Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How ethical is immigration?

I'm neither a fruitcake or a closet racist: I hate currants and one of my best friends is Welsh. But there's a bit of the immigration debate I don't hear a lot about.

During my time in Darlington I knew a chap whose job included travelling around Europe recruiting NHS nurses from other countries. If you've been treated by a Spanish nurse in the NE, that's probably his doing. I'm grateful, truly I am. There is rumoured to be one ethnically British NHS dentist operating somewhere in the country, our treatment has come from Romanians, Portuguese, and someone whose nationality we haven't quite made out yet. Our local hospital relies heavily on consultants and nursing staff from overseas, as do local nursing homes. We'd be in a mess without them.

But how ethical is this whole set up? Is it fair that other countries pay for the training of 1/3 of our consultants, and then we poach them with the offer of better salaries? 2 out of 5 NHS nurses were born abroad, is it really right that they are practicing here, rather than in India, the Philippines, Eastern Europe? Or is it ok that the countries which can bid the highest, get the workers, no matter who has paid for the training, or what the needs are in their home countries.

We can be rightly proud of hitting the target of 0.7% of Gross National Income being spent on overseas aid. But do we give with one hand and take with the other?

Now it may be that there is a massive global surplus of medical staff, and we are simply doing our bit to make sure that they don't languish on Hungarian dole queues, or ending up serving in the New Delhi Macdonalds. If so, please put me right.

If that means a shortage, there's one place to start looking immediately for trained staff. The market for cosmetic surgery grew 17% last year. Here are hundreds of surgeons and nurses squandering their training and talents on vanity and marketed procedures to conform to media portrayals of 'beauty'. Tony Campolo relates the story of a doctor friend who was employed doing breast enhancements for women. "Without thinking what I was saying, I asked him 'but on judgement day, what are you going to present before the Lord?' " (The guy had originally wanted to become a doctor to save children overseas from dying)

How do we justify stripping poorer countries of their trained medical staff to make up for shortfalls in the NHS, when some of those could be filled by the medical training and gifts currently squandered on vanity surgery? I hope nobody in UKIP has had botox or a boob job.

Monday, April 28, 2014

OCD is not a throwaway line

Being 'a bit OCD' seems to be turning up more and more in everyday conversation. It's a jolly way of saying you like things a bit neater or more in straight lines than the average person.

Except that's not what OCD is at all. A recent tweet by Stephen Fry along similar lines is discussed in this powerful piece by David Adam, where he examines what's wrong with talking about OCD as a minor behavioural quirk:

This matters for two reasons. First: the more that OCD is cemented in the public consciousness as a trivial and superficial tic, the more that misleading impression damages vulnerable people. It takes real courage to confront mental distress and seek help. Yet when people with OCD do so, they often find bafflement and hostility, even from within the medical profession. If OCD is simply someone who washes their hands then why is this patient telling me of unwanted thoughts to hurt their children? If OCD is someone who lines up their DVDs in alphabetical order, then is this teacher who wonders if she knocked someone down in her car last night and compulsively calls hospitals to make sure she didn't, safe to carry on working? Those aren't hypothetical examples. Parents with OCD are separated from their families. Workers are suspended from their jobs, but not because they pose any threat. One of the defining features of obsessive thoughts is that they are unwanted; we don't act on them. They get treated in that way because their symptoms either weren't recognised as OCD or because the reality of OCD was blurred by the popular misconception.
Second: people with OCD get their information from the same sources. We believe OCD is something else. If OCD is angst about symmetrical cakes then what is wrong with me? Why can't I shake these crazy ideas about catching HIV from my cat? Why do I think about having sex with next door's rabbit? Those too are genuine OCD examples. And here's the killer line: they are the kind of weird thoughts that everybody has from time to time. OCD is when they get stuck.
OCD is listed by the World Health Organisation as one of the 10 most debilitating illnesses in the world. Despite this, it's still mainly hidden, and misunderstood, Adam describes it as:
a disorder of thought: harrowing, distressing, torturing, impossible-to-shake thought. That's the O in OCD – obsession – and it's what causes most of the D from the same abbreviation. (It stands for disorder but means distress.) Ironically, the compulsions, the C in OCD, the most visible and least understood feature of the condition, are almost always what we do to make ourselves feel better. Compulsions are a response to an obsessive irrational thought.
We still don't know why our mental wiring goes disastrously wrong like this, and chemical and therapeutic treatments are still quite trial-and-error. Adam points out that there is a gap of over 10 years between people first experiencing the symptoms, and going for help (more of his story here). A lot of this is the stigma attached to mental health problems, particularly such extreme and irrational thoughts - who would want to own up to them? But this is a mainstream mental health problem, affecting roughly 1 in 100 people (probably more, as it's under-reported). 
So if you're just 'a bit OCD', be thankful, be very very thankful. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The power of Christian faith to unite across the political divide

Have we found something on which all the party leaders agree?

(update: Justin Welby has blogged on the topic too - ...the Prime Minister and other members of the Government have not said anything very controversial. It is a historical fact (perhaps unwelcome to some, but true) that our main systems of ethics, the way we do law and justice, the values of society, how we decide what is fair, the protection of the poor, and most of the way we look at society . . .  All have been shaped by and founded on Christianity. Add to that the foundation of many hospitals, the system of universal schooling, the presence of chaplains in prisons, and one could go on a long time. Then there is the literature, visual art, music and culture that have formed our understandings of beauty and worth since Anglo Saxon days.

It is clear that, in the general sense of being founded in Christian faith, this is a Christian country. It is certainly not in terms of regular churchgoing, although altogether, across different denominations, some millions attend church services each week. Others of different backgrounds have also positively shaped our common heritage. But the language of what we are, what we care for and how we act is earthed in Christianity, and would remain so for many years even if the number of believers dropped out of sight (which they won't, in my opinion)... Welby's answer seems to be yes and no - Christian roots, but not Christian practice)
Nick Clegg,
There’s been, I think, a really interesting debate actually, over the last few days in the context of this year’s Easter about whether we are, or are we not, a, a Christian country.  It seems to me that it is self‑evidently the case that our heritage, our traditions, our architecture, our history, is – is infused by, by, by Christianity.  Of course it is and there is nothing remotely controversial in saying so.
But of course what flows from, from those great Christian values is also a wonderful tradition of tolerance, of diversity, of recognition of other peoples, other faiths, other – other denominations, of our ability to live and work cheek by jowl.  Different faiths, different communities, people of all faiths and none, and that is something which seems to me is entirely consistent with our, with our Christian traditions and history and indeed, values that have infused our country for a very, very long period of time.

and "it's stating the flamingly obvious that we as a country are underpinned, informed, infused by Christian values. Christian heritage, Christian history, Christian culture, Christian values and I think that is something that is obvious about our identity as a nation."

David Cameron, "I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country"

Ed Miliband Britain is a Christian nation and is lucky to have the CofE as an established church (effectively, I can't find the original interview - done in Israel a couple of weeks ago - but he's quoted as saying the same thing in several places).

Nigel Farage: "we have been saying for years that we should be more muscular in our defence of Judeo-Christian culture"

No comment from the Greens, otherwise we'd have a full house.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Are Christians optimists or pessimists?

Not sure which way to jump on this one:

Every Christian should be a pessimist because the most effective government the world had seen up to that point, and the best religion on the planet, conspired between them to kill the best man who ever walked the face of the earth.

Every Christian should be an optimist because of what happened 2 days later.

Or to put it another way, it's Friday, but Sundays coming.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

"Do you believe this?"

Resurrection: Rob Bell from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

Because Jesus is risen, everything matters, and nothing is hopeless.

Christ is risen!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Bent out of shape

Sad to hear that Jonathan Trott is having another break from cricket, after a recurrence of his stress illness:

Stress and anxiety do not discriminate, however, and Trott appears to have decided that the man bent of out shape by cricket is not the man he wants to be. With a young family to consider, he seems to have come to the conclusion that on-field success in no longer worth the sacrifices required.

It's hard enough to come back from a public collapse, without having a running commentary in the media and paparazzi hiding in your bushes. 

The phrase 'bent out of shape' struck me. Public roles do that to people, sometimes your mental or physical health gets bent, sometimes it's your moral compass (politicians?), sometimes it's your judgement under pressure, sometimes it's not you but your family and the shape of their lives. I'm not sure if Trott's 'come to the conclusion that on-field success is no longer worth the sacrifices', or just found that he is no longer personally capable of making them at the moment. 

It sounds all too similar to what's happening to clergy
My husband is becoming bitter and demoralised. He is an incredibly gifted, spiritual man, but the reason he joined the church is becoming less and less clear, to him and to me

It wouldn't take long to name you a reasonable list of clergy (notably, mostly in their 40s and early 50s) who have burnt out, dropped out, been found out, or otherwise found the relentless pressure too much. I heard of a hard working vicar, younger than me, who was recently hospitalised with a suspected heart problem. In recent years a couple of local clergy have dropped out of active parish ministry (getting an undeserved scourging in the tabloids was a major factor in one case). I was in a meeting a few weeks ago, all dog collars, where I was the only one not on anti-depressants: an odd thing to hold against the fact that we have higher rates of job satisfaction than anyone else. 

Elsewhere in the diocese and the CofE some clergy have had to stand down after falling into sin. That's another way that people can respond to pressure. An 'Adam. and Ellie' moment perhaps isn't that far away for some of us. 

This shouldn't be a surprise, Christian faith is about carrying a cross, the world bends Jesus out of shape and it will do the same to us. But we can't simply shove this all in the box of 'suffering with Christ' - Trott has been bent out of shape by a combination of public pressure, his own high standards, and the relentless demands put upon him by international cricket. (Vicars: insert 'parish' for 'cricket') There's a sense that he has lost the joy of the game. It's 'for the joy set before him' that Jesus endures the cross. We need the joy to get through the Good Fridays. But scanning the battlefield around me, I'm now seriously asking the question of how I'll manage another 20 years of this without joining the casualty list at some stage. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The gospel according to Rev: vulnerable or just ineffectual?

If Yes Minister had a political agenda, Rev (which is also a wonderful comedy) appears to have its own theological axes to grind.  Smallbone stands in a long line of comically ineffectual Anglican clergy.  It’s not a coincidence that one of the most memorable villains of the first series was a clergyman with a thriving congregation. In fact, there are barely any positive mentions of anyone with the gifts or inclination to help the church to grow.
All too often, the debates within the Church of England polarise into either an unthinking focus on numerical growth or a curious glorification in decline and impotence (of the kind we see in Rev).  It is all too obvious what is wrong with an uncritical theology of success – as if “bums on seats” were more important than faithfulness and sacrifice.  In some parishes, changing demography may well make numerical growth unrealistic – and yet churches may be “present and engaged” in ways that bear a powerful witness to the Kingdom of God. Numerical growth and Kingdom growth are not always the same thing.
However, we must be equally wary of an uncritical theology of failure – which uses the language of “vulnerability” and “powerlessness” to justify structures and practices which have outlived their usefulness.  We must not confuse Christ-like vulnerability with plain, old-fashioned ineffectiveness.  And we need to remember, whenever “bums on seats” or “the numbers game” are criticised, that behind every number (or, indeed, above every “bum”…) is a life which is hopefully being transformed by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
read more here. In the light of Good Friday we have to look very hard at any theology which claims that success and strength are fundamental to being an authentic church. And in the light of Easter Sunday we have to look very hard at any theology which suggests that ineffectually doing a few small but nice things in a corner is what constitutes faithful and authentic ministry. 
there are one or two other analyses of Rev. doing the rounds, which are worth putting alongside the programme itself, for example:
Giles Fraser, wants the 'kindly but inert' vicar to show more backbone
Ian Paul wonders about the missing ingredient, if you can call God an ingredient.
Malcolm Stewart at Cultbox "the Church of England is a group of people united in the knowledge that there is always something to apologise for"
Tim Stanley "Self-laceration is the stock-in-trade of the 1960s liberal Christian tradition, and Rev is its fifth gospel"

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter poem

En la crucifixión
It had not rained that morning. All was tinder dry,
ready for burning hearts on, and somehow
it made it worse that God had sent the sun to shine
(on a day like this!) so strong and bright,
when nothing, any more, was right.
He was our leader, our brother, our son,
pastor santo, muerto, done.
Perhaps he could not see our ache, our endless pain,
eclipsed as it was by the peerless passion of his own,
shot through the feet, the hands, the throne.
For a moment I even hated him,
the merry dance he’d led us on. So much
for the red carpet. Instead a river of blood,
and all my doubts are washed away by that water:
he’s as mortal as you or I. And then again he caught my eye,
as if to say one last goodbye, and left.
Finally, the sky gained eyelids,
which closed,
and wept.

by Katy Morgan

Easter Linebacker - watch out bunnies

for some reason I still find this funny, and the kids love it. "Jesus rising from the dead and saying 'Booyah' to death!" That just about captures it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It must be Easter, or maybe Christmas

The signs are everywhere, a 'gospel of Jesus wife' which even the promoters admit was written at least 300 years after the life of Jesus, and one person who thinks the Gospel of Luke was written by Mary (well, actually, he doesn't - the Daily Fail thinks this makes a good headline, the GP/bible scholar in question repeats a fairly mainstream view; that Luke gathered evidence from various sources and then put it into a coherent order. Mary, Jesus mother, was one of the sources. That's not the same as saying she wrote the gospel. When you get to looking at what Dr Bradford actually says, there's not much there to fundamentally disagree with).

It must be Easter. Or maybe Christmas.

There's an unofficial publishing season for these stories, which begins roughly 15 days before any major Christian festival, after which nobody really gives a monkeys.

I love the 'facts' in the Mail article - Luke has double the number of feminine words than Mark? Well for a start his gospel is nearly twice as long, and he has more stories about women.

Perhaps we need to add in a Biblical Ignorance Day on the Tuesday before Palm Sunday, when all these things can be paraded, hyped up, the foundations of Christendom can be shaken to the core, and then we can all safely forget about them until the following year.