Repentance IS the Revolution

Here we are at the start of ‘Green Week’ in which the UK government has decided to ask some experts about whether or not we should amend our target of being carbon neutral by 2050?! Talk about asking a stupid question! In the very same week, Cuadrilla will be allowed to start fracking – drilling for more fossil fuels in Lancashire, whilst those who peacefully protested are sent to prison (a little ironic!) and the Climate Change Minister –  Claire Perry, has declared it is not her government’s job to advise people on a climate friendly diet (despite the evidence, which I regret, showing that we need to seriously curtail our meat intake, especially of beef and lamb). What is the role of government, I am left wondering…….?

 

We have 12 years! That really isn’t a very long time. 12 years in which to drastically change our minds and our behaviour about how we are living, or face the devastating consequences of the impact of climate change for ourselves, our children and our children’s children.

 

Gandhi wrote so powerfully about the seven social sins, as he saw them:

 

1) Politics without Principle

2) Wealth without Work (weird how this has switched in the social conscience to poverty without work….how did poverty become the sin?)

3) Commerce without Morality

4) Pleasure without Conscience

5) Education without Character

6) Science without Humanity

7) Worship without Sacrifice

 

For the health and wellbeing of people and the planet, we need to change and we need to change now. As my friend Martin Scott says, the facades are down. We can see things clearly for what they are. That means we cannot and must not allow ‘business as usual’ to continue. This is our moment. We cannot simply carry on with the same old, same old. If ever there was a moment for us to change – it is now! Our economic model is literally destroying us. Our politics are increasingly tainted with a rhetoric of blame and fear. Unless we change now, with the backdrop of environmental disasters, food and water shortages, driven by human greed, then within a few short years, we will be facing war and humanitarian atrocities at a truly alarming scale.

 

Our only hope, is repentance. Repentance, as David Benjamin Blower tells us, IS the revolution. An old, biblical phrase which means to completely change our hearts and minds and instead live utterly differently. It means laying down our consumerism of the world and instead choosing to become good stewards of it, letting go of our own hedonistic selfishness in preference for the ‘other’ and sustainability of the earth. It means recognising that our economic model is broken and unjust, so we need to find a new way that is distributive and regenerative. It means learning to love our enemy rather than hate them, curtailing our excesses and learning to live more simply, caring for the poor instead of scapegoating them, promoting the welfare of children rather than constantly comparing and measuring them. It means breaking the chains of the global slave trade, stopping our appalling pollution now, not in 2050 and finding a way to live in peace.

 

This isn’t some hippy utopia, it is, I believe, what God always hoped for with us.  Repentance isn’t some weirdo religious experience, it is a gutsy, humble recognition that we’re in a mess and we need forgiveness from God, ourselves, each other and the planet. Repentance is a complete change of heart and mind, away from death to life, from greed to gift, from destruction to renewal, from darkness to light, from hate to love.

 

I  have found in my journey of faith in the person and teaching of Jesus, that only the love of God really changes my heart and deals with my pride, my greed and my selfishness.  Sadly, (predominantly) white, evangelical Christianity has aligned itself more with nationalism and free-market capitalism than what I read Jesus to teach in the scriptures. A dangerous theology has developed which equates a strong economy as being a sign of God’s ‘financial blessing’ and ‘favour’, giving little thought to the raping of the earth’s resources or the injustice upon which such ‘prosperity’ is built. When Jesus said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here”, he wasn’t saying that he was going to replace the Roman Empire with an even more awful and utterly destructive system. He was inviting us to open our eyes and see that the ways of God could not be more different to Empire and are about ‘life poured out love’ or ‘self-giving, others empowering-love’, where all are welcome, all are set free and all can become stewards of this way of kindness and peace. It’s not easy to go against the system – it takes sacrifice – but it is the only thing that can lead to our salvation – something we need more than ever.

 

I have little hope that any government or system, with all their vested interests, can or will take the precarity of our situation seriously enough. And so it falls to you and me – we the people together. Personal and corporate repentance. It’s time (As Michael Jackson sang) to look at the man or woman in the mirror – and make that change.

 

It is true, that our work may well feel apparently worthless, futile and achieve no result at all – in all honesty it’s why I’ve made excuses for not changing certain things (like eating beef far too often – though that changes now!)……so as Thomas Merton reminds us, we must focus on the value, the rightness and the truth of the work we must do, itself…….In the end….he says…..”it is the reality of personal relationships that save everything.” So, don’t feel overwhelmed by the enormity of it. Make your own repentance yourself and amongst your relationships and bit by bit, we might just make a difference. Doing nothing is not an option. Repentance IS the revolution – and a revolution is what we need. Grace gives the opportunity to make a fresh start. Are you ready for it? What changes will you make? If not now, when? If not us, who?

 

 

Enough Now!

Here is a poem I wrote, after hearing an amazing head teacher, called Jill Wood speaking about why she had taken the decision for her Year 6 Students not to take their SATS tests (compulsory exams for our 11 year old in England). She was giving her “enough now” to the detrimental effects testing can have on children. Here is what she inspired in me:

 

Reimagining the UK post Brexit – Education

imgresI have waited a while to write this post. It follows on in the series I started on this topic. It seems clear that the Brexit vote was about three key elements: taking control (whatever that means) of our own money, our own laws and our own immigration. I hope to write another blog on those three things another time, but in this time of transition, we must ask ourselves some questions about the kind of future we want to co-create.

 

imgresI have to say that when I look at our education system, I am both heartened and dismayed. I am heartened by the amazing quality of teachers across the UK, but I am dismayed by how they are treated as a profession by our mainstream press. I am heartened by the quality of our children and young people and the hopeful possibilities they carry, but I am dismayed by the increased burden of mental health problems many of them suffer. I am heartened that there is so much great thought around education and a shared learning between nations about how to release the potential in each child, but I am dismayed by the lack of application of this learning within the UK. I am heartened that there is an increasing realisation that Ofsted reports can offer only a small snapshot of what goes on in any school and are not a fair representation of all that goes on in any one institution, but I am dismayed by our growing measurement problem. By this I mean that the constant scoring and grading of our children and young people and the comparisons made between our various schools is so detrimental to their development and achievement that we ought to seriously consider the weight it is allowed to carry in our education systems. When our children and young people are some of the least happy in Europe and live in a country where the gap between the richest and poorest, both in terms of economics and educational ‘outcomes’ is one of the worst in Europe, we have to ask ourselves some searching questions.

 

So, in reimagining education, let’s reaffirm that every child is unique, beautiful,images worthy of love and full of potential. Let’s also recognise that our education system now is one of the few things that has not evolved since the time of the Industrial Revolution and is itself in need of serious renewal and transformation. In Germany, they have managed to elevate practical skills and knowledge to that of intellect. This has given them the ability as a nation to have a much more diverse economy, especially investing in green technologies and manufacturing in a way that cares for the future. In Finland, they have a reverence for the teaching profession that we would do well to adopt here. We need to think of teaching as a sacred gift and it needs to be taken this seriously by those who pursue it as a career. A Head Teacher I know recently told me that she no longer needs teachers who see themselves as having a job, but those who understand that teaching is a vocation and a calling. It is about being willing to parent a generation, not just fill them with knowledge.

 

Our educational environments must be places where we teach our children how to think, not just what to think, how to converse, not just what to say and how to listen attentively not only hear. We must help them learn about their own personalities and gift mixes. We must help them to think about the values from which they live, speak and act, helping them therefore to shape their behaviours in line with this (Steve Peters). We must allow them to question some of the damaging ways we live (war, pollution, work-patterns) and dream of and learn to create futures of peace, sustainability and wellness.  We need a vision large enough to ensure that each generation creates a seedbed of opportunity for the next.

 

The danger of becoming more ‘in control’ (as per our Brexit wishes) is that we become more controlling. The purpose of education is not to control but to release, not to maintain the status quo but to attain a brighter future, not to perpetuate hate and violence but to breathe love and peace, not to tear down but to build up and encourage,imgres not to divide but to build community, not to prepare human beings to be fodder for the economic machine but to ensure the economy serves them to be live a life of hope-filled potential. As with healthcare, we need to de-politicise the education system, hold dear in our hearts those given to teach, caring for their wellbeing and minding how we speak of them. We must partner with them and entrust them with our precious caterpillars as they hold them through the great metamorphosis that is learning before they spread their wings and make their flight to shine like stars in a future sky that the rest of us will never see.

My Manifesto for the UK post-Brexit (Part 1 – Immigration)

I was having a conversation with someone recently and they challenged me to write a manifesto for the UK, to help put a bit of substance to my various thoughts. What follows is by no means a finished article, nor am I likely to do much with it, but I have found it helpful as an exercise and it serves as a starter on a few issues to spark discussion and also to help me shape my own thoughts further.

I am also a white, privately-educated, “middle-class”, married with 3-kids, “christian” male and so I recognise an inability to communicate, except from the perspective of power and privilege – I can’t change this, but I just want to say that I know it means I can’t see very well.

I hope what I have written is founded on the values of self-giving, others empowering love, the desire to build with positive peace and with hope for a fairer society for everyone. I will start with the area that caused so much debate over the last few weeks and has opened up some deep wounds – let’s see where this goes!

Immigration

I recognise this is a very real and important issue and it is not one that we should be afraid to face up to. My approach would be five-fold:

  1. Our education system will look at the damaging effects of empire and colonisation. We will look at the issue of white and male supremacy and work together to break down these deep set corporate worldviews that we find hard to name let alone own up to. We will help our children and communities face up to the bias and prejudice we all live with and learn from organisations, like the NHS that have done much to tackle them. We will encourage an understanding of the ‘other’ and the benefits of inter-culturalism. We will also work with charities like “together4peace” in Leeds to encourage intercultural dialogue and relationships.
  2. We will introduce a basic rate of pay, guaranteeing a fair and living wage for all of £10 per hour (see economy section for how this is affordable – austerity is NOT the only option available to us!). This will encourage people into work and we will ensure good support of small businesses to make this attainable i.e. the government will give means tested grants to businesses to support them in this. In this way it pays to work, but we will not have a society in which we punish or vilify those who are unable to do so, for whatever reason (see later policy on welfare). It will be illegal for any individual or business to employ workers from overseas or the UK for less than this. This must be legislated and so breaches of this will ensure a heavy fine and/or community service. A second offence would lead to a prison sentence. We cannot endure a culture of westernized slavery that leaves areas impoverished.
  3. We will create local jobs, especially in the places in the UK which have felt forgotten. This will come through a restructuring of the banking sector to encourage local investment in local businesses, as seen in Germany and Denmark. Our banking system is far too centralised and remote. Job creation will come through the creation of locally and/or publicly owned energy, utility and transport services. These might be structured in several different ways and therefore will not take us ‘back to the 1970s’ but create alternative and better ways ahead for local communities.
  4. We will allow the free movement of people but not the free movement of capital. It is not possible to have both. Money created in the UK will stay in the UK ie companies who do their business in the UK will pay their fair share of tax, rather than ship their profits overseas. This will include open but monitored borders, so we are clear who is in the UK, from a security perspective. But overall, we would seek to be a country that welcomes those who want to come here (it’s really not as many as we have been lead to believe!), especially those who need our help at times of crisis in their own nations.
  5. We will encourage every person who lives in the UK to be a net contributor to society where this is possible. We openly recognise and celebrate how many of our public services have depended on the great diversity brought by migrants and refugees from all over the world. We recognise that migrants make a net contribution to our society and give far more in terms of money, skills and rich diversity of culture into the UK than they take. We will ensure welfare for all those who need it, but our international development work will ensure we are able to work with countries to help people where they are to build a future of peace and prosperity (see later post on this). 

 

Obviously all of this needs a great deal of fleshing out, but these would be my overarching principles as points for discussion at this stage – I’m sure it is terribly lacking, so go easy on me – I’m looking for a conversation not a battle!

Kenarchy – New Hope for the Political Left

Michael Sheen wrote a brilliant article in the New Statesman this last week (https://t.co/64vmmjC0if), asking some serious questions of the Labour Party. Here is my personal view about where new hope can be found for the political left (not that labour necessarily represent that anymore…..)