Theology of Liberation – Call for Papers

Theology for Liberation in the UK

You are invited to submit a paper for review and publication that explores the interaction of radical politics and Christian faith that takes seriously its British context and looks for actual concrete change for neighbourhoods. 

Nothing vague or aspirational: Demonstrably Practical Theology, rooted in neighbourhoods or marginal communities. 

Papers need to demonstrate an understanding of a particular context, show that analysis has taken place with (rather than over or for) people and that the analysis of lived experience is deeply reflected on with academically rigorous theology that’s presented in an accessible way.

Themes may include but are not exclusive to:

The interaction of religions in ways that change society

Anarchy as observed and interacted with by people of faith

Queer theology and its role in social transformation

Disability and challenging the changes to the social contract

Direct Action and theological refletion

 

Due Date for Proposals: 1st March 2016

Due date for submission of paper and abstract: 1st July 2016

Contact: 

Revd Dr Keith Hebden, Guest Editor for Modern Believing

Keithhebden[at]gmail.com for more details and to submit a proposal. 

Enchanted by Absence

A sociologist arrived in Belfast to run a survey on the religious and political beliefs of residents in an area of historic conflict. She was confronted by a man who turned the questioning back on her, wanting to know if she was a Protestant or a Catholic. “I’m an atheist,” replied the sociologist, to which her subject responded, “Sure you’re an atheist, but is it the Protestant or the Catholic God in which you don’t believe?”

This is one of those jokes that makes you laugh and then you realise: it’s not a joke at all! This subject-turned-philosopher of the survey was making an important point. Atheism is not at all straightforward and is every bit as complex as theism – the belief in a God.

But more complex still is the ability to hold in tension the two realities. As Simone Weil playfully put it, in one of her notes, “God exists, God does not exists, where is the problem?”

If it is possible to say that the Self is both real and not real then it is also true of God. God is both real and not real. Or rather, God is and God is not.

One of our most heroic companions on this journey into God-less devotion to God is the early twentieth century mystic Simone Weil.

Simone weil was a French Jew who studied the ancient Greek philosophers and Indian scriptures and wrestled with the religious and philosophical ideas of her own era too.

But she was not only an academic, Simone Weil was also an activist. Weil could almost be said to have been born an activist, agitating both herself and others for the sake of the world as it should be.

At just six years old Weil refused to eat sugar in solidarity with soldiers on the Western front who could not get any. When she embarked on her career as a philosophy teacher during the early 1930s she refused to heat her room and lived off the equivalent in poverty in order to be in solidarity with those without work and to give her wages to the strike funds for workers struggling for their rights.

She spent a year in abysmal factory conditions in order to enter into the suffering on those labourers and even joined the Spanish anarchists in their civil war against the fascists. This latter experiment in solidarity turned out to be a complete disaster.

Simone Weil was a rubbish soldier and was eventually discharged with an injury when she accidentally walked straight into a pot of boiling water in a fire pit. This was all the excuse her comrades needed to send her packing!

But Weil was perfectly at home with her imperfections and incompleteness – even if those things frustrated her plans – because for her only God was the perfect fullness of all things.

For Weil, God is so overwhelming that God’s overt presence is destructive and God’s act of withdrawing is the primordial creative act. “God could only create by hiding himself. Otherwise there would be nothing but himself,”[1] she writes, much like the withdrawing of the tide is an act which creates the shore.

In fact Weil goes as far as to say that, “of two men who have no experience of God, he who denies him is perhaps nearer to him than the other.”[2] God is only known in God’s absence. The act of loving is not a self-aware act. Giving full attention to the act of love renders it invisible to the actor.[3]

When my youngest daughter was a baby she would toy with her mum’s ear while she was being fed. The habit stayed with her for years afterwards and to some extent is still there. She quickly extended the practice to me. I would watch her eyes while she took hold of my ear and explored it with her tiny fingers.

She was utterly attending to the task. It seemed obvious to the watcher that – in that moment – there was no toddler, no fingers, and no ear. She didn’t think, “This is a nice ear” or “I’m enjoying this ear”! Those superficial separations had collapsed into the moment. And it left me like a deer in headlights too: I was hooked! It brings a new definition to the saying, “I am all ears”, I think.

In that moment I and the whole universe were “all ears”! For Simone Weil we can only exist in God’s absence but we can only true know God and be known by God in our own absence: when we are obliterated by God’s presence.

This is dramatic language but can sit well with the notion that the Self is socially constructed anyway and we are at our happiest when we “lose ourselves” in the object of our affections or energies.

But more than that it asserts that any concept we have of God is a false one accept for the one that we are incapable of analysing because the moment that we do so we lose it.

Like a tightrope walker we cannot both trust the rope and look at the rope to see it is there: the moment we do we plummet! This observation is not just vital for the religiously minded, although it has particular implications for those of us who are. We can all form idolatrous attachments that we adore, in some sense. 

 



[1] Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 33.

[2] Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 103.

[3] Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 47.

Growing Church…out of trees!

This 30 second video is a wonderful look at what happens when you take the idea of growing a church literally! The walls of the Church are made of trees but there’s far more to this cultivated sacred space than that. Take a look.

https://youtu.be/tYkuT1ohPZE

Many of us are finding new ways to re-green our worship whether it’s through Forest Church or Wildlife Meadows or as part of an incredible edible project. But there’s nothing new under the sun; we’ve been composting the saints for centuries!

 

John M. Hull

It was sad news to wake up to this morning. John Hull was admitted to hospital on Friday, after a fall, and died in the early hours. I expect obituaries from the great and the good to follow – they certainly should! – but I felt like penning my own reflections too.

Those of us who knew John only in his years at Queen’s Foundation might not realise he was a lauded professor of RE for most of his academic career. It was John Hull and John Hick really – those were among the people who most shaped our ideas around a philosophy of religious engagement from a Christian perspective.

When he retired they wanted to keep him around and made him ‘Emeritus’ which is latin for ‘we wanted to keep him around’. John described this experience as like being “a ringwraith” loitering the corridors without any power or role so many years after retirement he decided to relaunch his career as an agitator of clergy: hence his journey to Queen’s Foundation.

Marilyn had asked him “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?” and John had replied something like, “I want to transform the church and save the world.” Thankfully for the rest of us she had told him, “Well then, you’d better have a chat with [principal at Queen's Foundation] David Hewitt.”

And John set about doing exactly as he intended. Queen’s was the first college to include credits in political engagement as part of the core syllabus for Methodist and Anglican ministerial students.

It is, I’m sure, the only college to see staff members and students blockade Faslane nuclear submarine base in Scotland and to take a whole coach-load of staff and students to the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston to repent and lament our manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction.

Queen’s staff and students have dressed up as Robin Hood (you know who you are!) to support the Tobin Tax, had postcard campaigns, and engaged churches across the Midlands with Justice Mail. As well as a regular vigil at Elbit factory that makes drones used against civilian populations.

All this has been agitated by John Hull.

However, most people will not be thinking fondly of John for any of these reasons or because of his many books.

They will be remembering his humour, his compassion, his story-telling in which he willing offered of his personal stories of love and struggle and in doing so solicit other people’s stories and willingness to experiment in radical compassion too.

I will remember John with a glass of wine in his hand and throwing his head back in mischievous laughter or suddenly becoming prone with an idea – his hands in the air, ready to pounce on whatever new possibility for agitation it involved.

When it comes to the ‘Gods of this age’ John Hull encouraged us to be heretics – not to give in to the greed and fear that the Money-God engenders in our lives, whether it’s a false sense of charity or treating shopping as an ‘experience’ instead of a function he saw in our culture and idol worship of capital and capitalism that was at the shadowy heart of what was wrong with the west.

Today, in a small way, I blasphemed the money God, it’s a great way to honour his memory. Why not do that today too?

Is it too late to Party Now the Election is Over?

 

They Think It’s All Over

On election night in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire – a post-industrial, ex-mining town – nobody at the count looked happy. Labour one the parliamentary seat as usual but nearly lost control of the district council for the first time. The only conservative who showed up was the paper candidate who polled well but didn’t expect to win. UKIP and our “Independent Forum” did the best between them and in some ways are interchangeable, but, since UKIP only won a single seat in the country and it certainly wasn’t going to be ours they were just vaguely grumply. Us Greens and our neighbours from the TUSC were mostly just pleased to be there but couldn’t hide our disappointment at what was happening to the Labour Party that many of us once believed in.

So what happens next? 

The national papers have instantly framed the debate over Labour’s future as one about whether it move to the left or the right. But, as ever, this is simplistic.

What has happened to the Labour Party is there for all to see; it was once rooted in the unions – in organised labour – now labour is no longer organised and the party it christened is no longer interested in it. Neither of them have much power, both have ‘let themselves go a bit’ so both are talking about singing their Decree Absolut – the final legal papers in a divorce. The Dicree Nice? Well those papers were served by Tony Blair two years before he became Prime Minister in what has become known as the ‘Clause 4 moment’.

Clause 4

Clause 4 committed the Labour Party to unapologetic socialism. It reads:

To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.[1] 

 

In 1995 it was replaced with:

The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect[1]

But it could easily have been replaced with:
Blah, blah, blah, democratic socialist party. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Blah.
Welcome to ‘New Labour’.
Labour’s Dilemma
The point is this: The Labour Party was strong because it was rooted in a union movement that was strong. Now it is financed by an ever weakening union movement it has tried to become The Conservative Party by moving to the right and courting the rich. The trouble with this is it only works once (1997); after that people who wanted a Conservative Party increasingly decided they would vote for one (or the Liberal Democrats whose “Clause 4″ moment is called “The Orange Book” and is lots of pages of “blah, blah, blah” that’s done them know good at all).
So if Labour move to the right they’ll achieve nothing but be a crap version of the Conservative Party and if they move to the left they’ll fall into the abyss of disorganised labour never to be seen again.
On announcing his decision (now taken back) to stand for Labour leader, Chuka Umunna, claimed that he could turn the Labour Party around in five years. But how do you build a national power-base in five years? It can’t be done. It takes a generation.
So, I reckon, that if the Labour Party is ever going to rebuild again it will take not five years but thirty years. Thirty years to re-organise Labour and build a party that secures for the workers the fruits of their industry.
If anyone’s still up for that?

 

Vote for What You Believe In

With just a few weeks to go before the General Election (7th May) the conversations are already getting a bit shrill and shouty but also a lot more interesting than usual. Today the Christian think tank, Ekklesia launch their invitation to Christians to “Vote for what you believe in“. A radically un-cynical offer in a horribly cynical world.

Voting is not democracy it is, as Vaughan Jones, Director of Praxis and an associate of Ekklesia put it recently “an event in democracy” and such a rare event that to pin all our hopes for democracy on that moment is like like hoping that an occasional facebook message is like having a real relationship with a friend. You can vote, if you like, if that’s what you want to do, but it isn’t the same thing as ‘taking part’.

So having swiftly put voting in perspective. Let’s think about what it means to ‘vote for what you believe in’. Is it a good idea at all? It’s a serious question since some people have very angrily (social media) insisted that we should vote instead for what will stop the [insert vilest political party here] from getting in, even if that means voting for something you don’t believe in.

Strategic voters dance to some else’s tune

Someone recently berated Green Party members on my late facebook page (may it rest in peace) for letting in the Tories and said that they should vote for the Labour Party – even if they didn’t like the Labour Party. Of course it turned out this person did like the Labour Party’s policies and really wanted them to get in. In other words, he’d like – no: insists – that Greens hold their noses and vote for his party but isn’t planning to make the same compromise himself.

And this is the main problem with what’s called “strategic voting”. It’s usually argued by people who want you to do it so that they get more votes: “You’re best strategy is to vote for me”. Well of course they’re going to say that. In fact the whole getting people to vote strategically is a strategy dreamed up by cynical political aides to get people to ignore the policies they don’t like and vote into power people they don’t want. It is, as you know, very effective, we’ve had governments we don’t want my whole life.

So the first reason to resist and reject strategic voting is that it’s someone else’s strategy – not yours! You’re being ‘done to’ again every time you take their advice and vote with your nose pegged.

Strategic voters are short-term cynics

But here’s an even better reason. It makes the voter complicit in the sort of short-term thinking that we so often criticise our politicians for. “I’ll vote for the Conservatives this year to keep UKIP out but I really want UKIP.” Really? And in five years time will you do the same? And then five years later?

Not that I’m suggesting you vote for UKIP since they are both racist and incompetent on a scale not known even by the BNP (and that’s saying something!). But if you do believe in UKIPs policies (ahem, when they actually decide what they are) then why would you vote Conservative?

It is in the interest of Labour and Conservative that we continue to vote short-term for a quick fix so that the smaller parties – some of who have the bigger ideas – stay small.

Strategic voters make the mistake of thinking this is a democracy

If I decided to vote at all, I want a vote that counts not just for the next 5 years but for my children and grandchildren (grace allowing). In fact since the party I want to vote for – The Green Party –  hasn’t a hope in hell of getting in where I live so my vote will be discounted as meaningless in the current faux-democratic system we live in.

First past the post system means that the majority wins and the rest – even if together they add up to more than the majority party – just get tossed aside as meaningless. That’s it. The event is over and your values have been duly noted and disregarded.

My vote isn’t going to change governments since governments these days are run by corporate interests anyway. It used to be that big business lobbied government. Not any more. Now governments have to lobby big businesses. Whoever you vote for Serco, Capita, Google, Shell Oil, Monsanto and the others will run the show. A handful of citizens elect the MPs and then an even smaller handful of suits write the cheque and buy them. MPs don’t get a say in this. They get bought whether they like it or not.

So if voting isn’t going to get you the government you one at least use your vote to register your belief in the government you’d like (if you’d like a government at all, that is).

If you want a strategy: organise! 

So vote for who you believe in. Or if you don’t believe: don’t vote. Either has integrity. But if you want to be really strategic then build power, tear down idols and prefigure in your neighbourhood the kind of values you’d like society to organise around. As Gandhi put it, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

Of course first we need to work out what our values actually are!

 

Mark Spencer MP You’re So Wrong #RethinkSanctions

On Sunday morning, 1st March 2015, I was invited onto Verity Cowley’s Sunday morning slot on BBC radio Nottingham (2:11:30) to discuss the role of faith in politics – as if faith could be anything other than political – and joining us over the phone was Mark Spencer the Conservative MP for Sherwood.

I’m not one for turning MPs into pantomime villeins, I think most people go into most jobs with the best of intentions and are trying to do a good job.

But some people just don’t help themselves.

At the beginning of February, Mark Spencer MP is said to have “stunned fellow politicians” for defending the sanctioning of a welfare claimant with learning difficulties who was a few minutes late to an appointment and end up sat hungry in the dark and cold till neighbours realised (Big Society?). Well perhaps it’s a new year’s resolution because this month he’s at it again.

“What the conservative party are trying to do is to help people out of the welfare trap that the previous government caught them in”, is essentially his line of argument.

He went on to argue that “looking back” over the last five years “there are less (sic.) children in homes that are in poverty and we’re getting people out of that trap and it’s starting to work.”

I’m afraid I laughed out loud at this. I didn’t mean to and I know it’s rude to laugh but it was so daft I just couldn’t help it.

Today, the day after that conversation, a report called “Rethink Sanctions” was published by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church. They claim that around 6.8 million weeks of sanctions were handed out in 2013/14. That’s people on the breadline and often in debt going weeks on end with no form of material support from the government.

100,000 children were affected by these draconian sanctions last year. Is this what Mark Spencer MP calls helping people out of a poverty trap. 

Mark Spencer MP claims that it’s by making people go hungry that we motivate them to get back to work because their benefits are higher than earnings. When I raised the possibility that it’s the wages that are too low rather than the benefits too high the best he could do is take a side swipe at the Church of England. Talk about playground politics!

Here’s what real people say about whether sanctions help them out of the so called welfare trap:

“During the first three weeks of my sanction I continued to look for work as I was required to. By the fourth week however I was exhausted, unwell and no longer had it in me. I was not eating as I had no food and was losing a lot of weight. I told the Jobcentre I was unwell through not eating but was sanctioned for another three months for not looking for work properly.” (taken from Rethink Sanctions).

Backing up the report, the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said: “The findings of this report are disturbing. It exposes a system that is harsh in the extreme, penalising the most vulnerable of claimants by the withdrawal of benefits for weeks at a time. Most worryingly, it appears from DWP guidance, quoted in the report, that deprivation and hunger are knowingly being used as a punishment for quite trivial breaches of benefit conditions. Employers would not be allowed to stop someone’s wages for a month the first time they were 10 minutes late for an appointment, but this is the kind of sanction that is being imposed on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including those with mental and physical health problems.

I don’t expect Mark Spencer MP to change his mind though. Because evidence provided by endless reports all proving that austerity isn’t working and the welfare reforms are failing hard working and vulnerable people… well… by his own admission he just finds that “frustrating”.

Tonight’s Channel 4 Despatches reveals more of the Sanctions Hell this government has delivered. 

 

The Lost Sheep of Islamophobia

This week, in our many ways, we mourn for those who have been killed or maimed by terrorists in Paris. We do so vigilantly: drawing in those who felt marginalized by the cartoons but did not choose violence and defending the rights of the cartoonists to satirise without fear of harm.

‘I have sheep who are not of this fold,’ Jesus said. Jesus recognized that the boundaries between ‘them’ and ‘us’ were keeping us from acting in solidarity with one another in the face of exploitation. Explicitly drawing in others into relationship without negating their distinctiveness is a pressing task at a time when all over Europe nationalism and violent rhetoric is on the increase.

We are encouraged by both scholarly press and popular media to see two global polarities, with Islam on one side and ‘the West’ on the other. Muslims in Europe today are treated in much the same way as Roman Catholics were treated at times in post-Reformation Britain. They are symbols of a hostile outside world that challenges supposedly shared ideals.

It was in a large Anglican church in the evangelical tradition where I first experienced the effect of this on a mainstream community group. It was a Sunday congregation of around four hundred mostly affluent families and students. The worship leader encouraged us to ‘pray for the city’ and people began to call out their prayers. I was horrified but not hugely surprised to hear this prayer: ‘Lord, we just pray for the salvation of our city, where the cancer of Islam is spreading all around us.’ The demonizing of Islam had become acceptable in ‘polite company’.

Leicester was the first English city to have a majority minority population and relations were generally good. I had lived in the heart of the Muslim-majority parts of the city for some time, taught Islam in a local school, and was involved in regular Muslim–Christian dialogue groups so you can imagine how I felt about that prayer. On a national level Muslims are increasingly stereotyped and marginalized, and even the more liberal media tend to focus on negative stories about Muslims. Politicians and religious leaders are vocal in their denunciations of Muslim extremism as though it were an endemic and isolated movement that had nothing to do with the cultural and economic fundamentalism of western powers.

When I heard a congregation member calling Islam a cancer it reminded me that Muslim–Christian dialogue needed to be expanded from small groups of liberal religious leaders to touch the lives of conservative Christians too. A group of us, including the rector, set to work on forming two groups – one for men and one for women that centered around a meal, a presentation (alternating between people from either religion), and informal discussion.

First we had a meeting of other members of the church to talk about cross-cultural encounters and I went with the rector to one of the mosques I liked to visit regularly. Some of the Christians were initially motivated only by a desire to convert the Muslims to Christianity. However, as the weeks unfolded, the friendship and joy of the men’s group grew at an incredible pace and motivations altered equally rapidly. This quickly affected the angel of the church itself.

Leicester has a history of actively celebrating cultural diversity, alongside the usual tensions and chauvinisms. Local community leaders have played an important part in that. But interfaith conversations happen more often, and with greater impact, on the informal scale of everyday life. When we started two Muslim–Christian groups with an evangelical church, the one for men flew and continued for many years while the one organized by and for women did not experience the same success.

Women in Leicester, and other cultural diverse cities, have been engaged in interfaith conversation long before old men formalized it for themselves. In the midst of their invisibility and the struggle women of different faiths are already knee-deep in each other’s political, spiritual, and cultural lives. Where they have created those spaces they are the compassionate activists of their communities.

In the summer of 2011 the media spotlight turned to the massacre of young political activists by a right-wing Christian extremist. Anders Behring Breivik was motivated largely by his fear and hatred of Islam as his website and videos explained. He was in regular contact with the English Defense League, a group whose supporters are notorious in Britain for instigating violence against Muslims. When the BBC first presented the news of the bombing and massacre of Oslo, they made it clear that they knew quickly that the lone terrorist was a Norwegian-speaking Scandinavian with connections to the far right and that he was white. So they got the facts straight. Yet almost all of their initial analysis suggested strongly that the attack was as likely to be perpetrated by Muslim fundamentalists as by any other group. They told us it was almost certainly a domestic issue but went on to only interview the Norwegian foreign secretary, further framing the story in anti-Muslim propaganda.

The front page of The Sun newspaper contained a self-evident lie: that the attack was a jihadist terror attack, and the Guardian, a liberal broadsheet, didn’t look much better. It is horrifying to acknowledge but the attitude of Breivik and that of most mainstream media are different only by degrees. There is no difference in the end result – the violent scapegoating of those pushed to the edges of empire.

This week we hear the disturbing news that terrorists, acting in the name of Islam, have killed and injured journalists and police officers in Paris. There will be many repurcussions to this atrocity. One is that more innocent Muslims (and non-Muslims who ‘look a bit foreign’) will experience random acts of hatred and violence across the western world. This is exactly what the terrorists want of course – they want more Muslims to experience direct violence because they hope it will swell their ranks. This is the cycle of violence that we – as strangers in fragmented communities – need to break. We need to sow seeds of peace: draw cartoons that build bridges of trust and respect – as well as speak uncomfortable truths – and draw in more of the ‘lost sheep’ of scapegoating and prejudice.

Keith Hebden is a parish priest and Seeking Justice deanery adviser in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire where he chairs the Diocesan Greener Churches Group. He teaches and writes on practical theology and spirituality. His latest book, Seeking Justice: The radical compassion of Jesus plots experiments in faith based community organising and direct action. Some of his workshop material and other resources can be found at Compassionistas. He’s married to Sophie Hebden, a freelance science writer and they have two daughters.

“Dutiful” Activists breach RAF Waddington Again

In October 2013 myself and five other activists were put on trial for making a gateway for peace through the fence at RAF Waddington where drones are remotely piloted causing devastation to civilian communities and potentially causing gruesome injuries. Although the judge found them guilty he called them “dutiful” people with a “legitimate target” and limited the compensation and costs to £100 as a sign of his support.

Today four activists, including Penny Walker of Leicester and Chris Cole Director of Drone Wars UK from the original six but also Katharina Karcher from Coventry and Eagle Spits a Methodist preacher from Nottingham joined them at a second attempt to find the drones and nonviolently disarm the pilots from their illegitimate and illegal war crimes.

Penny and Cathar have particular experience of working with sanctuary seekers form Afghanistan who have seen, first hand, the trauma caused by armed drones patrolling and striking in civilian areas and bring this message with them as they enter the high security military area today.

The activists have been arrested. More news to follow: catch the latest here and probably on the ekklesia news feed.

In a prepared statement the four have said:

“We come to RAF Waddington today to say a clear ‘no’ to the growing normalisation and acceptability of drone warfare. Thanks to the marketing of drone war as ‘risk free’, ‘precise’ and above all ‘humanitarian’, war has been rehabilitated and accepted as virtually normal by those who see little or nothing of the impact on the ground thousands of miles away. Remote wars mean most no longer hear, see or smell the impact of bombs and missiles. With just a little effort we can almost believe that war is not happening at all.
But behind the rebranding, war is as brutal and deadly as it has always been with civilians killed, communities destroyed, and the next generation traumatized. And so we have come to RAF Waddington, the home of drone warfare here in the UK to say clearly and simply ‘End the Drone War’.“

At the end of our trial in October we put out the invitation to others to do similar actions to the one we undertook and I’m so happy that today’s action has taken place. Vigils have been faithfully taking place each month through 2014 outside RAF Waddington and increasing numbers of people from the Queen’s Foundation in Birmingham have been vigiling peacefully at the Elbit Drones factory in Shenstone for several years.

The Elbit site was also the scene of a significant direct action on 5th August 2014. This means there has been a direct action every year for three years and it’s only the first week of 2015 – we need to keep the pressure on and making it increasingly difficult for the MOD to wage these illegal, immoral, and ineffective wars.

While banks and Arms Companies run our government we will always have these showcase conflicts aimed at selling weapons and export death, debt, and democracy to peoples around the world who have done nothing to us but experience so much harm at our hands. All it requires is our complicity.

Lets make 2015 the year we disarm the drones; disarm the arms fair, disarm the bankers and rebuild peace.

Keith Hebden is a parish priest and Seeking Justice deanery adviser in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire where he chairs the Diocesan Greener Churches Group. He teaches and writes on practical theology and spirituality. His latest book, Seeking Justice: The radical compassion of Jesus plots experiments in faith based community organising and direct action. Some of his workshop material and other resources can be found at Compassionistas. He’s married to Sophie Hebden, a freelance science writer and they have two daughters.

 

Bridging the Chasm between ‘Us’ and ‘The Homeless’

We’ve occasionally hosted people seeking sanctuary who are, for one reason or another, homeless; it’s not always straightforward and we do it less often that perhaps we should. I know there are people in Mansfield who do it often and are quiet heroes to me. More often we have homeless people come to the church or vicarage who we don’t invite to stay but come in for a cup of tea or something to eat or, if they’re not sober, stay outside. Sometimes they are at the beginning of a wonderful turn around in their lives, sometimes they disappear as quickly as they came and it is painfully obvious to me that we’ve done nothing to help them.

Jesus tells a story of the rich man with his big house and the poor man at his gate. After they both die the poor man goes to be with his ancestors in paradise but the rich man is separated from him by a great chasm and ‘flames’. I know that in that story I am the rich man and the chasm between me and the homeless has nothing to do with the next life and everything to do with the life I live now.

Most of the time I don’t know how to cross the chasm between me and those who have nothing but there are others who help create a bridge; charities like the Framework Housing Association, for example.

“Jack” was “living in a shed for six months” over the winter. He lost his toenails through frost bite and, he had only his dog for warmth and comfort. Jack would self-harm through drug abuse and by other means and was utterly hopeless and lost. And once upon a time he’d been someone’s baby. Since he got in touch with framework his life has turned around: he no longer takes drugs or self-harms and has a roof over his head. He’s mostly in work and is saving up to get his tattoos removed and build a new life. There are dozens like Jack; men and women who have used up their last chance with friends and relatives, or fled from abusive homes, but through professional help can regain their dignity.

For the last ten years St Mark’s Church in Mansfield has had the privilege of hosting the ‘Mansfield Big Snore’. The event has been a huge success, raising thousands each year to support people back into homes and a new life. It’s outgrown our site and we’re really pleased that Mansfield Town Football Club have taken on the challenge. This year’s Big Snore will take place on 30th January at the Stags football ground: groups from all across Mansfield and Ashfield will get together and build a temporary cardboard city – sleeping rough for one night to raise money so that others don’t have to sleep rough anymore.

The need has rarely been greater. More work insecurity means increasing numbers of families are being made homeless too and cuts to county council funding meted out by Westminster mean that Nottinghamshire County Council have opted to slash funding to charities like Framework just when the crisis is at its worst.

I’ll be sleeping in a cardboard box – hopefully with a small team from St Mark’s – on 30th January to join others in raising money for Framework. You can sponsor us if you like by visiting https://www.justgiving.com/StMarksBigSnore Make it your new year resolution to help someone off the street and safely home.