Called to be Peacemakers conference

IMGP0483Our annual conference for YPN members, Called to be Peacemakers, was a great success.  It was run jointly with the Student Christian Movement this year and some 50 people attended.
Welcome to our new members!

The theme was Peace, Power and Protest: Prophets for a new world and our contributors included Christian CND,  QPSW and Operation Noah, among many others. Inderjit Bhogal was the keynote speaker, explaining to us how peace isn’t a destination, but the means to achieving reconciliation and to do so we must all have a dream.  That as Christians we are called to look for the good in others and to be different.  We were challenged indeed.

If you were there and would like to write a blog post about it, please do!  Send it to Emma and please include any photo you’d like to go up with it.

In the meantime, get involved: do something for the Global Day of Action on Military Spending on 14th April. To find out more about FoR, come to our Oxford meeting on 13th March at 7:30pm.

Visit to Brize Norton

The following was published in the Oxford Mail on Thursday, February 6th, following a protest by FoR and Oxford CND on the occasion of a drones summit between David Cameron and François Hollande.   Online article here.

Oxford Mail: site_logo

Why I stood in the rain for hours outside Brize Norton

5:00pm Thursday 6th February 2014
by Emma Anthony, Membership and Outreach Officer at the Fellowship of Reconciliation, England.

The reason I stood in the rain holding a bed sheet? Drones. There aren’t many topics, save Marmite, where very few sit on the fence. Either people think they’re an appalling invention, killing more people than we realise and terrorising people in Yemen, or they’re great because they save Our Boys (along with MoD money, cheaply training pilots who won’t need replacing).

Oxford Mail:

Protesters outside the main gate of RAF Brize Norton, left to right, Sarah Lasenby, Margaret Downs, Nigel Day and Emma Anthony

The UK and France have this funny relationship, but let’s not get into that. They’ve both signed a treaty to get rid of nuclear weapons but the UK government has already spent billions making the parts to renew Trident, our current nuclear arsenal, despite the vote on whether or not to renew it being in 2016. On top of this, at a time of huge cuts, austerity and job losses especially within local councils, our Prime MinisterDavid Cameron met with French President Francois Hollande at Brize Norton RAF base to make a deal on a new, more autonomous drone, at a cost of £120m to the taxpayer. I stood outside with a banner.

Oxford Mail:

Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande at the summit at RAF Brize Norton

Don’t get me wrong – I work for a non-violence organisation called the Fellowship of Reconciliation so I think we shouldn’t have any weapons, let alone scary autonomous humming killer robots. FoR is about promoting non-violence as the means to transforming conflicts. We campaign in the UK for disarmament, social, economic and political justice, and support groups doing this abroad through our International Peacemakers Fund.

So I was standing in the rain for a number of reasons. I don’t like weapons – they don’t get us anywhere. I don’t like drones – they’re not as accurate as we’re told (just check out our drones quilt – they kill thousands of civilians) and their mere presence over villages in places like Yemen and Pakistan causes huge psychological damage to the locals. They don’t just dislike the noise they make overhead, but they know there is a reasonable chance of getting killed as collateral damage, when buildings are attacked if they contain “targets” – people carrying something which looks like a weapon or acting “suspiciously”.

Huge quantities of money are being directed towards warfare and away from welfare. Developing weapons to fight wars we shouldn’t be having in faraway places is making enemies and reducing our security. Al-Qaeda have tried to justify two attacks in Yemem on the basis of drones being controlled from those compounds, including a hospital. Drones clearly do not reduce terrorism.

I am extremely worried about the actions of the Government at the moment. Not only are they ignoring warnings about catastrophic climate change (we can’t burn more than one fifth of conventional fossil fuel reserves), they are bulldozing ahead with plans to frack the living daylights out of the UK. The recent Lobbying Bill is giving greater power to corporations and less to charities in the year before the General Election. They are renewing Trident prematurely and in breach of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

They constantly invite people back to the London Arms Fair who have been ejected for selling torture equipment, but have the peaceful protesters arrested. And the idea to convict people for “being annoying” – well, soon charities won’t be able to do anything at all.

I stood in the rain with my friends from Oxford Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament because I wanted Mr Cameron and Mr Hollande – and those passing by – to realise that we know they’re ignoring what matters – NHS, peace – and instead chasing profit regardless, and we shall not let them get away with it.

  • To find out more about FoR, go to our website at for.org.uk or come to Peace House at 7.30pm on Thursday, March 13, for a talk, Q&A and tea.
  • For more information on drones, visit dronewars.net

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Conference blog #8: Taking the Plunge

Amanda Kuehn is from Lincoln, Nebraska and studies creative writing at St Mary’s University in California. Read her reflections on daring to be a peacemaker; how it’s not that daunting really, and that we’d be surprised how things add up.  

“Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Psalm 34:14

I am not a peacemaker. Sometimes I’d like to be (and maybe that is a start), but often the idea of becoming a peacemaker strikes me as sort of extreme – like becoming an environmentalist or a vegan. It seems to require actions and commitment that I’m not quite ready to make, that I’m not even sure I’m capable of making. Midweek meetings to discuss pro-active demonstrations. Weekends of attending conferences and leading seminars. Summers spent asking for donations and soliciting volunteers. Scary stuff if you ask me.

Now sometimes I want to be the sort of woman who soothes babies and comforts the heartbroken; who leads food drives, tutors at-risk teenagers, and raises money to stop human trafficking in her spare time. Truth be told, I probably have more spare time right now than I ever have or will at any other point in my life. I have no children to raise, no husband to care for. I don’t even have a full time job demanding that I be in one place from 9-5, five days a week. And yet I do not know if I can commit to this peacemaking business.

I feel like peacemakers are the people on the front lines, singing songs and picketing in protests, passing out pamphlets on street corners and donating all of their spare change to non-profit organisations based in countries I can’t even spell. That sort of perception is what keeps me from jumping into the deep end of the peacemaking pool.

But maybe peacemaking isn’t an all-or-nothing kind of thing. Maybe it’s something you can ease into, one choice at a time. I hear that’s the best way to make a change – little by little. Maybe pursuing peace doesn’t start by spending three months in the middle of Africa. Maybe it begins by forgiving my sister for hurting my feelings, by keeping an extra pair of socks in my car, or foregoing my morning coffee once a week and giving that $2 to the man standing on the central reservation.

Peace, like love, is a habit that is formed and re-enforced one choice at a time. By opening a door, offering a “thank you,” giving up a seat, talking to a stranger. Peace begins with the small things, the close things, the easy decisions that prepare us for the hard ones. I may not yet have the strength to host a stranger in my home, but I do have the capacity to buy her a sandwich. I may not be ready to quit my job and work for a non-profit, but I am capable of being a conversation partner once a week. This is how we prepare to plummet the depths of making peace, by opening our hearts and looking for opportunities, easing us in one step at a time.

For more of Amanda’s writing, visit her blog.

Why not book your place at conference now?

Conference blog #7: Living out Peace

The seventh instalment of your YPN conference blog series is brought to you by Sarah Hine from the Darvell Community in Sussex. Here she describes every day protest for God and challenges us to live out the peace of Jesus.

Living Out Peace

It is easy to talk about peace when you live in a safe neighbourhood and have continual access to
food and water. But what if you have only known war and can’t remember the last time you ate a
good meal? Can peace be a reality in our world torn by war and emptied of hope? God is always in
control, despite the terror and catastrophe splashed across the headlines each day, He has a great
and wonderful plan for this earth.

True and lasting peace is not brought about by our human efforts but by God’s Spirit. Does that
mean we can relax and live our lives in heedless indifference while we wait for this to happen?
Absolutely not! If we consider ourselves to be followers of Jesus we must spend every day of our
lives working for peace in whatever way we can.

Jesus tells us: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.’
(John 14:27) If we want that peace we must be willing to live like He did. We have to follow Jesus’
example of unconditional and sacrificial love. It can be as simple as visiting an elderly neighbour,
giving a cup of water, feeding the poor or caring for a child. It may be forgiving someone who has
wronged us, speaking up for the oppressed, going the second mile when we would rather not budge
an inch, or simply saying sorry. The power of this world is built on selfishness, so every unselfish
deed we do is an act of protest. These actions must be rooted in a life of prayer, prayer for true
peace which is indeed the Kingdom of God on this earth. In fact, anything we do for others can be a
prayer, whether we realise it or not.

The Kingdom of God is not just a glorious future when the whole world will be at peace. It can break
into our lives at any moment, filling our hearts with unexplainable peace even in the most difficult
circumstances. A life of forgiving, loving and caring for others is prophetic because it exemplifies the
Kingdom of God.

Find out more about community at Darvell on their website.

Book for the conference.

Conference blog #6: Reflecting on Francis’ message

Matt Jeziorski is the education coordinator for Pax Christi, a Catholic peace organisation actively educating and campaigning for a more just and peaceful world. Here are his reflections on the message Pope Francis gave on New Year’s Day and how we might accept the challenge of peace.

Reflection on Pope Francis’s message for World Peace Day 2014

In his message for World Day of Peace (1 January) Pope Francis reflects on what peace is and how it is to be built. In placing fraternity as the foundation for peacebuilding he imagines a world where, recognising one another as brothers and sisters, indifference is impossible and we become deeply concerned with the sufferings of others. Other people, nations, and communities are not commodities to be exploited in order to maintain or promote one’s own power and prestige. They are our neighbours and helpers in building the common good.

A natural consequence of this is that violent conflict becomes impossible when we see a brother or a sister to be loved where once we saw an enemy to be beaten or conquered. Yet Pope Francis goes further than dealing solely with armed conflict and also considers the ‘less visible but no less cruel war fought in the economic and financial sectors’ which are similarly destructive of lives, families, and businesses.

His call is that every interaction with the other, every transaction, every relationship be rooted in love and service in order that the foundations for peace are secure.

This is a message that challenges how we live from day to day. If we are serious about loving and serving all other people then not only does it demand that we work for the ending of the crime of warfare and the sinful arms trade but it demands plenty of us with regard to the smaller things.

The cost of my food and clothing says a great deal about the value I place on the people and planet that produces it. The welcome extended to the asylum seeker and the economic migrant will differ if they are seen as family rather than a threat to our jobs, culture, and way-of-life. And the delight in what I own will only be enhanced as I remember that the right use of my wealth and possessions is in serving my poorer, weaker, and more vulnerable sisters and brothers.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales celebrated Peace Sunday last weekend (19 January), where we reflect particularly in our liturgy on this peace message of the Holy Father. It may cause some discomfort in the pews.

If I am to heed this call to lay aside selfishness so I can truly respond to Pope Francis’s call to love and service – which simply echoes Christ’s own commandment that we are to love one another – then I must be willing to consider how I, daily, can love and serve my neighbour however near or far she may be. Then I can be confident that I am helping lay the foundations for peace.

Find out more about conference and book your place here.

Conference blog series: #5, “We interrupt this war…”

Andii Bowsher is the co-convenor of the Newcastle’s joint universities Martin Luther King Peace Committee and Anglican chaplain to Northumbria University. He explains why peace is more inherent to life than violence, particularly for Christians.

We interrupt this war …

Christmas Eve 2014 sees the centenary of the unofficial Christmas truces. They commonly began with German soldiers and officers putting up Christmas trees, shouting Christmas greetings, and singing songs recognisable to ‘Tommy’ such as Stille Nacht.
I’m involved in some local projects to make something of remembering the Christmas Truces because they represent a moment of sanity and tell us something important about war and peace.
WWI was a war arising from Imperial ambitions clashing. At the heart of it were supposedly Christian nations mirroring each other’s official ‘theologies’ of war and nationhood and painting their opponents demonically. But how did supposedly Christian countries with good civilisational credentials end up demonising each other and slaughtering one another and claiming it was God’s will?

Let’s start with the creation stories of the Ancient Near East. Though these varied in detail of character and plot, the stories portray order created out of chaos by violence. Human beings are not shown to be high in the value and dignity stakes -we’re almost afterthoughts made from disrespected defeated enemies in order to slave for the gods and their representatives on earth (royal elites). In this scheme the created order is violently produced and maintained: ultimate reality is violent, ‘agonistic’.

So it’s interesting to read how Genesis 1 looks against this background. We see a counter-story: emphasising that creation is founded in original peace rather than original violence, and that we humans have a dignity since we all image God -a view which automatically flattens hierarchy and delegitimises kingly and priestly claims of privilege. We are also created for rest as well as to participate in the work of God.

The Ancient Near East stories are essentially myths of redemptive violence: a way of proposing that violence is what effects important change and brings about good; the goodies must employ violence to make sure that their ‘good’ values prosper and prevail. It is a myth that is propagated in many -most- Hollywood films. It encourages us to think that means are not necessarily or inherently related to ends; that we can create good by doing harm.

Our societies are held captive by the Myth of Redemptive Violence. The Judeo-Christian traditions question that. Jesus’ teaching strongly undermines it. Our faiths have been co-opted by the Myth and our imaginations colonised by it. The Christmas Truce reminds us that our imaginations can be challenged and awakened to more peaceful and just dreams and our faith can fund another way of relating beyond the reinforced enmities we’re socialised into. It allows us to glimpse a truth: that peace is more fundamental to the order of the universe than violence.

Find out more about the conference and book your place here.

#PeaceProphets14

Conference blog post #4: In Sight of Peace

Fourth post in our conference blog series: Amelia Sutcliffe, divinity student at Edinburgh university, worked at a photography exhibition last summer; she shares her reflections on how some unexpected photographs can be powerful witnesses for peace.

#InSightOfPeace

This August I worked as an intern for the Centre for Theology and Public Issues (CTPI), in Edinburgh, on their summer project ‘In Sight Of Peace’. I was initially unsure about taking up the opportunity but, having found out more, I decided to take the plunge in the name of fun and experience.

My role was to help with the day-to-day running of their exhibition, “In Sight of Peace”, its associated events at the Just Festival and social media. “In Sight Of Peace”, by Magnum Photographer Ian Berry, shows South Africa from 1960 to 2005 and its move from segregation to equality and reconciliation. Although I assumed from its title that it would be emotive and interesting, I could not have estimated the impact it would have on me or its many visitors.

And what photos they were, from one of the only pictures taken at the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, (which was used in the trial against the police), to those of school children in newly integrated primary schools. As I oversaw the exhibition I got to know each image and although each held a shocking and heart-breaking story, the power of Berry’s photography allowed visitors to see and understand without a word of explanation. I believe this was the reason CTPI wanted to show it, not just for the public to see Berry’s skill (though this would be reason enough), but for them to think, question and wonder the place of photography in sharing a story without using words. And not just any story, but a story of Peace building: while some of the images depicted appalling violence, many showed great joy and, critically, change. Ultimately this was what ‘In Sight Of Peace’ was about: portraying change and, as part of CTPI’s wider discussion, questioning whether the media can represent and play a part in building-peace when usually it chooses to portray or incite violence. Largely without knowledge of this wider question, visitors’ comments showed that it can, describing both “how far we’ve come” and “how much more we must do for true peace”.

Seeing peace is difficult, as mostly it happens under the surface. Although some may question how an exhibition which includes images of violence and injustice could possibly show peace, I would argue that it does, albeit perhaps unconventionally. It shows peace in the reactions and emotions it draws out of people when they desire that peace. It shows peace by bearing witness to horrific events, teaching that it’s wrong and that there must be something else. And most of all, the set of photos shows peace as a journey of development, change and hope; that peace is not stagnant but something fluid to work towards, hence “In Sight Of Peace” not “a concrete peace point”.

This project, the visitors’ comments and the further discussions of CTPI had a great impact on me – as did reflecting on it now – because they made me think (which in a long student summer can be a challenge!) and they made me see; think and see peace and peace-builders in more things/people. While Ian Berry may not call himself a peace builder – he believed he was just doing a job bearing witness to an event for others to see – his witness created peace-builders, rendering him one too and showing that we too can be peace-builders even if our talents do not fit the usual idea of the “actions” of peace-building.

As you can see, I loved my internship (although it was not without its stresses), so I thoroughly recommend taking up any random interesting opportunities!

If you would like any more information on the project or to see some of the pictures visit:
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/8422396/ISOP/In_Sight_of_Peace_GS_site/Photos.html

Coins into Ploughshares

The Royal Mint has brought out a new £2 coin to mark the centenary of the outbreak of WW1. View it here.
Our campaign featured in the Guardian diary column (4th paragraph) and the Oxford Mail.

Here’s the press release we sent out.

“Christian charity criticises new £2 coin for glorifying war.”

The Fellowship of Reconciliation – one of Britain’s oldest Christian Peacemaking groups – is calling upon the public to make “Coins into Ploughshares” by turning the new £2 coins depicting Lord Kitchener’s famous call to arms from 1914 into an investment in a just and peaceful future.

FoR Director, Millius Palayiwa said:

We are very concerned that the launch of the new £2 coin design is in danger of glorifying war and drawing public attention away from the horrors of the trenches and the continuing need for peace, healing and reconciliation in the world.

In the spirit of our founders, we are calling upon Christians, and everyone who wants to see the establishment of a world order based on love, forgiveness, compassion and reconciliation to save the new coins when they come across them and donate them to one of the many organisations working to build a just and peaceful world for everyone.

Chair Richard Bickle added:

The Fellowship of Reconciliation began, literally, on the eve of the First World War with a group of Christians from across Europe meeting to explore alternatives to armed conflict, and to assert their belief in Jesus’ call to build a world order based on love.

In this our centenary year, that need is as pressing as ever, and we want to challenge the many WWI centenary commemorations which appear to glorify the “Great War”.

Our International Peacemakers Fund is a practical way that people can invest in building a just and peaceful future by supporting grassroots peace and reconciliation projects in some of the most divided and violent communities in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Oceania.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

1. The Fellowship of Reconciliation was founded in 1914 in response to the horrors of war in Europe. Throughout its 100 years history, the Fellowship has taken a consistent stance against war and its preparation. Perceiving the need for healing and reconciliation in the world, the founders of the Fellowship formulated a vision of the human community based upon the belief that love, nonviolence and reconciliation in action have the power to transform unjust political, economic and social structures.
Worldwide, there are 85 branches, groups and affiliates in 48 countries. In its 100 years, the Fellowship has had 6 Nobel Peace Prize winners, including Chief Albert Luthuli of South Africa and Martin Luther King Jr.

2. The International Peacemakers Fund is the Fellowship’s way of showing practical solidarity with nonviolent grassroots peace making organisations in areas of the world afflicted by violent conflicts. Such peace organisations have very limited financial resources to carry out the important healing and reconciliation work amongst their communities. To such organisations, small amounts of £500 to £5,000 do make a really difference. If nonviolent peacemaking were given a real chance, it could transform our global society, relieve human suffering and make our communities more secure. This is why the Fellowship of Reconciliation established the International Peacemakers Fund.

3. The phrase “Coins into ploughshares” is an adaptation of a Bible verse, Isaiah 2:4, “…they shall beat their swords into ploughshares…”.

4. There is petition to redesign a commemorative coin at http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/royal-mint-replace-the-kitchener-2-coin-with-one-that-truly-commemorates-the-millions-who-died-in-the-first-world-war

Should you have any queries, please contact the Director, Millius Palayiwa at director@for.org.uk. Telephone number (01865) 250 781.

Website: for.org.uk
Twitter: @forpeacemaker #CoinsIntoPloughshares

Thank you.

Prayer for the new year

This prayer is in fact a Franciscan blessing. Not to be said lightly!

May God bless you with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may seek truth boldly and live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you really can make a difference in this world,
so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator,
Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Saviour,
and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide, be with you
and remain with you, this day and forevermore.

Amen.

Happy new year – go forth and be fools.

Conference blog #3: Catholic worker

Susan Clarkson, from the Catholic Worker Farm‘s Oxford community, reflects on the theme of our conference and on the importance of language.

Three things struck me when I saw the title of the conference; that true peace comes from within, that protest often emphasises the negative, and that we can describe ourselves as ‘pilgrims’ and leave the attribution of ‘prophet’ to others when they see what we do.

The truth that peace begins with us can often become a truism but it is the basis of all our work for a nonviolent world. The key is that although it begins with us, it shouldn’t stop there! I have met many peace activists in my life and those who are rooted in their own spirituality, whatever the source, are the ones who bring to their activist communities encouragement, comradeship, compassion and above all, love. True peace activism is grounded in love and it catches fire!

Sometimes it’s good to look at words we use for what we do. We all know what we mean by ‘protest’ but it can give a sense of negativity. On protests, it’s often easy to see what we are against but sometimes not too clear about what we are for. It’s a useful exercise to design banners and placards with only positive messages and the challenge is to make them as powerful as negative ones. One of my favourites is “Mourn the Dead, Heal the Wounds, End the Wars”. Alternative nouns for ‘protest’ can be ‘witness’, where walking is involved, or ‘vigil’, for one which involves standing at a chosen site.

A glance at prophets and prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures shows us that the title ‘prophet’ is one which is given by others. Indeed, we have the examples of the reluctant prophet in Jeremiah and Jonah. Individuals and communities which describe themselves as prophetic can be on shaky ground. ‘Pilgrim’ is a better word, rich and complex which yields unexpected depths. The most striking aspect is that everyone is on a pilgrimage, a journey through life, whether they are fully aware of it or not. The peace activists who see themselves as pilgrims are aware that they are in a community on a shared journey with a common goal. The hardships, joys and struggles are eased by companionship and compassion. The weak are nurtured and encouraged: the strong are willing to go the extra mile while still remaining part of the community. On the journey, the pilgrims for peace accept the help of strangers and take time to listen to the concerns of those they meet along the way. I could go on because the vision of of the pilgrim peace activist community is an engaging and energising one. And, I have been fortunate enough to have experienced it!