Setting sail

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I love my Saturday morning lie-in, it’s one of my favourite parts of the week. This morning, however, I voluntarily gave up my weekly bout of laziness in order to get up at 8am and drive the hour and a quarter journey to Perth. The reason was the Vocations Conference organised by the Church of Scotland.

This conference is organised to help those who are looking to train for some form of ministry within the Church to get the information they need to decide either what to apply for or whether to apply. There was information given about various types of ministry; Ministry of Word and Sacrament, Ordained Local Ministry, Diaconal Ministry, world mission, social care, mission and discipleship and, the reason I was there, Readership.

I met people from all over Scotland, plus some from further afield, with many different gifts and callings. Some had a very clear view of what they were being called to do, whilst others really had no idea and wanted to know where their place may lie. It was a really interesting time to chat with a group of very ordinary people, all prepared to allow God to do extraordinary things through them.

For my part, as I said, I was there to learn more about the Readership. Readers are people who can lead worship within the Church, preaching and teaching in place of (or alongside) a minister. They can also officiate at funerals and take services outwith the Church setting (schools, care homes etc.). The guy who spoke to us about it was a Reader from Dundee called Tim. He explained the history of the Readership, including why they are called Readers (they started off by literally reading the service off of a pre written script, including the sermon, when there wasn’t a minister available), then spoke about the options available in terms of either doing pulpit supply or being attached to a specific Church.

Now, to be considering something like this is, to say the least, a bit of a change for me compared to the person I once was. When I was a student I was elected to the Student Union council as Education Officer. At the start of the academic year  every member of the council gave a speech to the first year students about themselves and their job. In one of these I was so nervous that I opened my mouth and… nothing. I froze. I’d love to say that I relaxed and finally made my speech, but that’s not how it played out. I stood there looking like an idiot for a while, then sat down, utterly humiliated.

At my wedding the only part which stressed me was having to give a speech at the reception. Doing it was terrifying, but at least words came out this time and the world didn’t end.

Basically, I have moved on from being somebody with a massive fear of public speaking to somebody who now trains people for a living and now wants to train to preach to church congregations on a weekly basis. What would have scared me half to death 20 years ago is now the thing I want to do more than anything.

I’ve been given a gift and given a desire to use that gift. Now, I’m setting myself on the road to learn how to use that gift in the way God wants me to. I don’t know where this is going to lead me, but I can’t wait to find out.

It’s a leap of faith to do this, but it’s one which everyone in the church needs to do. The amount of people training for full-time ministry within the Church of Scotland is falling, as is the number of full-time ministers. Other denominations are seeing similar drops. This is going to mean that the church will need to change its current model of a minister at the top, predominantly responsible for worship, admin and pastoral care, with the congregation filling in some of the gaps. The general membership of the church will need to step up to the plate and take responsibility for all aspects of church life and mission. It feels as if we are moving to something closer to the type of church Paul wrote about,

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church: first are apostles, second are prophets, third are teachers, then those who do miracles, those who have the gift of healing, those who can help others, those who have the gift of leadership, those who speak in unknown languages. Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts. But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31 NLT)

We are one body. We are all parts of that body and we have all been given a job to do. It’s time we all started doing that job, whatever it is, to keep that body alive.

I heard a line at the conference today that a ship is safest in the harbour, but that wasn’t what it was built for. I wasn’t built to sit in a pew. None of us were.

It’s time to set sail.

Let down again?

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So, the inevitable has happened, albeit earlier than expected. England’s footballers have been knocked out of the 2014 World Cup before they’ve even played their third group game, their earliest exit since 1958. And, as sure as night follows day, the hand wringing, recriminations and angst filled soul-searching has taken over the English media to the extent that you could be forgiven for thinking that the whole tournament came to a close upon the final whistle at Costa Rica’s shock win over Italy.

The reaction has been as measured and rational as a member of Britain First outside a mosque. Or a member of Britain First in any other situation either. Some of the phrases used would suggest that something serious was at stake, such as lives or jobs or homes, rather than a competition for young men kicking a ball around.

“They have let us down”

“They are overpaid prima donnas who don’t care”

“More years of hurt”

This is typical of the ridiculous overreaction to anything surrounding “the beautiful game”. Defeats are a “tragedy”, winners are “heroes”, players are held up as “brave”, “geniuses” and “role models”.

We need to get a grip. I’m a football fan. I love the game and I am guilty of this type of language or responsible myself. But we really need to take a good look at ourselves over this.

How has anybody “let us down”? England’s exit will not adversely affect the lives of anybody. Not even those who were part of squad, who will go back to their clubs and prepare for the new season as normal. Nothing of any real note was riding on the World Cup, life will carry on as normal. Nobody has been “let down” as the players had no responsibility towards any of us in the first place.

Now, the accusation often comes in that footballers let people down because they are role models for children. I find this very interesting. Why would we want men who are mainly in their early to mid 20s, who are in their position because of how good they are at a game rather than how good they are as human beings, to be role models for our children? Is this what they signed up for, or is their only real focus to be a good footballer? If your child has footballers as their role models then it may not be a bad idea to encourage them to look up to other people for their character rather than their skill with a ball.

Of course footballers are massively overpaid. That’s hardly their fault, though. Let me ask you, if a competitor of the firm you work for offered you £100k per week to do your job, would you turn it down? Would you say “No, that’s obscene. I couldn’t possibly accept that.”? Of course not. Nobody would.

Similarly, nobody would, as a result of those wages, suddenly stop trying at their job. Look at the faces of the players at the end of the Uruguay defeat, they were devastated. They didn’t wear the expressions of men who didn’t care. They cared deeply, because it’s their job. It’s utterly ridiculous to suggest that they didn’t care.

There also tends to be a lot of criticism of footballers when it comes to the issue of pressure. I have seen many posts online where footballers are compared to members of the armed forces when the issue of pressure (and, for that matter, pay) is mentioned. The reasoning is that footballers don’t know what pressure is because they don’t face the prospect of death when they go out to play. Well, no they don’t.  Neither do the vast majority of people. However, most people don’t face the prospect of every move they make at work being scrutinised at length in front of millions on national tv. Most people don’t have every mistake at work analysed in national newspapers. Most people don’t have hundreds of people tearing their performance apart on radio phone ins or getting abuse by thousands on social media for it. I think that if we did face all of those things at work then we’d feel under immense pressure, no matter how much money we earned.

Footballers are human beings. They are flawed, make mistakes, feel the full range of emotions, have good days and bad days, have the same worries and insecurities as everyone else. We need to recognise this and act accordingly towards them.

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.” (Galatians 5:24-26 NLT)

This is what we all need to do. We are all flawed. You, me and every member of England’s World Cup squad. Looking down on people, getting angry at them, displaying jealousy towards them, heaping pressure on them is not right. So they play football for a living and get paid millions for it. So what? It has no effect on me or you that they do this, so just leave them to do it. Good luck to them, but they are not where all my hope lies. If they win I’ll be happy, if they lose I’ll be disappointed. That’s it, nothing more.

British Values revealed

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Last week the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, announced that all schools in England and Wales will be made to teach and instill “British Values”. This, inevitably, led to a torrent of derision and cynicism by many “enemies of progress”, as Gove would call them, or “people”, as the rest of us would call them.

Much of the questioning of Mr Gove’s latest piece of populist, I’ll thought out, Toby Young-friendly claptrap centres around the actual definition of British Values. What are they? Are they the same for everyone? Is thinking Michael Gove is a wally a British Value or just sound common sense?

Well, wonder no more. Thanks to an exclusively made up leaked document, I can reveal the exhaustive list of values our children will have forced upon them.

British Values

(Or, one man’s quest to create peace and harmony by getting everybody to think just as he does)

1) Queueing: This is the very essence of Britishness.  The ability to stand, patiently, in an orderly line to wait for anything from a bus to that great British institution, the Foodbank (see ‘Hating Lefties’). One must remember that a queue is to be joined at the back and the order of the queue must be adhered to at all times*.
(*The following exceptions are in place to allow particular groups to to straight to the front of any queue: Old people (buses only), pregnant ladies (buses only), people with a large amount of money (any cases except buses, which they would never be seen on) and multi-million pound corporations)

2) Fairness: Fairness is British to its very core and Britain is fair to its very core. The two go hand in hand, like fish and chips, bacon and eggs or Downing Street advisers and private voicemail messages. We must strive for fairness for all*.
(*’All’ is defined as pre approved groups of people or bodies who meet the requirements set out by the governing party of the time, the Daily Mail and the Rupert Murdoch owned media. Failure to be mentioned on said list will automatically render persons or bodies as ‘un-British’)

3) Justice: (see ‘Fairness’)

4) Hating Lefties: People who hold views which are further to the left of the Conservative Party are ‘Lefties’. These people have a warped view that anybody can be British simply by living here, being born here and contributing to society and the economy, regardless of ethnic background, political persuasion, religion, class or wealth. This is dangerous and a social heresy. They are un-British, enemies of progress and must be ignored and derided at all costs. The following words are available to use when insulting anyone you feel may be a dangerous ‘Leftie’: socialist, leftard, Red-[insert name here], Guardianista, liberal elite. People connected with public services, the BBC or Twitter are automatically “Lefties”. Some will attempt to subvert the ‘Big Society’ by seemingly taking part in it, but they will slip up by criticising the above definition of ‘Fairness’ and show themselves to simply be trying to further their evil agenda (e.g. foodbanks)

5) Capitalism: The economic idyll which is ‘Capitalism’ is what has made this country great. Our economy is built on it. Our jobs depend on it. Worthless towns have been decimated by its goodness. Worthless lives transformed into money making machines by it. Everything you have is because of it. If you have nothing, that is your fault you lazy, scrounging, good for nothing scumbag, you must bow down to the profit.

6) Football: The sport we invented, then benevolently gave to the world. It is vital that you are seen to support a football team, even if you have no interest in the game. Failure to do so will leave you outcast,  ridiculed and unelectable. At least 10 referenced to “the lads” must be made each day during international tournaments. Go team!

7) Our Brave Boys: Our armed forces are heroes. They can do no wrong. They bravely defend us against the scourge of terrorism in deserts thousands of miles away so that we can live in freedom. We salute them, deify them, excuse any wrongdoing by them in the media, send them into pointless wars with almost no equipment, tell them they’re surplus to requirement, treat them as benefit scrounging scum once we have made them redundant and treat their grieving relatives with disdain when they’re killed in action. We love our brave boys.

8) Christianity: Christianity is at the forefront of what it is to be British. After all, did those feet in ancient times not walk upon England’s mountains green? I mean, we’re not sure whose feet, but it’s important, nevertheless. This is a Christian Country. Let us be very clear about this, when we say ‘Christian’ we mean two things – right wing and not Muslim. None of this ‘helping the poor, feeding the sick, love your fellow man’ brand of socialism which some Church leaders would have you believe (see “Hating Lefties”). Christianity is a useful label to define ourselves in order to separate us from the more undesirable elements of society. Quite what the Church or Jesus have to do with it is beyond us.

9) British is Best: From our history to our literature, Britain has always been head and shoulders above the rest of the world. As such, there is to be an emphasis on Britain, its place in the world and our view of history in all schools. If it worked in North Korea then it can work here.

10) What’s in it for me?: This is the question we should always be asking ourselves. If you cannot gain from something or you will lose out because of something or someone then that is bad. If you will gain, even at somebody else’s expense, then that is good. Simple! Even the fear that something may change which you do not want to change is enough for something to be a ‘bad thing’ or ‘outrage’. When arguing against the ‘outrage’ capital letters must be used to highlight certain words to show how DISGUSTING the outrage is, especially if aimed at LEFTARDS and SCROUNGERS. It cannot be stressed enough that the only person you need to think about is you, despite what others may tell you (see “Hating Lefties” and “Christianity”)

Well, that should clear that up. Now we know what British Values are there can be no further argument.

Britain Equal. Racists last.

First off, I have a qualifying statement. I do not live in East London. In fact, I don’t live anywhere with a high Muslim population at all. I live in an overwhelmingly white area in central Scotland which does have a fair amount of eastern European immigrants (who are a normal part of the community), but very few Muslims. As such, I have never experienced Muslim extremism in my area or in my life. I don’t know what it’s like to see “Muslim patrols” on my streets or feel unsafe on certain streets in my area. I hear from others that there are parts of the country where this is the case, but I don’t have any first hand evidence of whether this happens or, if so, how bad it actually is. My view of Muslim communities is that they appear, in the main, to just be a bunch of people wanting to get on with their lives in peace. Just like the rest of us. Some folk, however, do seem interested in some sort of Islamic cultural and religious revolution in the UK, but they are a very small minority

Regardless of all of this, when I see far-right groups demonising Islam and Muslims because of their religion and the actions of the few it angers me. None more so than this video by Britain First, a political body which has fielded candidates in recent elections and has an increasing presence on social media, particularly Facebook.  In this video the group have announced that they are combating “Muslim Patrols” in what they call “Muslim East London”, by sending out self-styled “Christian Patrols” designed to “take our streets back”.

They start off by showing us evidence of the Muslim Patrols, roaming the street telling people not to drink alcohol as this is a “Muslim area”.

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Now, if this is happening then it clearly needs to stop. Note something, though. The whole way through this section that logo fills the whole left hand side of the screen. This means that you never actually see the faces of the patrol members, just those they approach, like the guy in this shot. We hear the words of the patrol members, but, as far as evidence goes, never seeing them seems a tad suspect. How genuine is this clip? Are we seeing what is actually being presented to us? It’s difficult to tell.

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So, “enough is enough”. What looks like no more than 2 or 3 guys going round telling people not to drink (if that’s what is actually happening) is such a threat that Britain First needs to do something. They need to launch “Christian Patrols”.

Now, to my mind, we already have Christian Patrols. People going out in the name of Jesus helping those on the streets in vulnerable positions to stay as safe as they can. They’re called Street Pastors and they go out in peace, love and compassion on the streets of many of our towns and cities every week.

Britain First has a very different view of what a Christian Patrol should be.

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Here we see the chairman of Britain First, Paul Golding, explaining what they are doing. They will patrol East London with about 10-15 activists (considerably more than the Muslim Patrols seem to have) handing out leaflets, going into pubs and warning people of the scourge of the Muslim Patrol. They will, of course, be peaceful and loving as a group of Christians should be as they patrol London in…

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…an armoured Land Rover! In fact, two armoured Land Rovers. Because nothing says “we come in peace” like vehicles altered to give the appearance of a military convoy in a war zone. Anybody would think they were trying to intimidate people, but that can’t be right. Can it?

He also discusses how, if they come across a Muslim Patrol (something which, pointedly, doesn’t happen in this video) they will confront them and tell them to “sod off”. In a reasoned, polite manner, I assume.

Note the crusader style cross on the leaflets, too. Let there be no doubt that this is nothing to do with stopping fear and intimidation, this is all about trying to assert domination over Muslims by using fear and intimidation.

We then see the Christian Patrol handing out leaflets, harassing people on the streets and telling a bunch of Muslim looking young men that “this is our country and if you want to live here you need to follow our laws”. No context is given at all about these young Muslims who may, as far as we know, be peaceful, law-abiding men. They may not even be immigrants themselves. However, the message is clear. If you’re not white, you’re a target for Britain First’s self-righteous, racist ire.

The next move is for activists to try to bait these Muslim Patrols out by standing outside the East London Mosque drinking and smoking. The hope is that some sort of confrontation will happen in order to “do something”. What, I don’t know.

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Oh! Hold on! That’s a little more than drinking and smoking, isn’t it? That’s outright provocation by means of aggressive language. If a group of young Muslims approached a man about drinking and smoking near a mosque then I could understand the discontent. This, however, is clearly designed to provoke pretty much any passing Muslim into action. If this was turned on its head and a group of young Muslims stood outside my church with a banner saying “We are the Muslim resistsnce” then I think I’d be asking them what they think they’re doing too.

Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to happen. Maybe the attendees at this Mosque just can’t be bothered with this group of idiots.  If so, fair play to them.

They finish with this,

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If this doesn’t anger you, then it should do. Lee Rigby’s family have consistently distanced themselves from Britain First’s use of the murdered soldier in their propaganda. This culminated in their anger over Britain First’s use of Lee Rigby’s name on ballot papers.

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His mother is absolutely clear that they have no support for Britain First’s views and that Lee would not have done either.

This group are nothing but far-right, racist, intimidating thugs. They have, through some rather clever manipulation, built up a decent following for their bile on Facebook. Many who follow and share their material are reasonable people who are being emotionally manipulated by people who claim the moniker of Christian. Please do not fall for it.

“Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you,  for God will judge you in the same way as you judge others, and he will apply to you the same rules you apply to others.  Why, then, do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, and pay no attention to the log in your own eye?  How dare you say to your brother, ‘Please, let me take that speck out of your eye,’ when you have a log in your own eye?  You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5 GNBDC)

Yes, there are extremists out there. Yes, we need to fight back against extremism. But that’s the point. It’s not Islam which is the enemy, but those things which distract us from love and turn us into people who hate. You can’t fight extremism with more extremism. You can’t look at Muslim extremists and hate Muslims any more than you can look at Christian extremists and hate Christians. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Atheists and those of all other beliefs (or lack of beliefs) need to work together to combat this through education and understanding of each other. We can’t do it through propagating fear and hatred.

Please, if you follow Britain First on Facebook or Twitter, stop. They are not “patriots”, they are not “Christians”, they are right-wing extremists. They are fascists. They are racist.

They need calling out for this and being ignored for it.

A short post on transphobia

Earlier on today I read this post about young Ryland Whittington, a young girl who, as soon as she could talk (thanks to a cochlear implant) shouted about how she was a boy. As time went on she became more and more ashamed of being a girl until, after speaking to specialists, her parents came to the realisation that Ryland is transgender. They took what, to most, would be a tough decision and started to treat Ryland as and refer to him as a boy.

The video in the article I have linked to was put together by Ryland’s parents to explain their decision and the positive impact it has had on his life. He is happy, settled and, finally, comfortable with who he is. I found the whole story heartwarming and uplifting.

Unfortunately, I found the post through this entry on Facebook.

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“Perverse”?! A decision taken because a 5 year old has a clearer sense of his own identity than many do in adulthood is “perverse”? In what way? He dresses, acts and is treated in a way in which he is comfortable and happy. He isn’t harming anybody, there is no sexual element to this (as in erotic, rather than gender), he is not being forced into a lifestyle or identity he doesn’t want.

He may have the genitalia of a girl, but he has the mind and personality of a boy. Which is more important; what a person is or who a person is? Labelling somebody by accepted convention based on physical attributes, or allowing somebody to be the person their mind tells them they are?

Some of the comments on the post were equally hard to understand,

“The Lord maid Mel and female.
It says in the Bible no sex with the same gender
No fornication no sex with animal’s.
It’s the evil spirit’s in there’s body’s
They need more of or lord…
God bless are confused world……”

None of this relates in any way to the issue of transgender people. Unless, of course, you just take the first line (anyone reading this called Mel, yes, God made you!) in which case I would ask whether or not the person posting it thinks God makes hermaphrodites. They occur in all of nature, including humanity, so surely if someone can physically be both genders then they can be physically one, yet mentally another?

“God doesn’t make mistakes. We are born the sex he intended us to be. So when you try to “correct” what God made, you must know its wrong. Simply put.”

Now, please do not take what I’m about to say the wrong way, I do not think that being transgender is any form of disability. However, Ryland was also born deaf. He has been given cochlear implants to correct how he was born, hoe God made him. Please don’t try to tell me that is against God’s will. We all have to overcome diffculties in our lives, some as a result of the way we were born. God gives us the strength to do this, if we ask Him. What is stronger, living in a way which defies social convention, at no harm to anybody, or living a lie, denying who you are and, statistically, increasing the risk of suicidal tendencies or self harm?

“My daughter told me she’s Queen Elsa, but I didn’t bow down…where I come from, when kids are blatantly wrong, we tell them so. They’re kids – they don’t get to define reality. Love them enough to tell them the truth. I recall Jesus loving the sinners & saying, “go & sin no more”.”

Right, two things here. Firstly, I’m pretty sure that this person’s daughter did not attempt to define reality. There is a huge margin between imagination and reality. I seriously doubt that little girl truly believed that she was really a cartoon queen. Ryland truly believes he is a boy. Because, inside, he is a boy.

Secondly, “they don’t get to define reality”? Yes, they do! It’s called learning. Just because a child doesn’t have most of the experiences and abilities to process information in a mature sense that they will do as an adult does not mean that they don’t have the ability to know their own mind and identity.

Martin Luther King famously said,

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”.

This great man, a man of God, spoke true wisdom with these words. We can apply this to any physical attributes, including physical gender. It’s what’s inside that counts. Your character. Your personality.

Ryland’s personality is that of a boy. It’s what he is. It’s what he wants to be. I applaud and admire his parents, Jeff and Hillary, for allowing him to be one and freeing him to be the person God made him to be inside rather than stifling and suffocating the very essence of him as a human being.

That’s not perverse. It’s beautiful.