Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A Hand of Blessing

You are blessed
In your tears
And heartfelt fears
And in your dreams
Of a better way
Which feed your thirst
For rightful
The Beatitudes; Matthew 5:1-11
You who stands
With open heart
And open hands
Which offer love
And cradle

Blessed in your poverty
And all you give
In how you live
Of what you have
And what you haven’t

Blessed in your gentleness
And in your righteous rage
Which call for justice
Which challenge power
Which speak of

You are blessed
By tiny fingers curled
Seeking certainty
And by calloused palms,
Blemished by life
And cracked by age
Bearing oft-silent wisdom

You are blessed
By the hand of God
Which is felt
In the tender touch
Of human hands
In love
And Blessing

Monday, 24 June 2013

The Next Adventure

This time last year we were about to leave the Philippines. In some ways, the memories are still fresh, in others our last days there already feel a long time ago. Either way, it is once again time to prepare for our next new adventure.

Our immediate next adventure is three weeks in Taize, starting at the end of this week, but the longer term next adventure is also now fast becoming a reality. In August, maybe even the end of July, we will be moving on once more. After all, this was only ever intended to be a temporary stopping place.

After our recent wanderings our next move will keep us much closer to "home" (whatever that is supposed to mean!) as we move in to Carrs Lane Church in the centre of Birmingham.

The congregation have a vision of turning a flat in their church building into a Christian Community which lives and prays together at the heart of the city. Hopefully, we are going to be part of making that vision a reality. It is a vision which encompasses a shared life, daily prayer, hospitality and service to the city. Already doors are opening and ideas flourishing as to how this vision might become a reality and be something we can live.

It is an exciting prospect.

Being in at the very beginning of something new offers huge potential for shaping the future. Opportunities abound for creativity and imagination. Challenges will likely abound too, as we struggle, together with others to shape what we want the community to become. But at this stage, both opportunities and challenges feel like exciting stepping atones on this next part of our journey.

So once again exciting new adventures lie ahead.
Watch this space ...

Friday, 21 June 2013

A FAIRly Good Idea

It is now about three months since we left Corrymeela, and other than going on a couple of protests, it might appear to the casual observer that I haven't been doing very much. And in one sense, maybe you're right.

I acknowledge the luxury of being more or less completely master of my own time for a few months. I acknowledge the privilege of having a supportive family of in-laws who have housed us and put up with us! But I hope at least, I will get to the end of this few months and feel it is a privilege, yes, but one which has  not been wasted. It has been a chance to catch up with friends and family: a few visits and a good number of long overdue emails (requests accepted if you feel you've missed out!) ! It's been a chance to read some very good books.

But the main way in which I hope this time will have been useful, is the work I am currently doing for Fairgrounds, producing some educational resources to help children understand the importance of ethical trade and our global interconnectedness and responsibilities. That all sounds very highbrow: there's also a fair amount of glue and mess involved too so it won't get too heavy!

Some of you will have already heard me mention Fairgrounds, but I don't think I've written about it on here before, so this seemed like a good occasion to do so. Fairgrounds is a social enterprise based in Bradford, West Yorkshire, which imports and sells fair trade products from all over the world, as well as committing to educating young people, about fair trade and making ethical choices.

We have been involved in Fairgrounds for quite a long time now: from its fragile beginnings, through a few ups and downs, and watching it grow from strength to strength. When I say involved in, I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea: I take zero credit for its success which has been down to the hard work and dedication of Nina (with a lot of family and friends around her) but primarily Nina with her determination to turn a vision into a reality.

Now, with a bit of time to spare, I am able to play a very small part in hopefully helping it to continue to grow. I am currently putting together a series of lesson plans, exploring themes of fair trade and recycling by learning about the production of recycled magazine jewellery in Uganda. The scheme will include literacy, geography, art, ICT, even some maths: and hopefully a lot of thoughtful reflection on making a difference.

It is an interesting process: reflecting on how to create resources which invite children to reflect on important issues at an appropriate level, simplifying themes and material while not underestimating their powers of reflection and intuition; designing something which will appeal to teachers among a myriad of pressures on their time; planning in the abstract without a single group of specific children I know well in mind, but knowing that while designed in the abstract, it will be taught in the concrete.

It seems this blog post is one of two things: either I am trying to justify my current existence: well, yes, possibly; or it is a shameless plug for a company I care about: well, yes, probably. Go to the website. Buy some stuff. After all, it is FAIRly good.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

And then there was Belfast!

The crowd was smaller than the week before, the journey longer, the sleep deprivation greater and the weather worse, much worse. The atmosphere of fear and "security concerns" meant the ticket-only event kept passers by away and potentially reduced some of the strength of the message.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed Belfast. I enjoyed the warm hospitality of Newtownbreda Presbyterian church who not only provided us somewhere to sleep, but fed us with very welcome bacon sandwiches for breakfast after our night on the ferry. I enjoyed meeting old friends and new ones and lots of good conversation. I enjoyed being interviewed by UTV and radio Hereford and Worcester to explain what I was doing and why. I enjoyed being in Belfast Botanical Gardens in spite of the pouring rain and the fact that I hadn't heard of almost any of the celebrities on stage. I even secretly quite enjoyed being stopped and searched by the police, who seemed to think carrying a banner inviting an end to world hunger meant we might also be carrying an offensive weapon.

I enjoyed, once again, being inspired to continue doing what tiny bit I can to make a difference and use my voice to speak out for what I believe in.

Monday, 10 June 2013

The campaign continues

So far this year, Britain has committed to increasing its aid budget to 0.7% of its GDP, the first of the G8 country's to meet this international target, and on Saturday committed to an extra 375 million of core funding to help eradicate hunger and malnutrition. Tax avoidance and transparency are on the agenda for discussions at the G8. Of course, there is more to be done, and of course the government needs to be held accountable for how its aid is allocated, but there are reasons to celebrate, and to be proud to be British.

Perhaps David Cameron is just a jolly nice chap who cares deeply about the starving of the world. Maybe. Or perhaps the thousands of people in Hyde Park on Saturday; and in Edinburgh 8 years ago; perhaps the thousands of signatures on petitions and postcards sent to MPs; perhaps those little actions when the public say they care; perhaps they really do count for something. Perhaps democracy works, at least a bit.

45 000 people turned up in Hyde Park on Saturday. OK so it wasn't as great as the 225 000 who turned up in Edinburgh when we last hosted the G8, but still quite a sizeable number who gave up a day, who put aside whatever else they were busy with, who travelled long distances, who stood up to be counted, who wanted to be heard.

If 45 000 can make a difference, just imagine what could happen if there had been 450 000, or 4 500 000, or even 45 000 000 people. Let's aim big. There is enough food for everyone. And with everyone, we can make it happen.

The question is how do we call on to the streets not just the 45 thousand, but the 45 million?

Some of those who weren't in Hyde Park genuinely don't care about such issues, others, maybe, (although  I find this relatively hard to believe) just don't know. Convincing them may be a long hard road. But then there is everyone else. All those who are deeply saddened by the idea of children dying of malnutrition, who believe in a more equitable distribution of land and resources, who are angry when multinationals fail to pay their taxes, who want big money to be held accountable for its actions around the world... Who weren't in Hyde Park.

Maybe they had something else on. Maybe they thought it would make no difference. Maybe they'll be in Belfast next week instead. Maybe they thought someone else's voice would be as good as their own. Maybe something else was a higher priority. Maybe I could have done more to persuade others to be there. Maybe.

Maybe many of those who weren't there were busy making a bigger difference somewhere else. I hope so.

And maybe I should concentrate on celebrating the 45 000; maybe I should write about inspiring people like Ernest, who didn't let being in his eighties stop him joining the march from Westminster to Hyde Park; because sure, I know I shouldn't judge, and that really isn't my intention. But I can't help feeling that with the G8 only coming to the UK once every eight years, it's a great opportunity to let our voices be heard. I can't help feeling that we have a huge responsibility to save lives that shouldn't need to be lost. I can't help feeling that if we had been 225 000 again or even more, we might have had a louder voice and made a bigger difference.

We live in a democracy. It may not always feel like it, but we are the most powerful people in this country. We need to think hard about what is really important, and then do something to make sure that our voices are really heard.

That's what Hyde Park was all about. Next stop, Belfast. Let's keep speaking. All of us.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Enough Food for everyone If...

Last time the G8 met in the UK, we had the Make Poverty History campaign.

Poverty was not made history, clearly; but either because I'm naive, or because I'm an optimist, or just maybe because it's true, I can't help feeling it probably did make some kind of difference.

Eight years on, the G8 leaders are back in the UK and charities and campaign groups are once again uniting their voices to make sure big business and the rich are not the only ones who make their voice heard.

The Enough Food for Everyone If ... Campaign is a campaign for both dreamers and realists. It is for the dreamers who dream it is possible to eradicate hunger; and for the realists who know that it is easily within our 21st century means. It is for the dreamers with a vision of equality and global justice, and for the realists who identify the tiny steps which could change millions of lives. There is Enough Food for Everyone.

I probably am a little bit more cynical than I was eight years ago. But I am still going to be there. In two days time I will be in London, in 10 I will be in Belfast. I don't know if it will make any difference at all: but I sure as hell know that staying at home doing nothing won't make a difference. I know that I don't want to let money and mainstream media be the only voices that are heard. I want my voice to be heard too. I want to stand up and be counted. I want to be allowed to say I believe in a different way of doing things. That's why I believe in democracy. That's why I will be in Hyde Park and Belfast's Botanical Gardens.

Today is a good day for me to write about this, because it is the IFast day, and in solidarity with the 1 in 8 of the world's population who don't get enough to eat, I am fasting. And I am hungry. It is a symbolic gesture. I know it is no more than that. Tomorrow, I will not be hungry, and others still will.

The event planned for Saturday in London is just a symbol too, and so is the gathering in Belfast. But to say "just" a symbol, perhaps denies the very real power of symbolism. Symbols are powerful. People have lived and died for them. They find their power in the sharing of their message.

And if no-one knows, then yes, it makes no difference. But I know and you know, and that's already a start.