Thursday, July 30, 2015

Seeing the issues through the smoke

And so the Calais saga continues and instead of constantly shouting at the radio - 'what about the industrial action?' - to the annoyance of my wife and anyone else within earshot, I thought I'd return to the story here.

Yes, there are a lot of migrants in Calais and yes, they are trying to get to UK (because despite our repeated warning that they will not be welcome here, they feel a bit of racist abuse is preferable to being blown up, shot at, rendered homeless by armed factions, or whatever horror they are fleeing|). And yes, we have got to address this issue which is taking on crisis proportions.

But the situation is exacerbated, inflamed, stoked up by the industrial dispute affecting the port of Calais. On 1 July the Channel Tunnel company closed My Ferry Link, a service it owned that operated three boats offering twelve or more sailings a day. One of those boats was a dedicated commercial vehicle carrier. 600 workers stood to lose their jobs in a region of France that already has 13% unemployment

On top of that another ferry operator, DFDS, who were prepared to take on the boats but not their workers, found itself drawn into the dispute. The upshot of this is that the my ferry link vessels are permanently docked in Calais (having been disabled by their redundant crews) and port staff have refused to handle DFDS boats (which are now mostly sailing to Dunkirk).

So there are fewer places available on the ships that are still running and fewer berths for those ships to dock at in Calais. Hence the delays. If you remove twelve or more crossings a day on the busiest route into France, it's quickly going to lead to tail-backs on either side of the channel. Those delays cause queues of stationary vehicles which become a target for people desperate to cross to England by any means they can find.

Channel Tunnel security has not been helped by the striking dock workers demonstrating in the mouth of the tunnel, causing damage, burning tyres, disrupting the operator's business.

So, I wonder if the BBC, other news organisations, and the press, could focus a little more on this story in a bid to put pressure on all those involved in the tangled industrial dispute to get that sorted out. If it is sorted out, the port of Calais could fully open, ferries could sail on time, and more commercial vehicles could get about their business rather than joining the longest car park on the M20 and disrupting the lives of people in Kent.

Settling the dispute is not the whole answer to what we're seeing. We have to do something more than wring our hands about the migrant situation and call for the army to be deployed. But settling the dispute would get the port open, the traffic moving,and would enable the operators to focus more on sorting out their security than assuaging the anger of tourists and truckers.

It would also mean that when we go to France in early September, we won't be held up.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Summers are for updating course material

Today I have been thinking about the New Testament theology unit I teach at Spurgeon's. I want to make some changes to its content (strictly within the agreed parameters, of course). So I have been reading papers on the atonement, the Holy Spirit and James.

I have decided that my students will get to read Michael Gorman's 'Effecting the new covenant: a (not so) new, new testament model for the atonement' because it's vintage Gorman - and he is a scholar they really need to be acquainted with; Peter David's 'God and the Human situation in the letter of James' because it's one of the few papers that deals with James on its own terms and not as a foil for Paul; but I can't decide on a new paper on the Holy Spirit. I am toying with a paper by Max Turner on Luke-Acts, but it is a quite specific rebuttal of the position adopted by Robert Menzies, rather than a general introduction to Luke's theology of the Holy Spirit, so I'm not sure about it. I think I'll need to keep looking - if anyone has any suggestions, they'd be gratefully received.

The rest of the unit will remain as it is. I'll just be tweaking some of the material to update it, revisiting the bibliography to make sure that it's up-to-date and revising the essay questions. Once that's done, I'm hoping to revise a paper gave at the post-grad seminar with a view to publication and then begin revisions on some on-line units that require a make-over. That should all keep me out of mischief through the summer.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The news from France...

So, last week we were in France. After a fabulous weekend in Amiens (one of our favourite cities on the planet), we went to Le Pas Opton, Spring Harvest's French base, for Dutch week. We had a great time with some wonderful Dutch believers.

We went to France through Calais - our usual route - but were being warned ahead of leaving that our journey would be a nightmare and that we might never get there! Well, we did. However, on the Friday we were sailing we set off extra early and went to Dover on the M2 rather than the M20 because operation stack was in operation on that road.

We left extra time because we expected to hit traffic and had been warned that passport control takes longer than it used to. There was nothing on the M2/A2 so our journey took just over an hour. We sailed through passport control with no one manning any of the booths and so no one looking at our passports. We were so early we could not check in for half an hour. On disembarking in Calais we left the port in modest traffic with no disruption.

We expected the return to be worse. True passport control was slow - mainly because there were not enough lanes open - and the timetable was disrupted. But we were sailing within an hour of check-in, which is relatively normal. Admittedly, we were on a ferry that should have left an hour and half before we arrived in the port! Most travellers seemed cheerful enough, however.

So, today on the BBC news there were reports of chaos in Calais caused by an ocean of migrants forcing their way into Britain by any means they could find. This was not what we saw. In fact we didn't see any evidence of the migrant invasion at all on our trip. What the BBC failed to mention is that the main disruption in Calais is caused by an on-going industrial dispute between workers of the company My Ferry Link and the company's owners, the channel tunnel company (hence the disruption to the tunnel over recent days).

The only person who mentioned the industrial action was the man from the Freight Transport Association who thought strikes should be outlawed in the industry. Perhaps a better solution would be what the French government appear to be proposing at a meeting next Monday which is that they take control of My Ferry Link. This would ensure that capacity on the cross channel is not reduced (the dispute is over My Ferry Link's current owners shutting the company down and taking the boats out of the water, thus reducing available space and allowing prices to rise).

It is the industrial action that has given the migrants desperate to get to the UK a chance to risk making the crossing. The result has been a rise in the number of deaths in the water and on the tracks of the channel tunnel (the latest was the body of young man found on top of a train this morning). So part of the solution to the migrant issue would be to settle the industrial action swiftly and justly, increase the capacity of the carriers on the route (either under or over the sea).

There is talk of a big lorry park being built in Kent to free the M20 from becoming a car park from time to time. That sounds good. How about also building a reception centre on this side of the channel so that we could take our fair share of the migrants coming to the EU and not leaving them in the hands of people traffickers?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Whose money, whose decision?

The mantra since the Thatcher-Reagan years (I think based on Milton Friedman's model of the economy) is that the money the government spends is tax payers money. It isn't. Tax payers have paid it to government for them to spend, according to the programmes on which they were elected.

I expect my government to act justly with the money that it has been given stewardship of by the nation's tax payers. For this reason, I expect two things. The first is that everyone who owes tax will pay tax - whether that's individuals or corporations; they will not look for sophisticated ways of avoiding paying what government (elected by all of us - or in our current government's case by barely 25% of us, but that's another blog entirely!) has deemed people should pay.

The second is that I expect government to spend according to principles of justice and equity, fairness and what is in the interest of the well-being of the majority of citizens. I think this means that in moral terms, governments should make decisions ethically. For me that would mean that governments would take seriously what the bible says about money and community, about shared prosperity and the well-being of all. I appreciate others might take a different view, based on a different morality.

So Europe's tax payers are not bailing out Greece, as though Europe's leaders had gone round dragging Euros from reluctant citizens' wallets and purses. No, Europe's governments are using their money (that gathered in taxes which is now theirs to disperse) to do the right thing by Greece. At that very least, it means that Europe's leaders must explain why they have taken the decisions they have and not hide behind their taxpayers. We do not know what they want.

Curiously, we do know what the Greek taxpayers want because they expressed their view on this single issue and an overwhelming majority of them wanted something different from what they are being offered. The fact that Europe's leaders ignore the democratic will of the Greek people nails the lie that they have any interest in the tax payers of any country.

What they do, they do in their own interests and we the people should not be implicated in their ineptitude.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Debt and repentance

In the course of our studies in Luke at LPO this week we have had cause to mention debt (that's because Jesus talked quite a lot about it). It is, of course, impossible to raise the issue of debt without talking about Greece and the current bail-out plan and what Jesus' parable of the two debtors might have to say about it.

In after session conversations it has become that several Dutch guests are very hawkish on this issue. The Greeks need to pay back every Euro. There is recognition that maybe the Greek people are not to blame for previous government action, but in order to apply the teaching of Jesus, there needs to be repentance before there can be forgiveness.

I've never been sure that this is how it works with Jesus. The Kingdom comes to us, wraps us up in its embrace, carries us off into a new adventure with God, so we repent (change our minds about our way of living and change our direction of travel so that we go the way Jesus is going).

But at a deeper and more thoroughly biblical level, I don't think that can have been what Jesus had in mind. He grew up in a biblical tradition of Jubilee where debts were written-off every seven years and after fifty years land and assets were restored to their original owners. So I think in declaring jubilee in Luke 4 ( since he uses a jubilee text from Isaiah 61 to launch his public ministry in his home town). Jesus was declaring  that debts would be written off and the poor get back what had been expropriated by others. Hence his declaration in Luke 6 that the poor are blessed and that the rich are not (something he might have learned from his mother given the content of her song in chapter 1).

Of course, this does not solve the Greek problem. But it does give an interesting theological angle to it that maybe the people of faith across the continent of Europe could be expressing at least as a way of generating a broader debate than that favoured by the bankers.

Oh and while we're at it, why are the bankers who helped previous Greek governments hide their debts and rich Greeks avoid paying anything into the Greek economy by way of taxes, not having to pay off some of the debts thereby incurred by the hapless Greeks? Actually, why aren't any of them in prison for fraud and false accounting?

Does the teaching of Luke's gospel have anything to say about this? I think it probably does....

Reflections on going Dutch

So I'm speaking at Dutch week at LPO and thought I'd post a reflection or two.

The first is that Kees Kraayenoord (our worship leader this week) is outstanding. He's written a couple of songs that I am definitely taking back to Bromley to teach to my lot. The songs are in English, I hasten to add! You can check him out here (though the site's in Dutch!)

The second is that I've had a good attentive audience for the Bible studies and a responsive lot in the evenings. I've had good productive conversations with people who want to take the material we're looking at in Luke's gospel really seriously - which is a huge encouragement to me.

The third is that the weather is fab - how could you not encounter God in such a place?

So, looking forward to day 3 in the Spring Harvest house....

More to follow...

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A fresh master class in languid americana

From the moment a single acoustic guitar run heralds the arrival of at least for a little while, you just know that you're in safe hands. Bill Mallonee's new album, Lands and Peoples, continues where last year's Winnowing left off.

Languid, poignant, insightful, life-affirming and provocative, Mallonee's latest collection of 12 self-penned songs is pitch perfect. He and Mariah Rose play everything on songs that are arranged to reveal their depth and beauty.

He has a wonderful turn of phrase that takes the listener into the heart of the human condition without them really realising it until they're in so deep they have no option but to face it.

Faith seems to be hanging by a thread as Mallonee surveys a world overrun by the madness of greed and misfortune. But faith is hanging in there, woven into each track, a faith that is not afraid to name its opposite as a lived experience, a faith that looks reality full in the face and all-but asks 'is that the worst you've got?'

This is not a gospel album and yet it's full of God; he leaks out of the playing and the vocal, sits alongside you as you listen and whispers 'are you hearing this?'

I've said it before,but it bears repeating: Mallonee has hit a rich vein of form that stretches back over his last four albums - not that he was a slouch before this, you understand! These songs are the work of a mature master at the height of his powers. He deserves a huge audience, gathered in small numbers in a myriad intimate gatherings across the land, so we can soak up the wisdom and ask questions...

Oh that we could get him to Britain...

You check it out and buy it here. Go on, treat yourselves, you'll not be disappointed.


Friday, April 17, 2015

IMF living up to its reputation

So Christine Lagarde has endorsed George Osborne's economic policies.

This is a bit like being given sailing tips by the captain of the Titanic. Lagarde was the finance minister in president Sarkozy's lamentable French administration who had been a spectator as the world's economy was crashed into recession by out of control bankers. She spent much of 2008 Gallically shrugging but offering nothing useful while Brown and Obama attempted to right the ship.

Now she presides over the single tool IMF, an organisation that assumes austerity is the solution to every economic problem facing any country across the globe.

But even her economists - those in the organisation who actually understand how these things work - have given Osborne the thumbs down, arguing that he will not be able to balance the books if he sticks to his failed programme.

The FT agreed with those economists and this week even the Times has weighed in reminding people that it was the bankers who crashed the world economy and not the labour party.

Lagarde continues the IMF's proud tradition as summarised by Bruce Cockburn in his withering Call it Democracy:


Padded with power here they come
International loan sharks backed by the guns
Of market hungry military profiteers
Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared
With the blood of the poor

Who rob life of its quality
Who render rage a necessity
By turning countries into labour camps
Modern slavers in drag as champions of freedom

Sinister cynical instrument
Who makes the gun into a sacrament --
The only response to the deification
Of tyranny by so-called "developed" nations'
Idolatry of ideology

North South East West
Kill the best and buy the rest
It's just spend a buck to make a buck
You don't really give a flying fuck
About the people in misery

IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there's one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

See the paid-off local bottom feeders
Passing themselves off as leaders
Kiss the ladies shake hands with the fellows
Open for business like a cheap bordello

And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy

See the loaded eyes of the children too
Trying to make the best of it the way kids do
One day you're going to rise from your habitual feast
To find yourself staring down the throat of the beast
They call the revolution

IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there's one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

Enough said..?