by Keith Thomasson
from Signs of the Times No. 65 - Apr 2017

Hebden works with the related ideas of enchantment and re-enchantment. This involves releasing ideas (or losing, letting go of them) and becoming reacquainted with those ideas (or reclaiming and re-enchanting them).

He works with the self, God, religion, affliction (or suffering) and death. His creative thinking is enriched by encounter with many current trends of thought and public theology. This is a lively and stimulating read. Goldman, Soelle, and Edwina Currie all within a page of one another! It is from an author who is using such material to weave a response to the inequalities within everyday life.

This book is from a stimulating spiritual-practitioner who is rooted in Christian faith, and passionate about welcoming others (people and ideas) and the Other in order to enact change. This book is for those passionately committed to connecting spiritual practice and enacting change. This is rich fare. As Hebden comments,

‘Theology that sits in synod but does not walk our streets is thin gruel.’ (p.152).

Hebden weaves a rich narrative encompassing blog, auto-ethnography, scriptural interpretation, reflection on insights that resonate across world faiths, the ‘how-to’ manual and political comment. He moves between these with ease from paragraph to paragraph. The pace is fast. I desire further clarification and at times statements that are less sweeping. I appreciate their punch. He is negotiating new space, and here is writing is innovative.

Hebden is creating a fertile conversation between disciplines. He has used various strands of thinking and with integrity melded them into a robust treasure trove that enriches his practice as activist. He is intentional in seeking to spiritually resource those who wish to engage meaningfully as a local diverse community and/or national network in confronting oppression.

‘We must be whistle-blowers against the powers that leave some of us destitute or oppressed.’
(p. 15).

He has many examples. The liturgy of the Christian Church, his given and chosen spiritual home, overflows into the community and is enacted on the streets of Mansfield. Gathering together those committed to the common good and fighting oppression in terms of the provision of poor housing, he uses ritual in the public space. Hebden as priest calls people involved in confrontation ‘to share the peace’. This approach is radical and transformative.

How is this activism possible? I suggest by hearing the stories of others over the sharing of food, connecting with the resources of scripture, and knowing the context of his activism. Hebden’s knowledge concerning Mansfield’s textile past and his related decision to learn to use the drop spindle give substance to his work. He enchants resources that others might reject and liberates ideas so that they might have a new life. He clearly also has tremendous energy and inspires others to work with him.

I was both intrigued and delighted to see Hebden’s exploration of Christian anarchy and how it might be a positive route to social change. This risk-taking reminds me of Bishop David Jenkins, who mentions anarchy in his inspirational book Free to Believe, yet leaves it underdeveloped there. This is an example of how I needed a little more information that would come from increased referencing of ideas and provision of a bibliography. However, I appreciate how this might have interrupted his flow.

There was more opportunity for how creative prayer and corporate prayer underpinned this re-enchanted activism. This angle, promised in chapter two, should be given more attention.

I hope this book is read, reread and reprinted. This would provide opportunity for an authorial revision and a second proof reading. There is too frequent repetition, for example around Simone Weil, and too many mistakes in the text, especially words missed out. These quibbles should be given attention, but not be overplayed. The vision of Dr Watson and her staff deserve applause. More please.

Keith Thomasson is Senior Chaplain and Spirituality Advisor for Alabaré Christian Care and Support based in Salisbury. Keith is interested in shared leadership and the interface between between church and chaplaincy. He directs the New Sarum Singers.