Project Zion Podcast

317 | Grounds for Peace | Spirituality and Social Change: Re-enchanting the Activist | Keith Hebden, Peace Award Recipient

October 21, 2020 Project Zion Podcast
Project Zion Podcast
317 | Grounds for Peace | Spirituality and Social Change: Re-enchanting the Activist | Keith Hebden, Peace Award Recipient
Project Zion Podcast
317 | Grounds for Peace | Spirituality and Social Change: Re-enchanting the Activist | Keith Hebden, Peace Award Recipient
Oct 21, 2020
Project Zion Podcast

In partnership with the 2020 European Peace Colloquy, Project Zion Podcast is bringing you interviews with the presenters. Today, we welcome the recipient of the Peace Award, Keith Hebden to expand on his presentation, "Spirituality and Social Change: Re-enchanting the Activist."

Keith Hebden is the founder/organiser of Leicester Citizens UK, now in its second year in the city. He is passionate in his fight against poverty and in listening to those who normally do not get heard. He is a very good organiser, reaching out to build a team of people from different ethnicities and faiths in Leicester to advocate for justice.  He first started community organizing in Mansfield, Nottingham.

You can find Keith's original presentation here. 

Show Notes Transcript

In partnership with the 2020 European Peace Colloquy, Project Zion Podcast is bringing you interviews with the presenters. Today, we welcome the recipient of the Peace Award, Keith Hebden to expand on his presentation, "Spirituality and Social Change: Re-enchanting the Activist."

Keith Hebden is the founder/organiser of Leicester Citizens UK, now in its second year in the city. He is passionate in his fight against poverty and in listening to those who normally do not get heard. He is a very good organiser, reaching out to build a team of people from different ethnicities and faiths in Leicester to advocate for justice.  He first started community organizing in Mansfield, Nottingham.

You can find Keith's original presentation here. 

 Josh Mangelson  00:17

Welcome to the project Zion podcast. This podcast explores the unique spiritual and theological gifts Community of Christ offers for today's world.


Andrew Bolton  00:33

Hello and welcome to Project Zion. Today is the ninth and final podcast in a new international series grounds for peace under the auspices of peace And your host Andrew Bolton joining you from Leicester, England, and a member of the Community of Christ, European peace and justice team. Today we're looking at peace in the marketplace, and we're going to bring together spirituality, social and economic change. It's a great joy to welcome Keith Hebden. Last week in the final webinar, Keith received the first European Peace Award before an audience of about 130 people is an organizer for citizens UK. I first met Keith in Leicester as the Citizens UK Leicester organizer. Now he works for Citizens UK on the living wage program for care workers is married to Sophie and environmentalist and they have two daughters, Martha and Bethany. He's an ordained Church of England priest, the recent director of the Urban Theology Unit in Sheffield, and his PhD was on Dalit or Untouchability theology. All of this makes for a fascinating podcast. Keith, welcome.


Keith Hebden  01:52

Thanks. Thank you. Good to see.


Andrew Bolton  01:55

So please tell us briefly something about your upbringing, your family of origin. What were you like in school? Were you academic, polite and well behaved?


Keith Hebden  02:07

Yeah, that goes back as near as I'm from Anglesey, which is a small island of Wales. And I certainly in secondary school I was described described by my head of year in my first year as a sad child, I think I found that shift quite difficult to rural conservative sort of background and upbringing brought up in a community of faith church, that was what we would have described as charismatic, evangelical, Anglo Catholic, and bilingual, Welsh and English. And I guess school was a place where I discovered through the stories we told, we were told in sociology and in history, to tell the stories of struggles with the Welsh miners, and the struggles across the world of colonialism. We had teachers who are willing to talk that stuff through with us. And I guess it was through that, that I started to make the connections between my life and what was going on beyond it, but purely in my head, really. And I guess I was mostly an angry young man, I think that's probably that's definitely how my mum would have described me. I was angry, but I didn't know what with and I was in trouble a fair bit. Excluded from school a few times for various things. And by and large, I don't think I've changed, I've not improved with age, I just found new directions for that part of my personality really have decided, if I'm going to get in trouble, it might as well be for something worthwhile, rather than just smashing lightbulbs, or buying poppers or whatever it was when I was doing. 


Andrew Bolton  03:36

So you had the opportunity to go to India as a teenager for six months. And he worked with Christians who were Untouchable Dalits. And that had a big impact on you, right? So tell us what happened and tell us what Dalit means for our audience.


Keith Hebden  03:52

Sure. So the Dalits are the people used to call Untouchable or Ghandi, called them Harijan, which many some, some Dalits still use the Harijan, but many find that quite offensive because it's also a term used for children of prostitutes. It means children of God, but it kind of like nudge, nudge, wink wink sort of way, not in a really honoring way. Whereas Dalits it can be translated as meaning of the earth of the soil, but also crushed. And so like terms like queer or black, it's been reclaimed as a term which could be seen as insulting, but it's been taken and owned as defiance. In fact, like terms like Christian and anarchist as well. Those are words that have been taken on as identities of defiance and I'm lucky enough to have been to India quite a few times in those years after I first went at the age of 17. And the first time I went, I spent a lot of time working with local churches and with people who lived on the streets, especially children. I was most struck by people who worked and organized amongst the Dalit people, and their social struggle. That's what intrigued me, I guess, and made me want to go back. And I noticed that they were challenging us about how we read the Bible, which for me at the time was, you know, in a private, personal way of reading it. It was nonabrasive, if you like. It just, it felt nice and warm and it might challenge me on a personal moral level. But there were all sorts of characters in the Bible that I'd never noticed before. And I was starting to notice them. As I heard the Bible being read by people who were the sharp end of unjust systems. And that excited me, because by then, of course, the Bible had stopped exciting me. And I wanted to know more. And I guess I got a bit hooked on reading the Bible with those who are on the edge, which is why I got into liberation theology. Because I wanted to know more. And I found out about black theology, disability theology, queer theology, and womanist theology, and just the whole world open up.


Andrew Bolton  06:03

They helped you on your journey as a Christian, it sounds like. So you went to university, what did you study there?


Keith Hebden  06:10

So I studied theology, a Bachelor of Divinity, it was in Bangor. The Divinity bit just means that I studied Greek, although I have to admit, I spent most of my lessons with my English translation hidden on my lap, while I pretended to struggle through the translation, and then I went on to study liberation theology as a Master's, and got involved in university life. And at that point, I would describe myself probably as a conservative, evangelical, charismatic, evangelical, but from the conservative tradition, and I tried really hard throughout my undergraduate years to be good at that, you know, I tried to be a good evangelical, but I never was neither theologically nor in terms of the way I live my life. And I found that just really hard. And I continued for many years after university to try and do that. And it was tedious. And it wasn't nice for them either, you know, for the conservatives I was with because it just upset them all the time. So when I learned to be okay, with the type of Christian I was, I was much better able to be a compassionate and kind person in my relationship with more conservative Christians. I could talk to them by being an agitation instead of an irritation. Fellow brothers and sisters, rather than as people who I felt threatened who I was. And I guess I first got involved in student politics there. And there was a branch of the union, the student union that was about to split and take a huge chunk of the budget with it. So I put together a team to negotiate to try and get them to stay part of the student union, it was the nursing college. And it was my first taste of what it means to build relationships of trust first, and then start negotiating on the what the writing in the paper, and that was fascinating. And it was running the rank week, which is raising a giving, for those who don't have that in their country. The students get together and do all sorts of mad things to raise money for charities. And we, I work the whole thing through societies, which is the way people get elected in student unions, you know, you work not through individuals, it takes forever, you get the societies working on stuff they care about. And I guess that's when I first started to discover that kind of organizing, but I didn't know it was called that. And I still have somewhere my honorary life membership with my student union from those days. Actually, that's the last thing I was awarded. I forgot that one. But it's it comes from bringing together people who didn't know how to be together normally and working with them across boundaries, I guess. So I studied theology somewhere in the midst of that. But I kept getting bored. I had to do something else.


Andrew Bolton  09:07

So how did you become an activist? What were the formative experiences. You've told us some of those things. You once said, you saw yourself as John Wayne in a dog collar.


Keith Hebden  09:20

Yeah, I just said that, didn't I in the talk? I'm not sure where that came from. It was just looking at that picture of me, like all dressed up in my cassock with my aspergillum. About to sprinkle holy water across the police officers and I've got this look on my face like I, I think I'm smoldering or something. But but there's a danger in any kind of politics isn't there that we can suddenly find in the moment that we're looking at ourselves from the outside and going this is pretty cool, isn't it? We're pretty cool doing this. You know, aren't we great? And we swagger and even the most humble of activists can find themselves accidentally swaggering with it. I think I was confessing something. But at the same time, I suspect it's true of all of us. So it's easy to confess to it, but to answer the question of how I got involved, because I've always been angry. And even as a child, I was angry about social justice issues. I remember arguing with my mum about stuff from the age of seven or eight. But I didn't have a politics to it. I didn't have an ism. And that started, I guess, when I was 17, or 18, reading, newspapers reading the New Internationalist magazine, reading Das Kapital cover to cover, absolutely absorbed in that, and also through the Bible, reading Acts chapter two and discovering this new community. That was nothing like any community I'd ever heard of or seen. At the time, I'd never heard of communities that held all things in common. And I was much more excited about that aspect of the Bible, than I was about signs and wonders aspect of it, because it struck me that if you had magic powers, then that's easy to use magic powers, I don't mean to mean that in a derogatory way. But it's much more courageous to have the power to share all your things in common. And also, I think it's one thing being a martyr and dying for your cause. It's quite another thing to live for it the way the early church did. That takes a different type of courage. But it was all up in my head, my politics, and to some extent, my faith, it was all quite cerebral. And it was the anarchist movement, and especially the Catholic workers that challenged me that it was all meaningless unless there was action to it. And it was that emphasis amongst the anarchists, I met at the anarchist book fairs in London and in Bradford and Bristol. Their emphasis on action, that our theory only makes sense and is born out of our action. It was them that challenged me that I couldn't be political, unless I was an activist, and so I was politically active. And so I got very excited about and involved in Christian anarchism and I set up a Christian anarchist conference. First one was up in Leeds, at a church called All Hallows in Leeds, an amazing community of people. And then we moved it around the country. And it now sits with the London Catholic Workers in Britain as well. Again, I met all sorts of really challenging radical people who got me involved in nonviolent direct action. So we went, for example, to the nuclear weapons factory and Aldermaston and myself and a friend climbed over the fence at the nuclear weapons factory. And before we went, we wanted to imagine a new world in the shell of the old as Colin Ward, who, an anarchist writer in Britain would describe it, but also to be like, the people of God who followed Moses, and went to a promised land and had to imagine what that promised man land might look like. And, and the Hebrew slaves once liberated, they went and they sent spies ahead of them, to spy out the land, and to build their new community. So we climbed over the fence with our maps that we drawn on with all the things we wanted inside the nuclear weapons factory instead of nuclear weapons, like astroturf football pitches, and an interfaith press space, and allotments. And I wanted some big outdoor hot tubs, and the police, the military, police, of course, found us with their dogs and their guns, and we did exactly what they told us to do. We explained carefully what we were doing. And we asked them what they would like to see here instead of what was there already. And they joined in a little bit, to be fair, but came up with ideas for this. And I've always found that with, this is partly, this is partly being a straightish, white middle class, man, right? I didn't get shot. And they joined in a little bit with our with our banter, but they were determined to prosecutors for trespass, but they couldn't prove that we'd seen any signs to tell us not to enter the site. So they kept saying, but you must have seen these signs, you know, there are nuclear weapons in they are great big fences, you must realize the fences are there for a reason? This is my police interview while they were interviewing me in the south. So if you must have realized the fences are there for a reason, you must have realized what was going on and I said, See the fences, they're too small to keep nuclear weapons out. So it can't be anything to do with that because they just go right over fences. And in the end, they just gave up and they let us go. So we did that kind of stuff. But of course, it was fun. It was exciting. And it challenged me and my ideas. But we didn't win change. We still have nuclear weapons in Britain and I still don't know the answer to that. And I'm glad people still do that stuff. But I'd like to know how we can build to do that kind of peace work. And for me, that means going back into our neighborhoods and our communities, and teaching non violence as an everyday part of our life, that for me, that's where we start. we broaden people's imagination to realize that non violence isn't some moralizing wishy washy thing that's just for some people. But that it's a practical tool that can transform all our communities.


Andrew Bolton  15:32

So thank you Keith. Imagination of a better world is the first subversive bang. It gives you the power to critique what's going on, because you've got an alternative. So it's very interesting that you've said that. So that came a moment of realization that your activism, your John Wayne protesting was not doing any good. So tell us about this moment. Was it a crisis for you? And how did you move on to community organizing? How is this better and more effective way of working for justice?


Keith Hebden  16:05

So I wouldn't say it wasn't doing any good. But I would say it wasn't winning anything. Because the good it did, for example, I saw what we did is an act of prayer. So for example, when we broke into the drone space in Lincolnshire, we built a gateway for peace, and myself, and a friend Susan, kneeled that at the entrance where we and we prayed, and while others went further into the site, to talk to people, and over the course of 12 months, we raised the profile raised the conversation. So I guess what we were doing, and people still do is, it's super-versive, as Alistair McIntosh would describe it. Alistair McIntosh was a great is a great organizer up in Scotland, who does rural organizing, and helped out with land reform. And he talks about being super-versive, if where you change the story that goes above everything we do. But what really changed for me, and it was a bit of a crisis was, I found that most people who did it were, broadly speaking middle class, and whites and educated. And not all but most. And most people we met in our activism, and were confronted with were police officers who, broadly speaking were blue collar workers, however you feel about the work that they do. And I've seen him do great work. And I've seen him do quite horrible things, particularly the met the Metropolitan Police in London, who I've seen that, that that horrible side of their work, but met some good people in there as well. Yes. So I wasn't proud of being something being part of something so narrow, demographic wise. And also I wanted to be with something that actually saw real change, because actually, I am educated and well off enough that if nothing changes in society, my whole life if there is no justice won, broadly speaking, I'll probably be alright. You know, unless bad luck happens before me. And so I can afford to do the sort of activism that doesn't change anything at a personal level. But as a priest, I kept meeting people who couldn't afford to be pious losers of endless justice battles. They couldn't afford to wait. They couldn't afford for endless marches and demonstrations, that never actually one change. They had to get their hands dirty, to compromise, to live with small, slow incremental change, as well as the big changes, and I wanted to be with those people. And that meant broad based community organizing, which I discovered through New Testament, theologian Walter Wink. He wrote about Saul Alinsky and his community organizing in Chicago, which led to the Industrial Areas Foundation, as it's known now, which is the sister organization for Citizens UK, who I work for. So I discovered broad based organizing. And I found that it worked. And I thought to myself, I wish other people were doing this in Britain. I wish there were people doing this in the UK, I'd love to do this more. And then a few years later, I discovered they've been doing it for decades, starting in East London. And now for 30 years, Citizens UK has been organizing across the UK in England and Wales and starting to in Scotland as well.


Andrew Bolton  19:28

Fascinating. So tell us about organizing in Leicester. That's where we first met and I should tell our listeners that Leicester is a British city of 300,000. There are 40,000 students, university students in addition. Leicester is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country. And the only city in Western Europe I understand with a non white majority, and we've lived here for years. The small Community of Christ congregation in Leicester is part of Citizens UK in Leicester. Along with the university, a number of other faiths, mosques, synagogues, as well as schools, unions and charities. Plus the Leicester Church of England diocese. So what were the first three years of organizing, like in Leicester for you, Keith? And what are the issues identified and what gains have been made?


Keith Hebden  20:22

Okay, so thank you. That's a good question. Because the first three years, it all depends where you measure it from, we held a sponsoring committee meeting with about 35 people upstairs in the secondary school in North Leicester. And we had the bishop, Diocesan Bishop, the Anglican Diocese, we had chief executive one of the universities and senior staff and another one and leaders from Muslim charity, and the progressive synagogue and various others. And that was the day that they pledged to commit the money that would found eventually found our Leicester Citizens chapter. And for many people, that was the beginning of Leicester Citizens, we then appointed our first organizer, which was me to work three days a week, and then started to build the chapter from there, build the relationships between leaders across different organizations. But actually, the work started a fair while before that, probably about 18 months before that. Andrew, you and I met and we because of the Urban Theology unit, or Union, as it's now called, I think you got in touch with me through that. And then we discovered our mutual interest in organizing. So I was working in another city, nearly two hours away from Leicester three days a week. And one day a fortnight, I was a volunteer organizer. And I was just having six or seven one to one meetings with people around the city for a day every two weeks, just starting to build relationships, scope things out, work with friends and veteran organizer leader, Karen Rooms, who was canon missioner, canon missioner at cathedral, and spilled a small conspiracy around what it might like to have broad based organizing in Leicester. So the first year of it was really just lots and lots of one to one conversation while I was being paid to do another job, which I was doing, but in my spare time. It's the interesting moment when you bring people together, most of whom have not heard of or experienced organizing before. And they come with so many different expectations. And as you see them, you know that you're not going to meet a single one of those expectations. Alinsky talks about organizers never been trusted by anyone, because you talk to everyone. And I was ready for that. And I experienced the degree of that some people expected us to move quickly and win stuff. And others expected us to be more polite than we were and others expected us to be more agitational than we were. And some expected the organizer to do the leading and some expected the organizer to just get out of the way. And just matching all these expectations and getting people to figure it out. It's an odd place to be being, going from a leader involved in an in a chapter, which I wasn't nothing, I'm sure, to an organizer, it was a it was a strange transition to make where you step back, you don't let your issues be the issue. And you make space constantly make space for others and encourage them invite them into that space. We have a cast iron rule never do for others what they can do for themselves. And I found that interesting because people will do for themselves. Not simply when they understand their self interest. But when they when they are angry and they know it. And they have a reason to be angry. And I met so many people who cared deeply about the issues, but didn't follow up. And I met people who were angry about injustice. And they tended to follow up regardless of talent or charisma or personality, those things were all those things can be taught they can be they can you know how to build relationships, we can all learn how to do that, how to train how to speak in public, we can all learn how to do that. But if you're not angry about injustice, then you won't stick it out for the long haul.


Andrew Bolton  24:42

In one of your books you talk about meekness as kind of anger under control. 


Keith Hebden  24:48



Andrew Bolton  24:49

So it's, it's directed anger. It's an anger that gives you energy, but it's under control and directional. Do you want to say a little bit more about that?


Keith Hebden  24:59

So the word Anger. I'm not an expert on language, but it comes from the Norse word for grief. And anger is a grieving after the world as it should be. When you experience the world as it is, it's an experience of the world not being as it should be. I was just mentioning a lot recently, except just reading the book by Myles Horton who founded the the, was it a folk school? In the deep south? And he talks about that anger and the need to keep it burning, but not let it consume you. And he still tells the story of some plantation slaves who were told that they could celebrate Christmas for as many days as the log at the back of the fire burned. So the large lot of good that reflects the heat back onto you in the outdoor fire that they would build for Christmas celebrations. And every night, you would heat the cinders up and cover it and let it glow, and then rekindle the fire again in the morning. And what the slaves would do is they would drag a log in January, down to the swamp and dump it in the swamp. And then at Christmas, they drag it back out again, and use that log as the backlog. So that the fire would burn for weeks and weeks and Christmas will just go on and on. And he uses that as a kind of illustration of it takes work and patience and strategy and working together to keep the fire burning. You've got to stoke the fire of your anger, you can't, you've got to be reminded constantly of why, through experience and storytelling, but to use a biblical allusion, one of my favorites, which I think from the industrial areas Foundation, I think it was Cortez used, which is the idea of the story of Moses meeting the burning bush. So Moses approaches the burning bush, and he notices that it's a flame. But it's not being consumed by the flames. And God speaks and speaks of his anger at the injustice on his people that they've been made slaves. And what we see in the burning bush is God's anger at injustice. But it doesn't consume the bush. And so I think our anger has to be like the burning bush in that story. Because you see, so many activists and I know activists who burned themselves out. And there's no glory in that, and it doesn't help anyone. So we have to have fun. An action that drags on becomes a drag. It's got to be fun. It's got to be imaginative, creative, and faith, liturgy, traditions, and stories of the trade unions, all these things, keep it alive and keep it fun. And we've got to rest, we've got to take care of each other. And that includes of course taking care of our soul and our spirituality, whether we mean that in a faith tradition or not. When Jesus says Blessed are the meek. And the word used for meek is the same word used for the restraining of a wild horse. And we all know the strength of a horse, whether you've experienced it personally or not. And the wild horse is a wonderful, magnificent thing. But if you want it to be a productive animal, it's got to learn how to go in one direction, and to channel its energy. And meekness is not about being subdued, but it's about channeling anger, about bringing it under control, but not with a rider doing it but bringing ourselves under control restraining ourselves and those who are restrained, restrain the anger, who know how to use cold anger to get justice. Those are the ones that inherent the earth.


Andrew Bolton  28:33

So very good. I'm glad I asked that question. So I want to go make a connection with community organizing with Community of Christ. So Outreach International, is an affiliate organization of the church is a humanitarian organization. And it began in the 1970s in the Philippines, using a Filipino version of community organizing that was pioneered by Jewish radical Saul Alinsky in Chicago, who have already mentioned. So they Filipinoized it. It wasn't so confrontational. They made it indigenous outreach to national because it began in the Philippines with Filipino people use that model they still do today. And in the early 2000s, our son Matthew was working for Outreach as an intern and researching and writing up this history because he's a historian, and one evening I was washing the dishes, we get the scene and as Matthew was drying them and he was telling us telling me this story. And then he said and Saul Alinsky said they learned most from union leader John L. Lewis. And John L. Lewis is one of the most famous and effective union leaders in the United States and I knew his story. So I asked I said to Matthew, do you know that John L Lewis was Welsh had Welsh parents, and that they were members of Community of Christ? So he nearly dropped the plate. So it was an impressive moment that dad knew something and then then I continue by saying, did you know that John L. Lewis grew up in a mining town, 15 minutes north of Graceland University, the church's college in Iowa? And he attended his brother David attended, and his mom attended, they taught there as an adjunct. So again, Matthew nearly dropped the plate. This is kind of close to him. So doing the dishes that evening, we brought together two halves of an amazing story. So radical part of our tradition. John L. Lewis was shaped by our tradition, and he sent offerings home regularly, all his life, to the Lucas congregation. And then the Outreach International part of the story and later I was able to work in the Philippines for nine years and saw firsthand the highly effective way of community organizing among the poor in the baranggay villages and rural Philippines. So it's an interesting story, where our paths cross.


Keith Hebden  31:00

It's fascinating, I'd love to know if if john lewis wrote about how faith inspired or shaped his politics, or and both Well, in both directions, do you know is there writing on it?


Andrew Bolton  31:12

No. But there's a very good paper about John L Lewis from a Community of Christ point of view that explore some of that. Community organizing this very effective method of organizing, mobilizing people non violently, for justice, has strong Community of Christ genes, roots, and has a strong contemporary expression to Outreach International. So when we first met Keith, about two years ago, and when Joey was there as well, who's recording at the moment, I was so excited to discover, you are a community organizer working in Leicester because I wanted to talk about food and poverty. So it was a god moment for me. And not just for me, many of our Community of Christ members, including young people, have been so enthusiastic about participating, and Citizens UK Leicester, so it's just been amazing for us, the small congregation can participate in something big for justice. So we can draw on the mother and toddler group and listen to their gripes about what's going on in the neighborhood. We can talk to our youth and their parents about what's going on as well as members of the congregation. So it takes us to a new level. You're a Christian, and an ordained minister. How do you bring together faith in Jesus and reading the Bible to help you work for justice as a community organizer? And is community organizing an expression of your discipleship?


Keith Hebden  32:44

There's a lot there, isn't it? Yeah. And just to reflect back as well, because the congregation the Community of Christ congregation in Leicester, as you say, it's a small congregation, but often turned out not just in percentage terms turned out more people to actions then the university did. And I love that, in the model that we use, smaller organizations can challenge and agitate sometimes the bigger ones to lead and contribute in all sorts of ways that challenge those bigger institutions to up their game. I love that about this work, because there are different models. And I, I think, from what I've seen a read and try to understand that Community of Christ model in the Philippines is more like the model that Chavez used in amongst agricultural workers in California, working amongst the people house to house rather than institution to institution.


Andrew Bolton  33:41

Yeah, that's right. So both have listening. Yeah. But it's a single facilitator in the village in the Philippines. Yeah. As these informal conversations is structured for how to do that, then goes around the corner and writes it up. But it looks natural face to face.


Keith Hebden  33:59



Andrew Bolton  34:00

Where's the listening in Leicester was to institutions and, and their, their constituency as it were?


Keith Hebden  34:07

Yeah. And there are, of course, so many different models of organizing and all of it so the trade unions and the trade union movement and to people like John L. Lewis, and who of course, was, I guess, a the AFL CIO, the kind of craft end of trade unionism in America and coal mining kind of more labor and organizing came together towards the end of his life, I think. It was about an active and organizing at a time of great building of workers movements in the US.


Andrew Bolton  34:40

And he was organizing unskilled workers which annoyed the better paid workers. 


Keith Hebden  34:45

Yeah. Huge tension between the CIO and the AFL, between the guild type organizers and and, yeah, the working men, the coal miners that he was working with, and he was, I mean, he wasn't an easy man from I underestand this,


Andrew Bolton  35:02

No he was autocratic.


Keith Hebden  35:04



Andrew Bolton  35:06

But um, people loved him.


Keith Hebden  35:08

 And that was true of Chavez. I mean, Chavez got quite awful towards a much, much more autocratic, in fact, actually, which goes to tell us like all these models can be exploited, right? That humans, humans involved in any model, they can find ways to turn it into something else. And it's fascinating to me that, so for example, Alinsky, learned some of what he learned about power, and organizing and building power from studying the mafia. And, and seeing how they built relational power. That it's about people in real life and the world is as it is, however, you however comfortable we are with that.


Andrew Bolton  35:44

So is community organizing expression of your discipleship was Jesus, and community? organizing?


Keith Hebden  35:52

Yes. And so in both senses, in the sense that it allows me to express the faith that I received from and from my religion from being a Christian, the virtues, the values, stories, but also institutionally, I find I found that community organizing is a great way to develop leadership within the church, to build a healthier democracy amongst church goers, and church leaders. And I found that as I've worked with, and this is true of all institutions, but I've noticed it, because I'm a priest, and, and the Episcopalian, the Anglican Church, that when leaders find out about community organizing, and the tools are argument for change, some get really excited, because they see the opportunity to develop leadership from the pews, to build power, and to make their people that they lead more powerful. And, and they see their leadership as being something that can grow and develop, and that they can grow and develop other people. And others see it get excited, and then realize that actually, they're a little bit scared of their people becoming more powerful. And they get angry, and then they blame others. And I've seen that happen a few times where churches have blamed community organizing, for wanting to make their people more powerful than they are. And it's because some of us have been brought up. This is my theory anyway, it's because some of us have been brought up to see power as a zero sum game, that there is a finite amount of power. And as a church leader, if I if if my people become more powerful, I must have become less powerful. Whereas power, it doesn't work like that. Power is, by definition, simply the ability to act into value neutral. And I and I want to see people have faith with greater ability to act and there isn't an finite amount of that. So so it's win win if we and so I community organizing helps me in how I understand building of healthy, democratic, relational instead of bureaucratic churches that are accountable, or transparent, and more dynamic, more outward looking. But also personally, it helps me to see justice differently. And if I think about how Amos talked about justice as like an an ever flowing stream, and how William Blake saw justice as not being like one law to rule them all. For me, justice isn't something you can write down in the law books and the statutes. And there it is. That's tyranny to me. And justice to me is something that's constantly fought out, wrestled, contended, negotiated. It's, it's a living thing, it's and so it's much more like a river than it is like a set of scales. Because it's, it's alive. And it's dynamic. And it's a place that we all step into and move about.


Andrew Bolton  38:59

So I'm going to go off script now and ask you to talk about individualism and personalism. So personalism, I suspect you got from a Catholic Worker movement?  


Keith Hebden  39:10



Andrew Bolton  39:10

So tell me, tell the audience about personalism and how that is so deeply satisfying for our souls, and a wonderful way to work wonderfully, ethically as well.


Keith Hebden  39:24

Okay, I'll do my best. It's a long time since I've thought or read about personalism directly, but I'm going to have a go. So it was Mounier I think he wrote the book on personalism, kind of the founding text and it's, and it was the Catholic Worker movement. Dorothy Day was big on personalism. And fundamentally, the difference is, individualism is each one of us is a law unto ourselves. We're independent, that freedom is freedom to be my individual self, and to make my way in the world, whereas personalism draws us to one another and it's, both individualism and personalism challenge, the idea that structures are where justice primarily takes place. So they challenge liberalism, the liberalism of people like John Rawls, who talked about there being a veil of ignorance, that we need to make sure that we treat everybody equally in a kind of legislative, like, academic way. Whereas personalism says it's about relationships fundamentally. And we've built republic relationships. And the Catholic Worker has taught me that. And I saw them live that in their houses of hospitality, and in the work they do. And I think community organizing gave me a place to practice that. Because we say that the one to one conversation is the most radical thing we teach in organizing. Everything is built on one to ones.


Andrew Bolton  40:53

So personalism is what we're like when we're in community, and it's a equal community. And it's, and you're negotiating, and you're hanging together, and it's liberating for both of you.


Keith Hebden  41:04

Yeah, absolutely. Exactly. And, and that the liberation comes from being in community is countercultural for the West, isn't it? It's kind of, and so I use the analogy of because the word religion has this "ligio" in the middle of it, where we get also get the word ligament. And, and I always remember this wrong, but I think ligaments binds bones and muscle.


Andrew Bolton  41:32

That's right.


Keith Hebden  41:33

So Ah, all right. So if we weren't bound together, if our muscles and our bones weren't bound to one another, then we would have freedom, right, all our bones would be free. And all our muscles would be free, they'd be individuals, and they'd be free to do whatever they wanted. And that's one definition of freedom. And it's the most dominant definition of freedom we have in the West, individualism. But personalism, is the ability to bind oneself up with others. Now what anarchism and I guess personalism as part of that side of tradition, brings today's of anarchism talks about explicitly is voluntary association. And that's the big difference between the kind of binding together of the peace traditions of your community, and of community organizing. And on the other extreme fascism, where the binding together is not voluntary. And it's not in plurality, and it's not diverse, and it's not inclusive. And of course, the word fascism comes from the word for fashi, which is a binding of straight rods, straight sticks, all bound together with an axe head at the top, and it was a Roman weapon. And it was a symbol of strength through binding together of uniform wooden sticks to a bludgeon to attack people with so there's a binding together. That is restrictive, that's fascism, and individualists see all binding together is that you know, like, there are extremes and then there's the binding together of religio, which is freedom animating its community.


Andrew Bolton  43:13

So I think to explain that for Community of Christ members is the feeling we have with one another at our family camps where we meet together for a week or prayer worship classes, and, and lots of conversations lots of individual conversations is a deep people week. So I think personalized them is deep people doing.


Keith Hebden  43:36

and estate people a phrase that that he used in the Community of Christ, or is that you're?


Andrew Bolton  43:42

Just my own. But I used to say that that family can be experienced in the middle of the summer holidays, was my deep people week. That powered me for the rest of the year as a school teacher.


Keith Hebden  43:56

 Okay, yeah, sure.


Andrew Bolton  43:57

 Recharge my batteries. Yes, Bruce. And it's a joyful coming together.


Keith Hebden  44:03

And you find out something of who you are and who you're not as well through other people, don't you? Yeah, we exist in relationship. We only really exist in relationship. Yeah, I remember. Somebody I used to visit as a priest who hardly got any visitors. And hearing her talk about her isolation, I realized that she'd lost some of who she was. And in those deep relationship meetings, we find out who we are others other people teach us.


Andrew Bolton  44:31

Yes, that's very interesting. Sometimes loving teasing is a person telling you the truth, they understand who you are, but they still love you. Yes, part of the fellowship. Another part is people say, You're really gifted at doing that. There's affirmation as well.


Keith Hebden  44:48

And bearing witness to when you tell them who you are, you know that? Yeah,


Andrew Bolton  44:52

yeah. So coming back to Jesus, in your book "Seeking Justice", and he also talked about this in your keynote last week, you, you have this idea of compassionate resistance. And then you have the spectrum of alliances. So this really intriguing model that goes on one and from enemies to the other. And Alan is, so can you talk about compassionate resistance, and how Jesus worked across the spectrum from enemies, to allerease, to disciples?


Keith Hebden  45:27

Sure. So starting with the word compassion, because to get to the root of that word, which is always the radical thing to do with the word. Passion is to suffer for, like the Passion of Christ, and compassion is to suffer with. And you often see on social media these days, people talking about having solidarity, you know, with somebody in their struggle, I mean, with you in solidarity, but actually, you're only in solidarity with somebody if you're willing to, if it's going to cost you something, if it's not costing you that's not solidarity, that's good wishes, which is fine. Nothing wrong with good wishes. But solidarity and compassion, is to suffer with, not just in our imaginations, but to tie our fates to those of the people around us. And I guess compassionate resistance, then, is to resist individualism, by binding our fates to those of our fellow human beings and our community and those who are unlike us, as well as those who are like us. So what I see in the Jesus of the Gospels, is a person who builds community, he spends most of his time healing, building, teaching, learning from as well as learning with and teaching his core community, and also the crowds that followed him at times. Giving them a sense of vision of what could be, but also through the parables, presenting to them the contradictions that he could see in the world, and encouraging them to think through those contradictions and try and find their own solutions to problems. To me that's what a parable really is. It's never a moral story. It's always a moral dilemma. And once we see parables as moral dilemmas instead of moral teachings, we can see that as Jesus taught them, people would be arguing literally, while he was teaching them, and once he finished, they would be totally unsatisfied. That's not an ending, or, but that's a stupid thing to do. Why would the person do that? Why would they pay them all the same amount that doesn't, that would never happen. And so I saw Jesus doing that, but also working with those who are, that had power with what I would call in that continuum, the sympathetic elite. So Nicodemus, who came to him in the night, or the Centurion, who's young boy servant was ill, whom he loved very much. And he built those relationships with the sympathetic elite, as well as challenging some of the less sympathetic those who are more bound up in the status quo. And I found over and over again, that they were people who have positional power, who, although they're bound up in the world, staying exactly as it is, they know that that's wrong. And they just need those of us at the grassroots, those of them at the grassroots, for help liberate them from that. And they want to speak out, they just, they just need us to help them to do it. So that's been a model I've tried to use. For example, in Mansfield worked with counselors across all parties who are sympathetic to work around refunding the credit union and closing some of the payday lenders in the town. And when I worked on a national campaign to end hunger, to raise living wages, to do something about the cost of food being more expensive in poorer areas of Britain, we worked with some politicians with bishops, leaders of different institutions who often had quite a lot of positional power but wanted to use that to be in solidarity with those who were going hungry. But and then you also see Jesus at the sharper end you know, the, the crucifixion and the, the stoning and speaking truth to power through those deeply sacrificial acts. And I just think, as people of faith, we need to be in all those places. But most of our time, we need to be building and healing community.


Andrew Bolton  49:33

So the church congregation is very important to nurture. A case for by which you can do all this other stuff.


Keith Hebden  49:41

I would say more for me the whole community. When I first discovered organizing as a tool, I discovered it at college, but then when I went and did my apprenticeship, my curacy 2010, and they were closing 11 libraries in our county and nine of those would be in the poorest communities and I've been having one to one conversations with people in the tenants Residents Association at the youth group at two of the churches. And then through just my own relationships with people at the primary school where one of my children went. And people are angry about all sorts of things. They're angry about cuts to legal aid or angry pounds, all sorts of austerity issues. But the library got them really angry. And we had a county wide legal campaign, and our local MP was playing people off each other. We were on a small council estate, people hadn't realized their own power before, they'd assume they didn't have an awful lot of it. They were happy to be angry, but not to find ways to restrain that anger to win. So we built a room of about 30 people and two of us in that room with churchgoers one Baptist and then me from the Anglican Church. And we talked about public action. And we had two possibilities. One was a vigil, we were going to build a coffin and fill it with books. And they had this guy I worked with on a bike repair shop, and he was going to sit in the coffin, he was really excited about it. And they also come up with the idea of having a crucifixion of the library. So somebody I forget, who presented these two ideas to the room, and I thought I was getting all prepared with the, to the coffin idea because I thought, you know, nobody here goes to church. They're not going to go with the crucifixion. But it was unanimous crucifixion or near unanimous. So we got a six foot wooden cross, and we placed it outside the library, and 70 people gathered together. And they sang, "Were you there when they crucified my library?" And it was just amazing. At five churchgoers, people from two different political parties, the ruling one and the opposition. And they talked about the crucifixion of the scapegoats, the innocent victim was crucified for the sake of an of a sinful world. They were doing theology, if anyone less if your listeners heard or read James Allison's theological work, or Rene Girard, they were doing that kind of theology of the scapegoating of the innocent victim, which never works out in the long term, it just brings back more conflict. So we named the people who were crucifying our library, we set their names out loud on video, and in our press release. And we talked about what the library meant to us. People told their stories of how they went there for homework club or to meet their friends. And then we talked about resurrection, what that might look like. And two days later, we had a meeting with the County Council. And it's now 2020. And the library is still open for this day. So they won! So it's nurturing the whole neighborhood, the whole community. It was then that I discovered that for me, evangelism didn't have to be about what I've been taught, it was about, you know, tell people, they're sinners, and they need forgiveness from God. But actually, it was about tell people that they live in a sinful world where they already know that and let them describe the sinful world they live in, and then help people find the theological tools to be liberated from that sinful world.


Andrew Bolton  53:06

I'm really glad you told that story, because that was an amazing story in the webinar. Let's ask a couple more questions. So how can an ordinary member of a congregation make a difference? A real change for justice? Can an individual? Can a of congregation, community organizing their neighborhood, for instance?


Keith Hebden  53:24

How can they make a difference? The first response, I guess, is that I bet they probably already are, we've already touched on there being different models of organizing. The one I mostly use is broad based through institutions. But it can also be internal to institutions, or just, for example, trade union organizing, or through groups like Acorn or Community Organizing Limited. So there are other models to work with. But by and large, how we make a difference is, is building relationships with people who are angry about the same thing we're angry about, and working together. When I first was ordained. The temptation was when somebody came to me and said, I've got this idea, we the church, we should do this thing. And I'll be like, Oh, okay. And I'd run around trying to make it happen. And then somebody else would come. And then I'd say, we should do this thing. And I'd run around and try and make that happen. And then they'd come back and they complain, nobody's joining in with my thing. So I'd run around trying to make people join in with the thing. And I see a lot of church leaders in that cycle, and it's exhausting. And I learned that we just structured tests, test people's leadership. So somebody came to me with an idea. I would say, okay, find four or five other people who also want to do that. And let me know when you found them. Sometimes they did. And sometimes they didn't. Either way was fine with me, because if they did, I knew they could lead on that issue. And if they didn't, then that's okay, too. So that's how we make a difference is, is we built deep, personal, but not private, necessarily personal relationships with one another around the issues we care about.


Andrew Bolton  55:00

Yeah, that's very helpful. Keith, you could be a parish minister. In fact, you have been you could be an academic, in fact, you have been. And you could just be a protester breaking into a nuclear weapons facility. And you've done that. Instead, you work to mobilize those who are suffering, by listening, creating allies and alliances, and then getting decision makers to hear stories firsthand by those affected, and putting democratic pressure on decision makers to make more just decisions. So what do you do personally, to nurture God's strengthening, empowering healing Spirit in you? How does spirituality and justice making connect for you, so you don't burn out?


Keith Hebden  55:42

So I'm from the sacramental tradition of the church, I think I always have been, and I still celebrate the mass celebrate the Eucharist, regularly at my local church, and the preaching and the prayer and presiding at the altar, part of how I am resourced by people. And, and I find that liturgy allows me to pray when I don't want to pray. Because by and large, I'm not a big words, person when it comes to prayer. I'm more stillness, or liturgical words person, but just the breath, breath, or the walking or disappearing into the woods by and large, I think where I'm resourced reminding myself that I am nothing more than animate mud, that being just animate mode is enough. So I guess that's by and large, how I how I resource myself is, is reminding myself of that there, there are times when other things are the tools have been useful. I said at the beginning of the podcast that I'm from the charismatic tradition. And it's interesting that I'm now at the agnostic end of the church, where I'm much more happy to talk about faith in God than I am about about belief in God. For me, belief is just a gateway drug into faith, really, and can be discarded. And yet I still speak in tongues. It's an odd dichotomy to be kind of like a, an agnostic, liberal, charismatic. I don't think any of you if you're listening, is one of those two, I'd love to, to hear about that. Is there a comment section to the podcast? I don't know.


Andrew Bolton  57:17

There is


Keith Hebden  57:18

There is great. Any other liberal, apophatic the negative way of describing God, any others who are also charismatic liberal, I'd love to hear from you. Because we're not breed.


Andrew Bolton  57:30

So I have good news for you, Keith. Community of Christ began as a charismatic Kingdom of God on earth, communal anarchist movement, the 1830s were highly sacramental. And we still are. 


Keith Hebden  57:44

So it's you!


Andrew Bolton  57:44

So there's a lot further conversation. That would be lovely to have.  Yeah, absolutely.  Thank you, Keith, have done for joining us, in this podcast in a series called Grounds for Peace. You've been very generous in doing a webinar. And now a podcast with us. We thank your family to Sophie your wife, and Bethany, and Martha for letting us borrow you for two whole evenings recently. And we want to recommend your two of your books for our listeners. And I'm going to hold them up because I can talk about them with enthusiasm then. So, "Seeking justice: The Radical Compassion of Jesus." Circle Books, 2013, Keith writes really simply, is not hard stuff. And he has a wicked sense of humor. He makes me laugh out loud sometimes. So you get a sense of how he writes on the way he's spoken this evening. And then "Re-enchanting the Activist: Spirituality and Social Change". But I suspect his charismatic background, his understanding of spirituality, and how that connects with social change and justice is part of the story we could talk about "The Spirit of the Lord is upon us to preach good news to the poor." So there's more discussion there. So both these books are available in the UK and in the United States. I checked the United States this morning, and they're online. And then the final book I want to recommend is by Matthew Bolton, Keith's boss, CEO, citizens UK, it was a really nice fella. And this is really weird, is called Matthew David Bolton and our two sons are called Matthew and David. So this is very weird stuff. So anyway, this lovely fella has written a book "How to Resist: Turn Protest to Power", Bloomsbury 2017 and that's also available in the states as well as the UK. This Matthew is not our son, although they get each other's emails, somewhat annoyingly, I think. So this is Project Zion Podcast and today, I wish your host Andrew Bolton from Leicester England. Thank you for joining us. May I in closing ask you all audience to consider this question to what would you do for peace? Specifically, what would you do for peace in the marketplace for economic justice, that all may have a living wage?


Josh Mangelson  1:00:23

Thanks for listening to Project Zion podcast. Subscribe to our podcast on Apple podcast Stitcher, or whatever podcast streaming service you use. And while you're there, give us a five star rating. Project Zion podcast is sponsored by Latter-day Seeker Ministries of Community of Christ. The views and opinions expressed in this episode are of those speaking and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Latter-day Seeker Ministries or Community of Christ. Music has been graciously provided by Dave Heinze.