Let the Spirit guide you!

Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty.  Zechariah 4:6

For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.  2 Timothy 1:7

More than ever the world needs people who are inspired, guided, and empowered by the spirit of the one God who is wise and compassionate.

In response to terrorist attacks, whether in London, Manchester, Berlin or Kabul, we need to concentrate on spreading compassion for those who are injured, for the families and friends of those who are killed, and – most importantly – for those, mostly young men, who are suffering so much that they may be driven to commit barbarous acts of violence.

It is of course tempting to succumb to and spread hatred of the perpetrators of terrorist killings and of the people whom they purport to represent. Spreading hatred will only make matters worse, hastening the descent into a spiral of violence. Hatred is blind and stupid. One person’s response to the latest terrorist outrage in London has been to appeal for Britain to leave the EU altogether as soon as possible. Where’s the connection between Islamist terrorism and Britain’s membership of the EU?

Hatred drives people apart when what we need is an inclusive and cohesive society – within Britain, throughout Europe, and ultimately throughout the world, though that could be a long time in coming.

There seem to be two objects of hatred amongst many British people at this time: Muslims and the EU. Individual Muslims cannot be held responsible for Islamist terrorism any more than individual Christians can be held responsible for the crusades. Islam and Christianity, along with most of the world’s faiths, share commitment to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would they should do unto you. Or: “Do as you would be done by.”

I believe we are also guided at a deep level by the same spirit, the spirit of the God of Abraham, the fearless spirit of love and compassion. This is a spirit of power – not of military power or power over other people, but of the power of love, power which is shared with other people. It is the power of active nonviolence, for which my friend Martin Arnold has coined the term “Gütekraft”, i.e. goodness-force or goodness-power. Mohandas Gandhi called it Satyagraha.

This fearless spirit of love and compassion is neither blind nor stupid, but of a sound mind. It does not imagine that Jews are responsible for infectious diseases, that Muslims are responsible for Islamist terrorism, or that the EU can be blamed for all the ills of British society. It sees that many people are excluded from society by poverty. It sees that, whilst the EU is a deeply flawed institution, it has in many ways been a force for peace, within its borders at least. The problem is not the EU as such, but rather austerity and other economic policies which have widened the gap between rich and poor. This gap is much more obvious in Britain than in Germany. The existence of food banks is a major indictment of British society. I’m not aware of any in Germany.

I’m praying for a miracle next Thursday. I find it hard to understand how anyone in their right mind, who seeks peace and justice for all, would vote Tory. Only a Labour government would seriously tackle inequality, negotiate a “soft” Brexit, and work together with other governments worldwide to build peace and combat climate change.

Given the electoral system in Britain, this doesn’t mean that you should necessarily vote Labour. You should use your vote to ensure, if possible, that your next MP is not a Tory. This means voting for the candidate of whichever party has the best chance of beating the Tory candidate. He/she may be Labour, Lib Dem, Green or SNP. The Guardian has published a tactical voting guide for those who live in constituencies where tactical voting could make all the difference. You may want to look at it.

But whatever you do, let the Spirit guide you!

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My kind of religion

I’m about half way through reading Jean Zaru’s book, “Occupied with Nonviolence: A Palestinian Woman Speaks”. She tells of the suffering of Palestinians since the “Catastrophe” of 1948, and focusses in particular on the wholesale violations of human rights under the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem since 1967.

Jean Zaru is the Presiding Clerk of the small group of Quakers in Ramallah. She is well respected in the ecumenical world, having served on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches.

In the first chapter of her book she writes:

“For forty years, I have been walking that edge where the spiritual meets the political. For me, the two have always been integrated. My spirituality is rooted in the human dignity and human rights of all people, and the sacredness of Mother Earth. I feel compelled to work for a world in which human freedom and dignity can flourish. Spirituality can bring life and vibrancy and imagination to my struggle, but of course I recognize that the mixture of religion and politics can also fuel the most extreme and violent acts and lead to systems of self-righteous repression.

“Many activists mistrust religion and spirituality, sometimes for good reason. But each of us finds ourselves engaged in the work for peace and justice because something is sacred to us – so sacred that it means more than convenience or comfort. It might be God, or the Spirit, or the sacredness of life or belief in freedom. Whatever it is, it can nurture us.

“Many people want religion, but they want it in its place apart from their business, their politics, their luxuries and conveniences. My own experience is that religion cannot be lived except with one’s whole everyday life, and what cannot be humanly lived is not religion. Religion involves commitment and relationship, and relationship is action and engagement in the real issues of life. But there is no relationship without love, only waste, strife, madness, and destruction. Love makes it necessary to find the way of truth, understanding, justice, and peace. My kind of religion is a very active, highly political, often controversial, and sometimes very dangerous form of engagement in active nonviolence for the transformation of our world.”

This is the kind of religion that the world needs, a religion that unites people in a struggle for peace, justice, and sustainability, and in the celebration of life.

Religion is too often divisive and destructive. I saw this during the Troubles in Northern Ireland where religious division led to bombings and shootings and people being driven out of their homes. Somewhere amongst all my slides I have an image of a boarded up florist’s shop in Lurgan. The sign over the shop said: “Say it with flowers!”

Now I see the destructiveness of divisive religion in Palestine/Israel. Of course the religious division is bound up with political, economic, and cultural divisions, just as it was in Northern Ireland. Religion is used to justify taking away people’s land and building illegal settlements in the occupied territories. Whilst talking about peace talks, the Israeli government continues with the construction of houses for Jews only in East Jerusalem, where Palestinian houses are regularly demolished. The Israeli government wants to establish Jewish control over the whole of Jerusalem and is in effect annexing much of the West Bank, leaving half a dozen “Bantustans” under the administration of the Palestinian Authority.

Don’t get me wrong! I don’t want to give the impression that all Israelis are bad and all Palestinians are good. As Tolstoy said, the line between good and evil passes through every human heart. It is the policies and actions of the Israeli government that I object to. Acts of violence are committed by both sides, but it is not a symmetrical conflict. Palestinians are subjected to systematic violence and oppression, whereas Israelis may occasionally be the victims of more-or-less random acts of violence.

If the conflict is waged with weapons of violence, Israel will win easily because of overwhelming military superiority. Many Palestinians – with the support of Israeli activists – are therefore choosing to conduct a nonviolent struggle for justice. They need our support.