Tag Archives: easter

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.

IMG_3580

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.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Crucifixion

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,