Tag Archive for Christian

He Pitched His Tent Among Us

(Note: I intended on writing and posting this before Christmas Day, due to the topical nature of this post. However I decided that family time was more important, and so it is being posted today.)

This time last year St. Paul’s Cathedral were very busy, at least they were in front of the cathedral where Occupy LSX had set up their camp after being pre-emptively blocked from entering Paternoster Square, the Square upon which the London Stock Exchange is situated.

As some pointed out at the time, Occupy was demonstrating in a very real and actual sense a strong part of the Gospel message, even if the full Gospel was not in the forefront of people’s minds. The impressive part of the Gospel message that was powerfully voiced was this: to change the world one must make personal sacrifice, and the focus of our changing the world must be for the benefit primarily of the poor.

There was another aspect, missed by the great Glory of the Cathedral (though the Cathedral does show the glory of God, and Giles Fraser had preached on the needs of the poor the day after Occupy LSX set up), which is that on that first Noel Jesus, God the Son, gave up His eternal glory and dwelt in a sinful and fallen world amongst sinful and fallen people. A literal translation of John 1 verse 14 would have it that Jesus “pitched His tent among us”.

It is not my desire to any longer continue the battle over the rights and wrongs of the Cathedral’s stance during those days, but perhaps this Christmas season we can look at what the Church can learn from the protest movements, and what the protest movements can learn from Jesus.

Occupy and a large number of other protest organisations from Greenpeace to UK Uncut and even to the Anarchists (by and large a peaceful political philosophy despite government and media portrayals to the contrary) would state that their main and primary purpose is to further justice. Here they meet with God – God, in the Christian worldview, is a God who loves justice and wants His followers to practice justice in the same way that He does, through self-sacrifice. (God is also a God of mercy, and so we must always remember mercy even whilst pursuing justice.)

The Church can learn much from those who climb power station cooling towers in order that those in the poorest nations are not starving due to crop failures, or those who give up the warmth and comfort of a centrally-heated house, duvets and fluffy cushions to live for a few weeks, potentially many months, in a tent during the coldest part of the year. Such self-sacrifice for the benefit of others is highly commendable and one which many Christians (including, alas, this one as yet) fail to perform. The Occupiers and other protesters have learnt to “deny themselves, take up their crosses” (Matthew 16:24).

Yet even so, there remains within a majority of these protest movements a self-seeking and a selfishness that is not good, and here the protesters can learn from Jesus. They have learnt “to deny themselves”, and to “take up their crosses”, yet by refusing to “follow after [Jesus]” they deny the justice and mercy of God, claiming that they themselves are the arbiters of such concepts. (I am aware that this is a rather sweeping generalisation, yet to deal with every protester individually on a blog such as this is not possible.)

There is, in addition to this lack of humility, an aspect of self-seeking – a motivation often of envy rather than true love of mercy. My friend and Christian brother Glen Scrivener visited Occupy LSX with a group of people and he told me he was struck by a conversation he had with one protester. I cannot give an exact quote, but the protester said (after a short conversation) that he was protesting out of the motivation that “he wouldn’t have to be envious of the bankers any more.”

In these aspects the protesters need to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn the love of God, which is equally given to protesters and bankers alike, to come to learn from God, to value His principles above their own, and to love mercy as well as justice.

The Church needs to engage with these movements of protest, for the Church is not a domineering institution of hierarchy (or at least, it should not be) but is a subversive force that “turns the world upside down” and has conquered more hearts with the weapon of love than any amount of militaristic imperialist dominance could ever do.

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Does the Church Understand Protest?

This weekend past there were demonstrations organised by the unions against the austerity programme that has been implemented by the Government. Christians took part in these and peaceably showed their support for a grass-roots movement against swingeing cutbacks and the victimisation of the poor.

Yet a week before, on the anniversary of Occupy LSX – the camp outside St. Paul’s Cathedral that became the focus of the Occupy movement in the UK – Christianity Uncut and Occupy London staged an ill-received protest at the cathedral.

Protest at St. Paul's Cathedral

Christianity Uncut members unfurl a banner outside St. Paul’s Cathedral – (Photo Credit: Christianity Uncut)

The protests involved a member of Occupy Faith standing reading a prayer; a group of four women chaining themselves to the pulpit; and a further group outside unfurling a banner. Except for the prayer reading, which was formally invited, the protests were not sanctioned by the cathedral and the cathedral made a strong rebuke to those who took part in the action.

Yet is not protest at the heart of the Gospel message? Jesus did not come to make peace, but came with a sword to divide the sheep from the goats. He Himself drove out the money-changers from the Temple; rebuked the religiously hypocritical; called the puppet king Herod names.

Yet so many in the Church (and in my usual manner I use the capital “C” to indicate the universal Church comprising of all believers without denominational bias) seem to regard protest as something inherently evil.

Sometimes a form of protest is allowed, such as in the prayer reading by Occupy Faith at St. Paul’s, or an orderly march through a police-ordained route with a set start and stop time and a clear chain of command that the police can use to control the procession.

Yet the form of protest that has written the British democratic history has not always been the kind of clean-shaven, well-to-do garden party. And we shouldn’t expect it to be.  (It is sad that if the triumphal entry into Jerusalem which we commemorate on Palm Sunday were held in Britain today it would require prior police approval.)

Many in the Church find the idea of protest unappealing – that is for their own consciences – yet equally they should not seek to prevent those who wish to make a demonstrable impact on political discourse.

A democratic society is a fragile one in many ways. We lack the clear autocratic mandate to wage war against enemies or impose necessary but unpopular polices. Yet we are also at constant threat from our own leaders, albeit if those leaders are oftentimes unaware of the danger. The threat of straying too far from the public will is a real one, and public protest is the important mechanism by which the masses make known their dissatisfaction to the privileged (and every member of a government is privileged in that degree) before such gruesome aspects of people-based rule as riot and uprising are manifest.

The response from St. Paul’s to the peaceable and respectful protests two weekends ago show that the Cathedral has not learned from its general rejection of Occupy LSX. And the general distaste which many in the Church have for peaceful direct protest reflects more on their own middle-class comfortability  than the Gospel message of the Man who died on a murderer’s cross to set the captives free.

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St. Paul’s Gave Police The Okay to Clear Steps

Yesterday the Independent newspaper revealed that St. Paul’s Cathedral had given the police permission to clear the cathedral’s steps during the eviction of the Occupy camp that was cleared on the 28th February 2012.

I do not wish to be dragging this on, as also yesterday the cathedral welcomed its new Dean, and my view is that Christian forgiveness should be paramount in this matter.

Yet the fact remains that many Christians have been exceedingly hurt by the dealings of St. Paul’s Chapter, as this open letter shows.  It must also be of further hurt to hear that the various statements released by the Chapter were, in fact, clearly misleading.

Those whose actions have brought such hurt do need to consider their positions and prayerfully consider if they have allowed the riches of City of London Cathedral life to skew their perspective regarding those who are poor and marginalised and those who were being faced with a forceful eviction – some of those being fellow Christians.

My hope is that the new Dean will make a statement of apology, but whether that is or is not forthcoming the Christian duty to forgive remains, and my prayer is that those who have been so hurt by this may come to have reconciliation with those who injured them.

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Occupy Faith

A new phase in the continuing Occupy movement in the UK has begun with the formation of a new charity, Occupy Faith.

This is a very important development as far as Church Peace is concerned, being as it is a melding of the Occupy protest movement and the faith community.

In part inspired by the Occupy Faith movement in the US (much as Occupy UK was inspired by Occupy Wall Street) the Occupy Faith UK movement has planned a 12 day pilgrimage from St. Paul’s Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral to highlight economic injustice and solidarity with the Occupy movement.

As a new link to build bridges between the protest and faith communities it is encouraging and inspiring to hear of this new initiative.

I do, however, have concerns.  I know other Christians and Christian groups view these things differently, yet the concept of seeking a form of economic salvation by allying too closely to non-Christian groups is not something I feel entirely comfortable about.

The rationale for Church Peace, as it stands, is to connect with the dissenting community, and though I would like this to include support for moral and ethical protests, an important part of Church Peace is the Christian input it seeks to provide.  The Occupy Faith UK statement of intent prohibits the sharing of the Christian faith and makes clear that there is no purpose to proselytise.  Whilst this is understandable considering their stated purpose of seeking economic justice, to me it seems as though the Gospel is being relegated to second place after carnal considerations of finance.

I am reminded of the situation where Israel was being attacked by the Assyrians and they then made an alliance with Egypt to fight the invaders back, which was robustly condemned by God through the prophet Isaiah.  Is it right that Christians should seek salvation from economic woes (even for the benefit of others) by allying with non-Christian faiths and movements?  Should we not, rather, seek to be witnesses of a better way than that which both Occupy and other faiths purport to be?

Of course, it is a Biblical imperative to speak up for the oppressed and the poor, and in this respect it is highly commendable that Christians should seek to do this.  But is such a close identification with Occupy and those of non-Christian faiths desirable, especially when the movement has banned evangelistic efforts by those Christians involved?

I appreciate that there are other views, and would welcome your comments below.

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Can the Offender Tell the Offended to Forgive?

As I wrote on this website a while back, I felt that the Christian response to the seeming collusion of the authorities at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the forced eviction of the Occupy camp on their doorstep would be to forgive and move on.  I felt that this would have been the correct response, even though praying Christians were dragged from the steps of a church – a sight that should be abhorrent to every person of faith.

Yet those who were so offended chose instead to seek understanding of how fellow believers could treat them in such a way.  This is most understandable, and the letter that those of the Ring of Prayer sent to the Chapter of St. Paul’s was polite and stressed that any meeting would be “in a spirit of love and respect”.

Yet such a move was roundly rejected by the Chapter, and instead the Rt. Rev. Michael Colclough wrote back saying that the matter should be “put behind us so that we can all continue our work of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ”.

Then perhaps we can read the open letter, bravely and courageously put, by Tammy Semede, and perhaps understand the great distress and pain that those at the cathedral caused their brothers and sisters.

Tammy’s letter is both heartfelt and shows a serious flaw in the thinking of the Chapter of St. Paul’s.  Can he who has offended his brother then say “let us put this matter behind us”?  If I stole from you and you asked to meet me in a manner of love and respect to discuss the item I have stolen, should I then say “no, I will not meet but you should forgive”?

Yes, we must move on.  But in my view the authorities at the cathedral need to be taking some very serious assessments of their policies and attitudes.

And perhaps it is a question for the wider Church: are we so enamoured with the grandeur and pomp, the wealth and riches, the rotten carcass of Western consumerism and the sell-out to big money, that we can no longer discern that it is we, the Church, that have been acting not as the oppressed and the persecuted, but as the conniver in the oppression of the poor.

Many in the Church are good men and women, working hard to provide for those who are without, both spiritually and practically.  Yet we also have those whose links to the Establishment outweigh any imperative to help the underclass and any scrap of decency is merely a whitewashed tomb.

As the events at St. Paul’s fade to memory, let us now learn the bitter lesson that we are more comfortable with those who have reputation and wealth than with those who are the modern-day lepers and outcasts.  Let us learn the lesson, let us repent most earnestly, and let us be the hands and feet of Jesus, not the treasurers of the Sadducees.

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Open Letter to Chapter of St. Paul’s Cathedral

The following letter was written by Tammy Semede, one of the named defendants in the Occupy LSX case, and was originally published on the Ekklesia website.  It is a heartfelt and powerful letter.  I will, here, allow the letter to speak for itself.  I will, however, be posting comment on this in due course, as a separate post.

An Open Letter to the Chapter of St. Paul’s Cathedral

 

Dear Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral,

Here I am, almost two weeks after witnessing the destruction and inevitable eviction of the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

It has been a very difficult time seeing the vulnerable and frightened part of our Occupy community displaced. The City Of London Corporation had promised to attend the eviction and had assured us that they would make sure they looked after any vulnerable member of the community during and after. They assured us that they had all of those vulnerable people’s names. They said that they would send social workers and mental health professionals. Though you of course know all this from sitting with them in the same meetings as myself, week in, week out…

They sent no one. Not a single professional to assist such people. Instead they came after midnight when all the services that could help these people were closed.

Not a single clergyman attended us that evening. Not one priest or chaplain did you send from that Cathedral to minister to the frightened, or to comfort the distressed. Even Giles Fraser was prevented from coming through the police kettle. Does it concern you that people in distress were denied access to a priest, and that instead a cathedral chapter brought violence upon them in its own grounds?

It has been a fortnight since watching the wonderful community (even with its problems) destroyed. It has been a fortnight since I was threatened with arrest for aggravated trespass on church land. (The same one I have regularly received communion in).

You had assured us all that if we sat peacefully on the cathedral steps we would be safe from police violence or arrest. You even stated publicly you wanted to avoid violence on cathedral land. You told us (in front of Andrew Colvin the City Of London’s lawyer) that those steps would become a sanctuary for occupiers and any occupier who wished, not an obstruction for bailiffs. You told us to just sit and wait and take care of each other. You said publicly that you would not close those doors to us. You said this over and over again, promising the same thing to our Church Liaison Working Group who met with Canon Michael Hempsall, Canon Mark Oakley and the Rt Rev Michael Colclough, every single week in the Christopher Wren room in the basement of the cathedral. And often in the wall between Paternoster Square and the west churchyard.

So understandably, we were all terribly shocked with the events and violence that played out on St Paul’s Cathedral steps, while your workers watched from the balcony and while the Bishop of London turned his back, driving past it all without a second glance!

A fortnight later I feel shocked and numb and sad and hurt. I feel betrayed. I feel I saw a darkness of which I had no idea existed. A darkness which I would never have believed existed until I saw and felt it for myself. I have wished repeatedly since that night that I had not seen the things I did on those steps.

For the best part of three months I have been part of the Church Liaison Working Group, reporting back to the general assemblies of Occupy London Stock Exchange with whatever transpired between ourselves and the Canons and Bishop we met with.

I had become increasingly frustrated at your inability to discuss anything to do with social and economic injustice, always steering these meetings to your agenda. Of course, early on I thought (no, I actually believed) that you were good Christian men, men of God, shepherds for Christ’s flock, but over the weeks and months and quite shockingly the night the camp was evicted, I found out otherwise. I found it out rather painfully.

Not only physical pain from being stood on as I lay on the cathedral steps having fallen over in the crush, but emotionally and spiritually wounded, a wound which as I write this still continues to bleed and feel sore. A wound placed upon me and my soul and heart by the very people I should have looked to for examples of faith in action. A wound imposed upon the fibres of my soul which would give me a struggle of faith and something like that that St John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul”.

This dark night being a phase in which the soul struggles with its faith, can’t seem to find God, nor the hope it once had, but my soul did hold on, the tears did heal the wound, and the wound and painful experience taught me very, very well.

It taught me that the main players in the clergy and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral were not men of God, but puppets of the corporations and City Of London.

And as of today we still await answers or explanations from the cathedral. I still await a call back from Richard Chartres (Bishop of London). I am no stranger to him having met him several times. I am still waiting for their actions to stop hurting. Still waiting silently for some understanding of how anyone, but most certainly the chapter of St Paul’s, can condone such violence on Church steps.

And the last time I went to receive the holy sacrament of communion you tainted it by having your cathedral security watch me the whole time I was there.

Perhaps we will never have the answers.

Perhaps we will never understand.

Perhaps all I can do is wait, wait for a day when I can walk past St Paul’s and not feel hurt, or sad, or tearful whenever it’s called to mind.

“Be still and know that I am God”….

Perhaps that’s all we can do for now?

Perhaps that’s what you should have done too?….

Tammy Samede
Named defendant for Occupy London Stock Exchange

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What Now After St. Paul’s/Occupy LSX

The question for Church Peace is: what now?

The sad scenes at the eviction of Occupy LSX outside St. Paul’s marked the end of the occupation there, yet the Occupy movement has not given up.  Also, other protest groups are in existence aside from Occupy.

The rationale for Church Peace is to connect the Church with the protest community – how best now to go about this?

The following are some ideas and I want to urge you to contribute to this process of moving forward in the ministry.

  • I have made some links with Occupy Brighton and I am looking at how I can help them there.  If anyone reading this is a resident of Brighton then do get in touch – this may be a good way to support dialogue between the churches and Occupy.
  • If any Christians are willing to take on an administration role for Church Peace, in order to maintain an email list, produce letters, and potentially organise church representatives then do let me know!
  • I would really like to hear from Christians who have their own involvement in protest groups, whatever their particular cause.  There may be an opportunity to learn important lessons from your experiences.

Do feel free to contribute ideas, suggestions and any feedback as a comment to this post!  Thank you!

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