A couple of days ago I visited a microbrewery in Keighley. The Old Bear Brewery produces a variety of beers and the one I have tasted was very good.

However, I didn't go there to sample the goods. I went to see the Bottle Rescue scheme run by the brewery and employing a number of people with learning disabilities. It seems that this might be the only environmental charity project of its kind in the country – rescuing bottles from landfill or glass-recycling, with all the CO2 implications of such processes. This is a private company doing excellent work – at its own expense – for the good of wider society.

What is surprising about the project is that there isn't more support from a government that wants to reduce the welfare bill, but doesn't allow the sort of model that helps businesses like the Old Bear Brewery to make money from the project, pay the 'workers' a wage and make it work for everyone on a sustainable basis. But, that isn't the point of this post.

Bottle Rescue involves between 20-30 people who use Bradford and District NHS Care Trust services. Around 1.25 tonnes of glass is collected every week from across West Yorkshire. A quarter of the bottles are suitable for washing and processing for re-use by breweries, shops and drink manufacturers around the country. The national learning disability charity HFT runs the project with the brewery.

The reason I went there – and spent an enjoyable and informative hour and a half – was a bit odd. Ian Cowling, who runs the brewery, heard a Lent Lecture I did last March on BBC Radio 4, picked up on something I was saying about community projects. He emailed me to tell me about Bottle Rescue and I emailed back to ask if I could visit. It took a while to get it in the diary, but it was worth the wait (from my perspective, at least).

The story was written up in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus, but I can't find a link!

 

After Yad Vashem yesterday we drove to the last Christian village on the West Bank, Taybeh. I last visited this remarkable village two or three years ago and was pleased to have the opportunity to come back.

Fr Raed has been the Roman Catholic priest here for the last seven years. The huge problem for Palestinian Christians is that there is little or no work, little housing, few prospects and not a lot of hope. So, they are leaving in droves. Taybeh used to have a population of 3,400; now there are 1,300.

How, then, to encourage local young men (particularly) to stay and maintain this Christian presence here? So far the priests (three of them) have:

  • bought an olive press and market olive oil in French supermarkets – this year they will make a profit for the first time;
  • brew and market beer (a bit girly to the taste, but does the business!)
  • provide employment in all sorts of services
  • built and run a home for elderly people (a new phenomenon in a culture of extended family relationships and responsibilities).

In addition Fr Raed has established a youth choir of 50 young people and they ahve joined with youth choirs from the Muslim and Jewish communities elsewhere to record a CD. Along with the other preists in Taybeh, they now celebrate Easter together (on the Orthodox date) in order to present a united witness to Muslims who cannot understand why Christians celebrate several staggered crucifixions/resurrections.

The man is a fast-talking, over-energetic ball of enthusiasm. But he laces his talk with theology and economics, casting fresh and refreshing light on all sorts of issues. He even has a PhD in ‘Violence and non-violence in Islamic Tradition and Thought’.

What was most remarkable about this encounter, however, was his insistence that we should not be afraid for him or his people. They will stay and be a Christian presence and witness in land that is being abandoned by many because of the difficulty of living there with any hope for bringing up children and forging a future. He said:

We will stay here in a small community and under the shadow of the cross.

This echoes the stance of my friends in Zimbabwe.

But, interestingly, he turns on its head the notion that those who suffer are somehow ‘weak’. No, he says:

We are not weak people – we are strong people because we choose to stay here. Let the weak leave or stay at their new home in front of the television: the strong stay here.

This would sound like bravado in the mouth of some; but, it is spoken with both humility and determined confidence by Fr Raed. He is adamant that visitors like us should not take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but support those who seek a third way, the way of peace and coexistence on the basis of a common humanity.

Interestingly, this plea echoes the similar one we heard in Bethlehem a few days ago – a plea we have heard only from Palestinian Christians and nobody else.

Well, that powerful experience left us with much to discuss last night before we left Jerusalem to head off – via Wadi Qelt, Jericho and the wonderful Bet She’an (all further reminders that empires come and go, but empires never listen to their prophets) – to Galilee where we will spend the next few days before returning to London.

On the way out of Jerusalem we passed a ‘restaurant’ which dared to call itself ‘Doggy Style’ – its subheader was ‘Hot Dog Heaven’. That was a relief…

borough-market-3One of the best places to visit in London is the utterly wonderful and ridiculously expensive Borough Market. You can find it under the railway next to Southwark Cathedral, close to London Bridge. It is full of colour and smell and foods I never knew existed. My wife has the knack of wandering around confidently tasting stuff and deciding what to buy. But I wander around loving the place, but incapable of choosing anything at all. Too much choice, it seems, paralyses me.

Above the stalls there are banners hanging and two of them caught my attention today. We were with Patrick and Naemi, young Austrian friends who are staying with us, and we spent some time there before heading off to St Paul’s Cathedral via Southwark Cathedral.

borough-market-1The first banner quoted Benjamin Franklin: ‘Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.’ The photo is wobbly, but I hadn’t touched a drop.

borough-market-2The second proclaimed: ‘There are five elements: earth, air, fire, water and garlic.’ And I loved them both. Why?

I have just been reading thousands of earnest words about the General Synod, the state of the economy and the theology of Juergen Moltmann. All important and necessary and interesting in their own unique ways. But, apart from the writings of the wonderful Moltmann, there was no humour, no sideways glance at the subject, none of the light shone on it that makes you laugh and look afresh at what you thought was either obvious or self-evidently true.

This ties in a little with what has become clearer to many people over the last few years: that the Church needs more poets than lawyers. The lawyers are vital, but it is the poets who keep the song and language of home alive in our hearts when we feel exiled. It is the people who use language in such a way as to make us laugh or think afresh who tease away in our imagination and awaken our curiosity. Read the prophets and you see what I mean. Read the Gospels and ask why Jesus, in teaching about the Kingdom of God, took the massive risk of using images and stories that could so easily be distorted or misused or misunderstood.

None of this takes us much closer towards a theology of beer or garlic, but maybe I’ll come back to it later. All suggestions welcome…