Politics Matters

With hesitation and a degree of nervousness, here is a Just Reflection on the forthcoming general election in the UK. I don’t feel qualified to write about politics and I don’t have anything ‘new’ to bring to the table. But because I passionately believe social action is not enough and that social justice is required, politics matters and so I can’t ignore the election.

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My story (with disclaimer!)

First, the disclaimer: these are my personal opinions (not the views of my place of work, church, family, cat etc.!)

I have been a member of Christians on the Left (which is affiliated to the Labour Party) for over four years, and have been a member of the Labour Party since the election in 2015. When I discovered Christians on the Left, I found with relief my political home.

I met others who saw in the pages of the Bible an imperative to be on the side of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalised, the vulnerable and exploited.

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! Amos 5:24

I discovered my Christianity and my political views were not at odds with each other; the voices of the US Christian Right are so dominant I often felt either my faith or my politics were wrong. I found others, like me, motivated by God’s heart for justice whose left-leaning political views flowed out of their faith.

Key influences

I have been influenced over the years by a number of Christian political activists:

  • Jim Wallis –  a US Christian writer,  and the founder and editor of Sojourners magazine
  • Andy Flannagan – Director of Christians on the Left
  • Jon Kuhrt – Executive Director of Social Work at West London Mission

I’d encourage you to read their works (online and in print) as they communicate the key issues so much better than I ever could!

Going upsteam

I love the following story which I first read in one of Jim Wallis’ books and quote to people frequently:

Imagine you’re standing by the Niagra River, just above the falls. As you enjoy the beautiful scene, you see what looks like a hand waving in the rapids. You realize it’s a person who is being pulled toward the falls. You find a long stick and you extend it to the person and pull him to shore in just the nick of time. A crowd gathers and various ones help the victim—this one provides a blanket, that one calls 911 on a cell phone, another provides emotional comfort with a caring hug. Just as the ambulance takes the survivor away, you look upstream and notice another hand waving frantically from the water.

‘Soon you organize the crowd to help the second victim in the same way. Then you look upstream and see two more, no, five more … no, at least a dozen hands of people waving for help as they are pulled toward certain death. Do you keep pulling people out of the river? Of course, but sooner or later, you’ve got to pull the crowd on shore together and say, “Listen, we need to send a group of people upstream to find out who’s pushing people into the river.”

We need to go upstream to find out how the people are getting into the river. 

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Or as Andy Flannagan wrote in a recent guest blog for Resistance and Renewal:

All over the UK the Church is doing an incredible job.

We are running food banks…mentoring teenagers at risk…counselling those in debt… befriending the elderly…sheltering the homeless…running parent-toddler groups… homework clubs…music and arts workshops…healing on the streets…sports camps… working with prisoners…community choirs…

It is wonderful, but there is a danger.

The church may spend the next fifty years being the nation’s paramedic, treating the victims of a flawed system but failing to bring righteousness and justice to the system itself.

Praying for politicians

I’ve been challenged by the cross-party organisation Christians in Politics and their Show Up campaign to pray for politicians, especially those with whom I disagree. Christians in Politics have written a helpful guide on what to pray.

I have now added a photo of my Conservative candidate (who will become my MP again on 8 June – I live in a Tory safe seat) to the photos of my three local Conservative councillors inside one of my kitchen cupboards as a reminder to pray for them. I have also ‘liked’ my MP on Facebook, causing confusion and consternation to my mum!

And finally…

When my late grandma was born in 1916, women in the UK could not vote. Some women were granted suffrage in 1918, but electoral parity wasn’t achieved until 1928. My grandma did not take her vote for granted and therefore always voted. When I put my cross in the box, I consciously think of the women who gave so much to the suffrage movement and try to emulate my grandma’s attitude.

 

Adventures in Just Living: Books, Bags, Boxes and Supply Chains

After last week’s blog on mental health, I feel on more secure ground writing about some of the ways Mr Pilgrim and I have tried to live more justly and what we are discovering.

Books: I’ve found a great alternative to Amazon: Better World Books – for every book that’s sold a percentage is given to literacy schemes and they’ll also donate a book to someone in need. They’re great for many reasons and I recommend looking at their website in more detail to discover more about their marvellousness! I’ve also used Eden for purchasing specifically Christian books.

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Bags: My eyes opened to what I was throwing into the black bin (for landfill), I realised that as a family we use a lot of sandwich bags. I googled ‘reusable sandwich wrappers’ and found Re-Wrap-It – we have bought one with robots on for Small Boy to take to preschool and then I’ll use it when I return to work and he goes to nursery. They’re designed by Shona from Glasgow who writes:

Manufacture is predominantly done by the inmates at Kilmarnock Prison. I felt very strongly that as a “green” product they should be made locally not imported from overseas. The inmates learn a skill which hopefully helps with their rehabilitation and could lead to job opportunities in the future.’

Boxes: We had a fun family visit to Church Farm, a social enterprise near Stevenage. The farm runs a grocery box scheme and we ordered one of their vegetable boxes and a selection of organic meat. I loved walking around the farm and want to return to find out more about their farming practices, for instance I was fascinated to discover the chickens live in an orchard because the chickens are a natural insecticide!

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I’m so impressed and grateful that Mr Pilgrim is willing and enthusiastic about eating less meat. We’ve found that meals have become more of an event – a time to talk and share about our days. Our cooking has become more creative and we’re appreciating food and time together in a new way. Mr Pilgrim, Small Boy and I made a beetroot cake with our veggie box beetroot and I’m enjoying more healthy and interesting lunches. The tomatoes smell like the ones I ate in childhood grown by my grandad in his greenhouse. One disappointment was the unappetising lentil and spinach curry I cooked – I should have paid more attention when the author of the cookbook herself stated that it wasn’t very good!

Supply chains: The more I read about how to shop ethically, the more I value the importance of the supply chain. One of my favourite ever academic modules was a qualitative research course I took with Dr Ian Cook (a radical geographer) then at the University of Birmingham – a course which changed the way I looked at the world. His PhD was on the journey of a papaya and the difficulties he had in writing about the supply chain of this particular fruit. He has a short article about this in the first edition of the Journal of Consumer Ethics and has set up Follow The Things  – a non-academic website looking at commodity chains.

Starting 26 June, Ian Cook is leading a free online course with Future Learn called ‘Who made my clothes?’ which I’ve signed up to do.

Next time: I still have to write about my beautiful organic cotton hoodie, tuna, my new washing up liquid and laundry detergent, and my unease at being ‘a consumer’ (I think I need to consume less but how and what?), the power of small changes, and how so much of living justly seems to depend on privilege, wealth and time.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

This week (8-14 May) is Mental Health Awareness Week. I’ve been wondering all week whether to write something. A longish car journey has provided the opportunity at the end of an exceptionally busy week.

It would be easier to blog about reusable sandwich bags, supply chains and why chickens are best kept in orchards – but that will all have to wait until another time.

If you’ve been reading my reflections regularly, you’ll know about my experience of antenatal anxiety and my struggles with perfectionism. But the reality is I’ve had mental health difficulties the majority of my life, including periods of anxiety and times of deep depression. I’ve benefited from medication and talking therapies.

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I’m now at a place where I can be more open yet I’m not prepared to share my story in its entirety to that many people. So I’m being vulnerable and honest but this isn’t full disclosure! 

For many years I have felt unable to talk about my anxiety and depression. I was scared of being labelled, judged or feared. I was frightened I would not be respected or trusted, particularly at work and at church.

I’m learning that I have ‘health’. Physically, I know I have to strengthen my stomach muscles to prevent a re-occurrence of lower back pain and stiffness, to warm up well before playing sport to avoid injury and not to consume too much caffeine. Similarly, I know I can look after my mental health by getting enough sleep, exercising, eating healthily and spending time on my own. These are like the four legs of a table – if one is neglected I can get a bit wobbly! 

I’m discovering I can learn to think in ways which are more productive, resilient and kinder to myself. The futile spiral of negative thinking can be broken. 

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As others (friends, colleagues, and people with public platforms, such as Prince Harry) have been open about their own experiences of mental health, I have gained courage to accept my own brokenness and to embrace all who I am.

Yet, I know that this is not where I want to stay. Instead, I will continue to walk (or maybe limp) towards greater freedom, peace and wholeness.


There are some great resources at Mind and Soul and the Mental Health Foundation.

Are children making my children’s clothes?

Last week was Ethical Fashion Week and my Facebook feed was full of articles about ethical and sustainable fashion. At the same time Ethical Consumer launched their new free online Journal of Consumer Ethics and I read this:

“Ethical buying is one of the few effective tools we possess which can address – albeit imperfectly – the serious social and environmental problems that humans, as a species, now face.” (Rob Harrison, editor of the first edition of Journal of Consumer Ethics, quoted in Ethical Consumer)

As I mentioned previously I had been disheartened by my small attempts to live more justly struggling to see how I, one individual, could make a difference. I was also ‘surviving’ rather than ‘thriving’ as a new parent, probably suffering from post-natal anxiety.

Now re-energised and re-envisioned to think much more carefully about my purchases and believing shopping purposefully and with deliberation is an ‘effective tool’ to make a difference, I started thinking about what I buy for Small Boy and Little Miss and then it hit me – like a punch to the stomach: Were children making my children’s clothes?

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A Guardian article from earlier this year stated: ‘Children as young as 14 have been employed to make clothes for some of the most popular names on the UK high street.

Researching clothing companies, I’ve discovered that Marks and Spencer have been named by Ethical Consumer as the ‘most ethical high street retailer for clothing’ and there are many smaller ’boutique’ [read: expensive] online stores selling organic and/or fair trade children’s clothes. I have previously purchased gorgeous t-shirts with tractors on from Frugi.

Currently, Little Miss wears a selection of beautiful hand-me-downs from family (her cousins and from friends in our church). We then pass on her too-small-clothes to a local mother-and-baby charity shop. Shopping justly for Little Miss will be fairly straightforward as I rarely buy her anything!

Making ethical purchases for Small Boy will be harder and more expensive but I do not want another child to be making his clothes.

We now pass on Small Boy’s too-small-clothes to twin baby boys in our church family. This has got me thinking about buying items which are long-lasting so I have good quality clothes to pass on to these two wonderful boys. I’m prepared to spend more because they too will benefit and it gives me pleasure to see them wearing Small Boy’s t-shirts and trousers.

It’s easy to be generous to them because I can see them, play with them and cuddle them. But now I want to act justly towards the children and women working in factories many miles away who I do not see and do not know.


If you have time, please read this article by Vicky Walker about the new clothes for children shortly to be available in Poundland.