Posts Tagged ‘Advent’

Chip Shops and Pubs Offering Meals to the Homeless at Christmas

December 24, 2016

Yesterday, Mike over at Vox Political put up a piece commenting on the decision by two brothers in Brum, Hamid and Asef Faqiri, who own the Classic Fish Bar, to open on Christmas Day between 13.00 and 16.00 to give free turkey dinners to the elderly and the homeless. They state that they want to help those in need and make the community happy. One of the brothers, Asef, remarked that he had seen a lot of homeless people, and always wanted to help.

While Mike welcomed the twos generosity, he also pointed out the obvious danger. That by doing something to help the poor, this would be used by the Tories to justify the government doing nothing. They’d try to argue that this is David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ at work, where private charity picks up the slack from government.

Mike makes the argument instead that we pay our taxes on the understanding that the government does everything in its power to make sure that citizens aren’t homeless and starving.

He concludes:

We don’t make that argument often enough and, in the Season of Goodwill, it might be more appropriate than ever to point out that very little goodwill is coming from Westminster.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/22/free-christmas-fish-and-chips-for-the-homeless-gives-tories-a-chance-to-justify-their-apathy/

I think there are a number of places doing this up and down the country. I heard that some of the Asian restaurants and take-aways in Cheltenham will also be doing the same, as will the Market Inn pub in Glastonbury, according to today’s Western Daily Press.

I completely share Mike’s views on this issue. What these places and the people who run them are doing is very commendable, but it runs into the trap of appearing to validate the Tories’ cuts and dismantlement of the welfare state. Maggie Thatcher began her attack on it back in the 1980s with the deliberate goal of reducing the tax burden and forcing people back on to private charity to support them. She believed it would strengthen religion, and particularly the churches, if people had to come to them for aid, rather than the state. Hence the eagerness of the Salvation Army to acquire government contracts for dealing with poverty, as well as the desire of so many of the corporate management types now running very many charities likewise to do so, while at the same time demanding that the government enact even more stringent policies against the poor, the unemployed and the homeless. For the grim details, go to Johnny Void’s blog and look up his entries on these issues.

It’s a nasty, cynical attitude to bringing people back to religion, and it many Christians believe it runs contrary to the teachings of the Bible and the Gospels. In the last of the series of Advent talks held at our local church on Thursday, the minister made precisely this point. Not that this would have had any effect on Maggie. When she gave a talk to the ruling body of the Church of Scotland back in the 1980s, expounding her view that people who didn’t work, shouldn’t get something for nothing, the guid ministers and layfolk greeted what she said with frowns and silence. It was obvious that they were very unimpressed. But it didn’t stop Maggie cutting welfare provision left and right.

So I heartily endorse Mike’s point. It needs to be repeated over and again, until someone in Westminster either gets the point, or is unable to drown it out and stop others from hearing it. If you want to see the drawbacks of this attitude, look at America. Americans are extremely generous in charitable giving. But there is a massive problem with extreme poverty in America, and one that is growing thanks to Reagan and corporatist Democrats like Obama and Killary. Private charity cannot adequately tackle poverty, no matter what Thatcher, Cameron, May and Iain Duncan Smith and Damian Green want us to believe. And this message needs to be hammered home, until the public very obviously turns away from the Tories and their lies.

Jesus in the Food Bank Queue

December 9, 2016

I’ve been attending the Advent course run by one of the ministers at our local church. The theme is hospitality in the Bible and the early church, and the obligation this lays upon modern Christians to live and work for the poor, the marginalised and strangers. Last night one of the texts studied was Christ’s words ‘For as you do to the least of them, you do to me’. Christ made clear that the people, who will be saved at the Last Judgement, will be those who fed, clothed and tended Him when He was in need. By which He meant the poor, the hungry, the sick and the outcast.

He talked about how he had visited a church in Washington D.C. He pointed out that not all of the city is like the White House and the government buildings. Beyond this well-kept, affluent area is are districts of the most desperate poverty. The church he’d visited had maintained a food line for the area’s poor. He stated that these were people, who were forced to use it to make ends meet until their next paycheque came. He was particularly impressed by one of the women serving at this food bank. Every morning she prayed to serve Jesus when she saw him again in the queue that day. She didn’t mean she literally saw Him, but as He was present in the poor peeps, who turned up for their food. It was a powerful, modern application of Christ’s teaching.

He also produced quotations from the Early Church Fathers about the Christian duty to work for the poor, even when personal charity was being undermined somewhat by the institutional charity – hospitals, hostels, orphanages and monasteries of the late Roman Empire after Constantine’s conversion. Hippolytus, for example, advised that every citizen, who was able should build a guest chamber on to their house. And one of the other Church Fathers described one of the hospitals as a city for the poor, by which they could meet the rich as equals.

These are very strong, challenging demands for Christians to practise the charity taught in the Bible, and to seek out, identify with and support ‘the fatherless, the widow and the foreigner’, and bring to their feasts ‘the poor, the lame and the blind’.

Unfortunately, Contemporary neoliberal politics since Thatcher and Reagan has demanded that the institutional care provided by the state should be cut back, with disastrous results. They believed that this would strengthen the Church by forcing people to fall back on private charity. Hence we now have the spectacle of various charities actively seeking out government contracts, and fully supporting the hideous policies of sanctioning and marginalisation that are forcing more people into poverty, misery, starvation and, in extreme cases, death. And the charities themselves are under threat. The figures provided by the Trussell Trust of the numbers of people using their food banks have been attacked by the Tories for the simply reason that they give the lie to their propaganda that austerity – meaning benefit cuts and wage freezes – have somehow made people better off.

I fully support the charities and their workers, who do genuinely work for the poor. One of the most acute accounts of what it is like to work at the sharp end trying to aid those pushed into need by the government’s policies comes from the blogs and vlogs of people working in food banks. I’ve reblogged some of these. But private charity isn’t enough. We need the support of the state, and active welfare policies to empower the poor, disabled and marginalised, including the working class.

As for Theresa May, and her claims to be guided by her Christian faith, before she does so, she should meditate very much on how Our Lord is present in the poor. She may well do so. But I’ve seen no evidence of her doing anything genuinely to alleviate poverty.

Vox Political On May’s Grubby Plan to Turn Teachers into Border Guards

December 2, 2016

Mike yesterday also put up a piece commenting on Theresa May’s plan to use teachers as border guards in her campaign to cover up her failure to crack down on illegal immigration. Angela Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary, had joined a number of other politicians condemning May’s plan to force schools to withdraw offers of places to the children of illegal immigrants. Rayner rightly attacked these plans as contrary to British values and impractical. She stated it was trying to turn teachers into border guards.

Mike makes the point that teachers are already overworked. It is also unfair and illegal to stop children under 16 from having an education in order to punish their parents. As for teachers demanding to see children’s passports, Mike makes the point that not all children have them. He didn’t until he first went abroad in his twenties. I first acquired a passport when I was at school – in the sixth form – to go on a school trip, so I also didn’t have one until quite late, at least by May’s standards.

And Mike also makes a point about how this reflects on May’s declaration that she is guided by her Christian faith. He thinks that this is less about Christian charity, and more about the Old Testament dictum that ‘the sins of the fathers will be visited on the children unto the third and fourth generation’. But I don’t think it’s even about that. It’s just sheer vindictiveness against the poorest and most defenceless, just to cover her own failings.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/01/the-grubby-little-idea-that-will-tarnish-theresa-may/

Actually, there’s a bit of synchronicity here, as I read this on Mike’s site just after coming back from the first part of an Advent course held at our local church. This was an exploration of the meaning of hospitality in the Old Testament. The minister argued that hospitality has to be at the centre of Christian practice. He made the point that in the Old Testament, hospitality meant much more than it does today. Observant Jews in ancient Israel were expected to entertain and feed travellers, the poor and strangers, including foreign residents, as Abraham, the founder of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, does in Genesis when he meets the Lord and two angels. The patriarch urges them to stop by his tent, washes their feet, and his wife, Sarah, prepares a meal for them. He invites them to join him, saying that he would be honoured if they’d join him.

At the same time, the Torah – the Mosaic Law -in Leviticus commanded the people of Israel to respect and provide for the widow, the fatherless and the foreigner, ‘for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt’. During the Feast of Sukkoth, Jews were supposed to open their doors and feed widows, orphans and strangers, according to a passage in the Talmud. This is the oral, supplementary law which guides observant Jews as well as the written law revealed by Moses. The passage in the Talmud, which enjoins this states that the man, who does not open his gates to the poor during this feast, is not really celebrating it, but only his belly. And such hospitality is regarded as a mitzvah – a commandment.

It strikes me that this last statement contradicts the various Tories, who turned up during Thatcher’s tenure of 10 Downing Street, to tell us all that Christ’s remarks about looking after the poor and marginalised were all about doing so responsibly, and had nothing to do with government policy. In the context of the time, they don’t. But it’s much stronger than the voluntarism the Tories and New Labour tried to promote.

These passages from the Bible and the cultural contexts in which they are placed, such as the Talmudic laws on the correct observance of the Hebrew festivals, are a very sharp rebuttal to the current xenophobia that is sweeping the nation thanks to Brexit. And the minister leading the service said that he was very worried about the xenophobia which was rising in this country.

I realise that many of the readers of this blog are atheists. The point I am trying to make here, is that Tories don’t have a monopoly on the Jewish and Christian revelations and the Bible. And when it comes to the poor, quite often the commandments of the Bible point away from the abuse heaped on them by the Conservatives and Blairite right.

As for the duty of the wealthy to entertain the poor, this was also taken extremely serious in medieval and 16th century Britain. Great lords used to set aside sums of money so they could be seen to be feeding and supporting the poor. The prior of St. James’ Priory in Bristol, for example, fed 100 beggars at the priory gates every day. Similarly, one town chronicler in the 16th century lamented the burning down one gentleman’s house, because its owner was a generous man, at whose house many people were refreshed. In other words, he took seriously his responsibility as a member of the upper classes to provide for those less fortunate than himself.

Which poses an interesting question. If Theresa May wants to restore society to the quasi-feudal conditions of the 19th century, does that mean that she’s also willing to accept the feudal responsibility of feeding and clothing the poor once again? Not just through food banks, but also at the gates of their homes? Somehow, I don’t think so, no matter what she might say about the importance of charity. You can imagine the screams of rage she’d utter if 100 poor men and women turned up at her house, asking for bread.