Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Whistle down the wind

I'm going to take chapters 2 and 3 together, because they both speak to the same issue - how do we express our faith when considering the politics of the country we live in.

In the second chapter of Wallis' book, he considers how we can change the political will of our leadership. He tells of how he leads people to identify politicans when in Washington - they're the ones with their fingers in the air trying to detect which way the wind is blowing. To influence them, it's no use trying to tell which way the wind is blowing, because they will move int hat direction. The real challenge is to change the way the wind is blowing.

He cites the example of Martin Luther King and his fight for the rights for Black Americans to vote to be enshrined in law. When Lyndon Johnson said it was impossible, he started marches in the south that got national press coverage - and the political attention to change the law.

In order to make the wind change, however, we need to be public in our belief, not private - which is the point of the third chapter of the book. He contends that American political parties have managed to convince people a faith in God is a private thing, and has no part to play in the moving of society generally.

Well, to misquote an old Chinese proverb, "it takes one rolling stone to start an avalanche." If we call ourselves Christian, then we say we are in a relationship with God that permeates and influences everything we do - public AND private. Be extension, therefore, we cannot begin to influence society unless we start to live our faith out - and that's a real challenge in our secular and "Rich Christian" world.

Fortunately, we have examples to consider - Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Wilberforce, Wesley and others. Think that over today when you wonder how you can change the world.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Jesus the Politician

Continuing our exploration of "God's Politics" by Jim Wallis, the first chapter is entitled "Take Back the Faith."

It's a short chapter, with a very simple message - the Christian faith is not a left- or right-wing faith, it's one that encompasses and challenges both sides of the argument. He starts with a simple statement - no-one can steal your faith from you. That's a personal matter between you and the Big Man upstairs. What has happened, rather, is that somehow one side of the political divide in America has listened "to the one that shouts the loudest" while the other has taken that as a sign they should not challenge there, but look for softer targets to hit on the other side.

Which means, regretfully, that they avoid the real issue - which is that as a Christian, we are not bound to what one person or another person says, but to look at what God says and match ourselves against that, with the security of knowing if we get it wrong and confess that, we can start again.

This quote sums up, for me, why things have gone wrong with religion in politics, both American and otherwise:-

I am always amazed by the debate over poverty, with one side citing the need for changes in social behaviour and the other for better social programs, as if the two are mutually exclusive. Obviously, both personal and social responsibility are necessary for overcoming poverty.

Let me put it another way. It's all very well telling people they need to work, but without the long term support and training, and the resource behind that, people won't be able to take the steps they need to get back to work. Equally, you can pour as much money as you want into social programs, but unless you convince others to help take that to the next step it's wasted money.

He then turns to "the Political Problem with Jesus", which can be very simply put - he doesn't do politics, he does people. Look in the Gospels at the way he treated the political power of his day - with respect, but without fear in pointing out where they were wrong. If he was around today, you wouldn't find him in the houses of power at Washington - you'd find him down at the soup kitchens and homeless shelters, meeting their needs.

In my previous post, a comment was made that the problem with Katrina was less government incompetence and more that people ignored the warnings and didn't get out. That was undoubtedly true for a lot of people there, but (and it's a big but) there were also people who were unable to get out without help with transport, and they were let down. Also, after the hurricane hit, the response by the government for the immediate needs just was not there.

So today, and I challenge myself to do this as well, think about how you can get past the politics and recognise the need.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Bi-Partisan Creator

When I was at school, we had to do a weekly class that was euphemistically called "Guidance." these days they call it "Social Awareness" or even "Citizenship", but the idea was to educate and get us thinking about issues in the our lives and the world. This class, for example, covered sex education - which consisted of the teacher regaling the all-male class of his exploits while serving in the Army in Egypt, and the importance of protection then.

I digress - one particular lesson has always stuck in my mind. The chairs in the room had been arranged in a circle, and the teacher invited a fellow student (known for his left-wing political views) to pick a seat. He then invited another student, a known Thatcherite, to take a seat opposite him.

Each of us were then asked to take a seat either to the left or to the right of one of these people, depending on how close your political views were to that person. If there wasn't room, everyone had to budge up one seat as required. I was the last person, but even then I wasn't left or right=wing, but more liberal. I took a seat in the middle, and everyone had to move one seat left or right.

As a result, the two students he had asked to sit first were now sat right next to each other. His point was clear - they were a lot closer than they thought.

Why has this come to mind? Over the summer, I picked up a book called "God's Politics" by Jim Wallis, published in 2005. Wallis is an American evangelical, and his book looks at the seeming role played by religion in American politics then, and even more so today. I'm going to read a chapter of this book each day, and like my good friend Mike Parnell recently did with a couple of books share my thoughts here.

In the introduction, he starts by making one truth very clear. "God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat". We in the UK are guilty of assuming that, because of people like Faldwell and the Moral Majority, all American Christians support Bush and are Republican. As Robin Williams would say "Horse Excrement".

Wallis postulates that the Right wing in America want to focus on certain "hot topics" - such as abortion and same-sex marriage - while ignoring the need for social support and helping those less well off. He also makes the point that, because of the apparent Christian focus on the Right, the Left seems to want to distance itself from addressing the very real role that Christians can play in social reform.

The book was written after the 2004 election, and Wallis makes this statement that Bush could both return to "social policies" rather than "faith-based decisions" and involve others in tackling injustice both at home in the US and abroad.

Consider - if that had happened, when Katrina struck New Orleans would things have been different? These last few weeks, when we've seen major financial institutions fail and a proposed multi-billion dollar bailout by the Federal Reserve, free social health-care is still a no-no for the Republican party?

Bear in mind I'm not an American, so you may feel I have no right to speak, but exactly the same questions could be asked about our British system as well.

Anyway, as I say, come back as I share my thoughts on each chapter as I read it. In six weeks, you elect your new President in the US. Take time to consider what you think, and don;t vote blindly.

Monday, 22 September 2008

High Five

Taking a line from Jeff over at My Greatest Adventure, five questions to answer. Feel free to pass the idea on...

1.) Where was I 10 years ago?

Living in a hotel in Uxbridge, trying desperately to finalise the purchase of a house in the area Doreen and I had chosen to live in before our second child came along. I'd been working down here for two months, commuting to and from Nottingham at the weekends, and it was starting to get me down something chronic.

2.) What was on my to-do list today?

Sorting out some writing assignments for work, catching up on part of a course I missed last week because I had to go to a meeting which was cancelled while I was on the course, then some housework at home before a well earned sleep

3.) What would I do if I were a billionaire?

Cry - I don't do lotteries. Seriously - pay off my mortgage, buy a larger house in the country, put enough aside to ensure the boys would be comfortable, give a sizable donation to charities and churches, then invest the rest. After all that - I'd keep on working. I like my job!

4.) Five places I've lived

Linlithgow, West Lothian (look up top for a picture); Newcastle upon Tyne; Beeston, Nottingham; Arnold, Nottingham; London

5.) Bad Habits

I don't eat well or exercise enough

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Don't Panic!! redux

This appeared on the BBC News yesterday - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7619828.stm

The usual debate will now start about how someone should not pick up on Douglas Adams' work, and how this should be left untouched. Obviously they've never seen the film of Hitchhiker's....

Eoin is a good author - I happen to like the Artemis Fowl books, and besides there is no golden law that says these characters, where the story has not been completed (no-one should ever contemplate a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird), are sacrosanct. My son, as well as the Artemis Fowl books, is reading the Young James Bond books by Charlie Higson, which are also good.

I'm also a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but one of the best of those is not a Conan Doyle one. The Doctor's Tale is by Stephen King, but you could almost believe Conan Doyle would have written it.

So rather than being like Arthur Dent and panicking at that news, let's wait and see what happens. After all, for a trilogy, five books so far is good going.

Now, who's for a game of Krikket?

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Don't Panic!!

It's been a rough week on the financial markets of the world, hasn't it?

I still remember the day known as Black Wednesday, 16 September 1992, when the financial markets in the UK last went into so severe a financial meltdown. Speculating on sterling, following the decision to enter the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), led to a run on the pound and increases that led, by the end of the day, to Bank of England lending rate of 15.5% by the end of the day.

You can read the gory details at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Wednesday

It also led to a collapse in the housing market - just as we had spent a year in our new house. It took another seven years before, when we moved to our current home, we could even get back the modest price we paid for our house.

Over the last couple of weeks, we've seen a similar adjustment take place as a result of the "sub-prime" mortgage problems a year ago. This time the hit has been taken by the major banks - two going down and out, the big mortgage lenders in the US and a major insurance company bailed out by the Federal Reserve, and talks of bank mergers in the UK to weather the storm.

The temptation is going to be there to panic, but there is one thing I have learned of over the years when it comes to things like mortgages and savings - take only the risks you can afford
and watch what you are doing.

I know there are people who have gambled and lost all - I feel their pain, as I've been in insufferable debt myself with no apparent way out. Do not judge them, but help them if you can. As for those who allowed such a thing to even take place - be careful what you grow, because you always have to clear the refuse away afterwards.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Where's the kaboom?

There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!

On Wednesday morning, at 8.30 am, the world did not come to an end by being sucked into a black hole. I'm glad of that, because at 8.30 on Wednesday morning I was driving round the Road to Hell to a meeting in Harlow, but that's beside the point.

Science is a wonderful tool for learning about and understanding our universe, but it does not have all the answers. Scientific proof is not the way to answer all the questions this crazy world throws at us.

Consider, for example, what yesterday (Thursday) was the anniversary of - 9/11. Science may have been the mechanism for causing the cataclysmic events of that day, but they were not the trigger. That was hate and fear - pure and simple. There is nothing scientific about such an emotional response to such things - it is just that. Emotional - and emotions are the most powerful thing we have to fight with.

So, while the particle beams get faster and faster, consider that they may answer some questions, but not all of them. You need to look elsewhere for some of those.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

My choice of candidate

I cannot vote in the US presidential election, but if I could this candidate would get my vote:-

Monday, 8 September 2008

September 8, 1990

At 3 pm on Saturday, September 8 1990, at Winton Place Congeregational Church, Kilmarnock, Doreen Clark and Michael Kevin Williams celebrated their wedding.

We've had good times and hard times, made mistakes and had some blazing rows, but I still love her as much as when I saw her walking down the aisle that Saturday afternoon. The fact we're still together despite some of the problems we've had is testament to the fact that Marriage is somethign you work at, not leave alone.

Happy Anniversary, Doreen.

Friday, 5 September 2008

A short note for a new time

In April 1979, I sat the first exams towards my school qualifications, and started down the road that led to the career I now have.

Next year, twenty years on, my oldest son will sit the majority of the equivalent for him, his GCSE exams. This year, however, he sat two in advance - Religious Education and Statistics. The former I never studied formally at school. The latter - well, I've made a career from that subject for over twenty years now.

Yesterday we discovered the awful truth.

He passed both with flying colours - a 'B' grade for Religiosu Education and, much to his surprise, a 'A' for statistics, given the teacher was not the best and he crammed for that one.

I'm so proud of him.

Thursday, 4 September 2008


Driving into work this morning, I was listening to the radio when a story caught me by surprise for a number of reasons.

A soldier, home on leave from Afghanistan for medical reasons, tried to check into a hotel by himself for a few days holiday. When he shows his warrant card, however, he is told that the hotel has a policy not to take serving forces personnel as guests, and he is asked to leave. You can read more about the story at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/7596798.stm

Now, to take the PoV of the hotel for a moment, they may have a good reason for this policy. It may be that they have had problems in the past with forces members, and a blanket ban was their way of dealing with it. Why, then, does the hotel just say that is the case an apologise for any embarrassment caused? Because, right now, they are saying nothing.

There is, I feel, a more fundamental problem here of respect. Yes, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are unpopular here in the UK, and yes we have the right to voice whatever views we have on that. Forces personnel, however, are volunteers doing a job, and they deserve some respect for that. I say that not just as an Army Brat (which I am) but also as a human being whose brother is serving in the Army.

There may be many things I don't like about America, but their forces personnel are treated with the utmost respect and courtesy, and they don't face these issues. Heck, they walk down the street proudly in their uniforms. Here? Forces members are told NOT to wear their uniforms in nearby towns because they have been attacked just for being proud of their units.

Is it too much to ask for a little respect for these people? Because if it is, we have crossed a very dangerous and sorry line.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

On to the next level

With luck, Doreen (my wonderful wife) will have the last dressing removed today for good. On Thursday we go to see her plastic surgeon to discuss the next stage.

Putting it bluntly, that means they start to inject saline into the temporary prosthesis they gave her at the time of the operation. Over a few weeks, this has the effect of stretching the skin and shaping the breast for the final prosthesis. It also means she should feel a lot more comfortable wearing a bra. Without going into details, any ladies reading this can imagine what ti is like with two different breast sizes.

She also faces another problem this week. She works as a School Meals Assistant, or dinner lady in my parlance, but she earns less than the minimum required to pay National Insurance, so sick pay is at the discretion of her employer. She won't be back to work for a few more weeks yet, so she needs to talk to her boss about what happens.

She wants to get a job as a Teaching Assistant, but until the reconstruction is over she feels that's not possible, as she has to go into a job knowing she'll need time off in the new year. On the other hand, she doesn't want to have to leave her current job for a reason that is not her fault.

As you see, a dilemma. Still, as they say, onwards and upwards!

Monday, 1 September 2008

I have a confession to make

I have had an addiction for eight years now, but I finally managed to break it.

It started innocently enough back in 2000. I tried it a couple of times, but never really saw the point of it. Somehow or other, however, it sucked me in and before I realised what was happening I was hooked.

I would discuss it with other people, rearrange appointments to make sure I got my fix, even stay up until ridiculous hours to make sure I got the full experience.

Recently, however, I went cold turkey and, in a suprsingly painless manner, I have managed to wean myself off the addicition. It can be done with enough will power and motivation.

Yes, I have cured myself of the habit of watching Big Brother, and I praise God for it.