Bob Holman and the rejected MBE…

I have written before about this man- who has been a bit of a hero of mine since my student days, because he seemed to have found a way of combining many of the things I valued- Christianity, socialism, social action, community work, radicalism in the service of social justice.

You can watch a short clip of him telling his story on Greenbelt TV– and if you look carefully you will see me in the audience!

Today I heard that he had been nominated for an honour in the Queens list – an MBE – but he turned it down. In this article he explains why;

The honours are bestowed by the monarchy. As a democrat, I am opposed to a queen and other royals who wield great public influence in spite of never having been elected. Yes, the queen has displayed dignity and upheld certain moral values, but the one who succeeds her because of biological inheritance may be very different.

The nature of the royal influence is rarely questioned. The princes usually enlist in the armed forces and so identify with Britain’s aggressive wars. It is unthinkable for any member of the royal family to be a pacifist.

The royals possess enormous riches. The queen’s personal fortune is estimated at £310m, plus possessions valued in billions. The state supports her with an annual £32m. Yet at the very time her jubilee is being celebrated at huge cost, the poor are getting poorer, the unemployed more numerous, the gap between those at the bottom and those at the top wider. Every week, theTrussell Trust opens more centres to distribute food parcels. I have met several families who can no longer afford to send their children on holiday.

The unelected monarchy reinforces and sanctions inequality. The BBC and most of the press pour undiluted praise on the royals while imposing a virtual gag on the views of republicans. No senior politician has the courage to question the continuation of the monarchy. Taking a gong or title is an expression of support for the royals.

My proposed MBE was “for services to the community in Easterhouse, Glasgow”. Last week, I was at a community project called Family Action in Rogerfield & Easterhouse (Fare), which I helped to start 22 years ago. Serving at the cafe was a man who has been a volunteer since the start. He cannot manage paid employment but his loyalty is such that he has been elected to Fare’s board of directors. Another long-term helper works six days a week as a security guard on minimum wage. He takes one holiday a year and joins the under-canvas camp where he toils as a cook. Fare’s grants have been cut – so much for the “big society” – and three staff were to be made redundant. The rest of the workers, nearly all local residents, agreed to a 7% cut in their own modest incomes so that the three could be kept on. And many more. Why should I get a royal reward for services to Easterhouse and not them?

I am an egalitarian. I believe that a socially and materially equal society is more united, content and just. The royal honours system is designed to promote differences of status. It is made clear that those who are made knights or dames are socially superior to those given CBEs, OBEs or MBEs. But all are socially above those without honours. These imposed differences hinder the co-operation, interaction and fellowship, which are the characteristics of equality. Refusing a royal honour is a small step but one in the right direction.


Listening to one of my social work heroes…

There is lots of good stuff on the new Greenbelt Website, including a new GTV section, full of short film clips with some of the speakers/performers at the festival.

One of them was Bob Holman. I was there to see him filmed- you can see me in the second row if you click on this link;

Bob Holman on GTV

Bob was one of the men who inspired me to believe that community activism and social work in particular could make a difference. As a young man, when I heard that friends were planning to be accountants, or hairdressers, or mechanics (but particularly accounts to be honest) I would shake my head slowly at the waste of a life. I believed passionately that life ought to be about helping others- connecting with people who were caught up in poverty or addiction and seeking to bring them to freedom.

There were of course lots of reasons for this- my own troubled and difficult childhood, and also my understanding of what Jesus was all about. These things met in the person of Bob- who because of his Christian faith, gave up a well paid job in a university and moved his family to a council estate, later moving to the still notorious Easterhouse in Glasgow. I do not know Bob, nor the detail of what he achieved, but what he did represented something noble and authentic at a time when Christianity appeared to have little to say about social action, and lots about saving people from hell.

The fact that I watched this video clip again (it is only short- 8 mins or so) at this point of my career is really poignant. All that naive but still cherished idealism about social work as a means to change society for the better, and to be the bridge for grace in the lives of the people I work with- this is all 21 years behind me. I now find myself on a trajectory out of social work all together.

As I reflect, the process of social work has taken a lot from me. After meeting so many people at their lowest ebb, or at their worst behaviour, my compassion and tolerance is blunted. But it has not gone altogether. After feeling the responsibility of managing situation that simply can not be managed, and seeking to help people who will not help themselves my motivation to keep standing in those difficult places has been eroded. But this too remains in part.

Above all, I am tired. I want a cave for a while where I will live out gentle days in the throwing of stones and the lighting of fires.

Then perhaps there might be a rekindling of the old part of me that was so excited by the story old Bob told.

I hope so…

Greenbelt 11 reflections…

Home we are, shower fresh and full of stories. I had such a great time that I am reluctant to let it go and so refused to shave this morning for work. I am going beardy for a while as a wee celebration of all things festival.

Our worship thing went well- and as we were first up, we suddenly had time to relax- a rare luxury! This meant actually going to talks and sitting down listening to music. Fancy that.


Perhaps most of all, time with family and friends- I laughed so much at times that I ached. Several of the kids of my long time friends were there too- Sam, Caleb, Sarah, Nathan, Gail and Andrew- it was such a privilege to spend time with such great young people (not to mention my own kids!)  It was great also to meet up again with a growing network of creative folk from around the UK, many of whom are involved with ‘Tautoko’.

The meet up in Gloucester Cathedral was great- we managed to get down in time this year.

As for music- The Unthanks and Martin Joseph on mainstage were both really great. Billy Bragg was at his polemical best.

Gungor redefined worship music with intelligence and musicality.

In terms of speakers, I began slightly skeptical of the celebrity headliners- but Brian McLaren inspired me, and made me cry. He also sat down and spent half an hour speaking to one of our young people, Sarah. If you were to download just one talk from GB this year- go for this one. I also enjoyed hearing a couple of my longer term heros speak- Christian social worker/activist Bob Holman and Psychologist Oliver James.

This year I even saw some comedy- not usually something I bother with- Jo Enright was hilarious, and Mark Thomas (swearing like a Gatling gun) managed a two hour romp about his walk around the Palestinian wall.

Michaela has always rather tolerated Greenbelt through gritted teeth- it has always been much more my thing. She goes because it is important to me, and has other practical benefits. However, this year seems to have been a real change for her- she too had a great time. Michaela is happy when she has made connections, and this year she had some quality time with lots of friends too- including Yvonne Lyon (copies of whose new album sold out almost immediately on the strength of another lovely tender performance, despite a bad cold.)

Finally, one other performer deserves a mention- Sam Hill. Sam used to go to the same church as us near Preston, and despite all the music I have seen performed, I reckon that one of his gigs was the best I ever saw live. He is a hugely talented songwriter and performer. Our mate Andy played backing guitar for him at his last GB performance 9 years ago, since when he has hardly performed. Now he is back!

There was probably so much more that I have not immediately remembered, but that is festivals for you…

I took very few photos this year- I was relying on Andy ‘5 cameras’ Prosser. Here are a few however, mostly from Michaela’s camera.