to lead in evangelism and encouraging disciples. Though this is the last of the 6 priorities, this is the potential bottleneck. For many vicars, their gifts lie elsewhere than evangelism, and for many others, it's simply not on the radar. This will take quite a shift in culture, but it's a shift that's needed.

An appendix to the report picks up on specific areas - new estates, ethnic minorities, chaplancy and youth.

A few thoughts
1. There is a concern threaded through the report that this work will lose 'momentum' and not become embedded in CofE culture. This may have half an eye on the future leadership of the CofE - John Sentamu is retiring, and Justin Welby is 6 years into his stint as ABofC - most recent occupants of that role have managed about a decade.

2. Linked to 'confidence' is apologetics, which doesn't get a mention in the report. One of the things which gives Christians confidence in their faith is seeing that it answers key questions well and coherently. This work may be happening elsewhere, but it strikes me that the CofE needs to regain its nerve in the sufficiency of the Bible and its worldview to provide a framework for life, ethics, thinking, and spirituality.

3. 'Setting God's People Free', with its focus on everyday discipleship, does seem to be gaining traction, and has the potential to transform Dioceses and local churches. It's good to see the evangelism agenda linking up with this, but it will take excellent resources, prayer, and consistent leadership over many years to see these changes get to the 'average' churches. A small number of churches 'get' evangelism already,  small number will probably never get it, so it's good to see the report zeroing in on the thousands of 'average' CofE churches in the 20-60 membership range, and considering what this all looks like for them.

4. This is being driven/led from the top, to which I cry 'at last!' But at Diocesan level it needs to be broken down a bit, otherwise Dioceses could end up appointing a forest of advisors and facilitators. I've said it before and I'll say it again, anyone in a Diocesan post needs to be part-time in a parish, so that they remain grounded in the realities and responsibilities of parish life. Advisors in spirituality need to be leading their churches in prayer, advisors in evangelism need to be equipping their own local church to share faith with confidence etc. That gives credibility and context to the people promoting this stuff, and also prevents them 'going native' into a Diocesan culture which becomes separated from the coalface realities of parish life.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A Lightening Rod on the Irish Border

So Teresa the Relentless is off to Brussels again, to renegotiate the 'Irish Backstop'. Because that's the only real problem with the Withdrawal Agreement for Brexiteers, isn't it?

Um, no. It's only 1 of 8 things on John Redwoods list. Jacob Rees Mogg has several others, and lets just assume for once that Boris Johnson is consistent and still believes the stuff he said last month. Just as Brexit itself has turned the distraction levels up to 11 and prevented good and careful governance of the UK, so the Backstop has become a distraction from debating everything else in the 585 page Agreement.

If no other part of the Withdrawal Agreement is rewritten, Teresa May could come back with movement on the Irish Backstop, and still lose a vote on the Agreement to Brexiteers. This has the potential to become an even more colossal political mess than it is at the moment.

And if the Agreement somehow gets through, the 'May way or the highway' strategy of bringing the agreement to Parliament at such a late stage, compounded by the time lost on confidence votes and infighting, makes it possible that a huge bit of legislation will get through Parliament with almost zero scrutiny of the details.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

A bit of press coverage

Goodbye St. Peters Hall Yeovil. After serving the local community for 50 years, it's now being pulled down, to be replaced with a new community centre. Between the the church, the community association, and partners from the local council and housing association, we've raised £927,000 of £945,000 required, and demolition started on Monday.

BBC Radio Somerset did a piece earlier in the week, fast forward to 1h 32m in and then again 2h 34m in. John Clark in the second clip is a local councillor, and is the tall guy at the back.

A few other news pieces, apologies for the duplication of news and photographs!

Diocese of Bath and Wells

Somerset Live (online version of the Western Gazette)

Yeovil Press

Yarlington Housing Group

It's amazing how God has brought together the funding, the team, and the vision for the project. It started with 4 people in a chilly back room in Jan 2014, wondering what a church of 20 elderly people and a fledgling community association could possibly do with a creaking old hall. It's notable how folk who aren't part of the church are regularly commenting how it's all come together, from the project team (with every skill we needed, and every job we needed doing had someone willing to do it), to the finances (£900,000 raised in 13 months).