What Y’all think of this?

17 08 2011

In November 2012 the Americans will be going to the ballot box again to choose their President. Those who enjoy following such things will know that Americans like to drag out their democratic rights!! (it does seem to go on!!)

I came across this (long, but excellent) blog post today and wondered:

How does a more liberal progressive Christian respond to this? (and by this I don’t mean the post – I mean the situation in the states).

What impact will this have in the UK?

What do you think?


See also here

Final post #UKriots

10 08 2011

I thought I would offer a few links to various commentaries and blog posts that have been written over the last few days concerning the UK riots. I have split them into broadly 4 headings. Eye witnesses; The conservative approach; the liberal approach; and christian responses. (the point isn’t whether something belongs in the right category – just trying to highlight a range of responses).

See what you make of them and please feel free to add things you have read in the comments.

Eye Witnesses.

Wood Green


The conservative approach.

Philip Johnston from The Telegraph

Max Hastings in The Mail


The liberal approach.

Camila Batmanghelidjh

Simon Jenkins

George Eaton – New Statesman

Christian perspectives


Responses from the Methodist Church

21st century Christian

This will be my last post on the riots. I hope the links work (I’ve done this on my phone). Please feel free to add other posts that you have found helpful (or otherwise) in the comments.

After thoughts #UKriots

10 08 2011

Tonight it seems that the riots have eased in London (probably due to 16,000 police officers) but have moved further north (particularly in Manchester and Salford). It is good to hear that there is nothing like the violence and vandalism that occurred in London and Birmingham last night and hopefully it will remain that way. Manchester and Salford had seen some acute violence earlier this evening but I hope that the worst has passed.

It seems that the government, although criticised for being slow to act, have acted decisively and with a degree of confidence. Just the kind of political leadership we required.

But a few things have concerned me throughout today:

The first is the rise of violence in the North. This clearly has little to do with the violence in London and is far removed from the Tottenham shooting. Is this copycat riots? Maybe. But my point from yesterday still stands – what shaped the (mainly) young people who carried out these crimes? Many have offered a response. Some have placed the blame on economic and political powers (or the lack of them); yesterday I placed emphasis on a much larger socio-political analysis; some have blamed parents and schooling; some have blamed austerity measures and cuts; some have laid the blame with a ‘mindless’ few.

It’s this last accusation that worries me more. Am I to believe that these ‘mindless idiots’ only arrived yesterday (or over the weekend)? Where were they before? Will they disappear again after this week? The problem is that these ‘mindless idiots’ haven’t always been ‘mindless’, or if they were their mindlessness never led to what we have witnessed this week. So my question still stands – what influenced them? What shaped their violent response?

By blaming the ‘thugs’ we manage to remove any guilt or blame for the society that we participate in and help to create. Responses on FaceBook like ‘send them all to Afghanistan’ is just unbelievably naive and ill-informed. In fact, it is that kind of attitude that might have contributed to the problem. I hope the irony is not lost on those that think the best solution to a violent youth is to send them to fight a violent war.

I wonder, of those that are hurling insults at the ‘mindless thugs’, how many volunteer or offer support to their local communities? (I mean on going support – not vigilante action the night after riots) how many attend police liaison groups, community action groups, school support, sports clubs, uniformed organisations, pensioners luncheons, D of E etc.

It was telling that my Facebook and twitter feed seemed to be full of either people wanting to lock them up and throw away the key, or youth/community workers desperately wanting to work amongst the ‘thugs’. Well we can lock them up – that would be the best way to allow a disenfranchised people feel more excluded. Or we could role our sleeves up and get involved. I guess for most the only requirement to belong to society is to be law abiding and tax paying.

There have been many hero’s over this last few days. Police and firefighters have placed themselves in great peril (and sometimes with little thanks) but I hope no-one forgets those that turned out this morning to clear up the streets. People who were willing to role up their sleeves and get on with it – the big society in action.

I pray that the result of this horrible and violent affair will not be that we ‘claim back our streets’ but that we get into our streets and shape the communities we belong to.

Pharaoh – let my people go! #londonriots

9 08 2011

I’m writing this at 2AM watching BBC News and following the twitter stream about the riots that are happening in my country. Most of the violence has happened in London and mainly the poorer areas of London (although Ealing might be classed as an exception); but there have also been outbreaks in Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool (at the time of writing).

Lots of people have been on the BBC beginning to offer a reason for what has happened and I suspect the post mortem will go on for some time now. This is not a post that wants to offer an answer! This is a confused post that longs for an answer and offers a place where I begin. Firstly, I want to highlight those things that make me feel uncomfortable:

During the Arab Spring we witnessed the revolutionary movement of a people who longed for a better world. What we are witnessing here is a group of young people running a mock and carrying out looting and severe vandalism. Many tweeters have commented on the difference between the aim of the Arab revolutionaries in the beginning of the year and the scenes we are currently witnessing. And yet .. this began with the shooting of a man by a government sanctioned enforcement agency. Said this way it is deliberately provocative. I want to say here that I have nothing but admiration for the actions of the police that I have seen on the news this evening. All I have witnessed is brave and well disciplined women and men doing a terrific job in unbelievable circumstances. I also want to acknowledge that most of the rioters probably don’t even know the name of Mark Duggan. But we can’t escape the uncomfortable truth that this began in a place that, if it had been in a country whose political system we did not agree with, we would have been wondering if we ought to offer arms and money to the dissenters!

If this was a riot in Tottenham over the shooting of Mark, then it would almost be understandable – but what we have witnessed is ‘hot-spots’ of violence springing up across London and moving to other larger cities. There fight is not with the shooters of Mark Duggan. In fact, I doubt the fighting in Tottenham is about the shooting of Mark Duggan! But it happened for a reason! This has replaced a post that I was going to put on my blog about a recent trip on my holiday to the Picasso museum in Barcelona. The museum exhibited some amazing pieces of Picasso art from his earlier days, but what impressed me the most was the way the museum demonstrated the various influences on Picasso’s work. I wanted to blog about the way in which we are not blank canvasses that arrive in any setting untouched and hygienically clean from outside stimuli. From a young age we arrived as informed and influenced beings (for better or for worse). So my question is: what is the influence on these young people? What has formed them in this way? I am sure the Daily Mail will want to dignify that response with answers like feckless father, benefit grabbing mothers, immigration etc. but I just don’t buy it! We are yet to see but I suspect that most of the people rioting are 2nd generation and beyond Brits! These are my people (whatever colour). So what has shaped them?

I wonder how many of the young people rioting have a criminal record? It is hard to believe that England had an underground movement of young criminals that had never been caught but were running a firm and were just waiting for the opportunity to fight! In fact, judging by some of the clearly useless criminal acts (posing in photographs with a bag of rice!) I suspect that many of them have never done anything like this before. So what’s shaped them? When I was interviewed for my Venture FX job I was asked to describe the era in which we live. I was trying to describe my generation and the people rioting are most likely a younger generation. But I wonder if this resonates with others? And I wonder, if it is true of my generation, – what does it do to the next? I described my generation as a generation that had been failed: we were told to work hard at school and we would get a job – the education system failed us!; I was told to put my money in the bank and my financial situation would be secure – the banking system failed us!; I was told to eat certain foods and not to eat others, only to find later that the foods I ate gave me another disease and the foods I didn’t eat could have saved me from others – the health service failed us! I was told to vote and participate in making my country a better place – the political system failed us! I was told we were a developed country and that others were developing – then we bombed them when they didn’t develop into us – foreign policy failed us!

I’m not sure if the above is true – it might just be my misreading of history and shaped by those things that have informed me. But if any of it is true then the result of the next generation might look like the scenes I’ve witnessed tonight. I read a tweet earlier on that asked if we were witnessing the end of capitalism and (possibly democracy). As another tweeter commented – it would take more than this to bring down capitalism as we know it. But you can’t help wondering with the news flowing from the stock exchange, what we already know of the banking crisis, and the financial situation in Europe and America that we might be witnessing a shift in the way in which the West manages itself. Slavery and feudalism did not last forever – has the next political and economic system served its time? I have often been mocked (and called arrogant) for suggesting that the jury is out on Democracy – but in the face of ridicule I stand by it. Why? Because I see little evidence that Democracy produces the world we want to live in. This last three days might be a new generation telling us that they refuse to live under the conditions of the present regime. I suspect many people in my and my parents generation will want to end their illusions of a better world (after all – we could lose everything!) and we will use all the resources necessary to stop this nonsense. We will call them looters, rioters, maybe even terrorists (and don’t forget that the activity of the Black South Africans during the struggles was retold by anchor men and women as acts of terrorism!). The alternative will be to listen to them and take their (sometimes inarticulate and incoherent) protests seriously; and then to accept the role we played in creating the world they now live in.

The problem, is that despite offering some analysis of the problem (which others will certainly disagree with) I have no suggestion of the answer. I have neither the imagination nor the intelligence to offer an alternative to what we currently have. But I do know that those people do exist and they belong to different faiths and none, to different races, sexualities and languages. I look to them to inspire me. One of my heroes is Simone Weil a French philosopher who lived during the turbulent times of two world wars. She wrote a book called Need for Roots. In this book she offered a new vision for the way in which a society might be able to organise itself and hoped that the new France (after the second world war) might adopt it – they didn’t! And in the end Weil starved herself (or did she?) in a sanatorium in Ashford, Kent. I have no idea if Simone Weil’s understanding of society is workable or desirable. But what I am looking for, what I believe the majority of young people who were out tonight are looking for, is an alternative.

I want someone to imagine a new future; a future that is different and greater than the one I am currently offered.

Mafia priest

27 09 2010

Had an unusual weekend just gone. I took the baptism of my beautiful nephew in Skipton, North Yorkshire. That, in itself, is not unusual. I am often called upon to take the weddings, funerals and baptisms of family and friends. I enjoy it and I hope that it gives a personal, person centred feel to the occasion. What was slightly more unusual about this baptism is that it was held in the afternoon (not part of the usual morning service) and so the church just had me and my family and friends. It was like ‘An audience with …’ I would always prefer to have the baptism as part of the usual worship gathering of a particular community but there was good reason for having this one separately. But it did feel odd!

At first I thought it was because it was just me and a whole bunch of people I know (most of which have no or little church connection); but I have done weddings in this company (with no church members present) so it wasn’t simply that. I also thought it was because I was, as always, disorganised (and sadly that showed!) but again, most of the baptisms I have taken have happened during (so called) All Age Worship and have definitely being less than organised! I thought it might have been that I have become a little more radical in my preaching style (more of which in another blog); but actually I would have felt more uncomfortable if I had ‘watered down’ what I had said. I thought it might have been because I asked for a collection to raise money for the work that I am involved with in Ghana (we raised about £82 – well done family and friends!!); but apart from a few, most seemed comfortable with that.

Then I began to realise that it was a recurring discomfort that I have felt for a long time, and partly why I got into the Pioneer Ministry game. I was worried, in fact I knew, that the language and symbols that I was about to deploy were completely inappropriate to my setting. I felt caught between a rock and a hard place – on the one hand the family and friends wanted to celebrate the birth of the child, wanted to mark it as a special moment, and wanted to do more than say thank you for him. They wanted a ceremony of greater import than simply a thanksgiving or naming ceremony; something that began to articulate the meaningfulness of the moment. On the other hand the words in the liturgy (which in the church I was taking the service were words from 1975) were meaningless to the gathered body. How was I to ask the ‘congregation’ if they were willing to uphold the life of the church in worship and service? Only a handful would have been able to say that with any integrity. (incidentally – this is less of a problem for me in weddings – perhaps because the language is more appropriate, or perhaps because it’s very nature is both rock and hard place – a religious thread in an essentially legal tapestry).

This isn’t a debate about infant vs adult baptism. This is a question relating to pioneer ministry, fresh expressions and new forms of church. What are the symbols and signs that have powerful meaning in our world today that also resonate with a Christian Narrative? What is appropriate language for marking those moments of transition and importance? Important questions if I am to belong to a community that wants to mark significant moments in people’s lives who don’t want to (or cannot) access the language and symbolism of inherited church. This isn’t simply a question about baptism: at a recent Venture FX gathering we began a conversation about what to do when people show an interest in matters of faith – when all we have is Alpha (and Alpha type courses) to fall back on.

All that said – we had a great time staying with my sister and brother and their partners (not to mention one beautiful little baby boy!!!) So I was blessed – even if no one else was!

Another year begins!

31 08 2010

Well! What a summer! It went something like this:

Moved furniture out of house and into storage, flew out to Ghana for 2 weeks to spend time in a small village called Ekon, flew back from Ghana and move into new house in same day, picked up kids and spent 2 and a bit weeks with them, flew out to Ireland to take a wedding of mammoth proportions, flew back to England, had kids for a week, travelled to Greenbelt, spent weekend camping, back home, back to work.

It was remarkable. I can’t remember a time when I felt more alive.

In Ghana I spent time with people who had nothing and yet shared so much; I discovered the reality of difference and alterity; got a good beating at football by a bunch of 8 year olds; and enabled a toilet in a school to be finished.

In Ireland I met up with an old crowd who I haven’t really spent any time with for 15 years or so; took a wedding in an amazing venue (Mussenden Temple); spent far too much money on alcohol!; laughed till I couldn’t breathe; danced till it hurt; and swapped my cassock for a girl’s yellow dress for a photo shoot. (You’ll have to go on Facebook if you want that picture).

Greenbelt was its usual self. I heard a great description of it as ‘prophetic and prankster’. I froze on a night; I laughed in the day; I got the chance to speak in the Galilee tent (on pioneer ministry); I heard far wiser speakers; and spent an hour wearing red filter glasses in a numinous act of worship conducted by Grace.

But the most wonderful thing about this summer is simply this: I was reminded of the value of friendship and I discovered new relationships that have already begun to transform my life. Whether in Ghana, Ireland or Greenbelt – I can’t believe the number of people I have met and got to know. How that pans out over the next 12 months or so remains to be seen. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my future reflections of pioneer ministry are heavily influenced by my experiences of this summer.

For now

29 06 2010

I’ve decided to pause on the blogging till after the summer. Partly, because I’ve got a very hectic summer coming up; I’m working in Ghana, taking a wedding in Ireland, speaking at Greenbelt and moving house!!! But also because I have so much going on in my head that I’m struggling to crystallise it in written form (a common problem for a dyslexic!). So I’ve decided to give myself July and August off and return in September.

Have a good summer!

To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity…. not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide.

From Rilke, Rainer Maria and Herter Norton M.D. (trs) (1954) Letters to a Young Poet

Home Alone [part 1]

19 06 2010

It’s been a while since I last blogged. I hope it becomes clear why that has been.

I think it’s important to say, from the outset, that this is not a criticism of the leadership and decision makers of either my Methodist District (Chester and Stoke) or Venture FX. Both have been hugely supportive of my recent ‘adventures’!

The narrative

Within the Methodist Church an ordained Methodist minister is ‘housed’ by the church. This means that as an ordained minister I am paid a healthy salary (we call it a stipend) but it is not enough to really afford a mortgage. In fairness, the stipend is not really seen as a ‘salary’ (a fair wage for work done) but rather as a gift in order that the minister has enough money so as not to worry about financial issues. This means that each Methodist Circuit (a group of Methodist churches) has a stock of houses in which to house their ministers. The basic outcome is – you’re not paid much, but you don’t have to worry much! The church gives you enough money to get by and a decent house to live in. In reality that is not always the case; some circuits do not look after their manses properly leaving ministers living in inadequate conditions and for many ministers who have large families the ‘stipend’ barely covers the basic costs of living – let alone any luxuries. (equally many single ministers have to pay huge utility bills for large houses that they rattle around in). It is reasonable to say that most ministers don’t come into this vocation for the money, so there are few complaints from the ordained.

The issue.

However, this relationship between ordained minister and institutional church came into sharp focus for me over the last few weeks. The question is simple: If a minister is expected to live in a house provided by the church, and if a minister does not earn enough to acquire a mortgage, and if all the houses are owned by Circuits – where does an ordained minister live when she still works for the Methodist Church but not for a circuit?

The answer, you might think, is simple. The church rents a house from a private landlord! However, when a company wants to rent a property the agent does a credit check on the company to ensure that they can pay – but they cannot do a credit check on a charity. In fact, after speaking to the credit referencing agency, legal bods in the Methodist Church, and the charity commission there seems to be no recognised legal system for The Church (or any charity as far as I can tell) to rent accommodation for an employee.

The Solution.

In the end – I managed to get the agent and the landlady to agree to the unusual conditions and all seems to be well. I did something I’m not entirely proud of – I turned up to a viewing wearing my dog collar. I was desperate and hoped that the clerical wear might carry a bit of weight. When I arrived at the house the agent and landlady were present. As soon as the landlady saw me she waved her key ring at me with a cross on it. She explained that she was a worshipper at a local Baptist Church. I explained to her my predicament and the agent phoned me the next day to tell me the landlady had agreed to the church renting the property without the usual checks and forms. My District Chair (similar to a Bishop) wrote a letter to the agents to ensure them that we had sufficient funds to pay the rent, council tax and water rates.

All is well

But it has raised many issues that I’d like to reflect on in future posts.

Keep reading ….

Country in breakdown

12 05 2010

I got on the bus in Hanley to come home after a very positive meeting with local police.

I could tell I was in a bad mood but couldn’t work out why. I then realised I’d not eaten all day (it’s about 13:00), and I do get narky when my tummy rumbles!! To make matters worse there was a pensioner who obviously had no idea that their phone was beeping away and it was begining to drive me mad.

There’s nothing worse than a narky, grumpy, annoyed, hungry, Simon!

By the time we get to Kidsgrove it becomes clear that the beeping wasn’t a pensioners phone – it was the bus. As it dawns on me that the bus isn’t doing too well the driver announces that we’ve broken down. ‘it’s buggered!’ were his exact words. ‘you’ll have to get on the next number 20′.

This seems to be the signal for both small children sat directly behind me to start a fight. Screaming, yelling, dummy – flying kids smacking the back of my head everytime they mis-swipe at each other. The two young mothers are desperately trying to sort out the kids with sharp snaps at them interspersed with gentle appologies to me.

I am not ammused! (tho I smile in a very English kind of way)

In fact, I’m contemplating how much time I’d get for throttling a small child.

Then one of the mothers says to her mate:
‘you see! We’ve got no goverment and the bloody public transport system collapses!’

Priceless! The whole bus erupts in laughter.

I decided to get off the bus and have a quick cigerette and saw a shop open. I went in and bought 3 boxes of broken flapjack for a £1, got back on the bus and we all shared in an oaty feast!

It’s amazing how one line can change the atmosphere.

And whatever you might think of Cameron and Clegg – at least the busses are running again today!

Pioneering and the protestant work ethic.

11 05 2010

I haven’t blogged for a while for numerous reasons most of which are not relevant for this blog (that’s got you guessing!!). But one area is. I have spoken to many in pioneering ministry who often speak about solitude and a lack of ‘results’. I have also witnessed, and I am sure that there are many facets, people who are unemployed who lose self esteem, motivation and generally feel low.

For me, brought up in a northern, working class environment, there is a sense that my identity is bound up in what I do. If you walk around the graveyard where I grew up you will see many gravestones that will identify the deceased by the work they do. So you will read ‘Peter – Ironmonger of Bradford’ or ‘Harry – butcher of Bradford’.

So what does that mean in my particular context? People keep asking me ‘How’s the job going?’ and I find it really difficult to answer. The truth is my brain has not been this active in years. Cerebrally, this is far more engaging than circuit ministry was (that’s not to relegate circuit ministry as a lesser form – more to be honestly open about my inability to do it!!). I also find myself in many meetings, drinking numerous cups of coffee, chatting to many people about nothing, walking into the same clothes shops, pubs and coffee bars in order to build relationships, even getting to the local gym twice a week to develop a greater presence (double meaning intended!!). But what have I got to show for it? What ‘results’ do I have to give you?

Answer – None!

I want to belong to a church that is disciple making, life changing, community transforming. As far as I am aware there are no disciples, no lives have been changed (except for mine) and community has not been transformed!

So, for a while, I’ve been struggling with a sense of identity, motivation and generally feeling a bit low. I am, to a greater or lesser extent, defined by what I do – an I aint doin much! (or at least nothing you can see).

I know that I can gain a sense of identity from elsewhere; I know that my motivation should come from beyond me. I even know where to begin to look to find that identity and motivation as a child of God. But it’s bloody hard work!

Anyway, better go and do something.

Simon – Pioneer Minister of Hanley!


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