A Lenten Post

March 1, 2017

Sounds like I’ll be fencing! But it is a time to take stock and see what needs mending; what needs more work and how you can improve. I sat at a meeting yesterday listening to earnest people making their points and feeling rather smug. So thats something to change straight away, eh? Elsewhere we were chatting about the pernicious spread of social media platforms and how they can be manipulated to yield vast amounts of data about ourselves. perhaps more worryingly how that data can then be used to influence us in our choices; be that what shoes to buy or whom to vote for.

There is a way to overcome this and its just simple eyeball to eyeball contact. Good old fashioned talking to each other. But its no good doing that from the pulpit of Saint Sanctimonious Cathedral. You have to engage people where they are. Which brings me back to my feeling smug. You can’t be smug when you’re trying to engage with the person who’s just bumped into you because they were engrossed in their screen as they walked down the street.

There is a tremendous amount of smugness at the moment as well as the more obvious “violence” and dislike of others so its going to be a hard battle. And it begins in our hearts so that we can see the wonder of each human being just like Jesus did as He suffered in agony for everyone of us.

So by the end of this Lent I’m really not going to be as smug – honest, promise, cross my fingers, help…..

Moral Absolutes and Pragmatic Solutions

January 26, 2017

Heavy! But there are both and most of the time they seem to be at odds. For example to kill someone is wrong yet when you do so in self defence is it still wrong? Supposing you have done everything available to you at the time to avoid killing the other person. Whist this seems to be extreme it happens every day throughout the world whether in war or in violent relationships. It seems with the new president of the USA now in office and asking, nay commanding the unthinkable every day we have to confront just how we react.

Of course you will say what can I do in some small part of a small country just off the coast of Europe? And more importantly what effect will that have? And there my friend you have already strayed from the first half of the title to the second half. Essentially we start with what seems right to us. Many of us are guided in this by our different faiths, their teachings whether written down or passed on in an oral tradition. But it is not good enough to just accept without thinking our faith teachings – we must work to understand them, questioning and ensuring we know the discussions and how these teachings have arisen.

This will lead us to some Moral Absolutes; certainties of what is right and wrong. But when faced with life in all its complexities this is only the start. Every situation adds more nuances, grey areas and difficulties for our certainties. They do not change but are pushed this way and that straining how we understand and apply them. Lets just leave them there for the moment.

In politics we are told everything is possible; everything is justifiable if it gets the job done. So to achieve our end we can duck and dive, swerve around the rules and moral certainties – if the end is good enough. The end justifies the means. But we all know that is not true. What is true however is that certain actions work better than others in achieving particular goals. In considering this we are looking at Pragmatic Solutions.

So picking up our dilemma with our Moral Absolutes we look (in parallel) at the Pragmatic Solutions and work out if we can afford them (in moral terms). Just to take a current example we look at torture. Now quite possibly back on the agenda of the USA (or so it seems). The moral case is clear – no. The pragmatist asks does it work? But because there is a conflict we have to ask deeper questions – does it really work? In other words whilst yes you will get information by using torture is that information of sufficient quality and effectiveness to compensate for the immorality of the action?

For me the answer to that pragmatic question is contained in our legal system. No UK or indeed European Court of Law will consider information gained under torture as of sufficient quality to enable a successful prosecution. This after many years when information was routinely acquired that way. It is not reliable; hence not worthy of risking your moral code.

So by asking the pragmatic question it does not undermine your moral judgements in fact most often its the reverse. For by sticking to moral principles mankind has advanced to become the dominant species on this planet. We have done many wonderful things including nearly eradicating the disease of polio. So when we take our moral stand and say we believe the USA would be wrong to use torture we are not just being moral but being pragmatic and this surely must increase our determination to resist this awful thing.

Now we can further ask what effect our action will have, but after we have resolved to take action in any event. I’m sure as Mr Trump blunders along his presidency there will be many other chances to consider Moral Absolutes and Pragmatic Solutions.. Lets hope we’re not the only ones doing it!

Are We God?

December 23, 2016

Two interesting things happened on Sunday. First was the sermon about the readings. The priest suggested that as God had taken our human form maybe we should be taking on his God like form. A sort of cheeky suggestion but as he pointed out the readings seem to support this view. So are we supposed to be like God?

Second was a thought that occurs most years at this time. 40 years ago my sister who largely bought me up died in very tragic circumstances such that in conventional terms it would seem to strain the mercy of God. But it always seemed to me to precisely proof the infinite and mysteriousness of God’s mercy. Probably in large part because of my mothers faith in a loving and caring God who although at times very weird was always near us. We are very much an amalgam of the people we have known and loved / admired and for me no more so than with my sister and mother. This is what makes us who we are taken with our experiences of this world.

So if we are God like and we are this amalgam of others maybe God is the summation of all of us, past present and to come. We are always quite quick to point out the wonders and capabilities of mankind. What if the infinite God we worship is the summation of all this wonder?

I don’t quite know where all this has came from but it seems to me even if its a bit off mark it bears thinking about. Mainly because it reinforces the message of Christmas for me. God, the most powerful thing / person ever, took the most vulnerable human form he could – that of new born defenceless baby in filthy terrifying conditions. Just maybe he was pointing back at us and the amazing miracle that is human life.

Perhaps this Christmas we can all learn to treasure that gift a bit more – even if its not so Godlike at times.

Enjoy.

Christmas – A Blog

December 9, 2016

OK it feels a little early but I think most people have spotted its on the horizon and wth Advent actually upon us I figure its safe to start talking about it. Many people of course have not just been talking about it but putting up the trees and decorations and lights for weeks now! So here goes.

A few months ago when it was a distant celebration hardly on most of our horizons I heard someone say we need to be a bit more relaxed about Christmas. Not the celebration but other people’s approach to it, particularly those who obviously wished it could be Christmas every day. You know the ones – tinsel up by mid September. Well this person was suggesting it was up to us; we could get really upset or we could relax and enjoy their excitement alongside the tinsel time brigade.

We recently tried this with a guy who having already decorated the street tree outside his house was busy building a massive wreath on his front door. We said how nice the tree now looked and the conversation flowed from there. He was evidently having great fun and we left feeling happy and sharing his sense of fun. So now instead of being upset by his appropriation of a public tree we can smile at the sense of fun that did it.
So that’s where I’m starting from (sometime in September!) sharing in the enjoyment of others and not being judgemental.

My next topic is 2016 – what a year. First we had the blatant lies of the Leave Campaign in the referendum. Then we had the entirely negative scary stories of the Remain Campaign (albeit probably quite reasonable but hardly likely to inspire). Followed by people voting to leave – well possibly voting to leave although most certainly voting against establishment politics and the cosy Westminster bubble. So we had Brexit and the plunge in the pound – hitting the ordinary person in the street planning to go on holiday in July and August! The stock market meanwhile rose to ever higher levels increasing the wealthiest’s fortunes still further! Next down the line came the US elections and Donald Trump with his invective and divisive form of politics. Now we have the Italians voting their Prime Minister out with the French giving their President the cold shoulder and encouraging Marine Le Pen again with her divisive message. And I forgot at the start of the year we saw all the refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan fenced out of Europe. But it was OK because we did a deal with a “dictatorship” in Turkey who in response to a coup attempt (not very well organised by the look of it) arrested everybody they could get their hands on – over 35,000!

So that was the year that was; in the words of That show – its gone so let it go. But can we or will it haunt us forever in our history books? OK Simpson take a positive message from all that, if you can.

Well yes I can. First all the pictures of refugees in the media included (though maybe not on the front page) those showing incredible acts of kindness; individual, group and in Germany’s case whole countries. We’d do well to remember those – maybe we were involved in them anyway. Then there is the very big message that very big change is possible. Yes it was all pretty negative this year but who says it can’t be positive next year? Its up to each one to make our voices heard. For evil to triumph it just needs good men to stay silent; so shout up.

And when you’ve considered all those wonderful positive meanings I come back to Christmas – not the bright lights but the cold stable. Where Christians believe the creator of everything – the worlds first superhero – was born as a helpless small child to working class parents, temporarily homeless and in the company of animals and shepherds. Now that really was a bad year; it even got worse when they had to flee their small home and go hundreds of miles to a strange country. (Sound familiar??)

I don’t pretend to be original but looking at others around us, sharing their fun, holding on to the lessons of this year but doing something about them and then remembering the real quiet overwhelming message of Christmas. Well that’s quite something and I’m proud to put these little words out there into the ether where maybe no one will notice but maybe someone will.

So bless you and keep you safe and may all your days be like Christmas – just without too much tinsel.

World Peace Day; Christmas and Charities

November 30, 2016

Today is World Peace day and as we approach Christmas and the spendfest that precedes it it is very difficult to focus on what true peace is about amid the noise and clatter. As well our mailboxes swell and our postbags groan under the weight of so many charity appeals. All these are worthy causes and they know we are more likely to give at this time of year so who can blame them for trying? But all this adds up to a sort of empathy fatigue so that we are not feeling at all charitable by the time Christmas morning arrives.

So how do we cope? For folk like me that are easily laid back and totally disorganised and Christian to boot its easy. We think back to last year when it all got done (usually by others!!) and we just gave to the charities we support throughout the year and that helpless little baby who is the Ultimate Superhero reminded us again what real love is all about. That was easy wasn’t it? But I know I am lucky – in millions of ways not least the choice of life partner and where I happened to be born.

So I’d like to shine a little light, pause a little while and pass on a few thoughts to make peace seem more achievable. First those pesky charities. Well just think what is the most fortunate thing about your life. Now look at how to share that – is there a charity which enables others to attain what you have? Search them out, do a bit of research and talk to them about their work. If they’re local go along and see it for yourself; you’ll be most welcome. Then support them in the way they would most like that support because it may not be money, it may be time.

If all that seems too much – maybe you haven’t been listening!! Sorry that’s harsh but do always pause even when reading pearls of wisdom like this(?) to let the words mean something inside your head / heart. I do have one or two suggestions to help – not plugs just random thoughts. First is the plight of many hundreds of thousands of Indian people who are born to Untouchable families (Dalits) in this country. Yes according to the i newspaper yesterday there are many here in our own towns and cities who work under almost slavery conditions brought here often by very well educated people who think this is acceptable. Well its not and something has to be done so please press the Government to activate a clause in a 2013 Act which makes discrimination on grounds of caste illegal.

Also you may like to support a charity which works with Dalit women in India and Nepal to empower and support them and their families. Its a faith based organisation (Buddhist) called Karuna (www.karuna.org) which in 2015 helped over 8,300 Dalits reclaim their dignity working with 24 partners. All this on on less than 2 million pounds. From experience they’re not the slickest charity out there – I challenge you to set up a Direct Debit! But thanks to them 300 families in Nepal were helped after the dreadful earthquake there.

My other suggestion is don’t give anyone a bean – lend it! Check out http://www.shared-interest.com. There are lots of people there asking for micro finance (its the new buzz word) to support business and hence families in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Cambodia and other places. They’re even doing a BOGOF offer for Christmas!! Here your money helps others while still coming back to you in a few years time, excellent news for all of us feeling the pince at the moment.

And lastly I ask you to remember those folk nearer to home; helped every year and every day of every year by the Salvation Army. I know they’re not super fashionable and they’ve been around since … William Booth but they know how to help and they help everyone regardless of their circumstances, beliefs, status or what. You will have many more to add to this list but in thinking about them and hopefully finding out about them you will come into contact with some amazing people. Because it is the amazing goodness of humanity which is the true spirit of Christmas.

And presents – Oh my God what do you give? Checkout http://www.worldgifts.cafod.org.uk – where you can still buy a Chirpy Chicken for £20! OK it is given to others but you get a lovely card to give to Auntie Georgiana. And for £85 you can buy a toilet; my favourite. And on that note I will excuse myself to urge one last action.

Find a quiet place, light a quiet candle, watch it burn and count your blessings,

Happy World Peace Day.

Reflections on Suzanne

November 20, 2016

Suzanne is the title of a song by Leonard Cohen who sadly died this last week. Suzanne is the name of a village on the River Somme where a battle happened a hundred years ago. Both are inextricably linked in my mind by the lyrics “Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river”. Because that is true of the village too. It’s main grassy street leads down to the river which at this point is wooded and splits into many islands and streams.

Whether you liked him or not Cohen wrote immensely challenging lyrics / poems which made you think about the way you loved and behaved toward others and how they would perceive that. Because however “perfect’ our “body” / mind is it is the actions we take and how they affect others that give a true witness to us in all our imperfect humanity. But enough of mournful “songs to shoot yourself by” as my best friend, Mike would say!

On to happier themes like the Somme! It is a truly beautiful region of France and best seen in the sun of spring or autumn when the earth promises so much or has delivered it in the massive cornfields so common there. Picnicing by the river near Suzanne with my mother some years ago I could well imagine how soldiers could get lost there. With the many woods and streams and natural byways there really doesn’t seem a right way to go. My uncle Frank at the age of 19 died nearby on 4th September 1918. He was one of the million soldiers who died in that region by that river in that terrible “War to end all Wars”. Were it not for the stupidity / vanity of politicians who decreed months before that the killing would stop on the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month he would have lived to see his baby sister, Agnes, bloom into the incredible woman I knew.

But just maybe they were trying to do the right thing but in the wrong way and history has judged them by their actions not their intentions. So that is where another event this week enters into my thoughts. This Sunday we saw the end of Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy. It was a year when Doors of Mercy were decorated around the world in many Catholic Churches. The symbolism of these was to pass through them becoming more aware of Gods Mercy as shown to us and by us to our fellow human beings and indeed all God’s wonderful creation around us. So as we now pass through the end of this period of time we must take that lesson in mercy we have been shown with us throughout our lives. A mercy which urges us to do “small things with great love”.

So my reflections on Suzanne are about mercy, perception and actions. We are given a special role to show mercy and love not in our thoughts (important as that is) but through what we do each day And each moment in that day.

To come back to a previous blog – smile and show your love.

Looking Back…

November 9, 2016

I’ve been writing these musings since 2010. It all started when I stood for the General Election and the BBC asked if I did a blog – well no but shortly thereafter I jolly well did! Using the new media outlets of Facebook, twitter and emails as well I was “campaigning” on zero budget. Not sure if it worked but I did keep in touch with nearly 200 people who emailed questions and comments to me. By 2015 Election I had given up on Facebook but taken to MailChimp which enabled me to stay in touch with over 500 people and continue the campaigning on the same budget!

In between those times I have again occasionally put my thoughts down in this blog / diary so over the years there are a considerable number of these ramblings. Recently I got quite wound up about the Referendum, particularly the result! So when I now come to put down a thought or two it quite often occurs that its down here already but in a different way / context.

On Saturday I went to a reflection day about our place on this planet and what we as christians should be doing about it. As it was held in the lovely Woodbrooke Quaker centre here in Birmingham it was guaranteed to be a success (which it was). I know other events have happened and that they could be depressing but I am now firmly convinced that we have to “accentuate the positive” as Mr Mugli said. In Amoris Laetitia the Pope urges us all to find new little ways every day to show our love for each other. That is actually some challenge and well worth spending time on. Because love is not negative, not envious but giving, rewarding and supporting. It builds up, not tears down.

So in todays world where Trumpton has just started again and where unpleasant attacks on people are fiercely defended as “freedom of the press” we all have a duty to spread the word of love. Which brings me back to the beginning because I see my last blog urged folk to smile and I’m sure not that long back i was on about supporting each other; albeit in the business sense of buying local. So things come around but maybe that’s encouraging. Not that I’m repeating myself but that I still believe the same things.

So when you’re bored and I mean really bored why not flick through these blogs and have a good laugh. I know I did when writing most of them.

Reflections on a Year of Mercy

October 17, 2016

People often reflect on a year at its close which for us westerners is 31st December, my grand daughters birthday. But the Pope decided last year to start his year of mercy on 8th December ending it on 20th November 2016 – so not quite a year then! There now seem to be a number of “year end” celebrations etc so its a good time to get in first.

The year started with lots of doors opening and being decorated and named as Doors of Mercy. They were mainly in churches and were existing doors anyway so I did wonder about this bit. Then there followed a papal encyclical called Laudate Si and a sort of summing up of a big gathering to discuss the place of the family, love and stuff by the Bishops of the church. The Pope called his summing up Amoris Laetitia – The Joy of Love. That was other folks year of mercy.

For me it started when I spent a day in Bristol studying the Laudate Si and Amoris Laetitia. To be fair it probably started earlier when I first read the Laudate Si. It reads like a Green Party statement of intent. The english subtitle “Care of our common home” gives it away a bit but it really was an amazing moment. Suddenly someone had set down our responsibilities not in a finger wagging way but firmly and with love and encouragement. That most of it is addressed to all of us, christians, non christians, those with faith and those with none also made it refreshing. Not a book for the initiated but actually if you were the initiated then it was a big wake up call.

So after that away day I was asked to do a few reflections based on a pilgrimage idea from Cafod. The idea was to see how refugees were treated and felt as they moved across our inhospitable continent. In leading a couple of these and then speaking about Cafods work supporting those less fortunate than us across the world I gained an insight into what we could do. Because that seems to be the key message about Mercy – its a doing word as my grand daughters would say!

And the first doing thing I concluded I should do is be grateful for what I have and stop wanting what I haven’t got.In England today we have most of what we need, particularly if like me you’ve retired after a life’s work in public service. The next thing is to be aware of all those around you who do not have what they need; particularly respect and dignity. Which seems an odd thing to major on but I refer you to Laudate Si for that explanation. Suffice to say if you are living in poverty without sufficient food in grotty rooms you do not feel too good. Maybe Ken Loach puts it better in his new film, I Daniel Blake.

And now comes the doing bit and I struggle with this. Its about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Giving my bit to Cafod and the Salvation Army over the years is good but is it good enough? Well no. Talking about the poor and dispossessed is good but what’s talk if nothing changes? And here I want to look further afield beyond my horizon.

With the rise of the far right ultra nationalists across Europe then the Leaving vote on 23rd June and now the real possibility of Donald Trump being president there seems only unremitting gloom. Elsewhere wars carry on unabated, chemical weapons, starvation as a weapon and mass killings almost fade from the news; no longer newsworthy. Our fabulous health service, our social care indeed seemingly all our public services built up over years are dismantled. All around there seems unremitting gloom and despondency.

So my friends this is where I and the Pope came in. We can spread not just love, not just happiness but a real sense of compassion, of mercy and Gods care for all of us and our beautiful home, planet Earth. Its not a wishy washy thing. A pious hope for better to come. Its about here and now showing that goodness pays, fairness is right and all of us have an absolute right to Dignity and Justice.

So when someone says smile please do it. the world needs all the smiles it can get and from those smiles flow compassion, understanding, sympathy and a real connection between all human beings. And in this darkness thats a whole lot of doing!

Communities could do …

September 28, 2016

Looking after their roads.  With a background in Highway Maintenance (why do I always spell that with capitals!) it seems a natural place to start.  Also in all the surveys Councils do of their communities potholes; streetlamps and litter tend to top the poll.  Now its not a new idea this so I can’t take the credit but it involves a little bit of IT so maybe a bit new.

The roads used to be looked after by what were known as Linesmen.  This was particularly true of the old County Highways Departments with lots of rural roads to look after.  Each Linesman would have their lengths of road and they would patrol them usually on a cyclical pattern.  Maybe the busier roads more frequently etc.  If it were a small job – say a hedge needed trimming or a sign needed cleaning then they would organise it and in all probability do it themselves.  The bigger stuff they’d report to their manager and keep an eye out to see when it was done.

In urban areas more recently they were called Highway Inspectors and very rarely did they do it themselves – it was always raising an order etc.  But there was still the individual interest in a set part of the highway network.  And it is this that is the important point.

When you add my own “highway inspectors” to the mix you may see where this is going.  Obviously when I was responsible for highway maintenance of large lengths of urban road many people would phone up with problems, potholes and worse.  You might call these Complaints but I preferred to think of them as Service Improvements.  You know how can we get better – maybe actually fill that pothole in, eh?  So in talking to these people I would suggest that they were in fact our eyes and ears on the ground and by reporting these defects it meant we could do something about it without waiting for the paid inspectors to get round to seeing it.  So I’m suggesting Communities harness all these volunteer inspectors.

Each Community could hire a practical inspector capable of putting some tarmac in a hole or indeed wiping a sign.  Their duty would be to inspect on an agreed schedule ALL the street furniture, pavements and roads and grass verges and trees and obstructions and the lot.  They would have a clever iPad sort of thing which would list all these things (including the facility to add some) where they would record whether it was OK or not.  Most stuff of course is someone else responsibility but their contact details could be included and with the help of backup clerical phone call sort of folk they would be contacted.  The point is that the people in the community would get to know their inspector and be able to prompt them about other stuff.  And because we’d have the contact details and the system to record and follow up these “service improvements” I think things might happen much quicker than they do now.

All that’s required is to employ two people; an outside inspector and an inside clerk.  I know its not rocket science because I’ve done it for years so all these self interested mega bodies be they City Councils, Private contractors or clever consultants can save their speeches.  And if you don’t believe me I’ll teach you how to do it in just a couple of days (if you’re a slow learner!).

That doesn’t take care of major road collapses or the like but it can harness the power of communities who want to do something and brings the power down to where it matters – us.

 

Small is …. mangeable

September 26, 2016

Or was it beautiful? Anyway being manageable is pretty beautiful in my books. And then being manageable means most of us can manage it. So that can’t be bad. So when I’ve finished what on earth am I on about. Its about feeling in control – not alienated. Being part of the solution not being part of the problem.

When we are on our own making decisions is easy. Putting them into practice isn’t too hard either. NO one has to be persuaded, no compromises are needed. It tends to happen pretty much as decided upon. When two people are in the mix its more difficult but with some give and take it happens. And so it goes on; small communities where folk know each other can usually manage to decide and make things happen. If stuff goes a bit wrong there’s usually plenty of good will and hands to the pump to put it right.

Its when it gets to national or regional level with remote decision makers, bureaucratic rules and a bit of doubt about people’s motives. And by the time you’ve got to the multinationals; the UNs and the EUs of this world – well no one trusts them and it seems no one manages them either. So maybe we should be looking to make more things smaller, more manageable not combining into ever bigger organisations.

So that’s my argument for Parish and Community Councils or maybe just Parishes or Communities. I’ll follow later with what they could do and maybe even how they could do it.