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November 8th, 2016

11:22 am: Why I choose to wear a white poppy

Friends will know that at this time of the year, I am usually to be found wearing a white poppy. Several people have asked me why so, rather than explaining to each person in turn, I thought I would put together this brief explanation.

The simplest answer is that I wear it to honour my Grandad. Unlike many people of my generation, neither of my granddads served in World War Two. The first, Grandad Albert, was a pipe-fitter in a factory, and was therefore in a reserved occupation. The second, Grandad George, was called up for active service, but refused, claiming that, as a Christian and a Church-goer, he felt military service to be incompatible with Christ’s command to ‘love your enemies’. In those days of compulsory conscription, those refusing to fight would be forced to appear before a tribunal. Some would be assigned a non-combative role in the forces, with many becoming ambulance drivers. Others, such as my grandad, were ‘absolutists’, refusing to serve in the forces in any capacity. By the end of the war, about 5,000 men and 500 women had been charged with offences to do with conscientious objection, and most of them were sent to prison. A further 1,000 or more were court-martialled and given prison sentences for refusing to obey military orders.
At my Grandad’s trial, he was asked why he would not serve as a soldier. With the backing of his Church minister, he argued his case, saying that whilst he would be prepared to die saving lives, he would not take another man’s life, in any circumstances. As a result of this, he became a firefighter in his home town of Southampton, which suffered severe aerial bombardment during the war.

Grandad’s story and his pacifist stance has followed me throughout my life. I am proud to be related to a man who stood up for his beliefs, at personal cost, and who believed, ultimately, that other people’s lives were worth risking his life for. At the same time, I also acknowledge the huge sacrifices made by those who have served in the forces. I understand that my freedom has been bought at a huge cost to human life – on all sides. I mourn the fact that wars still go on, and when I hold the minute’s silence on November 11th this year, I shall be all wars, past and ongoing. I shall be thinking of all the casualties, on all sides, both military and civilian, and praying ‘Never again’.
I normally buy (and wear) both a white and red poppy, because I believe both are of value. The money from the red poppy goes to help those who have been left injured through military service. The red poppy has also become an important national symbol for peace and a collective memorial for all those who have died or been injured in wars past and present. However, it is the white poppy that I choose to display most prominently because this is in keeping with my view that war and military might is not the answer to the world's problems.

The following is taken for Peace Pledge Union’s website: “White Poppies symbolise the conviction that there are better ways to resolve conflict than through the use of violence. They embody values that reject killing fellow human beings for whatever reason. Nearly 100 years after the end of the “war to end all wars” we still have a long way to go to put an end to a social institution that even in the last decade has contributed to the killing of millions. From economic reliance on arms sales to renewing and updating all types of weapons, the UK government contributes significantly to international instability. The outcome of recent military adventures highlights their ineffectiveness and grim consequences. The best way to respect the victims of war is to work to prevent war in the present and future. Violence only begets more violence. We need to tackle the underlying causes of warfare, such as poverty, inequality and competition over resources. A temporary absence of violence is not enough. Peace is much deeper and broader than that, requiring major social changes to allow us to live more co-operatively.”

See more at: http://www.ppu.org.uk/whitepoppy/index.html#sthash.GCWBpJcg.dpuf

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January 30th, 2015

12:25 pm: Fracking...and why it is a really, really bad idea.
Last Monday (26 January), an important vote took place in the House of Commons, regarding the future of unconventional oil and gas extraction – otherwise known as fracking.

Readers may be aware that Swansea is one of many areas across the UK which have been earmarked as potential areas for fracking. Around 14 Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDLs) have been granted in this area, covering most of the former South Wales coalfield, and much of urban Swansea. In addition, the government has granted exploration licences for Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) in both Swansea Bay and the Loughor Estuary.

The Parliamentary Bill called for a temporary ban on fracking. 52 MPs voted in favour of a fracking ban, but 308 voted against, so fracking will happen. MPs were not even given the chance to vote on trespass laws, which means that, from now on, fracking companies can drill under our homes without permission.

To those Welsh MPs, including Gower Labour MP Martin Caton, who voted in favour of a fracking ban, thank you. To those – the vast majority – who either did not vote or who abstained, shame on you!

Fracking is a hugely destructive industry and, in the places where it has been tried, the environmental consequences have been devastating. A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) monitoring gas wells in Weld Country, Colorado, estimated that 4 per cent of the methane produced by these wells in escaping into the atmosphere. NOAA scientists found Weld County gas wells to be equal to the carbon emissions of 1-3 million cars.

A 2011 article in the journal, Human and Ecological Risk Assessment, compiled a list of 632 chemicals identified from drilling operations throughout the US. Their research for that 75% of the chemicals could affect the skin, eyes and other sensory organs, and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Approximately 40-50% could affect the brain/nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems, and the kidneys, 37% could affect the endocrine system; and 25% could cause cancer and mutations.*

Is this what we want in our backyard? Ceredigion Council has already voted to become the first ‘Frack Free Authority’ in Wales. If they can do it, why not Swansea?

*(Diamanti-Kandarakis E, Bourguignon JP, Guidice LC et al. Endocr Rev.2009:30(4):293-342).

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January 27th, 2014

11:40 am: After the sky had fallen
After the sky had fallen,
Turning the air black
So that there was nothing
We could recognise, except
The ashen skies, blue and purple
Like a bruise,

We waded for what felt like days
Through the broken belongings,
Twisted limbs and barbed-wire fencing,
Our eyes pale and dead,
Not knowing who we were.

We sifted through the rubble
Like vagrants in search of scraps
Of familiarity, in a place we could
No longer call home.

Faded photographs, a broken teddy
Sprawled as he lay dropped
As the bombs fell; to pick it up
Felt sacrilegious, so we left
Him to the circling crows.

Fragments of broken glass
Hailed where a church once stood,
Statues smashed, the holy passive faces
Etched with death, and in
Amongst it all, an organ,
Perfectly preserved,
Miraculous, the pipes still pumping,
Death’s dance –
The final cadenza.

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January 24th, 2014

12:14 pm: Faith, hope, charity – pick one
So, I used to go to this Church. Above the door, the one which everyone had to go through to exit the building, it had this big sign, painted in red: 'You Are Now Entering The Mission Field'. I used to think that was cool, in a kooky kind of way.

It just so happened that about the same time I started attending that Church, I had, rather rashly, agreed to join a friend from work on a sponsored 10k run, raising money for Oxfam. Whilst not a complete couch potato I'm not exactly Miss Superfit, so the prospect was not something I was relishing. But there it was, I had volunteered, and it was for a good cause. All I had to do was get some sponsors.

Simple, I thought. You're part of an entire Church full of kind-hearted people (otherwise, they wouldn't be going to Church, right?) A ready-made network of potential sponsors. Couldn't be easier. That was, until I started asking them.

“I'm sorry, I've already sponsored someone this month,” said one. “Ask me after payday” another, slightly more honestly. And then, my particular favourite: “I only give money to Christian missionary charities. Let the world look after its own.”

Now, that's an interesting one, isn't it. As if, by becoming a Christian you've somehow signed a pledge stating that the cares and concerns of the world are no longer your concerns. Millions dying needlessly of starvation in Africa? Not my problem. So long as the Church coffee rota gets organised, I've done my bit for humanity.

I'm not the only one that has encountered this strange disconnect when it comes to the Church dealing with the poor. A friend of mine in a church which shall remain nameless used to work tirelessly for a Christian charity, until she was told by the elders that they would no longer be supporting her, having decided in their mission statement to “focus on saving souls locally.” She has since left that Church.

I do sometimes wonder if I'm reading the same Bible as everybody else. Because the one I read has thousands of verses on poverty and hardly anything at all to say about the other topics – like the ordination of women, or homosexuality, or the use of this or that liturgy – that so frequently seem to get everyone hot under their dog collars. Homosexuality, for instance, attracts a mere 12 verses, compared to caring for the poor which dominates much of the writing of the prophets.

Over the years, I've heard countless sermons on subjects like judgement and the Second Coming and substitutionary atonement, but hardly anything on poverty, or about the greed of bankers 'bonuses, or tackling social inequality. And yet, it's all right there in the Bible. Jesus himself said: 'It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven', and exhorted the rich man who asked what he had to do to enter heaven to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor (Mk10:17-31). Oddly enough, that's not a sermon I have ever heard preached.

Perhaps it's not that surprising. After all, it's much easier to sit in judgement over what other people do in the bedroom. That doesn't demand anything of us, apart from perhaps a sense of misguided superiority. But to judge the rich – well, that's not something that sits very easily with our lifestyle. Most of us living in the western world, if we're honest about it, have far more than we actually need. I'm just as guilty as anybody else. Sure, I give money to charity. But, if I'm honest about it, it's a pittance compared to the amount I spend on things for myself – clothes, CDs, books – fripperies that I don't really need.

If you think about it, it's actually quite obscene that, today, as I write this, 25,000 children will die for lack of food, shelter and clean water. Or that the richest 20 per cent of the world's population accounts for three-quarters of world income. As this happens, the wealthy west is struggling to cope with an obesity epidemic and dealing with the growing tide of debt – symptoms of a culture of excess which is taking its toll, both physically and spiritually.

But surely the mission of the Church, to quote my evangelical friend, is “to save souls, not to save the world”? Jesus himself said ”The poor you will always have with you” (Mt26:11), an admission, if any were needed, that it is not the function of the Church to stamp out poverty. Except he didn't, not really. Because what he was actually doing, in typical subversive form, was quoting an Old Testament passage that said exactly the opposite. The passage from Deuteronomy 15:11, which would have been well-known to Jesus's followers, reads: “There will always be poor people in the land.” It then goes on to say: “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” The meaning seems to me to be pretty clear.

But what of the Great Commission – the command in Mt28:16-20, to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”? Surely, that is straightforward enough? Making disciples – 'saving souls' – has to come above helping the poor, in the divine hierarchy. The answer, I think, lies in the second part of the Great Commission: “And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”. If we take our cue from the way Jesus conducted himself whilst here on earth – healing the sick, accepting those whom society had cast aside as being unworthy, rejecting the merely outward manifestations of religion (Mt3:8) in favour of a radical, whole-life spirituality, I think we have a pretty clear picture of what is commanded. And that is a faith that consists of more than simply converting others.

So, what's the answer to my own particular knotty spiritual dilemma? Do I abandon my charity in favour of my faith? Or should I abandon all hope in either? I do not think so. I do not believe that faith and charity have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, at least for me, one cannot properly exist without the other.

It seems to me that if we truly see others as made in the image and likeness of God, it is wrong – blasphemous, even – to neglect them. By continuing to ignore the basic needs of those around us, we are denying God's own work and creation the right to an existence. At a human level, that is shockingly immoral. At a divine level, indefensible.

I think St Francis put it best when he said that it was his duty to “preach the Gospel always, using words if necessary”. The Quakers have a simple way of phrasing it: “Let your life speak”. The Bible, of course, commands us to: “Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself.” That's pretty unequivocal. So how come we're not doing it?

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January 23rd, 2014

12:07 pm: Everybody needs good neighbours
When did you last speak to your nextdoor neighbour? If you answered last week, last month, or even last year, you are not alone. In a Mori survey almost a quarter of people questioned had not spoken to their neighbour for at least a week. Some 40 per cent said they believed there would be no such thing as community in the future. The Mori survey revealed that almost two-thirds of people said they expected face-to-face contact increasingly to be replaced with contact via the internet in the future. Across the UK as a whole, almost one in 10 people – nine per cent – admitted failing to meet other people socially on a weekly basis. And 15 per cent go a week without speaking to their neighbours. Poorer communities are the least confident about their future, with more than one in five saying they had not spoken to a neighbour for at least a week.

All in all, it's a pretty depressing picture – though perhaps not all that surprising. The other day, I was on the bus and couldn't help overhearing the conversation of the group of pensioners behind me, bemoaning how society had altered since the days of their youth. One of their key themes was the fact that people no longer seemed to have time for one another any more, and it is true. Apart from the odd, snatched conversation at a shop counter, most of us have very little interaction with those outside our immediate circle of friends or work colleagues. It's hardly surprising, given the busy lives we lead. But there are more complex factors at play. Many of the social institutions that people used to rely on are in decline. The Church – once at the centre of many local communities – now attracts only a minority. Membership of political parties is in decline, whilst trade union membership has been steadily falling since the 1980s. Charities and voluntary organisations are struggling to recruit new volunteers.

As individuals who value our sense of independence, it's perhaps not that surprising that many of us are less than willing to commit to any particular cause or belief. In many ways, that's a good thing, as it encourages us to question those in power when they do things that we don't agree with – the massed protest against the Iraq war that took place in London in 2003 was a prime example. But the flipside of this is political apathy. If we don't feel we need to sign up to any particular set of values or, worse still, feel that no particular party can represent our own individual views, then why bother to sign up to anything at all? If we don't feel part of a collective 'society' at all, why not just get on with living our own individual lives?
It was Margaret Thatcher, of course, who famously declared 'There is no such thing as society'. She did so in the context of a society of people who had become increasingly dependent on State assistance. Her message was clear – it is up to each of us, as individuals, to shape our own destinies. But her message of survival of the fittest seems to have ignored the fact that we are still, essentially, social beings. We might not have time to join community groups or campaign for political causes, or pop in and offer our neighbour a cup of tea, but more than seven million of us still find time to while away the hours sending our friends cyber hugs and virtual presents on online networking sites like MySpace and Facebook.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes in recent years has been to the physical appearance of our communities. The growth of impersonal, out-of-town shopping malls has led to a decline in smaller, independent stores, and the little corner shop has been overtaken by the likes of Somerfield and Tesco. It's little wonder that online shopping is a major growth area – predicted to hit £40bn this year. Why bother walking to the shops when you can have it all, ready-packed, delivered to your door? But if we've gained in terms of convenience, then we've lost a whole lot more in terms of experience. Who wants to traipse round an impersonal shopping mall when you could be browsing through a boutique of unique items that can't be found anywhere else? Who wants to order impersonally online when you could be speaking to an expert and sharing in their knowledge and love of their subject?

It's not just shops we've lost, either. Whereas once street parties, fetes and local events might have been the norm, increasingly people are so worried about insurance costs that things like local bonfire nights have had to be turned into huge, super-regulated events. It's a pity, because it's precisely at such events that neighbours might, historically, have had a chance to meet one another, to get chatting, and to build relationships that would enable them to support one another through the tough times as well as the good ones.

It's in our best self-interest to know our neighbours, too. A Home Office study revealed that having a strong sense of community resulted in significantly lowered crime rates, particularly burglar and vehicle crime, playing a bigger part that any other factor, including social deprivation. The message is simple – look out for your neighbours, and they will look out for you.

The reality, of course, is that we're never going to get back those halycon days of community – if they ever existed. But I, for one, wouldn't mind if my neighbours started talking to me a little more, and I'd certainly prefer it if I lived in a community where people cared about others – in short, a society, rather than a disparate collection of individuals. Anybody else care to join me?

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January 21st, 2014

12:09 pm: Vocational Prayers (1)
God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another; I have my mission – I may never know it in this life but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in
My own place while not intending it – if I do but keep his commandments.

Therefeore, I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends; he may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me – still, He knows what He is about.

John Henry Newman.

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January 20th, 2014

02:06 pm: Are we losing our capacity to care?
The newspapers were full of images of Syrian refugees this week. One in particular stood out – an image of a two-year-old boy, his tongue swollen by malnourishment, face emaciated through lack of food, his tiny form swaddled in a knitted cap and scarf that only seemed to emphasise his smallness...

How do you feel when confronted by such pictures? Do you care? Or is it just another of the many images you are likely to be bombarded with today – something that momentarily tugs at your heartstrings only to be forgotten moments later?

An academic report from the University of East Anglia claims our compassion and empathy for those we read about in the news is wearing thin. The viewing patterns of 100 people were studied over a three-month period. Those who watched short news items were particularly indifferent to suffering in other countries. A typical comment from one participant was ‘It’s so far away that you tend to distance yourself from it’.

I am sure we could all sympathise with such a view. After all, it is far away. Unless something extraordinary happens, it’s highly unlikely that I will ever come face-to-face with a Syrian refugee, at least not in their own homeland.

There are also many pressing issues to deal with back home. The UK government is being urged to help English and Welsh councils, who warn that they face a £400m repair bill for damage caused by storms and flooding. With such devastation on our own doorstep, at a time of economic difficulties is it any wonder we are less than keen to direct our funds to those in need overseas?

According to the latest figures, charitable donations are continuing to fall. In 2003, 80 per cent of the adult population had given to charity in the previous 12 months. In 2005, this figure dropped to 66 per cent. In 2011/12, it was just 55 per cent. The average amount given per donor in a typical month fell from £11 in 2010/11 to £10 in 2011/12.*

Is media over-exposure to blame? I’m not convinced. If that were the case, advertisers would soon go out of business. After all, when was the last time you heard of someone suffering from shopping fatigue, or complaining that over-exposure to a brand had left them immune to their 'need' for a new pair of trainers or designer jeans?

You only have to look at the success of major appeals like Children in Need or Comic Relief to see that, in many cases, large televised appeals result in large donations. Most of us enjoy dressing up, doing silly things, and raising cash for a good cause. It makes us feel good. Because, ultimately, most of us like to think we are nice people.

What's much harder, though, is responding to reality when it hits like a thunderbolt, with no warning, and leaves a trail of bruised and blood-stained bodies in its wake. In such circumstances, it's tempting to switch off the television, to pretend that the suffering of others on distant shores is not our problem, or to convince ourselves that the enormity of the task is such that it isn't worth us trying to make a difference.

But to do so is to deny our common humanity, and the implications of doing so are dangerous and far-reaching. For, as the theologian and medical doctor Albert Schweitzer put it so succinctly: “Whenever there is lost the consciousness that every man is an object of concern for us just because he is a man, civilisation and morals are shaken and the advance to fully developed inhumanity is only a question of time.”

Or, to put it more simply – if we don't give a damn about other people, how can we expect others to give a damn about us?

* UK Giving 2012, based on a survey of more than 3,000 people carried out by the Office for National Statistics.

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January 8th, 2014

10:13 pm: Pacifists...not passive-ists
The British philosopher Edmund Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

In an ideal world, wars would not happen, we would put down our weapons, beat our swords into pruning hooks, and become pacifists. But, sadly, we live in a less than perfect world.

The world we inhabit is full of injustice and human rights abuses. It is a place where people are routinely persecuted on the grounds of their religious or political beliefs, skin colour or ethnicity. It is a world where women are raped or murdered simply for daring to demand the same rights as men. It is a world where oppressive regimes deny their citizens the right to vote, engage in peaceful protest, or express an independent opinion. Those who dare speak out find themselves imprisoned, tortured or worse. It is a world, also, of massive inequalities – where the richest two per cent of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth (1), whilst, across the globe, some 4,500 children die each day simply for lack of clean water (2).

When faced with such blatant forms of injustice, we cannot simply sit back and do nothing. If we care about others. If, as the Bible says, we are prepared to love our neighbour as ourself – then we owe it to them to act, and act decisively.

Ideologically, we may choose to be pacifists. But that does not solve the problem of what to do about the evils we see committed all around us. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer argued: “To maintain one's innocence in a setting such as that of the Third Reich, even to the point of not putting Hitler to death, would be irresponsible action. To refuse to engage oneself in the demands of necessita, would be the selfish act of one who cared for his own guiltlessness, more than he cared for his guilty brothers.”

We may find acts of war and violence repugnant, but in whose interests are we acting if we do nothing for fear of participating in that violence? By refusing to get our hands dirty, are we saying that maintaining our own innocence is more important than the lives of others? If so, what kind of morality is that?

But few could dispute that the act of war itself is deeply immoral. Britain's last First World War veteran Harry Patch, who died in 2009, summed it up aptly when he described it as “nothing better than legalised mass murder”.

Even if it could be argued that war can ever be justified, such as for example, in bringing down an oppressive dictator, it is, at best, hugely inefficient. The US war in Iraq is estimated to have cost the US in excess of a trillion dollars. (3)

To put that into perspective, the estimated annual cost to the world of meeting the Millennium Development Goals is $135 billion. If the Millennium Development Goals were met, in the year 2015 there would be 504 million fewer people living in poverty; 300 million fewer suffering from malnourishment; 5.4 million children's lives saved; 390,000 mothers' lives saved in childbirth; 350 million fewer people without access to safe water; 650 million fewer people with no access to sanitation; and less than half the number of new HIV infections (4). Judge for yourself whether the Iraq war was money well spent.

And then there's the human cost. Since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, US and allied forces have suffered more than 4,600 war-related deaths. It's estimated that some 134,000 innocent Iraqi civilians have paid with their lives in the conflict (3). And for what? Has our world been made a safer place? Do the people of Iraq sleep safer in their beds now that their brutal dictator has been replaced by the threat of insurgent bombers?

War is at best immoral; at worst a waste of innocent lives. And with our weapons capabilities becoming ever bigger, bolder and more brutal, we run the risk of fast-tracking to our own self-destruction. Surely there has to be a better way?

So, if war is not the solution to the world's problems, then what is? The answer, I believe, is to be found in the words of Jesus Himself. Jesus did not say 'Blessed are the peace-lovers', which is something all of us would purport to be, but 'Blessed are the peace-makers'. Being a peace-maker is a lot more challenging. Any one of us can say we love peace and want to see an end to war and disharmony. Actually working to make that happen is harder.

How might we do this? I realise that space is limited, but I'd like to offer up a few suggestions. First of all, I think we need to move away from the concept of violence as a redemptive act. This is difficult, because it is deeply engrained in our culture. Just about every popular action movie you care to mention involves a foe being vanquished by the hero, usually through violent means. It's so deeply a part of our way of thinking that it's hard to imagine any alternative. The world is full of bad things. Bad things require decisive actions. Violence conquers violence. But what if there was another way? What if it was possible to defeat violence, not through violence but through other actions, equally powerful but non-violent?

Now, at this point, I'd like to distinguish between the use of violence and the use of force. It might seem odd coming from me as a pacifist, but sometimes I do believe that force is necessary to achieve the greater good of a lasting peace. Occasionally, a military presence may even be necessary. But I do not think that force should be violent. And I particularly do not believe it should ever be about the wielding of military might for its own sake.

Few would argue, for instance, with the principle of defending ourselves against terrorist attack. But there is a very big difference between that and the sort of military imperialism that invades another country on the dubious premise of pre-emptively preventing possible terrorist strikes.

Secondly, in order to achieve a more peaceful world, more money needs to be directed towards peace-keeping through non-military means. We need to use every means at our disposal to ensure that situations do not escalate to a point where military action is unavoidable. That means promoting effective diplomacy between the various different nations and, where that does not work, bringing to bear international pressure to ensure that those who deliberately flout international laws are brought to justice before their actions have a chance to escalate into full-scale warfare.

International law courts must be made to work more effectively, so that those who step outside the rules can be punished appropriately and fairly. The Human Rights Act – much derided by politicians of late – needs to be made an effective force for good. And police and security forces need to be given sufficient powers to deal with potential breaches of security both effectively and fast.

Also, more attention needs to be devoted to finding effective means of conflict resolution and reconciliation where divisions exist. We need to learn from historic triumphs such as the lifting of apartheid in South Africa and the Northern Ireland peace process, and investigate radical ways of breaking the cycle of violence begatting violence. Solutions such as the Christian Peacemaker Teams who position groups of committed peacemakers in the centre of areas of conflict with the aim of bringing about reconciliation and hope.

Where injustice arises, we need to challenge it through non-violent direct action – boycotting goods which use slave labour, campaigning on issues like Third World debt, unfair trade practices and human trafficiking, writing letters to MPs, and becoming activists. We need to challenge intolerance wherever we find it. We need to be the ones bringing people together, breaking down the barriers of race, culture or religion that divide people and fulfilling our Bibical mission to 'defend the rights of the poor and the needy; speak up for those who do not have a voice'.

There is no one simple answer to how to bring about a more peaceful world, and I would be lying if I said that it would be easily achieved. However, simply to accept war as the status quo, a situation we cannot change, is not an acceptable option, not whilst millions of innocent people die in conflict daily. Neither is it a moral standpoint to declare ourselves opposed to war if we cannot offer any alternative solutions. Those of us who call ourselves Christians are called to be Peacemakers. We cannot, in truth, be anything else.

1. A study on The World Distribution of Household Wealth by the World Institute for Development Economics Research f the United Nations University, Nov 6 2006.
2. Unicef Water, Sanitation & Hygiene, March 2006.
3. Costs of the War Project, by the Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, 2011.
4. Source: UNDP, 2005.

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October 14th, 2013

11:39 pm: Questions....Answers?
How are we supposed to feel when God does the unthinkable and takes away somebody we love, somebody we care about? We can ask questions, we can get angry with God, but at the end no answer is ever going to satisfy us.

Sometimes, there are no words adequate to express what we may be feeling. Sometimes things just are, and we have to accept them, because to ask questions and to seek for answers to the unanswerable things only serves to make the wounds deeper. But love lives on, and the love we are able to show to one another is a way of bringing light out of the darkness and moving forward.

That is what he said, and though I don’t begin to understand his pain, I think I begin to understand where he is coming from.

A friend once described this feeling as being like a young child beating its fists against its father’s chest, shouting ‘Why? Why, Daddy, Why?’

And, at the end, after the fists and the shouting and the crying, there is only one answer that means anything. And that is the sense of the Father’s loving arms wrapped around us.

Current Mood: calmcalm
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October 7th, 2009

11:58 pm: The perils of having a Nearly Toddler
It's been a while since I've written - and there's a reason for that. That reason is small, extraordinary wriggly, insatiably curious and looks cute in pink.

If anybody had told me before I had a baby the extent to which she would absorb my life, completely and utterly, I would have dismissed it as being absurd. But it's true. These days, I get nothing done. As I type this (she is finally, finally asleep, after a battle of wills, dropping off at 10pm with her head on a pink bunny), yesterday's washing-up is still sitting in the sink. We have an issue with kitchens. Whilst I love the fact she is curious and into everything, it's rather difficult to do the washing-up whilst baby is wobbling her way up on the vegetable rack (which is on wheels). The alternative is for her to sit outside the baby gate and scream, which she does, effortlessly, until I eventually give up and resort to bribing her with ricecakes.

Today has been one of those days. It started off at Tots group. I plonked her down, as I usually do, in the baby area, which was filled with small pink, reclining bundles of cuteness. The moment her bottom hit the floor she was off, crawling at a hundred miles per hour, heading towards the toddlers and the more interesting toys. And this is my problem - I have a baby who thinks she is a toddler. At just over a year old, she has the inquisitive mind of a toddler but not the balance or motor skills to match. This means she is constantly heaving herself up on things she can't balance on and, worse, trying to wrangle toys off of kids twice the size of her. I can't bear to see her constantly being pushed and shoved and thwarted at everything she does, but on the other hand, I don't want to curb her boundless enthusiasm. I am thus reduced to the role of fussy chaperone, trailing in her crawling wake, nabbing from her grasp anything she finds fascinating - pens, bits of leaf, vital documents she would like to shred between her teeth like a giant gerbil - like some joyless schoolmarm.

At least our shopping trips have been improved somewhat by my discovery that what she likes, more than anything in the world, is to carry some of the shopping home - a carrot, say, or a fresh cucumber. This is useful since it gives her something to do that doesn't involve peeling her socks off and dropping them into puddles. This afternoon, though, I was perhaps a little over-ambitious regarding her gripping abilities. Which is why tomorrow's loaf of bread now has a distinctly dusty hue.

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