Charity doesn’t begin at home

Charity doesn’t begin at home, it begins where there’s a need. If we only look after ourselves we lose something of our humanity.

Today (7 June 2021) Britain’s foreign aid budget has been in the news, with a group of rebel MPs seeking to overturn their own government’s cuts to this essential commitment.

We help people because it’s basic to our humanity, it’s always the right thing to do, and providing support for others often benefits the giver. It’s enlightened self-interest, a win-win for everyone. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s also the Christian thing to do. Cutting aid costs lives, and should be resisted at all costs.

As I posted on Facebook: Don’t cut UK foreign aid. Helping others is the best of Britain. At worst, it’s enlightened self-interest. It’s a no brainer!

We are all hypocrites!

When it comes to pollution and climate change, we’re all hypocrites!

But being a hypocrite doesn’t mean that we can’t make our feelings known, and it doesn’t mean that the message of environmental protesters is invalid.

There’s no inconsistency here, because this is so bound up with our whole way of life. Believing that criticism of those protesting will make the problem go away is futile. Radical change is needed.

As individuals we can only do so much, corporations and governments have to make the changes for the wellbeing of the planet.

While we live in a consumer society, one that is generally uncaring for the environment, we’re all hypocrites when demanding change. Yes, we can make small changes on an individual basis, but the main change has to come from governments and corporations – probably with government incentives etc.

Even Greta Thunberg can’t be completely unhypocritical while the system remains unchanged, but genuine virtue signalling combined with small personal initiatives have their place.

Whataboutery gets us nowhere and can easily become an excuse for inaction.

Remembrance Sunday 2020

Bible Readings: James 3:17-18 & Matthew 5:1-12

We all carry assumptions that influence how we think about every aspect of life and person we encounter. Unfortunately, some of them are likely to be wrong or unfair. Yet, I imagine life would be impossible if we didn’t make some basic assumptions to help us navigate our daily lives.

Something that’s very central to my Christian faith is how Jesus teaches us to question our assumptions, encouraging us to glimpse the world through the very eyes of God. Jesus’ teaching remains challenging because it calls into question many of our everyday assumptions, often turning our understanding on its head.

On Remembrance Sunday it’s easy to assume that Jesus and his followers represent a cosy religious inoffensiveness filled with sweetness and light, sentimental love and peace, whilst those involved with the military are people of violence who espouse hate and glory in violence.

Of course, we admire the dedication, professionalism and bravery of the men and women of our armed forces, but we can’t help thinking that their very existence is a consequence of human failure.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need armed forces, but the reality is we do, and there are times when when we realise that the the veneer of civilisation is very thin.

I feel uncomfortable with the amount spent on weapons, and the time and effort used to devise ‘better’ ways to kill and maim, especially through nuclear weapons. Surely our only possible reaction is that of sorrow and penitence.

Love isn’t simply being loveable and nice. Christian love, expressed most fully in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is a determined commitment, the opposite of indifference rather than the opposite of hate. Also, we often see it in the most unlikely of places, again challenging our assumptions.

The old hymn Gentle Jesus, meek and mild is misleading I feel. Yes, he’s attractive and captivating, but I’m not sure about some of the other traditional pictures we might have about Jesus. He was brave and committed.

The Christian Gospel isn’t about liking people or being liked by them, it’s a total commitment that’s divine love in all its fullness.

We recognise true selfless, loving commitment when we see it. We long for that wisdom from above which, in the words of James, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits. Love, which even in our fallen world, we sometimes glimpse in the most unlikely of places.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

On Remembrance Sunday, I want to remember and honour individual and personal examples of brave commitment and sacrifice in the lives of those tragically given or permanently changed by war, whilst also remembering the supreme love of God shown in Jesus. See also here.

They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old;
age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun
and in the morning,
we will remember them
.

Only love (Ian McEwan)

Only love and then oblivion. Love was all they had to set against their murderers. Ian McEwan.

Tuesday 11 September 2001 (or 9/11 as it has become known) is a day permanently etched into all of our memories, and much has been written about the terrorist attacks on that day.

I’m not going to attempt to add my thoughts on this anniversary, but simply to point you to one of the best pieces written about it then or since.

This article by Ian McEwan was published in The Guardian on Saturday 15 September 2001.

Edward Colston Statue in Bristol

Northern_end_of_The_Centre,_Bristol,_March_2018

During today’s ongoing worldwide anti-racist demonstrations, a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was toppled and unceremoniously dumped in the harbour. You can see the BBC News report of the demonstrations here.

For now though, let’s park our thoughts about the rights and wrongs of tearing down a statue, and simply seek to empathise with how black people would have felt walking past Edward Colston every day. In this highly-charged atmosphere, with the added tensions of coronavirus, we need to keep our focus on the deep issues of racism and white privilege. Let’s discuss these issues respectfully and communicate with grace.

Knowing the history of Bristol, I personally feel that the statue should have been taken down officially and (possibly) placed in a museum long ago. Such an official act could have acknowledged the hurt of the past and brought people together. It could have been a profound moment of repentance, redemption, reconciliation and renewal. Sadly, that moment has been lost.

In these difficult and challenging times we need visionary leaders in all countries and at all levels, unfortunately they currently they seem to be few and far between.

Note: I attended a Yes concert in Colston Hall in the 1970s. They played Tales from Topographic Oceans in full before the album was released in 1973.

Staying Friends on Social Media

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The algorithms of social media often dictate that we live within an echo chamber of friends who share our outlook on life. But not everyone agrees with us, nor do we always agree with others. The old adage of ‘agreeing to disagree agreeably’ sometimes goes out of the window when passions run high, and social media can be a catalyst to entrench our opinions and polarise debate.

In an increasingly divisive society, we may need to relearn the concept of being nice, affirming each other and appreciating diversity.

When I post something on Facebook I expect disagreement, but I don’t expect rudeness. People can get so angry that others have a different, well-considered opinion from them, one that may be part of their very being.

Often on social media there is no engagement with the issue(s), just simply shouting an alternative opinion, with no concept of nuance in any discussion. We are not heard by shouting. There needs to be respect, both for ourselves and for others. It’s also perfectly acceptable to admit the merits of someone else’s position whilst not necessarily agreeing with it ourselves.

Please don’t think that I’m saying I’m perfect in this regard, I’m not. But I do feel we all need to take a careful and humble look at ourselves and how we respond to things posted on Facebook and social media generally.

Personally, I approach this as a person of faith, and so many of my attitudes, thoughts and actions derive from this and make me the person I am.

Paul writing to the Philippians says: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Here is the context of the whole passage, where Paul suggests we should have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Be kind to each other.

Understanding White Privilege

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I guess we all have an understanding of racism, namely the belief that one’s own race is superior to others. A document (recently published by The Salvation Army) says: Racism can be subtle and embedded, even though people avoid using direct racist terminology. Racism can also be overt, systematic and cruel, as epitomised by the slave trade, the Holocaust, apartheid, the caste system and the treatment of indigenous people. It also puts us all on our guard by saying: Racial prejudice is present in us all to some degree and must be rigorously countered.

Occasionally, you hear white people say they haven’t experienced racism, but that’s a little like saying hunger doesn’t exist because you had a large breakfast this morning.

This brings us neatly to the concept of white privilege, something that’s less well understood. It’s been defined as follows: White privilege (or white skin privilege) is the societal privilege that benefits people whom society identifies as white in some countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.

White privilege does NOT mean you’re racist.
White privilege does NOT mean your life has been easy.
White privilege does NOT mean you don’t face struggles too.

White privilege simply means your life isn’t made harder by your skin colour.

It’s as simple as that. Every one of us has a responsibility to empathise with everyone we come into contact, and with different groups within society, to learn to live in other people’s shoes on the journey of life.

Note: As a white person, who obviously hasn’t experienced this type of discrimination, I hope my thoughts are helpful. I offer them in humility, and with a willingness to learn.

Speaking Generally

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I’m grateful to my friend Stephen Poxon (author and writer) for contributing this guest post about William Booth. You can find his books here.

William Booth: Founder of The Salvation Army, Christian evangelist, reformer, friend of royalty, champion of the marginalised, wit, entrepreneur, and master of the soundbite.

So far, so good, but we must remember that Booth was preaching his message and espousing his spiritual and moral philosophy before any of the advantages of modern communications technology could be exploited. His was an era of voice projection and oratory that went largely unaided except by, maybe, primitive devices for amplification.

All the more remarkable, therefore, is the fact that so many of William Booth’s quotations have survived into the present age. Granted, many were recorded by stenographers and biographers, but General Booth’s feat is still special, especially as much of his (prophetic?) wisdom retains a fresh touch.

Such as, for example, his utterance that there might come a time when the fires of scorching faith that burned within his bones would somehow become

“Religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell”.

Forgive the pun, but this is hot stuff; not for the faint-hearted (but then, faint-heartedness was a concept Booth never understood).

Was the old man right, though?

Take a look around. See for yourself a market-place swarming with pseudo-Christian philosophies (touchy-feely-feel-good mantras of consolation paraded in the name of some churches) and you might concede, he made a reasonable point! Denominations, I mean, that sometimes appear not to know their convictions from their desperate strivings to be ultra-relevant, and which, consequently (inevitably) dilute their ancient mandate to the point of it being nothing in particular and of little use to anyone.

And as for the penultimate utterance in Booth’s list of concerns, who can forget Alastair Campbell’s famous interruption of Tony Blair, reminding the then Prime Minister that “We don’t do God”?

How about this absolute corker:

“Don’t instil, or allow anybody else to instil into the hearts of your girls the idea that marriage is the chief end of life. If you do, don’t be surprised if they get engaged to the first empty, useless fool they come across.”

He wasn’t holding back, was he! Anyone voicing such opinions nowadays would be faced with any number of charges before they could say political correctness. Yet, allowing the dust to settle, we might just find ourselves agreeing with the outspoken warrior, albeit only grudgingly, on behalf of our children and grandchildren. Is it even possible we might only, eventually, accuse him of speaking downright common sense?

Try this one: “The greatness of the man’s power is the measure of his surrender”.

Notwithstanding the gender bias of the statement, how much does a contemporary age rail against notions of surrender, obedience, deference or conformity; in civil and legal matters, relationships, education, religion, societal structures, international political diplomacy, and the workplace (and so on)? Are we, can we honestly claim, the better for such prevailing tendencies and the tacit approval of creeping anarchy in the name of entitlement?

Read. Ponder. Agree. Disagree.

Everyday Sexism

The path - Dublin, Ireland - Black and white street photography

A news item on BBC News caught my eye today: An “alarmingly high” number of girls and young women feel unsafe outside their home, according to annual research for Girlguiding UK. The survey of 1,903 13 to 21-year-olds in the UK found nearly two-thirds either felt unsafe, or knew someone who was fearful walking home alone.

It reminded me of the Everyday Sexism project which exists to catalogue instances of sexism experienced on a day to day basis. They might be serious or minor, outrageously offensive or so niggling and normalised that you don’t even feel able to protest. It encourages women to share their stories to show the world that sexism does exist, that it is faced by women everyday and that it is a valid problem to discuss.

It’s a sad state of affairs that millions of women and girls are sick and tired of constantly being treated with disrespect as they simply try to live their lives.

But what is the answer? Firstly, take the issue seriously. Secondly, listen to what girls and women are saying and feeling. Thirdly, don’t judge them by what they wear. Lastly, teach boys (and remind men) to treat everyone with respect and not abuse positions of power.

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/giuseppemilo/22951197762