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.

What constitutes a good education?

EducationBy Andrew Manley

On the world stage there are still millions of children who do not have access to education.  According to UNICEF’s website:  ‘Universal access to quality education is not a privilege – it is a basic human right.  There are over 59 million children of primary school-age, who are being denied their right to education’. (January 2016)

But is it enough to simply provide access to education?  Should there be a standard to the education provided?  And what should those standards be?

In the UK we exist in a society that is rich in information, you would think answering such a question would be easy.  After all we have OFSTED reports, school prospectuses, results and performance tables… the list goes on.  But is it enough to measure a good education in the form of reports and statistics alone? Continue reading “What constitutes a good education?”

Solidarity

Guest post by Tom Underwood

The 14th of February 2016 marks the fifth anniversary of the pro-democracy uprising in the kingdom of Bahrain. Whilst the Arab Spring movement in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya made headlines the small island of Bahrain remained mainly under the radar despite the fierce crackdown on peaceful protest.

I first came across Bahrain through meetng the Bahraini human rights activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei. Sayed was one of hundreds of thousands of peaceful protestors (according to his own estimation about forty percent of the population) calling for democracy and an end to discrimination against the Shia’s by the ruling Sunni royal family. Thesayed response from government authorities was brutal. Sayed was severally beaten leaving a permanent scar across his forehead. He was imprisoned for six months during which time he was regularly beaten, sexually harassed and tortured. Finally, he was given two choices; stay in Bahrain and remain in prison or leave the country he loves. In July 2012 he claimed asylum in the UK.

Unfortunately, Sayed’s experiences are not unique and human rights abuses continue to be prevalent in Bahrain. In a recent article about the five year anniversary of the uprising James Lynch from Amnesty International writes, “Today in Bahrain, anyone who dares to criticise the authorities – whether a human rights defender or political activist – risks punishment.”

Despite all of this British arms sales to Bahrain have increased significantly during the past five years. Sayed first became aware of this link between the UK and Bahrain when after being attacked with tear gas he collected up the canisters and found that they were all made in the UK. Over the past five years the UK has sold arms worth £45 million to Bahrain. This doesn’t include the impact of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia who were brought in to crush peaceful demonstrations by the Bahraini government.

arms fairIMG_1732In September 2015 I joined with others to protest outside the Excel Centre in East London as it hosted DSEI, the largest arms fair in the world. On that day Sayed was one of many international speakers, all from countries where the UK sells arms despite oppressive human rights regimes. Many of these speakers used the word ‘solidarity’ to describe the impact of us standing alongside them in their struggle for human rights.

The word ‘solidarity’ has tricky connotations in the UK, conjuring up images of Citizen Smith and Che Guevara berets. Outside of Catholic social teaching Christendom has not embraced the word despite the positivity of it’s message of unity and support. However, at the centre of Christianity is the incarnation, God’s declaration of solidarity with the world. God does not stand separate from creation but physically enters into the messiness of flesh and blood, standing with us, close to us and part of us. This is what ‘solidarity’ means for us as Christians. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“And in the Incarnation the whole human race recovers the dignity of the image of God. Henceforth, any attack even on the least of men is an attack on Christ, who took the form of man, and in his own Person restored the image of God in all that bears a human form. Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord, we recover our true humanity, and at the same time we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race. By being partakers of Christ incarnate, we are partakers in the whole humanity which he bore. We now know that we have been taken up and borne in the humanity of Jesus, and therefore that new nature we now enjoy means that we too must bear the sins and sorrows of others. The incarnate Lord makes his followers the brothers of all mankind.”

Within this quote I’m struck by the phrase “Bearing the sorrows of others,” as a beautiful realisation of solidarity. Just as the incarnation is physical so too this idea of solidarity must be physical for us and lead us away from ‘clicktavism’ and ‘best wishes’ to a muscular activism where we stand, protest, and march with Sayed and others recognising that through the incarnation God has made us brothers of all mankind.

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

Theology and justice – not sure what to read? Try some of these books

Reading-booksBy Sam Tomlin

For the last year so or, a group of mainly South London Citizens members have been gathering every 2-3 months at William Booth College for a reading group looking at theology, community organising and justice. It has been an immensely enriching experience and a chance to look in a bit more detail at some of our collective heroes of the faith and unpack their motivations, influences, agitational activity, frustrations and reliance on God.

On a personal level I have learnt a huge amount both from reading the books and the discussion with other members of Citizens institutions at the different discussion groups. Three things in particular stand out to mention briefly: Continue reading “Theology and justice – not sure what to read? Try some of these books”

‘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’”

The justice-seekers dream… Spiritual exercise #2

By Nick Coke

What is a justice-seeker? What do we dream of becoming? What characteristics should we desire and pray for? What should we be doing? Here are some personal reflections. Although far from this, I pray I might walk this path. When you have read it, have a go at writing your own version. Use it as a source for daily prayer.

Justice-seekers are…

Present: justice-seekers understand therbrick lanee is no justice to be done from a distance. Like the Good Samaritan, they go out of their way and take risks to recognise and know the suffering of others. There are no boundaries that they will not cross, nor comforts they will not dispense with in order to build relationships and understand others. They know that first and foremost change begins with relationship and relationship can only begin with presence. Continue reading “The justice-seekers dream… Spiritual exercise #2”

Do be do be do! Spiritual Exercises for justice-seeking #1

By Nick Coke

A year on and there’s only one sentence I can remember from the justice-seeking seminar. Such is the way of things, as we preachers and teachers well know. It came do be do be doright at the close, just as the speaker was heading for the door. She’d packed up her notes and left the microphone behind at the lectern when suddenly she glanced back over her shoulder, fixed her eyes on me and from under her breath came the throwaway remark – ‘of course we don’t do social justice, we live justly’. She disappeared out of the door and down the corridor. I looked around to see if anyone else was struck by the Colonel’s final word but the post-session hubbub had already began. Perhaps it was meant just for me.

I’ve pondered this one-liner ever since. Continue reading “Do be do be do! Spiritual Exercises for justice-seeking #1”