Sunday 27 March 2011

Why the census should be resisted.

When it was announced that Lockheed Martin were to be paid £150 million to run the British Census, there was outrage. This corporation is responsible for enough evil in the world to embarrass a North African tyrant. If you haven't already filled in your census, here is advice from 'Peace News', via the excellent 'Pinch of Salt' webpage:

2011 Census: How to bugger it up for Lockheed Martin
The arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin US makes Trident nuclear missiles, cluster bombs and fighter jets and is involved in data processing for the CIA and FBI. It has provided private contract interrogators for the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. Lockheed Martin has the UK Government contract to collect the process the data for the 2011 census in March. 
(Observer, 20 February 2011). 

A boycott would only make the enterprise more cost-effective for L.M. and will land you with a fine or even a brief prison sentence. 

But Peace News have come up with a better idea...
Make the processing of forms more expensive for L.M. thus reducing their profit margin. 


1. Block out some of every bar code on every page. 
Do this discretely and it will delay the process and mean the identification info will be manually entered. 
2. smudge and smear. 
In other words, fill the form in when you're having a cup of tea and a nice piece of marmalade on toast. 
3. fill in some text up side down. Not only will this confuse the machine it will also slow down whoever subsequently manually inputs the date. 
4. Be creative
If you've got a few empty boxes you might want to doodle a little. 
5. Crease and crumple
Don't give those scanners an easy time of it. 
6. Be an individual
Write to "Free post 2011 Census, Processing Centre, UK" and ask for individual questionnaires for each person in your household and repeat 1 - 5 for each of these. 

Is violent protest ever necessary?

I'm a firm believer in direct action, and spent most of my time during the protest in London against the cuts supporting those engaged in 'occupying against cuts'. I had planned to help conduct a church service in a Barclay's bank, but the corporation stepped in and closed the branch for us before a single hymn could be sung.

Then it was down to Topshop, to see it get a quick repaint to the chants of 'Philip Green pay your taxes!'. Later I enjoyed watching the cheeky occupation of 'Fortnum and Mason', and thought that the chalked message 'Tax the rich' got to the heart of the matter. The week's Tory budget had seen another £2 billion give away to the corporations, at a time when we can least afford it as a nation.

The media was filled with coverage of the 100 or so protesters who choose to use the cover of the direct actions to smash windows and attack police vehicles. Their violence is uncreative and unhelpful and gives our enemies plenty of ammunition against us. I want our resistance to be courageous, colourful, creative - and occupations and paint play their part. Smashing up things is mostly counterproductive and I really think that we have to braver in standing up to those who 'tear down', but fail to 'build up'.

But I am nagged by a Jesus who was prepared to drive out the traders with whips. When he witnessed them ripping off the poor, he decided on determined and violent protest. I'm sure that the Daily Mail of the time would have labelled him as an anarcho-terrorist, intent on turning society upside down. He certainly did that.

Oscar Romero Memorial Service

St Martin's in the Fields is very badly named. It lies in the heart of London, just off Trafalgar Square, in one of the busiest places on earth. I was there yesterday for the 31st anniversary of the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero. In El Salvador, the was Archbishop for just over 3 years, during which he switched from a rather quiet, conservative priest to a fiery thorn in the side of the military regime.

It was the death of one of his friends which spurred the change. His 'conversion' came in a night of prayer for his murdered colleague Fr Rutilio Grande on the 12th March 1977. Left wing priests were seen as a legitimate target for the US backed government.

The service began with 15 pictures taken just after his assassination in the humble hospital chapel where he conducted his last Eucharist. The pictures were disturbing and very moving - this gentle caring man reduced to bloodied mess.

'The Glory of God is the life of the poor' he once said, and he dedicated his ministry to the poor, the vulnerable and those treated like dirt by the government. It seems fitting that a service in memory of such a man should be the starting point for the thousands of Christians joining the 'March for the Alternative', a protest against Tory cutbacks that hit the vulnerable hardest.

The kingdom of peace, sharing, justice and love is the 'alternative' that I think is worth marching and struggling for.

Sunday 20 March 2011

Bradford International Film Festival

On Wednesday I got to walk my beautiful wife along the red carpet at the opening gala of the Bradford International Film Festival. It was a fine evening spoilt only by the fact that the opening screening was Woody Allen's latest; 'You will meet a tall dark stranger.' It was dire. He hasn't been able to make a good movie in over two decades.

I asked the guy who invited me how I got on the invite list. Was it because of my new book? Because of all the work I had done in the city centre? No. He had spotted me gatecrashing the last opening night of one of their photo exhibitions. He had noticed me scoffing all the free food and thought that I might deserve a bit of a break. Oh well.

The Festival has some great highlights, including a fantastic Terry Gilliam retrospective. I missed the showing of Time Bandits (with the director giving a talk beforehand) and next week, I'll miss Brazil (Gilliam's best film) because of the demo against the cuts down in London.

But I am going to try to treat myself to one guilty pleasure during the festival. The 1963 film 'The Haunting' is the most spine tingling film I have ever seen, and I can't wait to scare myself silly next Friday.

I love film, films that make me laugh, films that make me cry or even films that terrify me. One of the reasons I came to this city was because of the National Media Museum, and its amazing selection of great cinema. For me, walking down that red carpet was a bit of a dream come true. How sad am I?!

Film has the power to change things - emotions; ideas; the world around us. When I saw 'Cry Freedom' at the age of 17 - it had a huge, life changing impact on me. Check out the filmography in the back of my book, from 'Aprile' to 'Age of Stupid' - cinema can change the world.

The 'Parents Circle' of bereaved families in Israel/Palestine

Last Tuesday's JustSpace (our weekly meeting about peace and justice at Desmond Tutu House) was one of those memorable evenings that affected everyone who came. Willimjn, a Dutch peace studies student, had encouraged us to invite a fellow MA student, Bassam, to speak to us. In Israel he has been involved in both 'Combatants for Peace', and 'The Parents Circle'.

'Combatants for Peace' is a remarkable organisation which consists of former soldiers from both sides of the long running conflict. Former Israeli soldiers who join this group are often labelled 'traitors', but they are some of the bravest people I have ever come across. They have witnessed first hand the horrors of this conflict and have turned their hands to peaceful solutions. Bassam had fought the Israelis and had spent many years in a prison for his efforts.

But it was the story of the 'Parents Circle' that moved us all. Bassam told the story of his daughter Abir. In 2007, his daughter was coming home from school. She was shot in the back of the head and killed. Abir was only 10 years old, and was not involved in any demonstrations or protest. She was killed, and the Israeli soldier who did it has never been prosecuted.

"What good would it be to kill the man who did this?" Says Bassam. "What good does it do to kill his child, and bring more suffering?" He refuses to be part of a violent response to this cruelty. He simply wants justice for his daughter.

His bereavement brought him into contact with the 'Parents Circle'; Jewish and Muslim parents of those who have died during the fighting. They have become a strong source of strength and hope for one another. I asked him how he felt about the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He said "I am not pro-Palestinian, I am not pro-Israeli - I am pro-peace."

Despite his loss, his committent not to return evil for evil and to do all he can for peace, is a message the world desperately needs to hear.

The difference between Chocolate and Oil

In an African nation bloodshed and chaos are swirling. Over 500,000 are fleeing towards the border to avoid the fighting. The Government are shelling its own people, killing innocent men women and children. At one demonstration, the army brutally fired upon the 'Women for Peace' rally.

It looks like civil war is brewing, gunfire in heard in every town, in every city.

At yet there are no war planes flying over head. There is no 'no fly zone'. There is no UN plan to destroy the army's capacity to wage war against its own people. And the world has never heard of Laurent Gbagbo.

The African nation is the Ivory Coast. And the reason that we are intervening in Libya and not 'Cote D'Ivoire' is because of the simple matter of 'Western interests'.

It seems that the Western nations are capable of giving up Chocolate for Lent, but not Oil...

Sunday 13 March 2011

The tragedy of the Libyan rebellion.

Gaddafi has lost his legitimacy with his own people and he has lost the favour that he courted with the Western governments. He has even lost protection from the 'Arab League' who voted to ask for a 'No-fly zone' over Libya.

Despite all this, he is sweeping away the rebel held towns and cities one by one. He is heavily armed, and despite the desertions in the East of the country, most of the armed forces has not thrown their weight behind the democratic revolution.

Gaddafi has lost. But he will still rule with blood and oil. We have created a monster, and that means the short term prospects for the Libyan people are grim. We can only pray that the cause of freedom will prevail one day, perhaps assisted by the people's victories that now surround Gaddafi's failed regime.

Being Human - What a ride!

Series three has come to a close, and what a finale! Eight episodes of sheer joy, great humour and heartfelt emotion. But did we learn something of 'being human' from watching the lives of Mitchell, Annie, George and Nina?

For all of its gore, the show has a very soft heart. It is the friendship between George and Mitchell which has held the show together. Perhaps it was inevitable that the ending came as it did - with George saving Mitchell from his greatest hell, being forced to kill humans at the whim of the 'old ones'. We shall never forget Mitchell's look of love for his friend as he fades to dust.

Despite being a couple of werewolves and a ghost, Nina, Annie and George are real beacons of humanity . They are determined to keep their integrity despite all that is thrown at them. The programme argues that whatever horrors befall us - we can retain our humanity. If we hang on to friendship, to love, to compassion - we can continue 'being human' regardless of any evil that comes our way. What a wonderful message of hope.

Why I don't 'agree with Nick'.

Just before the election, the cry 'I agree with Nick' became the battle cry for the Lib Dems. Following a dismal performance by Gordon Brown and David Cameron during their first TV debate, the other leaders were forced to keep saying 'I agree with Nick' and this was supposedly a sign that Mr Clegg was speaking common sense.

By I was never happy with his election as Lib Dem leader, he was too slick, too eager to please. I always preferred Charles Kennedy, for all his personal faults, he was more genuine, more trustworthy.

Nick Clegg talks about 'not losing our soul' and not being 'a cuts government'. Who does he think he is kidding? The cuts are coming thick and fast, and hitting the most vulnerable first. The Lib Dem's are grabbing on to the coat tails of the Tory's ideologically driven attacks on the welfare state.  Shirley Williams attempts to defend the NHS will be shrugged off by those in power when it is convenient to do so.

Nick Clegg says that the Lib Dem's have not lost their soul. I simply don't agree with Nick. He has been taken to the top of the mountain and offered the keys to the kingdom. He did not counter Satan with scripture; 'thou shalt worship God alone', but grabbed at the opportunity for power. And power always has a cost. The blue background at the 'fortress Sheffield' Lib dem conference says it all.

Right wing abuse on the internet.

In my email inbox came the awful messages; comments were coming in from my blog, and my Lenten fast meant I couldn't reply to them instantly! The comments came from anonymous sources, to make it impossible to identify the writers. This was probably because they realised that their right wing, racist comments are pretty indefensible.

I left them up, though the temptation to erase and block further comments is almost overwhelming. But leaving them on view is a reminder that there is a lot of anger and hatred out there, and we cannot ignore it. I genuinely pray for those with such hatred in their hearts, hatred of all others who do not share their world view. I have offered them the opportunity to meet, because I believe that change can only happen with open encounter.

This is one of the dangers of blogging, that you can be hurtful in your comments, with no accountability. Face to face is the only way of bringing real change.

The right wing often use websites and local and national newspaper discussion webpages to propagate their views. But I want them to meet with me eyeball to eyeball. Person to person. They may hold obnoxious views (they certainly think I do) but as long as they are not violent, I want to have that discussion with them. It is the only hope for all of us.

Prayers for Japan

The horrific scenes this week in Japan remind us of our place in nature. We like to believe that we are the centre of the universe, but the Shinto belief that the spirits of nature have little regard for humanity seem more credible today.

For me, the duty of faith is to respond to such disasters in the most practical way possible. If we can help, we must act with any resources available to us.  I have little time for those who say 'If God exists, how could God allow such a thing to happen?'. Earthquakes, Tsunami's (in inself a Japanese word, as they are well used to this natural phenomenon) are part of creation. It is how the earth is formed. To deny that these natural occurrences should happen is as ridiculous as denying evolution, or refusing to accept humanities role in climate change.

Nature is wonderful, it is powerful, and it can also be destructive. We cannot hold God to blame for this, we cannot ask God to 'not allow this to happen'.

Jesus talked about this in the story of the 'Good Samaritan'. The response Jesus hopes for is not for us to ask 'Why did God allow this man to be left half for dead?', but for us to muck in and help the one who is suffering.

We cannot change or prevent the earth's crust moving and forming, but we can change and improve our responses to those caught up in the dreadful aftermath. We can also avoid building Nuclear power stations near fault lines.

Support any Japanese friends you have (and New Zealanders for that matter), hold the region in your prayers, and let us find real ways of discovering God's presence, not by blaming him, but by consoling and practically helping those who are suffering.

Community Clean Up Heaven!

If I write another book, it might be called 'Theology of the rolled up sleeves!'. This because I love it when people of God demonstrate their faith in practical ways.

On Saturday, a group of us worked alongside the local council to have a community clean up. 9 of us litter picked, tidied, gardened and generally tried to improve the area around Desmond Tutu House.

The difference we made was striking, and we were rewarded with some fabulous home cooked samozas from one of the neighbours! All this is in preparation for 'The Big Lunch', a national programme organised by the Eden Project, an attempt to help build community among neighbours. This is especially important in communities broken by poverty, addiction and mobile populations.

It is never easy and I don't want to be simplistic, but on Saturday, I felt we have got somewhere. For me, Liberation Theology is not looking critically at the world and complaining about the problems. Liberation Theology asks us to 'role up our sleeves' and make change happen.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Bringing down the mighty...

A short and brief final blog before I take a Lenten break. I wanted to give an extra reason, on top of many others, why we should get rid of the monarchy, and disestablish the church once and for all:

Prince Andrew, Duke of York, war mongerer extraordinaire.

I have a funny tale about this horrendous seller of arms to despots, but it will have to wait till after Easter....!

The Victor Jara Liberation Theology Library

I'm scoffing pancakes tonight, and the blogging fast begins tomorrow! One of the things I hope to do is read something theological - and where better to begin than a book from the Victor Jara Liberation Library!

This Library is described in my book, named after the Chilean musician and activist killed by Pinochet in 1973. It hosts 2500 books from faith radicals, mostly from the global south. Currently I am reading the story of the murder of Bishop Girardi in Guatemala in 1997, after he produced an influential report on the human rights abuses of his government.

The library has some stunning, hard to find classics, and is well worth delving into. Come and borrow a book (we're at Desmond Tutu House) and have a good and meaningful read over Lent.

The wonderful, eccentric people of Bradford!

One of the reasons I love this city of Bradford is the remarkable people that you come across all the time. Today I met two more. I was walking down Barkerend Rd when I noticed two old guys digging around on a patch of wasteland. Having an interest in guerrilla gardening, I went over to say hello. I suspected that they might be East Europeans making the most of the land.

They turned out to be twins, Dave and Stuart, who spend their retirement scrambling around on derelict sites, sowing seeds to attract butterflies. Their particular concern at the moment is the plight of the common blue butterfly, which lost most of its local habitat recently to a car park in Shipley. Armed with some seeds and a rake, they have worked tirelessly for the sake of these butterflies.

They were eccentric and knowledgeable, and had been hassled by the police and various security guards, and threatened with trespass charges on many occasions. It will not stop them. They love the city of Bradford, and they love butterflies. They are now added to the long list of lovable rogues and adventurers that I have happened to come across in this delightful city!

Monday 7 March 2011

Giving up Blogging for Lent...

Ash Wednesday is nearly upon us, and I'm wondering what to give up for Lent. To be honest - as much as I've loved the blogging over the last 3 months, I'm thinking of giving it up. Not only does it take time away from those lovely kids of mine, but it has kinda become a bit obsessive.

I've found myself endlessly clicking the stats button, seeing if my latest blog has stirred some interest - seeing where in the world people are reading my thoughts. To be honest, I'd rather be snogging my wife.

The blog has been a great way to stir up interest in my first book, and given friends and strangers a chance to get a glance into the thoughts and activities of a priest trying to stay true to his activist principles, trying to develop a model of 'A Just Church'. Now you can support a local bookshop, and order it in. Then you should get your priest to read it. Liberation theology is alive and kicking and where ever in the world you are, its time to get stuck in to building a world of peace, justice and love.

I'll miss the blog, but you can keep tabs on the campaigns on my Facebook page, and perhaps now we might have time to meet up face to face and have a coffee? If interested, you can come to Bradford for the Practical Liberation Theology conference on the 23/24th of July,  If we haven't met, then I'd like to meet you! Better still, lets meet at a demo, or an UK Uncut occupation. Maybe see you at the March for the Alternatives on the 26th of this month?

But give up something for Lent, perhaps take something on, even if its just the realisation that another world is possible.

God bless you on your journey, and until we meet again, keep me in your prayers.

March for the Alternative: Jobs - Growth - Justice! 26th March!

If its been a while since you've been to a demo, and you have lost touch with the world of politics - consider this: If we sit back and do nothing the Tories and the Libdems are going to tear our country apart.

I really believe this. If we can put enough pressure on them, then perhaps we can reduce the damage they will do to our NHS, our education service, our public life. I believe that we have not recovered as a nation from the legacy of Thatcher, with huge swathes of the country now used to long term unemployment, and whole communities discarded or stigmatised. We cannot allow Cameron to do the same again.

As a priest, I believe that the church as a whole should have a massive presence. Christians cannot stand idly by while the most vulnerable in our communities have there living standards crushed. We have begun to see this already in the local authority public sector cutbacks. Millions in each town and city have been lost in services to children, the elderly, those with disabilities. Women, and Black communities are already feeling the impact of these cuts.

Alternatives? Stop giving huge trillion pound bail outs to the financial sector that has helped get us into this mess - especially as they are still lining their own pockets with bonuses. Stop large companies from legally reducing their taxes whilst seeing their profits soar. Robin Hood tax to reduce money lost on the international banking/gambling system. Investment in jobs and decent education. Reduce spending on war and totally scrap spending on Trident nuclear missiles.

These are just some of the alternatives. Make sure you come on that journey to London on the 26th. Lets make this a march of millions, and not let them wreck our country once more.

A Just Church at Greenbelt!

Great news! After four years of bidding to do a talk at Greenbelt Festival, I have finally managed to secure a place. I love this festival, and my family go every year. The idea of a Christian arts and music festival sounds a little off putting at first (4 days surrounded by Christians?! - uughh!) but it is extraordinarily good, and is open to all people of all faiths and none.

It is for people who recognise the importance of faith and want to learn and grow with each other. It always gives me hope in the Church to share an experience with 20,000 progressive Christians.

I will get to do two talks, one on 'A Just Church', about the relevance of 'Liberation Theology' to fresh expressions of faith, and one entitled 'Dancing in Milbank; Why Christians should resist the cutbacks'. There may be an opportunity to have a greenbelt 'SoulSpace' which would be lovely, as we have always used the festival to keep in touch with old friends who have left Bradford.

So do get your tickets early (its cheaper that way!) and lets have a huge camping party at Greenbelt. It will be marvellous, as long as my talks don't clash with Billy Bragg or Mark Thomas (the real reasons you'll be going!)

On being a perfectionist.

Some of you may know that I teach the Enneagram, an ancient system of understanding personality types based on both Sufi and Christian wisdom traditions. I find it helpful and illuminating most of the time, and irritating at other times.

Irritating, because it is so damned accurate. My type is known as the perfectionist, not that you would ever guess that from the state of my office. Generally, I like to have everything done as perfectly as I think I am capable of - this normally leads to long hours, some successes and some disappointments.

So yesterday should have been perfect. I was guest preaching at the Cathedral, so I over prepared for SoulSpace, our usual Sunday service. I got up especially early, got the heating on, made sure the chairs were set out, put out the wine and bread - typed up and had the service sheets ready. Barbara Glasson and Anna were heading up the service, so I knew it would go well.

However, I forgot to check up to make sure someone had the keys to the German Church where we have our services! Big imperfection.

But the Holy Spirit does amazing things. Everyone went back to Touchstone, the Methodist city centre project, and Barbara and the gang ate, drank and prayed together. It was, by all accounts, a marvelous occasion.

Whatever our own personality types, we could all learn to let go of the need to control, and allow the Holy Spirit to do her work.

Sunday 6 March 2011

Nobel Peace Prize Winner joins protest at crossbow shop

Betty Williams is passionate about peace. She urged the participants at the University Peacejam event to get stuck in to peace initiatives in their local environments.

When I told her about the killings that happened in Bradford last year, and about the crossbow shop in Bradford, she asked if she could do something to help. I was so grateful for her encouragement, that I gave her a copy of my book on the spot.

I drew up a petition last night, and thought it would be great if she would be the first to sign the piece of paper. Today, when we met, all she asked in return for signing the petition was a big hug! She had read most of my book overnight, and was thrilled by it. She was particularly interested in the chapters on Palestine and our struggle with Total over their involvement in Burma.

I was so stunned that amid the business of her schedule, she had found time for my book. What an amazing woman. More importantly I hope that the signature will help put more pressure on the shop in town to take the crossbows out of its shop window. With the energy of Betty Williams behind us - we might eventually win this one!

Pakistani Christians take to the streets

I got a call from Younis early in the morning. "We're organising a vigil in protest of the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti" he said "come if you can."

I joined the crowd just after 12, an it was pretty impressive. Around 50 members of the Christian Pakistani community had come down to express their anger at Bhatti's murder. They were furious that not enough was done to protect Mr Bhatti, a Roman Catholic and the minister for minorities in the Pakistan government. He had asked for a bullet proof car and greater protection, but it was not forthcoming.

He had predicted his death after speaking out against the blasphemy laws that specifically targeted the Christian minority. He even recorded a video to be broadcast when he was killed. He faced his fear of death and carried on, as his faith had led him.

The Muslim community has also lost its moderates, and now is the time for all those who value human rights to regroup and somehow find the strength to continue the struggle against fundamentalism and terrorism. We must strive to overcome our differences and work together for justice. It is time for those of us living in the relative safety of this country to support those in a much more vulnerable position in Pakistan.

Friday 4 March 2011

Betty Williams, Nobel Peace Prize Winner at PeaceJam!

Betty Williams wowed everyone. She was addressing the 2011 PeaceJam conference at Bradford University and was full of passion and love. PeaceJam has been bringing Nobel Peace prize winners to Bradford for 6 years, and Betty links well with the first event, which gave us the honour of being in the company of Mairaid Corrigan-Maguire.

Betty and Mairaid jointly won the 1976 Nobel peace prize after working hard to set up a women's peace network in Northern Ireland. Betty witnessed the death of 3 young children (daughters of Mairaid's sister Ann), killed when a young IRA man drove into them having just been shot by British security forces.

She was amazing, and urged the large audience to roll up their sleeves and get involved in work for peace where ever they were; oppose the arms industry; protect vulnerable groups; expose spending on the military, (especially nuclear weapons spending.)

I'm looking forward to hearing more from her in the days to come!

Fairtrade Fortnight - making a change!

I had a wonderful breakfast this morning with Fatima and Harriet. They are cocoa farmers from Ghana, and they have come with the Divine chocolate company to tour the country during fairtrade fortnight.

We had a delicious mix of smoothies, yogurts, waffles with fruits of the forest and chocolate, bacon and mushroom butties infused with chocolate source, wonderful fresh juices and much more besides - a taste of heaven!

But the real treat was meeting these young female farmers - one Muslim, one Christian, united in the pursuit of equality and fairness in the market place. The theme of their tour is women's empowerment, and their story is living proof of the difference fairtrade makes. Kaupa Kokoo, the Ghanaian co-op that owns 45% of the Divine Chocolate company, employs tens of thousands of Ghanaians, and has steadily pushed up the quality of living. The social premium paid on fairtrade products mean clean water for villages, schools, healthcare, and improved social status for women.

All we have to do is make a change, a change to delicious fairtrade products and ethical cotton goods. It couldn't get any simpler than that!

Thursday 3 March 2011

World Book Day

It was a strange sight at my daughters primary school: All the children and teachers were wearing their pyjamas! As it was World Book Day, the school decided to celebrate by thinking about bedtime stories. It could also be that the teachers were trying to save time in the morning journey to work.

I wonder how long it will last. The virtual book, the kindle culture is all around us. Children are learning as much from their computers as they are from books. I fear for bookshops everywhere - the loss of Dillons, Ottokars, then Borders and the cuts to Waterstones stores over the last few years tells the real story. The fact that Libraries have born the brunt of so many local government cutbacks is also a sign of the times.

Yet I love the book. I cannot imagine reading my child a bedtime story from a machine. I would hate to see my own library, the 'Victor Jara Liberation Theology Library' become a relic of some bygone age. Books are beautiful, they are the givers of life in so many different ways.

At the launch of my own book, someone told me the story of a priest who put two books into his hands when he was a boy. It was the start of his emancipation. He developed a love for reading, and went from a kid on rough council estate to become an accomplished bookseller.

Books have a power all of their own. Let us not allow the 'market' to determine the future of our communication and our emancipation.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Another tragic murder in Pakistan

Shahbaz Bhatti, a 42-year-old Roman Catholic, died after his car was sprayed with bullets in a carefully planned ambush as he drove from his mother's home. It was the second assassination in two months of a high-profile opponent of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam.

Shahbaz Bhatti came to Bradford only a few months ago where he met with leading members of the local community at the deanery of the cathedral.  I spoke to David Ison (the dean) today, and he was deeply shocked. Mr Bhatti was a source of hope for tolerance and democracy in Pakistan and was one of the very few brave enough to speak out against the murder of Salman Taseer, who was also killed following his condemnation of the blasphemy law in Pakistan.

The world should mourn this man, and do all it can to prevent Pakistan's further descent towards chaotic fundamentalism.

Here is the Bradford Diocese press release sent out yesterday:

Archbishops of Canterbury and York Condemn Murder of Pakistan Minorities Minister


The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York have made the following statement condemning the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Minorities Minister in Pakistan:

"It is with the greatest shock and sorrow that we have heard of the assassination of Mr Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Religious Minorities in Pakistan. This further instance of sectarian bigotry and violence will increase anxiety worldwide about the security of Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan, and we urge that the Government of Pakistan will do all in its power to bring to justice those guilty of such crimes and to give adequate protection to minorities. Meanwhile, we assure Mr Bhatti's family of our prayers and deep sympathy, and promise our continuing support for all those of whatever faiths who are working for justice and stability in Pakistan."

New hope for the homeless in Bradford

Today I travelled backwards in time. 23 years ago, a less hairy version of me volunteered with the Simon Community in London. The project got alongside destitute people, went for meals with them, and supported them, even when other agencies had banned them from their hostels or given up on them. I remember that we used to be given cigarettes to offer out to those we met on the streets, as a way of getting to know them!

At a meeting at Trafalgar House, the central police station, I discovered that the Simon Community is now called 'Simon On the Street' and I met up with Helena and Mat, who are starting an outreach project on the streets of Bradford.

Bradford is now recognised as having one of the worst homelessness problems in Yorkshire, with a growing number of rough sleepers in the city centre. If people are barred from the limited facilities available to them in the city (for drinking or being abusive) then they are often simply abandoned. 'Simon In the Street' don't have anywhere to bar people from, and work with the destitute through thick and thin.

At Desmond Tutu House, we are going to do all we can to support this worthwhile project. It inspired me when I was 18 years old, and little has changed (with the exception of the giving out free cigarettes!)

Gaddafi - armed and dangerous

Many commentators are asking why Libya has not fallen the same way Tunisia and Egypt did in the face of a peoples revolt. Though the reasons are complex, there are two very obvious answers.

Firstly, Libya enjoys much more wealth then its North African neighbours. Oil wealth has meant that it does not have the mass unemployment and poverty seen in both Egypt and Tunisia. Wealth is still in the hands of a powerful elite, but it has also been used more benevolently, with better education and health opportunities for all. This means that the state has not had to fear the power of desperate people with nothing to lose.

Secondly, Gaddafi is far more ruthless and deranged then other North African leaders. This is not a media invention, the way the West often tries to discredit national leaders who go against its interests. This man is scary, paranoid, and an almost perfect example of utter megalomania. And we have armed him to the teeth.

But Western military intervention will be a terrible mistake in this case. Many people will die, and US force will play into the hands of violent extremists. Whatever the solution, it must be based on non-violent struggle, or it will be the Libyan people who will ultimately pay the price.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Great news about the book!

It is the first day of spring and the sun has been shining bright. A clear, crisp day, a delight to walk around town. But the spring in my step was caused not just by the weather, but by the news that my book is doing really well in Bradford.

Call me shallow, but I was delighted to find out that my book, which had entered the Bradford Waterstones chart at a staggering number three last week, had managed to jump up to the number one position this week. It is currently the most read book in Bradford.

The manager thought it was the first time a religious book had ever achieved this. On its own this is remarkable, but what is really stunning is that this is a book about liberation theology, the interaction between politics and spirituality.

Maybe it is a sign that the wider public have an appetite for a more radical church, that if Christians stood up for justice more vigorously, then we could once again have the respect of our nation.