Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Guest Blog: There is a Time for Change

A couple of years ago I ghost-wrote an autobiography for a leading black church leader in the UK. (For reasons not related, it has yet to see the light of day, so I can't say who it is). As I wrote it I became more and more aware of the racism in our country - not just 'then' but 'now'. I was appalled at my own blindness. As a caring Christian, I should have done better.

I'm concerned that in this current race crisis, many are missing the point. I've tried to write myself, but came across this from my friend Malcolm Magee. It says it better, so this time around, I'm 'blogging a blog'.

Please read and pray. To My Fellow White Folk Please Hear Me!

There is a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. Today is the day to turn the money changers tables over. 


Saturday, 13 June 2020

Black Lives Matter: Four Stories


It’s June 1948. His name is Walter. 

Along with around 500 others he disembarks the SS Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks in London. There is a spring in his step. It’s been a long voyage, but a new and exciting life awaits.

As the ‘Mother Country’ we called out to Walter and his friends in the West Indies to fight in the war. He came. Then we invited them back to help rebuild the Mother Country. Walter responded again, and here he is on this cold London morning.

He’s been told where it is best to go in order to find a boarding house and still with a spring in his step, he approaches the street he’s been directed to.

As he turns the corner, all the excitement evaporates. In front of him are two boarding houses, next to each other. Both have the same sign in the window.

No Blacks. No Irish. No Dogs.

With slumped shoulders and the beginnings of what would become his familiar slouching walk, Walter carries on down the street.

The story you have just read is a composite of a number of stories told at that time.

Now let’s move to 2020. I want to introduce you to three friends.

Judith has just finished her degree. She has the world at her feet. Or she should have. It’s not quite that simple. Of Nigerian parentage, growing up Judith didn’t really see herself as ‘black’ until she got to reception class at school and people started to call her ‘Judith Pooith’.  She didn’t really understand the nickname at first until she realised that they were making fun of her skin colour. And then at twelve years old she was first told she was a  ni**er. It shocked her.

Judith faces discrimination daily. She says:

‘Did you or your parents ever have to worry about their jobs because of their skin colour? Did you or your parents have to think about what they are going to call their children because they don’t want them to be discriminated against because their name sounds “black”? Did your parents ever have to tell you that you need to work twice as hard because you will always have to prove yourself to others because of the colour of your skin? Did you never think before going into a room that "I’m going to be the only black person here"? I normally don’t talk about these things because I’m scared as to what others may say. But enough is enough. I can’t stay silent.’

Susan is a little older than Judith and already successful as a writer and business woman. She has parents of West Indian origin. Susan says:

‘Sometimes I’m accused of using the’ race card’. But what does that mean? Should I just ignore what happens to me? What about the time I had dog’s excrement thrown at me as a child while being told to go back to where I came from? I remember when I was eight years old, after many hurtful comments, asking my parents why I was born with black skin "as no one seems to like us this way". One time I bit the insides of my cheeks in order to prevent tears as others laughed because someone has printed a picture of an ape and put my name above it. More recently, having married my wonderful white Danish husband, I was asked why I didn’t date black men.

'The news has unearthed feelings I had buried. The video of George Floyd dying with knees on his back and his neck is both literal and metaphorical for what many put up with because of race.’

Angela is a young woman of Indian origin and has had her fair share of racism too. She is a bright girl from a highly educated family, but despite this has regularly been called a ‘dumb black girl’ and ‘stupid Paki’. For Angela her concern is the response to the current crisis:

‘Too many who usually have a lot to say on politics on social media are saying nothing on the injustices that are happening. They are part of the problem! Silence is betrayal. Too many don't see injustice and just see inconvenience and a challenge to their own comfort.

'We all know racists. I see their looks, I feel their prejudice. Racism is a state of heart. In the end only God can change that heart. But we can pray, set the standard of respect and love and speak out against racial injustice.’

Three People. Nigerian. West Indian. Indian. 

Four stories. One problem.

Pray. Speak out. #blacklivesmatter.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

A Tribute to Julie and Jonathan

For a few years near the end of the 70s I headed up a Christian rock band and did some solo work on the London gospel circuit. Not a lot of gigs, but a lot of fun.

About half the material consisted of covers of the Christian artist of the day (think Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Nutshell, Barry McGuire…) and about half was self-penned.

Aside from the obvious Christian influences, I took some song writing inspiration from folk-rock troubadours of the day, two of whom died recently – Julie Felix and Jonathan Kelly.

I first got hold of a Julie Felix album in 1973. Those of us at Walsall Technical College were well aware of the fact that the manager of the Record Department at Boots the Chemist didn’t know his Abba’s from his Zappa’s and would often sell stuff off at ridiculously low prices. The first Parchment album on Pye (a collector’s piece today) for 10p with a small scratch on the first track. A first issue single of Free’s ‘All Right Now’ for 5p.

And there was Julie Felix. At 20p I took a risk, having never heard her. I loved her stuff. I loved her obvious left-wing politics, and the choice of the cover songs she selected. In fact she was already well known in the UK having been championed by David Frost and had two long running shows of her own on TV. But that had passed me by somehow.

My favourite album is the 1972 ‘Clotho’s Web’ which includes the single ‘Fire, Water, Earth and Air’. It’s worth a listen.

I must have first heard Jonathan Kelly at around the same time. A few of us would gather in each other’s houses to listen to records at the weekend. (Does that still happen or is it all social media nowadays?) And it was then that my friend Godfrey played ‘Twice Around the Houses’, Kelly’s second album. I loved it. The upbeat love song ‘Madelaine’ the protest song ‘We are the People’ and the haunting ‘Ballad of Cursed Anna’. But the one I loved the most – and the one my family had to put up with me singing – was ‘Rock You to Sleep’, the final track. I sang it to all our children at bedtime throughout their early years.

Well there you are. Two folk-rock legends have passed. RIP Julie and Jonathan. And thank you.




Wednesday, 13 May 2020

The Rainbow Redeemed


The rainbow has been borrowed by a lot of different organisations over the years. From businesses, (Apple, Google, various healthcare companies) through to the Freemasons and on to LGBT. And they’re welcome.

But it’s been a delight to see the rainbow redeemed for its original use during the recent pandemic.

For children, painting the new additions to many a window, it may simply be a colourful moment in their day.

But it is also a declaration of hope.


The rainbow appears in the very first book of the Bible when God puts a rainbow in the sky as a promise. A promise that there would not be another flood that would wipe out humanity. It’s a picture of hope, a declaration that God will have the final say.

The rainbow declares there may be a pandemic, but it is going to pass.

The Metro Newspaper reports that this current spate of rainbow pictures started in Italy, which was hit hard and relatively early with the virus. It’s been copied from there to most countries undergoing ‘lockdown’.

I love it. Each nation declaring through a rainbow, hope, solidarity, promise.

The rainbow declares God’s covenant; His promise. Ultimately, it points to God’s promise of redemption offered through Jesus.

Even if most of the kids putting their pictures in their windows don’t know it, right now the rainbow shouts out good news. God will have the final say.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Furlough


Suddenly a word is in the news that has had little usage in recent years.

Furlough.

It is traditionally used to describe a time away from the front line for soldiers. I first came across it in a church context. As a young Christian I went to a Brethren church and was told that a lady missionary was coming to visit on furlough. I thought it must be some kind of vehicle!

Actually it is a vehicle of sorts. It’s one that allows you to take time out. To rest.

For many in the UK the word is not welcome. Its newer definition is being laid off from work with 80% of pay due to the effects of the Corona Virus on our economy.

But maybe in this lockdown, we can all experience some furlough in its original sense? The root of the word is ‘verlof’. This is Dutch and means ‘permission’.

We have permission to take time out right now. Permission to dream, to plan, to think. To do something different. Not to waste the time but to use it as time away from the front line.

So what will we do? Read a book we have always intended to read? Pick up the watercolours again? Study a language? For those of us with a Christian faith, to go deeper into a book of the Bible?

I appreciate that some reading this will be experiencing furlough with kids running around their feet and the sense that they have less time than at work! Yes, but it’s still a different time. There will still be moments that can be used in a different way.

I don’t expect that most of us reading these words will ever get another furlough. Let’s appreciate the blessing along with the challenge.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

From Purple Flares to Old Pulteney


I remember the details of the day. A warm September  morning, 1976. I was early, so walked around St James’s Square, London, a couple of times before plucking up the courage to go in. The Clerical, Medical & General Life Assurance Society. My first job.

I wore a three piece purple suit with ridiculous flared trousers. Despite that, they let me in. I worked as a Pensions Documentation Clerk and quickly found that pensions wasn’t as boring as the name suggested to a twenty-one year old.

I realised that pretty much everything in pensions revolved around the age of 65 – the normal retirement age for men (It’s changed a bit nowadays). So I did my own calculation on that very first day – when would I reach that milestone? It was with some relief that by my calculation, the day would never arrive. It was so far in the future.

10th April 2020.

Well here we are. The flares are long gone (though I still like purple). In this strange season of lockdown, my plans to celebrate with a tour of the Scottish whisky distilleries went by the way, though Roh set out a tour of the garden to find my own bottles of whisky! And my main present was a bottle of 12 year old Old Pulteney single malt, from the northernmost distillery in the British Isles. I like to think that my tastes have improved a little since the purple flares.

Where did the time go? How did I get here?

The answer is by the grace of God.

I’m grateful for every step of the journey. Thankful for God’s goodness, a beautiful wife, four amazing children, three incredible sons/daughter in laws and two awesome granddaughters. And a pretty decent career in pensions.

The day did arrive. It wasn’t such a long time. May I encourage you, as the Bible says, to ‘count your days and seek a heart of wisdom.’ (Psalm 90)

My Old Testament hero is Caleb. He was still conquering mountains at the age of 85 (that’s where the idea for this blog came from 15 years ago), so I trust I still have plenty of time to count my days and seek wisdom. And still plenty of time to continue to conquer the mountains of life for the One who conquered all for me.

Monday, 30 March 2020

The God Who Zoomed


We live in strange times. Isolated at home, unsure how long the virus pandemic will continue.

It can be unsettling.

But God is still on His throne. The Psalms declare it. He is not unaware of our situation. The Gospels tell of it. He has a plan for us and it is still in place. The Epistles affirm it.

God is with us.

The Christian leader and theologian Ian Barclay explained it as God dwelling with us: The root of the Bible word is God ‘pitching His tent with us.’

Loosely translated, that’s the same as God Zooming with us, God Skyping with us.

So when we meet as a church or small group by electronic means, He is still with us in the same way as if we were together.

This was brought home to me by the beautiful way His Holy Spirit was with us on Sunday at Chroma. Just a few at the centre. Thousands on line. And most importantly of all, God with us.

We have a God who Zooms.