‘Do not be afraid’ is at the heart of the Christmas story

nativity

Nativity scene – Julius Garibaldi Melchers – 1891

A few years ago one of my children was very worried about something, so I suggested that we pray together about it.

We had talked a few times about how often the Bible says ‘Do not be afraid’ so we closed our eyes and I started the prayer by saying something like:

‘Dear God, we know you tell us not to worry and not to be afraid…’

At this point he opened his eyes and interrupted me:

“Err…could you stop there. No offence…but this is really not helping.  It’s just making me feel worse.  Now I feel bad for worrying as well.”

Default setting

Everyone has many things that they can worry about – whether its money, work, family or tricky relationships.  When I became a parent it hugely expanded the scope and range of things I could be fearful of. You could say that anxiety is the default setting for modern parenting.

For me, I think my fears operate like cabs on a taxi rank.  There is always an issue which sits at the head of the anxiety queue. I am always relieved when it gets dealt with or resolved but you just know that another issue or problem will be along in a minute to take its place.

People deal with worries and fears in different ways – some people want to share and verbalise them with anyone who’ll listen.  Others deal with them more privately.  Either way, managing our fears and anxieties are probably the most important battles we face.  

Festive anxiety

Christmas is a time when anxiety can be at its most intense.  So much of what can be emphasised at this time of year, especially around consuming and spending, is intrinsically anxiety-provoking.  It is easy to have a malnourished Christmas, which leaves us hungry and more anxious than ever.

And this is why it is important, in amongst the presents, food and fun, to make time to draw on the story at the core of the whole celebration.

Sentimentalised

A challenge to overcome is the sentimentalising of the Christmas story because it gives the impression that this is just a story for children.

Actually the brief passages in the Bible about the birth of Jesus  are gritty accounts where something amazing is happening within the context of profound hardship and challenge. All the key characters face fear and receive the message: ‘Do not to be afraid’.

Mary is greatly troubled when the angel appears because she wonders what all this will mean.  The angel says ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God’.  She has to prepare herself for the scandal of pregnancy outside of marriage and the exclusion and isolation this will bring.  It is hard for us today to understand the shame that would have engulfed her whole life.

Similarly Joseph also has to face the reality of the stigma that he is implicated in with the added personal betrayal which comes from knowing his wife-to-be is going to have a baby by someone else.  The angel visits him in a dream to say ‘Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife’ because all of this has happened as part of God’s plan. This message of the dream was strong enough to Joseph to completely change his plans and take Mary as his wife before they travel to Bethlehem.

The shepherds, living out on the hills outside Bethlehem were considered like the scum of the earth and were hated and distrusted by respectable people.  But they are the first to hear from the angels that a special child has been born.  They are terrified when the angel appears.  They are told ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” From the very edge of society, they are entrusted with a message which they acted on and went on to tell everyone about.  It was a message which amazed all who heard it.

Hope is born

This story is no sentimental fairy tale.  Hope is born – but it comes in the midst of scandal, stigma and real fear.  This is what gives Christian hope its power to redeem and reconcile the most difficult of situations and the most broken of lives.  God was born into straw poverty, in a world of fear and violence, yet overcame them with his love.

It’s a message so relevant for today. In a world of fear, love wins.

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One female bishop is not enough: the Church must behave more like Jesus – by Hannah Martin

Picture of Hannah Martin

As the incarnation of progressive politics, Christ would be taking a stand against every evil, from the arms trade to Ukip. The Church of England needs to do the same

The Church of England has just announced that Libby Lane is to be the first female bishop – 22 years after the General Synod decided women could be priests.

Many of my generation have watched this slow change with a mixture of frustration and embarrassment as the church has made itself seem increasingly irrelevant. And yet the church is where I have found home, community, family and a life-changing faith.

For me, Jesus was the definition of progressive – preaching that the “last shall be first” and “blessed are the peacemakers”. He stood alongside women, sex workers and lepers, and changed many of the ways in which we understand society. As a reflection, the church must be progressive and radical in its practice and preaching.

I hope we can be on the right side of history in the future. So, all I want for Christmas is for the church to take the following five actions:

1. Disinvest immediately in fossil fuel companies

We cannot continue with business as usual if the world is to avoid catastrophic climate change, so the church must respond quickly to campaigns such as Bright Now, taking decisive action and divesting itself of its £60m investment in fossil fuel companies. At the moment, the church’s response to the call has been to say that it will study it until late 2015 – a period slightly longer than Jesus’s entire public ministry. Desmond Tutu, the Church of Sweden and the World Council of Churches have already clearly outlined both the theological and moral case for disinvestment, and the church must act accordingly.

2. Unmask intolerant Ukip language in the run-up to the general election

The church needs to call out scapegoating and stereotyping of migrant and refugee communities wherever these are seen, be it on posters or Newsnight. Jesus was a migrant – part of a displaced family who needed sanctuary – and traditionally many churches have been welcoming towards migrant populations.

However, in a tight election year, as the anti-immigration voice is given a platform by Ukip and even Labour, the church must go further, asking for increased support to moderate Islamic voices and proclaiming inclusivity and tolerance. Currently, the UK government has accepted just 90 Syrian refugees, according to Amnesty International – a completely unacceptable response to what has been called the worst refugee crisis since the second world war.

3. Understand the Bible in terms of its context and its history

We need to move towards reclaiming the liberating qualities of the Bible, which promotes feminism, gender and racial equality for marginalised communities. When we do this we will become the truly non-patriarchal and anti-oppressive voice that Jesus had: one that saw women and men as equal, and celebrated diversity. Initially the church must prioritise the voices of women and of the LGBT community, redressing the balance and providing a model for other faith communities around the world.

4. Actively oppose and campaign against austerity

We cannot be a progressive force for good unless we challenge the system. The current government has forced thousands into food poverty because of a neoliberal ideology of growth for the 1%. It is not enough to provide food banks, although these are greatly needed. The church must challenge the policies of austerity and see them for what they are: a systematic dismantling of the welfare state that damages the most vulnerable. We must stand with groups such as UK Uncut and Disabled People Against the Cuts who are offering workable alternatives to these policies.

5. Build peace and reconciliation worldwide to support the global poor

In the same way that we would condemn the violence against Christians in Iran or the Central African Republic, we must condemn the violence against Palestine by Israel. The church must sign up to the Kairos document, written by Christians in Palestine, which asks Christians worldwide to stand against injustice and apartheid, to work for peace in the region and to reconsider theologies that justify crimes against humanity.

The church should renounce any involvement in the arms trade, standing against fairs in this country such as the DSEI, the world’s largest arms fair, which is taking place in London in 2015. Standing alongside the global poor also means vocally and practically supporting liberation movements. From Venezuala to Ecuador to the Zapatista communities in Chiapas in Mexico, there are those who are fighting for a radical redistribution of global wealth. We don’t need to look very hard to find indigenous communities in the global south to which we could lend our voice.

A church that spoke and acted like this is a church that I, and many others of my generation, could recognise as representing the faith we follow and the Jesus who inspires us.

Hannah Martin lives in Brixton and tweets @Hannah_RM. This article was originally published today on The Guardian’s Comment is Free website

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‘The Great Reversal’ – a poem by Kester Brewin

Walking with the crowds,
Carried along by the pressing forward.
Each one eager to get ahead,
but each one starting the same – born as a baby and from then on
struggling towards meaning, power and influence.
Be someone,
Be remembered,
Make a big impression;
leave some indelible mark in your 3 score years and 10.

From birth, a struggle to find eternity, to burst through life
with such dazzling intensity that everyone will remember forever.
But walking the other way, pick out a route against the crowds,
a solitary figure passes me,…passes all of us – all straining away innocence, to be someone and he passes us, a quiet chaos in the crowd.

Christ, eternal, omniscient, creator, beyond time, source of wisdom, and beyond petty claims of influence… in very nature God, slips into reverse and walks back past us – away from Kingship, away from power, away from influence, away from eternity, away from wisdom, towards infancy.
Calmly stepping into the body of a tiny child.

And even as this baby grows, figuring out how to control the body he has himself designed, he still walks the other way, realising that life cannot be found in the struggle for permanence, but in giving it up.

This Great Reversal subverts me. Tired of pressing forward, I realise I need to turn, for what I have been searching for has just walked past me the other way.

* from ‘The Complex Christ’ by Kester Brewin (SPCK) 2004

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Three reasons why everyone should watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ this Christmas

Originally posted on Resistance & Renewal:

In my view,It’s a Wonderful Lifeis not the best Christmas film ever. It is simply the best film ever, full stop.

Released in 1946, the film focuses on the life of a man called George Bailey (James Stewart) who lives in the small town of Bedford Falls. George intends to ‘shake off the dust of this crumby little town’ and get away to see the world and achieve great things. Yet through tragedy and his own sense of responsibility, he ends up spending his entire life in Bedford Falls running the building cooperative that his late father established.

He sacrifices a lot. He ends up giving the college money he has saved to his younger brother so he can go to university instead of him. During the depression he and his new wife give their honeymoon funds to keep the ‘Building & Loan’ going. All the…

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Victims of injustice or just bad cooks? Whose responsibility is food poverty?

The Foodbank by Dave Walker

The Food Bank – by Dave Walker (www.davewalker.cc)

On Monday I attended the launch of the report of the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Food Poverty in the UK. Over the last week, the whole issue has had an incredible amount of coverage in the media.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, opened the event and said that hunger is Britain is an issue which should transcend party politics.  I knew what he meant – that there should be unity around the commitment to ending it.   But in reality, poverty can never be divorced from politics.  Especially when many people, like I do, believe that the increasing levels of food poverty are directly linked to policies brought in by this government.

Politics

And, as the rest of the event showed, there was plenty of politics knocking about.

Of the Labour MPs who spoke, Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) passionately emphasised the unjust structures which contributed to food poverty such as unemployment, low wages and inequality. And Stephen Timms (East Ham) focussed sharply in on the hardship caused by the huge rise in benefit sanctions.

In contrast, the Conservative MPs studiously avoided any links between food poverty and their policies. Scandalously, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) did not even send anyone to the launch to engage with its findings, such is their sensitivity to their policies being blamed for the rise in food bank usage.  But the Conservative MPs who did speak emphasised the issues more shaped around individual challenges.

Sarah Newton (Falmouth) spoke about the impact of mental health problems and Baroness Jenkin of Kennington made her now infamous comment that ‘the poor can’t cook’.  Of course it was a silly comment that she almost immediately apologised for – but the key point is that she was locating the key issue as a deficit of personal skills.

Personal and social

This diagram below illustrates the inter-relationship between the social and personal.

Personal - Social

It is a dialectic relevant in all social issues – and is inescapably political.  How much do you believe that it is society and economic environment that shape an individual’s life?

Or how much is down to personal qualities and the belief that people can shape their own chances through hard work and endeavour?

So with regard to food poverty, how much is down to the structures of society and how much is due to the lack of personal responsibility taken by those who are poor?

Blaming others

Just a few hours after the launch I was involved in a practical example of this tension as I spoke with a formerly homeless ex-servicemen who is living in West London Mission accommodation.  I had to speak to him about the level of arrears that he has built up which was putting him at risk of eviction.

On one level he is a victim of injustice – he has suffered a lot and we are seeking to support him through what he has faced. But the key to the transformation of his situation is him taking personal responsibility for his situation and for paying his rent.  Simply blaming others, or ‘the system’ is a dangerous dead-end which helps no one.

Being engaged in seeking to address poverty always involves balancing of both social and personal responsibility.  With food poverty we have to address the structural issues which create the injustice, but we need to shape the structures in such a way that they promote, sustain and reward personal responsibility.

Practical and prophetic

The rise in the use of food banks shows very clearly that the UK has serious social issues to address.  As the report’s recommendations makes clear the dominant issues relates to societal structures which need re-adjusting. The injustice of rising inequality, zero-hours contracts, the premiums that poorer people pay for their utility bills and the harshness of benefit sanctions have all contributed to this crisis. These are all structural issues which we should be angry about and which can be solved if there is the political will.

The report is yet another example of the way that the practical action of the churches has been combined with a prophetic role in speaking out against structural injustice.  This is the synthesis we should always be looking for – compassion and justice – so that we continue to help people who are drowning in the river, but we also go upstream and find out who is pushing them in.

For more on this:

Also, the West London Mission are advertising for a Food Poverty Coordinator to oversee a new initiative in Lambeth.  It is an exciting new project which involves distributing grants to community groups to address issues of food poverty during the school holidays. For Job Description and application form see the WLM website.

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Why are churches ‘the best social melting pots in modern Britain’?

Love Streatham Funday

Love Streatham’s Family Fun Day

Today, the Daily Telegraph reports on the findings of research by the Social Integration Commission about the places where people from different backgrounds meet and mix with each other. The article, with the headline ‘Churches are the best social melting pots in modern Britain‘, states:

‘Overall, it found that churches and other places of worship are more successful than any other social setting at bringing people of different backgrounds together, well ahead of gatherings such as parties, meetings, weddings or venues such as pubs and clubs.’

This may come as a surprise to many.  From the incessant media coverage of it’s sexuality rows, the church is often conveyed as somewhere with a fundamental problem when it comes to embracing diversity.  But this research asserts that the very opposite is true: that the church is one of the best places where people from different backgrounds come together.

Diversity cherished

The findings resonate with my experience.  The church my family and I are part of, Streatham Baptist Church, is incredibly diverse.  A while ago, the minister leading the service asked to have one representative from every nationality present that morning to come up to the front.  So, along with a one person who was actually from South London, over 50 other people, each from different countries across the globe came up to the front of the church and stood together.  It was a moving moment and a powerful visual illustration of ethnic diversity.

And at the church where my work is based, Hinde Street Methodist Church in central London,  over 200 people a day come into the building for 12-Step ‘anonymous’ groups which meet each day from 7.30am to 9.30pm at night.  As well as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), there is Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) and a wide range of others relating to eating disorders, debt, gambling and others issues.  Those coming into the building each day could not be more diverse – ranging from those who are street homeless to famous celebrities.

In both of these different contexts, diversity is something that is cherished, celebrated and invested in.  In short, diversity is believed in because it is acknowledged as something fundamental to what it means to be a church.

Member’s Club

Of course, there is no room for any complacency.  Congregations can easily become inward looking and cliquey.  Whether large or small, it’s tempting for a church to adopt attitudes more like a Member’s Club and lock themselves into styles of service and activities which simply provide what the current members want.

I remember running a workshop a few years ago on ‘connecting with the local community’ at a church with a tiny congregation.  To nods of agreement, one older lady said:

“Oh, I can’t see anyone wanting to join us here. We’re not very friendly you see.”

Needless to say, that congregation no longer exists.

‘God does not show favouritism’

Despite the exceptions, why are churches better at bringing a diverse group of people together than other institutions?  As I have written about recently, its not because churches are full of intrinsically nicer or friendlier people.  I think a key reason is that the imperative to include others who are not like you lies at the heart of the gospel message.

Just consider Jesus’ example. The twelve disciples came from an incredibly diverse spectrum, including both nationalist zealots and their sworn enemies, the tax collectors.  Jesus deliberately spent time with those despised and excluded and challenged the exclusive tendencies of the religious communities of his day. And the early church diversified even further with non-Jews welcomed into the Christian Church. As both Peter and Paul declare bluntly ‘God does not show favouritism’ (Acts 10:34 & Romans 2:11).

Oneness and unity

So, despite its failings and struggles, the church has within its DNA a commitment to be diverse and inclusive.  It’s a commitment which is anchored in a belief in everyone’s value before God.  This runs deeper than the fashions of political correctness or the fuzziness of good intentions.  It is a commitment, and challenge, summed up well by Martin Luther King:

“Worship at its best is a social experience with people of all levels of life coming together to realise their oneness and unity under God.  Whenever the church, consciously or unconsciously, caters to one class it loses the spiritual force of the ‘whosoever will, let him come’ doctrine and is in danger of becoming little more than a social club with a thin veneer of religiousity.”

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‘He was a nuisance then and he’s a nuisance now’

jesus_che‘He was a nuisance then’ said Braddock ‘and he’s a nuisance now. He won’t let you work out cosy little systems and call ‘em “churches”, and he won’t let you get away with having four meetings a week to discuss what you’re going to do in next week’s meetings. If that’s what you want, you’ll find Jesus a real pain in the neck.

He says awkward, difficult things, like “Love your enemies”, and “Invite the people who really need it to dinner”, and “Love God before anything else”. He’s terrible like that.

They couldn’t pin him down then, and you can’t pin him down now, but I’ll tell you something…’ 

Braddock leaned forward in his chair and stabbed the air with his pipe stem. His eyes filled with excitement…

‘…if you want to pay the cost, there’s no-one else worth following, and nothing else worth doing!”

Text taken from The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass (Marshall Pickering, 1987)

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The Market is King – by Keith Hebden

This is the text of a sermon given by Rev. Keith Hebden at St Paul’s Cathedral on Sunday 30th November, 2014

WWJDI travelled around 140 miles to get here from a town called Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. Mansfield is a warm-hearted and friendly town but one where thousands will struggle to get by this Advent and Christmas.

In the 1980s our government chose to sacrifice our community – and others like it – to the god of Money, to the idols of the markets. Now we have a scourge of low-employment at minimum wage on zero hour contracts. Both food bank use and theft of food have increased dramatically as some families struggle to feed themselves. Mansfield is on the edge of a Domination System that controls the lives of its citizens. 140 miles away, in the same nation, others sit down to expensive dinners to talk arms deals and stocks and shares.

High priests of the new gods

Last week, I was in a “Traditional English Pub” near Liverpool Street station, waiting to meet some friends. It was full of finance traders from the London Stock Exchange in suits. Ties loose, and pints of beer necked at speed they shook off the day in shouts and swaggers. I noticed one set had to share a bag of crisps despite their salaries – but that’s London prices for you: even bankers have to be careful!

I was listening-in, of course, dropping in and out of their conversations as I half-read my newspaper. A phrase used by one of these stockbrokers stuck with – although to him it was just a throwaway comment:

“Thing is, you’re a great trader, better than me, and you can make good deals and bad ones but at the end of the day… the market is king”

“The market is king”.  We say in shadowy pub corners what we rarely dare speak out loud. These men in matching swag and sweat are the high priest of the new gods.

Last week the Church celebrated the feast of Christ the King. But it turns out that it’s not Christ who is king but rather: the markets.

The domination system

In order to really get to grips with what Jesus was doing when he intervened to dramatically in the Jerusalem temple we need first to understand the collusion of religion, market, and culture in the creation of what some people call “the domination system”

The domination system that Jesus was confronting occupied the physical space, world view, and legal precedents of everyone in his society: from those at its centre to those at its furthest edges. Just like today, “centre” and “edge” are both geographical and social.

At the physical centre of the domination system was the temple where Jesus caused such a raucous by turning over the tables, and driving out the animals that were being sold. Beyond that was Jerusalem, the political centre for the region and then outlying areas like Nazareth: poor and powerless places that Jesus taught and healed in throughout his ministry.

Subversion

We know well the story heard this evening of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey while a crowd called him king and blessed his name. What is less well known it what a deliberate parody this was. At the same time that Jesus was arriving into the city at one gate with his donkey and small band of enthusiastic supporters, so Pontius Pilate was likely arriving at the opposite end of the city with fine horse and a massive crowd hired, coerced, and fearful supporters.

Jesus chose to occupy a space reserved for a violent and oppressive elite. And occupying that space with such carnival and subversion was more than both the secular and religious authorities of his day could bare.

“The Domination System” according to New Testament scholar, Walter Wink, “is what happens when an entire network of Powers become hell-bent on control”.

Altar of capitalism

In our age, chief among these powers – or false idols – is ‘The Market’.

We hear it all the time on the news and in print, “The markets won’t like it”, “The markets are jittery”, “We have to appease the markets”, people lose jobs, homes, welfare and pensions all to satisfy the markets. People die in order to keep the markets happy.

People die in order to keep the markets happy.

Every day the high priests of commerce, government and establishment bring another of our public services to the altar of capitalism to be sacrificed; stoking the fires of ecological degradation. But as our idol gets more powerful it only becomes hungrier and even more capricious.

We thought that putting God aside would make us smarter and more sophisticated but it has turned our society into an idol-worshipping world of markets, markets, markets.

And whether you come from New Zealand, Angola, Stepney, or the ex-mining town of Mansfield in Nottinghamshire all of us live at the whim of these idols: these markets.

Hope?

What hope is there then? The same hope that Jonah gave to Nineveh, that hope which Isaiah gave to Israel and the hope that Jesus gave to Galilee when he set his face to Jerusalem and turned over the tables of the money lenders and drove out the animals.

The hope is that the Church will stop being a voice of passive accommodation of the Domination System but instead become a Prophetic Church, capable of speaking truth to power and of naming idol worship just as Jesus did: Just as Isaiah did.

Isaiah quotes God’s displeasure with the sort of worship that is fabulously executed yet is performed by a community that has forgotten justice:

“Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth…Learn to do well; seek judgement, relieve the oppressed”

Jesus echoes these words in his actions when he and his disciples occupied the Jerusalem temple in a deliberate act of sabotage and propaganda in a building designed to show-off the power of the religious and economic elite of the Domination System of his day.

The temple was a vast building with huge vaulted ceilings, ornate designs; on the inside sacred song and liturgy were daily heard while on the outside traders exploited those who came from the very edges of empire to worship and learn about God and the meaning of life.

Restless

But when Jesus left the temple that day the money lenders would have gathered their coins, the vendors would have herded and recaptured their animals and the exploitation would have continued as though nothing had happened.

Perhaps sophisticated people called their occupation pointless or naïve. It suits the smug elite at the centre to do so: once the dust had settled and the troublemakers have ushered from the steps of the temple courts.

But I don’t believe the dust ever did settle.

Two thousand years later we remain restless for worship that has the integrity that Jesus and Isaiah called for.

As each of us leaves this place this evening and goes back to which ever periphery of the domination system that she or he came from. We take with us Jesus’ angry quote, “My house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves,” and with a new resolve to smash the idols of Mammon and to build and occupy a new and just world in the shell of the old.

Keith Hebden is an Anglican Priest and Deanery adviser on social and environmental Justice in Mansfield.  He blogs at www.compassionistas.net

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Funeral poverty: when there is nothing left to say goodbye – by Emma Tomlinson

RoseA few weeks ago my neighbour’s only son died unexpectedly. He was in his 30s, without a job and there was no money to pay for the funeral.  Amidst the shock and grief that followed for her I learned something else; that funeral’s are very expensive, and there is no backup plan for people who can’t afford it.

My neighbour shared with me some of the key frustrations she experienced in this time:

  • The government funeral payment on offer to those on low incomes is set at £700. Whereas the cheapest funeral she could find cost £2500 which left a short fall of £1800.
  • The funeral payment can only be released once a funeral has been booked and deposit paid so the process relies on reimbursing costs paid up front.  Furthermore it is very slow – in fact my neighbour still hasn’t heard if she is eligible for a payment, despite the funeral itself having taken place mid-November.
  • When she tried to organise some of the key details herself, like sourcing an affordable cardboard coffin to cut costs, she discovered that many suppliers will only deal directly with funeral directors.  It further disempowered her in a situation that already felt out of her control.

The cost of dying

Citizen’s Advice Scotland (CAS) report “The Real Deal” claims that the average basic cost of a funeral (including funeral director services, cremation/burial and officiant) is £2610 for a cremation and £3240 for a burial.  These have increased rapidly in recent years. Cremation and Burial fees are set by local councils and there is some suggestion within the report that these rises have been made to protect other front-line services. Further evidence perhaps of the true cost of the cuts.

These costs of course do not include additional expenses such as flowers, notices in a local paper, transport for family, orders of service, hosting a wake and memorial stones, all of which would significantly increase these basic costs.

Of course, in an ideal world everyone would pay into a pre-arranged plan in preparation for their funeral or have sufficient savings to cover funeral costs.  But this is clearly not reality for huge numbers of people, especially in these times of austerity or in the case of unexpected deaths of young people.

Unaffordable

My friend’s situation is not unusual, in fact 66,000 people applied for government help with funeral costs in 2012/13. Funerals are unaffordable for many, and the support structures in place are inadequate and out-dated. Indeed the funeral payment has stayed the same for 10 years; whereas the cost of funerals has increased at around 7% a year, well above inflation.

At a point in life where people are in a very vulnerable situation, the funeral payment in its current form is too little, too late and leaves bereaved family members in a sea of uncertainty.

In the end my neighbour was fortunate that a relative offered to supply the funds she needed to go ahead with a cremation for her son.  Also she is very resourceful and led the service and arranged the flowers herself. However many others are left with the only option being to take high interest loans and hope that delayed funeral payments will come through quickly.

The death of a loved one can push people into a spiral of poverty linked to bad debts as they try to do their best in a difficult situation.

What we can do about it

On the 9th December, the Funeral Poverty Bill, calling on the government to review the issues behind funeral poverty, will be put before parliament. Please join me in emailing your MP asking them to support this bill. Church Action on Poverty has created a super easy tool for this, meaning that you can email your MP now and it will only take five minutes by following this link:

http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/foodfuelfinance/funerals/action

Let’s remember what Gandhi said, that “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”  In these times of increasing divides between rich and poor, lets do all we can to ensure that everyone can say goodbye to their loved ones with dignity and respect.

Emma spends her time between Stirling (where her husband and home are) and Gabon where she is studying for her PhD in African Tropical Forests. She loves getting out and exploring the Scottish crags, hills and islands while trying to live slowly enough to get to know her neighbours. Follow her on twitter @emmieroset

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A world in crisis…but pregnant with possibilities

Light in the darknessIt feels like we live in a world which is gripped by crisis, suffering and uncertainty.

The horrors of IS in Iraq and Syria. The unending cycles of violence and retribution in Israel and Palestine.  The human catastrophe of Ebola.

Closer to home there is growing cynicism about the political process. Those who spread fear and division are more popular than ever.  Banks continue in their corrupt practices and scandals continue to scar the reputation of the Police and other civic institutions.

The divide grows between rich and poor.  Increasing numbers are dispossessed through injustice and poverty.  And yet, as Black Friday illustrated, our culture is also possessed by the empty promises of consumerism.

Hope and meaning

So where can hope or meaning can be found?  What will save the world from the mess we are in?  Yesterday, I read these words written by Jim Wallis in his book The Soul of Politics which seem more relevant than ever:

“Today the political world does feel as if it has been hit by an earthquake, both domestically and internationally…Old political frameworks are suddenly inadequate, and new ones are yet to emerge.  Many people are unsure where to look for new political directions; it is a time of both uncertainty and possibility.

There are periods in history when social crisis threatens to unravel society. But such times are also eras of transition, invitation and opportunity. The New Testament word for such a time is Kairos. It is a time pregnant with possibilities.  We may be at such a moment.

At these historical junctures, ideological solutions and analysis are inadequate. Old political categories prove increasingly useless. Kairos instead calls for a deeper discernment and bolder action. We see a crisis, we feel a hope, we discern a word and we hear a call.

It is a renewal of the heart to which we are now summoned. The crisis of our times calls for our conversion. Our structures, values, habits and assumptions are in need of basic transformation. Neither politics or piety as we know them will effect such a change. Rather a new spirituality is required, a spirituality rooted in old traditions but radically applied to our present circumstances.”

Available to all

This new spirituality it available to all of us, whether we consider ourselves religious or not.  Let’s take time in the weeks before Christmas to rediscover it.

This is a time truly pregnant with possibilities because the Christmas story is one of God becoming one of us.  Born in vulnerability into a world of violence. The message, first heard by ordinary shepherds, is that God has come near and made peace available to everyone.  Rather than encouraging an escape from reality, faith in this story gives us resources to engage in the real world.

So instead of being a binge on those things which we know don’t bring true satisfaction, lets make space in the following weeks a time to dig deeper into ourselves.  Let’s rediscover the hope which can bring transformation and renewal.

R&R has produced a simple resource to help you give 10 minutes a day for silence, reflection and prayer for the 24 days of Advent: R&R Advent Challenge 2014

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