RealityBites blog

Breaking the Mould

A guest post from author and schoolsworker, David Skivington (@DavidSkivington).

What does a simple clay cup have to do with oppression? While it may seem of little significance, the tradition linked to these objects has served to reinforce caste-based discrimination for centuries. Traditionally in parts of India, after a member of the Dalit caste had drank from the cup, they were expected to smash it to prevent a member of a higher caste accidentally using the same vessel and becoming polluted by the lower caste. This simple act around the common activity of drinking chai served as a daily reminder of their place within the constrictive societal hierarchy.

The Dalits were previously known as untouchables or out-castes due to their position outside of the four main castes of the Hindu caste system. However, they chose the name Dalit for their group to represent how they felt about themselves. The word is originally from the Sanskrit language, translated as 'broken' or 'ground down’' much like the clay pots surrounding the chai stalls. Historically Dalits have been denied basic rights such as an education, entry to police stations or places of worship and even access to water. These practices of untouchability and caste discrimination are banned within India's constitution, yet despite many laws these practices still occur, leading to the feeling of brokenness among many.

However, this view is slowly changing. The Dalits have become empowered in many ways, including increased political representation. My MA Development Studies dissertation at the UEA focused on Mayawati's election to Chief Minster of Uttar Pradesh, the first Dalit woman to hold the post in any Indian state. This indicates the changes which are slowly occurring in India, increasing the pride within the Dalit people.

An interesting example I saw of this changing attitude was through a charity called Life Association. They work alongside skilled Dalit potters in the Dharavi slum of Mumbai, taking their work, marketing and selling it as a high end gift item in Britain. This provides valuable work for the potters and their families at a fair price.The profits also fund schools, orphanages and a home for disabled children in India. Through the education provided, the children are able to learn about their rights as citizens as well as increasing their employability.

What is it the potters produce and sell? Clay pots! Instead of drinking from them they are transformed into candles and filled with scented beeswax by Dalit women that the charity employ. Something which was once used to remind Dalits of their lowly place in society is now giving them an income to educate their children and create a better future. These candles are more than just a product, they are a vehicle of change for the Dalit people.

So, what does a simple clay cup have to do with oppression? Less now that it has been reclaimed as a symbol of freedom.

Using my experience – I recently completed my debut crime thriller novel Scar Tissue which is set in Kolkata, while volunteering in Andhra Pradesh. I had previously volunteered in Kolkata, and was approached by human traffickers offering me young girls for sex. This shocking experience led me to research the issue of human trafficking, particularly within India which is estimated to have nearly half of the world’s slaves. The novel is written as a way of raising awareness on sex trafficking and caste based discrimination and is available on amazon.

I am currently working on my second novel which is based on the practice of the Devadasi, temple prostitution, within the state of Andhra Pradesh. It is due to be released this summer.

RealityBites feedback

I was thrilled to get this feedback to one of our lectures at the ITEC conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Hello Mark,

We met at the end of the ITEC conference. I spoke to you to thank you for your 'Cannibalism, Faith in Progress and 20th Century Mass Murder' talk at the conference. You asked me to make contact via email – hence this email!

As I mentioned, I found your talk to be a wonderful inspiration for me as a teacher of senior Modern History. I have been challenged to completely rethink the way that I approach bringing a Christian perspective to bear when teaching the Reign of Terror to my Year 11 class. I was impacted by the discussion of the impact of Rousseau's ideology on French thought and culture, and then on the whole of modern history into the 20th century. Your stories and humour explained so clearly how we have reached the point of believing that evil is located in other people – not in every human heart. This is a question that all students have -how can such evil happen? Where did such ideas come from? I now feel more equipped to know how to approach explaining the progression of such ideas to my students.

I have been particularly inspired to try to use such stories as a way into the ideas – as you showed can be done.

Thanks again, Mark. I pray that God will continue to inspire and use you to grow the kingdom in many ways, and to impact others to enable them to do the same.

RealityBites Nominated for Jerusalem Award

We are delighted to inform you that RealityBites director Mark Roques has been shortlisted for a Jerusalem Award 2015 in the category of Short Form Radio.

The feature was entitled Football and Faith and here follows a bit of background about the radio spot.

The World Cup attracts huge global attention and so last year I teamed up with ReachBeyond's UK radio department Whistling Frog Productions to create a feature about some of the fascinating connections between football and faith.

The five minute package was broadcast last year across the UKRD commercial radio network (16 stations across England) on 6th July – a week before the World Cup Final.

Having written a book about football – Fields of God: Football and the Kingdom of God in 2003 I wanted to say that God loves the beautiful game and that one day we will play football on the renewed and restored earth. This view of the afterlife is strikingly different from the traditional story of heaven that seriously distorts the biblical theme of creation. Too often Christians focus upon 'heaven' and 'souls' and this has created much mischief in Christian circles. It makes God boring and Christianity otherworldly and irrelevant.

RealityBites is committed to innovative communication of the Christian faith and part of this work includes telling the biblical story in a faithful and imaginative way.

God is certainly not boring and he shines in all that is good and this includes sport and even football.

RealityBites and Mission to Students in Leeds

This June RealityBites director, Mark Roques, was invited to deliver his workshop on Celebrity Culture, Human Trafficking and Christian Faith in a mission week at Notre Dame Catholic Sixth Form College in Leeds.

Mark delivered four one hour lessons to about 100 sixth formers and the feedback from both staff and pupils was excellent. One teacher opined – "this is 'spot on' and exactly what these young people need to hear". Peter Smith, the Head of Philosophy, Theology and Ethics said that the lectures had been "fantastic’"

What is distinctive about RealityBites is the compare and contrast methodology that works so powerfully in any missionary context. For this was a mission week and proclamation of Christian truth was an essential part of the proceedings.

We are convinced that young people need to understand the dominant western religion of consumerism ('Tesco ergo sum') as they engage with a gospel message. We do this by comparing Christian and consumerist beliefs.

We outline how committed consumerists (Katie Price etc) live in their story and then how Christians (Randy Lewis etc) live in the biblical story with Jesus at the very centre. For this is faith in action… stories that shock, puzzle and delight.

Consider the contrast between Tarzan, the human trafficker and Shay Cullen the missionary priest who rescues children from brothels and prisons in the Philippines. Ponder how Mark explained the consumerist view of 'salvation': "Abundant money and leisure will allow me to consume as much as I like. Then I will be happy!" and then outlined the Christian alternative: "God is restoring His creation through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus. Your sins can be wiped out!"

RealityBites is committed to innovative communication of the Christian faith, and we do ask for your prayers as we go into schools and talk to young people about God's kingdom of reconciliation, peace and love.

Next month we will be in Newcastle.


Factories, Joy and the Kingdom

Wouldn't it be brilliant if Christians were well known for creating the best factories, offices and work places in the UK? How easy it would be to talk about God's kingdom if we could point to an abundance of stories like this:

Julia Turner is absolutely thrilled with her factory job at the American equivalent of Boots the Chemist – Walgreens. You might be surprised to learn that Julia has Down's Syndrome. She is one of the many disabled people who have jobs they love – all because of the vision of one man who had a baptised imagination – Randy Lewis.

"I tell you what — I love this job!" she said. "I'm happy, I'm contented. I've got people all around me who are the best friends I've ever had in the whole world."

She was asked by the bus driver – "Did you have a good day?". She answered "I had a wonderful day."

It is Julia's joy in her work that is so striking. Meaningful, well-paid work has also brought her friendships and a loving community.

Why aren't Christians more interested in bringing God's kingdom into the work place? Have we become so 'heavenly-minded' that we lose interest in what goes on in 'down-to-earth' factories, warehouses and offices?

RealityBites in the Costa del Sol

Last month Anne and I celebrated thirty years of marriage. We wanted a break and so we booked a holiday with Club La Costa World which is located in Fuengirola on the south coast of Spain. Truth be told we got a fantastic discount of 80% which made the gig very affordable.

We had a wonderful time relaxing by the pool and visiting Grenada and Ronda but we had to pay our pound of flesh! We had to spend four hours of the holiday listening to a skilled and persuasive salesman who waxed lyrical about the delights of time shares in Club La Costa. To be frank I was dreading this phase of the holiday but it turned out to be the best moment of our time in sunny Spain.

Frank (not his real name) picked us up in his posh car and took us to a restaurant on the resort. He asked Anne about her work and she told him about working with traumatised asylum seekers as a therapist. Anne asked him about his life and he explained that he had been a soldier in Afghanistan for many years and still suffered sleepless nights mulling over the horrors of war. Anne was delighted to find out that Frank was fluent in Pashtu and Farsi! Frank looked 'emotional' as we probed him about his life and work experiences.

Frank then asked me about my work and I told him a bit about RealityBites. I told him about Randy Lewis and his baptised imagination – employing thousands of autistic and disabled people at Walgreens. I told him several heartwarming 'faith in action' stories and he seemed delighted and intrigued.

When we got to the sales pitch both of us were struck by the endless references to luxury hotels, meals, massages and the 'five star' treatment. We explained to Frank that we had no wish to live in this kind of luxury 'story'. He told us that he had never met anybody who had a well-thought out critique of his pitch. I told him the 'parable' about the rich man who spent all his holiday complaining about the shoddy 25 year old malt whiskey in his luxury suite. He smiled and told me that all of his customers were like that!

I then outlined the consumerist 'way of life' and told him that we didn’t live in that story! He paused reflectively and told us that he had never met people like us before!

He told us about one of his clients who offered to fight him (bare knuckles) and if Frank won the 'punch-up' he would automatically sign up for the time share 'deal'! Frank contended that many of his clients were rude and 'nasty' people. He told us twice that it was an honour and a privilege to meet us! He confided in us that we were the only clients who had ever taken an interest in him! I was astonished to hear him saying this.

In the final moments of our time together he said something quite odd. He blurted out – "Muhammed didn't come back from the dead but with Isa (Jesus) it was different! He has no tomb". I was then able to talk to Frank about my conversion to Christianity from atheism and the good news of the resurrection.

It's amazing what goes on in the Costa del Sol. It's not all beers, sunbathing and sangria!

Randy Lewis and amazing jobs for disabled people

Randy Lewis was a senior Vice President at Walgreens in the USA. Walgreens is the American equivalent of Boots the Chemist and has over 8000 shops and employs 176,000 people. It has a turnover of $76 billion.

Lewis has an autistic son, Austin and he desperately wanted Austin to have a future and hold down a good job. Previously Walgreens had employed disabled people to do jobs like cleaning toilets and sweeping floors on low wages. Lewis wanted to create meaningful and rewarding jobs for disabled people and so he persuaded Walgreen’s to change the work place… to suit disabled people.

Walgreen's has now designed warehouses where 40% of the employees are disabled. These jobs pay an equal wage to the typically-abled workers and hold all employees to the same standards. Employing disabled people has unleashed incredible creativity and imagination in non-disabled employees.

Julie Willard, a deaf woman employee, said this about Walgreens – "It's my dream to work here!" Angela Mackey, a bright woman with an MA, couldn't get a job because of her cerebral palsey. She said that no one would employ her! Now at Walgreen's she is in charge of the recruitment of disabled people!

Walgreens have also designed new technologies that serve and bless the disabled! In these 'warehouses of wonder' they use images rather than words which help people who struggle to read. So instead of an unimaginative Aisle 14 they will have a strawberry image. This helps people who cannot read numbers.

The HR department has changed many of its policies. When applying for a job a disabled person can bring someone to fill in the application forms etc. What is so exciting is that the company has discovered that disabled people can often outperform non-disabled people. Not only was performance the same (Lewis called in statisticians who studied 400,000 hours of work and proved performance is similar for those with and without disabilities), but in the warehouse, staff turnover was 20% to 50% lower and absenteeism was also down.

Safety costs were also lower for people with disabilities. "Fears about more accidents had come up, but we discovered that deaf forklift drivers – who many companies won't hire – are twice as safe as someone who can hear". said Lewis. "If I could give everyone a piece of advice, it would be to put plugs in the ears of their forklift truck drivers."

What a great example of God's kingdom in action! Randy Lewis has a baptised imagination.

Easter thoughts

A guest post from Bruce Gulland (@BruceGulland) of Reach Beyond (@ReachBeyondUK).

You may recall Ali Burnett's thought-provoking piece Beyond the Bunny just before Easter, about using radio advertising to help get a Christian message across. And you may remember that lovely rabbit pic!

Sticking with the theme of getting something of the good news onto commercial radio, here's some other news of faith-based programming that made it onto the airwaves this Easter, between the ads for carpet sales and cars.

It's not the place you'd first expect to hear material exploring the deeper side of life. You’re more likely to think first of one of the (excellent!) items or programmes on BBC stations – 'Thought for the Day', 'Good Morning Sunday', and so on. But on commercial radio, with its diet of mainstream pop, low-brow chat, and ubiquitous ads? How often do you hear a programme of any sort dealing with faith there?

Well on Easter Sunday morning, on at least 17 commercial stations around the country, you could hear something about Christ and the resurrection. Making quality audio for this area of the media is what we seek to do at Bradford-based Whistling Frog Productions, the UK radio arm of the international media and healthcare mission Reach Beyond.

We produced a short feature called Easter Makeover looking at makeover TV and deeper transformation. We also made Easter Expectations, a set of humorous monologue spots tackling different views of life after death. The first aired on the UKRD network of 16 stations, and the second on Pulse 1 in West Yorkshire. Both feature Mark Roques, who is Director of RealityBites, and adept at relating faith to pop culture.

For years now, with its eye on the bottom line and no obligation to play anything faith-related, mainstream commercial radio has tended to steer well clear. But opportunities do exist – often dependent on the openness of a station or network manager to broadcast such material – and developing a good relationship there. And with significant audiences, particularly in ages and sections of society that may not tune in so much to BBC stations, it’s well worth seizing these opportunities.

A radically different style of radio is called for though. The format is fast-paced, topical and music-driven, so productions work well that combine catchy music and pacy speech or dialogue. It really is a far cry from Thought for the Day. It's also an exciting challenge: creating such a mix that also encourages reflection about God, Jesus and faith in our sceptical society.

Idolatry, Ideology and Islamic State (part 4)

Bob Goudzwaard, a Dutch Christian economist, wrote a brilliant, short book Idols of our Time back in the 1980s. It really is a superb resource for any thinking Christian.

He begins the book with these words:

We live in a world possessed and we know it.

When we focus upon the recent brutalities of ISIS, these words become poignant, powerful and relevant. Biblical norms of justice, love, mercy and forgiveness have been trampled upon as ISIS pursues its goals with extreme force and cruelty.

Goudzwaard argues that when humans become possessed by a goal, ideology is born. Ideology is the way that idolatry seizes the initiative and enslaves individuals, organisations, social structures, political movements and governments today. Ancient pagan people were enslaved to Molech, Baal or Sobek, the crocodile god, but today ideologies have largely replaced these crude pagan deities. In other words, Molech has had extensive plastic surgery!

Goudzwaard identifies four major goals or ends which occupy people around the world today.

  • The resistance of all exploiting and oppressive powers in order to create a better society. This is the ideology of revolution.
  • The survival of one's people or nation: the preservation of one's cultural identity. This is the ideology of nation.
  • The preservation of one's wealth and the opportunity for continued material prosperity. This is the ideology of material prosperity.
  • Guaranteed security: the protection of oneself, one's children, one’s fellow human beings against any attack from outside. This is the ideology of guaranteed security.

Turn on the TV, listen to the news and you will hear many voices that are enslaved to these four pervasive ideologies. Do we discern the idolatry at work?

Idolatry, Ideology and Islamic State (part 3)

Let's focus for a moment upon a key idea – ideology. Ideology is the way in which idolatry affects people today and this includes the soldiers and supporters of IS.

The term 'ideology' was coined by French intellectuals just before the French Revolution. The word means far more than merely a framework of thought. In its original sense ideology refers to an entire system of values, convictions and norms, which are used as a set of tools for reaching a single, concrete, all-encompassing social goal. For the French revolutionaries the goal of overturning the corrupt old regime was so sweeping and decisive that it legitimised in advance every means for reaching that end.

The famous philosopher Rousseau believed passionately in the intrinsic goodness of human beings. He rejected the biblical teaching that humans are sinful and prone to idolatry. This secular mindset was to influence deeply the notorious mass murderer Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794) who led the French revolution into its darkest cruelties by sending thousands of innocent people to the guillotine.

To put it simply, Robespierre believed that the vast majority of the French people were innately good and virtuous. We only need to eliminate the enemies of progress (aristocrats and priests) and – bingo! – a secular paradise would be born.

During the Reign of Terror (1793-94), Paris became a blood bath. People would drink aristocratic blood and pass it around cackling with glee. Children would play with decapitated heads. What the Revolution required was by definition correct. Existing norms and values were emptied, refilled, tainted and warped until they became instruments of the all-embracing goal – "No God and no master".

Anybody who resisted the revolutionary ideology was by definition a traitor.

This redefinition of norms is what characterises ideology. It defines goodness, truth, justice and love as that which serves the end. In its original sense, therefore, ideology has everything to do with religion. It is religion's substitute.

Ideology declares "As God I create my own norms and values. I say what will benefit humanity. And I allow no god above or power below to make any other law". What is the origin of ideology? Ultimately it is demonic.

In the next posting we will unpack different kinds of ideology and begin to connect this to the recent brutalities of IS and how easy it is for IS to recruit people to its cause.