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Sunday, 26 February 2012

Symbolic, Mopedic and Loaded......

When I started this entry I kept hitting the wrong note, and soon realised that writing about the issue of trans racial adoption in anything less than a fairly neutral tone makes you sound wrong. Over the top, wounded, angry, and in my case, stupid.


That's why its taken three days of dithering to get this up on the net. I think that is more comment than I can make here. It's a big topic, it's very..er...topical....and the current Coalition government are trying to change the established view of social workers and professionals. I urge you to have a snout around and see the different arguments.


I'll make my musings on the subject brief.


During our assessment to see whether we were culturally sensitive to our own daughters needs (you may recall she is dual heritage) it was commented that our house did not in any way reflect her ethnicity.

I will be honest with you. My wife and I share few tastes. We love Jesus, we love Radiohead, we love good and drink, we love holidays in France, and we love pre war architecture and décor, but it pretty much stops there. I would rather eat my eyeballs than watch anything set on a moor in 1785, and she thinks Johnny Moped are pants. I think anybody who can open an album with a field recording of a moped and an imaginary race are geniuses. Anyhow.








At the time we were living in a house built in 1930 and we had attempted to do it out in sympathy with that period, celebrating our new found unity in loving Art Deco. Reflecting our daughters culture in our decor was just not on our radar. We enjoy French themes but don’t make it part of our daily world (you try sipping cafe au lait in a Luton pavement Tabac).


Im just trying to say that, as Adrian Plass puts it, "the truth is a funny, ragged little thing"


My step daughter sees her Dad and her half siblings regularly, and certainly engages with her cultural identity. She has identified with her black side side more than her white side, if one dares put it so crudely, by the friends she keeps (majority non white), her music (generally R'n' B, and rap, which of course comes from a plethora of ethicity of artists, but has its roots in black culture), and her general trend in literature. Which is great. But the fact is, her Dad is more English than I am, if judged by his routines. He wears pyjamas. He wears slippers. He has a Sunday roast every Sunday. He has an allotment. He votes. He lives in Stoke Podges. He has kept in touch with all his childhood friends and has never moved far from his roots. I don’t do any of that.

The lack of her black cultural artefacts and daily metanarrative in our house in no way suggests that her roots are not cherished or discussed. But to suggest that we somehow need visual props to make this clear is a tokenism. Our Christianity is central to our lives, but I don’t think we have a cross in the house. We celebrate the fact we don’t have to endure centralised dogma like our Catholic and Orthodox brethren, but that doesn’t mean I have a 3D picture of Martin Luther over the mantelpiece. For the record I think 99% of the Reformers were psychotic and heretical anyway. Not being funny, but would you go for a beer with John Calvin? 


No.

Earlier I explained due to the fact we wanted a sibling group of three, and had the ingredients of being able to adopt non white UK children (due to our daughter, our non white UK friends and multicultural area, school, mix etc) we were classed as “special adopters”. This was what the assessing social worker was exploring.

The back story to why this is so important is that until very recently white adopters took on non white children, without a thought (generally speaking) to their identity and cultural background.


The Britain I grew up in as a child (1970's to early 1980's) was racist to the core, subtly or overtly, and if I knew it as an unenlightened working class child growing up in Hertfordshire and Cumbria, imagine how clear it was to every body else. I briefly also lived in Botswana as a child, in a small white minority. And whilst that small window came with privileges and a nice “escape any time” button, I still learnt first hand racism, bullying, and misunderstanding.


One especially "stand out" memory was at school. Being white, I therefore did sweating and burning under the scorching sun in a way most of my black peers didn't. The class was reading "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and every time the character "Redskin Joe" appeared, they would point at me and howl with laughter. My self regard was compressed to esteemless coal. Although part of me thinks that was funny.

Laugh. Go on.
So if that hurt, imagine being black in 1978 and grafted into a family on a white estate, a white school, feeling your difference every day and having no way to reconcile that difference with people sharing your same heritage. And having to watch Jim Davidson and Alf Garnett at home.

One sad story that highlights the issues of UK trans racial adoption can be found here:   

In order to preclude such experiences and further damage already emotionally vulnerable children, trans cultural adoption in Britain has been at best a tricky subject and often considered taboo. The natural consequence of this has been a disproportionate number of non white UK children remaining in the care system. If there were relatively equal numbers of non UK white adopters going forward you would understand how a handbrake on trans racial adoption would have a logic. But the care system is equally as culturally dysmorphic. Its all very well to observe that two Ghanaian children are not well matched to a white Glasgow couple who have never left the UK. But bear in mind it is highly likely those Ghanaian children are living with Lithuanian foster carers; their fourth foster carers in two years, the others being Bangladeshi, Hungarian, and white Irish.


Or Martians, in my experience as a social worker. There were some seriously messed up foster carers. Ugly as home made soup, as well.

What happened in the final instance was that we were passed to adopt “mixed race” children, but not “dual heritage” children.  We were pretty crushed, and felt it to be a damning indictment on a some kind of failure in bringing up our own daughter.

The only “logic” we have ever gleaned from this is that a darker shade of skin would obviously show people our children were not the fruit of our loins. But you can tell that anyway; the kids we have now are olive skinned and brown eyes; we both have blue eyes, pale skin with reddish hair tendencies. Or as I said throughout my childhood- "Its not ginger, its Spanish Copper". 


Anyway, it turned out our kids had a mystery heritage the social workers had missed in their assessments. One birth grandmother was half Samoan. Look. How do would you match children to exact match adopters in a "right on" way? How far does it have to go? To the molecular DNA level? It would turn into ****ing Jurassic Park.

Work that one out
  
Heres another story. In “Be my Parent” magazine we came across a beautiful group of dual heritage siblings. They had a black social worker, who as you can imagine was very aware of their needs and was a natural advocate. 

We approached him and at first, until we explained our backstory as white foster carers, he was sceptical. But then he was interested. Very interested. But what happened is that our crusading assessing social worker scuppered the potential match by saying we weren’t suitable due to the above stipulation- quarter black, or out. He protested. He wanted to take it further, and go over her head. 


But we were in that position of being impacted by somebody with an experience (being non white, and very read up) against our argument. And we didn’t want to fight the person best placed to match us. Plus by then we had developed that guilt and embarrassment that kicks in when two people who are really passionate about what they're talking about start to fight over things to do with you. Think wedding and two drunk mother in laws.

I have already said the whole issue of trans racial adoption is loaded. In 1972 the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) passed “a resolution vehemently opposing transracial adoption. The vigor with which this position was advanced can be seen from the statement of the 1972 resolution:
“Black children should be placed only with black families whether in foster care or adoption. Black children belong physically, psychologically and culturally in black families in order that they receive the total sense of themselves and develop a sound projection of their future . . . . Black children in white homes are cut off from the healthy development of themselves as black people . . . . We have committed ourselves to go back to our communities and work to end this particular form of genocide"
  
The language seems extreme until you see some of the stories that inspired it. Here is a précis of what went on in Australia seemingly well into the 1970’s.

Here are some numbers to crunch to add into the mix:

The number of children in care in England has increased slightly from 64,400 last year to 65,520 this year


Although falling, a quarter of looked-after children still obtain no qualifications and a further quarter obtain fewer than five GCSEs or equivalent. These proportions are much greater than for children as a whole.  For example, the half not obtain fewer than five GCSEs or equivalent compares to less than one in ten children as a whole.  It should, however, be remembered that the majority of the looked-after children have some form of special educational needs.


A third of previously looked-after children are not in education, employment or training at age 19.


Childrens care proceedings across England spiralled to a record high of 903 court applications last month (January 2012)



Councils spend an average of £40,000 per child per year on foster placements



Accoring to a recent Guardian article, for one inner city London Borough the borough pays a carer between £330-£350 a week per child. If they are forced to go to an agency it costs around £700



A stable experience of the care system over 14 years – where the child enters early, has fewer family placements and stays for longer – can cost £354,053 to children’s services.


An unstable experience over 7 years – where the child enters the care system later and experiences multiple moves between foster carers and has poor mental health - can cost £393,579, a difference of £41,526. Looked after children who leave care early, at age 16, tend to do less well in education, employment and health than those who leave care later….. Child A - who leaves care at 18 with good mental health and strong relationships, then goes on to university and finds a job - could cost the state £20,119 between age 16 and age 30. This is compared to the £111,923 that Child B, who leaves care aged 16.5, with poor mental health and no qualifications could cost the state between age 16 and age 30


Those the brokes, man. And the costs of kids not being adopted- the overt costs, that is. I can't even bear to think of the emotional damage.


The children's local authority needn't of worried about that kind of money. Financially, our package amounted to £500 cash for baby supplies and buggy, extended maternity leave, and a bit of therapy. And two Fun Size Mars Bars. Warm.


Im not kidding.

Anyway. Back at the ranch, we were now classed as bona fide adopters. We kept looking. We made several telephone enquires and found so many of the children we liked in the magazines had been matched, or the case had progressed beyond a chance for us to be considered.


You're never sure what to do with the emotions because you get broody and excited all at once, in a way perhaps parents to be of biological children never can be. Because you can make somthing happen just by applying will and its strangely akin to ringing up for a lovely house you saw in a magazine. You get involved in this incredibly powerful creation myth that starts with you calling a team desk in Tower Hamlets, and ends (in your head) with you being a grandfather or something, and running through a cornfield throwing a child in the air. At least thats what part of you thinks, and then when those children have been matched or withdrawn or thrown into some dire court delay, you move on to the next and the next after sibling group that- and the others are never mentioned again. Lost. All those discussions and poring over their profiles.


A cocktail of emotions and strange power and enablements. I cant even describe it. 

We saw some amazing videos of sibling groups and had a couple of social workers round from distant local authorities, and in all those cases it seemed really positive. One case fell through. One case- the one above- we were denied going further into. The other case seemed to be a green light- a boy and girl sibling group, the sister with a very likely pending diagnosis of a debilitating muscle disease, and her older brother. Bizarrely, he had been filmed at his school fancy dress disco dressed as Satan. We were smitten.

Choosing is hard. How do you do it? How can you choose a double future- yours as a couple, and the kids- from the strength of a photo, a blurb and a bit more blurb later?  The only way I could deal with such responsibility is say to myself I was merely responding to choices presented. I always felt out of my depth and confused. 

Just as we were about to take this latter sibling group into second gear, we had a phone call.


Who the hell reads a story about "Redskin Joe" anyway?




Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Light Pours Out Of Me…



So, we decided to Adopt and started a strange journey.

What could be nicer than adopting unfortunate children? Aside from doing lots of work for charity you don’t want to talk about, mate?

The journey started with a false start. We approached the authority where we once lived, and two nice social workers interviewed us at their bleak head office. They were enthusiastic about their job, and us. They were honest and told us what we should not expect from their department. In hindsight, I appreciate this. But at the time, it was too honest. The world of Adoption is very subtle, and much can hang on throwaway comments and first impressions. We were given the green light quickly, in part because our our professional child based jobs and our already current Enhanced Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) checks- and the fact we were Local Authority Foster Carers.

The road ahead. Damn, I love symbolism.

I forget how, but around that time we heard of one of the few remaining faith based adoption agencies out there, who had a good name. It may have been a queasiness about how much we shared of our faith that made us choose them over anybody else, although in the last instance that didn’t matter. So we switched routes.

The journey started with a group of us who had passed pre screening coming to an open evening at the charity base. Experienced adopters talked about their journey over terrible corporate coffee. To me, it meant nothing. I can only describe it as akin to a bunch of rock climbers giving a presentation to people who have never climbed. You may love the presentation and even choose to take it up as a hobby, but until you have done it, it does not connect. The stories were to general, too edited, and too disassociated from the coal face to impact me. I fiddled with my shoes all through that and pretty much the rest of the prep course.

Five couples started the prep course, including us. And the most unlikely completed it and went on to adopt. I liken the “contestants” to those in seminal cartoon Wacky Races, because we were all odd in different ways.

I think we are The Creepy Coupe team....


You had The Lawyers. These were thirty something, dapper, good looking, nice, intelligent city types who had everything in life bar children. But they started the course unable to commit to the regular sessions, which you were not allowed to miss on pain of stern phone calls and hissy conversation in the corridors. The logic is simple; if you can’t commit to input relating to your most momentous life decision, you won’t be able to commit to adopted children. A court case you can’t get away from? A presentation that cannot be missed? So what’s going to happen when little Timmy strips off at school, calls the class teacher a @£$% &*^%$ and then starts a bonfire in the soft play area?

I totally get that you can’t miss a court case. The verdict could sway and in some countries people can be executed due to this. I know that if we don’t do the presentation, we don’t get the rise we need, or the new job that completes us and gets us out of the damp bedsit into a house with room and Feng Shui. Buts its just that we are talking about two worlds, that will collide and destroy everything. Very sober judgment and negotiation has to be done prior to committing to having children. That’s why the agencies interview you so deeply and need to know about your social support.

This isn’t meant to be condescending, it’s just a brutal truth that we can miss. I’m damn sure I did. I just threw myself into work for 2 years, leaving my wife holding the babies. Before the tidal wave landed.

Anyhow.

There were the Twitchers. A painfully shy couple who, frankly, twitched quite a bit. Who wore the Marks and Spencer’s “East European” range of clothes and said about four words in the whole three months, and two of those you couldn’t hear. The ones I could hear I’m pretty sure were “Decaf, please”

There were the Cant Remembers. A couple who started but never came back after about four sessions, that I cant remember. But like Harlow, you vaguely remember the experience.

And finally there were the Suitables. Another professional couple we bonded with closely, as they came from the same home town and we knew each other through friends. We loved them (still do) but if I’m honest a strange competition and fear of failure started. What if I don’t get through selection? What if it all falls apart? Does this mean God thinks we're amateurs?

The whole esteem thing for me is always an issue. In my brokenness, and this was only at some buried sub level, fenced off by the guard dogs of utter denial (wow- that’s in my novel), if I was biologically incapable of producing children I was damn sure I was going to succeed in raising somebody elses children as my own.

This ties in with “honest honesty” which I will look at later in this series, and it reoccurs throughout as a theme. You have to Doublethink. Guard your heart and think about so many of the probing questions, and your answers, in this process. Because we are all a bag of chemicals, and the walking wounded. But the system is unforgiving and wants soundbites and tickboxes. I think this stinks and needs dealing with. An essay on social workers power by Robert Harris starts with these wise words; “If politics involves the acquisition and deployment of power, and social work is ‘one of the most political of all professions’ and understanding of power I all its manifestations must be more than normally important for social workers”

In the training group, that just left us. Throughout, as usually happens , my wife was mature and sociable and eager to learn. But I was awkward, self conscious, cocky, proud, and annoyed that I kept having to take time off from work, which was hard to negotiate and meant I came back to snowdrifts of sticky child protection cases after 2pm. Have you ever been on course where the content is less than thrilling, you have a mediocre lunch you can barely afford, you meet people you want to get real with but can’t because you don’t know them enough, and the whole time you are thinking about that something that was going off at work that is really important? The whole time checking your silenced mobile phone and seeing 300 missed calls, from people who are really hard to get hold of?

During some joint child protection training with Thames Valley Police, the trainer, a great cop called Johnny, warned all of us in the room about the dangers of false intimacy. It was the first and only time I have ever heard this advice in training and anywhere else, and it was distilled wisdom. In essence, he warned us that in this two weeks residential module we would see and hear so many moving things that we would start to band together and be driven to share too much about what we were and what we thought- and don’t. Because when the course ends the lights go back on and we’re exposed.

Pretty similar to adoption training. Because whilst adoption is a wonderful thing- and you’re going to hear how wonderful- it’s also the most difficult and loaded thing you will ever do- guaranteed. There are plenty of hard and dangerous things to do out there in life, but with those you have more choice, more control, more rescue options, and more received wisdom to guide you.

Want to climb a mountain? Here’s a camping shop and clear “what not to do” advice. Easy to see, immutable, and easily applied with instant results. And 60,000 people did it before you. Want to be a politician? Here’s lots of people who are doing it, here’s the surprisingly every dayness behind the scenes, here’s a million think tanks and academics who can inspire your policies (and write them) and here’s the sedating commute on the train to focus you every day.

But adoption? You have to trust in a process that is flawed. Flawed not in the way everything is flawed in a general way, like the way supermarkets make you listen to their instore announcements, just as they finally play a song you liked (why cant they page their employees? Why the **** do I need to hear that some Piccalilli has spilt in aisle 5?). Not flawed like our bosses and school head teachers and electricity providers grasp of human dignity.

I mean flawed like the processes that started in the adopted child’s life. At best, incapable parents. At worst, abuse farmers. Dark things I wont share here that reprogram a childs social DNA for life, with truly awful fallout.

Indeed


Flawed like the overworked, dangerously overloaded social workers in each segment of the journey. The frantic Chid Protection Worker rushing out on a Child Protection Investigation and getting the green light from Court to remove the child into foster care. The tired magistrates and judges. The life sick Local Authority solicitor with yet another bundle to serve under the manager they hate and the social worker they think is a plonker. The “learn on the hoof just got the complex case as I walked into court” Children’s Guardian from the beleaguered CAFCAS office- if indeed they can find one. Then the capable but utterly totally stretched Permanency Team social worker who has to give expert opinion and scrutiny to at least 7 extremely complex cases but cant because she has to give it to another 9 and so eventually has to go off long term sick and rock in a darkened room, her weight by now astronomical, her marriage over, hope gone.

The Team Manager with a Vietnam thousand yard stare who, when case supervision can actually be arranged, sits through it rubbing their temples, and secretly thinking about whether a mid life career change will loose them the Old Mill they’ve always wanted, but can barely enjoy because they work 7am to 9pm almost daily including weekends. And missing dangerous cracks in the cases, and the fact their team member now thinks they're a squirrel.

The point I’m making is that the journey for the child starts amidst subjective and procedural chaos, and remains there, and ends there. The system is overloaded and a frightening amount of things will have been missed. Even things that make you wonder on dark days whether the child should have ever been taken from the family. Was there a sound uncle that could have had them? Were the grandparents unfairly dismissed? We’re talking implications, and knock on effects. In the same way Government policy is often hatched over a lunch of salmon and rocket sandwiches with a 45 minute cut-off, a life’s direction is decided and once the legal process starts it cannot be put back in the box.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The point I’m making is this; you don’t know what you’re talking on, not really. The processes are alien and you only get the wisdom to translate them too late. You also don’t know who you are, not really. The children will almost always take you to places you don’t want to go, that expose parts of you you are incredulous about. Throughout everything, you stand on shifting sands.

And you don’t know how enormous and life changing the whole things is, certainly not in those early days when its all polite and based in bland training rooms.

But we passed selection. Then we were assigned our social worker and the Great Probing of 2007 began.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Disney Land built by North Korea...



My wife was working and we all had Christmas cabin fever. I felt like a reality TV guest in the new show "When holidays at home attack". I didn't know Alvin and the Chipmunks could be so dreadful in every way, consistently, after every viewing. And all the other kids DVD's were scratched, so a third of the way through every Princess story, she started doing that Prince "Chaka Khan" thing until the player started smouldering.

For those who don't know, Gullivers Land is a neo- con correctional facility for wayward children. Imagine Disney Land built by North Korea. 
   

The concept is great. A theme park with rides just about any child can go on, almost from the foetus stage. Unlike Legoland or Alton Towers. Those places are a sick joke if your children are under 8 years old, because all they can ride on there is the railway around the edge and the pay and ride machines you can find in any good Tesco's. As you trudge through the hordes of Youth Offending Team clients on a good behaviour trip, and the Tourettes Club UK summer jamboree.

We go every theme holiday- Halloween, Christmas, Easter, whatever. I've no idea why. We enjoy ourselves, although in a kind of "despite" way. The place is tired. The staff are tired, and often come across like trained undead. An air of sullenness, secret binge eating and latent sociopathic tendencies emanate from the ride operators. The only ones who appeared to be alive were the extrovert ones who do the shows.

At least five of the rides arent working on any given day, and the mechanical puppets appear vaguely sinister. Whilst each area of the park has a general theme, there are random Spanish Conquistador dummies placed in booths everywhere, except at Halloween when they are replaced by extremely gory and inappropriate Saw type characters by the immature events organisor, who probably still has a nickname even though he's 43. At Halloween, as you walk around, you hear terrified screams and four year olds hyperventilating by a model of a puppy dog with an axe in its skull. To the sound of muzak coming out of hidden speakers.

This Christmas, there were loads of mini panto things in all these hidden mini theatres there, like in the castle roof and above the disabled toilets. It made me wonder whether Gullivers Land could open as a boutique alternative music venue, where you could wander from mini gig to mini gig. Say if it were an all girl heavy metal festival, you could see Tooth of Mongor in the castle turret, Lactating Banshee in the Sweete Shop venue, and Tampon Coven in Main Street.

Or it could be a secret farmers market. All the turrets and grottos could be filled with pretend French farmers, dressed as Spanish Conquistadors, selling sausages and houmous. Or our church should hire it Sunday mornings. I feel the Gullivers Travel ride sets would be a great place to learn about the Pauline Epistles. A different preacher could be stationed at each turn of the track, for a different slant on each subject. Colour coded by different lights. Red for predestination, green for sanctification.



Ate so many sweets that I was "ramped off my head on jellied eggs" as Viz would say. Eventually, in the mist sodden grey air, I found one child asleep, one child twirling in her free Santa Grotto present (a princess tutu and shawl- Poundland special). The Grotto was an aircraft hanger full of "broken- within- 20- minutes toys", full of children feverishly deliberating which car or doll might last the return journey to their car. Santa was Canadian, bizarrely. His elves were nutters, they were abusing the PA in the woodland walk doing Star Wars like noises.

Only in Britain can you get away with half heartedness and amateurness on this scale. But that's part of the charm. We went to Florida Disneyland on our honeymoon, and whilst it was well done, you got the feeling that staff who under gurned get shot behind the Magic Castle after parade. Its not organic or punk.

Here's some photos gathered over the years. Enjoy.




The Ghost of Tommy Cooper?

Scary monster... and skeleton

Missed the symbolism here









Insane speeds

After human life on earth




The Ghostly head of Floella Benjamin









Somebody's being playing with DNA...





What lurks in the upper rooms?




Yeah thanks. My 3 year old is now in counselling....

Real ectoplasm!










Col Sanders meets Ed Gein


Sunday, 19 February 2012

Jesus in Garageland Part 1…



The Disconnect

Why is it hard to live the Sermon on the Mount at work? Why are we constrained to live and act badly in our work lives enough of the time to make Radio 4 level sighs about it? Why do even the most benevolent of companies demand actions and processes that are anti Christ?
Before I go any further, this piece is not a manifesto or an attempt to write anything especially original (is anything I write?) I just want to stimulate debate. And work out if anybody else can resonate with what I’m thinking and feeling.

I have come to understand modern proponents of Christian Anarchism having a discourse something like the thoughts below- which I have put in my own words, because I’m full of myself.

The components:

Empire

The role of Empire here is the key. It’s a term I never really thought much of apart from equating it to the British Empire and something embarrassing in the past, like what my mother dressed me in prior to 1980. But Shane Claiborne in his book “Jesus For President” says that Empire is as present as it has ever been from the Old Testament and Roman times.


Empire/ Government claims to have a monopoly on violence. Empire/ Government can only exist through the application of law based on violence and imprisonment. Empire/ Government makes us fight in or fund via taxes wars that are all about perpetuating our comfortable lives and living off people who don’t have as much money or guns.

Nice Government

Winston Churchill once said that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” and he wasn’t far wrong.
The church ostensibly ruled in the Middle Ages, and later through Cromwell, and it was either foul and godless or uptight and nasty. Or all four at once. Communism in varying forms has been attempted throughout the world, and in every single case it reduced the country to disaster and collapse (the purer the form, the worse the mess) The two applications of secular Anarchism I can recall (the Ukraine 1918 – 1921 and regions of Spain in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 ) did not thrive.

Whilst democracy, in the short term, is probably the most easy to live with system of Government, its pretty crap. The word itself means “rule of the people” but the ancient Greeks who systemized it didn’t live by that tenet. You only had a voice if you were male, free, rich or good at killing people. And from what I read even if you had all that going for you, the whole thing was so corrupt it was easier to work within a tyranny. Wow. Come to think of it, that’s not far from the truth now. The thing that blows me away about Western Democracy and politicians is the fact they cannot tell the truth. We say this lightly, and with resignation, but why on earth do we endure it? Would we work for a boss as brazenly dishonest? A partner as treacherous 24/7?

Sholto Bynres wrote in the New Statesman in 2010: “We are constantly told that the public wants greater honesty from politicians. A survey (in 2009)…. showed only 13 per cent of the population trust our tribunes of the people to tell the truth - the lowest in Ipsos/ MORI's 26 years of asking the question. But when they do tell the truth, how do we react?...... Honesty is clearly not the best policy. If electioneering in this country has become a nationwide version of the children's card game "Cheat", the first reaction may be to blame the media. But it is not the media that decides elections. If the public really wants more honest, trustworthy, truthful and candid politicians, I have a suggestion: why doesn't it start voting for them?”

You will be glad to know that an entity called the Democracy Index exists, and that we in the West get a thumbs up. But whether in the long run we are any freer than North Korea, and whether our governments kill less nice people, is debatable. And if that sounds like something a sixth former would come up with (well it is, actually) have a look at the civilian deaths in Serbia and Iraq caused by NATO/ UN mandates. And add Afganistan.
If we live in a toxic but gilded cage, but a cage nonetheless, what would Jesus do? I mean apart from buy a rubber wristband and annoy Atheist friends by being pious?

So if Empire is evil, it is logical that it cannot work with Christianity. Not the Christianity founded by Jesus and carried by the Apostles.

You have to have Christianity Lite- which some have called……

Churchianity

The online Urban Dictionary cites this as a term coined by Richard Pope during a sermon characterizing the condition of the modern-day Christian Church and how different it's teachings are from the original ideas and message of the historical Jesus.

For every good thing the UK Christian church does- and I’m thinking Alpha, the ecumenical movement, and…erm, above average refreshments, it does lots of Empire things. It’s in bed with politics. It has entwined “Christian” creeds with state and law and military jargon so whether we are crowning a monarch, or firebombing baby Nazis in Dresden hospitals, its all given a Divine thumbs up.

It has also reintroduced one of the oldest heresies of them all; that you go to heaven for being good.

One of the biggest problems with that is that it has led to churches being seen to be a pillar of the state and respectable. Which makes church for good people. A moral social club that sends out terrible signals of a povertised goodness, and a judgmental faux holiness. The former was epitomised for me when I was a vicars assistant in a C of E church. Every harvest festival (don’t ask; I cant explain what one is either) tons of old people who never normally came brought in tins of crap food they didn’t want.  So in the end we had a small mountain of dented tinned pears and value brand beans to give out to “frail” members of the community.
Being the dutiful, people pleasing mong I was then, I would knock on the doors of the lost and give them more stuff that they already had- instead of stories about Jesus, and a chance to see them healed or even connected with in a meaningful way. Now they’re probably in hell with all their tinned pears.

The latter strand of faux holiness was brought home to me in one of the opening stories of Philp Yancey’s "Whats So Amazing About Grace". Yancey wrote; “A prostitute came to me in wretched straits, homeless, sick, unable to buy food for her two-year-old daughter. Through sobs and tears, she told me she had been renting out her daughter—two years old!—to men interested in kinky sex. She made more renting out her daughter for an hour than she could earn on her own in a night. She had to do it, she said, to support her own drug habit. I could hardly bear hearing her sordid story. For one thing, it made me legally liable—I’m required to report cases of child abuse. I had no idea what to say to this woman.
At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naive shock that crossed her face. “Church!” she cried. “Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”
What struck me about my friend’s story is that women much like this prostitute fled toward Jesus, not away from him. The worse a person felt about herself, the more likely she saw Jesus as a refuge. Has the church lost that gift? Evidently the down-and-out, who flocked to Jesus when he lived on earth, no longer feel welcome among his followers. What has happened?”

Churchianity has happened.

But I want to make a vital distinction here; Christians like me are involved in it. Don’t believe for a minute that we can heartily agree to all the above but say that real Christians don’t do this, or support hard nosed, life denying, politically affiliated, boring, judgmental religion. We do.

For years I used to say to people who didn’t like the church that real Christians didn’t organise or take part in the Crusades, or the Spanish Inquisition, or the excesses of Colonialism (notice I used the caveat “excesses” as if the day to day rape of cultures, slave labour, and exploitation and extortion was merely cheeky).

All this is begging the question…….

What Kind of Christianity should we do? Or what is Christianity?

Ciaron O Reilly give a very lucid talk on Christian Anarchism and I urge readers to watch the 8 minute video to the end. He’s not Martin Luther King but it’s a great summary off the cuff.



Succinctly the points he makes are these (I develop to illustrate, hopefully); Every movement, whether secular (i.e. punk) or religious (Christianity) that takes on the state gets seduced and subsumed by the temptations of Power, Wealth, and Status.

The Clash said in 1977 “Meanwhile things are hotting up in the West End alright, Contracts in the offices, groups in the night, My bummin' slummin' friends have all got new boots, An' someone just asked me if the group would wear suits” (“Garageland”). And so very soon the Frantic Elevators became Simply Red, etc.

O Reilly argues that looking back on the early church- crudely, the pre Constantine/ state church- the believers were both pacifist and anarchist. Of course those are modern constructs applied retrospectively, but I believe we need to use those as the very term Christianity is infected with meanings and practices at odds with Jesus.

They argue the early church was anarchist in that it was taught by Jesus never to lord it over people, but to serve and seek their blessing, and that Jesus’ rule was not going to be ushered in on the back of a war elephant in front of an mighty army, but by acts of service in love. Jesus taught community, served people throughout his ministry, and taught us how to die without wishing or bringing death to his enemies- after taking on all wordly powers.

The three powerhouses of real Christianity are;

Community

Think "The Simple Way" to illustrate this.

But this alone becomes quant and will draw tourist buses, like the Amish in America. It can be self indulgent and self obsessed. Sweet and harmless, the kind of thing a Pagan can meditate on and then carry on. Most UK churches manage community pretty well, even if just at face value.

Acts of Mercy/ Service

Think Mother Teresa and Azalea for example.

But such acts alone merely mop up after capitalism, a co- dependence. Capitalism loves us cleaning up their messes. It looks great for the tourists and it costs nothing! Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, the radical Roman Catholic priest once said "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist." And that ties in, as slick as Dave Lee Travis doing the Top 40 Countdown in 1983, to the big third point;

Resistance and Protest

The key strand- challenging evil and injustice, whilst living out the Beatitudes. And what should be getting us in trouble. Because Jesus was always, always, always in trouble. And He is still causing trouble today.

Here’s an example and here’s another

It’s the strand the church doesn’t do, by and large. There’s an emerging chumminess in the UK church that I’m going to blog on in due course, but for now I would say the UK church seems at times happy to be the bitch of Government, seeing the pro Victorian Christianity mumblings from the ConDems as a green light to have a validated role and presence. But we don’t need any Governments validation, and the day we “seize” an opportunity to serve our country, rather than just serve our country, whether we have the suede denim secret Police or some humanist PC cretin persecuting us, is irrelevant.

Some criticisms of Anarchist Christianity

It can have a “low view” of the Bible- how we got the Bible, whether it is inspired and whether we need to adhere to what it teaches.

A culture of heresy and Jesusism has gone hand in hand with the modern movement

Is Anarchist Christianity a culture destroyer? The bedreadlocked Shane Claiborne and Ciaron O Reilly seem to inhabit a world of Mad Max type uniforms and houses. I do worry if there will be time amidst the earnestness for the pursuit of the Arts and good architecture?

The world of my grandparents was one of disease and poverty. But during that time we had cool things like the foundation of Letchworth Garden City   social capital and Bournville. I don’t want to live in a burnt out car, drinking herbal tea, looking like Gandalf, thanks.

All that remains to ask now is if all this is true, what have I being doing about it?

Muhahahaha. Tune in next time.