Saturday, August 28, 2010

The E.D.L. - English Defence League - in Bradford: 28.08.10


I woke up this morning to hear Nick Lowles of Hope Not Hate on the radio discussing free speech in relation to today's demonstration by the English Defence League in Bradford City Centre.

Given that the Home Secretary, Theresa May, had already ruled that a proposed march through the predominantly Muslim part of the city was an act of gross provocation and would not take place, I was surprised that a static demonstration was. On reflection enough members of the EDL would have turned up anyway and been a nuisance that I suppose the police had no choice, even though a significant number of Bradford's citizens had signed a petition against the whole thing. This meant for plenty of publicity.

The press pack out in force

The EDL, for those not attuned to the finer points of the British extreme right, is a loose confederation of racist groups and individuals who seem to spend their Saturday afternoons wreaking havoc in our city centres.

They are against terrorism and extremism.

Who isn't?

They claim not to be against Islam as such, just the suicide bombers.

Hard to disagree there either.

But such relatively sane rhetoric, as found on their website, is not matched by the reality on the ground.

So back to free speech.

I've always thought it somewhat overrated.

Rights have to be balanced against responsibilities and the right of an EDL member to scream offensive, racist expletives drunkenly in the face of a woman because she is wearing a headscarf isn't a right worth fighting for, balanced against her right to walk the streets unmolested.

Leeds City station had a significant police presence but my train was surprisingly empty. The twenty minute amble from one city to its near neighbour passed through two other minor stations both of which had a conspicuous police presence.

I had attended a similar rally last year in Leeds and there was a huge sense of deja vu as the day unfolded: it almost felt choreographed.

The lull before the storm

Taking the sun

Initially the demonstration area seemed to be holding its breath as groups of people stood around eying each other up as if deciding which side of the street to stand on. "Are they on my side?"

Bradford Folk

There was a huge police presence. I got chatting to a personable officer who turned out to have been bused in from Newcastle. He told me that he thought there were about 1,100 police on duty and he and his mate totted up nine different regional forces involved. The EDL laughably over-inflated the size of their demonstration: however many 53 seater buses arrive, if there are only 12-15 guys - and they were all guys - on board each, that doesn't amount to the ravaging throng found on P644 of the Old Testament.

The Flower of English Manhood

Just the thirteen police forces

The police estimate was something in the region of 700 which is pretty pathetic as this was billed to be the Big One which would bring 10,000 "patriotic" Englishmen on to the streets. They all matched the stereotype of everything which isn't the flower of English manhood: a shared I.Q. of 12 and a reading age probably considerably lower, bad teeth, beer guts, plenty of visible tattoos, shaven heads, corporate ugliness of appearance and manner and lots of St. George's flags, together with a couple of Stars of David. Doesn't being anti-Islam make for some strange bedfellows?

Man's best friend

They were all dead brave, gesturing from their buses, gurning and shouting at the good citizens of Bradford. Equally brave in the same behaviour from behind several lines of police in full riot gear and a hundred yards of cleared road between them and the public. The banners were predictable - if not quite on the "reasonable" message its organisers would wish to promote.

"No more Mosques"

"You aren't English"

"No to Sharia Law"

Bravery from a distance

"They're obsessed with Sharia Law." one Asian youth I was standing next to noted. "We don't even have it here and no-one I know wants it." He and I talked about how propaganda doesn't need a basis in truth and we also talked about the irresponsible role of our tabloid press in being the spokesmen for the far right. "The Daily Express knows Shit!" Couldn't have put it better myself.
"You know we should be flying England flags. It's our flag too." Said another youth.
"I've got one." said his mate and pulled down the waist of his jeans to reveal the waist band of his underpants.

Patriotism

It was at this point that a bridal party arrived at the Midland Hotel, to be cheered by a crowd of about 200 anti-fascist well wishers.

In Bradford the EDL rally was on a piece of land enclosed by a large green wooden fence. The public saw little of them and they saw little of the public although we could hear each other. There was, of course, the ritual attempt at a break out but the whole afternoon was an object lesson in professional policing. We could see missiles, bottles, bricks and the occasional smoke bomb being thrown at the police but they held the line and moved us back to be out of danger.

Just step back Sir

I was very impressed by the local Muslim youth in their response to the EDL provocation and the policing methods. There was much good humour, albeit accompanied by a great deal of cat-calling.

E-E-EDL from one side and EDL BURN IN HELL from the other. What irked me, almost beyond measure, were the tactics of a small group of anarchists and Socialist Workers. (Nearly called them something similar there) who were determined to rile the police - and failed spectacularly. Every time the police moved us back ("For your own safety Sir") they would start with "Why are you moving us? The enemy's behind you. We haven't done anything. Don't move everyone. Don't cooperate." Whenever a group of mounted police passed by, or riot police, they would boo them. "The police are protecting the fascists" and "How many police are racist?" I moved away in the end.

Thanks for your cooperation

After one bottle of water I needed a pee and, as nothing much was happening I set off for a coffee and a comfort stop. One visit to the facilities, one latte and a piece of pecan pie later (protest lite?) I returned to my post as near to the centre of it all as I could get. I tried in vain to hear the speeches. Once again I took up my well-thumbed copy of the Book of Revelation to search through the harbingers of apocalypse searching for the words "And lo, it shall come to pass that right-wing fascists shall consider themselves serious thinkers." No: what we got was an exhortation to God to save the Queen and shouts of "Allah, Allah, who the f**k is Allah?" and "We love the floods."

Classy.

My chest remained relaxed with all the breath is wasn't holding waiting for an intelligent speech.



Lovely, but they do make a mess

I was impressed by how much better prepared the people of Bradford were for this event than the people of Leeds had been. But then this had been all over the news. At 11.00 there had been a service of prayer in the Cathedral which remained open as a sanctuary with staff in attendance and an alternative "Be Bradford - Peaceful Together" rally was taking place to affirm Bradford's multi-cultural heritage. I was disappointed though that I only saw two dog collars all day where the action was, but all power to them: every time I saw them they were surrounded by people and were talking animatedly. There was even a guy dressed as Santa giving out sweets and telling people that Jesus loved them and that his message was to love our neighbour. It was strangely unsatisfactory in that respect: I would have liked to have seen more clergy about. It is not easy making a Christian witness in a crowd without some method of identification. It really needs to be overt: dog-collars are an obvious way but we needed the sort of banners that were out and proud at the Leeds Pride so that Christians could gather under them and make a powerful statement. something like "Christians against racism" would have done nicely.

The thing is, the EDL have got their side of the choreography down to a fine art: it's pure repetition for them: same clothes, some banners, same flags, same chants. Practice makes perfect. Their unwilling hosts tend not to organise too much, after all (God willing) it's a one-off abberation.

The police have got it down to a fine art too and the public never really got close enough to engage. Under the circumstances I am sure that was appropriate: the atmosphere was potentially volatile, but that meant that, unlike in Leeds, I couldn't talk to any of these guys face to face and I regret that. My conversations with local people were great but, in jeans and a T-shirt, I lacked the gravitas and authority to have much of an impact.

It was only towards the end of the day that things might have turned a bit nasty. One or two hot-heads amongst the local youth were frustrated that they hadn't been able to engage the EDL and were trying to provoke the police who weren't rising to the bait at all.

And from out of nowhere...

Now let's not get silly

Eye in the sky

And then I came across some of my kids from the Knowledge College.

Nice Kids - of course: I teach them!

"Hello Sir. What are you doing here? Did you come to see the pond life?"

I couldn't have put it better myself.

Given that we are in a recession and the policing for these ongoing events must have cost enough to go a long way towards the rebuild of my school which that nice Mr. Gove cancelled, one wonders if it might not have been better if Bradford had gone out for the day and left the place empty for the EDL. There's nothing quite like being ignored to deflate the ego.

UPDATE: Just the fifteen arrests.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The English Defence League comes to Bradford.


Find video link HERE

It is hard to imagine a more provocative act. Prayers for the people of Bradford please.

I shall go and make my quiet Christian protest.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Getting Old

My usual routine of building up muscle and training it down is coming to an end.
I've reached an age where I've realised the image of an oversize, lump of muscle is neither positive or of benefit to me. I am after a visit to the doctor judged by the blind scale of BMI to be clinically obese. I've always been active, I'm on my feet and walking, running upstairs, wrestling people all of the time I'm at work. I trainn hard cardio and high rep weights and have a muscular physique. The dumb assessment that my mass exceeds a safe limit for my height is not something I take too seriously.
It does flag up that I'm an outlier. That what I've been doing over the years with my build has placed me in the extreme of the distribution and as I get older this will only be getting more apparent. It's time to slim down, up the fitness and do with technique what I've been doing with body weight. I'm not going to be disappearing anytime soon, hiding behind lampposts or being confused for a marathon runner will not be me. I think I'm just aiming to turn some of the overdeveloped musculature into a more conventional broad shouldered sporty build.
We'll see how this goes down at work. I'll still have a face like a bag of spanners and all the lessons I've learned so far but being smaller will reduce my physical presence. Will this lead to more grief or less grief?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Daily Bread


“Give us our daily bread today.”

Q. What does this mean?

A. Truly, God gives daily bread to evil people, even without our prayer. But we pray in this request that He will help us realize this and receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

Q. What does “Daily Bread” mean?

A. Everything that nourishes our body and meets its needs, such as: Food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, yard, fields, cattle, money, possessions, a devout spouse, devout children, devout employees, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbours and other things like these.


Luther's Small Catechism.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Don't blame me, blame Little Steve


The UK is in DEEP trouble...


The population of this country is approximately 60 million.


32 million are retired.


That leaves 28 million to do the work..


There are 17 million in school or at Universities.


Which leaves 11 million to do the work..


Of this there are 8 million employed by the UK government.


Leaving 3 million to do the work..


1.2 million are in the armed forces fighting in Afghanistan .


Which leaves 1.8 million to do the work..


Take from that total the 0.8 million people who work for Local County Councils.


And that leaves 1 million to do the work..


At any given time there are 488,000 people in hospitals or claiming Invalidity Benefit.


Leaving 512,000 to do the work..


Now, there are 511,998 people in prisons.


That leaves just two people to do the work..


You and me.


And there you are, Sitting on your bum, at your computer, reading blogs.


Is it any wonder that we are in such a mess and that I am stressed out through trying to cope on my own?

(Cheers Steve)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Impressions of Edinburgh

(The view from our roof terrace.)

Was it only a fortnight ago?
* One of the first sights I remember on alighting the train: a young man with a t-shirt baring the legend "I only support two teams - Scotland and whoever England is playing." Welcoming, I thought.
* Fond as I am of all things tartan, the presence of pipers every few hundred yards could lead me to pipericide.
* Every kilt-and-heather emporium seemed to be run by men in turbans and little old ladies in saris.
* The dog with one blue eye and one brown eye.
* Meeting old friends from Leeds by accident on that street at that time. What are the chances?
* The capacity of the public to do anything they are asked by street entertainers. "If you two guys could just stand still, I'll stand on your shoulders and juggle carving knives." (Bruce the Aussie)
* The Mosque kitchen: wonderful, wonderful food at give away prices with no frills.
* Hardly a Scottish accent to be heard on the Royal Mile. Probably only every fourth person was a native English speaker.
* Parties of Italian teenagers are possibly the rudest in the world.
* Finding ourselves behind a party of 47 Chinese tourists going into Holyrood Palace.
* Every waitress or guide is from Poland or the Baltic states.
* "Do you have American cough-sweets?" "We cough with a Scottish accent here Madam. You'll have to have ours."
* The Royal yacht Brittania moored incongruously outside Debenhams.
* The incredible changeability of the Edinburgh weather.
* Volunteers from The Cancer Relief charity shop standing outside on a break smoking.
* Why aren't baby spiders told at bedtime to stay away from baths? Why do they never learn?
* The rabbit who we could see in the garden every morning. Rabbit Burns, as he became known.
* The South Koreans at the left luggage department in Waverley Station who found that a polite nod and a "Yes" didn't necessarily suit every occasion.
"Did you pack this bag yourself?" "Yes" (smile and nod) "Could anyone have tampered with it?" "Yes" (smile and nod). "Does it contain any weapons or explosives?" "Yes" (smile and nod). "O.K. Lets try that again....."
* Puting up the prices by 60% for the bloody Festival!

Already booked for next year.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fat Chance

On a student night a good while ago, the place was rammed, the drinks were on offer and heading down fast. The whole place was full, the aircon was wheezing it's best but still not doing much against the heaving mass of sweaty folks dancing. I had battled my way through the floor, moving step by step, watching and listening. Also getting in as many photos as possible. Even the most crowded student space will find 6' to take a photo in. That gives me a perfect gap to 6' further along my route. I get after some time to the gents on the upper floor. This is usually a little less busy, a prime location to see the lesser spotted the white powder snorter.
This busy student night, these kind of checks are very necessary. I find the toilet lobby empty, I find the sinks and urinal devoid of inhabitant, I find the cubicle in use. Actually I find the cubicle not in use, now it contains a large sleeping gent. Sweaty, breathing like a racehorse with a cold and entirely unconscious.
I radio for assistance, we're going to need it. On the arrival of a colleague who possesses what we've come to term dumb strength we can begin the operation. Talking, shouting, shaking, ear pinching, sternum rubbing have no effect. Time to grab an armpit each, and haul hard. Up he comes, several acres of soft while flesh extra on a frame to match mine. Step by step we dance him out of first the cubicle then the toilets. As we leave the toilets it strikes us that getting 30 seconds of time on the main stairs is not going to be possible with the place this crowded. Time for the nearest fire door. All good getting there, even students shift when two staff are wrestling a whale. We get to the fire door then we realise the next challenge, this is not going to be wide enough for us to stay one on each side. I have the misfortune of trying to keep mr drunks fat head and fatter upper body from slapping into the concrete stairs while the other gent goes down first and steers the lower half down without tangling or picking up momentum. 3 steps down I'm fully tight, 3 steps further and the burn begins, only 12 more to go, by 12 my arms, legs and back are starting to tremble, on landing I unceremoniously dump the lump on my colleague who dances him to the door which I pop open. With one breath of fresh air and all the jolting about, this fool wakes, assesses his location, stuffed in the armpit of a beast, then starts to get shirty. Big girls blousey. After shutting the door we brief the front door team and head in for some fluids and a chance to breathe.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Internet, the Tabloids and the murky world of misinformation


I have a couple of friends who send me stuff from the INTERNET that they receive from other friends. I usually pass them on too. Many of them are very funny, showing the infinite stupidity of humanity; others are very clever and creative and some, Dear Reader, are a bit rude. It is rare for me to delete without sending on but there are categories I won't be party to distributing. Here is one (he says, distributing it more widely).

An incident occurred in a supermarket recently, when the following was witnessed: A Muslim woman dressed in a Burkha (A black gown & face mask) was standing with her shopping in a queue at the checkout.

When it was her turn to be served, and as she reached the cashier, she made a loud remark about the Union Jack Flag lapel pin, which the female cashier was wearing on her blouse.

The cashier reached up and touched the pin and said, “Yes, I always wear it proudly. My son serves abroad with the forces and I wear it for him”.

The Muslim woman then asked the cashier when she was going to stop bombing and killing her countrymen, explaining that she was Iraqi.

At that point, a Gentleman standing in the queue stepped forward, and interrupted with a calm and gentle voice, and said to the Iraqi woman:

“Excuse me, but hundreds of thousands of men and women, just like this ladies son have fought and sacrificed their lives so that people just like YOU can stand here, in Britain, which is MY country and allow you to blatantly accuse an innocent check- out cashier of bombing YOUR countrymen”.

“It is my belief that if you were allowed to be as outspoken as that in Iraq which you claim to be YOUR country, then we wouldn’t need to be fighting there today”.

“However - now that you have learned how to speak out and criticise the British people who have afforded you the protection of MY country, I will gladly pay the cost of a ticket to help you pay your way back to Iraq”.

“When you get there, and if you manage to survive for being as outspoken as you are here in Britain, then you should be able to help straighten out the mess which YOUR Iraqi countrymen have got you into in the first place, which appears to be the reason that you have come to MY country to avoid.”

Apparently the queue cheered and applauded.

IF YOU AGREE.. Pass this on to all of your proud British friends..
Well, I have also seen an Australian version of this so I was not entirely convinced, especially as there is no means of verifying the truth of the story. But it rang a bell and so I did a little INTERNET search. There seems to be a strong link between the above little piece of incitement to social harmony and a story from an edition of The Sun from Last October.

Asda Till Snub for Hope for Heroes Mum. Mum-of-three Beth Hoyle claims an Asda till worker refused to serve her because she was wearing a wristband backing injured troops. Beth says the checkout lad told her the band for Help for Heroes - aided by The Sun - meant she supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And when she complained to a supervisor, he BACKED the Asian youth, saying he was entitled to his view. Beth, 40, who has two brothers in the services, said the checkout worker told her he didn't want to serve her because of "what she was wearing."


Asda’s ultimate response was: We’ve come to the end of our investigation at Asda Rochdale and can’t find any truth in the allegation that one of our colleagues refused to serve a customer for wearing a Help for Heroes wristband.

Our regional operations manager Paul Rowland said: “We’ve completed our investigation and it’s clear this exchange never happened. We’ve interviewed over 400 colleagues in the store, examined over three days worth of CCTV footage and talked to other customers and we can find absolutely no evidence that a colleague said what was alleged.”


They concluded: “We are disappointed and angry that right-wing groups are using this mythical incident to whip up racial hatred,” said Paul. “Thankfully the people of Rochdale will see straight through that. We remain big supporters of the work our troops do serving our country.”

Asda, it seems, sell the Hope for Heroes wristbands.

Most worryingly, the websites for Exposing Islam and the NF still have the story.

Excellent. Well done The Sun!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ah, the Tabloids, bless them!


Some weeks ago I tried to explain to an American blogger the hierarchy of the British press in terms of political leaning, bias and reliability. I don't particularly have a problem with political bias, after all there is more than one perspective on party politics and so, armed with the knowledge of the editorial stance of these papers, I would have no problem reading The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian or the Independent and their Sunday editions. I would join many people in describing these papers as the "quality" press.

It is below these - often well below these - that the problems start and I often berate my students for their lamentable knowledge of current affairs.

Do you read a newspaper?

All too often the answer is in the negative. Those whose parents do regularly buy a national daily or Sunday edition tend to go largely, it seems, for the tabloids. They express amazement when I tell them that I can predict what party their parents vote for and what stance they will take on a variety of current issues based on their newspaper of choice. I have always been right. Too often in the classroom I can hear their parents talking and talking through the headlines and editorial position of their newspapers.

My response to my American friend arose out of trying to make a comparison between British and American news outlets. The same rule that I apply to my pupils can be applied to American bloggers in their choice of which British papers they cite in support of their position. If I see a Daily Mail article used as evidence against global warming, for instance, or The Star cited in a diatribe against Islam as another example I can safely assume I am dealing with a Republican.

At risk of upsetting many British newspaper readers (including my mother who reads the Daily Mail - for the crossword allegedly) I try to point out that these and the Sun, The News of the World, the People and the Daily Express are not good or credible sources of objective information. The comparison to Fox News springs to mind. Objectivity is not the primary objective and, after all, why let factual inaccuracy and downright misinformation get in the way of a good journalistic rant?

I have become increasingly aware of the liberties some of our media outlets take with the truth of late, particularly following one episode of Radio 4's The Now Show. See this recent post

This morning on the Sunday Programme (thank you God for BBC Radio 4) there was an interesting article on a youth camp for British Muslim teenagers which has the aim of turning Muslim youth from Islamist extremism. The camp is run by Dr Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, who has written a 600 page Fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombing. Sadly none of the usual suspects feels that this is a story worthy of publishing.

What we have had recently are headlines like This Note the phrase The Muslim Council of Britain confirmed that music lessons are likely to be “unacceptable” to 10% of Muslims. Now not only does the Star not specify that the Muslim Council of Great Britain does not support the view, but it pointedly says nothing about the 90% of Muslims who have no problem with it. Good grief, if only 10% of Christians I have met belonged to the lunatic fringe I'd think the rapture was due.

And then you get the story at the top of the post - no not Naomi (don't get me started on that empty headed princess!). This is the story where British children are being forced to eat Halal meat. Where to start? All meat is slaughtered. If you don't like this fact you are probably already a vegetarian. If you eat meat you probably couldn't tell whether meat was slaughtered according to Halal, Kosher or other means. If you're a meat eater you're a meat eater. What on earth do people think Halal meat is, something sacrificed to Satan and dipped in the blood of Christian virgins?

But look at the wider implication: Muslims aren't British, not properly. This will come as a surprise to my Muslim friends. (Actually, it won't, more's the pity.) It is also supposed to be clear that there is an Islamisation of Britain because of those uppity Muslims. The problem with this story is that it is simply not true. According to The BBC Harrow Council is giving the choice to serve Halal meat to its primary schools. See also The Harrow Observer. The Star however asserts that all High Schools have been told to provide only Halal meat.

You might also like This one

Then we get organisations like Islamisationwatch which exist because of the sorts of things the tabloid press write. One feeds off the other in a cycle of suspicion and fear. It should make us angry and it should make us campaign for an honest press.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Giles Fraser and Marriage: was he right?


On Wednesday I was drowsing in the bliss of the out-of-term lie in when I heard, through the fog, from the radio the words "Thought for the Day with the Revd. Dr. Giles Fraser". Now, what with me actually aspiring to be Giles Fraser in my next life, I sat up and listened. (Well, I didn't actually sit up so much as snuggle down, but at least I was wide awake.) Read or listen here It was a strong indictment of the narcissism of the modern wedding. There was a lot of discussion and debate on the airwaves subsequently and in today's Guardian I came across This.

Are they right?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Bye Bye Prop 8! (YEAH!)



Allowing interracial marriages “necessarily involves the degradation” of conventional marriage, an institution that “deserves admiration rather than execration.”

(Source: A U.S. representative from Georgia quoted in Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune, May 19, 1996)
Isn't history revealing?

Following on from the last post - and if you've not read it do take a peek - we hear that Prop 8 has fallen. For those of you not quite up to speed on this, Prop 8 was an anti gay-marriage measure put to the public vote in California.

Now it seems that the rights enshrined in the American constitution are not up for renegotiation by public vote. The Intertubes are alive with the legal judgement and editorial comment and they can say it all better than I can. (I would recommend Rachel Maddows.)

Unpacked like this it amazes me how Prop 8 ever got passed in the first place. The fact that these dreadful people - the supporters of Prop 8 and particularly their "expert" witnesses - have been shown to be charlatans is music to many people's ears.

Why do so few Americans know the provisions of their constitution?

I'll just leave you with this little gem.



UPDATE: As this will only run and run I offer a receipe from THIS EXCELLENT BLOG SITE

A quick snack

This dish can be knocked up in minutes and, while it can be bland to some palates, still delivers a kick of muted outrage in many people. A simple, filling dish for the lazier columnist.

INGREDIENTS

1 quite obvious headline
1 tenuous reference to an unrelated, misunderstood report, for flavouring
1-2 handpicked critics for garnish
1 comment from the TaxPayers’ Alliance to act as the cherry on top
Several emotive words to add character to the dish
£15,000 – or is it £7,000 – of public money
PREPARATION

Take the quite obvious headline and use to top the container. Line with a generous helping of public money – be sure to check exactly how much you need here as it can vary. Next take the critics and place near the base of the container. Sprinkle on the emotive words. In this dish we chose “barmy”, “cuts”, “vandalised”, “awful”, “bullied”, “robbed” and “stupid” but any similarly emotive words will be fine. Some may prefer to use stronger bodied words such as “arsebollocks” or “fuckbagger”, although these can end up too much for a dish as light as this one. Positive words, such as “help”, “fit”, “active”, “wonderful” and “socialise” should be placed out of sight at the very bottom of the container.

Display the dish in a warm area of the website and allow to simmer for a few minutes until the smell is quite strong. Next add the tenuous reference to an unrelated, misunderstood report and allow this to set the overall flavour of the dish. Finally add a comment from part-time rent-a-gob-and-expert-on-apparently-just-about-everything Emma Boon of the TaxPayers’ Alliance as the cherry on top. Allow everything to congeal for 30 minutes.

This dish is now ready to be served. Watch out for local variants.

Oh yes, I shall look out for these in the weeks and months to come.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Leeds Pride


(Daughter2 on the left making new friends.)

Today I went to my beloved's church. Her congregation has long designated the first Sunday in August as LGBT Liberation Sunday. It also happens to be the day on which Leeds Pride falls.

The sermon was delivered by the Revd. Colin Coward, Director of Changing Attitude and as it was taped You can hear it here. Colin took St. Paul and "There is neither Jew nor Greek, Slave nor free...." as his text and I was gratified because I had only preached on this text myself recently. TEXT HERE

My beloved and I have been members of Changing Attitude for some years now, although largely not in any overtly active way unless you count reading the newsletter as active.

I went to Leeds Pride last year and, apart from my younger daughter, I saw no one I knew. I milled about aimlessly in Millennium Square and wondered where the overt Christian presence was: this would have been a welcoming and supportive Christian presence as opposed to the condemnatory sort. I watched while a group of drag queens mimed incredibly badly and without much enthusiasm to "It's raining men" on stage while the crowd seemed to me to be having trouble feigning much in the way of interest. The carnival atmosphere I had been hoping for only really materialised when the procession set off.

Subsequently Daughter2 told me I had missed all the stalls and displays which were at the end of the procession route.

This year Changing Attitude had a stall and were fully intending to march in the parade. I thought I'd go and offer my moral support. I questioned my motives and discussed things with my family. It is to me an issue of witness and personal integrity. It is as simple as that.

My fear was that the church would indeed be there - or at least a faction of it - in full protest overdrive. I could think of a couple of Leeds churches who might well turn out in force to make an anti-gay statement. ("Down with that sort of thing!"?) No, I think the other face of the church needs to be seen at these events: the face of the church which doesn't condemn people for who they are, the face of the church which doesn't ape the Topeka Baptist tendency of the fundamentalist religious right in their hate campaign - the ones who carry banners that proclaim "God hates gays!" - those who are now becoming known as the LEVITICITES. Neither did I want to see the face of the church which patronises LGBT Christians in their attempt to "love the sinner but hate the sin". (Sorry, my gag-reflex just kicked in there.) Nor did I want to hear any of the theology of hate so robotically trotted out by those who know the verses but not the hermeneutics.

Was it possible that the face of the church which is inclusive and accepting of all God's people in our brokenness could make an appearance at this event? Or perhaps more to the point, was it possible for the face of the church which is inclusive and accepting of all God's people in our brokenness to make an appearance and be welcomed by those who may for very good reasons be quite antagonistic towards us because of all the crap that they have had handed out by the church over the last few years? Would we be booed out of the event? Would people take us on about the church and give us a probably well deserved hard time because of their own experiences of pain and rejection at the hands of the church? Could it also be possible that the revellers would feel that the church has lost even the right to expect to be heard? Would it be a case of "too little, too late"?

I wouldn't blame them.

For a moment it did feel as if my worst fears would be realised: "I thought Christians were against homosexuality?" one young woman asked me. But she was not aggressive: she had simply bought into the Daily Mail view of religion and sexuality.

How to respond?

There is a time and place and this wasn't it. It wasn't the time and place for a hermeneutic deconstruction of the so called "clobber" passages or of an analysis of the different categories of the Old Testament Holiness Code or of the distinction between the writings of the Old Covenant and of the New: no, this was the time for something much simpler and certainly conciliatory.

"That's the view of the vocal minority. Not all Christians accept those ideas by any means and I'm here today to try and get that across."

"Cool." And she was gone, swallowed up in a phalanx of body-glittered gladiators.

So that's my rationale so far, but it goes beyond that: as a straight man I have a need to stand in solidarity with my gay brothers and sisters. Certainly the battle is about human sexuality - by which we really mean homosexuality - and the prevailing attitude of many seems to be that it is, therefore, a battle for homosexuals. Not so. Not so at all. I am always reminded of Pastor Niemoller's words: "They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up."

Now while I find it hard to foresee any circumstances when "they" would come for the white, male, straight, protestant, middle class, middle aged graduates you take my point. To me this is not just about theology and justice, important as those are, it is about integrity - my integrity as a Christian. This is "our" battle, not "their" battle. Edmond Burke pretty well got it right when he noted: ""All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Well, I like to think of myself as one of the good guys and so the imperative is there. It is "my" fight too.

The problem with that, of course, is how does a straight man make that part of his principles clear?

"Good to see you vicar. Does your church not have a problem with an openly gay priest?" is the sort of question that is hard to unpack without it sounding like special pleading while a dozen transvestites totter past on totally unsuitable heels as a distraction.

"Some provinces of the Lutheran Church have travelled a lot further down that road than the C. of E." seemed the best response. It is a true statement and I wasn't going to get into the "Well, I'm not actually gay..." conversation. After all I wasn't the only straight person at the Leeds Pride was I? Did anyone else care if they were thought to be gay? I doubt it.

My beloved's vicar, Steve, had begun to unravel the banners he and Colin had brought with them. I took the end of a purple Changing Attitude banner bearing the legend "Christians together at Pride." Steve seemed to be wrestling with a larger red banner which, as it came free, proclaimed "Some Christians are gay: get over it." I liked that. It was confronting in a slightly stroppy way. Nevertheless I was pleased I was under the "safer" purple banner, which on reflection was silly as I wouldn't have thought twice about marching under a banner that said "Some Christians are black: get over it" or some Christians are women...."

It was about five minutes before we set off when a former student of mine accosted me and demanded a hug.

"I bet you never knew I was gay Sir."

"Well, Ryan, about that. Let's just say I was half expecting to see you here."

I got chatting to someone who had been at church this morning and I mentioned being a Lutheran in the context of the different levels of progress that some Lutheran Churches have achieved towards full acceptance of LGBT Christians in comparison to the C. of E.

"You're a Lutheran? I've been reading a blog by someone called Doorman Priest."

"That's me. THAT'S ME."

I looked at the various stalls around the Changing Attitude area and it wasn't long before I was sporting a rainbow flag transfer tattoo on my arm and a rainbow badge.

Another couple of former students moseyed on by and stopped for a chat. Was there a coach party from the knowledge college I wondered?

"I can't tell you how pleased I am to see the clergy here. Really, really pleased." one young man said to our little group with a smile as broad as you can imagine.

And then we were off. The procession had started and Leeds City centre ground to a halt. We got in just after the huge rainbow flag carried by about thirty people and the open lorry with its fancy dressed passengers and mobile disco ("Y.M.C.A.....Y.M.C.A-A.....") and just ahead of the Leeds Gay Abandon choir ("Come and join us." "No. I'm Leeds Philharmonic. You come and join me.")

The city seemed to be pulsating with the carnival atmosphere and I thoroughly enjoyed the walk. There was no opposition; no cat-calls; no rudeness; no name-calling; no unpleasantness of any description - just crowds of people who had come for (or just stopped to watch) the spectacle.

"Hello Vicar.!" To Steve and Colin.

"Good to see you here."

"Well done for taking a stand."

And then we were back at the stalls and displays, where Steve and members of his congregation did stirling work promoting All Hallows Church. (I'd like to see the size of their congregation next Sunday.) They were selling rainbow candles and a variety of badges but at the same time, with some very slick marketing I thought, were giving out changing attitude and All Hallows leaflets. A lot of people - and I mean a lot - were interested. (If I'd only thought on. I could have done that for my church.) And there were more expressions of pleasure in our being there. Everyone was incredibly welcoming and positive. The most negative comment I heard was "Its about time you lot showed up." - but said with a smile.

We were placed next to the Gay Fire Service stall which with real pragmatism was offering advice on smoke alarms and further up were the Gay Police Association offering leaflets and advice on hate crime and harassment. One of them sauntered down and introduced himself. He is now likely to go to All Hallows.

The smell of cooking from the wonderful Asian-fusion food stall was driving me wild and I couldn't work out where all the passers by were getting their beer from. "I could kill for a beer" said Steve but within minutes we had worked out that it was actually the stall next to us was selling it and so we were very quickly happy men! How had we missed that all afternoon?

"Can we have our photos taken with you guys?"

"Knock yourselves out!"

"I Can't tell you how thrilled I am to see you here this year. It does my heart good to see you. It really does"

"Hello Sir!"

"Hi Rob. Are you enjoying yourself?"

"Certainly am. And you?"

"Very much thanks. See you in September." I suspect the start of term could bring some interesting conversations.

Within fifteen minutes an ex-colleague and three more sixth-formers passed by and stopped for a chat but I felt things were starting to get really crazy when a group of my year 9 and 10 students breezed up to me in full rainbow face-paint and greeted me enthusiastically. "Sir, Sir, we need a photo." Colin obliged: me and the quartet of students. There's a picture for the School newsletter one feels.

A friend from my own church appeared at my elbow and we talked about the value of doing an All Hallows next year and being prepared to market ourselves. After all as the Swedish Lutheran Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America are well down the road towards greater, if not full full equality of LGBT Christians within the church, why aren't we promoting that?

What surprises me is that relatively few gay Christians who stopped by seemed to know of All Hallows' unique position in the Diocese as an open and accepting church. I know, too, of at least one city centre church, not a million miles from All Hallows which does not recommend to its gay members that they go to All Hallows. It belongs to the Evangelical Alliance and would, it seems, be happier to keep its gays where it can preach to them the gospel of guilt and the falsehood of the ex-gay ministry.

All in all it was a great day, certainly better than my last foray into the politics of religion and discrimination. See here There were no Leviticites with their gospel of hate and in many small ways that the Holy Spirit will surely use, the Kingdom of God came a little closer. How interesting that "they" welcomed the church in ways that the church doesn't welcome "them."