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Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion

mpaseThe Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published this report which brings together the most recent data on poverty in the UK. It is written by the New Policy Institute. Some of its key points include:

1) In 2014/15, there were 13.5 million people living in low-income households, 21% of the UK population. This proportion has barely changed since 2002/03.

2) The number of private renters in poverty has doubled over the last decade. There are now as many private renters in poverty as social renters. Rent accounts for at least a third of income for more than 70% of private renters in poverty.

3) The number of households accepted as homeless and the number of households in temporary accommodation have both increased for five years in a row. Evictions by landlords are near a ten-year high.

4) The proportion of working-age adults in employment is at a record high. Full-time employees account for 62% of the growth in jobs since 2010. The proportion of young adults who are unemployed is the lowest since 2005.

5) The number of people in poverty in a working family is 55% – a record high. Four-fifths of the adults in these families are themselves working, some 3.8 million workers. Those adults that are not working are predominantly looking after children.

6) 1.4 million children are in long-term workless households, down 280,000 in four years. Excluding lone parent families with a child under five, 55% of these children have a disabled adult in their household. Once account is taken of the higher costs faced by those who are disabled, half of people living in poverty are either themselves disabled or are living with a disabled person in their household.


The report uses official data from a range of sources to look at trends and patterns across different indicators. Different indicators reveal different patterns, allowing us to get a better understanding of the contemporary nature of poverty and exclusion. This year’s key themes are money, work, benefits, services and housing.

So what can we say about the Coalition’s record on incomes, jobs, pay, homelessness and education? Inevitably, the record contains good and bad, but the divisions between those indicators which have improved and those which have not is instructive. The table below summarises the changes over both the last five years and the last ten.

Much of the ‘good’ is found in the employment chapter. Unemployment has fallen

markedly over the last five years from 2.5 million to 1.8 million even if it is not quite back to the level of the mid-2000s. This is true for young adults as well as older adults, and true for long- and short-term unemployment. Household worklessness is now the lowest on record – only 16 per cent of working-age households have no working adult.

The services chapter shows some progress in health, but in education the same inequalities that we have been reporting on for years persist. Children receiving free school meals are still less likely to get five good GCSEs than others – the gap remains at 27 percentage points. The gap between boys and girls persists, and the gap is greatest between poorer boys and poorer girls. The health indicators, though slow moving, do show closing inequalities in life expectancy between men and women and between men in more deprived areas and average areas.

As well as outcomes, the chapter also covers provision of services, focusing on the key areas of legal aid and social care. Cuts to legal aid mean that the number of people receiving help for welfare and housing issues has plummeted in the last couple of years.

The number of over 65s receiving help to live at home is falling, while resources are focused on more concentrated and intensive packages of care for those in greatest need. The most obvious examples of indicators moving in the wrong direction are in the housing chapter, particularly those relating to homelessness. Over the last five years, the number of rented households in England and Wales who were evicted has more than trebled, and now stands at 18,000. The number of households placed in temporary accommodation has risen by a quarter, to 64,000. Of these, 17,000 were placed outside their original local authority area, more than double the number five years previously.

Pulling this together, a picture emerges about the changes of the last five years. The average person in the UK saw their incomes fall a little during the recession and the recovery. If they owned a home, the fall will have been cushioned by low interest rates.

Most of those in work avoided unemployment, even if their pay barely rose. Over a longer period, ten years rather than five, they are probably slightly better off. At the lower end of the income spectrum, the number of people living in poverty has not really grown, but their material circumstances may well be worse now, as their incomes have not kept up with rising costs. Moreover, low-income families now have less money to fall back on in the form of savings. The mix of people in poverty has also changed – a shift towards younger, working people in private rented accommodation.

But there is now a growing group, a subset of those in poverty, whose circumstances, both in terms of material wellbeing and security, are far worse than five or ten years ago. This group includes those whose benefits have been sanctioned or capped, people in temporary accommodation and people who have been evicted from their homes.

It is a group of people whose entitlement to state support in hard times has been restricted, and whose problems frequently manifest themselves in housing crises.

One change is the continuing rise in the state pension age, and the impact this will have on pensioner couples receiving pension credit. Pensioners are generally seen as generously treated by the benefits system. Over half the ‘welfare’ budget is spent on pensions, and the state pension is protected by the ‘triple lock’ – it rises by  whichever is the highest percentage rise – earnings, inflation or 2.5 per cent. But pension credit is not included in this lock, and has been subject to the same freezes and low increases as working-age benefits. As a result, after-inflation pension credit is worth less in 2015 than it was in 2010.

The second big change relates to working-age benefits. A cut in working tax credits was announced in the 2015 summer budget. The changes – a cut in the total amount that any family could receive and a reduction in the number of families eligible – were announced alongside the new National Living Wage (NLW), effectively a much higher minimum wage for those aged over 25. From a poverty perspective, the cuts to tax credits do far more harm than the increases to the minimum wage will do good.

Many of the trends that worsened the most are at the acute end of the housing crisis – rising homelessness, rising repossessions, the growing number of families living in temporary accommodation. People cannot be expected to work their way out of poverty in such conditions – a secure, affordable home is the first step on the route out of poverty.
The big changes, particularly but not exclusively for those on low incomes, relate to housing costs. The proportion of low-income households who spend more than 35 per cent of their income on housing costs rose steadily from the end of the last decade onwards, a rise obviously linked to the increasing prevalence of private rented accommodation among lower-income households.

Housing rents rose more quickly than the average price index over recent years, but so did other essentials such as food and domestic utilities. Since these items make up a proportionately larger share of expenditure, low-income families have in effect experienced a higher rate of inflation than other families. Year by year the difference is small, but over a decade it has effectively cut their incomes by an additional 3 per cent.

The employment rate in the UK reached its highest level on record, 73.5 per cent, for those aged 16–64 by the first quarter of 2015, although it is still below previous peaks when accounting for changing state pension ages

Turning to the ratio between the unemployment rates of young people and adults, which gives an indication of the gap between the two groups, the rate for young adults was four times that for older people at the beginning of 2015. This is a record high and gives a further indication of the relatively weak position of young people in the labour market

Long-term unemployment has fallen by 300,000 since 2013 but remains above pre‑recession levels. People who used to work in low-skilled occupations make up the majority of those who are unemployed over the longer term.

Though many disabled people want to work the labour market often does not provide adequate opportunities, particularly for those with lower qualification levels. The biggest change has been for lone parent families. In 1998, less than half were in work, at 48 per cent. From the late 1990s to 2007, the year before the recession, there was a strong increase to 60 per cent in work, a 12 percentage point increase. In contrast, the next largest increase by family type over this period was for single adults, at 5 percentage points. The lone parent employment rate then remained constant throughout the recession and subsequent stagnation until 2011, when it began to increase again to reach 67 per cent. As lone parent employment remained constant rather than falling during the recession, it is now almost level with single adult employment rates, which did fall after 2008. Compared with 1996, lone parent family employment rates are 19 percentage points higher in 2014.

The overall reduction in the number of adverse decisions, i.e. referrals for sanctions that are upheld, need not signal the advent of a less punitive sanctioning regime and should be seen in light of the overall decline in the number of JSA claimants By 2013, female life expectancy at birth had risen to 83 years from 79 years in 1993.

Male life expectancy is still lower than female life expectancy and has only just reached the equivalent female life expectancy of around two decades previously. However, male life expectancy has been increasing at a faster rate, from 74 years in 1993 to 79 years in 2013.

For both men and women in more deprived areas, life expectancy is lower than the respective male and female middle quintiles. The difference between most deprived and median for women has not changed in the past ten years, at 3.5 years, but the respective difference for men has decreased slightly, to 4.6 years from 5.2 years. The number of children in need has been rising, especially in the past year. Children in care are still significantly more likely to under-attain at age 16 than other children.

In the last ten years the main tenure shift has been from owner-occupation to private rented. This increase has been greatest among 25–34-year-olds with a shift from one to the other of 19 percentage points, almost double the shift seen in any other age group. But sizeable shifts occurred among children, 16–24 and 35–44-year-olds; the shift towards private renting from owner-occupation is not isolated to one cohort or generation, it can be seen in all age groups under 45.

The main reason for households becoming homeless in 2014/15 was a shorthold tenancy coming to an end which accounted for 16,000 homelessness acceptances (29 per cent of the total). The next most common reason at 14,000 was losing accommodation previously provided by family/friends, followed by relationship breakdown at 9,300.

You can download it here

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avAs an avatar operator on the Planet Pandora, paraplegic ex-marine Jake Sully can walk again – and even ride on the backs of flying dragons – as he enters the unspoilt, beautiful world of the Na’avi people. But human greed for a valuable mineral is about to destroy all this. Jake faces a stark choice: whose side will he be on?

Themes: Care for the environment, disability, materialism and big business, encountering other cultures, mating for life, spirituality, prayer, virtual reality and computer worlds

An epic story of interplanetary exploration and the consequent effects on the humans and aliens involved.

It is 2154 and a mining corporation has established a base on Pandora, a moon of the plant Polyphemus in the Alpha Centauri system. The corporation is there to exploit Pandora’s rich supply of Unobtanium, a valuable source of energy. Marines are employed as security, because Pandora is inhabited by tall blue-skinned creatures – the Na’vi – who are resistant to their land being plundered. Alongside the aggressive tactics of Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), the head of the mining operation, and of Colonel Miles Quaritch, the leader of the security forces, a scientific experiment is in progress which might win the hearts and minds of the Na’vi and so also win their precious minerals.

The leader of the scientific project is Grace Augustine who has developed human/Na’vi hybrids. These ‘avatars’, which are Na’vi in appearance but driven by human operators, have made contact and built relationships with the indigenous Na’vi. But the progress is not fast enough for the mining company’s management. Into this situation comes Jake Sully, a paraplegic marine, who is the only possible, although not ideal, replacement for his murdered twin brother as no one else would be able to connect with his avatar. Dr  Augustine is concerned about his lack of training and negligible science background, but she has no choice but to go with Jake. But Jake adapts to the task better  than expected …


Martin Luther wrote about the two realms – secular and spiritual. Avatar presents us with two such contrasts: the ‘secular’ world of the mining company – where money is the driving force – and the ‘spiritual’ world of the Na’vi, who have an understanding that all life is spiritually connected through their god, Eywa. There is also a contrast between the world in which Jake Sully is a paraplegic in a wheelchair and another in which he can run and jump and ride on the backs  of  fantastic  creatures.

Does Jake Sully’s experience as a Na’vi avatar have anything to say to us about the difference between earthly and heavenly bodies?

Might a person who experiences disablement in this life experience a differently-abled heavenly body, or is disablement intrinsic to who we are?

The Na’vi’s relationship with creation was very different from that of the mining company. Does the mining company represent a Western lifestyle based on continuing consumption of resources? If so, how consistent is this lifestyle it with the pattern of stewardship presented in Genesis?

The conflict between the mining company and the Na’vi could be seen to represent any number of real-life conflicts between people with different world-views: e.g. the conquest of North America, Africa and Australasia by European settlers, the Vietnam War and the ‘War on Terror’.

The film’s special effects draw the viewer into a world full of fabulous plant and animal life. We experience with Jake Sully the wonderment of being in this new world. How we can learn to look at the wonderful world in which we live with fresh eyes?

When Jake Sully arrives on Pandora in his wheelchair one of the marines describes him as ‘meals on wheels.’ The implication is that, because he’s disabled, he’s

completely useless. Jake is clearly fed up with being told what to do and treated as helpless. When he first tries out his avatar body he gets carried away because he so enjoys having working legs again.

In Na’vi culture when someone chooses a partner, they choose them for life. This is a big thing. Having chosen Neytiri Jake finds himself wondering if he’s done the right thing.

The story of Jake Sully in Avatar parallels that Of Christ. Both came down  to a strange planet, being at the same time fully human and fully ‘something’ else. Neither had it easy – both struggled to be accepted by the people they came to, yet both ended being the saviour for the people that they came to. (Though Christ didn’t use violence). There is a hint of resurrection at the end.

The Na’vi language was created entirely from scratch by linguist Dr. Paul R. Frome. James Cameron hired him to construct a language that the actors could pronounce easily, but did not resemble any single human language. Frommer created about 1,000 words.

According to James Cameron, the Na’vi are blue to create a conceptual parallel with traditional Hindu depictions of God (e.g., Vishnu and his later “avatars”–a Sanskrit word meaning “a manifestation of divinity in bodily form”–such as Rama, Krishna, etc.) but also because Cameron just liked the color blue.

The book Grace picks up in the abandoned school is called “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss. Like the plot of the film, the book is about a forest full of beautiful trees and mystical creatures that are destroyed by man’s lust for ever growing industry.

The word “na’vi” in Hebrew means prophet. A na’vi is a visionary or someone who communicates directly with God. Its plural, nevi’im, also refers to the prophetic books of the bible, which include “Daniel,” “Micah,” and “Isaiah.”

In James Cameron movies, allies to the main characters often have Catholic references. In Aliens (1986), this ally was called “Bishop;” in The Abyss (1989), it was “Monk.” In “Avatar,” Sigourney Weaver plays a character called Grace Augustine. Saint Augustine was a Catholic monk who brought Christianity to pagan England, and became Archbishop. One manner of address for an Archbishop is “Your Grace.”

Mo’at, the spiritual leader of the tribe, is referred to by the title “Tsahik.” This name sounds remarkably similar to the Hebrew “Tsaddik,” meaning an individual of outstanding virtue and piety. The term is often applied to an especially knowledgeable interpreter of Biblical law and scriptures.

The tree, Eh’wa, also bears a resemblance to the Hindi/Aramic/Urdu word “Hewa,” which, in English, means “Eve.” “Eve” in Hebrew means “The Giver of Life,” an entity from which all life arises. Also, in the Bible, Eve is tempted to eat from the Tree. The word na’vi bears close resemblance to the Hindi/Urdu word for Nabi, meaning “prophet.” “Avatar” is Hindi for the “incarnated one.” Lord Krishna was one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu. Some Hindus believe that Lord Buddha was also an avatar of Vishnu, preceding Krishna.

When Jake is examining his ponytail, Dr. Augustine states, “Don’t play with that, you’ll go blind.” This is a common phrase that is taught to adolescent boys (referencing their genitalia) to discourage them from masturbating. It is shown later in the film that the Na’vi use their ponytails to link their minds during mating.

[Grace is showing pictures of the Na’vi to Jake so he remembers them] Dr. Grace Augustine: Okay, let’s run through them again.

Jake Sully: [Sees a picture] Mo’at. Dragon lady. [Sees next picture]: Eytukan.

Dr. Grace Augustine: [Says the name correctly] Ey-tu-“kahn”. He’s the clan leader. But she’s the spiritual leader. Like a shaman.

Jake Sully: Got it. [Sees next picture]: Tah-soo-tey.

Dr. Grace Augustine: [Says the name correctly] Tsu’tey.

Jake Sully: Tsu’tey.

Dr. Grace Augustine: He’ll be the next clan leader.

Jake Sully: [Sees next picture] Neytiri.

Dr. Grace Augustine: She’ll be the next “Tsahik”. They become a mated pair.

Jake Sully: So who’s this Eywa?

Norm Spellman: Who’s Eywa? Only their deity! Their goddess, maker of all living things. Everything they know! You’d know this if you’ve had any training whatsoever.

Jake Sully: [Shows him Neytiri’s picture] Who’s got a date with the chief’s daughter?

Norm Spellman: Oh, come on!

Dr. Grace Augustine: [to Jake and Norm] Knock it off you two. Village life starts early.

[to Jake]

Dr. Grace Augustine: Don’t do anything unusually stupid.

[Jake grins as Grace rolls her eyes at him before closing the pod]


Jake Sully: [as Jake pleads for Eywa’s help in attacking the “Sky People”] If Grace is there with you – look in her memories – she can show you the world we come from. There’s no green there. They killed their Mother, and they’re gonna do the same here. More Sky People are gonna come. They’re gonna come like a rain that never ends. Unless we stop them. They chose me for something. I will stand and fight. You know I will. But I need a little help here.

Neytiri: Our great mother does not take sides, Jake; she protects the balance of life.

Jake Sully: It was worth a try.


Jake Sully: I see you, Brother… thank you. [kills prey]: Your spirit will now be with Eywa, but your body will remain for The People.


Jake Sully: [collector’s extended cut] You want a fair deal? You’re on the wrong planet. The strong prey on the weak, it’s just the way things are. And nobody does a damned thing.


Selfridge: Look. You’re supposed to be winning the hearts and minds of the natives. Isn’t that the whole point of your little puppet show? If you walk like them, you talk like them, they’ll trust you. We build them a school, teach them English. But after – how many years – the relations with the indigenous are only getting worse.

Dr. Grace Augustine: Yeah, well that tends to happen when you use machine guns on them.

Selfridge: Right. C’mere. You see this? [shows Grace the sample of Unobtanium on his desk]: This is why we’re here. Because this little gray rock sells for $20 million a kilo. That’s the only reason. This is what pays for the whole party, and it’s what pays for your science. Those savages are threatening our whole operation. We’re on the brink of war and you’re supposed to be finding me a diplomatic solution. So use what you’ve got, and get me some results.

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Awareness, Mystery and Value – Somerset SACRE

somersetThe SACREs of the South West have pooled resources and shared a syllabus for many years. More recently, one officer has taken his bat home, concerned that there is a lack of coherence in the overall RE experience of pupils and not enough subject content In this, he is in line with the sort of reforms set forth by Michael Gove but very much out of kilter with most practitioners of RE. This is a revision of the formerly shared syllabus to embody his ideas.

The units of study and religions and beliefs will remain unchanged and will continue to be available as they are now on the AMV website.

Assessment is now without levels of any kind and is based around the key beliefs of each religion with specific, measurable goals at KS1, lower KS2, upper KS2, and KS3.

Teachers are to slow down, do less, go deeper – so that no child is left behind.

New exemplars focus on the key beliefs outlined in the new assessment documents and supported by examples of children’s work.

The theology is somewhat limited – the question, ‘What was Christ’s main mission in the world?’ expects a view of atonement as the answer.

The Christian section feels as if we are stepping back into a syllabus of the 1950s. It has about 40 key beliefs – that’s one lesson for each (Key stage 4 requires 4 religions – that’s 2/3 of a week for each belief) – blink and you’ll miss it. The other faiths have a similar amount of content. The order in which they appear reflects each religion’s inner coherence rather than any expert pedagogy – it’s all about what they want the children to learn wit scant regard for how they learn.

The material on other religions is so detailed that there is simply too much to teach, despite their being options. Each key stage lists a huge list of items to be covered. These do not relate, in any obvious way, to the programmes of study and will be difficult for a trained RE teacher, let alone a non-specialist teacher to navigate.

There are some helpful sample lesson plans, though these tend to lead merely to ‘the naming of parts’. There is support for the Toledo pedagogical principles, whose focus (like this syllabus) appears to be on teaching about religions and beliefs rather than learning from them but a closer reading of the document shows that this isn’t so. However, there is littler evidence that the authors have understood these principles and, apart from the mismatch between programmes of study and assessment, most of Key Stage 3 is simply boring. Unless you engage teenagers , starting with their thought-worlds, with what excites them, you’re not going to get anywhere other than by forced-feeding.

There is little support for statutory, non-examined RE for ages 14-19. Had they now plot from their neighbouring LAs, they would have had more detailed guidance.

There is much that is helpful, though it must be said that this is mostly in the sections inherited from the other SACREs before the schism.

It is online here

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Little Miss Sunshine

lmsEach of the family members is, in one way or another, grappling with darkness in their own lives. Indeed, the script does a commendable job of presenting distinct characters—each person a universe of motivations and morals unto themselves—instead of presenting them as one griping and moaning familial mass. As such, different viewers are likely to resonate with different characters. And yet, the bond forged by their proximity to each other—by the fact they’re family—is undeniable. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the broken down VW van eventually requires a group effort to get in gear.

Gradually we see the family unite under the goal of seeing Olive realize her dream of competing in the pageant. Unlike many such movies, we do see the characters grow as they move beyond the bickering and selfishness. Clever and comical “Little Miss Sunshine” gives us the Hoover family’s broken dreams in all their dysfunctional glory. Yet the film doesn’t let us pity them as they learn to find some happiness overcoming some of their flaws.

Hilarious and touching, earthy comedy-drama about family dysfunction and personal ambition amid the disturbing world of child beauty contests.

Dad Richard is struggling to motivate his career as a motivational speaker.

Richard, addicted to his self-actualizing mantras, doesn’t seem to realize the emotional damage his “be a winner” is doing to his daughter Olive and isn’t taken seriously by the rest of the family.

Grandpa has no qualms about saying whatever foul and abrasive thing that pops into his head.

lms2Teenager Dwayne has taken a vow of silence until he realizes his dream to become a fighter pilot. He wears a shirt that says “Jesus Was Wrong.” He is also a devotee of Fredrick Nietzsche, although the movie never really goes into what Nietzsche believed.

Mom Sheryl is just trying to hold everything together.

Sheryl’s depressed and suicidal brother Frank must live with the family when his insurance will no longer pay for his stay in a mental institution.

Five identical Volkswagen Type 2s were used during filming.

Larry Sugarman’s license plate reads, “LostTime” a reference to Marcel Proust’s most famous work, “À la recherche du temps perdu,” which is often translated as “In Search of Lost Time.”

Family dysfunction – The notion of ‘family dysfunction’ probably applies much more widely than some people think. The struggles posed by conflict between family members can be overwhelming

Personal ambition – The prevailing values of society suggest that each of us should try to become as wealthy as we can through our own personal ambition and effort. This often leads to unnecessary stress, illness, family breakdown, and even premature death.

Suicide and depression – Depression affects a huge number of people, for a vast range of reasons. The suicidal character in Little Miss Sunshine has both a broken heart and a troubled career.

Childhood innocence – Little Miss Sunshine focuses on a child whose innocence is being stolen by adults who, for whatever reason, organise public contests to evaluate how children look. The pressure of the ‘beauty myth’ now starts earlier than ever, and child beauty contests are only the tip of the iceberg – the sexualization of children is evident in our culture – from the fashion being aimed at pre-teens, to the role models offered by young adult celebrities.

Forgiveness – The family in Little Miss Sunshine have a lot about which to be angry with each other. Yet the film sees them finding reconciliation, not through any explicit repentance/forgiveness, but through bonding together toward a common goal – that of protecting their weakest member from harm.

We all dream of being something more than we can possibly be, because we aren’t nearly the creatures we are supposed to be.

We are limited by our sin and the effects of sin in the world.

We do things out of love, but sometimes these things are not all that appropriate (Grandpa taught her the only dance he was familiar with); it’s a good thing that the love in our intentions is powerful enough to eclipse the inadequacy of the results.

To be naïve is not the same as to be innocent.

Even in our brokenness we can be a blessing to others.

Actions are more powerful than words (the scene where Olive brings Duane back into the bus), and that’s why the Incarnation is so incredible.

Human beings were made for community and within community we can transcend our individual weaknesses.

Grace, forgiveness and LOVE are incredibly powerful.

Self-sacrifice is fundamental to the expression of love.

Suffering is important for growth.

The world’s standard for winners and losers is completely wrong.

There is a loving presence at the centre of the universe that orchestrates all things for out good.

Life is tragic and beautiful and also pretty funny.

Grandpa: A real loser is someone who’s so afraid of not winning he doesn’t even try.


Dwayne: I wish I could just sleep until I was eighteen and skip all this crap-high school and everything-just skip it.

Frank: Do you know who Marcel Proust is?

Dwayne: He’s the guy you teach.

Frank: Yeah. French writer. Total loser. Never had a real job. Unrequited love affairs. Gay. Spent 20 years writing a book almost no one reads. But he’s also probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Anyway, he uh… he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, Those were the best years of his life, ’cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn’t learn a thing. So, if you sleep until you’re 18… Ah, think of the suffering you’re gonna miss. I mean high school? High school-those are your prime suffering years. You don’t get better suffering than that.


[from trailer] Olive: Grandpa, am I pretty?

Grandpa: You are the most beautiful girl in the world.

Olive: You’re just saying that.

Grandpa: No! I’m madly in love with you and it’s not because of your brains or your personality.


Richard: Oh my God, I’m getting pulled over. Everyone, just… pretend to be normal.


Richard: There’s two kinds of people in this world, there’s winners and there’s losers. Okay, you know what the difference is? Winners don’t give up.


Richard: Sarcasm is the refuge of losers.

Frank: [sarcastically] It is? Really?

Richard: Sarcasm is losers trying to bring winners down to their level.

Frank: [sarcastically] Wow, Richard, you’ve really opened my eyes to what a loser I am. How much do I owe you for those pearls of wisdom?

Richard: Oh, that ones on the house.

Dwayne: You know what? Fuck beauty contests. Life is one fucking beauty contest after another. You know, school, then college, then work, fuck that. And fuck the air force academy. If I wanna fly, I’ll find a way to fly. You do what you love, and fuck the rest.

Frank: I’m glad you’re talking again, Dwayne. You’re not nearly as stupid as you look.


Grandpa: Losers are people who are so afraid of not winning, they don’t even try.

Olive: Do you think there’s a Heaven?

Frank: Well, it’s hard to say, Olive. I don’t think anyone knows for sure.

Olive: I know, but what do *you* think?

Frank: Well… um… uh…

Olive: I think there is.

Frank: Think I’ll get in?

Olive: Yeah.

Frank: Promise?

Olive: Yeah.

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Awareness Mystery Value (AMV) locally agreed RE syllabus for Bristol, BANES, Bath, Haringey and the Isles of Scilly

bristol-2It’s a revision rather than a rewrite so it’s a bit dated, drawing on the work of David Hay.

In line with the programmes of study in subjects of the national curriculum, and with the National Curriculum Framework for RE published by the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC) in 2013, this syllabus adopts a single attainment target: By the end of each key stage, students are expected to know, apply and understand the matters, skills and processes specified in the relevant programme of study.

The six areas of enquiry are unchanged from the previous (2011) syllabus but these have been given a new lease if life by the RE Council.

Pupils can cover four religions in a key stage – other syllabuses are cutting back on these.

There is still a lot of stuff about skills and attitudes whereas other Las are going for slimmer documents which take these for granted.

Although there are key questions, these are mainly about the externals of religions. There is little philosophy or much attempt to relate the material studied to pupils’ own views.

Humanism appears for the first time.

Although we can no longer legislate time allocation, this syllabus says that the minimum of 45 hours per year is needed to cover everything.

There hints at unintended confessionalism in some of the language, e.g.’ Why is Jesus important? ‘- better would be ‘Why is Jesus important for some people? ‘

At Key Stages 4 And 5, It is highly recommended that any school/academy following the AMV Agreed syllabus should enter ALL pupils for a recognised national qualification in RE /RS, such as the full or short course GCSE in Religious Studies.

This will ensure that they have accreditation and certification to signify their completion of 11 years of study in this subject. This will be a formal signifier to employers that they have followed a course of study where they have learnt about beliefs held by people living in the UK and so are equipped to work sensitively with others.

This will also safeguard their learning to ensure that they are religiously literate. It will also afford opportunities to become personally resilient and tolerant in marshalling their views and listening to the opinions of others so that they will be well equipped to take their place in Modern Britain.

However it has to be acknowledged that unfortunately not all schools / academies will allocate sufficient curriculum time for all students to follow a GCSE course. It is compulsory that all pupils while registered in state education be entitled to religious education.

Therefore AMV offers this support to teachers in designing a curriculum with the intention that the key questions explored will be those that engage young people. Religious Education at KS4 should primarily offer a space where students can develop their own beliefs and ideas about matters of belief, meaning, expression, identity and values whilst learning how to tolerate, understand, critically evaluate, debate well, and interpret and appreciate differing opinions.

The suggested topics owe something to my input from another LA and is new to this syllabus and still sorely lacking from others.

There is an out of date section on Community cohesion / Big Society.

There are some good Distinctively Local Schemes of Learning e.g. John Wesley,    George Muller, Ram Mohan Roy.  Mary Carpenter (Unitarian educational reformer),  Hannah Moore and  William Tyndale, Hate Crime in Totterdown

Visitors are advised to avoid (1) criticising the experiences and insights of others and (2) imposing their views upon pupils in any way; representatives must not take the opportunity to try to convert pupils or cast doubt on the validity of pupils’ own beliefs;

The syllabus is online here

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The Cider House Rules

tchra pro-abortion movie adapted by John Irving from his own novel, Michael Caine, gives one of his finest performances and won his second Oscar for best supporting actor. He plays a doctor who is also the director of the St Cloud’s orphanage in Maine during the Second World War.

There he takes in unwanted babies and performs abortions on demand. The abortion aspect split audiences in America but Caine justifies his actions by saying that he is saving women from the dubious activities of backstreet butchers.

The star of the piece is Tobey Maguire, who arrived at the orphanage as an unwanted baby, was twice adopted and returned to become the director’s protégé. Caine teaches him everything he knows about medicine, hoping that ­despite having no formal medical training — the young man might succeed him when he retires. Maguire learns quickly but refuses on moral grounds to assist in the abortions.

So life goes on until Charlize Theron turns up for an abortion with her fiancé Paul Rudd, a pilot, and when they leave, Maguire goes with them, saying he wants to see more of the world than just the orphanage.

Rudd returns to war and Maguire takes a job picking apples on the pilot’s family orchard, where he lives in a bunkhouse called the Cider House with a team of migrant African-American pickers led by Delroy Lindo. Theron works there, too.

At this point the Cider House rules, drawn up by the orchard’s owners, come into play. They are simply a set of instructions, such as “No smoking in bed” or “No getting drunk on the roof”, and the workers never read them anyway.

In the winter Maguire works at the lobster farm owned by Theron’s family, again along with Theron. The pair fall in love and begin an affair. More vitally, there is incest and a violent death among the migrant workers, and Maguire’s anti-abortion principles are tested.

The film deals with such themes as love, family and the need to find a place and purpose in life, and does so sensitively thanks to Irving’s script, which won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay.

The orphan that gets into the pie dough and eats all of it and is shown throwing up all over the orphanage is named ‘Steerforth’. Steerforth is the name of one of the main character’s friends in the Charles Dickens book “David Copperfield” which Homer reads to the children in their bedroom.

A nurse prays over her girls at the orphanage before they go to sleep each night. On the other hand, Larch comments that they have no need for Christians in their work.

Dr. Larch’s repeated line “Goodnight, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.” may come from the Book of Micah 3:1 “Hear…O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel”

[first lines] Dr. Wilbur Larch: In other parts of the world young men leave home and travel far and wide in search of a promising future. Their journeys are often fueled by dreams of triumphing over evil, finding a great love, or the hopes of fortunes easily made. Here in St. Cloud’s not even the decision to get off the train is easily made, for it requires an earlier, more difficult decision – add a child to your life, or leave one behind. The only reason people journey here is for the orphanage.

Dr. Wilbur Larch: I came as a physician to the abandoned children and unhappily pregnant women. I had hoped to become a hero. But in St. Cloud’s there was no such position. In the lonely, sordid world of lost children, there were no heroes to be found. And so I became the caretaker of many, father of none. Well, in a way, there was one. His name was Homer Wells.

Dr. Wilbur Larch: I know it’s against the law. I ask you, what has the law ever done for this place?

[Homer reads the actual Cider House Rules to the illiterate workers] Peaches: What do they think, go up to the roof to sleep? They must think we’re crazy. They think we’re dumb niggers, so we need some dumb rules, is what they think.

Rose Rose: That’s it? It don’t mean nothin’ at all. And all this time I been wonderin’ about ’em.

Arthur Rose: They outrageous, them rules. Who live in this cider house? Who grindin’ up those apples, pressin’ that cider, cleanin’ up all this mess? Who just plain live here, just breathin’ in that vinegar? Well, someone who don’t live here made those rules. Those rules ain’t for us. We are supposed to make our own rules. And we do. Every single day.


[Candy is sitting on a dock: inconsolable after receiving the news about Wally] Homer: Just tell me. I’ll do whatever you wanna do.

Candy Kendall: Nothing.

Homer: Isn’t that like waiting and seeing?

Candy Kendall: No. Nothing’s nothing. I want Wally to come home. I’m afraid to see him too.

Homer: I know. [Homer starts to put him arm around her and pull her close]

Candy Kendall: Oh, don’t do that, Homer. [Dejected, he puts both hands in his own lap] I just want to sit here and do nothing.

Homer: To do nothing. It’s a great idea, really. Maybe if I just wait and see long enough, then I won’t have to do anything or decide anything, you know? I mean, maybe if I’m lucky enough, someone else will decide and choose and do things for me.

Candy Kendall: What are you talking about?

Homer: But then again, maybe I won’t be that lucky. And it’s not my fault. It’s not your fault. And that’s just it. Someone’s gonna get hurt, and it’s no one’s fault.

Candy Kendall: I don’t want to talk about this.

Homer: If we just sit here and, we wait and see a little longer, then maybe you won’t to choose, and I won’t have to *do* anything!

Candy Kendall: What do you want from me? Wally’s been shot down. He’s paralyzed. What do you want me to do?

Homer: Nothing. I’m sorry. You’re not the one who has to do anything.

Dr. Wilbur Larch: You don’t find it depressing that Homer Wells is picking apples?

Homer Wells: I’m not a doctor. I haven’t been to medical school; I haven’t even been to high school.


Buster: [digging grave of botched abortion victim] What did she die of?

Dr. Wilbur Larch: She died of secrecy. She died of… ignorance. Homer, did you expect to be responsible for their children, you have to give them the right to decide whether or not to have children. Wouldn’t you agree?

Homer: I’m not excepting people to be responsible enough to control themselves to begin with.


[We see Homer writing to Dr. Larch and hear the words in his voice as we are shown variously relevant scenes] Homer: Dear Dr. Larch. Thank you for your doctor’s bag, although it seems that I will not have the occasion to use it, barring some emergency, of course. I am not a doctor. With all due respect to your profession, I’m enjoying my life here. I’m enjoying being a lobsterman and orchardman. In fact, I’ve never enjoyed myself as much. The truth is, I want to stay here. I believe I’m being of some use. [We hear the words Dr. Larch writes back to Homer in response]

Dr. Wilbur Larch: My Dear Homer: I thought you were over you adolescence – the first time in our lives when we imagine we have something terrible to hide from those who love us. Do you think it’s not obvious to us what’s happened to you? You’ve fallen in love, haven’t you? By the way, whatever you’re up to can’t be too good for your heart. Then again, it’s the sort of condition that could be made worse by worrying about it, so don’t worry about it.  [the back and forth correspondence continues interwoven with scenes from Homer’s life at the time]

Homer: Dear Dr. Larch, What I’m learning her may not be as important as what I learned from you, but everything is new to me. Yesterday, I learned how to poison mice. Field mice girdle an apple tree; pine mice kill the roots. You use poison oats and poison corn. I know what you have to do. You have to play God. Well, killing mice is as close as I want to come to playing God.

Dr. Wilbur Larch: Homer, here in St. Cloud’s, I have been given the opportunity of playing God or leaving practically everything up to chance. Men and women of conscience should sieze those moments when it’s possible to play God. There won’t be many. Do I interfere when absolutely helpless women tell me they simply can’t have an abortion – that they simply must go through with having another and yet another orphan? I do not. I do not even recommend. I just give them what they want. You are my work of art, Homer. Everything else has been just a job. I don’t know if you have a work of art in you, but I know what your job is: you’re a doctor.

Homer: I’m not a doctor.

Dr. Wilbur Larch: You’re going to replace me, Homer. The board of trustees is looking for my replacement.

Homer: I can’t replace you. I’m sorry.

Dr. Wilbur Larch: “Sorry”? I’m not sorry. Not for anything I’ve done. I’m not even sorry that I love you. [Cut to scene of Dr. Larch sitting on a hospital bed reading Homer’s letter. He is crest-fallen and one of his nurses sits down to console him]

Dr. Wilbur Larch: [Speaking to the nurse] I think we may have lost him to the world.

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Sermon about Esther 7:1-10 Year B Proper 21 continuous track

esthOur first reading from Esther sounds like it could have been written today.

In the chapters before our reading, King’s advisor Haman claims that the Jews pose a political problem.

It can only be solved by their complete elimination.

The Jews are determined to preserve their racial and cultural identity.

They are ‘scattered, yet unassimilated’, keep themselves apart.’

– an alien element, whose exclusivism is sinister and subversive.

‘Their laws are different from those of every other people’, says Haman,

‘they do not keep your majesty’s laws’.

Therefore, ‘it does not benefit your majesty to tolerate them’
The laborious official language of the resulting edict  ‘to destroy, slay, and exterminate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day’ spells out the final solution to the Jewish problem, ominously foreshadowing the twentieth-century Third Reich.

Could it happen again? To a different religious group?

In bureaucratic spin doctor fashion, could another Haman slither up to the prime minister and say, “It has come to our attention that there is a certain ethnic group who consider themselves above your laws. Although multiculturalism and ethnic diversity is an otherwise good thing, a rule is a rule. Allow me to help by obliterating them.”
Or more likely today by blaming them for terrorism, allowing the free press to misquote and misrepresent them.


But is Esther a true story, reminiscent as it is of  One Thousand and One Arabian Nights?

A woman granting a king certain favours in order to get him to change his mind.

The book of Esther barely made it into the canon of scripture because of its complete lack of explicit reference to God.

But no ancient Jewish reader could have read this story of a remarkable escape of the Jewish people from a threat of total destruction without discerning in it the power of God to deliver his chosen people.

The secular atmosphere in which the story unfolds is another reason why it could have been written for today.

It may help us to discern the purpose and activity of God in world affairs.

Scholar David Clines wrote, ‘God, as a character in the story, becomes more conspicuous the more he is absent’.


How is God at work?

Through a series of remarkable coincidences and unpredictable occurrences.

The human actors in the story could never have deliberately produced them but without them Israel would have perished:

Mordecai’s discovery of the plot against Xerxes’ life;

the vacancy for a queen and Esther’s ability to fill it;

the king’s insomnia on a particular night – he decides to have the court chronicles read to him;

Haman’s early arrival at the palace on a particular morning, eager to secure Mordecai’s execution as soon as possible, he arrives early at the court.

This piling up of coincidences makes one feel the story to be historically improbable.

But if you take for granted God’s commitment to the survival of his people, you see human actions contributing to their preservation without the actors having any such intention.

Haman, in fact, has quite the opposite intention.


But there’s more than coincidence.

There is deliberate action, including deception and disobedience

David Clines again, ‘Without the craft and courage of the Jewish characters the divinely inspired coincidences would have fallen to the ground; and without the coincidences, all the wit in the world would not have saved the Jewish people.” The Bible in Politics – R. Bauckham (SPCK 1989) p. 120



Queen Vashti is called away from socialising with her women friends.

The king wants her to show his visitors her beauty.

She refuses, having the good sense and self-respect not to appear before the drunken king as an object for display.

This enrages the king, who turns to his wise men for advice.

They claim that Vashti’s actions have implications for the entire social order, for the Queen’s conduct will become known to all the women and they will look with disdain upon their husbands.

There’ll be endless disrespect and indolence.

They advise the king to dispose of Vashti and to proclaim throughout the land that all women give honour to their husbands – patriarchal panic!


Esther is selected to replace Vashti.

She plays the role of queen quite differently, using her beauty to find favour with the king.

Se prepares a sequence of dinners for him at which she eventually persuades him that her people are not being treated fairly.

Her behind-the-scenes activity also gets her uncle Mordecai elevated to a position second only to the king.
Women can be comforted by the ironic fact that this decree reinforcing male supremacy initiates a story whereby the king gets rid of one recalcitrant wife and ends up with another who controls him entirely.


Wifely obedience was clearly displayed in the 1992 U.S. presidential contest.

Back in 1989 Barbara Bush said in a interview “that she ’absolutely’ favored a ban on weapons like the one used in the shooting at a school in Stockton, California

President Bush, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, had said that he did not favour such a ban.

A few days later, a New York Times headline read, “Barbara Bush to Shun Public Stands on Issues – she will no longer talk publicly about things like gun control and abortion, “ Gay Theology without apology – G. Comstock ({Pilgrim Press 1993) pp. 53f


Obedience and disobedience:

Another reason why Esther might have been written for today?

It tells a story of what to do when the voice of God demands something quite different from the voice of authority.

For many, the two voices are one and the same, so that listening to the voice of authority is, in effect, listening to God.

In Esther there’s quite a different lesson.

Compliance with authority emerges as the evil and selfish choice.

In solidarity with the oppressed, disobedience appears good and honourable.

Today, the traditionally sacred, authoritative arenas of church, government, and family are in crisis.

Dissent within the Catholic Church has grown

The more that comes out about the Iraq war, the more the government is distrusted

The increase of dysfunctional families shatters belief in the permanent, unconditional nature of parental love.


But how can we know when to be obedient and when to be disobedient?

The Jewish experience of God is as: the champion those without hope, the humble, insignificant, weak, despairing.
Esther directs Mordecai, “Go and assemble all the Jews… fast on my behalf…… I and my maids will also fast in the same way. Thus prepared, I will go to the king contrary to the law.”

Fasting heightens Esther’s sensitivity to opportunities for action and she receives the courage needed to persevere.

So acts of civil disobedience today are started by spiritual preparation.

Esther and Vashti are the only women described as “beautifully formed and lovely to behold.”

While the king has his pick of beautiful virgins, he singles out two.

What sets them apart is perhaps their independent, disobedient spirit.

Fortunately, the king finds independent women attractive but “women who are bold, direct, aggressive, and disobedient are not acceptable; the praiseworthy are unassuming, quietly persistent.


Befriending the enemy is perhaps the most disturbing characteristic of holy disobedience.

Heart already “shrunk with fear,” standing “face to face with the king” was more than Esther could bear. “‘I saw you, my Lord, as an angel of God, and my heart was troubled with fear of your majesty. For you are awesome, my Lord, though your glance is full of kindness.’

As she said this, she fainted.

“The king became troubled.”

At the sight of Esther’s profound weakness, the king appears to be a changed man.

One bent on destroying the Jews becomes their saviour.

Nothing terrifies and overwhelms more than seeing one’s enemy as “an angel of God.”

Encouragement to “love the enemy” often provokes outrage from the oppressed, generating even more hatred.


But the end of the story?

Falling far short of vengeance the Jews, do not exercise the right to kill innocent women and children;

do not take the personal belongings of the dead for private use.

A new law for dealing with the adversary emerges:

eliminate only the enemy, protect the innocent, take nothing for yourself.

Between severity and mercy lies compassion. Holy Disobedience in Esther By Karol Jackowski


What about us?

Esther didn’t know whether the story would work out right

‘Who knows whether. . . ?‘ is not scepticism, but nor has it the confidence of prophecy.

This is what Christian activity is usually like.

Our actions rarely determine the outcome of events:
they are effective only as they interact with a given context and with quite unforeseeable occurrences.

We must hope to co-operate with divine providence, but remain largely in the dark about the role which our actions will play in the larger divine purpose, trusting the outcome to God.

Esther used what power she had, manoeuvred skilfully within the limits imposed upon women by the culture, and did a great thing.
“I’m no martyr, I’m just one little guy, what can I do?”
We may not do anything particularly spectacular.

More likely we will be given the opportunity, or the dilemma, of summoning up the courage to speak out, to put in a word to the boss on behalf of someone who can’t speak for himself.

Not large. Not grand. But still good.
This story is for us.

In little, ordinary, unspectacular ways, the Kingdom of God, is being defeated or advanced through us,

Through our little words, gestures, and acts.

See also here

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