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.

My conscience compels me to action

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By Nick Coke

A month ago I wrote a piece called ‘A Calais Protest’. It was written within a day or so of visiting the camp known as ‘The Jungle’ rotting on our borders. There’s always a risk in writing something in haste, whilst things are still raw – it can become a knee-jerk response. In this case, however, even with a month’s distance, I stand by every word.

The anger still smoulders in me. Every time it rains, I picture in my mind’s eye the mud and squalid conditions surrounding the crowded tents that are home to 6000 men, women and children. Whenever I hear the boiler kicking in to fire up my central heating, I remember how the night after I visited, a fire swept through the camp as people tried to keep themselves warm around a naked flame. As I’ve watched my son head out to the shops on his bike, I remember the young boy of similar age riding through the camp – it’s no place for any human being, even more so the vulnerable. Each time I go to church I’m taken back to that ram-shackled structure pieced together from random lengths of wood and plastic sheeting where Christians in the camp go to pray and worship. I’ve struggled since to sense the presence of God I found in that thin place in the comfortable worship settings that I spend my time in.

I mused in my earlier post that there comes a time when we must move beyond protest to action. In the case of Calais, avenues for action are limited by the lack of political will in France and the UK to take any responsibility. Bowing to that position, of course, is not a given – rather it is a choice that each of us makes.

I was recently convicted by Martin Luther King Jr’s comments about knowing when to take action:

“On some positions, cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ And vanity comes along and asks the question, ‘is it popular’? But conscience asks the question, ‘is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”

My conscience refuses to allow me to sit idly by and do nothing. I refuse to choose silence. So, what to do? Well, I know from experience that when ordinary people band together and organise themselves, even the gravest situations can change. Political realities can take another shape when enough creative people begin to use their prophetic imagination and look beyond the prevailing narratives to something more akin to the Kingdom of God. I’ve asked some of these prophets for their suggestions of what we can do and added a couple of my own. Take a look below and ask yourself, ‘what is my conscience compelling me to do?’

  • Go and see for yourself. Calais is a mere 26 miles from our borders – a 2 hour journey from our capital city. The first step towards action is always listening. And if you can’t go, then encourage your leaders to go – political leaders, church leaders, community leaders. I defy anyone to go and not feel challenged to action.
  • Read about it, preach about it, blog about it, talk about it and urgently pray about it. Don’t let it fade into the background as if it doesn’t exist. When we agitate and needle others it provokes greater action, public pressure and accountability around the root causes. You can join Facebook groups that keep you up to date with info. Here are some with contributions from ordinary people who are in and out of Calais all the time: Calais Migrant Solidarity Action and Calais Action And there’s one called ‘Jungle Life Calais’ that has testimonies from people living in the camp.
  • Bring it to the attention of elected politicians – talk or write to your MP or Assembly Member about it. Admitting it is a UK issue (as well as a French one) is the first step in seeing some action. More specifically call on the French and UK governments to follow basic UN conventions in meeting needs for those living in the camp. The camp currently fails on all internationally agreed standards.
  • Join the campaign calling for those in the camp, particularly children, who have family members in UK to be allowed to make asylum applications. More on that here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A nightshelter to a housing campaign: I had no power but you showed me how to take it back

By John Clifton

A week on Thursday, Ilford Salvation Army will open its night shelter for the 5th consecutive winter.  During this time, hundreds of people have stayed in the shelter, which accommodates 28 people per night.  For those 93 nights, during the coldest part of the year, the Corps building becomes ‘home’.  However, we’re very aware that sleeping on a camp-bed in our upstairs hall doesn’t constitute fullness of life.  Let’s take a look at Matthew 25 again:

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 

Continue reading “A nightshelter to a housing campaign: I had no power but you showed me how to take it back”

A Calais protest

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By Nick Coke

On Sunday I preached a sermon from the Old Testament prophet Amos. Standing before my congregation, they graciously listened as I wondered aloud how this unlettered, unqualified, shepherd from nowhere could pull off delivering such an angry howl of protest at the religious and political establishment of his time and still manage to have it remembered for millennia as part of the canon of scripture. His message has virtually no hope – a handful of verses at the very end promise a better day but for the most it’s wave after wave of finger-pointing, judgement, warning and lament. The reason it stands the test of time is that sometimes there are moments when all you can do is protest. Whilst protest does not provide the answer it certainly raises the question. Protest marks the moment of refusal to be comfortable with things as they are. It is the beginning of change but never the end. Continue reading “A Calais protest”

Cows! and what we can learn from the farmers

Naomi and I were on our way to Salisbury this afternoon with our daughter, when we suddenly had to come to a stop on the B3079.  We realised that, a few cars ahead, a cow had come into the road. With its friends, the cow waited patiently until it was ready to move on.  It reminded us that over the last few weeks, cows have been ‘wandering’ into places they’re not usually found – namely, supermarkets!  Farmers for Action, a campaign group, organised a number of actions which drew significant media attention.  These, alongside the negotiations, put sufficient pressure to get Asda, Morrisons and Aldi to agree to increase the amount they pay for milk, linking it to the cost of production.
 In our pamphlet Marching Towards Justice: Community Organising and The Salvation Army, we describe public actions as being essential for seeking justice.  Without it, the other ingredients that we discuss  (visitation, power analysis, and leadership development) become neutralised for the purpose of changing the world from the way it is to the way it should be.  The public actions by the Farmers for Action are great examples of how it can and should be done.  Here’s why: Continue reading “Cows! and what we can learn from the farmers”

What would Jesus do? The art of public action.

By Nick Coke

In our pamphlet, Marching Towards Justice, we outline a methodology for justice-seeking. We highlight four key elements required for bringing about lasting change: visitation, power analysis, training and development, and public action. Of the four, public action is the most contentious. Why? Because it involves struggle and agitation. In our section on ‘public action’ you will find the following words and phrases: ‘actions are targeted and personal’, ‘they should involve confrontation’, ‘the appropriate action is the one that will provoke the action one is looking for’. Provoke, target, confront – words that might make us uncomfortable as followers of Jesus. After all, isn’t the Christian life all about love, mercy and grace? Yes of course it is, but if we ask the question ‘what would Jesus do?’, we might soon realise that he would not have been too squeamish about the kind of public action we write about. In fact, not only was he a remarkable practitioner of agitation and confrontation (turning over the tables in the temple courts, healing on the sabbath, telling stories about good Samaritans, reclining at the table of ‘sinners’ and ‘outcasts’), he also taught his followers exactly how to do it in some of the most revolutionary political statements you’ll ever find. In Walter Wink’s wonderful short book, ‘Jesus and Non-violence: A Third Way’, there is brief exposition of Matthew 5:38-41. You will know the passage well: Continue reading “What would Jesus do? The art of public action.”