Thursday, 21 August 2014

The challenge of campaigning

Looking back over the year's photos in order to update our community website, it looks like going on protests has been a major part of my year. In reality, it is partly, maybe even mostly, because those are the moments when we have taken photographs whilst many more significant parts of my life have taken place out of camera-shot.
But there have been protests. Most recently in Shenstone, just outside Birmingham, to show my support for the activists who shut down an Israeli-owned factory making engines for drones by camping out on the roof. I was not on the roof. In fact, due to a perhaps slightly over-zealous local police force, I was not even close enough to see those who were.
Nevertheless, I wanted to be there. I wanted to be in that sleepy small town, outside an inoffensive looking industrial unit, to stand in solidarity with the suffering people of Gaza; and, more concretely to say that yes, I wanted this Israeli drones factory closed down. To say, in fact, I want all drones factories closed down.

This protest, like the march through Birmingham in solidarity with the people of Gaza a couple of weeks earlier brought into sharp focus one of the challenges of joining with others to campaign against injustice, to speak for peace. It is a challenge it is important to be aware of and acknowledge, because by doing so, we free ourselves to be true to what we think and believe.

I wanted to be there, to be counted among those calling for an end to the bombing of Gaza, calling for an end to the building of drones, calling for an end to the export of arms made here to commit atrocities around the world. I wanted to stand with others who cared, deeply, passionately about these issues too. But some of what was said and chanted, some of what was thought and felt and expressed, these were not things I wanted to add my name to.

The building of drones engines by UAV systems in Shenstone is not ok. But to my mind, some of the views expressed by those supposedly on the same side were also not ok.

It has, of course, a wider relevance. A choice to associate oneself to a campaign can always subtly, or not so subtly, be twisted into suggesting associations with other issues; or be accidentally or deliberately misunderstood as meaning something slightly, or even completely, different.

But perhaps because the Palestine question provokes particularly  heightened emotions, and because it is a cause whose complexity attracts people who approach it from very different perspectives, it was more immediately evident that whilst there was certainly some common ground among those who felt the suffering of the people of Gaza was unacceptable, there were also a range of views being expressed which didn't all have either the same starting point, or the same final aims.

And thus it served as a reminder of the challenge of every campaign: the challenge of finding common ground and solidarity with others to build a mass movement which can effect real change, balanced against the need to be true to the essence of my own vision and faith.

Because for me the theory, at least, is very simple (even if putting it in to practice is infinitely complicated): To campaign for peace is to say no to the violence that pervades every level of our society and our world. To say no to the aggression, hostility and fear which feed our economy and our education, our relationships with those close to us and those far away. To campaign for peace is about much more than just an end to warfare and weaponry (although that would be nice), it is about changing our words, our actions, our mindsets. To campaign for peace cannot mean calling out in vitriolic language imbued with the same violence that the drones manufacturers espouse.

To campaign for peace and justice is to also seek those virtues within ourselves, and, little by little, to allow them to fill our hearts and imbue our words with a different vision.

This is what I wanted to speak for in Shenstone. If I do so with those around me, so much the better, but even if I do so alone, I hope I have the strength to acknowledge my differences from those by my side as well as our shared understanding and to be true to that message, the message of peace.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

A faith in the possible

It seems this blog has been somewhat neglected recently, with three blissful, internet-less weeks in Taize only providing a partial excuse. It certainly isn't because life has not provided plenty of potential material either, so it is high time I put pen to paper (metaphorically speaking, but cursor to screen doesn't have quite the same ring) and return to the blogosphere.

Although it is already nearly a month since we returned, and ignoring the potential danger of sounding like a stuck record, I can't help but write once more about Taize. But I'll try and keep it brief(ish). I do not want to write about what we did or who we met, about the conversations or the themes of the bible introductions, about the hail stones the size of ice cubes (yes, really) nor even about the joy of being carried by a routine of prayer for which someone else was responsible.

I want to try and express something of the life-giving dynamic of being in a place where somehow more seems possible. A place which dares to believe that more is possible and which, in that faith, is able to make it happen. A place where the first answer is yes, and the how can be figured out later. I realised, perhaps more than ever this year, that one of the (many) things I love about Taize is that it is a place of possibility and hope.

It is a refreshing change from the all too common response to, well, almost anything really: that of a sharp intake of breath followed by a "well it would be nice but ...". Ideas which never get off the ground, projects which never make it past committee stage, plans which remain on the drawing board, all because we prefer to imagine so many things are just not possible, always assuming we even get to the imagining stage at all. All too often, it seems we are tempted to expect problems before they arise rather than dream possibilities before they exist. Taize served as a timely reminder that things can work the other way round. Can, and more often than not, when we dare to step out of what we know into the unknown possibilities beyond, do. And life is richer, fuller and more beautiful as a result. It is a lesson I hope I did not leave behind in the Burgundy countryside.

Coming back out of the bubble I hit the earth with quite a bump, and the first day was, to be honest, tough. It seemed I was instantly surrounded by too many barriers, too many limitations, too many "well it would be nice but ..."s: from both without, and probably, from within.

Fortunately life is rich enough, and exciting enough that I didn't need to stay in the rut: I picked myself up, dusted myself down and remembered that here too can be a place of possibility. Here too a place of exciting adventures and new journeys into the unknown. Here too a place of saying yes and diving in feet first to all that is to come.