Activism · Political · suffering · World Affairs

Today It Is Nakba Day

I just read a post from Huw Thomas.

It reminded me that today is Nakba Day. The day when Palestinians remember the forced removal in 1948 of their families from their ancestral homes.
This is not just a past event, but an ongoing horror story where Palestinians are routinely abused and refused;
victimized and minimized;
oppressed and dispossessed.

I wear a bracelet most days that says – Save Gaza / Free Palestine.
It’s a reminder to me not to forget the Palestinian people and their struggle to be treated a citizens with equal rights.

Huw Thomas in his blog points us towards a couple of organisations that have helped him in his thinking about this issue.

There are a couple of organisations that have shaped my thinking on this…

B’tselem

or Peace Now

and Occupied Thoughts is a brilliant Podcast

Amos Trust – worth all the support you can give…
(I echo that thought)

We try to live with hope and send all our prayers to those engaged in the struggle for peace with justice.

Activism · Bible · faith · Political · World Affairs

How To Avert The Crisis

There’s a passage I’ve been reading in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them— 9 that all should set free their Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should hold another Judean in slavery. 10 And they obeyed, all the officials and all the people who had entered into the covenant that all would set free their slaves, male or female, so that they would not be enslaved again; they obeyed and set them free. 11 But afterwards they turned about and took back the male and female slaves they had set free, and brought them again into subjection as slaves.

This story relates to part of the
covenant that God had made with Israel. It concerned members of the community of Israel who for whatever reason had fallen on hard times. Maybe their crops had failed and they had been forced to sell their land to make ends meet. Or even worse, they had been forced to live as slaves to pay off a debt. Every 7th year, according to the law of Israel, their debt should be cancelled, they should no longer be slaves, and land that was forfeited should be returned to them.

The context for this passage from the book of the prophet Jeremiah is that Israel has strayed from God’s ways. They have gone after other gods to worship, and have neglected the laws concerning the care of the poor,
particularly widows, orphans and foreigners.

God’s judgment on Israel is that they will suffer the consequences – and be invaded by Babylon and many of the population be taken into exile.

For much of
the time, the leaders in Israel – the ruling elite of kings and priests, ignore these warnings.

But the
crisis deepens. Invasion looks likely. It seems that Jeremiah’s dire warnings are true.

What to do in a such a situation. For the leadership in Israel this means
trying a last ditch attempt to avert the crisis by obeying the law that God had given them and setting free the slaves that should have had their freedom in the 7th year of their slavery. It’s a cry to God to say -“OK, we’ll do as you commanded. Now please come to our help and stop this invasion.”

What happens next is that king Zedekiah reverses his decision and makes them all slaves again ! The reason is not given. It’s possible that the threat from Babylon went away, and Zedekiah thought he could get away with going back to business as usual –
oppressing the poor.

Or maybe the economic situation got worse – so bad in fact that landowners needed slave labour to survive and put pressure on the king to reverse the decision.

Whatever it was, Jeremiah’s verdict is that once again the King and the
ruling class have ignored God’s commands and will be judged.

That’s a long, but necessary preamble …

This incident makes me think of the Coronavirus crisis that we have lived through, and still are to some degree. In the early days, our government put in place measures to reduce the negative impact on the population by
introducing the furlough arrangements, whereby the government would pay businesses to keep people on the payroll while they were not able to carry on trading. (Eg – restaurants that had to close completely in the pandemic).

Now the direct threat from Covid has reduced because of the success of the
vaccination programme. It’s back to business as usual. In the immediate aftermath of Covid, the pressure was off … but the government needed to recoup as much of the financial outlay as possible. So …

We are seeing increases in National Insurance contributions, and other ways that the
government are seeking to increase revenue.

Then comes another crisis … Ukraine and the consequent increases in oil and gas prices as well as effects from the grain harvests in Ukraine being disrupted.

What do we see from the
government – a £150 rebate on council tax … with another sum – that will need to be paid back. For an average household, that £150 will go in two months in their increases in gas and electric bills.

Meanwhile we still read of massive bonus payments to some, while others are sitting with hot water bottles and blankets to keep warm, and relying on
food banks for essentials.

Can you see the parallels ?

What
happens to nations, businesses, organisations in general when those at the top are sitting pretty while the poorest struggle to survive. In the end those nations, businesses, etc will fall.

A
settled social order relies on justice for the poor. Without economic justice, society eventually collapses.

What do we need ? Justice for the poorest. When do we need it ? Now !

Activism · Political · Prayer · Truth · World Affairs

In Search of The Truth Part 1

In our church yeserday, we had these prayers that I found compelling, and thought worth sharing. Simple, yet full. Offering space to enter into the prayer in our own way.

Prayers
God of love
hear the cry of those who yearn for love;
fractured families, broken homes
neglected, unwanted, alone.
God of love
Hear our prayer

God of justice
hear the cry of those who yearn for justice;
persecuted and oppressed,
exploited, ill-treated, broken.
God of justice
Hear our prayer

God of peace
hear the cry of those who yearn for peace;
in battle zones and broken states,
frightened, fearful, anxious
God of peace
Hear our prayer

God of healing
hear the cry of those who yearn for healing;
physical and spiritual
hurting, weakened, depressed
God of healing
Hear our prayer

God of mercy
Hear the cry of those who yearn for mercy;
convicted, in need of your Grace,
contrite, humble, bowed down,
God of mercy
Hear our prayer

God of Truth *
Hear the cry of those who yearn for truth;
the truth of our hearts, and the truth of what we see around us.
Confused, questioning, searching
God of truth
Hear our prayer

Dear God, help us to know
your peace , your love, your justice,
your healing, mercy and truth
this day and all days
Amen

I added this last section to the prayers we had in church. The prayers had reminded me of a verse in Psalm 85 verse 11:
Grace and truth have met together; justice and peace have kissed each other.
(Complete Jewish Bible translation).

The reasons for adding the section about truth, was confirmed for me by a quote from Hannah Arendt,
“Under conditions of tyranny it is far easier to act than to think.”

When we see something happening like the invasion of Ukraine, we want to do something. And It is fantastic to see the humanitarian aid that is coming to Ukraine, and the way that other nations have stepped up.

But in the end …
The antidote to evil is not goodness but reflection and responsibility. Evil grows when people “cease to think, reflect, and choose between good and evil, between taking part or resisting.” Hannah Arendt.

Part of that thinking and reflecting is a search for truth, as best we can, however elusive that might be.

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.’
Pravda
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 · Climate Change · faith · Prayer · World Affairs

A Boundary For The Sea

We’ve been watching ‘The Sinner’ in the last week. Series 4. It’s a crime drama set in Maine, USA, and stars Bill Pullman.
The main character, Percy Muldoon, is a woman in her 20’s and is very troubled by something in her past. Her uncle Colin is trying to help her recover her catholic faith and one scene shows them repeating these words together.

“I placed the sand as a boundary for the sea,
a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass …”

I didn’t recognise the words, but thought they were probably from the psalms.

Weirdly, I came across the exact same words the following day, as I came to the next section of Jeremiah in my daily prayers. (I’m reading through Jeremiah a few verses a day).

When I experience an extraordinary coincidence like this (serendipity), I try to be alert to what God might be saying. The conclusion I came to was to write a post about it in the hope that it might speak to someone.

In “Praying with the Prophets,” Eugene Peterson comments on this verse – “Oceans and lakes know and respect the boundaries set for them by God. Why will not human beings do the same ? But everywhere there are people who scorn and flout guidelines of justice and gratitude, compassion and generosity.”

The consequences of living outside the boundaries that God has given us are that our lives go out of alignment, and on a macro level, we see injustice spreading and the earth itself groaning.

Eugene Peterson’s prayer following his comment in this verse:
Dear God, I want to live in harmony with what you have created in and around me, not at odds with it. I want to increase in wisdom and stature, in favour with God and humanity. (Luke 2:52)”

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

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.


community · World Affairs

Power Over Or Power With

I’m reading a book I picked up in the Oxfam bookshop in Hereford a few weeks ago – ‘Active Hope,’ by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone.

It’s a book about the climate emergency, with the subtitle ‘How to face the mess in we’re in without going crazy.’

It’s an honest appraisal of the situation, with helpful advice and reflective exercises to be a part of the change that we so desperately need.

There’s a story in the chapter on power that beautifully illustrates two kinds of power.

The story is a folk tale from Denmark about a meeting between two kings. “You see that tower ?” Said the first king to the second, pointing to a tall, highly fortified part of his castle. “In my kingdom, I could command any of my subjects to climb to the top, and then jump to their deaths. Such is my power that all will obey.”

The second king, who was visiting, looked around him, and then pointed to a small, humble dwelling nearby. “In my kingdom,” he said, “I can knock on the door of a house like that, and, in any town or village, I will be welcomed. Such is my power that I can stay overnight, sleeping well, without any fear for my safety.

The first king had power-over, while the second has power-with. When we we follow the path of partnership, a different quality of relationship emerges and, with this, a richer experience of community.

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.