Tuesday 5 August 2014

Taize - the call to peace

I was fortunate again this year to have a chance to spend a week in the Taize community in France, and what a joy it was! For those not in the know, it is a ecumenical community that exists to promote 'reconciliation between nations', and encourages young people to come together from different nations and spend time in discussion, worship and silence.

It is famous for its style of worship, involving chants which are sung repetitively in an almost trancelike fashion. But Taize is much more than it's music - and it is in the simplicity of life in the community that counts - eating together, sharing in all the tasks, meeting each day in small groups and discussing the bible. Quiet reflection is valued and encouraged.

One of the most moving times in the Church of Reconciliation was on Thursday evening, when a group of pilgrims from Palestine were invited to get up and sing the Lord's Prayer in Arabic. This was followed by a lengthy and warm round of applause which went on for an age. There were also prayers for the victims of the plane downed in the Ukraine - many of the victims came from Holland, and there were many Dutch pilgrims at Taize.

To see 3000 young people come together to pray for peace - and realise that most of those people will leave Taize and try to be peacemakers in their own communities is a very powerful sign of hope in the world. My own limited time of silence over the week was enough to make me realise that peace making in our homelands is costly and requires the difficult ingredient of forgiveness - but it desperately needs doing.

My hope is that the light of God's love I rediscovered in Taize, can burn bright within me as I try to be a peacemaker close to my own home. A special thank you is sent to all the inspiring people that I met!

If you've not been before - do consider a week there soon (coaches leave Birmingham and London each Saturday during the summer) It really is the perfect way to work out what God might be calling you to do with our life!

Monday 4 August 2014

WWI commemorations have hit the right note

I was nervous that the 100 year anniversary of the outbreak of war would be a little bit too patriotic and triumphalist. Far too often we have seen governments make use of past battles to build a false justification of present conflicts.

I am therefore pleasantly surprised, at the end of the days events, to find myself moved and relieved at the commemorations I have seen on TV and ones I've seen locally.

The mood has been honest, tragic, downbeat - but most importantly of all, with a grim determination to always work for peace, because the opposite is barbarism. The first World War was a disaster for Europe. It butchered the young men of an era, and wrecked the hope and progress of the period. It paved the way for a much greater evil that was to come under the rise of fascism.

All war leaves a trail of destruction, not just evident in broken lives and buildings, but in scarred generations wrestling with what they have done.

In the Sunderland Minster service, we pledged ourselves to continue to work for peace. At a time of butchery in Gaza, Syria, Ukraine and Iraq, it is imperative that we turn all our efforts towards peacemaking. There is much to be done.

Israel must be held accountable for its war crimes

I was so angry yesterday, it took me a while to calm down. When the Israeli army confirmed that Hadar Goldin was killed in action (possibly from an Israeli air strike) as well as feeling for his family, I felt for the entire Palestinian people, who had to endure the collective punishment dished out in reaction to his 'disappearance'.

When Hadar first went missing, it was assumed he was to become another case like the one of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who had tragically spent 5 years as a prisoner of Hamas. I watched the BBC news, as a well spoken Israeli officer, skilled in the art of PR, described how Hadar was seen being taken down one of the secret tunnels built in Gaza. This capture was a heinous act, and the officer went on to explain how Israel would react with 'crushing force'.

The bombs rained down, and another 400 Palestinians were killed. President Obama reacted by calling on Hamas to 'release their prisoner or face the consequences'.

The only trouble was though, was that the story of Hadar being whisked down the rabbit hole was simply made up. The hole was as fictitious as the one from Alice in Wonderland. The BBC simply allowed the officer to report the story as if it was fact. Everyone believed it, including presumably, the president of the United States.

Israel has been allowed to kill nearly 2000 people, (overwhelmingly civilian) with 400 children among them. 3,500 children have been maimed, and the damage has been catastrophic within Gaza. 66 Israeli's have needlessly lost their lives and they have managed to produce a much greater threat to their own security than existed before.

The Israeli government needs to held to account by the international community for the war crimes it has committed. It will not be held to account by its own people, who presumably have had to live with a lifetime of government lies about the Palestinian people, and by a large majority, endorse the atrocities committed by the conscripted army. It can only be the UN who impose sanctions.

I have met many brave Jewish peace campaigners who have spent years working with their Muslim and Christian counterparts, but it seems that most of the Jewish people are happy to believe that all Palestinian children are trained to kill from the age of 4, and that they are legitimate targets.

They are not. They are children. Bombing schools, hospitals, shelters, whole neighbourhoods knowing that civilians will die in their hundreds is a crime. There are no excuses.

For too long Israel has been unaccountable. Now is the time for that to stop. Gaza can no longer remain a virtual prison for one and a half million people. The wall that has been built to protect illegal settlements in the West Bank must be torn down. Palestinians who were driven from their homes in the 60's must be allowed to return home or be properly compensated. Palestinians living in Israel can no longer be treated as second class citizens.

It is these injustices that fuel the endless cycle of violence. The terrorism of both sides can only be stopped when the world refuses to accept that military responses are the only legitimate ones.