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.

Praying towards justice – a vigil for refugees

By Nick Coke

Last night I attended a prayer vigil for refugees, with Salvation Army colleagues from across London. It was a remarkable gathering.

Look at this photo –  what do you see?

vigil

Here’s what I see…

I see diverse people. Gathered in the courtyard of Westminster Cathedral 450 souls stand shoulder to shoulder. A snapshot of the diversity to be found in this great capital city. People of various faiths, ethnic and social backgrounds. Humanity in it all it’s jumbled, glorious, and wondrous mess. All belong, all needed. Continue reading “Praying towards justice – a vigil for refugees”

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”

‘Marching for Justice’ Launched

CJAB-q4WIAEGD5dOn Friday 3 July, at the Bryant and May match factory in Bow, ‘Marching for Justice: Community Organising and The Salvation Army’ (click to download PDF) was launched. In a hot bar, packed to the rafters we remembered the brave match-girls who had fought for and won justice. We felt like we were standing on holy ground, a ‘thin place’, where heaven and earth collided – a place where justice had flowed like a river. Continue reading “‘Marching for Justice’ Launched”