No Faith in Trident

This morning, five members of Put Down the Sword helped to shut down  Burghfield Atomic Weapons Establishment. Other affinity groups – a group of Quakers, and a group from London Catholic Worker – were also involved, and between the three groups all entrances to the base were blockaded. Eight people were arrested, five members of PDtS and three from the Quaker group. The day was part of a whole month of action organised by Trident Ploughshares. As well as the blockades different faith groups held vigil outside the site.

Burghfield AWE is the final assembly site for the warheads used in the Trident nuclear weapons system. It was recently reported that the site could be being used to develop even more powerful warheads, and has seen upgrades costing billions of pounds, despite no final decision being made in parliament on whether or not Trident replacement should go ahead.

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#Breakfree from fossil fuels

By Maya

It’s 6:40 in the morning. We are warm and toasty in our sleeping bag, but the air is cold, and I can tell that outside the ground is frosty. The police helicopter went overhead about 40 minutes ago and the air horn to wake us all up followed half an hour later, but my son is still sleeping next to me. It feels strange to be awake before him; at six months old he is normally the first one up in our household.

I hear the excited chatter of people getting ready for an adventure outside the tent, and think about what will happen that day, as I build up the energy for the unknown challenge of joining a protest as a family.

We have been at the Reclaim the Power camp for the past two days. We have heard the history of radical land rights, taken part in meetings of 300+ coming to consensus decisions, had legal briefings, attended action planning meetings, and painted banners – all ready for the day of action.

And it has arrived. Today we will be shutting down the UK’s largest open cast coal mine. Over 250 people will enter the mine from three different directions while we, alongside others, will be outside the gates with music and banners having a visible presence to those that pass by.

As my son wakes for the day I think about why I am there, up a cold mountain in Wales. We should not be mining new coal, but investing in renewable energy. I am here for climate justice. I am here in solidarity with those locally whose economy is disproportionally tied to the mine, and whose surrounding landscape is becoming scarred by a great black hole. And I am here in solidarity with communities around the world who are also being affected by fossil fuel extraction, and those who are already being affected by climate change while world leaders fail to make decisions on emissions and ‘acceptable levels’ for the global temperature to rise. I am here for change.

My son is up and we head out of the tent. Everyone is wearing red and there is a palpable sense of anticipation as the final preparations. My son looks around, confused and excited about such an unusual start to the day. We join our friends, ready to set off, and hear the news that action teams have already shut down the mine!

And the action starts. I watch as 300 people, with banners and music, head off over the hills towards the mine. I know that this is where I have to be; up a cold mountain in Wales, ready to spend the day as part of the global shift to #Breakfree from fossil fuels and towards climate justice.

maya and andrew and robin

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In Memoriam

downloadYesterday, Daniel Berrigan: Priest, Poet, Peacemaker and Protester died just short of his 95th birthday.

If, even in the face of vast American military might, he never lost sight of the hope of an alternative, it was perhaps because of his recognition that while the commitment to war was total, those who spoke for peace so often did so half-heartedly, without the commitment and energy that others dedicated to the power of war and death. All it would take, then, for peace to win, is those of us who call ourselves peacemakers, approach the task with the same energy and commitment, and prepared to take the same risks.

Through the anti Vietnam war protests, the anti nuclear weapons movement and onwards to an active stance against more recent American military interventions, Berrigan did exactly that, living what he believed and inspiring others along the way.

I don’t know enough to write a lengthy biography, nor do I feel the need to, I’m sure Wikipedia can do that. But I know enough to know he was an inspiration and that the peace movement, and probably my life, is infinitely richer for his commitment, his faith, his energy and his courage.

His is a voice which continues to resonate and continues to challenge. I know I am not yet living up to the challenge. I know I want to try.

He may not have had the media presence of some of those who facebook has mourned in 2016; but for me, he is without a doubt the greatest of those whose faces have appeared on social media on the roll call to heaven for this year so far.

Some: A Poem by Daniel Berrigan

Some stood up once, and sat down.
Some walked a mile, and walked away.

Some stood up twice, then sat down.
“It’s too much,” they cried.
Some walked two miles, then walked away.
“I’ve had it,” they cried,

Some stood and stood and stood.
They were taken for fools,
they were taken for being taken in.

Some walked and walked and walked –
they walked the earth,
they walked the waters,
they walked the air.

“Why do you stand?” they were asked, and
“Why do you walk?”

“Because of the children,” they said, and
“Because of the heart, and
“Because of the bread,”

“Because the cause is
the heart’s beat, and
the children born, and
the risen bread.”

 

RIP Daniel Berrigan (May 9th 1921 – April 30th 2016

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We are nature defending herself

We gathered in the foyer of the British Museum, underneath a banner for the latest exhibition; Sunken Cities, Egypt’s Lost Worlds. We weren’t queueing for tickets; we stood in silence, in a circle, as an act of witness to the destruction being caused in the pursuit of profit by the company sponsoring that exhibition – BP.

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Holding a Quaker Meeting is a very simple protest – if that is what it even is – that means space is gently occupied by a group of peaceful people, whose presence draws attention to something everyone would be able to see anyway, if they were to look. Not just BP’s logo – that’s obvious – but casting a light on the all of the systemic violence that has brought that corporation into one of our museums in the first place. BP are not sponsoring our museums and art galleries because they have a great love of art, culture and history – they are there because they need to sanitise their image, and to ensure their view of their world remains hegemonic.

Normally in Quaker Meeting I flit between letting my mind wander wherever it goes, and gently bringing my attention back to my breath, to the flowers or water on the table, to the light coming through the window, to the week I’ve had or the week coming, or to the most recent piece of ministry. In the British Museum, I found my mind settled on the words written on a banner held aloft at the COP 21 protests in Paris:

nous-sommes-la-nature

“We are not fighting for nature – we are nature defending herself.”

In these words there is a sense of hope and interconnection that startles, baffles, and comforts. “We are nature defending herself” speaks of a radical break with the status quo – capitalism’s constant thirst for more resources and ever expanding growth, that is so often achieved to the detriment of societies and cultures, and the destruction of forests, deserts, rivers, lakes, seas, air, animals, birds, insects, fish. Deeper though, those words act as a break with the standard rhetoric of many environmental campaigns and activists; that system tweaks are all that are needed, not systemic and cultural change. I’m convinced we need a radical change in how we use the earth’s resources, and that that has to be nurtured within a radical shift in our relationship with nature, of how we see ourselves in relation to nature.

Stepping back a little, it seems violence is made possible when we are able to effectively distance ourselves from the victim. At a talk I attended recently, a member of Veterans for Peace described the psychological reconditioning that takes place in military training as as important as the physical preparation for war. In his book ‘On Killing’, David Grossman described how in the First World War many soldiers – physically prepared but not mentally reconditioned – ended up not firing their weapons, but by the Vietnam War and onwards the military had ‘successfully’ raised the kill rate, by training soldiers differently. The VfP member described being taught to ‘shoot at the mass’ (rather than the ‘body’, or ‘person’) from distances that made it harder to relate to the target.

Is it trite to suggest a similar reconditioning in terms of our relationship with ‘nature’? Have we been taught to see ourselves as inherently separate from the rest of the earth, to see the earth as an object? Has this allowed us to accept and participate in ecocide?

Have we been conditioned to see nature as an object to meet our own ends, rather than something we have an inherent, deep connection with, something (everything?!) that has value in and of itself? Do we know how to look at a tree, an animal, a river, an insect, a whole ecosystem, as something inherently valuable, regardless of whether we manage to extract resources from it, consume it, even visit it to ‘enjoy’ it? How would we (re)learn how to do that? Could we?

George Monbiot explored some of these themes in ‘Feral: searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding’, a fascinating account of how areas of the Earth’s lands and seas might be allowed to return to wild forest and ocean. He dares us to imagine hundreds of acres of forest, with wolves roaming free in Scotland and wild boar in the south of England, and at the same time imagine what rewilding ourselves would mean; indeed, he suggests it would take a degree of rewilding our hearts and minds to find the idea of boars and wolves palatable. For this to be possible, for this healing of our planet to take place, it feels like we need new stories (or to remind ourselves of old ones) about what a healthy relationship with nature is about; relearning this will be deeply spiritual, as we redetermine what and how we value, how we understand our roles and relationships. It will be a grand shift, away from capitalism, growth, extraction, and profit.

And so when corporations like BP look at our world and only see oil to be extracted and profit squeezed from the very rocks, we should balk. And when corporations invade our cultural spaces to legitimise their worldview, we should act to expose them.

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The Cross – Some words from John Howard Yoder

“One universal demand which the church as an agency of counsel and consolation must meet is the need of men and women of all ages for help in facing suffering: illness and accidents, loneliness and defeat. What more fitting resource could there be than the biblical language which makes suffering bearable, meaningful within God’s purposes, even meritorious in that “bearing one’s cross” is a synonym for discipleship? Hosts of sincere people in hospitals or in conflict-ridden situations have been helped by this thought to bear the strain of their destiny with a sense of divine presence and purpose.AR Aldermaton and Burghfield 153

Yet our respect for the quality of these lives and the validity of this pastoral concern must not blind us to the abuse of language and misuse of Scripture they entail. The cross of Christ was not an inexplicable or chance event, which happened to strike him, like illness or accident. To accept the cross as his destiny, to move towards it and even to provoke it, when he could well have done otherwise, was Jesus’ constantly free choice. He warns his disciples lest their embarking on the same path be less conscious of its costs (Luke 14:25-33). The cross of Calvary was not a difficult family situation, not a frustration of visions of personal fulfillment, a crushing debt, or a nagging in-law; it was the political, legally-to-be-expected result of a moral clash with the powers ruling his society. Already the early Christians had to be warned against claiming merit for any and all suffering; only if their suffering be innocent, and a result of the evil will of their adversaries, may it be understood as meaningful before God (1Pet 2:18-21; 3:14-18; 4:1,13-16; 5:9; James 4:10)”

John Howard Yoder in ‘The Politics of Jesus’ page 129

The hammer blow

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I’ve just finished reading a book called “The Hammer Blow”, by Andrea Needham. Andrea was one of the women who participated in the Seeds of Hope action 20 years ago. Seeds of Hope famously campaigned against the shipment of Hawk fighter jets to Indonesia, where they would be used to attack the people of East Timor. After a long campaign, the group decided to take direct action against this shipment, entering a British Aerospace (now BAE Systems) factory and disarming one of the jets, hammering on it’s side and control panels. Four of the women spent six months in prison, before being found not guilty by a jury.

The book itself is very well written, and a powerful tale of the power of nonviolent intervention. I was wary when I picked it up, because it is easy to read stories like these, and end up putting the people who did them up on a pedestal, as hero figures, and project onto them idealised images of the fearless activist. The book is a relief, because the writer has dared challenge these stereotypes, and the book is rich with humanity.

There is a particular moment when the writer describes a simple ritual they participated in, just a few days before they took their action; each woman wrote on a piece of paper the fears and worries they had about the action, and these were collected up and burnt without being read out loud. A tray of seeds was then passed around, and each participant took some of the seeds and told the group what their hopes and dreams were for the action – as these were said, the seeds were mixed up into the ash. When all the fears and all the hopes had been collected up together, each woman took a pinch of seed-ash mixture, which they scattered in the days leading up to the action.

hammer (2)_optFor me, this simple ritual is an illustration that in our activism, we have to hold our whole being in the light as we take part. It seems that the women in this story weren’t without fears – I assume they all wrote something on those bits of paper! But what is beautiful is that they refused to let their fears be the only thing that dictated their decision-making, they were able to be guided by something else.

We all might have different understandings of what that ‘something’ is; one of the women had the words “choose life!” painted on her hammer, which maybe illustrates this ‘choosing something else’. Maybe a way of being that ‘fearless’ activist is not hiding our fears away, but owning them and refusing to be co-opted by them, and finding new things to be guided by.

A Legacy not to be lost

Today, in the US,  is Martin Luther King Day.

He is, rightly, remembered and celebrated by, well, nearly everyone. I have no doubt he deserves to have a public holiday named after him.

But there is a risk with all this though. Giving someone a public holiday, accepting them into part of the establishment and the fabric of society, can be a subtle way for their true legacy to be controlled and manipulated.

Martin Luther-King was an outspoken advocate of non violent direct action. He was utterly committed to non-violence, but this never meant he was passive in the face of injustice: he was arrested almost 30 times in ten years because he refused to comply with oppression, even if the oppression was legal and his actions were not.

He stood up not just against racial injustice but against money and militarism. Widely remember as a face and name of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King was outspoken about other issues of injustice, poverty, and violence too. He never stuck to just fighting his own battles, but fought on behalf of others as well. He refused to accept the dominant economic and militaristic models, the very models of the society which has tried to adopt him.

Extremist has become a dirty word. Maybe it was then too, but Martin Luther King embraced that identity

“The question is not if we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love”

It is up to us to ensure that it is his true legacy which lives on. Martin Luther King was a man of faith and integrity who, committed to non-violence, fought the systems of oppression to the point of giving his life for the cause. We have much to learn and much to live up to.

 

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Of Sodom

The Old Testament story of Sodom is not necessarily the most obvious choice of a text to reflect on for a Christian pacifist: God destroying an entire city because of their misbehaviour can hardly be described as helpful in speaking of a God of Peace.

And yet, when part of this text cropped up in our prayer this week, I felt it spoke into the heart of at least one of my reasons for objecting to military action in Syria.

Before the destruction of Sodom, we read an interaction between God and Abraham.

Abraham speaks to God saying “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?” Genesis 19:23-24. For righteous, a word that perhaps doesn’t have the same power today, we might read innocent lives.

And God replies that for the sake of fifty he will not destroy it.

The dialogue continues, with the number of innocents gradually reducing until God answers “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it” Genesis 19: 32

And this is where, suddenly, the Sodom story is not so inaccessible to those of us who want to speak for peace.

Will ten innocents die?

Because if so, God’s answer is clear, even in the midst of one of the most violent biblical stories; even in the very earliest days of this people’s walk towards understanding the true nature of the God who loves them; even here, for the sake of ten innocents, disaster is stayed.

Why, oh why, do we still have so much to learn?

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Bombing in Syria

Tomorrow there is going to be a House of Commons vote on the questions of whether the UK should take part in the bombing of Syria.

Please email your MP and ask them to vote against these air strikes.

We’ve collected together the following links which will help you in doing this, or will inform your discussion with your MP.

Pax Christi: http://paxchristi.org.uk/2015/11/27/no-to-airstrikes-against-syria/

Fellowship of Reconciliation: http://www.for.org.uk/

Stop the War Coalition: http://act.stopwar.org.uk/lobby/stopbombingsyria

You can find some prayer resources produced by Fellowship of Reconciliation here: http://www.for.org.uk/resources/pray-for-peace/

and some very interesting background information here: http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/publications/briefing_papers_and_reports/islamic_state%E2%80%99s_plan_and_west%E2%80%99s_trap

Please pray for Syria and Iraq.

When you hear of War and Rumours of War, do not be alarmed (Mark 13:7)

Sometimes the lectionary throws up very timely readings. After Friday 13th November, a day which saw deadly attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, on the Sunday (15th Nov) we were given Mark 13, perhaps the longest teaching on how Christians are called to respond to War and violence in the whole of the New Testament. The following Sunday (22nd Nov) we read another pertinent text from John 18; Jesus tells Pilate “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over…but as it is, my kingdom is not from here”. Tomorrow we have another text of war and turmoil, Luke 21:25-36. “There will be signs … nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world”

These readings speak very powerfully in the context of a wealthy world racketing itself up with war fever; in a context of millions of refugees fleeing war and seeking safety elsewhere; and in a context of multiple guerrilla armies, backed up by religious beliefs, filled with young men willing to die for their cause.

The bible’s words read in the current international climate have much to teach us, I urge all of you to spend some time reflecting on these passages. I believe they proclaim a very different gospel from that of our tabloid newspapers and political leaders, and equally very different from the ideology of Islamic State.

We are in a moment when the loudest voices on all sides are proclaiming a message of redemptive violence, if we kill these bad guys then all will be well. This message is fatalist, there is no other way, only through the use of violence can we end this evil which threatens us. Evil must be separated from good in very clear and distinct ways, our group is Good and the other is Evil. Righteous are those who strike to destroy this evil.

Against the overwhelming momentum of this ideology of redemptive violence those voices speaking for a different way will likely be drowned out, too quiet to be heard above the shouting, those that advocate alternatives will be quickly attacked as being weak, or dangerous.

Our gospels were written in a context very similar to that in which we now live. Mark was likely written in the midst of the Jewish Roman War of 66-70; the other gospels were written a little bit later. War, destruction, refugees and persecution are realities which hang over the gospels.

Mark 13 was probably written during a moment of crisis. The Jewish rebellion of 66ce has momentarily been successful, but everyone knew that the Roman Empire will return for revenge. In this moment of coming war each side is polarised. Both sides’ absolute belief in the justness of their cause is solidifying, no dissension from this ideology will be tolerated. Each person must decide, are you with the Romans or with the Jewish fighters.

Jesus’ words in Mark are striking, his advice is that his followers should run away! Redemptive violence is a dead-end, so run for the hill (Mark 13:14). As Christians we are instructed to reject the very idea of participating in this violent struggle and simply step aside.

This stepping aside, or running away, is not a passive act. Mark 13 makes it clear that non-participation in violence is itself seen as a threat to those who have chosen the way of violence, persecution will follow from both sides.

Following Mark 13 in which the myth of redemptive violence is thrown down, Mark’s gospel moves into the passion narrative in which Jesus’ alternative ideology is presented, the way of redemptive suffering, or as we modern day Christians might call it, the way of creative non-violence. Jesus does not run away from conflict but neither does he participate. His way is to challenge the very heart of our belief in redemptive violence, to make visible in his own body the consequences of such a path. The centre of Christian discipleship is to embody this way of peace.

We are not called to simply ignore the suffering of others and pontificate on the wrongs of war from the comfort of our cosy warm homes. We are called to challenge the ways of redemptive violence wherever we find them and to risk the consequences of walking such a road. We are called to suffer alongside the victims of violence.

We find ourselves in an historical moment with many similarities to that of Mark’s community in the midst of the Jewish Roman War of 66-70ce. A radical, violence group, motivated by a religious identity of martyrdom and willing to fight to the last man, has taken control of a large swathe of Syria and Iraq. The great military powers of our world are preparing to engage this group in battle.

As Christians we need to find a response fast. All too quickly events will leave us behind. Some Christians will actively bless this coming war and declare it righteous. Most of us will likely find it all too depressing and turn over to watch Bake-Off, Strictly Come dancing or the Premier League.

The real question for all of us is how to avoid these two temptations, how can we reject the ideology of redemptive violence? While still taking the suffering of Syria, Beirut, Iraq, and Paris seriously?

“What I say to you I say to all: Keep awake!” Mark 13:37b. Events are moving very quickly.

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