Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Random Election Reflection

In no particular order:

The Conservatives don't deserve to win this election. Why not?
 - Calling the election was clearly an opportunist grab for a bigger majority, barely discussed within the party, and in nobody's interest but those of the Conservative party
 - May disappeared for most of the first week of the campaign, and has avoided any meaningful engagement with the public, running away from live election debate, appearing at ridiculously controlled local appearances, and providing insultingly trite answers in interviews.
 - The election was supposedly about Brexit and giving May a mandate for negotiations. But a mandate for what? I don't recall her saying a single thing about what she'd actually negotiate for. The sum total of her public statements on Brexit is "who would you rather have negotiating for you, me or Jeremy Corbyn?" Well, we already had her doing it before the election, so what was the point of calling it?
 - The manifesto: where do we start? Very little detail, even fewer costings, the magic money tree of economic growth providing any extra money that was promised, and policies which seem to have been put together with minimal thought and consultation. Yes we do need to deal with social care, but it could have been done by consensus, or by serious engagement with Dilnot.
 - Boris Johnson
 - 'Strong and Stable' leadership, which deserves a place higher than the Ed Stone for failed election pitches. For all Jeremy Paxmans failings as an interviewer, he summed up what most people were thinking by the time he sat down opposite Theresa May, and ran through a list of her u-turns, hesitations and changes of mind. She would have saved herself a lot of that by being open about things, rather than pretending that, for example, she hadn't changed the policy on social care, or trying to persuade us that the Lib Dems were such a powerful parliamentary force that she'd had to call the election simply to stop them blocking Brexit in the house of Commons.
 - Using Brexit as a pretext for the election, and for a personal vote for Theresa May: it's almost as though the Tories thought the electorate would happily write them a blank cheque for everything else, and so there wan't much point thinking through the other policies. That sort of contempt for the electorate doesn't deserve a reward.

Tim Farron: unfortunately image counts for a lot. Great line about Bake-off, but it might be an idea to cut out some of the matey grins
 - Maybe the UK electorate just isn't grown up enough to cope with someone who thinks gay sex might be sinful, but is still liberal enough to back a law which lets them marry. Or who thinks that maybe we do need to question UK abortion policy and practice, rather than cower to the 'choice' lobby. 200,000 abortions a year? That's a very big failure in other birth control methods (if you think abortion qualifies as birth control rather than an emergency medical procedure), potentially a big trauma for each of those 200,000 women, and a big cost in time and money to the NHS. And that's before we've got onto whether we're dealing with 2 lives or 1.
 - Going along with the Conservatives claims that this was the Brexit election didn't do you any favours. There are much better policies in the Libdem manifesto than the second referendum, but we never heard about most of them until last week. You should have challenged May from day 1 that she'd called the election on false pretences. The collapse of the Conservative campaign, lurching from 1 reactive response to another, the ditching of 'strong and stable', shows just how thin and poorly planned it was in the first place.
 - Cannabis? I thought the Libdems were the party who talked most sense on mental health, but maybe not.

Labour:
- I wonder what Caroline Flint, Yvette Cooper, and Andy Burnham are thinking right now? Corbyn has had a storming campaign, visibly growing in confidence, pulling off some very savvy moves (the last minute appearance on the Leaders debate), and getting enough airtime that bypassed the right wing press to show people what he was actually made of. But just imagine Yvette Cooper instead of Diane Abbott with the home affairs brief. Just imagine having people with the experience of Flint and Burnham to send into bat  - Emily Thornberry has surpassed expectations, and almost managed to get Michael Fallon banished from the airwaves in case he is ambushed again. And again. Labour might even be ahead in the polls.
(update: Abbott is unwell and has stepped back, and there's a suggestion she's not been well for a while, which might explain a few things.)
- Full marks to Labour for producing a set of genuinely radical policies, which didn't just tweak the direction of government but wrench it round in a dramatically new direction. The question has not been over the popularity of the policies, but the competence of the team delivering them. Corbyn is a highly competent campaigner, but hasn't shone as a leader who can inspire confidence and build a team, and the quality of his team doesn't reflect well on the quality of the leader.

Meanwhile, 1 million children grow up with no contact with their fathers, and 2m more see their parents split up during their own childhood. Family breakdown is a cause of misery for the children and the adults caught up in it, and can be a major factor in low educational attainment, drug use, criminality, future relationships breakdown, poor mental health and poverty. Use the Search tool to see how many times terms like 'love', 'relationship' and 'marriage' crop up in the 3 main manifestos. It won't take you very long. Where is the love?

UKIP; cheerio.

Greens: the irony of British politics at the moment is that of the 3 most able political leaders at the  moment, one leads the SNP and the other two lead a party that very few will vote for. Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley are both excellent communicators (e.g. watch this from 41:50 in), but get very little time on air or in print.

All the small parties have been squeezed this time round, which reflects the ridiculous first past the post electoral system. Our politics is too short on experience, expertise and good minds to leave the governing all to one party. I was stunned to find myself debating on Twitter with an MP, who argued that having a bigger majority would enable the Conservatives to deliver legislation that was better thought through, and would give more clout to Conservative backbench voices. Huh? A majority of 100 will enable the Tory leadership to steamroller parliament. If the social care proposals are indicative of how well thought through the rest of May's policies will be, then her majority needs to be as small as possible.

If I could vote for a minority government, I would. Realistically, the best outcome would be the Conservatives just short of a majority, and needing to work hard to build consensus and work with the other parties to get legislation, and Brexit, through.

Aside from Farrons one-liners the other night, the moment of the campaign which most struck me was Jeremy Corbyn on the first of the two-header leaders nights. He spoke about listening to people, and directly challenged a small businessman who didn't like the captial gains tax rise or the prospect of VAT on private school fees. Rather than pandering to him, Corbyn challenged him about what sort of society he wanted to be part of, and whether he could have a bigger vision of being a citizen that included the needs of others. It was superb, and a reminder to me of when the church can be at its best: challenging people to aim for something higher than self-interest or narrow partisan politics To have a vision of others, ourselves, and community which we seek to serve, rather than a calculation of what suits me best which I seek to advance.

If you're reading this, please vote on Thursday, even if it's wincing and with gritted teeth. We have a great privilege. We don't always have great politicians, but maybe we get the ones we deserve, or pray for.

We can wonder how different history would have been if David Cameron hadn't botched both the Scottish, and the Brexit, referenda.  But this is where we are.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"On the edge of a significant crisis": the reality of schools funding

The chair of governors at a nearby primary school gives their take on school funding:

Our education system is teetering on the edge of a significant crisis. The policies of this current government have left schools in a dangerous place financially, having to reduce what they are able to provide for children year after year. Over the last three budgets, my primary school’s budget only increased by 1%. As our school roll increased during this time, our budget allocation per pupil increased by less than 1%. Teaching staff occupy around 48% of our budget, and their salary increases on average by around 6% each year due to national living wage, pension, national insurance, pay scales, incremental increases, and inflation. Support staff costs increase on average by 8% each year. 

This all means that just looking at staff, our budget would have needed to increase by £103k to cover costs, when in fact it only increased by £17k. Add to this an apprenticeship scheme costing £6k, being forced to manage our own building maintenance and indemnity, and the value of the pound rising costs of resources and trips – and the promised budget increase of £42k through the fairer funding scheme is far too little too late. In order to balance our books we’ve had to make redundancies of staff, reduce support to children, reduce budget for resources, and even stop providing all children at school with free fruit.

The finances are probably the biggest threat to education at the moment, but it isn’t the only threat. Good teachers are leaving the profession en masse, as curriculum and assessment policy changes (plus budget pressures) have increased pressure beyond many are willing to cope with. Newly qualified teachers are not staying in the industry as the gap between their training and the hellish pressure within actual teaching is a gap too large for many to leap. 

The increase of expectations within this government’s curriculum policy has also reduced the ability of children from less well-off backgrounds to engage with education because their progress depends on them living in environments that add to and support their education, like in increasing their knowledge of vocabulary. In order to meet the demands of the curriculum, teachers have had to reduce the amount of time teaching in more creative and fun ways, as well as not being able to teach subjects that children in other contexts would be getting at their home. This can surely only lead to the gap between the rich and poor in our country growing even more.

Behind all the talk of funding increases is a real terms cut. Many schools are having to find ways to generate income in order to balance the books. Making this a 'Brexit' election threatens to mask the huge issues in other parts of our society. We need to examine everything, not just who we want sitting at the table with the EU negotiators. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Teresa May Card School: Election Snap, and other games for all the family

This morning the Prime Minister was due to announce the launch of Election Snap, a new card game from the Conservative party. Should have gone to Specsavers. It is one of a growing range of games from the Teresa May Card School, many invented in the quiet hours of her childhood in a vicarage, waiting for her dad to finish writing another sermon.

Election Snap: a riotous game for all the family. Can you tell the difference between one middle aged, middle class, white privately educated male with no career outside politics and another? Neither can the electorate.

Bridge (Burning): which political leader can be quickest to resign at the first hint of bad electoral news? Usually won by Nigel Farage, Jeremy Corbyn is struggling to understand the rules.

Patience: available in several different versions. The Libdem version takes about 100 years to play out, and even then it turns out to help the other players more than you.

Solitaire: Also known as Michael Gove's political career.

Go Fish: Robust UKIP response to any question raised in the EU parliament about quotas.

Texas Hold 'Em: mass penitentiary on the Mexican border for illegals.

Family Fortunes: in the US version the main aim of the game is to have a very large one, but make out that it doesn't affect the way you play in the slightest

Beggar My Neighbour: or in George Osborne's case, Beggar the Whole Country

Special editions: the Conservative pack comes with 2 knaves, the Jack of Goves and the Jack of Johnsons. The Libdem pack will deal with anyone, and the Labour pack is red throughout but with no Aces and is hard to reshuffle.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lent Thought

"I remembered reading the account of a spiritual seeker who interrupted a busy life to spend a few days in a monastery. 'I hope your stay is a blessed one' said the monk who showed the visitor to his cell. 'If you need anything, let us know and we'll teach you how to live without it.' "

(Philip Yancey Prayer)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie: New Bricks, Old Message

Like any dutiful parent of a Lego-mad son, the fixed point in school half term week was the Lego Batman Movie. Less frenetic than the Lego Movie, and following a more conventional storyline, it was fun and occasionally inspired without being spectacularly brilliant.

In the movie Batman is prickly, anti-social, and doesn't want or like company, yet keeps a DVD library of romcoms and relationship movies. The 'redemption' of Batman is his discovery of his need of others - his 'family' of Robin, Batgirl and Alfred, and even his need for arch-enemy Joker.

Have we heard this somewhere before? Maybe in Ice Age, where the 3 misfits find their place in their new 'herd' of sloth, tiger and mammoth. Maybe in The Incredibles, where Mr Incredible discovers that 'I work alone' doesn't work. Maybe in Harry Potter, where Harry is repeatedly reminded by his friends (especially towards the end of the saga) that he can't do this all on his own and is stupid to try. Maybe in the annoying 'Everything is Awesome' theme song from the first Lego movie - 'everything is awesome when you're part of the team.' Or dig back to 'About a Boy', the Hugh Grant movie where Grants character is just as averse to company as Batman, but discovers along with the Boy, that 'we all need backup'.

What is it about this story that we repeatedly tell it to ourselves, and repeatedly hear it and find that it has traction? Our society is individualistic, dependence and commitment don't come naturally, and aren't encouraged. And in the place of the old gods, discovering a new-found 'family' is the nearest thing we can offer to a spiritual experience of communal identity and belonging. Maybe its an indicator of the failure of the church to provide genuine community, where people can belong, find purpose, acceptance and love.

It may be Robin who is formally adopted (sort of) but Batman is an orphan too, and just as much in need of family, perhaps more so, than Robin. The Bible speaks of adoption into a family where we are loved, where we belong, where we find our place in the team of the master builder. A consumer society is by nature transient, material things are given too much significance and relationships too little. The hunger for belonging reflects that primal part of our design: 'it is not good for the man to be alone'. It is the persistence of his friends which finally wears Batmans resistance down, and saves him in the process. Persist in loving, welcoming, accepting, there may be a Batman out there who needs you.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Appointing a Vicar



over the next few days we will be mostly doing this.

Prayers appreciated, if you're that way inclined.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Time to Talk Day

CS Lewis experience in his grief still strikes a chord.

“An odd by-product of my loss is that I’m aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t. Some funk it altogether. R. has been avoiding me for a week. I like best the well brought-up young men, almost boys, who walk up to me as if I were a dentist, turn very red, get it over, and then edge away to the bar as quickly as they decently can. Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers.” ― C.S. LewisA Grief Observed

Today is 'Time to Talk' day. If you know someone who's struggling, message them and say hi. If you know someone who you suspect is struggling, but has never actually said so, message them too. So many people with mental illness fear what others will say if they admit to it. That's part of what the illness does to you. It's a hard thing to open up about mental illness, lets make it as easy as possible.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Jesus' Border Policy; A Clarification

I'm prepping for Sundays sermon on Matthew 19, whilst the world debates border controls. Struck by the fact that the Kingdom of God has an open border policy for the poor in spirit, children, persecuted and those who express their faith through kindness, and stringent border controls for the rich and those who ignore the needy. 



Boycott this blog if you don't agree with it

If Chinese new years were named after cricketers, 2017 would be the Year of the Boycott. A few weeks ago an American chat show host disinvited a potential guest because of the comments they had made about homosexuality.

Ewan McGregor then disinvited himself from a chance to promote Trainspotting 2 on Good Morning Britain, after seeing what Piers Morgan had tweeted about the US Womens March.

Now over a million people want to stop Donald Trump coming to the UK, after his dreadful (and cack-handedly executed) executive order on immigration.

Making statements is all fine and good, but I worry about the boycotting bandwagon. Despite becoming more globally connected, its very easy to use social media to surround ourselves with the voices we agree with, and then imagine that this represents the world. I don't often side with Russell Brand, but this is what you do with people you don't agree with. Jesus never shied away from his enemies and the people he disagreed with. He engaged with them, exposed them, loved them, and gave them the chance to change. Retreating into right-thinking silos may feel virtuous, but in a fragmenting world, we need more loving engagement and respectful debate, not less.

If we close our borders to Trump, then we borrow his weapons. We can do better.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

New Alpha film series - 'who is Jesus?'

A few months ago Alpha redid there materials into a new 'film series'. These are good - nicely presented, a move away from the lecture style, to something a bit more varied. I've used the clip on the reliability of the new testament (from 6:40 in) and folk found it really helpful.


if you can't view this clip, try https://vimeo.com/183533609

Saturday, January 21, 2017

'Setting God's People Free' - ministry on the other 6 days of the week, and who does it

A great opportunity lies before us. It is the same opportunity that has presented itself to the Church in every decade for the last 100 years. It is an opportunity that arguably has not been fully grasped since the days of Wesley. 

Will we determine to empower, liberate and disciple the 98% of the Church of England who are not ordained and therefore set them free for fruitful, faithful mission and ministry, influence, leadership and, most importantly, vibrant relationship with Jesus in all of life? And will we do so not only in church-based ministry on a Sunday but in work and school, in gym and shop, in field and factory, Monday to Saturday?

A new report 'Setting God's People Free', has just been published by the CofE in advance of next months General Synod. It tackles head on the need to equip all the members of the church, not just clergy, for full-time ministry:

According to a survey of 2859 respondents conducted in 2009 (82% had been Christians for over 10 years, 67% in some kind of leadership role in the Church, 1204 were Anglicans):
- 59% of those in working age said that the most challenging context to be a disciple of Christ was the workplace. 
- 62% of those in full-time paid employment experienced little, not much, or no help/preparation from the life and ministries of church to deal with the issues they faced at work.
-  47% said they did not have a story to tell about how God has worked in their lives (Note 82% had been Christians for over 10 years). 
-  59% (of Anglicans surveyed) said that their church does not equip people well for life in today’s world at home, work, or elsewhere.

This is shocking, but at last its being noticed and taken seriously by the whole church, not just by a few voices in the wilderness like the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, whose insights are a key part of this report.

A couple of stories from the report, to illustrate the kind of ground it covers:
I teach Sunday school 45 minutes a week and they haul me up to the front of the church to pray for me. I teach in a school 45 hours a week and the church has never prayed for me.”- Comment from a teacher

Curt is a policeman in his 40s. At an evening for 15 Christian men they are all asked, “What are you good at in the Lord at work?” No one says anything – Southern reserve perhaps. So the leader asks them to 14 write something down on a post-it note. “Well, now you have done that, you might as well read it out.” Curt goes first. He speaks hesitantly, “I work at No 10 as part of the Diplomatic Protection Group. It’s a pretty macho team.” The people in the room don’t find it hard to imagine why. These are men and women wearing Kevlar and toting submachine guns and Glock pistols, people who are prepared to shoot to kill and put their lives on the line for others. Curt continues, “Over the years there’s been quite a bit of conflict in the team but I’ve found I’m quite good at bringing people back together.” That’s all he says. And he looks a bit embarrassed and looks down at the coffee table. And then someone says, “You’ve got a ministry of reconciliation.” And Curt breaks into a smile the width of the Thames. And then someone else says, “You’re a peacemaker”. Blessed are the peacemakers. Here’s a Christian teaching people to forgive one another, teaching other police the ways of Jesus at No 10 Downing Street. But Curt hadn’t been able to read his own life through the lens of the Biblical and so he hadn’t realised how God had been working through him. Lay people don’t just need theological resources to grasp the range of ways they can be fruitful for Christ in the world, they need the theological imagination to see the ways they already have been. 

I've not managed to read it yet in full, but its excellent stuff if the CofE can actually get to grips with it. With the track record of the current leadership, I have no doubt it will - one key culture change in the CofE is that it no longer thinks that you change things by producing a report. Releasing all Gods people in ministry, all the time, will mean a big change in the way that clergy and the employed leadership of the church operate, what we prioritise, how we preach, and how we see ministry. Good. Bring it on.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Ministry in Urban Priority parishes - day conference in Taunton 22/2/17

Coming up soon, this looks good:

Mission and evangelism in ‘priority parishes’
In March 2016, the Archbishop of York with Bishop Philip North, convened a consultation in York that looked at Church of England’s ministry and evangelism in parishes that had concentrated areas of deprivation. This day conference provides an equivalent for the South West, helping to inform and continue thinking, looking from a perspective of dioceses where ‘priority parishes’ (both urban and rural) are in the minority.
Who is it for?
- Clergy and lay people who work in parishes which have significant areas of deprivation.
- Representatives from diocesan synods, rural deans and lay chairs, diocesan advisers (evangelism, mission, vocation, discipleship)

Day outline includes
Keynote address - Rt Revd Philip North, Bishop of BurnleyTheological reflection: The story so far - Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission and Public Affairs, Archbishops’ CouncilStories from clergy on the ground - including Tanya Lord (Diocese of Bristol) and Wendy Ruffle (Diocese of Gloucester)‘Jesus Shaped People’ - Revd Andy Delmege (Diocese of Birmingham) on the ‘Jesus Shaped People’ resource, from his perspective as new chair of the National Estate Churches Network

Booking and more information here .

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The vicars 12 days of Christmas

12 bright christingles
11 visual aids
10 dentious sermons (can be swapped for 10 uous links)
9 lessons and carols
8 all the pies
7 choristers
6 seats remaining 
5 more sings!
4 shepherds and 
3 wise men
2 Bethlehem
And the Holy Nativity

Christmas clips: hate cannot drive out hate



short and powerful vid from the Churches Advertising Network, very good.