Saturday 29 November 2014

'Black Friday' V 'Buy Nothing Day'!

The desperate attempts by retailers to impose yet another hyped up shopping day imploded horribly on the streets of London, Leeds, Manchester and even Dundee yesterday. Police had to be called to protect staff and goods during the scuffles that broke out when shoppers tried to grab a pre-Christmas bargain on 'Black Friday', a US invented shopathon that follows Thanksgiving Day in the states. The scenes of thousands of frenzied shoppers prepared to climb over women and elderly folk to get ahead of the queue were quite distressing. Some commentators compared it to the 'Hunger Games' where poor folk get to murder each other for the amusement of the rich.

Rampant consumerism is of course, no stranger to Capitalism. The belief that 'we are what we own' is a strong component in everyday living, and in the 'West', it reaches into every aspect of our lives. None of us are immune, and it is common to find ourselves involved in 'shopping therapy' when we are feeling down. Like alcoholism or any addiction - shopping never fully satisfies us, and always leaves us hungry for more.

Thank heavens then for international 'Buy Nothing Day', another North American invention, this time started in Canada in 1992. It is a worldwide protest against over consumption, a world where 20% of the population consumes 80% of the resources.

It always challenges me, and reminds me that it is not 'I Shop Therefore I am' but instead 'I am created to love and to share - and I don't need any stuff that distracts me from that reality!'

Happy 'Buy Nothing Day'!

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Women Bishops - the long road to equality

It took 80 years of campaigning for women to become priests in the Church of England, and a further 20 before women gained the right to become Bishops as of yesterdays vote in the Church of England's Synod. It is a time of celebration; finally, the great administrators and pastors in our dioceses who happen to be women can now do what they are perfectly capable of doing.

But let us not for a second think that we have got to where we need to be. Equality is a long way off in the Church of England. In terms of women, we are at the beginning of a journey. It will take a long time for them to break the 50% in terms of full time paid clergy positions, and even longer before we reach that mark in terms of Bishops. There needs to be a period when men must step aside from expecting the top jobs to go to them, if women are to be allowed a chance to catch up.

But equality is not just about women in the church. It is hard to pat ourselves on the back for coming so late to the party over gender equality while the LGBT community are being treated so appallingly by the church institution. Do we have to wait for another 100 years before we see sense? By that time the Church will almost certainly be a tiny speck of its former self - mostly because it would have failed to heed the movement of the Holy Spirit, God's yearning for justice and equality.

And equality is not just gender or sexuality. The Church of England is still formidably class based. It simply does not represent or appeal to most working class people. The current church hierarchy is mostly an old boys network. The public school mafia may not necessarily disappear when women get to the top. 

Black people and disabled people are still virtually invisible at the top of the Church of England. One Sentamu does not make a Summer.

But let us not just complain about the higher echelons of our Churches. We must take a long hard look at the way inequalities are steeped into our parish lives. The processions, the style of worship, the clear hierarchies, the uniforms. I'm not saying that we should get rid of all of our traditions, but I do believe that we allow the seduction of power to corrupt us far to easily.

Our default position should be: How do we share out the power and resources we have so that the poor are lifted up and that the powerful are humbled. Only when we hold this biblical truth to be at the heart of our faith will we truly begin the next stage of the journey to equality. Only then may we understand the equality at the centre of God's reign, and the justice God so desperately wants for her creation. 

Interfaith Week 2014

From my contribution to the weekend edition of Sunderland Echo:
Interfaith Week begins on Sunday, and  it has become an important part of the life of the city. Sunderland has become increasingly diverse demographically, and has begun to play its rightful place in the global arena, both economically and socially. Theologically (how we speak about God) that poses new questions for us as a community. In recent years, we have increasingly began to share our streets with people of other faiths: Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists. This inevitably leads us to grow in terms of faith, as we recognise God is at work around us in new ways.

Sunderland is quite rightly proud of its great Christian heritage, but it has always worked out how to live alongside God’s diverse world. At St Peter’s monastic community in the 7th and 8th century, there is evidence of shared learning between Islamic and Egyptian Coptic traditions, mostly because of the trade routes that existed at the time, which allowed ideas, as well as ‘goods’ to travel across the globe.

Now the world has come more directly to us, in our streets and communities, and it is time that we shared all that is great about our faiths more directly. Our Christian heritage encourages us to show hospitality, and to recognise through Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan (someone from another faith) that it is our love for others that is more important than our words or our creed.
This week presents us with a good excuse to get to know our neighbours better and learn a deeper respect for how God is at work in the world today.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

My daughter has a good heart!!!

Prepare yourself, this may well be one of many blogs about my daughter over the coming years, so you'll just have to get used to it. As a family, our lives were changed dramatically when our youngest daughter, Angela, was diagnosed with Turner's Syndrome 6 months ago. Not heard of it? Neither had we, so there was much internet surfing and frantic questions of medically minded friends.

Turner's Syndrome is a genetic disease which affects 1:2000 live female births. It is classically associated with shortness of stature and infertility, but can affect a huge variety of health conditions, from heart and lung abnormalities to hearing and vision loss.

The diagnosis really took us by surprise. We had taken Angela to see a specialist at the Niall Quinn Children's unit in Sunderland because we were worried about her size and development. The doctors and staff were wonderful, and a couple of blood tests later, a 'mosaicism' Turner's Syndrome was confirmed. This is a variation on Turner's Syndrome where only a % of Angela X chromosomes are affected.

The treatment for height is dealt with by growth hormone injections, which began for us 6 weeks ago. the nightly routine of injecting a 7 year old child has been traumatic for everyone - but I'm pleased to say we are all doing quite well after an initially hellish period. I'll go into details at another time, but suffice to say there have been tears all round.

We recently met with the lovely folk of TSSS, a support group for those with Turner's and their families. It was wonderful, but also very sobering. The lifetime of health concerns, from high blood pressure to osteoporosis had not dawned on me, and the way short people are discriminated was clear from the anecdotes from some of the women.  

We have a lot to learn in the coming years, but thankfully, in Angela, we have a beautiful, brave and kind teacher. I want to end this blog with some good news. Angela had her heart looked at by a children's specialist this afternoon. Whilst in many children with Turners there can be major concerns, Angela, has a good heart.

This is no surprise to us. She is a wonderful, good hearted daughter! We wept tears of joy at the good news, the first of a long run of medical tests for Angela, and the signs are encouraging. She can have a good healthy life if we can keep on top of everything.

For those who know Angela, you'll know what a joy she is, and you can understand our fears and tears as parents. For those with a little faith, do keep her in your prayers. But, she at least has a kind and considerate big sister, doting parents, and, thank God, a good heart.