A Letter to Rosa Parks



Dear Mrs Parks,

We never met, and since you died in 2005, we won’t, (at least this side of Eternity).  I am writing to you today because yesterday would have been your 102nd birthday and this seemed to be a good enough occasion to offer you my thanks.

You were born into a world that is totally unrecognizable to me. Not just because you lived in rural Alabama, but because the colour of your skin dictated a way of life where inequality and injustice were everyday companions. You were a grown woman of 43 before I was even born and I can well believe that you were tired of ‘giving in’ when in 1955, you stood up to a white bully and the white ‘system’ when you refused to move from your seat on that crowded bus in Montgomery.

I know you weren’t the first person to refuse to give your seat on a bus, but you were the one who became in MLK’s* opinion, the catalyst for change.  It took many years, indeed, there’s still a way to go, but America was changed for the better because you were ‘tired’ of giving in.

You probably never even imagined that day, 1st December 1955, when you were traveling home after your day’s work that you would, eventually become something of an icon; a powerful figure in the Civil Rights Movement.  You definitely wouldn’t ever imagine that you would become an inspirational figure in my life.  How could you? As I said before, we never met.  You are though,(an inspirational figure).  You and I have more in common than it may, at first seem.

I live in the UK, am white and have never, ever had to put up with the privations that were part and parcel of your world.  However, the main thing that you and I share is that we are people of faith, the same faith in fact.

That faith tells us that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
In a world that payed lip-service to the teachings of Jesus you chose to embody them.  I get that it wasn’t easy.  You were arrested.  It took years.  You didn’t actually agree with MLK on some of the issues, (and that’s another story, right?)  Ultimately though, you were brave enough to stand up to the Bully and the world changed.

There’s a new film, out in America and due for release here tomorrow, called Selma.  The film is set ten years after your bus journey, and tells of the March from Selma to Montgomery.  You aren’t in it, of course.  You were living in Detroit by then, working for John Conyers.  No, the film is all about MLK, (and I’m a big fan, so I shall be going to see it – despite the fact that it seems to be all about men, again – come on, Hollywood).  You were working for, and supporting an African-American representative in the State legislature.  Doing your bit to change things from the inside.

I just wanted to say a big,’Thank you, Mrs Parks!” Oh, and Happy Birthday!

*MLK is, of course, Martin Luther King.

Blog Action Day


It’s been quite some time since I wrote something here, but Blog Action Day seems a good time to surface again and get back to this site.

In my work, I frequently talk about inequality and unfairness.  For as long as I can remember I have had to find ways to manage life in a world that rewards the rich and ignores the poor.  I could rant on, but instead I am going to tell the story of one young woman I know personally.  I’m going to change her name, so let’s call her Ana.

Be warned though.  This story is extremely distressing and has some horrific content.  The only reason I’m telling it at all is because I know it to be true.

Ana was born 31 years ago in North East Madagascar.  She was the 2nd child, (1st daughter) of a family of 3 children, although her older brother died when he was 3.  I don’t know what her father did for living, (indeed if he even worked at all), because Ana doesn’t know.  When Ana was 5 years old her mother sold her to a family in the capital, Antananarivo, to be their house servant, effectively their slave.

The work was hard – imagine ordinary house work without the luxury of electricity, (no washing machines, vacuums, dishwashers etc) and then imagine having to do it all when you’re only 5 years old and have to stand on a box to reach the sink.  The family weren’t particularly cruel, though there were beatings, but Ana hated it.  She missed her family.  She put up with it all for two years before she ran away. Somehow or another she made her way back home, but her mother told her she had to go back and work, because that was the deal.  So, Ana ran away again, this time taking with her her younger brother  so that he wouldn’t meet the same fate.  The two of them made it back to the big city where they lived on the streets for about a year.  I don’t know how.  I can’t even imagine how a seven year old managed to look after herself, nevermind a younger sibling, but she did.  After about 6 months or so, their mother found them and took them back home.  She assured Ana and her brother that they could stay, and for a while everything seemed to go well.  Unfortunately, things got really bad, really fast.  It’s not surprising when you stop to think about it, that very poor people, will do anything, and I mean anything to  feed their families, and Ana’s Mum would sometimes steal food to feed her children.  One day she was caught stealing a chicken and was dragged before the other people in the village to be ‘judged.’  As a repeat offender it was decided that she be sentenced to death by beheading and that her children should be made to witness it in order that they learn what happens to thieves. So, that’s what happened.  An 8 year old and her 6 year old brother were made to witness this brutal execution as a warning.  I’m afraid it gets worse.  Ana’s father, distraught at the death of his wife and in despair at having to look after two children he couldn’t feed, took his own life.  Ana and her brother returned to streets of Antananarivo and survived as best they could.  Eventually, they found their way into an orphanage run by Catholic nuns and there, I’m happy to say, they found some peace and security for a couple of years.  When Ana was 11, something happened – and I don’t know exactly what – Ana doesn’t like to talk about it, and she found herself in the justice system.  Long story short, Ana was placed at another orphanage, but this time she was able to begin her education, to learn to read and write and discover her talent for drawing and crafts.  Initially she went alone as it was a girls only facility, but two years later, she was reunited with her brother when the orphanage branched out and included boys too.

We’ll leave it there.  Ana is doing well now – and so is her brother.  They have been able to access education and through donations to their orphanage, (from all over the world), they have been able to build their own house – and I mean they built it themselves.  They both have jobs.  They are certainly not rich, but they are doing much better than their parents did.

What makes it hard though is that Ana is the exception.  Many, many more kids from Madagascar and other developing countries never find their way to safety.  Life on the streets is brutish and very often, short.  There’s not enough food or water or clothing and no medicine.

If you’re born in a ‘rich’ country, you stand a much better chance of surviving into adulthood, although poverty exists everywhere.

Some of the poorest people live in the richest country on earth – the U.S.

Margaret has a blog about her life ministering amongst some of the poorest people in the US on the Eagle Butte reservation.  You can read it here.

If you are a person of faith, please pray today for those disadvantaged and abused by poverty.  If you are not, will you take some time to email your MP, (or Congressman/woman), about inequality?

Peace out!



Thought for the Weekend

This week it’s my turn to produce a column for one of the local newspapers in these parts.  The brief tells me that the choice of subject is mine, but to please, (very polietly written, of course), make it topical or tie it in with the week’s news.  So, with that in mind my piece, on spies and spying appears below.

People Watching

Many years ago – way back in the 80s, there was a TV show called, “Watching.”  It was a sweet, romantic comedy about a young couple, making their way in life.  The show’s title came from their shared interest in people watching; in shops or cafes they would speculate on occupations, personalties and life-histories of the people around them.  Since then, I’ve met many folk who do the same thing, indeed, in some respects we all do it. Everyone we meet is filtered through the lens of our own assumptions and ideas, and we often get it very wrong!

This type of people watching is, though, relatively harmless. Our opinions and assumptions are just that, our own! So they don’t usually have life-changing ramifications for others.  There’s another type of watching however, that’s hit the headlines – spying.  Of course, those involved, don’t call it spying, it’s called, “intelligence gathering,” and is undertaken by the security services of the various countries who have the technology and expertise to do it.  The rationale behind such watching is keep us safe; to sniff out terrorists and protect us from enemy states. Most of us, I suppose, are quite happy with that, aren’t we?  It’s more difficult to understand why the US ‘spooks’ are listening to the German Chancellor’s ‘phone calls.

More and more of our lives are accessible to the world these days through social networks; the http://www.  our smart phones, even CCTV.  And even if you can escape all this, you’re not likely to be annonymous.  Tesco and co know a great deal about you from your clubcard.  More and more of our very personal information is readily available to all and sundry.  Does this matter?  There are arguments for and against, but whatever you think, we live in a world where survellience is a part of life.

When I was small, I used to have a recurring nightmare about a disembodied eye that continually watched me, and when I first went to Sunday School, I was dismayed to learn that God watched my every move. This was scary stuff.  I most definitely didn’t want a God who was able to see past the shiny facade I presented to the world, into the dark, murky places of my inmost being that even I was afraid of.  Over the years though, I have learnt to live with, and even delight in the all-seeing God with whom I now have a grown-up relationship.  Finding someone who knows me inside and out and is loving and accepting is something, I believe, we all want.  Spied on by strangers whose motives are unclear – no way!  Looked after in love – yes please!

Government’s Not Working/Fit For Purpose etc.

Today the news in the U.K is full of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s speech from the Conservative Party Conference.  All day long there’s been comment and questions about his scheme to get people back to work.

Now, I am all for prudent use of the country’s resources, but this tinkering around the Benefit’s System is only good for headline grabbing.  There is a much bigger problem lurking underneath that no one, so far, has even mentioned.  O.K, if people have been unemployed and on Benefits for a long time, they probably do need help getting back into work, so voluntary placements with Charities could be a good idea; extra support from the Job Centres could work well too.  So what’s the problem?  Where, I want to know, are the jobs for the long-term unemployed?  Our job market is not booming.  Every vacancy for a job seems to attract many more applicants than can ever be placed.  Number one task then; create more sustainable, long-term jobs.

Secondly – stop griping about scroungers and Food Banks.  At our local Food Bank, the majority of adults are in full-time work, but 60% of users are children under 16.  No sending eight year olds down the coal mines to solve this one – that’d be illegal and in any case the mines have closed now haven’t they?  Big problem, Chancellor – people in work are not earning enough to feed themselves and their families.  The minimum wage is NOT a living wage.  Getting people into work is not enough – work must pay!

Then, this evening there was an appeal from Save the Children Fund about its work in the U.K.  Here it is:

We live in the 6th richest country in the world, yet many go hungry and are oppressed by poverty.  The Chancellor, of course, has no time for ‘scroungers’ but then, he’s a millionaire.  Politicians are indeed out of touch with ordinary folk.  If I had a Fairy Godmother, I’d wish that every Cabinet member  would have to live for a year on the minimum wage.  I wonder how many we’d see at the Food Banks?

Spirals: the Koru and the Wonders of Nature

Kuru1Many, many moons ago I was introduced to the Maori symbol of the koru.  A koru, (Maori for loop),  is, according to Wikipedia,” a spiral shape based on the shape of a new unfurling silver fern frond and symbolizing new life, growth, strength and peace.”  Such principals are part and parcel of my belief system, so having something so beautiful to symbolize them suits me very well.

Spirals occur frequently in the natural world – David Attenborough recently presented a TV program about that.

Yesterday, I saw this lovely piece in a neighbourhood shop which sells the work of local craftspeople.  I ummed and ahhed about buying it, but decided to sleep on it and left the shop.  I’d not been back home long before I received a telephone call from my lovely sister asking if I had any idea what I’d like for my birthday…. well, numerically challenged as I am, even I can add up one and one and make two – so hey presto, this beautiful necklace is now my new ‘koru.’  You can’t really see from the photo, but there are sparkly highlights on some of the lines.  When I went in to the shop this morning I discovered that the person who was ‘on duty’ in the shop was actually the craftsperson who made it and she was pleased that I was so delighted with it.


September Already???

I don’t know what it is about getting older, but it does seem that the more birthdays one has, the speedier time passes.  Billy Conelly reckons you can sum it up as, “Should auld aquaintance be forgot.. Happy Birthday to you… We wish you a Merry Christmas…” and I agree!  So, autumn’s already making itself felt around here as the temperature has dropped and the Football season’s started. Whilst it seems to me that the summer was way too short, I do love autumn and I’m looking forward to the changing colours – our neck of the woods is very beautiful at this time of year.

One of my neighbours seems to have discovered the Green Man, want to see?

Isn’t he amazing?  He gave me quite a turn the first time I saw him.  He waits across the road from steps that lead up from my main place of work and he appeared just a short while ago.  He seems friendly enough though.

The Angel’s Share

Last evening I went along to a (fairly) local cinema to see Ken Loach‘s latest film, The Angel’s Share. It’s WONDERFUL! If you get the chance go and see it.  I promise you’re in for an intelligent, life-affirming, warm, funny, hope-filled, movie experience.  The screen play is written by Paul Laverty, who has collaborated with Ken Loach on several films.  This film, likened by some to a modern, more gritty, ‘Whiskey Galore,’ tells the story of Robbie, Rhino, Albert and Mo; four young people thrown together by their respective court- sentenced Community Pay-Back.  Robbie, described  as a ‘wee thug’ is a young man whose life has been marked by poverty and deprivation.  We learn from his court advocate that Robbie has already served time for committing a violent assault, but that in the ten months since his release he has endeavoured to change his behaviour and that he now has a long-term partner, Leonie who is about to give birth to their first child.  His recent relapse, which has brought him back to court is part of  a life-time’s feud with a neighbouring family.  The judge decides to give Robbie another chance and so, instead of the five years’ incarceration he may have expected, Robbie gets 300 hours Community Payback.  Robbie vows to be the best Dad and partner he can be – but it seems that circumstances  decree that once a ‘wee thug’ all you can ever be is a’wee thug.’  The film then charts Robbie, (and his companions’), as he sets out to seek the Holy Grail of a real job and a new life, in which he can become the man he seeks to be.  The trailer to the film tells us, ‘to make a change, you need a chance,’ and through the film we see the changes and chances offered on the way.  There is Harry, an angel in human form who offers Robbie friendship and the chance to believe that things can be different.  It is Harry too, who introduces Robbie to whiskey and the craft involved in making it, that provides him with the catalyst to a new life.  Later on we, briefly, meet Grace who offers Robbie and Leonie her home for six months, (while she’s away in London), a chance to move from their own neighbourhood – described by Leonie’s Dad as, “no place to bring up a ******* wain.”  (Yup, the language is very, very earthy).  When they ask her why she’s being so generous Grace replies, “Someone once gave me a chance, and it changed my life.”  In the event, Robbie doesn’t get to take up her offer because the rival gang he’s had so much trouble with have followed him there.  It seems that even when offered a chance, he won’t be allowed to take it.

Robbie, despite everything still hopes.  He has seen in some of the people around him that there may still be another way.  Harry’s interest whiskey tasting has awakened Robbie’s senses of smell and taste and he finds that he is a ‘natural’ when it comes to discerning whiskey.  This newly found talent becomes the way to make the biggest change of all.  I’m not going to give any more of the plot away – because really you need to go and see for yourself – it’ll be worth it.  I will tell you though, that the ‘Angel’s Share’ is the term used in whiskey making, that is used to describe the 2% of whiskey that evaporates each year in the cask, as the whiskey ages.

In many ways this film could have turned out to be acutely depressing.  It is a mark of the Laverty/Loach collaboration that is actually life-affirming and funny. Much of it seems more like documentary than fiction – something Ken Loach is known for.  Set in Glasgow, it doesn’t try to hide the fact that there are few jobs; violence is a way of life for many and youngsters left with little or no hope turn readily to drugs and alcohol to ease the pain.  However, the stereotypes are brushed aside and Paul Laverty’s young people are given much more rounded and complicated treatment.  For one thing, they’re often funny.  Albert, in particular, is hilarious.  His drunken antics at the edge of a railway platform in the opening scene had the cinema laughing out loud! Added to that the characters show vulnerability, compassion and love and together, a great camaraderie. For me, the major theme in this film is redemption, the chance of a new life, like a slave whose freedom has been purchased.  Last Sunday I was talking to a group of people about this theme, which is one of the central tenets of Christianity.  Jesus Christ, acting as our kinsman, pays the price and allows us to be taken out of the market place to be free men and women – no longer enslaved to the powers of this world which would have us believe that we can never be more than a ‘wee thug.’  I don’t know if Laverty or Loach are people of faith, (if not, I’m genuinely surprised),   but another strong theme is the one of love that plays all the way through.  It’s Robbie’s love for Leonie and his little son, Luke that spur him on to become more than he thought he would be; and it’s the love he finds in Harry and the gang that support him as he continues to strive for his goal.

The hard truth is though, even as I relish in this delight of a film, today there will be young men and women living Robbie’s life in Glasgow and all over the world, who will never have the chance to make the changes Robbie does.  Robbie is played by Paul Brannigan, a young man whose own life shares many similarities with Robbie’s.  He, too, decided to seek a better life for himself when he became father to his son, Leon. He is, though, every bit as exceptional as the character he plays on screen.  I think of some of the young people I know who live on a housing estate with few services and fewer resources.  Why do we allow this separation amongst people?  Why do some have more than enough, whilst others have so little?  Why do some young people enjoy loving homes, a good education, nutritious food whilst others are faced with violence, poor standards of schooling and a diet of cheap take away food?  Why do we accept that this is the way it has to be?

This film is a challenge to all who believe that EVERY human life is important and that EVERYONE deserves a chance.  ‘Nuff said – Amen!

Who’s the Most Famous Person You’ve Ever Met?

Greetings y’all!  It seems ages since I checked in – and I suppose it is.  Anyway, I have been tasked with writing a piece for the local newspaper and decided that I’d share it here:

Many years ago, in another life, I worked in a theatre Box Office.  During my time there I met some very well-known, (dare I say it?), famous creative people.  You’ll be pleased to know that I’m not going to burden you with a whole host of name dropping, but suffice it to say I can lay claim to having stepped on the tail of one of Harry Potter’s darker teachers and that one of the film world’s brightest stars played a practical joke on me, when he was a student at the Theatre School.  Other than that, my lips are sealed.

I was thinking of this time recently when someone asked me who is the most famous person you ever met?Hmmn, not sure why the ‘famous’ bit is important, but I’ll give it a go, or so I thought.

It’s hard to differentiate when you have such an august back catalogue, so I decided instead to mention the most famous person I’ve met who has had an impact on my life and thinking, and that is Sr. Helen Prejean. Yes, I have met her – at a conference in London. Now Sr Helen is no film star; she doesn’t wear the latest designer fashion or show up in the tabloids on a regular basis.  I’m sure the order to which she belongs would have something to say about that if she did.

This is what she looks like:

In case the name eludes you, Sr Helen is a nun and she wrote the book, “Dead Man Walking,” which led to the film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn.  Sr Helen has spent many years campaigning against the death penalty in her native Louisiana.  Her assertion is every human being is worth more ‘than the worst thing they’ve done.’ She has journeyed alongside some of the most disturbed and violent men on Angola’s, (the big prison in Louisiana), Death Row, and her work has led her into many difficult situations that would, undoubtedly have stalled a less tenacious person.  However, another of Sr. Helen’s sayings is that “When you follow Jesus Christ, then controversy will follow you ‘round like a hungry dog.” And that is something I can personally attest to – although I’ve never been faced with the viciousness that she has.   Sr. Helen is not the most glamorous or even famous person I’ve met, but her life and words have informed my own life in a way that no one else has. One, interesting thing, at least interesting to me, is that when I was working at the Open Door Community in Atlanta, GA, I discovered that Sr. Helen had actually written some of her book there.  It seems we have friends in common too.