So that was 2017

Didn’t achieve most of my resolutions from last year – in fact, I have pretty much got the same ones again this year!

Was Dame in the panto again…

…and had a small role in the May play too.

Bought a lovely boat!

And sailed as far as Ipswich…

Another wonderful Greenbelt

Saw a lovely colleague ordained to the diaconate

Continued to struggle with the CofE, especially with regard to workload and institutional priorities – whilst being more and more enthused with the gospel itself

Got stuck in to my doctorate

Got on a motorbike again

Lost Ollie

Missed my kids

(There would have been images to go with all this but WordPress is not co-operating!)

Previous years: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016.

Brexit thoughts

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Much of the discussion about Brexit is fixated on the economics of the change. This is undoubtedly important, especially if there is no agreement at all – latest estimates reckon half a million job losses under that scenario, although that compares to some four million jobs created in the UK since 2010. I also wonder how many jobs are at risk through things like automation and robotics, in other words, what is the ‘churn’ of jobs and how significant an impact will Brexit have upon that. Then there are the questions of how far we can re-orient our economy to different patterns of investment and working and I end up thinking that this is simply a moderate shock to the economy, which will not mean very much over the next ten and twenty years.

In any case, all these discussions ignore the question of sovereignty, which remains the most important issue for most Brexiters. On that point it would seem that the relationship between the EU and the UK can now be seen in all its naked glory, or lack of such. This, I believe, will help Brexit in the long run, as I can see public opinion solidifying against the EU if they remain recalcitrant on things like opening discussions on a Free Trade Agreement. I would still expect there to be an agreement – it’s the closest to the maintenance of the status quo – but I’m not as confident as I was.

What I am most struck by, however, watching these negotiations, is the assumption that the EU will continue to exist in something like its present form for those next ten and twenty years. I am rather sceptical of that. I think the EU is facing some deeply unsettling and existential questions, and I do not see any sign of those problems being addressed.

Just today there are striking images of the crisis in Catalonia. The situation in Greece continues to destroy any claim for moral credibility on the part of the EU. The visegrad group continue to defy Brussels, in accordance with popular democracy but against the Commission’s wishes. Most fundamentally the Euro continues to destroy southern european economies in order to give Germany a helping hand as they break the law on economic surpluses. I believe it to be true that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation – and there is obviously a great deal of ruin in the EU – but I am pretty sure that the future for the UK, even without a free trade agreement, is much brighter than for the EU. I think there is a very real possibility that the EU in its present form will have ceased to exist within five years. If it has antagonised the UK in these negotiations, to the extent that opinion in the UK tends towards letting the Europeans look after their own defense, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see an EU that is mired in internal violent conflict and economic dislocation, vulnerable to power-supply diplomacy from the East and lacking any means to integrate or solidify their own internal political cohesion.

If I was Theresa May I would say rather explicitly – given the cool reaction to her Florence speech – that if discussion hasn’t started on the potential free trade agreement by Christmas then we shall proceed to trading on a WTO basis immediately on our exit in March 2019 – and we won’t pay a single penny after that. Germany will have to meet the bill, but for how long?

Living with illusions

juncker maySo Juncker has said of May that she is living within an illusion.

He may be right. It may well be that the British government has not yet fully appreciated the sheer technical difficulties involved in trying to remove ourselves from the EU whilst simultaneously trying to form a decent trade deal (decent for both sides).

And yet… I rather think that there are illusions on the EU side too, the largest being the very idea that a nation can flourish outside of the EU, that such a nation might be, not just politically and spiritually but materially better off – this cuts at the very heart of the EU’s raison d’etre.

What was it Mark Twain said about not being able to convince a man of something if he is paid not to believe it? And who pays Juncker?

Torture

Torture is wrong.
It’s also blasphemous (defacing the image of God).
It doesn’t work – indeed it is deeply counter-productive for strategic purposes.
Real-life is not an episode of 24.
Close Guantanomo.
Support Amnesty International.

I thought that needed saying, as I do like Trump in many ways, including ways that are deeply politically incorrect – but I vehemently and emphatically disagree with him on this.

So that was 2016

Well that was a fun year.

Highlight has to be the trip to Cuba with friends which was fascinating and restorative.

cuba-pic

Came back to the Brexit result – yay.
Also in politics this year, Trump won – yay again.

Married life seems to be treating me well – I have managed to be simultaneously better fed and much fitter than I have been for ages (have lost a stone and half in weight) – much further to go in every sense.

victoria-yorkshire

Work has been immensely good in very many ways, lots and lots of positive developments, with a few strange curve-balls along the way. 2017 will see a new start in many senses (one step back, two steps forward). Helped not a little by my starting some doctoral research – I’m exploring a theological critique of psychiatric diagnoses. There will be more about that on the blog next year.

Family has had fun moments, but overall is a source of sadness, as all my children are now in Wales, and I see them for half-terms and holidays. My faith in the system is not what it was – but my faith in Exodus 14.14 abides.

be-still

Did hardly any sailing this year, but a) we’re very close to buying our own boat at last and b) we’re half way through our next sailing qualifications (even passed the ColRegs exam the other day!).

Had a smaller role in the panto this year – and there wasn’t a May play – but I’m dame again in a couple of weeks, and taking great pleasure in it all.

I am going to take the unusual step of posting some resolutions. My intentions are – to lose weight and get properly healthy again; to write much more, especially on the blog – I am hoping to get back to my first rhythms; and – to sail to Amsterdam in the summer. There is a lot to be done – and I am very much looking forward to doing it!

Previous years: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.

Muhammad is the most popular boy’s name in England

The Telegraph has an article with the seemingly innocuous headline “Oliver and Amelia the most popular baby names for the third year running”. Oliver was chosen as a boys name by 6,941 parents.

This is only capable of being the truth because, hidden in the text itself, there is a po-faced admission from the Office of National Statistics: the statistics are “based on the exact spelling of the name given on the birth certificate; grouping names with similar pronunciation would change the rankings”.

Ah, there’s the thing.

If you put together the three variant spellings of Muhammad (Muhammed and Mohammed) then suddenly what is effectively the same name is chosen by 7038 parents.

Why doesn’t the Telegraph lead with that description? I would think it rather more news-worthy.

Cultural discrimination: the rights of British women

I came under some criticism following my last article on “one land, one law, one language”. In particular I was challenged to identify what the classical British values look like.

Sometimes this sort of questioning is nihilistic – a request for some sort of conceptually pure vision that can then be academically picked apart endlessly, as a way of not engaging with the presenting issues themselves. It is a way of muddying the waters and avoiding discussion.

Yet answering the question about values is also an opportunity to spell out a little more about what the “one land, one law, one language” vision acutally looks like in practice.

So I want to talk about women, specifically British women, and even more specifically the idea in British society that women have rights, rights to determine their own paths in life in order that they might be enabled to become all that they might be.

These rights have been built up over many years, through progressive political battles – the rights to property, to vote, to be educated and so on. One key right is the ability that women in our society have to make their own decisions over their sexuality and fertility. That is, they have the right to make decisions about what to wear, who to associate with, who to have sex with, when and how to conceive a child and so on.

This is where the sort of cultural clash that concerns me manifests itself clearly. For there are other cultures that deny these rights to women; where, for example, what clothes are worn, what men are associated with, who to marry, whether to have children and so on – these are matters decided by the dominant relative male, normally the father.

Consider the recent case of Amina al-Jeffery, a girl born in Wales to a Saudi Arabian father. When she was 17 she was taken to Jeddah by her rather, purportedly for a holiday, and then placed under and effective ‘house arrest’. Her father is trying to exercise control over Amina in accordance with his own cultural norms – yet Amina grew up in Wales, has a Welsh accent and follows Welsh norms – she kissed a boy, thus displaying ‘un-Islamic behaviour’, and was taken away into exile as a result.

The High Court has now ruled that Amina should be returned to Britain by 11th September. This is good, but will Boris Johnson actually act in accordance with the High Court? I rather doubt it, simply because we know that the Saudi Arabian government is allowed to get away with all sorts of terrors simply because they pay for large military contracts like Al-Yamamah. As is so often the case, it is not just a matter of the law but of the will to apply the law in particular cases, in particular ways.

This is simply one example of the much wider trend related on the one hand to ‘honour’ killings in this country – that is, those women who choose differently to the dominant male of their families are murdered in cold blood – and the systematic child abuse and rape of white women in this country, in staggering numbers, as with Rotherham. In sentencing some of the perpetrators of the Rotherham case, Judge Gerald Clifton told the men “All of you treated the victims as though they were worthless and beyond any respect – they were not part of your community or religion.” Both forms of criminality arise out of a rejection of the British value that grants women a significant measure of authority and autonomy in their own lives, equivalent to that enjoyed by men.

It is clear that there is a particular strain of South Asian Muslim culture which comprehensively rejects our approach, and which has taken advantage of a politically correct culture to embed itself in several of our cities. So do we actually believe that these hard-won rights are worth protecting? Is a woman born in this country entitled to the protection of the British state when she tries to assert British cultural values? Or do we look the other way out of fear of being called racist?

This is the dilemma of the politically correct – which of these two competing values are worth defending? Do you virtue-signal solidarity with women or with minorities? Reality is forcing the choice. We either say that we must discriminate between different cultures, in order to protect British women from the violent exploitation of these minority cultures; or we say that it is always wrong to discriminate culturally, and condemn those British women to yet more decades of abuse.

For me the choice is clear – I want my daughters to grow up in a place that respects their full humanity and their capacity to make informed choices for themselves. That seems to me to be a ‘British value’. The same thing applies to other questions of gender and sexuality – I don’t want to live in a society where gay people are afraid of admitting who they are, or where trans people are scared of being beaten senseless by morons. Yet if we do nothing, that is a present reality for some and an increasing reality for others.

I want to live in a place which is tolerant and accepting, where every single human being is enabled to make decisions about their own lives in a way that makes it most probable that they will be able to live full and fulfilling lives. That’s a British value worth defending, but if we are to defend it, we need to wake up and realise just how undermined those values have become. We need to discriminate culturally and say – some cultures are worse than others, and we choose the better one.

A Jeremy Creake article for the Courier

“There’s a sermon in that” – reflections from an independent island

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I have recently returned from a two week holiday in Cuba, a trip taken with three university friends. Some twenty years ago, soon after graduating, we were sat in the living room of the house that we shared in West London, and recognised that our carefree lives were unlikely to stay that way. We agreed that we would put a small amount of money each into a central pot – beginning with £10 a month – in order that, every ten years, we would have enough funds to take a holiday together, to renew our friendships and remember what life was like before career and family commitments took hold. Our first trip was to Mongolia in 2005; this time round it was the turn of Cuba to host our little “Self-Preservation Society” (and yes, it was after one of our regular viewings of The Italian Job that we came up with the idea).

Cuba is a fascinating country, incredibly warm and welcoming, a happy and musical people set in an incredibly green and lush environment. We started our trip in Havana, which is a remarkable city. The architecture was stunning, and it was clear that the city had been incredibly wealthy in the past. Yet it was equally clear that for most of the last fifty years that money had dwindled to effectively zero, and consequently these amazing buildings were often near-derelict. Thankfully, now that the Cuban economy is embracing tourism more thoroughly, there is a new flow of wealth which is allowing the state to slowly renew and repair the built environment in central Havana.
Cuba 049
I said to my friends “There’s a sermon in that” – and yes, the necessary teasing did follow. What I had in mind was simply that I saw a parallel between the architecture in Havana and the church. Like Havana, the church has been immensely ‘wealthy’ in the past, by which I don’t just mean money but also the general affirmation of the faith shared by the community. It was a wonderful building. Yet today it is a pale shadow of what it was – it has suffered from decades of neglect. Just like the buildings in Havana, there has been nothing spent on maintenance, and now there is a desperate need for new investment in order to repair all that has gone wrong. And what does the church need to spend money on, in order to restore the building to its former grandeur? I would say simply: teaching the faith.

Back to Cuba. One of my friends has a medical condition which means that he cannot walk very far, and so he has a collapsible bike that he uses to get around, and which he brought to Cuba. Unfortunately, the day before departure his bike acquired a nasty puncture, and our first morning in Havana was then taken up with trying to find someone who might be able to repair it. After a thorough discussion with our guide, we found a small workshop at the back of garage, who agreed to repair the tyre. My friend (who now lives in Germany) was astonished to watch the craftsmanship with which the mechanic took apart the tyre and manually re-threaded the wires in order to make it robust. My friend exclaimed, “I’m going to take this back to Germany and tell them that this is how you fix things!”
Ingenious Engineers
Havana is famous for all the 1950s cars that are still driven there – a snapshot of how things were before the Revolution. What this little experience brought home to us was the way in which all those old cars were kept going by some incredibly creative and imaginative engineering. The Cubans are clearly capable of making the most of anything at hand. I should add, however, that this did not extend to emissions control – the air in Havana was incredibly polluted, and I developed a hacking cough that didn’t leave me until I was back on Mersea. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the cigars…

That Revolution has clearly defined modern Cuba. I had the sense sometimes that there was very little history for the Cuban people to celebrate. What seem quite small things, such as a particular battle in the Revolutionary War, were blown up into major museums, and the people who were involved in that Revolution – most especially Che Guevara – were raised up in quite hagiographic ways, with all their personal effects treasured like Medieval relics. Of course, the tensions with the United States have only recently begun to ease. It was clear that this conflict had gone a long way to form the Cuban character, and the state had consistently reinforced a message of Cuba being an independent communist island facing off against the behemoth of a radically capitalist United States.

One striking way in which this difference manifested itself, in Havana and more widely, was the almost complete absence of advertising. The only form of acceptable advertising seemed to be revolutionary slogans alongside an image of Fidel Castro. This one, for example, has the charming slogan ‘Socialism or Death!’
Socialism or Death
The state remains overwhelmingly present in Cuba, yet most of the population seemed very happy. In part that must be a result of the excellent health-care for which Cuba is rightly and justly famous. In part it must be a result of everyone having plenty to eat. In addition, all Cubans are educated through a national system and, charmingly, all schools have the same uniform, segregated three ways for the three levels of primary, secondary and tertiary. There were always smartly dressed children to be seen going to and fro.

I could see no trace of any racism whatsoever, and in particular, there seemed to be no sense of ‘shame’ according to different body shapes. I did wonder whether the absence of advertising, coupled with a more general equality, helped to make the Cubans so cheerful. I often saw people who might be regarded in our society as having less than ideal bodies who were clearly very much at home in them, with a strong sense of appropriate style and even ‘swagger’. This was wonderful, and I suspect not having to cope with a constant bombardment of airbrushed-perfect bodies had something to do with it.
Cuba 015
Their happiness might also have something to do with the music that was continually present. However small the restaurant it would not be long before along came a few men (with an occasional woman) with guitars and maracas and the familiar ‘Guantanamera’. For the most part we greatly enjoyed these. We had booked in to see the world famous ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ on our last night in Havana, but I have to say that we found them disappointing compared to others, especially a band that performed regularly in the bar just a little way down from our hotel, that had an amazing flautist. Yet – and perhaps this is simply the projection of a tourist – music seemed to be more deeply embedded into the rhythms of Cuban life than it does here in England. We brought several CDs back with us!

After two weeks we flew to Gatwick, having had long discussions with each other about what was going to happen with the Referendum (mine was the sole voice in favour of Brexit). We arrived back on the morning that the result was announced. I felt that whilst we as a country might have many things to learn from Cuba I was nevertheless very grateful to be back. I am as proud of this country as the Cubans are of theirs, and it felt magical to be returning from one independent island to another that had just determined to reclaim its own independence. “¡Hasta la victoria siempre!” as Che used to say.
The Four Musketeers
Thanks to Ian for photos

I so agree with Rowan on this…

“I would plead with the Church to take seriously the need for investing in theological education at all levels — to recognise that there is a huge appetite for theology among so many laypeople, and thus a need for clergy who can respond and engage intelligently. The middle-term future may need to be one where there are more independent centres of theological study outside universities, given the erosion of resources in higher education, and I think it’s time more people started thinking about what that might entail in terms of funding.”

For more on why, see my book.