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International Day of Peace

Today, 21st September is the UN International Day of Peace. This year’s theme is Partnerships for Peace, Dignity for All.

I call on all warring parties to lay down their weapons and observe a global ceasefire. To them I say: stop the killings and the destruction, and create space for lasting peace

Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the UN

No Faith in War

Over coming days, as those involved process the experience, I’m sure there will be more to be said about Tuesday’s “No Faith in War” day of action outside the DSEi arms fair. There will be photos certainly, and maybe some video footage too. But some first thoughts from me:

On Tuesday 8th September, Christians gathered outside the ExCeL centre in London as it prepares to host one of the world’s largest arms fairs. Travelling from across the country and representing diverse denominations and groups, we maintained a presence at the gates throughout the day.

Peacefully, prayerfully, many stepped out into the roads, successfully preventing access to the entrances to the centre where preparations for next week’s exhibition are underway. Multiple blockades through the day were part of a whole week of creative action to disrupt the set-up of the DSEi Arms Fair. Informal prayers sat in front of a growing tail-back of lorries and a funeral procession for the unnumbered victims of the arms trade were among the powerful moments which took place in the approach roads to the ExCeL gates.

Supported by those maintaining prayerful vigil on the surrounding verges and pavements, the atmosphere remained one of respectful peace and of passion steeped in gospel values: a stark contrast to preparations for an event which will contribute to the continuing escalation of instability and conflict; the human cost of which is becoming increasingly evident.

DSEi takes place every two years and brings thousands of arms manufacturers and dealers together with representatives of global governments including those from some of the world’s most repressive regimes. As the refugee crisis in Europe draws our attention to increasing global conflict and instability, there is an almost sickening irony in knowing many of those conflicts are fuelled by a trade which being encouraged here, in our capital.

The theme of the Beatitudes reverberated through the day, with different groups independently choosing their inclusion in their liturgies. The power of Jesus’ words, spoken to an audience living under a military occupation, resonated through acts of repentance and resistance, in the face of a system which continues to perpetuate violence and oppression.

The sense of joy and community, which pervaded the day, even in the seemingly impenetrable face of death and destruction, allowed us to experience the truth of the blessing, that the peacemakers and those who hunger and thirst for justice will know happiness.

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Silent Witnesses

Sometimes being peacemakers is about grand gestures and loud voices. Sometimes it is about powerful people making difficult choices. And sometimes it is about the tiny gestures in the places where we are. The outstretched hand, the smile at a stranger, the cup of tea. The choice to love instead of judge, to forgive instead of retaliating. Sometimes peace needs to be loud. Sometimes whispered. Sometimes silent.

Silent Witnesses

These are the silent witnesses

Who stretch out a hand in love, Who feed the hungry so that they can live Who teach the young so that they can grow Who create a space so that you can be you And I can be me

These are the silent witnesses

Whose message is one of love That tells the forgotten ones they are not forgotten And the unlovely they can still be loved Whose message is shared in a smile A spark of the joy of life

These are the silent witnesses

Who say there is more to life Turning away from economic profitability Trusting rather in human value Who say You cannot put a price on love

These are the silent witnesses

Who say Though I cannot do it all Yet will I do what I can Who know they offer only a gesture But know that gesture is already enough The gesture that says I care The gesture that we call love

These are the silent witnesses

This is the silent witness Arms stretched wide on a wooden cross With a sigh of lonely abandonment And a waiting in silent love

We are the silent witnesses To the mystery of our faith.

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Long view on the Kindertransport

Between 1938 and 1940 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children came to the UK, fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany and other occupied countries.   This was organised under the “Kindertransport” scheme, organised by British Jews and Quakers. The children were hosted by British families or stayed in hostels.   Many stayed in the UK after the end of the war as their families had been killed in the holocaust.   Although there could be some criticisms of the scheme (when they reached 18 some children became homeless as they were forced the leave the hostels, or were imprisoned as “enemy aliens”) the compassion that the British people and government showed these children is in sharp contrast to what we observe nearly 80 years later.

The Jewish people spent much of their history fleeing persecution and seeking asylum in new lands.   Quakers believe that all people are equal in the eyes of God and this informs their approach to refugees.   Both these two religious groups and many others are still fighting for the rights of refugees.   But their requests are not well received in a society that seems to want to make immigrants the scapegoat.   I’m sure social historians can explain the gradual shift in public attitude, but for now I want to remind British people and politicians that we used welcome strangers into our land as the Bible asks us to do.

From political to Political: why I joined the Greens

Like so many in the UK, I’ve felt increasingly frustrated that the current government have increasingly marginalised the poor, both at home and overseas.   I was shocked that this has resulted in a surge to UKIP, and they in turn seem to have dragged the three main parties towards their abhorrent policies.   I’ve been a political activist for many years – I believe that this is one way we can follow Jesus’ example.   But by early this year, with the upcoming General Election, I felt it was time to become a Political Activist, and joined the Green Party.

The Greens have lots of good policies on things I feel strongly about.   They will scrap Trident, stop arms sales to oppressive regimes, set up a fairer immigration system, end immigration detention and invest more in renewable energy.   Their philosophy that we need a new kind of politics is also something I agree with.   I certainly don’t agree with all of the policies – it seems to me that joining a political party is a bit like joining a denomination of the church – you accept much of the doctrine and policies, and work to change what you disagree with .   At least the Greens give you more of a chance for that with their policies decided democratically at conferences.

So far I’ve been involved in leafleting and door to door canvassing.   The latter has been a really positive experience – everyone is thinking carefully about how to use their vote on May 7th, and lots of supporting Green Party policies.   Many want to oust the incumbent Tory in Bedford, so the main challenge is persuading people to vote for what they really believe in, rather than voting tactically.   Personally, I believe change has to start somewhere and we have to be idealistic.   I’ve been involved in a lot of campaigns that have fought for something I believe is just, but not necessarily popular, yet I’ve still seen changes.

It’s also been shocking to see how a party that doesn’t receive any corporate donations has to use its resources strategically.   I can’t find any recent info, but this table shows how the Greens got just 2% of the funding of the Tories in the run up to the European elections last year.   They’re putting up candidates in 90% of constituencies and loads of local council wards, so as many people as possible can vote Green if they agree with what they’ve seen in national media.   But a constituency wide leaflet drop costs over £1000 (something Labour seem to be able to afford every day in my marginal seat), so instead they’re concentrating on target wards for canvassing.

Many others I’ve prayed and campaigned with over the years are also now active with the Greens.   It’s worth mentioning Angela Kalzini Ditchfield, standing in Kings Hedges in Cambridge, Rob Elliot, standing in St Michael’s Ward in the Cotswolds and Rob Telford who is Green party councillor in Ashley Ward in Bristol.   I’m also standing in Cranfield and Marston Moretaine Ward in Mid Bedfordshire.

Whatever your political persuasion, please pray for positive change on May 7th!

Burghfield Blockade Video

For those who prefer the visual to the wordy … a video from the blockade at Burghfield, March 30th 2015.

Easter week actions

On Palm Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem not as a conquering king, but humbly on a donkey. He never used violence, yet 300 years later the Roman Empire converted to Christianity and 2000 years later 2 billion people follow him. Instead of a traditional Palm Sunday procession we walked around the perimeter of Aldermaston, a site that plays a key role in developing and building Britain’s nuclear warheads. We believe that nuclear war is a particularly horrific form of warfare. It is also vastly expensive at a time when services to the poorest are being cut. As we walked, we marked the fourteen Stations of the Cross with prayers for different people affected by nuclear war. We tied crosses to the fence at each station, leaving a lasting reminder of our visit and God’s love for everyone who worked there.

We were delighted to be joined by 21 Christians and Buddhists and we received a lot of support from passing cars beeping their horns as they saw our banners. The walk took nearly 3 hours which really highlighted the vastness of the operation – meting many people, so much concrete dedicated to the most abhorrent of tasks. Protesting for nuclear disarmament is particularly timely as the vote to renew Trident will happen early in the next Parliament and election candidates need to be reminded of the strength of feeling against Trident renewal.

The following day parliament was dissolved before the general election, but we were up much earlier than David Cameron! By 6.30am seven of us were lying across the entrance to tIMG_3592he construction gate with arms locked together, together with six people in support. As we stared up at the beautiful sunrise, we felt a strong sense that despite the bizarre reality of the situation, this was where we were called to be as Christians at that moment in time. This feeling was mixed with relief at actually being there. We has been warned that following a concerted month of action the police had set up roadblocks on the approaches to the site and they were likely to stop a minibus full of people with lock-on tubes. But we encountered none of that – we just drove up, piled out of the van as practised and had fully blocked the gateway by the time the MoD Police came over to say “good morning”!

Twenty minutes later they reappeared in their vans and started making clanking noises as they moved around equipment inside. It was at this point we realised they intended to cut us out. The eventual appearance of the Thames Valley Police did nothing to dissuade theme of this plan and 45 mins later we were donned in protective gear (goggles, ear defenders and Kevlar blankets) and they were flexing their power tools. It took them over two hours to cut us all out, thanks to the cunning construction of the tubes which were all different – providing five different puzzles for the police to solve. The cutting was accompanied by readings from the Quaker Advices and Queries, moments of silence, requests to approaching vehicles that they would need to find another entrance and a morning chorus of tweets and to let the rest of the world know what we were doing. Once we had all been moved to the verge we had a short reflection with prayers and songs. We decided to leave then as the police were doing a good job of blockading the gate themselves with four vehicles! We offered all the police the sign of the peace before we left. We did reflect that we are lucky to live in a country where the police meet our non-violent actions with a non-violent response.

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We hope our action demonstrated God’s love for the whole world, and gave everyone whose day was disrupted a chance to think about the real consequences of their work. In the Christian family everyone has different gifts and our action was the result of thirteen people who all brought something different – driving, media, observing and the constant replacement of errant hats(!), as well as lying in the road. Our prayers are now with those who will take the decision about Trident replacement, may you choose the Way of Peace.

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Oscar Romero on Peace

Today is the 35th anniversary of the death of Oscar Romero, shot while celebrating mass in a hospital chapel for daring to challenge injustice and poverty.

Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.

I will not tire of declaring that if we really want an effective end to violence we must remove the violence which lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, the exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression.

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Turning the Tables on Trident

We have posted about this before; but just in case you missed it or needed a reminder…

It is less than two weeks until Palm Sunday, March 29th when some of us will be gathering at Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment to mark the occasion by praying for peace. All welcome so do come along and add your prayers to this act of witness.

If you would like to know more, or to let us know you’re coming, do get in touch!

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The Mother’s Day Proclamation

I have long known that the origins of Mother’s Day in the UK had little to do with boxes of chocolate and expensive bouquets of flowers and more to do with returning to the ‘mother church’. I have also long known that numerous other countries celebrate Mother’s Day in May. Today, I discovered the origins of that May Mother’s Day in the remarkable demands of Julia Ward Howe, who fresh from the carnage of the American Civil War, greeted the beginnings of the Franco Prussian war with a call to all Mothers, indeed all women, everywhere to stand up for peace. Her call for a “Mother’s Day for Peace” has been sadly corrupted since, but its origins are worthy of celebration.

In place of the overly-commercialised sickly-sweet celebration our own mother’s day has become; here is a mothers day I can wholeheartedly believe in. Given that Julia Ward Howe’s words still sound disconcertingly relevant today, instead of taking my mother out for an overpriced meal, perhaps I will invite her to stand proud on the campaign trail for peace.

Again, in the sight of the Christian world, have the skill and power of two great nations exhausted themselves in mutual murder. Again have the sacred questions of international justice been committed to the fatal mediation of military weapons. In this day of progress, in this century of light, the ambition of rulers has been allowed to barter the dear interests of domestic life for the bloody exchanges of the battle field. Thus men have done. Thus men will do. But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard, and answered to as never before.

Arise, then, Christian women of this day ! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears ! Say firmly : We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of council.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women, without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient, and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

Julia Ward Howe, 1872