Friday, 30 May 2014

Why I voted Green

When I first joined the Green party some twenty years ago, it was not something "trendy" to do. In fact, to some, it was a dreadful thing to do - the greens were all new-age hippies, spreading strange ideas and definitively anti-Christian.

Not true, of course. Not entirely true at least. However they were also not really considered a serious political force, just a way or registering a protest.

Things have changed a whole lot since that time.

At the time I joined, the Labour party were in unelectable disarray - this was before the smooth-talking Blair arrived. The Tories - I hate to admit it - had my support for a while, in the early days of Thatcher. To justify this, I do believe that in the early years, she shook up the country in a way that was needed. It was only with some hindsight - and the miners strike farce - that we saw the real beliefs of the party.

The Liberals were also in crisis, challenged by the Social Democrats (before they merged), trying to find a middle way, and not really finding any answers.

Against this environment, as I struggled to find a political position, I came to understand that the traditional left/right wing approach was actually a mistaken approach to political consideration. The problem was that the economic driver is not always the right starting point. The Greens were starting from a different position - that of the earth, the environmental necessity produces a different approach to policy.

A different approach to politics is still at the heart of the Green policy, and that is something I am proud of. In the time since I joined, the development of our policy clarifies the position as being broadly socialist. However, this is not because we are representing the "workers" vs the "owners" which is the core origins of the left/right divide. It is because caring about people - whoever they are - is about a world that we can all live in, a world for people. It is about a system that provides for all, and a system that lives in harmony with the world, becasue the world is part of that system. It is about fairness for all, for all now and in the future. It is about living within our means.

To me, the aims of the Green party find a match with mine as a Christian. They come from different places, different reasons (to an extent), but there is a match of aim, of ideal, of vision for what we should aim at. My faith is about enabling people to be their best, to be engaged with the divine, to be at peace with themselves and the world. The Greens are about the political way of helping that to happen.

Do I think everyone should vote Green? Of course I do! Primarily, because I believe we need a change in the political landscape in this country, from one dominated by one group over another, and instead focusing on a better world for everyone. That is what I want in life, as a Christian, and as a member of the Green Party.

A better world for everyone is a naive idea. But it is a powerful vision, a powerful aim.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014


I love liturgy. that may surprise you, but, of course, I mean something slightly different by this than what some people mean.

Liturgy is, at heart, the set of instructions for managing a situation. Within a church service environment, the service liturgy is a structure for organising worship, making sure that everything is included, and that the service has a form, a flow. But liturgy is more than that - it can be considered as a structure for any situation.

So there is a liturgy for traveling by train, in peak hours. You have to say and do the right things - often it is no more than a wave or a brief gesture, but it is important, it is the way that the whole process flows and hangs together. Without this liturgy, there would be chaos - even more chaos than there is normally. There are occasional spats where people fail to follow the accepted liturgy. But by and large, it works.

This is not what most people consider liturgy means, of course, For most people, liturgy is about a church service (assuming that they know what the word means at all). It is a rigid structure of things that are done, in order, to make up a church service. Sadly, for me, this is liturgy done at  its worst. The reason is that it is too formal, to rigid. The commute liturgy is flexible - it has its set of rules, people are expected to follow these, but it has flexibility. The church service liturgy also has flexibility, to an extent, but it is still very rigid.

So I like liturgy, because it is the way to do things - it makes commuting, for example, possible. It makes all sort of activities practical. But liturgy - the way of doing things - should be flexible enough to make changes when needed, to accept people breaking the rules when appropriate.

Liturgy - the way of doing things - is important, and without it, we would be lost. You cannot put into places a definitive set of rules for tube commuting. There are a few defined regulations - stand on the right; let passengers off the train before attempting to board; please more right down inside the car. But not everyone follows these to the letter, and it all works OK, as long as everyone follows the unwritten set of rules, the liturgy that everyone who does it regularly knows.

I just wish that the church liturgy could be as flexible. That it could be changed and modified for situations without anybody kicking up a fuss, or questioning whether they are allowed to do it. Liturgy should be to help people worship, not to separate people or to alienate people. Then, it is not liturgy, but stupidity.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Rock solid

"I am the same yesterday, today and forever" - I have seen this verse and the blog title as an indication that the message of Christianity is a solid, unchanging one. Because rocks are solid and unchanging, aren't they?

I do wonder how the coastal residents of Devon and Cornwall especially feel about this, after the winter storms. Because quite a lot of the coastal rock was not solid, and tumbled into the sea. In truth, even the solid granite of Cornwall is being eroded - I remember when visiting Tintagel Castle that they were aware that the island was being eroded, and would eventually be washed away. "Solid Rock" seems rather less solid.

I think that is the point. rock is solid in the short term. For a while, it is unchanging and robust. But if you look over a longer period, rock is not solid. What is more, at certain times, rock is anything but solid - ask people in an earthquake zone. When you take a long-term chronological perspective, rock is not really very solid at all.

The truth is, we live on a living, changing planet. Over time, nothing stays the same. Nothing is really solid, nothing really stays still, stays the same. Everything changes. Sometime there are changes for the good, sometimes for the bad - without a volcano in the pacific, we wouldn't have Hawaii. Without the movement of the UK, we would not have the wide beaches on the East coast - or the erosion in places like Whitby.

The living, changing planet is crucial, because that is what gives us life. Without this, our planet would be dead, we would not exist. The same applies in our thinking, our ideas. They should never be considered defined, eternally sorted and answered, because things change. Christianity changes over time - as any other set of beliefs. Just because this is something we once believed, doesn't mean it therefore has to always be true - we once believed in 4 elements, in the indivisibility of the atom. As we understand more, learn more, question more, we find out more, and our understanding changes. That is the right way.

Of course, that does not mean that new ideas are automatically better - Dawlish was probably not improved by losing the railway line. It does mean that there will be changes, and we have to adjust to that. It means that our ideas, our beliefs will and should change over time. I know that there are things I used to believe that I no longer accept.

Because change is an indicator of life. Change or die is not a threat. It is a reality.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Why I am not an "Evangelical"

This post is the other side of my post on why I do call myself an evangelical. I am aware that for some people the term is perceived very negatively, so I want to put the balance in here by exploring why I don't necessarily fit into what others would use this term for.

The problem is that in some areas, especially the US, the term "evangelical" is a synonym for "fundamentalist", and that terms itself is becoming more and more extreme. So for some, to call myself an evangelical is to be associated with the more extreme aspects of Christianity, something that I reject repeatedly. I know that anyone who reads what I write will realise where I actually stand, but many do not get past the label.

Because of that, there are times when I do not use the label.

However, I am not prepared to leave the term to those who would abuse it. As I have explained here, I still consider myself, theologically, to be evangelical, and for those who come from this background, from a position where the centrality of the bible is critical, I want to identify a form of evangelicalism that does not reflect these more extreme positions.

I will not give up on the term, on calling myself an evangelical, because for some people, it still means something. It still represents the core beliefs that some people hold. I will not let go, because I will not let others define what they should believe. I am not saying that I have it all right, but I believe a Bible-centred, people-focused, open and tolerant Christian faith is as valid today as ever.

And the reason I am so passionate about this is that for many who identify as evangelical, but struggle with the direction and the identification that is associated with the term, they see two options:

1) To accept that other are right, and that this less tolerant approach is the only valid one.
2) Reject Christianity entirely.

I want to make it clear that there is another direction - to remain as an evangelical Christian, but reject the direction that too much of it is taken. That is a valid route, to remain a Christian, to retain the beliefs that you have, and yet find a new direction to take.

And those who seek to say what I should believe can take a hike.

Monday, 19 May 2014


What seems to be the final series of Rev has now finished, to wide, but not universal, acclaim. For example, the Guardian article was noted by a few people, with the argument that Rev doesn't portray the truth, as it is seen by insiders.

Now I am the first to accept that Rev is not a complete portrayal of the state of the Church of England today. There are parts of the church that are growing, lively, busy congregation. There are those within the church who are spiritual, hard-working, devoted people making a big difference. I have had some feedback from a bishop who complains about Rev being unrepresentative, and because he represents London parishes, he probably knows something about the range of parishes there are.

And yet, I think Rev represents an important aspect of the church. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it represents the majority of churches, in its own way. It is urban, and many parishes aren't, and it is parodied because that is the nature of drama. And yet the struggles of Adam to maintain a faith, the pains of the church to continue, the challenges of finding spiritual reality in - or despite - the church are the reality for many people.

What struck me through this series is that Adam is finding spiritual truth and reality. In fact, more than anyone else, he is the one who is representing The Christian, the person who finds God, the person who represents the life of faith.

And he does this, normally, despite the church. In fact, in the last two episodes, he is engaging with God almost in opposition to the church. I find this interesting, because it reflects so much of my life, and many of those I know of and hear from.

Rev is a TV show. Middle class suburban England is not entirely like The Good Life. Middle management despair is not entirely like Reginald Perrin. But both of these shine a light on their particular situations, and have been successful because they represent their situations exaggerated, but well.

Rev does just this. It exaggerates the situations and the environments. But in doing so, it also sheds some genuine light on the real issues and situations that face the church today. It does this in a way that I find very encouraging - it does not dismiss faith, but it does show that church-going is not all that represents faith.

So is it a positive show? Well, it doesn't show the church in a particularly good light, although it is truthful of many areas. But it does show faith in a good light. And it shows the struggles with faith, the pain of faith, the difficulties of believing, sometimes against all the odds.

And it does that superbly.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Tax avoidance

Part of my twitter feed exploded the other week at the news of Bernie Ecclestones tax dodging - details here, but in essence he seems to have avoided paying something like 2Bn in tax, by agreement with HMRC.

Emma Kennedy (@EmmaK67) was especially fuming. And quite rightly too. Let me explain by example:

Someone goes into an Oxfam shop, and finds a series of books he wants, valued at £103.56. So he goes to the till, and says "Look, I am very rich and famous, so how about I pay just £1 for them."

"That makes no sense," they reply. "Why should you pay less, because you are wealthy?"

"Well, if you don't, I will go away, and tell all my rich friends not to come here. Surely you should be grateful that you get some money, and my continued patronage. So ungrateful." And walks out.

Of course, the next day, someone else comes in, and purchases the books. They are let off the final £3.56, and are grateful.

The thing is, the tax money that HMRC gather is not their money, they are not a business who have to make a profit. They are a gathering money on our behalf. To be letting people off large payments when we seem to have insufficient money to look after our poor is a disgrace.

The thing is, tax avoidance is perfectly reasonable and valid. We all do it - the personal allowance, is reasonable tax avoidance. I am all for this, for a tax structure that allows people to earn money and keep a good proportion of it, at least up to a limit.

But, as a starter, HMRC should not be allowed to "let people off" paying portions of their tax. Some arrangements for paying tax off over a period make sense. I would not expect Ecclestone to pay 2Bn just like that, without notice. Arrangements are fine - as long as they result in the complete payment of the tax debt over a reasonable period.

Nobody likes paying tax. But I have to, that is part of my responsibility as a citizen of this country, and a citizen of the world - to pay my tax.