Time to vote…

2 May

ERS_STV_ScotlandDemocracy is a funny thing. Whilst we might hold it up as an undeniable virtue, what actually constitutes a democracy is still wide open for discussion. According to the Economist’s “Intelligence Unit” 2014 Democracy index, the UK narrowly avoids being lumped with other nearly-rans as a “flawed democracy”. Admittedly, we’re not in the same league as North Korea or CAR, and the last decade has seen improvement, but we’ve still got some work to do to reach Norway’s near perfect 9.93 out of 10.

So… just a few more days, and it’ll be time to vote. Still stuck as to who to vote for? Does it matter anyway? Russell Brand isn’t standing, but maybe you’re one of his 10 million (!!) followers and prefer not to vote at all. (Personally, I’d recommend a spoiled or blank vote as a better means of registering a protest, if that’s what you want to do.)

Whatever the potential flaws of our particular voting system (see the Election Reform Society’s take on the potential results in Scotland, for example) or how self-seeking politicians may or may not be, democracy stands or falls on participation. Thoughtful voting takes a modicum of effort on our part – but without an engaged electorate, democracy is a non-starter. I like Paul Bayes’ (bishop of Liverpool) recent words:

“My responsibility is not to moan, but to vote. To vote, and to work for the common good.  My responsibility is to vote for, and work with, those with the moral vision and courage to work for a better society.”

Voting does not equate with uncritical acceptance of the political status quo or approval of unscrupulous politicians’ determination to hold on to power at all costs. Bishop Paul continues:

“Do I have deep enough reasons for voting? Or am I – are we all – being steam rollered into casting my vote for parties and politicians caught up in a system that promotes self–interest over the common good? […] I’m sick of the partisan politics of self-interest. I seek proper thoughtful politics that asks searching questions as together we build a better society. Society is divided and modern politics divisive. We see groups demonised and stereotyped – benefit scroungers, bankers, immigrants, asylum seekers – and in this atmosphere of easily cultivated hatred the poor and the vulnerable become voiceless and victimised.”

Voting is part of our commitment to building a better world, using the tools we have available to us.

I am not about to tell you how you should vote – political opinions are not contiguous with faith – but would offer you Bishop Paul’s three questions to help you decide. These are “questions that speak of a society where the least and lost are supported, the poor looked after, the victims given a voice and the marginalised cared for.”

1. “Will your candidate be putting the common good, and especially the interests of the poor and the marginal, at the heart of your policies?”

2. “Will your candidate work with churches, faith communities and all people of good will to shape a society where all can flourish and where the stronger will readily and gladly help the weaker?”

3. “Will you be striving to fashion a healthcare and welfare system that treats each needy individual with respect and honour as a priceless, significant person (made as we would say in the image of God)?”

You may well have other concerns and priorities that will dictate your choices. But for those who are still undecided, I trust these questions will give you enough to go on.

(See http://www.liverpool.anglican.org/Voting-for-a-new-moral-vision for the full context of the quotes used. And see the full Economist Intelligence Unit 2014 Democracy Index if you are interested in a global picture of democracy.)

 

 

A Note To British Politicians

23 Apr

GuardianBellElection(More food for thought in the run up to next months General Election. This is a reblog of a post by Eddie Arthur of kouya.net – do drop by and have a look at what he writes.)

Firstly, you need to realise that I am not stupid and I will not thank you for treating me as such. I am able to handle complex information and I don’t need everything reduced to simple sound bites. I know that some problems don’t have easy answers and I also realise that there may be more than one solution to a particular problem.  So, please don’t insult my intelligence by trying to pretend there is only one possible answer to every situation and that you are right and the other parties are wrong. I know that there are shades of grey, not just black and white.

While we are on this subject, please remember that I am able to read and understand things for myself. I don’t need you to tell me what the other parties’ policies are. Tell me your vision for the country and leave me to work out what this means for me. If all you have to offer me is a series of reasons why I shouldn’t vote for the other guys, then I’m really not interested in voting for you.

Talking of  ‘the other guys’, I am far more likely to vote for politicians who show themselves generous to their opponents. If the other side has a good idea, admit it. Don’t set out to create division and discord where there is none. Listening to grown-ups squabble is not my idea of entertainment and I will simply turn off the Today programme or the TV rather than listening to you bicker.

Be honest and truthful. Please don’t tell me about your values and your honesty; just be honest and demonstrate your values. I am not one of those people who believe that all politicians are greedy and out for what they can get. I actually believe that most of you are motivated by public service and the belief that your particular view of politics and economics is best for the country. However, I also believe that too many of you will be economical with the truth in order to be elected or re-elected. If I find that I can’t trust you to tell the truth to me, I am unlikely to trust you to govern the country.

Give me a vision of the future and not stories about the past. I don’t need you to tell me what life was like in Britain under the Tories in the eighties or Labour in the seventies. I remember both, and neither decade resembles this one very much. Give me a simple, realistic, believable picture of why the country will be better off with you at the helm and then trust me to make the comparisons.

Of course, I realise that you will, in all likelihood, ignore everything I have said. The election campaigns will have been planned to the last detail. Rather than looking at common ground and consensus, you will seek to show clear differences between the parties. You will exaggerate the little differences and seek to belittle your opponents at every turn. Spin (which is just a polite way of saying ‘lie’) will take the place of truth and complex issues will be reduced to banal superficialities.

At the end of the campaign, someone will win and they campaign teams will pop their champagne corks with a feeling of a job well done. But remember, there is another important factor in play here; the future of our democratic system itself.  Survey after survey shows that the British people are becoming disillusioned with politics and effectively disenfranchised. Turn out in this election is likely to be one of the lowest ever. If your party wins the election, but, in the process, alienates more voters  you will have done us a huge disservice.

This post first appeared five years ago in the run up to the 2010 election. I don’t see any reason to change it today!

Image credit: Steve Bell, The Guardian, 3-4-15

One vote – use it wisely.

16 Apr

7PartyLeadersGeneralElectionAfter the complexity and incoherence of the recent televised debate featuring the heads of the seven major parties competing at May’s general election, I guess many of the Great British voters are doubly confused. British politics is just not what it used to be. Times have changed and we are no longer faced with the simplicity of a two-party system, an “either-or” decision. It’s not even going to be like the current three-party stand-off with the LibDems holding the balance of power. With the significant recent advances of UKIP and the growth of the Green Party, the predicted landslide of the Scottish National Party north of the border and Plaid Cymru hoping to see the same political shift in Wales, it’s a whole new ballgame.

Whatever we feel about the relative merits or problems this will cause, that’s how it is, and no amount of moaning will change it. No more red, blue, or maybe yellow as the only available options; as voters we are going to have to think a lot harder about what we want and what our votes will accomplish. We may actually have to read the party manifestos or watch the TV debates, decide which party is most aligned with our values and convictions and vote for what we believe in and the candidate who will best represent our concerns.

This is no bad thing. Politics in a democracy is meant to reflect what a population wants. In a world where democratic values are under increasing threat, I would encourage us all to engage with the political process, think through how we want to see our country governed and vote accordingly.

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating – it’s not just in politics we get to choose. God is no tyrannical dictator who forces himself upon us, like it or not. It’s totally up to us whether we give him the time of day or not. Now, and for eternity. If you want to know what his “electoral programme” is like, pick up a Bible and read one of the gospels – how Jesus lived out his life here and what he taught will give you a good idea. (And if you’ve not got a Bible, as you’re reading this, then I guess you’ll be able to find one online. But if you’re really stuck, drop me a line and we’ll sort something out.) Then choose, one way or another.

Unlike a general election, you’ll never be lumbered with a government you didn’t vote for. As far as God goes, your vote is the only one that counts. Choose well :-)

Image credit: The Trump – http://www.thetrump.co.uk/the-parties-in-a-nutshell/

Life after Easter

12 Apr

LifeAfterEaster“With hindsight”… it’s easy to believe in the resurrection. We have been raised on centuries of Christian tradition and all “know” that Jesus was raised from the dead. Whilst questioned by our materialistic world, the Easter story is so much part of our Western cultural tradition that there is little that surprises us. But that certainly wasn’t the case for Jesus’ early followers.

Life with Jesus had been unpredictable at the best of times. But after his resurrection, it went haywire. I mean, how on earth do you “get on with normal life” when the one you have followed for a couple of years, the one you had watched as he hung on a cross and died, then appears alive a few days later – not to mention walking through walls and nicking your supper!

Jesus came back to life, but not to the life he had left. It wasn’t “as you were”, back to the good old days of travelling the Judean and Galilean countryside with a happy group of disciples. Yes, he certainly appeared to the apostles “from time to time” in the forty days following his death and “proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive” (Acts 1:3). But he was not about to follow anyone else’s agenda, much to his friends’ frustration, no doubt.

Take John’s account, for example. That first Sunday he appears to the disciples – all except Thomas, that is. The short visit is over all too quickly and then Thomas (not to mention the rest of the disciples) has to wait another week before getting his turn. Imagine that, Jesus is back from the dead pops in for the afternoon, then makes himself scarce for a week. It was worth the wait, particularly for Thomas, but still, I mean – a whole week! Some time later Jesus turns up again when Peter had given up on this particular version of hide-and-seek in Jerusalem and gone back to fishing in Galilee. John records the deep conversation that ensues, and that is that.

Luke adds some detail of what happened between Jesus speaking to the women at the graveside and appearing to the disciples in the upper room. A couple of his followers (and I reckon they were just that, a couple, husband and wife – but that’s for another article) are on their way to Emmaus, a few hours’ walk from Jerusalem, when Jesus joins them in disguise – well, they didn’t recognize him, at least. They have a good long natter on the journey before Jesus accepts their invitation to stay on for supper. After a spot of Bible exposition he breaks bread and suddenly “their eyes were opened” and they recognize him – at which points of course he goes and disappears into thin air… Argh!!! Naturally, they then rush back to Jerusalem to meet with the others and are just recounting their own merry tale when Jesus does his now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t trick in reverse and appears amongst the lot of them. Luke also writes of how Jesus at some later date leads his followers to Bethany, home of Lazarus & Co., only to leave them gawping as he heads for heaven.

After narrating Jesus’ appearance to the women, Matthew bypasses Jerusalem completely and has the disciples head back to Galilee – presumably where Peter was doing his fishing the morning that Jesus cooked them breakfast on the beach. Maybe it was here that Jesus appeared to the five hundred at one time that Paul talks about (1 Corinthians 15:6), who knows.

All in all, there was more than enough for them to know that he was alive – but life could never be the same again. You see, he had trained them and set an example for them; now it was time to leave them to it, not to put himself back at the centre of their lives. So he popped up unexpectedly, talked with them about the Kingdom of God and made his commission to them absolutely clear. He promised them that God’s Spirit would be their new guide – God within them, not God in him. A new era had begun, and they were to lead the way.

We are the heirs of this same promise. No, life with Jesus is not predictable. He doesn’t fit into our neat plans today any more than he would back then. We may prefer a less messy world with a neatly regulated Jesus showing up regular as clockwork at our prearranged festivities. But that’s not the way it’s meant to be. We follow a subversive God who calls us to learn to live according to our values and convictions as we follow the Holy Spirit to the best of our (often meagre!) ability. Welcome to life after Easter :-)

Extraterrestrial communications confirm biblical numerology

1 Apr

nabalFrom ancient Jewish Kabbalah to Michael Drosnin’s “The Bible Code”, Biblical numerology has always had its adepts and detractors, often being the subject of much criticism as well as ridicule. However, today the veracity of biblical numerology has finally been confirmed with a remarkable new discovery. Researchers from the Interdisciplinary Department for Interstellar Observational Theology and Science issued a report this morning that unequivocally confirms the reality both of extraterrestrial intelligence of some sort and the Bible as an out-of-this-world piece of communication.

Researchers started to notice unusual periodic variations in the high frequency radio emissions from pulsar UMBJ-01/04 situated in the remote Nabal galaxy. Realising these could not be explained by any natural causes, further investigation focused on the minute variations in the periodic emission of electromagnetic radiation characteristic of pulsars. Normally “regular as clockwork” and more accurate than atomic clocks in their time-keeping, the emissions from pulsar UMBJ-01/04 varied by fractions of a millisecond in a regular pattern that could be likened to digital Morse code. Months of patient observation have borne fruit as the hidden message has now successfully been decoded.

If the encoding of a message in the disruption of the natural rhythms of a pulsar is remarkable, the content of the message is all the more extraordinary. When decoded, the message points to a sequence of letters within a biblical text. Analysis of the petabytes of data collected so far is expected to reveal other results, but in the first fully decoded message, researchers were directed to what must be the Bible’s most famous verse, John 3:16, in the New International Version.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Fluctuations in the x-ray emissions then indicate which letters are to be read (in order, including spaces) from this text to reveal a message. Undoubtedly the work of some extraterrestrial intelligence – and we will leave it up to readers to decide whether we are looking at the work of a deity or an advanced extraplanetary civilization – we invite the readers to repeat the researchers’ work and decipher the first message for themselves. Count the letters from the beginning of the text given above, F being letter number 1, moving backwards and forwards according to the values transmitted by the pulsar variations. So the first letter in the sequence given would be A.

+64 +37 +2 -25 +17 -5 +37 -58 +29 +25

Remarkable! Enjoy your day :)

And the Oscar goes to…

9 Mar Julianne_Moore_Oscar

Julianne_Moore_OscarIt was red carpet time in Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre at the recent Oscar ceremony with Hollywood’s stars vying with one another for the most striking outfits – as usual. Birdman emerged as the overall winner – no surprise there. And no surprise either for the best actress award – Julianne Moore for her role in “Still Alice”.

Moore plays Alice Howland, a linguistics professor who realises something is wrong when she starts to forget words and is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The film accompanies Alice and her family as they struggle to adapt to this changing reality and the transformation in their relationships caused by the illness and the corresponding need for care-giving.

It’s a film that should resonate in many, many peoples’ lives. Like it or not, as the post-war “baby-boomers” generation ages and medical science hugely extends our life expectancy, caring for ageing relatives, including those in various stages of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, will become more and more part of “normal” family life. The role of both family care-givers and professionals are crucial to sufferers’ later years.

The pain of Alzheimer’s, of course, is found in losing a loved one before they actually pass away. As memory fades and with it recognition even of close family, it is all too easy easy to lose sight of the person that was and hard to maintain the same level of love and care. Even without Alzheimer’s, though, there’s so much we all forget. How many times have you met a person and thought “I’m sure I recognize them but can’t think where from…”?

But God never forgets. In a striking passage written by one of Israel’s prophets, God reminds us:

“Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? Never! But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!”

That means you. Yes you. Whatever your situation, however dark the world may seem and however much you may feel that no one understands or cares, God has not forgotten you, and never will. Ever.

“Not in the Bible”

27 Feb

BishopLibbyLaneFinally – the Anglican church has its first woman bishop. After decades of sometimes acrimonious debate, the General Synod adopted legislation permitting women to take on this role, opening the door for Rev. Libby Lane’s consecration as bishop of Stockport in a historic ceremony in York Minster on 26 January.

But the event was not without incident. As the archbishop of York, John Sentamu, asked the congregation whether they would accept Rev. Lane as bishop, a conservative priest, Rev. Paul Williamson (most famous for his attempt to bring a lawsuit preventing Prince Charles’ marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles) interrupted with the words “Not in the Bible”.

Indeed. There are lots of things that are “not in the Bible”. Electric pianos, youth groups and church magazines for a start. But arguments from silence are always to be handled very carefully. The New Testament does not record that Jesus ever clapped in worship, but does that mean that we shouldn’t? Examples could be multiplied but I’m sure you get the idea.

For some, the whole idea of women bishops is totally anathema, while others wonder quite what all the fuss is about. Still others accept the idea but aren’t really sure why and have this nagging feeling that Saint Paul in particular probably wouldn’t approve.

So… Without going over the reams of arguments for and against, what are we supposed to make of woman bishops?

The term “bishop” is the English version of the Greek word episkopos, which itself is not a religious word but simply means overseer or foreman. Early church leaders were not venerated dignitaries or an elite group in charge of a national movement – they were servants of God’s people. Overseer (bishop), pastor (shepherd) and elder (presbyter) were interchangeable labels given to those who served in leadership in the infant churches; it was only with the growth of the church and the death of the first apostles that bishops took on a wider role as overseers of other leaders and numbers of churches.

In this way, even if women bishops are “not in the Bible”, the current role of bishop in the Anglican communion – a far cry from that portrayed in Scripture – is also not there. Like it or not, today’s church is the product of historical development beyond that recorded in the New Testament when the infant church was just taking shape.

With that clear (!), we then have the next question: does the Bible close the door to women as bishops in the sense of church leaders? After all, Paul does say to Timothy that anyone seeking to be an overseer must be “the husband of only one wife”, literally in the original a “one-woman man” (1 Timothy 3:2).

Whilst clearly referring to married men, few insist that it excludes single men from the office of church leader – although this is the necessary conclusion with a strict or “literal” interpretation. (The Anglican communion itself rejects this, admitting single men to the contemporary office of bishop.) An open interpretation looks rather at the principle behind this statement: that sexual purity is essential for a church leader. Once we accept a wider application than solely married men, where to draw the “non-literal” interpretative line becomes a matter of conviction, usually motivated by previously held opinions, rather than exegesis of the passage as such. If we open the role to non “one-woman men”, there is no intrinsic reason to limit the role to men – whether male or female, single or married, an overseer’s “private life” is to be taken into account in evaluating a person’s suitability for leadership. This fits the context of Paul’s requirements for elders in which moral character is fundamental, much more than any theological qualification.

And finally, whilst uncommon in the male-dominated world that Scripture portrays, the Bible does give us examples of women in leadership roles whose inclusion indicates that it would be wrong to simply prohibit women from leadership. The Old Testament gives us Huldah and Debora, for example, whilst in the New, in addition to Priscilla who teaches accompanied by her husband, Junia appears to be called an apostle and Phoebe simply a “leader” (Romans 16).

Interestingly, Phoebe is also said to be a “deacon” (perhaps better translated “minister”) using the masculine term, not the anticipated feminine “deaconess”. Two immediate applications can be drawn from this. Firstly, that other apparently “male” roles or offices should be open to women – a masculine label can apparently equally be applied to a woman. And secondly, we need to return to Paul’s discussion of leadership requirements in 1 Timothy 3. Like overseers, deacons are there also required to be “one-woman men”. But if the Scriptures themselves give us an example of a woman deacon, it is evidently wrong to limit the application to married men; by the same token, if “one woman-men” deacons can in fact be women, there is no reason to reject women as overseers, that is, bishops.

Yes, we are sexed beings. Gender is part of our earthly identity and we will always be either men or women. But in Christ it is irrelevant whether we are Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. And in his body, the church, it is to be no different. We are called to be a charismatic community, where role is determined by gift, not gender.

Bishop Libby Lane, welcome :-)

(PS I realise that this short discussion cannot cover all aspects of the issue – it is not intended to do so. Whilst personally, I unreservedly accept women in any and every role or position in church, I accept that not everyone holds that view. I am encouraged by the Anglican communion’s ability to pursue unity in worship and witness, despite the evident theological disagreements, and trust that in other branches of the church we can do the same.)

Image credit: http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/

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