Tag Archives: justice

How to eradicate poverty in three swift steps

Last week I took a Thursday off work because I had no childcare, and I went to our church toddler group.  There I met a new guy who was babysitting his niece.  He asked me what I did, and when I told him I worked for a charity that helped people to get out of poverty he asked me what three things I would do to eradicate poverty on a worldwide scale.  Just a small question then. Just some regular small talk while the toddlers played happily.

At the risk of looking a fool, I thought I’d share my answers, mainly because I’d like to hear yours!

The only thing I should probably mention before plunging ahead is that I get really annoyed by those headlines that claim it would cost this many billion pounds or dollars, or the amount you personally spend on ice-cream each summer, to eradicate poverty.  You can read another blog I wrote about believing shabby stories, and this one would probably be top of my list.  Or course it takes money (please don’t stop giving) but poverty is caused by a web of broken relationships, and writing a cheque doesn’t fix all of that.

So, my big three.

This photo first appeared in the Washington Times

This photo first appeared in the Washington Times

First, I would END ALL CONFLICT.  (This is my wish list and I’m dreaming big).  On top of the violent conflict itself, the horrific use of rape as a weapon of war, the drafting of young children as soldiers, and various other direct atrocities that destroy lives in every way, conflict also makes everything unstable.  Government infrastructure (healthcare, education) falls apart, funding can’t reach projects, it’s not safe to do normal things like grow crops or send your kids to school.  You can’t eradicate poverty while there is war.

(I am not sure how I would END ALL CONFLICT but I wasn’t asked to specify my methodology).

Second, I would impose an international limit on carbon emissions, forcing governments (and therefore citizens) to find ways to cut back and live more sustainably, and thereby prevent an increase in the earth’s temperature which would lead to catastrophic changes in the climate. Boom. (I wasn’t sure exactly how much of that capitalise).  The poorest communities in the world are by far the most vulnerable to climate change  – to natural disasters like floods and earthquakes (they’re more likely to live where these things happen and have less resource to cope) as well as to severe changes in weather (like droughts) which will destroy their livelihoods.  It’s not just an environmental issue, it’s a justice issue, and if we don’t do something then all those amazing strides we’ve made forward in the past 30 years (like halving the global child mortality rate) will all just get undone.

Third, I would make possible universal free primary healthcare.  (This one probably does have a big price tag).  It was hard to choose a third – education is so crucial and the building block to everything else.  And I could have gone with my husband’s favourite – rewire the global economic system, which is also appealing because the current set up institutionalises such enormous injustices and makes it pretty much impossible for the poorest nations to catch up (if catching up is even the point).  Yeah, I probably would have gone for that one on reflection, but I’ll be honest that in the moment I went for healthcare.  A National Health Service for everyone.

So that was my wish-list.  What three things would you go for?

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Dangerous Woman

It’s a funny old time in which it feels like everything is changing and, at the same time, nothing at all.  I hardly know what to write, so today I am stealing somebody else’s words.

A friend of mine, Kelley Nikondeha, has been part of creating a new series of writing and thinking over at SheLoves Magazine, and they launched with a great declaraction, written by Idelette McVicker, which I am just going to post here.  Don’t credit me with the poetry.

This is the kind of woman I would like to be.

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I am a Dangerous Woman.
I am here and I’m awake.
I pay attention to the rumblings in my soul
I listen and watch for how the Spirit leads.
With each humble choice, I take a step closer to my Destiny.
With each strong Yes, I become more of myself.

I am a Dangerous Woman.
I draw deeply from the Life that beats in my blood.
I have a place in the story of God.
Large or small, my capacity is mine and
I will move in it to make change in my world.

I am a Dangerous Woman.
I have a voice that needs to be heard.
No need to rage or raise a fist.
My Love will speak
My arguments are strong.
My life itself is a protest towards great Love.

I am a Dangerous Woman. 
I may start with tiny steps and
My ankles may roll with the weight of the task
But I am determined.
I refuse to let Fear hold me back.
I choose Love.

I am a Dangerous Woman.
My ducks may never be quite in a row,
The laundry may never be done.
I may never feel strong enough, capable enough or smart enough.
I will do it anyway.
Shall we go together?

I am a Dangerous Woman
I embrace small beginnings and
Show up in small pockets of Love,
But I don’t think small.
I step over the obstacles that tell me I should quit.
And so I start.

I am a Dangerous Woman, 
I am tired of spending my choices on myself.
I will let my privilege and my power
Speak for good.
Aligned with the purposes of the Almighty,
My strength roars.

I am a Dangerous Woman
I am part of a vast network
I recognize how we are all connected.
My choices affect a world of people, plants and animals.
What a big responsibility, you may say.
But O, What a great adventure!

I am Dangerous Woman
I refuse to do nothing.
I choose to listen to the gladness of my soul
And the hungers in our world.
And where these meet,
I will plant a garden.

I am a Dangerous Woman 
I refuse to let shame hide me.
I refuse to let old boundaries hold me back.
I refuse to let what’s-always-been-done create the future.
I refuse to be silent about the things that matter.
I refuse to be afraid.

You may ask: Who do you think you are?
So I will tell you: 

I am a Dangerous Woman,
Loved by God, empowered by God.

I am a Dangerous Woman,
Devoted to a Dangerous God.

I am a Dangerous Woman
And I will beat my drum, as we dance into the Land of Freedom and Promise together.

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Why we live where we live

This whole blog is about city living, or maybe more accurately ‘how we live in the city’, and while I’ve touched on the reasons we’ve chosen this neighbourhood as our home, I have never devoted a whole post to it.  Well, today is the day.  How and why did we end up on ‘the block’?

PhotoWizardCreatedI moved to London straight out of university because I wanted to act, and London is pretty much the centre of the theatrical universe this side of the Atlantic.  It’s not the only place things happen (AT ALL) but it’s where things are most concentrated.  I started drama school and moved into a flat nearby with a friend.  And then for the next five years I moved around London according to where my friends were and where I could afford.  I lived west, I lived north and I lived central.

By that time I had stumbled into working for Tearfund and been hit like a ton of bricks by the cruel injustice and brokenness of the world.  That makes it sound like a really, really terrible job.  It wasn’t the job itself, or the sharp turn my life had taken away from my dreams (although that was a bit of a downer), but more that I suddenly came face to face with a lot of awful truths about how people in the world lived and how unjust it all was.  What was more, all these people who shared my faith (Tearfund is full of Christians) believed some quite radical things about how we should respond.  And I felt compelled to stick around and work out life all over again in light of all this new information.  I was reading books about poverty and justice and development and simplicity and climate change – everything I had studiously avoided for many years beforehand.  And I felt like the ground I was standing on was shifting.

A couple of years into work at Tearfund, freshly inspired by one particular scary and beautiful book – The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne – I decided that I needed to rethink where I was living.  The author, a Christian and a crazy hippy who weaves his own clothes, makes a compelling case for living in struggling neighbourhoods on purpose.  I became convinced that I needed to move with some friends onto a specific housing estate near our church.  It wasn’t that I thought the housing estate needed me, or us, or that all Christians should live there, but more that it was the best chance I had of living alongside people who weren’t exactly like me (white, middle-class, well-educated young professionals…), and maybe even becoming friends.  And in a world, a country and a city where inequality is growing at terrifying rate and there is less and less interaction between the different ends of the spectrum, it seems like living in a mixed community is a healthy step towards more cohesion and therefore happier communities.

My friend Wendy and I moved onto the estate we had chosen after a few months of waiting for a flat to come up.  We were *very* excited, even though our church thought we were a bit weird for wanting to live there.  But then I kept working full time, and had a busy social life, and almost all of our neighbours were quite strict Muslims who didn’t seem to come out much…and so I never really met any of my neighbours.  I’m not sure I tried very hard.  Apart from our choice of location, there was nothing very unusual about our life.  People would sometimes say ‘Oh, I could never live there like you”, but really, it was just a flat like any other.

After 18 months I decided to make some big changes.  I reduced my hours at Tearfund to part-time so that I could be more present in my neighbourhood and make space to think about acting again.  This meant I couldn’t afford to stay in our current flat.  A good friend owned a flat on an estate in south London, and had bought it because she wanted to know and love her neighbours, however different they were to her.  She’d got quite a lot further into the terrain of actual relationships than I had, and so I was excited to move in with her.  (Then she moved out).

I should also make clear that said flat was extremely close to the flat of my (then) boyfriend (now husband), which also persuaded me down.

So that, practically, it how I got to living in the neighbourhood.  Andy moved in when we got married and then we bought it from our friend a couple of years later (that’s another story). But I probably need to say more, because it’s impossible to separate out the place we have chosen to live from my (our) faith.  At the heart of the Christian faith is a belief in a God who “moved into the neighbourhood” – that is, was born as a man into a poor Jewish family in what is now Palestine.  We have a record of his significant utterances and activities, but there were also just 33(ish) years of living in the neighbourhood, trying to make a living, being part of a family and community.  And he could have chosen any family and community in the world, but he chose to make his life among an occupied and oppressed people, not amongst the power brokers, or the movers and shakers.  And from that we understand there is dignity and beauty in the small and familiar, and that our God is drawn most of all to people who have the odds stacked against them in this world (he has to be because we’re not).  It’s not that we think we’re there to make everything better.  We just want to be near to where God is. (I’m sure he’s in plenty of other places too).

There are days when I wonder why we live in such a small, cluttered flat (especially when most of our other friends live in places that are BIGGER and HAVE STORAGE), why we are making our life in the biggest city in Europe (there are already MORE THAN ENOUGH people here – although please don’t misunderstand that as a statement on immigration); why we don’t make easier choices and make things nicer for ourselves.  Sometimes I get resentful; but then I remember that no-one is making us live where we do.  We have sensed an invitation, and we’ve taken it up.  We get to live alongside these brilliant people from all around the world, and hopefully we will shape and change each other and make our neighbourhood better.

Footnote: We go into this in much more detail in our book which will, allegedly, finally be published this year!

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I’m a Jesus Feminist because…

To tie in with the launch of her first book, Jesus Feminist, the Canadian author and blogger Sarah Bessey has invited anyone who identifies with the label themselves to blog about why.  So even though the book doesn’t get released over here until the end of the month (actually this timing is better for me given I will have a newborn babe by then); and despite the fact that we don’t get the cool yellow cover, I’m joining in from afar because I’m too excited not to. (If you haven’t read Sarah’s blog, go now, seriously, don’t feel bad about leaving mine, she’s a beautiful writer…)

JesusFem_Quote2

I’m a Jesus feminist because of God and my mother and my education; because of a crazy American lady-pastor, because of Elaine Storkey, because of Walter Brueggemann and because of Germaine Greer.  They’d probably all be horrified to know how their influences have intertwined.

First there was God, because it really all started there, however fractured and tiny my perception of him was and is.  It was so early that he loved me and made me believe my life had a purpose and a value; and convinced me that he had sown stuff in me that others couldn’t see; and that he had some ideas for how we could walk it out together.  That was really all that mattered then, and probably still the only thing that does.

But then there was also my mother whose indomitable spirit and fiery independence I’ve written about before.  I could never have grown up timid in her orbit.  She made me a fighter.  She would not let me shy away from the world, or become less than what she saw me to be.  Sometimes it was exhausting.

And then when you’re in single sex education for 13 years, you get taught a lot about women’s potential and why it matters that you contribute (‘There aren’t enough women engineers!’).  I got so angry in university classes as the men waded in constantly with their opinions and the women sat quietly listening, waiting until they had something brilliant before they’d share it.  How I fumed in silent frustration, wishing I had something amazing to say.  You hear a lot, in a girls’ college, about how you have something to give to the world and that it matters that you give it.  I was convinced by the theory; just sometimes too cowardly to speak out.

I heard some different messages as the years went by, but really I was indoctrinated.  At church a man and wife pastored together.  Nothing was off-limits for me because of my gender.  There was little chance I could have grown up believing I should be less than a whole person with as much to offer as any man.  I had a voice and wanted to use it.

I could go on through the books I read, the arguments I had, the mentors who inspired me, the people who opened doors for me and invited me to speak and lead.  I grew in the doing.

But some days I was overly zealous and aggressive.  I had a couple of comical dates that ended with men running in the opposite direction, or expressing innocent surprise at the number of strong opinions I held.  There have been uglier moments when I have rebelled unnecessarily, refusing to help with Sunday School (‘you’re only asking because I’m a woman!’), feeling demeaned when I became a PA (‘a secretary?!’), shutting down debates without listening (‘I will never take a man’s surname!’).  I too easily make feminism into a platform for independence, when what I actually desire is partnership.  Inter-dependence.  Working together to our different strengths.  All of us choosing to serve and champion others.

But maybe that’s why Jesus Feminist feels like a better label than Feminist for me.  I don’t shy away from the latter, although I know how complicated, compromised and divisive it has become as a label.

I’m a Jesus Feminist because it starts for me with Jesus and how he loves me.  How he created me and invites me to express that in the world.  How he dignified and loved women when he walked the earth.  How he calls us together as a body rather than as lone rangers.

And because God is constantly teaching and inspiring and leading the world through women and he doesn’t even ask permission.  Ha! the very thought! He just goes ahead and does it.

 

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To the left, to the left (on politics)

It might not seem like the most likely moment to talk about politics, when my natural instincts are all driving me to dig a big deep hole somewhere and hide away, all mammal-like, to give birth in peace; but for today at least, that’s where my mind is.  So I thought I’d tell you the whole unlikely story of how I got to be a bit of a lefty.

I wasn’t raised that way.  My parents are avid Telegraph subscribers and huge Thatcher fans.  I was brought up thinking that the Iron Lady was the bees’ knees.  Our home was a happy place that day in 1992 when John Major was re-elected Prime Minister.

Well, at least our home was politically aware.  Dad likes to read aloud to us all from The Daily Telegraph comments’ section.  I remember my mum’s seemingly weird obsession with us always knowing who the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary were at any one time (I may have known their names but I didn’t know what they actually did).  My education taught me next to nothing about politics or economics: the concept of having to pay tax on my earnings was first introduced to me by a friend when I was about 20, and I was horrified.  But at least I knew who was in the cabinet.

I can understand how Thatcher bred such loyalty in my parents.  Political ideology aside, they, (we), belonged to a segment of society that did pretty well under her leadership.  We worked and saved and prospered.

It did of course help that we weren’t miners.

In John Smith’s day, my mother’s working class loyalties were re-awoken and there was political tension in the household.  I think she might even have voted for Tony Blair once, but don’t quote me on that.

But still, I just wasn’t that interested in politics.  Hardly anyone around me was.

When I turned up at university and gravitated towards all things theatrical, I encountered for the first time a group of people who read The Guardian, and laughed at my Tory-graph-reading (“Seriously? These papers have a political bias?”).  My new, cool, lefty, arty friends started me on a bit of a drift leftwards, but conviction was still pretty thin on the ground.

So I guess it was really in my 20s that I finally started thinking about politics, and reading things, and working out where I stood.  Justice started to matter to me when I looked at the world and read more of the Bible; my work at Tearfund meant I kept confronting horrendously unfair systems and laws that were locking people in poverty both here and overseas; it became obvious to me that charity was never going to be enough to change the world.  And yet the God I worship seems to always be asking big and awkward questions about what we’re all doing to make things fair and look out for the weakest.  It brings you back to politics pretty fast (boring and messy and compromised as it is, Russell Brand).

But why lefty politics?  One glance across the channel to the US would have you believe that Christian faith is practically synonymous with right-wing politics.  I’ll save that rant for another day; but here’s why that’s not the case for me.

I loved how Peter Ormerod put it in The Guardian this weekend:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, not saying: “Blessed are the rich, because your wealth trickles down and everyone’s a winner.

“Blessed are those who are full, because that means you’re not scrounging off the rest off us.

“Blessed are you who are laughing now, because you’re obviously hardworking, responsible, decent people.”

It would be reductive and misleading simply to describe Jesus as a leftie… But it’s safe to say that, in terms of the left’s usual causes célèbres, Jesus does pretty well: nonviolencesupport for outcasts and outsidersthe redistribution of power and wealth in favour of the powerless and poorforgiveness,taxationreconciliationfigs.

Leaving aside the question of figs, he summarises things pretty well.  I don’t believe in the nonsense of the trickle-down effect; I think that serious work needs to be done to reduce the shocking (and increasing) divide between rich and poor because it makes everyone more miserable as well as just being unfair;  I have even become a huge fan of tax – I love that we all have to contribute to free education and healthcare and roads for everyone.

I am far from an uncritical supporter of all the Labour party has done in the past decades, but their policies and values sit closer to my justice-seeking heart than any of the alternatives, and that’s why I’m a member.  Also, being a member means they have to listen to me.

Yes, things are a little depressing for my parents now, politically.  First I joined the Labour party and then I married a man who actually works at a desk in Labour HQ, with Labour MPs.  I’ve even been to their staff Christmas do.  (It’s fair to say that we don’t talk a lot about politics with the family).

And the reason my mind has turned to all this again this week is because the lefty political organisation which Andy leads, and of which I am a member, is relaunching.  The Christian Socialist Movement has now become Christians on the Left, and relaunches in Parliament tomorrow night.  We are a group of Christians affiliated to, but not owned by, The Labour Party, who care passionately about social justice and believe that we need to pursue it from within politics as well as outside of it.  Oh, and we have this small dream of rewiring the global economic system.

If you are intrigued, baffled, fascinated or just a little bit curious, check out the new website, watch the snazzy new intro vid, and come along tomorrow night:

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And I’d love to hear where the intersection of faith and politics leads you, or how you ended up where you are politically.  You can be right-wing and still my friend.

 

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The fight in me

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Mental taxation in a woman can lead to atrophy, mania, or worse – leave her incapacitated as a mother. This is not an opinion. It is a fact of nature.  Dr Henry Maudsley, British psychiatrist (1835-1918)

These words are emblazoned across the top of the publicity for a play I saw this weekend at Shakespeare’s Globe called Blue Stockings by Jessica Swale.  Perhaps they make you laugh with incredulity and smile at how the world has changed.  In the scene where Dr Henry Maudsley himself appears as a character lecturing a class of rapt Cambridge students and spouting similarly absurd conclusions, I found myself completely unable to even break out a smile.

It made me weep hot, angry tears.

The play told the story of the women who fought to be allowed to graduate from the very same university where I studied.  And from which I graduated.  Only they were fighting around 100 years before I turned up there, and the battle was only won 50 years later.

I went to see the play alone, and it’s fair to say that the older generations sat either side of me had less emotive responses (for the first time ever, I went to the Globe and didn’t stand in the yard for three hours; pregnancy demanded a seat). I wondered why the story hit me with such force.

I felt physically stunned by the brutality and the bullying behaviour of the characters who opposed these women.  There was a scene where the main female character tried to participate in a lecture (in the same manner that the male students were) and she was systematically shut down by Dr Maudsley in a horrific exchange.

It is not that this particular fight matters above all others for me; what broke me was knowing how much of this same brutality and bullying continues to be inflicted on women all around the world.

Yes, it span out into enormous, overwhelming questions.

I thought of the shelters I have visited around the world where women are rehabilitated after being trafficked or abused.  I remembered reading about Project Unbreakable on facebook last week, in which women are photographed holding a poster with the words their sexual abusers said to them (“It’s your fault”; “I know you want this”).

But it wasn’t just about the big, glaring traumas we all readily decry.  It reminded me of all the subtle ways in which we abuse power and dehumanise one another.  Maybe it’s the UK government and the rhetoric they’re using to justify the shrinking of the welfare state; but it’s also the dispute between two grandmothers on the bus on the way home, when all they want to do is silence one another with demeaning and reductive insults.

It’s me every time I can’t be bothered to listen to someone else’s perspective.

Watching this complicated and unbalanced power struggle played out on stage made me ask questions about what I am fighting for and how that fighting should be undertaken.

I call myself a feminist.  I know the term means a hundred different things and that you might not like all of them.  But I believe women should be allowed to vote.  And to own property.  That they should be allowed to choose if and whom they marry.  I believe they should be able to be doctors, academics, leaders in every sense; to be paid equally with men.  In essence I believe men and women to be equal in worth, and that the world needs both genders to participate fully in every dimension of life if we are to reach our potential as humans.

And I have always been ready to fight for that.

When it comes to my own path through life, I have fought for my space.  I have not waited for men to hand it to me.  I have not waited for a man to tell me I am worth something, but instead have ploughed headlong into the world, into participation and leadership, into work and creativity.

But does this make life a relentless fight?  Is there a moment to stop fighting?

In the play there are moments when the women stop.  Or hold back.  There’s the girl from Ireland who is sent back to her family because her mother has died and there is no-one to care for her younger siblings.  She doesn’t choose to leave but is made to: she is forced to abandon her studies and, probably, the hope of a different life.

The Suffragettes famously redirected their energies away from their political campaigning during the first World War in order to support the national war effort.

Are these cowardly capitulations, tactical manoeuvres or necessary retreats?

Do we betray ourselves and our cause when we step back from the fray?  My fighting has mellowed over the past decade.  I seem to offend people less than I once did.

Part of that has come through my marriage.  The move from being single and fighting my way out in the world, into a relationship where we are supposed instead to fight for each other over and above ourselves, is not an easy or a straightforward one.  It means unlearning the instincts I have been taught.  It means capitulation, it means trusting my cause to another, and there is plenty in me that rails against it.   The refuge I have found in not having to fight everything alone anymore has been one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever known.  And yet I am still afraid to trust.

And then when I watch a play in which women are bullied and belittled and dismissed with such ugly aggression, I am heartbroken all over again and I want to fight.  Because it is abhorrent and abusive and it didn’t die out 100 years ago. And it matters to me that no human being is treated like that.  And when it is the case that around the world it is my own gender who routinely still receive treatment like that, I am compelled into the fray again.

Only how do I do that?

I feel less urgency about fighting a path for myself in the world, but I do want to fight it for others – and certainly for my daughters if I have any.  I don’t want to be unnecessarily offensive or aggressive but I will not be a push-over and I will not let you tell me it’s alright.  I want to listen and understand, but there are other voices I want you to hear too.

You might not always be able to tell, but I’ll be fighting this one for a long time to come.

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Shopping

Yesterday I preached a sermon at church about shopping (heard many of those?), and so it’s fair to say my mind has been pretty focused on the topic over the past week.  It’s not a small topic; you could write a book about it, a whole series probably, but that’s not going to happen soon, so I thought that instead I’d try to summarise where I got to here, under my sporadic series…

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(The blog will be more a taster than a transcript of what I spent 30min talking about…)

So, shopping.  We all do it, and most of us not on the bread-line do it more than we need to.  It’s become an obsession across the Western world, and even, increasingly, beyond.  The research says that if you’re a woman you’re (forgive the hideous generalisations) more likely to buy clothes, accessories, make-up etc, along with all the supplies you need to take care of all your dependants. And if you’re a man you’ll be more drawn to music and gadgets and entertainment.  And we all buy food and books and booze.

And why?  It seems to me there are a lot of answers that include (but are not limited to): to fit in, to make me happy, because I’ve gone off the old one, to become a better version of myself, to pass the time, to get a buzz, to make my life more efficient, to make the kids happy, because it’s easier just to buy one myself, because the advert was really cool.  We look to the acquisition of ‘stuff’ which we rarely need to answer all kinds of questions and insecurities that they never will be able to answer (and we kind of know that).  And because everything around us is just feeding all that wanting….   It’s become the normal thing to do.

I’m no lover of shopping.  Well, I think actually I just hate the agony of wanting so much stuff and not being able to have it.  So it’s more true to say I have it in me to be a huge lover of shopping but I then I got scared by how quickly I started plotting ‘ways to make more money to buy more stuff’ and so opted for a more radical solution.  If I stopped going to the shops I stopped wanting to buy stuff.  So that’s my primary strategy for shopping. Don’t go.

But then, a girl has to eat, so it’s not an entirely practical approach to life.

I read two articles recently that got me thinking some more.  One was a blog by pyro-theologian Pete Rollins entitled “I believe in Child Labour, Sweatshops and Torture” and the other was a recent article in the Observer with the headline, “Admit it. You love cheap clothes. And you don’t care about child slave labour“.  They both shone a searing light on the reality that we know plenty about the horrific injustices of how our consumerism is kept afloat – the sweatshops, the child labour, the destruction of the environment – and yet most of the time we don’t care enough to let it affect our rampant consuming (and that’s before we even get onto the issue of how disastrous the amount of stuff we throw away is becoming).  We allow ourselves to be reassured by the declared good intentions of well-meaning companies and we leave it there.  And things don’t change.  We tell ourselves that we believe in justice and human rights and stewarding the environment, but when it comes to whether or not to buy that nice, cheap dress in [name your cheap clothes shop of choice], or that [favourite non-fairtrade chocolate bar], we don’t let anything hold us back.

It’s uncomfortable reading.

But Pete Rollins’ blog went further.  He said the reason that we can’t face the truth of our own indifference and hypocrisy – that we tell ourselves that we’re better than our behaviour would suggest – is that we don’t understand grace:

In grace (the experience of actually accepting that you are accepted) we can admit to who we are without excuses, or even trying to change. For in grace we accept that we are accepted as we are and don’t have to change anything. The power of grace really comes to light when we realise that it is only as we are able to find this acceptance and admit to our darkness that the darkness begins to dissipate and our basic operating code begins to change.

It is only grace which makes any kind of change or growth possible in the longterm, I believe.  And when it comes the bigger picture of our own, often compulsive, consumption, grace also offers us a pathway through.  It says that we are accepted, loved, as we are now, not as the version of ourselves that we aspire to be.  We already have all that we are looking for.  Some people look for this grace within themselves; I find that I need it to come from elsewhere.

There’s a lot more to say, but if that’s whet your appetite here’s the link to the mp3 of the whole talk.  I’d love to hear how you find a just and liberated pathway through the challenges of wall-to-wall retail opportunities…

 

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Fighting against the violent tide

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(excuse the tiny, dodgy photo, I’m limited by technology in a far flung place).

Today I woke up in the most violent country in Latin America, and not long after breakfast there was a blast of gunfire nearby (or maybe it was just an early morning fireworks display, mum).

But I spent the day in a place known as ‘the refuge’ where flocks of bright green parrots whizzed (and shrieked) overhead, and children of all ages played together in a beautiful garden. Where another kind of life felt possible.

We spent the day with Pamela Leon, a relaxed Guatemalan lawyer in a turquoise polo shirt, who set up the refuge after encountering the horrific injustices and abuses suffered by the victims of domestic violence in her country. Very few of these cases even make it into the country’s legal processes, but the few she saw were enough.

Domestic violence has somehow, heartbreakingly, become an accepted part of Guatemalan culture, as much within the church as outside of it. (And Guatemala boasts the highest numbers of Christians in Central America, outside of the traditional Catholic church. It’s a sidenote to where I’m going, but this just hits me in the guts, how can we offer so hope little to the world?).

I met women today who arrived at the refuge barely recognisable, bruised and swolen from all the blows they had so recently received. There are plenty theories as to why this violence persists, some tracing its normalisation back to the long civil war from 1960 to 1996, and others (including Pamela) believing instead that it began with the violent colonisation of the country in the 16th century. The question that matters, however, is how ‘normal’ gets rewritten in a country’s psyche (or even just a family’s).

It’s not that it’s legal. Guatemala actually has an impressive legal system and a series of laws which protect women. On paper they’re great. If only it led to action. Corruption and machismo combine to mean that women and children are left undefended and unheard, and that men are shown preferential treatment. Pamela shared how when the police are called out by women who have been beaten by their husbands, it isn’t unusual for the police to suggest that they just need to learn to cook better, or make more effort with their appearance.

Pamela’s project is, for a privileged few, making possible the life that the law is supposed to enshrine. She and her tiny staff team are helping these women create a different future. The women come and live at the refuge for a year or so, with their children. In contrast to where they have come from, it is safe and peaceful. The children are able to go to school. The women are given psychological support, a calm environment, friendship, prayer and love. There are small businesses through which they can earn money. They are encouraged to study and to find work. (Today one of them was taking her entrance tests to train as a nurse). If they are prosecuting their aggressors then Pamela takes up their defence and advises them legally. Sadly there are few other lawyers who will defend these women because of how hard it is, and the lack of financial reward.

El Refugio is the only project of its kind in the country. If, miraculously, your situation is taken seriously, then if you’re lucky you’ll end up in a government-run service which offers respite for 48 hours up to a maximum of 3 months. They don’t offer any lasting way out, so your situation probably won’t change in the long-run. Pamela’s project can take 7 women and their children at a time.

It’s a drop in the ocean.

And I know the ocean is made up of many (squillion) drops but it must feel like blowing against the wind.

Pamela is less defeatist, and it’s because she has genuine faith that there is a bigger story than these depressing statistics suggest. She feels called (you’d need to, to undertake such a courageous and dangerous task, especially as a single woman), and says that her part is obedience to that calling. She is not single-handedly responsible for turning the tide, but she will play her part.

And maybe that’s the only way to fight violence: to refuse its tactics, to resolutely live out an alternative, to be patient and compassionate and do what you can, to defend others and create space for their healing and rebirth. It’s not fast (unlike the alternative), but perhaps it grows something that will endure?

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