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Friday, 23 May 2014

The Horror behind 'Boko Haram'

'Boko Haram', the terror group responsible for the kidnap of over 200 girls in North East Nigeria, will be defeated. And tonight at Sunderland Minster, I saw the reason why. The 'Wearside Women in Need' and African Women's Support group organised a prayer vigil, to remember the plight of the girls and their families.

The vigil was marked by strong and brave women, many from Africa, who wanted to pray for those caught up in the horror of the kidnapping - but were determined to argue for the fundamental right to women's education in Nigeria and throughout the world.

'Boko Haram' simply means 'Western Education is forbidden' in the Hause Language. They set themselves up in 2002 and since they began large scale military actions in 2009, have killed 1000's of people, including 173 teachers as they attack schools where women are being educated.

They have killed far more Muslims than Christians, as they terrorise the population with a barbaric, fundamentalist form of Islam.

But their actions have caused a huge global wave of anger and disgust from Christians, Muslims and all who value human life. And women are at the forefront of the resistance to these men of violence.

Patriarchal violence is real and horrific, but it is destined to fail. Women are now stronger and more determined than ever to resist oppression. As I witnessed tonight in the Minster and as testified world over - sisterhood is on the up, and even groups like Boko Haram will wither and die in the coming decades.

But in the mean time, while we still have to live with these atrocities in our midst,  our cry goes out: 'Bring Back our Girls'  

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Liberated Methodists of Thornaby!

I took a wonderful trip to Thornaby on Tees today to visit the Methodist Community Church near the town centre. It was a glorious revelation. Over the last 10 years, the church had strived to really get behind the local people, and when you walk in, you soon realise that this is a very different experience of Church.

Nurtured by Roberto and Suzie from Brazil, Liberation Theology is lived out in practise. I met people who were supporting 'Thrive', a campaigning group struggling against debt and doorstep lending; I saw the church hall converted into a gigantic children's play area, and happy families having a good climb together; I saw a beautiful modern chapel apparently often filled by local folk at the 50 baptisms they have a year - a service involving bubbles and friendship!

The congregation are looking to secure their development as a centre for contextual liberation theology well into the future, and are preparing for a period without a minister following the decision of the Methodist Church to move Berto down to the South coast.

They are in a good place to continue their impressive work - with a leadership team enthused about liberation Theology, and packed full of skilled and gifted individuals.

I know a lot about having to leave places you love, and it will be tough on Berto and his family. However, the Holy Spirit continues to bless whatever is left behind in love. They can move on confident that they leave an empowered group of people hungry to serve the local community, determined to live out the kingdom of God.

Let us hope that the local Methodist circuit recognises the gift that churches like this are, and nurtures and supports them over the period of transition to come. Peace, prayers and blessings to all in Thornaby Community Church!

Gary Barlow - Tax That! Under taxed and over rated!

The news that David Cameron and that odd little mayor in London agree that 'Gary' should not have to give back his OBE comes as very little surprise. Mr Barlow is a Tory supporter - and a rich one at that. 50 million copies of his records have been sold, and Take That regularly beat their own box office records for tour sales. He made over £4 million for simply appearing in a few seasons of X-Factor.

Gary Barlow is big business, and when has Cameron and his cronies ever pursued big business for their taxes? After all, he does an awful lot of work for charity. He is the boy made good, the one the queen turns to when she wants to organise a party.

So why not let him invest millions in a scheme that is designed to produced over £300 million in 'losses' to offset his income so that he can pay much less tax? Isn't that just what rich people do?

Perhaps if rich folk like Gary actually paid their taxes, then they wouldn't have to climb Kilimanjaro to raise money for Children in Need. Perhaps our children wouldn't be 'in need' if there were decent public services paid for through progressive taxation, and people like Gary actually shared some of their wealth with the million folk who bought tickets for his last tour.

Under taxed and over rated. Don't just give back your OBE Gary - give back your Gold Blue Peter badge while you are at it. You are a tax dodging disgrace.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Sunderland - Miracles can happen!

I've been pondering the nature of miracles of late. My football team have recently performed a feat that their manager, Gus Poyet, has called a miracle.

Sunderland were residing at the bottom of the Premier League table from the beginning of the season, while the fascist Di Canio screamed at the players and support staff, team moral and league positions hit new lows. A new manager gave new hope, and a trip to Wembley and two derby victories over local rivals Newcastle proved encouraging. Even so, a month ago Sunderland lay 7 points adrift at the bottom of the table - with seemingly impossible games to win. Away games at Chelsea and Manchester United meant an inescapable plunge into the Championship League below.

Then it all started to change. Connor Wickham was brought back from a loaned period and started scoring goals. First a draw to Man City, then a record breaking win against Chelsea on their home turf, followed by a trouncing of Cardiff. Beating Man United at their grounds in Old Trafford was a staggering achievement, and then, to seal the deal on the great escape - beating West Brom 2-0 last night.

13 points out of a possible 15 has left them high and dry. Sunderland will live on to enjoy another season in the English Premier League, one of the most exciting sporting events in the world. Phew.

Earlier in the day, I'd been on BBC television (they like a vicar who wears a red and white dog collar) and was asked whether I believed miracles can happen. In a bit of the interview not shown on the news, I explained that God worked his miracles through people. Through Jesus, through the disciples, through the small boy who shared his food at the feeding of the five thousand. God's miracles were worked out through people like Mother Theresa, Oscar Romero, Tutu, Mandela and the couple round the corner who run the youth group. God has entrusted miracles to us. In our hands is the power to change and improve the world through acts of love, compassion, mercy and devotion.

Their comes a time when people believe that faith can move mountains. The players at Sunderland regained their belief in themselves. They found a faith that made what seemed impossible, possible.

So yes. I do believe in miracles. And whilst I'm thrilled that Sunderland have stayed up, I'd be more thrilled by people regaining the belief that poverty could be eradicated, that companies could behave ethically, that governments could build up the common good and not destroy it. We need more miracles in these modern times. And the miracles are in our hands.