Wednesday, December 11, 2019

God is a church growth principle

Depending on where you're coming from this might be blindingly obvious or something you've never thought about before. But here's what I want to say: one of the strongest predictors of whether a church will grow or not is simply whether that church believes and acts like God is real.

God is a church growth principle. This is something liberals don't seem to get. Liberals look at growing Evangelical charismatic churches and they say, “those churches grow because they have modern music” or “those churches grow because they're telling people they will go to hell if they don't join” or “those churches grow because they give people simple answers”. There might be some truth in all those ideas, but we often miss out the most important one – those churches grow because they believe in God.

What got me thinking about this was research into what matters to people when they become Christians. The book Finding Faith Today (1992) by John Finney researched 500 people who had become Christians. What was surprising about this research (and perhaps disturbing to Evangelicals) is that very few of them said becoming a Christian had anything to do with feeling guilty or having a sense of sin and salvation. More recent (but smaller scale) research by Emma Nash has revealed something similar. When new Christians were asked what was important to them in the Christian faith, what appealed to them, they said things like:

“I suppose it's just that having someone there all the time. You're never alone, you're never without someone who cares about you.”


“I can remember this particular day an overwhelming sense that God was there and he was listening, and I kind of didn't have to worry – whatever happened, it was going to be OK.”


“I think to me it's been more of a... sort of growing experience about God's love, it's sort of built up.” 

For Evangelicals this kind of thing is challenging because it suggests the message “feel guilty because of all you've done wrong and find forgiveness by turning to Jesus and asking for repentance” actually doesn't work, and isn't really something that's very important to anyone any more.

For liberals this kind of thing is challenging because to a greater or lesser extent liberals have stopped acting like God is real. Liberal churches do not see their primary purpose as inviting people to experience a personal relationship with God. They concentrate on social justice, on inclusiveness, on reason, but they are very weak on theocentric spirituality.

Of course some forms of liberal Christianity have become explicitly atheistic, and I have a lot of respect for that because at least it's honest and truthful. But many other forms of liberalism are just faintly embarrassed to speak of God in anything but vague and intellectual terms and do not act like God is a real presence, a real person in the room.

So here's my point again: I think the causes of growth and decline might be simpler than we think. I don't think Evangelical charismatic churches grow because they have modern music, or simplistic faith, or because of guilt and fear. I think bigger than all of these things is that they invite people into a personal relationship with the divine.

Equally I don't think liberal churches are in decline because they are too old-fashioned in style, or too progressive on social issues, or because they recognise nuance and complexity. I think bigger than all of these things is that they do not invite people into a personal relationship with the divine.

The most important difference between growing Evangelical churches and declining liberal churches is the Evangelical emphasis on a personal living relationship with the divine.

Yes, there are always counter-examples, and of course there are all kinds of complexities around this. And to “prove” this point I'd have to do a lot more research. But again, my main point around this is that I think a personal relationship with God is a much bigger factor for church growth than things like electric guitars vs organs. And we miss that point at our peril.

And I guess my main point is that if a church were liberal, queer welcoming, progressive, justice-orientated, rational, and also deeply deeply centred on the invitation to enter into a personal relationship with a God of love – then I think such a church would grow.

(The article that got me thinking about this was: Nash, E. (2014) “Redefining sin” in The Pioneer Gift: Explorations in Mission edited by Jonny Baker and Cathy Ross (Norwich: Canterbury Press))

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Protest and pain

What is the relationship of protest to pain? So often protest is a response to pain. A people feel the pain of oppression, the pain of legal and cultural discrimination and they protest against it. Political protest, political activism is a protest against the pain of a system.

Things get a bit more problematic when protest is not connected to pain. The great problem with environmental protest movements is that they are often disconnected from the experience of pain. In theory protest movements like Extinction Rebellion are responding to the pain of future generations, the pain of animals, the pain of the global south, but the protest is not a response to the personal experience of pain. Often privileged white westerns (like myself) do not experience in an everyday way the reality of this pain, and so protest is much more an expression of privilege. I go on protests, not for my own survival, but because I choose to, because I want to, because I have the privileged ability to do so.

Extinction Rebellion draws inspiration from non-violent direct action movements of the past such as those of Martin Luther King and Gandhi. But, as this long but excellent article by Nafeez Ahmed points out, the difference is that these movements were protests movements that emerged out of the experience of pain. Ahmed writes,
"The American civil rights movement succeeded in its strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience precisely because the very black communities rising up were the victims of the racist segregation and institutionalised brutality which they were protesting. 
The civil rights movement was therefore inherently grassroots and broad-based, emerging from the institutions of black communities. 
Its momentum was built-up over decades through direct, painstaking street-to-street organising, training, educating, network-building, and so on, within affected communities themselves. That is how the movement developed the capacity to eventually mobilise millions of people in repeated protest actions; and that is also how the movement was able to solidify and cement tight-knit networks of support across black communities nationwide. That is also how the movement was able to forge bonds of solidarity with white communities, resulting in peaceful protests involving black and white people. 
The goal of the movement was directly related to the suffering of black communities, aimed at ending the segregation, racism, discrimination and constant unmitigated violence committed against black people. 
It worked precisely because the people who drove the movement were the very same people who were suffering at the hands of the racist violence they wanted to change. It worked because they themselves were victims of violence, and the movement offered networks for self-empowerment and action against that violence. It worked because the solution was premised on core political changes directly related to the needs of those who wanted change; and disruption actions were targeted precisely at disrupting the system of injustice that was breaching their rights."
Because Extinction Rebellion is not a movement that grows out of the direct experience of pain, because the people who are driving the movement are not the same people who are suffering most at the hands of the system they want to change, it has run into problems.

Actions like the one on the London tube train have looked like (and I think were) the protest of people who are not suffering against the people who are suffering (poor, BAME, and working class Londoners). Of course it was not the intention to be against those people, it was well meaning, but that was the impression and the result.

The disconnect between pain and protest also means the Extinction Rebellion actions are, perhaps, a bit more fun than they should be. Don't get me wrong, I know people have suffered imprisonment, and nights on cold streets. I know many Extinction Rebellion activists are working very hard, making sacrifices, and are susceptible to burn-out, despair, and depression. But nevertheless, this is still not quite the same thing as a daily, lived experience of pain and persecution at the hands of a system.

Equally I do not want to affirm a place for joy, and, yes, even for dancing in protest movements. God knows we do need a place for joy in this work.

But when it comes out of a relatively privileged life it is a bit different from songs of protest and joy that emerge out of an experience of oppression and pain. It doesn't quite come from the same place in the soul, the place of joy that comes on the other side of pain.

It feels like what is limiting Extinction Rebellion right now is its attempt to do protest disconnected from the experience of pain, disconnected from oppression. Indeed, as the Ahmed article points out, this is a serious problem in its tactics based on a flawed understanding of the social science. It may be that these tactics will not work because the protest is too disconnected from the pain.

Then what is the solution? Is it possible to protest when you are not personally connected to the pain? Yes it is, it's called solidarity, and it's really important and powerful. Solidarity is the intentional practice to enter into the pain of another, to feel their pain, and to act shoulder to shoulder with them in the work. Or perhaps, behind them, letting the people with the experience of pain take the leadership and acting only to support them.

What has been missing, I think, with Extinction Rebellion is a deep enough commitment to solidarity. There hasn't been enough lifting up of the experience of people suffering under the climate crisis. We say "Listen to the science!" (and indeed we should) but we need to also say, "Listen to these voices from the global south. Listen to Pacific Islanders. Listen to Bangladeshis. Listen to people from Mozambique. And listen to Black Lives Matters, listen to Wretched of the Earth."

Yes, on a global and complex issue like the climate crisis it is much more difficult to do this kind of thing. But it also makes it more important. The only way Extinction Rebellion will mobilise millions of people in repeated protest actions is "direct, painstaking street-to-street organising, training, educating, network-building, and so on, within affected communities themselves." It will be the poor, the working class, and BAME communities that will be most effected by this crisis, globally and locally. So until privileged people within Extinction Rebellion see their (our) primary purpose as acting in solidarity with those communities, we will continue to protest outside of the experience of pain, and that protest will always be enfeebled and ineffective.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

We're going to need God

"We believe that the future of Unitarian Universalism depends upon becoming a transformative spiritual force committed to leading people out of the wilderness of individual prosperity and into the joy of communal intimacy and solidarity. This movement begins by reimagining our faith communities as sites of spiritual transformation committed to healing the world rather than as sanctuaries tucked away from it. Only by committing ourselves to a process of deep spiritual conversion will we be capable of resolving the environmental and social collapses occurring all around us...
The first step towards a solution is to admit that we are beyond the point of avoiding calamitous climate change... The second step is admitting that we need help. Specifically... humanity needs help from the divine and creative life force that is greater than the selfish interests of our individual egos. Anything shy of this confession will leave us with the illusion that we will somehow, through our own power and ingenuity, solve the problem. But we cannot solve a spiritual problem with intellectual solutions...
We feel called to help people experience God - the creative life force - and to restore a sacred relationship to our planet. We are saying, "Wake up, wake up! Put down your ego. Submit to transformation." We believe that our survival as a species, and the survival of many other species, relies on more religion, not less. And it is contingent upon a religion that asks us to practice, praise, and worship not for our own benefit but for the benefit of others. It is a style of worship that asks us to surrender our drive to fulfil our own spiritual needs and, instead, to seek out worship that aims to fulfil the spiritual needs of others."
Ian White Maher
I've already said we're going to need each other. I also think we're going to need God. In this climate crisis, where we're going to have to respond, react, and live through great change, we're going to need God.

I'm not talking about an external saviour in the clouds who is going to sort us all out. I'm talking about the God within. That divine indwelling that is nevertheless not the same thing as our egos.

The spiritual, psychological, and economic basis of the crisis is, at least partly, about the ego pursuing its growth and protection. It's about a sense of self that wants to keep acquiring and having power-over, which, in people who are already privileged, creates the system that we have.

This system breaks when we have the ability to say, "I need help." When we become capable of saying the sentence "I need help" we dethrone the ego, and admit the limits of our individualistic self. Twelve Step spirituality is based on the idea that we need to get to the point to admit we need help. Until we reach that point, we're going to resist the spiritual transformation that we need.

In the climate crisis we're going to need to be able to say "I need help". We are going to need help from each other, we're going to need help to share resources in a way we have previously horded resources. We are going to need help to live in a more sustainable, and local way. Living in such a way as to admit we need help will both mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis and live in a resilient way through the crisis.

So, if we take up the spiritual practice of daily saying, "I need help" it will begin to flex those mental muscles that we need. It reminds us that we cannot solve this problem through our own ingenuity and ego power. That is what has caused the problem in the first place. Rather we need the shift from the ego to the divine within that connects to the rest of the universe. We need the shift from individualism to divine interdependence.

We need to be able to say to the Universe, say to God (I believe that this is the same thing) "I need your help. I am dependent on you for food, for air, for existence, I am dependent on you for everything. And I need help in this crisis. I cannot do it on my own. I do not have the power to do it on my own. I need you."

This daily practice of prayer, this daily practice of giving the self over to the grace of God we begin to create the transformation we need in ourselves, and by extension the transformation we need in the world.

Personally if I think of all the problems of the world and think "this depends on me to solve" I'm likely to start to feel hopeless. There's just too much work to do. I can't do it. I can't even think of doing it if I think of you and and a few other people as well. I can't even conceive of it being hopeful if I think of a movement (whether religious or political) doing it. I need to submit my needs to the Greater, to the Totality. I need help, and I cannot do it without the divine help that is close by to me but also encompasses the totality of the universe. I need help from God. I'm going to need it. We're going to need it.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

We're going to need each other

What's becoming increasingly clear is that the way we're living in the rich west is not sustainable. We simply cannot go on with the amount of consumption we currently have, constantly buying and throwing away electronic devices, expecting to be able to fly several times a year. This lifestyle is only a few decades old, though it's the logical endpoint of the growth of capitalism and consumerism for centuries, but this system will soon break. It is also not evenly distributed, and that creates problems too.

What's the alternative? Let's start with something simple that I heard about on a podcast recently - a culture of borrowing. Say I need an electric drill. So I go out and I buy one, use it, and then put it in a cupboard and it remains unused for three years after that. Wouldn't a better system be one in which I borrow an electric drill when I need one, and then return it, and then someone else borrows it? If I only need something like that once or twice a year maybe it makes sense if ten or twelve or twenty of us jointly own something like that. Why do there need to be twenty drills in my street when maybe there only needs to be one shared one? That's the thinking behind libraries of things - and it's a really good idea.

That's the kind of thing we can do right now. But as the climate crisis gets worse and worse (and it really is going to get worse, the only question is how bad) I think we're going to really find that we need each other. We're going to need profound resilience in moments of diminishing resources, extreme weather, food shortages. Even if we deal really well with the climate crisis, at this stage it is impossible to completely cancel it out. We're not fighting to prevent the climate crisis any more, we're fighting to minimise it.

And so we're going to need each other, and if we start now we might just build the kinds of communities that will be resilient enough to weather the storm that is coming. A world where you don't know your neighbours will not serve you well in a crisis. But if we find a way to share resources, starting with little things at the moment, but building to sharing community together, it might just create the kind of world where we can live with fewer resources, but deeper connections. This is a practical issue, but also an emotional and pastoral one. The more I think about it the more I come to the same conclusion: we're going to need each other. And so community building, community organising might be just as important climate work as protests and activism.

I say this as someone who does not find this stuff easy. I know my neighbours, but not that well, and I kind of like the anonymity of a city. Part of me really likes being in a city and being anonymous and doing my own thing. Part of me really likes closing the door at night and watching TV by myself. The idea of a neighbour knocking on the door to borrow something from me does not thrill me.

But I really do think we're going to have to rediscover "the village". We're really going to have to think of ourselves as communities of 200 people who are connected to each other's lives. We're not going to go back to how society was 1000 years ago. But I think there is something of the rediscovery of community that is going to be essential.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Universal Love of God

“The message of hope the contemplative offers you... is... that whether you understand or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you, and offers you an understanding and light which are like nothing you ever found in books of head in sermons. The contemplative has nothing to tell you except to reassure you and say that if you dare to penetrate your own silence and risk the sharing of that solitude with the lonely other who seeks God through you, then you will truly recover the light and the capacity to understand what is beyond words and beyond explanations because it is too close to be explained: it is the intimate union in the depths of your own heart, of God's spirit and your own secret inmost self, so that you and He are in all truth One Spirit.”
Thomas Merton
Each day I find myself more and more rooted in the Good News of Universalism. I have less and less time for clever language and vague affirmations. As I get older, my faith becomes simpler, more child-like. My faith is that God loves me and God loves you and God loves everyone. That's it.

In a sense, that's not a very original message, all Christians would affirm it. The difference though, for me, in my understanding of a contemporary Universalism, is just how far and deep that love goes.

God loves you: therefore hell cannot exist.

God loves you: and God loves you whatever your beliefs, whatever religion you belong to. You don't have to sign up to a particular religious expression to access that love. The simple act of looking within "penetrating your own silence" opens you to that love. When a Muslim prays they have just as much access to that love as when a Christian prays. Even when a Buddhist or an atheists prays... even when the categories of "prayer" "love" and "God" fall away... you still have access to that same experience of being a Beloved held in the arms of the Eternal.

God loves you: and God loves love. God delights in the intimacy of two men or two women (or whatever gender anyone has) just as much as God delights in the intimacy of a man and a woman.

God loves everyone: and entering into that stream of love involves doing the same. The challenge of this is huge. Yes, it involves nuance and work and thinking about what it means to forgive, to love enemies, to truly work for the well-being of others as well as ourselves, but that's the necessary challenge.

God loves everyone: and weeps hardest and longest when people are put down, diminished in their souls and beaten in their bodies. God weeps and shares in the sorrow and anger of people who have been made victims of white supremacy, colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism, war, and ecological genocide. 

God loves you. This is the message of hope offered by the spiritual practice of contemplation. This is the invitation to discover.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Climate activism and hypocrisy

In the conversations around climate activism there's often accusations of hypocrisy. I've been trying to think about what this is all about. I think it goes something like this:

People think that the message of climate activism to ordinary members of the public is “You're doing terrible things that are destroying the planet, you're a terrible person. We're protesting against you.” Ordinary members of the public, feeling defensive and attacked respond by saying, “Well, you're doing bad things as well.” And then look for things to prove this, find people wearing leather, or eating McDonald's, or using a car or air plane, and then say, “Well you're a hypocrite for attacking me for doing bad things to the planet while you are too.”

Of course this is a recipe for no one ever doing anything. So, what do we do about this?

Firstly acknowledge that anyone living in society, certainly in the UK, is contributing to the climate crisis. No one is perfect. We can do things to minimise our impact, but only to a certain extent. 

Secondly be absolutely clear that it is only government systematic action that will make the necessary changes. We cannot do it by our consumer choices. The government is responsible for the systems of our society, not the individual citizen and consumer.

Thirdly be absolutely clear that therefore the target of climate activism is the government and the multinational corporations who are are creating and supporting a system that is creating the crisis. 

Fourthly be absolutely clear that the target of climate activism is not ordinary people who are going about their lives. We want to recruit people to climate activism, not alienate them. The message should be clear, “Government action is creating climate genocide, join us in being angry with the government about this.”

Sunday, October 20, 2019

On whiteness and Extinction Rebellion

This is the tweet that encapsulated for many what is wrong with Extinction Rebellion. Someone who was arrested sent flowers to Brixton Police Station, where they had been held, and then released. And someone pointed out that this is a station where black men have died in the cells. But this lovely, we presume white, person was treated well enough at the police station to make them send flowers.

I must admit I didn't know about deaths in Brixton Police station. The fact I don't live in London is probably not a good enough reason for this. If I'm brutally honest, I could imagine being the type of person who sent those flowers. I would have been totally ignorant of the wider issues around this.

A lot of people I respect are very on board with Extinction Rebellion. A lot of people I respect are very heavily critical of Extinction Rebellion. So I'm writing this, not because I particularly think I have a clever analysis of all this, but because I think it's a pressing question, and I want to try to work on this. I know as a white person I need to work to become more aware of my whiteness, and how it shapes how I, and others, do this kind of thing.

This is a really good article and worth reading to start with. The following thoughts are less thought-through, but this is what I'm thinking at the moment.

I don't think the problem is with Extinction Rebellion as such. It's with whiteness. We talk about Extinction Rebellion as if it's a thing, a tight organisation, when the fact is it's extremely decentralised, perhaps even disorganised. If I want to do an action tomorrow, and I can get two people who want to do it with me, and we do it non-violently, we can say we're doing it as "Extinction Rebellion". There's no induction, there's no training. I mean these things exist, but you can choose to ignore them.

Extinction Rebellion is very young and it's grown very fast. That means that well meaning white people, with no experience whatsoever with activism, no thought-processes around power and privilege, can rock up and start "being Extinction Rebellion". Of course you could see in many ways this is a good thing, but it inevitably means people will bring in all their cultural assumptions and baggage.

So what are the solutions? This is a work-in-progress, but here's what I'm thinking as some things Extinction Rebellion needs to be doing:
  • Talk about the present tense, not just the future tense. People are dying now. Constantly talk about the deaths that are increasing in the world right now because of climate change. It's happening right now in the global South. 
  • Local groups should concentrate on education and consciousness-raising rather than lots of small actions. In a city like Cardiff there's a lot of busyness in the XR group. There's lots of things being organised all the time, lots of things going on. There is an argument that as the capital city of Wales there is particular work to do, but the main target of the protests must continue to be London. Between big London actions I don't think we should be concentrating on lots of little actions here and there, but on growing community, on educating ourselves, on grounding ourselves spiritually, on doing the deep work that leads up to the London actions.
  • Be clearer that the target is government and not our fellow citizens. I need to write more about this. It's not been clear enough that government is the target of our actions. That needs to be clear and we need to not look like we're attacking people, especially working class people and people of colour. It has sometimes looked like that. 
  • Don't pretend being arrested is fun. Don't downplay it. It's serious and not something to make jokes about. Recognise and constantly talk about how our white privilege makes it less dangerous for white people to get arrested than people of colour. 
  • Be a follower, not a leader all the time. Keep listening to and supporting organisations like Wretched of the Earth and War on Want.  Keep learning. Keep trying to work out how we can support other peoples and organisations working on climate justice, not assuming that they should join us
  • We are not the Messiah. Accept that an organisation can have well-meaning goals while also failing in some ways. It's not black and white that we are the good guys and everyone against us is the bad guys. We can have a moral aim while at the same time morally failing in some ways. It's called being human. 
  • Start looking into whether we should have a fourth aim of Extinction Rebellion demanding a just transition that prioritises colonised peoples.
None of this is original to me. This is just some stuff I'm thinking through right now. 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Why non-violent civil disobedience?

Inevitably there is always a lot of debate about the tactics of Extinction Rebellion. Of course as people concerned about the climate crisis this isn't what we want to be talking about - we want to be talking about the climate crisis and the government's inaction. We want to tell the truth about the mess we're in and for the government to start acting on the emergency. But it is also important to be as clear as possible about the tactics and the reason for them. I think it's important for both members of Extinction Rebellion and for the general public to be as clear as possible about why we do what we do.

Non-violent action must be rooted in a spiritual/moral foundation. It is based on the idea that there is right and there is wrong and it is the moral duty of everyone to do right and not to do wrong.

Non-violent action is based on the idea that there is a covenant between the citizen and the state, that both have certain rights and responsibilities to each other, the state promises to provide basic protections and the citizen promises to obey the law (the state promises to obey the law too). Both the citizen and the state have obligations to be moral. To do the right thing and not do the wrong thing.

Sometimes a citizen breaks this covenant. It's called breaking the law and it means you get arrested.

But sometimes the state breaks this covenant. There are times when the state is no longer behaving morally. They may be still obeying the law of the land, but they have broken a higher moral law. If you like, they have broken God's law.

When the state breaks this covenant it becomes the duty of the citizen to point out that the covenant has been broken. When the state is disobedient to the higher moral law the moral duty of the citizen (if possible) is to be be obedient to the higher moral law and disobedient to the state.

This is not something to be taken lightly. It's not something you can do just because you disagree with the state. You don't do it because you disagree with this particular policy or this particular law. You only do when you are convinced that the state is behaving so immorally that the covenant is well and truly broken. You only do it when you believe that the state is in such an immoral state that it is losing its legitimacy as a democratic state acting in covenant with its citizens.

Disobedience to the state is not always possible. You have to calculate survival into this. For some people acting in disobedience to the state will get you killed. This is an individual decision based on your position, your privilege, your reflections. The decision is not equal for all people. People have to do the best they can.

But for some with the position, the ability, the privilege, their conscience may lead them to break the law.

The intentional breaking of the law, non-violently, is a symbol that the covenant has been broken, and that the citizen no longer recognises that the state has moral legitimacy. In the tradition of the Hebrew prophets it allows someone to symbolically act out the broken covenant. It brings that state of moral crisis into the light for all to see.

Those of us, like me, part of Extinction Rebellion, are acting because we believe the British state is morally bankrupt, has lost moral legitimacy because it is essentially guilty of genocide. Indirectly, I'll grant you, and sort of by omission rather than by commission, but nevertheless guilty of genocide. The carbon emissions we have released into the atmosphere are killing people in India, Bangladesh, Mozambique, the Pacific Islands, and it's getting worse and worse every day. We have known this for decades, ignorance is no defence. By the British state refusing to urgently reduce carbon emissions it is saying that these lives do not matter, that it is prepared to let people die rather than change certain ways our technologies and economies operate.

By not acting on the climate crisis that is continually killing people the British state has lost moral legitimacy. So have lots of others of course, but I am a UK citizen so my covenant is with the British state, and that's where I'm going to act.

Last week I heard a commentator say "The Suffragettes had no vote, so they had to act directly. The civil rights movement in the States was made up of black people who had no vote, so they had to act directly. So if you do have the vote you shouldn't be doing this kind of thing, you should be just using your vote." I thought to myself - that's a good point actually. But then I thought some more. The problem with it is that the people suffering from the climate crisis, the citizens of Kiribati for example, do not have a vote in the UK, a country that for over 200 years has been one of the most polluting. Neither do those under 18 and those yet to be born. The democratic system of voting, because it is national and not international, has limited use in addressing global problems. Our system is of course caught up in centuries old colonialism that has, and continues to, work for "white civilisation" and against black and brown peoples. So direct action become legitimate because it is acting in solidarity with those who have no vote. 

Extinction Rebellion has not always said that clearly, because of course Extinction Rebellion is also shaped by white privilege and white supremacy (as is everything). This is something we need to work on a lot more. Extinction Rebellion must emphasise more strongly that it is acting in solidarity with people in the global south, that we are trying to act in solidarity with the victims of ecological genocide, and against the government that refuses to do what is needed to prevent it.

While the government refuses to act on the emergency that is creating ecological genocide it has broken the covenant, and is acting immorally. It is out of that belief that we believe the state is immoral that makes some of prepared to nonviolently rebel against the state as the appropriate moral action. While the state is acting immorally the moral action becomes acting against the state.

Friday, October 18, 2019

More reflections from my time with Extinction Rebellion in London

I'm back in Cardiff now after a few days with Extinction Rebellion in London. It's all still ongoing, and I find myself with much to think about.

In many ways I was really only dipping my toe in this kind of thing. I took part in the Cardiff action in the summer, but this was the first time I had gone to London for an Extinction Rebellion protest. I was apprehensive but I feel much more comfortable doing this kind of thing now. What I'd like to say to anyone curious it that it's totally possible to just turn up, have a look around, be as involved as you want to be. You don't have to be prepared to get arrested, you can just be there.

Thousands of people were there, but in some ways I was disappointed by the numbers. It would be a lot more effective if there were like 100,000 people there - the kinds of numbers for a football match. At those numbers the police couldn't do much, the streets couldn't be taken back. People wouldn't have to do anything. If there were simply 100,000 people hanging on those streets it would be an unstoppable movement.

That's mostly what I did - I met people who I knew, I talked to people, I prayed, I went to a Quaker Meeting for Worship, a Christian evening prayer, and a Jewish service. Without the planned Faith Bridge I wasn't able to offer something myself.

I was just one of the people in the crowd singing and supporting those being arrested. One of 50 pairs of eyes that looked on to make sure police arrested people appropriately and with due care. I watched lots of people get arrested. It looks like there will be even more arrests this time than in April.

What was more dramatic was when I was with a small group who decided they were going to sit in the road, though the police had cleared out everyone else. It was dark and we were few in numbers. The police had asked us to move, but we has refused. We knew the police were coming back and going to arrest anyone who wasn't going to budge. Just before they did though the "Red Rebels" (the ghostly figures dressed all in red and walking about in silence as a continuous piece of street art) descended on us. With care, pure attention, and love they surrounded the people about to be arrested, and reached out to touch them. They give their blessing like they were a host of angels, and that's exactly what they looked like to me. Having given their blessing they descended into the night just in time for 30 police officers to march in and start arresting people.

That angelic visitation left me wondering - where is the Holy in the midst of action? How can prayer and protest go together? I still don't have many good answers to those questions, but I feel they are the important questions.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Dispatch from London International Rebellion

I’m writing this from London on Day 4 of the International Rebellion in October 2019. This is the second major action in London this year from Extinction Rebellion. I haven’t clearly thought out my thoughts so I don’t really know what I’m about to write. I might try to write something clearer later.

I suppose I want to start by saying why I’m here. I suppose I’m here primarily because I’m scared. I’m shit scared and the reality of what’s going on in the world is something that I’m constantly grappling with. It’s a year since the IPCC report came out saying we have 12 (now 11) years to avoid disaster. Governments still aren’t acting. I’m scared. There’s a real threat to human civilisation as we know it. And for the most part we’re actively ignoring it. The chant from the youth strikes (though shouted with youthful enthusiasm) still fills me with utter horror: “You’ll die of old age. We will die of climate change.” That’s what our children are saying directly to our faces. That’s what we’re currently heading towards.

It’s hard to imagine. It doesn’t seem real. But then I find it hard to imagine that one day I will die. But as hard as it is to imagine, that is what will happen. I will die, if I’m lucky, of old age. And if we keep going in this direction our children (or many of them) will die of climate change.

I’m scared. And I’m profoundly sad. I’ve known intellectually about climate change for decades. But I think it is only this week that I’m finally emotionally experiencing climate grief. I kind of knew it had to come one day. As I read and think this week I’m beginning to feel it in my bones. I’d like to give you hope. I’d like to tell you I’m inspired. But the fact is I’m on the verge of tears. I feel sorrow in the pit of my stomach. Because I’m finally deeply considering the reality that it might be too late. We might fail to avert this disaster. We might be heading towards starvation, genocide, disaster in my lifetime, even though we can see it coming decades off and we know how to avert it. We might just decide it’s too difficult to bother trying and leave it to the next generations to sort out.

So I’m here. I’m in London. I am in a privileged position. I can take this time to do this. I can afford a few nights in a youth hostel. I can risk getting arrested - though I’m not yet brave enough to aim for it. I can be here so I’ve got to be here. It might be hopeless but I have to try. To beg government to do something. I’m not working as hard or as bravely as some people. But I’m here. Just another human. Just another body. I’m here.

The police have been, I don’t want to say aggressive, but pro-active and assertive. When I arrived at Westminster tube station I tried to walk towards Lambeth Bridge, where there was supposed to be a “faith bridge” occupied by faith communities. But my way was blocked by intimidating lines of police every where I tried to go. They arrested several faith based activists and so we never got to stay and pray about this crisis on that bridge.

Equally the police slowly cleared the street in front of the Home Office where Welsh activists were based. In large numbers they pushed us back and back until they came to people who would not move, the “arrestables” who stayed put until arrested. Some “locked on” using complex tubes so police had to cut them out before they could arrest them. It’s all a matter of time. Arresting someone takes time, administration, and several police officers. The whole point is to take up as much time, money, faff, for the state as possible. To be as irritating to the state as possible while remaining nonviolent. To insist that when state action (or inaction) is immoral, irresponsible, criminal, it is the duty of moral people to act against the state. There is a higher moral law. When the state does not follow it, we must be in revolt against the state.

The state is sometimes scary. It’s designed to be I suppose. I’m naturally law abiding and a little bit afraid of the police. There’s been moments when I’ve felt intimidated by the police. But I think the good thing about Extinction Rebellion is you can do whatever you’re comfortable with. So if you think “Oh I could never do that.” It’s OK, just come along and see what’s going on. Start at the shallow end and see what happens. In the UK the police don’t charge in with batons to nonviolent protests. If you’re uncomfortable with a situation you can always leave. But please, talk about this climate crisis, find out about it. Talk to your friends and family about it. Write to your politicians about it. Or, if you’re reading this during this Rebellion, and you can, pop down to Trafalgar Square and see what’s going on.