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.

Church · Song for Today · World Affairs

Beige, Purple, Red, Blue, Orange …

First, a disclaimer … this is not mine, nor is it Rob Bell’s but comes from academic scholarship. Rob Bell has presented it for a wider audience, and it’s very interesting. Me, We, Everybody, Part 2

I tried to outline some of what this was about in an earlier post, so I’m just going to take off from there. It’s all about human development. The first episode was about the micro, or personal aspects of human development. This episode is about human development through history.

And another disclaimer. This is just a broad outline. It’s not meant to give a precise blueprint, but I can see that it is a helpful way of understanding human development.

The first three are firmly ‘Me’ – based on the individual and their needs.

So – first – a period of time when survival was the main thing. Kill or be killed. Make sure that you have the basic essential of life. Food, water, shelter, etc. This is firmly focussed on the individual. Rob Bell assigns colours to each stage and this one is Beige.
In Beige, who holds the power ? I do

Second. This is all to do with pleasing the gods. Survival depends on food, and humans notice that crops need two things – sunshine and water. So we pray to the rain and the sun gods, and if the crops fail, we look for ways to ask the gods to help us. Rituals and sacrifice become ways that we use to pray to the gods. This period is magic, and the colour is Purple.
In Purple, who holds the power ? The Priest/Shaman

Third. This is to do with following a leader. As communities form, so strong leaders emerge – people who have power, or wealth, and charisma. People who are able to influence others to obey them. This period is Red.
In Red, who holds the power ? The King.

Now we move to ‘We’ – where the tribe becomes important.

So – Fourth. Sometimes leaders pass on their mantle to others in the family – usually sons. Dynasties rule over communities, but at some point the power of the individual is replaced by traditions that have gathered force over time. This is where community comes in, and we live our lives more in accordance with values and practices that have emerged over time, rather than blind obedience to a leader. This period is Blue.
In Blue, who holds the power ? The Rules

A third move to ‘Everybody’ starts from this point

The Fifth period is about beginning to look outside your community and discover that other people follow different traditions and ways of living. Scientific discovery opens our eyes to new ways of seeing, and some of humanity’s basic assumptions are questioned. (The earth is no longer the centre of the universe). So, for example, in the 16th century and beyond, this is a period when in Western Europe, we start to see democracy as an alternative way of deciding who our leaders are. It’s also the time of the Reformation, when there is a great religious upheaval in the Western Christian Church.
This period is Orange
In Orange – who holds the power ? Science.

The Sixth period after Orange is Green. This is not so much about scientific discovery changing things (although that is a major influence), but about seeing the value of different points of view. In other words – pluralism. It’s no longer about what is the right way to live, but about accepting and valuing a range of different lifestyles. The 1960’s would probably be the time when this exploded, with for example, Human Rights, the Civil Rights Movement, Feminism, The Anti-War movement, Nuclear Disarmament, Animal Rights etc. One of the characteristics of this period is the belief that every way of seeing the world has equal value – no one way is better than the others. Every story must be listened to. There is a celebration of diversity. A feature of this Green period is difficulty in moving forward, and making a decision, because no one wants to say that their way is better. Every ‘truth’ is equal. However, claiming that there is no higher level truth is a contradiction, as that in itself is making an absolute truth claim, At its extreme, Green sees any view that is held with conviction, and which they see as unhealthy, as a form of violence.

In Green who holds the power ? No-One / Everyone

The next period is Yellow, where there is an acceptance that all of the above have their place and their value. In Yellow, there is an attempt to integrate all of the other colours. So whilst the Purple ‘Magical’ period might have been discarded by the other colours so far, Yellow is keen to hold a sense of mystery that comes with the Purple era.
In Yellow, who holds the power ? I Do, kind of …

The originators of this theory, called Spiral Dynamics, suggest that a society is ready to move from one stage to another when 10% of the population are moving, and that each society has a ‘centre of gravity colour’ that describes the dominant culture. They suggest that there are other phases yet to be realised ….

I’m now asking how this might work in a church setting. For example, what might a church that is operating largely in Red look like ?

So this is me, just wondering …

Beige – A church where it would be every one for themselves. I can’t quite picture what this would look like ..

Purple – One of the characteristics of this type of Christian/Church would be asking, in the face of adversity, ‘what have we done to deserve this ?’ Working harder and praying harder to please God. God is seen as rewarding or punishing us according to what we have done.

Red – Over reliance on the leader. Unquestioning obedience, as in cults, and over authoritarian leadership.

Blue – Following the norms and traditions of your denomination, congregation. Not being open to other ways of doing things. Believing that your way is the right way. Superiority when you compare your church to other churches.

Orange – Looking outside the tradition to explore other ways of doing things. Learning new things from other traditions, and leaving behind what has been unhelpful from your tradition – eg male only leadership.

Green – Valuing all the different expressions of church equally.

Yellow – Integrating the different colours – so seeing the value of leadership, tradition etc as well as diversity.

Question. If you are a member of any faith community, Christian or otherwise, can you see any of the above in your experience …

A final thought – individuals, communities and nations all experience aspects of most of the colours. It’s not like we move from one colour to the next. But it is a journey of discovery seeing the importance of each of the ‘colours.’ I was listening to a song earlier today, and it seemed to say something about this journey of life through sometimes troubled waters, but always inviting us to sail on …

Sail on Sailor

I sailed an ocean, unsettled ocean
Through restful waters and deep commotion
Often frightened, unenlightened
Sail on, sail on sailor

I wrest the waters, fight Neptune’s waters
Sail through the sorrows of life’s marauders
Unrepenting, often empty
Sail on, sail on sailor

Caught like a sewer rat alone but I sail
Bought like a crust of bread, but oh do I wail

Seldom stumble, never crumble
Try to tumble, life’s a rumble
Feel the stinging, I’ve been given
Never ending, unrelenting
Heartbreak searing, always fearing
Never caring, persevering
Sail on, sail on, sailor

I work the seaways, the gale-swept seaways
Past shipwrecked daughters of wicked waters
Uninspired, drenched and tired
Wail on, wail on, sailor

Always needing, even bleeding
Never feeding all my feelings
Damn the thunder, must I blunder
There’s no wonder all I’m under
Stop the crying and the lying
And the sighing and my dying

Sail on, sail on sailor
Sail on, sail on sailor
Sail on, sail on sailor

I still have to listen to the next part of ‘Me, We, Everybody,’ and I’ll maybe add another post then.

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)

Bible · Following Jesus · Political · World Affairs

There Is None So Blind

A lyric from an old song “Everything is Beautiful” by Ray Stevens goes like this “there is none so blind, as those who will not see.”
In this form of a proverb, it might date back to 1546, but it probably has its roots in the Bible.

I was reading in John Gospel chapter 9 this morning. It’s the account of the healing of a man born blind. Now, because it happened on the Sabbath, when it was against the Jewish Law to work, an argument follows the healing – if Jesus was really from God, would he have done such an outrageous thing ?

As well as the physical healing, which enabled the man to see for the first time, there’s also the question of a different kind of seeing, which is to do with seeing the truth about how things really are, and making an appropriate response.

One of Jesus’ claims is to be ‘The Light of the World,’ which is about revealing how things really are. Enabling people to ‘see.’
The religious leaders take exception to this claim, and ask Jesus …. ‘Are you saying that we’re blind ?’

Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ (John 9:40)

Jesus’ response is perhaps surprising:

41 Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains. (John 9:41)

What he is saying in essence is this: they are not blind – they can see perfectly well. ‘If they were blind, they would have an excuse for not seeing the evidence of Jesus’ power. They are guilty because they have seen, and should have known better than to refuse the power of God.’ *
* Walter Brueggemann in ‘Gift and Task’ a year of daily readings and reflections.

In the Gospel, the religious leaders are more interested in preserving the status quo, and their position of influence. Jesus is a big threat to that power.

It made me think of current situations where people in power might see quite clearly where there is a need for change, but that change would threaten to take away their influence, so they hold on to their power. They should know better.

As always, the challenge is there for me too. Where should I know better ?

Bible · faith · God · Political · Theology · World Affairs

The Pernicious Influence of Globalisation

The Old Testament story of the Tower of Babel is pretty well known. It’s a curious tale that appears after the flood story. Here’s the text from Genesis 11.

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.
And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.
And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.
Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’
The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built.
And the Lord said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.
Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’
So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.
Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

The motivation for building the tower seems to be twofold:
a desire to be known as the best, and to do the impossible.
coupled with a fear that without power and fame, the people (whoever they were, we don’t know), would be dispersed, and thus lose their influence.

Walter Brueggemann puts it like this: ‘the story … is an early account of globalisation, a strategy of universal control by powerful people who aim to control all the money and to impose uniformity on all parts of the world population.’

The force behind such attempts for domination is so powerful that it is all consuming, stopping at nothing to be at the top. The consequence of this kind of behaviour, althought not explicitly stated in the Genesis account, is that the poor and the powerless are overlooked.

Walter Brueggemann again … ‘The scattering and confusion wrought by God is to assure that no assertive power can gain ultimate control and emerge as a single superpower.’

Fast forward to the 21st century. Where are the parallels today for empire building to achieve complete control.
The super companies – Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook etc (and probably some others that have the same degree of power but work behind the scenes).
The super powers – at this time notably China, while the USA decreases in its influence.

And where would we look to see God’s hand in all of this ? Is there a move of God today that will assure that no assertive power can gain ultimate control ?

Grace and Peace.

Bible · faith · Following Jesus · Grace · World Affairs

On That Day This Song

I’m preaching at our Thursday Communion Tomorrow.
Here are my thoughts on Isaiah 26:1-6 and Matthew 7:21 &24-27

Isaiah 26:1-6
On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city; he sets up victory like walls and bulwarks.
Open the gates, so that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.
Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace – in peace because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock.
For he has brought low the inhabitants of the height; the lofty city he lays low.  He lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust.
The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.

Matthew 7:21 &24-27
21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 
24 ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’

I remember a period of time when I was preaching every week that it seemed as though every sermon had the same theme – death and resurrection. I just couldn’t escape it. And I have that same feeling as I am sharing these thoughts today. The verse that struck me in today’s readings was that first verse in the Isaiah reading – ‘On that day this song will be sung …’

Isaiah is looking with the eye of faith to a day when God will restore his people. When there will be singing and rejoicing as they return from exile to the holy city Jerusalem. That return will come after years of tension. On the one hand there has been the unfaithfulness and disobedience of Israel and on the other hand the faithfulness of God, who at times allowed them to be punished, but always within the bigger scope of his faithful love for them.  

We’re watching a prison drama on T.V. at the moment.  The governor of the prison is trying to bring in reforms, to make the prison a place of restoration rather than punishment.  However, at times, she has to act in response to inmates who break rules in ways that just can’t be ignored.  She has to take away privileges partly as a message to the prison inmates, and sometimes for their safety.

The events in Isaiah’s time seem rather like that.  There are times when God has to take away privileges because of Israel’s failure to live well – that part of the story ends in the disaster of God’s people being carried from their homeland into exile. But the underlying story is one of restoration.  The hope that is always extended by God is that transformation can happen.  That a nation – Israel – that has lost its way can come back from the brink and be restored.  The whole of Isaiah is about the possibility of something new.

Our world is living through such a time of tension now.  Whereas it’s usually the poorest that suffer through drought, famine and war, the pandemic has had a much wider impact, affecting those who live in the relatively wealthy nations. Many have died, or been bereaved, or are living with long term effects of Covid; others have had their livelihoods threatened or taken from them.  All of us have experienced the removal of privileges – We have not been able to see family, to socialise, to enjoy sport and entertainment, to eat out and so on … without putting up with severe restrictions.

And as we go through these difficult times, things have been brought to the surface.  In the first lockdown, the need to tackle climate change was brought to the fore as we heard of cleaner air as there were fewer carbon emissions at that tine; the need to tackle poverty at home was apparent as we became more aware of the impact on many of losing jobs and needing food banks as well as government support to put food on the table.  The need for a new economic order is clear as we see the major threat now to a whole range of sectors – hospitality, entertainment, leisure, shopping – and it’s not clear what life will look like when we emerge from the crisis.  

So where is God in all this ? And if God is doing a new thing at this time, what might that new thing look like ? 

I suggest that we are more used to asking those kind of questions for ourselves personally than for issues that impact us globally.  In our day to day life of faith we look to God as we pray for those we know in need; we look to God for direction and help in our lives and our decision making. But we are now confronted with something new that affects us all.  

So How will we respond ?

I think the question I’m asking is this:
Is it all just down to the human race to make the best of this situation that we can ?  
Or is God involved in national and global events, as well in our own personal lives ? 
In other words, is God God of the macro as well as the micro ?

In reading Isaiah, it seems abundantly clear that God is involved in both the personal and the national, and if anything Isaiah even more concerned with the way that God addresses and deals with the community of Israel than he is with the individual.  In an individualistic society like ours we may find that hard to take, but there it is.

So back to where I started, with death and resurrection.  It’s the heart of Christian faith and also the faith of Israel as they go through the death of exile and the resurrection of return. We are going through it just now … and yes, we need resources to do that, but we will also need to look for resurrection, and the new thing that God will do.
God’s resurrection promise to Israel in Isaiah’s time is a coming together of God’s steadfast love and a renewed people – see in verse 2 “Open the gates, so that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.”

The two go together – God’s steadfast love and faithfulness and a response of godly living.  That’s why, at the end of the sermon on the mount, which started with God’s grace – ‘Blessed are those who know their need of God, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” … we hear Jesus challenging us to respond to that grace – to be those who not only hear the words of Jesus, but act on them.

So in the midst of a pandemic, what does that look like ?  
It doesn’t mean thinking we can save the world – that it is our responsibility to put everything right. But it does mean cultivating ways of living, habits that enable us to play our part. And as we nurture these holy habits, to be looking for signs of the new thing that God will do.

I love to tell the story of pilot Chesley Sullenberger, so brilliantly told in the film ‘Sully’. In the film Ches is piloting a plane which has just taken off from La Guardia airport. The plane is hit by a flock of birds and the engines disabled. Knowing both engines are not functioning, he makes a deicision not to try and get to an airport, but to land the plane on the Hudson river, which he does, with no loss of life. 

A subsequent investigation suggests that he made the wrong decision and that he could have landed safely at La Guardia or Teterboro airports. His whole professional reputation is on the line and it’s only when they run a simulation that faithfully recreates the situation in real time that he is proved to be right. 

If he had tried to get to an airport, it would have been certain disaster. It is his years of flying that enables him – in just 35 seconds – to make the right decision, almost by instinct. Everyone called him a hero, but his reponse was “I’m not a hero, I’ve been rehearsing for this.”   It is similarly the disciplines of faithful godly living that will help the Christian ‘rehearse’ so as to make the right ethical decisions in the heat of the moment.

Developing habits of generosity, honesty, kindness, faithfulness, listening … habits that will help us build healthy relationships and sow the seeds of grace in that part of God’s mission field where he has placed us.  Hear these words of Jesus in Eugene Peterson’s translation at the end of Matthew chapter 11 

“Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  May you know that confidence in God at work in you day by day.  Amen.


On that day …

With the eye of faith we look forward to see – 
On that day – There will be equality between black and white, and between shia and sunni.
On that day the wall between Israel and Palestine will be torn down and the children of Abraham will live in peace.
On that day people will no longer want more power and more stuff, but will be eager to share what they have.

On that day there will be no poor among us, but all will have enough to live and enough to give.
On that day weapons of violence will be transformed – bombs will be defused, and guns will be a thing of the past.
On that day the earth will begin to recover; forests that were laid bare will grow green again.  Waters that were polluted will once more be clear; 

On that day songs of joy will be sung instead of lament.
On that day families who have fallen out with each other and not spoken for years will decide to pick up the telephone.
On that day the last food bank will close; 

On that day protestants and catholics will worship side by side, and embrace each other as brothers and sisters.
On that day … on that day, those who mourn will be comforted, fear will be replaced by trust, hate will collapse in on itself
On that day the power of love will break the vicious cycles of fear and greed and hate.

On that day, on that day. Lord bring that day we pray, bring that day.

We pray – God of love and suffering power, speak again your word of transformation in the midst of our weary world. We so easlity give in to despair, to numb acceptance of the old order of things.  Kindle in us a passion for the new thing that you would do – in us, and by your grace, through us. Amen

(From Celebrating Abudance. Reflections for Advent by Walter Brueggemann)

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

Political · World Affairs

One Of My Favourite Writers

October has been a dry month, at least, in terms of writing this blog. It’s like that sometimes I suppose. I need an outside stimulus to get the creative juices flowing, and it just hasn’t happened for the last few weeks.

The outside stimulus for today comes indirectly from the current news about the Labour Party and Antisemitism, together with a novel I’m reading by one of my favourite writers, Chaim Potok, and the Psalm that I read in my morning prayers today.

First, Chaim Potok. In the last year or so, I’ve been reading his novels and one work of non fiction. Every thing I have read is informative, powerful, moving, often heartbreakingly sad, and deeply human.

What I have read so far:

The Chosen (1967)
The Promise (1969)
My Name is Asher Lev (1972)
In the Beginning (1975)
The Gift of Asher Lev (1990)
I am the Clay (1992)

Non Fiction
The Gates of November (1996)

I have yet to read several others, including
Wanderings (1978) – Chaim Potok’s history of the Jews.

Chaim Potok was a Rabbi and novelist, who wrote a number of very powerful novels, many of them set in Jewish communities of New York in the middle of the 20th century.

I’m in the middle of ‘In the Beginning’ which tells the story of a Jewish family in New York, recently arrived from Poland. It’s set in the late 1920’s and is told from the perspective of a young boy, David. I have just got to a part where the Jewish community in New York are beginning to hear news reports of a massacre of Jews in Hebron. Potok weaves the factual account into his fictional story. That made me go and find out more about what happened. On 24th August 1929, 67 or 69 Jews were killed by Arabs incited to violence by rumours that Jews were planning to seize control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Alongside that I read this in Psalm 123:

3 Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us,
    for we have endured no end of contempt.
4 We have endured no end
    of ridicule from the arrogant,
    of contempt from the proud.

The history of oppression against the Jews goes back a very long way – to the enslavement of God’s chosen people in Egypt around 1400 B.C. Since then, there have been numerous other examples – the captivity and exile of the Jews to Babylon in around 600 B.C. The conquering of Palestine by Alexander the Great, and the Roman occupation around the time of Christ. Add to that the persecution of the Jews through history, the pogroms in Russia in the 19th and early 20th century, and the indescribably horrific and inhuman events of the holocaust.

History is important. We cannot take the events of today and try to interpret them without some understanding of how we got here. So the debate on anti-semitism must be understood in the light of the thousands of years of Jewish suffering.

So far, I’m totally with those voices that decry any forms of antisemitism.

However, let’s look at the definition of anti-semitism on the website. It includes this: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

Hhmm, I’m nt sure about that one. According to the Absentees’ Property Law (1950), Palestinian refugees expelled after November 29, 1947, are “absentees” and are denied any rights. Their land, houses/apartments, and bank accounts (movable and immovable property) were confiscated by the state.

Simultaneously, the Law of Return (1950) gave Jews from anywhere in the world the right to automatically become Israeli citizens. 

So discrimination against Palestinians goes back to the founding of the state of Israel. Isn’t discrimination against someone because of their racial identity racism in action ? It’s also clear that the current actions of the state of Israel are based in treating a group of people differently because of their Palestinian identity.

The grave injustices that are being done to the Palestinian people by the state of Israel in the name of security continue. The United Nations has ruled that the Jewish settlements in Palestinian land are illegal. Bit by bit, and over many years, the Palestinian people have themselves been oppressed and denied their human rights.

Sadly, as history again tells us, the European colonial powers must bear much of the responsibility for the situation we have today. Colonial powers carved up, and decided on borders for large parts of Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia, as well as being responsible for the oppression of the indigenous peoples of Africa, Australasia and the Americas. Perhaps there should be a national day each year when we (‘Great Britain’) acknowledge the wrongs that we have perpetrated in the name of power and wealth.

So what can I say about a situation that has proved to be insoluble to some of the the greatest politicians and diplomats of our time ? I’m trying to listen to the voices of the ordinary people whose lives are impacted, especially those affected by the occupation.

I have listened to some of those voices, and one of the most important foundations for a peaceful settlement in Israel/Palestine is the issue of equality. Somehow, we have to get to a point of recognising and respecting the equality of all people, regardless of colour, ethnicity, national identity, gender, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation. That would be a start. Until the Palestinian people are treated as equals under the law by Israel, there can never be a solution, two state, or one state.

This article by Jewish journalist Peter Beinhart might be helpful.