Sunday, April 30, 2006

[23.58 GMT] Jim Loney learns to jimmy handcuffs. By David Helwig (, North America); A Final Farewell for Tom Fox (Springfield Connection, VA, USA).

Saturday, April 29, 2006

[02.56 GMT] Iraq peace hostage Loney talks of faith, fear and freedom (Ekklesia, UK)

This is an excerpt from my latest Ekklesia column, 'Threatened with resurrection', which will be posted later today - see the index of pieces here.

[I]f we were to admit that in the broader frame violence doesn’t ‘work’ – and the evidence of history is that even when it undeniably quells horror, the horror emerges again in new and different forms – what or who could possibly save us?

For many in the Western world, that is now an unaskable question. Having decided that religion is nothing more than an illusory reflex of dependence for the simple or the weak-willed, we have abandoned a pain-bearing God for mortal superheroes of our own creation – those who ‘save’ by slaughtering and subduing.

Sure, the gods have lost their thrall. And there is no threat in that, because the Holy One of classic Jewish, Christian and Muslim formulation is not some object among objects, or a human projection on eternity, but the beyond-in-the-midst who is found at the heart of life and love.

No, the real challenge, buried in arcane arguments about religion, is that of a Gospel which refutes the promise of victory through death – and replaces it with the threat of resurrection.

What the death of Jesus tells us is that our faith in salvation by killing is redundant. And what the resurrection tells us is that the life of God, unlike instruments of death, is beyond our control.

To be “threatened by resurrection”, suggests Guatemalan poet and theologian Julia Esquivel, is to be paralysingly afraid to love life – and to bow instead to the power of death.

This is what Christian Peacemakers and other non-violent activists (of all faiths and none) blatantly refuse to do, whatever their fallibilities and faults. They seek instead to act outside of the domain of death. And for most of us, this is horribly worrying.

The context out of which Esquivel wrote her famous poem in the 1980s was that of government-backed death squads in Latin America. But her spiritual memory was of those in St Mark’s Gospel who first heard that the tomb could not contain Jesus. They were not thrilled – they were stark afraid.

A love beyond favour which calls us to live without defence is not the kind of Good News a heavily armed consumer society understands. Nor is it one which a suicide bomber raised on a cult of death and glory wants.

What we actually understand and want, when the going gets tough, is what we have been trained to trust by nature, nurture and Nietzsche. And that is the survival of the strongest.

By contrast, what the Gospel of Jesus offers is the opportunity to place ourselves in the larger context of God’s capacity to renew life, thereby receiving the ability to live ‘beyond our means’ – from resources derived outside an economy of warriordom.

The dangerous genius of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder was to recognise that, for Christians, inheriting the peaceable kingdom relies not upon arguments about religious texts, but upon the way the Word made flesh revolutionises our comprehension of God.

“Christian pacifism that has a theological basis in the character of God and the work of Jesus Christ,” Yoder wrote, “is one in which the calculating link between our obedience and ultimate efficacy has been broken, since the triumph of God comes through resurrection [the gift of life] and not through effective sovereignty or assured survival.”

[Picture... towards Pentecost]

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Friday, April 28, 2006


One of the three Christian Peacemaker Teams hostages in Iraq, freed last month, Jim Loney (right) has given an interview in which he speaks candidly about how the men survived captivity, their daily spiritual routine, and the plans and possibilities of escape which constantly plagued his mind - and produced conflicting feelings about what was right and appropriate in a situation they felt they might not get out of alive. See: Hostage struggled with desire to escape, yet remain nonviolent during ordeal. By Robert Rhodes, Mennonite Weekly Review, USA.

"Loney — a Roman Catholic who helped found Toronto’s Catholic Worker community — said the first chance to escape came on the fourth day of their ordeal, about the time their kidnapping was made public and the first video showing the four appeared on Aljazeera. The CPTers had been left handcuffed individually, their hands in front of them, with only two guards in the upscale Baghdad house where they were being held. One of the guards was in a narrow courtyard, where he was busy drawing kerosene from a tank. The other was in the courtyard door, with his back turned.

"Loney thought if he could shove the guard out, then bolt the door, he and the others might have enough time to make a run for it. "I was debating, ‘Should I do it?’ ” Loney said in his first interview since being rescued. “But I was worried about the lock not sliding shut”." [Picture: Jim Loney, right, with fellow captive Harmeet Singh Sooden. (c) CPT]

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

[20.44 GMT] Holy Land: peace campaigners arrested in protest against new wall (Indian Catholic, India); Member of Christian group recounts recent trip to Israel (UO Oregon Daily Emerald, Oregan, USA) ... Chandler spent his time in the village as a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, an organization that aims to reduce violence through grassroots action; Forum panelists offer insight into daily life in Iraq (Kansas State Collegian, Kansas, USA); Activist sympathizes with abductors (Georgia Straight, Canada); ITV cuts Kemp drama (The Sun, UK) - allegedly a drama related to Norman Kember's rescue, or at least a Murdoch tabloid's SAS-fantasy version of it. The Sun has remained hostile to any questioning of the Iraq war, and is avidly pro-military. [See related graphic]
[06.48 GMT] 'Peacemakers' doing risky job held to double standard (Calgary Sun, Canada); Media criticism of rescued CPT hostages result of two different views of the world (Canadian Mennonite University, Canada); Thanks, Mr Loney. Just don't read the news - media rebuttal by CBC News Editor-in-Chief; CPT Hostages - Dispelling the Myths (Independent Catholic News reporting Ekklesia, UK); A message of peace in a war-ravaged world (Globe and Mail); Tom Fox commemorated in Baghdad (CPTNet).

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Tom Fox lived for peace but died a violent death, shot multiple times, his body dumped in a trash-strewn Baghdad neighbourhood after he was kidnapped. Yet colleagues of the Virginia peace activist suggested absolution for his killers at a memorial service that celebrated his life. Titled Reflections on Compassion and Forgiveness, the service featured a black banner in Fox's memory: "To those who held Tom we declare: God has forgiven you." It was the message of Christian Peacemaker Teams, the Toronto- and Chicago-based peace group that Fox served in Iraq after he quit his job running a grocery store in Springfield. The Rev Carol Rose, the organization's co-director, told more than 200 of Fox's friends and colleagues that the banner was hung in Baghdad after his body was discovered last month. [From the Washington Post, USA. More here]

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Sunday, April 23, 2006


One of the less-than-temperate Christian responses to the CPT Iraq hostage crisis and the actions of Norman Kember has come from Alan Billings, Director of the Centre for Ethics and Religion at the University of Lancaster. Billings is a one-time Labour councillor in Sheffield and former member of the Archbishops' Commission on Urban Priority Areas which produced the well-known Faith In The City report in 1985. He seems to have beaten a continual retreat from a liberal left Christian position in recent years (one which I agree is weak), and he now prides himself as a pro-war 'realist' in the Blairite mould - reality understood, that is, as the way the world presents itself on its own terms, rather than in relation to any scheme of redemption which might make a substantial difference to its constitution.

Though appearing to know next to nothing about Christian Peacemaker Teams, so far as one can judge from his contributions to BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme and The Moral Maze, Alan Billings peremtorily dismisses CPT as "naive", "irresponsible" and "self-indulgent". This is a pity because, while I disagree with his starting assumptions, he's a serious thinker. In this matter, however, he seems to have fallen prey to the emotivism of which he accuses others. Graham Old has written an Open Letter to Billings about Constantinianism, War and Norman Kember, which is worth reading for its commendable straightforwardness. There's much more to be said about how a kingdom-shaped ethic responsibly encounters the genuine moral ambiguity and complexity of a messy world, but any attempt to address this challenge which ends up sidelining the demandingness of Jesus surely risks forfeiting its Christian claims. Here is an excerpt from Old's response:

(Billings) "...But I think clearly there is a difference between a Church when it is a minority movement within the Roman Empire and the Roman Empire is pagan and when the Church embraces the Emperor, the court, the army and so on and so forth. You have to re-think the ethic at that point."
(Old) I don't think that anyone can really question that. However, surely the question that needs to be asked is whether the Church belongs in an embrace with the Empire. If such a scenario requires diluting the teachings of Jesus in order to serve the needs of an Imperialistic conqueror - who showed no fruits of repentance or signs of genuine discipleship - then it is an act of allegiance to our Lord to not embrace the Empire and to resist assimilation with the State. It remains such an act today. Jesus is not such an awkward figure once we are ready to accept that his words hold greater weight than those of Constantine, Augustine or Bush.

(Billings) "My take on this whole thing is that one of the problems for the Church at the moment is that it is marginalised. It's marginalising quite fast in the West. And I think a marginalised Church tends now to associate itself and identify with vicitms, people who are pushed to the margins, rather than the State."
(Old) Absolutely. However, I am not so sure that it is a 'problem' that the Church is marginalised. Does this not take us back to a scenario that is at least analogous (in some ways) to the Church pre-Constantine? Does that not mean (according to your earlier reasoning) that the Church should now be re-thinking its ethic? What a marvellous opportunity to re-discover a faithful, Christ-centred ethic! Now, of all times, we need guidance from ethicists, such as yourself. I for one rejoice at the idea that Christianity might once again be known for it's treatment of 'widows and orphans' - those who are pushed to the margins. Does the book of James not teach us that such things are the nature of religion? Do the words of Jesus not suggest that they are central to following him and [to] knowing God? [Thanks to Organic Church for drawing this to my attention]

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Friday, April 21, 2006


Negative commentary on the freeing of Norman Kember and two other activists in Iraq has detracted from a serious public consideration of the role of Christian Peacemaker Teams in situations of conflict, Simon Barrow, director of the UK think tank Ekklesia, told Vatican Radio today.

Speaking to interviewer Linda Bordoni on an English-language programme called ‘People Making Peace’ (21.50; again Sunday 22 April at 07.00, then available online for a week), Barrow said that civilian groups working closely with humanitarian networks and disavowing armed protection are taking a risk – but it is one which can build trust and cooperation in a way that the armed forces cannot. More.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

[21.58 GMT] In harm’s way: Christian Peacemaker Teams (Bethel College Collegian, Kansas, USA) By Heidi Holliday -- Amid the swirling controversies since their release has been the accusation that Christian Peacemaker Teams has no right, no purpose in Iraq. As one of the few remaining international groups in Iraq that operate without guns or bodyguards, CPT has consistently been able to report on situations otherwise ignored by the international community. Perhaps the most famous example is the Abu Ghraib torture scandal that erupted in April 2004. CPT, along with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, had reported incidences of torture and humiliation tactics used at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere since November 2003, issuing their own report to [US] Congress in January 2004. They were ignored by most of the world press until the now famous photographs surfaced several months later. CPT in Iraq has also been a consistent voice for Iraqis detained indefinitely by coalition forces, and it is that work that the four kidnapped CPTers were pursuing when they were taken.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

[22.07 GMT] Make peace not war (Good News, UK) - The UK think-tank which has challenged the head of the British army to acknowledge he was wrong to imply that Christian peacemaker Norman Kember snubbed the soldiers who freed him in Iraq has said that there can be no military solution to the country's violence – and that civilians with expertise in conflict resolution techniques can play a vital role in transforming the situation. Also: Cry freedom By Georgina Pattinson (BBC News, UK); Thanksgiving vigil tonight for former hostages (Waterloo Record, Canada); Peace, peace By Ted Olsen (Christianity Today, IL, USA) - "Peace has often been defined by the absence of killing. Perhaps Christian peacemaking is more accurately reflected in the presence of dying, or at least in the willingness to do so." Not that this makes the evangelical paper any more sympathetic to CPT. It seems to prefer muscular Christianity backed up by the boys in khaki (just in case Jesus is too namby-pamby). On a brighter note: Tom Fox: An Ordinary Man Who Listened By Pearl Hoover (SojoMail, USA).

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Another excellent Easter Sermon from Rowan Williams - an affirmation of the radical character of the Gospel and a re-situating of the often fatuous debates about gnostic texts and fanciful religious novels.

[T]he New Testament was written by people who were still trying to find a language that would catch up with a reality bigger than they had expected. The stories of the resurrection especially have all the characteristics of stories told by people who are struggling to find the right words for an unfamiliar experience – like the paradoxes and strained language of some of the mystics. The disciples really meet Jesus, as he always was, flesh and blood – yet at first they don’t recognise him, and he’s something more than just flesh and blood. At the moment of recognition, when bread is broken, when the wounds of crucifixion are displayed, he withdraws again, leaving us floundering for words. He gives authority and power to the disciples to proclaim his victory and to forgive sins in his name, yet he tells Peter that his future is one in which he will be trussed up and imprisoned and hustled away to death.

So the New Testament is not a collection of books with a single tight agenda that works on behalf of a powerful elite; it is the product of a community of people living at great risk and doing so because they sense themselves compelled by a mystery and presence that is completely authoritative for them – the presence of Jesus. They have been convinced that being in the company of Jesus is the way to become fully and effectively human. They are discovering how to live together without greed, fear and suspicion because of his company. They believe that they’ve been given the gift of showing the world what justice and mutual service and gratitude might look like in a world that is a very dangerous place because of our incapacity for these things. They take the risks because they believe they have been entrusted with a promise.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

[15.25 GMT] The wife of freed British hostage Norman Kember has revealed that they have been bombarded with hate mail, reports the Scottish Sunday Express. 'Sorry' call to General (The Mirror, UK). Former Iraq hostages recall terror and isolation of 'the tomb' (CBC News, Canada).

While the media are now concentrating on the question about whether the British army should admit it was wrong to imply that Christian peacemaker Norman Kember snubbed the soldiers who freed him in Iraq (an improvement on earlier, misleading versions of the 'ingratitude' allegations, certainly), the major issues are still being ignored. These are, first, practical alternatives to the failure of armed occupation to resolve the deep-seated conflict in Iraq?; second, the question about how Kember, Loney and Sooden were really freed (without the use of force in the end); and third, the issue of what happened to the kidnapper ('medicine man', who provided Kember's heart drugs) after he was captured by the British army and led them to the hostage hide-out - apparently after tipping off his fellow kidnappers? On Easter Monday, Ekklesia has decided to focus on peace building as a key to a sustainable future for Iraq.

Says Jonathan Bartley: "[W]hy are people so ready to ridicule civilians who seek non-violent alternatives in Iraq and to ignore their achievements – when armed force and political manoeuvring has so clearly failed to bring hope and stability? ... Everyone is looking at the danger of peace workers going to Iraq – but no-one is seriously assessing the potential of their work, or comparing its risks with the huge carnage brought about by military intervention... Christian Peacemaker Teams, which was committed to Iraq well before the allied invasion and occupation in 2003, has been working to bring Sunnis and Shias together. It helped expose prisoner abuse four months before the Abu Ghraib scandal became public, and has been instrumental in setting up a civilian Muslim peace building initiative... Contrary to what is said, peace workers respect the personal bravery of soldiers – but military chiefs admit they can only control violence, not achieve reconciliation. And continued occupation remains a major focus of violence and instability. We need political and practical alternatives. More.

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

[09.50 GMT] Clarification sought from army chief on false Kember snub allegation (Ekklesia, UK). The BBC (General 'wrong over Kember snub') and The Observer newspaper are running with this story - namely the request for a corrcetion from the army. But others are reporting it inaccurately. Ekklesia’s Jonathan Bartley added this morning: “What we are suggesting is that it would be helpful and honourable for the army to acknowledge that Christian Peacemaker Teams did indeed express thanks to the soldiers who freed Norman and his colleagues [from captivity in Iraq on 23 March 2006] as soon as they could. We are not asking General Sir Mike Jackson to apologise, but simply to put the record straight.” Some news outlets have incorrectly reported the request for clarification as a “demand for an apology” to Kember. It's not Ekklesia's business to ask for the latter, and we haven't. That's not to say it wouldn't be an appropriate gesture. Incidentally, the BBC story has led to some offensive emails coming to Ekklesia. A small example of what the Kember family have been on the receiving end of - though, thankfully, the abuse has been outweighed considerably by the love and support of many. [Updated 2pm, Easter Sunday - very Happy Easter to all!]
[01.05 GMT] Critics of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq accused of being ill-informed (Ekklesia, UK). Speaking last night [15 April 2006] in a debate and phone-in on BBC Radio 5 Live with Royal United Services Institute spokesperson Amyas Godfrey, Jonathan Bartley of the UK religious think tank Ekklesia offered a robust defence of the role and work of CPT. Mr Bartley, who has first-hand information about the way Christian Peacemaker Teams operates, told the programme that media hostility towards Norman Kember had been significantly stoked by the way the kidnap story had been interpreted by the military and by ill-informed commentary. [Continued]

Saturday, April 15, 2006

[18.42 GMT] Kember tells of 'unreal' Iraq ordeal (BBC, UK) - Christian peace campaigner Norman Kember gives an emotional account of his ordeal as a hostage in Iraq. In quotes: Kember's ordeal ; How Iraq hostages were freed ; Kember interview. On Ekklesia: What Norman said - from Iraq captive Kember's BBC interview - Entombed Iraq captive Jim Loney talks of Easter Hope - Hate mail came after false media charges, says Norman Kember - Kember affirms gratitude for Iraq kidnap freeing - Kember still evaluating Christian peacemaker's role in Iraq - Kember notes irony of non-violent release by soldiers.

The news agencies seem to be concentrating on one small excerpt from the BBC interview with Norman Kember this morning, so Ekklesia has put up excerpts from the full transcript, so that people can judge for themselves. In particular they are emphasising that he "thought about committing suicide." In fact this is from a section where Fergal Keane asks about his depression, and whether he contemplated taking his life. Norman says that he considered it in relation to the question of whether it might benefit the two Canadians. The BBC 5.30pm News this evening edited out this context. What Kember actually says is: “I did a bit, yes. Because I thought it might help the Canadians. If they got rid of the Brit then the Canadians might find it a bit easier.” The "a bit" qualifier is being overooked, too.

In any event, taking his life is a notion put to Kember by the interviewer, rather than volunteered. What he did volunteer, and which (rather predictably) hasn't been picked up by any mianstream media outlets so far, is the fact that Jim Loney tried to talk a young kidnapper out of being a suicide bomber. So far as we know, the boy escaped. He told the Christian Peacemaker Teams hostages that his family had been killed in Fallujah - the apparent source of his bitterness and anger. What Norman said - from Iraq captive Kember's BBC interview Ekklesia, 15/04/06. Pic: Jim Loney outside Abu Ghraib.

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[12.15 GMT] Entombed Iraq captive Jim Loney talks of Easter Hope (Ekklesia, UK)
[11.45 GMT] James Loney was abducted in Iraq by militants and held hostage for three months. In an essay for The Toronto Star, (From the Tomb) he shares the life-altering lessons of captivity. Loney on his experience (.mp3); Speak Out: Protesting in war zone;
Getting in harm's way (26 March).

Ekklesia have covered this morning's BBC interview with Norman Kember in the following four detailed stories (the latest of which was posted very shortly after broadcast at 9.45am):
Hate mail came after false media charges, says Norman Kember 15/04/06
Kember affirms gratitude for Iraq kidnap freeing 15/04/06
Kember still evaluating Christian peacemaker's role in Iraq 15/04/06
Kember notes irony of non-violent release by soldiers 15/04/06

Some key points: Kember acknowledges as a "mistake" going to an isolated mosque in Baghdad, from which the abduction took place - but testifies to the record of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq; he refutes false allegations of ingratitude and says that they led to "piles of hate mail"; it is revealed that Jim Loney sought to talk a young captor out of becoming a suicide bomber; Kember talks of tour of Baghdad before kidnapping; the interview focusses on his trauma and that of the family.

Other media coverage: Kember weeps over 'unreal' kidnapping (Telegraph, UK); Kember weeps as he tells of rescue (Daily Mail and global newswires); Former Iraq hostage Norman Kember says he considered suicide (Mainichi Daily News, Japan); Kember's emotional account (; Kember speaks about Iraq ordeal (BBC News, UK); Kember refusing to star in own drama (Times Online, UK - Apr 2, 2006).

Listen to the Norman Kember interview on the BBC webcast 'listen again' service.

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Friday, April 14, 2006


EXCLUSIVE - Norman Kember, the Christian peacemaker who was freed last month after four months of captivity in Baghdad, will talk at length for the first time tomorrow of his ordeal in Iraq.

He will affirm the importance of non-violent interventions by groups such as Christian Peacemaker Teams, but will honestly acknowledge questions about his own action and that of CPT in these circumstances.

Kember, a retired medical professor aged 74, will appear in a special edition of BBC Radio 4’s Taking A Stand programme on Saturday 15 April, from 9.00-9.45am (UK time). The broadcast will be repeated on Easter Sunday, 16 April from 8-8.30pm.

In a conversation with experienced journalist Fergal Keane, Dr Kember answers his critics and talks about his survival in the most desperate of situations.

The peace activist, who is believed to be deeply traumatised by his experience, also speaks about the emotional cost to his family.

He was kidnapped by a previously unknown militant group, Swords of Truth, on 26 November 2005, along with Canadians Jim Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden, and American Tom Fox – who was subsequently killed.

For 117 days Kember was held hostage, for some of the time each day in chains. When he returned home; he found himself accused of being insufficiently grateful to his SAS rescuers. His motives have been questioned and he has been accused of being foolish.

In the BBC interview he speaks about his kidnappers, about his American fellow captive who was murdered, and about the rescue effort which freed him.

In his first statement to the media after his release, Dr Kember said that he would reflect on whether he had been wise or foolhardy going to Iraq to work on human rights issues and violence reduction programmes.

The group he went with, Christian Peacemaker Teams, has been operating in Iraq since 2002 and has built up experience in a number of conflict situations world wide.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the risks involved in the Iraq operation are very high, and in his interview Dr Kember will raise questions about this – echoing questions already countenanced by Christian Peacemaker Teams themselves.

Though he affirms the rightness of CPT’s work, Dr Kember is already known to have doubts about the propriety of his own involvement and the difficulty for CPT of supporting someone in a situation such as this.

Dr Kember was on a short-term CPT delegation, rather than a long-term assignment.

Christian Peacemaker Teams, founded in 1984, have been operational since 1990 and stress that they take as much care as possible in recruiting, deploying and supporting volunteers. They have not been involved in hostage situations before.

The organisation is in the process of reviewing its work in Iraq. A senior CPT coordinator, Peggy Gish, wrote on the Ekklesia website after the release of the three men: “We are not certain where God will lead us but we find courage and hope when our friends warn us, challenge our assumptions, or push us to be clear. Because as they do so, they also offer their continued support and love.”

This is likely to be their response to the necessary questions Dr Kember raises about his own actions and those of the Team he was part of.

Those who know the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq and elsewhere have continued to affirm the value of what they do, in spite of the kidnap trauma.

Says Gish: “We hear differing opinions about the focus of our work. One person values most our work with prisoners. Another said, ‘The most important thing you can do is to tell the truth about the situation here.’ Others suggest a change of location or a change in the focus of our work.”

She continued: “One positive voice of support for CPT to remain in Iraq came from a Christian leader who also suggested relocating temporarily to another part of Iraq to explore future direction. He wrinkled up his face in disbelief when we asked if he knows Christians in Iraq who think our presence is making them unsafe. ‘I would feel bad if something happened to you,’ he said, ‘but I would be angry if you disappear. If you care for us just in the good times, I will forget you. If you take care of us in the bad times, I will remember you. [People] die when [they] do nothing, but live when [they] do something. Everyone dies, but not everyone lives.’”

It is known that the traumatic impact of the four-month kidnap ordeal on Dr Kember and his family has been considerable, and Christian Peacemaker Teams stress that the particular circumstances of their workers matter a great deal in decision-making.

CPT works on trauma and psychological issues with its workers, and has offered assistance to the three kidnap survivors.

Dr Kember and his fellow hostages have been wounded by the virulent and often inaccurate criticisms that have been directed towards them since their ordeal ended.

[Also on Ekklesia: CPT in Iraq: What now? 04/04/06 - Peggy Gish reflects on the future of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq. Briefing on media accusations against Christian Peacemaker Teams - detailed background; Contending the logic of violence - Ekklesia's Simon Barrow says that true Christian peacemaking cannot afford naivete]

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My new feature article on Ekklesia is entitled How Easter brings regime change, and is mainly about what you might call the 'alternative political ecclesiology' of the death and resurrection of Jesus. But while we are about it, Christians have significantly lost the plot when it comes to explaining the meaning of the Easter Gospel in a culture which is now out of touch with the depth of traditional Christian language, and in a church which long ago abandoned the intellectual rigour demanded of theology in a post/modern world. So, inter alia, I try to say something less than usually misleading and inadequate on the topic of 'resurrection'. It's a tough job normally best left to luminaries such as Nicholas Lash, but here goes - an account of the substantiality of the conviction that "God raised Jesus" which seeks to go beyond the naive physicalism of many popular accounts (both those of believers and sceptics) and the alternating woolly metaphorical inferences which say less than meets the eye. The difficulty, of course, is that, God being transcendent, all our God-language will be necessarily metaphorical at some leve. But there is still metaphor that 'makes the connection' and metapohor that obscures it. (Back, I suggest, to Lash's Holiness, Speech and Silence, Ashgate 2005, if this needs more unpacking).

What could it possibly mean – let alone for our day – to claim that “God raised Jesus”? Part of the answer lies in considering the alternatives. In St Paul’s time many (outright sceptics aside) believed in the immortality of the soul or cyclical rebirth – the idea that there is a spark or substance in us that survives death or is reincarnated.

Early Christians rejected such notions for two reasons. First, they were realists not fantasists. Death is not something that can be survived. It is the boundary that makes life impossible. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it: “That Christ was indeed dead was not the possibility of his resurrection but the impossibility of it.”

Second, Paul’s followers dismissed the dualistic notion that body and spirit are two divisible entities, of which one part survives death and the other does not. In his writings the Apostle uses the term ‘flesh’ not to refer to ‘the physical bit of us’, but to designate the whole, embodied human person oriented towards death. The word ‘spirit’ he used to describe not some allegedly ‘non-physical bit of us’, but the whole, embodied human person oriented towards life.

But just as resurrection is not the survival of some part of a person beyond death, neither is it the reconstitution of a corpse, as is popularly (but wrongly) supposed today.

Rather, when Christians announce, with St Paul, that “God raised Jesus”, what we are claiming is not that a part of Jesus survived death or that his atoms were reassembled in some magical way, but rather that the very power, presence and personality of the earthly Jesus was assumed, transformed and made substantially available again within the endless creativity of God.

In other words, the resurrection speaks of a new creation, a different order of being beyond our current grasp which incorporates all that we have seen and discovered of love in this world, but much more beside.

This depth of life is the work not of us, but of a God who goes on loving and creating beyond the death which we inevitably face. If we have been touched by God’s love, we will begin to know that it has no boundaries, even if its essence (like God) lies beyond our description.
And here is the catch. For as St Paul says, with startling honesty: “If Christ is not raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins” – that is, you are still captive to that which is moulded on death rather than life.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006


Fifty years ago, tourists travelled to Las Vegas to watch mushroom clouds rise in the distance. But for the last 25 years the site has been a draw not for tourists, but for anti-war and pro-environment demonstrators – writes Lilla Marigza of the United Methodist News Service.

Between 1951 and 1991, more than 900 nuclear tests were conducted at a site 65 miles northwest of the city. Science would not know until decades later the environmental and health fallout from experiments at the Nevada test site. It has been called the "most bombed place on earth." Margaret Fuller-Lindgren of Palm City, California, goes there every year with a group of United Methodists. "When I come here it's very humbling, but it's also very empowering," she says.

On this day, a group of about 20 United Methodists walks down an otherwise empty stretch of paved road in the desert toward the test site. They carry a banner with the cross and flame logo and the words "May Peace Prevail on Earth." They are singing, "Walk With Me." Continued.

[A UMTV video report about the protest is watchable here. The UK Christian think tank Ekklesia has just launched Peacenik, an ISP which supports peace initiatives.]

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Call me churlish, but I find the annual Maundy Thursday money-laundering ceremony something of a charade. The Queen was at Guildford Cathedral today, doling out 80p to eighty 'ordinary people', in an enactment of symblic bounty to the indigent going back to 1210 or so. In the early days, reigning monarchs would wash the feet of their subjects, which at least gets nearer the bone. But then they gave that up and adopted nosegays - floral smelling salts which meant that the delicate ruling classes didn't actually have to endure the rank smell of degradation over which they presided for the other 364 days of the year. Er... you can tell I'm not going a bundle on this, can't you?

Anyway, today's elaborate ritual gave the Church of England a chance to exercise its ceremonial thighs, while the richest woman in the world distributed the majestic sum of £64 to a bunch of Chelsea Pensioners. That's right, sixty-four quid. Barely enough to twitch the anti-redistributionist muscle of the average raging Blairite, let alone those new-fangled compassionate-but-neoliberal 'Dave' Cameron Tories. Monarchism really is an extraordinary thing. Why on earth do we put up with it, let alone give it divine sanction?

Thankfully, Thinking Anglicans (who will probably have a less jaundiced view than me of these events) marked Maundy Thursday rather more appropriately with a meditation on the table-turning Gospel of foot-washing and table fellowship. Here's the first section of Feasting in God's Kingdom...

Maundy Thursday is a turning point too in the story of the relationship between God and humanity. Throughout his ministry we see Jesus acting out the very message that he was proclaiming. He tells his listeners that the kingdom of God is at hand, that it is among them — and all the while he is doing the things he is talking about. He proclaims that in God’s kingdom the blind will see, the lame will walk, and the sick will be healed — and he goes around restoring sight, raising the paralysed, curing the sick; he proclaims that the kingdom is like a feast to which all will be invited — and he goes around eating and drinking with everyone, from members of the Council to the outcasts of society and the ritually impure, in their ones and twos and in their thousands.

Jesus is not just proclaiming the kingdom, he is also living it: he is inaugurating it and embodying it. And he draws his disciples and others into this realization of the kingdom, above all when they share a meal together. And then in the last meal before his death, Jesus does something new.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

[22.24 GMT] 'I am willing to risk my life' (Guardian, UK, Friday April 7 2006) By Kirsty Scott. An interview with Scottish teacher Jan Benvie, who will shortly be going out to Iraq as part of a fresh Christian Peacemakers Team. She talks about her motivation and the importance of violence reduction work in the face of worsening strife.

The CPT has had a presence in Iraq since 2002, but its profile was heightened with the kidnap of four of its members last November. With the four hostages holed up in Iraq, the organisation came in for criticism for having placed "violence reduction" teams of civilians in troubled regions. Since the rescue of Norman Kember and the Canadians in a military operation last month, questions have also been raised over whether the CPT has shown sufficient gratitude for the rescue of Kember and the others.

Benvie sighs when asked about the controversy. The issue of gratitude was a miscommunication, she says; the first response simply an expression of relief that the men's ordeal was over, an addendum quickly put out to thank those who had carried out the rescue. What she takes exception to, though, is any suggestion that she and Kember have no place being in Iraq. The work the CPT does there, she says, is practical, vital, and appreciated.

"Speak to the Iraqis we work with and ask them. That's what we use as a measure of whether our work is worthwhile. They do say so. For me, as long as people are saying what we do is worthwhile, then we will keep doing it," she says.

When she was there last summer, she and her fellow peace activists lived and worked with Iraqis - she lived in an apartment with an Iraqi family. She accompanied people to detention centres to find out what had happened to friends or family members; she detailed privations and alleged human-rights abuses, she visited hospitals, accompanied refugees to the country's borders, sought medical and other help for those in need. People such as the amputee in need of a prosthesis whom she was able to hook up with a US soldier, who specialised in such work.

What it is about, she says, is drawing up a picture of what is really happening inside Iraq, as well as being a western ally. So she is there in solidarity and as a witness.
(See also: Scottish Christian Vows to Return to Peace Work in Iraq (Christian Today); Peace activist defends Iraq plan, BBC, UK, and pictures from Jan and CPT on Indymedia).

Friday, April 07, 2006

[11.41 GMT] US 'in talks with Iraq militants' The US ambassador to Iraq tells the BBC that American officials have held talks with insurgency-linked groups. This will be interpreted as 'defeatism' by the hawks, but in reality it is a sign of hope in a very dark situation (Life in Iraq: A day at a glance). See also: Church leaders praise Christian peacemakers (Ekklesia, UK) and the Jill Caroll update at Christian Science Monitor (USA). Hostage Kember praises envoy (BBC News, UK); Kember refusing to star in own drama (Times Online, UK); Harrow Observer scoops Norman Kember interview (Press Gazette, UK); Hostage's captivity united UK Muslims, Christians (Garowe Online, Somalia); Inter-faith support helped save the Iraq hostages (Daily Star - Lebanon); "Don't Rescue Me with a Gun" By Pejman Yousefzadeh (TCS Daily, Washington DC, USA); Freed hostage recalls bread and boredom in a million-dollar house (CBC News, Canada) - Harmeet Singh Sooden. Pic: Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to Iraq.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

[19.34 GMT] Christian Peacemaker Teams - Where next? By Peggy Gish (Ekklesia, UK).
See also the launch of the Peacenik internet service provider, which among other things will be supporting the work of CPT based in the UK. Welcoming the initiative Tim Nafziger of Christian Peacemaker Teams in the UK said; “The Peacenik fund could be a important source of support for Christian Peacemaker Team members who need help to cover travel costs to CPT projects around the world.” The ISP will be run on a not-for-profit basis. The proceeds will be put into a fund to which peace groups are invited to make applications, regardless of their religious beliefs. This will leave the way open for, amongst others, Muslim Peacemaker Teams, which Christian peacemakers have helped to establish in Iraq, to apply for funding. Those of no faith will also be invited to seek funding. The thinktank Ekklesia has already donated £1,000 to get the fund going, but hopes that it will generate significant resources for the peace movement. The thintank already has a track record of generating significant funding using the internet. Last year the thinktank raised £130,000 for development work through its own web site. The money raised by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) is expected to fund a range of projects including peacemaking trips to conflict zones, training for Christian peacemakers, and research into non-violent alternatives to conflict.