Tag Archive for Gospel

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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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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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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St. Paul’s Occupy LSX – Proposal for a Solution

Now, I have been warned well that I should not try to interfere or meddle in the arguments and disputes between Occupy LSX and the City of London Corporation.  The case has been heard by a judge and he will make judgement in due course.  I am not well positioned to be involved in this, and, to be honest the dispute between Occupy and the Corporation is outside the remit of Church Peace.

Yet the situation as regards Occupy LSX’s relations with St. Paul’s Cathedral is of my concern: I am a member of the Church of England and a member of the Universal Church, if not prominent or well-known.

I have a great concern that the Church, and St. Paul’s in particular, should not assume the role of oppressor.  If anything, the Church should be in the position of being the oppressed, for it is in being persecuted by wicked men that we are conformed to the sufferings of Christ and become more like Him.  The Church should not be in cahoots with those who would oppress, whether that oppression is violent, vitriolic or financial: a Biblical imperative which the Rev. Giles Fraser would probably be quite sympathetic to.

As such, I am saddened that the registrar of St. Paul’s Cathedral decided to give evidence in support of the City’s eviction plans.

Jesus, the Man and God whom St. Paul’s represents, was born into this world as a poor and rejected child.   Born to a woman who it was presumed had been immoral, turned away by everyone in Bethlehem despite being heavily pregnant until finally a kindly inn-keeper gave an outside shed as a maternity ward, so poor that at his circumcision dedication service His earthly parents gave the pauper’s sacrificial offering.  If anything the Occupy LSX camp with it’s lowly position yet high ideals is closer to the meaning of Christ’s life than the majestic church of Christopher Wren.

Yet we must also be careful.  Although many regarded Jesus as a rebel in His time, He never engaged in lawlessness.  Lawlessness is a deceitful threat that accompanies the Occupy movement, even if that threat is consciously rejected and not knowingly followed.  Lawlessness must be rejected and eschewed.  Government is not a generally and intrinsically evil institution.  The laws, traditions and institutions of the UK are in desperate need of radical reform, yet I do not believe a forceful and ill-thought out revolution is the answer, even if that force is largely peaceful.  That is my view.

Occupy LSX has stood for over three months, and much has been acheived.  Ultimately, though, the wickedness of men both oppressors and protestors cannot be dealt with by reforms or revolution.  The fundamental reform and revolution must be in our hearts, and that can only come through Jesus Christ, the Cross and the Resurrection.

Solution to Occupy LSX at St. Paul’s

With that preamble said and the admission that St. Paul’s has found itself in an almost impossible position, I would like to make a tentative proposal for a possible solution to the impasse.

Occupy should not disappear.  It has an important role.  Yet a semi-permanent camp is not practicable for a working city and a working cathedral.  Also, the occupiers themselves would be well-advised to maintain family, work and friendship links outside of the Occupy camp and technological communication.

As such I would like to propose that St. Paul’s could agree to host 2 Occupy events each, and every, year until such a time comes that the aims of Occupy are realised, whether in current form or a form to develop.

The spiritual aspect of Occupy’s aims are important, and as such would it not be a good idea for the Cathedral to host two events each year, at Easter and at Christmas?  With that situation, the Christian message of justice tempered with mercy and grace would perhaps find an opening in a disparate group, and the fervour and passion of the occupiers may even shake the Church out of her complacency and cosiness with the established systems.  Would it perhaps be an idea for the Occupy camp to host political events and for St. Paul’s to hold spiritual events during these 2 times each year?

Of course, for the movement to remain Occupy there would have to be a camp and a general assembly, but if this was limited to only as many tents as could be safely pitched on St. Paul’s owned land and limited in duration to perhaps a month, then it could possibly be practicable.

There would also need to be a gaining of mutual respect, especially as regards the rather old-fashioned principle of hosts and guests.  It would clearly be the case that St. Paul’s Cathedral would host the camps and that the occupiers would be guests, yet the old-fashioned host/guest principle requires the hosts to be servants and the guests those that are honoured.

Closing

I shall close this proposal, tentative as it is, by saying that I hope and pray for a peaceful resolution to the situation, whether this particular proposal goes anywhere or not.

And I pray that all involved: City, Cathedral and Occupy, may have a wonderful New Year.

 

If you want to add to or suggest other proposals then please do comment or email Church Peace at admin@churchpeace.rabel.org.uk.  Thank you.

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Great Encouragement as Christians Engage

To some it was an unfortunate accident, yet it is becoming clear that God had much wisdom in putting Occupy LSX right on the steps of Britain’s leading Cathedral.

Although there have been some bumpy patches in the relationship between St. Paul’s and the Occupy camp, the new emphasis on dialogue has enabled the Bishop of London and St. Paul’s Chapter to show a Christian kindness – that of showing those who have often had no voice other than protest that they can engage in constructive political debate within the system whilst at the same time protecting their status as those “outside of the system”.  On the 7th December representatives from Occupy London met with the FSA and it has been reported that the discussions were fruitful.

Christian Actions

There have also been moves by the Christian community to engage with the protesters, and on the 1st December the Not Ashamed Campaign held a rally and prayer meeting on the steps of St. Paul’s which included listening to Occupiers and also speaking to them of the necessity of Jesus – that only He can truly be Saviour and Lord.

It is wonderful to hear of such actions.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

In a separate move, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote an insightful piece for the Radio Times magazine and asked the question of what Jesus would be doing in regards to Christmas and the Occupy protests.

He stressed that it is not a question of whether Jesus would support or oppose Occupy, but that He would not be sitting quietly by yet rather be there and be asking some searching questions on motives.

Despite many reports claiming Williams was saying Jesus would take sides, he was careful not to give endorsement nor condemnation, but rather to get to the heart of the matter – our heart.

Encouragement

It is, indeed, an encouragement that many Christians from various denominations and of various hues and influence are each, in their own particular way, engaging with Occupy LSX and seeking to use the wonderful God-given opportunities to reach out to, to listen to, and to both encourage and challenge the Occupiers.

In many ways the work here at Church Peace is being done in a God-ordained organic way without Church Peace needing to shout out, and that is good.  But the need to reach out to the wider protest movement and to defend the peaceable nature of the current protests and Church response is still required.

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Meeting with Local Evangelist

Yesterday I met with a local reverend who is now working as a full-time evangelist with the Hour of Revival Association.  The main purpose of this meeting was to discuss Church Peace.

The meeting did go very well indeed, and I shared how far Church Peace has developed and where it is at now, and he came back with a number of very good points.

Glen Scrivener, who is ordained in the Church of England and was formerly a curate at All Souls Church, Eastbourne, spoke a number of very good points.

He was very clear that Jesus should never be used as a “mascot”.  We discussed that Jesus can be appropriated by any number of political leanings and movements, but the aim in true Christianity is not to attempt mold Jesus around our beliefs but to mold our beliefs as we get to know Him better.  Linked to this was an interesting discussion on the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) movement and two points were raised: one, it should be more about What Jesus Has Already Done, and two, that can we really know what Jesus would do in a situation?  Do we really know Him that well as to say we know what He would do about, say, the Euro crisis?  Surely our task is to get to know Him better rather than appropriating Him for our ends.

These are challenges to Church Peace, the Church itself, and the dissenting community.

Glen is an evangelist, and obviously coming from that perspective he is very keen to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but he was clear on the great opportunity for this that the Occupy movement has brought; St. Paul’s initial failure; and the possibility of a different approach from the Church elsewhere.  We spoke about Occupy Brighton and may be making a visit there and he, like I, was keen to draw alongside the protesters and facilitate Church input in both a practical serving of demonstartors and in sharing and listening to the issues involved.

We also spoke of the role of the bankers, and we were clear that in Jesus’ eyes the rich banker is just as precious as the poor and needy beggar.  We warned ourselves about “religious self-righteousness” also.

Would do others think?  Do protesters actually want any input from the Christian community or should the Church just “butt out”?  Is practical service to Occupy appropriate?  Does drawring alongside the demonstrators show a bias?

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