Saturday, 28 January 2012

Taking the bonus

Stephen Hester - Chief Executive of RBS - has been awarded a bonus of nearly £1M, and is being encouraged to refuse it. Bear in mind that he also earns a salary of £1.2M, and that RBS is government owned, in other words, paid for by the taxpayer ( 82% of it ).

Some people have said that the senior executives should not receive any bonuses until the money we, the taxpayers, have put in to the bank. That makes sense, although I suspect that, with the huge sums involved, this would take way beyond the tenure of current employees, which is not really the way that the banking business works. Which is why we are in the mess we are in, of course, so it does not have a good record.

David Cameron throws his hands up and blames it on the deal agreed with the previous government. Which is a typical political response to pretty much everything. And it is a cop out - he could have spoken to Stephen Hester and made it clear that, whatever the agreement was, he should make it clear that taking such bonuses would be a bad idea. He could do this, if he believed it, which I suspect he doesn't. The current government policy seems to be "squeeze the poor, encourage the rich", which is not quite the message that Jesus preached.

But the real problem I have with this is the assumption that these people can only be motivated by obscene amounts of money. Why is there no-one motivated by doing something good? Helping people? Making a difference? Because in most areas of life, if the only enticement is money, it suggests that the actual task is very unappealing, the job is something extremely distateful. Maybe they leaders of our financial markets have to be given so much money because, deep down, they realise that the job they do is fundamentally foul, like stirring a huge cesspool.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Representative APR 4214%

This is the headline APR offered by Wonga. If you pay this APR level, and you borrow a tenner, in a year, you will owe over £430. Which all seems good from the lenders perspective, but not from the borrowers.

Now, I have some sympathy with them. They are actualy offering short term payday loans, not year long credit. The actual rate you pay is less than this - still expensive, but not as exhorbitant as the headline rate. They are aiming to tide people over until their paycheck comes in, not provide them with a constant source of credit.

But what they intend and what people do can be different. And people do use them to borrow money long term - topping up each month, or just failing to pay the money back. Meaning that they end up in serious debt, with interest rates that they canot afford. And this is helped by Wonga, who offer incentives to keep using them - the more you use them, the more you can borrow.

But what about those people who are struggling and just need something to tide them over. Well, in some cases, the real answer is that they should spend less - not many cases, actually, but there are cases where cancelling something that is really a luxury should come first. In these cases, the availability of easy credit makes it seem like a good idea to just borrow a little to tide them over.

But for others, there should be more flexibility with some of the utility companies and others who have regular bills. To be prepared to waive immediate payment of, say, 10% of the utilities, Community Charge etc, for full payment next month would enable some people to get by at a difficult time, without having to resort to Wonga and their like. And this is a good incentive also to reduce some of these bills, so that next month they can be paid.

So often, we - individuals, the government, the banks - assume that easy credit is the answer. Most of the time, it isn't, and all it does it put off the problems for later.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Bishops vote down benefit cap

This week, the bishops in the house of Lords have voted down a benefits cap. This has caused some outcry, on both sides.

The problem is that the proposal was for a cap of £26,000, which would equate to a paid salary of £35,000. The bishops have voted to exclude child benefit, which raises the cap to £50,000 paid salary - roughly. Clearly the government thinks that a salary of £35,000 is plenty to live on, and £50,000 is more than anyone needs.

Noww there is a point there. there are some people on benefits who are abusing the system. There are those who obtain more in benfits than they need. On the other hand, a significant portion of this money goes on rent, so the claimants do not see it. There are good arguments both ways.

But it stikes me that, if the government thinks that £50,000 is plenty to live on, they should be introducing a cap on executive salaries. If people can live on £50,000, surely a cap of £500,000 on executive salaries. Why sould anyone need more than that? But somehow I can't see it.

The real issue is that it is not about how much people can live on, it is about cutting costs. And it is about cutting costs on the least well off. This is not about being political, but if capping income is a valid and good thing to do, then it is a valid and good thing to do for everyone.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Why we are losing people

91% of unchurched young people think that Christianity is anti-gay. Young adults are overwhelmingly in favour of marriage equality. According to Becky Garrison - Ancient Future Disciples. No wonder we are unable to reach them.

Now these figures are from the US, but it is probably not dissimilar in the UK - or at least the implications. For all of the reasons for and against homosexuality, if we - the church - insist on making it an issue, then we may win the argument, but we will lose a generation.

The truth is that I would rather win people than be right. I would rather people engaged with God and met him, and let him be the judge. He does it better than me.

Runaway train

Bought a ticket for a runaway train
Like a madman laughin' at the rain
Little out of touch, little insane
Just easier than dealing with the pain

Soul Asylums Runaway Train is one of my favorite songs.  Now, to be honest, there are a lot of songs in my "favorite songs" category. But this one stays near the top, because it is such a powerful song. The tune is simple, the lyrics clever in their own way.

But what I love about it is that it says where I so often am at. It is very easy to assume that people who run away - either literaly as the original video, or emotionally, or just metaphorically - are weak or failures. But the truth from this song is that sometimes running away - going a little insane sometimes - is the only way to deal with the pain.

It might do us better to look at what people run from, than just focus on negative reactions to what they are doing.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Mark Driscoll

Mark Driscoll, a pastor from Mars Hill in America, has been very outspoken in criticising the british church for being effeminate and weak. Apart from the fact that this is seriously offensive to pretty much everyone, my real wuestion is, how does he have the nerve to make such comments on a church that he doesn't know well enough?

It would be like me commenting that all American churches are large, right-wing evangelical, and more interested in money than people. Some churches in the US are like that - very few actually - but most are not. They may not be the sort of church that I would like, but then, I do not live in the US - I live in the UK, and so my preferred approach to church is a UK one.

So Mr Driscoll - should you ever read this, which I doubt so much - talk about what you know, not what you don't. Because when you - or anyone else in a position of responsibility - talk about stuff that you know nothing about, and try to put your authority on this, you not only sound like a pratt, but you make people question whether you actually make sense when you talk about things that you might actually know something about. Or, put it another way, people realise that everything you say is probably crap, unless proven otherwise.

Why do we.....

Have you ever, like me, sat in church wondering "why do we do this?" Have you ever had a decent answer? the truth is we do most of the normal "church service" pieces because that is what you do in church. Why do we pray, sing, preach, take communion? In fact, if you actually try to justify them biblically speaking, it becomes tricky.

The reality is we do these things because that is what "being church" or "being spiritual" means. But is it? The church in Acts were good at meeting together and teaching and stuff. But the core thing was that they met together. So often today we feel that we have to meet to do something, but really, the core thing they did was meet and share. Relationship was at the core of the church, because relationship is at the core of "being spiritual". We are made for relationship, and we are at our most spiritual - our most like ourselves as we should be - when we are engaged in relationship with others.

Of course, relationships are dangerous. We can also be at our most vulnerable, and "spiritual" does not necessarily mean "nice" - it means being like ourselves, and sometimes ourselves are not nice. So it is much easier to "do" things, to engage in strange rituals that help us avoid actually being in proper relationships. Much easier. But what are we missing?


This is a blog to occasionally have a grump, as well as share some thoughts on faith and the world. So why New Whine? Well, it has struck me that the name is wrong - the reference I know is to Mt 9 and parallels, where Jesus talks about putting wine into wineskins. But the new wine is tasteless, unpalatable and possibly dangerous.

The wine that was put into the winskins was not nice. It needed some time to ferment in the skin, expand ( which is why they had to be new and unstretched skins ), and get its flavour. What you would want is the old wine, not the new wine. You want the matured wine, the wine with flavour and some age, not the new wine. In Cana, the guest commented that "often people start with the best wine, and then move onto the cheap stuff when everyone is drunk" - the cheap stuff would be the new wine, the unfermented stuff, and they would start with the best wine, and move towards the newer stuff.

And the New Wine event in the Summer seems to me to also produce people who do not have the maturity that they should have. There is still a lot of bubble and fizzle, and not a lot of maturity. We need maturity and the oddities that that produces.