Psalms of Resistance #1

The world feels disoriented and afraid. I know so many people who can’t sleep these days. Here’s the first of some ancient songs of resistance and resilience for people and communities.

Blessed are they
who walk not in the council of the wicked 
nor stand in the way of sinners
nor sit in the seat of scoffers
but delight is in the law of the LORD
and on his law they meditate day and night

They are like trees
planted by streams of water
that yield fruit in season 
and their leaves do not wither
In all that they do, they prosper
The wicked are not so
but are like chaff that the wind drives away

Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous
but the way of the wicked will perish*

On What We Choose to Listen to…

We’re drowning in bad news – and while I’m glad to know, but the political powers in the UK and US have become so absurdly cruel, they almost seem like caricatures of wicked politicians. There’s something addictive about watching the next absurdity announced.

I think of Rene Girard’s comment almost every day, that we should choose our enemies carefully, “because we will become like them.” While transfixed on the absurdity of evil, we are in danger of being sucked into the absurdity ourselves. We mirror it. Responses become hateful, social divides become wider and more dangerous, and the real work of resistance, resilience and goodness is neglected amidst satire, memes and mutual commiseration. Too much of the embittered opposition to the Powers today that be has become a noise that does nothing but blow off steam and help preserve the status quo.

To be clear, I don’t propose we put our fingers in our ears, but there is something to be said for taking a step back from “the council of the wicked… the way of sinners… and the seat of the scoffers” – lest we allow the Powers to dictate the terms of the argument. The barrage of their noise is overwhelming, and we can’t put roots down into this narrative. There is no sustaining vision here.

Our song offers an alternative source from outside the chaos: meditation on the law of the LORD. “Law” here is torah, meaning, not rules (A. A. Anderson suggests), but “the revelation of the will of YHWH, which is both demanding and liberating.” Here is a vision that feeds both our view of what is happening, and also our practice in the midst of it – the good hard work of liberating practice.** This grass roots vision outlasts the self-defeating absurdity of today’s wicked Powers. But how so?

On Resilience vs. Quietism

Martin Luther King’s statement that the arc of history bends toward justice, is a restatement of what the Psalms say constantly. The just community, like green trees, will outlast the malfunctionings of the wicked Powers, which will blow away like chaff – the part which history doesn’t keep. This isn’t a call to quietism, and it certainly isn’t a call to grin and bear it in the hope of a happier afterlife. The arena of the Psalms is creation and history. If “the way of the wicked shall perish” it will perish from the earth, just as “the meek,” (not the proud) “shall inherit the earth.”

What is said in this song is repeated through all the rest; the arc of history does bend toward justice, the Creator’s Goodness will outlast the wickedness of corrupt Power. It is with this defiant conviction that we are rooted in a vision greater than the todays absurd narratives. Drinking from this river we can resist evil without being sucked into mimicking its rationale, becoming fearful and hatefulness ourselves. From here, “the wicked” might even become the subject of our pity and compassion.

Today is Ash Wednesday (when Christian’s remember Jesus’ journey out of the hubbub and into the wilderness to overcome evil). A good day to come apart and be watered by a bigger vision.

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*I hope no-one will mind too much that I have made this song (psalm 1) gender-neutral. I’ve also made it communal, which gives it something, but also takes something away – namely, its call to the individual to walk wisely when the crowd lose their head.

** The prayerful action of the NO DAPL movement is, I think, an extraordinary and beautiful example of this.

“Good News” and Our Quiet Little War in Yemen

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:

Good News

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…

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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.

What Then?

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.

In Praise of Rome comes from the record Welcome the stranger, which you can buy for a donation here. All proceeds go to help refugees in Calais.

 

*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.

Nomad Interview

Here’s an interview with myself, a Syrian refugee, and a refugee worker, on Nomad Podcast.

10942445_10152998323600482_7593685446361484321_n.jpgFeaturing, 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.

Welcome the Stranger into your Lounge

I’ll be playing songs from Welcome the Stranger and provoking discussion on the refugee crisis here and there over the coming months.

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: davidbenjaminblower@gmail.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 conspireDBB playing

Out Now…

Stranger-noname2.jpgPay as you feel on Bandcamp. Proceeds go to Citizens UK’s work with Refugees in Northern France. Hard copies available at gigs and gatherings. See you soon.

The New Record…

 

13233058_10156958748385525_1402765941912761521_n.jpgDear all. The new record: a collection of stories and reflections from the refugee crisis.

We’re used to seeing rows of refugee tents in faraway lands. The camps that now appear on our own borders mark a new thing. The Strangers have made a fork in the road in front of us. What now? How does Albion walk into the emerging future?

Welcome the Stranger, is out this Monday, 23rd of May.

Available for download – pay as you feel (Minimum £1) – at Minor Artists and Bandcamp. Hard copies from Minor Artists, or from me if you find me at a gig.

Proceeds from downloads will go to Citizens UK, who are working to help children stranded in Calais to get to their family members in the UK.

Half the money from cd sales will go to Kings Heath Collects; a local Birmingham task force who are collecting, sending and raising funds and awareness.

More soon…