Sunday, 27 March 2016

Easter: The Liberation of Women

Today, on Easter Sunday, we remember the Rising of Jesus.
He appears to some of his followers; women, to be exact...
The women, astonished, tell the men. The men don’t believe them....
Then Jesus appears to the men. Then they believe....
Eventually, the men will make themselves the rulers of the Church and make sure that women never tell them anything ever again…
But Easter will not be contained, and the women will not be silent.
It is no accident that the first to receive the revelation of Easter were women.
Jesus will not be kept in a tomb, in the ground... and neither will the women.
Easter is about liberation and transformation- spiritual and temporal. 
For those with no voice, no influence, no say, Easter is a new beginning.
Creation is restored. All is made new. Death is dead.
Eden is no more. Satanic deception is no more. All 'curses' are broken.
Easter is equality, the death of hierarchies, boxes, and barriers.
Whatever hierarchies or barriers remain are those built later,
But make no mistake: they are not of God.
Easter is from God.
If we are to be of God, then we must be 'Easter People'-
Liberated, reconciled, transformed...

Friday, 25 March 2016

Good Friday: In the Center of Holiness and Atrocity

Having the chance to make my way to Jerusalem in 2004 was one of the most transforming moments of my life.

To enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre;

To kneel and kiss the Anointing Stone where Christ's body was laid...

It was one of the holiest, most personally meaningful acts of my life.

Hours later, I was in Bethlehem, where I was staying, watching the Battle of Fallujah rage on the BBC...

A whole city on fire...

The camera paused on the face of a young US marine sitting hunched against a wall being asked by the reporter how it was going.

'It's going great', he deadpanned, not looking up.

'We've got the enemy right where we want him.

‘He's coming straight to us. And we're killing him.'

I was watching war, the real thing, raging through a city and destroying everything in its path.

I was watching war ripping huge chucks out of the psyche of that young marine.

Within hours, I experienced the deeply holy and the totally atrocious.

I experienced the Middle East.

From my earliest childhood, I was raised in a Christian home, immersed in Christian tradition, teaching, and liturgy.

But if you ask me when I became a Christian, I think now I’d say in 2004, aged 37, in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem, in Hebron, in Nazareth,

I became a Christian not only in the churches, but at the checkpoints, in the Israeli occupation, at the separation barriers choking the life out of the West Bank…

I became a Christian in the meetings with Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and secular peacemakers, who had not one ounce of enmity for each other… There was no time for it… the struggle for peace in the face of a well-funded, well-oiled war machine, religious fanaticism, and political demagoguery, made all other issues and disagreements seem petty and superfluous.

And I became a Christian staring at that exhausted, dirty young marine.

The message to Christians on Good Friday is that our lives are always lived in the midst of the holy and the atrocious, because our social reality is always comprised of both.

We must find holiness in the midst of atrocity, and we must be holy in the midst of atrocity.

On Good Friday, Christians sit in the center of holiness and atrocity.

Jesus didn’t just die on Good Friday; a lot happened to him before that.

Jesus was betrayed by a former friend for money.

He was arrested on false charges and beaten up by the cops.

He was given an unfair trial, with false evidence and a rigged court, simply looking for a reason to convict.

He was tortured while in custody.

He was most likely sexually brutalized, perhaps even sexually mutilated.

He was given over to mob violence.

He had the last of his possessions stolen.

He was tortured again, this time as a means of his execution.

Then finally, mercifully, he died…

He knew it would happen. You can’t say what he said and do what he did in the midst of the forces of imperialism, wealth, and unlimited power and expect to walk away…

And he didn’t walk away. His enemies had him right where they wanted him. He came straight to them.

And they killed him.  

One small light- one small, holy light- endured, so small and insignificant that it was absurd even to comprehend it: 

Jesus’s cryptic promises of coming back.

Sitting in that room in Bethlehem, watching the mightiest military force in human history methodically destroy the city of Fallujah and every human in it, after only hours before experiencing the holiest moment of my life, I think I felt a minute taste of what the followers of Jesus felt watching him die:

That nothing was good, nothing was holy, everything was pointless, and everything was a lie.

Corruption won. Lying won. Violence won. Corrupt cops, deceitful politicians, weapons dealers, torturers, executioners… They all won.

This Good Friday, Christians from all over the world kneel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and kiss the Anointing Stone, a stone that once had a corpse lying on it.

They look for hope; they long for love, for justice, for transformation… They call out to God who promises liberation, reconciliation, transformation…

In the midst of holiness and atrocity, they hope that there is a God…

To be continued… God willing…

Monday, 14 March 2016

The 'Irish Car Bomb': This St. Patrick's Day, Let's Change the Name!

In the run-up to the Feast of St. Patrick’s Day, we’re all starting to think about heading out on the great day for some fun. Lots of things come to mind: parties, parades, some Irish trad music and dance, drinks… or a mixture of all of those!

There’s one drink in particular that I’m thinking about, a heady mixture of Irish stout, Irish crème, and Irish whiskey. It’s known variously as ‘Irish Car Bomb’, a ‘Belfast Car Bomb’, and other local variations.

The name’s a bit of fun for a powerful beverage, right?

Actually, I’m not so sure.

The 30 years of civil conflict in Ireland and Northern Ireland from 1968 to 1998 killed thousands, injured tens of thousands… and car bombs were a bloody part of that brutal history.

And it didn’t end in 1998; the most recent car bomb explosion was this week, killing a prison officer.

Wherever you stand, it’s no joke.

I don’t want to ban the drink;

I want to change the name.

I want to call it an ‘Irish Peace Process’.

I’m an Irish/American dual citizen, a theologian, teacher, and post-conflict expert. 

I lived and worked for 13 years in Belfast on various projects focused on peacemaking, reconciliation, and social justice, helping to draw the conflict to a close and help to build a vision of a shared future.

The men and women I’ve worked with over the years who made the peace process happen- working with community groups, in churches, in schools, with politicians, police, perpetrators, and victims- are some of the most unstoppable and indomitable people I know.

Their days were- and are- difficult, exhausting, painful, joyful, and hopeful…

They deserve the admiration and gratitude of Irish people, at home and abroad.

They deserve a drink.

So this St. Paddy’s Day, in their honour, don’t order an ‘Irish Car Bomb’;

Order an ‘Irish Peace Process’.

Tell your barkeeper that you want to Change the Name!


Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Welcoming Refugees and the American Revolution

Across Montana today there were rallies held to counter the far-right voices against the settling of refugees in our state. 

We had 75 people turn up in Kalispell, the largest town in Northwest Montana, armed with banners and signs, to hear three brief speakers, and to line the main street of Kalispell voicing our belief that Montana could- and should- welcome the victims of oppression and war. 

The far right were out as well- on the other side of the street- but we outnumbered them by 10 to 1.

The three speakers were Francine, our local rabbi, who spoke movingly about the Jewish experience of a history of marginalization and genocide, and the need to stand for justice and hospitality for all in need; 

Mason, a high school student, who spoke of America as a haven for immigrants and refugees in the past; 

and myself. 

This was my contribution: 

Ladies and gentleman, good afternoon; my name is Dr Jon Hatch, and I work as a theologian, educator, and post-conflict reconciliation expert. I work with Love Lives Here in the Flathead Valley, an affiliate of the Montana Human Rights Network. 

I’m also an Irish and American dual citizen, and lived a good portion of my life in Ireland, and I wanted to give some brief thoughts from my perspective about what I think this demonstration means.

First and foremost, this demonstration is about countering the notions that have been put forward by others that hospitality to refugees of war and oppression is too expensive, too risky, too dangerous, too damaging, and even too un-American. 

We are gathered here today to counter those declarations.

But, at the risk of grandiosity, I think that this rally- and the issues surrounding it- is about America. Both those for the welcoming of refugees and those against it are, in one way, asking the same question: 

‘What is America?’

It’s a very good question, and it needs to be asked and re-asked. 

From the beginning of this nation right up to today, all of the rights and freedoms that Americans enjoy all begin with the question, 

‘What is America?’ 

We’ve been asking it since the beginning: 

Can a Cherokee or a Sioux be an American? 

Can you own people? 

Can women vote? 

Is a woman capable of holding public office? 

Should a Catholic be President? 

Can a Jew be an American? 

Can a Muslim? 

Can you vote if you don’t own a house or have a drivers licence?

None of the answers to those questions was obvious or preordained, and the questions we ask now about America still aren’t. 

We have to decide. We have to choose. America has not always chosen wisely or correctly, but the fundamental nature of this nation is that the people must decide.

‘What is America?’ 

My answer is that America is an idea. 

Globally and internationally, America is a revolution.

The American Revolution did not end in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris that saw British troops leave the American states- no longer colonies; states. That was the end of the War of Independence. 

The American Revolution was about to begin, and it remains ongoing.

The rest of the world isn’t particularly interested in America’s War of Independence, but they are very interested in our Revolution:

liberty for the individual as opposed to liberties only for the group; 

separation of powers; 

the independence of religious expression from interference from the state; 

an independent judiciary; 

and yes, our ability to take people from all over the world- from all different backgrounds, cultures, religions, and ethnicities- issues that have completely destroyed other nations- and create a new nationality that we call ‘Americans’.

We are a diverse and disparate nation; the American experiment is not inevitable; it really shouldn’t work, and in the 1700’s very few people in Europe thought it would.

But it did work. It does work; not always well and sometimes not at all- in 1941, we decided that Japanese people could not be Americans and we loaded them into concentration camps. The American Revolution tottered. It took 40 years to make it right. 

But the Revolution always allows us the freedom to make it right.

The world watches our Revolution. Good people watch; very bad people watch, as do the people who have to live under the rule of those very bad people.

They are watching this battle of the American Revolution.

If we want the world to be free, then we must be free;

If we want the world to be just, then we must be just;

If we want the world to be open, then we must be open;

America can do that. That is its gift and its responsibility. We take up that responsibility today and we say,

We are- right now- big enough, strong enough, generous enough, and welcoming enough, to do this.

Thank you, and Long Live the American Revolution.