Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rubbing shoulders with the saintly

Today I had the huge honour of conducting a funeral with Colin Marchant. We were burying a woman who's died before her time who was in Colin's young adults group at West Ham Central Mission. She'd married a Bromley boy at our church 35 years ago and so her funeral service took place in our building.

Colin is a legend among baptist ministers who work in the city. A pioneer theologian practitioner committed to growing a church with and for the poor; a leading thinker in urban mission and someone who has spent pretty much his whole ministry in Newham .

It was great to catch up with him. At 80 he's still as sharp as ever, still encourages with a twinkle in his eye, speaks directly and simply. But what was great to see was the peer group of the deceased, people scattered all over the country, many of them in ministries of one sort or another, all discipled by Colin into a questing and questioning faith.

He knew their stories, had followed their progress with prayerful interest over 40+ years. Just sometimes you get a sense of being in the presence of a true saint. It was a privilege.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The trouble with normal...

A Brazilian man held for nine hours at Heathrow under anti-terrorism legislation, Vodafone's elaborate and dodgy-tasting tax affairs and police involvement in the blacklisting of workers in the construction industry. These stories don't seem to have much in common, except that they comprised the front page of this morning's Guardian.

But I wonder if they don't reveal something slightly unpleasant about the world we are allowing to be made for us. These three stories are all about the operations of 'the elite state', the unhealthy alliance of powerful corporations, wealthy individuals and governments with over zealous and rather too un-regulated security operations.

The Brazilian man is the partner of Glen Greenwald, the reporter who has revealed the extent of the NSA/GCHQ web of snooping into the live of tens of millions of ordinary citizens; Vodafone is the beneficiary of billions of pounds worth of government contracts despite its tax affairs being more labyrinthine than a Dan Brown plot; and the blacklisting of construction workers shouldn't be happening at all but when the same murky police units that were seeking to smear the Lawrence family in the 90s are involved in gathering 'intelligence' on trades unionists, then the rat smell becomes ovverpowering.

I'm not a conspiracy fan. I think Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK, that we did land on the moon and that Princess Diana died in a car crash. I tend to think governments are incapable of organising a piss-up in a brewery. But I think I can spot the politics of fear and greed at work. And this morning's front pages were full of it. Bruce Cockburn nailed it in his 1980 song The Trouble with Normal:

Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage
Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage
Suddenly it's repression, moratorium on rights
What did they think the politics of panic would invite?
Person in the street shrugs -- "Security comes first"
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse

Callous men in business costume speak computerese
Play pinball with the Third World trying to keep it on its knees
Their single crop starvation plans put sugar in your tea
And the local Third World's kept on reservations you don't see
"It'll all go back to normal if we put our nation first"
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse

Fashionable fascism dominates the scene
When ends don't meet it's easier to justify the means
Tenants get the dregs and landlords get the cream
As the grinding devolution of the democratic dream
Brings us men in gas masks dancing while the shells burst
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse