Labour leadership: compromise?

An humble suggestion regarding leadership of the Labour Party:

Dear Angela and Jeremy,

I wonder, before an official leadership challenge is announced (if the media is correct that Angela intends to), could you two consider again a new compromise? I assume you have talked about this; perhaps you have already considered what I suggest. If so, sorry to waste your time.

Jeremy was elected with a huge mandate by us the Party membership on a platform of ‘new politics’; Angela clearly has or will have the majority backing of the PLP. Could you two agree on a ‘new politics’ way of doing leadership?

I suggest you could agree to be co-equal co-leaders. It’s been done by a political party before. I suspect it’s not constitutionally possible within the Party or parliament yet, but that can be changed after a period of informally working as such — showing that it can and will work. Personally, I rather get the impression that each of you has the character to make such an arrangement work. (Actually, tell you what, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we always had at least one woman as a leader of the Party? That sounds like the sort of party Labour should be.)

Think of the headlines: senior Labour Party MPs act like reasonable grown-ups! New politics! Imagine the support from across the party, not least Jeremy’s legion ‘new politics’ supporters. Could you two take a move to unite rather than conquer? Could you show us the leadership the people need right now: unity over division, duty over ambition, and the people’s wellbeing over the Party’s internal bickering.

I would be happy to hear back from either or both of you (or your people), but I expect you’ll be too busy, which is fair enough.

Shalom,

Dan Barnes-Davies
Labour and Unite member

(I have also emailed this to Angela and Jeremy)

Migration

Here is a thing I wrote for a portfolio at the end of my recent long placement. Written as if addressed to that placement’s community, it is nonetheless topical, so I wonder whether anyone might find it interesting:

I’m a foreigner in these parts.
I grew up in north Essex, and more recently I call myself a Londoner. I’m not from here. Yet despite this, or maybe because of it, I have been made very welcome. The welcome I’ve found in Old Trafford — at the centre and the church, and ‘round about the area — has been, warm, genuine and friendly. I have noticed, to my delight, that this is nothing remarkable here.
This area is one of constant welcome and farewell. For a long time, this has been a place of migration. That’s a word I almost hesitated to use. Yet in Old Trafford you know how wonderful it is to be able to welcome all sorts of different people into your community. You see the benefits of rich diversity and enthusiastically embrace it. My time experiencing this first hand makes me all the more sad about the way migration is often talked about. I saw a large poster on the way into Manchester recently, near Salford Central. It bore a picture of a UK passport, turned into an open door, and the words ‘Turkey (population 76 million) is joining the EU’. The text seems to be reasonably accurate: Turkey’s population is over 79 million, and they are in the process of joining the EU (although this process started in 2005 and still has a Very Long Way to go). We know what the implication of the poster is: that staying in the EU will allow a large number of foreigners to ‘come over here’, which would be Dangerous. This sort of idea is so common now, that if each of us thinks about it we’ve quite probably all thought like this before, even if only briefly. I once heard a woman (whose parents, I knew, migrated here from the Caribbean), say to someone, about an Asian newcomer who was vexing her, “they think they own this country”. The common narrative about migration makes it so easy to forget ourselves, and to think like this.
The question I would like to ask of this would be: who does own this country? As far back as we know, all my family has been born in England or Wales. Do we really think that I have any more claim to this country than that vexed woman? Then why would she have any more claim than the Asian newcomer? When you think about it, the idea that I have any more right to any part of this country by virtue of where I was born (or worse, where my ancestors were born) doesn’t make much sense. The relatively modern idea of nation-states and nationality, if it ever made sense, doesn’t any more. I suppose the idea of nationality is mostly that groups of similar people would rule themselves. Well, what counts as similar? Would even your street constitute one nation? Why should I, a man from north Essex, have any more right to live in Salford than a woman from Tehran might?
The idea of a ‘scapegoat’ comes from a ritual practised in ancient times in the Jewish Temple, where the sins of all the community would be symbolically heaped upon a goat and it would be exiled from the town. Today migrants are our scapegoats: too many people is why the NHS is struggling to cope, too many foreigners is why there aren’t enough jobs and somehow also why the social security system is crumbling. Do we really believe this is entirely true? That the NHS’s problems aren’t something to do with systematic asset-stripping and privitisation? That our social security isn’t crumbling because it is woefully underfunded while multinational companies and multimillionaires pay shocklingly little tax?
Should we think of someone as ‘not us’ because they come from a different place? You have the opportunity to make a good decision — you have the pleasure of welcoming lots of newcomers in Old Trafford. You know what their lives are like. You see even a little of how they are treated. Many of you have lived those lives, or your parents have. Long may the loving community I’ve seen here continue to celebrate our common humanity.

Pet service and placement reflections

Environment Sunday (Year C Trinity 2) pet service

(Luke 7:11–17, Julian)

During the Gathering:

Thank you all very much
for bringing yourselves and your pets.

Perhaps some of you, like me,
aren’t able to bring your pets
with you in flesh,
but rather you bring them with you in your hearts.

On the back inside page of your orders of service,
you will see a photograph
of ‘our girls’, whom I’ve brought
with me in my heart
this morning.

I grew up with five Wheaten terriers
all mothers and daughters or sisters to eachother
Tess was our eldest, and these four are
Bronwen, Dilys, Megan and Gwyneth.

Our dogs were always part of the family,
or perhaps we were part of their pack!
I’ve not brought our dogs here in the flesh,
because Essex is far,
and also they’re all dead.

But I’ve brought them in my heart.

You see, our family-love is,
hope many of us know this,
not necessarily limited to humans.

 

G*d created all things.

G*d is our Parent — Mother and Father,
so all creation are our siblings — sisters and brothers.

Yes, the stories of the bible
tell us that there is something a little special about humans
— that in some sense we have the ‘image of G*d’
in some unique way —
and that G*d has made us stewards.

 

I love language. I love to find out about how words work.

So please indulge me.

The word steward in English comes from something like
house warden — someone, a senior servant in old times,
who supervises the care of the house for their master.

It can mean someone who’s a placeholder for that master —
like the Germanic stadtholder or French lieutenant.

This sense chimes, I think, quite well
with the Hebrew word used in the creation stories
of the book of Genesis when G*d places
the earth-person Adam to work and keep the garden

That ‘keep’ is šamār, and it means to keep,
to guard, to watch over, to protect.

We are charged with being G*d’s lieutenants,
caring for G*d’s creation in G*d’s stead.

 

Creation is suffering.

And when she suffers, we suffer.

The other picture inside the back of the booklet
alleges to be of a farm in Syria.

For years now, Syria has been suffering
nothing short of ecological disaster.

In a country where there is a lot of reliance on farming,
there have been years of drought.

Whether this is caused directly by human interference —
water management and so on —
or by human-caused climate change,
humans have changed the environment there,
and humans have suffered for it.

I can’t claim to know exactly
what has caused what,
but there’s a lot of suffering
throughout the world.

I wonder how much of it is closely linked
with our continued abuse of this planet’s resources.

 

Creation is more vulnerable than ever,
and G*d has entrusted her to our care.

What does she need from us?

What can we do to meet creation’s needs?

***

Sermon slot:

So, what’s the most important detail
in this story that we could easily miss?

“He was his mother’s only son,
and she was a widow.”

Now, to know how important this detail is,
we need to know a little about 1st C. Palestinian society.

Women could inherit neither land nor wealth.

So this widow was entirely dependent on her only son.

Then he dies.

She is not only bereaved of her only son,
but now she has no-one to support her.

Her husband’s, then her son’s, property
would be inherited by some more distant relative,
who might not be bothered with helping her,
or might have too many dependents already.

So that widow of Nain is very vulnerable.

Jesus sees the widow, in this vulnerable position,
he sees her need,
and he has compassion for her,
and he does what he can.

 

It has been my pleasure and honour
to be here with you for eight weeks.

Eight weeks with have flown by.

I’ve been privileged to spend time in this building,
in worship with you all,
in the centre,
with but a few of the many groups there.

I’ve been privileged to go out and about with John,
to visit people in their homes,
to go with a family to their father’s burial,
to simply walk this wonderful place and observe.

I am immensely thankful for the privilege I’ve had here:
the time and the space
to see and experience
another world.

 

So here’s what I’ve seen:
here’s what I’ve learned;
and here’s what I’ll take with me in my ministry:

 

Every church community is called to be like Jesus:
in the reading, Jesus sees what the widow needs,
he has compassion, and he does what he can.

 

I hope you can see where this is going.

This community sees what is needed in Old Trafford,
you have compassion, and you do what you can.

 

And the thing is, in the story,
Jesus isn’t interfering.

He’s not the social services, he’s not some kind of
outsider deciding what ‘they’ need.

He is part of that community,
and he is helping as a brother.

 

When I look at all that happens here and next door,
these aren’t things that some authority or other
has decided must happen
for the good of those folk in Old Trafford.

The things that happen here
are the things that the community sees the need for.

You see the need,
you have compassion,
you do what you can.

 

There is a need for English language classes.
You made them happen.

Our friend Tariq saw the need for newcomers to Manchester
to get to know their new home.
He’s making that happen with his walking tours.

 

St John’s Sunshine grants are another great example —
they recognise where people are coming forward
to do what they can to help.

 

But at the same time some of that money has come
from our solar panels,
which are themselves one small part
of how we can react to creation’s needs:
by reducing the carbon energy consumption
of the church and centre,
we are seeing creation’s need,
we are having compassion,
and we are doing what we can.

Perhaps we can do more on that?

 

So.
As a community, as households, as individuals,
where else can you see that creation is suffering?

What other needs can you see?

Have compassion,
then do what you can.

Dan Barnes-Davies, 3 June 2016
Given at St John’s Church, Old Trafford, Environment Sunday 5 June 2016