A Prayer For This Day · Activism · Bible · Political · Prayer · suffering · Truth · World Affairs

Praying For The Ukrainian People

Today I read these words from the Prophet Jeremiah chapter 11:

God told me what was going on. That’s how I knew. You, God, opened my eyes to their evil scheming.
I had no idea what was going on—naive as a lamb being led to slaughter!
I didn’t know they had it in for me, didn’t know of their behind-the-scenes plots:
“Let’s get rid of the preacher. That will stop the sermons!
Let’s get rid of him for good. He won’t be remembered for long.”

Then I said, “God-of-the-Angel-Armies, you’re a fair judge.
You examine and cross-examine human actions and motives.
I want to see these people shown up and put down!  I’m an open book before you. Clear my name.”

The people of Anathoth, the home town of the prophet Jeremiah, want to silence him.
Jeremiah is unaware of this until God shows him the truth.
Then he realises their plan to get rid of him.
He appeals to God and God’s justice.

We were not unaware of Putin’s plan, but we did not want to think it would happen. Now it has.
This is my prayer, as we also appeal to God for justice.

The name Putin is derived from put – путь, the Russian word for ‘way.’
Правда is Russian for truth
ZhiznЖизнь is Russian for life

We pray to the LORD of hosts
The LORD-of-the angel-armies
Not to come against might with more might
But to raise up the people of Russia in resistance.
To reveal the bare pravda
To see false, fake rulers standing naked
Hands tied behind their backs
Their power and glory stripped.

We pray to the LORD of hosts
The LORD-of-the angel-armies
To raise up the people of the earth in solidarity
To reveal the Pravda and the true Put
To see the people of Ukraine delivered from evil
Once more able to live Zhizn openly and spontaneously
Not cautiously and warily.

Pray for the peace of Ukraine
Prosperity to all you Ukraine lovers
Friendly insiders, get along!
Hostile outsiders, keep your distance!
For the sake of my family and friends,
I say it again: live in peace!

(The last section is From The Message translation of Psalm 122 in the Jewish Scriptures)

Bible · faith · Political · Truth

You Show Me Your Truth

This morning, I read these words from Jeremiah chapter 5: (The speaker is Yahweh, Israel’s God).

”An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land:
the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own authority; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?”

Truth has been front and centre in the news for a while now. The Trump era brought us face to face with the damage that lies cause in the public sphere. We’re surrounded by conspiracy theorists, and one in particular in the last week.

Musician Neil Young decided to take his music down from Spotify in response to vaccine misinformation on the Joe Rogan podcast. “It’s either me or Joe Rogan.” In the end Spotify seem to be sticking with Joe Rogan, and Neil Young kept his promise and his music is being taken down. (He’s just been followed by Joni Mitchell)

I’m disappointed that Spotify are allowing, and implicitly encouraging this kind of content, and we’ve just cancelled our Spotify account in solidarity.

I know that these are not simply black and white issues, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

Once more, it is the importance of truth that is under discussion, with not only podcasters but politicians very much under the microscope.

It seems that many people love a conspiracy theory. Maybe it’s something to do with the way that the usual authority figures have often let us down and are viewed as no longer trustworthy. I wonder where it will end ?

Maybe the words of the prophet Jeremiah, (slightly amended) from 2500 years ago ring true:
An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: politicians, podcasters and others have spoken falsely with their misinformation and outright lies; one consequence of this is that even some of our leaders think they can do what they like, and lie to cover up their mistakes as they rule by their own authority. Sadly, many people are attracted by lies and love to have it so. I wonder what will happen next ?

Bible · Creativity, · Political

Lessons For A Free People

Since my last post, I’ve listened to more from Ched Myers on Sabbath Economics.

The fundamental thought here is based on a reading of the whole of scripture, First and Second Testament. (or Old and New)
Ched Myers traces his proposition back to the experience of Israel after being freed from slavery in Egypt. In the years that followed the Exodus from Egypt, the story describes how God provided for Israel through the gift of Manna. Each day this food would appear like dew on the ground. There would be enough for everyone. But they were commanded not to try and keep it overnight as it would spoil. Each day there would be a new provision. In addition, they were instructed that once a week, they were to gather enough food for two days, giving one day of rest each week – this was the Sabbath day. From this experience, they were to understand a new way of living that was not based on the predatory economy that the had known in Egypt.
The story of manna in the wilderness gives us three lessons for a free people.

Lesson 1. There is enough for everyone. No one has too much and no one has too little.
Those who gathered much did not have too much, and those who gathered little had enough.

Lesson 2. There will be enough tomorrow.
Abundance does not mean accumulation. Just because there is an abundance of resources does not give us the permission to keep on accumulating. An economy based on amassing more and more only leads to the more wealthy having control over resources which inevitably leads to inequality.

Lesson 3. Stop. Take a break.
The instruction not to gather one day a week was to do with stopping what would otherwise be an endless cycle of work and production, such as they had known in Egypt. The Sabbath principle was also extended to letting land lie fallow every seventh year, and after 7 times 7 years there would be a jubilee year every 50 years when there was a redistribution of land and wealth.

The commandment to keep Sabbath is instituted before the giving of the Ten Commandments. Then after Moses receives the Ten Commandments there is a reminder to keep Sabbath. In other words, the Sabbath is both the beginning and end of Torah. “It is the bedrock of a culture of restraint.”

Lesson 1 is about abundance – enough for all.
Lesson 2 is about avoiding the wealth disparity that comes from accumulation
Lesson 3 is about the need to challenge an economy that never takes a break, but rather live in such a way that in the long term wealth is distributed fairly.

In our world, we have forgotten these lessons, we just don’t get it. We do not live by these instructions, but live largely with an economy that is diametrically opposed to the principles set out for Israel in the story of manna in the wilderness … “our economy being based on private wealth, accumulated welath, and no limits to production or consumption.”

It’s interesting that these lessons are so foundational for Israel, and revisited by Jesus in the feeding of the 5000. This story in Mark chapter 6 also takes place in the wilderness (a remote place). It concerns food, and the need for all to be fed. Jesus turns first to the disciples, who immediately think of buying food (even though they acknowledge that solution as impractical, it is their first thought). They are short on ideas. Then, in Ched Myers reading, Jesus, as community organiser, sees that there is capacity there already and enables the food that is there in the crowd to be distributed so that all have enough. “Only cooperation can turn market scarcity into shared sufficiency.”

As Ched Myers traces what he calls “Sabbath Economics” through the pages of the Bible, we come to the account of the last Supper, where Mark records Jesus using exactly the same words as are recorded at the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Before the food is shared we read: “Jesus took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it … “

Surely the same words are used here to link the Last Supper with the Feeding of the Five Thousand. What Jesus is doing here is a final reminder to the disciples that this is how they are to live – by the principles that were first established in the Sinai wilderness.

And when we come to the account of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we see that they did remember … “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” Acts 2:44-45.

So …..

An online group that I recently joined spent some time listening to Ched Myers, and thinking about ‘Sabbath Economics.” Among a range of subjects, including Food Banks and other attempts to promote food sovereignty (where everyone has enough) we wondered what a communion liturgy based on these principles might look like.

That’s for next time.

Grace and Peace

Please note. All quotations are from Ched Myers – Studies in Mark III: Sabbath Economics & Eucharist (Mk 6)
Go to the BartCast and look for Ched Myers Bartcast 05

Bible · Jesus · Political

Where Jesus Attends A Wedding

So, we have this group called BUNS – where we look at a Bible passage, play Uno and eat NibbleS ….

last time, we were looking at John chapter 2, where Jesus goes to a wedding and turns water into wine.
Whatever you think about the miracle as recorded, it’s important to think about the context, and ask if there might be something going on under the surface.

I think I read somewhere that ‘context is everything.’

Whether it’s everything or not, it’s definitely important, as is our own context.
I’m listening to a podcast at the moment called the Bartcast, specifically some talk by Ched Myers on the Gospel of Mark. He’s opening up some interesting lines of thought about what might be going on in the Gospel that is related to the social and policital setting at the time of Jesus. It’s got me thinking more about the possible sub texts in gospel passages, and I had some thoughts about the ‘water into wine’ incident.

In the account, they have run out of wine at the wedding – the bar has run dry. There’s a major panic, and Jesus’ mother tries to get him to do something. (What did she think he was going to do ….?).
He’s not keen intially, but his mother seems to have an inkling that he might do something, so she tells the servants to be prepared for action.

Jesus seems to change his mind and sees these water jars, six of them, each one holding over 100 litres of water. (The water is used for ceremonial washing). Jesus tells the servants to fill them right up to the brim and then draw some off to take to the master of ceremonies. Of course, it’s become wine, and the wedding party is saved.

Now I’ve heard quite a few sermons on this passage and preached on it a few times myself. But I’ve never had this thought before. Obviously everyone is very happy to drink the wine … but actually are they happy to drink it, or would some of them be a bit unsure if they knew where it had come from – holy water jars ?

Because these water jars aren’t just any old water jars. They’re used for a religious ceremony. And now they’re being used to help a party get into the swing again after and embarassing lull in the proceedings.

What if there’s something going on here that is a bit naughty. A bit of a dig at the people who control the religious side of life. And an encouragement to the general crowd to drink the holy water (that is now beaujolais, or equivalent). I think what Jesus has done is pretty subversive. He’s taken what is set aside for a religious purpose and made it common property. He’s punctured the sacred balloon. He’s driven a coach and horses through … sorry, I’m getting a bit carried away with metaphors here, but I hope you get the idea.

Religious people sometimes set up what we might call a sacred / secular divide, where a part of life is for religion (like Church on a Sunday) and the rest of the time, life is for living. But isn’t everything sacred, isn’t everything holy ?

In the subtext of Marks’ Gospel, there are things going on that are more about the political setting, probably to do with the plight of the poorest people, and who has the power, and how that dynamic needs to change. Maybe this incident in John’s Gospel is more about who has the power in the religious world, and Jesus taking an axe to that particular tree. I don’t know, I’m just asking.

Grace and peace anyway …

Activism · Bible · Climate Change · community · Ecology · Political · World Affairs

Ben Sira and the Psalms

For the past few days, my reading has taken me to the book of Ecclesiasticus, in the Apocrypha. This book, also known as the Wisdom of Sirach , was written by the Jewish Scribe, Ben Sira, in the period between the Old and New Testaments.

I must admit to not being familiar with the book, which is full of great advice to live a godly life.

Today’s reading in chapter 31 had these words:

Are you seated at the table of the great?
Do not be greedy at it,
and do not say, ‘How much food there is here!’

Do not reach out your hand for everything you see,
and do not crowd your neighbour at the dish.
Judge your neighbour’s feelings by your own,
and in every matter be thoughtful.

Eat what is set before you like a well-bred person,
and do not chew greedily, or you will give offence.
Be the first to stop, as befits good manners,
and do not be insatiable, or you will give offence.

If you are seated among many others,
do not help yourself before they do.
How ample a little is for a well-disciplined person!

He does not breathe heavily when in bed.
Healthy sleep depends on moderate eating;
he rises early, and feels fit.

Eating with others is, or at least should be, a great leveller. When we sit around a table, especially perhaps with strangers, there’s an opportunity to learn more about the conditions under which they live.

On the face of it, Ben Sira’s words are good advice as we sit around the meal table – not to be greedy, but think of others. Essential ways to promote healthy living in community. As I thought about these words, it seemed to me that they can also help us think about greed on a larger scale.

In the context of the current COP 26 talks, imagine that the world is one great meal table. We were watching the BBC programme ‘Panorama’ last night and it brought home the crisis that we are living through – or dying through for many.

As we observe the inequalities in the world – the poor suffering most from the effects of the climate change that the rich nations have caused, we are looking at a level of ‘greed that serves the indiscipline of the entitled.’ (Walter Brueggemann).

Another of my readings today struck me forcibly. it’s from Psalm 50. In the psalm, God is the one speaking, but as I read it today, I imagined that this was the earth speaking: (The Bible quotes below are in italics, the other words are mine). Just change the word God and replace it with ‘The Earth’

The earth has been silent, but now it speaks.

The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons … our God comes and does not keep silence, (verse 1)

These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought that I was one just like yourself. But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you. (Verse 21)

In just this last year, we have seen unprecedented fires out of control, and floods devastating whole communities.

before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him. (Verse 3)

Unless the human race changes, the consequences – that are already evident – will only get worse

Mark this, then, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver. (Verse 22)

Am I stretching the words of scripture ? I don’t think so.

I am praying this prayer from CAFOD, the Catholic development agency.

Loving God,
We praise your name with all you have created.

You are present in the whole universe,
and in the smallest of creatures.

We acknowledge the responsibilities you have placed upon us
as stewards of your creation.

May the Holy Spirit inspire all political leaders at COP26 as they
seek to embrace the changes needed to foster a more sustainable society.

Instil in them the courage and gentleness to implement fairer solutions
for the poorest and most vulnerable,
and commit their nations to the care of Our Common Home.

We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son. Amen

Bible · faith · Political · Prayer · suffering

Coercive Silence and Generative Silence

Some years ago now, I discovered the value of silence, especially in the context of prayer.
My practice of silence as a regular discipline has varied over the years – I’ve been thinking recently that I could do with making more of an effort to build it in to my daily routines.

Generative Silence

Early Experience
I was brought up in the Open Brethren. For all their faults, there was so much that gave me a healthy foundation for my own spiritual life. One of those was the importance of silence in worship. We had no pastor, no paid leaders, and there was a degree of openness that encouraged every member to play their part. (Like many churches – as long as they were male, in those days)
Our morning meeting on a Sunday had no written liturgy, and what happened would be different each week. We would be guided, we prayed, by the Holy Spirit. There would be hymns sung, scripture read, and prayers prayed. No long sermons – maybe a brief thought, usually related to one of the scriptures that had been read. And quite a lot of silence.

The value of silence
I remember particularly a book by M.Basil Pennington – Call to the Centre that helped me establish a way of praying with silence.

The other key moment was watching a series on BBC – The Big Silence – sadly no longer available on BBC iPlayer, but no doubt available on DVD.

Quaker Silence
When on Sabbatical in 2009, and during the time that I was discovering again the value of silence, I attended a Quaker meeting and wrote a bit about it here. The meeting reminded me of my own early experience of church with extended periods of silence. This kind of silence can be generative – lead to new thoughts and actions that work for the good of all. You know the phrase – ‘a pregnant pause?’ I suppose a pause is a kind of silence, and the pregnant pause is one that’s full of meaning, waiting to come out. It reminds me that silence can be generative, and that out of this silence, something new can be born.

Coercive Silence

Those with social privilege have the option to remain silent.
However, not all silence is helpful. The silence experienced by many people will not be chosen but coerced. I remember being a part of conversations where the subjects of religion and politics were outlawed – and yes, they can get boring and unproductive. But part of the reason why these discussions are out of bounds is because the privileged and the comfortably secure don’t want to have their position challenged, and because of their privilege they can choose not to have the debate anyway.

I was listening to a programme on the radio yesterday – ‘Green Inc’. Unpacking the multi-billion-dollar industry that’s rebranding the oil and gas industry as green. Whilst investing huge amounts into prolonging the oil and gas industry, there’s an attempt to persuade us that it’s not so bad after all. One way of silencing others is to shout louder and longer using the best of modern media in an attempt to drown out alternative voices.

Many of us have experienced this in our church life. We’ve heard the dominant voices and wanted to speak, but somehow there hasn’t been a forum for that conversation, or we have lacked the courage. In churches that are led by strong willed clergy, it may be hard for other voices to be heard. Even in more egalitarian faith communities, it’s often the most confident who speak the most, and they may not be the best voices to listen to.

Women, the Gay community, Black voices, the Poor generally – all have struggled to resist the forces that have threatened to silence them. There’s a verse in Exodus chapter 2 that I have mentioned recently in another post, where over many years, the Hebrew voice has been silenced by oppression.
“The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.”
The period of slavery in Egypt left them voiceless. In desperation they cry out in the hope that someone will hear them. The road to freedom started with that cry, but they would need determination to follow through on that path.

So what about those who do not have a voice – those who are forced in one way or another to stay silent. We may not even realise that it’s happening, but in any situation where one voice, or one set of voices are dominant, it’s likely that other voices are not able to speak.
You may recognise in your own experience times when you have wanted to speak, but not felt able to.
You may remember times when you have tried to speak, but found that your voice is drowned out by others.
Conversely, you may recognise in your own words and actions times when you have prevented others from speaking.

May we move to a place where all voices can be heard and listened to, and that we pay attention especially to the voices that are coming from a different place to our own.

Grace and Peace, and good listening.

Bible · faith · Political

Justice – Another Word For Love ?

Justice in a passage from Luke’s Gospel

I was working on a sermon earlier this week, on a text from Luke’s Gospel.

Luke 11:37-42

37 While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. 38 The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.

42 ‘But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practised, without neglecting the others.

The phrase that caught my eye was this: But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God.

They are just paying lip service to the command to love their neighbour. It struck me that when Jesus uses that phrase ‘Justice and the love of God,’ he is using another way of summing up the whole law – Love God and love neighbour. In other words, the idea of bringing justice to someone is what it means to love them.

Justice in Psalm 119

‘Coincidentally,’ earlier in the week, I had a part of Psalm 119 in my daily prayers and noticed that word justice again.
Psalm 119 is in 22 sections of 8 verses for each section, each section starting with one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
The message of the psalm is about the beauty and sufficiency of God’s law. It’s a comprehensive treatment of the importance of God’s law – demonstrated by the way that the psalm is structured using every letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

In each section there are 8 verses, and in each verse there is a word that represents the law. So the law is descibed in the following ways: Promise, Statute, Decree, Commandment, Word, Precept, Ordinance, Ways.

As far as I can see, nearly every verse in the psalm (with just a few exceptions) includes one of the words above, and interestingly I noticed the word justice crops up in two sections. (Below)

148 My eyes are awake before each watch of the night,
    that I may meditate on your promise.
149 In your steadfast love hear my voice;
    O Lord, in your justice preserve my life.
150 Those who persecute me with evil purpose draw near;
    they are far from your law.

Salvation is far from the wicked,
    for they do not seek your statutes.
156 Great is your mercy, O Lord;
    give me life according to your justice.
157 Many are my persecutors and my adversaries,
    yet I do not swerve from your decrees.

On these two occasions, I wonder if justice is intended as another word to stand in for ‘law’ etc. to remind us that justice is central to God’s law.

So, meditating on these instances of the word justice led me to the thought that justice is central to the law of love.

So what do we mean by justice ?

Walter Brueggemann has spoken about justice as “Sorting out what belongs to whom, and returning it to them.”

The word return implies that people have had things taken away from them, or do not have what rightly they should have.

The plight of the Palestinian People

A few years ago now, we became aware of the reality of life for the Palestinian people.  A key part of their story goes back to May 14th 1948, when at midnight the British mandate of Palestine ended, and the State of Israel was proclaimed. Over a short time, this resulted in over 700,000 Arabs either fleeeing or being expelled from their homes.

There are families who two generations later, still have the key of the door to the house that they lived in. Maybe grandparents have handed the key on to successive generations to keep alive the hope that one day justice may come, and they will be able to return. 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)

Justice is about sorting out what belongs to whom and returning it to them, but the injustice of land grabbing is still happening today in many parts of the world, including Israel, where Israelis are illegally taking land from Palestinian people that has been theirs for generations, to build Israeli settlements.

The Skyline Drive

In 2009, I had a sabbatical, and spent part of the time studying at Eastern Mennonite University doing some of their Summer School modules. I was fortunate enough to also be able to spend 10 days with my wife and son travelling around the state of Virginia in the USA.

One day, we found ourselves driving on the Skyline Drive, a 105 mile route that runs through the Shenandoah National Forest, from Front Royal in the north to Waynesboro in the south.  In order to set up the national park back in the 1930’s, the federal government had to buy the land, which involved resettling hundreds of people who were living in the area.  Many of these people did not want to move, and there were numerous court cases as they challenged the right of the government to move them off their land.  

Justice is about sorting out what belongs to whom and returning it to them. Sadly, those families lost their homes and in many cases their livelihoods. Even though they were resettled, they had been forcibly uprooted from homes they had known in some cases for generations.

The widow, the orphan and the stranger

Another take on justice runs right through the Old Testament. It’s not so much about giving people back what they have lost, but enabling them to enjoy what everyone else enjoys. The current word is ‘agency’ – justice is when the poor have agency to access the things that I take for granted – food, shelter, lack of violence, work, community, healthcare ….

In the Old Testament the people who most often need justice were widows orphans and strangers. That’s because they were the people who did not have anyone to speak on their behalf.

In that patriarchal society, a married woman would need her husband to get justice, but a widow is on her own in that world; an umarried woman would have her father to speak for her, but an orphan is on their own. They have no one to speak for them.  Similarly a stanger – that is, a foreigner living within Israel would be on their own.

It is these people, above all, who should be cared for.  The way to show that we love neighbour is how we treat the weakest in our society, those who have no one to advocate for them.

What comes to mind now, are the people in my community who are working for justice:
Gloucester City Mission, who work with those who have no home to call their own. At one time, they did have a home, but for whatever reason, they are now on the street or in temporary accommodation.  GCM are working to return a home for the homeless.
Emmaus Communities are also working for justice for the homeless – to help people in getting back what we should all have as a human right – a home.
Gloucester Food Bank. I pray for the day when all the food banks will have closed.  When there will be no one who is going without another human right – food to sustain them. But until that day, we thank God for those who are working for justice for the hungry. To give back what has been taken away
And lastly GARAS – Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers. They are working with those who have had so much taken away from them.  Country, Community, Home, Job, Family, Dignity … Justice is about giving back to them what every human being should enjoy by right.

For Jesus, justice and love are part of the same law. The command to uphold justice for the weakest is central to the DNA of the church. Without justice we are empty, we have nothing. Without justice we are just making a noise

But when we work for justice, we are serving those who have no protection, no one to speak for them, the ones without a voice – working to include them and embrace them so that they, like us can share in the bounty that God has given us all to enjoy.

Grace, Peace and Justice.

Activism · Bible · Ecology · Political · Prayer · World Affairs

Spirit-Led Movements Always Perplex

This is a part of chapter 5 of the book of Acts in the New Testament.

12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed. 17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”

This is the account of the beginnings of the church. However, at this stage, it’s a movement within Judaism, but claiming something new that is driving a wedge between the powers that be and this new phenomenon.
(The new thing being a proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus).

I’ve written before about categories that characterise the work of the Spirit …
Inclusion … (contrasted with exclusion)
Abundance v Scarcity
Economic Justice v Coercive Power
Connectedness v Individualism
Cooperation v Competition
Solidarity v Looking After #1

In the account in Acts, the tension is between:
Voices that are determined to speak, and the forces that want to silence them
New possibilities that are emerging and present arrangements
Emancipation and Intimidation

When I was thinking about how this might play out today, there are numerous examples, but one that comes to mind is Extinction Rebellion.
How might we all play a part in the fight to put the climate emergency at the top of the political agenda ?

My thoughts are also turning to Afghanistan today. Western powers have much to regret and reflect on over past mistakes, but it’s clear that an immediate concern is the way that ‘present arragements’ in the form of fundamentalism are at play:
Silencing the voices that have begun to speak, quashing the new possibilities that have been possible (education of girls for example), and using intimidation to restrict the freedoms that are a human right.

Grace and Peace, and prayers especially for the Afghan people.

Political · World Affairs

An Officer And A Spy

I’ve been vaguely aware of something called ‘The Dreyfus Affair,’ but never looked into it, until a friend recommended this book by Robert Harris. It’s a fictionalised account of the grave injustice done to French army officer Alfred Dreyfus.
In 1894, he is convicted of spying for the Germans, and sent to Devil’s Island.

Soon afterwards, George Picquart, also an officer in the French army, is appointed to head up the counter espionage unit that had investigated Dreyfus.

Spoiler Alert

It’s not long before Picquart has a case to get his teeth into, when informants pass on scraps of letters that appear to be communications with a foreign government. The guilty party appears to be a general, and his handwriting is very similar to the handwriting on the documents that were key evidence in the conviction of Dreyfus.

It’s not long before Picquart begins to have doubts about the case against Dreyfus, but hampered by the unwillingness of the army heriarchy to admit they made a mistake, it is a very long time before the truth is revealed.

There’s a lot to take from this, but the thing that I want to highlight is the importance of doubt. It’s not until Picquart has doubts about the safety of the conviction that he starts to investigate further.

As I think about the journey of life, it seems to me that we mature and grow when we are confronted with the compost of doubt. A mindset that is fixed and certain – for example one that denies the reality of the climate emergency, can only change when some element of doubt is sown.

Every development in human thought has come when someone started to doubt what had, up to that point, been accepted as true. For example, the ‘Galileo Affair’ ended with the trial and condemnation of Galileo by the Roman Catholic Inquisition for his support of the theory that the earth and the planets revolved around the sun.

But … having doubts can be tough. When you have been brought up with a belief system of certainty – for example the belief that God created the world in seven days, which many sincere Christians believe, it’s going to take some courage to take a different view. To doubt something that your community believe strongly is a risky business. And … it’s only through listening to the whisper of doubt that it’s possible to move on.

In a world of increasing nationalism where unquestioning allegiance, and the certainty of the cause is demanded, it might not be too far off the truth to say that only doubt can save the world.

Grae and Peace

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.