Why I’m listening …..

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With buildings still closed, and a slow to return to busy-ness as usual, I’ve had some time for sitting at home and reading. One of the latest books I’ve read is  Why Im no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, it’s a powerful and timely addition to the discussions around racism and white priviledge that have resurfaced as a result of the Black Lives Matter Campaign.

It is a fact that talking about racism is hard for white people, but it wasn’t until recently that I realised how hard. I’ve  never considered myself to be racist, I have in the past (not on every ocassion*) challenged racist comments and behaviour from others, I’ve never knowingly discriminated or treated someone different because of their colour, I’m proud to have black God-children and my own grand-daughter is mixed heritage.

That final fact though shows perhaps my biggest shortfall, my grand-daughter is black – and I’ve always been colour blind to it. Never ashamed, happy to know she is black, but never exploring what might therefore make her life experience distinctly different from those of my other grand children who aren’t black. The avoidance of such conversations is just another cop out that is allowed only through white privilege, I didn’t see or hear of any of the racial taunting she heard at school – but I didn’t ask either, because it never entered my head. I never questioned that the world might not see her in that same “colour blind” way that I did, but as the book says: “You can’t skip to the resolution without having the difficult, messy conversation first.”

So I’m starting the conversation ….. and I’m listening.

 

Ever present God, you called us to be in relationship with one another and promised to dwell wherever two or three are gathered.

In our community, we are many different people; we come from many different places, have many different cultures.

Open our hearts that we may be bold in finding the riches of inclusion and the treasures of diversity among us.

We pray in faith.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

*There’s the “white privilege” showing again – some people don’t get to choose when they confront racism because of the colour of their skin

 

 

 

Taking a knee

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The powerful symbolism of “taking a knee” emerged as a central gesture and image of solidarity within the Black Lives Matter movement, we see it today not just in street protest and rallies, but by many leading public figures and even at the restart of British professional football this week, so what lies behind this highly symbolic gesture.

Last week the UK Foreign Secretary, Dominc Raab MP said he thought it derived from  fictional series Game of Thrones, and had feudal associations as a “symbol of subjugation and subordination”, he is of course wide of the mark and is confusing (deliberately perhaps as I doubt he is that uneducated) “bending the knee” with the act of “taking a knee”.

The act of taking a knee  is in fact one rooted in both Christian and Black Civil Rights traditions, as one recent  article* says:

“…taking a knee does not originate in 21st Century America. Rather, taking a knee has its roots in the 1960s civil rights movement. Specific examples include the Birmingham campaign of Martin Luther King where kneel-ins were organised …… more recently, in 2016 Colin Kaepernick – the US NFL player – picked up on this same imagery in order to protest”

Its current emotive power has undoubtedly been added to by the very nature of the brutal murder of George Floyd by a white police officer kneeling on his throat as he pleaded for his life and repeated those words ….. “I can’t breathe”

Of course the symbolism of such acts goes much further back into the story of Christian faith, Jesus himself kneels as he washes the feet of the disciples (John 13:1-17). It’s an act of humility, of solidarity and love. In kneeling to wash the disciples feet, Jesus models not just forgiveness of personal and structural sin, but also humilty and collective solidarity, and of worship to God, Jesus says:

“Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” (John 13.16)

What the Raab discourse describes in his feudally referenced “bending of the knee” is the submission and yeilding to a person or position of higher ranking power, authority or status – the oppressed kneeling at the feet of the oppressor.

“Taking a knee”  on the other hand symbolically and deliberately confronts that power, it says I do not kneel “to” you as a result of your power or authority, but instead I invite you to kneel “with” me, to become equal with me, to share my experience, my oppression, and than to stand with me against it. To those who share the oppression due to racism and the colour of their skin, it is an act of defiance. To those of us who are white,  is an invitation to willingly yield our power built on centuries of structural foundations of racism, and to symbollically place ourselves at the feet of the oppressor even when that includes elements of our own power and priviledge.

The Gospel, and so many of Jesus responses, offers a counter cultural approach to the ways of Empire, offering instead a resistance based on the antithesis of power through violence – it takes the things of Empire (including kneeling before ones “better”) and transforms them into acts and signs of liberation and salvation. So I invite you, just as I believe the Gospels and Jesus himself invites, to at every opportunity to take a knee to divest from and to resist racism, to resist white supremacy, take a knee to resist Empire, take a knee to show love, compassion for all those oppressed, so that one day we might all be free.

 

 

*Taking the Knee – One Way Publishing (2020)

 

 

You’re Scared I get it

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Okay I understand that a lot of people are frightened by terrorism (some of you / us even more than you / we outwardly let on). I understand that this fear is not just about life and death, but about the way you /we/they think certain kinds of terrorism represent a direct threat to the way they/ you/ we live.
 
So lets start there – You’re scared I get it.
 
But do not let that fear turn into blind hate, if we want to address terrorism, whether by the “Alt Right Nazis”, “Supremacists” “Islamic” or whatever tendencies lets focus on the politics and power behind it …. lets understand what attracts people to these false ideologies and lets seriously address those, rather than letting fear turns us towards hate. Hate leads to more hate, and will never end the cycle of violence.
 
History and culture are never static, the world moves on – knowledge increases and changes (although sometimes wisdom is lost) and every generation needs to consider past events in the light of current circumstances and knowledge. What may have been “accepted” at one time may rightly be condemned by future generations, Tony Benn once said: “Every generation must fight the same battles again and again. There’s no final victory and there’s no final defeat”.  
In the case of slavery for example, it operated a different form and was underpinned by a different set of ideologies and beliefs under Egyptian, Roman (and other Ancient World) models. Later was re-imagined by Europeans from the 16th & 17th Century onwards, when it became underpinned by the racism that still fuels the “White Supremacists” of today. Now no one can deny the economic wealth brought about in Europe and in the USA through slavery, or the part it played within the global industrial revolution. But equally, no one can deny the human misery and oppression caused through it, and the legacy of racism that still flows as a direct result of it. In the USA the abolition of slavery was at the heart of a Civil War that led to the defeat of the Confederacy of eleven states and deaths of thousands of young men (mainly) who died defending a system of wealth creation that still left them impoverished, whilst living in the false consolation that they were “better” than someone whose skin was a darker shade?
Sadly in 2017 we are having to fight the battles over racism and white supremacy yet again – they are being played out in many places every day, from Charlottesville to Grenfell Tower, and right across the globe.
In the end our survival and that of this planet will rest upon our ability to understand that the world is held together in one humanity (Ubuntu) and one creation; the man made (and they are still “man” made) systems that rule us are disposable as we try and find a path that ultimately might save us and the earth from ourselves and our own destructive tendencies.  Paul describes just this in his letter to the church in Rome around 55AD in it he says: 
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 
Romans 12.2
Shalom

What a Feminist Looks Like

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I’m not a feminist, how can I be, after all I’m a man. In the same way that being a straight, white, male with no disability  debars me from speaking “on behalf” of black people about racism, LGBT people about homophobia, people with disabilities about the discrimination experience by them – I cannot speak of womens oppression, or therefore of feminism, from any experience that qualifies me. I have to accept (and do accept) that I am part of the world that oppresses, I even have to accept that there have been times (still are times) when my attitude, my behaviour has been, inadvertently or otherwise, part of that oppression, and even where that is not the case, that I am a direct and indirect beneficiary of that oppression. So I cannot say “this is what a feminist looks like”, I cannot speak “on behalf” of women, but that doesn’t mean I cannot take sides.

In a similar way I’m not an Anglican, I’m a Methodist and as such I’ve been reluctant to get drawn into the current “debate” in Sheffield (and beyond) about the whole issue of the appointment of Rev Philip North as the Anglican Bishop for Sheffield Diocese. But seeing and hearing the sadness and upset this issue has caused for many of my females colleagues in ministry in Sheffield, I felt I needed to say something.

I do not understand the “theological objections” to the ordination of women, I do not understand how “mutual flourishing” operates, but this I know – I have served with, and been ministered to, by many women since becoming a follower of Jesus, some have been ordained, others have not; their gender has made no difference to their faithfulness to Christ, no difference to their abilities, no difference to their grace and love as found in Jesus, no difference to the calling they each have been given. For any powers or system to deny such callings, has (in my opinion) little to do with the Kingdom of God and much more to do with the Empire of Patriarchy.