Searching for love

Last Thursday I was in London, a little under a week after three men went on their crazed attack on London Bridge and around Borough Market.

I wanted to visit the area, to pray for those who had been directly impacted by the violence, to pray for my country as we work out how to respond to yet another act of terror and also to pray for the church in this area, as these communities try to work out how to bring light into a dark situation.

Of course, on Thursday there was still a significant police cordon around Borough Market. Some roads and businesses were closed, as was Sothwark Cathedral which stands right on the edge of the market.

On the opposite side of the road from the market, just where Borough High Street turns into London Bridge, there’s a space that has been covered by flowers. Some from those who were there last Friday, but mostly from people who wanted to express their feelings of sorrow and loss.

Next to the place where the flowers have been laid, there’s a wall that supports a raised pathway. The wall has been covered with multicoloured post-it notes. Short messages of love and hope from people trying to express something of their emotions and hopes.

‘Don’t fear, don’t hate, fight back with LOVE’, says one message. ‘London will come through using love and tolerance’, says another. Yet another says, ‘From Manchester with love’, more striking with it being days since the Manchester Arena bomb attack.

The themes of love and unity come through again and again as people try to process and respond what took place.

I walked on from London Bridge, along the bank of the River Thames, and over the Millennium Bridge and up towards St Paul’s Cathedral.

The dome of the Cathedral stands out above much of London’s skyline. Some of the newer skyscrapers have taken different shapes due to the various protected views that exist to this point in the city. It’s an impressive building that has stood in its present form since 1675.

It has also meant a whole lot to London. During the Blitz, there was a team of fire wardens posted around the Cathedral to protect it in the event of a firestorm. The feeling was, as long as St Paul’s was standing, London would survive.

Across the road, on Sermon Lane, stands the National Firefighters Memorial, a reminder of how much this city suffered during those months of the second world war. Over 40,000 dead, thousands more injured and a whole nation impacted.

For me, walking past this memorial, the Cathedral and various other churches that are dotted around that part of London, put more of the previous week’s events into context.

Disasters, large and small will continue to impact this world. No matter how well policed and protected our cities become, it will not put an end to those who want to do harm and who view death as the ultimate tool to bring about their agenda. How we process these events, reflect on them and consider what death my mean matters more than ever.

Thame Hustings

I’ve never been to a hustings event before. It’s when local candidates turn up to answer questions in the run-up to an election. We had five candidates:

  • John Howell – Conservative and local MP since 2008.
  • Oliver Kavanagh – Labour, currently works as a lawyer.
  • Laura Coyle – Liberal Democrats, currently works as a housing solicitor.
  • Robin Bennett – Green Party, guitarist for St Etienne (one of the bands that got me through university) and The Dreaming Spires. Also mentioned during the course of the evening that he’s a school governor and wife works in NHS.
  • Patrick Gray – Radical Party, who didn’t say much about what he does now, but you can read it here. This is the first election where they are fielding a candidate.
  • The UKIP candidate was unable to make it.

The event was billed as a Question Time style event, with questions coming from the audience and candidates being given the opportunity to respond.

I took as many notes as I could but was typing on my phone and couldn’t keep up with everything, but here are some highlights:

Question on funding for schools 

There seemed to be some doubt as to whether the Conservatives pledge to increase funding would actually work out, especially when population increases were taken into consideration. Lib Dems and Labour were pledging a funding increase. Green Party candidate gave a good response based on first hand experience as a school governor.

Radical Party gave some interesting statistics but also pointed out that we shouldn’t be following the US systems on education, but looking to learn from Scandinavian and German systems.

Question around the issue that, for the first time in years, the UK child mortality rate has increased

Conservatives said that we are still sorting out the Labour mess and that getting us out of the deficit was the priority. Greens, Labour and Liberal candidates were all able to say from direct experience, that the current system isn’t working, Liberals mentioning that as a housing lawyer she sees the first hand effects on families as a result of these cost cutting measures.

Radical Party candidate says that we rank 22 out of 24 on equality and it’s the people that don’t have a voice that suffer most. Also pointed out that our economic crisis was not caused by our spending but by our money being gambled by traders in London and New York – yet the ones paying are those at the bottom of the tree.

Question: How can Teresa May be trusted with Policing when she’s overseen a cut of 20,000 police officers. 

Conservatives are concentrating on moving Police from the kind of roles that deal with crimes like burglary, where incidents are decreasing, to surveillance and intelligence roles.

Lib Dems say that community Police are needed to build trust within communities and gain the intelligence.

Labour wanted to be judged on their values of compassion, rather than on the misquoting of figures by Diane Abbott

Greens questioned why we’d trade with Saudi Arabia where there are links to terrorists.

Radical Party said that the public wouldn’t cut the number of Police.

Question on the future of EU migrants, from one who has lived here for 36 years working in the NHS

Conservatives say that they are pushing for a reciprocal agreement for British living overseas, but this won’t happen until we start negotiations over Brexit deal.

All other parties basically said that they should guarantee the rights of those already living here and not use them as a bargaining chip in the upcoming negotiations. The Radical Party went as far as to point out that young people are a huge asset to this party, and the Green candidate noted that for many young people they have grown up as EU citizens, it’s part of their identity.

Liberals pointed out that 10% of our doctors come fro the EU.

There was a question on affordable housing

Current ‘affordable housing’ is not affordable.

There was broad recognition that more joined up thinking was needed.

How will you help refugees

Conservatives are prioritising those in Syria.

Liberals pledge 50000 over the next five years and say that we should be proud to be helping. They also want a 28 day limit on people being put in detention centres.

Labour cannot shy away from our commitment to refugees

Greens, that decency and morality are key values and we should live up to these.

Radicals, we owe a lot to previous generations of refugees and we do owe something to our government for what they do overseas. We also need to collaborate more with international groups.

 

Then there were closing statements:

Labour guy said that we have an important national choice. Though, he was clearly campaigning to come second.

Radicals said that all the problems stem from those that have the power, that government needs reform.

Greens pointed out that we are the world’s second biggest arms dealer and yet we can’t help refugees or support the vulnerable. Community is one of their central themes.

Conservatives are proud of what they have done for the economy and the NHS.

Liberals want to send a message that there was a vote on EU membership, not a vote on how we would leave. They are open and tolerant.

 

What do I think:

John Howell is a smart guy. The Conservatives clearly think that they still have to sort out the debt before they can start spending seriously on all the local programmes that we need. To be fair, I’m impressed by how calm he was given that the Conservatives were clearly not the popular party this evening.

Oliver Kavanagh gave a good performance for Labour. I was disappointed that he was so clearly fighting for second place in the local election as this is such a safe Tory seat. Even if that’s what you think, you don’t say it. He clearly cares about the local community, which is good to see.

Laura Coyle was the most passionate of the bunch. Not just in the prepared bits at the beginning and end, but also when talking about local services and the needs of the community.

Robin Bennett gave a fine performance for the Greens. They seem to have lost some of the truly mad policies of the last election campaign and have some realistic ideas for this one. I was really impressed at how well he spoke on issues of schooling and health.

Patrick Gray did well for the Radical Party, they’ve got some really good ideas and know why they are standing. It was useful to have his clear, well thought out views tonight.

Pray for the media *today*

Today is the day of prayer for all those involved in the media, so please give some time to praying for those that work in this industry today. If you’re short of ideas of what to pray, take a look at The Media Net website.

While you’re at it, could you also pray for those of us that work in the media teams of mission organisations? Large and small, we have the privilege of a wonderful story to tell, the story of what God is doing in this world.

Pray that we would do this job well, for the glory of God. That we would steer clear from hyperbole and exaggeration and that we would be kept safe and healthy, especially when we travel.

Thank you

Day of prayer for the media

I have a print photograph from the same place as the digital image accompanying this post. It’s from the Newseum in Washington DC, where there’s a memorial to journalists who have been killed in the process of doing their job. My photo is from 17 or 18 years ago. There were a lot of names on the memorial then, but the thing that struck me was that there was also a lot of blank space. They expected journalists to continue dying in the course of doing their work.

This Sunday, the Media Net are asking Christians to pray for all those who work in the media. Not just journalists, but all those in the media; the sound guys, photographers, writers, producers… Honestly, I can’t think of a time when this is more needed.

We maybe don’t realise how significantly the media influences our culture. It shapes the way we see the world, not just in the stories that hit the headlines, but in the choice of storylines in EastEnders or through the images that fill the advertising space at the bus stop.

And yet, for years Christians were encouraged to avoid media jobs because, ‘they require you to work on Sunday’, or, ‘because your morals will be eroded away’. At least, those were the reasons I remember being given for why I shouldn’t pursue a media career. I think we are now seeing the result of this advice – take the Christian influence out of a community and see where it ends up.

Only our media aren’t going anywhere. TV, radio, magazines and adverts shape our culture and we need to encourage and support the Christians working in this environment to shine like a city on a hill.

But, the day of prayer for the media isn’t just about the Christians. We need to be praying for others in the industry to strive for truth and wisdom in the stories they are involved in telling.

So, what do you pray and who can you pray for?

The Media Net website has a page full of good ideas. You can also sign up to join in the Thunderclap on the 28th May.

Personally, I’m going to Tweet some people that I have contact with in the media and ask them what I can pray for them. Some are Christians, others aren’t, but it’s not bad to ask.

If you need more inspiration, the following audio clip is Hazel Southam on the Signal podcast. She’s a Christian and a journalist who works for a host of outlets. In this, she explains why this prayer is important for her. Hazel worked with me five years ago when we were involved in Biblefresh.

The video below is from the Media Net. Why not share it now on social media or use it in your service on Sunday when you encourage others to pray.

Header image by Ross Catrow from Richmond – James V. Walker, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36930260

When you need a giggle: Mark Thomas on demonstrating

Yesterday was a down day. Nothing especially bad, but by the time I got to bed I was tired, feeling flat and my body hurt from various bumps and scrapes. I needed something to make me giggle again.

Quite a few years ago, I was walking through Southampton one evening listening to the radio, when I caught this radio programme, Mark Thomas: My Life in Serious Organised Crime. I remember laughing so hard that I had to go and hide in the park next to the magistrate’s court to save my embarrassment.

The scene is set when a new law comes into force, saying that individuals need to get permission from the police to demonstrate in Parliament Square (a park opposite the Palace of Westminster, London, where the UK government is based). Mark’s friend, Sian, fell foul of the new law when having a picnic in Parliament Square and the police noticed her cake with the word ‘Peace’ iced on the top. That, they said, was a demonstration.

Mark said, ‘Any law that means we can be arrested over a cake, we must play with’. The whole story is now on YouTube.

For those of you unfamiliar with London, a copy of the map showing the area this law applies to is available here.

What to do with time

This month, the WEA Business Coalition published a discussion paper following the Congress of Christian Leaders. Under the title of Compromised Christians, they point to 10 areas where evangelical Christians leaders have possibly, ‘internalised the mindset of contemporary capitalism’.

The first point is on the use of time. They say,

1. … live too fast. More is more. We are always busy (even if “it is for the Lord”). To be a workaholic is not judged a sin.
BUT time is the currency of relationship, and Christians believe in a relational God. God made the 7th day as a day of rest, to protect families and low-income workers (Ex. 20:8-11, Deut. 5:12-15); he commanded that the land should rest every 7th year (Lev. 25:1-7); and he arranged rest for every 50th year too (Lev. 25:8-13). These commands are shadows of what is to come (Colossians 1:16). Christians should honour the Lord by expressing the principle of rest in ways appropriate to their situation, and in accordance with their own conscience (Romans 14:5), always showing particular care for the marginalised in society.
Read the rest of the paper on the New Zealand Christian Network site

The use of time came up again on Sunday, when our pastor shared a video of an interview of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, two of the wealthiest men in the world. Buffett gave a glimpse of his diary, which isn’t as full as maybe we’d expect.

I’m trying to think through how I spend my time. Time for work, time for family but also time for resting, thinking, time with God. I’m trying hard not to think I always need to be busy.

Incidentally, I think working hard and always being busy are two different things. You can work hard without having to have every minute filled with things to do.

Disruptive change

Every so often, an event takes place that disrupts the normal and brings about significant change.

Once upon a time, people used to get their dose of television news at 6 pm or 9 pm (that’s in the UK). Now we have 24-hour rolling news channels that demand a constant feed of news.

Or people would buy a daily newspaper to find out what is going on. Now newspapers are struggling to make ends meet and need to meet a 24-hour news criteria to keep their online content current.

Of course, many of these changes have been made possible by the invention of the internet. The way we live is now heavily influenced by technology that makes global communication instant and allows anyone to have a voice. And, Apple’s iPhone, changed the game again, by putting all the technology required for this communication, in a device that can fit in the pocket of your trousers.

All of these changes disrupted the normal.

Why mention this today, other than recognising that the announcement of another election in the UK could provide an opportunity for more disruption?

Well, I’ve been thinking about how leadership necessitates the ability to negotiate disruptions to bring change. An article in The Straits Times, put it like this, ‘We want to catch the wave before it cascades over us, so that we can ride the wave rather than be crushed beneath it.’

Riding the wave can lead to new possibilities and allow changes for good, but you have to ride the wave, you can’t just cling on and hope to reach the shore.

I just wonder, how many things I think of as disruptions (issues, problems, etc) could actually be opportunities to bring positive change?

How pictures can shape our worldview

On Sunday, I was asked to give a brief illustration of one aspect of my team’s work, how the pictures we use shape our view of the world. I thought maybe I could share it with you.

In the following images, which characters would see as ‘good’ and which would we see as ‘bad’.

We have been conditioned to see those characters portrayed in white, or in the light, as good. While those in black, or kept in the dark, as bad.

This has carried across to film too. Luke Skywalker usually appears dressed in light coloured clothing, Darth Vader, in black.

The use of this kind of colour translated across into Christian literature too. Jesus is always portrayed in white, the devil in black. Even today, you’re more likely to find Jesus, wearing white robes and looking like he’s come from western Europe or North America, rather than dressed like a carpenter’s son from Galilee.

So when western Christians turned up in parts of the world where most people have a darker complexion, what did the images imply. That those with light skin were ‘good’ and those with dark skin were ‘bad’?

Even today we hear reports from people for whom these kinds of images have left scars.

But, I think this also questions the kinds of images we respond to today.

Most of our mental image of Africa are still formed by shocking pictures of famine and poverty. For me, I still can’t shake the images that led to Band Aid back in 1984, they still influence my perception of the world. And while famine still hits the continent, Africa’s a big place with a lot of other things going on. Our stereotypes that fit with those images from the 1980s are a stark contrast from the Addis Ababa light rail system or the urban sprawl of Lagos in Nigeria, Africa’s largest city.

Mission agencies have to take some of the blame for that. We haven’t always done a good job of representing the world we serve in. Mission today is as likely to require us to serve in urban or suburban areas around major cities, as to relocate to a rural community. While, today’s acts of service are much less likely to be as a sole evangelist in a cross-cultural setting and more as part of a strategic team, working alongside indigenous Christians and in partnership with the local church.

Of course, the images that represent these 21st Century mission roles are not the kinds of pictures that spur us to action. We are more ready to go and serve those that look different to us than to go to those that work in office blocks and have a daily commute. But, maybe this is where the church can do more to encourage us to see the world as it truly is, rather than as one presented to us in the pictures.

The book, The Future of the Global Church, puts it like this.

‘In 1800, only 3% of humankind lived in cities. It is estimated that in 2100 the figure will be nearly 90%. It was probably in 2007/08 that the world’s population first became predominantly urban’

The trinity in music

I was so pleased that a colleague shared an interview with Dr Jeremy Begbie, Duke Divinity School, talking about how music can help explain the trinity. This video briefly captures the point.

Reflections on global missional leadership in community: Intentionality

Personal Reflection

To give some background, like so many people in similar roles, I have never intentionally sought a leadership position. My dream was never to develop a team, take on challenges, or create a different world (I really wanted to be a radio DJ, that’s maybe another story), but over the years I’ve been allowed more experience and more opportunity to do just that. I’ve also discovered that I like this kind of thing and maybe I fit this much better than I would any radio studio.

In some ways, however, I feel like I’ve missed a step. In never intentionally seeking leadership roles I’ve not, until more recently, intentionally developed myself in this area.

Last week’s consultation helped me to reflect on my personal situation and reminded me that it would be helpful to get involved leadership conversations and intentionally take time to reflect and develop personally in the area of leadership. I should probably say that it’s not that I see myself as a bad or ill-equipped leader, but I know with more intentionality I can grow in this area.

Other intentional applications

The kinds of consultations we have in the Alliance don’t always result in fixed conclusions. We discuss ideas, develop some theories, raise new questions, but we don’t go away with a 5-point plan of how to apply what we’ve covered. I understand why some find that frustrating, but for me, it raises the question of what I can do within my sphere of influence to develop some of the themes with my team.

In my earlier post, I listed four areas that I was impacted by last week. Intentionality; millennials; globalisation, nationalism and polycentrism; and change and opportunity – in being intentional, it’s now down to my community to interpret these areas into our working practices. That’s me deciding to be intentional in what I do.