Latest Entries »

Activism not Clicktivism

In the light of Britain’s government’s recent vote to commence air trikes on Syria I reflected on social media that I believe petitions, emails, letters and tweets do f all for peace. I am convinced that shalom activism in our daily life and in places of discomfort are all that will ever make a jot of difference. We need more activism not clicktivism.

I was challenged by some to suggest ways people could embrace this call, so what follows is a little list of responses to the vote on air strikes. Some apply particularly to churches but most apply to any and all. Feel free to suggest additional ideas or examples in the comments.

1. Mourn and grieve

Give yourself and others space to mourn the decision and grieve the inevitable consequences: loss of life, increased migration expanding the European refugee crisis, traumatised military personnel, heightened suspicion and fear, more terrorism, increased radicalisation to name a few. I have felt very sad and conflicted since the UK MPs voted. It has been uncomfortable but necessary to sit with that and grieve. I am sure more steps to the grieving process will become apparent in the months to come.

2. Dialogue

As convicted as we each may be about our position on air strikes, most of us have doubt and confusion about the best way to improve life for the innocents of Syria and beyond. It is OK to not have the answers and even in the midst of polarised views there is room for listening and dialogue. Lack of dialogue is a root cause of most conflict.

3. Avoid knee-jerk reactions

When angry, injured or ego-driven we tend to react from a place of conflict. Like the armed jets leaving for their first military campaign just one hour after the vote, we too have often already planned how to execute our reactions. This decision means that our ears are closed to alternative options and intentional listening of the other. Lack of listening is a root cause of most conflict.

4. Nurture our young people

Our young people are the most susceptible to the fear of being at war with another country and they will be thinking about the consequences for their contemporaries in Syria. Help them to ask questions and explore their own feelings and convictions. Let them know that it is OK to disagree with you and, most importantly, it is OK to disagree with their government’s decisions. Encourage them that their voice and their vote counts.

5. Be friendly

When we are being drawn into the need to search for the enemy within it is easy to become suspicious of everyone. You can live like that if you want to, but it is pretty exhausting and lonely. I saw a cartoon on social media today which said ‘I watched the news all day and then I wanted to go out and punch my Muslim neighbour on the face. But my wife stopped me and reminded me I was a Muslim. So I turned the TV off…’. We are all discipled by something. You have a choice as to what, or who that is.

An alternative posture is to live the opposite and presume that most people are inherently good and friendly. Smile at people on the street, sit next to the person least like you on the bus or train, be quick to offer your hand to help, carry a packet of cigarettes or gum so you can offer to someone next to you in the queue. It is much more life-giving and fun.

6. Do the opposite

We (whoever we are) are often made to feel afraid of those (whoever those are) who are unlike us. This is not healthy for us but it also creates a real sense of vulnerability for those who are being demonised by the latest news story. In the current climate many from a Muslim background are feeling especially scapegoated. My friend Tim and others decided to walk in the opposite direction of the contemporary narrative and the night before the Syria vote said this:

“Tonight a small group of us from church decided to spend some time in an area of Cardiff that has a large Muslim community…. With the rise in Islamophobia we wanted to let the community know that we were saddened by this and cared about them. The men gave out packets of biscuits and the girls gave Muslim women small bunches of flowers. It was pretty overwhelming to witness the response of this small gesture.

The Muslim women were so touched by the flowers. One woman came back to us and said how it had blessed her heart and asked one of our girls for a hug.”

Fears were stilled, hearts were warmed and genuine friendships were made.

7. Go the extra mile

In addition to walking in the opposite direction, shalom needs to be built across wide divides. This requires some to go the extra mile and enter places they find most discomforting. We live in a world of diversity with such potential for misunderstanding, stereotyping and conflict. Perhaps you need to be brave and go to the place you most fear – the council estate, the gay bar, the Conservative Club, the mosque, the champagne bar, the bookies, the church, the away team pub, the synagogue, the refugee camp – you may be surprised at how welcomed you are. You may even find you have some stuff in common.

8. Build common ground

If you find you do have something in common, you might find ways to organise together towards that aim and find unity within your diversity. Everyone wants peace – do something together to build towards this. Opportunities for forcing lasting change are increased when people gather together across difference and work for a shared vision of the common good. Every neighbourhood in the world needs groups like that. This is where movements begin. But it takes patience, perseverance and a commitment to work beyond your narrow self-interest. Start off with something small that you can all agree on – a local eyesore that needs sorting, broken street-lights, a dangerous road crossing that can be improved. Listen to one another and democratically agree on what you want to change.

Remember, those who love peace must learn to organise as effectively as those who love war.

Love peace? Get active. Get organised.

Those who organise for peace...



At The Fishermen’s Chapel we hold occasionally regular opportunities for stillness and reflection called Anchored. It occurred to me this morning that those who would like to but are unable to get to these events, might like to participate in the quietness of their own space. Others who live too far away to participate may also find the content thought-provoking or might like to adapt the concept for use in their own context. So here is this morning’s ‘Anchored’

Anchored – Breathe – July 2015

Call The Midwife

He called me a midwife. It was an interesting phrase and one that I have had resonance with, so it was affirming when a friend made that observation themselves.  It was a comment made as I explained a new job that I have just started.

Two weeks ago I started a one year, part-time role as the Launch Leader of St Mark’s in 10418444_392524797582507_8564473434353009348_nMarks Gate, which will complement my continuing work as one of the co-ordinators of Urban Expression. This Anglican church on the outskirts of east London has taken a great risk and bulldozed it’s run-down, high-maintenance building, and entered a partnership with a redevelopment group to build a purpose-built complex which will seek to serve this community. More than 50 flats will be used by the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham to provide much needed accommodation in our capital, 1 home will be used specifically to house those who have been homeless and 3 flats will be available for other church use, perhaps by a team of volunteers or a ‘missional community’ maybe. The ground floor will be given to the church and includes a large central community cafe area, large and smaller meeting rooms (one with a sprung floor and one that might become a fitness room), staging for theatre productions, new pre-school/nursery facilities, sanctuary and garden.

The recently retired, hard-working and long-serving vicar has worked diligently to bring this into being to ensure a long-term, effective, generous Jesus-centred presence in this community which finds itself pushed and pulled between boroughs and therefore in the lowest 10% of deprivation. Because the vicarage is also part of the redevelopment they have been unable to appoint a new vicar as yet, so this exciting baby initiative needs a midwife to try and bring it safely into existence while the process of advertising for a new priest gets underway.

10924715_10153015664656145_7062367970030198955_nSo my midwifery bag is packed with a willingness to listen to the church and the community, a growing understanding (through my project management of The Fishermen’s Chapel) of helping a church take risks and grasp opportunities that come their way, and a belief that communities that have frequently felt marginalised have immense strength and heaps to teach wider society. But this is going to be a big baby, so I am also a little nervous!

I increasingly recognise that I enjoy starting things, imagining new possibilities and building teams… and then get itchy feet and a little bit bored! So this opportunity to walk with this church through this year of transition really excites me. Some may know that I am not usually a fan of church buildings – I have had people walk out and others call me the spawn of Satan for suggesting we might become more effective followers of Jesus if we close our church buildings! – but I have said publicly that IF you are going to invest in a new building, for goodness sake make sure it has a cafe, children’s facilities and a gym! So 10945542_393610480807272_6997419458285906933_nmaking this work is something of a personal challenge for me!

It is only a temporary role, so I will not be moving to the neighbourhood. The church will be advertising for a new vicar very soon and she or he will have the incarnational task and privilege of continuing to contribute to, build and serve community. If you are an Anglican priest looking for a multi-cultural congregation who have shown immense courage by embarking on this adventure of pioneering, and are passionate about urban, outer-city estates, keep your eyes open for the ad🙂



At the beginning of each new year it has become common place for people, especially the scholarly, to review the books they’ve read. I am not particularly scholarly and don’t read to relax, however I was curious to remind myself what books I’ve tackled this last year and was pleasantly surprised by what I’ve digested. get-attachment.aspx-6

Faitheist is an honest, humble and though-provoking biography of a young man who ‘became a Christian’ but then rejected religion because if it’s ability to painfully exclude and manipulate people, but who has ended up being an advocate of inter-faith dialogue and partnership. Some deep challenges for people of faith and atheists who seek the welfare of society and a great example of someone who refuses to hate.

The Reason I Jump is a delightful biography written by someone with autism. A precious insight into the mind of a remarkably self-aware person living on the autistic spectrum.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, The Urban Halo and The Sound of Worlds Colliding are each real stories and reflections from people living in or alongside slum communities around the world. The latter two are written or edited by people who have been part of Servants teams, the charity which I have recently become an elder of (see former post). One of them, Craig Greenfield has since developed the inspiring Alongsiders initiative, equipping those who have grown up in slum communities to mentor children growing up alongside them in those neighbourhoods. It was a delight to meet him and hear more whilst in Phnom Penh. The love of these authors for these neighbourhoods-become-home is tangible, but so is their cry for the rest of the world to engage with these marginalised communities that are rapidly housing the majority of the world’s population.

Whilst staying in the slum community in Phnom Penh I chose to re-read the Gospel of Mark from my host’s doorstep. It was healthy to read it from a different perspective, one which looks far more like the original context than my developed world, privileged, powerful perspective. It made me interpret some bits quite differently and I scribbled lots of questions around the text which I will come back to one day. I interspersed this with reading Scarcity, an intellectual investigation into how lack of time, food, security, or anything else, makes us react. A little light on the practical solutions for this activist, but it did suggest there are some similar responses to be aware of in our efforts to counteract poverty.

I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum whilst in Phnom Penh. It is an essential but awful visit to make. Whilst there I heard the story of Chum Mey, a prisoner at the school, turned prison, turned museum. Although tortured, he avoided death because he was an artist and was regularly called upon to paint members of the Khmer Rouge. At the end of the tour I met him at a stall where he sells his book Survivor, the triumph of an ordinary man in the khmer rouge genocide. He has committed himself to tell the story in order to prevent such genocide happening again. In the intro he says remarkably:

“…I do not condemn the people who tortured me. If they were still alive today and if they came to me, would I still be angry with them? No. Because they were not senior leaders and they were doing what they had to do at the time. I consider them victims like me, because they had to follow other people’s orders. How can I say I would have behaved differently? Would I have had the strength to refuse to kill if the penalty was my own death?…Even the ones who tortured me, they also lost parents and family members,”

In a similar vein, using real life global scenarios Andrea Riccardi in Living Together investigates our yearning to live in a peaceful society whilst surrounded by conflict and violence. Exploring issues of globalisation, identity and cohabitation from various standpoints, it charts changes throughout history, attitudes to religious groups and even raises the awkward topic of jihad.

Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement is a story- and theologically-rich investigation into contemporary issues which might tempt people to excarnate, or disengage, themselves from the world and communities they find themselves in – to be present but not available. This, Frost argues, is counter to what the incarnate, enfleshed, embodied Jesus models and so he includes examples of how to take root, embrace place, and appreciate who we have been made to be as humans. Rarely have references to films, zombies, porn, cities, clicktivism and menstruation all appeared in the same theological book!  It was contemporary, thoughtful, grounded and affirming.

To be honest, I am only half-way through Half The Sky: How To Change The World. It is a thoroughly disturbing examination of how women and girls are treated around the world, yet inspires the reader with incredible stories of how many have overcome. “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict”, says a former UN force commander of the extortionate number of women raped in war. And the authors suggest “it appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century”. Reading this is like having a bucket of cold water thrown over your head to awaken you to such routinised genocide, and provokes the religious to deep soul-searching as we share more than a hint of culpability in shaping attitudes which promote inequality.

Wave Hello, Say Goodbye

A few days after I returned from my trip to Phnom Penh I went to see Jools Holland & his Rhythm & Blues Band with Jim – his birthday present from September. It was phenomenal on many levels, and two highlights were Ruby Turner, who caught us all up in seventh heaven with her spirited rendition of Peace in The Valley, and 80’s icon Marc Almond. Having been a complete 80’s Essex teen it was quite surreal dancing and singing along to the anthems of Tainted Love and Say Hello, Wave Goodbye just two rows from the legend instead of around a handbag!

The latter song felt very apt as I had been pondering the greetings I have received in various slum communities. When I visited several slum communities in Kampala in 2012 I was taken aback by the smiley children who all waved as we walked into their neighbourhoods and shouted gleefully ‘Bye bye Mzungu’. This was on the way in, not on the way out! And this was not only in one particular community, but in every one of the few that I visited. What could have happened that caused this to become a normal greeting I thought?

My limited experience told me that a considerable amount of ‘outreach’, ‘service’ or ‘humanitarian aid’ in Kampala was delivered by white people (Mzungus) of various nationalities, belonging to a multitude of NGOs, and was frequently brought in by visitors who invariably lived elsewhere, often in a compound with high security. My presence in the slums, and that of the other white people on the teams I was accompanying, was obviously regarded as temporary, to the degree that the children said ‘Goodbye’ even as we arrived.

In contrast, as I entered the slum community in Phnom Penh with my travelling friend Alex, even for the first time, some children gave a little shy DSCN3020wave and a smile, whilst others simply ignored us or looked a little bemused. Within minutes of arriving at our host’s humble home a few children from the neighbourhood appeared to say hello and mock our feeble attempts to greet them with ‘jim-rip-sewr’! They then accompanied us on a walk around the community as our host showed us our home for the week and, in a mix of broken English, sign-language and points to an English-Khmer dictionary, tried to explain certain dynamics.

The following morning, after a night acclimatising to the heat, the sounds, and the smells, we went to the church in the middle of the community (more about that another time). It wasn’t until late afternoon that we left the community for a Sunday evening with the team, returning in the dark to our home. The next day, Monday, we left the community in the morning to meet with some of the team, and as we walked out towards the shops on the main road which mask the slum behind, we departed as people who had slept in their neighbourhood, trusting for our food and our rest, able to say good morning, as best we could, as we headed out. As we walked along the path out of the neighbourhood a group of white people walked toward us, arriving for a day’s work in the slum community. We wondered what they might be doing – helping the church maybe?

What struck us most was that at the end of the afternoon, as we walked back into the community, the children greeted us once again, this time more overtly. We began to recognise some of them and maybe we began to look more familiar too. As we returned, along with others finishing their day’s work, the team that had arrived in the morning made their way out of the community. I cannot, and would not want to judge the team that served for the day and I am sure that many contributions from day visitors are imperative for some of the world’s most marginalised localities. What I can discern however is that I found it very uncomfortable to have the wave of a hello and the vocabulary of a goodbye presented together in Kampala. I was far more comfortable being able to say hello as an, albeit temporary, resident of this Phnom Penh community.

In Kampala I was told that it would be impossible as someone from a ‘developed country ‘ to live in a slum community. It would be too dangerous. Yet it seemed perfectly possible in Phnom Penh and I ponder the differences. I respect those who have chosen to live in such communities for the long-term and for whom these communities have genuinely become home. Their presence, and the respect they have gained from living humbly within their neighourhood, no doubt paved the way for us, as their friends and visitors, to be welcomed so warmly.

I use the phrase ‘incarnational mission’ frequently. To me it means the practice of taking your location and place seriously, of recognising home as more than a dormitory or purely personal space, of seeking the welfare of the neighbourhood wherever you are, but also rising to the challenge of relocating and becoming incarnational in places frequently overlooked. I believe in it. I experience it. I continue to learn more about it. I wonder whether incarnational mission is a privileged conversation of those who can choose where they live and wonder what it means for those with no choice and for the third of our global population who are in constant movement. And I wonder what it does to my theology and my practice if it is deemed ‘impossible’ to be incarnational in some locations on this beautiful earth? What do we potentially miss if ‘wave hello and say goodbye’ is all we can aspire to? And what can we who are barely comprehending the challenges of living in an urban world, learn from those who have grown up in slum neighbourhoods, who are effectively serving and mobilising their communities?