Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Recurring Dream

“I have a dream…”

I was rather excited to wake up this morning to the fifty year anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech;  a true prophet of the 20th century. Half a century on and there is still a way to go for racial equal rights, not to mention equal rights for a whole host of other groups such as women and those who identify with the LGBTQ community. However, today there is an African-American President; amazing!

Though, I am reminded this week, also, in the preceding shadow of the DSEi (Defense and Security Event) arms fair that surely we could never hope to be prophets like King?

The hero Mark steel writes (summarised).

A few activists could never hope to start a mass movement which might change the course of the big corporate machines of this world.
Boycotting certain goods surely only serves to ease the personal conscience of the activist as the profits of Nike, Esso etc. could never be hit hard enough to force change.
Buying shares in Tesco in order to attend shareholders meetings and ask board members embarrassing questions is certainly fun and worth a giggle, but that’s all it will ever be.
Certainly those who chain themselves to the Docklands Light Railway, in order to stop arms dealers from getting from their hotels to the arms fair, have to be admired for their audacity. However, the arms fair will happen regardless.
Then there are the members of the international Solidarity Movement (ISM) who went to Palestine to sit in hospitals and schools, the idea being that the Israelis were less likely to fire if these places were occupied by a handful of crusties from Surrey listening to Orbital on an iPod.
Helen Steel and Dave Morris distributed a pamphlet pointing out how McDonald’s were responsible for pollution, cruelty to animals and serving food that was full of chemicals; such an insignificant gesture.
Except, McDonald’s weren’t so blasé. Instead they took the pair to court and embroiled them in a now celebrated legal battle that caused an apparently invincible corporate symbol immense international embarrassment, marking the company as a particularly repugnant example of globalisation and, in turn, forcing them on the defensive.
The same can also be said of the far more ruthless arms industry. As a result of similar campaigning they have been put on the back foot. In Britain they have to maintain that they’re honorable arms dealers and would never knowingly sell laser-guided missiles that incinerate their target on impact to anyone who might use them to do harm. When, for example, Britain sold tanks to the Indonesian army, anyone concerned were assured that they were to be used for peaceful purposes. Maybe the army there spends most of its time making giant pies for the hungry villagers and the tanks are the only things that can roll that amount of pastry.
The company EDO MBM make guidance systems for the F16 bombers used by the Israeli airforce to drop bombs on the occupied Palestinian territories. But in 2006 a campaign of weekly protests outside the factory in Brighton caused the company sufficient embarrassment that they took out an injunction against the protesters. However, the protests intensified, the court case brought by the company collapsed, and the plant recorded a loss of £2million which it blamed on ‘legal costs’, resulting in the managing director getting the sack.
Reed-Elsevier, the company that staged the annual London Arms Fair (it sounds so innocent), announced in June 2007 they were abandoning this line of business because ‘it is becoming increasingly clear that a growing number of important customers have very real concerns about our involvement in the defense exhibitions business.’
What caused them to back down? Maybe it was the protests or the countless letters and complaints. It might have been the student at Loughborough University who won a £2,000 literary prize, but discovered the award was sponsored by BAE Systems, so denounced them in his acceptance speech and sent the money the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.
In Palestine, the Israeli army did refrain from firing indiscriminately in areas where the (ISM) were based.
In all these cases the activists had been able to impose themselves only because there was a wider movement and an international groundswell of opinion in their favour. The mass of the confused, with their distaste for the values of our times, applauds the activists, the leafleteers, the splendidly eccentric peace protester covered in badges. Local communities write letters backing them, they’re voted heroes on local radio and TV polls and juries refuse to convict them. But without their wonderfully eccentric and imaginative actions, the humiliations inflicted and the retreats forced on these powerful bodies wouldn’t have happened.
There are limitations to these victories. The arms dealers won’t be decisively put out of business by a direct action stunt. But in a small way they’ve been forced, by people some would dismiss, to check back from the unbridled drive for profit to take account of the requirements of human beings. (Mark Steel: ‘What’s Going On? P110-114)
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A Vision of a Persecuted Church

After reading this article – – and chatting with a friend over the a pint, we started to imagine what Christians in the UK could to do to be considered persecuted, and wrote this little story.  Continue reading

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On reflecting on ‘loving the enemy’ in relation to violence and active nonviolence, the following quote from Walter Wink’s ‘Engaging the Powers; Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination’ articulated so well something I had been grappling with for a long time, so I wanted to share it here:

“Nonviolence is the spiritualisation of violence, the overcoming of violent desire. It is not the mere absence of violence, but an effort to transcend, rather than commit violence….It may prove beneficial to be forced to face, daily, the humiliating fact that some of us are no less violent than those whose policies we oppose. Maybe then we can love them, since we are no better, and avoid the self-righteousness that ends all dialogue….

Nonviolence is clearly the way of Jesus. But we need to offer our violence to God as well….so that the new synthesis, the third way, manifests not only our love but also our shadow. We are not paragons of peaceableness, but wounded, violent, frightened people trying to become human. We are not wan saints incapable of evil, but plain people clad in both light and dark, under the banner of love, seeking to be spiritual warriors.

Jesus’ third way shows us the path forward: neither repressing our violence nor acting it out, but letting it be the fuel by which God empowers us to struggle for the nonviolent future.”

I think he puts it so well (!) that I have nothing to add to it.

Wink, W. (1992). Engaging the Powers; Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. Fortress Press: Minneapolis: 293-294

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Picking up the sword?

I’ve been thinking about this affinity group, taking nonviolent direct action against injustice because we feel called to do this, and responding in faith to the message of Christianity, an invitation from God through Jesus to live lives of justice and peace.  So, I was reflecting on the words ‘put down the sword’, and I find the image of holding a sword useful in my thoughts and reflections. I began thinking that to be able to put it down means it has had to be picked up at some point, because I don’t believe we’re born ‘holding swords’.  Considering this led me to think about how I live, when I might need to ‘put down the sword’ and why I might have picked up a sword in the first place.

To me, the sword in this command represents acts of violence, injustice and oppression – an easier way I find to understand it is anything not done in love. I think that to act in love involves being present and consciously aware in each encounter with the earth, with other people, and with ourselves. I can see how it would be helpful to ask the question ‘what is the loving response?’ or ‘how can I act in love?’ in the situations and encounters I find myself in, however I hardly ever do this at the time….  Sometimes I think afterwards that it would have been a good idea to consider this, but generally I respond without thinking – which is sometimes good and sometimes not!

I think many people hold swords and some I find I can easily see – for example those who give the go ahead for drone attacks and bombings, those who buy and sell arms, those who hold a gun and shoot it at someone else, those who force people off their land for profit, those who keep people in slavery making clothes in appalling conditions…… And on a more personal level when someone says or does something that hurts me, it’s easy to see and feel pain from their words and actions. Up until now with this affinity group I’ve only been thinking about the very obvious acts of injustice and violence such as Trident and the Arms Fair etc, but having thought more about ‘putting down the sword’ I also thought about a couple of other bits from the Bible, Matthew 7: 4 when Jesus says “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” and also John 8:7 “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw the stone.” I’m not sure if I’ve taken them out of context, but in this question and invitation from Jesus I’m guided towards an awareness of my own actions before I pass judgement on the actions of others. I don’t take it to mean that I should never be active against injustices I see in the world which are not of my doing, not at all. I believe nonviolently challenging and constantly questioning practices, actions and lifestyles that I see as being oppressive and violent is vital, but that this response will be more truthful, loving and just when it is held within an honest sense of self-awareness.

I could probably tell lots of people about the sword they carry and when their actions are not loving, but I don’t think that’s right when I am most definitely picking up, holding and using my own sword. Some more questions I am finding it helpful to ask myself are ‘when, why and how do I prepare myself to say or do things that hurt others/the earth on a personal level and on a systematic global level?’ (picking up the sword),  ‘when, why and how do I say or do things that hurt others/the earth?’ (using the sword),  and finally as I mentioned earlier ‘in each situation how do I act/respond in love?’ (putting down the sword)

I can see this is going to have to be a very conscious and constant thought process/awareness which I hope will become easier as more of my being is given to loving, this is the aim anyway! If we want to meet each other (the other) without the barriers of fear, mistrust, and violence then we all need to put down our swords.

I want the words ‘put down the sword’ and being part of this affinity group, to be a constant reminder to me to act in love, and believe that is leading me towards nonviolent direct action against oppression, injustice and violence in the world, and hope that in turn, this will lead to my sword and others being put down. I’m glad to be challenged to live out my faith and to be exploring what this means with the affinity group!