Monday, 25 August 2014

Being evangelical

I'm an Evangelical. There I've said it and I feel better for it. Others aren't so sure. A few years ago I was at a meeting with other evangelicals and expressed my dismay at some nonsense that had gone on, to do with someone singing in the cathedral of all things! I said sometimes it can be embarrassing being known as an evangelical. The next day I received an email from someone at the meeting saying 'don't worry Phil we haven't considered you an evangelical for some time'.

Of course, just because someone tells me I'm not something doesn't make it true and I still consider myself an evangelical even if others don't. It's the part of the family I grew up in, have many close friends in, by and large feel most comfortable theologically and ecclesiologically in. My father is an evangelical and along with my mother the greatest spiritual influence on my life. Most of dad's ministry was as a prison chaplain working with some of the most dangerous criminals in this country and people guilty of some of the most heinous crimes. How could he love, yes love, these people? It was a question he was often asked, sometimes by other Christians, and his answer was always the same; because of the love of God he had come to know and experience in his own life.

However, I recognise that we can appear a strange bunch. We sometimes don't appear very nice and sometimes our words and actions hurt others. That's not surprising because at the heart of our theology is an understanding that we are flawed, damaged, dare I say 'broken', people, in need of the grace of God, the forgiveness and love of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, as we seek to become the people God has called us to be as his children. We are a work in progress and we need to constantly seek the forgiveness of those we hurt, to pursue reconciliation in the peace that only Christ offers and to speak the truth in love to ourselves as much as to others.

But here's the thing, I reckon that what I've just said is true of all of us as Christians. It's something we acknowledge every time we share in the Lord's Supper, Mass, Eucharist, Holy Communion or whatever you choose to call it. I get tired of reading how evangelicals are a much nastier bunch than the rest. In my experience we are all in the same boat on this one. I have liberal colleagues who are some of the most illiberal people I've met but I also have liberal colleagues who shame me with the depth of their knowledge of the scriptures. I have catholic colleagues who have said and acted with awful misogyny towards female colleagues and yet I know catholics whose depth of spirituality I long for. As for all the other ways we can come up with for defining our church traditions, or 'post' church traditions, I think you'll find the same remains true.

One of the people I most respect in ministry is someone who on the surface appears to come from a very different tradition to my own and yet he is the most gifted evangelist I know. He's still flawed though, he supports Spurs!

So, here's my plea. Can we please stop telling each other how unpleasant the other lot are and get on with working out what it means to love one another. I'm sure someone once said that's how other people are going to know we are his followers.


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Friday, 22 August 2014

banter

A dictionary definition of 'banter': 'the playful and teasing exchange of friendly remarks'. If you are a footballer or a football fan then banter is part of the deal. As a Manchester United fan over the years I have enjoyed banter with many friends in the flesh and on-line. In recent years that has meant making fun of those who support teams like Liverpool (last season's slip when the Premiership was in sight) and Arsenal (who had gone nearly nine seasons without a trophy). Of course if you dish it out you have to be willing to take it and last season was a particularly painful one for me as MUFC crashed and burned under the management of David Moyes. Sometimes people don't get banter, for example a Liverpool supporter who I didn't know personally took exception to some comments I made about their team on Facebook. Lesson learnt, don't accept as friends on FB those you don't know and who don't know you and your sense of humour.

Earlier this week it was revealed that two former Cardiff City FC senior officials, the manager and the head of recruitment, had been accused of involvement in the exchange of offensive messages whilst at the club. They were both dismissed last season in acrimonious circumstances and during an investigation into their actions the messages had come to light. The content of some of the messages has been leaked to the press and are now doing the rounds in the media. The messages quoted are clearly racist, sexist and homophobic. In an extraordinary response to this news the League Managers Association issued a statement on behalf of the sacked manager and here is a quote from it:
In the course of a search by the Club in early 2014 of 10,000 private text messages sent to and from another member of staff during Mr Mackay’s employment at Cardiff, in relation to other matters, it emerged that Malky had, it seems, sent a couple of one line texts that were, with the benefit of hindsight, very regrettable and disrespectful of other cultures. These were two text messages sent in private at a time Malky felt under great pressure and when he was letting off steam to a friend during some friendly text message banter. That said, Malky believes he could and should have conducted himself better on these two isolated occasions.  The precise details need to remain private for the time being until any FA process is complete.
You can read the full statement here and it is no surprise that today the LMA has issued a follow up statement to clarify its initial statement following justifiable criticism for referring to the messages as 'friendly text message banter'. I find myself asking how anyone could have used the word banter in regard to these messages and I suspect the answer is that within football there is still a culture that regards such messages as just that, banter. However, these messages are not playful and teasing remarks between two friends, they are offensive remarks made about other people and have no place in the game.

The former Chelsea and England defender Graham Le Saux has written powerfully about the abuse he suffered as a player because he was thought by some to be gay. Le Saux named several players and cited specific incidents where these players had acted in a clearly homophobic way and then later sought to dismiss the incidents as banter, a joke, part of the game. Two of those mentioned by Le Saux, Robbie Fowler and Robbie Savage, have since gone on to be BBC football pundits and both have belatedly apologised for their treatment of Le Saux. However, even when making the apology there seemed to be a certain amount of denial about the continued presence of homophobia in the game, with both pundits claiming that it wouldn't be a problem for a player to 'come out' in a dressing room.

There are plenty of other examples of those involved in football mistaking sexism, racism and homophobia for banter. The former Sky commentators Andy Gray and Richard Keys were removed by the broadcaster following a series of revelations about their attitudes and off camera comments. However, they quickly found other work within the sports' broadcasting world. Why did these people feel that their remarks were acceptable within the world of sport? Presumably because this is the sort of language that is used within that particular environment on a regular basis and so people feel comfortable using it. And it is not just sport that has this problem as a quick glance at the number of apologies made by the BBC regarding the language used by a certain Top Gear presenter demonstrates.

So let's get this clear once and for all: It is not banter to make jokes about the colour of someone's skin or their ethnicity; it is not banter to make jokes about someone's sexuality and it is not banter to make jokes about someone's gender. The sooner football wakes up to this truth the better for all who care about the game.




Monday, 18 August 2014

Not so quiet desperation

It has been brought to my attention that many of my social media buddies found my exasperated twittering about the plight of my beloved Manchester United last season highly amusing. Gary, aka @Gerrarrdus, was still chuckling about it when we met up for a pint in Norfolk last week. I had been looking forward to this season as a fresh start; an opportunity to tweet away about victories secured under the new management of Louis Van Gaal, culminating in posting a picture of the MUFC squad parading the Premier League trophy around the Theatre of Dreams in May 2015. There was promise in a pre-season build up which included a very successful and no doubt lucrative trek across the U.S.A. finishing off with victory over Liverpool.

Then the new season kicked off on Saturday and it was like last season's nightmare hadn't come to an end. The only saving grace was that I was driving during the first half of MUFC v Swansea and was thus prevented from venting my spleen on-line. All the old failings were there: the lack of precision in passing; the lack of pace in attack; a defence that didn't seem to know each other's names; a midfield wandering about mindlessly as the game passed them by; reversion to crosses into the box in hope rather than expectation; a squad ravaged by injury and depleted in talent; a manager looking dumbfounded at the mess unfolding before his eyes; a Belgian basket ball player masquerading as a footballer flailing his arms about in opponents faces; Wayne Rooney despairing at the mediocrity around him; promising youngsters overburdened with expectation while over-paid internationals ran down dead ends, fell over and looked like novices.

The MUFC gravy train executives had promised that we would take this summer's transfer window by storm. We were encouraged to expect record breaking, championship winning, top ranking heavy weights of the international game to be filing through the gates of Old Trafford. Instead, we have had to watch bemused as one by one our targets head off to join our chief rivals' squads. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has one job to do and a couple of weeks left to do it in and that is to sign some players fit to wear the MUFC shirt. So far Woodward seems hell bent on replicating his performance last summer, when he panic bought at the last moment and overpaid for a player who wouldn't even have made the bench under Sir Alex's reign. I'm beginning to think Ed Wood would have made a better fist of things.

Of course behind Woodward sits the Glazer family, who purchased a financially sound club in a leveraged buy out and saddled it with astronomical debts. They have treated MUFC as their private piggy bank and the weakness of the current squad reflects their parsimony in the transfer market. Only the brilliance of Sir Alex's team management covered the problems lurking beneath the surface and the consequences of the Glazers' ownership are there for all to see.

So I anticipate another season spent in not so quiet desperation, as I am forced to watch our main opponents disappear out of sight at the top of the table and I dread fixtures against teams who a couple of seasons ago feared MUFC and now lick their lips at the prospect of picking up points.


Friday, 15 August 2014

This is what I think

I have been struggling to write a post regarding a current debate about church growth. This morning I read a blog post that succinctly expresses my thoughts on the matter titled Two things that always seem wrong.
What the World thinks of all this is neither here nor there. It is not supposed to be a popularity contest. It is supposed to be the Gospel.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

An appeal

I was so deeply saddened to hear of the plight of Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds, who has revealed his ongoing struggle with living on £90,000 plus expenses a year (his local paper estimated he claimed £173,000 expenses in 2013). Simmonds has rightly taken the principled stance that he is not prepared for his family to live outside Westminster. Why should he be expected to commute to work like anyone else? It breaks my heart to think of these government ministers desperately scraping together resources to maintain their political careers and the lifestyle commensurate with their position in public life. To combat the ongoing suffering of these impoverished souls I have decided to set up a relief fund and appeal for your support.

There are various ways in which you may join me in caring for this economically challenged group of public servants.

  • You may make a cash donation to 'Campaign for the relief of Government Ministers' by PayPal. But remember, if you stump up enough dosh you may end up in the House of Lords with the extra costs that entails.
  • Please consider adding this Twibbon to your twitter avatar.
  • Lobby your local MP to recall parliament to discuss this tragic situation. Though this might create the financial hardship of other government ministers having to find the money to pay for their flights back from the Maldives.
Remember, some of these ministers haven't been able to afford a third overseas family holiday this year. And the next time someone complains to you about their struggle to live on £62 in benefits a week, just remind them of the hardship endured by our government on their behalf.

Update: The Telegraph has revealed further details of Mr Simmonds harrowing plight.

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Friday, 8 August 2014

Lord White of Baghdad

Today another batch of bods to be awarded peerages was announced. I resist any comment about the worthiness of those to be ennobled, though I note the donations given by some to their respective political parties. What I would like to suggest is a rather simple idea; make Canon Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad, a Lord as a statement of our support for and solidarity with his extraordinary ministry in Iraq. Others have recounted the work Andrew is doing at great risk to his own personal safety. All I would add is that Andrew is there seeking to address a mess that we helped create and the least our country can do is recognise his work and our responsibility.

If you would like to support the work of Canon White donations to the organisation supporting his ministry can be made here.

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Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Voiceless

Plenty of other people have commented on the resignation of Sayeeda Warsi from David Cameron's cabinet over the government's stance on Israel and Gaza. The only comment I would make about that issue is I haven't the first idea what our government's stance is, apart from the £8billion in arms that we flog to Israel.

What is perhaps just as concerning is that as a result of Baroness Warsi's resignation we have lost one of the only voices in government prepared to speak up about persecution, not least Christian persecution, across the world. In her resignation letter Warsi specifically mentions this issue and I for one am grateful for her work in this area. I contrast it with the silence emanating from the rest of government about which I have previously posted.

The media has been a bit more vocal about the issue of Christian persecution. This morning the BBC Today programme even managed to find a couple of minutes in its busy schedule for a piece in which Christians connected with the eradication of the church in Mosul, Iraq, were able to articulate their concerns. Here's the clip from the Today programme.



One final thought. Some of the more right leaning Christian social media commentators were very quick to disparage Warsi and RT others attacking her. They might like to reflect that we have now lost the one person in government who was prepared to speak up consistently for our brothers and sisters in Christ whose very lives are at risk across the globe.

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