Sunday 17 April 2011

Drawing on experience

I wrote 'A Just Church' in a little three roomed house near Tacuarembo, in my wife's home country of Uruguay. The house, in a placed called 'Balneario Ypora' was rented to us by a family of vets who had built the house themselves as a retreat from the city.

I felt hugely privileged to have the opportunity to retreat. I realise that although it is a basic human need, Capitalism provides little chance for most of the worlds population to enjoy such a thing. We work until we are in need of the services of a funeral director.

But we must resist the temptation to work until we drop. People need time off. Unions fight for it, humans desperately try to manipulate the system, even 'faking a sickie' if that what it takes. We need breathing space.

It is not even that we are less productive when we have time off. When I have time off, I actually get things done - I can write a book, I can get some drawing done, I can finally play with my wife and kids.

In my experience, the only reason that I stay sane, and remain a good minister and activist, is that I take time out to have a break. Whether that's 3 times a week in the sauna, or a sneaky afternoon at the cinema, or a few days here and there with the family, I try to take my moments when I can. But even though I know I need time out, like most of us, I am failing horribly to really retreat from the hustle and bustle of life.

Here is my test. Have I made enough time to draw? Sketching is the thing I find myself only able to do when I really take time to relax properly. Here I am found wanting. I haven't drawn since I came back from Uruguay 14 months ago.

Drawing from experience (if you can forgive the pun) I know that if I'm not being creative then I'm not taking God's idea of 'sabbath' seriously. Sabbath effectively means honouring the cycle of working and resting, and really recognising the value of the resting bit.

It is time for some time off.

'Mission Creep' is not the weird guy from the local 'free church'

It was obviously going to be 'regime change'. From the moment the planes began to fly, you could sense that it was going to escalate - that the polite term 'mission creep' was always going to be a reality. 'Mission creep' is not the weird guy from the local free church who thinks its OK to shout at people in the city centre - 'mission creep' is when it is obvious that large empires who say they are going to 'bomb' in the name of 'humanitarian aid' end up bombing on a much greater scale, with disastrous results.

US, British and French governments shunned those working for Libyan peace talks from the African Union, South America and from the Arab world. Instead, it chose a military solution. To buy support for such an intervention, it sold the public the story that it was 'limited warfare', and only there to save civilian populations. Now we are told that we are in the middle of a protracted civil war, and that we are in it until there is 'regime change'.

That is 'mission creep'. It is misleading because it implies that those who started bombing did so unknowing how the situation would develop. We can not allowed ourselves to be deceived. Our leaders were decided on regime change from the beginning - they were just not honest enough, or brave enough, to tell that to our faces.

'City of Dreams'

This week saw the end of one of the best 'site specific' pieces of theatre ever created in the North of England. 'The Mill - City of Dreams' was performed by Freedom Studios, a mixture of professional actors and directors working alongside local people.

It is the story of Frank, who worked for in Drumond's Mill from 14 to retirement in 2002. Finally, after all the hundreds of staff are gradually made redundant, he wonders the mill with his set of keys, a caretaker with nothing left but his memories of the workers from around the world who were employed alongside him. Stories of the journeys of Italians, Pakistanis and Ukrainians are lovingly recreated.

In the present, there is a hilarious parody of Will Alsop's 'master plan' for the city of Bradford, as we are invited into the false utopia offered by 'luxury apartments' in the now empty mill.

As the audience wanders around the mill with Frank, and we see stunning sets created in the buildings atmospheric rooms (including the mills vast attic floor) it is impossible not to be moved and to feel the presence of those who have gone before you over the generations.

It was theatre at its best, but left us with many questions. What is the future for these Northern cities, populated by huge cathedrals to an industry that has completely disappeared? What will become of the generations of young people left over from these waves of migration?

No easy answers in the 'city of dreams'. But the faith of the workers, Muslims and Christians was respected by this production. Perhaps it is suspected, that rather than in property or 'the market', it is in 'faith and humanity' that solutions may be found for this city's future.

Going to prison for your beliefs

We had Sylvia Boyes come to talk to JustSpace this Tuesday, and she was as inspirational as ever.  Sylvia has been to prison on many occasions since 1983, when she first was incarcerated for non payment of fines following an anti-nuclear protest.

She chose not to talk about her peace work, but instead talked about the pointlessness and pettiness of prison. It is a place where the poor and disaffected end up. It does nothing to help them build up their lives and even takes away the small amount of responsibilities that they have. For many of the women she meets, it is a double punishment, first on them, but secondly on their children.

Sylvia often says to people inside that it is fair that she is there, but for most of the women, it is an injustice. Sylvia has chosen to be there, she has chosen to go to prison for her beliefs, but for many of the women in prison, it is much more awful than that. Many are there because of poverty, some are dragged into criminality by violent partners or because of drug habits forced upon them in youth. Some are there because of mental health problems, many have been exposed to rape and domestic terror. But all are there because nobody in government has the imagination to work on their potential, on their human worth.

Sylvia's visit reminded us of the need for serious prison reform, as unpopular as it might sound in the ears of politicians, fearful of being labelled 'soft on crime'. She reminded us of an important adage 'A society can be judged on how it treats those it chooses to imprison'.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Why we shouldn't push more arms on Libya.

Libya is awash with weapons. The EU has been allowing the Libyan government to spend vast amounts on its military over the last 9 years. Gaddafi  has bought weapons from Britain, France and Italy voraciously.

So, what is the solution offered by an increasing number of EU states to the stalemate developing in Libya? Send in more arms. The new Eastern government can spend its new found oil wealth on more weapons. They can offset the cost of bigger and better weapons on future oil sales.

The African Union is urging talks, as is the Arab League, and the 'ALBA' block of South America. A push for some dialogue rather than more bloodshed, is the preferred option for most of the rest of the world. But not the Western nations. We seem to think that 'more weapons' is the only way to solve most problems.

As the civil war becomes more entrenched, we must ask ourselves whether military solutions are the only way to sort out a nations affairs. If we arm one side, in the hope that they will take the fight to Sirte and to Tripoli, do we really think that Gaddafi will role over and die, and that most people will simply desert? No, more thousands will die, Gaddafi will eventually die, and a weakened new nation will be indebted financially to the EU.

There must be better ways of tackling a mess the West created, than simply sending in more guns and pitching the Libyan people against themselves? Where is our diplomatic imagination?

Liquid Church

Last week we tried out some 'liquid worship' during our Sunday service. This involved setting up 5 different 'stations' based upon the bible reading for the day (the Samaritan woman at the well) and then allowing those who came to wander around at there own pace.

People could stop at the well we built, dip their fingers in the cool water and consider the ideas of 'thirsting' and 'living water'. At a picture of Elizabeth Taylor, people considered how women are portrayed in society.

A hoop of vines allowed us to define who or what we considered 'insiders' or 'outsiders', and some pictures of Christ let us dwell who we really believed Jesus actually is for us. Maps of Israel/Palestine gave us an opportunity to think about issues of 'the land' and ownership.

I loved the way people could stop, discuss, pray, think. 'Liquid worship' is rarely used during normal service time, and it is certainly a more time consuming 'event' to make happen. But the benefits are huge, and the conversations and experiences renewed and deepened our faith. I'm grateful to those who were prepared to experiment with 'Liquid worship' as a helpful way of understanding the 'living water' offered by Jesus.

The philosophers have merely interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.

I used to have a high regard for Canon Giles Fraser, a regular columnist for the Church Times. His thoughtful and sometimes insightful comments have often helped me to understand different issues in new ways. But more recently, his remarks have left me increasingly cold.

A diatribe he released recently against liberation theology on radio 4 left me reminded as to the difference between liberal and liberation theology. They are often confused, but they are very distinct. Mr Fraser is a liberal philosopher, and as he pontificates about the world each week, one cannot but think of Marx's famous adage 'The Philosophers have merely interpreted the world in various ways, the point however is to change it.'

Fraser's latest column 'Why I did not march on Saturday' in this weeks edition of the Church Times helped me to recognise his relationship to Marx's remark, and cemented my disappointment with the Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral.

His assertion that marching is simply about 'feeling better about myself' is arrogant in the extreme. Up and down the country, vulnerable communities are facing cutbacks that are wrecking their lives. Everyday last week I encountered people about to lose their jobs, people who provide services that improve the lives of disadvantaged groups. People are not marching to enjoy a 'feeling of moral superiority' (as he put it in the column) but because they are facing job losses and economic devastation. Churches need to stand by those most affected.

The cutbacks sparked by the bankers greed, and bailed out by the taxpayers, is particularly felt in the Northern cities that rely more heavily on the public sector. Maybe Mr Fraser is more protected from these realities, looking out from his seat in the pub in the city of London (where he watched the march pass him by.)

Life in the 'square mile' seems to be very different indeed from the vantage point of theologians living outside of it.

Tridents into ploughshares...

Liam Fox made the announcement yesterday that the Government plan to keep 4 Trident submarines on a permanent basis. There had been some hope that, at the very least, the new fleet being commissioned might be reduced to 3, especially with all the current cutbacks.

But if there is one thing that is 'cutback proof', it is the Tory belief in the nuclear weapons industry. It is crazy in this time of austerity to cling on to the Trident system - an vastly over costed and non effective programme. It is not even controlled by us, it is simply an extension of US military power.

It has no effect on the increasing dangers of international terrorism, cyber attack and destabilised states. It is costly and ridiculous - so why are we lumbered with it? I think it is to do with a misguided sense of status that has always gone along with the holding of nuclear weaponry. It is how Britain justifies its seat at the top table, the big league of Imperial players.

And while it is the nuclear states who call all the shots, is it any wonder that rogue states will risk so much to join them at the table? It is time for Britain to admit that it is no longer the imperial power that our government wishes it to be.

It is time to lay down our tridents, and turn them into ploughshares.

more of this years April fools...

The temptation to use my blog on Friday was huge - but I did resist! I had several ideas including announcing that the Archdeaconry of Craven was breaking away from the Bradford Diocese and gaining episcopal oversight from the 'Southern Cone' - but these were to clever and Anglican to have worked. I used an event on facebook to invite many people to a fictitious protest:

Bradford Uncut will be turning the city centre Barclay's Bank into a local community swimming pool to highlight the banks relationship to local government spending cuts. If people could come in swimming costumes, armbands and fake Karl Dallas beards that would be amazing. A giant inflatable pool will be placed in the bank foyer, 12pm sharp!

Many seemed genuinely dismayed that my announcement on facebook of a TV series based on my book turned out to be a hoax:

talks with Channel 4 producer last night - looks like they are commissioning a more serious version of 'Rev' based on the stories from my new book! What an amazing year this is turning out to be!

I also used my facebook status to plug my new book:

finally got the advance from the publishers on the second book; "Just a book about Just a Church"

but by this time most people were on to me...

HRH Rowan William's visit to SoulSpace on 1st April...

Most of my church members are well inoculated against my little April fools, so I was delighted that the following resulted in several visitors to Desmond Tutu House on the 1st. This was the email I sent out early in the morning:

HRH Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury is making a short visit to Bradford Diocese today, and all are invited to meet him at his various state visits. At 9am he will be opening a new exhibitions of King James Bibles (abridged) in the Gallery of Bradford Cathedral. At 11am he is visiting Bradford University, where
he did his first degree in Modern Languages, back in the 1960's when the University was still a subsidiary of Bradford Community College.

It is planned that as part of the visit, he will pay a quick visit to Desmond Tutu House, where he will bless the new 'Peace Entrance', a specially commissioned door that symbolises the journey from 'hate to peace, from despair to joy and from room to room'.

Please be at Desmond Tutu House by 11am if you wish to welcome Rowan to Desmond Tutu House, all are welcome.



I love April Fools day!

Once a year is not quite enough for me, but when it does come round, I do love a good April Fools day joke. It gets harder and harder as more and more people toughen up to the experience, and predict that I will be menacing them in some way. But there are always the unprepared. Here is a snippet of the email I sent to the Bradford Cathedral staff:

"Dear (name excluded to avoid embarrassment, but he is incharge of the new Bishops Installation)

I was at a meeting at the 1 in 12 club (an anarchist collective in Westgate)
lastnight and I heard some disturbing news. Not only is the the day of the
new Bishops service going to be Bradford's Gay Pride festival, which has
probably added to the complexity of the day, but the UK Uncut have earmarked
that day as a 'Day of Anger' at the Church of Englands use of overseas tax
on some of its investment.

Cathedrals up and down the country are going to be targeted, and it is my fear
that Bradford will be especially targeted because of the Bishop's service.

Anyway, try not to be too worried, many of these protests are on a much smaller
scale than the anarchists hope - but I thought you should be warned.

Have a good day, blessings


The poor fellow completely went for it, especially as the Gay Pride parade is certainly taking place on the same day, making the anarchist 'day of anger' even more plausable a complication.  I am lucky that a central plank in Christian theology is forgiveness.