Tag Archives: christianity

Remembering the Holy Innocents

This week a few of us travelled to the Catholic Worker Farm near Watford for their annual retreat marking the feast of the Holy Innocents (28th December).

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Very quickly after the joy of Christmas the Church gives us a much more sombre feast day, perhaps a reminder that the journey to salvation will not move smoothly from Christmas to Easter. The Holy Innocents are those babies killed by Herod’s soldiers (Mt 2:16-18), they are the collateral damage of Herod’s attempt to destroy Jesus.

These babies of Bethlehem are just a few of the many millions of innocent children killed and maimed by war throughout the ages. Matthew’s Gospel looks beyond this single event, giving us echoes of earlier suffering, evoking the killing of Hebrew boys in Egypt (Ex 1:22), and the Babylonian transit camp at Ramah the first stopping point towards exile (Jer 31:15). Matthew’s gospel was likely written for an audience of refugees recently fled from the bloody Jewish/Roman War (66-70CE), his first reader no doubt felt the acute pain of lost children.

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In the centuries since there have been countless children killed in war, thousands still die in airstrikes, bombing, and ground fighting across Africa, the Middle East, central Asia and elsewhere. We think particularly of Yemen, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, DRC, Sudan and South Sudan, Somalia, the list could go on….

The two day retreat ended with a vigil outside Northwood HQ, the HQ for the British military. We sought to acknowledge the complicity of our nation in perpetuating the killing of the innocent, in active combat in the air and on the ground, as a trader and supplier of weapons to others, and through the pursuit of destructive economic policies. We spent time in prayer, we tied crosses to the outer fence, and read out the names of just a few of those killed in recent conflicts.

Our aim was to be witnesses to a different way, to say no to our modern-day Herod’s. To remember and lament the continued killing of holy innocents.

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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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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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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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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 daily practice of incarnation – of being in the body with full confidence that God speaks the language of flesh – is to discover a pedagogy that is as old as the gospels. Why else did Jesus spend his last night on earth teaching his disciples to wash feet and share supper?”

– Barbara Brown Taylor

A few years ago, I was climbing with a friend. I’m not a natural climber – I’m clumsy at the best of times – but I relish the adrenaline, being outside, and the trust you put in other people and the gear, and John was a much more experienced climber than me, and I trusted his experience and knowledge. John ascended, rigged an anchor at the top of the rock, and then I followed. At the top, John explained how I was to get down – two feet firmly on the rock, I was to lean my weight back against the rope until I stuck out 90° to the rock. From there I would be able to abseil down. I’d done this before, but never with the person belaying from the top; something about that freaked me out, and I set off too early. My feet slipped from underneath me and I found myself clinging to the top of the rock, dangling on the rope.

It was quite a scary experience, and yet I had never felt more aware of my own body and what it was experiencing. For a few short seconds, who I was, and where I was, and what I was doing were all the same. I had never noticed – really noticed – what muscles feel like as they push against something, in the way that I did as I struggled back up. My scraped knees didn’t hurt (yet), but I had never been quite so aware of the weight of my own body. Under my fingers, the cold, hard rock felt really cold, and really hard. Since then, I’ve thought of that moment as a sort spiritual experience; there was something about the fleeting lack of distinction, the sense of being very present, the concentration needed… I think the experience has helped me to understand a little of what it might mean for God to be manifest in the world (Peter Rollins describes God, as being ‘hyper-present’, “God not only overflows and overwhelms our understanding, but also overflows and overwhelms our experience”.) Maybe it’s something to do with being immersed in something which meant I no longer felt like I was analysing it as it happened, experiencing without judgement…

There have been similar moments in my activism – again, during moments of relatively high pressure, alertness, or stress – like being in the van, driving to a gate, preparing to blockade it. I wrote about this in an earlier blog article; that sense of being brought into communion with something/where/one in a moment when, given a choice, I might have chosen to fly, run, back down, be somewhere safer, more comforting, more familiar. In a life where we spend so much time on the internet, aware of events on the other side of the world as if they were happening next door to us, it’s easy to feel alienated from our immediate surroundings; the immediacy of information and experience can start to feel like a bit of a wash, and everything blurs a little. God is in that, but God is also in our bodies and in our experiences, in this moment, in our aches and pains, in our happiness and courage, in our being, and in our bodies. For me, this is becoming a growing element of what nonviolence means; being present to the moment and trying to see some of God in it makes it much harder to exclude, defile, or treat others as means to your own ends (and that counts for ourselves, too). That’s what’s so important in the Barbara Brown Taylor quote at the top; washing someone’s feet means being present to what you are doing and to the person in front of you, because that is God. When we see God incarnate in the blood and bone of those around us, that means we have to see them differently; it is an act of being aware and present. Maybe it’s in the moments when we forget to look for God, because we’re present to it, maybe it’s then that we catch a glimpse of the divine.

In peace x

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Fear and other motivations…

Since our most recent blockade at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Burghfield last week, I’ve been thinking a lot again about fear, stress, and what it is that guides and motivates us. On our way to the base, I was feeling particularly nervous – the combination of the practical things that needed to happen to make our action work well, combined with the potential legal penalties made for a rich cocktail that fed fear and nerves, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling that way! Fear can be pernicious and I’ve found one of it’s little tactics is found in the desire to ‘find a way out’ can be powerful; the little voice saying “you don’t have to do this, you don’t have to be here, it’s OK to bail out…” can sometimes be making a lot of sense, but it can also be a voice driven by fear.

On that journey, driving through the Berkshire countryside at half past six in the morning, I found myself looking for a source of motivation, of something to be guided by that wasn’t stress, fear, or even determination and desire to be effective (whose counterpoint is the fear of being ineffective) – I was looking for something that put the action we were about to take into a wholly different context, beyond the pressure of being right or wrong, beyond effectiveness and failure. I wanted my actions that day to be born out of love, and while that feels easy to type, and easy to say in comfortable, warm, safe spaces, it didn’t feel immediately easy while sat in that van!

Looking out of the windows though, we were met with a deer running across the road, beautiful rays of dawn light through big, leafy trees, gentle mists, and – as we approached the boundary fence of one of the most abhorent places in the country- a bird (a Jay, I think) flew briefly fly alongside the van. Breathing gently and purposefully – finding those little seeds of joy and love, as Thich Nhat Hanh might say – and thinking about the beauty of the creation we’re so blessed to live among, every day, became a wonderfully rich source of guidance and strength, taking me a long way from the logic of fear. As we approached the gate of the base, opened the doors and got the lock-ons out of the van, jumped into the road, and blocked the gate, I felt glad to be where I was and doing what I was doing – once we were in the road, I felt happy and content (a long way from where I’d felt a few minutes previously!) Managing to see the world with eyes of love felt like a deep moment of prayer; I felt like was able to carry my fear much more gently afterwards.

Reading back, it can seem almost trite to recall those minutes in the approach in such a way, but the experience was once again a lesson in not letting fear be the sole, overwhelming force that it can become. There are other, brighter, lighter, more gentle emotions and experiences to be guided by, and we’re surrounded by them every day. While we were locked on, we witnessed a Red Kite treat the SOCPA law – which consider anyone who dares enter designated areas as a terrorist – with a beautiful disregard for the ridiculous contractions humans have set around particular areas of land, as it flew over the base! Even when legitimate and logical, fear is paralysing and disabling; it can stop us acting with the love we hope to. Seeing the world with eyes of love, even just very briefly, is empowering and nurturing. I felt lucky to be able to take the action we did, and glad to briefly find those little seeds of joy and love that fed my spirit while lying in that road.

In peace

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As we approach Easter, Christians are struck with something of a dilemma. This ‘faith’ we ‘practise’ throughout the year, with a God we can identify and align with, with it’s comfortable, reassuring rituals, it’s (broadly speaking) agreed upon beliefs and structures and doctrines all suddenly, brutally, turns in on itself. We’re suddenly faced with the horror of a story in which our God – that we think of as the source of our meaning – is tortured to death. On the cross, we witness God abandoning God, “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?” – my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? – and as Christ dies, there is a shocking image, of the temple curtain being ripped in two; the very centre of the most holy space is shown empty. That which kept people distant, estranged from from God (and a path to God) was destroyed. God on a cross, denying the presence of God, and the structure that humans had constructed around God being emptied of it’s meaning.

How are we meant to even begin to understand this?

Maybe, that’s the wrong question. To ‘understand’ means to ‘perceive the intended meaning of’ –  to understand something means to appreciate why and how it works, but it can also mean to find something comfortable within the boundaries of our own lives, to incorporate an event into our world view. We understand each other only as much as we can make each other palatable; understanding means reconciling something with our own framework, within our own narratives. This is because, whenever we ‘perceive the intended meaning of’ something, we are seeing that thing – whatever it is – through our own lenses, from the benefit of our own journeys, through our own experiences, and we attach meaning onto the object of our gaze from all of those experiences and encounters. And of course, this is often a good thing; our ability to understand is an incredible function that helps us to interact with the world we encounter in a whole multitude of different ways, all the time, with barely a thought; we are incredibly good at understanding things!

However, we cannot, I believe, “understand” the crucifixion – the crucifixion cuts through our understanding, uncouples it, takes it away. At the heart of the Christian story is a radical death of meaning. There is something utterly beyond this story; rather than explaining it, understanding it, we’re faced with the fact we don’t know, that we’re lost, that we’re broken, that we’re alone. To make the crucifixion familiar – to understand it – is to miss the point entirely. To encounter Christ on the cross means to see our own temple curtain ripped in two. We’re exposed to the reality that the narratives we put together – and we see them all the time in our religions, in our cultural practices, in our economics – do little to fill a gap we believe exists between us and God; indeed, that the very gap has been taken away (that the curtain has been destroyed). The crucifixion shines a light back on to the very thing we believe will fulfil us, that will take us beyond the curtain – our Church, our image of God, our ethical or religious framework, our money, our jobs, whatever – and it declares that these things are no longer necessary.

This was something that the disciples encountered; right up until the garden of Gethsemene they were ready to tool up, to take Jerusalem, to rise up violently against the Romans. They had a very powerful story and narrative, and (literally) in the name of Jesus Christ they were sticking to it! However, at the very point that they went to defend Christ – or, perhaps, to defend their belief in that structure of meaning – Jesus turns to them and tells them to put down their weapons, that something different was going to happen. The crucifixion cut the disciples loose from the narrative – of, it seems, revolutionary violence – that they had built around Christ and what he was going to lead them to do. No wonder they ran away – I think I would have done too! The disciples were estranged from the dominant understanding within their particular group, they were left lost, broken, and meaningless, they were forced to encounter their Christ – who was ‘meant’ to lead them to victory – instead removing the very thing (their narrative) that they thought would save them.

I found myself thinking about the crucifixion last week when reading Tony Blair’s piece on the Rwandan genocide; on a day that perhaps we should have been encountering the senseless barbarity of that 100 day genocide – and reminding ourselves that any narrative we try to attach to it will fail to allow us to encounter the reality of it – Blair instead encouraged us to remember the 8% economic growth that Rwanda is enjoying, that the country is open to investors, that education is blooming, that the country is “healing”. Somehow, this grated; meaning and understanding were being drawn out of an event that was ultimately meaningless, beyond our narratives, beyond our comprehension. Blair was trying to make the most horrific genocide palatable, understandable and therefore – perhaps – forgettable. For me, remembering the Rwandan genocide means denying it meaning, remembrance means not trying to understand it, it means not compartmentalising it into something I can get my small little mind around.  For me, Blair (probably without meaning to) wanted us to think “we can’t understand this utter barbarism, but we can understand economic growth, so let’s think about that instead!” Instead, we should be reminding ourselves that we have no ability to grasp the reality of what happened there, and that, on some level, that that’s OK. To fail to understand, to be powerless in the face of reality, is a big part of what it means to be human. It is in that position that we might begin to encounter reality, with all it’s struggles, pains, incomprehensions, antagonisms. Rather than building a (new) construction of meaning, encountering the crucifixion is to demonstrate the weakness of our narratives, the destruction of meaning.

I’ll finish with this – the crucifixion-resurrection story is about hope, but rather than restoring our sense of hope (which I think is the most common reading), the crucifixion cuts us loose, it sends us spiralling off, it removes hope. To ‘have hope’ means to have hope in something; a story, a narrative, a construction of meaning that even in the overwhelming face of reality, it will all be OK  (“you never encounter an atheist in a foxhole.” – i.e. at the point where reality is becoming brutally real, we demand a narrative (“God”) that will remove us from it.) Instead, the crucifixion invites us to encounter a God of absolute weakness, of a a complete lack of hope – again, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I’m quite in to the Guardian’s weekend supplement, especially the “This Column Will Change Your Life” towards the back, which this week was entitled ‘The case against hope‘. After exploring how people react differently to different trauma’s, the writer quotes Derrick Jensen – an environmental activist – as saying “A wonderful thing happens when you give up on hope, which is that you realise you never needed it in the first place… you become very dangerous indeed to those in power.”

In peace.

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To my eyes, resistance relies on the passion and conviction of the individual – you can’t legislate resistance, you can’t force it, you can’t conjure it out of thin air, and you can rely on larger systems of power for reassurance or support for it. There is a real temptation to turn to existing, powerful institutions to act alongside us, or on our behalf – perhaps because we’ve been brought up to believe in the power and morality of the state, the church, the media, the corporation, we abdicate power and responsibility, or seek tacit or active approval, from the structures we hope represent us. However, to my eyes, it so often turns out that the real acts of resistance – those rooted deeply in love and peace – come from individuals and small groups, often acting independently, and often in direct conflict with the institutions they are a part of.

A stunning recent example of this is found in the words and actions of Revered Christopher Senyonjo. Senyonjo is in Uganda, and continues to affirm and support the LGBT community there, despite the recent laws banning homosexuality in the country. By being openly supportive of the LGBT community in Uganda, Senyonjo has made himself exceptionally vulnerable, and it is the most vulnerable that he has aligned himself with. Senyonjo could be sent to prison for many years because of his open resistance to institutionalised hate and fear. While such powerful institutions, like the Ugandan state and church, support the ‘kill the gays’ bill – the original legislation pushed for the death penalty for open homosexuals – we can look to defiant individuals like Senyonjo for courage, for a story of hope. Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh wrote that the Kingdom of God is ‘now or never’; for me, there is little that resonates more than that than the brave actions of people like Christopher Senyonjo.

Another example – in recent months, John Dear has written powerfully on his reasons for leaving the Jesuit order; because of his regular and ongoing actions in pursuit of peace and justice, those in positions of authority and power have first sought to silence him and his peace work, before he finally took the decision to leave. Rather than being supportive of his work, it seems Dear experienced active opposition from the very institution that he joined, presumably for nourishment and leadership. Instead, he tells a story of an institution that succumbed to pressure from those who opposed his work, who he believes were ’embarrassed’ by it. And yet, there is real hope to be found in Dears’ refusal to be silenced, to act in a way that upholds his own convictions to love and peace.

In these – and so many other – stories, I see a common theme about acting with integrity, and passionate commitment to an order of peace and justice, despite the personal risk, and very understandable fear that so often blinds and neuters us. We are all on a similar journey, of finding ways that allow us to act, not without fear, because fear is something that is natural and normal, and exists for very good reason, but to act in a way that acknowledges, even loves our fear, and then finds a way to remember that there are other motivations to root our actions in, too. Our other sources lead us to acts of love for the persecuted and marginalised, to put our bodies in the way of the machines of war and death despite the risk of arrest and prosecution when we do that, to remember that we speak and act for something other – beyond – the dominant narratives of greed, power and violence that sometimes feel like they dominate our world.

In peace.

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The Challenge of David

Following the story of David, the shepherd boy anointed by a prophet of God and destined for kingship in the book of Samuel has prompted some reflections which I share here in case you are interested in my theological ramblings.  I am not setting out to be a biblical scholar, so these are just my thoughts, in some sort of hopefully semi-cohesive form.


I have particularly been reflecting on the incident where David, in hiding from Saul’s violence, has the opportunity to kill the man from whom he is fleeing (1 Samuel 24). His companions urge him to do so, reminding him that the Lord has promised to ‘deliver Saul into your hands’. David throws down his sword, and instead of killing Saul, offers himself to him in humble, loving service. Saul’s response is, at least temporarily, repentance.


Perhaps it is, above all others, this moment that marks David out as a true Man of God: his understanding that when God delivers Saul into his hands, he does not ask for violence: God never calls us to aggression. Rather, that Saul has been delivered into David’s hands through love, and it is to love than David is called. The recognition of this call to loving service is what proves David is really, at least for now, listening to God. And the message he hears is that meeting Saul’s aggression with love is the response that God himself asks. And Saul’s response, at least in the short term, is repentance. David either already knows, or learns in that moment that love holds a power greater than violence.


It is a tough call. David, literally, takes his life into his hands when he goes out empty-handed before the king and his armies who have headed to the hills with the express purpose of killing him. How often, not in the face of death perhaps, but risking ridicule or even just questions, do we opt for the easier path of aggression, be it actions, words or just in thoughts, rather than the self-sacrificing choice of loving service.


David comes out of the cave empty-handed. When he offers himself and rejects violence he does it openly, visibly on the hillside. The choice to reject violence is not just about putting down the sword, it is about him coming out from the shadows, leaving his hiding place and approaching in vulnerability and weakness. It would be unrealistic to suggest that for all who choose this route the outcome is as fortunate as David’s. The route of loving service can also be the path to martyrdom. But maybe it would lead to a situation like David’s more often than we think.


If only we had the courage to put down our weapons, to put down our harsh words, to come out from behind the masks which have become our security and to give it a try.



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