Monthly Archives: May 2017

Down time

Or, maybe, “down” time, for down-time is was not.

It’s been a three-day weekend in this country and I’m just about to go back to work. It’s also the kids’ school half-term holiday, so they’re not going back until next week. This means, of course, that we can spend the whole day on Sunday at the National Space Centre, with a late night; the whole day on Monday doing the quintessentially English activity that is going to the seaside in the rain and another late night, and still have all of the children running around the house making noise before 7am. If they were going to school today, they’d be asleep until two minutes before it was time to leave, but no. Not today. Today is a holiday day, and there is chaos to create.

In the meantime, Child 2 has discovered that actually doing practise helps him to play things on the piano that he couldn’t play before, so we’ve been serenaded by Ed Sheeran every morning and every evening for the last fortnight. That said, he’s now much better at playing Photograph than he was, and it’s getting him to do his practise, so we’re looking upon it as a good thing.

Child 1 is counting down the days until he can leave Scouts, which I am finding quite difficult — not least because I became a Scout leader so that he could join the movement — but that’s the way it goes sometimes. You can lead a child to fun adventures and things they wouldn’t get the opportunity to do elsewhere, but you can’t make them enjoy it. I didn’t have any time for Scouting when I was his age and I have grown to regret not staying on board when I had the chance. Oh, youth. Of course, it may be that he’s just not interested in the stuff we get up to and  I have to be man enough to admit that.

The youngest is as energetic as ever, and seems to be enthusiastic about more-or-less everything. This is a good thing, I suppose, but it is exhausting. He’s going fishing with the Beavers next week: another new thing. Maybe one day, he’ll settle down a bit, but there’s plenty of time as yet, and he seems to be making the most of every second.

For myself, I took advantage of Mental Health Awareness Week to let my employer know that my brain does funny things from time to time and that, when it looks like I’m sitting at my desk trying not to cry, that’s probably because that is exactly what is happening. I shouldn’t be surprised, but they were very good about it and have offered all the help they can, including taking a day or two off sick if I need it from time to time. I think I landed on my feet with these people, after the last lot pushed me out (which was a blessing in disguise on many levels).

But on the subject of work, I’d best get into the office and earn today’s crust.

See you next week.

Staying with the bizarre concept of Christians who vote Conservative

I’ve been on a theme for a few weeks, and I’m staying for at least another week, only this week, I’m going more in-depth on the subject of healthcare provision.

I’ll start with the Beatitudes, the sermon on the mount, Matt 5:1-12.

This sets the tone for Jesus’ teaching, and marks a radical departure from what had previously been considered good, prudent and Godly. Jesus’ followers are told that God looks kindly on those who get the short end of the stick, on those who make peace and spread harmony, who show mercy, who yearn for what is right. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have “Blessed are the merciful” in foot-high letters in the Old Bailey. How about “blessed are the peacemakers” at the MoD?

More directly applicable to today’s subject, we find Jesus teaching in a small house, which is rammed full of people. Those who can’t get inside are crowded around the doors and windows, just to get an ear to this prophet. Mark 2:1-12 describes the situation and the determination of a man’s friends to get him close to the healer. In today’s terms, the ambulance can’t get through the traffic, so the paramedics cut a different path through to the doctor. This involves a certain degree of property damage. Sorry about that: people are more important than things, and this man needs Jesus. For his part, Jesus appears delighted to see the man, cures him and sends him on his way (and expounds a theological point while he does so). Jesus takes no payment, neither does he demand that the cured man go to his church, spread the word or even tell a gay person they’re going to Hell. Just “get up, pick up your mat and go home.”

Working weekends, Jesus stopped by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. John 5:1-15 outlines the scene. The story went that an angel passed by the waters of the pool from time to time and stirred them up. If you were first into the pool after this event, you were cured. The man concerned had been unable to make his own way to the pool fast enough and had been stuck there, begging, for nearly 40 years (in Bible-speak, this means “a very long time”, not literally 38 years but I digress). Jesus asks him if he wants to be well and cures him, again with “pick up your mat and walk.” No payment, no demand of any particular action, although, when Jesus and the man encounter each other later, Jesus does tell the man to live a good life.

In addition to curing people directly, Jesus also told stories to help people understand how to follow God’s way. In the hugely famous parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we begin with a legal expert bending Jesus’ ear about what it means to follow God’s way. I can almost see Jesus rolling his eyes at the questioner here – not even Jesus likes to spend much time with lawyers – and Jesus challenges the man to think for a moment. The lawyer’s final question is, more-or-less “whom can I ignore and still make it into God’s kingdom?” Jesus turns it around and says that it is by our actions that we show our neighbourliness. “Love your neighbour” is not an invitation to love only those nearest to you: it is an invitation to show how widely you love, by collecting as many neighbours as you can. Points not to be missed in this story are: the ambulance does not charge for its services; the man in need of care receives the care he needs; that care is funded by others; follow-up care is also funded by others; the man who receives the greatest praise in this story is an outsider, one whom the Jewish people would normally cross the street to avoid.

So, what do we do about all this generous giving that Jesus is showing us? Matthew 10 shows Jesus sending out his disciples with the instruction to heal the sick. They are not to ask payment for performing healing: they are to be supported by the community in which the healing takes place. That sounds like a very modern concept to me. In today’s money, that would be a bit like a town/region/country realising that everyone is better off if there are healers amongst the people, so everyone clubs together and chips in a few quid to support the healer in her ministry. That could look like funding healthcare from general taxation.

But what about follow-up? What about making sure that the cured person is grateful for being cured? What about people who really don’t deserve our help? What about freeloaders and scroungers? What about the idle or the lazy? Didn’t Paul say that those who didn’t work should not eat?

Jesus doesn’t seem to have too many concerns on that score. He seemed to think that love is enough. Luke 19:1-10 sees Jesus on tour in Jericho, where his fame had preceded him. Many people had gathered to get a glimpse of the rock-star prophet as he made his way through the town. I’m sure that many of the people would been thrilled to have the honour of making Jesus welcome in their home and sharing dinner with him. The great and the noble had come out, and would gladly have opened their homes to him; the ordinary people were there too. As was a much-hated tax man. It was widely assumed that all the tax collectors were on the take, and demanded rather more in tax than was legally required. They sent the legal tax to Rome and pocketed the difference. Zacchaeus had been drawn by the prophet too. He was up a tree, trying to get a glimpse of the great man as he went by, but Jesus stopped and told Zacchaeus to get the dinner on.

That was all that Jesus did. He saw that Zacchaeus was acceptable as a person, that Zacchaeus’ house was an acceptable venue for dinner, that he, Jesus, was willing to sit at table with a widely-hated figure, a sinner, a collaborator with the Romans, and just eat with him. Jesus did not demand that Zacchaeus repent before he took dinner; Jesus did not tell Zacchaeus that he’d been a very naughty boy; Jesus didn’t say anything at all beyond you are acceptable to God. It was this experience of being loved that transformed Zacchaeus. Jesus showed us the way to care for our neighbours here. He showed us that God’s love, spread by us, is enough. We are not to judge worthiness, we are to love, and to allow that love to do its work. Before we ration our compassion and help only those we think will appreciate our gifts and not waste them, we are to love, and love generously.

What is our reward, then, for all our generosity? For the times when we welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, cure the sick, visit the lonely, feed the hungry? Matthew 25:31-46 lays it out in pretty clear terms. We are to help those around us who need help, and if we ignore them, at our peril, we ignore Christ himself.

Still unsure? I’ll conclude with Luke 16:19-31. The rich man goes about his business, feasting and enjoying his wealth. Every time he leaves his house, he steps over Lazarus, the poor beggar who has been taking advantage of the fact that anti-homeless spikes have not been invented yet. Eventually, both men die, and the rich man finds himself in firey torment, where he can see Lazarus being comforted at Abraham’s breast. I challenge you to read this and continue to defend a party whose actions take away assistance from those who most need it and channel wealth into the hands of those who are already wealthy.

Just a quickie

It seems I managed to sleep a bit last night, so I only have a few minutes to get a post in this morning, so I will use that time telling you that I don’t have much time to write a post…

I had a moment of hope this morning when I saw an article that suggested that Labour had drawn level with the tories, but it dates back 12 months, so it’s not really a cause for celebration. They’re still ready to be thumped next month. I live in hope.

I engaged in a lively debate on Facebook yesterday about how Christians should vote. It was fun to speak to people on the other side who genuinely believe that it is possible to be a follower of a man who said “heal the sick, welcome the stranger and take care of the widow and orphan” and still vote for a party who is dismantling the healthcare system, fighting on a ticket to boot the stranger out of our country and defund the welfare system that is supposed to give the widow and the orphan food, shelter and a path out of poverty.

Their entire theology seems to be based around 2 Thessalonians 3 with a very specific, laser-sharp focus on a single sentence from verse 10:

The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.

Now, it’s nice that they have some kind of biblical basis for their argument, but to take a single sentence, on its own, from a letter from one of the early church’s leaders to a specific single church, talking about a specific problem that specific church had in the 1st century is stretching things a bit, particularly when you throw that sentence onto the context of the entire teaching of Jesus Christ.

I also heard the argument that some recipients of welfare don’t deserve it. Nicely played, asshole. You’ve just set yourself up as judge and arbiter of every welfare claim. I wonder if you have the time to get inside the lives of over a million people and really get to know their problems and to decide if they deserve our sympathy or are just taking us for a ride. Of course, no system is free of those who will play the system. I feel that we should acknowledge this and move on: the consequence of turning false-positives into false-negatives is that people die. It’s that simple. I’d much rather have some freeloaders on my conscience than some dead bodies. In addition, there are freeloaders at both ends of the spectrum. If you are getting uppity about benefit fraud, you should be getting eight times as uppity about tax fraud (source: Scottish CAB). Funnily enough, most people wailing about poor people getting more than they’re entitled to are very quiet about rich people paying less than they should.

In St Paul’s time, then, I wonder what he would have said if it had turned out that someone was taking £1 per week from the church’s shared purse that they used to fund an idle life, and then it turned out that someone else was withholding £8 per week from their contributions to the shared purse. I wonder which of these would have received sharper words from the Apostle.

I wonder.

It’s been a while, and now there’s a General Election

I was hoping to post something in-depth this morning, with dazzling wit and brilliance to lighten your Tuesday and to vent my spleen a little about the upcoming general election that our glorious leader called on a whim a couple of weeks ago. I was hoping to break my silence with a post that would be seen by fifty million people and convince them all to vote at all and, preferably, to vote for a party that isn’t going to turn our green and pleasant land into a toxic hate-filled wasteland built on the bones of nostalgia for a time where we could trade with the whole world, mostly because we owned most of it.

But the time I carve out of my week for blogging is currently filled with the delightful sounds of children and I find myself obliged to prevent them from killing each other. Such are the pleasures of parenthood.

So, Theresa May took a look at the polling data whilst she was out walking and decided that she was going to take the opportunity to utterly destroy Labour and cement herself a crushing majority in the House and claim a mandate to drive our country over the Brexit cliff unopposed. The polls at the time showed that she could be expected to walk away from the election with a majority of 100 or more, even making some gains in Scotland. The most recent polling suggests that Mrs May’s lead has tumbled dramatically. Of course, she is still set to win a crushing majority.

This depresses me.

It depresses me mostly because I am a Christian and I can see that most Conservative candidates also are, and a great many Conservative voters are also Christians. This is something I have never been able to comprehend. Jesus spent his life helping people with nothing, getting down into the dirt with them and giving them a hand up. He didn’t means-test his healing, he cured the sick without demanding payment. He demanded that his followers do the same. He told everyone who would listen that a true follower of God clothes the naked, feeds the hungry, cures the sick and takes care of the powerless (in his day, that was the widow and the orphan: today, we have many more categories of people who fit that description). Conservative governments have a long and gory history of doing exactly the opposite of all of those things. In recent years, we’ve had people dying of starvation in the wake of their benefits being sanctioned (the causative link has not been definitively established, of course, so I can’t say that the gentleman concerned died because his benefits had been cut off); we’ve had private companies taking over healthcare from the NHS (because the profit motive has been long-proven to improve service to those with no money to pay); we’ve had tax cuts to companies paid for by cuts to the most vulnerable (admittedly, the government were forced to back out of that one: it was more flagrant than usual); and we’ve had a constant stream of lies about how leaving the EU will be wonderful to us all because it will allow us to drop rules about how curvy a banana is supposed to be.

Over the last few years, I have been forced into the realisation that the English tend, as a majority, to be hateful people to whom nuance is viewed with suspicion. We prefer to be fed simple lies and outrage than given actual truths, projections and plans and asked to use our brains to select the best option. We hate brown people; we distrust gay people; we think that refuge should not be granted to those fleeing war; we think that desperate people must look a specific way in order to qualify for our sympathy and they’d better not be seen with a smartphone; we think that gathering in our diversity and talking peace and prosperity is overrated; we think that Britain should be Great because we used to be: after all, we invented cricket and turned slavery into a vastly profitable global industry.

I’ll be voting in the general election, and I urge you to do so as well. I will be voting for whichever candidate looks most likely to unseat the local tory and I urge you to do so as well.

My country depresses me. All I have left is hope. And an expectation that it will be dashed on the rocks of lies, propaganda and tribal fear.