Saturday, 29 November 2008

Christmas under occupation!

This was going to be a comment on Schof's blog, but it got a bit long, so I've made it a post:

I really like this picture by Banksy because Jesus is placed in solidarity with the Palestinians. A security guard asking the 'holy family'for their ID cards means that Jesus is an outsider - marginalised along with the Palestinians - whose movement is closely controlled by an occupying force - just like the Palestinians.

It also chimes in with something I read today from a Palestinian Christian group:

"Some of our people ask how can we celebrate Christmas
with all the closures and checkpoints,
with all the injustice and oppression,
with all the violations of human rights,
with the presence of a wall that separates families and friends,
and a multitude of hardships that the occupation imposes to make people’s lives miserable,
how can we speak of love, peace and joy when most of our people and millions of others around the world do not experience liberty and peace?

The Christmas story is a story of a liberating God who comes to join an oppressed people in the work of liberation. God’s message through the angels is a message of defiance. In spite of the presence of empire, human arrogance, and oppression, God is announcing peace and goodwill. This is God’s agenda. Glory belongs to God and not to the emperor nor to the powers. Once that is genuinely acknowledged, peace is not far away.

It is in the midst of the Roman occupation that the Incarnation took place;
it is in spite of the occupation that Mary and Joseph found joy and love in the birth of Jesus;
it is in spite of the occupation and in the midst of economic hardships that the shepherds came to visit a family of modest means and discovered great joy and peace;
it is in spite of the occupation that the Magi came to offer their gifts to the child.

We celebrate in the midst of the occupation and in spite of it.
Through our celebration we defy the occupation;
we defy the injustice;
we defy the oppressors;
we defy the powers.

They do not possess the last word, they can build high walls, but they cannot take away our hope, they can put us in jail, but they cannot take away our joy, they can prevent us from visiting family, but they cannot take away our love, they can stop us at checkpoints and impose all kinds of restrictions, but they cannot take away our pursuit of freedom and liberation, they can prevent us from going to Bethlehem, but they cannot prevent the spirit of Bethlehem from reaching us, they can treat us as nonhumans, but they cannot crush our spirit nor can they take away our God-given human worth and dignity, they can act with hate and disgust but, by the grace of God, we can always refuse to stoop to the level of hate and maintain our love of God and neighbour that includes them.

Therefore Christmas makes us defiant. We defy the evildoers because we believe in the goodness which they are capable of doing, we defy hate because we believe in the power of love and forgiveness, we defy despair because we believe in life and hope, we defy violence and terror - both state and individual - because we believe in the power of peace and nonviolence, we defy war and the occupation of other people’s lands because we believe in the power of peaceful methods based on international law and legitimacy, we defy and challenge those who humiliate and degrade others because we believe in the dignity of every human being. The Incarnation took place when God took on our humanity, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This happened in Palestine under Roman occupation. Then as now and in spite of all the hardships, we celebrate Christ’s birth, Emmanuel, God with us, giving us hope, joy, peace, and love. We are defiant. We are full of hope. We will continue to work for peace through justice."

Thinking about doing your Xmas Shoppng?

How about a tin of worms? (most of the other stuff I buy will end up getting eaten by them in a landfill within a few years anyway - if its degradable which it prob isn't)

Checkout the excellent present aid site

Friday, 28 November 2008

Buy Buy Buy Jesus - Theres Profit to be had?

Its not just Christmas when it feels like this! God forbid that I end up 'consuming' him when he's supposed to consume me!
Thanks to ASBO Jesus

On Eagles Wings

On Eagles Wings

In those dark moments when I let you down
When I flirt with idols and fool around

When I get intoxicated by self
When I leave everyone else’s well being on the shelf

When I try to be all to all
Then chin in dirt fall

Even when I feel the rub of my chains
And the pain of my own fire set flames

I know I am still your beloved
In crimson grace covered

I know deep that I am made for better more beautiful things
I know even I can be carried on eagles wings

(Ex19:4, Is40:31)

Xmas F2F is coming + Warm your insides

Really looking forward to Xmas Engage F2F taking in the perspective of the marginalised and oppressed (who pretty much dominate the Xmas story - a change from our good looking romantic respectable images). I want to suggest this great Banksy image, from a series he painted in Bethlehem, as a useful motif among others - humble encounters empire.
If you are looking in for the first time - yes there is lots of talk on this whole sight about 'social issues' but hey only a first world christian sitting at laptop (like me) could possibly read the Gospel from a purely spiritual perspective - I imagine it ain't that easy to do it that way dressed in orange, in the Congo, on a sinking Pacific island, under house arrest in Burma, whilst being trafficked for sex, etc etc etc. Bit in your face that last bit but hey, most of the world lives on under $2 a day - and they ain't even white!
Some say that you can only really grasp the depth of meaning and hope of the good news story from the margins, from the place where ''Justice' is truly good news not a threat to comfort status and self interest.
If you want to unwrap Christmas with that in mind then come along on 8/12 and lets explore it together and see if there might be more hope in powerlessness than in power?
Also a few quick links to keep you warm inside -
Great interview with a virtual friend of ours Naked Pastor here
V Funny lampoon of the 'emergent' thing here (few in jokes but if you know the US scene you'll get them)
Hopefully a bit more posting for the run in to Xmas - Peace

Guantanamo Event - Thanks

Big Thanks to everyone who turned out for the Guantanamo event last night.

Also thanks to James, Joe, Mark, Rach, Dee and Amnesty for all their input.

We'll put up some pics and video asap. The slide show is here including this great installation shot above.

If you missed out on some of the actions then here are some links to get on and do something now - (write to your MP about Binyam Mohamed) (e-mail Mr Bush)

Anyone got more actions to share just stick them in comments.

Also - we will be brewing ideas for further events if you fancy suggesting something or getting involved then just let us know.

The next Engage F2F is now on the blog top right - of course there is an Xmas theme but a slightly different take on it.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Something to remember....?

One evening in January 1915 Bert Brocklesby was invited to preach at the church where he was an active member - Connisborough Methodist Chapel. The congregation was made up of war widows, soldiers on leave and many others. He stood up in the pulpit, declared that all Christians should live in imitation of Christ and then asked the telling questions,

"Can you imagine Christ dressed in army uniform?

Can you imagine Christ armed with a machine gun?

Can you imagine Christ bayoneting a German soldier?

That picture", he said, "is impossible and we all know it."

Needless to say, he was not asked to preach again!

I know this is a while after Remembrance Day, but still I couldn't help thinking that we tell each other stories all the time - some from the Bible, but also others that we deem so important they shape our collective memories. We tell ourselves stories of bravery in war, but how often do we tell each other the stories of another kind of bravery - the bravery to refuse to fight? Maybe if this kind of story were more a part of our collective memories Blair and Bush would have been a little more reluctant to commit people to war.

Friday, 14 November 2008

The Gospel of Supply Side Jesus

Check out the wonderful story of 'Supply Side Jesus' who seems eerily familiar to many God TV viewers and religious best seller list readers! (click the image to see the rest)

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Ziya Meral's Theology of Guantanamo Bay

Here is a great article called 'A Theology of Guantanamo Bay' by a guy called Ziya Meral. He even uses one of the Banksy images that we did in our conversations. It's a very sharp reflection.

Contextual Theology - HIV/Aids

The whole Guantanamo thing and a lot of other stuff we 'engage' with here are a form of 'Contextual Theology'* - To play with a Dean Flemming quote 'In every particular place and time we must learn to do theology/read and apply the bible/listen to God/follow Jesus in a way that makes sense of/in/to the world we find ourselves in, while challenging it at the deepest level'

We have been doing this with Guantanamo, debt, economic crisis, art, the walk of faith, etc etc etc and I have to say I am loving it and long may it continue.

If you have a spare 30 mins and are interested in HIV/Aids here is a great paper from the UN of all people about a theological reflection on the stigma of HIV/Aids. It's an interesting e.g of wrestling with a particular 'now' issue (or better a 'now' suffering of people in our global community) and what our response may be as a supposed 'kingdom of priests' who mediate God in the world. Enjoy and if it's an issue close to your heart you might like to get involved with the great work tearfund or christian aid do around it.
*Contextual theology is not - abandoning the Bible, or 'Truth', or mission etc etc. It's based on a simple acknowledgement that we all know and act in a context. However hard we try that will always be the case. That doesn't mean it legitimises a 'me-centric' view of the God/the world. In fact it is all about me being honest about my/our 'me-centricness' and trying humbly to 'work out' what God is saying in my/our situation. God made us and put us in, meets us in, is present in and calls us to follow him and bring his good news in our context and that seems like a wonderful thing not something to be scared of. For more on CT see the very accessible Coffeehouse Theology

Awright mate want any flyers?

Please let me know if you want any flyers to give out/drop in at your regular watering holes.

Not long to go so get those e-mail/facebook etc stuff going as well.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Liberating Christmas!

I guess for me Christmas brings to a head many of the issues which face Christians who want to work out their faith in our culture. Christmas is a heightening of the two forces competing for my allegiance - on the one side is the celebration of consumption - gorging on trinkets while the world starves. On the other hand, it is a celebration of the nuclear family and moral middle-class religious values and the words 'Christ' and 'Jesus' banded about for good measure. The world, of course, still starves as we get het up about whether we say 'Xmas' or 'Christmas'.
Bizarrely, these two celebtrations are merged in my experience into an orgy of consumption and religiousity. These two value systems are the bane of my life - a materialistic world, and a religiousity that is not engaged with it.
But I must confess to having had a decidely negative response to these alternatives in the past. I have been keen to say what Christmas is not, but what is it?
To ask this question slightly differently, isn't Christmas really about 'peace on earth'? I mean, no war, a radical non-violence. Isn't that what the non-violent 'armies of heaven' (Luke 2:13) were singing about?
Isn't Christmas about the birth of an alternative - Jesus, Son of God, not Augustus, Son of God? Isn't it the start of a life of the cross, rather than the sword?
Isn't Christmas about a turning upside down of values (and surely these values today are consumerist, militaristic and religious)? Isn't it about the coming of one who will level the mountains and raise up the valleys? (Isa. 40:30-35) Or, to use Mary's words during her pregnancy, isn't it about the one who "has brought down rulers from their thrones... filled the hungry, but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-52)
Nothing could stand in more contrast to modern-day Christmas than filling the hungry, whilst sending the rich away empty. Dare we do that this Christmas?
So, my suggestion is that in our first regular monthly meet-up (1st Monday in December) we think about what we can do to liberate Christmas from religiousity or consumerism and enable it to be truly liberating and becomes a celebration of the values we reallly do cherish. What rituals, actions would most embody our values? My suggestion is that people bring with them resources, ideas, stories (from the Bible or not), suggestions (however emryonic), opinions as a basis for discussion. Or, failing that, just bring themselves.

A Humanist Decalogue

Ronald Fletcher's Humanist 10 Commandments:

1. Never accept authority.
2. Base your conduct on simple, humane principles.
3. Strive to eliminate poverty.
4. Strive to eliminate war.
5. Do not be a snob.
6. In sexual behaviour, use your brains as well as your genitals, and always in that order.
7. Take the care necessary to enjoy family life and marriage.
8. Keep the law.
9. Commit yourself to active citizenship.
10. Have confidence in the modern world and your powers to improve it.

ummm... Any you like? Any you dislike? Any you would add to make your own 10 Commandments for today? What about God? Do we need God?

I like number 6 (of course!). Someone said, "Men were made with two organs: the penis and brain, but only enough blood to control one at a time".

I like numbers 1, 3, 4 and 7.

I don't think number 10 works for me - maybe this is where I really feel the need for God. I have no faith in the modern world, but in a 'mystical' sense of hope that derives from my faith.

There is also nothing here about conflict resolution (i.e. anger) and the injustice that is associated with it. In fact, it is quite individualistic. It is as though other people are not necessary. What about suffering and hardship? Something tells me Fletcher was not from the 3rd world!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Ice Cream and Relational Tithing - Cornetto's and the Coming of the Kingdom

Thanks for the responses to 'How Great (thou) Art'. Ok here's a practical idea to follow up on the ice cream thing* and to take it a bit further.

One of the things I loved about my old church Inner City Life/Grace was the way the vast majority of money given to the church basically went straight out of the door again, through child sponsorship, giving to the needs of those in the community, the wider world and others involved in Church planting etc.

However, its a sad fact that, anecdotaly, I believe that many Christians give some money to the church but also direct a lot out to other causes separately. The sad thing is not the process as I don't think its essential to pool then give but I think people recognise the 'Christendom' model of church and its need to pay for the upkeep of its own institutional existence - and who really wants to/get excited by that! From what I can tell from both old and new testament scriptures the primary goal of giving/tithing etc, bar a small percentage to keep the basics ticking over, was essentially to redistribute resources to people who needed them. A communal, relational mechanism (if that's not a post industrial oxymoron!) to see the Shalom/Kingdom of God coming in practical ways.

SO then, especially as many of us are a bit 'churchless' at the moment (nothing to prop up - no bad thing), we have a great opportunity to do something different.

The Ideas on Rhythms of Loving Resistance post mentions 'relational tithing'. And i think we could do a bit of that kind of thing.

V Basic idea - people chip in what they want to a central pot (at least ice cream money!!).

When we come across needs that move us to do something we have some cash to do the financial bit of helping along side other stuff we could do. (E.g I get knocked over and lose job, house etc and my family needs to get some rent for our first 3 months as we sort out what to do, Rache meets a family of a dying woman who desperately wants to see here estranged, homeless daughter before she passes but can't afford the train ticket, Dee knows a destitute asylum seeker in hiding who needs a deposit to get the water back on in her squat, etc etc etc etc)

We also might have the opportunity to join in with other UK and global networks doing the same.

So we do what we can. It's an idea to pool (cos realistically we might get to do more that way) and splash cash that is nothing to do with funding an institution and everything about doing small things with great love.

I like this simple idea and hey this kind of thing if it takes of amongst Gods people might one of the answers to my podcast questions about re imagining the good life when it comes to all sorts of issues like, insurance, retirement, etc etc.

But for now we could just get it going with the account Mark has, at least our cornetto money, put a minimal bit aside for engage stuff and the other 90% into - well where shall we start?

* The ice cream thing - UN Development Report 1998 - Americans spend more on cosmetics, $8 billion annually, and Europeans on ice cream, $11 billion, than it is estimated it would cost to provide basic education ($6 billion) or water and sanitation ($9 billion) to the more than 2 billion people worldwide who go without schools and toilets.

Rememberence - Keeping faith among the poppies

Everything is quiet as we remember -

In Flanders Field
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
In the quiet is an unease. Blood is always red, that of the victor and the vanquished, that of the innocent and the guilty. Who is who I am not sure I know, yet I want to remember them all as their blood cries out from the ground. I want to remember what we have done to ourselves in all its vainglorious vanity. The grey sky seems appropriate to the impossibility of black and white and the depressing hopelessness of war.
Exodus is the first book of the Bible. In the Hebrew scriptures the creation account is a story told to make sense of the world that an oppressed people find themselves in. God is the 'God who brought us up out of Egypt' 33 times and the 'Creator God' only 6 times. Our predominant picture of God as creator is correct but perhaps allows God to be just about distant enough to allow us the moral space we need to do what we do. But if God is fundamentally a God of liberation then that is a far more uncomfortable truth. I am forever grateful at the price paid by the men and women who were cut down for this freedom I enjoy. But the Liberator God, the
Jesus who announced his mission as Prince of Peace by saying -
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised
seems to call more from me than just rememberance. He calls us back from the brink of us v them that blinds us to the fact that we are all us. He calls us to dare to imagine a way of peace bringing that does not ever again cost so much. A way that cost God himself his own son. The story of Christ the Liberator calls me to imagine a different way to Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw. The torch; be yours to hold it high.
This very different story of shedding blood for peace -
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
So we remember the blood shed and seeped into ancient soil, our blood and even the very blood of God. And we know that God was here with us, knowing the struggle of peacemaking in a violent world. And we know there is a hope that all that death was not in vain, that in the death of God there is the hope of resurrection Life. A life that does not demand our blood but a life that is possible because God spilt his in this messy grey world. A life that calls us to follow suit to hold on to a different imagination and put our own bodies on the line as we walk the path of a peace that this world can hardly conceive of.
May the God who is our/The liberator give us courage to join him in refusing them v us, in loving our enemies and in our faltering failing efforts to see through this low cloud a bright light of peace for our world. It takes an almost unimaginable courage to be willing to 'go to war' but i think it takes an even greater step of faith to 'go to peace'.
God, grant us the faith to go to peace.

Monday, 10 November 2008

engagepod3 - Credit, Hyper-Me and Hope

Another short one reflecting on how cheap credit fuels our imagined self and how the 'crunch' might hopefully allow us to give up our consumption based identity and allow us to look again for our real self grounded in God, community and the world around us. A self not based on consumption but on compassion, not on self extension but self giving - a self in the image of the christian God.

Click on the pic or on the engagepod link on the right.

Guantanamo Event - 27th NOV@ Cafe Euro

Not long now -

Here is a flyer and I have 1000 orange paper copies to distribute as well.

Lets get this e-mailed round, posted on your facebooks etc etc.

See you there.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Responding to Postmodernity!

This is a paraphrase of Peter Hodgson, Winds of the Spirit, p.60-61:

He says that our society is on the cusp of radical change from a modernist mindset to a postmodern one. This leaves the church with a number of options. One is the response of Evangelical Christianity which is "the deep desire to recover stable ethical and religious foundations in a topsy-turvy age." It has a "tendency to over-belief in the face of the threats and insecurities of our time - a false security based on illusory absolutes... and an explicit refusal to enter into dialogue with modernity. Religion provides a convenient escape for those who lack the strength to cope with the threats of modernity; it does not often enough provide resources for those who wish to respond to its challenges."

The second response of the church is to feel a sense of despair about renewing Christianity in the light of postmodernism. They "retreat into intellectual games and hedonistic play - a mask for despair, cynicism, nihilism."

The third response is "renewal... It warns against cultural accomodation and advances a prophetic critique of the negative features of modernity. It... does not attempt to turn the clock back to any sort precritical authority. But it is suspicious of... religious pluralism and interreligious dialogue... evolving sexual practices, liberation movements, nonhierarchical forms of power. It is more concerned with the inner renewal of communities of faith."

Finally, there is revisionism. This is "convinced that, in order to preserve the heritage and identity of the Christian tradition, it must be allowed to pass over into new and often quite different forms... This approach knows that there is no original, purely biblical expression of Christianity but only a series of contextualised expressions, each in its own way a more or less creative transformation of both the figure of Christ and the forms of culture." He argues that such a response seeks to build a bridge between the Enlightenment and Liberation. "Enlightenment without liberation loses its emancipatory dynamic; liberation without enlightenment loses its critical rationality... the saving resources present in the classical Christian tradition can be reappropriated and reenacted."

Personally, I found this quite an interesting summary of the situation. His description of what evangelicalism is, is the same as my own. I would also admit to flirting with the second option. I found it so much more straightforward as an evangelical. My actions (evangelism) could have an immediate impact on another person's eternal happiness. Now, I struggle to know how to be a vehicle (even in a small way) for making this world a better place. Even if I did work to make things better in some small way, the impact is hardly eternal. It is easy to take the easy option of hedonism or despair in the light of enormous suffering in the world and my own sense of being disempowered. Of all the options, I think the 4th one sums me up best, though I find it scary at times to reshape my faith - and no one like change. I am presently reading "Lost Christianities" - a book about Christianity in the 1st 400 years - its really interesting and very well written. But it has certainly convinced me that there has never been an original, universally accepted Christianity, just a series of contextual expressions.
I am open to critiques of any of this - but not a great fan of being burnt at the stake!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Close Guantanamo!

It appears that Barack has been on our blog and heard about our campaign to close guantanamo!

This one is also worth looking at:

Lets hope and work to ensure he sticks to his promises and no prisoners are sent off to other prisons around the world to be tortured or imprisoned without trial!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Deliver Us from Me-Ville

"In writing Deliver Us from Me-Ville I took great encouragement from Dietrich Bonhoeffer´s description of Christ as pro-me. It´s a nice foundation on which to build a critique of self-absorption: Jesus is for us enough to become us and join with us, then separate our sin from us and die for us, then resurrect (to) us..."

Looks interesting? Heard a few people chatting about good books and potential reads at the moment (e.g - when love bends down) - maybe we could co-ordinate a bit and read one at the same time so we can dialogue about it and what it means for us?

Here's Hoping on a Historic Day

"While we breathe, we hope" Barack Obama (victory speech)

Monday, 3 November 2008

Christmas Offer - Direct Action Anyone?

OK, you remember Clarion events and their purchase of a number or Arms fairs, well they are doing a wonderful show in London called......wait for it......'The Spirit of Christmas'! Hence the image.
If you fancy a bit of Direct Action then why not e-mail these folks with a polite call to remember the real spirit of Christmas.
Here is some background to help you do your e-mail.
Anyone got any thoughts on the real non violent / peace loving / empire subverting / healing saving message of Christmas? A nice slogan would be good as well so we can mail it to these guys a 'few' times!

How great (thou) Art

This sounds very simplistic but as I have said before I am a big fan of 'Art'. I think that Creator God is particularly, prophetically, poetically and profoundly present in the God image reflecting act of creation that we do when we make/encounter art. (you could also say 'make...' - something else that is about creation and beauty joy comfort etc!) Anyway, I am not saying all Art is 'good', it just seems to create what the Celtic Christians called 'thin places' where heaven and earth are mysteriously close, even touching. Take a look at this bit of graffiti and keep in your mind the Lord's prayer

Our Father which art in heaven,Hallowed be thy name,Thy kingdom come,Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread.And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.And lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil:For thine is the kingdom,and the power, and the glory,for ever. Amen.

What does it make you think, feel, want to stop doing, start doing, continue doing, pray, cry out for, confess, etc etc etc? What was your own response? Click on the comments link below and let us know.

Guantanamo Event DATE CHANGE

Guantanamo Event - DATE CHANGE

One of our main artists is unable to do the 13th so we are working to get another date in the diary. We hope to update you by the end of the week. Other arrangements are progressing well, we even have a performance poet on standby. So here's hoping we can get it sorted and get it on soon.

Thanks for your patience.


Saturday, 1 November 2008

Jesus, are you going to hurt me?

I found this video amusing, but thought it also resonated with me about the aggressive, judgemental approaches Christians can be guilty of in the way they relate to those who aren't Christians.

Lets not be killjoys this Christmas!