Tuesday 25 March 2014

Liberation Theology: Encountering the God of Life!

This coming weekend, Sunderland will host a small gathering of people interested in, or committed to, the theology of liberation. Anthony Reddie will be there encouraging us to rethink how we understand Black Theology, Rosie Venner will be there to look at the issues of feminism and development after her recent trip to Bolivia. But most importantly, people and practitioners will be there who have struggled against poverty and injustice, and in that struggle have rediscovered the God of Life.

There is no other God. We have a God who wants us to have life and life in abundance. God so loved the world she sent a child into our midst, born into poverty, living life on the margin of empire. A child who grew so wise and so brave that those with power despised him and plotted to destroy all he stood for.

Jesus took on the powers of his time, and at first they believed that they had snuffed out his light, they hung him on a wooden cross and believed that brutality and violence would have the final say.

How wrong they were. 2000 years later we walk tall with a living God who still defies those who exercise injustice and cruelty. We believe in a theology, a walk with God, that liberates us from our own oppressions - that frees us from the death of consumerism, from the death of violence, from the death that comes with patriarchy and each hierarchy that crucifies those below.

We believe in a theology that challenges all abuses of power and instead brings us closer to each other as human beings. We believe in a theology that listens to the cry of the poor, recognising that it is our own cry. We believe in a theology that values creation, that protects the earth and all living upon it. We believe in a theology where our own hands must get dirty if we are to change the systems that crush the many and enrich the few.

In Sunderland this weekend you can meet a few of those who have found the joy of the Holy Spirit at work in the most desperate of places. We will share our stories of despair and of hope. We will listen to each other in love, encourage each other, and challenge each other to be the people God created us to be.

If you can't join us in Sunderland this weekend, then join us in spirit by renewing your commitment to the God of equality and justice, the God of hope and of healing. This is the God of life. This is the Theology of Liberation.

Monday 24 March 2014

Bacardi. Unshameable

I saw the new Bacardi advert last night - 'Untameable' and it made realise that the company has made a sizable shift in its advertising strategy. For years it has been trying to link itself to young people's identification with the revolutionary spirit of Cuba, when in reality - it is a nasty right wing company was booted out of Cuba in 1959.

I think the new strategy will fail miserably, because fundamentally, I have hope that most people, especially the young, still prefer a humane socialist government (that has lifted millions out of poverty, gives free education to the region and sends more doctors around the world than the World Health Organisation) to a greedy capitalist company that has been responsible for promoting terrorism.

It's new adverts may work in the US, where the blockade against Cuba is seen as acceptable (it causes horrific shortages of basic supplies and medicines, but has never shaken the revolution) - but I'm not sure will go down so well in Europe.

Bacardi were not kicked out of Cuba in 1959 because they were 'cool' but because of their links to the US backed dictator Batista, who tortured and oppressed the population of the country, and turned it into a playground of the Miami super rich, whilst millions in Cuba suffered horrible poverty.

In advertising its lead brand white rum, Bacardi used to play on its Cuban roots, misleading drinkers into believing that Bacardi still has some links with the island. In fact the Bacardi empire is based in the Bahamas and the Bacardi company broke all ties with Cuba after the Revolution of 1959, when its cronies in the hated Batista dictatorship were overthrown by a popular guerrilla movement led by Fidel Castro and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.

The new adverts at last make it clear that Bacardi have no links with socialist Cuba (hilariously, Bacardi still sponsor the 'Che' brand of bars)

Since 1959 the Bacardi company has backed illegal and violent attempts to undermine the Cuban Revolution, including funding the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF), a virulently anti-Castro right-wing exile organisation based in Miami, which has been responsible for systematic acts of terrorism against Cuba. Bacardi’s lawyers also helped draft the US Helms-Burton Act, which extends the United States’ blockade of Cuba to third countries, in breach of international trade law. So central was the role of Bacardi’s lawyer, Ignacio E Sanchez (a CANF member) in establishing Helms-Burton that US Senator William Dengue said the law should be renamed the Helms-Bacardi Protection Act.

The Helms-Burton Act was designed to tighten still further the United States blockade of Cuba. The blockade prevents the sale of food, medicines and other essential supplies to Cuba and threatens other countries (including Britain) if they trade with Cuba. It has been estimated that the blockade has cost Cuba over $40 billion in lost production and trade. Every year the US blockade is overwhelmingly condemned by the United Nations.

'Untameable'? I prefer the tagline 'Unshameable'. I going to celebrate their shameless adverts by continuing to boycott Bacardi products, and buying myself a nice big bottle of Havana Club.

Its made in Cuba, the truly untameable country.

Friday 21 March 2014

Back in the USSR....

When I visited Ukraine in 2009 I was struck by the disjointed nature of the country. We were in the town of Lviv, a beautiful place that looked towards the grand cities of Central Europe. The easy way to get into an argument was to call it 'Lvov' by accident. Lviv was the national 'Ukrainian' name for the city, and Lvov was the 'Russian Ukrainian' Name.

Everywhere we went, we were reminded of the 'independence' of Ukraine, and the fierce sense of self determination since the fall of the old soviet union. The most famous restaurant in Lviv was extraordinary. Before you were seated, you had to shoot an air rifle at a target with Stalin's head on it. We were constantly reminded that a third of the population died under Russian rule in the 1950's.

Quite frankly, it was clear that the gap between the Ukrainian nationalists and the Russian nationalists was always going to end in bloodshed. I'm actually just surprised that it has been less violent than it has been. Russia had all the military cards, and could easily taken much more of Ukrainian territory than just the Crimea.

The West is making noises of course, but they are clearly not up for a serious struggle over the annexed area - Crimea is clearly and undeniably back in the USSR.

The real question will be, can Ukraine become a stable 'European' nation free from the fascist element that were so clearly part of the coup against the elected government. We hope and pray that peace can be restored soon. Ukraine is one of the most beautiful countries I've ever visited and the people are hospitable and proud. I'm quietly confident that the situation will improve. And if the people of Crimea choose to be part of Putin's mafia style empire - more fool them - but it is simply not worth losing any more lives over.

Friday 14 March 2014

Thank You Tony Benn - A Life Well Lived

So many of us will have happy memories of Tony Benn, a man who appeared whenever a good cause needed supporting. His political life is amazing, even prior to becoming an MP in 1950. Unlike Bob Crow who died earlier this week - there is no sadness or shock at the news of his death - Tony had a full life and lived it to the upmost.

My first meeting with him was one of the most inspirational moments in my life. I was 18 years old, and earnestly doing my politics A level. We had been taken to Westminster Methodist Central Hall to listen to speakers from all the mainstream parties.

Tony was clear, funny and impressed everyone there. But it was his answer to one question that struck me most. I was at the time, heavily into the left, but had also recently become a Christian, and found myself suffering huge derision from my comrades who could mostly not accept my faith. When Tony was asked why he had become a socialist, he gave a remarkable reply.

"It is easier to say why I became a Christian" he said, and explained how he had rejected mainstream religion, but had encountered Jesus as a person who believed that the world could be a better place, and followed that belief to the very end.

That response meant so much to me, an acknowledgement that my faith journey could also be a political one. I was so moved I did the oddest thing. I wanted to thank him, so I chased after him when the conference ended. He disappeared into a room, so I followed him in. Embarrassingly, it turned out to be the toilets! He looked a little surprised, but graciously shook my hand and accepted my thanks!

I encountered Tony on many occasions since, mostly on demos and conferences for socialism and for peace - but I'll never forget that first meeting.

Tony, you leave a huge legacy - we will miss you greatly. Thank you for a life well lived.