April 29, 2010
There is little left to say about Gordon Brown’s disaster yesterday. Roy Greenslade has summarised the press coverage this morning and it tells its own story. But, there is one element of this business that bothers me greatly.
In the context of the most personality-driven and presidential general election campaign I can remember, the story is all about Gordon Brown’s hypocrisy and political demise. Immigration is beginning to get more of an airing, but not in substance … only in terms of it being a legitimate topic for concern or debate. That worries me in itself.
But, my main worry has to do with generalisation and categorisation.
We have learned over the years not to categorise people. We should not speak about ‘homosexuals’, but ‘homosexual people’ (in the context of church debates, for example). We refer to ‘disabled people’, not ‘the disabled’. Yet, we have stigmatised politicians (greedy wasters) and bankers (greedy wasters) in a way that is undifferentiated, lazy and even destructive. And now we are doing it with ‘immigrants’.
Forgive the reference (and I am not equating these in terms of the gravity of the phenomena), but whenever we categorise groups of people we run the risk of misrepresenting and misjudging the truth or the reality. Look at the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda… or the Jews in Weimar Germany. (Remember the paediatrician in Portsmouth whose house was targetted by the anti-paedophile mobs?) So, when conducting important discussions about immigration into our small island, the language we use matters.
So, when we speak of ‘immigrants’, to whom are we referring? And when we speak (as yesterday) of ‘Eastern European immigrants’, do we really intend to lump them all together in one negative category? And when we listen to the vox pops from Rochdale estates in which we hear that housing and jobs are going to ‘them’, precisely which houses and jobs are being denied to the English? And would they do these jobs anyway?
Reality is always more complicated than headlines. But, given that we live in a blame culture – in which everything has to be someone else’s fault – anyway, how do we find the language for an intelligent and informed debate about immigration instead of the generalised and (undifferentiatedly) categorised demonisation we see at the moment? Just because lots of people are concerned about immigration (or their perception of it) does not mean we are right to use it as a cheap way of appearing populist or winning votes.
I shrank with embarrassment when I saw Brown’s gaffe. But I also wondered why the gaffe became the story instead of immigration becoming the issue. And I also wondered what it would feel like to be a tax-paying, socially responsible Eastern European immigrant in England this morning – or how our newspapers would handle the news that British emigrants were being demonised in countries where they also were entitled to live.
April 27, 2010
The Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, today announced that he would be leaving his post on 31 August in order to return to academia. After nearly seven years in post he is to become Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Is he right to go at this point?
According to the press notice, Tom said, ‘This has been the hardest decision of my life. It has been an indescribable privilege to be Bishop of the ancient Diocese of Durham, to work with a superb team of colleagues, to take part in the work of God’s kingdom here in the north-east, and to represent the region and its churches in the House of Lords and in General Synod. I have loved the people, the place, the heritage and the work. But my continuing vocation to be a writer, teacher and broadcaster, for the benefit (I hope) of the wider world and church, has been increasingly difficult to combine with the complex demands and duties of a diocesan bishop. I am very sad about this, but the choice has become increasingly clear.’
This is one of those announcements that makes you miserable and cheers you up in the same moment. He will be badly missed as a diocesan bishop and member of the General Synod and House of Lords – but he will now be able to produce more books, do more lecturing and broadcasting and continue to educate the rest of us whose brains aren’t big enough.
Tom published the superb The New Testament and the People of God in 1992, followed it up in 1996 with Jesus and the Victory of God, did a minor (800 page) diversion into The Resurrection of the Son of God in 2003… but has been promising another three volumes ever since. Given the nature of these first three books (of an intended five-part series which grew to six planned volumes), the Church needs the next three. Of course, since being Bishop of Durham, Tom has managed to write what seems like a book every week, numerous articles and papers, lecture around the world and pop up on the telly alot. His output and capacity for creative work is nothing short of remarkable.
It is perhaps sad that it is too difficult to combine being a diocesan bishop with academic work – he is not the first academic bishop to find the tension too great – but his choice means both a loss and a gain for the wider church. It is perhaps also evidence of the load carried by diocesan bishops in an increasingly demanding world and church – just consider the amount of legislation that now has to be embraced by the Church…
Tom will go with my prayers and gratitude. And a plea to get the remaining books written so I and others can continue to learn, be stimulated, encouraged and challenged.
April 26, 2010
Posted by nickbaines under politics
| Tags: General Election
|  Comments
Alice posted this video in a comment on my last post. It is funny and brilliant – especially getting Nigel Farage, Alastair Campbell, Ann Widdecombe and Peter Tatchell singing from the same hymnsheet (as it were).
April 26, 2010
Every time I hear a politician or journalist use the phrase ‘making your mind up’, awful memories of Buck’s Fizz come flooding into my memory. Not the rather tame (but refreshing on a hot day) drink, but the of-its-time pop group who defrocked themselves while singing the chorus.
Observing the election campaign, I am beginning to wonder whether people have actually already made their minds up and the next ten days will just get a bit tedious with the repeated mantras that are supposed to invade our subconscious and steer our hand in the ballot box next week. Labour sound defeated, the Tories sound panicky/desperate, and the Liberal Democrats sound confident about changing the political landscape in the UK.
What I can’t make my mind up about is precisely which ‘Britain’ is being remembered when the parties – Tories (mainly) and UKIP/BNP/English Democrats/etc (manically) – promise to restore to Britain the greatness that is its birthright. The BNP have even superimposed Nick Griffin (looking as if someone is squeezing his balls below the picture to make him look serious) on Sir Winston Churchill – a ludicrous association if ever there was one. But, my question is a serious one: when was the ‘golden age’ to which we might aspire to return or re-create?
Of course, this goes hand-in-hand with the other question around at the moment: are Christians being marginalised or persecuted? The link between this and the first question is that both make assumptions about the past and both indulge in a rather embarrassing (and baseless?) romanticism.
I am still wading through Dostoyevsky‘s The Brothers Karamazov: 400 pages so far and nothing has really happened. (Only another 600 to go…). Before dying at an appropriate moment, the elderly monk (Staretz) Zosima speaks about the decline of Russia and how Russia, destroyed by her leaders, will be saved by her Christian people. And the divine destiny of the great country will be restored and guaranteed as the old, corrupt order falls apart. The future, however, also contains threats that must be avoided. Published in 1880 (when Lenin was 10 years old), it is hard not to read it with half an eye on subsequent (and then unimaginable) developments in Russia and beyond. There is too much to quote here, but you could read some of this stuff and no one would blink if you applied it to today – the same old romanticism.
Why do we all do this? We romanticise the past, bringing a certain order out of the chaos that we actually lived through, and fear the ‘monsters’ that lie in wait for us in the future. Every generation fears it might be the last. Every generation worries that it has sold its inheritance and that everything is now in decline. “AND IT IS SOMEONE’S FAULT!” But, look back in England to the post-war years of growth, optimism and massive technological advance in just about every field – the promise that reconstruction brings and the energy it commands. But also look at what became known as ‘the permissive society’ and the obvious fact that we write the script of history as we go, not always clear about the implications until much later.
While on sabbatical a few months ago I did a quick, inexhaustive and not-very-thorough internet trawl of newspaper reports and headlines going back a century or so. Every headline seems to imply that the world/country/government/society/Church is going to the dogs and the world is about to fall apart. It hasn’t. I did the same for Germany and its world did fall apart on more than one occasion. Most Germans do not romanticise the past century or more; the Brits do. And it is mindless.
As I have noted before, I used to baptise people in a Norman font and drink wine (Communion) from an Elizabethan chalice every Sunday in my old parish. During the time people have been living their lives in that community there have been civil wars, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, European wars, colonial wars, the rise and demise of the British Empire, the birth and death of the Soviet Empire, and so on. When this chalice was first used, America didn’t exist (except for the Indians who already lived there, but apparently don’t count when it comes to remembering American history). This is the sort of perspective we need to recover – not some romantic notion of a golden age that never existed other than in our ideological or emotional ‘memories’.
The election candidates will continue to frighten us with the fearful future and promise a recovery of the elusive past. All nonsense. The more the leaders bang on about the dangers of a hung Parliament, the more I want one. Call it a ‘coalition government’, have a look at some of our European neighbours (Germany, for instance) and ask what the fuss is about? Maybe the fear is only in the minds of party leaders who fear losing control and having to argue their case for policy implementation. I’m beginning to think that might be far preferable to some of the alternatives.
Making my mind up? I’m getting there. But I’m also getting fed up with the self-regarding fear-mongering being put about. We could just grow up and try something different for a change. Which, actually, is what happens all the time, in every generation, in some part of life or other. We make it happen as we go. There is no other way.
April 23, 2010
Well, it’s actually more rocky than bluesy. But while listening to the three main party leaders repeating their mantras last night I recalled Bruce Cockburn’s song from the 1998 album Big Circumstance, ‘Shipwrecked at the Stable Door’. The chorus goes like this:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek
For theirs shall be the kingdom that the power mongers seek
Blessed are the dead for love and those who cry for peace
And those who love the gift of earth may their gene pool increase
I just thought it is a good lyric to have floating over the sound of electoral rhetoric.
April 20, 2010
I guess it depends which Nick we are talking about…
Well, Nick Clegg has changed British politics for ever (according to the newspapers). It’s a bit ironic that the Tories are calling for ‘a change’, but obviously didn’t expect the people to be offered a real change. And, while we are at it, how did they come up with such a contentless slogan – Vote for Change – as if change of itself was a good thing? I always thought that change for the sake of change was unwise.
Meanwhile Labour have sunk into third place, yet Brown is playing the ‘Don’t Change – it’s too risky’ card at the same time as saying that lots of things require urgent and radical change… such as politics and the economy.
But both parties seem to be missing the mark in attacking the Liberal Democrats on the basis of their policies when what is evident is that post-debate Cleggmania has caught a mood – one in which people might prefer a risk and a change just to get away from the old ‘slagging off the opposition’ politics. (I also wonder if it is wise for the politicians to use the language of fear on people who have been living through the banking collapse, a prolonged recession, the threat of climate change and now a nuisance volcano stopping air travel… and yet are still here. Has the elctorate been ‘feared out’ and is now responding to the offer of some positive ‘hope’?)
I have to admit a respect for Clegg, but for an unusual (and probably unpopular) reason. I have written before about Helmut Schmidt‘s belief that no politician should enter Parliament if they don’t speak at least two foreign languages. The 91 year old former German Bundeskanzler says this in his wonderful book Ausser Dienst. His point is that we can only really understand our own culture if we first have looked at it through the lens of another culture. In an earlier post I wrote:
To learn a language is to enter beneath the surface of a people, their history and their culture. It is necessary to learn a language in order to understand how relatively limited is your own culture and understanding of the world.
Nick Clegg speaks fluent Spanish and – apparently – several other languages. This inevitably gives him a cultural and intellectual ‘hinterland’ which will make him more interesting than those who only know English (as a language) and Britain (as a place to live). As Brown becomes more gravely authoritative and Cameron sounds more shrill and hectoring, Clegg might just want to express some breadth and depth.
I know that correlations don’t make for explanations, but I do wonder if Clegg might just offer what people want – just as the other leaders are looking and sounding ‘old’.
Mind you, I still haven’t decided which way I will vote on 6 May. I know which ways I will not be voting. But an election that made me yawn at the beginning has now come alive. And it is possible that the real bonus of a potentially higher turnout than was originally feared will be the marginalisation of the extremist parties (who do well when moderate voters stay at home).
April 19, 2010
Posted by nickbaines under Zimbabwe
| Tags: Africa
| 1 Comment
Congratulations to Zimbabwe on thirty years of independence from colonialist Britain. I remember the birth of the new country and was moved by the lowering of the Union Flag followed by the raising of the new insignia of Africa’s newly independent country.
Such promise. Such hope. Such disappointment. Such tragedy.
Christian Aid has put up (with an expanded version here) the following voices of brave Zimbabweans who still long for freedom and dignity and a life without oppression:
April 17, 2010
One of my earliest memories of being bewildered goes back to my first reading of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales at my comprehensive school in Liverpool. I didn’t understand a word, but later learned that poetry is not only about content, but also about rhythm and sound and evocation. And day like today – warm sun shining and a cloudless blue sky ( also empty of aircraft because of the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland) – and it is Chaucer who springs to mind:
Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
The Canterbury pilgrims were moved by the promise of spring to walk to the Mother Church of England. But they started in the Tabard pub in Southwark.
I sometimes wonder where I was in the queue when the spirituality ‘genes’ were given out. I know many people today love spiritual pilgrimages and the mysticism of ‘holy sites’ and ‘holy journeys’. In my own experience the best pilgrimages (of mind and spirit) have begun in the open world of the pub and only ended (if they ever really did end) in the church – not usually the other way round. The best questions are raised in the common places of human discourse, even if they find their ‘home’ eventually in the place of worship and freedom.
But this spring is starting well as the blossom flourishes outside my study window and the trees are budding green. The Hillsborough Inquiry has begun this week under the chairmanship of the Bishop of Liverpool, Liverpool Football Club is finally on the market (and, hopefully, out of uncomprehending American hands), the Liberal Democrats have blown a hole in lazy British assumptions about two-party politics (and brought the election to life), and I’ve got Bruce Springsteen competing with Chaucer – maybe because he put a good tune to it:
And the girls in their summer clothes
In the cool of the evening light
The girls in their summer clothes
Pass me by.
Somehow that (and the music that goes with it) welcomes the spring and captures the optimism engendered by not having to wear loads of clothes.
Summer is coming…
April 14, 2010
The General Election is now well under way in the UK. The three major parties (and some of the others) have launched their manifestos and the media are churning out words and graphics like there is no tomorrow… which there won’t be if some parties get their way. The people I have spoken with in the last couple of days are smitten with a bewildered apathy that is sceptical about the content within the rhetoric of the party leaders and spokespeople.
I was particularly intrigued by the Tories’ push to get people out volunteering in their communities. Er… haven’t they noticed the huge amount of volunteers already active in their communities through churches and other organisations that gain no benefit other than to serve their communities? Maybe they have. But, what I will be looking for is a government that will stop inundating schools with initiatives, recognise the problems of getting governors able to handle the task demanded of them, and stop trying to get good governance on the cheap. (Oh, and get rid of the soul-destroying box-ticking culture that the Tories brought in under Thatcher and New Labour made even worse.)
However, whoever wins the election, there won’t be any vast ideological change in the life of the country. Contrast our apathy and cynicism with that of another country with which I am familiar and have close links: Zimbabwe.
The rule of law is simply disregarded under Robert Mugabe. He may be recognised as ‘the Liberator’ by some Africans, but he has gone on to preside over the ruin of his country and the oppression of his people. The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe has borne the brunt of targeted violence and persecution for many years. The corrupt ex-Bishop of Harare, Dr Nolbert Kunonga, has been excommunicated by the Anglican Communion and is not recognised as an Anglican Bishop. The same goes for Elson Jakazi in Manicaland. Yet, despite court rulings in favour of the Anglican Province and dioceses (in relation to property and freedom to worship), Kunonga intimidates faithful Anglicans and gets backing from the police. So much for the rule of law.
This is the latest from Harare, where other denominations are now beginning to recognise that this is not an intra-Anglican (or ‘just a church’) problem, but a human rights problem that goes to the heart of the country’s culture:
Our experience over the last two weeks is that the persecution seems to have intensified. Police are openly telling our people to attend Dr. Kunonga’s services only and continue to prohibit them from worshipping in their churches as per Judge President Makarawu’s judgment and Justice Bhunu’s judgment of the 3rd March 2010. The former allowed for sharing of church buildings for worship until the courts give their final judgment on the matter and the latter endorsed that judgment. Whereas in the past some of our congregations used to hold their services outside of their church buildings, the police are driving them away telling them that they cannot meet outside anywhere near the church buildings. We are completely baffled by the behavior of the Zimbabwe Republic Police in this matter. We have persistently asked why they are being used to prop up Dr. Kunonga by actively telling people that our church properties belong to him and therefore our members should attend his Church services only. Nobody has given us any answers. We continue to raise our grave concern over the police partisan involvement in the affairs of our church, abuse of our rights and disregard of Court Orders and Rulings. We also continue to ask; Who will police the police? Have they officially become a law unto themselves? To whom can we turn for help? Who will listen to our plight?
Last Sunday 11/04/2010
- Police went to St. Mark’s Church, Ruwa and drove our members away from both the church and church premises. When the congregation decided to meet at the priest’s house the police prohibited them from doing so. What right do they have to stop even this? The priest of this church received a text message from Kunonga’s priest telling him not to use the church or else “what they did at St. Faith’s Church, Budiriro will happen to them”. St. Faith’s Church, Budiriro is where riot police tear-gassed our people on a Sunday morning and then followed it up on a Thursday afternoon with tear-gassing Mother’s Union members who were worshipping away from the church in the open air. This is further proof of that Dr. Kunonga’s priests are working in cahoots with the police.
- Our Cathedral congregation was told by the police not to meet anywhere near the Cathedral next week or else they will face the wrath of the police.
- At Holy Trinity Church, Ruwa acting Officer-in-Charge assistant Inspector Ngoshi and Sergeant Major Chibaya force number 044621A drove our congregation out telling them that they had orders to stop their service because they were to leave the Church to Kunonga’s group even though he hasn’t got a single member in that area.
- At St. Alban’s Church, Chiweshe where I had gone for a Confirmation Service- the church doors were welded from inside and so we could not go in as we had intended. We only managed to remove a pin on one of the hinges but could not go in. As a result we had our service in the open air. Rev’d. Mangava, Kunonga’s resident priest/untrained teacher called the police telling them that we had broken into the church. Police arrived just before the end of our service only to find a pin that had been removed and nothing broken. For that, about six people including the two priests who were with me had to go to Glendale police station to give evidence – a process that took forever. I followed them. No charges were brought against them but we reported the damage that was caused to our church building by the welding of doors and other devices used to prevent us from going in. We await a court hearing. What’s amazing is the ease with which even Dr. Kunonga’s priests call the police, tell them what to do and how they in turn easily comply.
- A number of our congregations are using other denominations church buildings (we are very grateful for their generosity) while some use school buildings and others continue to meet in the open air.
Thank you for your messages of solidarity and assurances of your prayer support. We don’t lose heart in spite of all the challenges we are facing.
This is the tip of an oppressive iceberg. It puts the niceties of our UK election in perspective, but also compels us to recognise the importance of valuing democracy, not taking for granted the rule of law, and taking responsibility for shaping our own country’s future.
Nkosi sikelel iAfrica.
April 11, 2010
Is it just my imagination or is this election campaign passing most people by in a fog of irrelevance? I know the media are fired up to cover every angle possible (but, for pity’s sake, WHY has the Guardian stooped to rating the clothing style of the party leaders’ wives? ), but I get the impression that outside of the chattering classes there isn’t a lot of interest.
Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. After the rubbishing of and by politicians in the wake of the expenses furore, the pat response to any mention of politicians seems to be, ‘well, they’re all liars, innit’. Arcane arguments about who supports or rejects National Insurance increases from 2011 shed little light on how a new government might behave in the round. The knockabout stuff between the main parties – accompanied by the hectoring posturing of the leaders – is very theatrical, but doesn’t tell us a great deal more than who can play the game best. They all appear to be arguing over the best way to bury a corpse.
Don’t you just long for someone to speak with vision? I was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Working on a Dream yesterday and wishing he’d called it Desperate for a Dream instead. An Old Testament prophet claimed that ‘without a vision people perish’ – and never was a truer word spoken. But it is hard to detect a vision in this election that inspires the heart and mind. I’m not looking for a better financial deal for ‘me’, but a better way for our society to be shaped and nurtured. Calling it ‘broken’ in every sentence really doesn’t take us any further.
However, one campaign is full of light and vision and – will wonders ever cease - has the merit of being achievable. It is the Citizens campaign to turn the sterile ‘immigration’ rhetoric into something more humane by changing the language we use. This campaign aims to get politicians of all shades to sign a pledge which calls for an end to the language of ‘asylum’ in favour of the word ‘sanctuary’ and an end to child detention in the UK.
‘Sanctuary’ gets us away from subliminal notions of locking people away (because they are strange) and returns to them their humanity. This is not about immigration control or the debate about how to limit the number of illegal immigrants to the UK; but, it is about focusing on the experience of many people who come to this country – with its noble history of providing sanctuary to those forced to flee their homeland because of violence, torture, fear or oppression.
The centre for processing immigrants and (what have so far been called) ‘asylum seekers’ is Croydon. I have yet to meet anyone of the Daily Mail persuasion who has actually met and listened to the stories of genuine sanctuary-seekers. In the churches of my Episcopal Area we cannot avoid this experience. My clergy deal every day with real people with real stories and real fears. Some of those stories make you weep with shame. Yes, there are people who play the system, but their victims should not be the genuine seekers whose lives have been appallingly destroyed and yet who show immense courage and dignity in the face of the coldness or hostility they face.
The Sanctuary Pledge deserves to succceed. It isn’t party-political in any sense. It avoids pointing fingers and making accusations. But, based on real relationships and real knowledge (instead of sloganising based on ignorance or mere statistical game-playing), it aims to restore some dignity and humanity to the public discourse on matters of life and death.
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