The Times they are a-changin’

By Nick Coke

This article first appeared in the January-February 2017 edition of ‘The Officer’ magazine and is re-published with permission. 

Bob Dylan is my hero. There, I’ve gone and said it! Some might laugh at the suggestion, others cringe and perhaps there are even those who wonder who on earth he is. Let me help you understand.

Bob Dylan is an American singer and songwriter, born Robert Zimmerman in Minnesota in 1941. Rising to prominence as a folk singer, he is accredited as a pioneer of the 1960s counterculture and the voice of a generation. His early songs accompanied the civil rights movement, and he even shared a stage with Martin Luther King on the day the Rev King delivered his ‘I have a dream’ speech in 1963.

Continue reading “The Times they are a-changin’”

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.

Living for the City

This article was first published in the March-April 2016 edition of The Officer 

1 goBy Nick and Kerry Coke

IN 1973, within a year of our births, the great American musician Stevie Wonder released the song ‘Living for the City’ – a track from his groundbreaking new album, Innervisions. The song is startling for its howl of protest at the systemic racism of American society at the time. It traces the journey of a black family from rural Mississippi to a New York ghetto. The parents work menial jobs for poverty wages, the older brother looks for work in vain, the sister has to go to school in ill-fitting clothes and the younger brother finds himself sucked into a life of crime.

On the day of its release Wonder, blind from a young age, arranged for a group of journalists to be taken on a tour of New York City, blindfolded. He encouraged them to hear the soundscape of the city streets – the pounding of feet, car engines, police sirens and the myriad of spoken languages. As the tour ended, and still sightless, he played them ‘Living for the City’. The song opened with the trademark soul of Wonder’s voice, but as the last verse kicked in his voice transformed into an unfamiliar cry of anguish. It finished with him bellowing out these words:

I hope you hear inside my voice of sorrow
And that it motivates you to make a better tomorrow
This place is cruel nowhere could be much colder
If we don’t change, the world will soon be over
Living just enough, just enough for the city!

We recently rediscovered this song on an old vinyl record we found in a charity shop. As we listened through the crackles and pops it felt as though Wonder’s prophetic voice was speaking down the generations. We began to reflect on what it meant to ‘live for the city’. We considered our own heritage and how the underbelly of city life was the crucible in which The Salvation Army was formed. When William Booth ‘found his destiny’ it was on the stricken streets of a city with circumstances not unfamiliar to the characters in Wonder’s song. Knowing this context is key to understanding our movement – who we are and why we do what we do.

In a biblical sense, ‘living for the city’ goes beyond the realm of the urban physical space we name ‘cities’. Take the call of Jeremiah, for example, to the Jews living in Babylonian exile: ‘Seek the peace and prosperity of the city… Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper’ (29:7). It is a plea to build the common good with those the exiles now live amongst. Instead of setting themselves apart and only looking after their own interests, Jeremiah charges them to embrace a radical new way of life where they are to build relationships across ethnic, religious and cultural divides. In doing so, he says, the land in which they live will flourish with peace and prosperity. Surely this is a message for our time. In an increasingly globalised and urbanised world, many of us live in communities which are becoming socially fragmented in ways that previous generations could never have imagined. It is becoming the new norm. Jeremiah’s call to a radical way of life, however, gives us a framework for peace in our time.

Living for the city, we suspect, begins with listening. How else can we win souls, care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the unlovable and befriend those who have no friends, without first bending our ears to the struggle of the people? Without doubt that means presence, patience and an enduring spirit of love. Take a moment to consider your ‘city’ – what is it that you hear?

In the end, of course, there is another city. A perfect city when Heaven descends to earth (Revelation 21:2-4). In this ‘Holy City’ all tears are wiped away and all sorrow ends. Street lights are no longer necessary, for the glory of God will suffice (22:5). All poverty and pain are things of the past. Even death will be no more. This is the city we should live for – in the now and for the future. For it is coming. Close your eyes, lend your ear to the soundscape of the city streets and perhaps you can hear its coming.

Freedom Highway

staple singersBy Nick Coke

I’m listening to The Staple Singers bellowing out ‘Freedom Highway’ from their legendary live performance at Chicago’s New Nazareth Church in 1965. It’s three days after my second visit to the Jungle in Calais. I’ve tears in my eyes and a sickness in my stomach.

Pop staples introduces the song:

“A few days ago, the freedom marchers marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. I know some of you know about that. That was in March of nineteen hundred and sixty-five. And from that march, word was revealed and a song was composed. And we wrote a song about the freedom marchers and we call it the ‘Freedom Highway’, and we dedicate this number to all the freedom marchers.”

I’m holding the original record sleeve in my hand. It’s a thrill to know that the person whose hands pressed this vinyl half a century ago and the first owner of this particular LP would have lived through the Martin Luther King led march that made history. The concert was recorded only 3 months after that event.

The guitar kicks in, then the drums, hand-clapping and finally the vocals.

March for freedom’s highway
March each and every day
Made up my mind and I won’t turn around
Made up my mind and I won’t turn around
There is just one thing I can’t understand my friend.
Why some folk think freedom
Was not designed for all men.
Yes I think I voted for the right man
Said we would overcome.

portaloosI’m back in the Jungle, standing in the winter rain and mud. There’s a hopelessness hanging in the air I hadn’t sensed the last time. There are rumours of a government demolition, of police brutality, of vigilante gangs beating up migrants whilst the authorities turn a blind eye. I’m told by a Syrian refugee about the orphans living in the camp with no-where to turn. I’m struggling to see the freedom highway.

Pop Staples knew when he composed his song that he was writing about an historic moment. Today we are making history. Future generations will look back and wonder about our response to the biggest humanitarian disaster in Europe since the Second World War. We will be judged for what we are doing and what we are not doing.

The Jungle in some ways has come to symbolise the British response. It’s the closest we’ll allow those fleeing war and poverty to get before they meet our high border fences. It’s a third of the distance than from Selma to Montgomery.

As I listen to The Staple Singers from 50 years ago, I can’t help but dedicate this song to the people I met in Calais. May you one day experience freedom – freedom from war, freedom from poverty, freedom from oppression, freedom from fear. May you find freedom – may you overcome. And Lord – help me be a freedom marcher.

‘May all who come behind us find us faithful’

Guest post by Casey O’Brien Machado

Sydney Congress HallI belong to a Corps which has a rich heritage of vibrant Salvationism. A quick look through the history books of Sydney Congress Hall Corps shows long-term discipleship, enthusiastic evangelistic outreach, strong community, innovation in worship, musical excellence, and a strong engagement with social issues. Sydney Congress Hall has much to be proud of in its history. Yet the history means little if we do not draw on it to impact the present. As ‘Marching towards Justice’ tells us, “The stories of old have a power to impact the present. These stories remind us that we stand on the shoulders of giants. If they remain only as aspirational legends, however, they can rob us of what we can learn about the reality of justice-seeking today”. Continue reading “‘May all who come behind us find us faithful’”

Songs to help us march towards justice #RefugeesWelcome

By John Clifton

On Friday evening, some of the Match Factory collective went to see The Last Internationale (TLI), a New York rock band with a political edge, play at the Barfly in Camden – a few doors down from Chalk Farm Salvation Army.  At a time when there is a lot of unrest about the insufficient level of action from the UK Government on the refugee crisis, it was helpful to be in a space which both expressed and cultivated anger.  These were truly songs for the journey, written to be worked out in the justice-battles of everyday life. Continue reading “Songs to help us march towards justice #RefugeesWelcome”

Songs for the Journey – Saul Alinsky and Sufjan Stevens

By Nick Coke

Inspiration for the journey comes from many quarters. Some of it is through more obvious means – scripture, prayers, sacred music, religious art – and then there’s the more oblique stuff, like a film scene, an unexpected piece of music on the car radio, the sun reflecting off a skyscraper that suddenly moves you, an overheard snippet of conversation on the street. It’s nuanced for all of us. For me it’s music – not really the kind you hear in a church meeting but something you find on an old vinyl record in a charity shop. A number of years ago I blogged a little on some of my favourite musical gems – songs for the journey. Here’s one I recorded earlier:

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 23.33.02

Sufjan Stevens – The Perpetual Self or What Would Saul Alinksy do? (Listen on Youtube here) Continue reading “Songs for the Journey – Saul Alinsky and Sufjan Stevens”