The Mail on Sunday, Foodbanks and Self Esteem

Apr 21

Thank the Lord it is self esteem Friday, perhaps now I can finally pay these bills.  Hi, is that British Gas?  I’m skint but I feel fantastic.  I’m wondering, are you prepared to accept self esteem?

I’ve been a bit busy of late. When we finished the final shout of “he is risen indeed” I discovered that the Mail on Sunday chose the day of resurrection to… not to put too fine a point on it… Lie despicably to steal food from the poor. Here’s the strap line:

HOW MOS REPORTER GOT 3 DAYS OF GROCERIES… NO QUESTIONS ASKED

The reporter then details how lots of questions were asked but he… how do I put this…  lied through his teeth.

As a trustee of a food bank I was interested in the developments. There have been some good things to come out of this. There has been a huge surge in donations to Foodbanks. Thank you humanity for restoring my faith in you. More importantly, there has been a backlash against the Mail on Sunday as they have exposed themselves for what they really are.

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Thanks to @jamiedm

 

Here is an open letter to the MOS from a parent of a two year old.

I’ve got a little boy. His name is Isaac, and he’s nearly three. Like any little boy, he loves cars, balls, and running around. He’s barely ever still.

A few days ago though, he was. I took him to the supermarket to spend his pocket money, and we passed the donation basket for our local food bank. It was about half full – nothing spectacular, in fact, mostly prunes and pasta – and he asked what it was. As simply as possible, I tried to explain that it was for people to give food for other people who couldn’t afford it.

This affected his two year old brain fairly deeply. After a lot of thought, he decided to spend a little bit of his pocket money on some treats to donate, because “children haffa have treats when they mummy and daddy is sad!” Nothing exciting. A chocolate swiss roll (about 29p), some angel delight (about 40p). Just a treat for a child, from a child who cares.

Daily Mail, I’ve got to ask. Why does my two year old get it better than you do?

Please go and read the whole letter. Kevin Bridges gets it: “Imagine working in a shop where everything is worth a pound except you” . A two year old gets it. The Mail on Sunday don’t get it.

Next week you will probably find an expose about me gracing their pages because I’ve written this blog. It’s probably all true. Or not.

Punk Rock Jesus: Graphic Novel Review

Apr 4

I’m not going to spend a lot of time reviewing Sean Murphy’s Punk Rock Jesus but here are a couple of thoughts.

Artwork:

Good imagery but difficult to follow because of the lack of colour. To depict the dark and gritty future we are left with vast swathes of black in which we have to try and pick out the detail.  In comparison, I just grabbed a copy of BPRD off my bedside cabinet and the many and varied shades of blue make for an easier read whilst keeping the gritty feel.

Storyline:

Simon Cowell gives up on X-factor and makes a reality show out of the Turing Shroud by cloning Jesus.  After fifteen years of staring in a morally bankrupt reality show Chris (the clone) breaks out to tell the world that “God is Dead”. Everyone dies.

My Thoughts:

My main criticism is that this is a very one dimensional story.  We see an ongoing battle between a caricature of US Christianity and a caricature of new atheism. At the end of the book, the author explains in his own words of how he was a Catholic who became an atheist and PRJ comes across as an out working of an internal angst. There isn’t so much a story on which arguments are hung but angry teenage angst with an absence of storyline.

Anyone who knows me is aware that the most important thing I look for in any story is the development of the characters and their relationship with each other.  Everything is a vehicle for the interplay of characters.  Sadly, there was little in PRJ to appeal in this department.  The villain is a pantomime villain. The ‘hero’ is a pantomime stroppy teenager. The martyr is quickly dismissed as a drunk. The most interesting character is the ex IRA bodyguard, Thomas.  We get a good glimpse into his past life, his background in the IRA and haw that influenced him to this point. Sadly this is a small glimmer of character development. In some respects, I wish this story had been fleshed out over three or four times as many issues to give a storyline that had potential some room to grow.

One aside about the theological worldview of this narrative:  For a world with no overarching deity or “guiding power”, there is a surprisingly strong sense of an “inescapable fate”. It is as though the characters are being dragged to the end kicking and screaming by an external force.

Highlights:

Thomas McKeal telling Chris that he was just the same as his opponents operating through “blind idealism”.

Lowlights:

No belly wheels. No stogie. Little storyline.

Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good

Mar 18

When Harold Ramis died it was a sad day for me.  He was one of the actors in some of the first films I ever watched.  As I sit typing away at my work on inculturation and Anglican liturgy I have Ghostbusters on the TV to keep me company.  I had forgotten all about this dialogue between Ray Stantz and Winston Zeddemore.  It takes me all the way back to my undergraduate days studying “The Bible in Media”.

Winston Zeddemore: Hey Ray. Do you believe in God?
Dr Ray Stantz: Never met him.
Winston Zeddemore: Yeah, well, I do. And I love Jesus’s style, you know.
Dr Ray Stantz: The entire roof cap is made out of a magnesium-tungsten alloy…
Winston Zeddemore: What are you so involved with over there?
Dr Ray Stantz: These are the blueprints for structural ironwork of Dana Barret’s apartment building, and they are very, very strange.
Winston Zeddemore: Hey Ray. Do you remember something in the bible about the last days when the dead would rise from the grave?
Dr Ray Stantz: I remember Revelations 7:12…?And I looked, and he opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake. And the sun became as black as sack cloth, and the moon became as blood.”
Winston Zeddemore: “And the seas boiled and the skies fell.”
Dr Ray Stantz: Judgement day.
Winston Zeddemore: Judgement day.
Dr Ray Stantz: Every ancient religion has its own myth about the end of the world.
Winston Zeddemore: Myth? Ray, has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason we’ve been so busy lately is ’cause the dead HAVE been rising from the grave?
Dr Ray Stantz: [Pause ] How ’bout a little music?
Winston Zeddemore: Yeah.

Vicarious Footy

Mar 18

I was speaking with my dad the other day about the football…

“Well dad, I know I don’t go to watch the Boro every week like I used to but I still believe in them. It’s just not the same since the crowd only fills a quarter of the ground. I know I used to go every week but it’s not the same like it was when Bernie Slaven was up front. And I don’t know any of these new chants. What’s wrong with singing ‘Brucie Rioch’s red and white army’ like we did in ’86? Besides, you go every week on Saturday…. And I come to the big family occasions and we all go out to the pub afterwards. And I still watch the World Cup final on the telly…”

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Mental Health Cuts Put Lives at Risk

Mar 12

One in four people suffer from mental health problems in their lifetime.  The UK government is calling for better mental health provision whilst cutting funding for the NHS. There are deep cuts happening in mental health services across the country. You probably haven’t heard this as it is being swept under the carpet. Finally, there is a flicker of hope as the BBC begins to publicise this dichotomy.

Mental health charities warn cuts ‘put lives at risk’.

The Mental Health Foundation, Rethink Mental Illness, Mind, the NHS Confederation Mental Health Network and the Centre for Mental Health and the Royal College of Psychiatrists have released a letter on Wednesday warning that planned cuts for next year will put lives at risk as the system is already underfunded.

At this point, people with mental illness are being failed, massively. The long term nature of mental illness means that this is a problem that will come home to roost for society in the future. Politics on the other hand is a short term activity and is only concerned with the immediate future and winning the next popularity contest.  Politicians like Cameron and Clegg will not be in government when the effects of these cuts become chronic.  They will be making after dinner speeches about their time in government whilst the human cost is finally counted. For them it will be “someone else’s problem”.  For those who lose their quality of life or a loved one there is a real cost.9884

In the current climate, there are some people for whom the human cost will always seem irrelevant.  This shouldn’t need saying but in recent years there is a need to spell it out: there is a serious economic consideration to creating a system in which thousands of people are left as “unproductive members of society”:

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said early intervention programmes were “very good value for money” and the prospect of budget cuts was “very worrying”.

“Early Intervention in Psychosis services are known to be highly effective in helping young people to negotiate their first episode of psychosis”, he said.

“They offer hope of a brighter future by helping young people to stay in education, to get and keep work, and to support their physical health.”

He described the cuts as a “false economy”.

“They save the NHS £9 and the wider economy another £9 for every £1 invested in them.”

Facilitating people back to “productive lives” makes economic sense for the country. Consigning people to a lifetime of mental illness makes no economic sense.

Please, please publish this far and wide.  This is a problem that the current government is creating for the future!

Church of England Clergy support the Labour Party?!

Mar 6

It has been an interesting week for Church of England clergy and the poor in the newspapers.  Revd Simon Cross is undertaking a 40 day hunger strike fast through lent to highlight the plight of the poor in the United Kingdom.  In a national move to mark the beginning of lent, 27 Bishops penned an open letter to the Prime Minister to highlight the plight of the poor in “the world’s seventh largest economy”.  The Independent reported as:

In an open letter condemning David Cameron’s benefit reforms, 27 Anglican bishops said ministers had a moral duty to do more to protect those having to choose between “heating or eating”.

By highlighting the moral failings of the coalition government to safeguard the most vulnerable in society and the increased reliance upon foodbanks, The Church has provoked a substantial reaction.  Within hours the pro Conservative press began to mount a  campaign to get the plight of the poor back off the agenda.

1609834_604792466266458_991142440_nFirstly Lord Carey was wheeled out to condemn the letter and his fellow bishops.  Then the usual commentary of “the church should stay out of politics” began as though the two can be separated.  The popular Church humour site Anglican Memes posted a link to the meme above and the backlash was considerable.  The site’s founder did the honourable thing and stared them down with this post:  “Jesus Doesn’t do Politics”.

Then The Spectator tried to discredit the Church of England by publishing this article from an ordinand saying that “I’m scared to admit to being a Tory in today’s CofE”.  The anonymous author also asserts that “Jesus wasn’t a leftie” with a short exegesis of the feeding of the 5000.  I admit that I am quite ‘scared’ by the article.  The exegesis leaves a lot to be desired.

One commentator on the article doesn’t just make allusions:

It is pretty clear that Christ did not have much time for politics at all. Nor did the early church. It stayed clear of them. I have experienced the Labour “default position” of the Church and it is nasty

In the current political climate, there is an obvious vocation for the Church to point to the plight of the poor.  It stems from the gospel and the radical life of Jesus Christ.  There is a huge disparity between those in the UK who have and those who have-not.  This gulf just continues to grow at a staggering rate.  Foodbank use is increasing due to measures that have been implemented by central government leaving the most vulnerable in desperation.  It is the duty of the Bishops to speak out about it.  It is the duty of the whole body of Christ both lay and ordained to speak out about it.  It is a gospel imperative!

The right wing press are weaving a thread of misdirection through their propaganda to turn the ‘Christian calling to care for the poor’ into ‘party politics’.  For example, when someone suggests that it is the Christian moral stance to care for the poor, tell everyone that they “would call themselves (proudly) socialist”.  If a group within the leadership of the church says that Jesus told us to “feed the hungry”, say that the church contains a “sizable minority of Marxists“. When a corporate body says that society is failing the vulnerable, state that they exhibit the “Labour default position”. It is easier to write off someone’s opinion for being aligned with a political party than it is to write it off for being aligned with Christ.

For a Christian, being politically engaged is not about joining or supporting a particular political party. It is about reading the gospels, deciding how best to follow Christ and then weighing up the least worst option that is available in the UK, whatever that is currently.  Personally, I am not a Marxist.  I doubt I could be described as a socialist.  In my adult life I have only once voted Labour and that was a tactical vote to remove a BNP councilor.  However, that does not mean that I will not vote Labour in the future – who can say what the future may hold.

In my role as priest within a community I will be continuing to tell the world that Jesus cared about the poor.  Not just cared about the poor but called us to do something about it!  I will continue to tell the world that the current government’s policies are not compatible with the Christ I read in the gospels.  I will continue to fight for justice for the most vulnerable in society.  I will continue to be politically engaged and exercise my right as a citizen to vote in every election I am able.  I will continue to pick the least worst option in UK party politics.

Advocacy, to speak out on behalf of those who have no voice is an important part of the Christian calling.  Or as Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it:

Christians shouldn’t just be pulling people out of the river. We should be going upstream to find out who’s pushing them in.

Two points.  As someone who recently went through two different Church of England theological colleges as part of his ordination training, I only met two Labour activists.  One in each college.  One of them was two doors down the corridor from a high profile conservative minister’s son. Also, we currently have a ConDem coalition government and yet in all of this right wing posturing the Liberal Democrats aren’t even a footnote.

Why I Just Stopped Using “Christian” Bookshops or “How The Church Is Committing Suicide”

Feb 14

Warning, I’m about to complain.

If you follow me on twitter you may have noticed that I’ve had some issues getting books that I’ve ordered at a Christian Bookshop. That isn’t the reason I’ve decided to start using Waterstones.

You may have heard me complain about how I placed an order for a book I need to reference and they lost the order and I can’t remember which book it was either. That isn’t why I’ve decided to start using Waterstones.

I just went to pick up my order and when I politely enquired if it was available a week later, I was looked at as though I was bonkers. ‘You want a book, in a bookshop? This is a Christian Bookshop for Christian people, there’s nothin for you here’.

As she went through the packages, she put one aside and said “It can’t be that one, it is for Reverend someone”.

“That could be me”.

She put down the paper packet she was looking at, looked me up and down from head to toe, shook her head. Then she picked her package back up and carrying on with the task.

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This is why I’m giving up on using Christian Businesses. I’m tired of being judged at every transaction. I’m a human being and I have a right to exist on the face of the planet. Waterstones would never dream of treating someone like that.

Can we all think about how we treat people on a “Sunday morning” without me writing a second post to point out the parallels?