Saturday 31 December 2011

Goodbye 2011, and good riddance!

I don't know about you, but 2011 felt like a real stinker - particularly the last half. The first 6 months looked promising, with the eruption of the Arab Spring, and the sense of fightback against the economic mess that the neo-liberal governments were forcing on the UK and other European countries. Movements such as the Coalition of Resistance and UK Uncut were putting pressure both locally and nationally on the focus of cuts, challenging who should be hit hardest; those who made the mess, or those who were poorest.

But by the summer things felt very different. Military action by the West in Libya, moved the Arab Spring into a far more bloody affair, and dictators in Syria and Yemen were determined that brute force would win the day. Even Egypt seemed to have not been able to free itself of the straight jacket of military rule. With the killing of Osama and later Gaddafy, it felt that vengeance was the ideological winner of 2011. Tunisia stands alone as a successful outcome of Arab Spring.

In the UK, the August riots rocked the nation, and have left us all feeling very uneasy about the future. More cuts are to come, jobs are scarce and the rapid destruction of 'Education for All', means that many young people face a dehumanising future.

The Euro continues to feel like a disaster waiting to happen, with dreaded consequences for the UK economy. Cameron's policies seem increasingly about appeasing the needs of the City of London

So where is the good news? The 'occupy movement' began to build a template at the end of 2011. We are going to have to do the rest ourselves in 2012! We will do so when we build stronger local communities who are eager to defend themselves against ideologically driven policies. We will do so when we stand up to bullies, and look after each other when that feels difficult and frightening. We will look for new opportunities to grow and learn from all the wonderful and surprising people around us. We must remain strong and positive, whilst forgiving ourselves for moments of weakness and negativity.

For those of us with faith, the task of 2012 will be to remember we have a God who does not protect us from the hardships of life, but who travels through them beside us. Good riddance to 2011, and God bless us in 2012.

Friday 9 December 2011

Cameron's selfish euro decision.

Cameron has made me ashamed to be British. How dare he defend the interests of the banking community over the needs of millions of workers throughout Europe.  This policy will lead to the isolation of the UK (the only nation amongst 27 who will refuse to join the fiscal deal) and hinder the chances of a full settlement to the Eurozone crisis.

It is the most short term, selfish, and ultimately disastrous decision Cameron could have taken. It is further evidence, if any is needed, that the Tory party are simply out to protect those in the city who profit from the misery of others.

The people of Britain will be the poorer for the lack of a complete European deal. The workers of Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain will continue to see their pensions squeezed and jobs axed. Britain is now a European swear word.

But several thousand people will benefit hugely from the curtailing the effect of a European wide Tobin Tax. Cameron's chums will be delighted.

Cameron has nailed his colours to the mast - he is in power simply to benefit the needs of the 1%, at the expense of the rest of us. Shame on him and this small minded government.

Thursday 8 December 2011

St Ambrose, patron saint of occupiers....

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching at Bradford Cathedral, down at their Wednesday morning Eucharist. I only had a little time to prepare, so I did what I always do in these situations and I checked out if it was a saints day. December 7th is a day to commemorate St Ambrose of Milan, a fourth century bishop, and I was concerned that it might be a bit dull for a sermon.

I was wrong! Turns out Ambrose was a pretty cool fella. And one of the things he did was use the tactics of the Occupy movement! A group of Arian Christians supported by the Emperor were given use of a building to work from. Ambrose led a group into occupation of the building from Palm Sunday to Easter Day - and though out they made up hymns about what was going on in the world (previously hymns were purely scriptural) so starting the ball rolling for contemporary and contextual hymnody!

But what really made Ambrose a great person, was the way he stood up to those with power. When Emperor Theodosius killed 6000 citizens in Thessalonika in 390AD - Ambrose challenged him, declaring that violence was never the way of faith. He denied that the emperor could even participate in the Eucharist, a powerful act considering that Theodosius considered himself the head of the church. Ambrose continued to try to bring peacemaking efforts to places of civil conflict.

So, lets have some more modern saints, who are prepared to occupy against modern heretics, the heretics who worship material things instead of the things of life and spirit! We need new saints who are prepared to stand up to all violent oppressors, especially when they dare to say that their violence is done in the name of God!

Saturday 3 December 2011

A week at St Pauls

I finally had the opportunity to take a few days to head down to the protest camp at St Paul's and meet some of the inspiring people staying there. On Monday, I arrived, quite anxious. I remembered the atmosphere at the road protest camps in the early 90's - everyone used to be suspicious of strangers, with good reason given the amount of police infiltration at the time.

My fears were short lived, and I was made very welcome. I joined in with a General Assembly, offering my thanks to those who had slept out in terrible conditions and inspired the greatest challenge to the daily inequalities of capitalism. Everything was so well organised, from the info tent, to the kitchen. A prayer tent gave me some space to think. It was the closest I was going to get to a prayer space, as entry to St Paul's Cathedral was £14.50.

A lovely homeless Polish man offered to take me to visit Finsbury Sq, so off we went. Again, it was really friendly, a mix of students, young radicals, older hippies, and those with nowhere else to go. Good people and good food.

The 'Bank of Ideas' really was splendid, just a few metre's down Sun Street from the Finsbury encampment. The former UBS building was now adorned with political banners 'You can't evict an idea!'

Inside there was a radical cinema space, dormitories, kitchens, workshop spaces, libraries - and again, a prayer and meditation space with kettle and beverages. I met people doing workshops on 'Fracking' and witnessed role plays on how to react non-violently to aggression from the police.

Banners were being prepared for the demonstration on the 30th and legal teams were devising strategies for resisting the evictions that were inevitable in the days/weeks ahead.

I popped into the three occupied sites, St Paul's, Finsbury Sq and the 'Bank of Ideas' every day, and was continually inspired and challenged. Each day, the Evening Standard (the free London paper) spouted lies about them to try and turn popular mood against them - 'drug use if rife', 'donated money is stolen', 'camp is full of excrement'.  each day, these courageous people dealt with all the difficulties of life under the spotlight, living in very harsh conditions.

When anyone complains about the protesters, I simply say 'What have you done to draw attention to the mess capitalism has made of the world, and what are you prepared to give up to build a better community?'

We will remember these people as heroes in the years to come. If in London, go and give them some support, and never accept that right wing free paper again unless you are desperate for some loo paper, it is all it's good for!