Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Quote of the Week # 3

"A cask of wine works more miracles than a church full of saints!"

This was on our service order this week!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Parable of the Unjust Judge

"Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about human beings. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' "For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about people, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'
And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

I know this will seem obvious to most people, but I was really struck, when reading this parable recently, at how much it was about justice and liberation. I had always read it as a slightly odd tale about prayer - comparing God to an unjust judge never really seemed to work for me. But, recently I have become aware of unjust judges everywhere - judges who send asylum seekers back to countries where they are threatened with their lives; this judge, who acquitted an Israeli soldier after emptying his rifle into a Palestinian school girl. The parable appears, in this light, to be about the power of nagging unjust officials - apartheid ended because the international community kept going on and on about it. It is also about a conviction that justice is on its way because God is committed to justice. As Martin Luther King said, "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice". Keep nagging unjust officials and believe in God's commitment to justice. Is that what its saying?

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Quote of the Week # 2

In view of the excellent debate at the Greenbelt Festival this weekend on boycotting Israeli products, this quote comes to mind:

"Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want." (Anna Lappe)

For those interested in boycotting Israeli goods, the key website is here.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Quote of the Week # 1

I have a Solomon-like fascination with great quotes that sum up truth in a pithy, often humorous way (all other comparisons with Solomon I deny!). I will try to post my favourite ones from time to time and encourage others to do the same and comment on them, if they wish). Here is the first:

"I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed." (Nelson Mandela)

To fight or not to fight!

Mandela's, 'Long walk to Freedom' has been my summer reading this year and I've certainly enjoyed it. While reading it, I was constantly aware that this is only one side of the story, but it is, nonetheless, the most important and fascinating side of the story. Mandela was, without doubt, a great leader, always breaking new ground.

Mandela inevitably draws comparisons with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but there are two glaring differences between Mandela and these two great leaders. Unlike King and Gandhi, Mandela was not religious and was not committed to non-violence - the two were no doubt connected.

Mandela regarded himself as a Methodist and noted, in his early years, if anything good was being done in South Africa it was invariably done by the church. However, religion did not appear to play a significant part in his life or in the motivation for his action. In fact, no ideology controls Mandela. He comes across as a pragmatist. He does not think in universal terms - peace and justice was certainly his goal, but this could mean violence and injustice might be necessary in the process. This is evident in probably the only paragraph in the book I found distasteful. Writing about the killing of nineteen civilians in 1983, he said,

"I felt profound horror at the death toll. But disturbed as I was by these casualties, I knew that such accidents were the inevitable consequence of the decision to embark on a military struggle. Human fallibility is always a part of war, and the price of it is always high. " (p.617-618)

Mandela was, in my view, a man of peace. He held South Africa back from the brink of civil war, but was willing to use violence to achieve this peace. The reason, he said, was that there was no constitutional outlet for non-violence,

"I told them [reporters] that the conditions in which Martin Luther King struggled were totally different from my own: the United States was a democracy with constitutional guarantees of equal rights that protected non-violent protest... South Africa was a police state with a constitution that enshrined inequality and an army that responded to non-violence with force. I told them I was a Christian and had always been a Christian. Even Christ, I said, when he was left with no alternative, used force to expel the moneylenders from the temple. He was not a man of violence, but had no choice but to use force against evil. I do not think I persuaded them." (p.620)

I don't think he persuades me either! A great leader he may have been, a theologian, he certainly was not! Whether Christ was "left with no alternative" is a moot point. He certainly didn't kill nineteen people! What's more, Jesus was confronted by a regime much more violent and oppressive than South Africa's, with absolutely no outlet for non-violent protest, and all the evidence suggests he did not advocate violence. Strikingly, King in his sermon on 'The Meaning of Non-violence' shared the view that violence is sometimes necessary in less constitutional contexts than the US. I remain undecided.

Leaving aside the universalism of King and Gandhi, simply on the pragmatic question of whether violence worked in South Africa, I also remain to be convinced. Did it bring the peace closer or hold it back? It certainly added to the lack of international support for Mandela.

Despite these reservations about Mandela's support of violence, I heartily recommend the book as inspiring and thought-provoking, if you've got the time to wade through it.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


This is not quite forgiveness, but it is a moving decision not to demonize the aggressor.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Tears of Gaza

I thought this speech by Chris Hedges was excellent. He mentions Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish. Abuelaish shot to notoriety when Israeli TV had lined him up (a Palestinian doctor) to talk about the situation in Gaza. I guess he was a safe bet as he worked with Israelis and Palestinians. However, on live TV he tells the audience that his home has just been hit by a tank shell and his three daughters killed. (see here) He has since only spoken of forgiveness and reconciliation. He has a book out in January I'm hoping to buy.

Monday, 9 August 2010

A Burning Light, a Cloud, a Voice

On 6th August the church celebrates the Feast of Transfiguration. It reminds us of the story of Jesus climbing a mountain with his closest friends. There was a dazzling light, a cloud that overshadowed them, and they were terrified by the cloud, and a voice.

6th August is also the anniversary of a less auspicious event. On 6th August 1945, someone climbed, not a holy mountain, but into the cockpit of a plane - and dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. 150,000 people were killed. Other people later died from the effects of atomic radiation. 75,000 buildings were destroyed. The world has never been the same.

There was a voice booming from heaven. Here, too, was brightness, brilliant as burning magnesium. Here, too, a cloud that has come and has covered us all with its shadow. Truly, under the shadow of this new cloud, we are right to feel afraid.

Look at the shape of that cloud. It is the new tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We have eaten of its fruit and we shall never be the same again. Our good knowledge of the workings of God's beautiful creation has been turned to evil and annihilation.

We should pray and work for a nuclear free world. As Britain, inscrutably, renews its nuclear arsenal, let us protest, conscious that Jesus would say today: "you have learnt that nuclear war is evil, but I say this to you, do not war at all, do not hate, do not harbour a grudge, do not envy, do not bully, do not gossip for all these are the seeds of which the bomb is but the fruit".

We commemorate Hiroshima day, world peace day, by telling again the story of another climb, another light, another voice, another cloud. Jesus was speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. The cloud of evil hung over Jesus, just as it does us, but he was not overcome by it. Evil does not have the final word, and so it is today. Let us not be overcome by evil – either in ourselves or in the world.

Adapted from here.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Islam & the Media

I made this video for school when we discuss the media's portrayal of Islam. I thought I'd share it.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Breaking the silence!

It would need something pretty special to break my recent silence on this blog, but I guess the shooting of three children in their school is a pretty good reason. During my recent visit to Palestine, I went to a school where three pupils had been shot through the head the previous week for looking towards a Jewish settlement. In another school, one teacher left early to receive his son home from prison, after 18 months without charge. Another young prisoner was not so lucky. He had been beaten to death. I could go on... The situation in Palestine is much much worse than I ever imagined. Most of the men appear to have been in prison, for no other reason than being Palestinians. The ones I met were good people and certainly not terrorists.

On leaving 'Israel', I had everything in my suitcase taken out in front of everyone. Everything was read and I was questioned about it all - I was 2 hours being interrogated. I felt so angry at the intrusion into my privacy. Then I recalled how Palestinians had complained about soldiers coming into their house - always at night - searching and interrogating. I got a sense of the resentment they must feel.

But what am I doing about it? I knew before I left that I would come home and become absorbed by the mundane. And, I've been proved right. The people out there are desperate for the West to do something, telling me in no uncertain terms, that they wanted me to take the message back to Britain. So, this is a first attempt to break the silence about Palestine. Please help me in doing so, and don't let me forget it.

I remember the protests and collective condemnation of South Africa in the 1980s. But, what is happening in Palestine is much more than apartheid (which it is), it is ethnic cleansing in slow motion. Where is the collective spirit of protest?

Read Frankie Boyle's challenge about Palestine.

Ask me more!

By the way, the picture at the top is of a house from which Palestinians have been evicted. Their homes are now lived in by Israelis, while the original occupants live in a tent outside. As the Israelis go in and out of the house they taunt the 'former' owners (I witnessed this myself), apparently to provoke an incident. Apparently, they started throwing stones at one - an 87 year old woman the week before I was there. More photos here.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Cartooning in Conflict

I was really impressed when I first came across the 'Parents Circle' - bereaved Palestinians and Israelis getting together to promote reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge. Yesterday they opened an exhibition in London, "Cartooning in Conflict". I've posed a couple of my favourite cartoons above. See here for more info.