Friday, December 01, 2006

On the first day of advent...

Today is the first day of advent. A time of anticipation and excitment for many Christians. We have but 24 days left until we get ready to celebrate the "prince of peace",born in an 'umble shed to parents not of ruling but people class. By coincidence(?) today is also World Aids Day. In terms of global pandemics and diseases Hiv/Aids gets all the headlines. In its deadly form (Aids) it slowly breaks down the immune system of the person leaving them unable to resist any virus. The World Health organisation estimated (in January 2006) that between December 1981 and Jan 06 more than 25million people had been killed by the disease. The number may not seem that huge but consider that the numbers killed has been rising each year therefore the numbers are now at frighteningly high levels (2005 saw 2.4-3.3 million lives, of which more than 570,000 were children, die of the disease). Therefore many people have rightly bought a ribbon today to support the work that is going on. Yet I would urge everyone to consider those who are on the ground doing the work. We in the global north are very good at donating (often blindly - ie without following through our donation and expecting reports back) but few of us ever go out to countries affected and do on the ground work. From Street Children to HIV/Aids, the world is a much less pleaseant place then we imagine it to be - or than we experience in our lives around us. Whilst we must always do our best to do what we can we must never forget to remeber those who are around the world, where the need is often more exagerated and the differences more startling, living out what they believe. I am never sure quiet how I would cope out "in the field" (as some Development people phrase it). I have been to India, Kenya and South Africa and seen both remarkable people and extreme poverty. Often living side by side and people by people. The world has a remarkable way of uniting extremes together, often by soci-geographical measures and changing all around. As a Christian ( sorry it'll make sense in a moment) I have also been challenged by the way the bible inspires many people to drop everything and go. Indeed I have quiet admiration and wish I would be more willing to do it sometimes. For though you may not go out to "proclaim the gospel" people go out to live out the gospel, as they percieve it, which I think is one of the most exciting concepts ever. To go and live out what you belive, change those around you by doing so (not evangelism or conversion but values and quality of life wise) leaves me to just take my hat off in utmost respect. Take Care y'All John

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Giant Pink Q

Christian group nominated as 'most gay-friendly organisation' -27/11/06 A religious body rooted in Christian history has been nominated for an award as the most gay-friendly organisation in Britain. The Quakers, also known as The Religious Society of Friends, have been proposed by readers of the Pink Paper. Quakers are the only religious group in the award category, which also includes Amnesty International, Unison, Metropolitan Police and Age Concern. Readers can vote via the paper and online over the next three weeks. The winner will be announced on January 11. Neil Lazaroo of the Pink Paper said that the gay community responded to the stated Quaker belief that "to reject people on the grounds of sexual orientation is a denial of God's creation". Quaker general secretary Michael Hutchinson said: "We are honoured by this nomination, and recognise and encourage the efforts of all the groups nominated. "We hope the Pink Paper awards will stimulate others to recognise the humanity and potential in all people without pre-judgement." The Religious Society of Friends began in England in the 17th century by people who were dissatisfied with the existing denominations and sects of Christianity. Traditionally George Fox has been credited as the founder or the most important early figure. Quakers are counted among the historic peace churches. In Britain not all Friends see themselves as mainly or exclusively Christian, and many Quakers draw on a variety of spiritual sources. In this respect British Quakerism is distinct from many of its international manifestations
I need say no more than, how wonderful. Thanks to Ekklesia for the news release. Take Care Y'All john

What A Friend We Have in Jesus

It's Christmas time and, like Easter, this brings with it a major advertising campaign from the Churches Advertising Network. This year the mildly satirical posters feature a beer glass with what could be said to be a vision of Jesus in it. The idea behind it is summated in the stapline "Where will you find him" and is about the challenge of a media obsessed with "visions" of Jesus from sandwiches to beer glasses. But also there is something good about this being the Christmas series of posters. The point of Christmas ,and why the story is so exciting, is because it is only the beginning. Therefore as everyone will happily have "Peace this Christmas" cards on their mantelpiece, how many of us shall live that out throughout the year? Also it appears that Jesus (as part of this campaign) now has a MySpace page, which can be found here. Take Care Y'All John

You've gotta pick a subject or two

In light of the Christian Union discussions around the Equal Oppertunities Statement at SUs and how they "automaticaly" discriminate against religious discussions on issues of gender, race, sexuality etc I would like to reprint this ruling from the Broadcasting Obudsman OFCOM which gets to the nub of how rules and regulations definining if something is offensive etc can be truly implemented. Take care Y'all John
Not in Breach Bremner, Bird & Fortune Channel 4, 25 March 2006, 20:10 Introduction The final sketch in this edition of the satirical comedy series explored the allegations relating to the ‘loans for peerages’ row. The sketch featured one of the central characters in the controversy, the Labour Party’s chief fundraiser Lord Levy. He was portrayed by Rory Bremner, as Charles Dicken’s Fagin. In a grey suit, wearing a prosthetic hook nose, Lord Levy, as Fagin, sang You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two..’. from the musical ‘Oliver!’, changing some of the lyrics from the verse and chorus. In summary, eleven viewers complained that connecting the character of Fagin with Lord Levy (a prominent member of the Jewish community) was an incitement to racial hatred; a stereotypical portrayal that was offensive, anti-semitic and/or racist; and was not relevant to the story. Response In Channel 4’s statement, it said that the character, Fagin, was an easily identifiable caricature of a cunning ringleader of an enterprise which had the sole aim of getting money out of people. The broadcaster said that the allegations of secretive and questionable financial dealings were at the heart of the claims made in loans-for-peerages controversy. Although it would have been absurd to claim that Lord Levy was literally involved in leading a child pickpocketing gang (and indeed the revised lyrics made clear that he had done nothing criminal) the satirical comparison was, in the Ch ann el’s opinion, perfectly proper in the context of the week’s news. In Channel 4’s view, some of the lyrics from the song used from the musical, Oliver!, particularly lent themselves to the loans-for-peerages story, not least the opening lines: “In this life, one thing counts, in the bank large amounts, I’m afraid these don’t grow on trees, You’ve got to pick a pocket or two”. However, “In campaigns” replaced “In this life” thereby making it clear that this was a reference to Lord Levy’s role as a party campaign fundraiser and not to him personally. Further, after the first verse and until the end of the song, Lord Levy did not sing “you’ve got to pick a pocket or two” but “You’ve got to give a peerage or two”. Later references in the song were not to Lord Levy at all but to Tony Blair; “When he sees, Someone rich, Tony’s thumbs, Start to Itch … They’ve got to pay a mortgage or two, So, You better give a peerage or two …”. Having drawn the comedic parallel between the Fagin character and Lord Levy, Ch ann el 4 said that it was legitimate to draw on identifiable characteristics of the fictional character. Fagin, it said, was an established part of Britain ’s cultural heritage. The characterisation with which the public were most likely to be familiar was that made famous by Ron Moody in the musical, released as a film in 1968. This characterisation of Fagin, included, famously, a prosthetic hooked nose, which had become a defining part of the character’s identity. It was not the general style of Bremner, Bird & Fortune to dress its subjects in anything other than what they might be expected to wear normally, according to Channel 4. The use of the hooked nose along with the “Fagin-esque” manner of Lord Levy’s dancing, the presence of the two street urchins and the theatrical setting were considered sufficient to make the satirical connection between the fictional character and Lord Levy. The use of a suit instead of rags further represented and reinforced the fact that this was not some nineteenth century fictional character but a modern-day member of the House of Lords. It was entirely irrelevant to the programme-makers that Lord Levy was Jewish. Had the person at the centre of the controversy been some other senior Labour party figure, he too would have been portrayed as the Fagin character. Rory Bremner has often performed for Jewish charities, including Jewish Care, one of the UK ’s biggest charities and of which Lord Levy was Chairman. Channel 4 believed that there was nothing either in the characterisation or the lyrics which could be construed as anti-semitic and/or racist. In its view, this was quite clearly a sketch about Lord Levy, Tony Blair and Labour’s fundraising. The lines were very specific and reflected the news that week. Fagin was an indelible part of British culture and familiar enough not to provoke anti-semitism, certainly among a Bremner, Bird & Fortune audience. His metaphorical depiction, in a clearly satirical context, was entirely legitimate. Decision Comedy, and political satire in particular, has a strong tradition of challenging the viewer’s concept of generally accepted standards. Broadcasters have the right to explore ideas and the viewer has the right to receive them as long as broadcasters comply with the law and Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code. The legislation requires Ofcom to balance the necessary protection of members of the public from offensive and harmful material with an appropriate level of freedom of expression The complaints from viewers focussed on two Sections of the Code: Section Two concerning generally accepted standards and matters related to potentially harmful and offensive material, and Section Three concerning material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or to lead to disorder. In relation to offence we considered rule 2.3: Rule 2.3 In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context… such material may include… discriminatory treatment… on the grounds of race [and/or] religion … Guidance to the Broadcasting Code notes that: “ Broadcasters should take particular care in their portrayal of culturally diverse matters and should avoid stereotyping unless editorially justified. When considering such matters, broadcasters should take into account the possible effects programmes may have on particular sections of the community. ”. We note that Channel 4 had no intention to cause offence or focus the sketch on Lord Levy’s Jewish background. We also acknowledge that, for some, the connection made by the programme between Lord Levy and Fagin, for whatever reason, was offensive. However, overall, Ofcom must judge whether, taking into account freedom of expression and the context (such as the programme’s editorial content, the service it was broadcast on and the likely expectation of the audience), whether any offence that was caused breached the Broadcasting Code. Specifically, we considered therefore whether the sensitivity caused by the apparent linking of Lord Levy’s Jewish background, with aspects of the character of a fictional criminal of Jewish descent, had led to a breach of Rule 2.3. We noted that the decision to allude to the character of Fagin by using a prosthetic nose summoned up the well known Fagin character, but could also be seen to relate to the historical stereotypes of Jewish people. We considered that Bremner, Bird and Fortune is a well-established satirical show with a reputation for being inclusive and supportive of individuals who may belong to a minority ethnic or religious community. It is broadcast at a time and on a channel that is unlikely to attract people who might take its characterisations literally, or fail to understand its satirical point. It is consistent in targeting those in positions of trust and/or power and seeking to ridicule their shortcomings. It often juxtaposes two concepts such as a well-known song and an exaggerated caricature of a political figure. Bearing this context in mind, we considered that the thrust of this sketch was to satirise the controversy over the allegations of Labour’s method of fundraising and not to satirise the cultural antecedents of Lord Levy. The use of Fagin dwelt on a perception of him as a figure obsessed by gaining money by whatever means and did not refer to his faith. We therefore concluded that the programme did not breach generally accepted standards. Rule 3.1Material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or to lead to disorder must not be included in television or radio services. In our view, this was not an attack on a minority ethnic community. The depiction of Lord Levy as Fagin was clearly a satirical device used in order to highlight what had been alleged to be anomalies in political behaviour. One of satire’s principal purposes, in a democracy, is to ridicule those in positions of trust or power. While it may have the effect of bringing a viewer or listener to change their mind about any given situation, it was not in this case seeking to elicit a radical response from the audience - resulting in criminal or violent acts against the subjects they scrutinise. The programme did not encourage or incite the commission of crime or lead to disorder. Not in breach