Someone must be to blame

Given how many people have voted for UKIP I have looked at their methodology and decided to copy it.

1) They paint a picture of when life was so much better. When you could leave your doors unlocked etc etc. Summers were warmer too.

I have chosen September 16th 1960.

That was when life worked well. We need to return to those days.

2) You need to highlight when things got worse. There must have been a change. Something that happened.

I have chosen September 17th 1960 after all everything was good on the 16th.

3) Then you find a minority to blame. There were about 1500 people born on 17th Sept 1960 in the UK. Given that this is when it all changes it must be their fault.

I would reckon that at least 800 must still be alive.

We need to find them and send them back where they came from. That will solve everything.

Hang on a minute! I have just remembered that I was born on September 17th 1960. I am a good upstanding member of the community. I can't be the problem.

Come to think about it the 17th September was a good day back then.

New plan - all the problems are caused by those born in 18th September 1960.

Round them up. It's time for change.

English Football and the Labour Party

I have been somewhat disillusioned with British Politics since 1979 when my first opportunity to vote saw my wishes ignored and Margaret Thatcher moved from being the milk snatcher to becoming the declarer of a society free country. In the years that followed I attempted to use my vote well in trying to secure some version of socialism; at one point even attempting to become a local labour councillor. I say 'attempting' in the loosest sense in that I campaigned in a rural part of Norfolk giving me less of chance of being elected than of David Moyes being invited to a Manchester United manager's reunion party.

I like to think that perhaps Stephen Fry voted for me but I suspect he was too busy practicing his manservant skills.

So here I am a fifty-something idealist considering repeating a lifetime pattern of voting for the Labour Party in both this week's European ballot box and the next general elections, still hoping for a bit of socialism to be brought back to the country I love. What I have seen over the years is a succession of Labour leaders trying to act like the Tories in order to gain power. In order to win.

I have been somewhat disillusioned with the England football team since 1986 when Diego Maradona employed the 'hand of god' to knock our team out of the Argentinian World Cup. My dismay is not really with Diego but with the way we English place an expectation upon our national team to be what we are not.

Every four years we are treated to a succession of English teams trying to play football like the Italians, the French, and a whole host of other countries.

I wonder if we were to give up such fanciful notions and played to our strengths what kind of upset we might produce in international competitions. Trying to be what you are not generally brings about disappointment.

The comparison between the English football team and the Labour Party seems to me self evident: both are trying copy others in order to win.

In his excellent book Obliquity Professor John Kay suggests that setting our sights on the most direct goal, whether profit, winning, or success, generally brings about failure. In comparison the more oblique response has a way of often producing the success that we may hope for. 'The happiest people are often not those who aim to be happy' he suggests.

So if Roy Hodgson ignored the possibility of winning the world cup and focussed on playing a style of football that suited our current crop of top players could it produce a better outcome.

If Ed Milliband decided not to make residence in Downing Street his driving ambition but looked to express what it meant to be a left-leaning party would the voters respond to the freshness of a genuine opposition voice.

Personally I would rather vote for a party that was less bothered about sound bites and more interested in principles. So Ed I implore you:

Tell us that if we can afford to pay for war we can afford to pay for a health service.
Tell us that you will work toward full employment.
Tell us that you believe in good education for all.
Tell us that you will expect the rich to play their part in funding our nations infrastructure.
Tell us that austerity is not the only way of dealing with economic crisis.

The country might not vote you into power but at least you will be true to what it means to be a socialist. You may not be asked to form a government but at least you will be a credible opposition with a voice worth listening to.

Who knows, in an oblique way, by trying not to make winning your goal, at the expense of your principles, you might actually surprise a few people. And if you did get elected at least you will have a mandate to be truly socialist.

The Emergent conversation has failed........or has it?

According to twitter it seems that the emergent church is dead; or at the very least terminally ill. It's not unusual to see commentators describe it as 'the failed emergent experiment' as if a few of us tried to do things differently and had no perceivable effect.

Recently during a facebook debate with the charismatic church elder statesman Gerald Coates on the LGBT issue he told me that the 'liberal' church was on the decline. The context of the debate, where some of us emergent evangelicals challenged his stand against marriage equality, reveals that he wasn't taking about good old fashioned liberals here but this new brand of progressives and inclusivists that are no longer willing to tow the party line.

So is the emergent church a 'failed experiment'? Are liberal evangelical voices on the decline?

Here are just a few thoughts:

1) It is important to note here how new movements tend to see themselves within the context of the general culture that they are trying to critique. In addition we need to see how the prevailing seats of power respond to these voices.

The recently deceased British politician Tony Benn spoke of how new ideas are treated by the established power base:

"It's the same each time with progress. First they ignore you, then they say you're mad, then dangerous, then there's a pause and then you can't find anyone who disagrees with you."

Although his remarks were made about the general political and social scene there does seem to be something of a familiar ring to them.

During the early 70's the Charismatic Movement in Britain was fighting for its place in the wider church by suggesting that every new 'wave' of God is resisted by the previous one. In support of this argument they showed how Methodists rejected Salvationist, who rejected Pentecostals who were (at that point) rejecting the Charismatic Movement.

I would suggest that Benn's statement could be somewhat true at each of these stages. At first the charismatic churches were ignored, then called crazy. They were soon declared as evil only to find themselves within a few years as key players within British evangelicalism. (To be fair this does not quite equate with acceptance by everybody as Benn suggests but I think the wider point is valid)

Yet here we are all this time later and key establishment figures like Gerald (at the time of writing his facebook status declares that he has just been invited to Downing Street for talks with the Prime Minister) are re-enacting something of the very scene that they experienced all those years ago; this time against progressive/liberal evangelicals (often known as emergent).

I haven't seen any evidence that Gerald and other critical voices have acknowledged this example of history repeating itself.

2) At the moment very few liberal/progressive/inclusive evangelical commentators are self identifying as 'emergent'. I suspect it is because, as often happens with labels, the word has lost some of its original meaning. After all there was a point when the self proclaimed defender of 'real' marriage Mark Driscoll was described as emergent.

In the earlier days of the conversation many people gathered around the idea of deconstruction (sometimes demolishing) the perceived norms found within the traditional evangelical places of safety. Of course being drawn together by an agreed dissatisfaction with the status quo does not mean that everyone will agree on where one should land after the conversations have been had.

Some have revised there positions to remain within the structures that they critiqued. Some have used terms such as missional to offer an understanding of how the methods might change whilst the trajectory remains the same. Others have cut loose from the pain of rejection and found a home in other parts of the church more traditional understood as liberal. There are some of course who have wandered away from a formal expressions of church completely.

Now I don't completely hold with the narrowness of the old charismatic argument that suggests that the new wave is always resisted by the previous one. I think it has something interesting to say but it tends to suggest that God is only working in one way at any given moment. It think this was a little presumptuous back in the 70's and is still so now.

I do think however that what many are seeing as the 'failure' of the emergent movement could be what Benn describes as the 'Pause'. After all we have been ignored, we have been described as both mad and dangerous.

3) I also think that part of the DNA of the emergent disquiet with the status quo was to redefine the markers of ecclesiological success.

When someone who sees church success as being primarily, but not exclusively, large numbers, a visible presence, a seat at societies debating table, looks at the emergent church they will no doubt feel justified in declaring it a failure.

Although I cannot speak for everyone I do know that some of us have come to the conclusion that our goal is, in keeping with an incarnational motif, more about hiddenness rather than notoriety.

During Jesus' lifetime the majority of people on the planet were unaware of either his existence or his teaching. Even within his own culture the significance of his presence was not fully understood.

In stark contrast to this are the usual markers of church success in a charismatic, Pentecostal, evangelical context. The goal seems to be distinction, size, excellence, and popular fashion. Churches are counted as successful if they are growing numerically and produce presentational excellence; with large screens, pa systems, and lights. Added to this is the regular challenge for individuals to be distinct from the world around.

This may not be true of all, or even most of the charismatic and pentecostal churches but when one considers the influence of larger churches upon the rest we would do well to recognise the aspirational nature of this context. The language, markers, models, processes, and visions of the larger churches are presented as the gold standard in many quarters.

So the pressure on many church leaders is to produce an alternative to the culture within which they work. Church youth clubs are funded rather than supporting existing local community venture. Departments and programs become feeds leading toward the centre; the church congregation.

In contrast to this I would like to suggest that the incarnation is more about emersion within the community rather than separation from it. Perhaps building bridges rather than walls represents the way of Christ.

The gospel message in the usual context sounds like an invitation for those ‘outside’ to come ‘inside’ and become like us. An incarnational message is more about a journey taken by the church towards the community.

Conclusion

So if you judge the emergent church by whether it is being noticed, or by the use of the label, or by whether it has produced large vocal churches you might well conclude that it has indeed failed.

You would do well to consider, however, that the questions that we have raised and the conclusions we have drawn are out there. They are in the minds of many of the people who fill more traditional evangelical, charismatic, and pentecostal churches. They might not vocalise it because to do so might be too much of a risk. You might think that they all agree with your stated evangelical set of beliefs but I am not too sure.

So have we failed? I am not so sure we have! We might just be in the 'pause', described by Tony Benn, waiting for whatever comes next. You might be surprised by the revolution that has already taken place.





No Makeup - It's all in a good cause

Without warning my Facebook feed seemed to be filled with photographs of women who had decided to take selfies whilst not wearing makeup. Was this some kind of feminist statement I thought!

No! It seems that each of these participants had felt compelled to do so in support of the charity Cancer Research; which at this point has raised in excess of £2 million.

At first I was quietly impressed by the willingness of these aspiring models to bare all; at least as far as their faces were concerned. Then it struck me that each of the photographs contained a freshness that I wasn't really used to.

Being the father of four daughters I was always aware that our culture contained some ingrained inequalities; I had even joked at how it is relatively easy to be a man when getting ready for social events. Even buying clothes was a stress free event compared with that endured by my wife and daughters. 'Shirt, tie, trousers, done!' I would exclaim after shopping as if I had triumphed at a major event.

Even with the awareness that living with five females is bound to bring I still found these photographs surprisingly refreshing. They seemed honest, open, and dare I say it beautiful.

Having had family members affected by the disease I am glad that Cancer Research have been helped by the campaign but I wonder whether there might be an added bonus to this.

Perhaps men like me who have hopes of supporting the fight the feminist cause might become more aware of how hidden inequality is in the ordinariness of everyday life.

I never, for one moment, feel the need to hide my true self behind makeup and yet my daughters and wife experience such pressures every day. This issue is not really about whether women should wear make up or not but about the unequal pressure placed upon women compared to men.

I wonder whether this new found freedom to be photographed without camouflage might make us realise that true beauty is shown by people being willing to be their true selves in order that those in real need might be helped.

These are very selfless selfies!



Peace, peace when there is no peace

The latest episode in the recent Mark Driscoll saga has produced predictable responses from those who have a tendency to support him and other high profile mega church pastors. I am sure that others could also have predicted the response from those, like me, who would offer a critique.

I am particular concerned with those who choose to call for a quieter response to his recent open letter of apology. Not withstanding that it could be suggested that his letter was neither open nor an apology, it seems that his supporters want us all to calm down and accept his humility as a sign that everything is rosy in the Mars Hill garden.

The calls for peace seem to fall in to two main categories:

Firstly, there are those that suggest we should remain quiet because the bible encourages us to speak to our sister or brother directly. If this fails we should include a few others as direct witnesses of our conversation.

Secondly, some are suggesting that now that Pastor Mark has apologised we should receive this with grace and move on. Of course this sounds like the Christian and noble thing to do. Keep the peace, act in a gracious way, look for unity. All the marks of good Christian advice.

But I, for one, have a considerable problem with this challenge for two main reasons:

1) Despite what his supporters suggests Mark is not acting in just a 'local church pastoral' context. He has used, and to some degree abused, the global system to his advantage. His motives may well have been to further the message that he believes in so passionately but he has gained personally in terms of both finance and notoriety. Mark has purposely placed himself into our context.

You may well argue that 'you don't need to buy his books' but that underplays the role that multi-site, multi-context ministries play in the life of a local church. As a leader in a church some several thousand miles away from Seattle I can see how his particular form of Christianity bleeds into the consciousness of people who read his words at face value without knowing the construct that governs his worldview. We would be perhaps acting in a negligent way if we remained silent in order to spare pastor Mark's feelings.

2) I may have been able to take the calls for peace, unity, and silence more seriously if many of Mark's supporters had previously spoken out on behalf do those hurt and damaged by some of his previous behaviour. Note here. I do not just mean those that have attended Mars Hill in the past but those who have been the subject of increased ridicule because they fall into the categories mark has chosen to ridicule in the past.

Surely the calls for peace can only be taken as seriously as the silence we have seen with regard to justice for those who have been hurt. You surely can't have one without the other.



Three Phases of Engagement in Church

"Without a vision the people perish" so goes the oft quoted biblical proverb. In our church experience it has been used by leaders to suggest that 'the' vision of the church leader(s), and therefore the church, is worth fighting for; it is possibly even more important than the hopes, dreams, and lives of the individual church members.

Paul Scanlon, who for many years headed up the Abundant Life Church in Bradford, England, wrote in his book 'Crossing Over' about his vision of moving from their existing building to a larger complex built on their campus site. He spoke in a sermon about those who left the church during this period and used the phrase 'we lost them in the car park'.

Paul isn't alone in finding it preferable to overlook the stories of those who seem resist to change. There are countless times that my wife and I have been at leaders meetings and felt the surge of power invested in the delegates to return to their pulpits and join Isaiah in setting their faces 'like flint' in ignoring the dissenting voices in our congregations in order to fulfil our destiny: the metaphors and narratives might change but the meanings don't.

Over time we became increasingly weary of such teaching as we realised that it didn't really resonate with the picture we see in Jesus who would not only 'lay down his life' for his sheep but would willingly leave the ninety-nine in order to find the individual who had become lost.

On considering both our own experiences and the stories told to us by others we have begun to see several patterns emerge in many of the scenarios where the vision has been held up as the highest reference point for success.

Firstly, church engagement is not a single entity; it is certainly not an upward journey of increased adherence. This is, of course, true of all human organisations, I use the same model when training managers in business, but has particular resonance for our church context.

I would like to suggest that there exists an organisational entropy when it comes to a person's engagement to a group, community, or vision. Most of the models that I have seen explaining how to secure human engagement tend to paint a picture of an onward and upward journey toward increased adherence. I am not sure that this is either possible , or even perhaps desirable.

I would want to suggest a three phase journey experienced within a community:




1) Enthusiastic
2) Realistic
3) Apathetic

Each of these phases have particular narratives, drivers, and feelings associated with them.

1) Enthusiastic

In this phase the church members tend to believe in the vision expressed by the leaders. They are immune to, or choose to ignore, many of the ways that leaders act that cause disengagement in those in the other phases.
When leaders speak in hyperbole they choose to nod in agreement and repeat the messages to new people. When they are asked 'what's not to like about this?' they cannot think of anything but a positive response.

In churches that have a tendency to be highly driven by vision there is often little room for doubt to be expressed. Sermons often contain conversation halting statements like 'you cannot out give God'. In this context any questions raised about the church tithing policy are painted as representing a lack of faith.

In addition membership, or commitment to the church vision, is conflated with faithfulness to God and so it is not rare to hear statements like 'if you are not in church you are not in the will of God'. Again this stops honesty and further discussion by placing a heavy weight on disagreement. Now you are not just disagreeing with the church you are disagreeing with God. (See Dr. Robert J. Lifton's Criteria for Thought Reform for more on this)
There are several possible reasons why those in phase 1 find it easy to ignore what seems obvious to others. Sometimes it is because of the promise of perceived benefits to be found within churches that adopt an aspirational model. It likely will be suggested that adherence to the vision will result in the possibility of the individual's personal vision or goal being fulfilled; leading a team, speaking from a platform, playing in the worship band or the like. The model often fails because it tends to adopt the same numbers game model used by TV talent shows. That is; promise enough people personal fulfilment and a few will have the talent or gifts to make the dream a reality. These then become the trophies of success that encourage others to believe in the process.

In addition to this are other motivational factors such as the need to belong or the desire to be part of something successful. It is hard to resist the comparison with pyramid selling schemes at this point.

Whilst the individual's journey is progressing towards the aspirational goal it will be relatively easy to ignore what those in other phases find difficulty with.
This enthusiasm and adherence is fuelled because leaders will encourage those who appear to be in phase 1 by including in them in conversations, valuing their input, and involving them in what appears to be an inner circle; at least at a surface level.

2) Realistic

I would suggest that it is almost impossible to remain in phase 1 for an extended period of time. In fact most leaders do not reside in the Enthusiastic phase even if they appear to do so. Pete Rollins speaks of this when he highlights the presence of twin, competing narratives within organisations. The headline narrative of a church, he says, might be 'God heals' but the unspoken or hidden narrative that most people, including the leaders, really live by is 'God heals: but if you are really sick go to the hospital'.

In the realistic stage there is a greater influence upon the individual from this unspoken narrative. The dissonance between the message from the platform and what people see in practice becomes harder to ignore. The outward behaviour of people in this phase may at times still look like that of the inhabitants of phase 1 but internally questions are being raised and the process of disengagement has begun.

Even so people in this stage will still likely stay in the church. This is driven by a variety of factors.

It might be that the fear of being rejected might hold them to the group. This in turn is fuelled by the leadership's well-defined descriptions of what is 'in' and what is 'out'. Added to this are the oft pejorative descriptions of what the 'other' looks like. The implication is that other church's are not where the real blessing is to be found.

Sometimes people stay because of the possible effects upon other family members or because they may well be on church staff and so are tied financially to the vision.

Leaders, if they perceive this is happening, will tend to treat this group differently that those in the previous phase. Rather than people feeling included they will have a sense of being used to fulfil the vision. Their value is therefore linked with their usefulness to the ultimate goal.

Any hints of dissension will be tolerated because it is likely to be hinted at rather than overtly stated. Behaviour that does not fit with the standard set as the norm will be challenged from the platform. We were in a large church some while ago and the senior leader announced from the platform that 161 people had arrived at least 2 minutes late for church that morning. The congregation were then 'encouraged' to give their full commitment to God; in essence conflating church attendance with obedience to God.

3) Apathetic

With an increasing sense of awareness of the narrative dissonance described above it is almost certain that people will find the need to disconnect emotionally from the central vision of the church.
People will have a greater awareness of feeling like a commodity in the process of moving towards the vision. Seeing others being 'lost in the car park' tends to make those who remain feel used too. How you treat those who leave has a direct effect upon those who stay.

Leaders will often ignore or even demonise those who are in phase 3 in an attempt to create a narrative that undermines any complaints that they might raise. Once someone is painted in a bad light it is easier to ignore their voice.
Eventual, if employed, they will be dismissed. If a lay member they will be discouraged from having a voice thus making it almost impossible for them to stay. In a sense this is like the ecclesiological version of constructive dismissal.

The only two choices they are left with is to either remain silent but internally disconnected or to leave the church altogether.

In the above I am not suggesting that the motives of the leaders are always in question. Bev and I have been both hurt by such a construct and been part of group building the problem. I think the wider culture of theological training, denominational fervour, and leadership teaching encourages the behaviour described.
Whether fair motives or foul, however, the result is that individuals and families are sometimes sacrificed on the alter of achieving the vision: even if we just call it losing them in the car park.


I will be posting further on some ways we might tackle this issue.

From 'farewell Rob Bell' to 'You're fanatics charismatics'

It's not that long ago that John Piper felt confident in excluding Rob Bell from the evangelical playground with his infamous tweet. Many others piped in (no pun intended) to declare that Rod was now confirmed as a heretic. I presume he had been on the slide for a long time: that sort of behaviour is likely yo get you kicked out of the playground. He had been a very naughty boy in suggesting that God might be a bit more gracious than some Calvinists had hoped for.

At the time I had many an internet debate with my charismatic conversation partners about whether Pastor Piper had been too quick to make such a statement and I was surprised at how few understood my concern at the use of the 'H' word against someone to whom we find disagreement with.

Well now John MacArthur has raised his voice in support of the idea that we can exclude others from the playground by declaring that Pentecostals and charismatics are in fact worse than Rob Bell and other so called liberals and should be considered in league with the devil: or at least in swing with him.

At the time of Bellgate I was a little dismayed at how few key leaders spoke in defence of Rob's right to raise legitimate questions about how we understand the grace of God. Even if you disagree with his conclusions, it seemed to me obvious that exclusion was not helpful.

Now, some of the voices that tried to defend John Piper's tweet waving goodbye to Rob are becoming louder in reaction to their own rejection from the fold by John Macarthur. It doesn't seem quite so comfortable now does it?

Let me declare my hand by saying that I became a Christian in a Pentecostal church and spent many years as part of a charismatic stream. I am, for sure, nearer to Rob Bell's thinking than most charismatics would want to admit but I have not rejected all of my pentecostal heritage. As such I completely disagree with Pastor MacAthur's cessationist theology.

Having said this my argument is not with him or his gang of strange fire reformed baptists. My concern is with those who remained silent when Rob was being thrown out of the fold and who are now complaining because they are being given the same treatment.

It seems that the use of the 'H' word is easier to live with when it used against others.

My Hidden Advantage When it comes to Gender Issues

I have been commenting on a blog by Mike Duran entitled 'Are Christian Feminists Hurting Their Cause?' In which he suggests that the recent response to Emily Weirengy' piece called 'The Lost Art of Servanthood (letter to my feminist sisters)' has pushed him towards complementarianism.
One or two comments have been overtly against how I see the world - even suggesting that t might be noble for a woman to stay in an abusive situation. I have been misunderstood in some of my response. I don't particularly mind this but it does show you how we all come to such issues from diverse points of view.
I have tried to suggest to Mike that the hiddenness of our prejudices make it almost impossible to not be affected when we engage in debate. In light of this it is important for us to recognise the advantage we have before we look to comment on how another group might respond to a particular issue. In one sense, as a man, I may well be sympathetic towards feminism, I may even call myself a male feminist, but I cannot truly be one because I have been given the invisible advantage of being male in a patriarchal society. The thinking goes like the:
1. When two people engage it is highly likely that one person will have an advantage over the other that they may not be aware of; but it exists. In a patriarchal leaning society the male will have travelled through life with an invisible passport not possessed by the female; this will have given access to areas in education, work life, church, and wider society that operates in an invisible way. It is not overtly expressed but is conditioned by all of the images around us.
It is not just with gender but also with race, sexuality, education, family background. So many ways. It is said that doors will have been opened more for a good looking person compared to someone less visually appealing by societies standards. This is about advantage.
2. There's is a saying in Britain that the Queen thinks the whole world smells of fresh Magnolia paint. This is because when she is about to visit a place someone will have just painted. Because of this she cannot know what the world smells like for the rest of us. At one level this might be said to be not her fault because she doesn't write to people to ask them to paint. The people do it because of some conditioning about what a queen should expect. At another level, even though she can't change it, any comments she makes will either be unconnected, if she doesn't acknowledge her privilege, or connected, if she does acknowledge her privilege.
3. When men comment on how women have reacted to an issue (as Mike has done with his blog) he does so from a position of privilege. I am absolutely certain that he has not intended to cause offence to anyone. In fact I feel very sure that he writes about what he sees as a genuine issue for Christian communities. It is, however, the lack of acknowledgement of privilege that makes the words that seem reasonable from one perspective unreasonable from another perspective. Has Mike done this on purpose; no. Is he being intentionally patriarchal; no. But the positions we have that are fuelled by the advantage we have use the patriarchal system that has given them the advantage.
So when Maya (one of the commenters who challenges the main thrust of Mike's blog) expresses her frustration that somehow there is a mismatch between how she might be treated as a woman and how I might be treated as a man, it is fuelled by the hidden advantage.
I know this because I have journeyed to try to work through my own hidden use of the patriarchal advantages that I have been handed. At first I wanted to react against it because I have always seen myself as being against sexism. The problem however is far deeper than we can often see.
Mike responded thus:
'Alan, so is there any way, any man, can suggest any woman, is ever wrong w/out having it “charged with hidden advantage”? I apologize, but this sounds more like feminist theory psycho-babble. And if you “have been where some of the men are who are commenting” and have overcome your “privileged status,” isn’t it possible that some men have overcome that bias too…but just disagree with you?'
My response was as follows:
1) Of course we can offer critique and challenge. We just have to be aware of our advantage.
2) You might want to dismiss it as feminist theory psycho-babble but I would encourage you to think again. It is wider than just a feminist issue. If I take my own context as a white, western, educated, male, church leader, then I look to be aware that:
- When I meet with my UK Asian friends I have had doors opened to me that they haven't.
- When I speak to those from say Africa I have a western advantage of both resource and opportunity.
- When I meet with those who have not had the educational opportunities that I have had I recognise that doors have been opened to me not based on intelligence but on being able to convert my thoughts in to exam results.
- When I speak to church members I try to recognise that I am afforded treatment in our community that they do not receive.
Now it is of course true that each of these advantages can have negative aspects: a bit like the fact that the queen doesn't have some of the freedoms to roam that her subjects have. She can't just pop out for a walk. But any complaint about these tends to sound like the millionaire pop star who is annoyed that his fans keep asking for autographs. It must be annoying but it is nothing compared to the privilege of their wealth and fame.
3) I don't feel I have overcome my privilege and really that is not the point of what I am saying. How much I try to work to level out the gender injustices I know that I cannot make enough difference to change the way we are conditioned to view people in certain ways. It is however the ongoing acknowledgement of the advantage and the continued debate that can make us aware of its affects upon us all.
By the way it is worth noting that you and I can also be subject to the negative affects of this hidden advantage given the right context. I am from the north of England and and have a distinct accent - in the UK there is a perception that Received Pronunciation (posh accent) opens doors that would not be readily opened for me. In a similar way it would be highly unlikely that I would have studied at Oxford or Cambridge because the top 5 private schools fill more places than the next 2000 UK schools.
I know you might want to dismiss this as psycho-babble but it is worth considering further. Alan

What this thought process does is to frame all of our comments in a context that makes us aware of the magnolia paint.

Think about how this changes the way we speak and deal with others who do not share your advantage.

What are your thoughts on this important issue?

It's not about the humour.....

Having just retreated from a social media debate about the above video Bev and I sat and licked our wounds as we talked about the difference in the way it seemed that most people has reacted.

The clip is called 'It's not about the nail' and can be found here:


The discussions go something like this:

Person A on Facebook 'This clip is soooo funny'

Various friends of person A 'Lol' or other approving comments.

Bev or I 'this undermines women'

Everyone else 'you need to get a sense of humour'

Bev and I 'ouch'

So what is going on here. Are we right in wanting to point out what seems blatantly obvious. Are 'they' right suggesting that it a just a bit of fun and that our sense of humour is deficient.

Firstly, the video is written and filmed in a humorous way and it does reflect the type of conversations men and women might find themselves in:

Woman: there is a problem

Man: let me fix it

Woman: you never listen

Man: I know but I can see what needs fixing

Woman: it's not about the nail

Audience: LOL

Now let me explain what Bev and I saw immediately as we watched the video clip (we watched it independently)

Firstly, the 'nail' or woman's problem is so blindingly obvious that anyone, including other women, could see it. What the woman needs to do is stop talking and let the man take the nail out.

Secondly, if the piece was merely about the different ways that women and men view things then it would not have been just a nail. A nail is not an issue of perspective. In this video the man is seeing the obvious, and true issue, the woman is ignoring this and blaming the man's need to fix things.

Granted, my two observations are not as funny as the video so in one sense I can see how our interlocutors would view us as having no sense of humour.

The problem for Bev and I is that the video IS about the 'nail' but the problem that it highlights is NOT about the humour.

I would simply leave you with these two thoughts.

Men: if this video massaged your feelings of being hard done to when in conversations with your partner then pause for a minute. Did you want to turn to her and say 'see! This is what I have been saying. Pause and reflect. Is the problem she speaks about as obvious as a nail in the head?

Women: if the video made you laugh because it reflected the kind of arguments you have with your partner then pause for a minute. Consider the next time you argue that your husband might simply say 'let me take out the nail'. Will it feel funny then?

The Queen thinks the whole world smells of magnolia paint....

When living in Norfolk several years ago I happened to be completing a speaking engagement on an RAF base not far from our home. It was about a week before Queen Elizabeth was due to visit to inspect the camp.

I was given access to one of the married quarters that would be used to show the Queen how this section of her loyal servants lived. The room had been given somewhat of a makeover in order to create a good impression; new carpets, freshly laid lawn (borrowed from a local cricket pitch), a chandelier in the lounge, and a toilet that had been soundproofed just in case HRH needed to spend a royal penny. In addition the whole house had been repainted.

This taste of unreality is what the Queen experiences everywhere she goes. Each of numerous hospital wards, charity buildings, factories, and other assorted venues will have been freshly painted just prior to her visit. Hence the phrase 'The Queen thinks the whole world smells of magnolia paint'. Magnolia being the standard cover-all colour of choice by builders and decorators up and down the United Kingdom.

It is not directly the queens fault of course. She cannot truly know what she doesn't know. In a similar way each of us 'smells' or views the world in our own unique way and we don't completely know how other people perceive things.

So it is with issues of race, gender, and sexuality; we can do our best to empathise but we can only know in part. This is additionally complicated by the fact that some of us occupy positions of privilege. I, as a white, western, heterosexual, male, walk around a freshly painted world compared to the world experienced by those who do not fit into these categories.

Now there is understandably nothing I can do about these categories; without wanting to turn this into a musical 'I am what I am'. It does, however, present me with both a challenge and a responsibility.

Firstly, the challenge is for me to acknowledge the privilege that is delivered to me often without my knowledge; to acknowledge the presence of the magnolia paint and to recognise that this is not the reality for others who are not offered such a privilege.

Secondly, I have a responsibility to both listen to those who do not have the advantage of privilege and to become part of movement of change.

When I come to engage with issues of race I must first acknowledge my position of privilege in that I live in a society that is weighted in the favour of a white person. The popular press would like to present a different picture when dealing with issue such as immigration but I know that my path is eased by the colour of my skin.

Similarly when tackling issues of gender I can never fully know how it feels for a woman to deal with systemic gender bias.

Likewise when addressing issues of sexuality I am also privileged. I have been struck by some of the arguments raised against the proposed inclusion of homosexual marriage that seem to suggest those with a more traditional view are being victimised. It is my view that this stems from a lack of appreciation for the privilege position of being heterosexual in our society. We can never know what it is to face the kind of rejection and negative treatment experienced by our gay friends and family.

In first century Palestine it was thought shocking connect with Gentiles, Romans, Prostitutes, the sick,and Tax Collectors yet these are the kinds of people that Jesus related to even at the risk of being condemned himself. In doing so he showed us that no earthly constructed privilege hierarchy could truly define the value of human beings. He came to show us that all are equal and all are equally loved by God.

At the beginning of his major sermon highlighting just how things were meant to be in a kingdom where God was in charge he declared that the poor in spirit were to be known as blessed. The ptochoi pneuma (spiritually breathless) where to be makarios (free and unfettered).

Challenging the place of privilege, even in ourselves, is turning the system upside down so that inequality is shown for the evil that it is. Challenging the place of privilege is declaring that in God's kingdom the first shall be last and the last shall be first, even if it costs us to do so; perhaps even if it makes us look Christ-like and costs us our lives.

So here I am a white, western, heterosexual, male and I admit that the world smells of fresh magnolia paint in a way that is not true for others and I am committed to becoming part of the answer.