Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Cohabitation, marriage, relationship stability and child outcomes

6 December, 2018

An Institute of Fiscal Studies report (2013), on “Cohabitation, marriage, relationship stability and child outcomes”, has written that:

“It is well known that children born to married parents tend to achieve better cognitive and social outcomes, on average, than children born into other family forms, including cohabiting unions. The existence of such gaps is potentially important, given the long-term consequences of childhood cognitive and non-cognitive skills and behaviours for education, labour market and other outcomes in adulthood.”

“One of the hypotheses that is often put forward to explain why children born to married couples do better than children born to cohabiting couples is the greater stability of married compared with cohabiting unions: married couples are, on average, less likely to split up than cohabiting couples.”

The report then tries to explain away this explanation by saying:

“In both cases, however, it must be recognised that marital status may not be the cause of these differences. Cohabiting couples may differ from married couples in many ways other than their formal marital status, such as their education or the love and commitment in their relationship. Differences in relationship stability or the outcomes of children born to cohabiting and married couples may simply reflect these differences in other characteristics rather than be caused by marriage.”

Rather:

“Our view is therefore that the gaps in [cognitive development and] socio-emotional development are also more likely to arise from the fact that different types of people choose to get married, rather than because getting married confers positive benefits on children’s behaviour.”

And where the gap for “other behaviours” – including that “children born to cohabiting couples are significantly more likely to engage in a range of risky and anti-social behaviours” – could not be fully accounted for – statistically, not casually – the authors are at pains to say that:

“It might be possible to eliminate the remaining differences if we had access to richer data. Bearing [this] in mind… we would strongly caution against interpreting a remaining significant association between parents’ marital status and their child’s participation in risky and antisocial behaviours as evidence of a positive causal effect of marriage on children’s behaviour.”

The IFS report then concludes that: “Overall, our findings suggest that the differences in relationship stability between cohabiting and married parents, and the cognitive and non-cognitive skills and behaviours of their children, mainly or entirely reflect the fact that different types of people choose to get married (the selection effect), rather than that marriage has a direct positive causal effect on relationship stability or children’s outcomes. On the basis of this evidence, therefore, there does not seem to be a strong rationale for policies that seek to encourage couples to get married, at least not if the aim is to increase these measures of relationship stability or child development.”

Much of this “selection effect” is explained, they say “by differences in the mother’s background, plus parental education, income and work status.”

Differences in the mother’s background include “that cohabiting mothers grew up in poorer environments than married mothers.”

However, what the report fails to highlight – even though it is there in the data – is that one of the largest and most significant differences is that cohabiting mothers were more likely to have come from a family situation where their own parents had separated! (See Table 3.1) It was the first and most obvious thing I looked for.

In other words, one way of looking a the dataset is that those who come from a stable family background tend to experience better outcomes and are much more likely to perpetuate the same by entering into marriage, which tends to result in better outcomes for their children.

Therefore, contrary to the report’s conclusions, the underlying data actually seems to provide “a strong rationale for policies that seek to encourage couples to get married”, if “the aim is to increase these measures of relationship stability or child development.”

The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11

10 November, 2018

It has been said that Revelation is the most biblical of books, as it alludes to stories and teaching from right across both Old and New Testaments of the Bible through its use of imagery, words and phrases. It’s worth also reminding ourselves that, in keeping with its genre of apocalyptic literature, the book of Revelation is loaded with pictures, which are just that – pictures that convey a meaningful message.

So, my reflections on the two witnesses of Revelation 11:1-14 result from reading the passage and being reminded of other parts of the Bible.

Here are my reflections, followed by some thoughts on how this peculiar passage speaks to us today. I hope it resonates with you. I welcome your thoughts.

____________

Measure the temple, count the worshipper. But do not measure the outer court, given to the Gentiles to be trampled upon.

  • The faithful people of God, those in the temple of God, those who overcome by continuing to follow Jesus under pressure – these are marked out, preserved and not overcome by the forces that would trample down all in its domain. (See 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:19-22 and 1 Peter 2:4-5.).
  • Those outside the temple, in the courts, will inevitably be trampled by priorities, pressures and oppression of the powers of this world and this age. Instead of overcoming in the midst of pressure, they will be conformed and overcome by it.
  • See Matthew 5:13, especially in the context of witness and faithfulness to Jesus – “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”

The two witnesses, which are the two olive trees and two lampstands:

  • Two because that’s the number of witness (see Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16).
  • Lampstands because they represent the church (see Revelation 1-3).
  • Olive trees because they were anointed by the Holy Spirit and for the task (see Zechariah 4).
  • Olive trees because they represent the multiethnic church of Jews and ingrafted gentiles (see Romans 11).

Fire comes from their mouth and consumes their enemies:

  • The Holy Spirit, symbolised by fire, will give the witnesses of Jesus the words to say that no one can resist (see Acts 2:1-4 and Mark 13:11; also Luke 21:12-15).
  • Mark. 13:11: “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”
  • Luke. 21:12–15: “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.”

Drought and plagues:

  • These all allude to Elijah’s and Moses’ ministry to deliver people out of slavery to the world system and powers, and to call people to wholehearted faithfulness to God (see Exodus 7-12 and 1 Kings 17-18).

Finished their testimony, killed, left unburied, resurrected, taken up to heaven:

  • These witnesses follow the way of Jesus, the faithful witness and the firstborn from among the dead (Revelation 1:5) – through witness, suffering and death (carrying our cross and losing our life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel; see Mark 8:34-38), and resurrection (vindication; (see Romans 1:4 and 1 Timothy 3:16).
  • Jesus body was placed in a tomb (see Mark 15:46), these witnesses’ bodies were not placed in a tomb.
  • Jesus’ followers witnessed Jesus being taken up into heaven (see Mark 16:19). These witnesses’ enemies witnessed them being taken up into heaven.

Gave glory to God in heaven:

  • Despite all the plagues before (Revelation 9:20-21) and after (Revelation 16:8-11,21) this section in Revelation – the economic and natural consequences of living apart from God and in opposition to God’s ways – those suffering these consequences did not turn God; in fact some cursed him instead.
  • Only when the followers of Jesus testify, suffer for their faithful witness to Jesus Christ and are vindicated by God, do the people glorify God.

____________

Some Christian thought leaders call this the cruciform shape of Christian witness, i.e. the cross-shaped way of life that Jesus modelled and calls us into.

This is seen, for example, in the life and death of: Stephen in Acts 6, arguably a catalyst for the conversion of Paul the apostle; the many Christians killed in Romans coliseums for refusing to bow to Empire; the blood of the Martyrs of the English reformation; Jim Elliott and the five missionaries killed for their missionary endeavours in Ecuador.

All these suffered loss of life, but the history of the progression of Christian witness is also full of stories of those who died to self and carried the cross in order to love Christ by loving others, such as: Corrie ten Boom, holocaust-survivor who forgave the Nazi leaders and concentration camp guards who had effectively taken the lives of her family members; Elisabeth Elliott, who later spent two years as a missionary to the tribe members who killed her husband, Jim; Daniel MacArthur and Ashers Bakery, who with great dignity and at personal cost refused an order promoting a political message that cut across their conscience; and a whole host of more ordinary examples of self-sacrificing love in order to be faithful to Christ Jesus in word and in action.

The apostles Paul, Peter, James and John all spoke of this cross-shaped way of life and witness, helpfully applying it to a few different contexts.

2 Cor. 4:8–12: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

1 Pet. 4:12–14: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”

James. 5:10–11: “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.“

1 John. 3:16–18: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

____________

In summary, I’m suggesting that, in harmony with the rest of the New Testament, the two witnesses of Revelation 11 call us to faithfully follow the way of Christ Jesus in cross-shaped, self-sacrificial love and witness.

I’ll leave you with these words of Jesus that speak of self-sacrificing love, especially within the family of God, and the link to effective witness.

John 15:12–13: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

John 13:14-15,34-35: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. … A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

____________

So over to you. What do you think?

I welcome your thoughts on my reflections and application. What resonates with you? What doesn’t?

Also, are there any stories that inspire you? Any thoughts on how to live this way?

Rethinking the Nativity

26 December, 2017

What do you see when you think of the Nativity scene?

The traditional scene features the baby Jesus lying in a manger in a stable because there was no room at the inn, surrounded by Mary, Joseph, their donkey and some other animals, shepherds and their sheep, three kings bearing three gifts, a star above the stable, and angels filling the sky. Perhaps something like this:

Source: see reference 1

This is a composite picture drawn from the Bible… or is it?

In the description in the gospels of the scene of Jesus, there is:

  • No Inn – “no room for them in the inn” is better translated “no room for them in the guest room”. “Guest room” is a more accurate translation of the Greek word kataluma in Luke 2:7. Homes at that time often had a guest room, which typically was a small room build above or to the rear of the main, combined, living and sleeping area. Given the culture, it is unthinkable that Joseph would have stayed in an inn when he had relatives in his home town. But there was “no room in the guest room” – perhaps because it was already occupied by other relatives that arrived during the census – or, more likely, because there wasn’t enough room in the guest quarters to accommodate an imminent delivery.

Source: see reference 2

  • No stable – there is no mention of a stable. Luke’s account states that Mary placed Jesus in the manager. A “manger”, of course, refers to a feeding trough of sorts for animals. But managers were found in houses of that time and place, as domestic animals were brought into the lowest level of the home in the evenings for safety. The main living area was slightly raised from this entry level, and the manger would often be simply a depression in the floor of the main living area, which animals could access from where they were. So I see the baby Jesus lying in a manger, yes – not in a stable – but in a family home.

Source: see reference 3

  • No donkey – no mention of a donkey. It’s an assumption that this is how a pregnant Mary would have had to travel. This could be correct, but there were other options, some safer and more comfortable.
  • No animals – no mention of animals, though any animals belonging to the household may – following the arrival of the newborn – have been brought into the home for the evening.
  • No kings – magi (wise men, astrologers, astronomers), but not kings. And that there were three is an assumption based on there being three gifts.
  • No star – the magi that followed the star to Jesus arrived AFTER Jesus’ birth, up to, but no more than, two years later – hence Herod tragically ordering the killing of all boys, in Bethlehem, aged two years and under (Matthew 2:16). And certainly no star or magi at a stable, as Matthew 2:11 states that “On coming to the HOUSE, they [the Magi] saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”
  • No angels – the angels appeared to the shepherds tending their flocks in the fields on the outskirts of Bethlehem.
  • No wintertime – no time is explicitly specified in the Biblical texts. However, based on when shepherds would be “watching their flocks at night” (Luke 2:8) – i.e. Spring through to October – Luke’s account of Elizabeth and Mary’s pregnancies, a case can be made for Jesus being born mid to late September, in the Jewish month of Tishrei (- see this article for more info: http://www.bibleinfo.com/en/questions/when-was-jesus-born).

_______________

What a different Christmas scene we have. Jesus born in a home, almost just like any other baby in Israel, with mother and baby tended by Joseph’s female relatives. But with a surprise visit from shepherds a short time after the birth.

William Thomson – a Presbyterian missionary to Lebanon, Syria and Palestine – wrote in 1857:

“It is my impression that the birth actually took place in an ordinary house of some common peasant, and that the baby was laid in one of the mangers, such as are still found in the dwellings of farmers in this region.”

Does it diminish the meaning at all? Not to me. It makes more sense to me to read the text again without the clutter of all the other elements. There’s a power in the simplicity and ordinariness of it all. If it wasn’t for the shepherds, perhaps no one except Joseph and Mary would have known. (Luke 2:1-20)

This new scene, as I now come to see it, resonates more readily and more deeply with me – because, for me, it is a better reflection of the Biblical account. And in that context, as the following to quotes state, it brings Jesus nearer still to our everyday lives.

New Testament scholar and Anglican cleric, the late Richard France, wrote:

“The problem with the stable is that it distances Jesus from the rest of us. It puts even his birth in a unique setting, in some ways as remote from life as if he had been born in Caesar’s Palace. [But] the message of the incarnation is that Jesus is one of us. He came to be what we are, and it fits well with that theology that his birth in fact took place in a normal, crowded, warm, welcoming Palestinian home, just like many another Jewish boy of his time.”

Professor of New Testament, Dr Tim Geddert, suggested that:

“A new reading of the text… challenges us to open our own living rooms for Jesus, making room for him not in the barn… [or] once or twice Church Services or maybe Christmas Eve and Christmas morning… but in our living rooms, right where the family lives, where the pets roam, where we work and sleep and play and eat – even when our homes are packed full of guests. … After all, they called him Emmanuel, God with us.”

Emmanuel, God with us.

One more reflection: This ordinary scene in an ordinary home in Bethlehem is interrupted somewhat by the arrival of the shepherds that same day to find “a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (see footnote) – which, according to an angel that appeared to them whilst tending their flocks at night, was a “sign” for the shepherds in finding the “Saviour”, “Christ the Lord”, who who was born that day in Bethlehem, “the town of David”, (Luke 2:11).

What is interesting to me is that, by divine providence, the circumstances of his birth meant that Jesus:

  • The promised Messiah who would sit on David’s throne was born in the town of David.
  • The Bread of Life was born in Bethlehem, which means House of Bread.
  • The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was born in a town known for providing sheep for sacrifice in the Temple in the neighbouring city of Jerusalem.

So what do you see when you think of the Nativity of Jesus? Does it matter? And does it make a difference for you?

_______________

To conclude, to help us reflect on the meaning of the Christmas event, here are the words of the angels to Mary, to Joseph and to the shepherds announcing the nativity of Jesus:

“Do not be afraid, Mary… You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end… The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:30-33,35)

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:20-21)

[To the shepherds:] “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. … Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:10-11,14)

_______________

Footnote:

The angel said to the shepherds that “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)

In what way was it a sign? Was it so unusual to find a baby in a manger, and therefore it would be evident that among “all” the newborn babies in Bethlehem, this was the one? Or did a “sign” signify something else.

I asked Professor of New Testament, Dr Tim Geddert, about this. This was his reply:

‘Concerning the shepherds finding the baby, based on the angels “clues” . . . Yes, given the population of Bethlehem it would be quite UNLIKELY that two babies would be born in the same week, perhaps in the same month. Some have calculated that Herod’s murder of the Bethlehem babies could have killed about 20 babies. If that is anywhere close to correct, that is about 1 a month. On the other hand “sign” does not really have to mean “clue to help solve a puzzle”. It can be a “sign” like, for example “the sign of Jonah” and other “signs” in Scripture (miracles in John, etc.) that are not so much clues for a puzzle, but pointers to meaning.’

If the “sign” of the “manger” was a pointer to a deeper meaning, perhaps it alludes to Isaiah 1:3 – “The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s [master’s; Lord’s] manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

Perhaps there was an ox and a donkey beside the manager after all!

_______________

References:

  1. Photo sourced at: https://pixabay.com/photo-2874137/
  2. Rev. Ian Paul (2017) “Jesus was not born in a stable (honest!)”. (Blog post) See: https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/jesus-was-not-born-in-a-stable-honest.
  3. Timothy J. Geddert (2007) “Enriching our Christmas Traditions”, a chapter from the His book “Double Take: New Meanings From Old Stories”.

“And who is my neighbour?”

9 July, 2017

In light of the divisions in American society that have been exposed and heightened by the US presidential elections, it may be a good time for followers of Jesus Christ to ask again the question: “And who is my neighbor?”

A lot has been written and said post-election, often in an attempt to deepen understanding on both sides. But there’s a real risk of “preaching to the choir,” talking past each other or reinforcing polar positions.

This article attempts to shift the balance of conversation from the horizontal plane to the vertical one. In other words, the intent is to promote our dialogue with—and particularly our response to—our Lord, without undermining our discourse with one another. In a time like this, we need to hear God speak into our situation and to make a right response to him.

To help us with this opportunity to hear God, let me ask you to slow down, reflect and complete the following sentence:

“The group(s) of people I seem to have the most wariness/anxiety over, fear of, or irritation/anger/animosity towards is/are ____________.”

What group do you have the most wariness over, fear of, or animosity towards?

The Shocking Samaritan

Now back to the question… “And who is my neighbor?”

The first time that question was asked, Jesus replied with what is now known as The Parable of the Good Samaritan.

We need to consider Jesus’ response carefully and deeply. But we need to make sure we read it in a way that shocks us like it did those who first heard those words.

The Samaritan in the story was anything but good from the viewpoint of those listening. They were despised, compromised, dishonest, treacherous, contaminants in society, and to be avoided as far as possible.

As New Testament scholar, Prof. Tim Geddert explains:

Jesus’ strategy [in responding to his enquirer] was not to pick a perfect example of merciful loving-kindness and let him demonstrate the right way to treat people in need. Jesus’ strategy was to shock his hearers by taking the least likely candidate… As surely as we link the adjectives “good” or “merciful” with… “Samaritan”, the Jews… would have supplied adjectives like “hateful”, “unclean”, “religiously-perverted”… Perhaps the parable still has the power to shock… if we try to imagine whom Jesus might have lifted out as his hero of compassion today.

Tim Geddert, Double Take: New Meanings from Old Stories

Who Offends You Most?

So how about, instead of ‘Samaritan’, we substitute in:

  • Blinded Trump supporters or blinkered Clinton advocates;
  • White evangelicals who “compromised the faith” by voting for either one of two morally-disqualified candidates, giving their vote away by nominating a third candidate or a write in, or not voting at all;
  • Supposed Christians who by their voting choices are inciting racism and misogyny or promoting corruption and fetal homicide;
  • Christian leaders who have (in essence) taken the Lord’s name in vain, used the Bible for partisan purposes, and – by failing to discern the underlying societal issues – have undermined the credibility and witness of the church;
  • Ignorant, conservative, working-class white males, or equally intolerant liberal elites with no empathy with the common working man;
  • Blacks, Hispanics, or minority groups who expect handouts, take our jobs and undermine our culture;
  • Immigrants (legal or illegal) who are an economic drain on – and a major security risk to – our once great nation;
  • [Your response to the sentence completion exercise above].

Choose a group that is most unlike you, most offensive to you—and then re-read the encounter between Jesus and this God-fearing lawyer who wanted to justify himself (Luke 10:25-37).

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

“Love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself.” 

“And who is my neighbor?”

“The one who showed mercy toward him.”

“Go and do the same.”

In other words, let us go and show mercy (in heart and in action) on:

  • Those most different to ourselves;
  • Those that we feel justified to look down upon and erect barriers against;
  • Those we think would judge and despise us.

It’s interesting what Jesus does here. In his reply to the question “And who is my neighbor?”, he refused to look at the merits of the “Other”. In fact, Jesus led the lawyer to answer his own question. I trust we have done something of that here.

As he so often does, Jesus—whilst remaining deeply practical—moves matters on to a higher plane. He lands the coin on its edge. It wasn’t about who was right or wrong, better or worse. And it certainly wasn’t about who was in or out of our obligation to love. It was—no, it still is—about us Loving God by Loving Others. Jesus moves it beyond our viewpoints, debate and discourse. And made it about our love and our actions. Not how worthy the Other is, but how WE ARE toward the Other.

It’s interesting – hopefully impactful – to note that it inconvenienced the Samaritan to show mercy. He had to change plans and go out of his way. It cost him both time and money.

Here’s the kicker: In a situation where we are missing each other in the discourse—when we hear Jesus speak—the question becomes, “How will I respond to my Lord?”

—————————-

This blog post was first published at Missio Alliance under the title ‘Asking “Who Is My Neighbour?” After the Election’ on 9th December 2016.

Post-referendum reflections – Part 2: Plot holes result in Box Office flop

16 July, 2016

Despite a big budget, a 5-star cast and great special effects, significant plot holes in a storyline can leave movie goers deeply unsatisfied. 

The EU Referendum was certainly like that in at least one respect: 

The Remain camp failed to engage adequately with a major question in the minds of many undecided voters. 

Are immigration levels – the size of the city of Newcastle upon Tyne per year – sustainable? Simply that! That is not a racist question (necessarily); it’s a practical one. I voted to Remain, but this question of sustainable immigration levels was one that I felt was not addressed satisfactorily. (The irony, of course, is that it was and is still unclear what effect exiting the EU will have on immigration levels.)

Unaddressed, this would leave a significant plot hole in the Remain storyline.

Remain, however, did not engage with the question. Instead, as politicians often do, they answered the one they wanted, but even then not very well.  

Immigrants are net contributors to the economy, they said; “they put in more than they take out”.

 But what does that mean? Does it mean that those coming from overseas pay more in taxes than they take out in benefits? Does it mean that their tax contributions or labour more than offsets the demand on the healthcare and education systems? It would have been good to have had that detail.  

Without that detail or an alternate credible narrative, it is easy to imagine the worst – especially when people experience hospital/GP waiting times and competition for jobs, housing and school places – or just personal and societal disharmony and needing something to blame it on.

Without information to the contrary, logic would, for many, argue that it is ‘in fact’ unsustainable.

So the plot hole remained but the country didn’t, as the “Remain” campaign flopped at the Box Office!

Systemic racism: Insights on how to recognise and tackle the problem

11 July, 2016

In light of the recent, tragic and fatal police shootings of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana, Ben Sternke writes about the “systemic” nature of the problem – including how to recognise systemic racism and how to start addressing it.

I found what Ben wrote really helpful, and hope you do too. 

For context, African-American citizens are far more likely to be shot by police than whites. Only 13% of the US population are black. Yet of the 1,152 people killed by police in the USA in 2015, 30% were black.
—————

Ben writes:

“The problem isn’t a few bad apples or even a ton of bad apples. The problem is SYSTEMIC and must be addressed at the systemic level.

Here are some examples of what I mean…

When those with power are given the benefit of the doubt and protected from accountability, (while the opposite is true for those without power), the problem is systemic.

When those with power can’t shut their mouths for a few minutes and listen to the stories and experience of those without power, instead knee-jerking into justifications and platitudes, the problem is systemic.

When my natural reaction and assumptions to seeing a black man reach for his wallet are fundamentally different from my reactions / assumptions when a white man reaches for his wallet, the problem is systemic.

I include myself in all of these, by the way. I am part of the system, my hidden assumptions about people have been shaped by the system even though I don’t like it.

Those are a few particular ways the problem is systemic.

Also, when parents of black children have to caution them about their interactions with those who are sworn to serve and protect, there is something wrong with the system.

When black friends tell me they are constantly “on alert” when crossing a street, because they’re afraid a cop will arrest them for jaywalking, the problem is systemic. (I NEVER worry about jaywalking.)

We would know this if we’d listen to them talk about their experience, the fear they live with every day.

Campaign Zero has loads of info on how the problem is systemic, and, most helpfully, ways you can get involved to change things.

I firmly believe the best way to create systemic change is at the grassroots level.

Me interacting with my neighbours in a new way is “changing the system.” Me choosing to ask my black friends how these news reports affect them, and just listening, is changing the system.

This is partly why, I think, we still have such a massive problem with racism in this country, frankly. Laws were passed (rightly so!), but racism was never transformed, it just went underground, because we didn’t really address it on the grassroots level as well as we could have.”

—————

In kindly agreeing that I could share his comments (which were originally posted on Facebook), Ben stressed that they are “off the cuff” and “unedited”. Personally, I think they are all the more powerful for it.

So, what do you think? 

—————

Ben Sternke, co-pastor of The Table, is involved in planting a network of missional churches in Minnesota. He is also co-founder of Gravity Leadership, which is focused on training Christian leaders to create and lead Jesus-shaped movement. Follow Ben at @bensternke.

Post-referendum reflections – Part 1: Democratic deficit

3 July, 2016

Does a propaganda-ridden campaign on both the Leave and Remain sides of the EU Referendum reveal a democratic deficit in Britain and perhaps other Western nations?

I – along with many others – have been less than impressed by some concerning issues surrounding the debate. Here are two such issues that most readily come to mind:

a) The evident misinformation (or at least a lack of transparency) – I would say, on both sides – that has left many Leave voters and non-voters regretting their voting choice. Whilst in many cases this was avoidable (such as protest votes and those that assumed that to Remain was an inevitable outcome) – some others voted based on being (they would say) misled by, at best, a lack of transparency by the Leave campaign and, at worst, downright deceit. Examples would include figures of payments to the EU (stated as gross, not net, and does not account for Britain’s automatic rebate), promised investment in the NHS (implied to be £350 million per week) and vast reductions in immigration levels (then implicitly guaranteed, now clearly uncertain).

b) A failure to on both sides to effectively addressing real people’s real (or imagined) concerns, on both sides. Instead, there was a lot in the way of sound bites and scripted answers.

Asking people to make a democratic decision without arming them with the information they need and ask for is (I would suggest) democratically deficient or anaemic.

I wonder if other nations, not run on the same democratic principles that we are so proud of, are laughing at us right now. Maybe not, but I fear that the process surrounding the UK’s EU Referendum has not been the beacon of democracy in action that it could have been.

What do you think?

EU Referendum – Part 3: Sovereignty, democracy, immigration and trade

22 June, 2016

The first two posts looked at issues of Influence on, as well as the Stability offered by, the EU. In this last post, I highlight some other issues that have been in my thinking.

National sovereignty

I have an instinctive conviction about protecting national sovereignty – and that’s one of the main reason why I’d consider voting to Leave. Unfortunately, there are undemocratic principles and practices at work in the EU, which appear to erode our sovereignty – not to speak of the creeping movement and growing agenda toward closer political union. The changes of name from the EEC (European Economic Community) to the EC (the European Community in 1997, and then to the EU (European Union) in 2009 appears to reflect that journey pretty well. 

Democracy

It seems highly undemocratic that unelected officials are making our laws and interfering with the application of our laws through the European Courts. 

I understand, however, that the UK has only voted against a very small proportion of the bills that made it into EU law. In other words, the vast majority of EU laws supposedly “imposed” on us are those we voted in favour of. 

An independent academic research organisation reports that: “From official EU voting records is that the British government has voted ‘No’ to EU proposals on 56 occasions, abstained 70 times, and voted ‘Yes’ to legislative proposals 2,466 times since 1999.  In other words, UK ministers were on the “winning side” 95% of the time, abstained 3% of the time, and were on the losing side 2%.”

Nevertheless, the “distance” we might feel exists between us and our UK politicians is amplified several fold between us and decision makers in the EU. And where we are represented by MEPs – well, I can’t imagine many British people feeling connected with or empowered by their own MEP, let alone our MEPs as a whole group representing our national interests in Europe. This is an ongoing problem that surely affects the sentiments of some voters.

Immigration

There are many positives of immigration, from within and outside of the EU. Here is a blog piece written by a North East employer discussing what the EU referendum means to his business, including the advantages of being able to employ people from within the EU.

However, annual net migration at a rate of approximately a city the size of Newcastle upon Tyne does not seem sustainable to the rational mind. 

And I can’t help but feeling that the Remain campaign’s approach of ignoring people’s concerns on the immigration issue is not helping. Simply stating that immigrants are net contributors to the UK economy does not ease the unease. 

With pressures increasing on our healthcare and education systems and budgets remaining static at best, are we really to believe that net immigration at around 300,000 per year makes no impact?

For me, this remains unanswered. And neither side is willing to dig down beneath the top line statements of their campaign’s particular position. This has been typical, and is unsatisfactory and disappointing. Ho hum!

Trade

The Leave campaign says that there is no way the the EU will impose trade tariffs. However, I can’t see how we could avoid it, when the EU does with the USA and when other non-EU, European countries have to pay for the privilege  of trading tariff-free with the EU bloc.

Arriving at a decision

In the end, I can see – and in some cases – share both sides of the argument. Some questions remain unanswered for me and the lack of depth and detail on some/many issues has been unhelpful. So, I have chosen (instinctively or rationally) to prioritise some issues in order to arrive at a decision.

What about you? What do you think?

EU Referendum – Part 2: Historical roots and future stability in Europe

22 June, 2016

In my first post on this topic, I discussed the implications of the upcoming EU Referendum on our influence in EU nations, through  the gospel and in other ways.

Here I’d like to highlight two other, interlinked reasons that lean me towards voting Remain. 

One is its historical roots following the world wars to promote peace and stability – through interdependence – in Europe

This powerful, positive message by Gordon Brown expresses my feeling on that particular point much more effectively than I can. It is well worth watching! How refreshing to hear a Remain politician focus on principles, values and the common good, rather than simply the economic argument or the fear of impending doom.

The second is, I guess, the “do unto others as you would have them do onto you” type of principle that Jesus taught. In other words, the question for me is, “Would I be happy for the EU to totally fragment (i.e. for  all EU countries to decide to Leave in time)?” I think not, particularly from in terms of the stability and relative peace that (I believe) the EU has had a role in since the last World War. 

What about you? Whether it’s likely or not to happen, how would you feel about an opt out by all countries, the end of the EU?

Some say that NATO has been responsible for “peace” in our time. I don’t know enough to evaluate that claim. The probable answer is that both have been important.

I recognise that the size of the EU has grown, especially in more recent times. At the same time, the underlying motivation, which has been about stability and prosperity through economic interdependence, has increasingly shifted towards political union (which I am opposed to). The Telegraph has a piece on “What is the EU and why was it created?”

Furthermore, it could argued that freedom of movement and mass net immigration into Western Europe is actually disrupting the cultural fabric of those societies and giving rise to growing nationalist, fascist and extremist tendencies. I don’t know how true that is – or whether that is a result more so of the economic and employment pressure caused by the recession. Perhaps both?!

In the next post, I explore some other issues – mostly concerns with the EU.

In the meantime, I welcome you thoughts. 

EU Referendum – Part 1: The gospel and Godly influence

22 June, 2016

It’s been an interesting process coming to a decision about how to vote at the EU Referendum. I’ve been someone who can see both sides of some arguments for Remain and Leave, whilst being largely turned off by other ones.

This series of posts highlights some of the issues that have been in my thinking while I have journeyed towards a decision (- though not necessarily in order).

Steve Thomas, one of the senior leaders of the Salt & Light family of churches, wrote a helpful blog piece titled “The gospel, the EU and me”.

One of the main things that stood out to me from Steve’s blog was that kingdom (i.e. God’s) influence was going to come from people (not governments or countries):

a) People (missionaries, church planters, mentors) going (or even coming) with the gospel

b) People (Christians) getting involved to influence and help shape the direction and policies of the EU to some degree (though it might take a Wilberforce type figure to do that to any degree?). 

And that in both cases this would be done best by remaining in the EU

Regarding the first, the great advantage is the freedom of movement that is currently possible – a bit like the freedom of movement that saw the rapid advance of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire in the first century. 

To illustrate what it could look like without that freedom of movement – I recently met a Nigerian guy who was a missionary to an Eastern European country. He was there for about 18 months before returning to Nigeria to reapply for a visa. I have a very close friend from East Asia who had to wait almost three years for a missionary visa to an EU country. 

I’ve really appreciated receiving Steve’s perspective – and object lesson – in how to put God first in thinking about complex and emotive matters. 

At the same time, I recognise that there are other aspects or principles that people might focus on in trying to come to a decision about which way to vote. And I also recognise that there is probably no right or wrong vote, just right or wrong reasons, motivations and attitudes for our chosen vote.

In the second post, I will be looking at two other issues that have been prominent in my thinking.


%d bloggers like this: