Tuesday 11 June 2013

Occupy Turkey!

A dear friend has been keeping me posted on the latest developments in and around Gesi Park in Istanbul, and today the news has been horrific. The government and the media staged a 'violent' protest between 30 people at hundreds of police, to create the impression that the protestors at the park are a violent mob. This could not be further from the truth, and the 'occupygesi' activists have held on to the great principles of non-violence used by the occupy movements throughout the world.

Prime Minister Erdogan is desperate to portray those trying to resist neo-liberal Islamism as terrorists and foreign 'infiltrators', an obvious lie to those in the country, but a lie foreign media is often happy to perpetuate.

Worse still today, was the arrest of over 50 lawyers who were defending the rights of the activists, another flagrant abuse of power by the government.

Erdogan's government is fast losing it's credibility with its own people. The lurch to the right, exemplified by the attempt to commercialise one of Istanbul's remaining 'people's green space, has forced ordinary people to take to the streets. As the G8 meets, its leaders need to withdraw support from the Turkish Prime Minister while he needlessly drags his country into a horrific period of civil unrest.

Long may the progressive forces in Turkey survive! Show your solidarity outside the Turkish Embassy!

Save the National Media Museum!

It's no surprise that this government is reaching new depths of cultural suicide, yet even I am shocked by this latest round of bedevilment. The budget for the science museum is to be cut again, and it is the Northern outposts which are to bear the brunt.

The 'Science Museum Group' runs three museums outside of London, Bradford's National Media Museum, The National Railway Museum in York and the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. SMG director Ian Blatchford has warned that a further cut of 10% from the government will mean that one has to close. He has also indicated that the National Media Museum is the weakest link, and some have suggested that the museum ought to be located in London.

London is not England, the South East is not the United Kingdom, and this government should not continue to rule as if the North of this country can quietly go to ruin. Cities like Bradford need cultural centres and hubs, as they do huge amounts for local commerce, education and confidence.

When I left the South East to look at where to study, it was the National Media Museum that stood out for me on my visit to the University of Bradford. I loved film, and here on my doorstep was an amazing cinema, an Imax screen, and a wide range of exhibitions relating to media, news and photography. I thought it was marvellous, and was one of the pulls (along with the curries!) that kept me in the city for 20 years after my studies had finished.

Central government needs to invest more in the sciences throughout the land, and regional museums in Manchester, York and Bradford are vital to the prosperity of these cities. Today, a parliamentary enquiry has been announced into the threat of closure hanging over these museums, and let us hope that sense is seen, and our government returns to a long-term view of our education and our economy. Now is the time to show your support for these institutional bedrocks of culture and civilisation.

Monday 10 June 2013

Bradford - Bollywood's latest star!

If you didn't get to watch it, go to BBCi player now, and catch a modern version of 'Carmen' performed last night in Bradford's City Park. It truly was a spectacular success, and the city looked lovely. For many outside the city, it would have been the first time that that had seen the new pool and fountains since they were finished over a year ago.

The stage was set for the Bollywood retelling of Bizet's classic opera - local dancers mixed with professional actors, and months of planning went into action at 9pm on Sunday night.

I didn't spot a single hitch, it flowed beautifully. The story was well told, and it all looked a lot of fun, quite something to get right for a whole hour, over multiple sites.

This was more than just a great TV moment, this was an affirmation to the world that Bradford is back on the map for all the right reasons. First, the Channel 4 documentary 'Bradford, City of Dreams' told how the city was using its international connections to overcome the recession and now a major live BBC production celebrating all that is good about the diversity of the city.

I really felt very proud of Bradford last night, a place that has overcome huge obstacles to get where it is today. Strangely enough, it was the failed EDL demo of 2010 that turned the fortunes of the city around. They aimed to break Bradford and encourage another riot, but instead, they help Bradfordians believe in themselves again, as they non-violently found various ways of resisting the fascists.

Since then the city has grown from strength to strength, and confidence will be at an all time high after last night - so well done to all involved! Bradford, City of Dreams indeed!

Thursday 6 June 2013

Jesus on procreation and marriage...

 It has been disappointing, to say the least, watching church leaders continue to say that marriage is primarily about procreation. It is disheartening for those of us who are waiting to perform same sex marriages, and who will be permanently denied that prospect by the current legislation.

When the Marriage Act is finally passed into law, it will be impossible for Gay couples (Christian or otherwise) to get married in their local parish church, where they could well have been lifetime members of the congregation.

It doesn't even look like church leaders, including Archbishop Welby, seem to care about the complexity of what Jesus actually says about marriage.

At daily prayer yesterday I was reminded of a passage in chapter 12 of Mark's Gospel that deals with some thoughts on marriage, children and heaven. It is a clash between religious leaders and Jesus, in which they are trying to prove a point about the afterlife. The passage inadvertently reveals a fixation by religious leaders with the notion that marriage is only legitimate if a child is born into the relationship. 

Jesus dismisses their ignorance of scripture revealing that in heaven, marriage is no more, and people are lifted into higher 'angelic' status. It is a complicated passage with many subtle interpretations, but it points to something important during this debate - Marriage is not as 'normative' in the Bible as some conservative Christians would have us believe. It is clearly a societal construct, not a heavenly one.

Society has the right to develop marriage into something more than simply being about procreation, and thankfully, marriage has already changed in many ways over the years. It has moved on from simply being about male ownership over women and control over their bodies.

It can develop into one of greater equality and one where love is the genuine root of marriage, not patriarchy or simple procreation. If the institution of marriage is allowed to progress, then perhaps it will eventually overcome the inequalities within it, that clearly prevented it from being part of Jesus' vision of heaven.

18Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, 19“Teacher, Moses wrote for us that ‘if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.’ 20There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; 21and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; 22none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. 23In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.” 24Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? 25For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

100 years on: Emily Davison, Suffragette Martyr

Good to see Morpeth celebrating their very own national hero - Emily Davison! To commemorate the 100th anniversary of her death in the suffragette cause, Sunderland University will be hosting a debate on the 18th Oct with Tamsin Omond - looking at the role of direct action and parliamentary representation. Book the date in you diary today!

Below is a snippet from the local BBC North East news coverage:

Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison was fatally injured when she ran out in front of King George V's horse during the Epsom Derby, on 4 June 1913.
She died four days later, and was buried in the family plot in Morpeth.
A series of "Emily Inspires" events is celebrating her life, and also highlighting the changing role of women over the past 100 years.
The town is being decked in suffragette colours, there have been workshops in local schools, the premiere of a new play about her, and a specially-written song.
Penni Blythe-Jones in suffragette costume Penni Blythe-Jones says her costume brings history home
Morpeth Antiquarian Society is holding an exhibition in the town hall, featuring her christening gown, postcards and the suffragette scarf, or sash, she carried onto the Epsom racecourse, which is normally on display in the House of Commons.
On 15 June, there will be a suffragette picnic, a cycle ride and a parade.
The events, which will be attended by family members from as far afield as Australia, Canada, France and Norway, also aim to bring Davison's legacy up to date.
Penni Blythe-Jones, director of the Emily Inspires programme, said: "The suffragette picnic will also have groups of women in different uniforms to symbolise how far they have come in the last 100 years, to show what they can do now and couldn't then.
"Women having the vote is really a very recent thing, although limited suffrage was achieved in 1918, it wasn't universal until 1928.
The manner of the death of the woman, known locally as "the lawless lassie", caused controversy with some sections of the press referring to Davison as a lunatic.
She even received hate mail while she was lying in a coma.
However, it is now more widely accepted it was not an act of suicide but aimed at drawing publicity to the campaign, on the busiest day of the sporting calendar.
Emily Davison knocked down by the King's horse It is thought Emily Davison was attempting to pin a suffragette sash on the King's horse Amner
Maureen Howes, a local historian and author of a book about Davison, has also found evidence from family anecdotes that it was the Morpeth suffragettes who thought the Derby should be targeted and were spotted practising beforehand, by grabbing horses' bridles.
According to Ms Blythe-Jones, this change of view has had an impact on the town itself.
She said: "With a lot of things facts never get in the way of a good belief. Some people will always want to think things.
"However, I think what that's done has lifted a lid, relieved the secrecy.
"It's given the town pride back in her."
'Lone Ranger'
As a way of "bringing history home", Ms Blythe Jones has been wearing suffragette costume in the run-up to the centenary.
Emily Davison's grave (pic courtesy of Greater Morpeth Development Trust) Emily Davison was buried in the family plot in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin
"It's fascinating, you get into all sorts of conversations," she said.
"We talk about the importance of voting, it really brings it to life.
"Even now some people don't realise the connection, and it's so interesting to see their response when they discover she is local."
She added: "Emily wasn't a Lone Ranger woman, she was a very complex, rounded personality.
"It wasn't just about votes, she stood up for redistribution of wealth, equality in general.
"Even now, women are being disproportionately hit by the loss of jobs, by cuts to charities.
"It's all incredibly relevant, and Emily would be out there with everyone else."

Global Justice: 'IF only...'

I've just signed up to the mini-bus and ferry journey over to Belfast to lobby the G8. We desperately need more people to get involved - head to London this weekend or go to Belfast on the 15th/16th June (its only £40!) if interested contact your local Christian Aid office today! (Newcastle 01912280115)

The Big IF campaign is designed to help us ask why their are still nearly a billion hungry people in a world of abundance and has 4 main issues:

The issue: Aid

We can't stand by when children are dying, just because they don't have enough to eat. Not only can we save millions of lives now, we can also give the poorest people the power to feed themselves for generations to come.
We must make sure that the money is used to fight hunger and malnutrition. Just giving vitamin A to children could save more than half a million lives every year. And leaders must find new ways to fund poor countries' response to climate change, helping them grow enough to feed their people.
IF campaigners are already getting results. In April's Budget, The UK government finally honoured a commitment made 43 years ago to commit 0.7% of national income on aid.
Millions of people living in poverty worldwide now have a brighter future, thanks to the thousands of campaigners who spoke out on the issue.
At the G8, we need to put pressure on other rich countries to follow the UK's example.

The issue: Tax

Too many big companies don't pay up the taxes they owe in developing countries. They're dodging millions of pounds every day. That money could help millions of people to escape from hunger - forever.
We can help stop this tax dodging if our government steps up to close the international tax loopholes. Sign the tax petition to get all the G8 leaders to agree a new international tax treaty.
This would help poor countries keep hold of the taxes they're owed, giving them funds to invest in supporting farmers to grow enough food for everyone in their country.
Photo: flickr.com/billtimmins

The issue: Land

Some of the world's poorest farmers are losing their land to giant corporations. These companies don't care that the land is already being used by local people to grow food. The land grabs are being facilitated behind the scenes by investment banks and the World Bank.
Stopping them would help millions of people get enough to eat.
Increasingly, companies are growing food to fuel cars, not to feed people. This madness is driving up food and petrol prices. If we end the use of food for fuel, we can stop millions going hungry.
Take action to stop land grabs now

The issue: transparency

We need to force governments and big corporations to be honest and open about their actions that stop people getting enough food. Many governments and big companies hide behind a veil of secrecy. They'd rather not make information public about their impact on people's lives and on the environment.
That means no one can hold them to account for actions that result in millions of people suffering from hunger. By strengthening laws that force them to be open and honest, we can make sure they don't get away with it.

Welby is wobbly on equality

I like Justin Welby, in my brief meetings with him, I have been hopeful that the Anglican Church will make headway on issues of gender (women Bishops will be sorted soon...), poverty and interfaith relations. But when it comes to sexuality, Welby is trapped in the wobbly thinking of the middle of last century.

Here's what he said yesterday in the House of Lords:

Speaking in Monday's debate, the archbishop said the government's plans would fundamentally alter understanding about the purpose of marriage.
"The new marriage of the Bill is an awkward shape with same gender and different gender categories scrunched into it, neither fitting well," he said.
"The concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost, the idea of marriage as covenant is diminished, the family in its normal sense. The result is confusion. Marriage is abolished, redefined and recreated."
He added: "For these and many other reasons, those of us in the Church and other faith groups who are extremely hesitant about the Bill in many cases hold that view because we think traditional marriage is a cornerstone of society.
"Rather than adding a new and valued institution alongside it for same gender relationships, which I would personally strongly support to strengthen us all, this Bill weakens what exists and replaces it with a less good option that is neither equal nor effective."

Welby, like so many men in the church, confuses love with sex. the purpose of Marriage is not about 'procreation'. When I see my wife, my first thought is not how to produce more children with her. Like most couples, making love is mostly about avoiding 'procreation' and simply expressing deep affection for one another. I married for love,and not just sex. Older couples who are not able to have children are not an affront to the 'purpose of marriage'.

Marriage, is however still the best place to raise children. That is precisely why Gay couples should be allowed to marry, as they are already legally and rightfully able to raise children. Marriage for same sex couples strengthens society, the family, and the helps children raised by same sex couples live in equality with other children.

But what is this notion of family 'in it's normal sense'? For Jesus, he spent most of his ministry with folk outside of this 'normal sense' of family. He even attacked the traditional notion of family on several occasions.

Jesus was more interested in love and equality than notions of normality and patriarchy - and it is about time the Church leaders paid attention to his wider sense of justice and inclusivity.