Friday, 22 April 2016

The Sally's efforts to feed and comfort the needy Near and far...

The Salvation Army receives 10,000 letters every year. Maj. Martin Hill tells Paul that every single one will get a Response. Paul chooses a Letter from a mum worried about her daughter. Sarah is a Teacher’s assistant with three kids. She is living in Poverty despite this and has to rely on food banks to fed her family. 

There  are  now One thousand Food banks across the country. 

Captains  Emma and Matthew welcome Paul to the one in Croydon, where Sarah visits. Here even the local school makes donations and the shelves are well stocked, particularly with Baked Beans of which there  appears to be a glut!

The Salvation Army has been Feeding people since their inception.Through both World Wars and also working constantly in food kitchens’s for the homeless . Food Banks though are a relative new project, the first in the UK set up in 2000, now seven Hundred Salvation Army sponsored sites give emergency food from community churches and the recipients are now far more likely to be working people who are struggling to feed their families, rather than the stereo typical idea of addicts and benefits recipients. 

Emma and Matthew are at pains to stress that there should be no shame in approaching a Food bank for assistance.

Paul and Sarah  sit down for a well deserved cuppa. Sarah’s problems started eight years ago, she spilt from her partner who left her. She fell into rent  arrears and had to be evicted, she was placed in bed and breakfast for  six months,three months of which was in a single room with her three children. When one day she could not even afford Milk and bread. She broke down and approached the Food  Bank. She says she had been given pause because she was Proud, but also because she was working and getting some state assistance, she felt there were many people in more need than her.

The food parcel she receives costs about £40  for her family of four. She has learnt to stretch the provision by drinking  hot chocolate and tea  and eating porridge to suppress her own hunger so she can skip meals to ensure the children get the most from the parcel.

When you consider that TB has returned to the UK and people are becoming prey to malnutrition, you realised that Modern Britain is no better of than the time of the Victorians and the reason the Army was started in the first place.

Jo is very pleased with Paul for stopping Sarah from feeling that shame and for the way he treats her with Respect so she can maintain her Dignity.

After meeting the Commissioner in Central London, Paul is tasked with getting involved with some of the most harrowing work he might have to face in this whole project.

Greece and the Refugee Crisis.

Paul and Captain Jo have been despatched to Athens to see the reality of the effect  the Refugee Crisis is having on the already poor country, who are weathering their own financial Crisis whilst still dealing with the crisis of the sea of Humanity pouring into the country by the thousands every day. 
They had been told to be prepared, but I do not think either of them were fully cognisant of what they were about to encounter.

Three Thousand people are coming into Greece and many congregate at  Victoria Square, escaping Syria and Afghanistan and getting some respite  before travelling onwards.

Almost from the moment they touch down, they join Maj. Maria Galinou and her team of volunteers who are making up packets of sandwiches for the families on the square, simple bread , cheese and meat sandwiches are a lifeline for these desperate folk ,just seeking rest before travelling on.

The team make about 1000 sandwiches daily  and have been for the last six months. Maria tells Paul that they mostly aim to get to Sweden and Germany. She says very few are planning on coming into the UK, rather debunking the common misconception that we are about to be inundated by hordes. 

Putting himself in their position, Paul cannot even fathom putting himself in the path of traffickers and being separated from family and friends. 

There are two working Toilets and only  one place with running water. Maria smiles, she has the Lord so she does not despair, but Paul thinks they will need more than Faith to get through the day. As soon as they enter the square there is a Tense atmosphere, maybe the people are not used to kindness. All these people are Sleeping, eating  and having to use the toilet in 72 degree heat. Paul spies a small baby  on a bench. 

Another family from Afghanistan saw members beheaded, it took strength to travel this far, but with violent death as an alternative, I see the reason they are willing to journey on. 

A third man has five kids, none of them have eaten for two nights.

Once the supply of sandwiches has been exhausted. Maria gets  milk from the car and the scramble from young Fathers getting milk for small children is heartbreaking. Babies and small children are everywhere in the square and the sheer number of kids, hits Paul hardest. 

The volunteers want to return some joy to these little faces and donations from home are a lovely way to do that. They are given little rucksacks and gifts donated by  British kids, little notes  inside say things like , “we are thinking of you “and “good luck “and the simplicity of the gifts  is really touching, they are things we take for granted here in the UK.  Little socks, biscuits, dolls and teddies. Their little faces are so moving, even when it is crayons or  toothbrushes. To Paul it seems like a pebble in the ocean, but I can see the merit in raising just one smile in these awful circumstances.

It is easy to forget this is Athens, the capital.People going about their business, eating in the restaurants and going to work as usual as the crisis unfolds in their midst. One woman is very vocal in her anger at having “Strangers” in the square,  she wants Refugees and volunteers alike to leave and Paul is not backward in coming forward in expressing his frustration at her railing.

Even stalwart, Cheerful, Chatty Captain Jo cannot help but be affected by the situations some of these people have come from and are willing to trial under to protect their families from worse at home. She is upset by the aggression from Greeks telling the Refugees to  go home. She asks how we would feel if something were to befall the United Kingdom, wouldn’t we expect to be taken in, given refuge, treated as human beings?

Paul explains it perfectly, these are not rats or cockroaches, but human beings with hopes and dreams. They do not want to leave their homes to be treated as detritus and something to be feared or worse Loathed, they just want safety for their families.

Paul has yet again shown how large his heart is and proven that his gift for making  people comfortable is boundless.

The Subjects of  food banks and the Migrant Crisis in Greece are topics I have touched before here at Screenwipe.  Links to those are included below should the inclination be yours to learn more..

Thursday, 21 April 2016

The Sally Army - viewpoint

Regular visitors to my blog space will know that I have already written about the Refugee Crisis in Greece  and  also the subject of Food banks and so I will  leave links to those for you to seek the blogs too if your interest is piqued by the subjects. after learning about Paul’s experiences in the next instalment of the series.

Rather than follow the episode through chronologically, I thought I would start the blog with the most contentious area in the hour long programme., which was Paul’s  questions  to The Commissioner , the highest ranking officer in the Salvation Army; about the Salvation Army’s membership and the strict way membership is controlled, excluding certain behaviours  and so members of society is actually a sobering part of the programme.

The answers Paul gets in relation to  Homosexuals becoming soldiers are very stark, that it is just not something that aligns with the rules of enlistment. It saddens me. I think had he have chosen to Paul, would have been a wonderful addition to the Ranks, but it got me to thinking so I did some research on the more negative things thrown at the Sally Army and have penned this subjective and personal sidebar to the blog series;  focusing on my reactions to some of the complaints levelled  at the Sally.

In the interests of fairness , I picked three random articles from the Internet to see what was being laid at The Sally Army’s Door and it at first reading it  seems to be pretty damning stuff.

The Largest component appears to be the suggestion that there is a particular condemnation of the LGBT community and that they claim that Homosexuals should die. A particularly damning article was doing the rounds just before Christmas on Facebook. 

Now I find this area exceptionally tricky myself because I became a Christian relatively late and had spent extensive time whilst at college, in the company of Gay,Lesbian  and Bisexual people and several remain firm friends even today,  so the passages about Men not lying with another Man always cause a pangs in  my conscience  because I could never judge or condemn for What I consider to be not choices, but just a part of their make up.

I balance this by just examining the core teachings of Jesus and the Bible that says that not a single human being is without sin in the eyes of God, but that through attempting to model Jesus, we go some of the way in repaying the debt that Jesus paid in the Cross for each of us sinners. 

When you look at what Army literature actually says there is no singling out of LGBT at all  and that it is all behaviours  that affront God, which  are potentially stopping the path to a closer and more meaningful relationship with Him and so lead to Spiritual “Death”

We each have behaviours that go against the teachings of the Bible, some of us even exhibit behaviours that go against the of the law of the land. Each are fully cognisant of their areas of weakness even if the do not openly own up to them. We are in fact just flawed creatures. I would not presume to judge anyone for their humanity and actually when you get down to the nitty gritty neither does the Salvation Army. 

Salvation Army members do not believe, and would never endorse, a view that homosexual activity should result in any form of physical punishment. The Salvationist Handbook of Doctrine does not state that practising homosexuals should be put to death and, in fact, urges all Salvationists to act with acceptance, love and respect to all people. The Salvation Army teaches that every person is of infinite value, and each life a gift from God to be cherished, nurtured and preserved

There is not a questionnaire at the door of services that decrees if you are homosexual, a thief, a drunk or have a violent temper that you cannot come inside, in fact you will find that the Salvation Army is welcoming to all , in particular those on the fringes of society.

Do they set a standard for their  officers? Yes! which is why the training appears to be so extensive.  It would seem that smoking and Drinking are a No No, but then all Religious groups set criteria or rules of some kind  for their leaders and trying to set a higher standard for yourself seems a reasonable thing in of itself if you are trying to set an example.

 If you are trying to help people out of addictions it would seem hypocritical to be  preaching about self control and self respect whilst puffing on a ciggie or quaffing a can of Lager, but if you are a volunteer at the sharp end, a little empathy or experience can be a valuable thing.

Respect for any  person’s moral position starts by examining their standards surely? When a person is then representing a faith organisation they should thus try to conform to the intrinsic values of it’s teachings, but as Humans God knows we are not infallible. Which is why the lady at the youth house does not wear the uniform so as not to sully the “ articles of war”

It does not stop her doing the good works of the organisation or from attending worship services, but her integrity prevents her donning the uniform as a smoker.

Let us not forget that the Salvation Army is not actually a religious denomination it is a faith based Charity that runs church services for the community.. Yes they seek to save souls, but to my mind they also put their money where their mouth is and roll up their sleeves and take action to help the meek and the vulnerable however they choose to live their lives.

Whilst I believe that The LGBT community are being excluded unfairly, I can see to some extent why the rule is there. No church is perfect or else we would not have need of one in the first place, humans are flawed whenever they gather in groups , even in the name of God!

The second argument I found was that  the Sally Army is involved in the despised  workfare scheme introduced  by the British Department for Work and Pensions.

Workfare requires jobseekers to undertake "work experience" for up to 30 hours a week over four weeks. The work is unpaid and the experience of uncertain value, but failure to complete a placement means forfeiting benefits. The argument in the Guardian article I found is that Workfare is coercive and  of dubious legality, in that those enrolled on the scheme can't reclaim docked benefits. 

The guardian terms this as a  moral swamp, but it's one the Salvation Army claims to be getting involved out of Charity not for gain. 

"As a locally-based church and charity, devoted to serving God and showing unconditional Christian love to all, we offer support to help people become job-ready, to get a job and to stay in work," says a statement on the Salvation Army's website. "As such, we are involved in the work programme…" 

The Guardian  reporter states that the second part of that statement doesn't follow from the first: the Salvation Army could help people become "job-ready" in any number of ways that don't involve workfare.

“It could offer interview coaching and support with applications. It could provide volunteer (rather than compulsory) work experience placements. It could do so many things that don't make it complicit in a scheme that undermines both the autonomy of individuals in need and the underlying principles of the welfare state.”

I would argue they already do. I think the Salvation Army are working within the parameters of the DWP schemes because it means folk still get their benefits. 
They will be more the cognisant of the effect that being on a low income has when benefits are cut and their involvement in soup kitchens and Foodbanks  help to counteract benefits sanctions.

Voluntary work is worthy and why much of the good work the army does comes about, but it does not always instil good working practices in younger participants looking to use it as a stepping stone  into  work. For youngsters with no previous work experience, the compulsory nature of the scheme actually mirrors the realities of working life, if you do not attend, you do not get paid. 

I know of one young man in my personal sphere who would have given up the job search ages ago had it not been for the compulsory nature of these schemes. A regular truant with no qualifications at school level, and  a serial further education college student, he has very few life skills and no work experience at all. Without compulsory work experience he has little chance of finding gainful employment.

The argument is that participants will feel less worth for having been “forced” to work within the scheme, however if I were to be looking to any organisation for instilling a feeling of worthiness and value within society, it would be the Salvation Army as it has a proven record of this  in all it’s areas of work.

I would also argue that their work with Young homeless in particular, is a additional layer of support for the jobless, they encourage study and develop talents already inherent in youngsters as evidenced in the second show on the Paul O’Grady programme.

The biggest problem I see in the current jobless numbers is the fact that young people are being disenfranchised because the older generation is having to remain in work after retirement age to supplement income into old age, so entry to work is just harder for all young people. This is not a problem with how the Salvation Army or even the Government apply the scheme, but how the Economy is shaping the make up of the workforce. 

Much of the criticism of Salvationists seems to come from the historical treatment of indigenous peoples in Australia or poor monetary management in the USA . Both are nations where super churches and uber pastors seem to have cashed in on Christianity as a business and these misdemeanours are not the result of British HQ edicts, but of local leadership issues in countries that have adopted the Salvation Army; but applied their own standards of behaviour in the development of the church abroad..

Local British citadels are much more intimate in their running and practices with a larger presence in Northern areas where Brass Bands are more accepted and familiar so recruitment from these areas remains more fluid. 

The issue of the cost  of purchase of band instruments seems to have been used to condemn the movement and this  to my mind seems wholly inflated  and a little unfair when I look at the size of my local band and the state of their instruments. Even if the figure of 25% expenditure from donations is correct which I highly doubt,  Army concerts earn good money which  can be shown to be being spent on local projects and are a part of British Culture as well as the Christian landscape in this country. 

I see no difference in the expense of musical instruments and the cost of large scale building of churches in other denominations or the expenditure on the pomp and circumstance of high church Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches worldwide.

I know that all organised religions have their bad apples and undoubtable people acting under their auspices will have strayed far from the tenets of the ideas of the Booths, but I truly believe the demonstrable good that is done by the Salvation Army far outweighs any outdated application of doctrine, business administration errors or other claims of ill treatment in Hostels of the past.  

Modern problems have seen a modern approach by Salvationists who still seek to pull up their sleeves  and where good hearted people are there can only ever be Goodness in response.

Come back again soon to find out more about Paul's experiences in Greece and meeting folk reliant on Foodbanks.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Healthcare Bill brought low by Baseball and lifted by the power of devoted wives of Christ!

As we saw in my Blog Yesterday, the reform of the USA’s  healthcare provision had been a long hard slog. After the strenuous efforts to write a bill likely to pass,The Medicare bill was almost brought down by a throw away quip..

Martha Coakley was  almost a  shoe in , the Democrat candidate in the By Election for Ted Kennedy‘s open seat after he had sadly succumbed to his cancer. However for some unfathomable reason, she antagonised Massachusetts voters.  She insulted Boston Red Sox fans by scorning handshakes outside Fenway Park. The faux pas created a  seismic shift in the power of the parties within the senate giving Republicans 41 votes, enough to stop the health bill in the  upcoming vote.

All of a sudden two things would become integral, Legislative manoeuvres  to get the house to pass the Senate Bill, and  the role of the Pro-Life lobby.

The only way was for the House to pass hated  Provisions in the Senate bill  that would never be supported by House Democrats. This could be immensely Costly to Nancy Pelosi who had to consider her re-elections in the Mid Terms. She knew it was more than likely going to be harmful.  Some Big Hitters were considering a Piecemeal approach. But Pelosi was not for backing down.

Pelosi came up with an Ingenious plan, Special bills that saved the Government  money could be passed by  51 Senate Democrats, so a number of the objections were taken out of the Bill and  placed on a list. If fifty one people agree to pass those provisions on a signed document, the Bill would pass.

Harry Reid promised the letter  with fifty one names on it pledging to pass the thornier elements, but they would  remain anonymous. The letter was never made public, but taken on faith the group agreed.

Obama took the fight right to the Republicans and appeared in a televised speech at the Republican Party Retreat. Retreat  leaders walked him in but body language made it clear they were exceptionally uncomfortable to have him in their midst.

Frank Luntz , the author of the “Government Takeover” sound bite cited in my last blog  that had so severely damaged the early attempts to pass the bill was called out.  The President read him accurately  and turned his Taking notes about  how to respond  the President’s Speech to show the way that Partisan point scoring had overtaken good policy development.

Two hundred and Eighteen House  Democrats  were needed to pass the bill  Bart Stupak was against abortions and led a small group of pro lifers who agreed that all government funding should be banned from Abortions. 

 Obama had categorically stated at the very outset that no government dollars would be used for this, but they had hoped to keep abortion completely out of the health debate. The  Republicans were more than happy to join the fight. John Boehmer  was at pains to speak about his Eleven Siblings at meetings. Bart Stupak had penned an Amendment to the bill that effectively would  stop  private abortion coverage even if not funded within the terms of the bill. Obama's advisors knew he Needed to be seen to accommodate the concerns of the pro life contingent.

Obama was convinced to meet  the head of the Catholic Health Association, Sister Carol, who was ultimately convinced by the President on his intent for the bill and agreed  to help and began talks with the Catholic Priests represented by Cardinal Francis George to broker a deal that would help the bill be passed.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops were not so moveable, meeting with Archbishop she  had wanted a joint letter uniting the church behind the bill. Help the Poor, George deliberately delayed so the letter did not get to her.Then  a tiny column in  A church periodical caused a massive furore.

The media played nuns of the  CHA (who had empirical experience of the problems in healthcare provision and who were on the sharp end when it came to measurable assistance) against Priests whose lofty Proclamations seemed archaic to all other than committed Catholics ,creating an artificial rift in the church and making  it untenable for Bart Stupak who supported the bill as a democrat and knew that the Bishops ultimatum that he veto the bill entirely would leave him out in the cold meaning he would have no health bill or a guarantee on life issues. His coalition had dwindled to six souls

On vote day John Boehner declared the coming of Armageddon, that passing  the bill would destroy the country. The Bill passed with 220 votes. Obama states it was the proudest day of his life, surpassing even the day of his election, saying that you seek Public  Office for what you can DO with it, not for it’s own sake.

The Backlash from the Galvanised Tea Party element of the Republican Party meant a drastic shift in the House of Representatives and the resulting Gridlock on many issues has proven massively damaging to the Democrats ability to actually get a lot done. 

The “cross hairs” advert advocated by Tea apart Stalwart Sarah Palin, that  put Gabby Giffords and other Democrats in the” firing line” from Tea Party  candidates proved Darkly Portentous .

Three  days after John Boehner took up his oversized Gavel as Speaker in Congress,Gabby Giffords was shot in the head, losing mobility and much of her speech and Six other people tragically died.
Since then Republicans have tried six times to repeal “Obamacare”