Greetings Beloved Listeners.
I’m now officially part of Nomad Podcast.
Here’s our recent interview with Rowan Williams on Prayer.
And here’s a Nomad devotional I made with help from Rabbi Margaret Jacobi, Brian McLaren and urban gardener Sam Ewell. It’s about the Holy Spirit. These are sound collages, made of readings, discussions, prayers, songs, sound and music.
Future devotionals will be come out each month as bonus content for our patrons, so if you’d like to support Nomad, you can do so here. Our interviews are always free though.
We used to sneer at people who’d put their hands up to the television screen, looking for spirituality through machines. Now look at us.
13.03.17 – ‘The Book of Jonah’ is released. Narrated by N. T. Wright. Starring Alastair Macintosh. Curated & soundtracked by myself.
You can pre-order here.
I just wrote a rather theological blog for Sputnikmagazine about the beautiful and the grotesque in art.
You can read it HERE.
The new book Sympathy for Jonah is out now. Its a book about meltdown, whale ingestion and Waitsian doom-musicals. Its a book about living in a time of escalating imperialism and terror. And above all else its a about how ordinary people live radical lives in world of apparently threatening Others.
Here’s some commendations…
“David Blower has written a marvelous reflection on what may be the Bible’s most subversive and misunderstood story. Not only are his insights incisive and needed, his writing is a delight to read.” —Brian D. McLaren, author/speaker/activist
“I picked it up, started to read it and couldn’t stop. It’s the kind of book that I would love to have written myself, but have neither the insight, the imagination nor the sheer literary skill or flair to do so. Its an irresistible, fanciful, terrifying book: brilliant, beautiful and colourful, but brutal, awful and confronting. It is a book about Jonah that does a Jonah on us: calling us to engage the brutal realities of the world we live in; not letting us run from our call by sending a whale of a story along to swallow us up; forcing us to face that which we fear most in the belly of the beast; then throwing us up into the clear light of day, without any illusions, to love our imperialist and terrorist enemies, by addressing ourselves to them with the same unarmed honest naked vulnerability that Jonah – and later Jesus – displayed. This is The Gospel According To Jonah for today.” —Dave Andrews, author of Plan Be, and Christi-Anarchy
“Elegaic in its writing and prophetic in its message, Blower’s study brings the ancient Biblical myth of Jonah back to life with fresh relevance for our times, especially so with Jonah’s city so much in the news, and for the same reasons as before: that to say, Nineveh, or Mosul in northern Iraq.” —Alastair McIntosh, Professor, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh, author of Soil and Soul and Spiritual Activism
“Identifying the empire—not the big fish—as the real beast in the book, this powerful and poetic re-telling of the Jonah story brings a familiar tale to life in fresh ways, and invites readers to face the challenge of engaging creatively and vulnerably with the powers that be.” —Stuart Murray Williams, author of The Naked Anabaptist, Multi-Voiced Church and Church After Christendom
“Here he is again, ready for round two. His latest is about as unsettling as it gets. I’ve been following David’s work for some time now. I know how he operates, but he still catches me off guard. So put down whatever you’re reading, pick up this book, and brace yourself!” —Tim Nash, Nomad Podcast
“David Benjamin Blower brings us a renewed song of hope—in the shape of Jonah wrapped up in a whale. This is a work of imagination and erudition as well as an elegy that speaks of a way of being that for so long has eluded concerned Christians. At last God has given us a prophet who dares to tell us like it is. Listen up—let Jonah help us to see our task as Christians in troubled times. Read and listen to David Benjamin Blower if you dare—but with assurance that grace is so much in abundance our fretfulness will be transformed into passion.” —Ann Morisy, author of Beyond the Good Samaritan and Journeying Out
From September I’ll be touring lounges and gardens, faith communities, bars and halls, performing the Jonah musical and talking about the book. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to make a booking.
My dear friend Vincent Gould made this video for In Praise of Rome. It is made, appropriately, out of footage from the war in Yemen, which we British are quietly supporting; supplying weapons and logistical help to the Saudi regime.
All this got ugly for us last week, for reasons I’ll mention further down. But first, in keeping with song, I should say something theological:
This song is about the meaning of the term ‘gospel’ – euangelion in Greek – meaning literally good news or glad tidings. The first Christians did not coin the term as a benign catch-phrase to sell a new religion. It existed before anyone was called a Christian. It was a Roman political term for an imperial announcement: usually the birth of a new emperor, or the success of some conquest or other. In the ears of first century Jewish men and women, it meant self righteous lies and propaganda from the oppressor. The gospel of Rome routinely replayed the message: Caesar is lord and son of god. He brings wars to end and begins the new age. His divinely ordained peace comes at the righteous end of the Roman short sword. His conquering armies, occupying soldiers, blanket taxation and crucifixion of rebels were all justified by the Roman peace which they made possible. This was the Rome’s Good News.
So when Mark begins with “The gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God” he begins by giving Caesar’s empire the finger. While Christians today ponder what the gospel is the first readers would be immediately struck by what it is not. The gospel is a rejection Rome’s gospel of military might, security through force and peace through violence. It was, rather, committed from the start to enemy-love, non-violent resistance, grace and forgiveness. This commitment was held across the board for the first few centuries of the Church, and it was their open rejection of the Caesar’s gospel that lead to the political executions of countless men and women from this benign little sect of Judaism.
There is a book I keep returning to: Society Must be Defended,* a series of lectures by Michel Foucault. It begins by quoting Petrarch’s famous maxim “all history is praise of Rome.” The lectures go on to sketch European history and politics as a sort of perpetual war for power in which everyone appeals to fables of Roman lineage, and tries to re-create Rome in their own image. Ironically, the history of the “Christian” West has, according to Foucault, been forever infatuated with Caesar’s gospel, which the Christians defined themselves against. This is true once again today.
Our Quiet War in Yemen
Here is a morbid irony, that a country which whose Prime Minister declared it a “Christian country” sells billions of pounds of weapons to a regime who still consider crucifixion an appropriate punishment for rebels. We’ve been selling arms to the Saudi regime since Thatcher’s day. Under Cameron’s government we sold them 6 billion pounds worth. Last year the Saudi regime beheaded more people than Daesh did, but we still supported their appointment to the human rights council of the UN. When pressed on the matter. Cameron said it was because we rely on them for anti-terrorism intelligence. It is our British bombs they are dropping on the people of Yemen, and our British military personnel who are providing logistical support. And yet our quiet war in Yemen has hardly been big news. I keep speaking to people who didn’t know it was happening.
Meanwhile in Yemen, here’s a protest against the war that we’re supporting…
Last week, the day before parliament broke up for recess, a report into breaches of international humanitarian (IHL) law in the war on Yemen was quietly amended.
So, the statement: “we have assessed that there has not been a breach of IHL by the coalition”.. has been reworded like this: “we have not assessed that there has been a breach of IHL by the coalition.”
And, “our judgement is that there is no evidence that IHL has been breached.” has become: “…we have been unable to assess that there has been a breach of IHL.”
In short: are we our brother’s keeper? While the Middle East descends into war and chaos, we refuse to let in more than a handful of the many made destitute, while continuing to make money selling arms into the region. We hold to the Roman gospel that peace only comes at the end of a sword.
On a thematically related note – and since it’s also recent news – our new Prime Minister Theresa May just declared that she would use nuclear weapons. She says this because she knows that, here, Caesar is lord, and a leader who rejects the sword will be destroyed by the press, as Corbyn was when he said he wouldn’t push the button. I hope the larger point here will not be lost amongst names from the party political circus. The point is that our leaders are subject to the sword of Rome, as much as they wield it. It is an it, which must be obeyed by those who wish to hold power.
Why information like this? Why waste more time and more words on the constant orgy of online political discontent?
Firstly, I think we must begin by knowing who we are and where we stand and where we begin from. I think we ought to know, and not resent knowing, something of the violence, murder and bloodshed our country is complicit in. And that in spite of our continuing contributions to the violence shredding Middle Eastern countries, we continue to do very little for those who are displaced. Those of us who hold to the Gospel of Jesus ought to ask ourselves how, then, we stand against Caesar’s gospel, even as we stand within it. If our thoughts above hold, then our confession of the gospel must be a confession against our country’s arms trade, for one thing. I think prayers of sorrow, mourning, lament, dust and ashes would help us find ourselves where we really are (alongside Nineveh). We can’t begin until we know where we are.
Secondly, while I say that the Gospel stands implicitly against this militarised gospel of Rome, it is not, at its core, a negative concept. It is not merely anti-Rome, anti-violence, anti-imperialist etc (though it is also all of these things). It is also a thing in itself. The first Christians were very clever in subverting Rome’s propaganda, but they didn’t waste all their words slinging mud from the sidelines at the corrupt politicians of their day. They were far more interested in making space for another kind of politics to emerge; another kind of social order, another kind of life, in all its fullness. They made space for this with their own hands, since they knew it would not be forthcoming from the powers that be, who believed in the wrong gospel. This is, I think, the task. More on this another time.
*This book is fascinating from an anti-empire theological perspective, because the manifestation of empire in the NT is, of course, Rome; and Foucault’s lectures play on the notion that much of Western history has been a nostalgic desire to re-create Roman imperial greatness. So, the same Kingdom and Empire, both born within a lifetime of each other, have continued their antagonism ever since.
So, once again, the liner notes for a record turned themselves into a book (while the record itself died in the carcass of my old computer).
More about the book itself soon. For now I would like to mention two of my heroes involved in it.
The cover art is an illustration by Benjamin Harris. He drew it especially for the book (during his theology lectures, as far as I can tell). So much of the story is in this image: the leaves of the gourd surrounding his head, the twigs, which make peace signs, the Assyrian beard growing out of his face, representing his awful proximity to his loathsome enemies. But I think Benjamin has captured most of Jonah’s story in the eyes, which speak for themselves.
I am also honoured to have a foreword by the theologian Ched Myers, who is one of the first to unpack the anti-empire themes in the New Testament; themes which now dominate the work of so many theological thinkers. His political commentary on Mark, Binding the Strongman, was a paradigm shifting book, and certainly had a huge impact on me, and on my book on Jonah.
As for the book itself, we’ll say more soon…
Featuring, Adel: a young man from Syria who fled at the beginning of the war to avoid conscription into Assad’s army. He tells the story of his journey across the Sahara and the Mediterranean, to the squaller of Calais and over the English channel.
And Naomi, who works with child refugees in Nottingham and describes the complexities they face when while adjusting to life here.
Have a listen.
If you would like me to come and play in your lounge, church, house-group, coffee shop or bar, community group, synagogue, mosque, garden, bandstand, or wherever, please drop me an email at: email@example.com
If you’re a way off from beautiful Birmingham, we’ll just need to pass round a hat to cover travel, and maybe find a sofa to crash on. Let’s conspire