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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

6 months of Blogging

This is just a thank you to loyal readers after 6 months of blogging! I began the exercise simply to help plug my first ever book 'A Just Church', and to expand upon recent developments that come out of the themes of that the book touches on.

Without any major publicity, and with no reviews in even the Christian press, the book went into reprint within 2 months, and was a strong enough seller to go onto kindle. Pretty good going for a book about Liberation Theology! Its is thanks to word of mouth, and a lot of support has come out of those who read the blog - so thanks again!

Its not always been easy - the EDL targeted the blog at one stage, so I had to take off the comment section (though I still read everything sent to me - cheers for the encouraging comments!) and various right wing commentators have tried to hijack bits - (I find those who hide their true identities particularly annoying!)

But mostly its been fun - and with nearly 3,000 hits a month, well worth the efforts! I do hope that you continue to enjoy this medley of faith, culture and politics!

Why you should be a member of Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT)

I joined CAAT some years ago, when it became clear that Labour's 'ethical foreign policy' was clearly not amounting to much. Our governments, whether Labour or Conservative, have not only supported the aggressive foreign policy of the US, but also bend the rules to make sure they can sell as many arms as possible, regardless as to there 'end use'.

As the Arab Spring unfolds, and enters a rather hesitant Arab Summer, it is clear that our government had a hand in arming the despots. The April-June edition of CAAT's news letter tells me exactly how much money was made in arms sales to Libya, Algeria etc, and how British made weapons have been evident in use from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia.

If we give a damn about the millions of people who are risking their lives to non-violently resist the authoritian of North Africa and the Middle East, then the most powerful thing we can do is to highlight the abuses of our involvement in the arms trade.

Nowhere is that more evident than the 'Defence & Security Equipment International (known as DSEi) bi-annual arms fest held in London this September - the world's biggest arms fare. I'll be blogging a lot about it in the months to come - because I'd like to see as many people down there as possible. This unacceptable trade must be exposed and resisted.

If you're not sure about it, then please consider joining CAAT - they do their homework, give us the facts and figures, plus opportunities to put that information into action. Put it in your diaries 'Day of Prayer, 11th September, Day of Action 13th September - lets stop this arms fare, lets stop arming killer regimes!

Monday, 30 May 2011

If Germany can shake the nuclear habit - so can we

The announcement that Germany is to shed itself of nuclear power is a relief to many. It is an important step, because, if they can do it, anyone can. Germany has a 23% reliance on nuclear fueled electricity, so how can they manage withdrawal?

Firstly, they have a belief that new technology can reduce energy consumption, and secondly they are prepared to put a huge investment in renewable energy sources. It is the only sane thing to do after Fukushima.

On the surface, the Japanese nuclear catastrophe appears to be a freak accident, triggered by the devastating tsunami that followed the huge earthquake. Analysts though have been warning of similar disasters that could follow accidents at nuclear plants for a whole series of reasons, and the old German reactors were beginning to creak.

Germany is also the most financially savvy country in Europe. It knows that the nuclear figures just don't add up. The energy is only ever affordable with massive state subsidies, and the cost of safe disposal of nuclear waste is phenomenal.

Germany also knows that it will be impossible to ask the Polish government not to go ahead with two new nuclear power plants if they did not take this decision soon.

The UK, France, Japan and the rest of the world needs to learn from Germany's decision. It may be tough, but we have to rid ourselves of the nuclear option once and for all.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Prayers and action for the people of Yemen

The capital of Yemen, Sanaa, has been the scene of terrible battles over the last few days. 124 people have been killed by government forces, as they protested against the despotic rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh has been in charge since the ending of the civil war in Yemen in 1994, and has ruled with a iron fist.

Before he came to power, South Yemen had been a bastion in the Middle East of progressive secularism for almost 20 years. But a progressive, Marxist government that had enhanced the life chances of women, had tackled poverty and inequality, was not to be tolerated in the 1990's. The West supported the warlords of Northern Yemen in the civil war, and allowed Saleh to come to power. In the years after the 'peace agreement' in 1994, thousands of 'leftists', academics and trade unionists were 'disappeared' or exiled by the Saleh regime, but human rights abuses were ignored by the West.

What a mess it all is now, having given Saleh the weapons to keep the population subdued, Western governments do not know how to respond. And yet, still the people bravely rise up, despite the bullets and the sniper fire. Yemen, alongside all the nations of the Middle East need our prayers. And prayers need action. Protest at the DSEi Arms fare in London this September, lets stop arming the killers.

2 women and 12 children murdered in the South West

If it were bombs dropping on Bristol, we would see things very differently. The news that 14 people, 2 women and 12 children were murdered by a US/NATO attack should make us all very angry. The two houses in the South Western area of Nawzad of Afghanistan were bombed in response to an attack on US marines by rebel forces. Revenge, the strategy of 'an eye for an eye', has become NATO policy

The US clearly believes it can get away with murder. Saying sorry for when these air strikes goes wrong is not enough. It happens all the time, week after week, and barely registers on the news channels of the countries that do the bombing.

Drone attacks, missile and air strikes, are a daily occurrence in Afghanistan and Pakistan - there is not even any concerted effort to count the number of people killed, let alone make accurate distinctions between 'insurgent' and 'civilian' casualties. Each death results in greater hatred for the occupiers in particular and the West in general.

If the money spent on bombs and weapons used in Afghanistan had been spent on waging peace and bringing prosperity to the country - then the world would be a much less dangerous place than it is.

We have to be angry, and it shouldn't matter whether the victims are in Helmand or Bath. When one innocent victim is killed by our government's policy - we have a duty to hold it to account.

For the sake of each murdered child, resist this evil war with every fibre in your being.

Gaza celebrates as 4 years of imprisonment ends!

The opening of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Palestine hopefully ends one of the worst human rights abuses in modern history. One and a half million people have been imprisoned in the Gaza strip for 4 years, denied access to medical aid and basic goods. The easing of the restrictions were welcomed throughout the Arab world today.

Israel sealed the borders when Hamas were elected by the people of Gaza, and did not have any problem persuading the then Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak to support their policy. Collective punishment has been a tool used by the Israeli state for far too long, and the international community has not reacted to it with any conviction.

The struggle for freedom of movement is far from over, and the Palestinian people are still denied the right to trade. But as women and children could finally cross to Cairo for much needed medical care, and families were reunited, it is clearly a great day for the people of Gaza.

It is also proof that real change is being felt in Egypt. Finally, the government is beginning to respond to the will of the people. Today there is hope for at least one part of the Middle East.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Mladic and bin Laden. Spot the difference

They had both been on the run for ten years. They had both gone into hiding with a network of supporters to sustain them - they had both been responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. They both had a loyal group of followers, mostly trained in combat. They were both two of the most hunted men in the world.

But it is in the capture that any similarities end. One will go to the European War Crimes Tribunals and be held account for what he has done. He will face a trial, and the victims of his crimes will be able to put their case, and he will be judged on his actions, probably facing a jail sentence til the end of his days.

The other was executed by a kill squad, getting out of his bed, in front of his wife and one of his young daughters. Unarmed, he had a high calibre weapon placed near to his head, and half his head blown away.

Yes, bin Ladens execution was efficient, his body swiftly sunk beneath the waves - but I believe that Mladic's arrest and trial witnesses to a deeper justice than the barrel of the gun. Bin Laden will always be a martyr to his followers, killed by the evil empire, but the trial of Mladic will weaken his following as his crimes are exposed and he is finally made responsible for his barbarism.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

rekindling interest in Liberation Theology!

I discovered today that my book is now available on Kindle, 'the electronic book'. That's great news for those who have now got their new Kindle device, though I'm personally keen on a 'hard copy' that's easy to share and can be bought in a local shop!

The great thing is that the publishers have put it on Kindle because of the demand for the book. I don't believe that it's because I'm a great writer, I'm a community activist at heart not a professional author, but it shows that there is a huge appetite for a theology that is liberating. People long for a theology that they can relate to, and makes sense of the world around them.

For too long, theology has been lost in archaic academia, struggling for relevance. But it seems to me that if God is God, the way we talk about God (Theology) must be relevant. It must help build the kingdom of God, and it must help us to find  new ways of communicating God's love for the world.

I really hope that when people read the book, they don't just stick it on a shelf (a least that's not possible with the Kindle version!) but dare to use it as a model for making their own local church a beacon hope in their community. They might even begin to go to church again, knowing that it can be part of 'the movement of movements' that will be make 'another world possible'.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Congress backs Netanyahu's delusions.

Congress gave Netanyahu an easy ride during his speech to them today in Washington. They were clearly happy to egg him on with his delusions that Israel is a bastion of freedom and democracy within a sea of Arab evil and anti-Americanism.

Of course, the reality is that Israel has always propped up dictatorships that it thought were helpful, and bombed and undermined the only Middle Eastern states to hold free and fair elections, Palestine and Lebanon. And ask a Palestinian living under Israeli occupation how 'free and democratic' Israel is, and you'll get a very different perspective.

Netanyahu's determination to define the scale of the stump state of Palestine, and refuse to allow debate on returning the borders to the 1967 lines, is entrenching Israel into permanent conflict (which I believe the Israeli Government has decided it can live with.)

Watching congress give Netanyahu 30 standing ovations, including one after he stated that Jerusalem will never be a shared capital, was simply frightening. Their is no 'give' in this stance, merely 'take'.

With the US military might behind it, Israel can do whatever it wants, and it knows it. If Obama really is serious about forcing a peace agreement, he has as much work to do facing up to the Zionists in the US Congress as with the warmongers in the Israeli Government.

Tomlinson's killer must be brought to justice

In my book, I warned of the 'criminalisation of protest' and that the police seemed to be able to treat peaceful protestors as if they had less rights than others. A culture of antagonism had evolved in the police that allowed some of them to treat us as if we were scum. Whilst this is not true of all officers, it is a dangerous phenomena indeed.

The decision that PC Simon Harwood is to face manslaughter charges is an important one. If he is held to account, it may stem the tide of police violence during demonstrations and protest. It will also help those good police officers who are often sickened by some of the behaviour they witness from their colleagues, but feel unsupported in the process of speaking out.

I witnessed some of the violence on that fateful day in April in 2009, and also on some of the more recent protests in the capital. We must promote a ethos of non-violence in both the police and the protest movement if we are to be successful in struggling against the devastating policies of this government.

Obama, the 'King of Spin' at Buckingham Palace

If I lived in London, I'd be outside Buckingham Palace at 5.30pm today, joining the Stop the War protest at Obama's visit. It was easy to get people riled up over George Bushes visits, why is it so hard to rile people up when Obama comes to town?

Do people still feel he is a progressive president? The evidence against is overwhelming. He has doubled the war effort in Afghanistan, still is the occupying force in Iraq, has escalated and prolonged the suffering of the Libyan people by going way beyond the UN mandate to protect civilians. He has overseen the deadly increase in drone attacks throughout the Middle East from Pakistan to Yemen.

He talk about non-violence and building democracy - but it only applies to everyone else, not the US empire, which can pick and choose its enemies at will. Venezuela, but not Colombia, North Korea, but not China, Libya, but not Saudi Arabia. The blatant execution of criminal bin Laden showed that Obama believes he is above the law.

If we think he has made progress in the Israel Palestine struggle, it certainly has not manifested itself on the ground. US still arms the Israeli occupation to the hilt.

If in London, why not go and protest against this king of spin. Obama may enjoy looking and sounding progressive, but he is still letting US imperialism do its thing.

Chile: Will Allende's exhumation reveal US foreign policy skeletons?

The official line was that Salvador Allende took his own life on Sept 11 1973, as Pinochet's fascist soldiers stormed the presidential palace during US backed coup in Chile. Perhaps the exhuming of Allende's body will reveal more information, but I suspect not.

But let there be no doubt about it - Allende was murdered by a US foreign policy that could not stand the threat of another successful socialist state in South America. The US were deeply involved in supporting the military coup, and the subsequent detention, torture and murder of thousands of Allende supporters.

We must not hold onto the idea that this could not happen again, South America's history is sadly full of such events. The US certainly was involved in the unsuccessful coup against Chavez in 2002, and in 2009 stood idly by as a coup deposed the elected left wing leader of Honduras.

May God let Allende rest in peace, and disturb the skeletons of US imperialism in South America

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Twitter - where will it all end?

I swear I did not join twitter to find out the sexual habits of premier league footballers - I really couldn't care less about them. I joined twitter today so that I had a chance of keeping tabs on my wife, who uses it all the time, for work and pleasure.

I like the idea of keeping thoughts short - quick poems of consciousness - perhaps revealing the true undercurrents of the zeitgeist. However - my initial reaction to it all is one of bewilderment and annoyance. it is hard to keep all the thoughts in order. I've not worked out what is private or what is public; when you reply to one person, apparently everyone can see and follow that conversation. How dull might that be?

I think I prefer facebook, and I absolutely love blogging - the ultimate in therapy. But Twitter might be a step too far for me - but I'm prepared to give it a shot, especially for during large demos. If the revolution will not be televised, perhaps it might get tweeted!

In my fathers house there are many dwelling places..

SoulSpace was a real delight today - the contributions from the congregation were helpful, thoughtful and varied, reflecting on the passage from John 14, verse 1 - 14. We made use of the whole space of the building, with different lines from the biblical passage on the walls and windows of the many rooms in the German Church.

I came out of the service feeling really hopeful and joyful - partly from singing the great South African song 'Sizohamba', but mostly the joy of feeling part of such a loving community. SoulSpace has always been special to me, but just recently it has resonated with the Holy Spirit. I'm so grateful to the contributions that everyone makes to the service - the word 'communion' is rarely used so appropriately.

Jesus begins by saying to his worried comrades, 'Let not your hearts be troubled', despite their obvious fear of death and betrayal. (the story takes place on the evening of the last supper) Even in the midst of fear and worry, Jesus longs for us to remain trusting in God, and trusting in the way of truth, justice, peace and life.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Bradford Pride - Wow!

Bradford Pride is getting bigger and better every year. This year I wore a dog collar with a rainbow, and enjoyed the ambiance, before and after the Bishop's enthronement taking place on the other side of 'the hole'. I was the only collar there, and many were so surprised to see me! I did attract the occasional person who really wanted to have a go at the church, but most were really pleased to see a member of the clergy about, and I even got chatted up!

If I had been offered a chance to speak on stage, I would have begun by apologizing for all the bad experiences many gay people have had from the Church and from homophobic Christians. I would have reminded them that we have a God of love who blesses all that find love, gay or straight. I would have reminded people that the Bible may be inspired by holy people, but that it not written by God, and is flawed and full of historical beliefs. God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit is inclusive and welcoming to the LGBT community.

I would have said that in our church, we are blessed by the presence of gay Christians. They are simply amazing, because, despite the fact that each and everyone of them has horror stories about how they have been treated by the church, they have not given up their search for holiness - they have never abandoned their faith in God.

May God bless all the Pride events taking place throughout the world, a relatively new phenomenon, heralding a new world of tolerance, openness and love. Pride gives new hope for a better, more inclusive stage of humanity.

Thoughts on the new Bishop

The 10th Bishop of Bradford was enthroned today at our city cathedral, and it was a grand affair. I'm not much into pomp and processions, and luckily didn't have to dress up. I simply had to sit in the pews and watch the show go by. It was really well paced, and the determination to fit in at least 5 mighty hymns was made bearable by being next to a great singer, the coroner for West Yorkshire.

Nick Baines is a very likable man, relaxed even during such a huge occasion. Once welcomed, enthroned, and staffed up, he gave the most wonderful sermon. It was about confidence, in ourselves and in our city, dispelling the 'rumours' one hears about the city from outsiders and even from our own ranks. He echoed St Paul in saying he had come to build up, not tear down.

Engaging and media friendly (he keeps up a much better blog than I do!) I am thrilled that he is our new Bishop. After a bruising round with another senior cleric yesterday, I am now far more optimistic about the future of ministry in Bradford under new his leadership.

http://nickbaines.wordpress.com/

Friday, 20 May 2011

How to kill a church

I learnt today that the 'finance committee' of Bradford Diocese does not think that it should support the work of Desmond Tutu House, and that I would have to make the case again for the survival of our project.

I realise that the kind of church I operate does not please everyone in the wider church, but I had hoped that most people would still recognise the value of it. If the Church of England is to survive, it must build links with those working for the good of humanity. At Tutu house we have done just that, working alongside CND, The non-violence centre, the Childrens Peace Library, the Treehouse Cafe, Fairgrounds, The Olive Branch fairtrade shop. We have provided a great meeting space used by Friends of the Earth, Bradford Amnesty International, Refugee prayer groups, peace campaigners and many, many more.

Out of all this work, great spiritual hope arises. We make wonderful links with some of the best folk in the city, and those who want to ask 'God' questions have a safe space to do so. We have more weekly groups using the chapel for prayer than in any other parish church I have ever worked with.

Some are using the financial instability of the Treehouse cafe as an excuse to undermine the entire work of Desmond Tutu House, wanting to sell the building and effectively destroying all we have worked to build up over the last 5 years. Without the building, and the links it makes with those outside the Church, SoulSpace and JustSpace could quite easily be killed off. The lack of vision from those who hold the purse strings is disappointing, but perhaps is to be expected. The financial struggle to keep the Diocese afloat must be a nightmare to handle, but the solution cannot be to cut off a church that provides hope for the future. 

But our work has built up many allies. If they try to close us down, I am confident that many will come together to resist. 2 Ashgrove will remain a place where the love, justice and peace of God reaches out into the community. I hope that those responsible for mission in the Diocese will learn to value our work, and work out ways of supporting us instead of making our life harder.

Pathways to Peace in the Middle East

On the day of a further 30 deaths in Syria, and with the last month notching up over 2000 NATO bombing raids over Libya, our church decided to it was time show some solidarity with those caught up in the slaughter. From repressive regimes fighting to retain power, to the aftermath of peaceful movements in both Tunisia and Egypt, we must show our support for all those struggling against the odds for peace.

It was a simple idea, making footprints on which people could write down poems or prayers. We then lined them up to make a pathway into the 'peace garden'. Emma, Erfin, Amy and Andrew helped make the footprints, and we made signs calling for peace in Palestine, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and North Africa.

It was heartening to see people eager to write their thoughts and prayers, and members of the student union resolved to make this a weekly event, timed on Fridays to coincide with some of the bravest of protests after prayer time in the mosques.

We did it to show solidarity with the hundreds of students connected to these countries, and because we refuse to be silent when violence is used to decide the fate of millions of people. We must stop arming repressive regimes, we must strive to endorse peaceful solutions to violent confrontations. There is no way to peace - peace is the way.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Saving the Cafe

There was a difficult meeting this evening for those involved with the Treehouse Cafe, formally known as the Fairtrade Cafe. Finances are looking pretty grim, and the restructuring earlier in the year has not brought it back into profit. The recession simply means there are less people with money to spend in a cafe, and changes in BD7 demographics also stand against the chances of survival.

The cafe was the nations first 'fairtrade' cafe, set up by Mike Harrison in 1994, with grants from Christian Aid and Tearfund. It was a pioneering project, and has been so important in the history of Bradford, a meeting point of radical minds and ideas.

It will take a huge effort to make it viable again, and we might not have enough energy between us - but I sincerely hope that we can pull it back from the brink of closure. That means everyone who is still around who cares about fairtrade, local, ethical food, pulling their fingers out and getting down to the cafe over the next few weeks. It means people giving financial support and offering time and expertise.

I will do everything possible to keep a fairtrade cafe as part of the Desmond Tutu building. I refuse to give up hope and stubbornly believe that a co-operatively run ethical cafe/shop/local community resource can be sustainable and must be part of our solution if we are to provide local alternatives to capitalism. Join us in the struggle to save the Cafe!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

No cutbacks for Trident folly

Today, the Tories finally announced the inevitable; they would begin rolling out the replacement of the Trident nuclear submarine programme. Despite the final decision supposedly being left til 2016, the government could not hide its glee at deciding to spend £3 billion pounds of our money on the first stage of the replacement programme

Estimates for the total cost vary, but could eventually be as high as £76 Billion. It seems that everyone must be prepared to face cuts..with the exception of the war effort.

With a nuclear weapons system is so clearly obsolete in the 21st century, it begs the question as to why both Blair and Cameron are so desperate for it. For them, it is the ultimate status symbol, a key device in being at the top table of the UN 'security' council.

But is not only costly to us during a time when core public services are under attack, but it is also a moral disgrace. The use of nuclear weapons is effectively the threat of epic mass murder, the destruction of the earth and of humanity. While countries like us carry on developing nuclear weapons, how can we persuade others not not enter the race? How can we even consider the use of them; Even if a 'dirty bomb' had gone off on 9/11, would that have justified the nuking of Afghanistan and Iraq? Iraq was subsequently proven to have had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, and in Afghanistan, how can you destroy civilians for the crimes of their leaders? The Nuclear option is just monstrous.

The Tories may be cheering at the news of Tridents replacement - but that shows them up for what they really are. They are prepared to cut back spending on hospitals and other vital public services, but not cut back on this wasteful, pointless act of military folly.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Long live 'The Walking Dead'

It's been a weekend of TV heaven, with a superb episode of Dr Who written by fan favourite Neil Gaiman, and a cracking episode of the BBC's new drama 'The Shadowline'. But for me, the weekends viewing was topped by the finale of the 6 part US series 'The Walking Dead'.

It may seem like an unusual choice of programme for a priest - a gore filled post zombie apocalypse - but let me explain why I loved it. Just like the series 'Being Human', 'The Walking Dead' uses the horror genre to explore the human condition. Faced with extremes, we can unpick what living is all about. The series has dealt with themes such as hope; love; infidelity; racism; domestic abuse; suicide; as well a host of other morality matters.

Easy answers are not always provided, heroes are flawed, terrible deeds are done. But this zombie series has allowed many to ask themselves - when all else has gone, what is it that we really value most? Post zombie apocalypse - the question remains, would I become a selfish monster, or the last bastion of humanity?

All I can say is, long live 'The Walking Dead'!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Victor Jara

Those who have read my book will know that I am greatly influenced by Victor Jara, the 'peoples musician' from Chile. His life and music will be brought to the attention of West Yorkshire in a play on at 'The Theatre in the Mill', Bradford University this coming Saturday, 7.30pm

He trained to be a priest, but gave up when he realised that the Catholic Church in Chile was too aligned to the ruling oligarchy. He then devoted his life to the music of the people, and to the socialist revolution being brought about by the Christian Marxist, Salvador Allende. When the US backed coup brought Pinochet to power in 1973 - Jara was imprisoned in the national football stadium with thousands of other socialists and trade unionists. He was killed a few days later.

This play uses his music to tell his story, and is based on his last few days in the stadium. Do try and get to see it if in the area, it is a deeply moving tale indeed.

Outside the Law

The latest film by Rachid Boucherab is as gripping as it is depressing. An epic portrayal of the French 'cafe wars' in which 5,000 people died, violence that accompanied the Algerian war of Independence. It is particularly poignant due to the current uprisings of the 'Arab Spring'.

It begins with the tale of a family having their land taken away from them in Algeria, then goes on to the horrors of the Setif massacre, when as many as 6,000 Algerians were gunned down in the city as they marched for independence in May 1945.

It does not flinch from the horrors of the independence movement, each side, the Algerian FLN and the French state, both using both torture and murder in a circle of escalating violence.

The film encouraged me to investigate this little known period in French history, and I soon learned of the massacres on both sides that resulted in almost 1 million deaths between 1954 and 1962, when independence was finally won. But at what cost? One of the brothers in the film weeps as he tells his mother how he has killed with his bare hands, and now he has become 'nothing but death'.

Violence leads to violence. However repressive the regime, non-violence is the only way to ultimately defeat it. Algeria, Libya, Syria will not be won with bullets, but by stubborn men and women who will become ungovernable. It may take longer than the bomb, but each human life is precious and our humanity should never be destroyed in the struggle for freedom.

Go and see this film if you have the chance - visually stunning and thought provoking. Its violence and 'maleness' are a  fault (besides the mother, women are hardly given personalities in the film) but this is a worthy successor to 'Days of Glory', Boucherab's first major film, a moving Second World War movie told through the eyes of Algerians.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Otro dios es posible

A few years ago I was introduced to the stunning series of books 'Just Jesus' by Maria Lopez Vigil and her brother Jose Lopez Vigil. It is a Central American retelling of the Gospel, in a series of texts first broadcast on radio. It is a pleasure to read, and has had a huge impact on my biblical understanding.

Yesterday, following a link on a blog I love (Iglesia descalcia) I came across a follow up piece of work by Maria and Jose; 'Otro dios es posible' - Another God is Possible, 100 interviews with Jesus. These funny and well informed scripts are available on audio only in Spanish, but thankfully, the texts are also on the website in English.

If you need to hear the voice of Jesus afresh, then take a peak at this piece of work (the interview in which we hear Jesus' reaction to the concept of the Trinity had me in stitches)

http://www.otrodiosesposible.net/

Enjoy

A year of hell - the coalition at One.

Can it really be one year since Cameron and Clegg joked in the grounds of number 10, and looked as if they were old chums from the same public boys school? Yes, it has been 12 months of greed and cuts and compromise. They even managed to throw in support for a new war.

They have attacked our welfare state, thrown hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs on the scrapheap, and allowed the banks and corporations to do whatever they please. We have a government ruling for the benefit of a minority.

It nearly unravelled today when they floated the idea of 'buying places at university for the very rich'. Though they quickly had to back track, it illuminates the Tory mindset; 'how can the rich benefit the most?'

The speed of the U-turn also illustrates that they are weaker than they think they are. We can stop them. We must stop them, and perhaps, if we can direct as much pressure on the Tories as we have on the LibDems - this whole coalition could come tumbling down before they even have a chance of a second birthday party.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The thrill of the reprint!

I started this blog to promote the sale of my new book 'A Just Church'. I'm not a natural writer, but I figured that our little church in Bradford, trying to be a place that spoke out and acted on issues of poverty, climate change and war, was an important story to be listened to. To be honest though, I didn't expect that many people would be interested in what a 'fresh expression' church in Bradford was trying to achieve.

Imagine my surprise when my editor, the wonderful Carolyne Chartres, dropped me a line to say that the book was going to be reprinted, after only being on sale for just over two months! The original print run was 900, so it means that most of those are being read somewhere in the world, and hopefully a good few more will be selling in the coming months.

This is without much publicity, no review in the 'Church Times', no shelf space in Waterstones (bar the Bradford branch!) So this is a big thank you to anyone who has bought the book, and by word of mouth, has got the message out there; 'read this book!'

We need much more development of the work of liberation theology; we need far more experiments of worship based on inclusion and dialogue; we need churches and mosques, gurdwara's and community centres to lift up the voices of peace, equality and justice.

SoulSpace: Road to Emmaus; road to liberation.

Sunday's SoulSpace was another great example of why I love using liberation theology as a tool for worship. No sermon, just a community wrestling with scripture. There were disagreements, differences of opinion and interpretation, but we got so much from the conversation.

The story is simple, two people heading to a village called Emmaus after the death of Jesus in Jerusalem. Confused and amazed, they encounter a stranger on the way out of the city.

After hearing the story, and after everyone has had a chance to air their reaction to the tale in pairs, we then listen to each other. One person excitedly said how we learn in this story about the wonder of meeting Christ in the stranger, then another said how it was not scripture that brought knowledge of Jesus to the two people fleeing Jerusalem, but the breaking of bread with one another. To discover God we must share with each other! Another described her joy at knowing Christ was with her on her journey, even when she failed to recognise him.

So many little insights, much more than could ever come out in a single sermon, and all from our own mouths. It is in the sharing, the listening, the communion with one another that a God of love is revealed. I really hope that the church can stop forcing dogma on others, and instead create more spaces for listening to our spirit, spaces for our souls to grow in.

The sickening Sunday Times Rich list

The 2011 Sunday Times Rich List, published this weekend, reveals that the 1,000 wealthiest people in the country are now worth a combined £395.8 billion. They have seen their fortunes rise by almost 20% in the last year. The number of billionaires has risen from 53 to 73, while nine people have seen their fortunes rise by £1 billion or more during the past 12 months alone.

It is easy to accuse people like me of having 'chips on our shoulders' when we raise the subject of obscene wealth. I come from council house stock, I watch my parents work themselves to the bone, on often less than minimum wage, cleaning and gardening for those far more affluent than themselves. I have seen real poverty in the UK in both my own estate life and during my vocation as social worker and priest.

I have had to watch people cry at the fear of losing their homes, and hear their stories of debt and going without food so that at least their kids can eat. We do not appear to 'all be in this together'. During this recession, some appear to be doing very well thank you very much. Sir Philip Green and his wife, who resides in Monaco so as not to pay taxes in the UK, have increased their personal wealth by £95 million to a staggering £4.2 Billion - all the time avoiding nearly £400 million in taxes for the Arcadia group (Topshop)

It feels like its never been a better time to call for a revolution. They keep telling us that there is no such thing as class war, but class and wealth divides have never been so apparent. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting screwed. The only 'good news to the poor' must be a fierce challenge to this obscene evil.

The violence in Egypt must be challenged

Clashes between Christians and Muslims in Egypt reveal the huge tensions and power vacuum left by Mubaraks departure. During the protests that rocked the country I remember seeing pictures of Christians and Muslims embracing and holding Bibles and Korans aloft. It seemed that plurality and unity were being sought alongside political freedom.

But now violence is occurring, and the Egyptian state are not doing enough to counter these threats to democracy. The British government has said it is concerned with stability in Egypt, but that appears to have been more about selling weapons to them, keeping holiday resorts open and the crossing to Gaza closed.

With attention on Libya and Syria, it is important that we do not ignore the continued struggles for another way of governing in both Egypt and Tunisia. Recent violence against religious minorities, human rights groups and trade unionists have shown that those struggles are a long way from over. We must support those working on new agenda's of hope and unity, not 'business as usual.'

Friday, 6 May 2011

Learn from the SNP - fight the cuts!

Labour must learn from the example set by the Scottish National Party. It is not enough to simply say - 'the cuts are too big, we'll introduce them over a longer period!'. We need a party who will actually oppose tuition fees, reverse the bit by bit privatisation of our schools and health care.

We need a party that will savage the work of the Tory government (not just pick on the Lib Dems!) and put forward a new agenda for politics based on the needs of the people of the UK, not just the corporate needs of big business.

I'm worried that the Tories will be secretly heartened by this election, realising that they can get the Lib Dems to suffer most of the wrath of the people, whilst retaining their core support. If change is to come, Labour must follow the lead of the SNP, and fight for the public services that workers have won over decades of struggle.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Why the photos will not be shown

Bin Laden's face will not be shown for one main reason. It would prove beyond doubt that there was no attempt to bring this man to justice. A high calibre weapon was placed to his head and he was executed. He was unarmed, and with his wife and 12 year old daughter.

The devastation to his skull would show the brutality of his execution, and destroy any credibility to the idea that there had been any plan to bring Bin Laden to trial.

The trouble is, al-Quaeda thrives on martyrdom. They persuade several people each day to die, with the promise of eternal paradise. Death at the hands of the enemy is not a threat to their ideology. I believe that seeing Osama Bin Laden on trial in the Hague would have dealt a more crushing blow to the idea of violent fundamentalism that a bullet in the head ever could.

Obama knows that, yet did not have the courage to buck the trend of human history. We cannot glory in the trigger happy policy of an empire that has the gall to say 'that's not how we do things.'

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Why I'll be voting YES tomorrow

For all of my voting life, my vote has counted for very little. As a up an coming socialist at the age of 18, I distributed leaflets for the Labour Party in Egham Hythe. A solidly Tory area, my efforts were pretty much pointless. The first passed the post system meant my views were irrelevant. When I moved to Bradford, sure, my early voting for labour was always a winner. I kinda felt sorry for the others.

Then it happened. The Labour Party swung further and further to the right. My branch was suspended for opposing the first gulf war, and I decided to leave the party behind. When I voted instead for parties that had policies I agreed with (at first the Communists, then the Greens) the reality of the 'democratic process' was clear. As long as a party only needed to get past the next candidate, they could then do what they wished. they didn't have to compromise or build sensible alliances. They didn't have to listen to up to 60% of their constituency.

AV is not the system most would have opted for, and it will do little to change the chances of smaller, more progressive parties, (though thankfully the same can be said for the far right) but it is a move in the right direction. For that reason, any sane person should be voting 'yes' in tomorrows election. A 'no' vote is a vote for the status quo, a system that has led to terrible corruption and complacency by our political elite. Lets shake them up a bit.

The Provident's shameful AGM

The Provident tried to stave off any criticism of its activities at it's AGM today, by announcing the expansion of its workforce in Bradford. 250 new staff will operate a call centre at the new HQ on Thorton road for its 'Vanquis Bank' credit card subsidiary.

A member of Church Action on Poverty, Alan Thorton, questioned the senior staff team at the AGM, but it is clear that until the government is prepared to legislate against these legalised loansharks, they are not going to to miraculously change there banking practices.

I want more jobs in Bradford, but not at the cost of thousands of people suffering under crushing debts, being charged outrageous interest rates. Sadly, local councillors, MPs and even the local media are not prepared to challenge the Provident, and as I have written about in 'A Just Church', many in the local christian community have been bought out by the Provident's 'generous charity work'.

Much more work is needed to make this company the pariah that it deserves to be

Why Ian Tomlinson's death will not be the last

The inquest of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson has finally brought a modicum of justice to an outrageous act of police violence. The jury decided Pc Simon Harwood acted illegally, recklessly and dangerously, and used "excessive and unreasonable" force in striking Mr Tomlinson. Jurors added that the newspaper seller, who was not taking part in the protests, posed no threat.

Pc Harwood should not be seen as 'a rotten apple', a one off, a lone rogue officer. I was there on that day, and saw violence by the police used on countless occasions. Harwood was unfortunate that it was his baton wielding and mindless violence that ended up with a death, and was also caught on camera. I have no doubt that if not for the overwhelming video evidence, he would have got off scot free.

For, though there are many, many good police officers out there, I fear that the training around crowd control issues is outdated and dangerous. Worse than that, they have evolved a mentality which justifies violence against those involved in anticapitalist movements. We are seen as the enemy, and all must be done to protect the interests of the government, the banks, and the corporations above the interests of the people.

Until the culture of violence by the police is properly challenged, and other police officers are brave enough to condemn the actions of officers who have behaved recklessly, then I fear Ian Tomlinson will not be the last to die at the hands of the police force.

Bin Laden's execution

The events of the past few days are hugely significant for a world steeped in the quagmire of 'the war on terror'. Bin Laden, the most influential exponent of violence in the name of God, is finally dead. His execution, shot unarmed in front of both women and children, was almost inevitable. US foreign policy has almost always resorted to 'shoot first, ask questions later'.

The execution belays the lack of imagination of US policy since 9/11. Revenge, not logic, has been the first port of call. Better a dead man than having to deal with all the complications of the prisoner Bin Laden.

The needless brutality of his execution is inexcusable. He was unarmed, defenceless. A body shot, a leg shot - use of a taser, anything could have brought this man to trial, a chance to expose the futility of radical violence. Instead, there is yet more radical violence, a bullet in the face for a man getting out of bed.

I wanted Osama Bin Laden brought to justice, so that the world could see how pathetic violent fundamentalism truly is. I wanted a forensic examination of those who supported this man, and glean more information about how Osama saw the world.

It is a good thing that his reign of terror has ended, but it is deeply depressing that it was impossible for the President of the United States to break the cycle of violence that has marred our worlds history. Bin Laden was not brought to justice, he was executed in the most cold bloodied way, as cold as his own tactics. Those who say they are opponents of violence and terrorism cannot live by the rules of the terrorist.

As has been pointed out by many a peacemaker, an eye for an eye will eventually make the whole world blind.