Saturday, 28 March 2009

WWF's Earth Hour

Are you up for it?
On Saturday (today) 28 March 2009 at 8.30pm, people, businesses and iconic buildings around the world will switch off their lights for an hour – WWF’s Earth Hour. This event is to kick-start "WWF's Campaign for a global deal to convince governments to agree effective action on climate change. December's UN climate summit in Copenhagen is their last chance to get it right, so we need to ensure they know we care. Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing people and nature, and demands urgent global action. Unless we prevent average temperatures rising 2°C above pre-industrial levels, we face a high risk of severe and irreversible changes in the planet’s natural systems".

Is it really TOO much to ask governments to be effective in this matter? The various summits that take place consisting of the so called 'good and the great' and 'the powerful and influential' always brings about lovely rhetoric and excellent soundbites, with much self-congratulating and over indulgences, but then they, and we, all go back to "doing it our way". I doubt very much that government leaders and officials really give a fig about the earth and the living things upon it, be it human or otherwise, if they did they would not be debating how little they can get away with doing in order not to affect their lifestyles, their wallets or their 'bomb power'. If they cared they would be going for the highest optimum to stop climate change, the highest optimum to stop poverty and the highest optimum to stop destruction of the earths resources.

So it is GOOD that organisations such as WWF try to have impact by bringing people into action, however small that action is, but like the rhetoric and the soundbites of the 'good and the great' and 'the powerful and influential' we keep looking at "the least we can do". Let's go for the "maximum we can do", going over and above the required or requested minimum amount. And let's learn something from our history, we've no excuses for polluting our waters and destroying our lands and wasting our resources. The West is the BIGGEST user of natural resources per capita. And though those countries that are trying to develop, or I would say are trying to be capitalistically market orientated to match the West, would say that they need to be just as wasteful and destructive in order to catch up with the West, may I suggest if the earth is destroyed it won't matter what flag you're flying, what nationality you are, how many cars you've got parked in your drive, how much money you've got stashed away, or how many properties you own, nor will it matter if you can't compete against the 'others', who ever the 'others' are, no it won't even matter if you can't be part of 'good and the great' and 'the powerful and influential' because, we will be decimated, extinct, snuffed out, GONE. It won't be about THEM and US, it will be about NONE of us. ARE YOU UP FOR IT NOW?

Monday, 23 March 2009

The Way We Are

You know that something is wrong by being told, by gut feeling, by intuition, by just 'knowing'. And you know the difference between right and wrong by being told, intuition or an innate knowledge, gut feeling and your own sensibility. But what if you're asked to ignore those feelings or reasoning's and just believe that something is wrong or right? To ignore that feeling of unease when you meet someone and you 'just don't like them', and carry on being with them or associating with them. What do you do then?

Regarding the above in relation to gut feeling about meeting somebody and 'not liking them or thinking there is 'something' about them that's not quite right, I've had that feeling more than a few times and mostly been proved right. Of course there has been the exception whereby the person in question has turned out to be, as they say good, a sort. Trouble is we sometimes have to be associated with them, be it at work, at school, at home - even a family member can have that affect on you - or at church or other organisation.

From the negative statement of 'there's something about that person' there can also be a class or race or sexuality statement. To me it's a double whammy if the person I've got that negative 'gut feeling' about happens to be one of a culture or organisation or life style I dislike or disagree with. I believe we are all like that to some extent. It's how we react to 'those people' that is important.

Being polite, if not exactly nice, to someone you have a negative feeling about is hard for me. But without social niceties we would be in for a very difficult time. For every negative 'gut feeling' you have about someone, someone you met or are about to meet has that same feeling about you! That's just the way we are.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Lady Margaret Thatcher

Lady Margaret Thatcher, the first woman Prime Minister of the UK, and a Conservative one at that, has been the focus of Michael Portillo in his documentary Portillo On Thatcher: The Lady's Not For Spurning. A look at why and how Lady Thatcher was ousted out of office in November 1990. Portillo interviews people like Kenneth Clarke, William Hague, Michael Howard and Norman Lamont, who all gave an insight into how they perceived Lady Thatcher and the way she ran the party.

Personally I thought her ousting was one of both betrayal by those who should have been loyal to her as party leader, and of the perceived feeling that she was out of touch with, and had an arrogance of, the realities of the country, the Conservative Party and her role as Prime Minister. She had, as one interviewee said, "Lost the plot". They feared that she was liability and would lose them the next election.

As a trade unionist at the time of Lady Thatcher political leadership I remember the bitternest and anger she stirred up. But modernisation of the role of the Government and it's relation to unionism was a much needed thing. But not for the reasons some would give. For a comparison of thought see Margaret Thatcher: The Downing Street Years (Harper Collins Publishers 1993) and A Very British Miracle: The Failure of Thatcherism (Edgar Wilson, Pluto Press 1992)

The impression of over powering union officials swaying the votes of the more realist workers, forcing their Marxist manifesto's upon the unwitting workers, is not something I observed. Nor were the so called 'shop floor' revolutionists usurping their union, if not their political, masters. Unionism in the UK was held up by those who wanted to keep the status quo of the Labour Party equals unionism, and by those who had seen that with unionism the workforce would not have had the benefits of being given things such as breaks to have a cup of tea or coffee - time out if you like, holiday pay, sick pay, maternity leave, the right not be sacked on a whim of an employer and the enforcing of health and safety measures in the work place. The workforce had been seen in the past a fodder for the machines, a commodity to to used and abused as thought fit by the elite and the upper classes, as indifferent employers imposed without forethought, or care, long hours in dreadful and sometimes dangerous conditions upon their workers. We had sweatshops in Britain too you know.

But like all institutions there will be corrupted leaders, in it only for themselves, and the power, status and financial gains, that go with such officialdom. And of course such leaders would not be wanting any change to their status quo of power and privilege and joining in with all the political and social elite in the process. Especially if power was delegated, or relegated?, to the so called shop floor by giving those who did not turn out to union meetings - for whatever reason - the chance to participate in voting for a set issue, be it a pay vote or a call to strike vote. Lady Thatcher gave the non-active union member a way to be active without having to go anywhere and listen to a real debate or actively take part in a trade union meeting of importance. She also resolved to take away the trade unions legal privileges because of "the assumption that the powers of employers and unions were unequal, trade unionists were given special legal protection in their pursuit of members' collective interests" (ibid) they were exempt from being prosecuted for certain actions in pursuit of their interests. She was also determined to sever the unions ties with the Labour Party, believing that the majority of members did not wish to have their money go to Labour, by changes in the law so that members of unions had to contract in to the Labour Party rather than contract out.

Lady Thatcher was both a benefit to the average shop floor worker as well as a danger. The danger was two fold, firstly her inability to see beyond the media and mass hysteria of strikes, both during Labour and her own party whilst in government, therefore she was always going to be at odds with the majority of working class people. Secondly, her failure to see that trade unionism was ideally about workers being represented, so they can at least have a say in their working conditions and about what their wages consisted of, and not about a call to anarchy. As Edgar Wilson put it, "Trade unions had since 1871 been recognised as the legitimate means of workers promoting their collective interests especially with employers" (Edgar Wilson).

In regards to society her mishandling of the notorious Community Charge - Poll Tax - fiasco could and should have been avoided. The riots that took place by outraged citizens, were met with virulent police control. The Poll Tax was replaced by the Council Tax, but how much revenue was spent on this costly paper and bureaucratic exercise as confusion and confrontation abounded?

Lady Thatcher was a phenomenon and a leader who led. Her influence on Tony Blair, leader of what has come to be known as New Labour, was for all to see. He saw the way forward was to ensure he was surrounded by those who would follow, or who had little difficulty in towing a party line they did not agree with, for the sake of their leader. Loyalty and honesty lost out to collective individualism of "tow the party line". There is a difference between being loyal to a leader and being sheep and just following the leader. The political politician was replaced by party line managers. For the better or the worse of the country. As the next General Election approaches it will be interesting to see who has learnt their history. We need brave and innovative leaders, we need politicians who understand the role of politics and we also need managers to manage policies. But one without the other is a detriment to society. Long live Thatcher. Quite.

Friday, 13 March 2009

How We Do Church

I was interested in Cherie Blair's comment, in Channel Four's 'Christianity: A History' documentary series, that maybe the church - which church she did not specify but it could be presumed the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church since they are the two mainstream church organisations in UK - should change the way it 'did church'. Suggesting that its not a decline in belief that's the problem, but that people can no longer relate to the traditional way of 'doing church'.

As a Christian I agree. As a ex-church goer I agree. But I think the problem is also about what people actually think the church stands for or what it believes in. If, as the last census suggests, that some 70% of the population say they are Christian, you have to ask what do they mean by that? For instance when filling in forms that ask you to define your religious status I used to say I was Church of England. Yet I did not go to a Church of England Church. I did not agree with the roles and norms related to the Church of England. Too much tradition and not enough belief related action. And the Church of England like the Roman Catholic Church waits for you to come to them, or at least they did. Which even for and agnostic atheist like me, as I was then at the time of census, seemed most un-Jesus like. You see, I could not relate to the word church. I suggest there are many people out there who do not relate to church. They see it as them, the church, and us, the people. And that is one of the reasons, I think, that people are failing to go to church. They do not relate to the way it 'does church'. If there is 70% plus of people who say they are Christian they certainly do not relate their Christianity to the churches Christianity. They are not relating to what the church stands for.

Cherie Blair contrasted the USA with the UK, looking the rise of the so called 'mega churches'. Could this rise be because of the way the churches 'do church'? In her opening statement Cherie Blair decried the fact that Christians were being marginalised, because the churches were declining in numbers, because they did not have the impact on, or relevance to, society as before. Christianity in the states however has far more input into political debates and social and educational agendas than the UK.

Willow Creek was one of the churches that Cherie Blair visited. It is a mega church in that it has a lot of people attend, in the thousands, it is a progressive church in that it has a shopping mall type premise and a upbeat pastoral team. It caters for society as it is today. It says it is inclusive in its outreach. As say the churches in the UK, especially the Evangelical churches, who are trying to offer something different from the Anglican and Roman Catholic Church in terms of 'doing church'.

There was the Methodist church in Chicago where a Christian lesbian, who was active within the church teaching field, expressed her feeling of inclusion and acceptance into the church. Something she had not found in other churches. I picked up on the meaning of her statement. She was not only accepted into this 'inclusive' church but 'included' in the church. Being enabled to use her talents, skills or 'gifts' if you like for the benefit of the church. To be included, and not just accepted, now that was interesting. And I think that is one more reason why people do not go to church, or why traditional churches in Europe and the UK, are failing to get people into services. People are not included. Accepted possibly, included no.

There is perhaps another reason for the decline in church attendance in the UK, and this relates to something I have noticed in my observations of the mega church gatherings in the USA, and the evangelical church gatherings in the UK, and that is that 'like attracted like'. Maybe that has always been that way. You either 'fit in' with the group, or you do not. But that leaves the question to be asked, is it the message of that church that calls the people to that particular church or is it that they see a bunch of look a likes, no differences per say, and it feels good, it feels nice, it is also exclusive in its manner. Whether it means to be or not. Even an inclusive church like Willow Creek seemed full of lookalikes. No I'm not being unfair. There were a number of people from a different socio-demographic sphere. Perhaps I was not looking hard enough or perhaps there was not enough time to show the full array of people who worship there.

However, like for like is normal. We all gyrate to groups or organisations that we feel comfortable with, that agree with out point of view or say the things we want to hear. We gyrate to groups or organisations, and this includes places of worship, because our spouses, family or friends feel comfortable with it, and we either like joining in, or we do because, well, because they do. Maybe that is another way the church should go, all like minded people, or rather those in the same socio-demographic group 'doing church' together. It would be like the night clubs for the younger generation and the tea parties for the older generation with the Christian message being provided to suit the group.

I'm not sure the creation of different socio-demographic churches is either realistic or desirable. The human race consists of the young and the old, the families and the single people, the haves and the have not's, the moderns and the traditionalists. I agree with Cherie Blair's suggestion that the church should modernise and change the way it 'does church'. However, though it may help if the church changed it's way of 'doing church', the main reason is, I believe, as to why the church in the UK is declining is that the message the church gives is either watered down to suit a set audience, or so harsh and uncompromising, that it is unrealistic in its application, disregarding any ethical considerations and imposing an intolerable burden of dogmatic and literalistic observances or way of behaving and thinking upon people. People do not, can not, relate to it.

Unless the church stops living in the tradition of man made, or man centered church, and looks towards, maybe it would be more correct to say looks back-towards, a Jesus centered church, it will always be out there, being seen as exclusive and, sadly, irrelevant. It's not just how you 'do church' it is about being a church - a church of people who are like minded in the sole fact that they want to know Jesus, and not in the fact that they are all young or old or all into hip-hop music or the fashion of the day, but who want to know Jesus, who want to worship God and through worshipping God come to be socially as well as spiritually interacted and interactive. To see that Jesus and thus the Gospel is not only relevant but realistic and applicable to their lives. Not the ideology of what should be, but the ideology of what is and how does the church, through the message of Christ, relate to the real world existing of real and diverse peoples. For Christ was never exclusive and never irrelevant, he was interactive and interacted with people. If the church, or churches, endeavoured to do that first, it might well cease to be seen as indifferent and irrelevant and marginal to society.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

From Where I'm Standing: The Lost Sheep

Some times I feel like a lost sheep. I seem to have wandered off and no one has come to find me. In truth of course I am not lost because my faith in God says that God will never let me be lost. He will always be looking for me and he will always find me. So why do I say I am lost then? Because I am searching for...What exactly am I searching for? A place to worship that accepts me and where I can join in and participate to the full. Where my abilities and skills can be utilised for the good of the church or organisation. Where I do not have to underplay who I am. Where I do not have to pretend to be something I am not. Where I do not have to hide.

Sometimes sheep run away. Sometimes they know why they run away. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes they just run and find themselves lost. Either way, sheep get lost and that is sad. It is my personal experience that I'm feeling like a lost sheep. I have met other lost sheep also. It's a shame all lost sheep can't meet up together and become found sheep!