Live, love, lobby: Fighting back against Trump

The atmosphere was not unlike a carnival.  We jostled, we smiled.  We read each other’s signs and laughed out loud.  

It was a great meeting of minds and of witty slogans. One man bearing relevant sections of the US declaration of independence on a giant sandwich board offered his M&Ms to the police.  Across nationalities, ethnicities and religions, across what is sometimes a divide between the police and the people they serve, we shared a joyous moment in history.

Protester at demo
So many witty signs, so little room to show them. This picture from Lauren Jones.

And what a moment.  Children on their first march, standing up for love.  Dormant Vietnam War protesters, now in their 60s, dragging themselves out in the face of illness because they had to do something.  Students, professionals, dogs, the occasional intoxicated lady.   People like me, who hadn’t protested against anything else since our teens, or perhaps ever, and had never made a placard in our lives.

Trump has achieved at least one positive thing: he has galavanised the British people in a way that no issue has in a generation.  Middle England is off its sofas and on the march. We share a collective horror not only that Trump is in power, but that our Prime Minister is literally and metaphorically holding hands with him.

And of course, in a way, she has to.  We can’t afford to cut off the EU and the US at the same time.  Brexit means Trump.  And Trump comes with a free Putin.  The EU, NATO, and even the UN are at risk while Putin and Trump are in power.  This emerging axis of evil is not something we should be anywhere near as a nation.  But Brexit forces us to stay close because we need all the friends we can get.

War in our time

So make no mistake: for all the carnival atmosphere at Downing Street and and at the protests throughout the UK, this is war.
We’re not just fighting a deluded narcissist of a president, runnng the US like a toddler having a permanent tantrum (sorry if that’s unfair to toddlers).

We’re also fighting the deadly strategist Putin; we’re fighting the far-right, empowered and salivating across Europe.  Put in the most basic way, we’re fighting evil.  And neither evil, nor Trump, Putin or the European far-right – including our own UKIP – will lie down without a fight.  Neither of course will the evil Daesh, killing, raping and enslaving on their own vile journey of hatred.

It’s war, and war means casualties.  The truth has already fallen.  “Alternative facts” have become a daily reality, spewed even from the official White House podium. Journalists scramble to sort the “true facts” from the lies, but it’s impossible to correct them all or to ever convince people all of them were lies in the first place.

Counter-productive policies

Amid the surge in lies, lives have already been lost.  The terrible attack on a mosque in Canada is borne of the sort of hatred that Trump’s flawed policies nuture and spread.  I fear more people will have died of Trump before we’re done.  His random ban on refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries is also likely to increase the sort of anger which can lead to radicalisation.

It’s not just unjust and frankly bonkers, it’s counter-productive.  In a bizarre twist, it’s possible Trump’s antics will act as a recruiting sergeant for Remain as well as for Daesh: faced with a choice between Brussels or Washington, Brussels is starting to look a lot more attractive.

Even as we gathered in our carnival atmosphere, families who should have been together in the US were continents apart, and families in Quebec as well as Syria were grieving.  Hatred tears people apart and takes lives.
But what last night’s protests have showed (apart from the fantastic power of social media  and the awesome commitment of the organisers) is that many ordinary people are not going to lie down without a fight.

I’m not currently proud of my nation for cosying up to an emerging  tyrant, but am enormously proud of some of its people.  How do we resist what’s happening on the international stage? We live, love and lobby.  And, to paraphrase Thatcher, who for all her faults would have given Trump a bloody good handbagging: “We march on, we march to win.”

Trump, Brexit and the rise of the right: a Christian response

Right-wing evangelical Christians in the UK and US have just delivered some of the greatest blows to peace, justice and fairness in the Western world since the end of the World War II. What are the rest of us supposed to do?

You don’t need me to list the litany of horror already emerging from the US, as Trump honours every one of his campaign pledges.  With Trump, as with David Cameron and the referendum, there are some election pledges you so wish had been left unfulfilled.

On pretty much the single issue of abortion, the overwhelming majority of US evangelicals overlooked sexual assault, adultery, Islamophobia, racism, misogyny, lies, hatred, populist rhetoric, probably corruption, the risk of war, social division, and damage to the weak (not to mention unhealthy ties with Putin and the likely damage to the UN, EU and NATO).  They’re not disowning Trump yet and possibly never will.

Is this what Jesus meant by straining a gnat and swallowing a camel?

It’s ludicrously at odds with the theology of the Gospels. Evangelicals would do well to live for a year reading only the Gospels, and seeing which bits of their world view survive.  Jesus would be turning in his grave, if he had one.  The actions being carried out in his name are a million miles from his words and his example.

In the UK meanwhile, some evangelical Christians also formed a plank of the rickety Brexit shack, led astray by dodgy theology which named Brussels as a modern-day Babylon.

So where does this leave us, other members of the Christian Church, practising Christians who are watching in grief and horror as the world heads deeper into hatred, and possibly even into war?

Can we repent on behalf of one another?

Do we own or disown each other when faced with the catastrophic cruelty of policies unfolding in the US?

Is our silence complicity?

The theologians can have their say.  Collective repentance may or may not have spiritual value, but I know Christians have previously repented over other shameful periods in history, like the Crusades and the silence of parts of the Church in World War II.

Awkward questions

But we can’t weep over the actions of our fellow Christians without looking at our own issues.  They’re tough. Do we hunger for gadgets more than righteousness? Have we outsourced our poverty to where we can’t see it so it doesn’t trouble our consciences? Do we worry more about the price than the cost?

Have we reduced the mighty, humble Christ of the gospels (yes he was both) to a sort of Jesus-lite, a lifestyle add-on, or a panic button to be pressed in times of crisis? Do we feel poor despite having lived through an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity?

Each of us, in the closed-door privacy of our own prayer lives, can be asking God for our right response.  Do we weep, pray, campaign, make disciples? All of the above?

Let’s at least ask the question.

 

A prayer for repentance

Father, forgive us, for we don’t realise what we have done.

Forgive us for our actions,

Forgive us for our silence,

Forgive us for our complacency,

Forgive us for putting the values of our daily lives above the values of your kingdom –

your kingdom which is not of this world and does not recognise the borders we erect.

Forgive us for being motivated by fear not love.

Forgive us when our responses to wrongdoing overlook your commandment to love one another.

Break our hearts for the things that break your heart.

We are sorry that people you love are being hurt, and

We are sorry for our part in this.

Deliver us from evil.

Call us onwards, in truth, grace and humility, to build your kingdom of love,

In the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen

Have yourself a real little Christmas

20161225_0851151The woods on Christmas morning are alive with birdsong, scampering squirrels and still beauty.  It’s the perfect place for solitude, prayer and quiet joy.

But in a sharp and painful reminder that there is no earthly paradise, a Rottweiler and a terrier come tearing round the muddy bend towards me, out of control, unaccompanied and looking for action.  When their owners emerge and I invite them, albeit quite directly, to control their dogs, I’m invited to do something Anglo-Saxon and entirely unfestive.  I am shaken, my trousers are covered in mud and the peace is shattered.

There IS no earthly paradise, not even on Christmas morning.

We’ve tried our best to cutify Christmas, to feminise angels, whitify Jesus and sanitise the whole story.   It’s all tinsel, stars, angels and shepherds, and quite right too. I like tinsel, stars, angels and shepherds as much as the next person.

But the original cast of characters weren’t clean and sparkly.   As someone pointed out on the radio this morning, there were no handwashing facilities in the stable.  Animals and grubby shepherds, new mother and newborn baby all rubbed along together.

Christmas was not clean. Neither was it bloodless.  Apart from the mess and stress of an unaccompanied birth in an animal pen, there was a massacre of babies.  Grief and cruelty were right alongside the miracle, inseparable from it.  And every single person in that stable was “off-base” in some way or other, out of their comfort zone and not where they would thought they’d have found themselves a few months earlier.

The original Christmas was messy and complicated. The only stable thing was the stable (sorry).  If your Christmas feels unstable, uncomfortable or messy at any point today, you’re closer to the real thing than you realise.

It’s a story of redemption, of a God coming into the mess, not of pretending the mess wasn’t there in the first place.  Of a Saviour touching the mess and making it clean, rather than becoming contaminated by it.  When God gets involved with man it tends to be messy as well as miraculous.

Our world looks considerably messier at the end of 2016 than it did at the beginning of the year. And quite frankly by the time 2017 is done with us, we may look fondly back on 2016 year as the good one.

The original Christmas wasn’t cute, comfortable or clean. But it was real. Have a Happy and a Real Christmas!  I’m off now to change my mud-covered trousers and get clean for the day ahead.

 

In memoriam: Cohen, democracy and decency

Who would have thought there would be a week in which the death of Leonard Cohen was not the saddest thing to have happened to the world.

But round about the same time that Cohen was presenting his broken body and broken hallelujah to the Lord of Song, a hate-spewing sexual assaulter was being shown into his new office in the White House.

The world had lost a man of the beauty, depth, grace and spirituality of Cohen and gained a President-Elect Trump.

Two things are particularly distressing about this revolving-door twist of timing.

The first is the realisation that liberal democracy itself is more under threat than any of us had realised.

A thin black ribbon now links the ballot boxes of the US, UK, the Philippines, Hungary and Russia.

Voters around the world are casting off the shackles of doing the right, decent, thing, and are voting for rabid right-wing ranters.   Call them posher words like populists or demagogues if you prefer, but essentially Trump, Farage, Duterte, Orban and Putin are rabid right-wing ranters.  The spirit of the times is that people are listening to them and voting for them.

Liberal democracy normally relies on self-limiting features like party structures and public decency to weed out the demagogues.  Only that’s not happening any more.  Two Greek words have met in a deadly mash-up, and demagogue-ocracy is born.

This isn’t the first time demagogue-ocracy (OK, mobocracy is shorter) has flourished, and it doesn’t usually end well.  Check out 1930s German electoral history for clarification of this point.

The danger of the appeal of the strongman must never be forgotten.  Neither, as the great Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal pointed out, can we ever allow ourselves to believe that the evil of the Holocaust could not be repeated.  Armistice Day is not just a poignant reminder of past horrors and sacrifice, but a challenge to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The second distressing fact to emerge from Trump’s victory is that he was carried to the White House partly on the shoulders of right-wing evangelical Christians.

In a disturbing logic which seems to place the rights of unborn children above all other considerations, which crosses a line into idolatry of their party (“my party right or wrong”), they seem blind to the hypocricy of choosing a corrupt leader whose campaign was fuelled by hatred, lies and fears, on the single basis that he said he was opposed to abortion.

They’ve strained a gnat, swallowed a camel and elected a monster.   It’s enough to make a Pharisee blush.  It’s good to know that many other courageous Christians are speaking out against this school of thinking – from a theological perspective or a purely personal one.

But it’s extraordinary that the Jewish-born, Zen-Buddhist-leaning Cohen seems to have captured the spirit of Christ more than US Republican Christianity – which merely seems to have captured the spirit of the times.

In one his best-known songs, “Suzanne”, Cohen writes of Jesus as a lonely, broken deity visible only to drowning men.  Other works reverently reference the Sermon on the Mount, the turning of water into wine (always a good miracle in my book), the crucifixion and so on.  I feel he speaks about the Jesus I recognise.

Republican Christians have meanwhile seem to have reverted to an “Old Covenant”, pre-Christ mindset, where God is an avenging, angry, smiting figure, rather than the broken, suffering servant, the God of grace and gentleness we see celebrated by Cohen and of course by the New Testament.

I’m not saying that Cohen would have seen himself as a follower of Christ, but he seems to have had deep love, respect and fascination for him, which seems to be more honouring than the strident, mercy-free message we hear from the evangelical right.

So here’s a hard question.

Is it time to recognise that the Christian Church has its own problem with radicalisation?  No, it’s not usually expressed with weapons and terror.  But the ballot box can do its own damage to the weak, the minorities, the refugees, the vulnerable, gay people and women.  We expect the Muslim community to call out radicalisation, and so should we.

The paradox of the overlap of thinking between extremist Christians and extremist Muslims has been noted before, but shouldn’t be forgotten.  The extremist Muslims have given us jihad and the extremist Christians have helped deliver President Trump.  Heaven help us all.

If they won’t listen to the still small voice of calm, or to Christ’s Beatitudes, maybe they could at least listen to Cohen.  “Democracy is coming to the USA”, he wrote with his usual wry wit, describing himself as “neither left nor right” but pleading for social justice.

“Sail on, sail on,
Oh mighty ship of State.
To the shores of need,
Past the reefs of greed,
Through the Squalls of hate.”

Democracy is sick and demagogue-ocracy is thriving.   The timing of Cohen’s departure was hailed by some as the ultimate comment on Trump’s election victory.  I hope he’s putting in a word for us all with the Lord of Song.  And I hope that if the bad guys are joining forces across national borders, the good guys will do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brexit: A bluffer’s guide to saving the nation

Amid all the Brexit claim and counter-claim, here’s a single, scary, incontrovertible fact.  That on the day after Britain leaves the EU in 2019 (let’s call it B-Day+1), not a single British firm can tell you the terms on which it will be trading with any other country, anywhere in the world.

No wonder the pound is flinging itself around in a desperate cry for help.  Why would anyone invest in a country that simply doesn’t know its own future?

This B-Day+1 argument runs through issue after issue.  Not a single EU migrant in the UK knows what their status or rights will be on that day.  British migrants abroad, whether working or retired, face the same uncertainty.  Banks and businesses, scientists and students. No-one knows.

Paradoxically,  a parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal would only add to this uncertainty.  If whatever deal Theresa May strikes is rejected by parliament, Britain would leave the EU anyway with no deal.  B-Day+1 in these circumstances would be jolly interesting indeed.

The critical, under-stated fact is that we still have a choice.   We do not have to go down this perilous road.  There is no legal obligation on Theresa May or anyone else, not even parliament, to trigger Article 50.   And certainly not on the basis of a non-binding referendum result fuelled by lies and misinformation.

The referendum was a snapshot of national opinion at a particular moment in history after one of the most mendacious campaigns in British political history, as a friend pointed out the other day.  It should therefore not be enough, on its own, to change the course of British and European history and blight millions of lives.

The government and parliament must act in what they believe are the best interests of the nation – and overwhelmingly they believe our interests lie within the EU.  A free parliamentary vote on whether triggering Article 50 is in the national interest would produce a resounding “no”, based on the known genuine beliefs of MPs.

I once saw an emotional foster parent stand up at a training event to describe how she had finally given into a girl’s repeated desperate pleading to open her Christmas presents early.  She finally relented, believing that doing what the child wanted was appropriate. The child never forgave her.

How much more is it the job of governments, parliaments, even the civil service, to act in the national interest, to hold the line for what is right in the face of pleading and even abuse?

If Brexit was a purchase, we’d legally be allowed a cooling-off period.  How much more do we need a national cooling-off period to avert economic mayhem and the death of the British values most of us grew up with.  Purchasing “freedom” from Brussels will come at a tremendous cost, to be disproportionately borne by the very people who were the most likely to vote for it: the poor, elderly and disadvantaged.  There’s never been a better example of the need to be careful what you wish for.

But more to the point, the threat to Britain is not Brussels, and never was.  It’s the poisonous far-right message of UKIP, which has seeped into everyday thinking and the political mainstream, its toxic spores carried by newspapers which ought to know better.

So what can we do to try to bring our politicians to their senses?

  1. Make your point – Write to your MP and simply tell him/her that you do not believe Article 50 should be triggered, and certainly not without a free parliamentary vote.  Ideally, briefly state your reasons: for example that the vote was merely an indicator of national mood on the day; that people had been lied to, manipulated and misled; that some would now vote differently; that the issue was never really suitable for a referendum question; that the overwhelming vote of young people to stay has been swept aside; that the choice of hard or soft Brexit was not offered; that Brexit will further harm British economic and cultural interests; that the surge in hate crimes will only worsen.  Whatever your reasons, state them.
  2. Make a noise – Use Twitter, Facebook and other social media to state your position, to help build up a head of steam. In years to come, if your grandchildren ask if you tried to stop it, at least be able to say you tried. Make clear that you haven’t yet given up on stopping Brexit.
  3. Make the case – Recognise that your responsibility didn’t end at the ballot box. Whether we voted in, out or neither, we’re all impacted by the outcome.  So be prepared to make the case against Brexit and triggering Article 50 with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.
  4. Make a stand – Work against the upsurge in hate and hate crimes. Stop buying newspapers that spread hate. Call out racism and hate crimes and recognise that a national mood of hatred towards Eastern Europeans will not stop there: racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia are all in the same stable of hate-filled beliefs.

Meanwhile the image of a fully-laden coach headed for disaster is crystallising.

It’s the annual parish outing, with everyone on board the charabanc.  The passengers have been told they’re going to a 1940s theme park, sort of Grantchester meets Warmington-on-Sea, where everyone is white and English and the women wear pinafores.  Some of them are singing on board the bus.  But the demented Sunday school teacher has taken the wheel and is driving straight towards the bridge she knows is broken.

The EU may not be a caravan of love.  It’s badly in need of reform, and we all need to make a noise about that too.  But it sure beats a charabanc heading for s*** creek.  Let’s work together to try to stop it.

 

 

Sticks and stones: Trying to stop the Brexit crash

The worst insult that can now be hurled at anyone in Brexit Britain is the shocking assertion that they are a member of the “liberal elite”.  

Well let me raise my “liberal elitist” hand to try to explain why we are not the enemy within, but the people politely, entirely Britishly, trying to head off a catastrophe.

OK before you reach for your Bremoaner and Bremaniac hashtags, your obsessive/anti-democratic/bad losers slurs and your troll hats, let me explain. Here’s the simple analogy.

A coachload of people is driving headlong towards a broken bridge whose entire centre section has fallen away in the dark, into a deep ravine.

We are the people trying to flag the coach down, ‘tis all.

The people on board may have opted to go on the journey, but the tour operators lied about the weather and more to the point, no one told them the bridge was down.  They are hurtling towards the void, unaware, unafraid but basically stuffed.

So as the #Brewarners, we find ourselves sneered at, despised, “damned”*, feared. “Look at those crazy, dangerous, treacherous, arrogant people waving handkerchiefs at us.  Put your foot on the pedal, driver.”

But the biggest untold tragedy of all is that if hard Brexit happens, the impact will not be on the Goves and the Johnsons, the Farages and the Mays, or probably anyone else in the political classes.

The upper classes – Britain’s true elite – will have ways to avoid the harshest impacts of Brexit and will have resources to see them through.  The middle classes will also be cushioned to a certain extent, with their professional skills giving them options for emigrating, self-employment and adjusting lifestyle choices.

Even us “liberal elitists” will probably conjure up creative solutions over our organic muesli and fairtrade coffee.

No, the supreme irony of all this is that the worst impact will be on the socio-economic groups who were most likely to vote to leave – the old, the least qualified and the lowest earners.

No one told them they were the crash dummies on the coach.   They will be the first to be hit by increasing food prices (coming soon to a supermarket near you), by cuts in the tax take which will feed through into increased pressure on social care and welfare budgets – already under attack by this government – and I would suspect by a likely higher rate of early job losses among unskilled workers.

Oh, and the old people needing care who may find a shortage of migrant workers cheerfully filling low-paid, onerous shifts.

So for now the coach speeds on with Theresa May gripping the wheel and various factions on board shouting at her to speed up or slow down.

I and an increasing number of others are shouting at her to stop.  (And here are 10 reasons why I don’t believe this is undemocratic).

If the pound could talk, it would be screaming its own warning.  In its own way, it’s certainly issuing a loud cry for help on the world currency markets.  Mark Carney, the closest we have to a voice of reason, is talking sense from the helm of the Bank of England but even his position is being attacked. Twitter suggests he may even quit in the face of political sniping at his independent decision-making, removing a key stabilising influence.

The impending coach crash is why I’m not ashamed to believe that the results of the referendum – which was, after all, only advisory – should never be enacted.

It’s why I believe Article 50 should not be triggered, and certainly not by a Lone Ranger of a Prime Minister who seems to have interpreted a single-question referendum as a mandate for all sorts of things.  In other countries we’d characterise it as a power grab.  In the UK it’s portrayed as strong leadership.

It’s why I – with millions of others who voted Remain and Leave – will continue trying to flag that coach down until it tips into the precipice.  We owe it to them, to ourselves and to the nation we love to try to stop it happening.

And rest assured that on that day we won’t peer over and gloat.  We’ll be down there trying to pull the poor sodding victims from the wreckage.

Damned we may be, but we owe it to our nation not to go quietly.

*Being damned by the Daily Mail is a badge of honour I shall wear with pride.