Lamech was a wimp

by Kim on July 30, 2014

At least 1,200 Palestinians and 55 Israelis have been killed since Israel launched its offensive on 8 July.
Most of the Palestinian deaths have been civilians.
Some 53 Israeli soldiers have been killed along with two civilians.
– BBC, 30 July

That’s a ratio of 22 Palestinian dead for 1 Israeli dead.

Let’s ridiculously err on the side of Israeli military accuracy and say 600 of the Palestinian dead have been civilians, compared to 2 Israeli civilian deaths. Then the ratio becomes 300 to 1.

As for children - well, never mind. Not least because a child should only count as half a person, shouldn’t he, she - it?

According to Genesis 4:24 (GNB), Lamech said, “If seven lives are taken to pay for killing Cain, seventy-seven will be taken if anyone kills me.” That’s a ratio of 11 to 1.

Clearly Lamech was a softie, Lamech was a wimp.

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Hymn of the day

by Richard on May 25, 2014

GOD of all power, and truth, and grace,
Which shall from age to age endure,
Whose word, when heaven and earth shall pass,
Remains and stands for ever sure;

That I thy mercy may proclaim,
That all mankind thy truth may see,
Hallow thy great and glorious name,
And perfect holiness in me.

Thy sanctifying Spirit pour,
To quench my thirst, and make me clean;
Now, Father, let the gracious shower
Descend, and make me pure from sin.

Purge me from every sinful blot;
My idols all be cast aside;
Cleanse me from every sinful thought,
From all the filth of self and pride.

Give me a new, a perfect heart,
From doubt, and fear, and sorrow free;
The mind which was in Christ impart,
And let my spirit cleave to thee.

O take this heart of stone away!
Thy sway it doth not, cannot own;
In me no longer let it stay,
O take away this heart of stone!

O that I now, from sin released,
Thy word may to the utmost prove,
Enter into the promised rest,
The Canaan of thy perfect love!

Now let me gain perfection’s height,
Now let me in to nothing fall,
Be less than nothing in thy sight,
And feel that Christ is all in all.

Charles Wesley

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With all your mind?

by Kim on May 22, 2014

A reblog of a post by Kim Fabricius from 2006

When he was just a bog-standard bishop in Wales, Rowan Williams once addressed a meeting of Swansea church leaders. The host introduced the future Archbishop of Canterbury by outlining his CV, including his impressive academic achievements. He then concluded: “Although Dr. Williams is a great theologian, nevertheless he loves the Lord.”

Priceless! “Although . . . nevertheless”! As if intelligence were inimical to faith! Hence Bertrand Russell’s quip that “Christians would rather die than think - and most of them do.” Ouch!

We are a long way here from the Great Commandment, which includes loving the Lord not only with your heart and soul, but also with your mind (Mark 12:30). A long way too from that egghead from Tarsus named Paul, who valued discerning intelligence over emotional indulgence, and rebuked the Corinthians for their childish thinking. “Be infants in evil,” he told them, “but in thinking be adults” (I Corinthians 14:20 NRSV).

St. Augustine (354-430) was a worthy heir of Paul in his insistence that faith and thought are complementary, not contradictory. “Everyone who believes, thinks,” he wrote, “for by believing one thinks, and by thinking one believes.” Indeed the Bishop of Hippo spoke of his own conversion as a search for “true philosophy”.

St. Anselm (c. 1033-1109), who preferred to defend Christianity by reasoned argument rather than by appeal to scripture, summarised the Augustinian tradition with the phrase fides quaerens intellectum, “faith seeking understanding”. Faith itself summons us to use our minds to know God.

It certainly summoned St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-74). The Angelic Doctor’s masterpiece the Summa Theologica, over two million words of systematic thinking, is based on two premises: reason needs faith, and faith needs reason.. You could say that reason without faith is empty, but faith without reason is blind.

The Reformers agreed. True, Martin Luther (1483-1546) once called reason a whore - but only when it divorces itself from revelation and sets out its own stall. Thinking rationally in the wake of revelation, however, is what the voyage of faith is all about.

During the United Reformed Church’s discussion on human sexuality, a traditionalist wrote to our national magazine Reform declaring that “we are in danger of promoting scholarship above faith and Scripture,” and he appealed to the Reformers as men who “would reckoned to have ‘died theologically’ with the apostles.” “Which Reformers are these?” I replied. Luther, a professor of Biblical Studies, whose “tower experience” of re-birth turned on the recovery of the Greek New Testament by learned north European humanists? Or John Calvin (1509-64), master of both classical rhetoric and the new learning, whose Institutes of the Christian Religion, continually re-thought and re-written, combined rigorous grammatical and historical analysis with penetrating spiritual insight?

The fact is that the Reformers, the seventeenth Puritan divines and their successors were the intellectual giants of their day. They promoted habits of the heart, but as Jonathan Edwards said, “Holy affections are not heat without light.” Nor did they write for specialists but for ordinary church members who were proud that their churches were cultures of learning. These pious folk would certainly have repudiated any attempt to dissociate faith from scholarship as a recipe for obscurantism and ignorance.

Alas the brain-dead will always be with us, reprimanding ministers who challenge people to use their loaf, to think critically about their beliefs as they interface with the challenges of the day. It might, they allege, upset folk’s “simple faith”. But folk with a “simple faith” have a way of growing up. They begin to ask hard questions. They want to answer the challenges of science, not turn a deaf ear. They want to make sense of the problem of suffering, not live in denial. And, faithful to the gospel itself, they want to be able “to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you” (I Peter 3:15 GNB). If we never doubt our beliefs, we may well end up believing our doubts.

The great Reformed theologian of revelation Karl Barth (1886-1968) was once asked what place reason had in his theology. Barth replied: “I use it.” So should we. We should use our God-given minds precisely in the service of God’s self-disclosure in Christ - which is ultimately in the service of truth. And if the two seem mutually contradictory? I’m with Simone Weil, who said provocatively: “Christ likes us to prefer truth to him, because before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go towards the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.”

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From the European Space Agency

Three years of observations from ESA’s CryoSat satellite show that the Antarctic ice sheet is now losing 159 billion tonnes of ice each year – twice as much as when it was last surveyed.

The polar ice sheets are a major contributor to the rise in global sea levels, and these newly measured losses from Antarctica alone are enough to raise global sea levels by 0.45 mm each year.

These latest findings by a team of scientists from the UK’s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling show that the pattern of imbalance continues to be dominated by glaciers thinning in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica.

Between 2010 and 2013, West Antarctica, East Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula lost 134, 3 and 23 billion tonnes of ice each year, respectively.

The average rate of ice thinning in West Antarctica has increased compared to previous measurements, and this area’s yearly loss is now one third more than measured over the five years before CryoSat’s launch.

Just in case you thought climate change had gone away

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The elephant in the detention centre

by Kim on May 20, 2014

I’ve just had another letter published in the British daily the i (May 20th). Maybe I ought to suggest to the editor that he gives me a regular column. Anyway, here’s my latest.

Sir:

In having a grumble at Mark Steels’ superb Swiftian send-up of Ukip, Mark Taha insists that “We are an overcrowded country” (letter, 19 May).

But it’s not really about numbers, is it? The elephant in the detention centre is colour and ethnicity, isn’t it?

Otherwise why do we never hear complaints about all the Yanks, Ozzies and Canucks residing in the UK, over 350,000 of them?

Oops, the overwhelming majority are white and culturally like “us”.

Revd. Kim Fabricius
Swansea

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Living in God

by Richard on May 19, 2014

I wonder if you know the tv comedy Open All Hours. British readers certainly will, though I’m not sure how widely travelled it has been. (It was filmed in my home town and I’ve got a particular soft spot for it)

In the show, the incomparable Ronnie Barker plays Arkwright, a stuttering shopkeeper whose meanness is matched only by his ability to get people to part with their money. He never gives anything away. Anything spilled, broken, dropped or sampled has to be paid for, even by his long-suffering assistant Granville. Arkwright may occasionally show a kindly face, but it is only a mask. Underneath he is a colossal and unrepentant miser who is out to get every penny that he can.

I can’t help but notice that there is a widespread view that God is a kind of cosmic Arkwright. Every debt, no matter how small, must be paid for. Every account must be settled. The books must be kept straight, even if that means extracting the price from his own son.* To misquote Cowper, “Behind a smiling providence / He hides a frowning face”. Such a god has much to commend him. He is at least unbendingly fair. But he is not the God that Jesus proclaimed, pointed to and embodied.

In John 15:9 Jesus says to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” This is at the heart of Jesus’ “farewell discourse”, words of strength and reassurance given by Jesus before his betrayal, arrest and crucifixion. The disciples are not only reassured of his continuing presence with them in the Holy Spirit, they are invited to share the relationship of love that exists eternally within the life of God.

This is a relationship so deeply mysterious that the ‘Church Fathers’ had to coin a word to express it: perichoresis. It isn’t a word you hear all that often (!), neither is easy to give it a succinct definition. That’s hardly surprising. Perichoresis describes the relationship of Father, Son & Holy Spirit in the Trinity. Such things are not given to being succinct. But exploring its meaning, straining afer the sense of it, can lead us deeper in to what it means to be disciples of Jesus, for it suggests mutuality and exchange, a relationship that is both passive (each person ‘contained’ in the other) and active (each person moving in and through the other). I recommend Participating in God: A Pastoral Doctrine of the Trinity by Paul Fiddes for a good introduction to this stuff. The relationship of perichoresis is one so close that, as I read once, if one weeps the other tastes salt.

And it is that kind of loving relationship into which Jesus invites us. (”As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…” John 17:21) We may never expect to achieve relationships of that quality, but that is the life to which Jesus points, the life he offers. It is a love without “ifs” and “buts”, a love which makes no demands and certainly requires no payment. It is the gift of God, a gift we are called to share.

Arkwright would never understand.

* I know. A lot of substitutionary theology is much more subtle than this. But there is a great deal that isn’t. And the more ‘popular’ the substitutionary theology, the less likely to be subtle it is. In my experience. And yes, I’m reblogging again.

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The Way, the Truth and the Life

by Richard on May 18, 2014

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

This is the verse that drives so much Christian evangelism. “No one comes to the Father except through me” says Jesus and the proper response is to make sure that as many as possible know about him. It is a simple and unequivocal truth - they need to know about Jesus, and we tell ‘em. Is that what it means? I’m not so sure.

The context of the verse is that Jesus is speaking to his disciples as they gather in that upper room for their “Last Supper”. The disciples are frightened and bewildered. They’ve heard Jesus talk about their betrayal and desertion of him. Worse still, they know he faces death. Jesus addresses their doubt and fear with words of comfort, faith and hope. John, writing his gospel for a beleaguered Christian church recalls these words of Jesus because they speak directly to the situation his community faces. They too are uncertain about the future and are in need of the same strength and comfort as those first disciples. In short, the intention of Jesus, and of John in his record, is essentially pastoral - assuring the faithful of their place in God’s house. Jesus says that he is the way, the truth and the life. Not religious opinion about him, not statements of faith about him - he, himself, is the way.

What is that way? “You want to know the way?” says Jesus. A farmer sows his seed and casts it everywhere, on good soil and on bad. A father has two sons, one a dutiful, hard-worker - the other a waster. The father loves them both. A shepherd leaves the 99 sheep in the fold to go and search for the one sheep that is lost - and he does not give up until the lost sheep is restored. A landowner hires men throughout the day - and pays them all according to need rather than by the measure of their service. That, says Jesus, is the way. How reluctant we are to accept the way that Jesus shows us, the way of uncompromising compassion and extravagant generosity - the way of welcome and inclusion.

Lord, show us the way.

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Hymn of the day

by Richard on May 18, 2014

Arise, my soul, arise;
shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice
in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on his hands.

He ever lives above,
for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love,
His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds He bears;
received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers;
they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

The Father hears Him pray,
His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away,
the presence of His Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.

My God is reconciled;
His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child;
I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

Charles Wesley

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Today (May 15th) is International Conscientious Objectors Day. Howard Zinn (1922-2010), the American historian, author, and activist, wrote: “They have the guns, we have the poets. Therefore, we will win.” Here is one of our poets, Edna St. Vincent Millay, in her poem “Conscientious Objector”.

I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death.

I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba, business in the Balkans,
many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself: I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast,
I will not tell him where the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much, I will not map him the route to any man’s door.

Am I a spy in the land of the living, that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city are safe with me;
never through me
Shall you be overcome.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, Selected Poems (New York: Perennial Classics, 1999), p. 103.

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Hymn of the day

by Richard on May 11, 2014

Ye servants of God, your Master proclaim,
And publish abroad His wonderful Name;
The Name all victorious of Jesus extol,
His kingdom is glorious and rules over all.

God ruleth on high, almighty to save,
And still He is nigh, His presence we have;
The great congregation His triumph shall sing,
Ascribing salvation to Jesus, our King.

‘Salvation to God, who sits on the throne’
Let all cry aloud and honour the Son;
The praises of Jesus the angels proclaim,
Fall down on their faces and worship the Lamb.

Then let us adore and give Him His right,
All glory and power, all wisdom and might;
All honour and blessing with angels above,
And thanks never ceasing and infinite love.

Charles Wesley

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Matthew 5:38-48 (NRA)

by Kim on May 6, 2014

You have heard it said I said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy,” but I say to you I was misquoted, and the guy who misquoted me ought to have his eyes and teeth extracted. No, I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer, invite him home, give him a beer, then get the baseball bat. And if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, take a moment to recover, then break his whole face. And if anyone wants to sue you, tell him he’s a goddam litigious bastard, but if that’s the way he wants it, you’ll see him in court. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, tell him you forgot your keys, he’ll have to take a cab. To everyone who begs from you, tell them, no, sorry, they’ll only use it on drugs; and to anyone who wants to borrow from you, snottily tell him what Polonius said to Hamlet.

You have heard it said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy” — no doubt by a Bible-believing Christian. But I say to you: Love your enemies … Ha, had you there for a moment, didn’t I? No, agreed: loving your enemies is for wimps, women, and the weaponless. Pray for those who persecute you – to go to hell with Bell; and don’t get mad, get even — better still, get both — so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun shine on the good, sends rain on the righteous, and contrives extreme weather events for liberals, feminists and homosexuals (some collateral damage, yes; climate change, no). For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? The knowledge that you embrace family values and endorse white skin privilege, that’s what. And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Bupkis. But why should you give a crap? You want to be different? Go to France! USA — love it or leave it! Be perfect, as the Founding Fathers were perfect — especially that kill shot called the Second Amendment.

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The bright side of answered prayer

by Kim on May 6, 2014

A letter of mine published today (6 May) in the UK newspaper the i.

Sir:

Ron Gellért-Binnie is right: if God answered our prayers and healed the sick, there would undoubtedly be job losses (letter, 5 May).

Even more job losses if God answered our prayers and ended all war. But hey, look on the bright side: at least the pharmaceutical companies and arms industry would be well and truly shafted. Inscrutable is the Lord - and wonderfully Pythonesque.

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Hymn of the day

by Richard on May 4, 2014

O Thou who this mysterious bread
didst in Emmaus break,
return, herewith our souls to feed
and to thy followers speak.

Unseal the volume of thy grace,
apply the gospel word;
open our eyes to see thy face,
our hearts to know the Lord.

Of thee communing still, we mourn
till thou the veil remove;
talk with us, and our hearts shall burn
with flames of fervent love.

Enkindle now the heavenly zeal,
and make thy mercy known,
and give our pardoned souls to feel
that God and love are one.

Charles Wesley

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Easter message

by Richard on April 21, 2014

A poem by my friend Howard Ingham

You led me to believe it was all about dying.
You never told me life was involved,
Thanks to the binds you were so set on tying.
You led me to believe it was all about dying -
You were lying. I plan on applying
These principles until the issue is resolved.
You led me to believe it was all about dying;
You never told me life was involved.

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From the far star points of his pinned extremities,
cold inched in — black ice and squid ink–
till the hung flesh was empty. Lonely in that void
even for pain, he missed his splintered feet,
the human stare buried in his face.
He ached for two hands made of meat
he could reach to the end of.
In the corpse’s core, the stone fist of his heart

began to bang on the stiff chest’s door,
and breath spilled back into that battered shape. Now
it’s your limbs he longs to flow into –
from the sunflower center in your chest
outward — as warm water
shatters at birth, rivering every way.

Mary Karr, Sinners Welcome (New York: Harper Perennial, 2006), p. 61.

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“Easter” by Micheal O’Siadhail

by Kim on April 20, 2014

Dizzy with joy, the Easter morning
sun trembles in the heavens;
the tacky buds unclenched, release
the appropriate festschrift of leaves.

Unsuspected, in their microworld
tiny cells teem, crossplay,
rich networks of twisted rings
interlace, relate to the concord

of history rebegun. A starling mimics
Bravura, wood-pigeons whoop it up,
the orchestra purrs, tunes into
a master craftsman. Life da capo,

as riding our whirling earth-ship
we zip around the sun;
umpteen billion miles apart
stars both giant and dwarf

are suns that tug their planets,
constellate, take their partners
to dance the zillionhanded reel,
pinwheel outwards to eternity.

Glimpsing infinities of perfection,
awestruck, half-enlightened man
refracts the marvel, magnifies
an all-inclusive Easter thought.

Micheal O’Siadhail, Hail! Madam Jazz (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1992), p. 48.

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Hymn of the day

by Richard on April 20, 2014

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where’s thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Hail the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail the Resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

King of glory, soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, thy power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing, and thus to love, Alleluia!

Charles Wesley

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Maybe He looked indeed
much as Rembrandt envisioned Him
in those small heads that seem in fact
portraits of more than a model.
A dark, still young, very intelligent face,
a soul-mirror gaze of deep understanding, unjudging.
That face, in extremis, would have clenched its teeth
in a grimace not shown in even the great crucifixions.
The burden of humanness (I begin to see) exacted from Him
that He taste also the humiliation of dread,
cold sweat of wanting to let the whole thing go,
like any mortal hero out of his depth,
like anyone who has taken a step too far
and wants herself back.
The painters, even the greatest, don’t show how,
in the midnight Garden,
or staggering uphill under the weight of the Cross,
He went through with even the human longing
to simply cease, to not be.
Not torture of body,
not the hideous betrayals humans commit
nor the faithless weakness of friends (not then, in agony’s grip)
was Incarnation’s heaviest weight,
but this sickened desire to renege,
to step back from what He, Who was God,
had promised Himself, and had entered
time and flesh to enact.
Sublime acceptance, to be absolute, had to have welled
up from those depths where purpose
drifted for mortal moments.

Denise Levertov, The Stream & Sapphire (New York: New Directions, 1997), pp. 73-74.

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To be crucified is first to lie down
on a shaved tree, and then to have oafs stretch you out
on a crossbar as if for flight, then thick spikes
fix you into place.

Once the cross pops up and the pole stob
sinks vertically in an earth hole, perhaps
at an awkward list, what then can you blame for hurt
but your own self’s burden?

You’re not the figurehead on a ship. You’re not
flying anywhere, and no one’s coming to hug you.
You hang like that, a sack of flesh with the hard
trinity of nails holding you into place.

Thus hung, your ribcage struggles up
to breathe until you suffocate. If God
permits this, one wonders if some less
than loving watcher

watches us. The man on the cross
under massed thunderheads feels
his soul leak away, then surge. Some wind
sucks him into the light stream

in the rent sky, and he’s snatched back, held close.

Mary Karr, Sinners Welcome (New York: Harper Perennial, 2006), p. 52.

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  • 900,000 needing to use foodbanks “should shock and anger us”
  • Figures “should lead Government to examine why the post-Welfare Reform benefits system allows so many people to go hungry.”

Leaders of the Methodist Church, Baptist Union of Great Britain and United Reformed Church have responded with concern to the latest figures from the Trussell Trust, released today.

“These figures should shock and anger us,” said Methodist President the Revd Ruth Gee. “Hunger should not and need not be a problem in a rich country like the UK – and yet clearly it is. We thank God for foodbanks, which provide a vital lifeline to people who would otherwise be forced to go hungry.

“Wherever I have travelled in my year as president I have asked the same two questions: do you have a foodbank here and have you seen increased need for it?

“Wherever I have travelled the answers to both questions have been ‘yes’ and I am not hearing about small increases in need; I am hearing about huge leaps in demand and foodbanks that are struggling to keep up.”

The Trussell Trust highlights static incomes, rising living costs, low pay, underemployment and problems with welfare, especially sanctioning, as significant drivers of the increased demand. Yesterday, the Department for Work and Pensions published research that shows that a third of families affected by the Benefit Cap have already had to cut spending on essential items such as food, while more than one in ten of these families have needed to borrow money to make ends meet – often from payday lenders.

“Over 900,000 people needing the help of a foodbank should lead the Government to examine why the post-Welfare Reform benefits system allows so many people to go hungry,” added the Revd Stephen Keyworth, Faith and Society Team Leader for the Baptist Union of Great Britain. “Churches and others are doing sterling work reaching out to help folk in need but this isn’t how it should be.

“It is a great a testimony that so many people have given up time and money to meet this need - it is a great tragedy that so many more families find themselves in such need.

“It is not credible to deny there are more people who are hungry – these figures should spur us on to address the important question of why there are more people hungry”.

The Revd Gee has written a blog on her experiences travelling the country and talking to churches that run foodbanks.

Last year the Churches, together with the Church of Scotland, published a report highlighting the myths about poverty in the UK today. One of the most destructive myths - fuelled by “shirker and striver” rhetoric - is that people who live in poverty are lazy and work shy.

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