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La Manada

28 Apr

101061928_046434621-1“History repeats itself. Has to. No one listens.”

So said Steve Turner. Sometimes it seems that he is right.

This week has seen monumental protests across Spain against the judicial ruling in the case of a young women allegedly gang-raped in 2016. Her aggressors, members of a self-proclaimed group La Manada, the wolf-pack, have been acquitted for rape and given sentences instead solely for sexual assault – though even this was not to the liking of all. One judge apparently thought the only crime committed had been that of stealing her mobile phone…

Seen by many as typical of Spain’s deeply embedded leaning towards patriarchy, the judicial system has come under intense criticism as a result. Spain has made remarkable progress from its macho past over the last decades with women’s rights advancing rapidly. The strike by women on international working women’s day this year, for example, is the first of its kind anywhere. But whilst legislation can change many things and institutions be forced to accept gender parity to a degree, internal attitudes and cultural givens do not bend so easily.

Perhaps we are slow to realise just how deep the rabbit hole goes. Culture, that unrecognised and often invisible environment in which we live, think, speak, act, is a slippery character. Both product and producer of our collective living, its unspoken and unsolicited influence knows no no-go areas.

In reading Scripture, we have perhaps too long looked at its example of patriarchal society as a God-given model for human social organization rather than a simply a description of “what was”. Whilst we may shy away from what we perceive as some of its excesses (though this clearly begs the question as to how we choose which parts to retain and which to jettison), the basic structure remains intact – patriarchal rule is God-ordained, how things are supposed to be, based on gender-specific roles for family and society as a whole.

20180426-636603744881012021_20180426212341-k9wb-u443051228755oqh-992x558lavanguardia-webWhilst never filmed and circulated on social media as was the case with La Manada, Scripture does record its own version of gang-rape. Only this time the woman was not abducted by strangers; her husband offered her up to save his own skin. The story of the unnamed concubine found in Judges 19 is one of the saddest and most repulsive episodes in the whole of Scripture. But its ugly violence failed (and still fails today) to highlight the real issues – easy to say with hindsight, I know – and tellingly in fact ended up merely serving the interests of patriarchal rule. Rather than exposing the evil of male control of a voiceless woman’s destiny, interpretation has focussed only on just how bad things had got in Israel. At the time it lent its weight to the growing theological justification for monarchy – in those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did just whatever they liked. Of course, having a king would change everything….

There’s clearly more to say about that story, but back to the present. Just what does it take to peel back the blinkers and expose systemic prejudice written into the judicial system, one of the very foundations of our societies? Maybe this will be Spain’s #MeToo moment. Maybe one day we’ll find ours too.

 

image credit: EPA via BBC; Nacho Gallego / EFE via La Vanguardia

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Evidence or attitude?

10 Apr

CerulaI managed to catch most of Channel 4’s Sunday night special, ‘Jesus’ Female Disciples: The New Evidence’. I guess I’m not your average Sunday night Channel 4 viewer, but there wasn’t a lot of new evidence for me. In fact, I reckon there’s a whole lot of old evidence that could happily have added to their case – though perhaps not made quite as watchable television. (If you missed it, never fear, that’s what catch-up in the modern watch-on-demand TV world is all about; you can find it for the next 28 days at http://www.channel4.com/programmes/jesus-female-disciples-the-new-evidence.)

But that’s “evidently” not really what the programme is about. Even a cursory reading of the gospels, Luke in particular, makes it pretty obvious that Jesus sought out, welcomed and encouraged female disciples. Obvious, that is, to anyone whose understanding of history and notions of the Jesus movement have not been moulded by centuries of patriarchal rule or its related anti-women tradition and dogma that have dominated church culture.

But that’s not the world we live in. As can be seen in the ongoing scandal of the “wage gap” between men and women, there’s a fundamental breakdown in the way women are treated that seems to be written into the way we view the world. (Talk to any teacher and you’ll realise that it’s not getting any better; despite gallant attempts to the contrary, anti-female thinking is rife and growing amongst teenage lads.) Of course, this won’t be seen in the PC declarations of the majority, but it stands out loud and clear in the unspoken – and often unrecognised – attitudes that shape our ideas and actions.

Unfortunately, none of us is exempt from the influences that mould our perceptions and convictions. A long history of wrong assumptions mean we project a skewed and potentially harmful bias onto our understanding of reality. The church is no exception – and may even be more guilty than society at large; religious fundamentalism has a habit of making cultural values into divine absolutes.

We read Scripture with our minds already made up, or at least predisposed to certain conclusions. Take Christmas, for example. What is enacted in nativities across the world bears little relation to historical reality or even what is actually recorded in Scripture. Yet we still cling to the essentially absurd idea that Jesus was born in a stable.

jesus-disciplesAnd so, of course Jesus didn’t have women disciples. He had twelve – all men. We’ve seen them walking across the Judean countryside, like Robin Hood and his merry men, having left Maid Marion back at camp preparing supper. Jesus may have healed an occasional woman, spoken with a couple and even taught one who refused to do the dishes, but disciples? Twelve men.

Take this programme for what it is – a challenge to us to systematically and deliberately work to remove from our minds and hearts the male-dominated thinking that makes the notion of Jesus having female disciples so surprising. And as a result, perhaps also to be in a place to convey to the wider world a different experience of church that models genuine gender equality.

I’ve little doubt that Jesus’ contemporaries were shocked by his unashamed embracing of women as disciples and (yes!) apostles. Wouldn’t it be great if we managed to do the same.

PS It was TV, so inevitably a bit sensationalist, but kudos to Channel 4 for a decent documentary, well worth the watch :)

PPS The Telegraph’s article prior to the programme going out also makes a good read – https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/03/31/early-church-found-place-female-bishops-experts-claim/

I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!

30 Mar

im_a_celebrity_get_me_out_of_here_logoWhat’s your own particular phobia? Being trapped in a plastic box with buckets of fire ants and meal-worms crawling all over you? A transparent plastic globe full of spiders fixed round your head? (Could almost be Winston from Orwell’s 1984 with his rat cage.) Swimming with snakes and crocodiles, getting your fingers nipped by crabs, being dangled upside down over a 70 foot precipice? Or what about drinking liquidised grubs or eating a kangaroo penis (very chewy, by all accounts)? What on earth is it that makes “celebs” subject themselves to these and other “trials” and come out declaring it to have been the best experience of their lives?

Who knows! But there is one thing that is clear – pushed beyond their limits, they all know that at any point, if need be, they can simply shout out “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here” and within seconds it will all be over. Yes, they will then have some explaining to do to their fellow camp-mates, but… everyone is so understanding and receives them with deep empathy (to their face anyway – later private conversations and confession room recordings reveal a host of different feelings). It’s okay, you didn’t have to go through it, no harm was done and no one will think any less of you. We know the jungle’s hard work – you’re a celeb, just hit the panic button when you can’t take any more, who wouldn’t?

Good Friday, celebrated today, was Jesus’ potential “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here” moment.

No one made him walk that path. Just the previous night, he’d been talking to his Father, honestly saying how he really did not want to go that way, but… He would endure the suffering that awaited him. Shortly after, as the rabble approached through the darkness and a scuffle broke out, he was quick to rebuke one over-zealous disciple in particular – Peter (who else!), “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” This was, after all, a trial he had chosen to embrace. “Do you think I cannot call on my Father,” Jesus continued, “and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”

In other words, I’m the Son of God, get me out of here. But no. He chose to drink the cup to the dregs.

the-passion-of-the-christ_60A harrowing Passover night of torture, unregulated trial and unjust conviction led to his execution on Rome’s favourite instrument for deterrent and punishment of opponents of the state. Naked for all to see, Jesus found himself slowly dying, nailed to a rough wooden cross, and according to his own people’s law, cursed by God himself. Ant & Dec didn’t take long to appear – you can end this trial at any time, any time you want to, you just have to say the words, and you’ll be out in a jiffy.

“He saved others, but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” …

“Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” …

“He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” …

“You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”

I guess there was never any real doubt what he’d do – he’d sorted that out in his heart the previous night. As the darkness closed in on him and his life ebbed away, “it is finished” he said and passed away. It is finished. The trial is over – and the reward has been won: not a few plastic stars that guarantee one evening’s meals for his fellow contestants, but friendship with his Father for ever, making all things new and clearing the way back to God for all of humanity, for all eternity.

Maybe back then, he wasn’t really that much of a celebrity, but he certainly is now. His was no bush-tucker trial, but you know, I’m honestly so glad he stuck it out.

 

Photo credits: itv.com; The Passion of the Christ

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 :-)

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