Tuesday, 27 January 2015

'I grow and I rejoice'. An essay in support of London Gatwick airport expansion

Cities once grew by rivers. Then at the intersection of roads with the Romans. The biggest cities of the last 150 years grew most rapidly when linked with major rail routes. The 21st century city will prosper around the airport. Thats how people, goods and business move these days.
It's not even about nations anymore. City hubs are all important, global south mega cities are close already to dwarfing European nation states.

Global demand and the need for major hub airports.
Put simply, cities which invest in airport growth will see population, jobs, and prosperity grow.
Cities that don't invest are doomed. It's not just that the additional jobs will go elsewhere instead. Ultimately, the existing ones will too.
The reasoning is stark. If we don't invest in a major hub airport, a nearby European neighbour will, and the long term flow of business will get rerouted.
In this world economy, the demand for rapid movement of goods, services and people, airlines will look for and relocate to the next nearest hub airport that can connect them to their customers. Our small UK airports diminish in the face of larger European hubs that simply offer more choice and more global connections.

The argument against increasing capacity of UK regional airports.
The proposal to expand regional airports to Manchester or Birmingham, suggested by some, is enticing. Lower housing costs, the bonus of spreading employment around the country, kick starting economic improvement in less dynamic regions. Sounds good?
I love Manchester having lived there for 10 years, it's a great airport. However, this isn't a debate about the north south divide. Brace yourselves - The world economy and big business don't care for the north, the east or the west of Britain. they want London. It would be the same in France, global demand means they want Paris. 
Such global demand requires major international hub airports, not regional expansion. If expansion doesn't come to Gatwick, Heathrow or a new London airport where goods, services and business want to be, then the major players will defect to Frankfurt or Paris. That's it - whilst we argue amongst ourselves about regionalisation and local class politics, a multi billion dollar per year industry will up sticks and move its significant throughput to Germany or France!

This is the stark choice. It's near London where most business and travellers want to be, so it's near London that we must expand.
Take India as a case study. They are building airports by the dozen as their population multiplies - recognizing the need for 21st century cities to be globally connected. India is projected to have a burgeoning wealthy middle class of over 100 million by 2025 who will all want to travel out of their new airports to see the world. Only a well connected London hub airport could attract and handle the throughput of these kind of passenger numbers, and all the add ons which come with them. Do we really want them to go anywhere else? Talk of increasing capacity at regional airports around the UK and spreading the load is missing the point entirely!

Local Government short term ineptitude, long term demise.
For West Sussex County Council and Crawley Borough Council to vote against supporting the expansion of Gatwick is short term and misinformed. It's like deciding to invest in canal boats just as the first steam trains are being unveiled.
Local government may want to keep things as they are, but we've already established, it's not a neutral decision. I've heard plently of talk that the airport is big enough already. But the global market demands that if we don't grow bigger to accomodate them, then we must inevitably grow smaller. 
Such safety first, backward thinking will leave us one day seeing the current era as the last of the glory days for Gatwick. It ensures that over the next 20 years a trickle, then gradually a flood of airport flights, then services, then jobs, then more ancillary services and then yet more jobs, all move onto the next forward thinking airport hub.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difficult but brave decision that would ensure this town grows and all of the South East benefits. For local government to vote no over infrastructure concerns or to attempt to 'lock' Crawley at it's current size and spread, is a vote to one day destroy the town and relegate Sussex to a backwater county.

Migrant jobs are good.
The view that jobs created with future airport expansion will not be local jobs, but migrant workers is accurate . Of course migrant workers will come to a town with already full employment. Again, that's how cities grow.
An economic hub gains momentum, jobs are created, skills are required, people move into the area. They buy and rent homes, put their kids in local schools, pay their taxes, spend money in local shops, bars and restuarants. More services are created, more people move in to support them, and so on. It's been that way since ancient Rome grew on the seven hills, or the industrial revolution when migrant workers came out of the countryside, leaving behind their agricultural trades to join the newly emerging cities.

To use the migrant worker argument against growth in Crawley of all places is even more counter intuitive. We didn't exist as a town 60 years ago. We are in fact, a test case, a shining authentic model for this kind of growth.
Non local people moved into this northern Sussex new town with the post-war housing boom. More housing was created to meet demand, more migrant workers come. The airport grew, and with it, related jobs, industries and infrastructure -  more migrant workers come, and so in the space of two generations, the town grew from a few villages to 100,000 plus people. People who now consider themselves thoroughly local Crawley residents.
Who is to say this pattern won't be repeated with the next wave of airport growth? Studies of every growing city show this to be the case. Crawley won't be the exception to this rule. Indeed, because of the unique nature of the new town ideal, which has shown an ease at assimilating different tribes alongside one another in a way that other, older and more settled towns and cities have not, Crawley is better placed than any to welcome migrant workers of all backgrounds.
For local councillors who themselves have arrived in Crawley not because of heritage, but because of economic migration - to now contend that such workers are bad for the town is another nonesense argument.

'I grow and I rejoice'.
Of course there are valid concerns surrounding infrastructure, new schools, roads, affordable housing, noise and compulsary purchases. Scaremongering and fear spreading by local interest groups and Councillors are not the answer here though. It's clear that standing still with airport expansion at Gatwick is no longer an option, just a vote for going backwards. Instead of sticking heads in the sand, or alienating business interests,  the local authority could engage in the creative development of infrastructure ideas, recognising that any transition costs will be far outweighted in the long term by the overall increased revenues from a major international hub airport. (Just remember the 100 million Indians, never mind the rest of our travelling planet and global business!)

The ability to expand fast, build quick, welcome strangers, create community, produce jobs, establish an airport - these are the qualities which made Crawley out of nothing, to something, in such a short space of time. The motto of our town is Seneca's 'I grow and I rejoice.'
Therefore Crawley should swallow hard, and continue to make the kind of courageous long term decisions regarding the airport which made her grow and prosper in the first instance. Only in holding to such a course, and accepting that population and infrastructure growth are not the enemy, rather the means to prosperity, will Crawley have the kind of happy civic future which Seneca dreamed of.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Counter culture worship for the selfie stick generation

Against the fast flowing current of our lives and culture, the act of worshipping God is like a river trying to work it's way uphill.
In the week in which I heard the latest phenomenon of 'selfie sticks' (the aid to ensuring your face appears constantly in the centre of your own universe) being renamed 'narcissi-stics', the idea of worshipping another outside of ourselves is a brave new concept.

Worship invites us to leave the safe handholds and hiding places of our own comfort and sufficiency - to step into the one whom we instantly recognise as greater and infinitely more absorbing than self.

David's Psalm 27 rightly orientates us this way. Lifting our heads as we declare our desire to 'gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and seek him in his temple.' The narcissist sings different lyrics to the same tune,' to gaze upon the beauty of myself, to find myself in my own temple!'

From this folly of self pursuit we are utterly rescued by the God who draws us into him and out of lesser forms of defective worship. Our hearts are awakened from their self-affected internalising - jolted to alertness with the cry, 'My heart says of you 'Seek his face'. Your face O Lord I will seek.'

Worship of God is as central today as it's ever been, in any culture, at any time.
'Come to me all you who are self absorbed, consumed with the minutiae of me. 
Come to me you who are insecure in your introspection, proud of your preoccupation, laden with your low worth, breaking under the burden of your own bankrupt idols - I will give you rest!
Jesus invites our generation of consumers and tourists to turn our selfie sticks around, and to flood our gaze with the burning bright face of his greater glory!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Prayer heroes habits 3.

We are in the middle of 24 hours of continuous prayer to conclude our week of prayer and fasting in the local church. With the crowd which gathered during our Friday evening session, we shared some of these inspirational stories which serve well to complete this short series of the habits of prayer heroes.

In Ulster it all started with four new young converts - James McQuilkin, Jeremiah Meneely, Robert Carlisle and John Wallace. They agreed to meet weekly on a Friday night to pray through the long winter of 1857-1858 in the Old Schoolhouse near Kells.

They took armfuls of peat for the fire in with them and in Paisley's words 'The peats made a fire in the schoolhouse grate and warmed their bodies from the winter chill, but their prayers brought down unquenchable fire from heaven which set all Ulster ablaze for God, and warmed with saving rays at least 100,000.'

Jeremiah Meneely described their meetings as follows: 'The prayer meeting was started in the autumn of 1857 and continued for 3 months before there were any visible results.' Only 2 more men joined them during that time, but on New Years Day 1858 their first conversion took place.
After that, their records show they saw salvation each friday night through the year - at the prayer meeting! By the end of 1858 there were 50 young men taking part.

Meneely continues: 'Women were not allowed in the meeting during the first year and after that they had a prayer meeting of their own. We had so much opposition and persecution to encounter that we did not think it advisable to allow women in. The world would have said that the meetings were held only for the purpose of flirtation.'

There was a remarkable momentum building that was about to overflow. 'Our one great object at the meetings was to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon ourselves and upon the surrounding country. This was the one great object and burden of our prayers. We held right to the one thing and did not run off to anything else.'
Many people ridiculed their stance, telling them that God poured out His Spirit at Pentecost already. Meneely retorted, 'The Lord knows what we want and we kept right on praying until the power came!'

What about Peggy Smith in Barvas, Hebridies at the start of the 1949 revival? This, the last genuine revival in UK.
Peggy and Christine Smith (aged 84 and 82)  prayed constantly for revival in their cottage near Barvas village on the Isle of Lewis, the largest of the Hebrides Islands in the bleak northwest of Scotland. 
God showed Peggy in a dream that revival was coming. Months later, early one winter’s morning as the sisters were praying, God gave them an unshakable conviction that revival was near.
Peggy asked her minister James Murray Mackay to call the church leaders to prayer.

Three nights a week the leaders prayed together for months. One night, having begun to pray at 10pm, a young deacon from the Free Church read Psalm 24 and challenged everyone to be clean before God. As they waited on God his awesome presence swept over them in the barn at 4 a.m.

Mackay invited Duncan Campbell to come and lead meeting’s. He replied that he could not come until the following year. God intervened and changed Duncan’s plans and commitments. Within 10 days he was on the island of Lewis.
At the close of his first meeting in the Presbyterian church in Barvas the travel weary preacher was invited to join an all night prayer meeting! Thirty people gathered for prayer in a nearby cottage.
Duncan Campbell described it:
'God was beginning to move, the heavens were opening, we were there on our faces before God.
Three o’clock in the morning came, and GOD SWEPT IN. About a dozen men and women lay prostrate on the floor, speechless. Something had happened; we knew that the forces of darkness were going to be driven back, and men were going to be delivered.
We left the cottage at 3 am to discover men and women seeking God. I walked along a country road, and found three men on their faces, crying to God for mercy. There was a light in every home, no one seemed to think of sleep.'

Later in a village opposed to the revival. At midnight in a prayer meeting, Campbell asked the local Blacksmith to pray. 'Oh God, You made a promise to pour water upon him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground, and, Lord, it's not happening.' He paused again and then continued: 'Oh God, Your honour is at stake, and I now challenge You to fulfil your covenant engagement and do what you have promised to do.'
Many who were present witnessed that at that moment the house shook. Dishes rattled in the sideboard, as wave after wave of Divine power swept through the building.

A minister standing beside Duncan turned and said:  'Mr. Campbell, an earth tremor!' But Duncan's mind, however, was in the fourth chapter of Acts, where the early Christians were gathered in prayer and, we read: 'When they had prayed the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.'
They came out of the prayer meeting to find every house open and people moving to the church, carrying chairs and needing to get right with God.

The most provocative thing about these 3 blogs on the prayer heroes habits is that none of them are really heroic - just ordinary believers like us who have made a decision to take hold of God until he does that which he has promised. Oh for such ordinary heroes in our generation!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Prayer heroes habits 2.

Continuing this Prayer week study of the prayer habits of heroes of the faith:
David Brainerd, who died whilst a missionary to the Sasquehanna Native Americans in October 1747, did his greatest work by prayer, often alone in the depths of the forests, unable to speak the language of the Native Americans and so spending literally days in fighting prayer.

Brainerd knew that if he wanted to reach the Sasquehanna, he must find someone who could at least vaguely interpret his thoughts. Understanding this, he set aside whole days praying, asking the Holy Spirit to come upon him so powerfully that these people would be moved by his message.

Dr A J Gordon in his biography of Brainerd wrote the following:
'Once he preached through a drunken interpreter, a man so intoxicated that he could hardly stand up. Yet scores were converted through that sermon. We can account for it only that it was the tremendous power of God behind him.'

Brainerd would not have seen himself as a superhero of prayer. Painfully introverted and sin aware. He was simply a called man who prayed alone in the forest, and agonised over those whom God had put on his heart.

His obedience to the compassionate heart of God was so stimulating to others, that when William Carey read about Brainerd's life story, he went to serve God in India.

Later, Jonathan Edwards was so struck by the now sick and dying Brainerd, that he wrote: 'I praise God that it was in His providence that he (Brainerd) should die in my house, that I might hear his prayers, that I might witness his consecration, that I might be inspired by his example.'

Praise God for a man dying in my house? Oh that we might all be infected with a little of Brainerd's sickness and weakness before God in fighting, prevailing prayer!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Prayer heroes habits 1.

What better time than a week of prayer in the local church to reflect on the prayer habits of some heroes of the faith.

Martin Luther is known for this quote:'If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.' 
The content of this daily discipline led Luther through the Lord's Prayer, the 10 commandments and the creeds. Praying morning and evening. Using them as a launch pad to pray for his own heart and for the world around him.

In England soon after, Cranmer's prayer book became established- giving believers prayers every day and teaching from the scriptures. Taking them through the seasons of the year in the hope that this mix of scripture and prayer would create a rhythm of growing maturity in the infant English church.

John Welch, 1568-1622  the wonderful Scottish preacher thought the day ill spent if he did not spend eight or ten hours a day in prayer. He kept a blanket by the bed to wrap himself up when he arose to pray at night. His wife would complain when she found him lying on the ground weeping. He would reply, 'O Woman, I have the souls of three thousand to answer for, and I know not how it is with many of them!'

Archbishop Leighton 1611-1684 was so much alone with God that he seemed to be in a perpetual meditation. A biographer said of Leighton, 'Prayer and praise were his business and his pleasure. He was with God before the clock struck three every morning.'

Joseph Alleine 1634-1668 arose at four praying until eight. If he heard other tradesmen plying their business before he was up, he would exclaim, 'O how this shames me! Does not my master deserve more than theirs?'

Famously at the start of the Great Awakening, inspired by the Moravians and their 100 years prayer movement, John Wesley gathered with friends to pray through the night of 1 Jan 1739.
'At about 3 in the morning as we were continuing constant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us in so much that many cried out for exceeding joy and many fell to the ground.' 

Wesley later said, 'Every Christian needs half an hour to pray every day, except when he is busy, then he needs an hour'. This from the man who rose at 4am most mornings to travel on horseback to the next place and preached 40,000 sermons, roughly 15 per week through his adult life - notwithstanding his writing of books, letters and pamphlets!
 'He thought prayer to be more his business than anything else, and I have seen him come out of his (prayer) closet with a serenity of face next to shining.' God does nothing, accept in answer to prayer.

Charles Simeon 1739-1836 devoted the hours from four until eight in the morning to God.

Bishop Asbury 1745-1816 said, 'I propose to rise at four as often as I can and spend two hours in prayer and meditation'. 

E M Bounds wrote these words over one hundred years ago to another generation, but he speaks with prophetic insight to our day when he concludes: 'This however, is not a day of prayer. Few men there are who pray......in these days of hurry and bustle, of electricity and steam, men will not take time to pray.'
The days of steam seem slow in comparison to the acceleration of the pace of life in our generation. Our hurry and bustle continue unabated. Will we be those who heed Bounds call to prayer? Can we afford not to?