Personal and political: a basis for a more radical theology

1) The relationship between people and society

personal and social 1

This diagram shows the basic relationship at the core of all sociology: between people and the society in which they live.

Each person is an individual who lives within a social environment. This is the way God created life to be, we are social beings made for community.

The nature of this relationship between people and society is at the core of political debate. The left tends to emphasise social responsibility and the right personal responsibility. Karl Marx believed that the economic social conditions into which people are born completely determine their life chances.  In contrast, Margaret Thatcher declared ‘There is no such thing as society’ because she wanted to emphasise personal responsibility.

2) The radical impact of selfishness

personal and social 2However, we live in a world where this relationship between people and society is so often oppressive. It is fractured by individual selfishness and acts of corporate self-interest.

We see it everyday, from individual acts of aggression and abuse, to the corporations who continually flout the laws and rip people off. Selfishness is embedded and compounded in unjust social conditions where rampant inequality creates poverty and vulnerability.

Our whole social order – the economic, political and religious, has been warped by these self-regarding tendencies. There is a ‘crack in everything’ which the Bible calls sin. It expresses itself in both idolatry (failure to love God) and injustice (failure to love our neighbour) and is manifested in both in individual choices and in the corporate and structures. Rather than being a way of judging others, sin is the best way of explaining the mess that the world is in.

3) The radical impact of the good news of Jesus Christ

personal and social 3

The gospel of Jesus is good news which changes both people and systems. It speaks to our deepest personal needs because it is a message of affirmation, forgiveness and liberation.  But it is no individualistic ‘escape ticket to heaven’.  It is news which Jesus defined as bringing ‘good news to the poor, freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind and a release to the oppressed’.

Inward change leads to outward action. A transformed individual seeks to transform the world around them through their actions. This is the essence of a radical gospel: rooted in personal commitment and expressed in social and political witness. A faith which can speak to both to our deepest personal needs and provide a vision of a transformed society.

This diagram was adapted from one in Bryant Myer’s brilliant book ‘Walking with the Poor

Posted in Politics, Theology & Church | 5 Comments

Dealing with discouragements as a parent – by Olive Kuhrt

Olive KuhrtChildren can bring us a lot of happiness, but as I have reflected on how I was brought up, how I brought up my children and as I see my ten grand-children being brought up, I think the whole process is tougher than ever.  Parents can face a lot of discouragement.

We should not minimize the particular challenges that some parents face but I want to highlight three general things which can cause discouragement:

1) Having too great expectations

Everyone has times of discouragement and mothers are particularly prone to feeling down. The TV series Call the Midwife has reminded us so often of the joy of holding a newborn baby in your arms.  At that moment every mother’s ambition is to be the perfect parent. None want to make the same mistakes that their parents made with them!

It is a temptation to think that if only it can be done right, then children will grow up well-balanced and always completely fulfilled and happy.  Of course, it is good to have high expectations and ideals but we should be realistic and recognise that we shall all sometimes fail and get things wrong.

2) Wanting to keep up the appearance of success

We all want our children to achieve their potential but this generation is probably the most driven and pressurized to succeed than ever. Some parents cannot bear for their children not to excel at everything. And if they don’t, quite likely many parents blame themselves for not doing enough to support them.

It can be very discouraging if we are not able to trust anyone about our worries.  I remember very clearly my mother pouring out her heart to a friend about a disappointment she was facing concerning one of my sisters, only to discover later that the friend had exactly the same situation with her son but never admitted it. We can so fear criticism that we keep things bottled up maintaining that everything is fine.

3) Tiredness

Life is very very busy these days. Mothers often have to be Supermums.  Often both parents have to work long hours in their jobs and they feel they have to constantly entertain their children or take them to be entertained. Then, in spite of more labour-saving devices than ever, they have to cope with normal household chores. Then add to the mix the demands of their own parents, it is no wonder that they are worn out.

Fatigue causes discouragement which leads to frustration when jobs can’t get done. When exhausted it is very hard to be patient and that in turn leads to guilt and a sense of failure.

So, it is easy to feel discouraged as a parent. Where can we find encouragement?

The story of Jochebed

There are certainly lots of stories about Mothers in the Bible. But often they go unnoticed, in spite of their crucial role, because it’s their famous sons that the writers are mostly interested in. For example, have you heard of Jochebed?

Jochebed was Hebrew, an ethnic minority living in Egypt at a time where everyday was a nightmare for all mothers, fathers and family members alike.  The Pharoah had ordered that every new Hebrew male child born should be tossed into the River Nile and drowned. Jochebed had just had a baby boy – if anyone had a right to feel desperate she did!

Through some incredible events (see Exodus 1 & 2), Jochebed’s baby survived through being adopted by a Princess. The child would grow up to become Moses, one of Israel’s greatest leaders who led his people out of slavery and oppression. Jochebed illustrates the vital role that mothers have.  She knew that her time was limited before she would have to give her son completely to someone else and what she taught Moses in those early years stayed with him forever.

Instilling the right values 

I’d like to ask the mothers today – what would you teach your child if you were in that position?  What values would you instill?

When you are feeling discouraged and anxious about your children remember the Christian framework we have in the Bible to guide us. As followers of Jesus we have extra resources, especially as part of his Church.  God helps us to know what is right and gives us his strength and wisdom to carry it through.

So don’t compare yourself to what others are doing, or their children’s achievements. Don’t have the wrong ideas about what constitutes success. That way means discouragement. Remember Jochebed who committed her son to God in great faith and knew that the most important thing she could do for him was not to bestow material blessings but a living relationship with Almighty God.

This is an edited version of a sermon preached on Mother’s Day by Olive Kuhrt at Christ Church, New Malden on 15th March 2015.  Listen to the whole talk.

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How do you solve a problem like Jeremy Clarkson? A positive proposal to the BBC – by Jonathan Chilvers

Jeremy-ClarksonDear Tony Hall, Director General of the BBC,

So next week you have got to decide what you’re going to do about Jeremy Clarkson.

On the one hand, you want him to continue heading up one of the BBC’s most successful shows which is loved (and hated) the world over and raking in millions of pounds each year.

On the other he’s (allegedly) assaulted and abused Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon, after already being given a final warning for his behaviour.

So what action could you take that would treat the incident with the seriousness it deserves, but still keep open the possibility of Jeremy keeping his job at Top Gear? I think some of the principles of Restorative Justice may help you out.

Restorative justice

Restorative Justice, as the name suggests is an attempt to restore the relationship between a victim and offender after a crime has occurred. It is always voluntary on the part of both parties. In a safe space it gives the victim the opportunity to explain the impact that the crime has had on them and their family.

It gives the chance for the offender to repair the harm done and start to make amends. Crucially, the balance of power, which normally lays with the offender is reset as the victim gets a voice as an equal and shapes the decisions made.

Power and perception

So Oisin Tymon could sit down with Jeremy Clarkson and talk it through – but two critical problems need dealing with.

Firstly, there’s a massive power imbalance. Mr. Tymon is a lowly ranking producer serving food whose name no-one will remember in 6 months. Jeremy Clarkson is internationally famous, influential and in media terms, very powerful.

Secondly there’s the world-wide perception problem. When a role model hits someone (allegedly) because there’s no steak, after lots of previous warnings, the public need to feel it’s been properly dealt with.

My suggestion

So, my suggestion is that Jeremy Clarkson should be put in Oisin Tymon’s shoes. He should be responsible for sorting out all the food and carrying and fetching and organising for a different TV show. Not just for a half hour gimmick and a press call, but for a whole, gruelling series.We’d want to be fair so we’d pay Mr. Clarkson at the going rate for the work he carries out, but treat him exactly the same as everyone else.

At the end of that time, then he could sit down with Oisin Tymon, apologise properly and start restoring what has been broken. But then it would not be just about the two of them. They would be representing the relationship between all big money celebrities and the men and women who labour unseen and unheard on a fraction of the income to make programmes happen. Between those who have power and those who don’t.

Stark choice

I know they’ll be challenges and a media circus, but these are not insurmountable problems.  And, this would need to be a choice for both men. Oisin Tymon would need to decide what his response would be and it would present a stark choice for Jeremy Clarkson: Either you go down this route before it’s time to film the next series or you walk away and you never do Top Gear again.

I don’t know he would choose. But despite his expletive-ridden tirade at the BBC recently, I have a suspicion that Jeremy Clarkson loves Top Gear and might walk quite a few miles, and serve quite a few dinners, if this could save it.

Why not give it some thought Mr. Hall. What have you got to lose?

Yours, Jonathan Chilvers, Top Gear fan.

Posted in Social commentary | Tagged | 2 Comments

‘Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference’

Alcoholics AnonymousAt the church where my work is based, over 200 people come into the building every day  for 12 Step fellowship groups. The most famous of these is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) but there is also Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Over-eaters Anonymous (OA), Debtors Anonymous (DA) and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA).  

It is always moves me to see so many people coming to gather strength and support from each other in their common struggles. And because we are in the West End of London, these groups contain people from the widest possible spectrum; from famous film stars to those who are street homeless.

Many of these groups end each of their meetings with the famous prayer has become closely linked with the 12 Step movement:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Reinhold Neibuhr

Reinhold NeibuhrThis prayer was written by Reinhold Neibuhr, a US theologian who was particularly well known in the 1940s-50s for his abilities in speaking on contemporary events from a Christian perspective.

Before becoming an academic, Neibuhr had spent thirteen years as a pastor in Detroit where he oversaw a church which grew from 60 members to over 600. His passionate preaching about faith and social issues helped the congregation become a powerhouse in the battle against racial and economic injustice. As his biographer puts it Neibuhr ‘found himself opposing both Henry Ford and the Klu Klux Klan’.

Christian realism

Despite the growth of his ministry, Neibuhr reflected self-critically about how ‘the moral little homilies preached by myself and others, seemed completely irrelevant to the brutal facts of life in a great industrial centre’.

He became the leading figure of what was known as Christian Realism which rejected the belief that progress would solve the world’s problems and critiqued the liberalism which was essentially faith in mankind, rather than God.

A core aspect of this realism was an appreciation of the reality of sin especially in its social and corporate dimensions. Sin was the ‘plagued efforts of human agency’ manifested in the idolatry and injustice of the contemporary world.

Reality and hope

Neibuhr’s writings are a much needed corrective to naive, idealistic or escapist expressions of faith. He expressed a Christianity which dealt in the realities of life yet retained its hope in God:

‘A faith which understands the fragmentary and broken character of all historic achievements and yet has confidence in their meaning because it knows their completion to be in the hands of  a divine power, whose resources are greater than those of men, and whose suffering love can overcome the corruptions of man’s achievements, without negating the significance of our striving.”

‘Accepting hardship as the path to peace’

The world faces many problems, just as every individual who comes to AA and other 12 Step meetings does. We all carry different scars from the broken reality of life. Everything is cracked.

I have found it helpful to read the original, longer version of the prayer from which the famous ‘serenity quote’ is drawn. It is full of the realism for which Neibuhr was famous, and yet also the profound hope in God and what he will do:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.

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This could Welby ‘the best decision anyone can ever make’

Justin WelbyLast week I went to a lecture given by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, at Lambeth Palace.  Since becoming the C of E’s top man, Welby has caught the public’s imagination and headlines through his attacks on pay day lenders, his concern for food poverty and his willingness to challenge the government. Few could deny Welby’s commitment to social and political action.

But this was not his subject in this lecture. He was speaking about Evangelism and Witness, how the church speaks publicly about the person at the heart of the whole message of Christianity: Jesus himself.

Right at the start of his lecture, Welby stated boldly why the Church even exists:

“First, the church exists to worship God in Jesus Christ. Second, the Church exists to make new disciples of Jesus Christ. Everything else is decoration. Some of it may be very necessary, useful, or wonderful decoration – but its decoration.”

‘The best decision’

And he was blunt about what this means for individuals:

“The best decision anyone can ever make, at any point in life, in any circumstances, whoever they are, wherever they are, whatever they are, is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. There is no better decision for a human being in this life, any human being.”

He acknowledged that a term like evangelism (‘the dreaded ‘e’ word’) has acquired much baggage through being tainted with bad motives and coercion.  Despite this, it remains central because evangelism is “the news of Jesus Christ. His life as the light breaking into this dark world for us. His death as the fount of our redemption. His resurrection as the hope of all. This news must be told, or how will people know?”

He acknowledged that faith was shared through actions, but he bluntly dismissed the old adage attributed to St Francis of Assisi “Preach the gospel at all times, where necessary use words”, so often trotted out in such discussions:

“Lay it aside, put it down, forget it. Don’t even think about it. Mainly for the reasons that he almost certainly didn’t say it, and even if he did, he was wrong.”

Welby spoke passionately and straight-forwardly. His words were deep without being complex.  He never allowed his personal commitment to be obscured through inaccessible theology.  And his message was clear: the gospel of Jesus is good news which every Church and every Christian must be utterly committed to sharing.

Bedrock of action

In his lecture, Welby was speaking about the core essence of the Church’s message.  The gospel of Christ is the bedrock on which the social and political work of the Church is based. It reminded me that Christian social action needs to acknowledge the dependency it has on faith itself staying alive and real.

Faith and ActionsThe Church must act for justice and compassion, but it also needs to speak about why it is doing these things.  Our faith must lead to action, but we must ensure that our actions remain rooted in faith.

This is the integrated faith that the Bible continually speaks of.  Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and Amos condemned religion that was detached from the reality of life and ignored the injustices of the day.

And in the New Testament, the teachings of John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul and John all speak of faith which produces fruit in people’s lives.  Faith without deeds is dead. A tree is known by its fruit. ‘Let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.’ (1 John 3:18)

Fruit and roots

Christians who are committed to social activism must recognize the importance of evangelism. For without such a commitment, the Church in the UK will wither and die. We have to remember that the Church’s social and political impact is derivative – ultimately it relies on people’s encounter with Jesus and their willingness to participate in communities which express this belief.

Christian social action and work for justice is a vital fruit of faith. But this fruit does not grow by itself.  It is fruit which is dependent on strong roots which draw on the best resources that God has provided.

So, alongside our concerns about poverty and injustice, we must never forget the Church’s core task from which everything else grows. And we should be grateful for leaders like Justin Welby who can express this task so well.

Posted in Theology & Church | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Low pay or Living Wage: does the Church practice what it preaches?

Wages of sinSome Christians might be delighted that today’s front page headline in Britain’s most popular newspaper is a direct quote from Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  But the article titled ‘Wages of Sin’ highlights the Church of England’s inconsistency in simultaneously calling for the Living Wage but not paying this to all of its staff.

True to form, The Sun’s journalists found a job in Canterbury Cathedral (of all places) which is advertised as paying well below the Living Wage.

The Church has responded by saying that because they are separate legal entities, each individual cathedral, diocese or church has to make their own decisions around pay levels.  But that really will not wash.

To most people, this sounds like when a major corporation is caught out but claim that it was one of their subsidiary companies who did something wrong. Conveying organisational complexity does not answer the core question: does the church practice what it preaches?

Speaking as one

Last week, in their pastoral letter which hit the headlines, the Bishops spoke out as one. And the debate created by the letter was a great sign of its relevance and impact.  Now, when the backlash starts to discredit the church’s message, the Bishops need to respond as one too.

We have been here before. Just last year, after the Archbishop  spoke out against pay day lenders, it was exposed that the church held investments in Wonga. In response, Justin Welby knew he could not hide behind the Church’s complex relationship with the Church Commissioners – he just had to make sure the issue was sorted out.

Integrity and power

Thank God the Church is not a think tank which simply produces reports.  Rather, it is a living and working institution with outposts in every community in the land. So when it speaks out, it does so off the back of real experience. It’s integrity and power comes from faith in action. For example, it can speak about food poverty because its members are running so many food banks.

So when it comes to the Living Wage, the Church needs to get its house in order. Every diocese, every parish and every C of E affiliated charity should commit to undergo the process to be a Living Wage accredited employer.

Hard decisions

Following a decision by the Methodist Conference, the West London Mission (where I work) underwent the process last year.  We employee over 70 staff so it is an exercise that requires commitment and thoroughness. The terms and conditions of employees, especially those such as cleaners who may get the least pay, have needed to be re-examined. Some arrangements that have been murky and unclear have needed to pulled out into the light and reviewed.

I am sure that it will be a significant project for the C of E. It might be especially complicated for cathedrals who contract with other companies to run their gift shops or catering. It might mean tightening the belt – maybe a few Bishops might need to lose their chauffeurs or a couple of palaces might have to be sold off. It would not be the end of the world.

Firmer ground

But going through this process would make firmer ground for the church to stand on when it then speaks out about low wages. If all churches and dioceses became Living Wage employers, then the Church would be seen to live out the justice of which it speaks. In Gandhi’s words, it would become the change it seeks.

Integrity demands that we should always be skeptical of political theology which is not manifested in practical action.

An issue for everyone

And let’s remember, this is an issue for everyone who is employed.  Everyone could start the process of asking our employees to take the step to pay the Living Wage. If every Christian did this at their workplace the impact could be incredible and the witness profound.

Last week’s headlines have shown the potential of a Church speaking out sensibly, passionately and faithfully. Let’s not give the Harry Chomley’s of this world, or his mates who work at The Sun, more justification for their dismissal of what the Church has to say.

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Left-wing Bishops? The real problem is Jesus himself – by Harry S.B. Chomley

Classic English country churchQuite rightly, there has been an outcry over the latest bit of propaganda issued by the Guardian-readers-at-prayer otherwise known as the Church of England Bishops. Their ‘pastoral letter’ issued yesterday ahead of the election was a thinly-veiled support for the left-wing parties.

I am not much of a believer, but I like a lot of what the church stands for. Nice country pubs, a cricket green and a pretty church: its what makes Britain Great.

Spiritual comfort

But also the spiritual comfort they provide can be useful. I am pretty well off and have done well for myself, but Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a good sing-along at Midnight Mass after a few jars. The name C of E sums it up: I really appreciate the church at Christmas and Easter and I am more than happy to stick a few quid in for the new organ or roof or whatever.

But the point is that Churches should focus on spiritual matters – the after-life and that kind of stuff. And I don’t mind them helping people – if they knuckled down they could still play a good role in the PM’s Big Society. But the problem is that instead of sticking to theology, they keep issuing ‘statements’ about the kind of stuff politicians and economists know loads more about.

In recent months, the Bishops have kicked off rows about so-called food poverty, debt and inequality. And now they are telling us how to vote.

Shocked

But this latest furore got me thinking, and for the first time in years I got my old Christening Bible down from a dusty shelf and started reading some of the New Testament.  It dawned on me that the problem goes deeper than just the Bishops: it’s Jesus who is dangerously left-wing.

I opened my Bible at Luke’s gospel and immediately read the following:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (6:20)

Then a few verses later:

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” (6:24)

Excuse me?  Why so harsh on those who have worked hard and earned a few bob?

Disregard for wealth creation

Even worse is Jesus’ blatant disregard for wealth-creation.  Later on, I read a story he tells about a hard-working and successful man who grows his business and saves carefully for himself and his family. But then he promptly dies and never enjoys any of it! Jesus is hardly sympathetic:

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions…This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (12:15 &21)

It is not just this snideness towards those who have done well, but a completely naive approach to how welfare.  How about this:

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” (12:33)

Give? I don’t think so. How will simply giving stuff to poor people motivate them?

Loaded

But the worst bit I read was when a sincere bloke, done everything right, comes up to Jesus and asks how he can get into heaven. Instead of talking about spiritual matters, Jesus tells him that he has to sell everything he has and give it to the poor.

Of course this chap is gutted – it can’t do this because he is loaded. It may be alright for people who don’t have much to talk like this, but this is someone with responsibilities. And once he has left, Jesus says

“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” (18:24)

So, yes, let’s have a go at the Bishops, but the real problem is really Jesus himself.  You can see where they get all this lefty-clap-trap from.

Harry Chomley, affectionately known as ‘HSBC’ to his mates, works in the finance sector and loves reading The Daily Telegraph 

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Fifty Shades: Testing our Grey matter – by Mandy Marshall

50 ShadesBy now you may be a bit sick of hearing all the news and views about Fifty Shades of Grey. Is it erotic mummy porn? Is it abusive? Is bondage domination sadism and masochism (BDSM) compatible with a healthy relationship?

The film based on the books is being released tomorrow – Valentine’s Day – but, I assume, without the appalling writing that the books contain. There is a certain amount of irony of releasing the film on the day to celebrate love when the principle character, Christian Grey, himself declares: “I don’t make love. I f***”

Wow, what a Prince Charming. Not quite the ‘you had me at hello’ statement of a romantic lead in films.

Billionaire businessman

If you’ve managed to avoid the numerous news stories and blogs so far (well done), the story of Fifty Shades involves the two principle characters of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. He is an attractive, billionaire businessman and Ana a student with a part-time job. Christian defines the nature of their relationship via a contract with Ana, which she never ends up signing. Who said romance was dead, eh?

Rather rapidly the story focusses on the sexual nature of the relationship, specifically the BDSM aspects that Christian prefers. While BDSM relationships are supposed to be based on clear mutual consent, right from the start of this relationship the power base is unequal.

Disadvantage

Ana’s placed at a disadvantage in negotiating safe, sensual and consensual sex. She is a virgin when she meets Christian and he treats her virginity as something to be dealt with. Rather than honouring Ana’s innocence in the bedroom he sees it as a problem to overcome. Christian informs Ana that he wants to discipline her and train her to please him and in that she will find joy: he as the Dominant, and she as the Submissive. While the language of ‘Dominant’ and ‘Submissive’ is normal terminology used in the BDSM community, the concern here is that this is not a normal BDSM relationship.

There are multiple sex scenes within and without the “red room of pain” that Christian uses to play out his sexual fantasies. The best description I read on these scenes is that they very quickly become like reading a set of council car parking instructions –dry, boring, rigid and predictable.

Sadism

Many have said there isn’t a problem with a consensual BDSM relationship. I, however, do have an issue with sadism. I find it difficult to reconcile doing something deliberately to hurt, inflict pain or degrade another human being and a loving, healthy relationship where each individual is respected as made in the image of God. How can sadism be a part of the kingdom of God where this is no more pain or crying? A kingdom that we seek to bring here on earth.

The story lends itself to an adult Disney of Prince Charming rescuing the hapless princess, except with abuse and sex thrown in. Think Las Vegas on heroin, sparkly façade with dark undertones. We start to see chinks in the armour from the start of their interaction. Christian wants ‘control in everything’. Control in an adult relationship is a clear sign of abuse. We cannot ‘control’ individuals. It is in complete contrast to the love and freedom that Jesus brings. Jesus gives us the ultimate choice in the context of love –choose life, life that cost Jesus his sacrifice.

Power

Throughout the story we see emotional abuse, coercion, sexual and physical abuse, psychological abuse all thrown together and often justified in terms of the choices that Ana supposedly makes. Christian uses the different types of power he holds (structural, financial, emotional, sexual, to name a few) to coerce, control, manipulate, demean and intimidate Ana into doing what he wants.

At one point he even goads Ana that she “didn’t call the cops” when he hit her, therefore suggesting she must have liked it. This completely plays into the myth that someone who is experiencing abuse a) knows what is happening to them and b) is capable of doing something about it.

Distorting

It seems we still wrestle with the issue that power and money can cloud our vision. It harps back to a time when a woman had very little power and marrying well was the escape from ruin and poverty. If we changed the character of Christian Grey to one with less power and money, say a traffic warden, then we might see his actions in a different light. Ana herself describes Christian as “a stalker”, “control freak” and as “wanting to inflict pain”. If Christian had a normal job would we see his actions differently?

Fifty Shades distorts the concept of a relationship from something that should be equal, loving, giving, mutually supporting and for the benefit of one another to a needy focus on self; sexual gratification the basis of a so-called relationship. Fifty Shades of Grey is not a romantic love story, it’s abuse.

Mandy Marshall is co-director of Restored, an international Christian Alliance to transform relationships and end violence against women. This article was originally published by EA’s Friday Night Theology.

Posted in Films & music | Tagged | 1 Comment

For God’s Sake Make a Difference

scargill-logo-2013It cannot be disputed that Churches are very good at establishing social action projects.

Recent years have seen a huge growth in projects such as Foodbanks, Night Shelters and a wide range of other initiatives. The big challenge is how these projects maintain their Christian ethos and integrate this alongside their high quality practical service.

I know of so many organisations, both large and small, which were birthed with a strong Christian basis but have now left it behind.  In our secularised times, faith often becomes just a slightly embarrassing footnote of their history.

Sometimes faith fades due to a lack of passion or commitment or a key person leaving. “We used to be more overt about faith but it doesn’t really happen anymore.”

Sometimes it is due to fear, especially to do with losing resources. “It would not go down too well with our funders if we were too Christian.”

And sometimes faith just become fossilised. “A Vicar chairs the committee but there is no real connection with the church.”

Dis-integration

In these ways that faith becomes dis-integrated from social action and a chasm opens up between the church and the projects it has started.  The homelessness field in which I work is littered with examples because so many homelessness charities were originally started by churches.

The split can often lead to power struggles, bitter disputes and eventual messy divorces between the church and the social projects it has formed. Often both sides end up poorer for the separation.

Relevance of faith

Its tragic because community projects often provide the best witness to faith in a sceptical world. Most people have a lot of respect for genuine care and compassion in action. Often it makes much more sense to them than a church service.

Also, faith and spirituality are so relevant in bring hope to people and tackling poverty.  In my field, this was the powerful findings of last year’s report ‘Lost and Found: faith and spirituality in the lives of homeless people’ which showed how important and relevant faith was to those on the margins.

Ambition

The growth of social action provides the church with some great opportunities.  But we must learn the lessons from the past and not allow social activism to secularise the church or neuter its message.

Christian social activists should be bolder in their ambitions to integrate faith and spirituality alongside their practical work.  This is not always simple or easy especially when working with vulnerable people.  It does not mean being coercive, inappropriate or forcing anything on anyone. But it will mean being courageous, creative and confident.

We need to remember Jesus’ words:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

It is for God’s sake that we are seeking to make a difference.………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

ScargillIf you are interested in a weekend away to reflect and pray more on these kinds of issues then you might be interested in joining me at this weekend I am helping to lead which is coming up soon. It is at the beautiful Scargill House and some places are still available:

For God’s Sake Make a Difference: Friday 27 February to Sunday 1 March

For all the details and how to book in please see the Scargill website.

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‘I have come to see that there is good in every situation’ – Kayla Mueller’s hope in captivity

Kayla Mueller, 26, an American humanitarian worker from Prescott, Arizona is pictured in this undated handout photoThe family of Kayla Mueller, a US aid worker who was being held by ISIS, have confirmed that she has been killed.

Before she was captured, she told her hometown paper in Prescott, Arizona:

“It’s important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are. And from that place, start caring and get a lot done.”

Kayla’s family have released a letter sent to them by her from captivity written in the spring of 2014:

Everyone, If you are receiving this letter it means I am still detained but my cell mates (starting from 11/2/2014) have been released.

I have asked them to contact you + send you this letter. It’s hard to know what to say. Please know that I am in a safe location, completely unharmed + healthy (put on weight in fact); I have been treated w/ the utmost respect + kindness.

I wanted to write you all a well thought out letter (but I didn’t know if my cell mates would be leaving in the coming days or the coming months restricting my time but primarily) I could only but write the letter a paragraph at a time, just the thought of you all sends me into a fit of tears.

If you could say I have “suffered” at all throughout this whole experience it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through; I will never ask you to forgive me as I do not deserve forgiveness.

I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else … + by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.

I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.

I pray each each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness + surrender to God as well + have formed a bond of love + support amongst one another … I miss you all as if it has been a decade of forced separation.

None of us could have known it would be this long but know I am also fighting from my side in the ways I am able + I have a lot of fight left inside of me.

I am not breaking down + I will not give in no matter how long it takes. I wrote a song some months ago that says, “The part of me that pains the most also gets me out of bed, w/out your hope there would be nothing left …”

aka-The thought of your pain is the source of my own, simultaneously the hope of our reunion is the source of my strength.

Please be patient, give your pain to God. I know you would want me to remain strong. That is exactly what I am doing. Do not fear for me, continue to pray as will I + by God’s will we will be together soon.

All my everything, Kayla

Her generosity of spirit, thoughtfulness for others and dependence on God reminds me of the attitude and writings of another Christian who was held captive in prison by an oppressive regime.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the following when imprisoned by Nazis during the Second World War, before he too was killed:

“In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me.”

Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is Your will that I should know You
And turn to You.
Lord, I hear Your call and follow;
Help me.”

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