Assisted dying: it’s just not cricket

On Saturday morning James Anderson marked out his crease in effort to prevent the England cricket team capitulating to a hefty first innings deficit. The previous night Stuart Broad has played a few shots and helped Joe Root nudge the scoreboard towards respectability, and then the final batsman – not a batsman in any conventional sense of the word, but the final player in the team to come out to bat – hung around long enough that his bowling duties would be delayed until the next day.

All through Saturday’s morning session Root and cricket batsAnderson pushed the total up, with Root, the recognised batsman, initially protecting Anderson from most of the play before they went on to bat as equals with the teams talismanic bowler trading the red leather for the bat as his weapon to do damage to the opponent. That morning all sorts of records fell. It was the first time both number 11s had scored fifties, first time both teams had a final wicket partnership over a hundred. When Anderson finally succumbed shortly after lunch England had carved out a lead from this granite of a wicket in Nottingham.

Cricket is a strange sport, it asks everyone to play their part. Only a fortnight before Anderson had fallen two balls short of the most redoubtable defence against Sri Lanka, turning down shot after shot, refusing to risk his wicket for anything. When he was out to his fifty-fifth ball it was the second longest duck ever. There were tears in his eyes when he was interviewed after the match. In most walks of life we play to our strengths, we do what we’re good at, and we avoid those things where failure is likely. Bowlers have no such option. James Anderson is not in the team for his batting, as a number 11 he is sent out onto the wicket as a final sacrifice at the tail end of an innings. He is not expected to score, but still he marks his crease and waits for the bouncers designed to scare him, the yorkers which will put him off balance and the reverse swing, of which he himself is a master, designed to tempt him into playing a shot.

A couple of years ago I was working with someone who had cancer, I didn’t know all the details, but I knew he had cancer, went into remission, then was no longer in remission. In May 2012 he passed away, but a few months before he wrote about his experience and his thoughts on assisted dying. Yesterday his thoughts were published in the Independent ahead of a debate in the House of Lords this week on legalising assisted dying for the terminally ill. Christopher Jones writes, that had the proposed law had been in place it would be for people like him:

“I might have been open to the option of ending my life by legal means, had these existed. The legal prohibition of this course was immensely helpful in removing it as a live option, thus constraining me to respond to my situation more creatively and hopefully. In hindsight, I now know that had I taken this course, I would have been denied the unexpected and joyful experience of being ‘recalled to life’ as I now am.”

Over the weekend the unexpected revelation that Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, supported the proposed change in the law sent shock waves around the Christian community, uniting those from often hostile factions in disagreement with his stance. This was followed by the support from Desmond Tutu, a seeming momentum of support from senior Christian leaders to change the law to one that is ‘more compassionate’. But, as current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby wrote in the Times, “Helping people to die is not truly compassionate”.

I cannot imagine the suffering many people who are terminally ill face, or the life of those who are not terminally ill but suffering from illnesses that render their lives hard to live. There are cases that go through the courts of people who want their loved ones to have the freedom to end their lives, there are heart wrenchingly painful accounts.

And yet, and yet, I don’t think life can be subject to those choices. There are some choices we should not be allowed to take. I firmly believe that restricting the choice available to assist in someone’s death is the more compassionate thing to do.

We all have our part to play in life, and whether that’s for a few more months than we might expect. I am grateful for having known Christopher, and I am grateful he left these words.

Number 11 batsmen are sent out at the end of the innings when it is nearly over, but for them this is their chance to play some shots before the end. And sometimes it is remarkable. In twelve tests the winning shots have been struck by a batsmen disregarded as really a batsman. We could limit the batting to those who are good at it, those who train day in day out to receive the bullets of fast bowlers, the turning balls of whirling spinners.

cockney cricketSometimes playing out of position leads to unexpected results. Sometimes things happen that should not. What looks like a lost cause can be the gateway to something new. After Anderson’s heroics on Saturday the epilogue on Sunday evening was even more remarkable if irrelevant to the outcome of the game. On a pitch that yielded few easy wickets a draw was the inevitable conclusion as India batted through the day yesterday. As the sun dipped beneath the horizon and the match proceeded towards its close Alastair Cook took the ball to bowl his second and third ever overs in test match cricket. And took a wicket. The batsman out of form became a bowler, and the country’s greatest bowler was a batsman when it mattered.

In yesterday’s sermon at ChristChurch London Liam Thatcher talked about how Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from his chains while under arrest in Rome. He writes to the church that started when revival broke out in another jail twelve years before. His chains were not the method he would have chosen, but they were the way the gospel was spreading throughout the palace guard. Paul was chained up but the good news could not be.

Playing out of position can be awkward, being somewhere we would rather not can be painful, and it can be difficult, and sometimes we wish we could choose otherwise. But sometimes we learn something in those places, sometimes the unusual is where the unexpected happens. When it does, it’s more exciting. Anderson taking wickets isn’t worthy of headline (and nor should Cook scoring runs – but that’s another matter altogether), but when his heroics were with the bat people sat up, refreshed the live updates, and paid attention. There is something about let everyone play there part, even if it is out of position, and allowing assisted dying could stop that: and it’s just not cricket.

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Does the customer have all the rights?

Business Cartoon“I want a wet cappuccino” declares the customer, “so you want a latte?” I reply. “No” they restate, “a wet cappuccino”. So I give them a wet cappuccino – which is really just a latte.

Burger King have long marketed their burgers with the tag line “Have it your way”, a riposte to the supposed inflexibility of McDonald’s. The customer can choose what they want and how they want it, within reason and usually at extra cost. Recently they changed the slogan to ‘Be your way’, and the shift marks not only a development of their advertising but the further incorporation of individualism into everyday life.

It’s not so much ‘I think therefore I am’, but ‘I choose therefore I am’. The liberty to decide what to do, how to do it, or whether to do it – whatever it may be – has become society’s fundamental and inalienable right. Not just the customer is always right, but the customer has all the rights.

Cases on both sides of the Atlantic have brought the question of religious liberty to the fore in recent weeks. There was the case in America of a dog walker ‘firing’ a customer because they supported the legalisation of marijuana. Also in the States was the related issue of whether an employer should cover medical insurance for treatments which they had religious objections to. And in Northern Ireland a bakery is being taken to court by the Equality Commission for refusing to back a cake decorated to advocate for the legalisation of same sex marriage.

Each of those cases is different, the dog walker is being ridiculous, it is simply unhelpful, intrusive and frankly impossible to regulate whether services or goods are provided to a customer on the basis of their views. You cannot know what they think about myriad issues.

If you’ve followed the Hobby Lobby case and decision in the States the first thing apparent to observers in the UK is the bizarre idea that it is employers responsibility to provide medical insurance, and therefore there is the potential for discretion in what is covered. The case was not over whether the refusal to provide some of the contraception treatments was based on a religious objection, but whether that objection could be held by a for profit company and if it could whether there was a less burdensome way for the end to be met without infringing that religious expression. The religious objection to providing four out of 20 of the forms of contraception had already been accepted for religious institutions and non-profit organisations on the grounds they were, or could fairly be considered to be, abortifacients. The court’s majority opinion held that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act provided a broad conception of religious freedom and as it applied not only to individuals but non-profit organisations it should also apply to for profit corporations. This means that companies can have religious views and those religious views are entitled to expression and protection.

That is very different from the legal situation in the United Kingdom where although limited exceptions are enshrined in law religious beliefs are mostly dealt with on an individual level. For example, there are exemptions for doctors with an objection to performing abortions. Likewise, religious expression is considered at the level of the individual and their belief as regards their own expression of that belief, but various cases (particularly those relating to B&Bs) have shown those beliefs cannot be used to restrict services to certain people based on their sexuality, gender, age, religion, or disability. (There are common sense allowances for religious organisation to restrict employment to people who share the beliefs of the organisation.) Importantly in the cases of Eweida et al decided by the European Court of Human Rights last January the court held that what matters is that a belief is held by the individual to be of central importance, and not that it is widely considered to be of such importance, nor held by a significant number of religious adherents to have such a position. For example, the wearing of a cross is important to some Christians but not to all, this does not stop it from being a legitimate manifestation of belief.

This brings me to the bakery in Northern Ireland. And to show that it has nothing to do with any of the above examples. The customer was ordering the cake for a group campaigning for same sex marriage and it was to be iced with Bert and Ernie from Seasame Street with the wording: ‘support gay marriage’. The coverage of the case has inferred that the customer was gay, but there is no need for that to have been the case, and the objection of the bakery was not to serving someone who was gay but to producing a cake which supported a political campaign they objected to. In other words, had the customer been heterosexual but ordering exactly the same cake the bakery would have had the same objection and refused to produce the cake.

However, the question this raises, and to bring us back to Burger King, is what freedom to companies have to do things their way, or to ‘be their way’? Or, is the freedom of organisations and companies defined by their obligations to serve the freedom and choices of their customers and clients?

As I understand the law, a request for materials relating to a political campaign can be refused, so a printer could choose not to print a poster campaigning for the reintroduction of the death penalty, or for the reintroduction of grammar schools, or for a certain political party. Assuming I am correct – and it’s very possible I’m not – it is incredulous that the Equality Commission in Northern Ireland are getting involved in a case which should fall into that category.

But it also raises a wider point, and one that the US Hobby Lobby decision brought into view, can organisations have moral and religious view points, or a encompassing worldview, and can that view be a factor in how they operate? The irony of the case in the States is that many on the left who reacted with horror at the judgement have long criticised the profit alone mentality of corporations, and for whom the idea of companies with a social and moral conscience should be appealing. And yet, we disagree with each other as to what that social and moral conscience should entail: seeking to do good is not enough if we do not agree on what the good is.

Which is why we end up resorting to further ingraining individualism and choice as the primary mantra of society, and when that choice is disrupted we cry havoc.

So in a world where we are allowed to choose what we want, as long as that doesn’t restrict another person’s right to choose, do choices motivated by faith end up privatised or privileged? The upcoming parliamentary debate on assisted dying has seen calls for religious believers to back out of the debate, inferring that they are somehow privileged, and Emma Barnett wrote in the Telegraph at the weekend that faith is something people shouldn’t have to deal with at the train station on their way to work.

She was referring to the recent trend for Jehovah’s Witnesses to stand outside train stations, both in London and other major cities across the UK with Bibles, tracts and magazines. They don’t approach members of the public – so Barnett’s complaint of having faith forced on her is nonsense – but wait to be approached. While not replacing door to door evangelism this new tactic is a way of seeking to reach more people with their message.

Because faith should be public. If you believe something to be true there’s an incumbency upon you to let other people know that, as Gary Barlow sings “Tell me if you found God and he gave you hope, would you tell the world or save your soul?”

Faith isn’t something separate that can be taken off like a knitted jumper or put on for special occasions, maybe like a Christmas knitted jumper, it is part of who you are. And if that belief is something that you believe others would benefit from you will share it, and if you believe it has something to say about how society should be ordered, you will say it.

To not allow faith to play a full role in public life would be to allow the belief that God is irrelevant or non-existent to triumph. Under the guise of neutrality one set of beliefs would be dictating to others which parts are allowed to be displayed in public.

How I found freedom from the prison of ego

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As a thirteen year old I dug the garden on a Saturday afternoon to earn a little extra pocket money to go and see Delirious (at that point transitioning from being known as Cutting Edge). I joined the masses queuing outside my church and then packed into the hall to hear the big new thing in the Christian world. A few years before in what was know as the Toronto Blessing I had stood awed in meetings and fallen prostrate. There was undoubtedly a little of me mimicking what those to my left and right were doing, but that was not the entirety.

Being ahead of Christian culture was what mattered.

When I got to university and people would go on about Delirious I would roll my eyes, it was no longer cool to be into them. When someone had the great idea to do a 24-7 prayer room, I said I could do that in my sleep.

I’d flippantly pontificate on whether DJ led worship was really suitable for a congregation. But also make sure people knew I’d done break dancing sessions in a disused and refashioned train station in Germany. When cell groups, small groups, D groups, life groups, connect groups, were being discussed I’d have a couple of handy mnemonics or aphorisms up my sleeve; I’d find a way to segue in that I’d done a seminar on cell group multiplication. I’d be one of those people who wouldn’t clap, or stand, or raise my hands, when the host or worship leader said to, because, you know, worship is about us choosing to worship.

I got Christian culture and I thought I was better than it. I would raise my eyes and sneeringly remark at the queues of people waiting to get a photo with Tim Hughes. Until someone else noted my own remark was designed to draw attention to myself.

When others were weirded out during the prayer ministry time, I was unfazed.

Ten years ago I remember chat boards discussing this or that issue, some theological debate, whether a certain band was better than another. I would spend many an hour formulating the killer argument. I remember writing a long paper on whether God heard the prayers of non-Christians. (The answer is yes. I’ve got better at being succinct. But not that much better cf. this post.)

I thought that because I recognised the bubble which existed, I thought that because I would critique it, and at times subject it to ridicule, I was better than it. I thought that I wasn’t captured by the tyranny of culture that makes faith a thing to be practised, perfected and performed, I was immune to it.

Faith meant something to me, it wasn’t just a culture that I was absorbed into, it was something more. Knowing God made a difference: it helped when I was lonely, when I’d stand at the back of the hall and no one would speak to me. It helped when I was in a crowd and acting cool, but not too cool, because that would be uncool. It helped when things went wrong, when the thing I had set my heart on crashed before my feet. I kept walking through the rubble knowing I was not alone.

My belief in God, and that he loves me, mattered when I messed up, when I disappointed, when I did not do the things I should and did others I shouldn’t.

I spent too many years hanging off the coattails of the vanguard of Christian culture. The people I was with were ahead of the trend, and I thought, by association, that was enough. Being innovative, creative, different, was important. Rejecting conformity, orthodoxy, ritual, was a badge of honour. If people weren’t objecting to what you were doing, it wasn’t radical enough.

When handing out chocolate selection boxes to the neighbours at Christmas is radical action, provoking ire and critique, something somewhere has gone wrong.

Many of my fellow travellers on that road those years ago are now on different paths. Some who walked this way in recent times do not any more. For some it was decisive, deliberate, definitive. It was giving up on a childlike ways, it was parting company with a life they were opting not to lead. It was the decision to leave God behind. But for many others the path is less certain, less clear cut, and cloaked with frustration, doubt and hurt, emotions they felt were not accommodated.

Not accommodated in a church where having it together was only optional if you were cool enough not to care (and your trousers were baggy enough and slung low enough around your thighs). Even then, being cool enough not to care about being cool was a carefully manufactured image.

Church was a place for worship, and for belief. It was a place for reaching to God, calling down his presence, sending out his disciples, going to the ends of the earth to comfort the wounded.

But often the wounded were sat next to you.

Often the wounded did not know what it was to know with the certainty they were told to know. Did not believe as earnestly as they hoped they did believe. Jessica Misener recalls her youth: “My desire at that moment was for Jesus, or as 30-year-old me wants to declare in hindsight, what I earnestly believed was Jesus.”

Others were hurt by decisions the church took, or what leaders they looked up to did when people weren’t looking.

Mike Pilavachi, leader of the Soul Survivor youth festivals and church, has commented on the different tenor to the conferences aimed at teens and Momentum, which is for students, 20s and 30s. For the younger attenders it is hopeful and optimistic: it is about changing the world for Jesus. For those a little older the dreams have sometimes been dashed, sometimes the hopes have faded, and the world has not changed how they expected, and maybe Jesus seems a little further away – seeing through a glass darkly resonates more than doing all thing through Christ who strengthens me.

I never gave up on faith, but there were many days, long periods, when I was stuck on autopilot. I was doing the things I needed to do, attending the meetings, reading the books, listening to the music, understanding the concepts I needed to grasp. But sometimes one was missing. Sometimes I wasn’t sure that I was sure enough that I believed.

Sometimes I wonder what it is I have spent the twenty years, since I went to the front at a meeting aged ten, doing. Sometimes I wonder who it is I’m praying to. I wonder if I am actually going mad and talking to myself.

But I never gave up, and instead I have learnt to let go. I learnt to stop performing, stop worrying, and know that peace is more important than knowledge. I needed to know that last week. This is not a past story of my teenage years, it is a daily walk.

It’s the paradox of childlike faith. Doubt isn’t the enemy, it is what makes belief matter. Children know with certainty but never stop questioning: everything is definite and nothing is sacrosanct. It is my hope that I know with certainty that I am loved, but I never stop asking.

Many who don’t currently go to church never decided that was it, they were not betrayed or hurt. Going to church just stopped happening. For some they still believe, they can still be still and know that God is here. For others God seems distant and a relationship with Jesus part of the clichéd Christian culture they are embarrassed to have embraced with such abandon.

My story is not one of rebellion, it is not one of rejecting God, it is not one of walking away. I was the one who stayed and kept up appearances. For me that mattered, for me hanging on when I felt god was not hanging on to me was important. But it also grew me a hard shell, it grew a heart that was harder on the outside, and a vulnerability on the inside I dared not expose.

It taught me that being seen as with it, together, sorted, grown up, mature, responsible, was what mattered. It made me hide shame with secrecy, and fear of failure with planning and perfection.

I wish that if I or anyone else could answer, beyond doubt, criticism or rejection whether the Bible is inerrant, infallible or trustworthy for faith and conduct and what that means, it would solve the problem many have with the Christian faith. But I don’t think it would. There are men and women who defend the faith with deftness and dignity, winsome writers who tell of the divine. And I wonder if it misses the point. The answers we give aren’t always the answers many are looking for.

There are people I know who left church behind, others for whom God is not what he once was. But in equal measure there are friends who find this road once more. Who perhaps stumble a time or two. Who perhaps wonder whether this is the place they can call home. Who nurse the wounds caused by hurt and betrayal. Who do not always believe with the fervour they feel their faith should elicit.

And one thing Jessica’s deeply moving piece portrays is that communities of belief are important, the place where we worship and the people we join with, makes a difference. It is why in the nineteenth century atheists set up secular societies, it is why in the twenty-first the Sunday Assembly copied church services but dispensed with the faith bit. Jessica says: “Losing Jesus, someone I talked to both hunched over in prayer groups and in the darkness of my bedroom, felt like losing a friend, even if he was an imaginary one all along.” She goes on: “With a divine outlet compelling me to focus on something besides self-preservation, I felt free from the prison of ego.”

Commenting on someone else’s beliefs, even when published on Buzzfeed, is a vulturistic past time. Stopping blogging for even a few months last autumn taught me a little about disengaging, leaving aside the controversy of the day, the outrageous statement, the fact that someone somewhere on the internet was wrong. I let it go.

So I’ll leave it at this: I believe that faith in Jesus frees me from the prison of ego, and I believe that enough to let it matter. That prison was broken down, not by the force of certainty, but the cracks that let the light in.

The confession of a lazy but determined voter

Tomorrow morning I’ll head round the corner from my house and enter a community centre I never knew existed. I’ll be on my way to work and probably one of the first to enter. I’ll mark the papers, pop them in the respective boxes and be on my way.

I’ll have cast my vote for the councillors to represent me on Southwark Council and MEPs to do the same in the European Parliament.

I don’t yet know the names of the people I’ll vote for. Not that I’m undecided, just that I know very little about what they’re saying or standing for, or even their names.

There was an election flyer on my kitchen table, and my flatmate was canvassed a couple of weeks ago – and on that grounds alone likely to vote for the party to take that minor amount of effort. I think that flyer found its way to the bin.

If I were to go home tonight and scour the internet for policies and biographical details I would not need the contrition I feel towards my lassitude toward the democratic process. But I’m not, I know how I’m going to vote. I know enough about the parties and their positions on the national level to be frustrated by them all but aligned closest to one. And the names beside that logo will get my vote tomorrow.

Except tomorrow I’m not supposed to be voting on the national policies of parties, but on what they would do on my local council or in the European Parliament. And yet, my confession is not one scarce found among voters heading to the polling booth tomorrow. I would argue it’s the norm.

Most voters are not deciding which candidate gets their support based on a thorough evaluation of the options, or the specifics of the ballot, but on a wider, general, sense of support or disagreement with the parties across the country. Perhaps I do a disservice, there are surely many who do know who is standing and what their vision is; perhaps I misrepresent the population by projecting my ignorance onto others.

And while I am a lazy voter, I am also a determined one. Voting is not something to do lightly, or without thought, but more than that, and regardless of whether we take care, it is something we must do. I would rather the population opted for the party whose logo was in the colour they preferred than stay at home. Voting is too important, even when it seems pointless.

Before the last general election the oft heard cry was that a single vote doesn’t make any difference – the majority is too large, the party I support will never win, my vote will be wasted. But what if everyone took that view? What if everyone opted out?

Politics isn’t a consumer activity where our choice to participate or not is an active decision, and where exit is also a valid option. If we choose not to go to the cinema we are communicating our dissatisfaction, with the choice of films, the price of tickets, the location of the cinema, we are telling the cinema that something is wrong. In politics it doesn’t work like that. If we opt out we let others take the decision, and their decisions affect us all.

It’s why despite everything, despite my frustration with the parties, their leaders, their campaign tactics, their policies, or lack thereof, I vote because I must. And so should you. Because to not would be to let others make your mind up for you. You should also watch the video at the top – best voting video ever.

Also, if you wish to learn a bit more about the European Union and the elections, read this guide.

The art of faux vulnerability

I learnt a while ago that a certain sort of post works well, it gets attention, it is shared, liked, commented on. And I feel that I’ve done a good job.

It’s the posts where I’m vulnerable and honest. It became my thing.

I learnt how to bleed onto the screen, find the valve of my emotions, my thoughts, my fears; and spill into words the pain and anxiety I held captive. I hit publish and shared with the world.

I wrote naked and people stopped and stared.

Brené Brown shot to fame with a TEDx talk a few years ago. Four years on with over 15million views her talk on the power of vulnerability is one of the most watched videos on the site. I recently read her book, Daring Greatly. And it is possibly changing my life. In her talk she says, and you can watch the section here:

‘So I found a therapist. My first meeting with her, I brought in my list of how the whole hearted live and I sat down. And she said, “How are you?” And I said, “I’m great. I’m okay.” She said, “What’s going on?” And this is a therapist who sees therapists, because we have to go to those because their BS meters are good. And so I said, “Here’s the thing, I’m struggling.” And she said, “What’s the struggle?” And I said, “Well, I have a vulnerability issue. And I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love. And I think I have a problem and I need some help.” And I said, “But here’s the thing: no family stuff, no childhood S#*!. I just need some strategies.” So she goes like this. [you have to watch it to really get this!] And I said, “It’s bad, right? And she said, “It’s neither good nor bad. It just is what it is.” And I said, “Oh my God, this is going to suck.”

‘And it did, and it didn’t. And it took about a year. And you know how there are people that, when they realize vulnerability and tenderness are important, that they surrender and walk into it. A: that’s not me, and B: I don’t even hang out with people like that. For me it was a yearlong street fight. It was a slugfest. Vulnerability pushed, I pushed back. I lost the fight, but probably won my life back.’

And I thought that vulnerability was my thing. I thought I had a unique selling point beyond being a guy writing about relationships.

I wrote posts where I winced as they went live, those I agonised over for hours and those I wrote in breathless minutes. I wrote pieces which part of me wanted ignored and a lot more of me loved being noticed.

I tore open my heart and threw it onto the screen to get noticed.

I wrote posts I regret. Not because they were wrong, or offensive, or unhelpful. At least not unhelpful for others. That was my rationale, the one I gave myself. I told myself I was helping people address issues no one else was, I was saying out loud what others were thinking. I was facilitating conversation, helping others open up. I convinced myself I was helping, I think in a way I was.

But I wasn’t helping myself. I was using vulnerability.

Brené Brown says in Daring Greatly: “Vulnerability is bankrupt on its own terms when people move from being vulnerable to using vulnerability to deal with unmet needs, get attention, or engage in the shock-and-awe behaviours that are so common place in today’s culture.”

I had learnt the art of faux vulnerability and it was costing me dearly.

It was when someone I only know moderately well, but hold in great respect delicately expressed some concern about what I was sharing online that I paused to think. Initially I was defensive. It’s okay, I know what I’m doing, I regulate. I don’t overshare.

And I don’t. I know exactly how much to say online to have the affect I want it to have. I know the necessary emotions. The right amount of contrition, of personal reflection, the appropriate deflection and shift to abstraction from making something too much about me.

I was using vulnerability like a currency to get what I wanted. And like the Wizard of Oz, what stood beyond the curtain of my exposed vulnerability was where the wounds really lay.

I was using vulnerability as a strategy to avoid being vulnerable. I had corrupted the good and turned it inside out and put it to dubious use.

And yet. And yet, the answer is not to be less vulnerable. But to be truly vulnerable. In letting it all hang out, or being seen to do that while actually remaining resolutely in control I was numbing my emotions. I was manipulating them and putting them to use but I was not accepting and listening to them. I was pretending to be something other than that which I was.

In Brené Brown’s TEDx talk she talks about numbness. You can’t decide to just feel the happy thoughts and not the said. Numbness affects them all. It stops us experiencing joy, and kindness, and sorrow and grief.

Nor is the answer to never write publically about relationships, about emotions, about struggles with shame – yes shame, that great predator lying in wait to snatch vulnerability away – about what I don’t understand and what I do not know. But there are boundaries and boundaries are healthy.

In manufacturing vulnerability I made it harder to be vulnerable.

In Daring Greatly Brown talks about floodlight oversharing, and perhaps that’s partly what I’ve engaged in. It makes it hard for people to respond to, there is too much, too quickly, and without the foundation of relationship to digest it. When I share with a friend over dinner in a pub, or as we walk we take time to hear what each other is saying and doing. When we broadcast our vulnerabilities we are not looking for assistance or acceptance but affirmation.

Vulnerability is not one of those things where you can fake it until you make.

The sermon from about a month ago that got me thinking about this.

Is Britain a Christian country?

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Is Britain a Christian country?

David Cameron thinks so, and the British Humanist Association think not. The latter part of that surprises exactly no one.

Following the Prime Minister’s Easter reception, video message and article in last week’s Church Times the argument has rolled on and on. I came to his defence, but then suggested he was suffering from a little religious illiteracy. One thing I have not wanted to do is question his motives.

I read his remarks about the experience of pastoral care from his local vicar and I read of a man grateful for the support of the church. I see a man witnessing the work done by churches in villages, towns and cities after other services leave and amazed at the effectiveness of it.

I don’t think all that this government has done is good, and I don’t want my appreciation for his words spoken to cancel out criticism of his actions. Nor do I want to be blind to political reality, that a government criticised by churches for not doing enough about food poverty and criticised for introducing same sex marriage, is keen to find words to restore relationships and appeal to an important sector of society.

I believe the Prime Minister is sincere in his words, and real in his appreciation, and restoring relationships that have been fractured should not be ignored. I can also overlook the inevitable political environment and clumsiness of his phrasing to be grateful for a government committed to supporting Christians at home and overseas – especially in those places where their faith costs them the most.

But is he right to say that Britain is a Christian country?

Constitutionally yes, theologically no, and demographically maybe.

The Queen is the head of the Church of England and is defender of the faith, the hierarchy of the Church of England are part of our legislature and their church’s laws are made by parliament. That history and constitutional arrangement may not be liked but cannot be denied: in some legal sense at least, we are a Christian county.

The demographics of Britain are changing, there are less people identifying as Christians than before, lower attendance and more people of other faiths and none. The 2011 census shows a majority still identifying as Christian but other surveys show lower levels of fidelity, as Nick Baines, bishop of the newly created diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, comments, you can pick your own statistics. What cannot be argued with is that church attendance is a minority pursuit – and has been for quite a while, but it is not a dwindling activity. Despite doom mongers and pessimistic projections there is life in the church yet, and resilience where irrelevance was expected. If your definition of whether Britain is a Christian country is based on the faith of the people in it, then different people will answer differently, some will look at all those who hold the label – regardless what it means to them – and say yes. Others will counter that many, if not most, of those claiming the label haven’t experienced personal salvation and therefore are not Christians, and therefore as a country we are not Christian.

All of this deliberation happens without any consideration of what makes something Christian, and whether a country can be Christian. In days gone by the king, queen, emperor, or whatever guise the absolute ruler came in, declared the religion of the country and the people, and those were two and the same. The religion of a country was also something not easy to change – a landmark for religious liberty was the idea that a king could choose the religion of his country.

But salvation does not come through regal fiat.

And it is not in the power of an earthly king, however absolute his rule, to make a people children of God. God took a people and called them his own, he gave them a land, when they asked he gave them a king, he gave them commandments – a way to live by – and they took off their jewels, melted them down and turned the gold into a god they crafted in the form of a calf, which they could feel and touch and which had no power.

The God who has power now calls us to be his children. His family is not defined by race or nationality by constitutional settlement or political sentiment. It is defined by whether we place our trust in the saviour who hung and died and called us his own. And the King who triumphed over the death we have no power over.

The kings of this world will perish. They will fade and be replaced. People will come and go, statistics will change and be interpreted this way and that. Activists will lay claim to what they want and speak for many they do not. Politicians will court politically important groups, they will divide and rule, they will strategise and stigmatise, they will call some in and others out. They will want faith for what it can give and push it away for what it challenges.

And I hope more politicians will come to know Christ as their saviour. As the King who loves them. As the risen Lord. I hope they will encounter the work of the church, I hope it will reflect the love of God and I hope it will change them. And I want this country, as well as all others, to be places that honour and glorify God and are witnesses to the lives and faith of the resurrection people who find their home there.

Countries cannot be Christian, that misses the point of salvation. I want many more people to know Jesus, know they are loved, know that they can be made whole through him. But no matter how many people experience that, no matter how closely laws honour God and his creation, that will not make Britain a Christian country. And just because it makes the secularists annoyed that’s not a good enough reason to pretend it is so.

Does David Cameron really want the church to be more evangelical?

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Crown Copyright

David Cameron calls on British Christians to be more evangelical. Why am I not jumping up and down on the rooftops whooping and hollering, and generally celebrating?

Because I’m not convinced.

The Prime Minister doesn’t know what an evangelical is, and I suppose I should have some sympathy with him there.

He uses the word as a verb, a synonym for passion or zeal, only with a religious fervour. Likewise he called for more evangelism, but evangelism for the role of the church in society, rather than sharing the good news that Jesus came to save.

On this weekend when we remember Jesus died to take the weight of all we do to reject God, when we know that he went beyond the grave and rose on the Sunday to triumph over the death that was all too real but could not hold him. On this weekend we should have a clearer view than ever what it means to share the good news. What that good news is and what it does.

The good news is that Jesus saves, not that churches run foodbanks.

David Cameron’s words are a nice way of using language in a way it is almost meant, it is designed to resonate with those for whom they have particular affinity but it doesn’t mean very much. The Prime Minister wants the church to be nice, to provide the endless services it does to communities, to stay when others go, to build resilience, to be the glue that holds things together.

But it is not a coincidence Christians provide the vast amount of support which they do.

It’s not just they have lots of volunteers and are able to mobilise activity.

It’s not a guilt thing, making recompense for the poor record religious institutions might have.

Or a decontamination thing, acting in certain ways so that others will think better. It didn’t work with huskies and it wouldn’t with food banks.

It’s a good news thing. That good news we want to share. What we are evangelical about.

David Cameron wants our good works but despite his talk of evangelism that seems the totality of his good news.

Churches offer incredible services to their community, they remain when others do not, they serve when others walk away, they live while others leave.

And it’s quite nice when this contribution is recognised. When the local council want to partner with you in providing a service, when businesses support you, when the Prime Minister lauds you.

Yet have we sacrificed something along the way? Have we been too quick to keep our calling card in our pocket, has our identity been obscured?

Have we opted for favour over faithfulness?

They are many examples of churches holding true to their beliefs, their motivation and their passion and serving their community.

Look at Street Pastors, you’d have to be pretty dim to miss the church connection.

We have to be the same people whether we’re preaching from the pulpit or sweeping the streets. Whether we’re expounding theology or handing our food parcels. We do not have a Christian button which we flip on when we are in church and off when we serve the public. That’s what being evangelical is all about.

It doesn’t mean we act the same in every context, the words we use from the pulpit won’t be appropriate on the playing field when we’re coaching football.

We don’t do good just to earn the adulation of the authorities. We do good because we believe that the gospel which changes our lives will one day banish every trace of pain and suffering. When good will triumph.

We do good because we get to be partners in bringing this good into our world today while we hope for tomorrow.

We do good because we are called to be good news. We are called to be carriers of the gospel.

When we step into our community, when we serve with passion, when we lead with conviction we are ambassadors for Christ.

It’s not a choice between good works or good news. It’s about both. Always about both.

Being evangelical means speaking truth, it means serving others, it means loving without limits, above all it means know that Jesus saves. This weekend as we remember Jesus’ death and celebrate his resurrection let that be centre stage.

7 things I learnt yesterday

Yesterday I wrote about whether we should mock David Cameron, and whether the response to his Easter reception and message was what it should be.

I got a lot of feedback, some fair, some angry, some both of those at the same time. Here are 7 things I realised:

1. More sure than ever that regardless of disagreements we should treat each other with civility and that includes our political leaders.

2. The healthy critique of leaders should not restricted out of an undue sense of propriety

3. Finding the balance between those two points is crucial to the church having a prophetic voice to society.

4. Jesus was creatively subversive in his dealings with authority, we should do likewise.

5. Jesus acknowledged that the earthly rulers had authority, but only because of the initiating authority of the Father.

6. Knowing when to accept authority and when to challenge it, knowing when to live peaceably and when to uproot unjust regimes is hard. Should dictators be challenged? Yes. When does a dictator become a dictator? That’s harder.

7. There is a place for humour. In criticising the #CameronJesus meme yesterday I felt I was giving humour a hard time. Humour is a vital part of subversion but I think there is a line between that and mocking, and that’s a line we have to work hard to find.

Should we mock David Cameron on twitter?

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David Cameron has done it again.

He’s tried to be nice to Christians and it went a bit wrong.

But this time my annoyance is not with him.

From time to time the Prime Minister makes comments in statements or interviews about his faith and the role of Christianity. He might compare his belief to being like listening to the radio in the Chilterns, fading in and out. He might suggest that the Bible is not a bad moral guide.

And we might pick holes in what he says, criticise the understanding of the Christian faith. I did.

On Wednesday various Christian leaders went to Number 10 for the Prime Minister’s Easter reception. There were church leaders, evangelists, anti-poverty campaigners, those working with the persecuted church and victims of trafficking.

Normally such events are little more than a PR exercise, they’re press released and managed to present the Prime Minister in as good a light as possible. This one feels a little different. There was no press release, no prepared speech, and only belatedly a transcript of the Prime Minister’s remarks.

Those there swiftly reported what David Cameron had said. A single news story led to many others and by the evening the Prime Minister was being mocked on twitter.

When I read the full version of what he said I squirmed slightly at how evangelism was expressed (as little more than doing good). And yet the words I read were an encouragement to the church across the world frequently persecuted for their beliefs, and to the church in the UK to be dynamic in bringing life to communities across the country. A boost for parish priests who canoed through villages during the storms earlier this year.

The words were warm, and Cranmer notes: “clearly coming from the heart, it reveals rather more about the Prime Minister’s spirituality and appreciation of the Church of England’s ministry than anything he has previously disclosed”.

Unfortunately David Cameron doesn’t make it hard to be mocked, comparing himself to Dyno-rod was an unusual analogy. But it was the Big Society (yes, with capitals) that got the ball rolling. Perhaps appropriately for an Easter message, the Big Society is a concept that refuses to die. As Christian Guy tweeted:

This is where my sympathy for David Cameron goes into overdrive. He was trying to give the church credit for their work and respond, as he has repeatedly done, that all his packaging did was take what the church has been doing for centuries, millennia, and get more people involved.

As reported in the Times, a No 10 spokesperson commented: “The Prime Minister has long made the point that he may have coined the catchphrase but he didn’t invent the concept. All sorts of organisations from different faith backgrounds have made a positive contribution to society, including schools and charities.”

When the Big Society was first announced, churches jumped up and down yelling that they’d be at it for ages. Now he agrees the response is: stop thinking you’re doing God’s work. He can’t win.

You might consider the Big Society to be a cover for cuts, you might think it is painfully hard electoral message to sell on the door steps.

But I think there is a challenge to us all in how we respond to politicians, how we engage with them, and how we judge their beliefs and actions. I am certain we should not sycophantically praise politicians to get an invite through the famous black door. I don’t think anyone there got there by doing that. I think there is a vital prophetic role for the church to speak truth to power, to tell when the least are forgotten, when the abandoned are cast away, when the stomachs of the hungry groan, when the shelter for the weak is not there.

There are many things we can criticise the government for. We can say their welfare changes are pernicious, we can say their changes to marriage undermine the family. We can criticise governments for taking us to war, for favouring business over caring for the environment.

The bible tells us in Psalm 146 to put critical distance between us and our leaders, to be reluctant to place too much trust in what they can do: “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.”

And we should remember that politicians are fallible, they are like you and me, they make mistakes, they have mixed motives, they put priorities in an order that fails to reconcile heaven and earth.

But maybe because of that, criticism should not be our only posture, in fact, I don’t think it should be our primary posture. It is useful, it is vital, we must critique what is unjust, but we shouldn’t start there.

Political leaders, like all other leaders, are taking responsibility, they are exercising authority, and as such, in a way that is always limited, never absolute, they are exercising God’s authority.

Jesus, before Pilate, asks where his authority comes from.

Jesus tells the challenger seeking to trap him, to give to Caesar what is his, knowing that the image of Caesar on a coin demanding fealty is itself an image reflecting Caesar’s creation in the image of God.

Paul writes to the Romans reminding them that the governing authorities only have authority because God has given it, and that those in authority are God’s servants.

In 1 Peter we are challenged to do good and honour our rulers: if that is a challenge today what must it have felt like to those under Roman oppression?

And in 1 Timothy asked to pray for those in authority – that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

This is not a weak prayer, a surrender, it is a challenge. It is a hard task.

There is a responsibility given to leaders that should provoke respect but not blind loyalty. There is an authority to rulers which we should live under but also challenge.

And when we turn to twitter (admittedly there were some funny tweets) to mock leaders who express gratitude to the church for the work they do, and stand with Christians persecuted for their beliefs across the world, I got annoyed. But more than that, I was also saddened because I think it undermines the prophetic voice we should have. A voice that respects, but is not cowed, by authority.

Watch the Prime Minister’s Easter message:

I got addicted… to 2048

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To 2048.

On Friday I saw someone playing it on the tube.

On Saturday I was introduced to the game and shown how it worked.

On Sunday I downloaded it and started playing.

On Monday I got 2048 and won.

On Tuesday I deleted the game from my phone.

In five day I went from never having heard of the latest craze game to removing it from my phone to cut off the addiction that had developed.

Addiction is a strong word. And the one the best fits.

I thought about the DSM screen for problem gambling, and reckoned I would answer positively to enough questions to be classified as a problem gambler. The lack of money traded and lost, and therefore the questions about getting money to play being inapplicable, only making the impact more marked in other areas.

From Sunday evening until Monday evening I played in virtually every spare moment. On Sunday evening I played for several hours straight. I went to bed with my head buzzing, unable to sleep. I woke and calculated how long I could play before I needed to catch the train to work. And of course I played on the train.

What’s crazier is that after work on Monday I hit the jackpot, I arranged the numbers to reach the elixir of 2048. And yet I went on. I wanted 4096.

Each time I lost I thought I could easily have not made the mistake that led my downfall.

Each time I thought the next time would be better. That if I got to the next milestone I would be satisfied.

On Monday evening I had watched Rev, but realised when reading the discussion the next day I had paid scant attention. Because I was playing 2048.

Sunday night when I want to relax I got more wound up as the numbers stacked up in unhelpful patterns.

A game, that thing intended as leisure, had become a point of stress.

I didn’t want to play for hours on end. And yet I was.

So I took drastic action. I deleted the game.

Sometimes that’s the only way to deal with something.

2048 is a brilliant game. I love it. And I also hate it. It is good, and yet it was damaging me. It had to stop.