Church, Current Events, Politics

A FAIR WAY TO WORK

When I decided to leave my full-time job at The Salvation Army back in 2007 I had a bit of consultancy work lined up and a fairly hefty chunk of ambition.

I soon got a job at a radio station in London and alongside some other projects I had a good amount of work to be getting on with.

When I left the radio station I needed something else. I was blessed by projects and work opportunities that were in place but it wasn’t a full weeks work and I wanted to keep my horizons open and keep working.

And so when I found out about part-time job opportunities at my local Starbucks I applied and was offered a job there.

I worked there for just over a year and thanks to an amazing manager and a lovely team was able to build up my TV work experience and now continue to work in an industry I love.

So why do I tell this story??

Well, this past week The Salvation Army has taken a bit of a kicking for being involved in the workfare scheme. This scheme provides work experience type placements to people on benefits…sounds good so far, right?

The catch is – if someone refuses a placement they can have their benefits stopped for up to 3 years…maybe not so good after all.

Opponents call the scheme coercive and compare it to forced labour (like here)

Supporters of the scheme describe it as a helpful and effective pathway back to work (like here)

In fact, The Salvation Army themselves released a statement about their involvement (actually here)

Several charities have now pulled out of workfare. Some out of conviction that the scheme is flawed, others under pressure from protest groups and in fear of public disapproval.

So, what do I think?

Well, firstly I know that work experience is vital to gaining long-term employment. Work breeds work has been my motto for a long time now and I truly believe it. Any opportunity to get people back to work should be seriously considered.

Secondly, I know that not all back to work schemes are a good idea. There are clear dangers in workfare, not least of which is turning a state provided benefit into a reward for mandatory activity.

Thirdly, just because it came from the Conservatives doesn’t make it a bad idea. The “politics” of Tory bashing is boring and makes people look ill-informed. I grow increasingly frustrated with intelligent and articulate people treating our current government with the disdain of a Big Brother viewer or pantomime audience member just because they’re supposedly the “bad guys”.

Finally, the story I told at the start of this blog is not the story of every jobseeker. I’ve benefitted from great opportunities, a good education and a supportive network of family, friends and colleagues. I recognise not everyone has shared that experience, but I also recognise that some people have and what we’re witnessing here, in some cases, is pride. Pride that views some things “beneath” us and some jobs too menial for us.

And so in the midst of this discussion, the issues need to be discovered and debated even further.

The issues around fairness, entitlement and equality must all be up for grabs.

The scheme should be weighed up in a balanced and mature way and then action taken if, and where injustice is found.

But let’s never assume that flipping a burger, tagging some clothes, sweeping a street or fastening an apron are somehow demeaning. That going to work is somehow the enemy of freedom or the end of equality.

Let’s not foster a culture in which if you’ve got a degree, the service industry is beneath you.

Because to do that does something even more worrying – it places the people who do those things beneath us. It demeans the thousands of people who get up each day and make those things their job and work hard at them.

The Salvation Army, my church, needs to take another look at the workfare scheme. It needs to see if there’s a better way to achieve the goals of helping people back into work, and if there is, have the courage to step out and try it.

The same movement that served doughnuts in trenches and opened a match business has the potential and creativity to help solve unemployment – all we need is the courage to try it.

We have members, employees and friends who have vast experience in HR and recruitment in the public, private and third sectors.

We have members, employees and friends who are paid day in and day out for their incredible strategic minds in the public, private and third sectors.

We have members, employees and friends who work creatively to problem solve and develop ideas and programmes in the public, private and third sector.

So let’s gather some of them and see what else we can come up with – or better still, let’s volunteer some ideas and see if we can’t bring something together.

The protests, bells and whistles will move on. The outrage will fade and we’ll still have too many people without the skills, confidence or support to get back to work.

Let’s see if we can’t make a difference there.

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Culture, Faith

CURING CONSUMPTION

As Christina and I continue to settle into our new home we have spent much of the last 2 weeks agonising over colours, furniture, flooring and artex.

We pore over Homebase brochures like ancient map readers, desperately seeking the final secret that unlocks the treasure within.

We google endlessly looking for “interesting coat hooks” or “cool downstairs toilet” hoping that fresh inspiration is only a pinterest away.

We talk about it all the time, when we’re not talking – we’re planning, when we’re not planning – we’re buying, and when we’re not buying – we’re doing…and so the cycle continues.

And yet whilst we merrily go round in a blaze of emulsion-covered glory it seems that not everyone is so concerned;

A new Pope has been elected.

The government have found a deal on press regulation.

Over £75million was raised for comic relief.

Some good friends have had a baby.

In fact, if I’m honest, even we have struggled to maintain constant focus. We’ve got caught up in work issues, spent time with friends, seen family and even enjoyed some TV in there as well.

Like most people, our lives are varied and our horizons are constantly shifting…and yet on the face of things, the house is all I can seem to think about.

It’s easily done – something new comes along and takes our attention and with it our focus.

We become sidetracked, not enough to behave like zombies or to completely shut off the outside world or things we previously invested in – but it’s not far off.

We rationalise that what we’re doing is “for a season” or “it’s just like this until…” but the mystical “until” shifts and shifts until we can’t remember what we were aiming for in the first place. Sometimes we can even rationalise that it’s okay because this new thing is “worthwhile” or “making a difference”. If you adhere to a faith, it can get really muddy. Something can become “of God” or “ordained” so it must be really important…right?

My character includes an ugly tinge of narcissism that, without self-control and good people who keep me in check, can fool me into thinking whatever I’m doing, working at, focused on or thinking around is the most important thing in the world right now…but it isn’t.

At the heart of me, my family, and my community are values that don’t shift like my schedule or change like my colour schemes.

And so if I’m to be consumed by anything, let it be the things that really guide me, the people who really shape me, and the values that keep me true to myself…anything else is just the all consuming I…and it’s way off-trend on pinterest.

Church

GREAT PRESENTATIONS

During the summer of 2012 I was able to take part in the London Olympic games. Unfortunately it wasn’t my 4 x 100m prowess that took me there, no, I was part of the sports presentation team. These were the people whose job it was to ensure that every event felt like a proper show. My sport was handball and my venue was the small but plucky Copper Box. Over those 2 weeks we educated and entertained the thousands of people who came to see handball played.

We explained the rules, showed them the court and got them to choose a team to support if their country weren’t playing. We played upbeat music if a goal was scored, tense music if a penalty was about to taken and “Party Rock Anthem” every 6-7minutes. We had a fan-cam that went around the stadium picking out the best dancers, the most enthusiastic wavers and the facepaint dedicated supporters. As the games progressed we became known as “the box that rocked” and we welcomed political leaders, olympic legends and royalty. I loved it! And I worked with some amazingly talented and brilliant people. At the end of each session we’d send people on their way and hope we’d given them a great experience of London 2012, making memories and putting smiles on their faces.

The idea isn’t new, it’s why teams have cheerleaders, stadiums have sound systems and the Superbowl featured Beyonce at half-time.

The comparisons between church and sporting events aren’t new either. For years we’ve wondered at the disconnect between the tens of thousands of fans spectating and the 12, 22 or 30 athletes on the pitch. We’ve been encouraged to see the team as the church and to “get out of our seats and onto the pitch”.

At other times the analogy has shifted and we’ve been encouraged to become a true follower or part of “a great band of supporters”.

But what if we’ve got it even more wrong?

What if we haven’t relied on a large crowd of highly dedicated followers or even a smaller team of highly trained athletes but instead on an even smaller group of highly skilled entertainers?

People who know what song will get us jumping and what one will prepare us for something more thrilling.

People who know exactly what to say and when to say it to elicit the right cheer, applause, or thoughtful nod of the head.

People who promise us a chance to “participate” by seeing our face on the big screen…but only if we’re enthusiastic enough or have bought the season ticket.

People who have managed to make the main event easier to understand so we don’t need to know much or think too hard…it’s all explained to us.

People who send us home with smiles on our faces and happy memories in our minds.

I’ve never been a sportsman in any real way and so I don’t know how to make this analogy work or to turn this paragraph around into some sort of boot lacing, slam dunking, hit it out of the park sports finish…I’m just more convinced each day that the the kingdom isn’t a stadium with spectator seats or even a place to be entertained at all.

And that means the role of the church isn’t to entertain or give people a happy, fuzzy glow. It surely can’t be that a small band of showmen are employed to make sure that rest of us have just enough information to get by, never needing to delve too deep or think too hard.

If all an active, mobile church has to offer the world is “whatever that person at the front said on Sunday” that presents a clear problem…in fact it presents about 50,000 clear problems, every day of every week.

It seems to me that the call of the kingdom and therefore the call to the church isn’t about presentation at all. It’s a call to be present. Present and active in real and meaningful ways in the world.

Engaged in real community, where everyone pulls their weight not just by turning up, but by playing their own unique role within the life of the church family.

Where we don’t rely on the, often already overworked, employees, but each employ our minds, skills and gifting in steering and serving each other and the wider world in which we live.

Where debate, doubt and disagreement are encouraged and nurtured rather than nullified. Questions get asked not just answered. Opinions and ideas get space to breathe and are not just spewed through a microphone into the awaiting minds of the assembled bodies to be regurgitated at a later date.

Where your experiences matter but your level of experience doesn’t. People try new things and are encouraged to explore their potential in every area, not just the ones we don’t pay someone else to do.

In a world that can do without another show, perhaps it’s time for the church to change the record, step away from the smoke machine, and rediscover what happens when a bunch of people get together, look after each other and share the load in making the world a better place.

Faith

IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR STREET

**This was written at 10pm on Wednesday 27 February 2013**

This last few weeks have been full of contracts, dates, exchanges and colour charts as Christina and I prepare to move house. Our place was sold in early September and shortly afterwards we found somewhere to buy. Since then we’ve hit almost every possible wall we could have in our path but as I write this I’m on a train heading home from London for my last night in our lovely house.

Moving isn’t something Christina and I dread or fear. We both had upbringings that featured a lot of it and even since we’ve known each other have occupied a number of places both individually and as a couple. Neither of us form particularly strong bonds with property or have any sort of deep, sentimental attachment to the physical buildings in which we’ve lived in recent years. And yet, with this house, something is different.

Perhaps it’s because we’ve tried to share it with people. Friends and loved ones who’ve needed somewhere have stayed with us for periods of time ranging from a couple of nights to over a year at a time.

Perhaps it’s because we’ve enjoyed many meals in it with different people. Loads we love, some we have just been getting to know and even one who very honestly shared that it was unlikely they’d ever really think much of me. Each of these experiences has shaped us and brought us somewhere new.

Perhaps it’s because we’ve dreamed big dreams in that house. Many of the founding conversations of our little house church CARUS happened in our living room. We’ve held innumerable moments with our beautiful church family under that roof and spent hours getting into the real stuff of life and faith.

Perhaps it’s because we’ve cried in grief, laughed in joy and wondered in awe so many times in that house. It’s welcomed announcements of the good news, taken phone calls of the bad and had its fair share of the ugly too.

Perhaps it’s because this house has been a refuge when work has felt too tough, decision-making seemed too big, friendships became too messy and it was all just too much.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

All I know is that come tomorrow, we say goodbye to a house that has been all those things and countless more for us as a couple, and those we share life with.

And with tomorrow, comes a new house. A place we’re excited about, a space we can’t wait to share and a new adventure for us, our family and family of friends who will help us make it a home.