Sunday 29 April 2018

Flexible for justice

Commentators seem to miss a deep pattern.  While the pattern remains unrecognised it will persist under Governments of any stripe and people will suffer.

A Government agrees a policy.  This is right - it believes in the policy and it has been mandated to pursue the policy.

The Government also agrees a delivery method.  The delivery method will be contingent - one of several theoretically possible delivery methods.

The delivery method will have a very robust implementation structure.  This is because building in things like discretion and flexibility always results in policy drift.

Robustness will be things like:
punitive level of penalties for non-compliance;
such penalties being automatic;
paperwork set at a level at which everything is fully auditable and demonstrable;
banks, employers, letting agents, schools etc being obligated to ensure compliance;
delivery set against specific targets or levels and in set time frames.

The official Opposition points out ways in which the particular contingent delivery method’s robust structure will in due course generate injustice for some individuals.  This is ignored as inevitable background noise – which, in part, it is.

As delivery begins, individual cases of injustice do arise.  The absence of discretion and flexibility makes this inevitable.

The official Opposition draws the Government’s attention to these injustices.  Some parts of the Media (usually those parts least sympathetic to the policy) do so too.

The Government responds with statements which are unrelated to the injustices.  Such a focus on its response and reputation may even be what prevent its attention to the injustices.

It says things like:
the policy was in our manifesto;
the policy has wide public support;
this is the amount of money we are spending in the policy area;
the official Opposition would be implementing a worse policy if it was in Government;
the official Opposition has personalities we dislike and other policies we don’t agree with;
we do not comment on individual cases.

There are three things about the injustices faced by Windrush generation which are unusual.

The first is that the particular injustice has broken out from the closed circle of the rhetoric of those opposed into the wider consciousness of the nation.  This is much rarer than people think.

The second is that the Government Minister responsible has made an even more rare admission that she had not made a strategic connection in her own mind between the individual cases of injustice and the implementation methods being used by her Department.  I don’t remember this happening before.

The third is fleeting recognition that specific achievement targets will have contributed to distort motivation and sympathy in this case.

But, apart from these three things, it is fundamentally the usual deep pattern producing a predictable result.

Meanwhile the plight of even some others effected by the exactly the same area of policy implementation has not broken in to public consciousness.  There are even other areas of policy implementation where the generation of injustices in trial areas has not prevented the wide rolling out of exactly the same method. 

The gain will always be that mandated policy has not been allowed to drift.  The loss will always be that some people have been made destitute and have even taken their own lives as a result.

The vine banner was created during All Age Worship at St Michael’s today.

Monday 23 April 2018

What do you see?

Here is Peter’s slightly imperious gesture inviting, in the name of Jesus, a man who has been lame since birth to get up and walk.  He is in the east window of what has become the Brontë Memorial Chapel in St Michael’s, Haworth. 

And here is the lame man’s imploring gesture, a begging hand outstretched.  The position of the two figures in the window gives the direct eye contact which is mentioned in the story in Acts 3.

Having recently got one surprised congregation to sing the doggerel of a redundant eighteenth century hymn which expressed the central readings for that day, I got another to sing a 1970s hymn (which I well remember from being in a church Youth Group then but which hasn’t made it through subsequent winnowing into the best used hymn books of today) saying he ‘asked for alms and held out his palms’ and ended up ‘walking and leaping and praising God’.

My surprise was the discovery that it isn’t a story read at a main service in our three year cycle of Sunday readings.  What we have read on the last two Sundays are the consequential passages beginning ‘Why do you stare at this?’ and going on to find Peter arrested for it.

It seems important that this is the very first story after Luke’s account of the pouring out of God’s Spirit on the disciples at Pentecost.

And it seems important that this first product of the pentecostal church directly reflects Isaiah’s language of what it will be like when God comes to save (‘the lame man will leap like a deer’) – which is the passage which Luke gives Jesus as quoting when asked ‘Are you the one who is to come?’ (‘Go and tell John what you have seen... the lame walk’) (Isaiah 35.6, Luke 7.22).

So, ‘what you see’ is not just a healing miracle but more fundamentally the church (which has witnessed the resurrection, which has recently received the Spirit, and which acts in the name of Jesus) freeing people from what hobbles them so there is a skip in their step, and this is precisely what tells us that God’s new saving thing is actually happening.

And from the start the church’s leaders have been arrested for it.  I’m only half reminded of the threadbare trope ‘If they arrested me for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me?’  I’m more drawn to (and worried by) the question ‘Why haven’t I ever done anything liberating in the name of Jesus which has made respectable people want me arrested?’. 

From the fiftieth anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King to the necessity of protest at deliberately hostile ways of implementing policies which drive immigrants and benefits claimants into joblessness, debt and despair, there ought to be enough opportunity to do some things which should both make the vulnerable leap with joy and make me arrestable.

What do I see?  The congregations at St James’, Cross Roads on Wednesday and Sunday, with whom I shared some of these thoughts, and who would not otherwise be mistaken for members of a pentecostal church, included those who run its weekly ‘place of welcome’, who help sort at the Keighley Food Bank, who help staff Keighley Shared Church’s Saturday Night Shift, who help run an English conversation group for refugees and asylum seekers, who draw injustice to the attention of our MP, and who support fragile neighbours.

Sunday 15 April 2018

Three views

An emergency shelter erected in St Michael's, Haworth  by the local Rotarians on the platform on which our forward altar normally stands, all part of an awareness raising day; I was almost sad it was taken down before Sunday and I couldn't celebrate Communion from within it.

Things beginning to happen in our garden; I like the images in the water droplets in particular.

And also in the boot of your car as we unloaded our shopping - this particular incursion is a minor feature of the problem of our neighbour's chickens ranging freely.

Monday 9 April 2018

On Brow Moor

St Michael's, Haworth is easy to spot...

... but St James', Cross Roads (in the centre of this picture) isn't.

Monday 2 April 2018

Preachers to avoid

Anne Brontë and her father Patrick shared the same aversion to a particular form of self-regarding preacher - an aversion which, I guess, he would have inculcated in her during her childhood and early adulthood.

My low grade programme of Brontë awareness has now gradually taken me not only through both her novels but also into the first volume of poems which he published before she was born, and I greatly enjoyed spotting both this shared view and the witty literary treatment both give it thirty-six years apart.

One of the Cottage Poems (1811) is Patrick’s To the Rev J Gilpin on his improved edition of Pilgrim’s Progress.  The late Victorian editor of Patrick’s collected works helpfully places a footnote that Joshua Gilpin ‘was Rector of Wrockwardine and his re-dressing of ‘Pilgrim’ met with the failure it deserved’.  Wrockwardine was very close to Wellington where Patrick had recently been Curate and the two were among a mutually supportive group of like-minded evangelical clergy.

Patrick’s praise of his friend’s work comes later in the poem but it begins with the fear he had before reading it that anyone so presumptuous as to attempt this ‘re-dressing’ would mean John Bunyan

Would take him for some Bond-street beau,
Or, for that thing – it wants a name –
Devoid of truth, of sense, and shame,
Which smooths its chin, and licks its lip,
And mounts the pulpit with a skip;
Then turning round, its pretty face,
To smite each fair one, in the place,
Relaxes half to vacant smile,
And aims with trope, and polished style,
And lisp affected, to pourtray [sic]
Its silly self, in colours gay:
Its fusty moral stuff t’unload,
And preach itself and not its God.

The theme is picked up by his daughter in Agnes Grey (1847) where Agnes dislikes both a former Curate’s sermons and the

still less edifying harangues of the rector.  Mr. Hatfield would come sailing up the aisle, or rather sweeping along like a whirlwind, with his rich silk gown flying behind him and rustling against the pew doors, mount the pulpit like a conqueror ascending his triumphal car; then, sinking on the velvet cushion in an attitude of studied grace, remain in silent prostration for a certain time; then mutter over a Collect, and gabble through the Lord’s Prayer, rise, draw off one bright lavender glove, to give the congregation the benefit of his sparkling rings, lightly pass his fingers through his well-curled hair, flourish a cambric handkerchief, recite a very short passage, or, perhaps, a mere phrase of Scripture, as a head-piece to his discourse, and, finally, deliver a composition which, as a composition, might be considered good, though far too studied and too artificial to be
pleasing to me.

The picture was taken in our garden.