faith · music · Political · Songwriting

The Front Of The Queue ?

Re: My recent post – How to avert the crisis.

I just finished this song that seems to say a similar thing:


She wanted freedom –
But there’s was nowhere for her to go
It’s hard to choose between
A bus ticket and a winter coat

See how the water flows
Freely the waters flow
But never to her door
never to her door

He always thought –
Just stand in line and it would come to you
It might take time, but you would get to the front of the queue

See how the water flows
Freely the waters flow
But never to his door
No never to his door

See how the water flows
It seems like the water knows
Maybe the water chose ?
For some to have it all
While others are in hell

Cool water
Cool, cool water
Cool, cool water
Flowing down

See how the water flows
Could be the water knows
Say that the water chose
To be a waterfall
So no one is in hell.

See how the water flows

Could be the water knows
Say that the water chose
To be a waterfall
To pour upon us all..

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 ?

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.

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 !

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.

Bible · faith · Political · Theology · World Affairs

With Prayers For The Landless

I was reading in Psalm 105 this morning

For he (Yahweh) remembered his holy promise
    given to his servant Abraham.
43 He brought out his people with rejoicing,
    his chosen ones with shouts of joy;
44 he gave them the lands of the nations,
    and they fell heir to what others had toiled for—
45 that they might keep his precepts
    and observe his laws.

There is much that I find helpful in the Old Testament to do with God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to his covenant people. But I have a problem with God giving his chosen people land that others have lived in and toiled over. (See above verse 44)

With verses like that in the Hebrew Scriptures, it is, maybe, not surprising that Benjamin Netanyahu is still hell bent on annexing more land from the Palestinian people.

It is possible to find in holy scripture a warrant for the most evil of deeds. Christians must acknowledge that, and attempt to read the whole story of God and his people. In the prophet Isaiah for example, we see that God’s blessing is in fact intended for every people, and not just Israel. And in the verses below, Isaiah had harsh words for those who steal the land of others.

Ah, you who join house to house,
    who add field to field,
until there is room for no one but you,
    and you are left to live alone
    in the midst of the land!
(Isaiah chapter 5 verse 8)

And his conclusion is that they will get their reward

9 But I have heard the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    swear a solemn oath:
“Many houses will stand deserted;
    even beautiful mansions will be empty.
10 Ten acres of vineyard will not produce even six gallons of wine.
    Ten baskets of seed will yield only one basket of grain.”
(Isaiah Chapter 5 verse 9,10)

With prayers for justice for the Palestinian people, and all those whose land has been illegally taken.


Song for Today #14

This song was performed yesterday at the Black Lives Matter event in Gloucester Park

So many people have recorded this – Here’s Labi Siffre

The higher you build your barriers
The taller I become
The farther you take my rights away
The faster I will run
You can deny me
You can decide to turn your face away
No matter, cos there’s….

Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Tho’ you’re doing me wrong, so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
Oh no, something inside so strong
Oh oh oh oh oh something inside so strong

The more you refuse to hear my voice
The louder I will sing
You hide behind walls of Jericho
Your lies will come tumbling
Deny my place in time
You squander wealth that’s mine
My light will shine so brightly
It will blind you
Cos there’s……

Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Tho’ you’re doing me wrong, so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
Oh no, something inside so strong
Oh oh oh oh oh something inside so strong

Brothers and sisters
When they insist we’re just not good enough
When we know better
Just look ’em in the eyes and say
I’m gonna do it anyway [x4]

Something inside so strong
And I know that I can make it
Tho’ you’re doing me wrong, so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
Oh no, something inside so strong
Oh oh oh oh oh something inside so strong

Brothers and sisters
When they insist we’re just not enough
When we know better
Just look ’em in the eyes and say
I’m gonna do it anyway [x4]

Because there’s something inside so strong
And I know that I can make it
Tho’ you’re doing me, so wrong
Oh no, something inside so strong
Oh oh oh oh oh something inside so strong


Hurt People Hurt People

I’ve been learning with an amazing group of people this week.  They come from all over the world, with a variety of backgrounds, and different faiths.  As this temporary community, we have thought about traumatic events, and how they affect our lives, and have shared stories with each other.  I consider it a great privilege to have been here this week.

We have thought about the hurts in our lives, and the hurts that we have seen in the lives of others, and how our reaction as ‘hurt people’ can often be to hurt other people.
We have seen examples of those who, sometimes with a great deal of support, have been able to escape from the cycles of violence in their lives, and find some measure of healing.
Especially moving was the account of how two members of a family in Texas took the brave step of making contact with the man who had murdered another family member.
The lives of the White family were changed forever in 1986, when Cathy was murdered.  Linda White (Cathy’s mother) and her granddaughter Amy (Cathy’s daughter) went through a year long process of preparing to meet Cathy’s killer, Gary Brown.
Gary was a classic example of ‘Hurt People Hurt People’.  Through the work of a restorative justice programme, Linda and Amy were able to meet Gary and tell him some of the devastating results of his crime in the life of their family.  
For more on this, read the account in the Houston press:
And for more on restorative justice, see Howard Zehr’s blog.  (Howard is a teacher here at EMU and widely regarded as one of the first to pioneer restorative justice)
Or for more general info on the subject: