Advent: Are you “match-fit” to face the world?

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In his latest book “How then shall we live” Samuel Wells, the Vicar of St Martin-in-the- Fields, London, writes an interesting chapter on Obesity. In it he claims that the current growth in Obesity isn’t just about over-eating and lack of exercise it is also about a state of mind. He argues that part of the reason for this being the major health issue facing USA and UK citizens today is due to a state of mind. He goes on to say that none of us are ready to face the world, that we have become, as societies, people who lack direction, reason to exist, reason to be “fit”. Picking up on what St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9 where he says that we should all be like athletes getting fit for the sporting games, that in our faith we should be ready for God and what God wants us to do. We need to be prepared, we need to be ready.

Advent is a Season when we can strive to do that, when we can look at our lives and what is not fit for purpose in them and try and do something about them. For too many people it is the long prelude to Christmas, they let it pass them by and don’t allow this season of Focus help them get there lives in order. This is a great shame for if we are to face the challenges of the world, if we are to be ready for Jesus, both at his first coming at Christmas and at his second coming to bring in his Kingdom, we need to be ready.

The four candles on the Advent ring talk about getting us ready. The first is for the Patriarchs, the founders of our faith, who tell us this is the direction we are to travel in if we are going to get closer to God and be ready for his rule. They are like the founders of a Football club who have a vision of what that club has to do. The second candle is for the Prophets who show us how to get our lives back in order so that we will be ready. They are like football managers, they show us what is needed to get ourselves ready. Then there is the candle for John the Baptist, who prepares the way for Jesus, and tells everyone how they must get ready for action. He is like the club captain inspiring action on the pitch and calling us to do what need to be done. Finally we have Mary, who carries Jesus in her womb, she literally brings Jesus into the world so that he can make the difference. She is like the star player who delivers on the promises of the Patriarchs, Prophets and John The Baptist.

So are you ready? Are you prepared to train to get ready? In the words of Samuel Wells will you “Look at your life. Is it easy to see what you want? What do you want?” If your unsure perhaps its time to use Advent to find out, to change your life to become match-fit for God, for the world’s challenges and for the coming of his Kingdom.

Abuse ain’t clever, its just plain RUDE!

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We are used to our politicians not answering questions, that has gone with the territory ever since David Lloyd George was Prime Minister in the early Twentieth Century. We are also used to barbed comments against the opposition and especially leaders of the opposition but Theresa May is now plumbing new depths. Every week at PMQ’s she faces across the dispatch box and waits for Jeremy Corbyn to ask his questions, every week she jumps up from the Government bench with a nasty glint in her eye. Every week she doesn’t even pretend to answer a question, rather she just hurls abuse. The same happens if a member of the SNP stands up to ask her a question, no attempt at answering, just a look of contempt and a barrage of abuse.

So what? Well, firstly, Mrs May is our Prime Minister, she is supposed to be the lead political Statesperson for this country, she is called to represent us both Nationally and Internationally. By behaving in such a rude and abusive manner she doesn’t just bring herself down, she brings the whole country down. Internationally they know now that what they’ll get in any negotiation is abuse, they know there will be no listening. It makes us as a nation look like spoilt school children who have misbehaved, at best, and playground bullies who have lost the argument at worst. Secondly, by promoting rudeness as a way of behaving in public she is setting a terrible example for our society as a whole. This is how everyone will now behave, “If the Prime Minister can do it…”

All this started getting worse at the last General Election when argument was lost to personal abuse. Things got worse during the EU Referendum when lies, abuse and slagging the other side off was the name of the game, the chief looser was the truth and our Nation. It was also evident on the other side of the pond during the recent Presidential election, both sides hurling abuse.

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This has got to stop. We’ve got to pull ourselves out of this self-destructive spiral. We’ve got to change before we go too far. Its time for the Church to make a stand. There is nothing wrong with speaking out, with challenging the order of the day. BUT we must not slip into the abusive mind-set of our Politicians. We must show that we are different by the way we behave. I think its time for Bishop’s and Senior Churchmen to challenge the established order, to show that there is another way that isn’t based on Rudeness, abuse and self-righteousness. We mustn’t allow this thread of abuse to become ingrained in our society. Jesus challenged the Political and Religious Leaders of his day because they had lost touch with the people and cared only for themselves. Guess what? That’s where we are now…so lets speak up, but let’s do so with dignity, with politeness and without the use of Abuse.

From a Tolerant Society to one with underlying Racism is 30 years: The Curse of Individualism.

A recent Report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission called Healing a Divided Britain written in the light of the Brexit vote says that the spike in racist hate crimes since that vote has revealed how entrenched racial inequality is in British Society. The report reveals how there are still massive gaps in equality in pay, in progress in work and in attitudes towards people who are from Ethnic Minorities. It also shows how much the tolerance and acceptance that once we were proud of as a Nation have evaporated in the past 30 years. So what has caused this cultural shift and how have we found ourselves in this unhappy and worrying place?

The rise of Capitalist and Monetarist policies under Margaret Thatcher and consequent Governments, both Tory and Labour, has led to the idea of the Individual before Community and Society. More and more people now are concerned with what is best for them as individuals and not about the effects on wider society. Whilst this has led, in some cases, to a liberalisation of personal rights it has also caused a mistrust and hatred of those who have different needs, views or thoughts. Capitalism at heart is about individual gain and lacks the desire or thought for anyone else, basically “If I’m alright the to hell with the rest”. Anyone seen to challenge that view is seen as a threat and must be treated with hostility.

So despite the best designs and desires of many to have, equal pay between men and women, the gap in pay has not shortened, at least not at the top. People of different ethnicity are often treated with disrespect in the work place and are not always on equal wages, and certainly don’t get the same opportunities in career progression. The rise of migrant workers into this country has maintained that inequality, because as many will take lower wages here in the UK because they are higher than where they have come from, there is no true desire to pay them the Real Living Wage. This is also coupled with the often atrocious living conditions they are forced into.

Worst still it has bred a society that sees “us” and “them”, which instead of embracing difference and used difference as a means of diving and separating. People get labelled as “immigrants”, “Muslims”, “scroungers” (all seen as negative in the way they are used). They get accused of “stealing or jobs, benefits and homes”. They are seen as being “beneath us” as “lower” as “bad”. Intolerance becomes rife.

Where once we embraced different cultures, faiths and beliefs now these are all seen as “dangerous”. The great Cultural Heritage we have as a Nation is built on those who have become part of our society over the Centuries from else where. Not one of us is fully “English” or of “pure Anglo-Saxon blood”. We are all, in the word of Billy Bragg, “English, half-English” and that is what makes our Society so wonderful. We need to re-embrace our roots and heritage, we need to return to being the tolerant, loving and caring Nation we were famed for being. We need the rejection of prejudice so we can live in a Society of togetherness, hope and love. In short we need to try to build the Kingdom of God, not the Kingdom of Selfish Greed.

List-mania: How “High Fidelity” changed the world.

In Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity lists are everything. Tapes are made of favourite albums in genres to fit situations, the books central character lives in a world where his own “best of’s” speak about him, his circumstances and his life. The book was an instant smash hit and bestseller, probably because Hornby tapped into the way many men think, but also because it tapped into the way many women perceive men too. What happened next really was down to the internet and the proliferation of Social Media accounts. Suddenly there was a means where people could write up their Top tens, in any genre, in any area of interest. They could “post” them, “share” them and argue over them. Whilst this makes men ecstatic it also seems to appeal to women too. Its wonderful when people share your passions, agree with you but it’s also great to start a debate that can rumble on for ever!

Magazines have latched onto this as a way of turn around flagging sales and also of getting people to log onto their websites and electronic editions of their publications. Classic Rock, for example, not only does a yearly article on the best of’s in genres but also every day publishes links to the best of by a certain band, in a genre, or by a musician. It enables them to get many hits on their site and also enables them to encourage people to sign up for their e-editions of their publications. Music companies love them too, as they often boost sales in an artists back-catalougue too. It has become a marketing tool like no other.

So what does this say about all of us? Are we now wrapped up in a world of lists, are we identified by our suggestions, postings and responses? Have we become so addicted to the idea of the list that we cannot see beyond them, or see ourselves in anything but how our lists show us? Or, worst of all, have we al got sucked into the cleverest marketing tool of the 21st Century?

For the record, I believe it shows our humanity. Through what we like, and don’t like, for that matter, we show our individuality but also we see who we relate too the most. Sometimes people’s list also open our eyes and ears to new things and enable us to discover more in our world. Certainly what we post is monitored and utilised by those in marketing to try to encourage us to buy or tap into products but that isn’t always a bad thing. It is good to show and share our thoughts, its good to argue, in a friendly way, the merits or not of the things we like. I also think its good to be able share the good things in life with others, be they art, literature, music, film, tv places to visit, beer or wines to drink, the list is endless. God created us to share in the great things in his creation and also in the creativity and beauty of our fellow human beings. So, don’t be afraid to share what you like, or to encourage others to do so, because in so do you are helping us all celebrate and enjoy God’s wonderful gifts to us all.

Corbyn: what the careerist politicians don’t get!

“He’s unelectable”; “He’s too left-wing”; “He’s a Trotskyite”; “He didn’t do enough during the EU Referendum”. All the lies, misinformation and base-less nonsense made by people within the Labour party about their leader, a man who had the highest mandate in an election to win the leadership that has been seen for almost half a century. A man who has built up the membership of the Labour Party from near fatally low numbers into a proper “movement”. A man who speaks the language of the people, who uses real people’s issues and questions at PMQ’s and a man who did more mileage during the Referendum campaign than any other politician, including the then Prime Minister. Not to mention the increased majorities and votes for the Labour party in every election since he became leader.

So why do they hate him? Is it because he’s popular with the people, and they are, therefore jealous? Possibly. But more likely it’s because he shows a way forward that is counter to the culture in the Houses of Parliament. He actually works, he actually has convictions, he’s not about trying to make himself visible he’s about trying to make people’s issues and needs visible. He is passionate, honest and truthful. None of these things matter in modern politics where self-preservation and self-interest come first.

But, they say, he was “trounced” my May at PMQ’s! Was he? I watched in sadness, horror and disbelief as the Prime Minister refused to answer one of his questions, but rather mocked and avoided saying anything real or of value. As she mimicked Thatcher, a women who ripped the heart out of working class communities, she showed a complete lack of respect for the needs and the problems of ordinary people. As a Christian is horrified me that all she could do was act like the bully in the play ground rather than show dignity and reality. However, her disdain of Jeremy Corbyn showed one thing: The Tories are scared of him. If they weren’t they’d want him to remain as leader of the opposition, as a weak leader would serve them well. But they want him out because he is a very real threat to them.

So Labour MP’s wake up and smell the coffee! The people actually like your leader, they hate your lack of respect for him and them. They are your people, listen to them because they know Jeremy does! Let’s make for a real politics where issues, convictions and beliefs are what matters. Let’s try to make this country work for the majority not the advantaged few. The Kingdom of God is for everyone, wouldn’t it be great if our Country was too?

Doubt and Certainty – reflections on St Thomas, Brexit and Faith.

“Faith is more about doubt than it is about certainty” (Philip Brent, 3rd July 2003). That is the closest I have ever come to having an original thought, and perhaps the closest I’ve ever been to being profound. However, its true! If everything was certain, if there were no questions, no doubts, then there would be no need to have faith, no need to trust in God.

St Thomas, whose day we celebrate on the 3rd July, is often labelled “doubting Thomas” for his unwillingness to accept Jesus’ Resurrection based on the testimony of his friends. Thomas wanted to be sure, he wanted to see for himself. People see his doubting as a negative, “The others believed so should he!” But actually I see it as a positive. He didn’t have “Blind Faith” he wanted to know for certain, he wanted to test and be sure. I believe that is the right and good thing to do.

Last weeks vote has left me with many doubts and questions. It has made me doubt my place in my own society, in my own Nation. It has made me wonder if I have been so out of touch with the world around me that I have nothing to say, and no place in Britain anymore. The rise in racist incidents since that vote has only left me questioning my Country and its place in the world further. How can the country I love, with its democracy, its love of equality, its generosity of spirit and heart, its positive support of the down trodden and disenfranchised be turned into a Nation of inward-looking, xenophobic racists? I have also doubted my own place in that country and whether I should be serving and trying to speak to such a world. Aren’t I out of touch and irrelevant to such a world?

However, the bile and hatred, from both Remain and Leave voters on Social media has made me stop and think. Someone has to rise above all this, someone has got to speak reason, someone has got to strike a note of calm amidst the storm, especially for the silent majority. Many people I know, many friends in fact, Voted Leave and not one of them is ignorant, not one of them is a Racist. Many of those who voted Remain, like me, have not got involved in name calling, in demanding a recount or a re-vote, we have accepted the democratic decision, and know we are all going to have to work really hard if we are going to salvage a future for our Nation. It has also made me realise that the place of the Priest in the Parish is not to engage in the mud-slinging, but rather to stand strong in the face of the prevailing winds on the world. We are called to be counter to the culture of the day, to challenge the world to return to God, a God of Love, Hope and Faith.

So whilst I have doubted my place in the world, and the place of the Church in the world too, my doubting has made me see that place more clearly. It has helped me understand that speaking out, in order to draw people closer to the Kingdom of God, is my role. I do have a voice, and I shall use it. Its how we use our voices that counts. There must be a rejection of prejudice, of bile, of hatred. There must be reason and a will to work together for the good of all. Through questioning my faith has become stronger, as it did for Thomas, as it will for you!

Faith, Hope and Love – why I am voting “Remain”.

Much of the campaigns for the referendum have left a nasty taste in the mouth. Both sides of the debate have majored on negativity and fear in their arguments. This has led to a sense of despair about the future of our country and its relationships with the wider world. The Kingdom of God, the Kingdom that  Jesus urges his followers to bring in, is based on Faith, Hope and Love. The “Leave” campaign has built much of its arguments on despair fear and hate, and whilst that may only stem from the extreme right part of that campaign, there is no doubt that they are not builders but destroyers, not just of nation but of humanity. I want to put forwards something far more positive, far more hopefully and, I believe full of Jesus’ love.

Since its early formation the EU has maintained and strengthened the peace in Western Europe and beyond. It is the fact that nations have been brought together, have communicated and have strived to work through difficulties that has been the back-bone of that peace. Whilst some would say that NATO has more of a part to play in this, they must remember that France, whilst always active in the EU has drifted in and our of NATO regularly. NATO does not have the same political basis and all round approach to things that the EU has. Peace can be fragile, we need to maintain the Peace that is God’s will for the world.

I am passionate about working people being supported, cared for and treated fairly. People sometimes forget to realise that until the late 90’s holiday pay was not compulsory, it came in as a result of EU legislation, loosing that right would be detrimental to the health and well-being of our workforce and nation as a whole. The EU has also increased Maternity Leave and pay and introduced Paternity Leave and pay. It is currently striving to eradicate zero-hours contracts so that everyone can receive a fair wage. Looking after the people who work is fundamental to making sure that we can grow as a Nation, a world, it also makes for happier people and a better society too.

I am eternally grateful for the freedom of movement in the EU and the fact that it has allowed many hard-working people from around the EU to save some of our major industries and services from failing. Without foreign workers in the NHS and already creaking service sector would have failed, and we need a strong NHS. My father has worked all his life in the Pig Industry, without foreign workers that industry would have failed as would much of the Agricultural industry in this country. The support and hard work of many from around the EU has kept our economy going in recent years. Whilst some would say “yes, but the are paid wages we can’t afford to live on and so are forcing us from work” I would point to the prices in the Supermarkets, if you want cheap prices, then how can our farmers afford to bring that food to our tables. It’s not the EU that is wrong here, it’s the monetary system we use.

I am voting remain because I believe in Faith, Hope and Love. I am voting remain because, although the EU is flawed, it is our best means of maintaining peace, of helping our workers get the support and help they deserve and need. I am voting Remain because I will not give in to Hatred, to Fear and Despair. I love my neighbours and I welcome them wherever they have come from, because we are all God’s children, all equal in his sight and all deserving of equal love.