10. Living with Uncertainty

8 11 2017

And so months have passed, a general election come and gone and now Parliament seems to be  taken up with with sexual misbehavior scandals and claims. For a moment there is a pause while the media get taken up with the results of a computer hacking that yet again reveals questionable activities in respect of overseas money handling, but no doubt the pendulum of the news cycle will swing back again and the unsavory behaviour of those who have been voted to rule over us comes under the spotlight yet again – with yet again unpleasant revelations. And all the while the Brexit process continues or appears not to continue.  That is the thing about negotiations; it is like playing poker and a hand is not revealed until the end and until then, doubt, questions, and all the time the media piranhas circle and watch and then dart in with acrid words. It is not a pretty sight.

It seems to me that this whole process is designed to reveal the worst of mankind. Observe the politicians from all sides, squabbling, jeering, sneering, jousting among themselves, out to capitalize on every slow move, every unwise word, every foolish misbehaviour. The absence of statesmanship appears rife and the very ordinariness of these people shines out and we are left wishing for a Churchill or his like who will stand like a rock in critical times and give us hope, but we seem to look in vain.

And then the media. I watched the other day the Governor of the Bank of England give a press conference as he explained why he was going to raise the bank rate by a quarter of a percent.  It was a clear and comprehensive explanation. And then the floor was thrown open to the media to ask questions. The first came from a BBC representative and then a journalist from the Times. I have a friend in America who says they used to trust the BBC but no longer. I felt the same about the Times. Bias and criticism that is self-serving seems to be the name of the day so often.  Both these two men as they asked their questions left me thinking, “Were you not listening? He explained that just now – very clearly! Why are you asking such questions?” I am still a subscriber to the Times which I often enjoy for it is still, I believe, one of the most clear cut papers and yet it appears so often to allow that snide, edgy writing that looks for the worst.

I have been an observer for a number of decades, of the state of the nation as far as ‘moral outlook’ is concerned and have commented more than once  that I believe the decline in moral standards, the undermining of ethical standards, can be directly related to the decline in belief in God in our nation. I have watched it and I think it is virtually measurable. It is a fact. It is also, therefore, not surprising.

On a good day, each of us would subscribe to a society that goes with the second half of the Ten Commandments. You would be an idiot to say that you think stealing or murder or adultery are good things and indeed you could take the argument much further and suggest there are many more things that do NOT make for a good, just, and harmonious society, things which we wish were not part of our national community, and which I have tagged in the first three paragraphs above.  Most of us agree to these things but we simply don’t have the power not to do them. Self-help is the name of the game and it fails us, and so we are left with this cycle of revelation; the behaviour never changes just the revelation of what is happening. And yes, we are glad that the media are there, pouncing on these people higher in the pile of society from whom we expect better than we are getting, but then we become saddened and jaded by the whole thing.

Is there hope? Oh yes, there has to be otherwise we might as well take a trip to a Swiss euthanasia expert and end it all now.  Oh yes, there is hope, the hope that perhaps prayers will be heard, perhaps a voice of sanity will arise in the public consciousness and perhaps a spirit of honesty and integrity will sweep through the corridors of power, whether they be in Westminster or any other instrument of society.  But it is not enough simply to analyse; there must also be endeavors, little ones and big ones to bring goodness in the midst of the darkness – overcome evil with good as the famous apostle once said.

2. Why we voted as we did

7 10 2016

Brexit Blog 2: Why  we voted as we did

Why we voted as we did: an initial response

From the outset many voices have been raised in trying to explain the outcome. Bearing in mind, the referendum occurred on Thursday 23 June 2016 with the results coming out on the 24th, the following is a remarkably apparently accurate ‘instant’ assessment: “Although the vote has to be interpreted as an instruction to withdraw from the EU, it sounded in the early hours of Friday more like a howl of rage and frustration by one half of the country against the system of power, wealth and privilege perceived to be controlled by an elite residing, well, elsewhere.” (Rafael Behr – The Guardian – 24 June 2016)

I say this in the light of the Rowntree Foundation report that came out in August 2016 and which stated, “Put simply, older, white and more economically insecure people with low levels of educational attainment were consistently more likely to vote for Brexit than younger people, degree-holders, minorities and the more secure middle- and upper-classes.” (Rowntree Foundation Report: Aug 2016)

Both follow the idea that there was a divide in the nation that has been variously been labelled as London versus the rest, or north versus south, or rich versus poor, or old versus young.

Why we voted as we did: wonderings

Having said what we have said, I have my own personal wonderings, and that is all they are. Before the vote I was aware that in my family, my sons, and to a lesser measure my son-in-law, were all verging on definitely remain while I, the patriarch of this family was definitely for “let’s leave!” This seemed to conform to the patterns above but then as there were soundings being taken around the country on TV, I was surprised at the number of young people who were saying they wanted out – but it is of course possible that they fitted into the lower educated or economically insecure groups that Rowntree spoke of, who really know?

If it was young versus old, then here is my take on that. I am absolutely certain that for the last fifty years there has been a trend in demeaning Britishness (I will look at this again in a later blog on racism). On one hand we have become more affluent and multicultural while on the other hand we have become less secure and less proud of being British, and subsequent governments have allowed ‘foreign investors’ to take over large parts of industrial Britain so we are very much tenants of a land increasingly owned by others.

One of the surprising features of the post-referendum period has been the violent opposition to Brexit by those who quite obviously voted to remain. Never before have we seen the idea of “we don’t like the result of this election so let’s have another one until ‘we’ get our way”. I would suggest that behind this is fear of going down a slippery slope of isolationism into poverty because we are no longer being nurtured and cared for by the EU. (I believe that is an inaccurate perception anyway).

My own voting to leave came purely from a gut feeling that this was better for us as a nation, providing a possibility of challenging us (and our young people) to think better of ourselves and take on a new national pride (which I will no doubt refer to again in the future) and all the good things that can go with that.  I have a punchline comment to all this but will leave it to the next blog as I want to limit the length of each one to make it more readable.

Brexit: 1. Intro & Referendum Results

6 10 2016

Brexit Blog 1: Referendum Results

Why write

I suppose before I really start writing I ought to acknowledge why I am writing about this particular subject on this blog. I suspect it is because I have a feeling that history is rushing by and, as I have come to notice recently, so often we miss so much of what is going on around us, and then we look back with a sense of loss. It is, I suppose, the inevitable outcome of being in a news saturated society, and a world that is so busy and constantly changing.  One of these days someone will, no doubt, write a book cataloging just what went on in this momentous year for Britain but all I hope to do is catch up in a most basic way on some of the key aspects of the referendum and the Brexit phenomenon.

Unlike my other blogs, this one has no intention of being spiritual as such. My qualifications for writing are that I have a background of Law and Economics which have given me a certain ability to read and legalese and to observe the goings on of governments, and I am a keen observer of the reporting of the media. It is my intention to pick up on a number of aspects of the referendum and of Brexit, noting particularly what others say and making some basic comments thereon. In this first blog of this subject, I will simply catch up on the results of the referendum as a starting point.

What Happened

It is now over three months since that momentous vote that said ‘we want out’. To remind ourselves the results for the UK as a whole were

                      51.9% (17,410,742 votes) votes for out, and

                     48.1% (16,141,241 votes) voted to remain.

The results for the individual parts were:

England: Leave 53.4% (15,188,406 votes) Remain 46.6% (13,266,996 votes) Turnout: 73.0%

Wales:  Leave 52.5% (854,572 votes), Remain 47.5% (772,347 votes) Turnout: 71.7%

Northern Ireland: Leave 44.2%(349,442 votes), Remain 55.8%(440,707 votes) Turnout: 62.7%

Scotland: Leave 38.0% (1,018,322 votes), Remain 62.0% (1,661,191 votes) Turnout: 67.2%

England and Wales went for Out, Scotland and Northern Ireland went for Remain. It is interesting that the two ‘Out’ regions both had higher turnouts than the other two.

The Significance of the Vote

I realise I have now used the word ‘momentous’ twice above. The dictionary defines that as of great importance or significance, especially in having a bearing on future events,’ which I think is a pretty fair description of what has happened this year and is why I am now writing.

A Guardian writer called it ‘historic’: “The UK’s historic decision to end its 43-year love-hate relationship with the European Union represents a turning point in British history to rank alongside the two world wars of the 20th century.” (Patrick Wintour – The Guardian – 24 June 2016) Dictionary: ‘historic = famous or important in history, or potentially so’.

What is interesting about those two words is that one seems to look forwards to the future outcomes and the other looks back and compares it with comparable events in the past. Whether it ranks alongside the two world wars, I’m not sure and only time will tell.

Who’s to Blame for The Great War?

25 01 2014

As we moved towards and into 2014 we started hearing references to the centenary remembrance of the start of what we now call World War 1, otherwise referred to as The Great War.  But no sooner has the new year arrived than voices are raised debating who started it off, who caused it, who was to blame for it?  My understanding, which may well be over-simplistic is that a number of people agreed with a number of other people to support and defend them if others raised hands against them and when it appeared that someone was doing just that, everyone found themselves embroiled in a fight that produced images of “trenches, mud, wire and poets” (Max Hastings in the introduction to ‘Catastrophe – Europe Goes to war 1914’).   Although the numbers killed or seriously wounded were horrific in that war, statistics tell us that the numbers killed in the Second World War make that number almost pale into  insignificance. To say that we had learnt nothing in that intervening period would be unfair because the ambitions of a little German with a moustache didn’t give the rest of us much option but to fight. Yet the first stage of that second war seemed to indicate that just possibly after the initial battles, the fighting might have slowed to a trickle if one man by the name of Churchill had not said we will not be overrun and raised his voice to rouse the rest of us to freedom.  Again that might be too over-simplistic but there is a lot of truth there.

But I am a Christian and we try to make sense of the world with the help of God, and when I read the book of Revelation  (putting aside all the difficult detail for the moment) I see God’s warnings come again and again to a foolish mankind who, just like Pharaoh of old, refuse to take note of the awful things happening and refuse to come to their senses and desist from their godless, self-centred, self-destroying ways of life.  And then I read in Romans how there are times when “God gives them over to…” even worse self-destructive practices and I realise there is a form of God’s judgement that is worse than Him bringing bad things to happen; it is Him standing back and saying, “Very well, I lift my hand of restraint off you; you are free to do whatever your sinful hearts want to do,” and to quote the title of Max Hastings book about the Second World War, “Hell Breaks Loose”.

Was that, I wonder, what happened in the twentieth century? Did God step back and allow humanity to move forward in its folly and do things that brought forth utter destruction?  Don’t blame God for the Wars because there are very human elements in both First and Second World Wars that are observable  that brought both about. Did we come to our senses after those times? Clearly not. We are still, here in the West at least, still as godless and still as self-centred as ever. Was the financial crisis that has engulfed so much of the world in these recent years been another instance of God lifting off His hand of restraint to allow the folly of mankind to prevail? Have we learnt from it?  Be quite clear, these three things I have referred to have been the work of humanity let loose.  In my previous blog, almost a year ago, I wrote about facing the truth of our situation. The book of Revelation shows the folly of mankind failing to learn from the things that happen. The last hundred years show us the folly of mankind failing to learn from the things that happen.  The question should not be so much, who was to blame for World War 1, or who was to blame for World War 2, or who was to blame for the financial crisis, but have we learned that as a godless human race we need help?

Is God standing on the sidelines impotent? Most definitely not. He works in and through His Church and He works in and through His world to say ‘Thus far and no further’.  (Was Churchill one such agent?)  Where people do start coming to their senses He is there – as always – instantly ready to be our Saviour, in little things in our personal lives and in big things in our national lives.

Psalm 2 asks, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. “Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.”  Still the presence of sin in the human heart says, “We don’t need God. We can manage,” but the evidence clearly points otherwise.  As the old song goes, “Oh when will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?”  ‘They’ is you and me. The evidence for God’s love is there for those who want to go looking, there is plenty of it. The evidence for the folly of living without God is piling up. Every now and then a Hollywood film postulates a future after a Third World War and it is never a pretty sight. May we come to our senses and turn to our God before the next idiot or bunch of idiots provoke such a scenario – but it starts with you.

Disillusioned with Humanity?

7 02 2013

Disillusioned with Humanity?

Job’s wisdom came with an interview with God. I often think how different we would all be if we each had ‘an interview with God’ and would thus be able to realise how great He is and how small we are, but it’s not like that. It seems that the Lord in His wisdom allows us to go our own way but then He either brings or allows (and there is room for debates in individual occurrences) things to cross our lives that make us question the views that we had of ourselves as almost divine-like beings.

But real life for us begins when we proceed along, to use a picture that Jemima Khan has recently used in respect to her attitude to Julian Assange over the principles of WikiLeaks, “a journey of admiration to demoralisation”.  So much of the time we live with self-admiration but we only come to a place of reality when we become demoralised over what we are really like. Then we come to God for help.

Our society in the UK is going through a journey from admiration to demoralisation. We, as a society at least, abandoned God back in the last quarter of the twentieth century and became a self-admiring society that, free from its religious shackles, could now grow up and reach its full potential. Yet the truth is that in any and every area of our society over the last ten years we have been found to be drastically wanting and demoralisation is setting in.

Being cut free from the strictures of absolute morality, government authorities and media, all made up of self-admiring individuals, have opened the doors to liberal freedoms –  but these chickens are now coming home to roost.

In the financial realm, the mockery of the bankers continues unabated after over five years of mismanagement. I recently came across a comment written by Clive James a couple of years ago that seemed to describe it all so well: “Even the legitimate financial system had all the trappings of a racket, including a wonderful mechanism whereby which the banks that lost your money were saved from ruin by being given more of your money so that they could award it as bonuses to the very people who lost your money in the first place.”  That is the bizarre nature of the world without absolutes that we have created.

If we move into the realm of relationships and sexual freedom, even the most liberal of writers is now forced to concede that it is not going well.  In a world freed from absolute morality, it is no wonder that promiscuity so often undermines marriages and committed cohabitation alike, it is no wonder that many men struggle with sexual imagery in their minds that drifts into reality and produces sexual abuse, rape, child abuse and so much more, it is no wonder that teenage pregnancy rates, abortion rates and STD rates are at almost epidemic proportions, it is no wonder that young people and old alike despair at ever finding that elusive quality called love.

It takes a Sunday journalist to state it clearly: “Children fare best, and are less likely to be a problem to society, if they are raised by married parents. Those married parents are far more likely to remain together – and so provide a stable home life for their families, as well as being a socially cohesive force in the community – than are those who are unmarried. These are just bald statistical facts.”  But it seems most of us don’t like the facts.

Perhaps the icon for demoralisation should be Jimmy Saville. If he was guilty as so many seem to claim he was, wasn’t the guilt also spread through those who turned a blind eye to him. Expediency was obviously the name of the game in the world freed from absolute morality. Only now, it seems, after he is dead, is the curtain being drawn back and the magnitude and extent of the sin revealed.

Demoralisation is striking in every quarter. In the realm of politics, in recent weeks I have now twice heard, from what were once staunch Conservatives, about both Prime Minister and Chancellor, the equivalent of “This man must go!” and yet the alternatives seem equally bad. Moral ethics appear to have no part to play in modern politics, only what is expedient or seems good at the time to an unanchored mind. Much of the malaise experienced within this society today must be laid at the feet of politicians and media people alike who have their own present-day agendas built on nothing less than what seems good to them today. Already we have said, the chickens are coming home to roost, but still they plough on opening further doors to future social chaos. Today’s laws thus create tomorrow’s chaos.

I have heard a few comments of “There must be an alternative to all this,” but generally society acts like the frog in the saucepan of water bring gradually brought to the boil, and seems unaware of just how bad things are. Self-admiration is a difficult thing to overcome; indeed it often takes crisis to shake our self-sufficiency. Whether we are suffering from the effects of global warming or from a cycle of unpleasant weather systems, as a country we have been getting pounded by the weather for the last few years.  Perhaps it is only those who suffer flooding again and again who begin to face the reality that they are small and puny and have little or no power in the face of such things. We will eventually learn to build flood-proof houses but we are slow to learn how to do that, and to recognise our own frailty and need of God’s help.

Perhaps the process would be accelerated if London was seriously flooded. That would be a wakeup call! But would that bring such people as our national leaders to their senses? The book of revelation shows crisis after crisis but still the stupidity of mankind meant they failed to turn to God for help. Self-admiration can be both the most blinding and the most stunting characteristic of the human race. How tragic.

In the midst of the process that I have referred to as “a journey of admiration to demoralisation”, we fail to face the truth that all of us are human beings prone to getting it wrong.  The recent classic case of Chris Huhne, a man who found himself getting caught doing one relatively small thing wrong (speeding), shows the folly of self-admiration that desperately seeks to cover up any failing. In his case he sought the help of his wife, but when the marriage broke down, found himself exposed and then had to tell lie after lie for years to try to cover it up. One sin (speeding) + one sin (conspiracy with wife) + multiple sins (lying and denial) = rejection of an MP by society. How much more simple would it have been if he took a driving ban originally and the whole thing passed into obscurity. Instead self-admiration dragged on for ten years before demoralisation set in and the truth was faced.

At a corporate level we are hearing yet again of the failings of the NHS, this time because of deaths occurring while in NHS care. Yes, of course we can do better but for the moment we are going through the media frenzy yet again where truth is hazy. Only this morning I read of nurses who dropped an 86 in the ward and two weeks later the lady died. Whether the two things were linked is unclear, but people (nurses) are human beings and from time to time they get it wrong. Did they drop that lady purposely? Of course not!  In fact so fearful were they of repercussions that they pretended it had not happened. Self-admiration seeks to cover up and avoid truth.

The recent snow brought many school closures and with them, criticism about wimpish schools. One good article on the subject suggested it was nothing to do with that, but more that head teachers were fearful of litigation. The payouts that have been paid in recent years by education authorities for even minor natural injuries, things that happen in day to day living, like tripping over, have been incredible in both numbers and size. This is a society failing to handle its demoralisation by blaming whoever it can – except yourself – and, along the way, making capital out of others. Greed and selfishness walk hand in hand with self-admiration. And all the while, God in His goodness, is quietly working to bring people to their senses. As I’ve asked before on these pages, how long will it take?

Frustrating Riots

10 08 2011

A prophet who I respect, a number of years ago warned the Christian community to resist frustration that they would feel as there was an increasing breakdown in law and order in our Western societies. Frustration is, I suspect a partial cause for me writing today and a factor in many people’s lives in the light of the street riots that have been occurring in Britain this week.

Let’s go back to the beginning: the police were after a man who had, according to the media, a somewhat questionable reputation. They had information that this man was dangerous and was quite likely to be carry a gun. When they close in on him (and I am only repeating what has appeared in the media) he puts his hand in his pocket when challenged, an act that any sensible man faced by armed police would not do unless he was intent on a shoot out. The armed policeman promptly shot him through the heart. The media (TV especially) leap on this and interview his parents who make him out to be a good guy who surely wouldn’t carry a weapon – he was and it was capable of shooting people. There is the first level of frustration with misguided parents who obviously lost the plot years ago and a media that makes the police look bad.

Now there is a subtle further frustration because many of us no longer trust the police because over the past thirty year they have shown themselves often to be very human and very fallible and when you are supposed to be the bringers of justice you must be above that. There are, on the other side, all those fighters for civil rights who also lose our respect when they sound hurt, shocked and surprised when in today’s climate a suspected criminal carries a gun and they don’t expect a bad outcome! Can we not simply say quite openly, if you give the authorities cause to believe you are involved in criminal activities and you then carry a gun, please don’t be surprised if you are shot if you make any move apart from putting your hands up when challenged by uniformed police.

Next frustration: the media who use the word ‘demonstration’ when people in the street set fire and vandalise property. Call it what it is “unacceptable rioting”. At least as the days have gone on the media who stopped using the word ‘demonstrators’ and not call them what they are – looters and rioters.

Next frustration: parents and teachers. I cannot help but feel in total agreement with the shopkeeper who cried, where are the parents, what are they doing let their young kids out. The truth probably is that the parents make excuses fro their kids. Teachers? Well when the photos start going up on the TV screen of looters, I would expect teachers to (after parents who are probably going to keep their heads down) say, I recognise him/her, they’re in my class. But then comes the bigger frustration that as a society we’re going to make excuses for these kids.

Yes, it is an unfair world, yes there are people who have well paid jobs and the younger generation don’t but actually not all of the younger generation behave like this. yes, they’re frustrated that they can’t get a job in the present climate  but they go out and do volunteer work to get known or to build up a portfolio of experience for when times get better and jobs start being advertised. Who is going to get that job? The kid who has sat around doing nothing or the one who has been volunteering and learning on the unpaid job. Easy answer!

And let’s not play the colour card either. There are plenty of good coloured kids who are doing what I suggested above. No this is a ‘defeated culture’ mentality and it starts with parents and the rest of us give little encouragement. Let’s start having some honesty on the streets. As has been said by many, much of what we’ve been seeing has been mindless, self-centred, greedy, spiteful, criminal acts. Let the law take its course and may they be punished.

Which brings on yet another frustration.  Community Service? Prison? Isn’t it time we started thinking outside the box. Number One: Parents stand in the box alongside their delinquent child and  if they plead “They’re out of control,” then let the options be, either YOU will do Community Service as well, or you will attend two months worth or parent training for parents with teens to see that it’s not completely impossible to bring change. Number Two: how about completely different punishment – how about putting this rioting teenager in solitary confinement for a week and I do mean in a room for no TV, no music, no mates or no phone or anything, no company, just a bed, a drinking fountain and a toilet (all vandal proof) and no means of committing suicide, with the warning that if you re-offend, you’ll be in for three weeks and so on. Think about it. If you don’t like that I’m sure there are so other better ways than what we have at the moment. (Six weeks working in a refugee camp in Africa??)

But of course our biggest problem is not the credit crunch but the fact, as I wrote in my previous blog, that we have lost our moral compass and have no absolutes, so it is little wonder these kids have no compunction about destroying or stealing what is not theirs. That may be a reason but it’s not an excuse, for there is no excuse in a civilised society, but we might ask, is a society without any moral base founded by God, civilised any more?

Running a close second to that is our tendency to pretend that everything is all right in our society when it is clearly not. Government will need to do some rethinking (that’s what they volunteered and are paid for!) and the Church needs to come out of the woodwork and be a demonstration of a viable alternative society that has answers, God’s answers that work, as well as being caring and compassionate and there for the underclass. Frustration is a sign that things are not right and that we feel powerless to do anything about it. Are we, I wonder?











The Tiredness of a Royal Wedding Day

30 04 2011

The Tiredness of the Royal Wedding Day

Well yesterday was the great day and we were full of hope and excitement; the day of the Royal wedding had arrived. From early morning TV was bringing us pictures of the gathering crowds and speculation about ‘the dress’ came to the fore every now and then. We were told that about two billion people across the globe would watch this event.  So we watched the great and the good arriving and were eventually rewarded with the sight of the dress.  So far, good stuff.  Britain does excitement well.

Then we came to the Service itself. Of course the crucial part of it was their vows. We were part of a group of about thirty watching it. Most eyes remained faithfully watching throughout but dreary music does not make good television. Yes dreary music! The hymns were expected and traditional but lacked any punch; the singing in a small enthusiastic local church would have been better (the establishment doesn’t allow enthusiasm!). And who chose the rest. Yes, I expect I could pick out one of two bits that might have stood out but basically it was a dirge. Who in their right might thought that the sight of funnily dressed choir boys or, worse, men, singing with apparently zero emotion would convey a picture to the world that would say, “This Christian thing is really good, this is a nation we’d do well to emulate.”  In fact I conclude that as far as the service itself is concerned, mostly, the sooner it is forgotten the better – and I’m sure the rest of the world has already done so. Slow paced, tedious singing that goes on and on, is not the thing to capture the hearts and minds of an unbelieving world. I should think Richard Dawkins was chortling all the way to the atheists’ bank.

But in one sense that was all a lesser thing in the wider perspective. The Times on the day pointed out how most of the Royals have been divorced and we could not help but remember Diana and Charles and the failure by the possible next head of State and head of the Anglican Church.  All our hopes are on William and Kate. Will this couple be able to walk a different path or will they turn out to be the memorial stone for the monarchy of this country?

Now I have been a groom and I have watched a large number of brides and grooms and one thing I am certain of: by the time the vows are over, they are done for! They will be operating on autopilot, and I have said to various couples, you won’t take in what I’m saying so just listen to the tape or see the film afterwards. I say that because Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, did a pretty good job, but what worried me were the looks on the faces of William and Kate.  It may be they were really struggling to hold it together in their tiredness – and if that is so they have my total sympathy – but if the looks that were coming through that tiredness conveyed anything it is worrying for the future. William looked totally indifferent to all that was going on or being said. He looked in another world. Kate looked more interested but not exactly thrilled by what she was hearing. There was no sense of “Let’s listen for this wisdom from the wise leader who might have something to say that might help us in the years ahead.”

So OK, here is a couple who the Times tells us had been living together (before their marriage, as so many godless modern couples do) and who don’t seem to espouse the faith of his grandmother, tolerating the wise words of a senior leader in the national church. If that toleration was born our of shear weariness, that is one thing, but if it is tolerance of another world that has no relevance to ‘me’, then all our hopes may be groundless. The word on the street has it that Diana was seeking spiritual reality before her death. Perhaps if there had only been someone in high places who had a living faith, and who would have spoken to her, she might still be with us today. Is there any such person today who might speak to this young couple? If not, then the pressures of being part of ‘The Firm’ may mean that history repeats itself. May it not be, please!

Thus far Kate has conformed to public wishes and presented a smiling face but if she is to survive, it will need far more than just a smiling face because public expectation and requirements of the job may do a lot to keep that smile in place, even in the face of weariness (of which there will be much if she is to live out the hopes of the British people) but if, underneath that smile, there is not a power and a faith to uphold her and guide her, the future will not be what so many of us are hoping for, and the republicans will win. It doesn’t have to be a faith for public demonstration, but it does need to be a real one. It is not to be faith in the establishment, because we saw the lifeless display they put on yesterday, but it needs to be a faith that brings life to her, to him and hopefully to the nation. Time will tell. William and Kate put on a great show yesterday and we wish them well, it was a good day overall. Pity about the Christian element in it though!  Let’s pray.

“Fings ain’t wot they used to be”

26 11 2010


There are some weeks, it seems, that lay themselves wide open for comment. Weeks pass by with mere mundane stuff going on and then suddenly, with no warning, you have a week filled with stuff screaming for comment. Although there were more, I’ll limit comment to three things.

Oddly enough it wasn’t the big article on Monday that started me off, but a little one entitled “Archers drunk makes us look bad, say Scots” which was all about how a particular Scot in that long running radio soap, the Archers, was giving a bad name to Scots because he “has often been drunk, has slept around, stolen cars and grown his own cannabis.” This was a programme that I grew up with but gave up years ago when the producers decided to reflect modern life, which is another way of saying pandering to the worst aspect of human beings. It’s not the Scots who should offended, but humanity at large. So far has this programme degenerated that if Walter Gabriel has been a real figure he’d be turning in his grave now. This was a programme that a child could listen to with no problem. Set against the modern programme against the apostle Paul’s measuring line – “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” (Phil 4:8)  – and you’d never go near it.  But if this is a genuine reflection of modern life we are in serious trouble.  What was indirectly funny here, was that clearly someone had the temerity to suggest that getting drunk, sleeping around, stealing cars and growing cannabis is bad. Say it a bit louder somebody!

Of course it was Monday that the Pope seemed to be wading around in ethical treacle saying things that left a pure-brained individual like me gasping. It appeared, and it was not clear that this wasn’t just the media working up a fury because there wasn’t much other news, that he was agreeing to male prostitutes using condoms to limit the spread of Aids. By Thursday this was extended to women prostitutes and transsexuals. I guess the thinking here is that if you can’t stop one evil then at least seek to minimize its effects. When the UN sets up something that really works, to deal with child and women trafficking and to eradicate prostitution (need and execution) and to work to educate for responsible sexual behaviour, then I’ll know that the kingdom of heaven has broken lose on earth.

Maybe it was this that kicked off other stuff about Africa and Aids in the week, but nowhere in the media did I hear anyone suggesting a massive campaign to teach responsibility in sexual activity. So far have we slid down this path that it now seems almost outrageous to talk about sensible sex which means not doing it except within the confines of a marriage. Maintaining virginity until marriage – and then working at marriage to avoid divorce – is in fact the nearest one can come to ensuring an Aids-free life. Be honest, promiscuous sexual behaviour is the primary cause of passing it on.

An almost unbelievable breath of sanity was passed to me during the week, while we are on this subject, in the form of advice to senior investment bankers when thinking about taking over another firm. I quote, “Senior buyout executives have highlighted the importance of having a happy marriage to succeed as a company manager.” It went on to emphasise that men with marital problems are a liability and liable to fail to properly execute their jobs. Well that didn’t need much wisdom to understand but hooray that someone is at last saying it. Say it louder – marriage breakdowns wreck society!

Which takes us on to the third bizarre thing of the week, the Government’s apparent desire to work on a ‘Happy Index’. This one, when you really think about it, is so crazy as to lead one to think that this has just got to be Government spin to take our minds off something else. What did we miss?  That one on its own will, I suspect, generate pages in the weekend papers, so I’ll leave it alone for the moment.  However I cannot help thinking yet again of the old adage – how do you kill a frog – put it in a saucepan of cold water and gradually heat it until boiling by which time it will die. The gradual erosion of these things means we are living in a crazy world. What is encouraging is that more and more people (and I don’t just mean faith-community-people) are saying it. As I’ve said many times over the years, how long will it take us to shout, “the Emperor’s got no clothes!”


China is Determined

29 12 2009

China is Determined

The news this morning (29th December 2009) is that China has executed drug smuggler Akmal Shaikh.

Times Online reported as follows this morning: Mr Shaikh, 53, a former taxi service manager from Kentish Town in London… had been living homeless in Poland when he was approached by two men who duped him into taking the drugs into China …. a man believed to be mentally ill …. apparently bipolar disorder …. Mr Shaikh was arrested in 2007 when he arrived in Urumqi from Tajikistan in possession of four kilogrammes (8.8 pounds) of heroin. He was convicted after a half-hour trial last year and his final appeal was rejected last week by the Supreme Court.

There are the bare bones of the case as reported. There are question marks over China’s judicial system and the ease with which it hands out capital punishment but, sadly, Prime Minister Gordon Brown seems to have been pandering to relativistic media morality. It is reported: Mr Brown at once criticised China for going ahead with the execution. “I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms, and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted,” he said. He added: “I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken.”

China’s reply basically told him to mind his own business and get his thinking right. There are a number of issues that are raised in this case which actually show China in a better light than some Westerners. I suspect that the hue and cry that has appeared in the British media in the last day or so, fuelled by activists and politicians it seems, is more about philosophical and ethical views about the death penalty than about anything else. One might also suggest that the watery and flexible views of our leaders about the drug problem also leaves us little room to criticise nations who take a stronger line than we do.

The pleas or arguments from this side of the world did not have the courage to say to China, “We think capital punishment is old fashioned and a questionable form of bringing justice.” No they didn’t have that sort of courage. My own belief is, seeking to be in line with Biblical teaching, that before God there are certain crimes that are so bad that the only legitimate response is death. However, the reputation of the police is at such a low ebb that truth and justice appear to be often questionable in our society which makes ‘safe convictions’ a rarity. The history of the past twenty years of so proves it.

China obviously has the same problem, for as the Times recently reported, In 2005 Shi Xiaorong, a woman believed to have been murdered in the 1980s in central Hunan Province, reappeared 16 years after her alleged killer had been executed.” Truth and justice in a God-fearing nation may be one thing but in a nation that has largely rejected God and His laws, they are worryingly absent. I’m not too sure that we have grounds to criticise China in this respect. The fact that we have devalued life and pushed away capital punishment doesn’t give us any valid grounds to object to societies where they do hold on to capital punishment. Our own society is not a good example of a law abiding society to show how enlightened thinking works. The fact that we have a runaway drug problem also suggests that we are not the best on the planet to lecture those who seek to stop it in their own societies by harsher means.

A further aspect of this sad case is that of the mental state of the individual concerned. Note the reports: living homeless in Poland …. duped …. believed to be mentally ill …. apparently bipolar disorder. Now suddenly, at the last minute two cousins step forward to plead on his behalf. Where were they before all this happened? How does a man who is apparently suffering (if he did) such a mental disorder be travelling the world on his own? What was his family doing? That is one set of questions which this throws up.

Does a bipolar disorder mean that such a person has no measure of discernment whatsoever? Could such a person be duped into murdering someone else? Or raping someone else? Where does the lack of responsibility stop? And if you say he has no responsibility then what are we doing letting this child-like character wander around the world in such a vulnerable condition?  This does not say much about us as a caring and compassionate society? We tread dangerously around the edge of a great morass here, where “state of mind” removes responsibility. In seeking to be caring and compassionate of the mentally vulnerable, have be in fact robbed them of any respect which should say they are individuals with rights AND responsibilities, and where they fail to live up to those responsibilities they will be held as guilty as anyone else. If we cannot do that, then we must take greater care of them that protects them and us.

As much as I have been a critic of China with its heavy handed opposition to those who dare to seek to exercise freedom of speech, I dare to suggest that they are in a stronger position than we in this present instance and we in the West do not come out of this in a good light. I am certain that the reign of the Communist minority in China is strictly limited but whoever replaces them would be unwise to follow the ethics of the West.

Weep for our Hypocrisy

3 12 2008

It is sometimes said that today is the most important day of your life. I think sometimes it is also the most dangerous. I wrote yesterday about hypocrisy in our world and started by pointing out that actually, in some shape or form, we are all hypocrites, we all pretend, we all put on a face.

Today the headlines in the UK are about the De Menzes coroner who has ruled out an unlawful killing verdict and the article noted that when he instructed the jury some of the family got up and walked out. De Menzes was a man mistaken for a suicide bomber in July 2005, and who was subsequently shot in the head by armed police. There is some apparent dispute about whether or not the police shouted, “armed police” to warn the man. Faced in a tube train by two men waving guns, De Menzes did not do the rational thing and put his hands up with open palms, but made a move that so alarmed the already over-sensitive police, that they took what they believed was the only course of action to save a train load of people and shot him dead. It appears they were wrong.

So how does my claim of hypocrisy arise? It arises out of our pretence that things do not go wrong in life and that people get it wrong, and it seems fairly clear that the police got it wrong. All of our hackles go up against the police because of the nature of the wrong: a man is dead and a family is grieving. If we were part of that family we would be grieving and we would be angry but that is where we too might be charged with hypocrisy. Why? Because we too would be pretending that if we had been the police we would never have done what they did, and in that we would be deluding ourselves.

The hypocrisy here again, I suggest, is within ourselves if we too think we would not have done what the police did that day. Earlier that month, on the 7th July, London suffered its own 9/11 and people died as a result of bombers. On the day before this shooting further attempts had been made. The emotional temperature in London was understandably at boiling point and that is often forgotten by all those hypocritical finger-pointers. Was the shooting wrong? Certainly! Was there an attempted cover up? Quite possibly! But how many of us back then, in the face of the emotional trauma of the 7th July and the possible further attacks were not of the mentality that said, “Won’t somebody get these characters! Shoot them down if necessary!”

It is the same hypocrisy that gets angry when a gunman holed up somewhere waving a gun around gets shot by the police. At the time everyone was saying, “Do something about him!” so they did. It is easy to be pious after the event, and forget that this was an armed and dangerous man with a gun presumably ready to kill people (for why else do you go round carrying a gun!) but when you are on the front line and the government and media (and the rest of us) are shouting, “Do something!” then don’t be too quick to judge when they do! If you or I had been trained to take down a suicide bomber, in the light of the emotional tension that there was in the country at that point, as wrong as we might have been, I think we would not have taken the risk of further carnage, and we too would have shot.

In theological terms it is called living in a Fallen World, a world where things go wrong and people get it wrong, but the first step with coping with such a world is honesty. That’s what the Apartheid meetings in South Africa were all about, facing the truth of the awful things that had been done. I started this article by saying that it is sometimes said that today is not only the most important day of your life, but that it can also be the most dangerous. The reason for the latter part of that comment is because sometimes we feel pressurised into taking action NOW and because we don’t have the full facts and, perhaps more importantly, because we are unable to stand back from the emotion of the present, we lose perspective, and when we lose perspective we do wrong things and take wrong actions.

This is in no way to excuse them, and we should always we working to make sure they are not repeated, but it is to say that honesty, integrity, call it what you will, demands we stop being hypocrites and face the truth squarely and stop pretending to be ‘holier than thou’. My paper also carries today news that President-elect Obama’s grandfather was probably tortured in the struggle for Kenyan independence in the 1950’s. I was only a young child then but the words Mau Mau conveyed terror. So how did the British, still ruling Kenya, handle it? Often badly, but probably no worse than the way a lot of other ‘big’ nations resisted the voices of disagreement.

Was it wrong? Yes! Do we have grounds for judging? Almost certainly, but we will be hypocritical if we do. Another thing about today is that we have probably learned more than we knew yesterday, and it’s very easy to feel smug and condescending about the ‘bad behaviours’ of yesterday and declare “We wouldn’t do that!” That is hypocrisy, the failure to know yourself and pretend you are better than others.

Should we accept such wrong? No, of course not, but there is a great deal of difference between acceptance, denunciation and grieving for our failures. Jesus once declared, If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone.” That wasn’t a let out for the woman being condemned but it was a demand to face the truth about ourselves and stop being judgmental. Perhaps a compassionate approach today would find us weeping with the family who lost a son or a brother, and weeping with the police who live with the memory of gunning down an innocent man, and weeping with all those who wound them up so tight that they came to that terrible point, and weeping for our own hypocrisy. That’s what a compassionate approach would do, but perhaps there isn’t too much compassion in today’s world.