Monday, 10 October 2016

From Chocolate Makers to LGBT+ Tories...What I've Learnt

Recently I went along to a Stonewall/ LGBT+ Conservative event and been to various events and demonstrations protesting against the Tories whilst their conference was in Birmingham. I’ve also listened to Vince Cable give the Lunar Society Adrian Cadbury Lecture and read a really interesting book by Deborah Cadbury called Chocolate Wars. All of these things have had the impact of both challenging and encouraging me.

I’ll start with my visit to the Stonewall/ LGBT +Conservative event, which has raised more than a few eyebrows amongst many of my friends. I went along because this event also involved the Diversity Network of Lloyds Banking Group, and as part of the day job I am looking at how we join up chaplaincy in HE with encouraging students to take a holistic approach when thinking about employability. How do we encourage people to see the transferrable skills gained in areas of their lives which are often privatised? The exploration of personal values also comes into this.

As I listened to the panel discussion which included Maria Miller amongst others I was surprised by how comfortable I felt amongst this group who were in many ways so different to myself. It reminded me that whilst ideologically I hold opposite views to them on many issues particularly around social policy there is much that can be worked on across political lines and there are things which we do hold in common with people if we move beyond the headlines. They were talking about the need to reform the Gender Recognition Act in line with the recommendations of the Transgender equality inquiry report from the Women and Equalities Committee. They also picked up on the need for people to recognise the differences in experience of LGBT+ people in this country. The experiences of those living in rural areas as well as the increasing levels of hate crime throughout the country and specific issues relating to sport are examples of issues we all need to address.

The other thing which made me feel more comfortable was the general dress code. It was standard professional dress. As I looked around I pondered how different it had been to the left wing events I had been to over the event. Karl and I had dressed casually on Saturday evening as we went to the pub to listen to a great evenings entertainment by Bethany Black and Grace Petrie, at the Eagle and Tun, yet had still felt overdressed. On Sunday I had gone straight from preaching to protesting and was clearly over dressed for that, but…I realised that the extent I was overdressed depended upon who I was with. Amongst the TUC socialist demonstration, I was ridiculously different, however amongst the pro-EU protestors with whom I paused for a short while I was less over-dressed. The Refugees Welcome walk of witness (which didn’t even manage to be a demonstration due to the invisibility involved and which I left to go on the TUC one) was somewhere in between.

Dress was an interesting aspect of the historical material in Chocolate Wars. The move from embracing plain Quaker dress to a more relaxed approach which fitted with the world was part of a wider movement away from strict values based on the faith. Yet, as the very interesting and informative book shows dressing well didn’t mean the values were completely abandoned, it was a series of various individual decisions which saw the values of business becoming so divorced from those which were at the core of many of the chocolate businesses originally.

The question of what happened to these Quaker values and how we might be able to recover some of these values was essentially at the heart of what Vince Cable was talking about in his public lecture on “The Governance of Business and Their Relationships to Society Locally and Nationally”.

There were three areas which this lecture sought to address remuneration, ownership and social enterprises. As he spoke much of the lecture related to the frustrations Cable had felt as Business Secretary he looked at the problems with possible solutions to the issues he and his colleagues recognise exist within a world where free market capitalism has caused great inequality. For example when looking at the huge differences in remuneration he spoke of the problems caused by publishing pay ratios because many of the lower paid workers were sub-contracted in some companies.

He was scathing of the pension companies and the way in which institutional investors don’t hold them to account because they are focused on short term profit rather than long term social benefits.

With regard to having workers on the board, an idea which works elsewhere and reflects some of the practices which were part of the Chocolate companies and which our current PM is advocating he gave a warning. Beyond the multi-national nature of many companies now many firms are not unionised and so workers can become tokens working on behalf of the interests of the owners rather than representing the rights of those employed. Implicitly within this part of his lecture what he was saying was that we need to give a voice back to the unions rather than continuing to restrict them.

He was clear that we need to think about diverse forms of ownership if we are really serious about social responsibility. Within this he highlighted some of the problems which come out so strongly in the Chocolate Wars book of how ownership dilutes as the need to raise capital in order to expand increases and how do you lock capital in for future generations. He spoke about the role of private equity. Within this area the current story of the Eagle and Tun is interesting. The owner, a very nice Sikh gentleman, was explaining to us at the Anti-Austerity event with Petrie and Black,  how HS2 is threatening his business, this iconic pub. He doesn't want to take the short term approach and just make money from selling the land. He wants to have a business which will be able to take advantage of the development of the area and wants to be given a 25 year lease once the redevelopment has taken place in exchange for the building but has been told that is not possible. If we are serious about taking our country forward in a more socially responsible way we need to support businessmen like this who want to protect their businesses and the future of their families.

One thing which connected the Adrian Cadbury lecture to the LGBT+ Conservative event was the theme that we need to ensure that the discussion around Brexit does not mean the areas where we are making progress become lost or side-lined. This is something I think many of us believe. If we are truly going to move forward at this time of uncertainty I think that we need to identify, as these events did, the things that truly represent the shared centre ground.

On a final note in terms of recognising where my politics stand in this shifting area where I feel somewhat alienated by left and right these events gave me confidence that they stand where they always have. I am a socialist who stands in the tradition of people like Roy Hattersley and Barbara Castle. I am not part of the “far left” whilst I sympathise with much of what they stand for but neither am I part of New Labour. What I want is a modern politics based on values which are inter-generational and which can take in the shared concerns of people from left and right. 

Monday, 29 August 2016

Choosing When it's Really None of the Above

So I have my ballot paper for the Labour leadership election and I desperately want to write “neither of these two…..I want to vote for someone who represents neither the Corbyn camp or the parliamentary Labour Party but has the best aspects of the two.”

If there had the chance I would have liked to vote for Yvette Cooper or somebody of that ilk who actually represented where I am coming from. That is I want a candidate who stands a chance of winning votes from middle England and being media friendly whilst at the same time displaying socialist Labour principals.

What I am faced with instead is a choice between Corbyn and Smith. Whilst the former’s policies generally attract me I am unimpressed with the way it seems that he has let John McDonnell manipulate him.

I also believe that there is no way he can deliver us from a series of Tory governments over the next decade. The reason for this is partly because of the way the media are portraying him but it is more than that. He is focused on building a social movement and that is what he has successfully been doing. However, social movements are not political parties. With the system of democracy we have the key role of social movements is to act as lobbyists influencing those in parliament and bring about change outside of the chamber too. Social movements are effectively the way we let Parliament know we want them to act in different ways to those they are proposing or to take notice of issues which have been ignored.

With regard to the latter. I believe he has also allowed himself to become the puppet of others who have ambition to take power in the future and wanted a fall guy to be the interim leader. He is now saying whatever appears to be necessary to gain the leadership and has shown himself not to be a consistent and principled politician.

Whilst considering who to vote for I have also been thinking of the views of those around me. Many of the most principled people I know are supporting Corbyn because he stands for so much of what they have campaigned and worked for over the years. He is the change they want to see.

Then there are those who are in a similar position to myself and are generally going for Smith because there is the feeling we need to rebuild with somebody the PLP will work with.

However, beyond these are the marginal voters I have listened to over the years. These are generally people I have sometimes shared offices with or listened to as they have chatted with their friends on buses and trains. I know the concerns they have for themselves and their families. Concerns which in the last election made many of these people vote Tory when they were clearly undecided. They are often the people UKIP is exploiting the fears of and some of those who have taken us in to Brexit. These are not bad people in fact most of them are very good people, but they are people who have different ways of looking at the world to many of those closest to me and those whose thoughts fill my social media feeds. These are the people who the leader needs to win over with policies which give principled alternatives to the Tories but for which people will vote. What we need is somebody who can offer hope where UKIP are offering fear and scapegoating.

Now I know that Corbyn offers that to some extent and that is what is building his support. However, he is not offering this up in a form which will appeal to those marginal voters I listen to on public transport. Part of the reason for this lies with the media and the way in which they portray Corbyn but it also has to do with the way in which he has portrayed himself too. He has portrayed himself as somebody who is not willing to listen and rather than breaking with past can be seen as a return to it.

So is Smith the answer in getting their votes. No, clearly not. He is a man who appears to have so little charisma and principle that he does not have the power to overcome the damage that has been done here by both the PLP and Corbyn. Additionally, he is seeking to appeal to everybody and I suspect is genuinely appealing to very few.

What also worries me here is the way in which the Labour Party seems to be re-enacting some of the battles of the 1980’s with players who are just a little older now. History tells us that it was that infighting which led to the long years of Tory rule from 1979 onwards and gave Thatcher part of the power she had.

We have already seen how the government has used the publicity around this internal civil war to announce they are intending to replace our signing up to the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. What we are doing here is, I think, giving the government the opportunity (and their future majority) to develop policy that is going to be deeply damaging to the UK.

Additionally, the leadership contest seems to be bringing out the underlying structural sexism which was a larger part of the left in the 1980’s but still lingers in some parts today. Over the last couple of decades there has been real work in the party and trade unions which has overcome this but it seems with the macho posturing and infighting that has been going on by men of a certain age we have gone back to the bad old days.

Why don’t I walk away? Well, that would be the easy thing to do. However, I have a belief that we need a strong opposition to defeat the Tories and that will not ever be rebuilt if we all walk away. Even though I voted for Cooper in last year’s leadership election it was Corbyn who got me to stand up and say “yes, at heart I am really a Labour supporter and I want to do what I can to support the vision for our country I have become a reality now they are post-Blairism.” If we all walk away the Tories will have won without a fight and UKIP will step further into the void.

So why don’t I just abstain? I clearly don’t want to vote for either of the candidates and abstaining is what I would love to do. Yet, standing idly by is not an option. I have to decide I want one or the other because they are the choices I have.

I did hope writing this post would help but all it has done is underline why I think that what has gone on is wrong and why all involved need to shoulder responsibility for what they are doing to our country. When history looks back at what the Tories have done during this period and what, I think, will be the further dangerous rise of UKIP those involved in the PLP and the Corbyn camp will be seen to have been a large part of the reason it happened this way. I feel that both are equally to blame and am really angry about that. The PLP should not have had the vote of no-confidence but Corbyn should have stepped down when the result of that came through. We should have had a leadership contest with a range of contenders to choose from not just Corbyn and “stop Corbyn”.

So how will I vote? Well, I am tempted to in the end effectively give my vote to another and vote how he, (who has been excluded by the system which stopped people who legitimately became members in order to support their principles), wanted to vote. The person I am thinking about has faithfully voted Labour over the years and has held to the principles which mean he believes in the Corbyn vision.

That said, I think if Corbyn wins the situation will just get even worse because we need a fresh start. Yet I don’t believe Smith will or can give us a fresh start and I fear his leadership is one which will give Stephen Kinnock power. This factor is important to me as I have listened to Kinnock and come to the conclusion that he is the next Blair. So I still don’t know… the end it may come down to tossing of the coin and the hope that we get a new party rising from the ashes which truly represents what I am looking to vote for.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Reading, Feminism and Sprirituality by Dawn Llewellyn Reviewed

This review is based on my own experience of reading it, yet I share it with you the reader being conscious that I am part of a set of wider communities and that your reading of the text will be different to my own. This sums up part of what underpins the thinking within Dawn Llewellyn’s excellent book “Reading, Feminism and Spirituality: Troubling the Waves”.

I found this to be a very readable book. It is is rooted in a methodological approach called “reader centred feminist research”. This involved using semi-structured interviews to find out how particular books had helped Christians and Post-Christian feminists in their spiritual journeys. Within this Llewellyn is challenging the notions that (i) waves of feminism should be viewed as distinct and based upon difference and (ii) that Christianity was only an influence on early feminist thought. I felt that one of her most compelling points was that Feminist Theology is stuck in the past and needs to catch up with more recent developments in feminism.

This book was refreshing to me and something I found fascinating. However, to understand why I found this perhaps more exciting than you may do there are a few things about me you need to know:

1.    Up until last year I taught A Level Sociology for a number of years and within the theory and methods section I would trot out the accepted wisdom on the different brands of feminism before linking them to specific waves. Then I would add in more on religious feminism than was in the text books because this was an area of particular interest to me. I also looked around for contemporary sociological studies which explained their methodology well in a way which was accessible, particularly for my more able students who I could happily send away with a whole chapter from a book to read.

2.    I am an avid reader myself. This is the twenty forth book I have read this year and I belong to a women’s book group at work as well having set up a small book group for the community in which I live. I also set up a book group in my previous church, having been part of one somebody else organised in the church I was in before that.

3.    I am a Christian Feminist who is familiar with the work of a range of writers who regard themselves as feminist or post-feminist.

4.    Some of the sample that Llewellyn used decided that they did not want pseudonyms used and as such I was able to identify that I knew one of the sample quite well from where I lived previously. The fact that this participant had passed me on a feminist text that I have found useful in planning worship somehow meant part of what was being said was personal and I could connect with part of the text on a deeper level.

So why were those things relevant and why do I recommend this book as an exciting and useful text?

Well, firstly it was a book which challenged me and gave me new theoretical information I hadn’t picked up previously. It also gave me new ways to think about things. As I say it was very readable and the language is understandable. This meant I was able to pick up the arguments being made easily and wrestle with them without getting caught up on trying to understand the points being made.  

Secondly, it challenged my own prejudices about second wave feminism. I know I owe that group of people a debt. However, particularly in light of the way it seems primarily to have been second wave feminists who have taken the rad fem approach of denying the gender of trans people or seeking to hold on to binary approaches I have struggled with them as a group. This book challenged that way of looking at things. The overview of the development of different forms of feminism explained why I am clearly located in the position I am yet it also disturbed my view of my foremothers and the way in which I have come to generalise many of them.

The third thing this book did was made me stop and reflect on how my avid reading is actually part of my own spiritual discipline. I had recently told my spiritual director how I like to go to some local gardens and pray there before or after spending some time with a book. When she had asked if it was a spiritual book I said sometimes but it was just as likely to be a novel or an autobiography. I just like to read there as well as pray there. Those books I read though are important and have been important in my spiritual journey.

Then there was the thinking about the relationship between reading individually and in community. I reflected on the different types of group I am and have been part of. Some of them fit in to Llewellyn’s argument that because of how books are chosen they don’t often fit into those which have been particularly significant in journeys. However in both groups I am currently in books are chosen and recommended by the members, in part because they have been significant reads to those people.

Finally, I really liked the way the methodology was explained in the appendix. This would be a great teaching tool for anybody looking for material to use at A Level or higher when teaching methods.

So as you can tell I enjoyed this book. It connected with me on a range of levels and said something very fresh and relevant.

The only problem is being an academic book it is pricey, I borrowed it from the theological library where I live, when ironically I had finished the novel I intended as holiday reading a day early and urgently needed something to read on the train the next day. It reinforces to me the need for these books to be made more accessible. I could get hold of it because I have the right access to a library. However, if we went back in time to when I didn’t have such access I would have been unlikely to have got hold of this. As a teacher I would have been unlikely to have been able to use the resource which would have been so useful to me at that point, because it would have been a hidden text. Ashgate, which are now part of Routledge I note, have started to overcome this by producing more of their books in paperback. Whilst they are still not cheap they are half the price which this book is and thus become just about affordable for many people. Palgrave Macmillan, the publishers of this book, may want to take note of this.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Where do we go from here? Thoughts on post-EU Britain

These are my thoughts about what is happening and has been happening since Friday, following the vote to leave the EU.

I hope and pray there will not be a general election soon as I believe that the only winners if this happened would be UKIP. They would not be likely to win but they would be very likely to increase seats. I suspect, they would use the argument that they wanted to act as a power to ensure that those in power were accountable. If this happened the right wing voices we’ve been hearing during the referendum campaign which have made those who are on the extreme right feel legitimised in their blatant racism would increase and I fear the increase in hate crime we’ve been witnessing over the last few days would also increase.

The last thing we need at the moment is a political vacuum but this is what we appear to have, with the exception of the voice of the Scottish Nationalists and the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon. Unfortunately for the UK the leadership they are giving is to one part of our domestic economic union, (which is what I believe the UK is).

As a Labour member, (and somebody who joined in the last leadership campaign), I joined because I supported the ideals of Corbyn and felt his campaign was giving the Labour party a truly left wing identity again but I did not vote him as my first choice. Rather I put him as second choice because I believed Yvette Cooper stood more chance being seen as electable in the country as a whole and she seemed the moderate left candidate with the other two challengers being, in my view Blairites.

With regard to what is happening now I am saddened but not surprised. Corbyn who has never been a great EU enthusiast was honest during this campaign about his feelings and that honesty seems to have meant he has become the scapegoat for many. I think this is disgraceful, but as I say I think it was somewhat inevitable because many of the PLP are more right wing than a great deal of the members now. They were, I am sure, looking for an excuse to get rid of Corbyn at the first opportunity. I think that is what has happened.

What we need now is a leader who can act as a unifier but not a leader who will take us to what is now the right, in order to win votes at the expense of Labour values. We need to create an atmosphere where we can deal with the real concerns of those voters who did not vote Labour last time and those who voted for Brexit in imaginative and concrete ways.

We need to find ways to talk about immigration in a way which shows many of the real concerns they have are due to structural failures in the social policy of successive governments due to the failure of the neo-liberal consensus. Within this the New Labour project needs to be ready to shoulder blame too. At the same time, as we are in a situation where those structural failures are causing real concerns for people who are finding it hard to get their kids into schools and to get GP appointments.We need to have vision as to how to deal with these problems. It won’t just involve throwing money at them but it may well involve investment which will involve increased taxation.

We need to find ways to help people feel and get involved in civil society again. A lot of people who voted leave did so because they felt that accountability was being taken away from their elected representatives.

We need to deal with the social divisions in this country linked to class, ethnicity and age. This referendum showed the fault lines we have in this country around all three and I fear as the impact of both the Tory austerity programme and the leave vote both hit over the next five years this is only going to get worse.

Finally, we need to find ways for institutions and the academy to regain trust amongst ordinary people. The way in which the referendum campaign treated the concept of “expert knowledge” was in some ways understandable. It reflects the way in which society and post-structuralism in an information age has been developing. However, we need to work together to reinforce how in some areas people do have expert knowledge. Many of the people who were encouraged to distrust experts were those with trades. We need to show that we go to the hairdressing salon because we know that the person there will do a good job, similarly we go to the academy because the people there have something to offer us. When I go to the hairdresser I expect to have my say and to be listened to seriously and I think on the other side of the coin the academy needs to be ready to listen more to the public and not just as research subjects.

In practice where do we go from here and how do we get some of this stuff happening? Well, I don’t know to be honest - it's one of the reason why I think that people need to be talking not blaming now. However there are some things I think we can all do:

1)    Be ready to listen to those who voted differently to ourselves and to why they made that choice and what their concerns are.

2)    Stand up against racism and other forms of hate crime. We need to make sure any incidents we witness are reported.

3)    To recognise that the common enemy we have is inequality in our society and to seek to identify and challenge the real causes of this (which tend not to be immigration). To support those academics who are engaging with this through whatever discipline.

4)    To vote, even if we find it difficult to try and find the least bad option.

5)    To try and find at least one way to positively engage in our society. If we give up on trying to hope we really are stuffed.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Birmingham Central Hall.....Hidden Space or Living Heritage?

Today my lunch break from work was spent wandering around the old Methodist Central Hall in Birmingham, where Birmingham's Hidden Spaces are holding an exhibition until tomorrow.

I hadn’t been in there before, but I had heard about its history. There are various outlets around it and back in the day it had been a big rave venue. These days it has been a club, but it has lost it's licence and a recent appeal and so it's future is yet again up in the air. I knew it wasn’t in great shape, but I was shocked by the level of disrepair within there. There is a major investment needed in this building which is grade 2 listed as you will see from the pictures I took in there.
Wandering around this building that the Methodist Church had sold some time ago I was deeply moved. There was an emotional reaction which I wasn’t expecting.
As I looked around there was something within me which was trying to make sense of it all. This was not just a building, this was the former spiritual home of some of those I worship with and some of those who sit in congregations I preach to when I am fulfilling local preacher appointments. It is also the building that I pass every day on my work in a university chaplaincy which is on the campus which lies in the shadow of this great building.

In an effort to make sense of it all I turned to the work of Rev Dr. Joanne Cox-Darling and a paper within the Holiness Journal, which Wesley House, Cambridge produce. The article I turned to was Mission-shaped Methodism and Fresh Expressions. Now, before I start I want to make clear that I am aware chaplaincy is not a fresh expression, as such. However, as Kate Pearson identifies within her chapter in Ross and Baker (eds) Pioneer Spirituality: Resources for reflection and practice there is an overlap between chaplaincy and pioneer ministry.

Within her article Cox-Darling has a section on Central Halls which she quotes one minister as identifying as “the Fresh Expressions of their day.” She goes through and identifies some key aspects of their theology and ecclesiastical practice which were important and went beyond the buildings.

As I read through this article and reflected on what I had heard a guide in the Central Hall say with regard to what she thought had contributed to the demise of the central hall I was conscious that within our work we need to recognise far more the inheritance we have and the link to those who were there before, sometimes in the same physical area.

Cox-Darling talked about Central Halls having their own standing orders and legal status, giving a flexibility. When I compare my role and place as a chaplain, who is not ordained and is answerable to an ecumenical management committee of whom the Methodists are a part to my husband and the world he is entering as a student presbyter I appreciate that I do have a freedom others don’t. I do have far more flexibility in my ministry.

The guide at the exhibition had explained that the physical geography of the area had changed and that contributed to the decline of the Central Hall. In the early twentieth century the area was an urban one on the edge of the city centre, surrounded by houses where the universities now stands. For the Central Halls, Cox-Darling argues, “the context is the primary focus of mission and ministry, not necessarily to the original inhabited congregants. “
Today chaplaincy exists not only within the university where I work but also amongst the retail community in the city centre. There is also a Methodist Deacon who has a city centre focus within the area. Reading Cox-Darling reinforced something that has been there in various ways all year as I have thought about our proximity to the old building, we in those roles are in a very real way the current incarnation of the Central Hall.

She goes on to talk about the way in which “the missional theory of Central Hall ecclesiology maintains a focus on contextual appropriate service to a local community and a relevant vehicle for authentic and passionate communication of the gospel.” This acts as both a comfort and a very big challenge to me. This isn’t about proselytising, that is clearly not something we can (or wish to) do in this context. It is about being there and being honest why you’re there and sharing God’s love in a way which is real and passionate.

For the most part, as I explained in a recent piece for the circuit bible study material linked to Holy Habit on service, that translates to those things which get built upon filling or emptying the dishwasher and setting out chairs. It is the hospitality and being about which builds relationships and it is through them you not only get to support Christians but most importantly to come alongside and share God’s love with those who are unlikely to set foot in church and learn from them as they to show God's love too (even if they would not name it as such). Put like that, I think that a lot of what was going on in the central hall probably isn’t too different from what we do in our context.

So whilst the building might be crumbling I would like to think the spirit of Central Hall is still there and yes, it is there in fresh expressions and inherited church but it is also there very much within chaplaincy.

My understanding of the heritage I have as a chaplain in the context within which I work has grown as a result of the visit to this space and the wrestling which accompanied it. I still have questions relating to what I saw today and am still disturbed by aspects of it but thanks to the insight of Cox-Darling I am not despairing rather I am humbled as I realise that it is my turn to hold their baton for a season. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

10 things learnt this year as a student presbyter spouse in Brum

So it’s been almost a year that we’ve been up here in Brum, and I’ve done a full academic year as a chaplain in term of teaching time for undergraduates. I’ve did a bit of a review at the 6 month mark so here is my end of year one.

As you’ll notice I’m not going to focus on the chaplain bit, which incidentally has been great. I want to put together 10 things I’ve discovered as a student presbyter’s wife which hopefully will give my friends a bit of an update whilst maybe helping some people who are getting ready to come here in September. I admit as I read this it is a very middle class list….but hey I am middle class and so I make no apologies. Also I am conscious I have been able to get a job up here and so can afford to do some of these things, even if they are not extravagant. Not everybody is in that position.

1.    Whatever you think it will be like living in a theological college you’ll probably be wrong. – I had a whole load of assumptions which had to be unlearned very quickly. I think lots of other people did too. For me the issue was thinking I was entering some kind of academic bubble where I would be able to talk theology with lots of people. Truth is as a partner you don’t get to talk theology much, apart with your partner. The students want to chill and not talk theology in the evening and so you have to find spaces to engage in elsewhere unless you are auditing a class (which I understand some partners do).

2.    Living in a communal environment requires you to be sociable. – I am a southerner, as such the idea that people might knock on your door just to be sociable was an anathema to me. I haven’t really ever encountered neighbourliness of the sort they have round here before. It’s all a bit strange. For me the one bit I actively choose take part in when I can is Sunday lunch. I am entitled to a couple of more meals a week but don’t take them. I know some people think this is crazy because they see them as paid for in with our rent, but I don’t. One thing that helps you stay sane round here is keeping hold of the choices you can. So much is dictated by the rhythm of the college that it’s good to be able to hold on to what decisions you can.


3.    Whilst it’s a moderate drinking culture there is more of a social drinking culture in the theological college than I was previously used to. – Hubby and I are not big drinkers but all the way through the first term we noticed that because we hardly ever drunk much before our intake really did significantly increase when we arrived because we were drinking more regularly. The bar in the common room is very reasonably priced.


4.    Birmingham is a great place if you’re looking to have a good life on a budget.WinterbourneGardens and the Birmingham Museums are worth getting membership too. The IKON gallery is also well worth visiting regularly. The Crescent Theatre has some good value stuff on and Waterstones in Birmingham has some really good events. That’s just for starters.


5.    If you shop right Waitrose can be cheaper than Sainsbury’s. – Now this was not something I was expecting to find, but if you’re clever with what you’re buying and use the offers together with buying the excellent tasting Waitrose own brand you can do brilliant shops on a budget there. This is excellent because it’s the biggest supermarket in walking distance to where I live. The My Waitrose Card is my favourite loyalty scheme.


6.     A daily planner on the fridge is really useful. - In terms of knowing when you and your partner will be eating together / get to see each other I find the planner we got after I forgot how the routine of this place worked really useful. It enables us to identify which night Karl is going to eat in college (he has to every lunch time during term time and at least one evening). It’s also useful for me to know when he will be out on placement and so grabbing something quickly after a lecture, before I get home from work. Also it enables him to know when I am working late or out at a meeting and so will be eating at a different time too. Paper Chase do some lovely ones.


7.    If you want something to happen try and organise it. – The one thing I really wanted not to lose when I moved was being part of a book group which was a small group of Christians meeting together to discuss literature. So I organised a small one on campus when I arrived. It’s primarily for partners and adult children but anybody is welcome. Sometimes when you organise something nobody will be interested, but other times it might just happen.

8.    Date Time is important – I am a tad independent and am very much myself as well as being Karl’s wife. I also was lucky enough to find a job when I moved. As such I am not, perhaps, your “typical partner” – not that that person exists. Karl and I schedule in “date time” because we are both busy people. When we do get time together we tend to go off campus to have time away from the computer and to enjoy exploring Brum and the surrounding area or more often than not catch a film using our Cineworld Unlimited cards (something I think are an excellent investment). This means that people don’t often see us together. Apparently some people can find that a bit weird or problematic and it can give concerns about the state of a marriage. Truth is now Karl’s not commuting and I am not spending lots of time doing prep and marking we get to see each other far more than we ever have. The fact we have both come from professional backgrounds means that we are used to having to put in that time for each other but also allowing the other to be very much their own person in terms of having time to do whatever it is they need to be doing well.


9.    You end up mixing with all sorts of people – It’s great you mix with people from so many different backgrounds here, but it can be hard especially initially. I’ve learnt that just because I have one set of norms and values it doesn’t mean other people have the same ones. However, you have to learn to live with each other because underneath it all you’re going through similar things.


10. Make your own space in your flat and keep it as your home– For me putting together my kitchen space with an inspiration board and prayer space within it was really important. It meant that within this environment which is dominated by my partner’s studies I have a bit of space which I can say is mine. It is also useful if you can work with your partner to ensure that they have clear work and home division. For us it works well because Karl has a clear ethos of dividing the two and dresses for “work”, normally, as well as using the library for study so our flat is truly our home.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

A personal evaluation of what went wrong with Methodist & other responses to Orlando

There has been a lot of discussion on social media around the hurt caused by the initial prayer offered by the Church of England yesterday and by the initial official response issued by the Methodist President and Vice President as well as the prayer offered by the URC.  In the case of the CofE there was a later joint statement by the Archbishops of York and Canterbury which sought to repair some of the damage. It was welcomed by many, but also seen as ringing slightly hollow in terms of the difference between the words and level of hurt many within that many within that Church have experienced as a result of the policies and actions of the church.
In contrast to this the contributions of LGBT+ Christians, particularly Ric Stott and Rachel Mann were welcomed and widely shared. Indeed by the end of the day their two contributions had been combined into a very moving and visually attractive prayer.

To be fair at times there was a coming together of the welcome and unwelcome. The Methodist initial statement included as links below the CofE prayer which had caused so much pain with the one by Rachel Mann which had been balm to many.

As I followed what was going on and felt the pain caused along with others I struggled to understand what had gone so wrong. Those releasing the statements and prayers which had caused the pain by their omission were seeking to give solace and respond in a compassionate way, of that I was sure. However, in not understanding a crucial aspect of the context their words were painful.

I was reminded of a quote I understand is drummed into the students studying where I live, “a text without a context is a pretext”.

So what had gone wrong in their, and others, reading of the context and what might we be able to learn from this.

Firstly, I believe those responding had read the context in a hegemonic way. That is they had read it in terms of those impacted being “like them” – predominantly white, middle class, heterosexual, middle-aged and cis. This context was not one where these were the dominant social characteristics of those most directly impacted. Most importantly those impacted were LGBT+ and many were Latino. Whilst one might hear as a defence these responses were put together before all the information was available the key piece of information, “that this took place in a LGBT nightclub” was there from the beginning.

Secondly, I believe that the responses which were lacking focused on seeing “community” in term of a physical, geographical location. The community impacted in this case was not only the geographical area of location but the LGBT+ community, which is a global community. This illustrates, I think, that the institutions are rooted in modernist understandings of community, rather than those linked to our current networked communities, which are far more based on identity. The formal discussions around these changing understandings of community have tended to revolve around digital/ online faith communities and fresh expressions within our institutions. We need to catch up on understanding the world we live in now. Our responses to tragedies need to be focused and context specific rather than generic.

Thirdly, I worry that those initially responding were doing so based upon media reports which were seeking to frame the story within a particular hegemonic way. Until Owen Jones walked out of the Sky studio so much discussion had sought to  frame this as a “terrorist” attack and to straight wash away the fact that a hate crime could also be a terrorist attack, the two did not need to be separate and that when the LGBT+ community were targeted that was relevant. As a prophetic community we need to be ready to think through the messages we are getting from the wider media as well as those we are contributing.

Finally, I think we need to think about the audience our messages are going to be read by and how they will be read. Again I think that this is where part of went wrong was hegemonic understandings that are held by some. I believe these statements would have been checked and published by people with similar outlooks and that is why nobody appeared to pick up why others might be so hurt was going out. We need to ensure that the teams we have working within the church are as diverse as possible and that in situations such as this we have people in place to check what is going out from an EDI point of view.
Between beginning to write this and posting it on my blog the Methodist statement has been expanded with some excellent statement and material by London Chair, Micky Youngson, an ally who gets it. This has changed the piece totally. I have then also updated this post because the media department have again updated the response so only Micky's material is showing and the original response is now a short link at the bottom. It's been a fascinating exercise in seeing how media responses change according to how understanding develops.

So where do we go from here, bearing in mind that Micky's material has been added later after a lot of the initial damage had been done and however much that original response is changed and the media department seek to erase it they cannot erase our memories of it? Well, I think that it would be useful if the president or vice-president and the media department were to apologise, admit that they had got it wrong and explain why. We are a faith that believe in confession and repentance, to illustrate this now I think could be very powerful.
*as a post script to this I have just seen a beautiful prayer on the President's face book page which expresses his care for the LGBTQI community. I have no doubt that this is an honest and heartfelt prayer and was very moving.
The president and vice president statement has been updated with wording which explicitly addresses the hurt caused they say
""We stand in solidarity with our LGBTQI brothers and sisters, and acknowledge the pain caused when we fail to live out the love of Christ for all. We are desperately sad that hurt has been caused by the statement made yesterday, which was an immediate response to assure people of our love and prayers for those affected by this tragedy. The murders in Orlando were an abhorrent tragedy, possibly the largest targeted killing of the LGBTQI community since the Second World War. God's love is for all. As Christians we are called first and foremost to love all. We stand in together with gay and straight men and women, and continue to hold the LGBTQI community, the victims' friends and their families in our hearts, thoughts and prayers."

I for one want to thank them for these words and that we, who were hurt by the statement yesterday, have been heard.