Poem: Meditation on Matthew 25: 31 – 46

Stranger, be not afraid –

come in, come in, the table is laid.

I see thee be weary, please sit yourself down

You are tired, you are thirsty  – come, see now

you can rest from your worries and

your burdens lay down.

 

Stranger be not afraid –

come in, come in the table is laid

I once too arrived here, a stranger like you

Be assured you can lay all worries down too

Find here a place where from sorrows released

Where indeed you are known, and loved – be at peace

Stranger, stranger

Why do you beg, for some crumb of food,

for these meagre dregs? Stranger, begone

for I shall not share; but in my great mercy

I will at least, leave you alone

to beg on the streets.

 

 

Those with most power are not the least

(Though they claim the title –

but God knows, and God see’s)

and though the world tells us – turn the stranger away

God calls you out now: hear God say

When you shared nought with the stranger, you shared nought with me.

 

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Blind to Poverty: The Stoney Heart of #TheGospelAccordingToIDS

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”  

Hélder Câmara”

Steve-Bell-12.11.10-001

Steve Bell on IDS 12/11/2010

It came across my tweeter feed this evening, and suffice it to say, my reaction was not a calm one. “Priti Patel MP: The bishops are blind to the moral message of IDS’s gospel of work.” Gospel of work?  GOSPEL?

Oh what fresh hell was this? After all, we are talking about the man of the Easterhouse Epiphany, who successfully fooled many with his new found desire to pursue ‘compassionate Conservatism’. This was a man who – perhaps because under his leadership the Conservative party were suffering mightily in the opinion polls – was already exploiting his religion in order to appeal to the conservative (small c) heartland, crying in public about ‘the poor’ and proclaiming his concern about how the secularisation of Great Britain might be one of Britain’s ‘biggest problems‘.

So well did he play the part of the caring and compassionate Conservative Christian leader that he was invited to speak at the Labour Party conference in 2005 by Bob Holman, founder of the Easterhouse based charity FARE, and it was where IDS proclaimed: “Everyone should have enough money to live properly in their community.”  And whilst his appeal to the conservative heartland did not save his leadership of the Tory party, it paved the way to a successful re-invention which allowed him to pursue his calling as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

So let us return to this ‘moral’ message, this ‘gospel of work’ – the Christian inference  is clear, and I would suggest, deliberate. The word ‘gospel’ is of course a rendering of the Greek word meaning ‘good news’ evangelion and is most often associated with Christianity. The premise then of this post is simple: that the bishops (and by extension any one who agrees with them about benefit cuts and caps which have been metered out under Duncan Smith) are failing to accept the ‘morality’ which drives this, and haven’t accepted the ‘gospel’ that this is The Way in which the poor should be dealt with.

Or to put it another way, this is the gospel according to Ian Duncan Smith, and there is something wrong with us if we don’t see it his way.

When you build a society in which people are only valued for their economic output, is is those least able to produce economically who suffer. And when your ‘morality’ is built on the premise that those who cannot produce economically should be forced to do so, inevitably you will find the belief that their poverty is their own fault, that it is a weakness of which they must be cured. And that is what is at the heart of this ‘gospel’ – the poor are poor because they have chosen to be so, and these cuts whom so many others can see as wrong, are in fact for their own good.

Under the last Labour Government, the concept of welfare went wrong. We saw an extreme culture of dependency on welfare developing where families became trapped – sometimes by deliberate choice and sometimes by accident – in a cycle of dependency in which they were rewarded for not working. This cycle also affected generations of households, which led to the erosion of the basic value of hard work, aspiration and the general desire to want to get on in life. (Emphasis mine)

People, so the narrative goes, have found a ‘lifestyle’ from which they need to be saved. In this narrative, the disabled aren’t doing enough for themselves, and those struggling with mental health issues could certainly make more of an effort. The LGBTIQ+ community might struggle with stigma and poverty, but if they could only stop being so ‘dependent’..  With this sort of view of humanity, it must make sense to take away social housing and take money away from domestic violence refuges, because naturally the last thing those escaping from domestic violence need after running away with their kids from life threatening violence is to develop ‘dependency issues’. And god help you if you are black or of colour.

Duncan Smith’s gospel is nothing at all like the gospel as proclaimed by Christ. It is, however, quite a lot like the ‘prosperity gospel‘, as proclaimed by a number of (very wealthy) preachers. But it isn’t good news for the poor, it wont set any captives free and it certainly isn’t life.

It’s a fake and phoney gospel, and if you don’t conform to it, it will kill you.

We Need to Listen – But What Are We Hearing?

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter –
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? ~ Isaiah 58: 6 & 7

Sometimes I will read an article and my reaction will be purely instinctive – it will immediately make me cross, or happy, or mad. Or it might trigger me emotionally and psychologically. And I will get that off my chest by praying and thinking it through, and occasionally it will result in one of my sporadic blog posts.  If I blog first, (and think later) I will usually read it afterward and groan to myself about any number of issues I will inevitably find with the language, or the structure.. I’m not a serious writer, but I like words you see.

I like how they can paint a picture in your mind of a time and a place, of complexity of purpose and character.. I like that they can be used to invoke and incite passion, even revolution.. and as a white, cis, able-bodied person I need to read (and in so doing, listen) to those whose colour, gender identity, disability or beliefs mean that the world see’s them as ‘other’.

By ‘the world’ I mean those who hold the dominant narrative. Think of words for a moment as music – indeed words spoken out loud for the sake of performance are music. They have rhythm and pitch and volume, and these are the properties of music, which has the ability to find and move and lift us up.. (err, yes, I did borrow that from The West Wing, but the point is still valid).

Back to my point.. the narrative that dominates the world in which we live is dominated – as it has been for centuries – by a white, cis, usually wealthy, elite. They drive how we see the world, how we understand it, how it is shaped in our minds. It is the view of the world which we first internalize, and if you are white and cis and able bodied, it is internalized to a degree we rarely, if ever, fully acknowledge.

And yet despite this dominant narrative, there are the stories that can draw us back from this status-quo, the words of those whose lives do not conform to that dominant narrative which can call out to us – and call us out.

If we read them. If we hear them. If we listen.

Sometimes, those words are taken by those who have control of that narrative and co-opt them. Words like.. justice and injustice. When that happens, there is an impact. The lived reality of actual injustice is one of oppression wrought daily. The so-called injustice done to a white cis man of wealth and power is worlds apart from the injustice done by society to trans*gendered woman of colour. But it is not her story that the media give the headlines to.

Injustice is a powerful word – but it’s meaning, it’s lived reality and it’s use to convey the appalling wrongs done to those whose lives are subject to the dominant kyriarchy becomes weakened, the parameters by which we judge what is unjust become warped. What do you hear, when Marissa Alexander tries to tell you of the crushing injustice done to her? Do you hear and understand the wrong she has suffered, or just another woman of colour complaining about her lot?

Women of colour, people of colour, the LGBITQ community, the sick and disabled – they needus to hear them, and to hear them properly, truly. To recognise and respond and stand with them, so that the narrative which shapes the world in which we live is, little by little, given back to those from whom it was taken.

If it sounds a little like revolution.. well, I would argue that it sounds like liberation and transformation, a world transforming from one of systemic oppression to one of systemic liberation.

So I loathe the cheapening of words too important to treat in such a manner: it was this article by Allison Pearson a few days ago when (not for the first time) I was struck by how the word ‘injustice’ can be used so flippantly. In writing about the supposed revelation that Nigella Lawson may have used drugs, she said:

“…if the Grillo sisters turn out to be telling the truth – and I hope they aren’t – then Charles Saatchi is the victim of an injustice.”

If you do not know anything about the case, or Charles Saatchi, then I am glad for you. Don’t Google it – there will inevitably pictures which you will find distressing.

Saatchi is a powerful and very wealthy man, who was photographed choking his then wife, Nigella Lawson. He has since insisted – because his reputation is frankly in tatters – that there was ‘another side’ to that story.  As if anything could possibly excuse, or explain away, this materially and physically powerful man’s act of violence against his wife.

What injustice has he suffered then?

No, there is none. His life will continue, and the perception of the general public will go on being unfavourable to him – but so what? It will not affect his wealth, or status, or power. The police caution he received will not prevent him from maintaining these things, and he has not been incarcerated, kept away from his family and robbed of his livelihood.

We who are white, cis, able bodied – who have some or all of the privileges that being those things mean – need to be quite so that we hear and listen.

Let us not make the hearing harder by distorting the words that might have the greatest impact.

The Politics This Christian Cannot Avoid


Politics and the pulpit are terms that have little agreement. – Edmund Burke

Faith and politics – they are a dangerous, and frankly unwelcome, combination.  So often the voices raised are those from those whose politics are on the right of the spectrum: the religious who want to police people’s bodies, gender identities and sexual orientation and place these things under the banner of ‘sin’; who maintain a white Colonial stance and are active or complicit in the silencing of People of Colour; whose resistance to state assistance for the poor, disabled and sick ranges from simple apathy to active objection; and whose voices are so often raised in manner which silences, ‘others’ and erases those who do not ‘fit’.

I am a Christian – it is a faith associated with a politics that is right-wing, Conservative and frequently oppressive. It would be too easy for me, in the face of right-wing Christian oppression, to say ‘not in my name’ and try to distance myself from those who deal with the consequences of such ideological representations of that faith. It has too often been my stance.

Not any more.

It is no longer good enough for me to say ‘not in my name’ – it has become the same thing now as ‘not all whites are racist’, as though (as a white woman) I am somehow not a part of the colonial, structural oppression which people of colour are still forced to confront every single day.  And the inescapable truth is that I am, and no amount of ‘not in my name’ changes that fact.

The same is true of cis-sexism, trans*-misogyny, and abelism and the rhetoric applied to those dependant (to a greater or lesser extent) on state support. It is too much like a cop out now to say that these are oppressions occur, but ‘not in my name’ – I do not believe my responsibility begins and ends with not speaking a racist/homophobic/transphobic/abelist word.

Politics and faith have been a dangerous combination because they have all too often resulted in – and continue to result in – oppression. To live my faith, therefore, means engaging with this politics of oppression. How can I ‘spend myself on behalf of the hungry’, or loosen the yolk of oppression without engaging with politics? I could give money to a charitable cause, sure – by how does that address the cause of the poverty in the first place? I can sign petitions for equality rights for the LGBTIQ community – but does that really help address the societal structures which have led to such injustices taking place?

It may not be true for every person of faith, but my faith cannot exist in a bubble, and it cannot avoid the politics of oppression.  Edmund Burke may have been right that, but I doubt in the way he likely meant.

Narrative Matters Pt 1: How the Government Are Using Narrative to Create Economic Apartheid

(Please note: this is not an exhaustive examination of the use of language in politics over the last 2 years – I am simply looking to highlight the point I am trying to make).

It started innocuously enough: bland little statements along the lines of ‘helping those who want to help themselves’.  Simple little phrases like ‘ordinairy hard working people’ or ‘people who want to get on’. Nothing you could so much as wag a finger at, not with any degree of credibility.  It was subtle, like a creeping ivy – the start of the separation of people from each other. Us and them. Nothing sets man against man faster: he’s not one of us, he’s one of them. They don’t do what we do.

Because of course ‘we’ always do it better.

Drip… Drip… Drip…

Somehow, and it seems like it has been just a couple of years, we have become a country divided. First it was the immigrants. Now it is the poorest, the disabled, those who now are almost criminals because they need help and support to get by. Forget class. Class is bollocks.

This is economic apartheid.

*************************************

In May 2010, David Cameron was at nearing the end of the General Election trail and was attending a rally in East Renfrewshire (1). The speech he gave was, more-or-less, the same speech he had been giving for 4 weeks – what in American politics is called a ‘stump speech’, the key points of your political platform but just given a bit of spit and culturally relevant polish for which ever city, town, village, factory, shop or church you happen to be in when you give it. And Dave was definitely striving (‘cos he’s a striver, our Dave) for that ‘I-might-have-gone-to-Eton-but-I’m-really-a-man-of-the-people’ image.

“But we“re going to be where people are working baking the bread, landing the fish, running the emergency services..”

Good ‘man of the people’ stuff that – you can almost smell the bread and hear the sirens.

The ‘drip-drip’ of little lies (or perhaps just dramatic rhetoric) can be found in this speech. For example, our Dave said that:

“When it comes to our society we“ve got more people growing up in homes where nobody works than anywhere else in Europe.”

Actually, that ‘honour’ was Spains – unemployment was running at about 22%, whilst in the UK it was 7.9%.  The rhetoric of course waters that bitter seed, nurturing the idea of a country filled with people not working, but the idea of their dependancy on those good honest folk ‘baking the bread and landing the fish’ is implicit, hovering in the background like the elderly relative at the family do who smells slightly and drinks too much sherry.

After valiantly defending his honour against the horrid lies that he would get rid of Child Tax credit (he was just going to cap it  under the rate of inflation, so give him his due) he launched into that favourite old stand by beloved by Tories everywhere: morals. First (because it’s the election, and these simply must be done) he has a quick dig at the morals of then Prime Minister Gordon Brown – “I reckon when he finds it will be spinning round so fast he could put it on the roof and it could be a ceiling fan” (‘cos our Dave is both a man of the people and a genuine wit, don’t you know).  But Dave is an honourable man, like Brutus but with less muscle:

“And I want to say to British people clearly and frankly this; if you are elderly, if you are frail, if you are poor, if you are needy a Conservative Government will always look after you. On the journey we need to take this country on no one will be left behind… Don“t believe the lies you’re being told by the Labour Party just because they’ve got nothing positive to say.”

Clever, isn’t it? He has very subtely set up the image of those who work and those who don’t, but there is no need to worry because our Dave cares.  Of course, he hasn’t used his big election tag-line yet, which of course he does.

“We’re all in this together.”

But wait – there’s a line in this, in fact that runs through the whole campaign:

“We say to the private training companies come in and train those people who need to work who could work and yes when we say to those who could work who are offered a job and don“t work you cannot go on claiming benefits in Britain under the Conservatives.”

And there it is – after all the bluff and bluster, after planting the bitter seed and surrounding us with the sunshine of how much our Dave truly cares, here is the manure to feed the ground in which the seed will grow. Because the suggestion is much more explicit now: people claiming benefit do so because they don’t want to work. It’s a twisty clever way of saying that without actually saying it.

Fast forward now, speeding (hastily) past the nauseating love-in in the Downing Street garden with Nick Clegg, to October 2012 at the Tory party conference and Iain Duncan Smith’s speech.  Keep in mind that boos that George Osborne got at the Olympics, the emerging horror of ATOS and growing voice of the disabled who found themselves increasingly under attack. And keep this in mind too: there is a particular line in this speech (just over half way through) on which I very nearly gag whenever I read it, because despite the fact the rhetoric has been cranked up several gears by now. Bear this one line in mind whilst I dissect the rest of this speech:

“You can’t heal a nation by attacking parts of it.”

Bear in mind also that the coalition governement have been running things for  2 years, but the recession is getting worse –  this conference, this speech is about driving a wedge still further between ‘us and them’ or the ‘strivers and the shirkers’.  The blame for the recession is now being planted firmly at the feet of the poor, (and of course the Labour governement):

“The Labour Government, spending and borrowing, too ready to leave our children to foot the bill… This culture of irresponsible spending had its roots in Britain’s welfare system.. In government, Labour hiked spending by a massive 60%, rising even before the recession hit.”

Never mind what has happened in the run up to the recession – ignore everything that has gone before because now you have your target, your scapegoat, the sitting duck for your fears and frustrations. Never mind that the proportion of spending on welfare had remained stable for 20 years, or that if everyone was actually claiming correctly the welfare system would cost another 18 billion (3) – just swallow the lie that there isn’t enough to go round because it’s all been spent on the welfare state.

I ask you, what kind of message does that send out? I will tell you – that it’s not worth working – that it’s not worth trying – that you’re better off playing the system and taking the money. Shameful! Small wonder then that Labour left us a growing army of those who don’t work.

Never mind that the benefits do not meet minimum income standards, or that relative to the average incomes over the last 30 years they have actually halved in value; never mind that less than 0.9% is lost to fraud (and just go check how much less that is than tax fraud). The lie that people are opting for some sort of cushy easy life is being hammered home. But that narrative, that the poor at to blame for the economic woes of this country, that there is an ‘us and them’ divide between the ‘strivers’ that we ‘should’ be helping (because of course only some people are worth the help) gets a new twist. All of this, the blame, the division, the deliberate seperation of those who deserve and do not deserve, the ‘strivers and the shirkers’ – this is a moral crusade:

“For even though we are in a coalition we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to show the British people that the party of Wilberforce, of Shaftesbury and Churchill oh yes and Disraeli too – The historic party of social reform – our party, is alive and well and determined to restore and strengthen British society.”

In Tory land, in that strange and twisted world where you can say that ‘you can’t heal a nation by attacking parts of it’ makes sense because the people you are attacking have been carefully shown to be worthless, the division you have strived to create, the economic apartheid of those who should be helped and those who should be scrapped off your boot like dog dirt is part of a reform worthy of the greats. Right up there with the end of slavery.

Feel like gagging yet?

(1) http://www.totalpolitics.com/speeches/elections/general-election-2010/35353/david-cameron-leader-of-the-conservative-party-speaking-at-a-rally-in-east-renfrewshire.thtml

(2) http://politicshome.com/uk/article/63043/iain_duncan_smiths_speech_to_the_conservative_party_conference.html

(3) http://www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Truth-And-Lies-Report-smaller.pdf

Dogs Droppings, Divisiveness and Dickens

workhouse(A Victorian Workhouse)

David Cameron gave an interview in the Telegraph yesterday (1) and made his position on the poor abundantly clear: you just aren’t worth it, and if you aren’t working then it’s because you are lazy scrounger.

When people say we’ve got to stop our welfare reforms because somehow it is cruel to expect people to work, we are saying no. Getting people into good jobs is absolutely vital, not just for them, but for all of us.

Notice the tricksy language? He is trying to twist the narrative to suggest that demands for an end to the Welfare Reforms being implemented – by a government that was never elected in the first place – is on the basis of trying to make people work who just don’t want to.

Mr Cameron knows that this simply isn’t true, but this is a man on a mission to cut our debts:

So when people say we can slow down on cutting our debts, we are saying no. We can’t win in this world with a great millstone of debt round our necks.

There is no pretense of wanting to deal with poverty in this country any more, despite Mr Cameron’s claims in 2009 that the Tory party were the best party to do this and that there had been a “moral failure” by the previous government. (2) “There is such a thing as society”, he said.Well in Mr Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, the reason for the debts, the financial crisis and poverty are the benefit claiments – the very same poor whom Cameron claimed had been failed: they are, in fact, feckless buggers who do nothing, contribute nothing and aren’t worth the bother of helping because (he wants you to believe) they just dont want to work. He wants you, me, and everyone else to swallow the lie that poor people are poor because they like it that way, that they are a drain on your hard earned money and should be despised and shamed.It is all too easy to believe that we are not really living in the 21st century, but in the 19th century – when the poor where either deserving or un-deserving and that help was only given when that help was worse than the alternative. And this is how this Prime Minister wants to tackle poverty and debt – by attacking the poor and blaming them for all that is wrong with the economy. By treating them like the dog’s doings under his feet.If you believe that the attacks on welfare are unwarranted, immoral and the wrong solution then please sign the War on Welfare petition (3) and lend your support to their campaign. You can visit http://wowpetition.com for further information.

(1) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/9770922/David-Cameron-well-help-the-strivers-not-welfare-claimants.html

(2) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/6536090/David-Cameron-Tories-are-best-party-to-tackle-poverty.html

(3) http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43154