Category Archives: Christmas

A Happy Christmas For Geert Wilders

Christmas came early this month for Dutch politician Geert Wilders, just ahead of the country’s general election in March.

2014-05-22 09:04:56 DEN HAAG - PVV-leider Geert Wilders bij basisschool De Walvis waar hij zijn stem uitbracht op een kandidaat voor het Europees Parlement. ANP BAS CZERWINSKI

During the autumn he has been dragged through the courts by Dutch authorities and a couple of weeks ago they successfully secured his conviction for ‘inciting discrimination’ and ‘insulting’ Moroccan immigrants.

Wilders is an anti-establishment, anti-Islam, anti-EU politician who, at huge personal cost  to himself and his wife, is articulating popular discontent at the country’s entrenched elite and the growing Islamisation of the country.

The authorities’ inadvertent seasonal gift is the spike in popularity of Wilders’ PVV party (Party of Freedom) that resulted directly from the the court case. In the final opinion poll of 2016 PVV is ahead of prime minister Mark Rutte’s liberal party.

censorshipWilders argued throughout that this was a political trial about free speech brought by the country’s politically-correct establishment who want to control and undermine what he says about Islam and immigration, and there is evidence he is right.

Although state prosecutors could have demanded a jail sentence for – as they claim – a serious hate crime against an immigrant community, in the event they balked and requested only a symbolic 5,000 euro fine.

The judge, Hendrik Steenhuis, went further and refused to impose any sentence at all in the belief that conviction alone will sufficiently blacken Wilders’ name. It’s clear too that Steenhuis wanted to avoid creating a pre-election martyr.

So it seems the Dutch legal establishment prefers playing to the gallery and massaging public opinion rather than imposing proper punishment. Although they’re not competent in implementation, their strategy might have come straight from a Blair/Campbell/Mandelson New Labour handbook on the dark arts of spin.

grumpy-judgejudge-holding-gavel-in-courtroomAnd the Dutch judiciary has form on this. Wilders was subject to even more blatant official skulduggery in his previous 2010 trial.

He stood accused then of inciting racial hatred against Muslims. Backed by what the media cited as ‘soaring’ popular support, he argued that his hostility is against Islam not Muslims, and certainly the case against him was so weak that the Dutch public prosecutor did not want to pursue it.

However a Dutch court of appeal led by Judge Tom Schalken insisted, and in January 2010 the trial started.

Early on in the trial Wilder’s lawyers attempted to remove a judge for bias when the court president Jan Moors, faced with Wilders’ assertion of his right to remain silent, had commented idiotically that the politician was known for making bold statements but avoiding discussion, and that “it appears you are doing so again.” It was unjudicial sniggering knockabout, but the judiciary closed ranks and refused to replace Moors.

Then, on 6th May, Wilders’ lawyers were due to call their expert witness on Islam, retired Arabist professor Hans Jensen, in order for him to verify the injunctions to violence written into in the Quran.

mud-hits-fanBut three days earlier on 3rd May, Jensen had been invited to an informal ‘dinner of friends’ by the organiser of a pro-Palestine committee of academics and professionals. By design but unknown to Jensen, Judge Schalken was invited too. At the dinner, according to Jensen, the judge repeatedly engaged with him about Wilders, Islam and the trial in order to persuade him that the legal proceedings were justified.

Nobbling a witness is a serious crime of which the mafia are acknowledged experts. It is not however expected of a senior judge.

This time the mud hit the fan. Following disclosure of Schalken’s dinner party intervention, a legal review panel was convened and the case was dramatically terminated due to this “degree of (judicial) bias”. However although judges had been guilty of prejudice and the public prosecutor remained firmly against pursuing the case, the panel farcically ordered a retrial.

This took place the following year and, as widely anticipated outside court, Wilders was acquitted of all charges. The fiasco irreparably damaged Dutch judiciary’s reputation for competence and neutrality.

As highlighted in my previous post, the political tide has turned across the western world. While in the past Dutch authorities could use anti-discrimination and hate-speech legislation to close down debate and silence opposition, they’ve been exposed as fraudulent and now find themselves preaching their message to a shrinking choir. People outside their circles are no longer listening.

christmas-presentWilders’ court appearances have boomeranged back on the authorities and become a potent badge of honour for the politician. He will of course appeal the conviction in order to milk it for all it’s worth, so the case may run and run.

It’s a welcome Christmas present and boost to his chances of becoming prime minister following the elections in March.

Courage In A Bleak Mid-Winter

I’ve just returned from another visit to Jos at the north end of Plateau State in middle-belt Nigeria. Nigeria_map_JosHere, despite the proliferating Christmas decorations in homes and churches, peace on earth and goodwill between communities continues to be in short supply and, across northern Nigeria, the church is facing an existential threat from the violence and intimidation of Islam in its various forms.

I travelled in the company of Baroness Caroline Cox and members of the team from her Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) charity for the first time. The Baroness is seventy-seven but her drive, energy and zeal for travelling to help oppressed people in remote and dangerous locations show she clearly considers herself thirty years younger.

Zambiri2In Jos we met with Ben and Gloria Kwashi, the Anglican Archbishop and his wife – an essential engagement in a Christian visitor’s itinerary as it is never less than inspirational. We visited Gloria’s school for 400 orphans where, for a third of the children, the lunchtime bowl of mixed rice and beans with added nutrients is the only meal of the day. Education of these precious orphans is taken seriously by Gloria and her dedicated staff of seven, not only as a Christian imperative but also as a vital route out of poverty.

We had dinner too in the archiepiscopal home and joined in night-time prayers with the fifty five orphans who Gloria also has rescued to live with them.

archbiship_ben_kwashi_and_his_wife_gloria“Good night children,” said Archbishop Ben after leading the prayers. The fatherly but diminutive spiritual colossus stood in front of the youngsters holding the rudimentary archbishop’s staff they had made for him from branches of a nearby tree in one hand, while blessing them with the other.

“Good night Daddy Kwashi, goodnight Mummy Kwashi,” they chimed in unison. The orphans have nothing, but, surrounded by the warm and disciplined Christian love of the Kwashis, they have everything. It was difficult to join in the prayers thanks to the lump in my throat.

I’ve blogged before about the inter-communal violence generated by Fulani Muslim herdsmen migrating from the Sharia states in the north onto Plateau land belonging to Berom Christian villagers. Ostensibly the Fulani are searching for grazing pasture for their cattle although their motive seems also to do with Islamic expansionism.

ShoVillage2On the fourth day of our visit and protected in convoy by two police armoured cars bristling with guns, we were taken to a distressing recent example of the phenomenon. The farmland belonging to and surrounding the Berom village of Sho in Barkin Ladi local government area, some 30 minutes’ drive outside Jos, has been occupied by force by Fulani herdsmen. Since September 2013 twenty-four of the Berom villagers have been massacred, ten of them on 7th July of this year. As a consequence they live in terror, unable to enter or exit their village or cross their own adjoining occupied farmland except under armed military escort. Their school and church have been destroyed.

We met the head man and villagers in the village square and heard their stories. They were grateful that outsiders – perhaps especially foreign ones – were being made aware of their plight. Fear and distress was in their eyes as they explained they are isolated, grieving and desperate, living in poverty without access to their farmland food source.

It wasn’t clear why the authorities have not attempted to rectify the situation except that justice is in short supply in northern Nigeria. And it wasn’t clear either how we as outsiders could help except by publicising their predicament. I left Sho with a heavy heart.

Mark_LipdoI also visited an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp run in dilapidated school buildings in Bukuru south of Jos by the under-funded but resourceful Stefanos Foundation and it’s energetic CEO, Mark Lipdo. Primarily the camp comprised Christians from the Gwoza area of Borno State in the north east of Nigeria, close to the Cameroon border.

Until the second half of the last century, Gwoza was peopled by primitive and frequently warring tribes. Then, after the Second World War, the colonial authorities allowed British and other missionaries into the area. These were doctors, nurses and teachers as well as evangelists, and they built health clinics, schools and in due course churches. The first indigenous convert, Inshaya Hutuku, became a Christian in the early 50s (he is still alive today) and the early trickle of converts grew to a steady stream. By 2013 there were over 200 churches in the thriving Gwoza council area.

But twelve months later, by the middle of 2014, there were almost none.

Boko Haram, who last year killed more people than ISIS and who this year pledged allegiance their brutal Iraq/Syria counterparts, moved into the area in April 2014, killing, kidnapping, burning and destroying churches and homes. On 2 June last year the militants perpetrated the infamous Gwoza massacre wherein up to 500 males were slaughtered. Then on 24 August Boko Haram declared Gwoza town the headquarters of their Islamic Caliphate. An acquaintance of mine, an elderly Nigerian minister, narrowly escaped death by scrambling up into the hills and hospitalising himself in the process through a heavy fall. His home was burnt out.

IDP2Many escaped the slaughter in Gwoza with only the clothes they stood in. Over 450 are now living in the IDP camp I visited, surviving on church generosity and handouts organised by Stefanos. The conditions are pitiful, the drafty rooms are cold during the December nights, most of the refugees are desperate to return home to Gwoza as soon as possible and there is limited cause for optimism for them. While the military under the new Federal ‘hard man’ President Muhammadu Buhari, together with increasingly effective civilian vigilante self-defence groups, are gaining some push-back against the militants across Borno State and elsewhere, there is little prospect that families can return to and rebuild their lives back in Gwoza itself in the near future.

Ben and Gloria Kwashi and Mark Lipdo – like many other Christians in northern Nigeria – are faithful, courageous, visionary and inspirational. They spread hope, joy and generosity in the darkest of places, and it is certainly appropriate to highlight and celebrate their endeavours at Christmas time when we remember the true Light who came into the world.

But the tide is flowing strongly against them. Through violence, persecution and discrimination, over the centuries and especially over the past decade Islam has chased Christianity out of the heartlands of the Middle East as well as across North Africa. The signs are that the same is happening in northern Nigeria.

So despite the joy of Christmas, rising militant Islam means it’s a bleak mid-winter for many believers there and indeed around the world.

If you are moved to help them, you can donate via HART. Your money will be well spent.

O Holy Night

Kings-College-Choir

On this silent sacred night, England’s best chapel choir sings Christendom’s best Christmas carol, here .

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!

O night divine, the night when Christ was born. 

Even in the darkness of tragedy, brutality, weariness and despair, in Christ there is a thrill of hope and through Christ every day is a new and glorious morn; we can do all things in Him who strengthens us.

Happy Christmas!

From A Father’s Heart To Tom Daley

Dear Tom,

I never knew your late father Rob of course, but through even the distorting prism of media reports and as a Dad myself I can appreciate his outstanding paternal commitment to you. Young diver Tom Daley going for gold for his father RobertHe clearly spotted and supported your talent on the diving boards well before your age was in double digits (here), he was rightly protective of you (here), he sacrificially gave up his business to mentor you, to accompany you to events and to support you when you were under the pressure of national and international competitions. He even gained the sympathy of hard-bitten journalists for fulfilling his difficult parental role in your developing teenage celebrity life (here).

The cost to him of your career was high, but his love for you was such that he will hardly have noticed. Instead he will have been full of fatherly pride in you and your achievements, and relished the close affectionate and bantering relationship between you. Your words “my best friend, sounding board, taxi driver and biggest champion” (here) would have meant the world to him.

When he finally succumbed to cancer aged 40 just a few days after your 17th birthday, the hole in your life no doubt was massive. Your anguished tweet “I love you so much Dad” moved many hearts. Your prime source of support and security had gone. He’d been solidly there for you for all your life and, away from the bright lights of your burgeoning celebrity and diving fame, your feelings of emptiness and vulnerability must have been gut-wrenching.

But nature abhors a vacuum and vultures pounce on the vulnerable. So, a matter of months later, onto your personal stage steps gay activist and glittering Oscar-winning Hollywood screen writer/film producer Dustin Lance Black aged 39, just about the same age as your father.

81st Annual Academy Awards - ShowYou’ll know by now that Black is obsessed with MSM (men who have sex with men) issues and has written the script for and/or produced a number of gay films including The Journey of Jared Price, Something Close To Heaven, On The Bus, Pedro and, famously, the award-winning Milk. He campaigns too; provocatively he wore the pro-gay marriage White Knot (here) on stage at the sumptuous 2009 Oscars awards where he won the Best Original Screenplay prize. He’s right up there with Tinseltown’s top glitterati although regrettably, Tom, all that glitters is not gold.

You’ll also acknowledge that even before your Dad died you had become a major gay icon and focus of sexual interest in the gay community. You have been named ‘Sexiest Man of the Year’ by Attitude gay mag, ahead even of David Beckham (here). And to your credit you took it in your stride; the award is “very cool“, you said amiably. “I’m not (gay) but I wouldn’t be ashamed if I was… I’d love to have a girlfriend.” (here). It was a warm and presumably honest response.

Certainly I’ll defend your right to choose whatever friendships and relationships you like – even when you are vulnerable on the rebound from the loss of your Dad.

But it is relevant for you – and, given your national sporting and celebrity status, for the rest of us too – to wonder about Black’s intentions. Does he, like your Dad, have your interests at heart?

Or let me put it less delicately. When daily you were strutting your stuff poolside in your skimpy Speedos, freshfaced, athletic and focussed, your father would have watched over you full of paternal pride, protection, concern and support.

Tom Daley divingHow, in comparison, do you think Black viewed you on the diving boards? Was his interest in you selfless and sacrificial like your Dad’s? Was he concerned for your diving career and sporting development like your Dad? Was he motivated by self-giving love like your Dad?

Or rather was it by something altogether more self-centred, recognised universally as carnal desire?

One day you will discover for yourself the true answer: Despite protestations that he is besotted with you (here), his ‘love’ is not sacrificial like your Dad’s love. It’s much more sinister and selfish.

And now as you climb into his bed, note well that you are no longer just a gay icon; you’ve become Black’s gay trophy too. Not just a personal trophy as he delightedly deflowers your virginity and teaches you gay sex, but a massive trophy for gay ideologues and activists around the world.

You see, your diving success and fame have made you a role model for many ordinary teenage boys. This is an awesome responsibility that you have actively sought by publishing your autobiography (here) and promoting your personal TV series Splash! (here).

Cat mouseMany of these teenage boys too are subject to advances from older gay men; gay writers from Michelangelo Signorile (here) to Kirk and Madsen (here) indicate that gay men’s attraction to boys is intrinsic to the gay scene.

At a stroke you have both emboldened predatory gay men and encouraged many boys to submit to them. So we must have a look at the hedonistic unhealthy adult gay world which you yourself have now entered and into which, unwittingly, you are leading others:

First read what gay businessman Ivan Massow wrote with riveting honesty earlier this year (here)?: “Am I the only one to notice that the gay scene today seems obsessed with drugs? Obsessed with sex. Unable to take responsibility for its part in the spread of HIV. Inhabiting a soulless and empty world of hedonism… We the gay community are becoming a group of people who suddenly have everything and nothing, all at once… It’s a miserable way to live. Chemically-induced highs and kids addicted to ‘chem-sex’ is all fake b****cks. B****cks that leads to depression and, frequently, death. B****cks that is just plain boring and ultimately empty.”

AfterTheBallThen, to show things were just the same on the gay scene yesterday, read After The Ball published before you were born by gay authors Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen (here). With similar searing honesty they tell us “the gay lifestyle – not our sexuality but our lifestyle – is the pits” (p 276), and then for 60 pages give us chapter and verse exactly why – the pathological lying (p 280), the rejection of morality (p 289), the narcissism and self-centred behaviour (p 295), the HIV/AIDS-inducing contempt for ‘safe sex’ (p 299), the self-indulgence and self-destruction (p 302), the fear of aging and loss of youthful looks (p 317), the transience of relationships (p 318), the drugs and heavy drinking (p 336). “(T)he fast-lane lifestyle leads to exhaustion and dissatisfaction, loudly expressed, by gays who feel that ‘something is missing’, that their lives are ‘empty’ – as indeed they are: of health; of peace of mind; of contentment; of love; of genuine interconnection with others” (p 305).

Is this really the world into which you want to lead your young fans Tom?

With much concern for you and for other young people, and wishing you a really happy Christmas whether you are at home in Plymouth or with Dustin Lance Black in Hollywood,

Yours

Alan Craig

Joy In Jos

Over the past couple of years I’ve twice visited Jos in central Nigeria (here) and (here) and was overwhelmed by the tragedy of a formerly prosperous peaceful city being torn apart by Islamist incursion and violence from the Sharia states to the north. Fear and hostility were endemic; the compassion, courage and vibrancy of the Christians I met was a light in an increasingly fraught dark place.

One source of such light is an orphanage called Lambiri Outreach run by the formidable Mrs Gloria Kwashi, wife of the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, Ben. They have up to 40 (yes forty) children living in their home and in addition she runs a day school with 450 on its roll. I visited the school during my first visit and at the insistence of Mrs Kwashi gave each of the destitute kids their bowl of rice for lunch – the only meal of the day for some she told me – and had one for myself. It was heart-warming and heart-breaking stuff. Normally in Nigeria orphans are looked after by their wider extended family, but many of these are victims of the atrocities and have no other family.

Early last month I attended a Church of Nigeria conference (here) at the impressive national cathedral in Abuja with its extraordinary rotating altar and pulpit. The Church of Nigeria is part of the world-wide Anglican Communion, is rapidly growing with currently some 18 million members and is an example of vitality and commitment to the Gospel that declining Anglican churches in the West would do well to emulate. Nigerian Anglicans make mistakes no doubt and their enthusiastic worship is too loud for restrained English ears, but theirs is the mess and noise of the nursery not the morgue.

I emailed ahead to Mrs Kwashi to enquire if she would welcome supplies from the UK for her orphans – clothes, games, toys and sweets, I thought – as I was coming to Nigeria. “Children’s Christian books,” was the prompt reply. It was a quiet rebuke and reminder: the spiritual is as important as the material even when (especially when) like her you’re on the front line of the battle against poverty and violence. Mrs Kwashi has been horribly assaulted during a Muslim attack on their home yet she radiates joy, laughter – and the freedom that comes from forgiving her attackers.

We rapidly raised funds from fellow members of Highway Church (here), raided the CLC Bookshop near St Paul’s Cathedral and in due course I found myself presenting a suitcase-full of colourful Bible literature to the security scanner at Heathrow’s massive Terminal 5 en route to Abuja. From Abuja the books were couriered 100 miles by road to Jos to be received apparently with joy and gratitude. “I wish you saw (the children’s) excitement,” emailed Mrs Kwashi.

In 2010 after my first visit I helped set up LoveJos (here), an organisation whose prime aim is to raise awareness among Nigerians living in the UK about the Islamist war on the church in northern and central Nigeria. Most Nigerian Christians in Britain come originally from the south and many seem unaware or unconcerned. So as well as prayer meetings, LoveJos has also arranged a conference, organised a vigil outside the Nigerian High Commission, distributed information leaflets and remembered the Nigerian persecuted with the first annual LoveJos carol service earlier this month.

This last was an encouraging affair. Held at St John’s Stratford – the church at the heart of Christian hospitality and outreach during this summer’s Olympics in east London – the service was attended by more than 150 and included videos of Mrs Kwashi’s kids singing carols and reading Bible passages for us in Hausa, the majority language in northern Nigeria. You can watch highlights (here).

The carollers at St Johns were concerned, prayerful and generous, and as a result we were able to transfer £1,000 to Jos. Small beer of course considering the need across northern Nigeria, but hopefully a significant support for Zambiri Outreach children.

Our prayer is that the funds will be used to bring them some joy this Christmas. Faced with the on-going terrorist threat and grief and depravation, there’s not a lot for them to smile about.

Our gifts and books about Jesus will bring some vital love and excitement to their lives no doubt. But for the orphans as for us, real hope and joy are with Christ himself whose birth we celebrate tomorrow.

Islam – The 16 Minute Religion?

A colleague warned me tersely, “Beware; SOAS ISoc is full of radicals.”

I’d been invited to speak last Friday to the Islamic Society at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS – the “world’s leading centre” for the study of subjects relating to Asia, Africa and the Middle East (here)) in central London, and he was concerned I was walking into a lions’ den full of bearded Islamic fundamentalists.

I didn’t mind if I was, but in the event the ISoc members were friendly guys who, if they had beards at all, they were more designer stubble than fist-length.

They invited me to talk about “What I would like Muslims to know about Christianity”. The ISoc organisers had outsourced the Islamic side of the discussion to an outfit called Muslim Debate Initiative (here) whose leading light, Sami Zaatari, was similarly asked to tell the meeting what he would like Christians to know about Islam.

I looked forward to the opportunity to talk full-length about Truth, Love and Jesus Christ – but I was also fascinated by Sami’s conundrum. I’ve engaged with MDI before, having debated in the past with both Sami – who is courteous and serious-minded – and Abdullah al Andalusi and having crossed swords with English convert Paul Williams when, nauseatingly, he salivated on his blog about the “hot-topic” of executing apostates (here). Suddenly exposed and embarrassed by his adopted Islamic morality, he was forced to take down his post.

MDI is seen as a fundamentalist organisation by progressive Muslims and certainly MDI’s usual debating tactics are taken from the confrontational ‘attack-is-the-best-form-of-defence’ school. They prefer to critique the beliefs of opponents (Christians, atheists or anyone else) than to justify Islam. Although limited, there’s nothing wrong with that method during formal debates where part of the skill is to not only persuade the audience of the strength of your own position but also to highlight the weakness of your opponent’s.

But ISoc’s meeting on Friday was not a debate. Rather, the organisers made clear, Sami and I were each to be given 25 minutes to explain our respective faiths and then we were simply to answer questions from the audience. Sami was not to talk about Christianity and I wouldn’t discuss Islam.

This, I predicted to friends, would be a problem for him. Sami is an arch-exponent of the MDI attack-dog approach; he’s never more comfortable than when he is attempting to stick the knife into Christianity. Yet SOAS ISoc was limiting him to one-sidedly promoting Islam.

And he had another problem: in its fundamentalist form Islam is a parasitical religion – like a tick on a dog but more so. It doesn’t have the spiritual, moral or intellectual capacity to stand alone and subsist by itself. Rather it has to have an ‘other’ from which it can suck life and vitality and against which it can measure and express itself. It cannot live peaceably alongside others. It defines itself by hostility to the ‘other’ which it has to take over, suck dry and either dominate or destroy, if necessary by force.

That’s why, globally, wherever fundamentalist Islam arrives on the scene, inevitably in due course there is conflict. Central Nigeria illustrates this dynamic: Jos, for decades a peaceful and popular Christian-majority city, is currently being torn apart by the influx of hard-line Islam from the Sharia states of the Hausa and Fulani north (here).

So given the spiritual and intellectual poverty of his Islam, what would Sami talk about? He had an uninterrupted 25-minute opportunity to promote his beliefs in front of a friendly attentive audience; what would he tell them?

In the event of course, not a lot. Precluded from his default position of attacking Christianity, he spoke for just 16 minutes about Islam… and then dried up. Despite all his speaking experience and all his commitment to his religion, he had nothing more to say. When the ISoc moderator indicated he had another 9 minutes to speak, he declined.

His lack of words summed up the emptiness of his Islam, truly a belief system worth only 16 minutes.

Happy Christ-mas!

Attitude Of Gratitude

As yet another longest night comes and goes, another Christmas Day passes and another year draws to a close, it seems it is progressively easier each year to discount the glittering lights, the endless partying and the rampant commercialism of the Christmas season and to concentrate instead on the real meaning of the Christmas event.

For me of course it’s to do with the world-transforming event a long time ago in Bethlehem when Christ was born in a manger, and on a silent holy night – while shepherds watched their flocks and the herald angels sang – God became one of us.

But for me also this Christmas once again there has been a profound awareness of the unmerited privilege of living amongst the peace and prosperity of the UK in 2009 when the vast majority of our fellow residents on the globe live in poverty and in war-zones, with famine and without basic essentials, under brutal dictatorships and suffering persecution. There’s a lot wrong with cynical, selfish Britain including our own share of poverty, loneliness and hopelessness, but North Korea, Sudan, Haiti, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe this isn’t.

And just as Christianity provided the necessary spiritual, moral and ethical soil for the flowering of the UK’s (and Europe’s) past vibrancy, creativity and organisational ability that led in turn to our present affluence, so – as even atheist Matthew Parris noted last Christmas (here) – Africa (and by extension every other poverty-stricken and corrupt nation) needs Christ. Such countries – and I would argue all countries – need Him now, they need Him for the long term and they need Him in a big way.

However, that’s not the point of this post. Rather it’s an appeal for a dose of public gratitude for our privileges that could renew our political life and move us on from the present cynical culture of asserting rights and claiming victimhood. Thankfulness towards an ‘other’ would shift our collective attention away from the small-minded self-centredness that cripples us and onto that ‘other’ – onto God if you are religious, or perhaps onto previous generations who gave and sacrificed and provided the basis of our present privileged circumstances if you’re not. Either way, gratitude for what we have been given by the ‘other’ would lift our eyes from ourselves to a more optimistic vision of a more generous future, as gratitude leads in turn to giving.

Maybe we ought to introduce an annual North American-style National Day of Thanksgiving. Held in Canada on the second Monday of October and in the US on the fourth Thursday of November, this holiday was originally religious in nature, to express thanks to God for the harvest. It has since become secular holiday when families get together for Thanksgiving dinner with turkey – a sort of additional secular Christmas but without the commercialism – but there is still an underlying tone of gratitude and generosity.

After all, anything that lifts the UK from its long-term pit of pessimism, suspicion and cynicism would be helpful.

Meanwhile, Happy New Year!

Meeting the Christ-child

All was still and dark and, illuminated by the street lamps, a thick white frost lay on the cars in the road outside. Inside the house was quiet, the family in bed.

It was 5.30am and I crept downstairs for my early morning devotions. I had been increasingly burdened by the human tragedies that are filling our newspapers and TV screens. Mass murder and rape and the avoidable cholera outbreak of epidemic proportions amongst the grinding poverty of DR Congo and Zimbabwe; rocketing unemployment and home repossessions in the UK together with a series of individual tales of sickening human brutality such as the Baby P and ‘British Fritzl’ cases – wherever you look there seems to be unspeakable cruelty and unrelieved gloom.

I inserted Aled Jones’ The Christmas Album into the CD player and the hushed, almost haunting sound of his lone tenor voice gently filled the room. He sang the French carol ‘O Holy Night’ and a peace warmed my heart. ‘Long lay the world in sin and error pining, til He appeared and the soul felt its worth. O Holy Night… it is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.’

The world was created a beautiful place, yet through sin and error, selfishness, greed and violence, humankind is destroying the environment and killing the people.

Yet there is hope, and it’s got nothing to do with financial bailouts, humanitarian aid programmes, a possible Copenhagen climate change deal or urgent United Nations resolutions about central and southern Africa.

It’s got everything to do with the Christ-child whose virgin birth we celebrate on 25th December. God hasn’t gone absent or given up on us despite our own best efforts to destroy ourselves and His creation. Instead through His Son He entered the world and became part of His own creation in order to rescue us from our own folly, stupidity and worse.

There in the Christ-child lies hope, real hope. In Jesus’ life, death and subsequent resurrection lies the real rescue plan that makes Gordon Brown’s well-intentioned efforts to “save the world” (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article5319124.ece) through jaw-dropping amounts of government borrowing look a little inadequate.

This Christmas we’ve got an opportunity to raise our eyes from the frailty and fragility of the Prime Minister’s plans – and even from the forthcoming Presidential inauguration of the latest political messiah Barak Obama – and look to Someone who is infinitely more reliable and competent at the rescue business.

Happy Christ-mas!