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.

Reimagining the United Kingdom

imgresIt is no secret that I voted to remain in the EU. All 3 generations of my family, who were eligible to vote, also voted to remain (and my kids would have voted the same way, had they had the chance – under no parental pressure, you understand!). And yet, as my long departed Nanna would say (the one, who knew all the names of her grandchildren after her stroke, except mine, and called me, Edith!)…. “Well, here we are….”

 

Here we are indeed. I am disappointed and sad, but here we are. We have some deeply painful and complicated times ahead of us, but for those of us who voted to remain, what we must not do is retreat into a finger pointing woundedness that is willing to embrace the ‘other’ in Europe, but the reject the ‘other’ in the UK, who felt that Brexit was the way to go. No. In a world where we long for a positive approach to peace, for reconciliation under-girded by our first value to love one another, we must hold ourselves to account and dig deep to remember who we are and what kind of future we want to build together.

 

There are some really really important conversations for us to have right across the UK that will help us to face up to and heal the wounds we have exposed. Both sides of the debate over the EU have some significant hurts and many of them go deeper than a simple in/out referendum could ever address.

 

So, how do we engage together and have conversations with people from different sides of the dividing line about what kind of UK we might see develop? What might we reimagine together? Is there a hope of a Union left? Here are some things that I would like to explore in some upcoming blogs and see what conversations emerge:

 

imagesOntology – what?! Yep – in the end, so much of who we are and how we live, what we align ourselves with and how we would choose to shape our future together depends on this. Basically – why are we here? What is our purpose? We need to understand this at an individual and a corporate level. As I have suggested in my other blog (www.reimagininghealth.com) our health and wellbeing actually depends on having a life that aligns with this sense of knowing why we are.

 

Theology and Philosophy – what?! Yes – again, so much of our life in this nation and imgrescertainly our politics is under-girded by things people have/have not believed about God and his/her interaction with the world. Whether you are a person of faith or not, it is difficult to deny that for good or ill, the geopolitical worldview of the West has been hugely shaped by the partnership of church and empire over the preceding several centuries. This area of thought and study especially shapes our understanding of ‘Sovereignty’.

 

Economics – this is more obvious. How we choose to “order our house” has huge imgresimplications of how we then live in the world. David Cameron tells us there is ‘no alternative’ to the Neoliberal economic agenda with its reliance on the ‘benevolent’ free market, competition, privatisation, biopower and austerity. And whether the UK or the EU is the worst proponent of this, I’m not sure, but perhaps other options are available to us. Maybe we don’t need to have an ever widening gap between the rich and poor. Maybe we don’t have to have a London-Centric (or even with the emergence of a Northern Powerhouse, a Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-Centric) economy. Does our economy always have to grow? If it does – what does this mean for the creation of a peaceful world or our ecosystems? Isn’t it high time we had a good hard look at what our policies are doing to the world we live in, or demand in terms of war and self-protectionism? I recently trained as an executive coach – I can tell you for sure, there are always options…..it is a lie to say that we have no alternative. We do. We can have a fairer society and perhaps it’s time for us to say to the corporate giants who threaten us that they will up and leave if we don’t give them enormous tax breaks and turn a blind eye to their greed, that we will find a kinder way of being without them. There are options open to us of renationalisation of some things, co-operatives, credit unions, gift economies, time banking and many other things explored by top economists, which the press give no voice to.

 

And then we have more surface issues. What about our relationship with Europe and the rest of the world now? Surely we aren’t going to believe we have some kind of Empire-like influence in the world anymore? The British Empire and Christendom are both over! So, now that we don’t have them and we’re not part of the EU – what kind of partnerships do we want with other nations?

 

imagesAnd what about education? Is it OK that there was such a massive split in how people voted according to what they had achieved at an academic level? Are we developing academic snobbery? Are we developing education systems where there is an understanding of important issues like the one we’ve just had a referendum about? If it wasn’t for our dinner time conversations, my kids would know nothing about the EU – but thanks to Michael Gove, they can tell me about subordinate clauses and modal verbs! There is something very wrong with that.

 

5517007247_63d55ac8f5_m[1]For healthcare – we already know that the Brexit campaign told us a complete lie about how much extra funding would be available to the NHS. But here we are! Given our current economic policies, it is difficult to see how our Nation’s favourite brand will survive. You cannot believe in an ever shrinking state and increased privatisation and continue to have the best and fairest healthcare system in the world! This is why we need greater participatory leadership and truer representative democracy!

 

Ecology, peace-making and so much more need to be the discussions around our kitchen tables, on our walks and in our cafes and pubs. Enough of the hypnosis by our media! Let’s find each other again, heal our hurts, listen, seek to understand and together find solutions for how we are going to live in this world. Here is to a future of love, hope and peace. I will explore some more of this in the coming blogs.

Time for a Revolution

On the Eastern and Southern borders of this continent, multitudes wait. Rejected, desecrated, desperate and dying. Our brothers and sisters wait.

In Spain, we see attempted quashing of a people movement that will not be silenced, that will not stand by whilst there are millions of empty homes and  people continuing to be evicted from their properties. They will not keep quiet, whilst corruption is rife in the corridors of power and the finance remains in the hands of the few.

In Greece, we have seen the humiliation of a people, maligned by the elite, because they were the first to fall. But a movement is growing that will not be stopped because they know that a different story is theirs.

In France, the stirring in the streets of hope for an altogether different future. Mainly unreported, dismissed as insignificant. But a song is rising that will be sung throughout the land.

In the UK, a defunct, discredited, dishonourable and dishonest political and economic elite, holds onto power and drives through reforms, based on a ideology so out of touch with reality, that cripple and maim whole swathes of society. The education and health systems demonstrate the starkness of biopower.

It is time for a revolution.

Revolutions do not have to be bloody or violent. In fact, if we were to have such a type of revolution across Europe right now, it would be the antithesis of what is needed. For too long, the power held at the centre has been used to dominate and control, to crush and to violate. But no more. The centre cannot hold.

But how? How in the face of such opposition? How when the powerful seem so strong? And what kind of revolution is possible if it is not violent or bloody?

We must call time on this utter corruption together. Change is possible. We can live differently. The well-being of everybody is a dream held in the heart of God. Peace can be the status quo. Love will win.

The revolution must start with us. There is a great singer-songwriter called David Benjamin Blower. He has written an amazing song called “Repentance is the Revolution”. Repentance means to utterly change the way you view the world, to see differently and live in line with your new sight. A new Europe is only possible, if we repent, if we ourselves are willing to change and be changed. We are changed when we encounter the face of God in someone utterly different to ourselves (especially the poor and marginalised) and learn to love them with all our hearts. We will learn the ways of peace and walk in them. Our weapons will be tools for building the future and our war cry will be a song.

Our processes will change our culture. We will say goodbye to top down hierarchy and find more relational ways to make decisions that matter. We will host and hold spaces that create environments for catalytic change.

Our values will shape us. The values of this movement will be that we love unconditionally and have grateful attitudes even when unfair and unpredictable things happen. We will seek first to understand and listen with kind eyes. We will act gently, walk with humility and integrity. We will leak joy. We will encourage and forgive others. We will speak truth with compassion and release healing and hope. We will do our best, remembering that failure is our friend that can teach us many lessons. We will be faithful to our promises because we are children of God, who co-creates the future with us.

 

Misconstrued Sovereignty

iu-5We are hearing a lot about ‘sovereignty’ these days, especially in the current debate about Europe. We are particularly told by the ‘brexit’ campaign that leaving Europe will give us our ‘Sovereignty’ back as a nation. We will be able to make our own laws and do things the way we want them to be done. And yet sovereignty usually means the empowerment of the few, something that absolutely must change.

 

Yesterday was Good Friday. A day when we remember the cruel and appalling death of a man who claimed to be the Son of God.  A man who touched the untouchables, healed the sick, gave dignity to prostitutes and embraced the dying. A man who set a trajectory for the equality of women and the rightful honour children should receive. A man who welcomed strangers and prioritised the poor. A man who dared to say to religious powers that God is not far away and unknowable; and to political leaders that top-down dominating hierarchy is only based on fear and control. A man who in essence gave us the foundations for true democracy (as Robert Schuman says), where we do not seek that which is best for ourselves, motivated by self-preservation; no, we learn to embrace the ‘other’ and show brotherly and sisterly love to all.

 

imgresThe cross is not about the need of an angry Sovereign God to be appeased, but rather the love of God utterly dismantling humanity’s understanding of what it means to be sovereign. So much therefore for ‘Sovereign decisions’ that disregard the need of our fellow humans. So much for the desire to be self-ruling and governing.

 

In our household today, we have been thinking together about all that Jesus took upon himIMG_0368.jpgself on the cross. Not just our own ‘Sovereign’ ways of behaving with a capital S, the thoughts and actions that demonstrate our own need to be in charge, but the things we do as humanity collectively that bring such destruction to ourselves, our relationships and the world we live in. We wrote many things down on scraps of paper and pinned them to a wooden cross (words like selfishness, greed, the arms trade, nuclear weapons, starvation in a world of plenty etc). And then we burnt the whole thing, representing to us the way that his love consumes and overcomes all of these things. It is finished. That old understanding of Sovereignty is done with. True sovereignty is to walk in the way of uncontrolling love (Jay Thomas Oord) and has nothing to do with violence, debt, control, power games or self-preservation.

 

When christians speak of the ‘Sovereignty of God’, we must be careful to understand what we mean. God is not sovereign in the way humanity classically attributes sovereignty. His sovereignty is of a completely different order. The word sovereign is unhelpful when thinking about God. It attributes all kinds of disturbing characteristics that do not belong to him at all. We must find better language that is not entangled with such confusion, or alternatively allow the word ‘sovereignty’ to be entirely redefined.
And so, when we want to make our own individual ‘sovereign’ decisions, or as a nation IMG_0371.jpgwish to do so collectively, we could perhaps think more carefully about what will happen when we act in a ‘sovereign’ dimension toward others….As english people, we are going to struggle with our own sense of sovereignty, because we have had the biggest empire in the world and have a long history of grand monarchy. At Easter, we could do worse than to reflect on the humility and grace of the cross and allow our hunger for autocracy to be utterly undone.

Christmas Number One?!

A few months ago, I was moved by the Syrian Refugee crisis to write a song. I sat at my piano and played some chords and imagined what it must feel like to have to flee the place you call home and to throw yourself on the mercy of strangers. I let myself feel the pain that many Syrian people must feel as they see the walls being built around the borders of Europe, a continent which only a few decades ago was tearing down the Berlin Wall but is now erecting barbed wire fences.

 

So, this song emerged. I recorded a little youtube clip. A friend of mine, Claire UnknownAskew (who plays drums on the track) heard it, played it to some producers (Sugarhouse uk) who generously offered to record the track for free. The amazing charity that is World Vision then heard it and it was agreed that we would release this single as a way of raising money (100% of all the money from singles sold will go to World Vision) for Syrian Refugees this Christmas.

 

I don’t know if there is a better narrative for a song in this season. The song of a refugee, fleeing home due to powers beyond their control, only to find there is no room for them…..

 

On one level, I would love the NHS to get to the number 1 spot for Christmas; I definitely don’t want x-factor to get the spot! But, what if this Christmas, we decided to spread the word as far and wide as possible and help World Vision raise a huge amount of money to help those stranded, cold and homeless. The single only costs 99p – less than most of the bottled drinks we will consume this Christmas. I have no power at all to make this happen, but it would be amazing if the Syrian Refugees could be this year’s Christmas Number 1!

 

So here it is. “Will You Love Me?”

 

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/will-you-love-me-feat.-claire/id1063998040?i=1063998267

Will You Love Me? (A Song of the Refugee)

I was recently at a gathering of people in the city of Lancaster talking among other things about what the city might be like if it was ‘healthy’. I had the privilege of listening to a singer/songwriter called David Benjamin Blower. He writes protest songs. He was singing one song about refugees/asylum seekers and in his opening spiel, he talked about how it can be easy to love form a distance, to feel moved and motivated to “do something”. But when people come to live in our neighbourhoods or in our homes, the challenge to us is to love at an entirely different level.

The response of governments to the refugee (we cannot and must not call those desolated by war “migrants”) crisis has been slow and lacking in humanity. David Cameron will announce today how many refugees we will now (under political pressure) welcome into the UK. We must not allow these people to put into some kind of awful detention centre or in any way be made to feel unwelcome.

My wife and I (along with countless other families across the UK) would welcome a family into our home. We’ve had destitute asylum seekers live with us before through the amazing Boaz Trust in Manchester and it has been an utterly humbling and richly rewarding experience. Even if it isn’t this time, and is full of inconvenience and pain, love compels us to embrace the “other”.

I’m not the world’s best singer/songwriter, but I’ve found over the last few months that I have written many protest songs…..I will be posting them on this blog (with HUGE thanks to my friend Andrew Towers at purple videos for filming them) over the coming weeks. This first one is written, putting myself (as far as I am able through imagination) in the place of a refugee and singing to the powers – to David Cameron, to Theresa May, to George Osborne, to the other leaders of Europe and indeed the USA…..Have a listen…..It’s called “Will You Love Me?”

Political Parables – The ‘Other’

I recently participated in an extremely enjoyable conversation about ‘The Parable of the Good Samaritan’ and how we read it/it reads us today. (Read or watch below).

Luke 10:25-37 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.”28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Footnotes:

  1. Luke 10:35 denarius was a day’s wage for a labourer

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Or Watch it here:

UnknownIt’s a parable so well-known now, it is easy to let its impact completely wash over us. For me, it and the preceding dialogue poses 3 hugely political issues (by that I
mean how we live alongside our fellow humans) rather than party politics, which I consider to be an utterly defunct system which will not deliver to us the future we are calling for. (Having said that I recognise some people feel called to change it from within, and I am particularly excited to soon embark on the wonderful Caroline Lucas’ new book, ‘Honourable Friends?’)…….

The 3 issues are as follows:

1) With whom does your allegiance lie? Jesus’ challenge is straight – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength i.e. are you about loving God and walking in the ways of love or are you about serving Caesar or religion or an oppressive regime or a particular leader or a nation-state or flag?

2) Who is my neighbour? Who is there around me that I could be helping, but am not? Who am I too busy or too important to help, to stoop down to, to embrace? Who might inconvenience my schedule or delay my journey? Who might infect me or make me feel ‘dirty’? Who am I struggling to spend myself on behalf of? And yet, who is the unexpected person doing that for me?

images3) Who is the ‘other’ that offends me? I was watching one of my favourite TV shows the other week – gogglebox – absolute genius television! One of the reasons I love it is that it gives me hope that TV, rather than simply nullify our pain, numb us to the real issues, pacify and hypnotize us to carry on business as usual, can actually inspire some conversation, cause to engage with the ‘other’ and maybe even challenge and change our perspectives! One of the shows the goggleboxers were watching, was one about a man I have in all honesty had quite a low opinion of – Nigel Farage. It was a show about him as a person, rather than his (odorous) policies. It challenged me deeply. Nearly all of the people watching him, started out with quite a low opinion of him, but came out the other side seeing him much more as a human being. It is so easy to dehumanize the ‘other’, to ridicule those we don’t agree with and create the great ‘us and them’ divide. But the challenge of Jesus is so stark in this parable. Who is the one you despise? See, they are a human being like you, and maybe not so awful as you might think. (Not an excuse to not debate awful ideas btw!).

I wonder, as we look to the future across Europe, how helpful the vilification of individuals and people groups is? Will it give us a new, love based politics? When we really allow ourselves to imagine the future, I mean really imagine it, does it involve more separation and division?

I wonder, if Jesus told this parable in the UK today who he would cast as the ‘Good Samaritan’? Maybe a male taxi driver of Pakistani origin from Rochdale? Or a school girl from London who has some sympathies for some of the ideas of IS? Perhaps a member of the EDL? PLEASE don’t mishear me. I am not for one minute suggesting that those who did the despicable acts in Rochdale, or those carrying out heinous and barbaric crimes in the middle east, be that IS (or the nation-states bombing the middle east) are “good samaritans”. But if we are not careful it is possible we tar too many people with the same brush. Interestingly, we wouldn’t have an NHS without the 11% of all our staff and 26% of the doctors who come from overseas. Maybe we (who is the ‘we’ – the UK? Europe? Humanity?) are richer together and if we allow ourselves to discover interdependence, we will find some love from very unexpected places and find ourselves embracing those we once thought “beyond the pale” (originally a phrase meaning those in Ireland who lived outside the British boundaries…..)?