I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr. by Michael Eric Dyson

Guest post by Tom Underwood

mlkWhilst much has been written about the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. this is a book that goes beyond autobiography to assess the legacy of King in America today.

From the outset of the book Dyson makes clear his belief that King is “the greatest American who ever lived.”  He then goes on to share three central mistakes people make in relation to King’s legacy; ideas, identity and image.  Rather than a chronological guide to King’s life the book is then divided into these three core areas.

The chapters in the ‘ideas’ part of the book seek to reestablish the radical nature of King, particularly by exploring his changing beliefs in the last years of his life.

“King has been fashioned to calm rather than trouble the waters of social conscience in the post-civil rights era.  But he was no Safe Negro.”

It is fascinating to read about the changing perspectives that caused him to speak out against the horrors of the Vietnam war and organise action against poverty.  In his last years King had, “… a commitment to showing the lethal links between racism, militarism and poverty.”  Martin Luther King is now honored with a national holiday in America so it is easy to forget that in the few years leading up to his death his views on Vietnam, black nationalism and poverty were making him increasingly less popular with whites and also meeting with opposition from within the African American civil rights movement.

The second part of the book deals with identity and chapters in this section directly address King’s plagiarism, the insatiable sexual appetite that led to multiple affairs and his patriarchal chauvinism.  The writer Dyson met with criticism from some within the African American community for criticising King yet he counters that it is essential to connect with the humanity of King otherwise he becomes an unhelpful hero, someone who is so worshipped and adored that he becomes impossible to live up to and then alienating to young African American’s in America today.

Finally, the book deals with how King’s image’s is used today.  I personally found this section of the book less interesting than the others as it moves away from King to cover his family’s wrestle for control over his image after his death.

If you’re looking for an autobiography on the life of King this is not going to be for you.  However, if you know the history of King and want to read more in-depth this is an accessible academic study of his legacy.

As Christian activists it provides much helpful advice through the prism of King’s life.  Most of all it challenges us today as it reminds us of the sacrifice involved in following God by pursuing justice.  For thirteen years King lived in the spotlight of the civil rights movement with the constant fear of death, for King, “His most enduring trophies were the calluses he gathered from marching for justice in merciless heat and the sore knees he gained from bending to pray for enemies he defiantly loved.”

Profile picTom Underwood teaches young people with autism and writes plays about peace. He is currently writing about peace activism and arms trade activists.  He worships at Raynes Park Community Church and tweets @tomcunderwood

Ce n’était pas la fin, ce n’était que le début

(Ceci est une traduction de ce billet. En tant que francophone, vous êtes peut-être peu familier avec certains concepts qui n’ont pas été expliqués dans l’autre billet. N’hésitez pas à commenter pour demander des explications ou clarifications).

Il y a quelques semaines, London Citizens a organisé une “assemblée municipale” [Mayoral Assembly] à la Copper Box, enceinte sportive construite pour les JO en 2012. Le but était de rassembler 6000 citoyens pour construire des relations positives avec les deux principaux candidats à l’élection – donc le probable futur maire – et de leur faire prendre des engagements à travailler avec nous. Les deux candidats ont accepté pas mal de nos demandes. Mais cet évènement n’était pas la fin, ce n’était que le début.

Continue reading “Ce n’était pas la fin, ce n’était que le début”

This was not the end, but just the beginning

A few weeks ago, London Citizens organised the Mayoral Assembly at the Copper Box. The aim was to gather 6000 citizens to build good relationships with the candidates, thus the possible future mayor, and to ask them to take commitment to work with us. Both candidates answered positively to several of our requests. And this event was not the end, but just the beginning.

Now that Sadiq Khan has been elected as mayor, the main challenge  is to start working with him and to build good relationships, characterised by accountability. This is why London Citizens decided to welcome the new Mayor and his staff, with breakfast, on his first day to work at the London City Hall!

Continue reading “This was not the end, but just the beginning”

Banding towards justice: when the band does politics and why it matters

Guest post by Paul Williams

CitizensUK_MayoralAssembly_©ChrisJepson_168The William Booth College band was proud to represent the college and the wider Salvation Army at the London Mayoral Assembly organised by London Citizens.

CitizensUK_MayoralAssembly_©ChrisJepson_017The purpose of this assembly was to get the two frontrunners in the race for London Mayor to agree to ‘asks’ outlined in the London Citizens Manifesto. These ‘asks’, which are developed from the grassroots, focussed on the living wage, citizenship and integration, training and employment prospects for young people and housing.

Live music certainly adds to the excitement of any event. The band, along with a massed children’s choir and vocal groups from other faith and community groups, performed a variety of music in the lead up to the main event.

A particularly poignant and reflective moment was a multimedia presentation about issues surrounding housing in London, including the story of Church of England priest and housing reformer Basil Jellicoe. The band accompanied this presentation with the hymn tune ‘Repton’ which added to the solemnity of the CitizensUK_MayoralAssembly_©ChrisJepson_004moment. A twitter comment stated that you could recognise the sound of a Salvation Army band a mile off!

It was a privilege for the band to take part in this distinctly Salvationist way. But, more to the point, we had the opportunity to show that we want to be involved with our elected representatives (and hold them to account) and that, ultimately, we are committed to justice and want everyone to experience life in all its fullness.

U2’s Bono once said that ‘Music can change the world because it can change people’. We certainly hope that we, as a band, played our part in bringing about change in London.

When The Salvation Army took risks and why it matters

By Nick Coke

We all love a bit of Salvation Army history don’t we? When I was doing some research for the first chapter of ‘Marching Towards Justice’ I learnt a few details about Salvation Army justice-seeking I hadn’t known – you’ll have to read it to see what I found out! More recently I received a short book in the post from my brother-in-law entitled ‘Social Evils The Army Has Challenged’. Written by S Carvosso Gauntlett in 1946, it tells seven stories of how The Salvation Army went about challenging the status quo and bringing about social change. The writer takes us from Britain to Japan, India and French Guiana covering a period from 1880-1933. This blog is too short to share everything but what comes across throughout is the role risk-taking plays in order to bring change.

In the foreword, General Carpenter, writes:220px-General_George_Carpenter

‘William Booth was by no means opposed to, in fact welcomed, the plans for social improvement based on Education, Trade Unions, Co-operation, Socialism and so on; in fact, almost anything short of violent revolution.’

Seems to me that back in the day our forebears didn’t see the possibility of social change as a mere hope or dream but rather a reality that was eminently possible with the right approach. There was a confidence that came with personal conviction, spiritual power and a collective commitment to the cause. It also appears that because of this, taking risks was simply a natural part of the process required to achieve just and righteous ends.

Take the ‘Maiden Tribute’ Campaign, for example, or as it was known in the 1880s – The Purity Agitation (I love that!). This was the fight to force the British government to raise the age of sexual consent as a protection for trafficked and abused children. Bramwell and Florence Booth who spear-headed the campaign did so from the grassroots. Twenty-three year old Florence, the pioneer leader of women’s social services, was so outraged by the stories she heard at the home for rescued women in Whitechapel that she encouraged her husband to go and find out for himself what was happening. So, the chief of staff, took to wandering in certain neighbourhoods in disguise ‘wading’ as he put it ‘through a sea of sin and defilement’. At the end of his listening campaign he concluded:

‘No matter what the consequences might be, I would do all I could to stop those abominations, to rouse public opinion, to agitate for an improvement of the law.’

bramwellHe was as good as his word. The remarkable campaign that followed with help from reformer Josephine Butler, journalist W T Stead and Salvationists up and down the land brought about a change in the law. The campaign involved the publishing of shocking stories in the press, a 2 mile long petition delivered to the door of parliament and the buying of a child. Yes, that’s buying a child – to prove it could be done in London for £5. The result of that action was a date in court for Bramwell. After a 12 day trial that held the attention of the country, he was acquitted, although Stead was jailed for 3 months. At the time many feared it would be the end of The Salvation Army with the Founder’s Son and Chief of Staff in the dock of the Central Criminal Court. And yet as Bramwell later reflected when General:

‘The trial did the Army a great deal of good. It made us known, and put us at one stroke in the very front rank of those who were contending for the better treatment of the lost and the poor… Our work for women was greatly furthered… We knew…. that the Queen followed the proceedings with great concern and sympathy. The case opened doors for us also in the overseas dominions and in the US.’

All this makes me wonder what place risk-taking has in our cause of justice-seeking today? A risk-averse culture will help us to maintain the status-quo and keep our friends happy but it won’t bring about change. It occurs to me that we have as much to lose by not taking risks as we do by taking them. When we stay silent on an issue that we really should be speaking up about then we become complicit with the wrong itself. That may not damage our brand but I wonder what it does to our souls? I want to admit here to longing for some of that confidence from the early days – a confidence in the spiritual power to overcome ‘social evils’ of our time, to ‘stop abominations, to rouse public opinion, and to agitate for an improvement of the law.’ Lord, give us a vision for your kingdom here on earth, motivate us to action and remove our fear. Amen.

Top tips for Salvation Army Officers moving appointment

A matchfactory exclusive!  As Salvation Army Officer appointments in the UK are made public today, we’ve consulted some battle-hardened officers, seasoned in the art of justice-seeking, to offer some top tips for the Officer who is moving appointment and wants to be ready to get going quickly.  There’s some tips in there that might be relevant even if you’re not moving, and even if you’re not an Officer!

They are in no priority order – some can be done before, some when you’re there.  In any case, soak up the wisdom of what they’ve got to say!

  1. Check out who the MP is for your new corps (and quarters in case they’re different!) at this website.
  2. Email the MP to arrange a one to one meeting on your arrival for the purpose of developing a public, trust-based relationship
  3. Same as above for local councillors
  4. Same as above for key reporters at the local paper
  5. Check whether the constituency is a marginal seat (if so, please get in touch with us as we’d love to work with you in the build-up to the next general election)
  6. Use this website to learn more about poverty indicators in your area
  7. Use this website to learn more about the ward and neighbourhood surrounding your new appointment.
  8. On arrival, prepare a plan for systematic visitation, including everyone connected to the Corps. Start with the leadership team – the inner circle – and work outwards.  Keep an open mind and be ready to listen.  And be ready to share your story too.
  9. Ask each person what makes them angry.
  10. Ask people who attend community programmes what worries them about the community.
  11. Ask your new neighbours who the ‘movers and shakers’ are in the neighbourhood or what 1 thing you need to know about the community as a newcomer.
  12. Read about the political history of your new community. Use google or local history library.
  13. Buy a local newspaper and highlight all the local political stories. Can you identify what issues are important to your neighbourhood?  Set up a google alert for news from your new area.
  14. Stick to your visitation plan. Don’t get sucked into activities or programmes.
  15. Identify those in the congregation who are passionate about social justice.
  16. Walk from the quarters to the Corps for the first few weeks. Take a different route each time and make a note of other churches, faith institutions, community organisations ready to follow up at a later date.
  17. Read Marching Towards Justice for an introduction to community organising and The Salvation Army.
  18. Subscribe to www.matchfactory.org

Have you found these tips useful? Do you have any more to add? Share them in the comments below – if they’re good we’ll add them to the list!

May God Bless You With Anger

welcome

By Nick Coke

This article first appeared in the January-February 2016 edition of ‘The Officer’ magazine and is re-published with permission.  

I sat in a coffee shop with a veteran Christian minister from my neighbourhood. At his instigation we were meeting to talk about community engagement. I’d barely taken a sip from the cup in front of me when he looked at me across the table and asked, ‘What makes you angry?’

I was a little taken aback. I hesitated for a moment to gather my thoughts before speaking. At first my words were faltering – offering something about being a Salvation Army officer and a minister of peace and love. As I listened to myself I sounded unconvincing – dispassionate even. Glancing across the table I could see he looked disappointed.

Pausing for a gulp of coffee I reappraised my response and opened up a little. ‘Well, I suppose I’m angry that some people living here are so privileged that they have far more than they will ever need whilst others are trying to get by with virtually nothing.’ The words began to flow. ‘I’m angry that some people feel they’re inferior because of their culture, religion, gender or the colour of their skin.’ The flow turned into a torrent. ‘I’m angry that the landlords round here charge extortionate rent and the politicians appear helpless to do anything about it. I’m angry that some people work day and night and still don’t get paid enough to live on. And I’m angry that when we Christians do get worked up it’s almost always about internal issues rather than the great injustices in our world.’

Slightly embarrassed at my outburst, I grinned weakly, reached for my coffee cup and asked, ‘What about you, what do you think?’ He nodded gently and with a smile on his lips replied, ‘That’s a lot of anger, my friend. I think we can do business!’

Since that day, I’ve thought much about anger. Oh I know that anger can be destructive, a conductor of reckless, damaging behaviour and impulsive, ungodly words. We must flee from this kind of selfish anger and root it out of hearts and minds. Such hot anger should never be allowed to get the better of us and it is not compatible with the Spirit of the living God (see Matthew 5:22). ‘Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry’ (Ephesians 4:26) wrote the apostle Paul. Wise advice. We’re foolish, however, if we consider this the only kind of anger.

There is a rich tradition of cool, righteous, sanctified anger flowing through Moses, the prophets and Jesus himself to the Church and down through the ages. Such anger inspires us to action, drives us forward in the struggle and agitates us to a holy discontent with the world as it is. I know this to be true from my own experience ministering in various contexts.

I love the quote attributed to Augustine of Hippo (354-430): ‘Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.’

Hope that has no intention of changing the way things are, that has no means to grip the passions of the believer’s heart, is no hope at all. That rather is a vague wish or aspiration – here today and gone tomorrow. But hope fuelled by anger and courage, filtered through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, is a most potent weapon for the fight. Such anger becomes terrible in its beauty and a righteous tool for confronting the ‘powers and principalities’ (Ephesians 6:12 KJV) that stand against the coming Kingdom of God ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matthew 6:10).

So my friends, I ask you, ‘What makes you angry?’

May the restless Spirit of God fall upon you, bless you with anger and discomfort at the way the world is, and agitate you to work for the world as it should be.