Monthly Archives: Oct 2014

Matthew 22:15-22

Clever questions can catch people out. There’s the old chestnut: “Have you stopped cheating on your wife?” To answer “Yes” implies that you were and you have stopped, to answer “No” implies that you have been and you still are. The is apparently no answer that does not leave you in a bad light, unless you step outside the confines of the question and answer it in your own way – just as politicians do in a radio or TV interview: “I have never cheated on my wife and never will.”

Trick questions that put people on the spot have been around for a long time. So it’s not surprising that Jesus faced some in his time.  There’s one in Matthew 22:15-22, the Pharisees question has a very definite double edge.   The issue of paying tax to the Roman emperor was one of the hottest topics in the Middle East in Jesus’ day.

unnamedIsrael was an occupied land.  There were taxes on agricultural yield and a personal ‘poll tax’.  That’s why the Romans took a census to count how much tax they could levy.  Paying tax in Roman coin was a threefold burden to the people of Israel: no-one liked paying taxes, Israel hated foreign rule and this tax reminded them of their invaders, and the image of Caesar on the coin was regarded as idolatry, breaking the command about graven images in Exodus.

Jesus appears to be in a ‘lose-lose’ situation when he is asked whether people should pay taxes to the Emperor or not.  If he supported paying tax he would be accused of being unpatriotic.  If he opposed tax-paying, he could be reported as a trouble-maker and rebel.  The question has no right answer.  Either reply is wrong.  ‘Yes’ is religiously offensive. ‘No’ is politically dangerous.

Incidentally, this is all part of an honour/shame conflict being played out between Jesus and the religious leaders – please read some of my other posts to find out more.

Jesus asks whose head is on the coin he is given.  Caesar’s, of course. So Jesus responds, the coin is Caesar’s property, it bears his image, so people should give to him what is his.  It is all right to give back to Caesar what belongs to him.  It is his money – so pay your taxes in the normal way.  That is half of Jesus’ answer.

The other side of the matter is that God should receive his due.  Israel must offer God the worship and service he deserves.  In this case there is no limited tax bill, but a completely open account.  There is only one proper way of responding to God’s generosity – with the worship, love and service of our whole lives.  That’s the other half of Jesus’ answer.

So Jesus neatly turns the question back on his questioners.  What are they giving to God of themselves, their devotion and their obedience?  But his response raises a bigger question – and that is ‘how does one’s civic duty weigh up against one’s duty to God?’

Where do we stand in this?  Should we as Christians be obedient citizens and pay our taxes with an honest and ready heart?  ‘In general, yes, we should’ comes the answer from this passage – unless and until it clashes with our commitment to God.  We’ve seen Christians throughout history who’ve put their commitment to God before their civic duty, and we remember some of those people as saints and martyrs.

There are Christians who openly confess Christ in lands where that is a crime, who defy unjust public policies, who support human rights, and who resist tyranny.  They do it because they believe that Caesar’s rights are limited and that God’s are not.

There are times too when we will have to examine our conscience about issues where our society’s ways and God’s ways diverge. The financial crisis in the banking system is a case in point.  Even if we didn’t really understand the details, it affected us all.

And what might God have to say about the part that society has played in building up the now failing financial systems, or about the actions that bankers have taken on our behalf.  It’s easy to say that it’s the fault of ‘the City’, but maybe we have to look a little closer to home for some of the reasons.

Might people – or even we ourselves – have become too greedy? Might people – or even we ourselves – have become too caught up in wanting to improve our own financial situation without thinking about the impact on others? Might people – or even we ourselves – have become too impatient, wanting everything now even if we can’t afford it – and becoming too used to being in debt?

Perhaps we need to reassess our duty to God. Perhaps we need to continue to say that banks need to be fairer, that they need to be modelled on God’s values. Perhaps we have to be wise where we invest – looking for ethical banking practices; maybe we have to think twice before taking out loans; making investments that serve the good of all not just a few; maybe we have to remember that God is present in all aspects of our lives including our money and that our decisions over money need to be bound up in our desire to live his ways.

Jesus used a single coin to help people think about their relationship with the state and with God.  As we handle the coins in our pockets or our purses, may they be a constant reminder that God is present in all parts of our lives – and that definitely includes our finances.



Karma Nirvana – Jasvinder Sanghera – 2

I have been reading books by Jasvinder Sanghera.

Firstly, her autobiography, “Shame” and her later book, “Daughters of Shame” – both published by Hodder & Stoughton.

I have found reading these both eye-opening and shocking. I have been aware for some time of the power of ‘izzat’ or ‘namus’ – the overwhelming power of ‘honour’ in some communities. Hearing people’s stories in some depth and engaging with the reality that for some people, some families, ‘honour’ is significantly more important that the life of family members.

It causes me to wonder just how significant these issues are here in Ashton-under-Lyne. It is good to know that there is an organisation to whom we can refer those who are trapped by these problems. Al;though, it is clear that as a white clergyperson, I am very unlikely to ever see behind the closed doors where these issues are a major problem.

In “Daughters of Shame”, Jasvinder says that “trying to explain the concept of honour is one of the hardest things … Asian people don’t question it: they’re swaddled in it from the moment they are born, it’s as though the absorb it along with their mother’s milk. Honour – izzat – is the cornerstone of the Asian community and since the beginning of time it’s been the job of girls and women to keep it polished. And that’s really hard because so many things can tarnish it.”[1] The stories that Jasvinder Sanghera relates are deeply disturbing, ultimately quite horrifying. She goes on to say that “wearing lipstick, owning a mobile phone, cutting your hair; any of those things could be said to bring dishonour on a family because those are all signs that a girl is getting westernised, which is what Asian families fight so hard against. They’d lock up their daughters for months on end rather than let that happen.”[2]

Would it be possible to get a better picture of the extent of these problems in a place like Ashton-under-Lyne?

(please also see my earlier post about Karma Nirvana – on 8th September 2014 and the website:

[1] Jasvinder Sanghera; “Daughters of Shame” Hodder & Stoughton, London: 2009, p27.

[2] ibid.

The Forest of Dean Central Railway

FDCR 1FDCR 2The Forest of Dean Central Railway

This short railway line was operated by the Great Western Railway (GWR) to serve collieries in the heart of the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. From its opening in 1868, the line was operated by the GWR and run by the Central Company until 1923. The GWR took over the line in 1923 and ran it until its closure in 1949. It ran from Awre Junction through Blakeney and on into the forest with the intention of reaching Foxes Bridge Colliery. In fact the line only travelled as far as the New Fancy colliery. It served several mines and quarries along its route as well as the corn mills in Blakeney.


Plans for a railway in the heart of the forest were first drawn up in 1826, but it took until 1868 for the Forest of Dean Central Line to open. A branch line to the New Fancy Colliery followed in 1869. A junction with the main Gloucester to Newport Line was formed at Awre, although the original plan was to open the line to a new dock at Brimspill on the River Severn. The railway never reached the river. It was built initially to serve the Howbeach Collieryt and then ultimately to reach the Foxes Bridge Colliery and in anticipation of its arrival,  the formation there was fenced and a bridge built for the Severn & Wye Railway’s Mineral Loop, but in the end, no track was laid north of the link to the New Fancy Colliery.

Decline and closure

The long delay from 1826 to 1868 was probably the ultimate cause of the railway’s failure to achieve success. The opening of the Severn & Wye Railway in the 1870s resulted in much of the coal traffic for which the Forest of Dean Central Railway was built being lost to the new company. By 1875 the section to the central mines and the New Fancy Colliery was first neglected and then abandoned. In 1921 virtually all of the traffic north of Blakeney ceased. Although for a time the GWR continued to run some services north of Blakeney, those ceased in 1932.


FDCR 3Some lengths of the formation remain, as do some of the structures. Part of the Blakeney Viaduct is still extant as is the Blackpool Bridge.


Thought for the Day

In all that is going on in Syria and Iraq these words from John Bell seem very appropriate. They remind us that we cannot claim the high moral ground, without first examining our motives and attitudes.

Just in case the link does not work, here is the text of John Bell’s Thought for the Day on 3rd October 2014 on the Radio 4 Today programme:

Thought for the Day – 03/10/2014 – John Bell

I could only have an hour with Salaam Hannah last week. He’s a Christian clergyman from Syria whose church has been destroyed, and half the population of his town has moved elsewhere to escape the violence.

Only an hour, so I asked him the question I often ask of people coming from places affected by war: ‘What do we in the West need to know about your nation?’ And he made the same reply as I heard in the past when I asked the same question of Avner Gvoryahu from Israel and Shehade Shehade from Palestine and Anna Zaki from Egypt. He said ‘Things are much more complicated than you imagine.’

And then he went on, not so much to give his analysis of the tragedy of Syria as to comment on Western attitudes. And it was not easy to listen to…

He said that from his perspective the West seems to think that democracy is the answer, but democracy has to grow up from the ground, not be enforced from outside.

He asked whether nations which were major arms producers should expect to be welcomed as peacemakers and honest brokers in countries where their weapons are being used to kill.

He suggested that, for the West, overseas engagement seemed so often to be based on economic expediency to the benefit of the benefactor, but seldom was cultural or ethical expediency part of the process.

And he asked whether we ever thought of the consequences of our actions – as when you support the overthrow of a dictator, only to discover that he was sitting on a hornet’s nest, and that deposing such a kingpin does not guarantee peace.

Salaam spoke with no rancour, but with sadness as he questioned some of the suppositions which many of us hold true.

Later, I remembered the moment in Jesus’ ministry when he met a Syrian, a woman who asked him if he would heal her daughter. He demurred and referred to her race as ‘dogs.’ She questioned his language and then something in their conversation – her plain speaking from a context he knew little about – changed him. He felt for her pain and rather than dismiss her, he agreed to help her.

Having met people from both sides involved in the troubles in Northern Ireland and apartheid in South Africa, I am convinced that it is only when we drop our unquestioned presumptions and feel for the pain of the one we despise that we begin to move towards peace. It will not be fully secured by military hardware or economic master-plans but by the less exotic arts of listening, thinking outside the box and empathy, however hard it is to imagine doing this right now.


Ashton-under-Lyne Market – Another Award!

Congratulations to the Market Staff in Ashton-under-Lyne!

Another fantastic plus for our town!

Tameside markets are top of the shops after winning a hatrick of national awards!

Borough is home to Britain’s favourite and greenest market as well as the most dedicated team of staff, according to industry bosses.

Tameside’s marvellous markets are celebrating a hatrick of three top industry awards. Staff have been named ‘market team of the year’ by the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA) after impressing judges with their enthusiasm and the range and quality of services.

Following a public vote earlier this year NABMA crowned Ashton as Britain’s favourite market. It was also named the country’s greenest market by the National Market Traders’ Federation.

NABMA chief executive Graham Wilson said: “We’re delighted to make this award to Tameside as market team of the year.

“The competition was open to nominations from around the UK. The Tameside markets team are committed, enthusiastic and share a vision that centres itself on a proud local market tradition supported by professional management.”

Deputy council leader, Coun John Taylor added: “The success and recognition in all three national awards is a testament to the enthusiasm, innovation and hard work being ploughed into Tameside’s markets to ensure they are vibrant, attractive and sustainable for the future. I would like to take this opportunity to thank traders and staff for their drive and commitment and – importantly – shoppers for their ongoing, loyal support.”