Kiwanuka wins Mercury Prize 2020

Michael Kiwanuka has won the Mercury Prize 2020 for his self-titled third album Kiwanuka, one of my favourite albums of 2019.

The judging panel said: “KIWANUKA by Michael Kiwanuka is the well deserved winner of the Hyundai Mercury Prize 2020 for Album of the Year. Classic yet contemporary, drawing on the history of music while remaining an intensely personal work of self-expression, this is an album that will stand the test of time. Songs such as ‘Hero’ and ‘You Ain’t The Problem’ deal with hot button topics like race and identity, but in a reflective way that draws the listener in. From its narrative flow to the interludes, from Civil Rights speeches to its panoramic mix of everything from psychedelic rock to piano jazz, KIWANUKA is not only a complete work, but also one that is borne of the courage of its creator to build his own world and invite us in. Warm, rich, hugely accomplished and belonging to no one genre but its own, KIWANUKA is a masterpiece.” (Source)

Edward Colston Statue in Bristol

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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.

Franciscan Prayer for Women’s Day

women-26-01Lord, make me an instrument of peace:
Bless all women who daily strive to bring peace to their communities, their homes and their hearts. Give them strength to continue to turn swords into ploughshares.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love:
We pray for all women who face prejudice, inequality and gender disparities. Help us see and to face the discrimination against women in all the many forms it may take.

Where there is injury, pardon:
Comfort all women who suffer from the pain of war, violence, and abuse. Help them to become instruments of their own reconciliation and peace.

Where there is division, unity:
Forgive all women and men who let differences breed hate and discrimination. Let your example of valuing all of creation help us to see that we are equal partners in the stewardship of your world.

Where there is darkness, light; where there is untruth, truth:
Comfort all women who struggle in the darkness of abuse, poverty, and loneliness. May we stand with them in light to acknowledge their suffering and strive to remove the burdens of shame or embarrassment.

Where there is doubt, true faith:
We pray for all women who live in fear of their husbands, fathers, and forces that control their lives. Help them to be empowered to be their true selves through your everlasting love and faith.

Where there is despair, hope:
We pray for all women who live in the despair of poverty, violence, trafficking, slavery, and abuse. May the light of your love bring them hope.

Where there is sadness, new joy:
Help us to see the strength and goodness in all women and men. Transform our hearts to celebrate the love and grace of all people. And may we be blessed with the courage to follow our own path of love for you and all sisters and brothers. Amen

Note: I came across this here. I modified it slightly (as above) and used it in worship on Sunday 8 March 2020 at Wallsend Salvation Army.

Coming out as gay

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I write as a straight man, even though someone once found my website using the phrase ‘is john ager gay’, but also as someone who seeks to empathise and understand those who struggle with their sexuality and societal attitudes.

It came as a complete surprise when I heard this morning that Phillip Schofield had come out as gay, even if there were those who said they always knew.

Much has already been spoken and written about this, and I can’t possibly (nor do I intend to) cover all the issues raised by this announcement. However, I would like to raise questions of why it’s so difficult for people to come out, and why can’t people be allowed to be who they are in the first place?

I found a number of well-articulated comments on Twitter helpful in this important discussion and I leave them with you:

Owen Jones: It’s up to all LGBTQ people how or when or whether they come out. But when someone with a public platform comes out, it helps people who are struggling with their sexuality. Love and support to [Phillip Scofield]

Patrick Strudwick: Next year will be 30 yrs since I came out. (14, at my comprehensive school, it stopped me killing myself). To STILL see people trapped in the closet for decades before having desperate, highly-charged comings out reveals how little things have changed. We have so much more to do.

Sam Wise: [Phillip Schofield] grew up in a time when gay people didn’t have any rights and nobody can blame him for feeling he could not come out. Still today homophobia is alive in our society and people in the public eye feel they can’t be who they are…the fact that [he] has only felt able [to] come out now says more about our society than it does him. He’s made a courageous step today and the fact his wife and kids are right behind him with love and support is excellent.

Coming to terms with and being your authentic self is never easy, especially in the public eye. Phillip and his family deserve our love and support.

Holocaust Memorial Day

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Sadly, hatred of ‘others’ is very often in the open these days, with much more just under the thin veneer of civilized society. It’s not enough to simply ‘never forget’ the events of the Holocaust, all forms of discrimination and hatred must be actively resisted. The Holocaust happened (and can happen again) when good people turn a blind eye to everyday hatred.

First they came for the Communists,
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Socialists,
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me,
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.
Martin Niemöller

The Holocaust didn’t begin in the gas chambers, it began with words of hate, because words matter. So, as we pause and remember, we need to reflect on how easy it is to dehumanise people and exclude them because they are different from us; maybe because of their colour or culture, their faith or politics, their gender or sexual orientation etc.

As well as remembering the evils of the past, we should commit to affirming all people, valuing everyone as part of the rich tapestry of humankind, and loving them as they are and for who they are.

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.

The New Doctor (Carol Service Talk)

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I’m a big Doctor Who fan, and I love Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor. She was a great choice and for many children she’ll be their first Doctor; this is the case for Freddy and Matilda, as we let them see a recent episode that wasn’t too scary. How wonderful to see a woman in that role! (See also here).

How far back do you go?
Who was your first Doctor?

Show selected PowerPoint slides of past Doctors.

William Hartnell was my first Doctor, and I can vividly remember watching the first ever episode as a nine-year-old boy on an old black and white television.

I have my own particular favourite Doctors, but I’m loving the new Doctor; a perfect combination of courage with compassion, confidence with humility, and strength with vulnerability.

Having those characteristics in balance is really important; not just for the Doctor, but for all of us in life. And we see that balance of qualities in the life of Jesus.

• In his life he had the courage to fight for what he believed in, but it was always done with compassion for the poor, the disenfranchised, and the outcast. We see him fighting the oppressive religious and political system, yet having time for those who were victims of it.

• He was confident in his mission of bringing God’s Kingdom of love and grace, but it was always expressed with humility. We see him firmly setting his face towards Jerusalem and certain death, but never forcing himself on people or using violence to get his way.

• He had a resilient strength about him, yet at the same time he was vulnerable. He willingly faced great suffering and death, yet chose to go through with it for us.

The Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:5-11) tells us to be like Jesus:

who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus became one of us, as the Apostle John (John 1:14a) puts it, in a modern paraphrase:

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.

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

Jodie Whittaker IS the Doctor

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It was announced yesterday that a female actor has been cast in the lead role of the classic BBC science fiction television series Doctor Who, a role previously only played by men. As someone who watched the first ever episode back in 1963, and as such might be considered a traditionalist, I was absolutely delighted to hear the news, especially as the announcement was made on my daughter’s first birthday.

There’s been speculation around this announcement, not to mention several clues in recent episodes; as the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) recently said, “We’re the most civilised civilisation in the universe. We’re billions of years beyond your petty human obsession with gender and its associated stereotypes”.

There have been howls of protest from some, but who said the Doctor has to be male? Last evening, much to my wife’s amusement, I found myself shouting at the radio when a man (on a phone-in programme) suggested it was a subversive left-wing plot, and that Jodie only got the role because she was a woman rather than acting ability [shakes head & facepalms].

The fact this has caused such a reaction demonstrates how far we still have to go in order to achieve equality within society. It’s one thing to accept the decision, whilst at the same time having a preference for a male Doctor Who (this is my mother’s view), it’s quite another to express displeasure in a negative, sexist manner.

[Sarcasm alert] I can believe he’s an alien with two hearts from another planet, who travels through time and space in a police box – smaller on the outside than the inside. I can believe he often regenerates into a new body, has a sonic screwdriver and regularly saves the earth from total destruction. But I can’t believe he could be a woman; a step too far, political correctness gone mad!