Pilgrims for Peace – a reflection

Chris Collins is one of our new trustees and came to the island of Iona for FoR’s centenary celebrations.  He is a Methodist minister in Wolverhampton and ponders here what challenges he will be taking away from a week on a remote island with other peacemakers.  You are encouraged to leave a response underneath.

Tertullian, the prolific third century Christian writer viewed the moment Jesus told Peter to put his sword away as an “ungirding of us all.” We are all to put our swords away and follow the way of peace and nonviolence. As I was reminded of that during our “Pilgrimage for Peace” as part of the Iona Community last week, I reminded myself that being a disciple means I have to be for peace and peacemaking. It is not an optional extra, an add-on if there is time. It is not other-worldly but completely of this world. Peace making is a response to the whole of creation groaning in pain, waiting to be saved from the ravages of destruction. Peacemaking is about allowing the kingdom of God to be seen. Peacemaking is recognising that we are all made in God’s image, fearfully and wonderfully. Peacemaking is about allowing us all to find and flourish in God’s love for us and the whole of creation.

So to say I am a peacemaker is all well and good. But if peace is to come, we actually have to make it! And that means I have to do something!

I think it means I have to lay some things down. I need to constantly challenge what I am told about the world and ask myself, through which eyes do I view things? For this we need reliable and credible information about places and situations that goes beyond the news headlines.

But what do I do once I have the information? While praying and acting are perhaps the obvious answers, the less obvious and more challenging is exactly how! I had a few thoughts while away on Iona and perhaps others will have similar or better ones…

Could we be organised to pray without ceasing for peace? Could we invite people to commit to a dedicated half-hour slot each week to pray for peace so that there was always someone praying? Could we hold regular peace prayer services in all of our churches?

Could we encourage each other to write specifically about peace issues to our local, national and European politicians – and plan our responses to the letters we receive back?

Both of these are good starting points for me but I wonder if I need to be a braver peace-maker and be bold enough to take nonviolent action myself? For if I don’t who will? If I don’t do it now, when will I?

But how about you? I wonder if you are going to do different things now? Let’s keep talking, encouraging each other to pray and to act for peace.

Ukraine statement

The Chant d’ Oiseau Statement on Ukraine

We, representatives of the European branches of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, meeting from 23rd – 25th May at Chant d’Oiseau in Brussels,

(1) Contemplated with dismay the deteriorating situation in Ukraine.

(2) As European pacifists encourage all those in the region who are working for peace. Especially we express our solidarity with all those directly affected who are resisting the pressures towards polarisation and recourse to violence.

(3) Urge not only all in the region but also our own governments to resist thinking in terms of military “solutions”.

(4) Feel that we ourselves have to engage with this situation and we take back to our branches the question of how we co-ordinate our action to explore non-violent solutions.

-And-

(5) Even while we were meeting, our attention was captured by a horror closer at hand when we heard the news of the multiple murder in the Jewish Museum here in Brussels. We express our condolences to and solidarity with the Jewish community of Brussels and Belgium in the face of this atrocity.

BAE AGM (BTW)

BAE AGM 2014 cropped
Apologies for all the TLAs.

Yesterday, peace activists swamped the AGM of the UK’s biggest arms manufacturers. It was glorious.

This is the one day a year when members of the public can put their concerns to BAE Systems and attempt to work out just how they can do what they do. Many peace activists purchase one single share (and shred any cheque for dividends) in order to be able to attend this airport-security-level event. This year and last were the first in a while to be held outside Central London – in Farnborough, Hampshire. BAE claim that this is to save on costs (it’s held at their HQ in an old hangar and isn’t exactly snazzy) but we reckon they want to keep the press away. Reduced numbers of shareholders able to get there meant that a large proportion of attendees were employees of BAE, wanting to make up numbers and put bums on seats. The board (12 people consisting of a pitiful two women) sat at the front on raised stands – clearly making weapons gets you the best seat in the house.

95% of the questions to the board came from people wondering if BAE used their noggin at all when instructed for whom to make weapons…answer: no. They follow the law, therefore they’re ethical. They were also asked what impact the upcoming reforms to the arms trade treaty would have on their business. They predicted no effect. The person posing the question, Quaker Symon Hill, suggested that, if the treaty won’t make the world’s third largest arms manufacturer step into line, it isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

Note-worthy disturbances came in the form of clucking noises when *Sir* Roger Carr avoided a question; eruptions of sudden and unexplained coughing fits coincided with any mention of their glowing ethical credentials. There was some heroic singing efforts, including some dressed up as cheerleaders and others serenading the new chairman, wondering why he’d turned bad. Roger showed signs of tiring and suggested that the “pantomime act” was very silly, to which we responded, “ohhhhh no it isn’t!”. Next year we’ll bring the theatrical horse…

The line of questioning was deadly serious, in line with their deadly business. BAE says they sell weapons only to allies and do so “in good faith”. When it’s obvious that the weaponry is being used to repress people and BAE is asked to service the equipment, do they comply and send it back in, shiny and ready for more human rights abuse? Yes. Yes they do. Almost amusingly, when asked by FoR staff whether they’d ever turn down a weapons contract from the British government in the interest of public security (with regards to redistributing the “defence” budget), we were told that the NHS has been ring-fenced and is safe. Well, you heard it here first.

BAE disclosed that they spend around £1m a year on branding events like the Big Bang Fair. This was in response to a question about whether it was responsible to be conspicuous at children’s events in the same way that tobacco firms aren’t allowed in, but Roger assured them that it’s not the same – BAE isn’t trying to sell kids weapons…just trying to get them to make them in the future. Much better.

There were many requests from shareholders to focus more on the non-arms-related work that BAE carries out, which currently makes up just 8% of their activity. Roger said that this was his aim – so there is some hope. However for as long as BAE continues to make weapons, they can expect to come up against resistance from those who oppose war and its preparation.

Bear BAE
There was a write-up in the Christian think tank Ekklesia about the day’s events and highlighting some of the finer points of irony.

It was also covered by the Morning Star.

Check out #BAE2014 for what people have tweeted about the event.

 

Archive of email newsletters

For newcomers to the website, we’ve added some back-issues of e-news, our monthly email newsletter to members and anyone interested in what we’ve been up to and how to get involved.
It’s not very slick but here it is in a post for now and if you know how to add it into the body of the website like in a widget, do please get in touch!

 
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May 15th – CO day

CO day banner cropped

It’s just two weeks away now; 15th May is the day we particularly remember Conscientious Objectors – those who refused to take up arms and kill their fellow human.

FoR is part of the First World War Peace Forum together with Pax Christi, Conscience, Network for Peace, WILPF, The Right to Refuse to Kill Group, PPU and QPSW.

The Forum has been collaborating to ensure a substantial counter-narrative to the commemorations the government is putting on.  It aims to tell the stories of the many people who did not support war in Europe.  In fact, these feelings of horror an wanting to do something about it is what starting FoR.

The event on 15th May is annual event when names are read out and flowers are laid on the Commemorative Stone in Tavistock Square, WC1 at 12pm.  This year there is a special focus on women who spoke out against war and its preparation, with talks from Mary Dobbing and representatives of the women who went to the Hague as peace delegates.  There will also be speeches on the plight of COs in the conflicts happening in the world today.

We hope people can join us for other events that day, as follows:

10.30am – Launch of Quaker online project ‘The White Feather Diaries’ – telling the stories of Quaker First World War COs – which will go live on 4 August 2014. Friends House, opposite Euston Station, NW1 2BJ

11.30am to 3pm there will be an exhibition in Friends House Library of rare artefacts and diaries belonging to imprisoned COs.

Media wishing to attend these Quaker events contact annev@quaker.org.uk – 0207 663 1048 or 07958 009703

4.30pm – launch of two books about the First World War conscientious objectors will take place in Friends House Library.

Comrades in Conscience: the story of an English Community’s Opposition to the Great War by Cyril Pearce (c.pearce@btinternet.com)

Objection Overruled: Conscription and Conscience in the First World War by David Boulton (Quaker History Society).

Fasting

Yesterday David Cameron was to receive a letter from dozens of bishops and hundreds of clergy saying that too many people are going hungry. Instead, they didn’t answer the door and the police turned up.

The witness started with an Agape service in Witney Methodist Church.

The witness started with an Agape service in Witney Methodist Church.

FoR has been supporting the End Hunger Fast campaign as a means to ending violence against those going without food in the 7th richest country in the 21st Century. Many people are just one bill away from not being able to afford groceries. Even if that’s not us today, we cannot be comfortable with allowing it to happen to our siblings. And if we are, as Martin Niemoller said,

 First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

 

As Christians we are called to serve, we are called to stand in solidarity and speak out loudly against injustice.

On 4th April there was the national day of fasting. FoR staff took part in it as well as the next Thursday as part of the fasting relay going on for the whole of Lent. It was unpleasant being hungry, but knowing when we would next eat was a great comfort. Some don’t have that luxury. Even just fasting for one day at a time felt very prayerful and let’s hope that, similar to Isaiah 58:3, the government will notice all these people speaking up for those going through difficult times.

Isn’t the fast I choose: To break the chains of wickedness, to untie the ropes of the yoke, to set the oppressed free Isaiah 58:6

There was an article in the Oxford Anglican although it doesn’t mention that they’d popped out for a pint of milk.

cameron office 1

For more info visit the campaign website.

GDAMS

14th April is the Global Day of Action on Military Spending.  We passed a delightful day in Oxford city centre with Pax Christi, talking to people about money being  wasted on renewing Trident (UK’s nuclear weapons) while services like healthcare are running dry and while little money is being invested in green energy, despite catastrophic climate change looming.

Through the use of buttons, we asked how people would rather redistribute the £40bn spent annually on defence.

GDAMS

A seesaw helped people grasp the concept of spending £100bn on useless illegal weapons rather than on the NHS.  One child suggested, “that’s an expensive seesaw”… well we hope we planted a few seeds.  We gave out postcards, asking people to write to their MPs; if the government knows we know how much they’re planning on spending in 2016 (having already spent £3bn on renewing Trident before being given the go-ahead), they might think twice.  We want to push for a really public debate on nuclear weapons and security.

It was striking how, on a day of engaging with locals about spending on welfare instead of nuclear weapons, three people came up to us asking where the nearest sheltered housing facility is.

For more information, go to http://demilitarize.org.uk/ and watch #demilarize and #movethemoney on twitter.

Of course, it wouldn’t be global if there hadn’t been events happening over the world; check out the map, or rather, plan of action.

See more photos at https://www.facebook.com/forepeace/photos_stream

End Hunger Fast. Tomorrow.

Britain isn’t eating.  Ian Duncan Smith got very upset when Church Action on Poverty created this picture, but it’s true.  Food banks are commonplace.  Needing to use a food bank, even more so.

What has this got to do with faith?

Jesus said that we will always have the poor with us.  He didn’t say we should comfortably accept that fact and get on with our lives.  In fact these days, it’s increasingly hard to comfortably get on, given that we could be one massive bill away from poverty and hunger ourselves.
End hunger fast image

Christians cannot sit idly by and watch people starve.  We should be shouting loudly about injustice, challenging it when we see it and asking questions when something seems wrong.

The government spends £2.5bn on fighter jets while ¼ of children in the UK live in poverty.

This has got to stop.

This Lent, people are going hungry.  This Lent, people are going hungry in solidarity with them and to send a clear message to the government that they need to sort things out.  They cannot make devastating cuts to the poor, protect the rich and expect to get away with it.  One person hasn’t eaten a thing since Ash Wednesday and hundreds – maybe thousands – will join them for the day of fasting tomorrow.  Here at FoR we’ve got staff doing the fast and tweeting a picture of their empty plate with #FastApril4th while sustaining ourselves using the facebook page and event for the day fast.

Austerity and hunger will only lead to conflict, more austerity and more hunger.  It’s unjust and it’s an act of violence.

This April 4th, go hungry with the hungry and pledge to End Hunger Fast.

 

Fly Kites Not Drones

If you were in town this weekend in Hastings, Norwich, Tavistock, Bristol, Edinburgh, Leicester, Cardiff, Coventry, Oxford, Brighton, Blackheath, Burlington, London, Southampton, Rochester, Lincoln, Littlehampton, Lewes or Bournemouth, you might have wondered why people were flying kites. That would be understandable.

Nao Roz is Afghan new year. Sadly, Afghans lives are being ruined through drone strikes and the imminent threat thereof. Many of these come from British forces (BIJ 2014).

Susan and child kites

More photos to follow

There are any things going on to resist and remind people of drone warfare. Civil disobedience, an all-party group, a quilt. The weekend of 21st-23rd March is a time to share with Afghans by flying kites in solidarity with them, to let them know that they are in our hearts, our thoughts and our actions.

In Oxford we held an event in the town centre, in Bonn Square by the peace plaque. FoR staff and members, Quakers, Catholic workers and Oxford CND came to fly kites and were met with joyous children. We talked to people, gave them flyers about drones and the wonderful Afghan Peace Volunteers, who talked to those flying kites at RAF Waddington.

For info on the other events taking place around the country, see the Voices for Creative Nonviolence UK website.

Oxford meeting is born

FoR oxford meeting

Thank you to those who came to Peace House last Thursday – our inaugural meeting was a great success. We were delighted to host Rana Salman from the Holy Land Trust, who talked about her experience of living in Bethlehem and what people are doing to resist violence.

We learnt that community, solidarity and planning for the future are key to the prospect of peace in the region. There are empowerment workshops for young women and leadership courses for young people of all genders, teaching how to lead using nonviolence as standard, so that future leaders can work better together and bring about more just systems of power.

Much of the proceeding Q&A session was spent discussing the home rebuilding project HLT carries out. Houses are frequently demolished by Occupation Forces, but a dedicated team, helped by visiting volunteers, can have a new one on the site in a fortnight. It is rare for these new houses to be knocked down again.  What stories of hope!

We are very grateful to Rana for the help she gave FoR throughout her week with us and wish her the very best for her vital work for peace and reconciliation.