Taking a break from Fakebook – by Jill Rowe

funny-social-media-man-jailI have not been here.

Over the past little while I took a break from Facebook. I’ve not ‘photo-ed’ for Instagram and my tweeting volume has been close to zero.  I have not been here.

Why? Because I know that sometimes being here stops me being here, where I should be or where I need to be.

Distance and falsehood

The virtual world is just what it says it is. Virtual and not real.  And if you’re not careful, it creates distance and a whole heap of falsehood. Many close to me will have heard me call it ‘Fakebook’. I’m conscious that it builds thrones and platforms that can be built on nothing more than sand.

We forget that the things we are fed and the things we feed are always highly filtered, if not by us then by the logarithms that sit behind the machine. Sooner or later we have to pull the curtain back and face what is real and what is reality.

Knocked and dented

For some of us, we are strong but for some of us we are not and we create our worth as we create our online profile. For others, our worth is knocked and dented by the profile of others.

And if any of us thinks that our value as human beings is based on our ‘likes’ – the momentary online click of approval – if we constantly check how many likes we have, or compare our likes to those of others, if we take our posts down when we’ve not got what we wanted, if we think or do any of these thing then I’m telling you it is a pile of BS. Honestly.

Keep believing that this is where worth resides and you, me, we, we will all lose the plot. What happens ‘here’ is not always the truth or the whole truth and sadly sometimes nothing like the truth – so help us God.

A resource not a master

So my recommendation to us all is that we learn how to take a break sometimes.
Learn how to not be here so that we really can be here.
Learn how to see social media as resource and do not let it be our master.
Learn how to be with the people we are with and practice putting our phones down.
Learn how to speak again – one to one and do not do not do not pick up our phones to check or measure our profile ratings.
Learn how to look up and around at the world we are in.
Learn how to give thanks for what we have and not to be jealous of the show-reel of others (remember it’s not a real reel).
Learn that we don’t need to show off because we’re not sure if we have enough to show.
Learn how less really can be more.
Learn how to be real again and again and again.

And when we return – let’s tell one another what we’ve have learnt as well.
Help us all to remember how to not be here.

Jill Rowe is Ethos & Formation Director for Oasis 

Posted in Social commentary | 2 Comments

Poverty is many things…

povertyPoverty is not entertainment, it’s not noble or romantic.
Poverty is… heavy.
It’s heavy hearts and heavy legs.
It’s sore skin and hollow eyes.
It’s upset and downhearted.
It’s hunger. Malnourishment. It’s always thinking about the next meal.
Poverty is bailiffs, it’s food banks, it’s queues and lists,
it’s never being told what you’re entitled to but always being told.
Poverty is being shown up then put down.
It’s missed payments and mistrust.
It’s always answering questions but never answering the door.
Poverty is hiding in plain view. It’s hiding.
Poverty is high bills and low pay.
It’s higher costs and lower self-esteem.
It’s invisible scars and visible pain.
Poverty is living nextdoor, it’s living on your nerves, it’s not living, it’s… barely surviving.

Poverty is… everywhere. With… nowhere to turn
It’s a gut-wrenching silence, screaming.
Poverty is depressing, demotivating and dehumanising.
It’s degradation, desperation and despair.
Poverty is feeling… worthless, it’s feeling anxious, it’s feeling excluded,
it’s feeling rejected, it’s feeling ashamed, it’s feeling trapped, it’s feeling angry,
it’s feeling fffrustrated, poverty is…. exhausting.

It’s not feeling anything. It’s… numb.
Poverty is… crushing. Empty. Lonely.
Poverty is cold. It’s damp. It’s ill health. Bad housing. Sadness, fear and human misery.
Poverty is ignored and abandoned. It’s sanctioned and sectioned.
It’s late payments and early deaths.

Poverty is not something that happens to… “others”.
Poverty is our odd people, our young people, our sick people, our disabled people,
our mentally ill people, our homeless people.
Poverty is people seeking asylum, it’s people who are refugees,
people who are migrants. Poverty is overworked, underpaid everyday people.

Poverty is people. It’s children. Babies. Not… “them”. Us.
“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” (Mahatma Gandhi)
Poverty is growing in our country. In 2016.

Poverty is many things,
but it is not
acceptable.

This poem is re-produced with permission from Church Action on Poverty’s magazine SPARK. It was written by the Powerlines project, based in Salford, which brings together people affected by poverty with professional writers. For more information see Church Action on Poverty’s website and get involved in their brilliant work.

Posted in Poverty | Tagged | 2 Comments

It’s up to each of us to resist the cynicism of ‘post-truth’ culture

post-truthPost-truth was chosen as the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016.

It’s a word which has sprung into prominence mainly due to Donald Trump’s election win. I heard a good example the other day on the radio when a US political commentator was talking about Trump’s promise to build a wall on the US/Mexico border. His view was that ‘whilst some construction might happen, essentially the wall will come to mean a metaphor for a stronger border’.

But the thing is that Trump did not just commit himself to a stronger border – he promised to build an actual wall. And the thousands who chanted ‘Build the wall, Build the wall’ at his rallies were not shouting for a metaphor.

Does it matter anymore?

In the old politics, failure to build an actual wall (or prosecute Hilary Clinton, or deport all illegal immigrants) would be a serious matter. But in a post-truth world, does this really matter anymore?

Similarly, I think of the retired couple at my church who said a key reason why they are voting for Brexit was because of the £350m a week which would be diverted to the NHS following a leave vote.  But after winning the referendum leading members of the leave campaign soon distanced themselves from this claim.

Does the power of a message now matter more than its integrity?

‘What is truth?’

Of course, this is no new problem. Pontius Pilate, the 1st century Roman governor of Palestine, knew that Jesus of Nazareth had done nothing worthy of execution.  And yet, political pressure meant he felt he had to sent him to his death.

When questioned by Pilate, Jesus puts truth at the heart of his mission and purpose:

‘ “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” Pilate replied.’

Pilate’s reply is no abstract philosophical question. It speaks to the heart of the relationship between truth and power. What does ‘truth’ even mean when Pilate had the ultimate power to kill or pardon whoever he chose?

Truth and power

The relationship between truth and power is explored brilliantly by George Orwell in 1984.  In this dystopian future, the concept of objective truth no longer exists. ‘Truth’ is simply whatever the all-powerful ruling Party dictates it to be:

“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

Orwell’s vision is a terrifying warning about what happens when lies and deceit end up in total control of a society and a political system. “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

Rejecting cynicism

This is why everyone of us needs to reject the cynicism of post-truth culture. A commitment to objective truth is vital for the health of our society. We must fight to keep key institutions – Parliament, courts, police and media – as free from corruption as possible.

Last year I had to spend 4 days in court because I had been accused of something which was wholly false and without foundation. I was completely exonerated – but I was so grateful that the UK has a system which enabled a fair hearing. As my lawyer said to me and all the witnesses: ‘You have one job: to tell the truth.’

Everyone’s job

It’s a job we all have.  We can be all be committed, whether at work, with our friends and family or on social media to be more committed to telling the truth and standing up for what we think.

We should speak with grace and care, but we should not be afraid to disagree with people or say uncomfortable things. All organisations, workplaces and churches benefit from those who are willing to challenge the comfortable collusion that so easily develops in groups of people.

We need to reject the cynicism of post-truth culture. On both institutional and personal levels, reality is liberating. Lies and deceit imprison, the truth really does set us free.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ – a review by Corin Pilling

silence-posterGoing to see many films produced by Christians is a bit similar to a visit to McDonald’s. You hope that no-one sees you going in and as you indulge yourself, you try to convince yourself that the delivery of such a sugary hit must contain at least some nutrients.

Many films marketed to the faith community seem designed to offer a platitudinous pat on the back for believing, rather than providing true sustenance for the journey.

Knotted muscle

We know not to expect any such easy offerings from Martin Scorsese. Nonetheless, this film did premier at the Vatican. So, is Silence a film which seeks to court favour with the established church – perhaps even providing a justification for proselytism?

Of course, it’s not that simple. Instead of providing a comfort blanket of faith entertainment, Silence chooses to press into the most difficult areas, the knotted muscle as it were, of faith and unbelief.

It refuses to provide any resolutions and in doing so, offers rich gifts for those willing to engage with its challenges.

Unbearable horror

Adapted from the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo and thirty years in the making, Silence focuses on the journey of two 17th century Portuguese priests, Garrpe and Rodrigues, who return to Japan having received the news that their mentor Ferreira has renounced his faith.

At this stage, we have already witnessed a distraught Ferreira viewing scenes of unbearable horror, as Japanese ‘Kirishtians’ are martyred before him. The two priests embark on their mission to seek out Ferreira, bringing them into contact with communities of persecuted believers.

Counter-imperialism

The priests are initially greeted with fervour and relief by the communities. Yet as the story unfolds, we see each faced with impossible choices designed by the inquisitors to break their spirit. Each scenario offers the promise of relief of others’ suffering following the renunciation of faith.

These scenes could be read as a dark counter to the imperialism the priests represent. In daring to believe they could colonise the ‘swamp’ of Japan their faith is fed back to them by Japanese feudal powers as a choice between upholding belief or relieving human misery.

Where is God?

In turn, the question of theodicy arises: where is God in this? Did he design it?

Rodrigues asks ‘How can I explain His silence to these people?’ The priest’s own journey becomes central and invites us to reflect on our own faith and how we respond to such challenges to our deepest beliefs.

Weeks after seeing the film, I find myself considering the nature of faith, and the dynamic between our own internal journey and the external mechanisms we have to support what we believe. I was also drawn back to two specific themes I’ve unpacked below.

Awareness of our own lenses

Firstly, whilst the issue of how the Church is intertwined with imperialism is only implicit in the film, it presents the need for a continued awareness of our own lenses.  How do Christians bear witness to the truth and model this in our own lives?  How do we remember the primary need for our own conversion?

Would the priests have reached the same conclusion, and destiny, if they perceived themselves as firstly those primarily in need of conversion? Indeed, was their whole mission in the film a journey of self-discovery? What if they came looking for signs of the kingdom they would seek to nurture first? The foot we lead with becomes crucial.

A deeper invitation

Secondly, when faith seems to be reduced to a series of death-dealing choices, how do we maintain the wider perspective of the kingdom? Is there a deeper invitation, still?

Historically, many of the saints speak of suffering as invitation to encounter more expansive love. I was reminded of St. Francis’ own journey who realised that for love to be real, it had to include pain:

‘It was easy to love God in all that was beautiful; the lessons of deeper knowledge, though, instructed me to embrace God in all things.’

Magnificent and challenging

So in conclusion, if you are feeling robust, please go and see this magnificent and challenging film. Go with those of faith and with those who don’t believe. Go with some time on your hands to allow it to press into your own personal knotted muscle wherever you find it to be.

Oh, and, if you decide you deserve a burger afterwards, I would be the last to judge you.

Silence is released in UK cinemas on January 1st 2017.

Corin Pilling works for Livability, leading a team of people who help churches build community across the UK, and enjoys the occasional dirty burger.

Posted in Films & music | Tagged | 1 Comment

Light in the darkness: fighting the misunderstanding and stigma of mental illness – by Giles Fraser

carrie-fisherCarrie Fisher was more than a princess. At the age of 24 she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder – or manic depression as it used to be called. And throughout the rest of her life she fought to demystify this condition from misunderstanding and stigma.

She called her illness “an opportunity to be a good example to others”, talking about her condition without shame, and encouraging others to do the same.

Dark and empty  

Which is why I thought it appropriate for me to say a few words about my own episodes of depression. Mine are different to those Carrie used to have, without the same up and down mood swings. For me, its extended periods of feeling dark and empty, like being submerged in cold black water. They are bleak desperate times when no one can reach me and when, at extreme moments, I have struggled with the most self-destructive of thoughts.

And when I have been overtaken like this, people telling me its all going to be OK feels like an insult. Even worse are those who want to proscribe Jesus to make all things smiley and well. During these periods I feel that God is absent, uninterested or even non-existent. And whilst I know this sounds a lot like atheism – and indeed often feels like it too – it’s not really the same at all.

Not self-saving creatures

For despite the experience of the absence of God, there is something important that orthodox Christian theology has to say to me when I am trapped in this darkness – and that is: that we as human beings are not supposed to be self-saving creatures.

That was the ancient heresy of the Scottish monk Pelagius – he thought that human beings were capable of saving ourselves from the darkness, that we are able to pull ourselves up from our own boot-straps. The church officially disagreed. We are dependent creatures, the church insisted, fundamentally reliant on that which is outside our control.

The courage of waiting

Which is why much of the religious life, like depression itself, is constituted by the quality and courage of one’s waiting. Faith is often a determination to sit in the darkness without cheap consolation and to wait it out, to wait for the dawn to break.

Like the story in Luke’s gospel of Simeon and Anna who hung around in the Jerusalem Temple for years, with little idea of what they were waiting for. Eventually they found their light in the appearance of a baby boy, recently born in a Bethlehem shed, who was being taken to the Temple for the very first time.

Rescued from the dark

My favorite Christmas reading comes from the prophet Isaiah:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them have the light shined.”

And when I hear those words read out in church I often cry. And then whisper a quiet prayer of “thank you” that I too have been rescued from the dark.

Giles Fraser is vicar of St Mary’s Newington, near Elephant & Castle in south London. This text is taken with permission from his Thought for the Day on BBC’s Radio 4 which was broadcast today.

Posted in Social commentary | Tagged | 2 Comments

‘A thorn in the side of comfortable socialism’: an appreciation of Bob Holman (1936-2016) – by Dave Wiles

bobholmanI first met Bob Holman in 1973. Following on from a turbulent adolescence I had experienced a radical conversion to Christianity. At the same time Bob was considering his future as Professor of Social Administration at Bath University.

With an amazing sense of vocation from him and Annette, he resigned his academic post and moved, with his children, onto the council estate where I lived at the edge of Bath.

He was the answer to my prayers!  However, he seemed to see me as an answer to his prayers as he looked for ways to connect with the community that he has just moved into.

It was not long before we, together with others, were running about 30 groups a week for young people. Before-school clubs, lunch clubs, holiday clubs, after school clubs, women’s groups, play schemes, youth clubs, local events as well as work with hundreds of local individual young people and adults. Even as an young man I could barely keep up with Bob’s energy and passion for community action!

Experimental community work

Bob and Annette’s home was open to all. Little did I know at the time, but Bob was experimenting with a pioneering approach to neighbourhood work that would later cause many interesting debates in the world of social work. What does it mean to ‘live on the patch’? Was it possible to develop ‘indigenous workers’?

Bob didn’t parachute in with answers; he trod the street listening to local people and engaging potential activists to respond to their own concerns. His East End humour and warm personality helped.  His social work was not confined to fancy rhetoric about empowerment, facilitation and development – he practiced it with gusto!

Purposeful relationships

Bob would remember details about people’s lives and show such interest and pleasure in others that everyone in my neighbourhood soon adored him. On Monday mornings we always met to catch up on our plans for the week and pray. Bob would always be found writing out the birthday cards for that week.  He remembered hundreds of people a month in this small act of human compassion.

For many young people on the estate, his belief in them awoke their belief inthemselves. This has enabled many of them to achieve so much in their own lives. I know at least ten young people who, despite a lack of early academic success, when on to become youth workers, social workers and community workers through Bob’s influence.

Bob used words like ‘reciprocity’ and ‘mutuality’ and lived them out. He focused on what people could do – rather than problematising their character. One example I remember was a young man with a track record of theft, but who Bob saw potential in and trusted him to run our youth club café. It provided the platform for him to make a success of his life.

Willingness to serve

On the residential camps we ran, if anyone wanted to find this professor of social administration – they would be pointed to the washing up tent. Here, Bob spent hours cleaning up the dirty pans.  He did not do this as a well-meaning philanthropist indulging a middle class need to feel better about himself : he believed deeply in service of others.

Bob was a practitioner of ‘Glocal’ action: thinking globally and acting locally. Through his many books and newspaper articles on social work and poverty he became a significant player on the national and international stage. But his principles always remained rooted in his day to day actions.

Deep, real and rooted faith

Then there was his Christian faith – which was firm and sure until the last time that I saw him. Bob’s faith was the opposite of waiting for ‘pie in the sky when you die’. Rather it was rooted in the present hope and struggle for ‘steak on your plate while you wait’ for one and all.

It was this red blooded, life-integrated faith that kept him (as Helena Kennedy said) a thorn in the side of comfortable socialism. It was a faith that was deep, real and rooted in old fashioned concepts like truth, justice, mercy, love and grace.

Bob was well able to give an account of the hope he had but always did so with gentleness, respect and humility. His faith made him a tireless champion for children and for equality. He was an inspirational activist, a wise social analyst, a loyal friend, a good father and husband. And my much missed dear friend.

This is taken from a talk Dave Wiles gave at a conference this month to remember the legacy of Bob Holman who died in June 2016 aged 79. For more on Bob’s life as a Christian community activist and his later work on the Easterhouse estate in Glasgow see his obituaries in The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph.

Posted in Poverty | Tagged | Leave a comment

‘Dossers’ who choose to sleep rough and the ‘professional weepers’ who care: ‘The Sun’ on homelessness in 1990

the-sun-logo_0I was clearing out some old paperwork this week at the West London Mission and I found some fascinating old newspaper clippings relating to homelessness.

sun-editorial-march-1990One clipping particularly struck me. It was from The Sun, March 1990. It starts:

IT’s time we stopped feeling guilty about the plight of dossers sleeping rough on our streets. 

Professional weepers claim there are 73,000 homeless in London alone.

Their cries of “shame” are loud enough to reach Buckingham Palace and suck Prince Edward into the cause.

It goes on:

The truth is, most dossers are on the streets through CHOICE.

Some are obviously not capable of looking after themselves. Those need all the care that our hospitals can provide.

But spare us this barrage of emotional blackmail from groups driven by POLITICAL motives.

There are far bigger causes to champion in this world.

Dramatic rise 

It is interesting that 1990 was a time when the numbers of homeless people on the streets had dramatically risen and it was becoming an increasingly high profile issue.

I remember it well because I left school in 1990 and got a cleaning job which meant being on The Strand in central London by 7.00am every morning. The extent of the rough sleeping at that time was truly shocking – with 3-4 people sleeping under almost every doorway.  Villiers Street, which runs down from The Strand to the Embankment, was like a homeless village with countless people huddled together under cardboard.  It had a massive impact on me.

Political pressure

Although The Sun peddled such harsh and judgmental views, the political pressure created by homelessness was too much for Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government to ignore. The sight of so many rough sleepers, many of them very young, around Whitehall and Westminster did produce policy change.

The Rough Sleeper’s Initiative was launched later in 1990 and allocated £350m over three years to reduce homelessness.  It was the subject of my dissertation at University and in 1993 I started work in a direct-access hostel for homeless young people that it helped fund.

Warning from history

In one way, this editorial is an illustration of how things have improved.  Only this week, The Evening Standard (another paper which used to regularly called homeless people ‘dossers’) launched a front page campaign to support one of my former employers, Centrepoint. There is definitely improved understanding and more humane responses to homeless people.

But this editorial is also a warning from history.  It shows how recently people with chronic needs, affected by trauma and poverty were dismissed contemptuously by the UK’s most popular newspaper.

Over the years, I have heard countless stories from homeless people about being threatened, kicked and urinated on.  And it is spiteful views like the ones in this article which provide fuel, and some warped justification, for these kinds of inhumane behaviours.

Toxic journalism

Reading it today makes me feel proud of my predecessors in this work, dismissed as ‘professional weepers’, who DID stand up for the vulnerable and made their voice heard at a time when this issue was far less fashionable.

Today it is other vulnerable groups, such as refugees, who are often the target of tabloid contempt. We should never underestimate the toxic nature of ignorant forms of journalism which make sweeping statements about whole groups of vulnerable people and mock those who show concern.

Posted in Homelessness | 6 Comments

Love Trumps Hate: responding to the US election – by Stephen Kuhrt

This post is based on a sermon preached by Stephen Kuhrt at Christ Church New Malden on Sunday 20th November 2016. The bible reading was Matthew 7:13-20.

trumpWhat is a Christian response to the election of Donald Trump?

Like the Brexit vote in the UK, Donald Trump’s win is a massive wake-up call for the establishment. It is a major sign of people’s disillusionment with the political class.  It’s a revolution, as people who never turned out to vote previously, have done so this time placing in power someone whom they believe is going to sort things out for them.

Our bible reading this morning speaks into this situation because it’s all about how to respond to leaders other than Jesus. Here, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sets out the stark choice between his programme and the other approaches that were on offer.

The political Jesus

And one of the things that we need to pick up if we’re going to see its proper relevance to today, is how deeply political Jesus was. We can’t depoliticise Jesus and shift his words into a separate category marked ‘spirituality’ or ‘salvation’.

Absolutely no one during Jesus’ earthly ministry, least of all Jesus himself, would have suggested that issues of spirituality or salvation could be separated from the political issues that the people were facing.

The Jews were an occupied people, a people who felt powerless and exploited. Remember – crucifixion was a sign of Roman political power long before it became anything else. Many in Israel were angry and were looking for God, through some anointed leader, to bring freedom from oppression.

Radical vision

And Jesus steps directly into this situation with a radical vision: God will bring the freedom that you long for. But it will come through means of love and service to others, not violence or force.

That’s what those Beatitudes are about. That’s what ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ is all about. It was not an other-worldly spirituality about ‘how to go to heaven when you die’. It was about how God’s kingdom is coming to the here and now: ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.

But Jesus was also aware that his wasn’t the only vision around.  This is why he warned his listeners about the alternatives that were being and would be presented by others. And it’s here that, we might can see a number of parallels today about how we should respond to the vision and agenda set out by someone like Donald Trump.

There are two points from the passage that I want to draw out in application to this this morning. The first is about taking the hard path and the second is that we should reject false prophets.

1. Taking the hard path

Jesus says that the path that leads to life is narrow and its hard, whereas the wrong path that leads to destruction is wide and easy.

When we’re provoked by someone behaving badly, whether its a neighbour or someone at work, the easiest thing in the world to do something bad back in return. The same is true on a political level – when faced with challenges it’s the easiest thing in the world to stigmatise people who are different, to make rabble rousing speeches about banning Muslims from entering your country or building a wall to keep out Mexicans.

Its easy to buy into the simplistic solutions that says this will put everything right. But actually it’s an easy path that leads to destruction.

Donald Trump is responding to genuine problems with easy and ultimately destructive answers. Yes there’s a problem with the establishment and with the political status quo. But simplistic solutions based upon encouraging hate and division can only lead to destruction.

Christians are called to reject this and take the much harder and more difficult path that declares that the only way that evil can be overcome is with love.

2. Rejecting false prophets

The second point his that we should watch out for false prophets, We need to be wary of those who promise all sorts of fine things and judge them by what they actually produce.

This is the reason why we can’t ignore the misogynistic, racist comments that Trump has made. We can’t dismiss it as ‘locker room talk’ or say it irrelevant because its policies that matter. And we can’t pretend its all ‘in the past’ because it is too consistent with the recent attitudes that he has shown. A good tree produces good fruit but a bad tree produces bad fruit.

In tough times, Jesus says, you’ll be surrounded by false prophets so its vital that you understand how to assess them. I believe that Donald Trump is perhaps the most obvious and dangerous false prophet that’s currently on offer.

A radical alternative

The challenge to Christians, as we enter into this more divisive, more extremist and frankly more dangerous world, is to model the radical love of Jesus.

We’ve got to be people that demonstrate the power of love by creating communities that welcome everyone equally.

We’ve got to be people who challenge and change the status quo through service and love rather than division and oppression.

We’ve got to people who campaign for justice and take on the establishment but with the weapons of truth and justice.

We’ve got to be people who look out for the false prophets and avoid their simplistic and easy solutions.

Why? Because we know, as followers of Jesus, that love trumps hate.

Stephen Kuhrt is vicar of Christ Church New Malden and is the author of ‘Tom Wright for Everyone’

Posted in Politics | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Wallowing in nostalgia or facing up to the challenges of today?

cathy-come-homeThis week I was invited to an event at Parliament to mark the 50th anniversary of the famous film Cathy Come Home in the company of MPs and its director Ken Loach.

In 1966, it was watched by over 12 million people  and had a massive impact on people’s views about homelessness. It led to the creation of the organisations Crisis and Shelter and is considered one of the most socially influential films of all time.

After watching a section of the film, Ken Loach, spoke. He strongly criticised the record of recent governments who have failed to build anywhere near enough homes. He powerfully articulated how a misplaced faith in ‘the market’ was the fundamental problem – because it was only through intentional planning and investment that enough housing would be built.   As with his films, Loach’s views were uncompromising, thought-provoking and trenchant.

After this, a number of others representing different homelessness organisations spoke and there was a time for questions and debate.

It should have been a memorable evening. But actually I found it deeply disappointing.

Lack of controversy

Cathy Come Home was a film which shocked the nation. It sparked a huge debate and controversy. A huge number of complaints were made to the BBC from people who claimed it was left wing propaganda.

But at the event this week, there was not a whiff of controversy or even disagreement. Despite the political extremity of Ken Loach’s views (even under Jeremy Corbyn he still refuses to re-join the Labour Party) none of the politicians present ventured to disagree with him. Instead they just heaped the compliments on him and the legacy of his film and uniformly advocated increases in government spending.

Yet, the contemporary political context could not be more antithetical to Loach’s views. A ruling Tory government, continuing austerity, an opposition in disarray and a global right-wing resurgence. Yet no attempt was made to bring any other views into meaningful dialogue with what Loach was advocating.

In our national home of political debate, all we ended up with was a cosy gathering full of nodding heads. As I commented before asking my question, it was the perfect example of a liberal echo-chamber.

Contradiction and challenge

The French theologian Jacques Ellul wrote this in his essay Dialectic in the book What I Believe:

‘Negativity is essential, for if the positive remains alone, it is unchanged, stable and inert… for example, an unchallenged society, a force without counterforce, a person engaged in no dialogue, an unstimulated professor, a church without heretics, a sole party without rivals, is enclosed within the permanent repetition of its own image.

It will be satisfied with what it has done thus far and will see no reason to change…the only thing that can bring about change or evolution is contradiction, challenge…this factor carries with it the transformation of the situation.’

Cathy Come Home is an example of what Ellul wrote about. It challenged society, it broke the inertia and provided a counterforce which created change. And this movement was powerful enough to lead to changes in the law and the development of charities that have helped thousands of people.

What will bring change today?

The situation in 2016 is not the same as 1966. Some things, such as general standards of living have improved. Yet inequality between rich and poor has got worse. Family life, a key theme in Cathy Come Home, has become less and less stable as fewer fathers than ever live with their children. And over the last ten years immigration from the EU has had a massive impact on levels of homelessness.

These are some of the challenging issues that we need to grapple with honestly. Some are issues which the government investment can change – such as building more affordable housing. But others, such as increasing the stability of family life, are more complex and more controversial.

Wallowing in nostalgia about the impact of historic social movements is not being true to their legacy. We need to work harder than that and be committed to thinking and debating about what is achievable to bring about real change today.

Review of Ken Loach’s latest film ‘I, Daniel Blake’

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Closet Christianity and the parable of the religious candles

snuffedoutcandlesimg“There was a power cut the other night. When the lights went out, I fumbled to the cupboard where we keep the candles for nights like this.

I grabbed four of them. I was turning to leave with the large candle in my hand when I heard a voice, “Now, hold it right there.”

“Who said that?”

“I did.” The voice was near my hand.

“Who are you? What are you?”

“I’m a candle.”

I lifted up the candle to take a closer look. There was a tiny face in the wax.

“Don’t take me out of here!”

“What?”

“I said, don’t take me out of the closet.”

“What do you mean? I have to take you out. You’re a candle. Your job is to give light. It’s dark out there.”

“But you can’t take me out. I’m not ready,” the candle explained with pleading eyes. “I need more preparation and training.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “Training? Preparation?”

“Yeah, I’ve decided I need to study this job of light-giving so I won’t go out and make a bunch of mistakes. You’d be surprised how distorted the glow of an untrained candle can be.”

“All right then,” I said. “You’re not the only candle on the shelf. I’ll take the others!”

But right then I heard other voices: “We aren’t going either!” I turned to the other candles, “Why not? You are candles – your job is to light dark places!”

“Well, that may be what you think,” said one, “You may think we have to go, but I’m busy. I’m meditating on the importance of light. It’s really enlightening.”

“And you other two,” I asked, “are you going to stay too?”

A short, purple-faced candle with plump cheeks spoke up. “I’m waiting to get my life together. I’m not stable enough.”

The last candle had a very pleasant voice and sounded very sincere. “I’d like to help,” she explained, “but lighting the darkness is not my gift. I’m a singer. I sing to other candles to encourage them to burn more brightly.” She began a rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.” The other three joined in, filling the closet with singing.

I took a step back into the darkness and considered the absurdity of it all. Four perfectly healthy candles singing to each other about light but refusing to come out of the closet.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  Jesus, from Matthew 5:14-16

(I am grateful to Nathan McGuire who shared this parable recently at Streatham Baptist Church)

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