Activism · Political · World Affairs

Listening To The Lived Experience

On Tuesday this week, through the work of the Amos Trust, I was able to listen to a conversation with four people who are well aquainted with the situation in Palestine/Israel.

One of the the four was Sami Awad, who lives in Bethlehem, and lives with the situation there on a daily basis. I was very interested to hear his take on current events. Sami is an activist with a commitment to non-violence, working for transformation through helping those on different sides to engage with one another.

This is just what I took away from what I heard. I don’t pretent to have any direct experience myself, but I have confidence in what Amos Trust are doing, and in Sami and his work.

For the last two weeks, we have seen a re-igniting of the violence in Palestine/Israel, and have been saddened to witness the profound effects of rocket attacks from both sides. The media have naturally focussed on the violence, and on calls for a cease to hostilities from around the world. However, that’s not the only, or even the main message that needs to be heard.

When the rocket attacks finish, everything will go back to how it was. Nothing will have changed. Media interest will fade while injustices continue. There is a cycle of violence that erupts every three years or so, and unless there can be a focus on the underlying issues, this cycle will just carry on. It is in fact in Israel’s interests to stop the violence, as that takes the spotlight off Gaza, The West Bank and East Jerusalem, and allows things to revert to the status quo.

The key messages that I took from Sami Awad are:
* The movement for change is not against Israel as such, but against oppression.

* It is a movement of both Palestinians and Israelis who see the need for change.

* For Sami Awad, it has always been, and always will be a movement of non-violence.

* This should not be a movement that is portrayed simply as protesting the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and homes. The Occupation of homes and lands applies to a particular group of people, but the ‘Occupation of the People’ applies to all Palestinians. This is at its heart about human rights. About recognising the equal rights of all.

* The aim of the protest is not to increase Jewish fear of Palestinians, but to increase understanding of the reality of the injustice that persists. The campaigns of boycotting Israeli goods, divesting from Israeli companies, and using sanctions to apply pressure is similarly to enable people to see what is really going on.

* Whatever some might say, the situation is Apartheid (which means separation). Politically, socially, and economically Israelis have greater rights – access to water, food, travel, education, health care and all that makes for life.

* Whatever politicians say, and whatever facts are traded about who did what, and when, this is a human story, and it is the stories of everyday people that need telling.

* For Sami, the onus is on people like him, with a desire for change, to reach out to Israelis and help them see how there can be a better life for everyone

* To label Hamas as terrorists just plays into their hands, because that is their aim – to increase terror. You can disagree fundamentally with the tactics of violence used by Hamas, but at the same time understand why they are there. To demonise them only pushes the two sides further apart. The only possible hope is to engage.

I had a look at how the current situation was reported, and its hard to find an in depth look of the situation in our mass media – TV and newspapers. We need the media to tell the whole story, and to hear people like Sami because it is their lived experience, and their passion to see justice for all in the Land of The Holy One.

Grace and Peace.

Activism · Jesus · Political · Theology

Breaking Down Walls Of Hostility

On May 14th 1948 at midnight the British mandate of Palestine ended, and the State of Israel was proclaimed.
During this period, over 700,000 Arabs either fled or were expelled from their homes.

To mark this period of time in the history of the Palestinian people, May 15th became a annual reminder of this forced expulsion, and was named Nakba Day. (Nakba means catastrophe)

My Bible readings today included a passage from Paul’s letter to the first century Christian community in Ephesus where he wrote:
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth … were excluded from citizenship in Israel … But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near … 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility …

The context is this – the early church was made up of Jewish and Gentile groups who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah.
The Jewish followers of Jesus initially could not agree that the Gentile believers should be accepted on the same basis as the Jewish believers. Hence the phrase above … were excluded from citizenship in Israel. Paul was talking about both groups being fully a part of the emerging first century church, and idea which met with strong resistance from Jewish believers. I’m taking the Christian principle of inclusion described by St Paul, and applying it to the situation in Israel/Palestine by calling for Palestinians to have the same rights of citizenship as Israelis.

But what we actually have is a situation of apartheid, where one ethnic group – the Palestinian people – is treated differently.
Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002) defines the Crime of apartheid as: “inhumane acts…committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”

This week we have seen the conflict flare up again with violence on both sides. Violence is never justified as a way of solving problems, but when injustice goes on and on and on, it’s understandable why people resort to violence.
This conflict will continue as long as Israel refuses to give justice to the Palestinian people.

Walter Brueggemann writes:
“Dominant culture is always tempted to exclude … naming those who have privilege and entitlement, and those who do not qualify for inclusion.”
The whole ideology of exclusiveness is countered by both St Paul and Jesus. Paul describes how Jesus has ‘broken down the dividing wall of hostility’ by giving equal access to both the ‘insider’ (Jew) and the ‘outsider’ (Gentile). In the same way, Jesus’ actions in the Gospel reading below violates all the norms of the day, cleansing the leper and making him acceptable. The outsider is welcomed. The heart of the passage is the moment when Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the man – an outrageous, shocking thing to do.

Matthew chapter 8:
1 When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

Today, we mourn with the Palestinian people on Nakba Day.
We pray for the Palestinian people, and for peace in the Land of the Holy One.
We pray for those on both sides who work to break down barriers of hostility.
We pray for those who will engage in peaceful but outrageous acts of protest.

Read more about Nakba day 2021 in the joint statement issued by this group of charities
ABCD Bethlehem
Amnesty International UK
Amos Trust
Christian Aid
Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU)
Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel – UK and Ireland (EAPPI)
Embrace the Middle East
Friends of Birzeit University (FOBZU)
Friends of Nablus and the Surrounding Areas FONSA)
Interpal
Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR)
Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)
Quakers in Britain
Sabeel-Kairos UK
War On Want
Welfare Association

I tried to write a song about this a few months ago. It’s here – Catastrophe

Activism · Bible · Church · faith · Following Jesus · Political

The River Runs Down Hill

Water is a prominent theme in both the First Testament, and the Second. I was listening earlier this week to a talk by Ched Myers, speaking about both the ecological and the theological significance of water.
Listen here. Roll Like A River

There’s a lot to digest there, but I’ll just refer to sonmething he said at the end. He’s made the point earlier that in his context in Southern California, the river Ventura that once flowed all year round is now seasonal. This is largely because the water is taken off by residential needs and industry futher up stream.
That has all sorts of ecological consequences to the environment, as well as affecting those who live down stream.

The situation is not unlike the Jordan Valley, where many people, (Palestinians in particular) have to contend with water shortages, as well as the land itself being impoverished.

Already, we are seeing water as a commodity being fought over, and who wins ? The rich. We are familiar with wars over other resources like oil, but we are now realising that the main building block of life – water – is getting scarcer in many areas, and a cause of conflict.

In Southern California and the Jordan Valley, it is the environment and the people downstream that are affected.

Ched Myers draws a parallel between the ecological and economic issues here, and the way that water is spoken of in scripture.

There are many passages that speak of the life giving properties of water – coupled with water as an image of our spiritual lives. In Psalm 1 water is a symbol of God’s way of living.

Happy are those whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. (Psalm 1 verses 1-3)

In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus say these words:
Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” John Chapter 4 verse 14

It’s clear that water is not only essential for our very material lives, but is also a kind of code for what we might call abundant life, where there are no winners and losers, but where everyone has their needs fully met.

The Prophet Amos says this:
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,  I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos Chapter 5 verses 21-24

Water flows down hill … but by the time it reaches the communities where Ched Myers lives, or the Palestinian People in the Jordan Valley, there is not enough left for everyone.

In my last-but-one post, I said that the Christian life is about ‘Gift and Task.’ This post is definitely about ‘Task’. The task of every one of us to seek justice for those who are furthest away from the source of blessing. Those who are on the margins where the resources do not reach, as well as the land that is impoverished by lack of water.

Grace and Peace.

Activism · Bible · faith · Following Jesus · Jesus · Political · World Affairs

In My Dream I Saw

I don’t remember my dreams very often, but I still have some snippets from a dream I had last night.
In my dream I saw a statue, standing up with something like a rod in its hand. The statue was a bit more than life size, maybe about 8 feet tall, and the rod was about 18 inches long and maybe 2 inches in diameter.

The next thing I saw was that the statue was lying down on its side, and the rod was held by two cupped hands of the statue. The hands were holding, rather than gripping the rod. Then someone was removing the rod from the cupped hands.

Then I found myself with a group of people in a room, all giving their different accounts of what the rod symbolised. Each one was describing a different angle on power

I can’t quite remember exactly what I said, but it was something to do with what happens when there’s a vacuum. There’s that saying – nature abhors a vacuum. When there’s a vacuum, something will rush in the fill that vacuum.

In the dream, the vacuum was created when the rod was removed from the hands. Suddenly, the person, or organisation that was holding the power is no longer in charge. At that point, other forces are quick to come and seize power.

In my dream, I went on to say that what was needed was an understanding of what the purpose of holding that power should be. The power should be exercised for the benefit of all. That means that everyone needs to have a say, no one should be left out.

At that point, I finished, and everyone applauded. I was surprised, but pleased that what I had said seemed to ring a bell with everyone present.

Here endeth the dream

So – a couple of reflections on the dream. We’re watching a series on Netflix at the moment called Godless. It’s set just after the American Civil war, and I think that may have been on my mind, and that somewhere deep in my unconscious is a memory of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address from November 19th 1863, in the middle of the Amercian Civil War. In that speech, he famously said ‘That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’ The exact wording of the speech is uncertain, and Lincoln wasn’t the first to use that idea …. of the people, by the people, for the people.

My little speech in the dream seemed to be along the same lines …

The second thought is that today – March 28th 2021 – is Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar. The Gospel reading for Palm Sunday recalls how Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. As he entered the Holy City, the crowds acclaimed him as king shouting – ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’ Hosanna means ‘save,’ and is probably used here as a special cry of joy for the one who has come to save, to rescue.

Here’s the prophetic passage from the First Testament book of Zechariah that is clearly seen in the events of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

Zechariah chapter 9 verses 9 – 10.
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you,righteous and victorious,lowly and riding on a donkey,on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem,and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations.His rule will extend from sea to seaand from the River to the ends of the earth.

In my dream, someone came and took the rod representing power from the statue. Whatever part of my subconscious that dream came from, the removal of the rod of power is something to do with a non-violent expression of a different quality of power to the oppressive displays of power that dominate our world.

For example, I’m thinking today of the non-violent demonstrations in Myanmar at the brute force and violence shown by the army.

I’m thinking of the non-violent demonstrations in our own city of Bristol, sadly hijacked by violent protesters.

I’m thinking of the peaceful protests against violence done to women after the murder of Sarah Everard, that ironically resulted in a police over reaction and more violence shown to the mostly women protesters.

I’m thinking of the peaceful civil disobedience of the protests of Extinction Rebellion back in 2019.

And I’m thinking of Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a war horse, to announce God’s kingdom of peace. Jesus comes to demonstrate his power, that is so different to the power of the elite in Jerusalem, and to the imperial might of Rome. He comes to challenge the powers of his day. From the backwater of Galilee, Jesus now enters as it were, the Lion’s Den.

As I imagine the picture of Jesus on a donkey, I see that event as an act of non-violent resistance. The words of the ancient prophets are brought to life, and their words still speak today.

The words of Zechariah conjure up a vision not far from my dream in which I saw the symbol of power taken from the statue – I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem,and the battle bow will be broken.

It is a vision of peace that comes against all kinds of oppression – through the economy, through race, gender and sexuality.
Wherever such protests are made, the forces of power will rise to try and silence the voices of peace.

A prayer for today

God of ancient prophets, we thank you for your timeless utterances of truthfulness. Give us good ears to hear the reverberation of those old words as new voices ring out in our day. In his name. Amen.

Prayer by Walter Brueggemann (slightly altered)

Activism · faith · Greenbelt Festival, · music · Political · Song for Today · Songwriting · World Affairs

A Song – Work In Progress

I don’t think I’ve posted one of my own songs before, but here goes. If you’ve been following me, you’ll know that I am trying to understand the situation in the Middle East, especially as it applies to the relationship between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza.

One of the defining moments in the last 100 years was what Palestinians call Nakba – the time in 1948 when Palestinian families were forced to leave their homes. One of the accounts of that event is told by Sami Awad, and tells how his grandfather, living in Jerusalem with his family, lost his life to a bullet. The truth of what happened that day is disputed, but whatever that truth is, his death was caused by the actions of Israel.

I wrote a song that tries to capture something of those events. It’s just a home version, with me doing all the singing and playing, and it’s very rough round the edges, but it’s a story that I needed to tell. The last 72 years have seen the bitter fruit of those days in 1948, with the loss of access to water, expulsion from the ancestral lands, frequent loss of the olive trees that are a symbol of Palestinian life and the perils of losing the heritage seeds that tell the story of day to day life in the foods that are eaten.

Amos Trust is a small human rights organisation – find out more about the situation here

My song is actually work in progress. I need to do some more work on it, but I wanted to put it out there. I am a songwriter, who like many others, dreams of others seeing the value of their work and making it their own. So if anyone out there wants to take the song and do something with it, let me know.

Here it is: Catastrophe

Grace and peace

Activism · faith · Greenbelt Festival, · LIterature · Me · music · Poetry

Greenbelt Is Wild At Home

Every year for the past 20 years we have been to the Greenbelt Festival of Artistry, Belief and Activism over the August Bank Holiday. There is a different theme each year – this year’s theme was to be ‘Wild At Heart,’ but it’s being re-imagined as ‘Wild At Home.

We’re really disappointed that Greenbelt isn’t happening in the usual way, but excited that the Greenbelt spirit will be alive and well in spite of the pandemic.

So throughout the pandemic, Greenbelt have been creating online content, and this all comes together on 29th August when there is a whole day of Greenbelt offerings.

We’ve signed up to join in (at a minimal cost of £10), but in addition, we’re going to be doing our own ‘Wild At Home.’ We’ll be spending the Friday with our daughter and son-in-law and family (The Greens, appropriately!) and making our own mini festival.

On a ‘normal’ year, we would arrive at the festival site in the late morning, get the tent up, have a cuppa and a sandwich, and then pore over the programme for the weekend. (Which goes from Friday evening to late Monday evening). At about 5 pm Friday, things kick off on the Festival Village ….

So this is a rough programme for our ‘Green Belt’ (Kindly hosted by the Greens). We’ll be arriving at normal Greenbelt time on the Friday to put the tent up … etc etc.

Rachel, our daughter is working out the fine details, but it will include Greenbelt favourites including :

  • Fischy Music, (by kind arrangement with Jon, and Bev).
  • Food (Courtesy Mr and Mrs Green)
  • Camping (In the garden)
  • Toilets (proper ones)
  • Sports (Trampolining)
  • Tiny Tea Tent (Yes, really)
  • Open Mic Session
  • Family Twist (Hosted by the Greens)
  • Make and Create (The Make and Create team)

Whatever you are missing this summer – even so, I hope you might find a way to do something fun and soul satisfying