Christian Rights??

Photo by Joe Wiles

Photo by Joe Wiles

Christian Rights??

A thought Inspired by Rob Tricky (Hay Hill Baptist Church)

You are possibly aware that Nadia Eweida celebrated after the European court of human rights ruled that she had suffered discrimination at work because of her faith for wearing a cross at work (see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2013/jan/15/ruling-christian-cross-human-rights). I have to say, whilst not wanting to comment or be critical about Nadia’s motives, beliefs or circumstances, I was somewhat disturbed by the broader principles behind her actions as a fellow Christian. It raised the spectre of ‘Christian Rights’ and seemed to me to be too trivial an issue to fight about. I agreed fully with the sentiment of Rob Tricky’s sermon (Hay Hill Baptist Church) this Sunday in which he wondered why Christians weren’t more interested in fighting for the rights of low paid staff in BA or campaigning about the way large corporations (like BA) use their profits. I confess it ‘rang bells’ about my unease over the ‘Keep Sunday Special’ campaign, which I felt was a red herring alongside issue like the need to cancel developing world debt, global poverty, environmental abuse etc. etc.

I find myself in agreement with Keith Porteous Wood (Executive director of the National Secular Society) who described the court’s decision that a British Airways check-in worker should have been allowed to wear a cross at work was only a “limited” right that needed to be balanced against other interests. I guess the issue is how to weigh ‘rights’ against ‘rights’? The complexity of the debate is worth the struggle but I think I would want to argue that a good guiding principle in the ‘sifting’ of human rights should be:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” Isaiah 58:6-7 “ (see http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/poor.htm for other helpful principles)

Anyway… what do you think??

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Prison: Stop locking people up and throw away the key!

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In this short article I suggest that we need to radically reconsider our use of incarceration for those who offend. My starting point is that prison should only ever be used if someone is at risk of harming themselves or others and that all other uses of imprisonment should end. When imprisonment has to be used it should be focussed on education and rehabilitation.

I am not planning to engage in sophisticated arguments about crime and punishment or the nuances and nature of justice and injustice, though I am happy to engage in dialogue of that nature in the blog. My starting point is that of being the son of a father who spent over twenty years in prison, much of this during the period that I was growing up. To imprison an individual is to overtly and covertly punish their family at the same time, this is wrong. I have vivid memories of the sense of shame that my father’s incarceration brought to me and to my mother: as well as to my wider family. Only in later life have I had the time and capacity to explore the psychological and emotional damage done to me by his absence from my life. I often puzzle and fret at the insecurities of my own damaged and disrupted attachments to a significant male adult as they manifest in my personality. I believe my psyche has been strongly influenced in ways that ‘young carers’ are, to the degree that I struggle with an overdeveloped sense of responsibility for everyone other than myself. I still cringe at the stigma I felt as well-meaning philanthropists organised middle class Christmas parties for me and other ‘less fortunate’ children.

I am also someone who believes that systemic phenomena (like the establishment of prison as an institutional response within society) has a life of its own and we run the risk of the tail wagging the dog. In other words we end up imprisoning people because we have prisons. We live in a technologically sophisticated society and we have other ways to deal with crime that I will outline below. If the use of imprisonment is assumed to be a deterrent it does not work. “Home Office research shows that many young offenders already think the penalties are higher than they actually are – and still do the crime. For persistent offenders, who do most of the crime in the UK, prison isn’t so much a deterrent as an occupational hazard.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9016000/9016576.stm)

So what would I suggest? Here are three simple ideas for you to critique and/or to add to:

Restorative models of justice are crucial and require a huge investment from government (which should be redirected from the costs of imprisonment). Those who offend must face their victims within a thoughtful, managed process to understand the impact of their behaviours and hopefully learn new behaviours. For further back ground see http://www.restorativesolutions.org.uk/?gclid=CJOPovaR9q8CFcohfAodb1JYDg

Close most prisons and tag offenders (who are not at risk of harming themselves or others) to stay within the confines of their own home, other than to engage in employment (where possible) at another tagged location. During this time those who are confined to their home should be visited regularly (perhaps a new role for prison wardens?) in order to receive education, mentoring, rehabilitation and support.

Provide support and advice to the family of those who are tagged to locations.

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Hearing God … Deity or Delusion?!

 

 

 

 

I confess to mixed emotions about people who claim to hear God! I vacillate between deep admiration of those whom I trust, admire and who seem authentic (and often hesitant) in their understandings and hearing. But on the other hand I get a tad worried about the danger of self-delusion or even psychosis in others!

I have often asked people if they have heard God audibly and have only ever met a few that say they have. Those that have heard God audibly, I have to say, have seemed authentic to me. Often I am convinced by the story that they tell and the theological perspective from which they come. For example, the mild and thoughtful Brethren man who heard God speak to him from the passenger seat of his car or the frail Baptist lady who exuded humility and shared how God spoke with her when she was in a very dark place. I have never heard God audibly. However I believe He has spoken with me on many occasions (See my book ‘Stories from The Edge’ for details – available at http://www.fyt.org.uk/content/product/book/stories-edge) and I also believe that God is communicating constantly through a myriad of ways, not least in creation (see Romans 1: 20) and especially through the life and teachings of Jesus (see Hebrews 1: 2).

A story I heard recently (I can’t vouch for its accuracy) has helped me in this tricky arena. Apparently Stephen Spielberg was asked by an under director who they should ask to be the voice of God for the animation of ‘The Prince of Egypt’, the under director thought it needed to be someone with an authoritative and powerful tone. Spielberg was rather confused and said it was obvious that the voice of God should be the same as the voice of Moses (Val Kilmer). As I have thought about this I think it makes a lot of sense as so often it seems to me that hearing God depends upon sifting through the conversations amidst the voices of our own psyche. By the way – I also understand that Charlton Heston played both Moses and God in the Ten Commandments!

However I also suspect that it is crucial that we ‘test’ our understanding of God’s voice (1 John 4:1) in our lives and so I thought I would try to articulate a few of the means that we might use to do that kind of testing. I am not suggesting that the list should be used legalistically, nor is it exhaustive. Indeed I suspect that a matrix of factors is best applied in any process of testing the voice of God, anyway, my thoughts are:

  • Check it out with people that you respect and whose judgements you trust
  • Reflect on the values, principles and morality that is implicit in what you think is being said
  • Compare what you think is said to your knowledge of what Christ taught and what the Bible says
  • Pray and ponder what you believe is being said
  • Note your own response to what you believe God is saying, I have found that I often feel like I don’t want to hear what is being said but I know it is right/best!

Just a few ideas then… What would you add?

 

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Youth Work National Occupational Standards (NOS) and the ‘spirituality debate’

A few quick and brief thoughts about the Youth Work National Occupational Standards (NOS) and the ‘spirituality debate’. The background is that Spirituality has been left out as an occupational standard in youth work; however, as I understand it, exploration of values and beliefs has been left in. Some people in the Christian youth work sector (and possibly other faith groups?) are concerned about this.

 

 

Whilst respecting the concern of others, my view is that this is a red herring. I would be more inclined to use energy being seriously concerned about the on-going decimation of public services and in particular of youth work – see for example http://falseeconomy.org.uk/blog/youth-services-in-crisis for an outline of what is happening and opportunity to join a campaign.

I believe that the exploration of values and beliefs as outlined in the NOS will enable spirituality to both be considered as a phenomenon and experience and can also even be used as a process to explore the subject – for tools to do this – see for example ‘Glimpses’ at http://www.fyt.org.uk/content/glimpses or Glimpses for Young People at http://www.fyt.org.uk/content/g4yp-coverjpg

I worry that energy used expressing concern over this issue is on a par with the ‘Keep Sunday Special Campaign’ in that it places people of faith at odds with others over personal ‘religious preferences’ that are not (in my opinion) core to faith and belief or even to youth work and personal development. Provided young people are able to explore values and beliefs (from the widest possible perspectives, based on self-determination and NOT indoctrination) I am happy!

What think ye??????

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How to Fail Well! (CUF Tackling Poverty workshop 18.04.12)

The following is a summary of a workshop I presented in Leeds for the Church Urban Fund entitled “How to fail well”. I wanted to share it as it raises important issues about failure, the roots of failure and ways to cope with it. One participant suggested that what we need is a “theology of failure” – any offers?

I would be glad of your thoughts and reactions…

How to fail well… I’m not sure how honored I am to take this workshop! But I am eminently qualified! I admire Adrian Plass very much. He generally starts his presentations by introducing himself as a failed Christian. I used to think that this was his humility and then we became good friends and I know it is the truth!! I’m a failed Christian too!! Anyone else?

Failure is intensely personal and I hope you won’t mind me starting on a personal note. I want to share something very personal about failure before looking at it in a broader sense. I am aware this could trigger things for you so please do chat with me after if you feel you need to – but please don’t struggle on your own.

It is a tad counter culture to be honest about failure. My own recent experience of failing in my marriage has left me with both a profound sense of forgiveness from God alongside a deep sense of judgment from some Christians and most of Christendom!

I have discovered huge issue about private and public failure…. Or sinfulness as some would label it. I feel that I have walked naked through Christendom over my marriage ending and I have discovered both:

  • Empathetic understanding and narrow condemnation
  • A sense of empathetic shared pain and righteous hypocrisy
  • Loving openness and hostile alienation.

My recent actions have led me to act out of a desperate need to seek to retain a degree of perceived personal integrity and honesty based on public failure. Without any sense of bitterness or regret (as I have grown so much seeking to embrace truth) I am worried about how many of us are coping with our private, locked up failure and brokenness.

Just one example of a private sense of failure is the struggle with pornography for pastors and church staff members. In 2001, LEADERSHIP journal surveyed pastors and found that four in 10 struggled with it. This is USA based research but I suspect it is as high in UK.

Honesty and disclosure about my failed private life has led to deep and redemptive conversations – for me and others.  With those who have been vulnerable with me, I (and they) have known a measure of meaningful healing. But I am left wondering why we cling to the veneer of success when Jesus promised that truth would set us free… unless perhaps with have mistaken truth for public image?

Perhaps a neat ending about personal honesty for this more intimate input comes from Leonard Cohen’s song, ‘Going Home’…

Going home, Without my sorrow, Going home, Sometime tomorrow, Going home, To where it’s better, Than before, Going home, Without my burden, Going home, Behind the curtain, Going home, Without the costume, That I wore…

In this workshop I offered thinking on:

  • Reflections on the roots of the dominant ‘success narrative’ in a faith based life – in order to name and question them
  • Strategies to cope with failure

Reflections on the roots of the dominant ‘success narrative’ in faith based youth and community work

In the workshop I suggested that a dominant ‘success narrative’ is shaped by: Ecclesial and personal theology, notions of sustainability, The routinization of charisma, misuse of power, the personal conversion obsession and overuse of empirical measuring systems…

I wonder what you might add? What else ‘seduces to success’?

I then offered some thoughts about strategies to cope with failure, the strategies included;

  • Ensuring we are working as part of a “community” – there is no I in Jesus but there is an us!
  • Seeing our role in communities as engagement not mission (a Quaker perspective). This implies reciprocity and mutuality. We become receivers as well as givers.
  • Never do something for someone that they can do for themselves – joining in not parachuting in our solutions. Collective failure is perhaps easier to cope with and offers the hope of learning, growth and development
  • Remember that the Christian responsibility is not building a church but participating in the development of a Kingdom
  • Acknowledge when you get it wrong! There is a chapter in my book called ‘Sins and Blunders’ instead of Signs and Wonders!
  • Remember “BPGHFY” theology – Be Patient God Hasn’t Finished Yet – Good Friday is a global tragedy and failure until 3 days later!

What other strategies to cope with failure can you suggest?

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‘One In a million’ – Youth Unemployment

One of my last resonsibilities for Frontier Youth Trust was to lead a research team looking at youth unemployment. Below is the executive summary of our research and the full research report can be seen at http://www.fyt.org.uk/content/product/cuf/one-million

Youth unemployment is at a record high, affecting over one million young people in the UK.  The purpose of this study is to highlight this issue by voicing the stories of young people with first-hand experience of unemployment. Our research is based on 18 focus groups hosted by youth projects funded or supported by Frontier Youth Trust and Church Urban Fund. The key findings are:

  • As the experiences of these young people show, unemployment is about much more than not having a job or surviving on benefits. It undermines young people’s self-confidence and sense of purpose, and stigmatises them. At its worst, it leads to a loss of hope and dignity when young people should be looking forward to their future.
  • The emotional, practical and financial support provided by family and friends is highly valued by young people, helping them to negotiate what is often a complex and stressful situation. Churches and faith-based groups have an important role in providing this kind of informal support, especially to young people who are living independently or require additional help. Young people respond best to relational ways of working, based on strong relationships with leaders who have genuine empathy with young people.
  • Young people feel that employers are failing to acknowledge and fulfil their responsibilities – and they feel they are caught in a vicious cycle whereby they can’t get a job without experience, and they can’t get the required experience without a job.  What young people want is to be given a proper chance to show what they can contribute to prospective employers; specifically, they would like more and better quality apprenticeships, work placements or trials that offer a real prospect of a job, and more on-the-job training.
  • Churches could and should be doing more, by raising awareness about youth unemployment and tackling the problem in their local community through listening workshops, mentoring and personal development schemes, work clubs, networking with local businesses, and helping to establish social enterprises (see Appendix 6 for further information).
  • National churches and faith-based organisations have an important supportive role in keeping the issue of youth unemployment high up the Church’s agenda, setting a good example in their own employment practices, disseminating good practice, campaigning on issues relating to youth unemployment, and exploring innovative solutions, such as Job Centre chaplains.
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The Examen of Consciousness

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The Examen of Consciousness has been of interest to me for a good while. The article I have written below is based on a very helpful article that can be found at http://norprov.org/spirituality/ignatianprayer.htm – a very helpful web site. I … Continue reading

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