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.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Having sex for virginity!

I was very proud of one of my pupils today as I marked her work. She wrote:

"I believe all war is pointless and avoidable. It is my belief that fighting for peace is like having sex for virginity. Once a war begins, peace is already lost."

Go Girl!

Needless to say, she has sanitised this for my ears. The original version of this phrase is somewhat more graphic!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

10 step plan for peace!

When talking to Palestinians recently, they said that most people in their country had lost any sense of hope. They saw no possibility of peace talks ever giving a fair deal to Palestine, because it is always a discussion between unequal parties. This loss of hope is leading to ever more radicalisation, which only makes matters worse.

Despite saying all this, I liked the video below because I felt that what is being presented is a fair, equitable solution to the Palestinian situation. Will it ever happen? I think we have to believe sometimes, because we have no alternative.

This video is a little long, but for anyone interested in the Palestinian crisis I recommend 02.57 - 23.20. At the end a Jewish theologian makes a point which is very similar to my post here:

"Christians don't know how to stand up to Jews when they're wrong... What is it about Christians? What is it about Christianity?"

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Remembering War!

I have long felt uneasy about some of the ways Remembrance Sunday is kept. The language, at times, seems to glorify war. In fact, the term "glorious dead" is frequently heard. The idea that these people have "won our freedom" is also not always true. But, even where there may be some truth in it, it communicates the message about redemptive violence I don't feel entirely comfortable with. For me, remembering should be what it was always intended to be - remembering war so that it would never be repeated. It was instituted so that the First World War would be the 'war to end all wars'.

So, it was very good this morning to hear Jonathan Bartley of Ekklesia, on the radio, echoing some of these same ideas. They have done a full report on the subject, which is worth a read and can be found here.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Christians supporting Israel

I love this picture. It was drawn by a pupil in Palestine and given to me as part of the exchange programme we are running. It shows the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the way Palestinians are forbidden access to it, even though it is in their city. This only touches the tip, though, of the human rights abuses Palestinians face on a daily basis. Another picture given to me (since destroyed in the rain) was a picture of a pupil’s home – a tent. His parents were forced out of their homes 40 years ago and are now living in camps. They have lost all rights to their homes and aren’t even allowed to travel into Israel, let alone go back to their home towns. Every day Palestinians face humiliating and intimidating treatment at the hands of Israeli soldiers. An enormous wall has been erected around the West Bank. One school we are linked with is on the wrong side of the wall. Each day pupils must go through the wall. It is only open between 7am and 7.30. Sometimes soldiers arrive early and pupils miss getting through. They have to wait at the wall until 2 o’clock before it opens again.

I know a lot of this is familiar to most of you who are reading this, but I just want to make a point about Christian allegiances in this conflict. Many Christians have an instinctive support for Israel, based on the fact that they were the people of God in the Old Testament and that they were promised the land of Israel “for ever as an everlasting possession.” Whatever you think of these promises, and the extent to which they are still applicable today, it seems to me there is one thing we could all agree on: Israel, in the Bible, was never beyond criticism – even damning criticism - when it neglected justice. Jesus called Jerusalem to repentance (Luke 13:34). In fact the promises to Israel were conditional (Lev. 20:22) and in the New Testament, John the Baptist railed at those who claimed exemption from judgement by claiming, "We have Abraham as our father." (Matthew 3:9) We, also, should not support Israel while it engages in the confiscation of property and racial apartheid, simply on the basis that Abraham was their father. It was always the extent to which they followed justice that determined whether or not they were the people of God.

“Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out.” (Lev. 20:22)

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Bible and the Postmodern Imagination

Having read Brueggemann's book recently - Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and the Postmodern Imagination - I just want to say that I think it is outstanding. Brueggemann is a brilliant writer and thinker and I think in this book he hits the nail on the head in terms of the direction the church should take and the role of the Bible in the postmodern world. What I like about it is:

  • He understands the power of the 'story' (or 'propaganda', depending which word you want to use). Advertisers wouldn't spend so much on telling us their story if it didn't matter.

  • He understands the key role of the Bible in countering that story. If a biblical counter-imagination is not employed, "the Christian congregation will rely on the dominant infrastructure of consumerism." For me, this is why the Bible really matters - the insfrustructure of consumerism is debilitating and dehumanising.

  • He makes the Bible utterly relevant to our age, without being under the thumb of postmodern preoccupations.

  • He demonstrates brilliantly the signifance of the Bible as story, rather than a set of propositions.
  • It is hopeful, yet academically rigerous. So often academia can lead to cynicism and can get caught up in concerns about modernist truth claims. Somehow he remains utterly postmodern, academic, yet faithful and hopeful.

Nothing I have read in ages has inspired me so much. Read it and enjoy.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Sheffield hosts CAP conference

Redefining prosperity
St Mary's Community Centre, Sheffield

Saturday 14 November 2009, 11am – 4pm
with...Anne Pettifor Leader of Jubilee 2000, author of The Real World Economic Outlook (2003) and The Coming First World Debt Crisis (2006)
Cathy McCormack, Grassroots activist & author of The Wee Yellow Butterfly
Professor Tim Jackson, Sustainable Development Commissioner, author of Prosperity without growth?

An opportunity to think theologically about economics!

“It began with a squeeze, then the squeeze became a crunch and the crunch became a downturn and the downturn became a crisis. A crisis of faith as the temple of Mammon on which we have all sought to build our economic prosperity was tried in the fire of truth, honesty and reality, and was revealed to have shaky foundations. …When the day of reckoning came - and there is always a day of reckoning - the winds of truth blew away the countless houses of cards.” John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

The conference will examine the following questions:
What are the immediate and longer-term impacts of the economic crisis for those directly affected?
Do we need to fundamentally rethink our idea of prosperity?
What can be done to build a major just, equal and sustainable society and economy in future?
What positive contribution can faith communities make?

A donation of £10 waged or £3 unwaged will cover the conference which includes lunch. Please return the booking form, together with your donation (cheques payable to Church Action on Poverty), to the CAP office, Central Buildings, Oldham Street, Manchester M1 1JQ. – or email janeta@church-poverty.org.uk to reserve your place.