Post-referendum reflections – Part 2: Plot holes result in Box Office flop

16 July, 2016

Despite a big budget, a 5-star cast and great special effects, significant plot holes in a storyline can leave movie goers deeply unsatisfied. 

The EU Referendum was certainly like that in at least one respect: 

The Remain camp failed to engage adequately with a major question in the minds of many undecided voters. 

Are immigration levels – the size of the city of Newcastle upon Tyne per year – sustainable? Simply that! That is not a racist question (necessarily); it’s a practical one. I voted to Remain, but this question of sustainable immigration levels was one that I felt was not addressed satisfactorily. (The irony, of course, is that it was and is still unclear what effect exiting the EU will have on immigration levels.)

Unaddressed, this would leave a significant plot hole in the Remain storyline.

Remain, however, did not engage with the question. Instead, as politicians often do, they answered the one they wanted, but even then not very well.  

Immigrants are net contributors to the economy, they said; “they put in more than they take out”.

 But what does that mean? Does it mean that those coming from overseas pay more in taxes than they take out in benefits? Does it mean that their tax contributions or labour more than offsets the demand on the healthcare and education systems? It would have been good to have had that detail.  

Without that detail or an alternate credible narrative, it is easy to imagine the worst – especially when people experience hospital/GP waiting times and competition for jobs, housing and school places – or just personal and societal disharmony and needing something to blame it on.

Without information to the contrary, logic would, for many, argue that it is ‘in fact’ unsustainable.

So the plot hole remained but the country didn’t, as the “Remain” campaign flopped at the Box Office!

Systemic racism: Insights on how to recognise and tackle the problem

11 July, 2016

In light of the recent, tragic and fatal police shootings of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana, Ben Sternke writes about the “systemic” nature of the problem – including how to recognise systemic racism and how to start addressing it.

I found what Ben wrote really helpful, and hope you do too. 

For context, African-American citizens are far more likely to be shot by police than whites. Only 13% of the US population are black. Yet of the 1,152 people killed by police in the USA in 2015, 30% were black.
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Ben writes:

“The problem isn’t a few bad apples or even a ton of bad apples. The problem is SYSTEMIC and must be addressed at the systemic level.

Here are some examples of what I mean…

When those with power are given the benefit of the doubt and protected from accountability, (while the opposite is true for those without power), the problem is systemic.

When those with power can’t shut their mouths for a few minutes and listen to the stories and experience of those without power, instead knee-jerking into justifications and platitudes, the problem is systemic.

When my natural reaction and assumptions to seeing a black man reach for his wallet are fundamentally different from my reactions / assumptions when a white man reaches for his wallet, the problem is systemic.

I include myself in all of these, by the way. I am part of the system, my hidden assumptions about people have been shaped by the system even though I don’t like it.

Those are a few particular ways the problem is systemic.

Also, when parents of black children have to caution them about their interactions with those who are sworn to serve and protect, there is something wrong with the system.

When black friends tell me they are constantly “on alert” when crossing a street, because they’re afraid a cop will arrest them for jaywalking, the problem is systemic. (I NEVER worry about jaywalking.)

We would know this if we’d listen to them talk about their experience, the fear they live with every day.

Campaign Zero has loads of info on how the problem is systemic, and, most helpfully, ways you can get involved to change things.

I firmly believe the best way to create systemic change is at the grassroots level.

Me interacting with my neighbours in a new way is “changing the system.” Me choosing to ask my black friends how these news reports affect them, and just listening, is changing the system.

This is partly why, I think, we still have such a massive problem with racism in this country, frankly. Laws were passed (rightly so!), but racism was never transformed, it just went underground, because we didn’t really address it on the grassroots level as well as we could have.”

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In kindly agreeing that I could share his comments (which were originally posted on Facebook), Ben stressed that they are “off the cuff” and “unedited”. Personally, I think they are all the more powerful for it.

So, what do you think? 

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Ben Sternke, co-pastor of The Table, is involved in planting a network of missional churches in Minnesota. He is also co-founder of Gravity Leadership, which is focused on training Christian leaders to create and lead Jesus-shaped movement. Follow Ben at @bensternke.

Post-referendum reflections – Part 1: Democratic deficit

3 July, 2016

Does a propaganda-ridden campaign on both the Leave and Remain sides of the EU Referendum reveal a democratic deficit in Britain and perhaps other Western nations?

I – along with many others – have been less than impressed by some concerning issues surrounding the debate. Here are two such issues that most readily come to mind:

a) The evident misinformation (or at least a lack of transparency) – I would say, on both sides – that has left many Leave voters and non-voters regretting their voting choice. Whilst in many cases this was avoidable (such as protest votes and those that assumed that to Remain was an inevitable outcome) – some others voted based on being (they would say) misled by, at best, a lack of transparency by the Leave campaign and, at worst, downright deceit. Examples would include figures of payments to the EU (stated as gross, not net, and does not account for Britain’s automatic rebate), promised investment in the NHS (implied to be £350 million per week) and vast reductions in immigration levels (then implicitly guaranteed, now clearly uncertain).

b) A failure to on both sides to effectively addressing real people’s real (or imagined) concerns, on both sides. Instead, there was a lot in the way of sound bites and scripted answers.

Asking people to make a democratic decision without arming them with the information they need and ask for is (I would suggest) democratically deficient or anaemic.

I wonder if other nations, not run on the same democratic principles that we are so proud of, are laughing at us right now. Maybe not, but I fear that the process surrounding the UK’s EU Referendum has not been the beacon of democracy in action that it could have been.

What do you think?

EU Referendum – Part 3: Sovereignty, democracy, immigration and trade

22 June, 2016

The first two posts looked at issues of Influence on, as well as the Stability offered by, the EU. In this last post, I highlight some other issues that have been in my thinking.

National sovereignty

I have an instinctive conviction about protecting national sovereignty – and that’s one of the main reason why I’d consider voting to Leave. Unfortunately, there are undemocratic principles and practices at work in the EU, which appear to erode our sovereignty – not to speak of the creeping movement and growing agenda toward closer political union. The changes of name from the EEC (European Economic Community) to the EC (the European Community in 1997, and then to the EU (European Union) in 2009 appears to reflect that journey pretty well. 

Democracy

It seems highly undemocratic that unelected officials are making our laws and interfering with the application of our laws through the European Courts. 

I understand, however, that the UK has only voted against a very small proportion of the bills that made it into EU law. In other words, the vast majority of EU laws supposedly “imposed” on us are those we voted in favour of. 

An independent academic research organisation reports that: “From official EU voting records is that the British government has voted ‘No’ to EU proposals on 56 occasions, abstained 70 times, and voted ‘Yes’ to legislative proposals 2,466 times since 1999.  In other words, UK ministers were on the “winning side” 95% of the time, abstained 3% of the time, and were on the losing side 2%.”

Nevertheless, the “distance” we might feel exists between us and our UK politicians is amplified several fold between us and decision makers in the EU. And where we are represented by MEPs – well, I can’t imagine many British people feeling connected with or empowered by their own MEP, let alone our MEPs as a whole group representing our national interests in Europe. This is an ongoing problem that surely affects the sentiments of some voters.

Immigration

There are many positives of immigration, from within and outside of the EU. Here is a blog piece written by a North East employer discussing what the EU referendum means to his business, including the advantages of being able to employ people from within the EU.

However, annual net migration at a rate of approximately a city the size of Newcastle upon Tyne does not seem sustainable to the rational mind. 

And I can’t help but feeling that the Remain campaign’s approach of ignoring people’s concerns on the immigration issue is not helping. Simply stating that immigrants are net contributors to the UK economy does not ease the unease. 

With pressures increasing on our healthcare and education systems and budgets remaining static at best, are we really to believe that net immigration at around 300,000 per year makes no impact?

For me, this remains unanswered. And neither side is willing to dig down beneath the top line statements of their campaign’s particular position. This has been typical, and is unsatisfactory and disappointing. Ho hum!

Trade

The Leave campaign says that there is no way the the EU will impose trade tariffs. However, I can’t see how we could avoid it, when the EU does with the USA and when other non-EU, European countries have to pay for the privilege  of trading tariff-free with the EU bloc.

Arriving at a decision

In the end, I can see – and in some cases – share both sides of the argument. Some questions remain unanswered for me and the lack of depth and detail on some/many issues has been unhelpful. So, I have chosen (instinctively or rationally) to prioritise some issues in order to arrive at a decision.

What about you? What do you think?

EU Referendum – Part 2: Historical roots and future stability in Europe

22 June, 2016

In my first post on this topic, I discussed the implications of the upcoming EU Referendum on our influence in EU nations, through  the gospel and in other ways.

Here I’d like to highlight two other, interlinked reasons that lean me towards voting Remain. 

One is its historical roots following the world wars to promote peace and stability – through interdependence – in Europe

This powerful, positive message by Gordon Brown expresses my feeling on that particular point much more effectively than I can. It is well worth watching! How refreshing to hear a Remain politician focus on principles, values and the common good, rather than simply the economic argument or the fear of impending doom.

The second is, I guess, the “do unto others as you would have them do onto you” type of principle that Jesus taught. In other words, the question for me is, “Would I be happy for the EU to totally fragment (i.e. for  all EU countries to decide to Leave in time)?” I think not, particularly from in terms of the stability and relative peace that (I believe) the EU has had a role in since the last World War. 

What about you? Whether it’s likely or not to happen, how would you feel about an opt out by all countries, the end of the EU?

Some say that NATO has been responsible for “peace” in our time. I don’t know enough to evaluate that claim. The probable answer is that both have been important.

I recognise that the size of the EU has grown, especially in more recent times. At the same time, the underlying motivation, which has been about stability and prosperity through economic interdependence, has increasingly shifted towards political union (which I am opposed to). The Telegraph has a piece on “What is the EU and why was it created?”

Furthermore, it could argued that freedom of movement and mass net immigration into Western Europe is actually disrupting the cultural fabric of those societies and giving rise to growing nationalist, fascist and extremist tendencies. I don’t know how true that is – or whether that is a result more so of the economic and employment pressure caused by the recession. Perhaps both?!

In the next post, I explore some other issues – mostly concerns with the EU.

In the meantime, I welcome you thoughts. 

EU Referendum – Part 1: The gospel and Godly influence

22 June, 2016

It’s been an interesting process coming to a decision about how to vote at the EU Referendum. I’ve been someone who can see both sides of some arguments for Remain and Leave, whilst being largely turned off by other ones.

This series of posts highlights some of the issues that have been in my thinking while I have journeyed towards a decision (- though not necessarily in order).

Steve Thomas, one of the senior leaders of the Salt & Light family of churches, wrote a helpful blog piece titled “The gospel, the EU and me”.

One of the main things that stood out to me from Steve’s blog was that kingdom (i.e. God’s) influence was going to come from people (not governments or countries):

a) People (missionaries, church planters, mentors) going (or even coming) with the gospel

b) People (Christians) getting involved to influence and help shape the direction and policies of the EU to some degree (though it might take a Wilberforce type figure to do that to any degree?). 

And that in both cases this would be done best by remaining in the EU

Regarding the first, the great advantage is the freedom of movement that is currently possible – a bit like the freedom of movement that saw the rapid advance of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire in the first century. 

To illustrate what it could look like without that freedom of movement – I recently met a Nigerian guy who was a missionary to an Eastern European country. He was there for about 18 months before returning to Nigeria to reapply for a visa. I have a very close friend from East Asia who had to wait almost three years for a missionary visa to an EU country. 

I’ve really appreciated receiving Steve’s perspective – and object lesson – in how to put God first in thinking about complex and emotive matters. 

At the same time, I recognise that there are other aspects or principles that people might focus on in trying to come to a decision about which way to vote. And I also recognise that there is probably no right or wrong vote, just right or wrong reasons, motivations and attitudes for our chosen vote.

In the second post, I will be looking at two other issues that have been prominent in my thinking.

Election 2015: Narrative over rhetoric – The power of story-telling

9 May, 2015

The U.K. General Election 2015 is a good example of the power of story over statements, of narrative over rhetoric.

Overall, the Conservatives told a more convincing story that started in the past, looked at the present and projected to the future.

In contrast, Labour left gaps in the story of the past, failing to provide an adequate and convincing explanation of the past economic failing under their tenure (other than acknowledging some responsibility over banking regulation) and therefore could not paint a credible picture for the future.

In addition, Labour not only moved Left (which in itself is fine) – it over-used old language and rhetoric, such as “working people”, which is potentially alienating and exclusive and no longer resonates or connects with the masses. Such language introduces a “them and us” vibe that is unappealing, and most people (I would suggest) did not to want to buy into it (perhaps partly because a lot of people may not know whether they were included in the term “working people” and therefore in the “them” or the “us”). 

Ed Milliband would have been better to have pursued the “one nation” theme he sound-bited at the Labour Party Conference, but failed to build upon subsequently (- but which David Cameron has now reclaimed in his first comments as re-elected Prime Minister).

Just some quick reflections on the election.

The Word of God in the life of a person

28 May, 2011

In order to understand the importance of reading and studying the Bible for growing in our Christian lives, we need to understand the nature, purpose and workings of the Christian life. The essential nature of the Christian life is all about enjoying a restored right relationship with God our Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ and by the enabling for the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:3-14). Our old life was one of a wrong and broken relationship with God that resulted from sin. Sin, in its essence, is being self-centred rather than God-centred (Isa 53:6). However, our new life in Christ – as we truly embrace Jesus Christ as Lord – is one with God at the very centre, where He takes the highest place.

When we become Christians, we did not sign up for a club, a society, a denomination or a church – we signed up for a person, the Lord Jesus (Phil 3:7-11). Being a Christian by definition is being a follower of Christ. The essential purpose of the Christian life is to follow Christ in that relationship and to find our place is His purposes (Phil 3:12-14), which involves making Him and His salvation known to the earth and seeing His kingdom established in our lives and that of others.

The Christian life works when we use every God-given means to benefit from and enjoy all that Christ purchased for us at the Cross and has been made available to us by His Spirit (Rom 8:31-32). Once God is at the centre of our lives, then the Bible, God’s written Word, must automatically also come to the centre of our lives. God and His Word are intrinsically linked (Psa 138:2); Jesus is the personal Word of God, and the Bible is the written Word of God, and the Christian life does not work well if we try to take one without the other. We cannot grow in our knowledge of God except by growing in the knowledge and application of His Word. We cannot know what Jesus has purchased for us at the Cross other than by knowing it from the Bible, made alive to us by the Holy Spirit. We cannot even properly know ourselves except by God’s help through His Word. Furthermore, our love for Jesus is expressed and made real by our obedience to His Word (John 14:23).

The Bible makes it clear that once Jesus has become the foundation, the Rock, of our lives, we grow and build on that foundation by living according to His Word, i.e. by hearing and doing what He says (Mat 7:24-27). In the natural, we need food and nourishment to grow. In the Christian life, God’s nourishment for us to grow is in His Word. The Bible is pure milk for the new and young believer, a staple of bread for daily living, and solid food for those who are mature (1 Pet 2:2-3; Mat 4:4; Heb 5:11-14) – in other words, the Bible contains what we need to grow no matter what stage we are at in the Christian life.

Once we give the Bible its proper place in our lives, studying and applying it, then it can become to us all that it has promised to be. Some, but by no means all, of these blessings and benefits are listed below:

  • It reveals to us the nature, character and attributes of God, showing us the One we desire to know intimately and be like (John 5:39; Luke 24:27).
  • It reveals God’s calling and purposes for us in this life (Mat 28:18-20).
  • Living by it results in a growing revelation of Jesus and intimacy with Him (John 14:21).
  • It reveals to us the will of God and thereby enables us to pray effectively (1 John 5:14-15).
  • In living by it, we will be established and blessed (Psa 1; Mat 7:24-27; James 1:22-25).
  • It washes and cleanses us (John 15:3; Eph 5:25-27).
  • It ministers healing to us from God (Psa 107:20; Prov 4:20-22).
  • It accomplishes the purposes of God (Isa 55:10-11).
  • It reveals our heart (Heb 4:12).
  • It shows us who we are, by correcting our wrong thinking, character and behaviour, and revealing who we truly are in Christ Jesus (Jam 1:22-25).
  • It teaches us all that God has promised us in Christ (2 Cor 1:20).
  • It is able to save those who receive the Word of God (2 Tim 3:14-15; Jam 1:21; 1 Pet 1:23).
  • It instructs, corrects, reproves and trains us in righteousness, equipping us for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).
  • It directs us (Psa 119:105).

As well as receiving these benefits of the Bible for ourselves, we also learn about our privilege, responsibility and capacity to pass these on to others (Mat 10:7-8; Mat 28:18-20).

In addition to teaching us by instruction, the Bible also teaches us powerfully by life examples. Seeing other people’s experiences with God creates in us a desire for more and inspires us to pursue and enter into the same. The Bible is a window into the unknown. The Christian life is about reaching out for where we have never been before in our relationship with God and our journey with Him. The Bible informs us of what can be, motivating us to press on and lay hold of all that for which Christ laid hold of us (Phil 3:12-14). Without the Word of God, it is easy to settle into a less-than-God-intended, man-made version of Christianity. However, through the Bible made alive to us by the Holy Spirit, God continually calls us into pursuing Him and His great purposes, and beckons us to reach out to become all that He has made us to be.

Tuning into the heart and mind of the New Testament

20 February, 2010

An Analysis of New Testament GREEK Words

The TOP 10 most commonly used Greek NOUNS in the New Testament are as follows:

  1. [theos] God (1317 times): Almost always referring to God, not a god;
  2. [Iesous] Jesus (917 times): Almost always referring to Jesus (3 times it refers to Joshua: Luke 3:29; Acts 7:45; Heb 4:8);
  3. [kurios] Lord (717 times): Almost always referring to Jesus or God the Father (and once or so to the Holy Spirit);
  4. [anthropos] Man (550 times): About 82 times it is used in the phrase “Son of Man”, i.e. referring to Jesus. (A few other times “man” refers to Jesus). So it refers to anyone other than Jesus a maximum of 468 times;
  5. [Christos] Christ (529 times): Almost always referring to Jesus;
  6. [pater] father, Father (413 times): Approximately 258 times this word is used to refer to God the Father;
  7. [hemera] day, lifetime, time period (389 times);
  8. [pneuma] wind, breath, spirit, Spirit (379 times): About 257 times this refers to the Holy Spirit, or occasionally to God the Father or Jesus;
  9. [huios] son (377 times): About 218 times this is referring to Jesus;
  10. [adelphos] brother (343 times): Approximately 246 times this is referring to believers or followers of Christ.

A Personal Reflection:
The overwhelmingly dominant subject, object, topic, theme and focal point of the New Testament is God: Father, Son & Holy Spirit. As such, it seems that if we really want to be truly Biblical – then, in the midst of every other Biblically valid, wonderful and necessary topics or truths, it is good for our dominant focal point to be true to the spirit, content, passion & “obsession” of the New Testament.


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