Tuesday, 15 December 2009

HYBRID URBAN FAITH

In Context

The concept of hybridity refers to the increasingly significant emergence of ‘dialogical identities’ in urban Britain. The 2001 National Census pointed to a growing community of people of dual heritage. In Birmingham 30,000 people defined themselves as dual heritage [3%] and across England and Wales 677,000 people defined themselves in this manner [1.2%]. It is important to set this trend alongside the persistence of raciological debate, the increasing electoral success of the far right British National Party in the early years of the 21st century, critiques of multiculturalism, debates about belonging and the nature of Britishness.

Social hybridity represents a critique of essentialist raciology and fixed patterns of identity. Thus urban youth identities can draw hip-hop music together with Anglicised-Jamaican patois that is infused with Bengali/Punjabi/Urdu vocabulary and ‘New York’ street fashion to give rise to a new hybrid/dialogical identity. Urban popular culture provides a clear illustration of cultural and technological hybridity. Fusion is not new within urban music (see for example Jazz fusion or funk in the 1970s and 1980s). However the fusion of different cultural forms which bring different expressions of diasporan British life into dialogue is more recent. Two examples of such musical hybridity are the Asian Dub Foundation who draw together rap, bhangra, classical Indian music, dub and ragga and the solo artist Nitin Sawhney traditional Indian music, flamenco, Latin rhythms, drum ‘n bass, tabla and techno. Such hybrid urban music exemplifies the challenge which hybridity represents to compartmentalisation.

In Theory

The concept of social hybridity has stimulated increasing debate within social theory and cultural studies. The term is not without problems. It invites parallels to be drawn with its use in botany where different species of plant are fused to create a new hybrid or with the pseudo-scientific raciological taxonomies of the nineteenth century. It suggests that the only future for plural Britain is one in which normative difference leads to fusion and not an evolving dialogue of equals. In spite of this the concept has challenged fixed and binary understandings of identity. The term has been closely associated with Bhabha who speaks of a ‘third space’ within plural societies. This dialogical space critiques notions of cultural isolation or ‘purity’ through its articulation of an in-between location which is characterised by fluidity, uncertainty, dialogue, instability and difference. A hybrid society is one, according to Hall, which is characterised by intimacy and not isolation, fusion and not so called purity. Gilroy observes, ‘From the viewpoint of ethnic absolutism this would be a litany of impurity.’ Baker suggests that the experience and language of hybridity signal an inexorable move away from the binary definitions of modernity towards an increasingly fluid and intermingled urban society. The hybrid third space within urban Britain which is forged in the gaps between fixed communities can be seen as a locus for submerged narratives to emerge. As Baker points out, ‘Within our postmodern culture we now have stories, theories, cultures and urban spaces that are fusions of gender, sexuality and different degrees of mobility as well as race, culture and ethnic identity.’ In his challenge to raciology Gilroy asserts the ethical force of hybridity, suggesting that the ‘…theorisation of creolisation and hybridity…’ can provide the template for liberative identities in the twenty-first century which move beyond essentialism and raciology.



In Theology

Whilst proactive reflection on hybridity has only emerged in recent years within urban theology the related question of syncretism has long been a source of debate as Schreiter notes in relation to the dialogue between indigenous cultures and missionary based Christian preaching on a global scale. During the last decade two British urban theologians have focused reflection the contemporary experience of hybridity in post-colonial Britain. Beckford has sought to forge a dialogue between the black-led church and Rastafarianism, arguing that the concept of ‘dread’ within Rastafari can be placed in a dialogue with understandings of Jesus as liberator to fashion an emancipatory hybrid Christology. Unlike Beckford who has sought to use hybridity and cultural interchange to forge a specifically black Christology, Baker has begun to reflect on the character of hybridity itself as a new and potentially liberative theme within urban life and faith. He speaks of the emergence of a ‘third space’ theology which arises from the dialogical space in contemporary society which is created as a result of the subversion of fixed binary understandings of identity. Hybridity becomes a creative theological category which Baker argues emphasises the creative potential of ‘burred encounter’, inclusive hospitality, dialogue, catholicity, holistic understandings of creation and an ‘...open-ended and fluid Christology.’


Some Key Texts

Chris Baker, The Hybrid Church in the City: Third Space Thinking. (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007)

Robert Beckford, Dread and Pentecostal: A Political Theology for the Black Church in Britain.
(London: S.P.C.K, 2000)

Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture. (London: Routledge, 1994).

Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. (London: Verso, 1993

Paul Gilroy Against Race. (Cambridge Massachusetts, The Belknapp Press, Harvard University, 2000)

Paul Gilroy, After Empire: Melancholia or Convivial Culture? Abingdon: Routledge, 2004

Stuart Hall, ‘Cultural Identity and Diaspora’ in Jana Evans Braziel and Anita Mannur. ed. Theorising
Diaspora. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003)

Robert Schreiter, Constructing Local Theologies. (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 1985)

Leonie Sandercock, Cosmopolis II: Mongrel Cities (London: Continuum Press, 2003)

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

HIP-HOP GOSPEL?

Taken from the Daily Telegraph......


'First he brought us Jesus Walks; then college dropout Kanye West courted controversy by appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine as Jesus Christ himself. Now he is apparently claiming that he should be a character in The Bible. Is Kanye making a valid point by portraying himself as a black Jesus?


Covered in blood, Kanye West is shown wearing a crown of thorns on his head in the deliberately provocative picture by photographer David LaChapelle. Amazingly, Kanye claims that his life is similar to Christ's, saying that he has had to fight for recognition and suffer for success. "If I was more complacent and started to let things slide, my life would be easier, but you all wouldn't be as entertained. My misery is your pleasure", he is quoted as saying.The Boston Globe sums up the views of many when it says: "The idea that West, a 27-year-old rapper who's a millionaire many times over, is somehow persecuted is preposterous. Rolling Stone is trying to sell a few more mags by posing Kanye West as Christ on the cover... Here's hoping it doesn't work."The Baltimore Sun says: "Perhaps he meant it as a symbol of personal suffering. Maybe he wanted to present young hip-hop heads with an updated image of the Son of God. Whatever his motives, Kanye West again has accomplished what he set out to do: Get people to talk."

Kanye is not the first rapper to liken himself to Jesus.Jay-Z famously calls himself Jay-Hova, the savior of rap. In "Pain In Da Ass" he says: " Hello, it's Hova; that's right young'un the wait is over;The new millennium is upon us, the album is here."There have been others: Mase appears on an album cover as Jesus, and P Diddy appeared on the cross in the Nas "Hate Me Now" video. Even Michael Jackson has a picture of The Last Supper over his bed with Jackson sitting in Jesus' place.

There is an increasing trend of portraying Jesus as a black man. How accurate is the traditional portrayal of Jesus? What color was the original Christ? It can almost certainly be said that Jesus would not have been white. His hair was also probably cut short, unlike the image shown in most western portraits. Jesus did have some African links — after all, as an infant he fled with his parents to Egypt where, presumably, his appearance did not make him stand out. The recent movie "Son of Man" casts Jesus as a black, street-bred South African, challenging Hollywood's depiction of a western-looking Jesus. In the film Christ wears jeans and a T-shirt, is born in a shanty-town shed, and his mother Mary is a feisty virgin who argues with angels. Another movie, "Color of the Cross," features a black actor portraying Christ. "It's more likely that Jesus was black than it was that Jesus was European" said one of the movie's producers.

Sneaker maker Pony used an image of a black Jesus in an advertising campaign to relaunch the brand as an 'athletic shoe with attitude'. The ad's art directors Fred and Farid defended the image by claiming "The black Jesus is the strongest statement we found for this hip-hop brand. It's saying: 'Why should God be always represented by a white guy?' In some ways, it's a very politically correct ad. More shocking than this picture is the fact that most of the churches around the world still have only a white man as the representation of God. It's also a reflection of the open-minded philosophy of the Pony brand. It's even fairer considering the fact that most of the sports athletes and hip-hop artists on the walls of teenagers' bedrooms are black."The Pony campaign, shot by 50 Cent's photographer Sacha Waldman, was chosen as one of the best print campaigns of the year, even though the ad was not run in the US.'

WHAT DO YOU THINK???


The Daily Telegraph (2009)






POWERLINES....


Powerlines criss-cross the city,

Currents of energy coarse through it's veins.

'High' culture, 'pop' culture, faith, 'race', muscle and money

Weave their patterns and vie for control.

A spaghetti junction of influences moulding metropolis,

Liquid life pours the world into an urban mould.


Power flows and disrupts,

Draws in and pushes away.

Blood flows, life force

Blocekd, rationed, hoarded, controlled.


Powerlines criss-cross the city,

Light up the shadows for those with a key.

Friday, 17 July 2009

PRAY FOR THE CITY


Hold before God those in our city who will sleep rough tonight.....


Brother Jesus come close to us today.


Hold before God those in our city who will be hungry tonight.....


Brother Jesus come close to us today.


Hold before God those in our city who will be pushed aside today....


Brother Jesus come close to us today.


Hold before God your sisters and brothers of other faiths....


Brother Jesus come close to us today.


Hold before God those who will arrive in our city today.....


Brother Jesus come close to today.


WHAT THE PAPERS SAY...




A central thrust within the Biblical narrative is the call to welcome or love the stranger. The city in 2009 is a fluid and changing place which relies on flows of migration. In the face of the current recession the targetting of the 'stranger' may well increase as if often does during periods of unemployment. This is the moment to keep an eye on the papers....How do they report stories about unemployment, crime, housing, education, health.....Are they scapegoating asylum seekers? What can we do?



  • Does your blood boil when you see papers blaming all the ills of the world on asylum seekers?

  • Do you worry about relationships in your community when soem newspaper articles seem to stir up 'racial' or religious hatred?

  • Do you want to find a way to respond and to answer the Biblical call to 'love the stranger'?

Did you answer 'Yes' to any of these questions? If you did then read on....The guidelines below were developed as part of the YEAST IN THE CITY Community Ministry project...Use them to respond to stories in the media that demonise asylum seekers or stir up racism....


WATCH....



  1. Home in on just 1 newspaper/broadcaster

  2. Focus on headlines, pictures and opinion pieces

  3. Keep a kind of scrap book of articles featuring asylums seekers

THINGS TO LOOK FGOR...



  1. The accuracy of facts

  2. Whether mention of the phrase 'asylum seeker' is relevant to the story

  3. Evidence of incitement to racial religious hatred [a crime]

  4. Confusion of themes [i.e asylum with legal immigation]

  5. The placement of stories and the ways in which pictures are used]

  6. Any pattern of clear bias within a particular newspaper/broadcaster

ACTION....



  1. Be constructive

  2. Stick to the use of language/pictures in the story

  3. Be specific

  4. When contacting a newspaper ask for the news editor or features editor

  5. When phoning to complain have a clear idea of what you want to say

  6. Write a letter to be published in the letters section of the newspaper

  7. Where facts are incorrect ask for a retraction/correction/apology

  8. Encourage newpsapers to print 'good news' stories...be ready to supply these.

  9. Write/email your M.P/Local councillor.

These guidelines might help to focus anger, faith and action. Have a go and post any reponses you get on the Blog.....

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

William Temple Foundation


URBAN MUSIC AS THEOLOGY

A CHANGE IS GONNA COME....

Edward Said suggests that we shoudl see intellectuals as people who 'bring suffering into the light'....Music on the streets of contested cities doesn't just dull the pain or throb from car windows...It paints a picture of city living that subverts simple pictures if we have ears to listen.

Check out Ms Dynamite, Dizzee Rascal, The Enemy, Skinnyman....Go back to The Clash, The Jam, The Specials....Is this town comin' like a ghostown?

Fresh expressions is not the same as dressing up suburban religion in cool urban wear. That's not fresh (or authentic). Freshness is found where people are asking new questions or telling new stories.....The soundscape of urban music maybe offers a new text in a 'post-Bible' century???


Thursday, 28 May 2009

Seeds of a New Hermeneutical Principle: Liberative Difference

The day before yesterday I bumped into our postman. He looked really gloomy. 'I'm really sorry' he said 'But the BNP have got the royal mail to deliver their election leaflets. It makes me feel dirty....as if some of the people I deliver letters to just don't matter...'


Our postman was right...The splintering of marginalised urban communities, the demonising of ’the stranger’, the scapegoating of the British-Muslim community since 9/11 and the political abandonment of progressive multiculturalism sustain a model of citizenship that is premised on this ethic of oppressive difference.

We get divided into camps....religious as well as cultural....and when we are divided the only people that win are the BNP. But life's not like that is it? Those of us who live in big cities know just how everyday diversity is. We live in what's been called the 3rd space...different identities fusing, changing, re-creating something new in the city.

How can people of faith [often just as guilty of camp mentaility and race based thinking as anyone else] move beyond thinking it's OK in 2009 for a group of white dancers to come to a church social 'blacked up'? [It didn't happen in case you'er wondering but only because the Minister said 'No way.'] We need to move beyond saying 'Isn't diversity wonderful, just like a beuatiful rainbow.' Diffference isn't always wonderful...Let's be honest there are ways of thinking and acting that we say are OK but we recoil from because they are oppressive. So let's get real. Maybe what I want to call 'liberative difference' can help us out and help to put the BNP in their place....What do I mean?

Just this....As we engage in the life of the city and the life of our faith communities

Does the person we engage with accept or resist the dynamism of plural urban life? Do they see their own take on life as something that is open to change/challenge? Do they accept that people with other ideas/cultural stories are partners in struggle [or are they seen as competitors?] Do they see difference as a sign of life or a portent of doom? Are they ready to share with others in a coalition for social justice?

I really do believe that as I read my own scriptures and see the way in which Jesus depicts difference as gift that it can become a motor for real progressive change in the city. Not change that's a mask for conversion, but change that respects those with whom we share the city as partners, or even sisters and brothers....That's what I see in Jesus and that's why it makes my blood boil when the BNP parade around as if they were Christians....Let's be clear you cannot be a racist and a Christian....No ifs, no buts...That's why I get angry when my own Methodist Church is too slow and too hesitant to be up front with every single Methodist in Britain: 'Voting for the BNP is not compatible with being a member of the Methodist church...Choose one or the other but if you choose the BNP then you will no longer ne a part of the Methodist church.' Let's stop mucking around!

Liberative difference is built upon the divine bias to the stranger and the excluded

Liberative difference is a hermeneutics of the excluded and the demonised.

Liberative difference expresses the fluid, intra-contextual character of urban society.

Liberative difference enables a new conversation about ‘place’ as significant and multiple.

Liberative difference moves urban faith and politics beyond all forms of raciology

Liberative difference resources shared liberative praxis.

Liberative difference dubs prevailing antagonism towards difference, which becomes the driving force behind inclusive, networked liberative praxis.

Liberative difference enables a new critical multiculturalism to emerge which recognises the importance of the development of a progressive critical white identity.

Liberative difference unmasks and resists theological camp mentality.


I want to be able to look my postman in the eye and say, 'I said No to the BNP. So can you.' Don't we all want the same?

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

There's Nothing British About the BNP


THERE'S NOTHING BRITISH ABOUT THE BNP.....





CHECK OUT THE WEB SITE AND SIGN THE PETITION

NO PLACE FOR HATE....
ONE LIFE, ONE LOVE, ONE BLOOD...






Monday, 18 May 2009

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Salma Yaqoob calls for a big turnout on Birmingham jobs march « Birmingham Respect


Salma Yaqoob calls for a big turnout on Birmingham jobs march




Councillor Salma Yaqoob is backing the national ‘March for Jobs’ taking place in Birmingham this Saturday, 16 May. She is calling for a big turnout to send a strong message to the government that protecting jobs must come first. Councillor Yaqoob said:“There is hardly a family in the country which has not been affected by the recession. With unemployment now over 2.2 million, every day brings new job losses, and people across Birmingham are worried for their future. Huge sums of money have been used to bail out the banks. We need to see the same commitment to keeping people in jobs, and investing in vital industries to see them through this crisis.


“The government has its priorities wrong; with billions earmarked for wasteful and unnecessary projects like ID cards and the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system. It is time to send a strong message to the government that protecting jobs must be its first priority. That is the right way to protect individuals and families, but also to boost the economy at a time of economic crisis.”


The demonstration, organised by the Unite union, will assemble at 11am on Saturday 16 May at Highfield Road, Edgbaston (corner of Hagley Road), and march to Centenary Square for a rally.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

BIRMINGHAM URBAN THEOLOGY FORUM




University of Birmingham
Urban Theology Forum


invites you to share in an afternoon seminar entitled:

SPACES OF RELIGION AND ECONOMY IN
A TIME OF UNCERTAINTY

To be given by

Stephen Willey [Chaplain @ NEC Group]
Gregory Roberts [Postgraduate student, University of Birmingham]
Markus Vinzent [University of Birmingham]

In the John Kydd Room at Elmfield House, University of Birmingham (Selly Oak Campus), Bristol Road, Selly Oak [just opposite Weoley Park Road]


Wednesday 24th June from 2-4.30pm

Please let Martin Stringer (m.d.stringer@bham.ac.uk) or Chris Shannahan (cjshannahan@googlemail.com ) know if you are able to attend.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

www.indymedia.org

http://www.indymedia.org

Tired of being told only one side of the story.

Make up your own mind.....

Ghetto Britain: 30 Years of Race - Clips - The Essex Myth - Channel 4

Ghetto Britain: 30 Years of Race - Clips - The Essex Myth - Channel 4

A short clip from Robert Beckford's documentary about ghettoisation
in C21 Britain....What might commitments to multiculturalism mean
in light of this clip?

BBC iPlayer - Archive on 4: Working for Margaret

BBC iPlayer - Archive on 4: Working for Margaret

The views of those who worked for Margaret Thatcher
during the conflict ridden early 1980s....What might this
have to say in a C21 context to those on the underside
of urban Britain who suffered at the hands of 'Margaret'?

Thursday, 16 April 2009

The Message
(e.fletcher, s.robinson, c.chase, m.glover -Sugarhill records 82)

Broken glass everywhere, People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t careI cant take the smell, I cant take the noise, Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice Rats in the front room, roaches in the back, junkies in the alley with a baseball batI tried to get away, but I couldn’t get far 'cause the man with the tow-truck repossessed my car.

Chorus:Don’t push me, cause I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to loose my head, Its like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.

Standing on the front stoop, hangin out the window, Watching all the cars go by, roaring as the breezesBlow, Crazy lady, livin in a bag eating out of garbage piles, used to be a fag-hag.
Search and test a tango, skips the life and then go, to search a prince to see the last of senses.
Down at the peepshow, watching all the creeps, so she can tell the stories to the girls back home.
She went to the city and got so so so ditty, she had to get a pimp, she couldn’t make it on her own.

My brothers doing fast on my mothers TV. Says he watches to much, is just not healthy.
All my children in the daytime, Dallas at night. Can’t even see the game or the sugar ray fight.
Bill collectors they ring my phone and scare my wife when I’m not home.
Got a bum education, double-digit inflation.
Cant take the train to the job, there’s a strike at the station.
Me on king kong standin on my back. Cant stop to turn around, broke my sacroiliac.
Mid range, migraine, cancered membrane, Sometimes I think I’m going insane,.
I swear I might hijack a plane!

My son said daddy I don’t wanna go to school 'cause the teachers a jerk,
he must think I’m a fool. And all the kids smoke reefer,
I think it’d be cheaper if I just got a job, learned to be a street sweeper.
I dance to the beat, shuffle my feet wear a shirt and tie and run with the creeps.
Cause its all about money, ain’t a damn thing funny.
You got to have a con in this land of milk and honey.
They push that girl in front of a train, took her to a doctor, sowed the arm on again.
Stabbed that man, right in his heart. Gave him a transplant before a brand new start.
I cant walk through the park, cause its crazy after dark.
Keep my hand on the gun, cause they got me on the run.
I feel like an outlaw, broke my last fast jaw.
Hear them say you want some more, livin on a seesaw

A child was born, with no state of mind. Blind to the ways of mankind.
God is smiling on you but he’s frowning too cause only God knows what you go through.
You grow in the ghetto, living second rate and your eyes will sing a song of deep hate.
The places you play and where you stay looks like one great big alley way.
You’ll admire all the number book takers, thugs, pimps, pushers and the big money makers.
Driving big cars, spending twenties and tens and you wanna grow up to be just like them. Smugglers, scrambles, burglars, gamblers, pickpockets, peddlers and even pan-handlers.

You say I’m cool, I’m no fool but then you wind up dropping out of high school.
Now you’re unemployed, all null n void, walking around like you’re pretty boy floyd.
Turned stick-up kid, look what you done did. Got send up for a eight year bid.
Now your man is took and you’re a may tag, spend the next two years as an undercover fag.
Being used and abused, and served like hell till one day you was find hung dead in a cell.
It was plain to see that your life was lost you was cold and your body swung back and forth.
But now your eyes sing the sad sad song of how you lived so fast and died so young.............

A song that's over over 25 years old.....Speaks still in C21.....

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

URBAN THEOLOGY AND COMMUNITY ORGANISING

To Begin:

Broad based community organising in the UK is both old and new. It is old because progressive people of faith and no-faith have for centuries engaged in grassroots action for social justice. It is new because the way we work within Birmingham Citizens only began to emerge 20 years ago when the Citizens Organising Foundation was established. Since its formation in 1989 COF has helped to stimulate the development of broad based organisations like Birmingham Citizens in Liverpool, Bristol, Bradford, North Wales, Sheffield and London. Some of these coalitions remain in close relationship with COF whilst others, like Birmingham Citizens, have begun to develop their own futures from the bottom-up.Based on the work of Saul Alinsky in Chicago during the 1930s and 1940s, broad based organising is a pragmatic model social action which unites disparate groups around shared concerns so that their common efforts can bring about achievable change. This model of united social action has become common in the USA where networks like the Gamaliel Foundation and the Industrial Areas Foundation link literally hundred of local broad based organisations in shared civil action.

In an era where the uniting power of religious institutions, political parties and trades unions has waned dramatically, as the American sociologist Robert Putnam notes, broad based organising offers an alternative grassroots approach for faith and community groups who want to make a difference in public life. Jurgen Habermas describes the ‘public sphere’ as the arena within which civic and democratic values have been expressed by an emerging middle class.[1]

In Britain an increasing majority of people have apparently become disillusioned with this political class. BBO is providing religious groups to find new ways of bringing about progressive change and having an impact on public life. Macleod, Henderson and Salmon suggest that since the establishment of the COF in 1989, Broad Based Organising in Britain has developed to a large degree in isolation from other expressions of community engagement.[2] In spite of an occasional isolationism BBO provides perhaps the most live contemporary example of ‘third estate’ civic activism: not the state acting for people but people acting together for themselves.Much British government policy over the last decade has sought a so-called common public space which revolves round a shared ethic of mutuality, often referred to as social cohesion. BBO operates within this public space but enables religious communities to assert its diversity and multiplicity. Lina Jamoul suggests that although community organising helps different religious groups in the city to work together its focus is not neutral because it is committed to creating a counter-cultural public space where diversity is used to challenge injustice and exclusion.[3] The work of Robert Putnam on the potential of social capital to resource shared action on common issues helps to summarise the approach taken by BBO. Putnam speaks about the way that social networks and relationships within communities can empower local people, build bridges between different groups and resource change.
BBO is an example of bridging social capital in action.

In light of this brief word about the development of BBO in Britain I want to say a little about how community organising works in practice. Why has it appealed to religious groups in cities like Birmingham?One but not the sameWithin the Christian scriptures Saint Paul compares the church to a body: many parts, each with their own function and character, but one body. When one part of the body is hurt the whole body is damaged. The needs of one part of the body impact on the whole body. Each part needs and is in relationship with every other part of the body. This is an image I have often used to describe BBO within the church but I believe it is an image that clearly expresses the way we work in Birmingham Citizens in a language that is transferable across many different communities. In a city where difference is often viewed with defensive suspicion the use of diversity as a source of strength is a sign of hope. In terms of our action the Pauline Body imagery means that where one member group within Birmingham Citizens expresses a need this becomes a challenge for us all. What happens on one side of the city or to one religious or community group happens to us all and it is this philosophy that has helped us to develop a networked model of action for justice.

The pioneer of BBO, Saul Alinsky, emphasised the importance of self interest as a motivation for action. I have to be honest, I think Alinsky was wrong. What motivates the faith groups that are part of Birmingham Citizens is not self interest but shared interests and a common commitment to social justiceEmpowerment and Democratic Action BBO in Britain has grown largely in inner city communities amongst disempowered people. It has been most effective amongst people who feel either disenfranchised or powerless to bring about significant social change because of their relative weakness. In a sense it can be compared to the Civil Rights movement in the U.S.A and examples of ‘people’s power’ across the globe.

Three characteristics of BBO make this empowerment possible:
1: An emphasis on decisions that are made from the ‘bottom-up’ not the ‘top-down’.
2: A clear commitment to making decisions about campaigns together.
3: An understanding of power as relational and relationships as the basis of action.Issues Based and Organised

Whilst BBO stresses the importance of building long-lasting community organisations, rather than short-term social movements it bears a striking similarity to the characteristics that Manuel Castells suggest mark urban social movements: goal/issue oriented, rooted in a specific context, engagement with structures of power, organised and strategic and stimulated by conscientised organisers. Birmingham Citizens has developed a clear, three tier, organisation: action teams [relating to and delivering specific actions], a strategy team [shaping the day-to-day and strategic direction of BC] and a Board of Trustees [taking legal and management responsibility for the organisation]Focus on Common Commitment to Social JusticeWhilst Birmingham Citizens is not explicitly faith based it is true to say that an overwhelming majority of our member organisations are faith groups [churches, mosques, gurdwaras, temples, synagogues]. BBO has emerged in Britain at a point when some argue we have become a post-religious’ or a secular society. This is not an argument I buy fully. Nevertheless in a society where the values of religion are no longer those of the majority of Britons and no longer provide a binding narrative around which people can gather the values and methodology of BBO offer us the tools to build what I want to describe as a ‘post-religious liberation theology’. As a person of faith who is committed to Birmingham Citizens I see in BBO an expression of what I believe to be God’s Bias to the Oppressed and a channel to express my own preferential option for the oppressed.

The Story Moves On: In the summer of 2004 I co-chaired a series of ‘Community Dialogues’ here in Birmingham, drawing together people from across the inner city to identify key pressures on family and community life. It was out of this grassroots consultation that the Citizens ‘Agenda for Social Justice in Birmingham’ emerged. In April 2005 Birmingham Citizens held its founding assembly when 23 faith groups, community organisations, schools and trades unions from across inner city Birmingham became ‘founding members’ of the coalition. Birmingham Citizens challenged the Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council to work in partnership to address the scourge of drug dealing and gang activity in public parks, to address the rising tide of rubbish and rats in parts of the inner city and to work towards the implementation of a ‘Living Wage’ for Birmingham.[4] The Deputy Chief Constable of West Midlands Police was challenged to work with Birmingham Citizens to address the breakdown of relations between the police and sections of the community and to work in partnership to provide improved cultural awareness training for police officers in the city. 700 people watched as these challenges were laid and the force of focused broad-based organised ‘people power’ placed pressure on these key officials to agree to work with this new network for social justice in Birmingham.Four years later we have become a more diverse people’s movement which reaches across most parts of our city and includes Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims and Christians, as well as a range of community organisations and schools. At a point when stories of religion in public life in the UK often seem to revolve around enclosed identities, ethnic/religious ghettoes, attempts to limit Britishness and the so called ‘war on terror’ Birmingham Citizens offers another picture characterised by:1: Bridge building2: Socially progressive inter-communal politics3: Inclusivity4: Solidarity with marginalised communities5: Commitment to placing religious communities at the heart of public life as agents for justiceFurther Work is Needed: It must be noted, however, that in both London and Birmingham BBO exhibit’s a number of significant weaknesses.

1....BBO has displayed an anti-dialogical character that resists networking with other movements for urban which can be expressed as the dismissal of alternative approaches[5].
2....Whilst asserting egalitarianism the concerns of larger Churches and Mosques and the head offices of the Citizens Organising Foundation in London can appear to outweigh those of smaller faith groups and community organisations.
3....The power analysis within Broad Based Organising presents an outmoded Modernist mode of power relations which takes no account of the transformed nature of power in a Globalised urban age.
4....The amoral pragmatism of the pioneer of Broad Based Organising, Saul Alinsky[6], which relegates value based activism and elevates self-interest conflicts with the philosophical core of faith based liberative praxis in spite of Jacobsen’s suggestion that, “Self-interest honours both the ’self’ and the ’other’ in the relationship.” [7].

The Future:Unless BBO in Britain finds a way of expressing this implied solidarity of the oppressed in terms which engage creatively with the uniting values of the Ummah, or the glocal praxis of catholicity, or the inversion of ‘self-interest’ encased in Jesus’ Beatitudes, or his call to make a ‘journey downwards’, the powerful model of community transformation which Community Organising embodies will fail to realise its potential to exemplify a postmodern and post-religious Urban Theology of. If these significant blind-spots are addressed BBO has the potential to reinvigorate radical action for social justice in urban Britain. The model’s affirmation of ‘Liberative Difference’ and a networked approach which challenges cultural dislocation and creeping ghettoisation and its characterisation of Community Organisers as ’political intellectuals’ represent a creative appropriation of the principles of liberation theology in a post-religious urban context. Consequently, BBO can contribute to the framing of a proactive Urban Theology of and Difference which has the capacity to enable radical transformation on the streets of inner city Britain.

NOTES...

[1] Habermas Jurgen [1989], [transl. Burger Thomas & Lawrence Frederick] ‘The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Enquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society’, Cambridge, Massachusetts, M.I.T Press
[2] Macleod Jay [November 1993], ‘Community Organising: A Practical and Theological Appraisal’, in the Journal ’Christian Action’ , London, p7. Henderson Paul & Salmon Harry [1995], ‘Community Organising in the UK Context’, London, CommunityDevelopment Foundation, pp vii
[3] Jamoul Lina [2006], unpublished PhD Thesis [accessed at http://www.londoncitizens.org/ 24.1.2007] ‘The Art of Politics: Broad Based Organising in Britain’, London, Queen Mary University of London, Geography Department, 21
[4] For a summary of the Actions of Birmingham Citizens [2005-2007] see http://.www.birminghamcitizens.org.uk/ .With reference to the ‘Living Wage’ campaign see: Birmingham Citizens & The Community Union [October 2005], ‘A Living Wage? Mapping Low Pay in Birmingham’, Birmingham, Birmingham Citizens & The Community Union
[5] Henderson Paul & Salmon Harry [1995], op. cit., pvii and Macleod Jay [November 1993], op. cit., 7
[6] Alinsky Saul [1971], ‘Of Means and Ends’ in ‘Rules for Radicals’ , quoted in Cox Fred, Erlich John, Rothman Jack & Tropman John [1974], ‘Strategies of Community Organisation: A Book of Readings’, Illinois, F.E Peacock Publishers, 198 & 200.: Alinsky: “Life and how you live it is the story of means and ends….The man of action views the issue of means and ends in pragmatic and strategic terms….Ethical standards must be elastic to stretch with the times.”
[7] Jacobsen Dennis [2001], op. cit., 51
METROPOLITAN THEOLOGY

1. Arises from engagement with multipolar metropolitan life.
2. Is committed to action/research [action/reflection]
3. Views difference as a defining text for theological reflection
4. Is translocal, holding the global and the local experiences of city life in dialogue
5. Reflects the fluidity of metropolitan life
6. Is inter-cultural and inter/intra-faith and explores the transformative capacity of a ‘cultural politics of difference’.
7. Takes place in the ‘Third Space’ between fixed positions/perspectives and identities
8. Is committed to those on the underside/outside of metropolitan life
9. Is postmodern and post-Christendom
10. Engages with the existential questioning of ‘post-religious’ metropolitan generations
11. Adopts a non-confessional ‘nitty-gritty’ hermeneutical stance.
12. Dubs metropolitan realities on the basis of a core commitment to an ethic of liberative difference
13. Is inherently and necessarily interdisciplinary
14. Acknowledges but moves beyond the reductionism and camp mentality of contemporary urban theologies

POWERLINES

Powerlines criss-cross the city,
Currents of energy coarse through its veins.
High culture, pop culture, faith, ‘race’, muscle and money
Weave their patterns and vie for control.
A spaghetti junction of influences moulding metropolis;
Liquid life pouring the world into its urban mould.
Power flows and disrupts; Draws in and pushes away.
Blood flows, life force Blocked, rationed, hoarded, controlled.
Powerlines criss-cross the city,
Light up the shadows for those with a key.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

BREAKING BREAD IN A NOISY CITY


L: To the God of life

E: WE LIFT OUR HEARTS IN PRAISE.

L: In a city of a thousand strands, in markets, laden with the
Scents and sounds of God’s rainbow people, we meet the
Creator and discover the mark of God in both stranger and
Friend. O God of many names, you are both mother and
Father to us all, uniting the people of the city as sisters and
Brothers. On the crowded bus, in the heaving shops, in the
Collage of minarets and spires we discover Your Kingdom
Afresh and see Your face in back alleys and dusty corners.

E: SPIRIT OF FREEDOM, LEAD US INTO YOUR KINGDOM.

L: In a city of forgotten people and lost stories help us to listen
For Your Good News amongst those left out or left behind in
The busy rush. Teach us, like Jeremiah to pray for the city,
For it is here that we make our home and learn of You. Just
As your prophets challenged the king makers who enjoyed
The wealth of Jerusalem, but oppressed the poor, grant us
The courage to work for justice in our city, that this might be
A place of welcome, peace and justice for all. When we are
Tempted to bow before the altar of money, give us courage
Like Daniel to place faith at the heart of our community.

E: SPIRIT OF TRUTH, OPEN OUR EYES TO YOUR GOSPEL.

L: Amidst the clamouring voices and the noise of our city
Grant us peace and space to listen for your small voice.
And as we listen fill our hearts with an image of Your Son
Jesus who embraces us as a brother and throws his arms
Wide to welcome us all. In the noise and in the silence, in
The traffic and at home on our own fill us with a sense of
His liberating presence, as we share food and as we sit alone.

E: SPIRIT OF GOD, OPEN OUR HEARTS TO OUR LORD.

L: The city was crowded with people from across the globe,
The faithful gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover:
The festival of freedom. Jesus and his friends hired a room
Above a busy street, and there they shared a last meal
Together. In the quiet of the night Jesus broke a piece
Of unleavened bread: He meets the needs of a hungry city.
‘This is my body’, he said ‘Eat together and know I am at
Your side.’ When everyone had finished eat Jesus passed
Round a cup of Passover wine: He quenches our thirst as
We search for a holy city. ‘This is my blood’, he said. ‘Drink
Everyone. I have come to set you free.’

E: WE EAT, WE DRINK. GOD IS WITH US. ALLELUIA.

L: The bread, which we share, is the work of many hands.
As we break it, we remember those in our city whose lives
Are broken for others.

E: OUR BROKEN LORD COMES THAT WE MIGHT BE WHOLE.


Friday, 10 April 2009

URBAN THEOLOGY IN Y2K

Urban theology is a contextual theology which emerges from intimate engagement with the multiple processes which shape urban Britain. It is a public theology; ushering faith from the wings of society to the centre of the public realm; a practical political theology beginning with experience and ending with transformative action. It is tempting to pretend that it is possible to re-package the class-based reflection of the Thatcher years. Such myopia freezes urban theology in time. Fluid urban Britain demands a fluid interdisciplinary urban theology which grapples in increasing depth with the following themes:

The multipolar nature of globalisation.
The experience of global forces in local communities (glocalisation).
The increasingly complexity and fluidity of inner city communities.
The multiple nature of oppression.
Persistent raciology, identity and difference as the defining terrain for urban theology.
New configurations of city-space, inequality and conflict.
Emerging patterns of networked and fluid patterns of urban resistance.
The post-religious and postmodern nature of urban society.
The significance of urban popular culture as a vehicle for negotiating meaning and truth.


How do current models of urban theology match up?









LIVING
IN
METROPOLIS

Heartlands Hope

God of life, here in the heartlands of our city where difference is not strange but everyday and diversity is not a threat but a sign of Your Kingdom we find Your face and sense the breaking in of Your Kingdom.

God of love, here in the heartlands of our city when neighbours share their stories of hope and work as sisters and brothers for justice we are warmed by Your presence and held in the embrace of Your including love.

God of hope, here in the heartlands of our city where the promise of new beginnings and peace-filled communities paint pictures of resurrection and images of a church of the city we are challenged by the transforming power of the Gospel.

God of promise, here in the heartlands of our city where two or three are gathered together in Your name living in and for this community, walking a new path of faith which leads us down back alleys and into housing estates, we find You within us, before us and amongst us, forging a new way of being church.

In friend and stranger we see Your face. Alongside the broken and the excluded we learn about Your Gospel. In places of rejection and despair we encounter Your transforming hope.