Monday 25 June 2012

Angela's 5th Birthday

What a special day! It began with a trip to 5 Alive (her favourite play park) and then she came to church. That may not sound so exciting, but the look on her face as we all sang Happy Birthday was priceless.

The SoulSpace community has been her upbringing for 5 years.  She has had a great start in life with the love she has received from the congregation since day one. Catriona and I have so much to thank everyone for - it is their communal kindness that has made our two daughters such wonders.

We all went for a giant picnic at Lister Park, and Angela was thrilled when the Olympic Torch came by! Great timing - though I wasn't able to get them to light her birthday cake candles with the actual torch - that would have made me super Dad!

I'm grateful to My Mum, Brother Lesley and cousin Callum for coming up from Addlestone, it made it all so special.

But ultimately, I'm grateful to God for surrounding our family with such love. Children are born not just into blood family, but into the communities we build around ourselves. The advantages of building such communities of people working for justice, peace and spiritual awareness is evident when I look the impact it has had on my two little girls.

Thank you everyone.

Liberation under threat in Paraguay!

The news this weekend that Fernando Lugo has been the victim of a Parliamentary coup in Paraguay is a terrible blow to the liberation struggle in South America.

He is known as the 'Priest of Paraguay', and was instrumental in overturning 61 years of rule by the rightwing Colarados (including the dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner from 1954-89)

This Liberation Theologian and former Catholic Bishop managed to win the 2008 Presidential elections in a stunning victory for the left. He had been a champion of the poor and indigenous population, and it was almost incredible that he could have won.

He was part of a tide of support for the left which has once again changed the face of Latin American politics, begun by the victory of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela ten years before. Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Honduras and even Peru elected Leftist leaders.

Many of these leaders were influenced by the Liberation Theology movement, but none more so than Lugo in Paraguay. He has faced continual opposition and threats from the right wing dominated Senate, and after a conflict flared up in the Chacos region leaving 17 dead including 9 police officers, Senators moved to impeach him.

The conflict was in regard to landless peasants occupying a disused piece of land, something Lugo had encouraged as a way of redistributing the wealth of the nation. Some 80% of land in Paraguay is owned by 5% of the population.

There have been violent clashes on the streets of the capital Asuncion, but Lugo has called for only peaceful resistance. But the poor of Paraguay have lost a great ally, and the country is back in the hands of non-democratic leaders. The coup leader is Lugo's former Vice-President Frederico Franco, who Lugo put in post as a gesture of unity to the right wing at the time of his election.

Will the world accept these events, or will they put pressure on Franco (an apt name) to return Lugo to his rightful elected place? Latin America is once again seeing the return of the right wing 'strong man', and history must warn to the disasters this will bring.

Refugee Week – A taste of heaven!

Over the last week, Bradfordians have celebrated the lives of refugees and asylum seekers who have come to live in our city, and there have been parties, music, dance and much merriment. This is not always the images that come to our mind when we think about the plight of refugees and those who are seeking sanctuary in our midst. We normally have images that are negative, either of their stories of escaping torture, persecution and conflict, or of the negative images often given to them by the media.

But the lives of refugees and sanctuary seekers (a more helpful term than 'asylum seekers') are often ones of triumph over adversity, and when we have close encounters with this community, there is much evidence of joy and happiness. They mainly come from places where faith is very strong, and they have trusted God with there lives and their futures – they know that God has walked with them.

It is this walk of faith and justice that was celebrated on Wednesday. BEACON (Bradford Ecumenical Asylum Seeker Concern) organised the third of its annual walks to Leeds Waterside Reporting Centre. The walk passes the Thornbury Tribunal Courts where thousands of sanctuary seekers have gone to argue their case before a judge. The walk continues to the canal, then on to the place in Leeds where sanctuary seekers have to report on a weekly or monthly basis.

The walk started as a protest of how some people were forced to make this long walk every week without any travel costs paid. However, now it is a chance to show solidarity with all those who have to face the long walk for justice, a journey towards hope and sanctuary.

This week, we can give thanks to God for our own security, for our homes, for the safety of our families. We can give thanks that we live in a society free of organised torture and political imprisonment. Refugee Week has given us a chance to be thankful for the many organisations in Bradford that exist to support those who have had to flee such horrors. We have much to learn from those who can escape such trials and still hold on to a rich and joyful faith.

Saturday 16 June 2012

Street Angels, faith in action!

Last night I did my last shift as a duty manager for Bradford Street Angels. It was quite a sacrifice, as I realised a few weeks ago that I would miss the England game against Sweden! But Street Angels is all about sacrifice - it is about giving up the comforts of being at home on a Friday and Saturday night, and choosing to serve your community instead.

The project has taught me a lot over the years, from the sheer dedication to the city shown by hundreds of ordinary folk, to having to deal with sometimes quite violent and shocking scenes.

I cannot say I've loved every moment. I'll never forget the night we helped pick up the pieces from a fatal road traffic accident, or the occasional vomiting over your shoes when your holding up a young man who is too drunk to be left alone on the streets

My overwhelming memories though, are of the times when we have perhaps saved lives by intervening just at the right moment. Getting young kids home who have had a bottle of Vodka for the first time. Pulling a woman out of the road before she is run over. Giving out a fresh sleeping bag to the homeless guy who's bedding is drenched from another downpour.

And the beauty of camaraderie between colleagues - I have walked the streets of Bradford with some of the best people I have ever had to work alongside.

I remember putting the team together exactly 5 years ago, bringing together those with a passion for the city, people who desired to show God's love in a practical way. There are costs and sacrifice in all ministry, and missing an England game is nothing to compared to the beauty of watching the kingdom of God grow before your very eyes.  

Tuesday 12 June 2012

It's time to allow same sex marriage in the Church of England

When writing my book 'A Just Church' some folk said to me 'its OK to write about poverty, but why write about homosexuality?' The answer was clear to me. SoulSpace (Our local church in Bradford) is based on the notion that the Church needs to respond to areas of injustice and inequality. Gay Christians have faced massive discrimination within the wider church, and the persecution will only end when churches like SoulSpace stand alongside the LGBT community.

When the national church opposes legislation allowing for same sex marriage, it simply looks stupid and out of touch. But worse still, it is guilty of perpetuating injustice and failing to demonstrate God's love. Gay marriage is not a 'threat' to heterosexual marriage - if it is, then there are some severely insecure marriages out there.

Marriage is not simply about procreation. If so, the church should not marry those too old to have children or those medically unable to. Marriage is primarily about love.

Marriage is when two people declare their love for one another in the presence of God and this is witnessed by friends, family and the local community. The church is privileged to be able to solemnise weddings, but should not be allowed to abuse it's position of trust. We need to embrace those who find love, and apologise for the hurt we have caused in the past.

I know this situation will change. In my lifetime, the Church of England will allow those priests who are willing, to bless and marry same sex relationships in parish churches. We will look back at this period with shame, and we will regret the millions of people who will never have anything to do with the church because of its homophobic attitudes.

May God forgive the Church for it's refusal to endorse the love of others. Help us to grow in the Holy Spirit.

Sunday 3 June 2012

The big lunch without the flags...

On Monday we look forward to celebrating our 3rd 'Big Lunch' on Ashgrove, the road that Desmond Tutu House sits upon. It is a simple expression of community care, an attempt to knit neighbours together in a city that needs a sense of togetherness.

Polish, Pakistani, British, Russian, Lithuanian, Uruguayan and many more people with come out and share food together. A bouncy castle, a balloonist and a street entertainer will bring all the kids in the neighbourhood into a rare car free environment.

We do not need the monarchy for this to happen. I do hope that all those who are celebrating the Diamond Jubilee will get a real taste for this sort of event, and feel that they want to do it again and again. We do not need the anniversary of an outdated institution as an excuse for this to take place. We need to be doing it all the time. The bond on our street in not the Queen, it is a common need for people of different faiths and of no faith to come together and have some fun. We need royalist and republicans to mix. Christians and Muslims, anarchists and conservatives. We need spaces to grow together as people. But it cannot be under the banner of the celebration of the monarchy.

I'm sure that the queen is a very good person, and does her job in the best way that is perhaps possible. But the very idea of a monarchy should be discarded to the dustbin of history. As an institution, it enshrines inequality. It says that it is OK to be born into positions of power and wealth. None of us who want to see greater equality and hope for humanity can simply sit back and celebrate the Jubilee.

It's a Sunday, and in the Gospel story of the day Nicodemus, a person born into wealth and privilege, begins to learn from Jesus that it is not his birthright and background that counts. He, like all of us must be born again. This does not mean joining a 'happy clappy' club of Jesus freaks. It means abandoning the positions of status and power that this world offers, and instead welcoming in the reign of God, being born as 'children of God'. This is a new beginning in which our worth is not measured by what this world has given us, but is simply about being loved for who we are, created in the image of God.

Elizabeth and I are united by our faith, but divided by the trappings of this world. I pray for her on this day, but my prayer maybe different from the many said for her today. I ask her to renounce her position of power and privilege, to share all she has. It's for her own good. She shares the same sacred text as me, so she must have read that it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle, than it is for a rich monarch to enter the kingdom of heaven?

Anyway, I must get back to party preparations. And before I forget, both Elizabeth and you are both very welcome to join us at the 'big lunch', celebrating neighbours coming together as equals.