Alternatives to Foodbanks

3, September, 2014 — 2 Comments

foodbankOver the last few years we have seen the rise of foodbanks and the increase of people using them. Some of this is due to cuts by the current UK government, other reasons includes the economy not doing well in recent years with people losing jobs, etc as well as the cost of living going up. This isn’t unique to just the UK but affects people all over the world. All of this and more has created the scenario for the perfect storm.

I originally meant to write this blog some time ago but didn’t write it, thinking that food banks are yesterday’s news.

However, my friend and colleague Juliet Kilpin in a workshop at Greenbelt Festival this year argued that

…churches should not be celebrating when they open new food banks but protesting about the fact that they need to do so.

I could not agree more with her statement.

In the last few years, faith communities have jumped on board supporting food banks by asking their congregation to donate food and even starting their own food banks, thinking this is something easy that the church could get involved in, be part of the community, use it as a “tool” for evangelism and share the love of Jesus in practical ways.

While food banks can provide a valuable service, it only deals with the symptoms and not the root cause of why so many people are queuing at the local food bank. We all need a helping hand from time to time but food banks do not provide long term solutions to the growing poverty we are witnessing.

Food banks enforces the status-quo. It creates an ‘us and them’ mentality which encourages a culture of dependency by the have-nots on those who do have. The Gospel is good news because it challenges the status-quo. It seeks to break down barriers between humanity and God and all sorts of barriers that divide people. Food banks becomes a poor expression of the Gospel if we don’t tackle the root cause of why we need them.

I would say that the creation of food banks in recent years says a whole lot more about us who do have than those who do not have.

Here are three practical alternative to food banks which  challenges the status-quo and promote solidarity and mutuality:

1) Invite neighbours to your home and ask them to bring whatever ingredients they might have. Combine the ingredients to make a meal together.

2) Participate in a Living Wage protest. Growing inequality is part of the root cause of the problem of why there are food banks. While the cost of living keeps rising year-to-year, the minimum wage does not increase fast enough to reflect the current cost of living. Paying a living wage ensures people the bare minimum necessary to support their basic needs.

3) Facilitate a community garden.  Encourage everyone to own it by taking care of it and help themselves to fruits and vegetables grown as needed. Why not turn derelict places and empty church yards into a garden?

 

Say no to gentrification!London is changing fast. It is not just happening in London but is also happening to cities all over the world. What I write is from my first hand experience but I’m sure it is similar in other cities.

Increasingly, London is becoming gentrified. By and large what kick-started this recent wave of gentrification was the great London gentrification project known as the London 2012 Olympics. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, gentrification can be defined as

the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents .

In the run-up to the Olympics and afterwards to this day, I have seen and experienced first-hand how the Olympics and the gentrification that ensued have impacted lives where I live in Hackney, East London. As a result we now find ourselves living in the fastest growing real estate market in England and Wales. Many of my friends who have lived in Hackney for years were forced to move out of their homes and community as they no longer could afford to live here. Hackney is known to be one of the most diverse boroughs of London. Today, it is increasingly becoming less and less diverse as there has been an influx of the white middle-class. Gentrification has a hefty price tag and we pay for it with our tax dollars and we will continue to pay for it as we experience the ramifications of it.

Many cities are passing off gentrification as regeneration. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, regeneration can be defined as

renewal or restoration of a body, bodily part, or biological system (as a forest) after injury or as a normal process

Regeneration and gentrification are two different things.

In the run-up to the Olympics, churches were excited about the Olympics and the opportunities that it brought. I kept banging on the issue how the Olympics was destroying the social fabric of our city. But by and large, no church wanted to pay attention. I asked More Than Gold, a conservative Christian organisation that rallied churches together to evangelise the tourists and athlethes who came all over the world for the event, about what they are doing  or their position about the local community being displaced by the Olympics. They responded to me by referring me to a few sentences on their website about their commitment to the poor. It simply said they were going to refer homeless people to the Stratford Salvation Army which works with poor people. They had nothing to say on gentrification.

I see white people.It seems like no churches are interested in talking about it. From my experience, black majority churches stay within their own ethnic community and don’t really engage with the wider community. White majority churches won’t deal with the issue because they enjoy the benefits that gentrification brings. Even at Greenbelt, a liberal Christian Arts festival, one will be hard pressed to see a seminar on gentrification as the festival is largely attended by privileged white middle class Christians (as reflected by the ticket prices? EDIT: Greenbelt do  provide concession tickets for those who can’t afford the full price. However it still doesn’t preclude the fact it is a festival attended largely attended by white middle- class Christians). In the many years I have been going to church, never once have I heard someone preach on gentrification.

I will confess that as a white middle class man, I do enjoy the benefits of gentrification such as the influx of places I can get a good cup of coffee. However, when I see the impact that it has on my community, I find it hard to enjoy the benefits that gentrification brings.

Gentrification is the White Elephant in the room that the church is not talking about. We need to start talking about it because it is impacting peoples lives in a very real way. We need to start developing a theology of gentrification and regeneration. We need to start living out our prophetic calling to expose regeneration projects when they are actually gentrification projects in disguise.

We need to understand that the Gospel has not only spiritual implications but also social, political, economic, ecological implications as well. The Bible talks about how our world is yearning for renewal – not gentrification. The book of Revelation describes what Heaven looks like – people from all sorts of backgrounds, people of different races, cultures, economic backgrounds, etc standing side by side. As Jesus-followers, this is the dream of God that we are called to participate in and work towards.

By staying silent, we will find ourselves complicit in the process of gentrification which seeks to create borders between us and them. The realm of God knows no borders.

Miracles & Cosumerism

17, June, 2014 — 2 Comments
Acts 5:12: The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. (The Brick Testament)

Acts 5:12: The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. (The Brick Testament)

Susan Hope, a British missiologist asks a rather probing question in her book, Mission-Shaped Spirituality: The Transforming Power of Mission,

Is it just co-incidence that sees lightheartedness about ownership of goods as a context for healing and effective evangelism in the stories of the Early Church? “No good asking me for silver and gold- haven’t got any. But I will give you what I have – in the name of Jesus of Nazareth-walk!” (Acts 3.6). “No one claimed any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord” (Acts 4.32-33).

This raises some interesting questions..

Is it possible that our love for money and the things that we can buy with it have a direct correlation with whether miracles happen or not in our lives and in our circles?

Does the fact that we find ourselves in a culture where we find and shape our identity in things we buy, own and consume have a direct correlation  with whether we experience miracles in our lives and those around us?

Does this explain why miracles seem to be more prevalent in third world countries than in the Western culture?

On the topic of money, Jesus once said, “You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship both God and Money. (Matthew 6.24).

record store dayToday is Record Store Day! It is a yearly event where independently owned record shops team up with artists to celebrate the world of music. For those who know me, they will know how much I love vinyl records! It is hard to choose what are my favourite records. Nevertheless, here are four records in no particular order that I love to give a spin on my record player:

 

1. Zao – Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest

zaoZao is a hardcore / metalcore band who made an impact with their unique sound that would inspire scores of bands. Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest is their second recording which was originally released in 1998.

This album is nice and heavy with the bass chugging along with crunching guitar riffs and the vocals growling with emotion and ferocity. The opening track, “Lies of Serpents, A River of Tears” is hauntingly beautiful and sets up the record perfectly.

 

2. Johnny Cash- Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar

johnnycashThis was Johnny Cash’s debut album released in 1957 on Sun Records. My Dad found this record one day at a yardsale one day and bought it for me, knowing how much I liked Johnny Cash. As a result, this record holds a special meaning for me.

The album contains four of his hit singles such as “I Walk the Line,” “Cry! Cry! Cry!,” “So Doggone Lonesome,” and “Folsom Prison Blues.”Johnny’s distinctive bass baritone voice combined with the railroad train chug-a-lug rhythm of his backing group yielded a unique sound that makes it a fun record to listen to.

 

3. Knuckledust- Bluffs, Lies and Alibis

knuckledustKnuckledust is a hardcore band from London that has been around for 16 years and counting. Full of energy and infectious tunes, their live shows are a treat to watch and participate.

Bluffs, Lies and Alibis is the band’s fifth full length album. What I love about this album is that it captures the energy of their shows well. Full of backing gang vocals and shredding riffs, sometimes I find it hard to sit still when listening to this record!

 

4. Knifefight! – After The Wake

knifefight!Knifefight! is a German Folk/Punk group who happen  to be some really good friends of mine. They write and play traditional songs with a punk rock attitude. According to the group, their music is influenced by old-time songs, murder ballads, story-telling and upbeat punk tunes. Add some good friends to the mix, you are bound to have a good time at one of their shows.

After The Wake is the group’s debut recording on a 7 inch record recorded and released by themselves in 2010. I love listening to this record as it reminds me of many happy memories I have of my friends and how much I look forward to seeing them again.

 

20 Years Later…

6, April, 2014 — 1 Comment

Kurt Cobain On 'MTV Unplugged'It’s hard to believe that 20 years ago this weekend Kurt Cobain took his own life. He was only 27 years old at the time but was the voice for so many of us.

I remember the day he passed away and where I was when I heard the news that Kurt passed away. I was 15 years old and in High School. I was in English class on the afternoon of Tuesday 5 April 1994 when I found out the news. Believe it or not, the principal of the school interrupted our lessons and made the announcement on the P.A. that Kurt was no longer with us.

It was hard to continue on with what we were doing in class. So the teacher stopped everything and we spent the rest of the period talking about his life and what he had meant to so many of us. Many of my classmates were in tears when we heard the news. His death was and is probably still one of the most notable deaths of my generation.

Personally, one of the biggest impact Kurt (and Grunge in general) had on my life was that it was OK to be me. It was and still is OK to be an outsider.  Outsiders can still make an impact on our world.

 

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Photo by Juliet Kilpin

Last week I found myself at a gathering of Baptist ministers who are into pioneering new works. I was invited to lead a session and one of the few things that came out of my session was about how I said that the church needs to start moving away from charity to practising solidarity.

I was told at the end of the gathering that I have somehow started a fire and got people thinking! Having heard that, I knew that I did a job well-done. There are two main thoughts on why the church should move away from charity to practising solidarity..

1) The incarnation of Jesus demands it. The very idea of incarnation is to make yourself present. In his incarnation, Jesus made himself present with humanity in a very real and personal way. Solidarity requires a presence of some sort with the ‘other’. To practise charity on the other hand, does not require one to be present. This means that one does not need to get involved in the life of ‘other’ and allows them to remain on the sidelines. One can practise charity anonymously however it is impossible to practise solidarity anonymously!

2) The call to follow Jesus demands it. To follow the way of Jesus is to participate in the life of Jesus. In this journey of following Jesus, we begin to learn the things that are important and dear to his heart. We begin to see the world through his eyes and feel the things that Jesus feels when he sees our world. Paul writes in Philippians 3, how he wanted to know Christ, the power of his resurrection and participate in his sufferings. When we answer the call to follow the way of Jesus we begin to practise the art of solidarity with the risen Christ. We find ourselves forever changed as a result of taking this journey. To practise charity with Christ is like to pay him a visit at Christmas or Easter.

This solidarity with Christ will lead us to practising solidarity with others. In the same way it is impossible to love God without loving our neighbours, it is impossible to practise solidarity with God without practising solidarity with our neighbours. This is where following Jesus becomes real, life-transforming as we seek to engage with others on their level.

On reflecting on what it means to practise solidarity,  I am forever lost in wonder of Jesus’ love for me.

Texting Less…

12, February, 2014 — Leave a comment

textingA while ago I blogged about how I downgraded my smartphone for a dumbphone. You can read about it here.

One of the main reasons I wrote why I did this was to practise the art of being more present with my daughter Gwenyth. I am thankful that I had the courage to ditch my smartphone. Believe it or not, I don’t miss having a smartphone with all the apps.

While reflecting on my various relationships with people this past week, I found myself challenged about the use of text messages (also known as SMS in some parts of the world) in my communication with friends.

Sending and receiving text messages are one of the many wonderful options we have at our disposal to communicate with others. It has made it easier to communicate especially at times when it is not appropriate to give someone a ring such as during work.

I don’t know about you, but it seems that for my generation (including myself), texting has become a primary avenue of communication with friends. It seems that the primary reason we get mobile phones is not to make calls but to communicate through texting. Personally, I enjoy the use of texting because of my hearing loss. For example, I don’t have to worry about not being able to hear the person on the other end of the line or misunderstand what is being said. Over the years, I have grew comfortable with texting because it makes life easier for me to the point it has become my primary way of communicating with friends.

For me, it seems that texting has become a cop-out for calling people, being present and engaging in live conversations. It has given us the ability to be connected with others but without the need to be actually be present in our relationships. This week I realised that I have been texting a close friend of mine for the past month not realising that she has gotten a new mobile number. I have been sending her text messages without hearing anything back from her. I thought at worst she was ignoring me. At best, I thought she was really busy as I knew she had a lot of things going on in her life at the moment. I decided to do something different by calling her. I rang the number and found myself hearing a voice at the other end of the line saying, ‘This number is no longer in service. Please try again.‘ Luckily, I managed to get her new number through a mutual friend of ours. I could have found out earlier on that she had a new number if I had the courage to make a phone call to a friend.

Sending text messages is a great technology at our disposal but it can also create a barrier between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and stop us from being truly present in our relationships. More and more I want to live a life without borders and be present with others. Right now I am thinking through what scenarios it is OK for me to be communicating through text messages.

 After all, to be present in our relationships is at the heart of what it means to follow the way of Jesus and participate in the mission of God.

An Interesting Prayer

13, January, 2014 — Leave a comment

Yesterday I went to a squat party and noticed that someone wrote this prayer on a wall. While reading it, I can’t help but feel that something is/was happening in this rather heartfelt prayer.

anarkoprayer

I really don’t want to celebrate Xmas
I just want to vandalize churches
jesus all these Anarkos celebrating Xmas jeez ahh!
Give me a real Xmas present
and come throw paintballs at churches with me even if it is for a second
I need to feel I am the moon and the rivers and buttlerflies
and my existence is worth the air I breathe