Monday 23 September 2013

Di Canio should never have been appointed in the first place.

I do not entirely blame Di Canio for the mess that he has created. The Club owner bears some responsibility for appointing a self declared fascist, who had no track record in the top league, and who was well known for his bully boy tactics. We can only hope that Ellis has learnt from this mistake and is swift to appoint steadier hands.

Di Canio seemed to think that it was OK to treat people like dirt, and that demand that they don't use ice in their soft drinks. He dismissed everything about his predecessor, and the list of players he castigated publicly and privately got longer and longer. Cattermole, Fletcher, McClean, Bardsley, Cuellar, Ji - the list is incredible. He then had a go at Stephane Sessegnon, and let go of one of the best players in a Sunderland shirt, straight in a WBA one.

It was perhaps Sessegnon's goal against Sunderland that killed off Di Canio. He had laid into the player after he had left, and the goal was sweet justice. The dignified striker did not celebrate, as he respected the Sunderland supporters much more that he respected the Sunderland manager.

Some had hailed Di Canio as a saviour, especially following the 0-3 win against rivals Newcastle. But many of the stars of that victory, including Vaughan, Mignolet and Sessegnon were soon to be sold or sidelined.

The 14 new signings led to confusion over tactics, language and style, and this was added to by Di Canio's inability to adapt his management style.

I have grown to love the football craziness of this great city, and I sincerely hope that a new manager can pull us out of the nose-dive Di Canio has left us with. But Ellis - please - no more bullies, there are enough of them in this world already 

Tuesday 17 September 2013

'Elysium' - what happens when the welfare state is gone.....

This is not so much as a blog, but merely a quick plug for this movie, one of the few 'must see' movies of the year (along with Cloud Atlas.) It won't be around at the cinema complex's for much longer, and it hasn't been a big box office hit - but it deserves to be.

It presents a nightmare image of the future, but of course, is a thinly disguised parody of the present. 1% of the people live in blissful conditions on 'Elysium', orbiting the earth, unreachable to all but the elite. Then there are the 99% living in the toxic, climate changed chaos of Earth. Terrible working conditions, a police state, awful poverty.

Health care is one of the big concerns of the movie. Though breakthroughs in technology have elongated the life and quality of the elite, these benefits are denied those who cannot afford them. I can't give too much away, but a hope for the future is if it becomes possible for all to equally have access to a decent healthcare system. That would be the greatest achievement of any revolution.

The film suffers from feeling the need to display the extreme violence of weaponry, (already explored more purposely in 'District 9' Neill Blomkamp's first directorial triumph) and an absurd plot twist when some mercenaries pointlessly wreak havoc on Elysium. But despite these weaknesses, the ideas and execution of the film make this one of the best films of 2013. It deserves a bigger audience, so get out there and check it out before it goes from our big screens

Saturday 14 September 2013

Sunderland Woman first CofE female Bishop!

My two girls are thrilled. Their school is buzzing with the news that a former pupil has become the first woman ordained in the Church of England to become a Bishop. What a role model to have in your School!

The only problem is that Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, a pupil in Benedict Biscop school in the 1970's, has had a long journey on the way to becoming a bishop. In fact, it's about as far a journey as possible. She is now a bishop in the Anglican Diocese of Waikato, New Zealand.

Helen-Ann, 40, who grew up in East Herrington, is the third woman to be bestowed with bishop’s the title on the Tasmanian Sea island.

It is a further break through in the quest for woman Bishop's in the Church of England, as is the news this week that the Church of Wales has approved the ordination of women into the episcopate.

But how long will it be before the Church in England gets with the programme? I'm thrilled for Helen-Ann, and I'm thrilled for Sunderland to get another first - but in truth I would like my little girls to grow up in a country where they can see their role models be female Bishops a bit closer to home than Tasmania!

After the exorcism...

Well, it's been nearly a week since we performed a symbolic exorcism at the DSEi arms fair in London, and finally, the 30,000 arms dealers and buyers have been sent scurrying away. The Exorcism seems to have helped in the early expulsion of a couple of companies who had been happily selling illegal weapons of torture (though that might have had more to do with Green MP Carolyn Lucas spotting the buggers during her quick inspection!)

Last Sunday was a triumph of protest. When I arrived, several military boats had been marooned whilst activists had blocked there entry to the Excel site. Later in the day, whilst several of those who had chained themselves together were being carted away, we decided to make our move.

I had already been warned that if I stepped into the road again I would be arrested, but now I was in full clerical gear, and I was sure that if enough people joined in, we would be free from too much police hassle. I marched through the police line singing 'Peace is flowing like a river' I knew that the other clergy, Keith and Helen were right beside me, but it was only when I turned that I realised that perhaps 100 folk had followed us into the road at the entrance to Excel. The police were pushing back, so I encouraged the people at the front to sit down, and finally we had the space to conduct the service. I found it deeply moving. What had begun as a mostly symbolic act, suddenly took on a spiritual life of it own. Normally when leading events like this, it is hard to feel moved, as you are too focused on simply getting it done. This time was different, as I shouted a 'casting out' of militarism and violence, I felt the presence of God right in the heart of what we were doing.

Later in the week I witnessed even more wondrous sites, including seeing seven Christian friends blocked the entrance to the site (I played the decoy, as the police were so obsessed with trying to stop me praying for peace in public, they let the well dressed protesters sneak by them!)

Watching activists at work is a beautiful thing, and to see people of faith join in gives me great hope. However, much more needs to be done. I counted 6 priests and ministers in action throughout the week, Anglican, Methodist and Catholic. Why not 100? There were on total 4-500 protesters over the few days we were there. If 5,000 had turned up - we could have closed the whole thing down.

The adverts were out for the next arms fair in 2 years time. Let's be blunt, these fair fuel the wars of tomorrow, there is no such thing as an 'ethical arms fair' - people are here to make as much money as possible, regardless of the suffering that comes from the sale of such items.

Let us commit ourselves now to be there again, and to prepare ourselves by learning the techniques of creative and non-violent direct action - blockades, costumes, humour, prayer - and even the odd exorcism.

Friday 6 September 2013

Exorcising the demons of militarism

On Sunday, hundreds of activists will take to the streets of London in an attempt to highlight one of the greatest hypocrisies of our time. Whilst our nation shouts out about the terror states across the globe, we discretely organise weapons fairs, and sell to some of the most despicable regimes you can imagine.

DSEi (Defence and Security Equipment International) is held every two years in the London Docklands Excel exhibition centre - it is one of the worlds largest arms fairs, and millions of pounds worth of weapons contracts will be arranged here each day.

Drones will be popular, as will equipment used to stop your nation's people from rising up against the state. Assault rifles, electronic batons, bullets that explode upon impact with human flesh, all will be sold and many to nations whose governments have quelled the hopes of freedom for millions of their own people.

This evil has got to stop. And it is pure evil

For this very reason, a large gathering of Christians will perform a symbolic exorcism at DSEi 2013. We will name and shame the demons of militarism and greed. We will call for repentance for our government's promotion of these horrors, and pray for the companies whose main marketing policy is the hope for death and destruction.

Check out the Campaign Against the Arms Trade's website, and for God's sake join us at 12 noon Sunday to disrupt the preparation for this horrific event and at 4pm again for our exorcism. The fair starts officially on Tuesday, and you can come and 'meet and greet' the 25,000 mostly male arms dealers/delegates early that morning on the trains of the Docklands Light Railway (run appropriately by SERCO who run the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment)

Do come and join us if you can over the next week, lets 'cast out' this evil trade once and for all!

Thursday 5 September 2013

Why the Yurt Works!

We had our first service in the Yurt on Sunday, and it was truly beautiful. We had a simple time of Taize style worship (chanting and silence) whilst praying for peace around the world.

Many have asked - 'Why a yurt?' so I feel obliged to explain why it seems to work. My first encounter with a Yurt was when Methodist saint Barbara Glasson acquired one in Bradford. The purpose was to have a mobile contemplative space that encouraged encounter and opportunities for listening to one another and to God. From the first moment I went into one, I realised how powerful they were as a spiritual and human experience.

I think that the reason the Yurt works is down to its shape, size and functionality. Shape - round buildings seem to reflect the shape of a human being more adequately than square ones, and people feel instinctively more relaxed in 'curved' environments. Rudolf Steiner, the great philosopher and educationalist understood this, and it is reflected in the schools built in the 1920's. Even now, new education buildings encourage learning simply by adding curves - it just works.

The size of the yurt matters - the scale is human, small, intimate. Conversations feel more comfortable when words are held close, Words can truly be listened to and not lost in space. Large churches are ideal when we are trying to communicate to something much greater than ourselves, but not so great when your theology understands Jesus as being 'close' to us. 'Don't call me master' says Jesus, 'for a servant does not know his master's business. I have shared all I know with you, for you are my friends.'

An intimate God requires some intimate spaces, and the small scale yurt helps.

Functionality. Yurts are mobile and can be set up anywhere. once erected, they complement their contexts, but they make everyone examine their contexts afresh. Having a yurt in the Minster makes us think afresh about space and how it is used. The nomadic life of a yurt reflects something of the life of discipleship. We need to be ready to move if necessary. This will always be tough, and having just gone through such a process personally in our move from Bradford to Sunderland. The process of relocation is made easier when we learn something of the gift of simplicity. A yurt, a tent, helps us to gain and insight into this.

We complicate our lives with clutter and objects, and they in turn make us inanimate and unadaptable.

The yurt is mobile, yet is a place of hospitality and homeliness. It is always welcoming and warm.

Paul Spencer, from Highland Yurts, the man who built the structure has crafted something of great beauty and well as perfect functionality. Come and see it for yourself. We'll be hosting our services on a Sunday night in the Yurt till Easter, after that its available for storytelling and truthtelling around the North East. In the meantime, let us all try to learn from our Yurt!


Sunday 1 September 2013

Why Di Canio needs to change his management style!

The rumours of discontent at the Sunderland camp are growing day by day. Di Canio's management style must surely come under question after the poor showing against Crystal Palace. We needed to pick up at least a point from that game, with much tougher games coming up.

Di Canio may have been playing down his Fascist past in the light of his appointment to a city with a proud anti-fascist tradition, but his mentality is clear for all to see.

I hope to God that Di Canio repents of his ways and finds a new way of coaching that does not involve bullying and belittling people. He has been harsh on Fletcher, but it was the Scottish frontman's goal that gave some hope to fans yesterday. Di Canio's mismanagement of Sessegnon has led to the loss of this great player to the team. Shouting and demeaning players if they do not make you look good is short termism gone mad. You do not build a team by simply buying new players, but by valuing all in your team.

Without change (and some good results) Di Canio must go. And not just because he is formerly a self proclaimed fascist, though that maybe reason enough, but because he is simply not up to the job. The far right have always been rabble rousers, shouting their way into power, but they have no real long term solutions. After they have attacked others for their own failings, they are often shown up for who they really are - simply bullies full of empty promises.