Monday 31 January 2011

Practical Liberation Theology Conference 23/24 July 2011

Following on from the interest shown in 'A Just Church: Practical Liberation Theology in the 21st Century', a few of us working in the field of liberation theology have decided to hold a conference to provoke more discussion and action in the subject.

The demise of the bi-annual Crewe based 'Liberation consultation' and the sad end of the 'British Institute of Liberation Theology' has meant that there are no forums for liberation practitioners and theologians to get together and share ideas and best practice.

Many people are involved in liberation theology without perhaps using the term. This is a conference for those working alongside the marginalised, those tackling discrimination, those opposing war and the neo-liberal agenda. This is a space for people involved in non-violent direct action, guerrilla gardening, and radical liturgy.

If you have read Jesus 'proclaiming good news for the poor' and realised that the church often fails to live up to his teachings, then come on this conference. (It will also be fun and include curry eating!)

Dates for the book launch!

I hope that many readers of the blog will get to some of the book signings/reading in the coming months!
24th February - Main Launch at Waterstones, Wool exchange, central Bradford Thursday 6pm

26th Feb; SPEAK student conference (The Rag Centre, central London), Stall at reception

28th Feb - Leeds launch, St Pauls bookshop, Hinsley Hall 5pm
62 Headingley Lane, Leeds LS6 2BX 

Tuesday 1st March - Bradford University book signing 5pm, Waterstones University of Bradford

Monday 21st March - Sheffield Launch 5pm Urban Theology Unit

Tuesday 22nd March - York St Pauls bookstore: reading and signing 5pm.

Monday 28th March - Birmingham launch at Queens College lecture

The Durham and Mirfield dates are thankfully much later - and I will have a break to concentrate on Easter! Let me know if you would like an event closer to you!

Sunday 30 January 2011

SoulSpace 30.1.11 'The wedding feast at Cana'

The last Sunday in the Epiphany season focused on the Wedding at Cana (John 2 v 1-11). For those not used to 'church language'; Epiphany means 'revealing' or 'manifestation', its the time when we think about how the scriptures reveal Jesus as the 'Messiah', the anointed one of God. In this story, it is the miracle (or sign) of water being transformed into wine that reveals the glory of God and helps those who witnessed it to recognise Jesus as a holy one chosen by God.

Even for those who find the idea of a supernatural event (a miracle) difficult to accept, perhaps the story of water into wine can be seen as representing the importance of transformation as a foundational part of our faith. If we do not believe things can change, then our spiritual growth will be stunted.

The small group discussions began, prompted by the question 'What is the most subversive thing Jesus does in the story?'

For some, it was his rude treatment of his mother (referred to as 'woman'), for others it was that he does not seem to be in as much control of his life as you would expect from a son of God!

Others picked up on Jesus' use of the use of stone jars, that should have been used for Jewish purification rituals, not for wine used to get drunk! One group talked of the revelation coming to the 'servants' who fill the jars - that God reveals himself first to those considered lowly (similar to the shepherds at Jesus' birth, and the fisher folk at the beginning of Jesus' ministry)

The focus on change and transformation moved us on to prayer. In front of us was a blanket and newspapers, symbolising those forced to sleep rough around the world.

Lord, let us believe all things can be transformed; from dictatorships to freedom in Egypt; from homelessness to decent housing provision in the UK.

Why Christians must denounce the Homophobia of the Ugandan Church

David Kato was murdered soon after his photo and his address were widely circulated in the national press. In Uganda he was a hero to all those opposed to discrimination and bigotry. An openly gay human rights activist, in a country where religiously fuelled homophobia is rife.

At his funeral, the presiding Anglican minister, Thomas Mosuke, abused his position and launched into a homophobic tirade, distressing the 300 family and friends who had gathered to honour David.

The Anglican church is failing to challenge the disgraceful actions of parts of the African Church. It has wanted to stay 'in communion' with these dangerous and scary elements of the church, whilst distancing itself from the more progressive parts of the church in the U.S. and Canada.

If the Anglican church wants to flow with the spirit of God, the spirit of love, peace and justice - then it must change direction. It needs to denounce the homophobia of the past and present, and embrace those in the Anglican communion who have remembered that God is love, and celebrates all who have found love.

Saturday 29 January 2011

The Joy of Street Angels

Last night in the city centre, I spent another shift as a team leader on the Street Angels project. It has been over three years since I got the scheme started and last night may have been my 100th Shift on the streets of Bradford.

I've seen a lot on those nights, but last night typified all that is good about the project. We set out to prevent people becoming victims on their night out, to avoid their unnecessary criminalisation (a night in the cells) or hospitalisation (wasting A&E time when they actually just need to get home safely)

One man was quite drunk, and getting on and off buses at the Interchange. The security guard was about to call the police. I recognised the man, I had actually been to his house when working as a drugs worker. I helped him find his ticket and got him on the right bus home.

Later, we came across a guy in a terrible state, about to cross a road and likely to have caused himself a lot of harm. We sat with him, found a number for his mum, and kept him warm until she came to pick him up.

These things may sound small, but over the years they add up to thousands of lives who have been helped in some small way by this project and many others like it across the country. It is proof that groups of committed citizens can make difference to their communities, that people of faith can serve the places they live even in the most unlikely of places.

Marching against the cuts!

I'm exhausted from the trip over to Manchester to join the anti-cuts march today. At lease we didn't have to go to London again, at last a Northern demo! It felt wonderful to be with so many young people from the Woodcraft folk, as we headed over by train to Victoria Station. For many, it was their first demo, but they were prepared. They had arrest advice and kettlechips incase they were kettled!

It was a long walk over to the Manchester Museum along Oxford Road. I met many groups of young people wondering if they had gone the right way 'It can't be this far out can it?' was the usual cry. But it was, and then, even worse, the demo was set to walk far out of the city towards Pratts Park.

The Police vehicle at the front barked the order; 'The march will commence at 11.30am', and it did, as if by clockwork. A breakaway group of about 500 protesters headed for the city centre, fed up of being told what to do by the police and NUS stewards.

I gave up after an hour. It can feel pointless marching in off, shouting in areas that nobody would ever hear us. Can you imagine if the protesters in Tunis had headed out into the desert to shout their slogans to the dunes?

The good natured protest was a peaceful introduction to many of the new folk, but ultimately, dividing the protests between Manchester and London weakened the voice of the movement. Rallies far from the city populations are a disaster in terms of getting your point across, and only serve to accept the paranoia that left should not be allowed in our city centre (which must be allowed to remain a place for consumers to do their thing without disruption)

Good news ahead though. On March 26th will see the biggest show of force against a government since 2 million marched against the war in 2003. We need to put much effort into making that event a success, as well ensuring that unlike the Iraq war, this is one battle we do not intend to let the government get away with.

Friday 28 January 2011

Mubarak Must Go!

As the news filters in of those killed and injured in today's protests throughout Egypt, it is clear that the 'president for life' must relinquish control. This is a momentous time for North Africa, and could see the birth of progressive and enlightened states in the region.

Whilst Mubarak will be keen to portray protesters as Islamists, it is clear from alternative and instant forms of communications that those on the street represent much broader views, and contain a genuine desire for human rights and greater equality.

It will be interesting to see how US interests are played out - Mubarak is one of the top three importers of US weaponry (Israel, Egypt and Colombia) and a keen ally. He has been key to maintaining 'peace' in the Middle East, and has enabled Israel to blockade the people of Gaza, clearly with US support, and despite the Egyptian people wanting to help the Palestinians.

But the time for dictators is gone. Tunisia may well be on the way to greater freedom and new found hope. let us hope that Egypt can go the same way, as peacefully as possible.

Poverty and Homelessness Action Week

Poverty & Homelessness Action Week 2011 will run from 29 January to 6 February. 30 January is Homelessness Sunday and 6 February is Poverty Action Sunday.

In Bradford, we will be focusing on the impact of debt on our city, its impact on those on low incomes, sanctuary seekers, students. There will be a key lunchtime event, 3rd Feb, 12.30pm, in which people will listen to speakers from Church Action on Poverty, Bradford Credit Union and Christians Against Poverty.

It is crucial that the local faith communities work alongside all those who are working to reduce debt in the UK, especially as the levels of debt are likely to increase, and access to affordable credit may decrease.

We are meeting at the Impression Gallery, because it is opposite the largest doorstep money lender in the UK, Provident Financial. This Thursday, there is a discussion in Parliament about a proposed cap on the interest rates of loans that companies like the Provident provide. We are asking people to contact their MPs and urge them to pass legislation that would protect the most vulnerable in our society.

This Sunday, churches throughout Bradford and the UK will be joining in prayer and action in solidarity with the poor. We cannot afford not to.

Lord whose kingdom includes everyone:
Forgive us for the times we have discounted people who are not like us;
Help us to mirror your welcome and love in our churches, schools and communities;
And keep us in the knowledge that all people and places count in your eyes.
In Jesus’ name, Amen

The Odeon and other buildings at risk in Bradford

Bradford has some of the most beautiful Victorian and early 20th Century architecture in Britain, but the city council seems to lack the will power to rescue its heritage from destruction. The story of the decline of the once magnificent Odeon is well known, and the fight to preserve it is documented in 'A Just Church' and other books on Bradford. Sadly, there are plenty more stories of buildings at risk in our city.

The majestic mills and offices on the corner of Listerhills Road and Smith Street will soon be lost. As will what remains of the West Bowling Chapel, Chain Street social housing and Wapping Road School (made famous by Margaret McMillan, for free school meals and the UK's first local authority school swimming pool). Already in the last few months we have seen the disgraceful destruction of half of the historic St Luke's Hospital (to make way for a car park), a terrible loss to the city which the council did not even bother to contest.

With public sector cuts, local authorities will put even less priority into defending our heritage, so it will be up to us to make it harder for the private sector to simply demolish our cultural environment. Occupations and old fashioned lobbying will have to increase or we will see more mills, churches, schools, libraries bulldozed.

Let me know of other buildings at risk in Bradford, with thoughts on how to save them.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Fellowship of Reconciliation

I'm looking forward to hearing from John Cooper tonight at out JustSpace meeting. He's coming up from Birmingham to talk about the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Previously we have had Norman Kember from FoR at Desmond Tutu House, who was famously was abducted and held hostage when visiting the Christian Peacemaker Team in Baghdad.

They are an interesting lot. Currently their former director, Chris Cole, is serving time for refusing to pay a fine. He was sentenced for defacing the entrance to an arms fayre in London. It seems to me that we have a lot to learn from those who are prepared to take such risks for the principles they hold dear. Maybe that is the only true test for whatever faith we claim to hold.

If you're not there - invite them to come to one of your own meetings!

Monday 24 January 2011

From doorstep lending to rooftop boardroom.

I had an interesting meeting today. David Ison, Barbara Glasson and I went to see Peter Crooke, the Chief Executive of Provident Financial and Carole King, Head of their public relations. We met in the smart and sophisticated new boardroom of the Provident's swish new headquarters overlooking Bradford city centre.

They were lovely, charming people at the top of their game. Business is looking good for the Provident, with the recession failing to dent their profit margins. As I have said before, they genuinely believe that they are providing an important service to those on low income; personalised 'one to one' care from their 12,000 employees.

But however you dress it up - giving £100 to someone who is poor, and then asking them for £175 - is simply wrong. Yes, there are much worse companies out there, yes, they give a lot of support to Christians Against Poverty (A debt advice charity set up by someone from the sub-prime financial sector), and yes they send staff to clean up flower beds on the Holmewood estate. But debt is one of the curses of this world, and companies that profit from the debts of the poor must be up there with arms dealers for inflicting misery on the world.

Our hope was to see if they would accept the premise that a cap on interest rates might be good for them, hurting the less legitimate end of doorstep lending but not denting the provi's main business too heavily. But, unsurprisingly, there was no movement. For the sub-prime lending market, the threat of government setting ceilings on interest rates is an anathema.

So who will stand up to these people? Peter Crook knew the amount of shares the Church of England's invests in the company. Local councillors and MPs are not keen to rock the boat, the Provident employ too many local people, and are one of the few companies investing in the city.  Local churches are dependent on the small grants given out by the company, or believe that the Provident are the good guys because they support Christians Against Poverty.

Thank heavens for Church Action on Poverty and a minority of organisations who are out to support credit unions (affordable credit) and are working for a cap on interest rates. The two must go together, or the cycle of poverty will never be broken.

Sunday 23 January 2011

Being Human

The world of Mitchell, Nina, George and Annie is a particularly bloody one. Mitchell is a Vampire, a conflicted one at that. Nina and George are both werewolves, and Annie is a ghost, having died two years ago.

Series three of 'Being Human' has started off at a tremendous pace - funny, well scripted and exciting. Yet for all the horror, this is one of the most 'humane' TV series that you could possibly imagine. Whether in Bristol or Barry Island, the locations are very down to earth, but it is the characters that feel so believable and likeable. Their friendship and love is a wonder to behold. In the first episode Mitchell is even prepared to face his own demons to save Annie from purgatory. It is chilling and powerful stuff.

Those who are averse to the violence, the sex and the themes, may well ignore this program. But they are missing a real gem, one that dares to talk about human nature and divine intervention. This series is a great way to think about what 'being human' really means. Catch it on BBCi today!

SoulSpace 23.1.11

SoulSpace is the Sunday service that began in Bradford just over 5 years ago. I just wanted to say how liberating it is to have such a thing in our city. It is only the comments of others who have been to our services and now have left Bradford, that remind me of how special it is. It is needed everywhere.

We actually listen to each other. We discuss things, surprise each other, allow each other our own discoveries.

Today's reading was from Isaiah 9 v 1-4, and I gave a little background to the towns mentioned in the text:

The Back StoryThe back story is the long-standing domination of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali by foreign states. Because of their locations, both tribes were especially vulnerable to attack. As the northern and southern kingdoms played out their power struggles, both Zebulun and Naphtali had been more or less vassal states to a series of Assyrian kings. Both were eventually taken into captivity during the end of the kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE, leaving them "in anguish" and "contempt."  As pawns of powerful states, their histories were ones of vulnerability, subjection, and oppression.

For oppressed parts of the world 'the great light' mentioned in Isaiah, and then in Matthew chapter 4 is a light of liberation. The light of Jesus is often interpreted in an individual way, but it is equally a light that brings freedom from oppression. After this brief bit of 'back story' everyone went into twos or threes and discussed the questions:

What burdens do you carry? What gives you joy? How can you be a light to those travelling in great darkness?

The discussion ranged from the personal to the political, from loneliness to Mugabe. The style of 'dialogical sermon' is so important and values the contribution of every member.

When we played 'Come, bring your burdens to me' and placed stones in an earthen bowl, there was real power in that church. There was release and upset. The real things of this world that worship should be able to deal with.

There is much more of the practice and theory of a 'liberating worship' in my new book - and I hope that people will really take the time to read it, and not just skip over to the 'direct actions' and demonstrations. Real liberation theology is about worship that is participatory and emancipating. That begins when we really listen to God by listening to each other.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

How the police joined the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army.

I met a dear old friend today and we reminisced about direct action in the past. She recalled getting to know 'Lynn' or 'Officer A' whilst getting involved in the politics of Leeds. Lynn, an undercover police officer, joined the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army, and regularly attended action with a big red nose, white makeup and big floppy shoes. You don't get more undercover than that.

The point of the clown army is to mock the powers that be, but to do so openly and with humour. It seems such a pity that the police felt the necessity to put on the wigs, but ultimately, not to get the joke. As Lynn infiltrated the clowns, she began to be a parody of the institution she represented.

All this would be laughable if it were not for the fact that Lynn and the police help set up 'The Common Place' in Leeds. My friend told me that Lynn was instrumental in the setting of it up. Instead of it being a place of liberty and fraternity - it began as a place of infiltration and state manipulation. It has all backfired. Their very actions have resulted in a costly mockery of the murky world of state spying. The Common Place has been a place that has created much more resistance to the crimes of capitalism than the state would have ever wanted.

The last laugh is with the resisters, not the deceivers.

In praise of the women peacemakers of Liberia!

Last night at our Tuesday gathering 'JustSpace', we watched a documentary called 'Pray the Devil Back to Hell'. It tells the struggle of a group of Christian and Muslim women who cane together to stop the atrocities being committed against humanity in the civil war in Liberia.

On top of the vast scale of those murdered and raped, the war had resulted in tens of thousands of child soldiers; horrific mutilations in the rural communities; hundreds of thousands of displaced people both internally and externally. The women decided that the men were never going to change things - they had to act.

Through open displays of defiance, pickets of peace conferences and even a sex strike - these women took huge risks, and showed heroic leadership qualities. Now, after peace has finally come, they are the first African nation to be led by a woman; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

An amazing story, and a really uplifting tale of the hopefulness of the human spirit. Available through the distributors 'dogwoof' (look them up, incredible films!) Not to be missed!

Tunisia, Haiti, Ivory Coast - dictators beware!

These coming weeks will see if the human rights agenda will finally take centre stage in the development of nations. When President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in Tunisia last week, it was very unclear which way the country would go. The ruling party were desperate to keep control, but their hardline tactics seem to be failing, with even their attempts at forming a brief 'unity' transitional government falling apart.

The people do not want dictatorship anymore. Free and fair elections may well be on the way, together with a renewed passion for greater equality. The people of Tunisia our in our hopes and prayers.

In Haiti, Baby Doc Duvalier returned - perhaps expecting to make some gain out of the confusion and chaos in the country. I was so relieved when justice was finally done, and he was arrested for some of the horrendous crimes done to the people of Haiti during his rule. Torture and repression cannot be so easily be swept under the carpet.

Perhaps it is a time in history that human rights are finally taken seriously by the world and by nations. This has not come about by the persuasion of powerful nations in the West. They have often talked of human rights, but in the background supported repressive regimes that are beneficial to trade or regional power. It is happening because people, armed with information, are demanding their rights.

Beware you dictators - beware the leader of Ivory Coast! Those who hold on to power by force and illegitimacy will pay a price one day (though sadly, first they will probably steal lots of money from the people and go and live in luxury in Saudi Arabia or the United States!)

Small victory in the small arms struggle! Crossbows finally out of the display!

After a month of struggle with a city centre shop over the tasteless display of crossbows, there was a small victory yesterday. The shop has always sold swords, collectors knives, imitation weaponry - but it was the display of crossbows during a 'sale' that followed the sentencing of Stephen Griffiths that finally encouraged me to take action.

After I asked the owner to change the display in the window, and he agreed to, I thought it was a quick victory for taste and common decency. When I returned to find that nothing had changed - I rang the local paper, the T&A, who ran a story on their front page.

The shop then decided to close the shutters of the display over the Christmas period, and I had hoped that when the shutters came up, the owner would have the sense to have had the crossbows removed. Nope.

Many people contacted me to show their support - MP's offices, councillors, women's groups, and many concerned Bradfordians. There was nothing illegal about the sale of these items to over 21 year olds, 'collectors' as the owner repeatedly told me, so it was unclear as what to do next.

Then the T&A rang me to say they wanted to do a follow up piece, having been summoned to the leader of the councils office. Ian Greenwood told them that the council were unhappy with the 'borderline legality' of the shop, and supported my campaign.

The T&A wanted a quote - but instead I suggested that we went to the shop together, and tried to talk to the manager. I invited Andy, a canon of the Cathedral and Jane from the Rape Crisis Centre. In we went, with a photographer and a reporter in tow. The owner was horrified.

At first he began the 'invasion of privacy' rant, but soon realised that began to look even worse for him. After I asked him about broken promises to take the display of crossbows down, Andy had asked him about the reputation of the city, and Jane pointed out the impact of these weapons on women - the owner threw his hands up in the air and ordered a member of staff to remove the crossbow immediately.

A small victory. The shop though continues to sell samurai swords, crossbows, knuckle dusters, 'hunting' knives and daggers to 'collectors'. One such collector was Stephen Griffiths the self styled 'Crossbow Cannible'. Serial killers are exactly that, 'collectors'. The sooner we make make such behaviour abhorrent to society the better.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Haiti; why such a slow pace of recontruction?

Nearly a quarter of a million people died in the Haiti earthquake a year ago, but the tragedy is still taking its toll. Only 5% of the rubble has been cleared, and less than half of the 1.5 million left homeless by the quake have been rehoused. Of course things have improved, but why so slow?

The US government is stating how proud it is of it's involvement in the rebuilding of Haiti, but I want to ask this; Why is the US so good at planning and financing war, but so poor at planning recovery? It spends a fraction of the money spent on the arms trade on its programmes for dealing with disaster and poverty.

What a future our planet might have, if we could persuade those with power that money and technology should be channelled into human need, and not the destruction of people and our natural resources.

We pray for those still mourning in Haiti, and we work for a fairer future for all, a future based on peace and equality, not imperialism and greed.

When the state spies on good people...

The Guardian newspaper has continued in its release of details regarding agent provocateurs placed by the state within the green movement. It has disclosed that a female officer from the South East has spent 4 years embedded in Leeds, closely working with the well known 'Common Place' near the city centre.

PC Mark Kennedy ('Stone') took being embedded a step further, sleeping with several activists to gain trust and information. The state has well and truly screwed us.

And there is much more, with senior police figures having admitted being concerned about the safety of 'many more' such agents out there within the protest movement.

It is clear that the police force has also enabled and financed many of the operations it has subsequently condemned. PC Kennedy and 'Officer A' did much of the driving to demo's, procured much of the kit needed for operations, and financed much of the activities. This would be laughable, if it were not for the many friends whose lives have been changed by their subsequent arrest, time in court and sentencing.

I think everyone fined for taking part in such direct actions should be reimbursed tenfold. Those who have served time in prison should be given a police pension.

The cost to the tax payer for all this folly is huge - but what is more costly is the lack of trust many of us will have in the police force to do their job fairly and impartially. It has been political policing at its sickest.

As I have said before in this blog, we cannot allow them to make us paranoid. State infiltration is always an issue, but it will not change the fact that the carbon economy and the corporate state must be challenged by all citizens who wish a better world for our children.

Monday 10 January 2011

Police Infiltration and the 'Criminalisation of Dissent'

The BBC exposure of police infiltration in the environmental movement is hugely significant. PC Mark Kennedy (known as Mark Stone) posed as a green activist from Nottingham, whilst in reality, he was a police officer working with the Metropolitan Police Authority.  For almost 8 years he was able to act as an agent provocateur, recruiting and transporting activists, informing on everyone he knew.

It is not a new phenomenon in the green movement, but the open proof of this infiltration to a wider public is. Back in the early days of Earth First, it became clear that the police were trying to gain a foothold in the meetings, they seemed to know much more about what was going to happen than the activists did!

The damage done was far worse than just information being passed on to the authorities. A paranoia gripped the movement that made it harder to join in with the direct action movement. You could only trust those you had known for a long time, and even then, you might be wrong! The anti-road camps were notoriously hard to show solidarity with, as a new face invoked mistrust. This fear of infiltration effectively weakened the impact of direct action networks.

Even worse, as I have written about in the book, there was a process of 'criminalisation of dissent' in both the peace movement and the environmental direct action networks throughout the 90's and 00's. This had already taken place in the animal rights network, and made this movement almost impossible for new members to penetrate. In the animal rights network, I think this process led to even more dangerous radicalisation and acceptance of violence within some of the more secretive parts the movement, where as both the peace and environmental networks have always had a much stronger understanding of non-violence.

The criminalisation of the activists has had an impact on the wider public perception of direct action, and there has been an erosion of the importance that these movements have had on democracy and progress (suffragettes/civil rights/antiwar etc). As a priest, I've noticed how hard it has been to 'justify' my own involvement in direct action movements, even though there is plenty of support for it to be found in scripture.

Activists must find ways of exposing the problem of infiltration, without succumbing to the fear and paranoia that it provokes. Ironically, the case of PC Mark Kennedy, especially his perceived 'switch' to support those environmentalists about to be prosecuted, may help the direct action networks to be more daring, more effective and more open. The more open, non-violent, compassionate and courageous our activities are, the more police may eventually join our side!

Sunday 9 January 2011

The Common Good

I've just returned from a conference funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation called 'The Common Good'. It was a weekend to build up trust and relationships with people who are passionate about Bradford, and who were pooled from a cross spectrum of faith's and organisations.

It was encouraging to meet so many others who cared about the city, many of whom I had either not met before, or I had not had time to get to know properly. I hope it is true of most cities and town that  there are more people working for the common good than we might realise.

Of course there were differences about the definition of what the common good is, and what the issues that a network such as ourselves could actually deal with. Is it to build up 'resilience' during tough time? Is it to defend and promote agencies of the common wealth; Education; Housing; Healthcare? There were discussions about Public sector cuts; the alienation of white working class kids; lack of opportunities for Black and Ethnic Minorities in the city's institutions; issues of attitudes towards women and the how to protect vulnerable young people in Bradford. There were also interesting discussions about the Biraderi Clan system (Pakistani brotherhood tribal networks) and the increase in disabilities with the local Asian population.

One of the objectives is to find a space where we talk honestly about these issues. But if the group becomes yet another talking shop - often simply regurgitating issues that can be used by the media to attack the local Pakistani population (especially after Jack Straw's recent comments) then the exercise will be a pointless waste of time and money.

If though it can genuinely harness the common good of Bradford people, share resources, offer a think tank for solutions and encourage interethnic/faith/cultural networking, then it will be worth a long weekend away from family.

Like all of us from Bradford (or indeed any city) I guess the outcome will be down to us. We are the 'common'. The question is; can we come up with anything 'good'?

Monday 3 January 2011

So long Pete.

Pete Postlethwaite had a long and fruitful career. I will remember him most for the films 'In the Name of the Father' and 'Brassed Off'. I was a young man then, and the films helped me discover new things about the struggles in Northern Ireland and the truth surrounding the coal miners strike.

One of Pete's final roles was as the 'Archivist' in the documentary film; 'The Age of Stupid'. He helped make the low budget film because he believed in the project, and had even erected a wind turbine at his house in Shropshire.

Pete, you once wanted to be a priest, (and even played them on occasion, famously in 'Romeo and Juliet') but you made a truly wonderful actor, and we thank you for choosing films that made a difference.

Sunday 2 January 2011

The walk of peace to Egypt.

The new years day massacre of Christians in Alexandria highlights the desperate need for respect and understanding between faiths. It demands our mutual condemnation of all violence between faiths, and the exposure of the ignorance of extremism.

Today, our church members will make a symbolic walk to Egypt as a sign of peace between all people. We were originally going there (a small village outside Thorton in West Yorkshire) to mark the story of Joseph, Mary and Jesus fleeing from King Herod's persecution after Jesus' birth. When we finally get to the village, we will remember the people of Egypt, the families of the 21 killed at the end of their new years communion, and all people of faith who will be working for peace and reconciliation.

Those committed to hate and anger are determined to start 2011 with signs of terror. Those of us committed to love and peace must be equally determined to show signs of hope and forgiveness in this coming new year.

Saturday 1 January 2011

New Years Resolutions

I went for a beautiful midnight stroll last night, accompanied by some wonderful friends. I found myself thinking about new years resolutions, especially as the one I made last year (to quit smoking) had been so successful!

1) Take myself less seriously, and try to take criticism as well as possible. With the book coming out this year, there is bound to be some flack. Its O.K, I'm not perfect, God still loves me with all my flaws.

2) Spend more time in nature and in my sauna. These are the two places I feel most relaxed. Its OK to indulge myself a little - it'll make me a nicer person.

3) Try to spend good quality time with my wife and kids, and check weekly to see if I'm doing so. The life of a priest can get easily overbooked, that, and the fact that I say yes too readily, can have serious impacts on family life. Just say no.

4) Prioritise campaigning. I get involved with quite a number of issues, but I must do less campaigning if I am to do justice to the issues I can do something about. Priority must be given to opposing cuts and attacks on the most vulnerable in society. Will only be actively involved in 3 campaigns in any given time.

5) Give time over to God. My prayer time and bible reading time always inspire my activism and my pastoral capabilities. At least once a day, every day, no excuses.

6) Spend good quality time with friends at least once a week. This does not include facebooking them!

7) Work hard to make SoulSpace and JustSpace as inclusive and democratic as they can be. The temptation to get most things done quickly myself is illusory. We are a community if we are really a church at all.

8) Allow myself the indulgence of promoting the book. I worked hard on it, I think it says things that matter to those inside and outside the church,  and it's OK to expect others to buy it!

9) Less time blogging and earlier nights!