The Power of Ideas


The urban studies theorist Manuel Castells argued that even the most powerful state cannot keep people in check when ‘minds are mobilised’. The liberation educator Paulo Freire called this ‘conscientisation’ or ‘critical awareness’ and the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci part of the long ‘cultural war of position’. In the Christian Gospels Jesus suggests that truth sets people free and urges his followers to ‘ask, seek and knock’….Here are just a few web based resources for us all as we seek that truth and the mobilised minds of which Castells speaks –


The New Life Begins Now!

When death cackles feeling it has the upper hand – the girl bleeding from a knife wound on the stairwell of an urban housing estate or the man weeping in the citizens advice bureau because he is drowning in debt and cannot find a job, the mother in Damascus weeping because her children have been killed in the latest attack by Assad’s forces…..When death cackles remember words written on a wall in the Warsaw ghetto more than half a century ago – ‘I believe in life even when all around me is death. I believe in love even when all around me is hatred. I believe in hope all around me is despair.’

The blinding revolutionary truth of Easter is summarised by the apostle Paul – ‘Death has lost its sting.’ The bully in the school playground, the heartless government Minister introducing benefit cuts when she/he has never had to worry about how to pay their gas bill, the bomber, the knife wielding gangster are defeated. They have no power…..

Hope wins because resurrection defeats even the biggest, baddest power. When we share love, share hope, share freedom life wins – always has, always will – In our cities whenever a stranger is welcomed we greet angels unawares, whenever the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, the oppressed empowered we make the Resurrection of Jesus real here and now.

This is a day or revolution – the revolution of love…..

Easter is not about doctrine, about belief, about ritual. It’s not about whose in or whose out of the Kingdom (all are included). It’s about the triumph of the oppressed, the left out and the left behind. On this day God says ‘No’ to death dealing power mongers and ‘Yes’ to those whose voice is never heard, whose story is never told.

Celebrate this day whoever and wherever you are. This is not a day for Christians but a day for all who long for justice and freedom…..

The new life begins today! May the powerful tremble – Your days are numbered!

Fight the Power!

  The Stations of the Cross form a central part of Roman [and Anglo] Catholic spirituality. They are evocative but often distant from the urban world in which most of live. Here is one new take, thought to be by the graffiti artist Banksy – Jesus carries the Cross photographed by the paparazzi and beaten by riot police. Fight the power – here’s how!

Urban Crucifixions


The Cross has been made small. We have reduced it to a piece of jewellery to hang around our necks. We have reduced it to a the symbol of Church power – Christ the King complete with solid gold altar crosses. We have reduced it to a dogmatic totem that speaks of the need to appease an angry God complete with gory sound-bites: ‘washed in the blood of the lamb’ or ‘paying the price of sin’. We have reduced it to the poetry of the hymn writer, evocative but disengaged.

 And yet, as we approach Good Friday I want to re-claim the Cross. Like many radical and liberal Christians I have often shied away from the Cross. Perhaps because of the way it has been appropriated to assuage the anger of a bitter God demanding a sacrifice to make everything OK. And yet when radical Christians avoid the Cross or file it under history we run away from the most revolutionary commitment ever made to loving solidarity.

 I want to re-claim a 2013 Cross that speaks of the brotherhood/sisterhood of God in the body of a young teacher from Palestine. The theologian Jurgen Moltmann suggests to us that God dies with us and alongside us (not for us in the traditional paying the price for sin kind of way). This Cross is a physical reminder of God’s bias to the oppressed – to all who are marginalised, oppressed and shut out.

 Look around you at the city where you live and you will see countless urban crucifixions this Easter. Children, women and men crucified – the detained asylum seeker, the man weeping because he is drowning in debt and cannot find a job, the woman whose Church says God does not want her to be a Bishop or a Priest, the Muslim child bullied and called Osama at school, the well qualified young black man who is told there is no job even though it is later offered to a less qualified white person…..We see the Cross around about us…..God Crucified again and again – for love and out of solidarity not to pay the price for cosmic sin!

Glide Memorial United Methodist Church sits in the heart of the Tenderloin – the poorest ghetto in San Francisco. It’s a Church I know well – Back in the early 1960s in the heat of the Civil Rights struggle Cecil Williams arrived at Glide as the new Minister. Within a couple of weeks Williams angered and shocked the suburban congregation when he took down the huge wooden Cross in the sanctuary saying – ‘We do not worship the Cross. WE ARE THE CROSS!’ Live it, fell it, preach it, act it……

Good Friday as the day of loving revolution – a day of solidarity. What are we called to do in response?

Generation Self?

Tent outside St Pauls

A recent poll for The Guardian newspaper in the UK suggested that young adults in 2013 are what might be called ‘generation self’. The survey suggests that whilst young adults in 2013 may dip into the Occupy Movement or UK Uncut they are not motivated by the commitment to solidarity that characterised the activism of older generations.

Such a survey and The Guardian report that accompanies it depicts youth in 2013 as atomised – no sense of community or connection with other people in other places. This is not what I see and misrepresents the activism or young adults in 2013 and the nature of activism in a connected networked age. The lack of youth engagement in traditional communitarian or left of centre politics does not necessarily equate to disengagement of disconnection as the survey implies. The online activism of networks like Avaaz, the disparate challenge of the Occupy Movement and UK Uncut and the engagement of young adults in street-level politics in the shape of rap music and graffiti art gives the lie to the myth of ‘generation self’.

Perhaps the organisers of the survey and the journalists at The Guardian need to wake up to a new world rather than rehearsing assumptions from another century and a different age. Things really weren’t better in the 1980s when we [and I mean I!] marching during the miners strike, breaking down fences and occupying US Airbases or organising the ‘oppressed working class’….

‘Generation Self’? I don’t think so!

Academics Stand Against Poverty

More than a billion people exist on less than US$2.00 a day. My own society, the UK, is more unequal than at any time since World War II. We live in an ‘age of austerity’ but some feel the pinch more than others. In my own work I strive to explore and embody a 21st century interpretation of the divine bias to the oppressed articulated by Gustavo Gutierrez in his seminal book A Theology of Liberation and the foundation of liberation theology. And yet life within the academy in the UK is dominated by an obsession with big money research grants and so-called ‘world class’ publications with certain ‘elite’ publishers. Where is the philosophy of Paulo Freire when we need it – education is the process of awakening to oppression and agitating for liberation?

One recently formed organisation within the academy that seeks to buck the trend is ‘Academics Stand Against Poverty’ – Check them out – research with real impact and for real purpose….

Graffiti – Art, Politics or Icons?

City councils, tabloid newspapers, neighbourhood forum meetings call it vandalism – anti social behaviour. The graffiti art of Banksy hangs in art galleries and sells for tens of thousands and the Birmingham based ‘spiritual’ graffiti artist Mohammed ‘aerosol’ Ali has had his work exhibited in the UK, in Australia and in the Middle East. Is that what graffiti is, the new art? Or again think of the way that the Berlin Wall, the ‘security’ fence between Israel and Gaza or the murals that filled Belfast during the troubles became canvases for political protest. Is that it, graffiti as the new politics? Alternatively since its emergence in New York during the early 1970s has graffiti been a way in which alienated young adults have raised their voice and made their mark – graffiti as identity?

banksy 1

In a world where organised religion has less and less hold over people’s sense of value, purpose or truth is it possible as Tom Beaudoin (1998) suggested that popular culture has become a ‘surrogate clergy’ for a post-religious but not secularised ‘Generation X’ (and ‘Y’….)? After all from the slave spirituals of the 19th century, through the Soul music that accompanied the civil rights movement, the progressive anti-racist multiculturalism of Two Tone and the Black Power of early rap music has encapsulated movements for liberation and articulated truths in a manner not possible within many books or sermons.

Gaza wall not freedom

I’m not suggesting that the spiritual graffiti of Mohammed Ali or the
challenging imagery of Banksy can be seen as a systematic, patient, doctrinally solid ‘theological’ statement….That’s not what they are and maybe that’s the way it should be. What I do want to suggest is the perhaps (just perhaps) such graffiti art can be seen as urban Icons -windows into meaning and questioning, just like the classical Icons of Christianity or the ornate calligraphy of Islam….What do you say?

Moh Ali 1