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The Feast brings surprises to soothe troubled times

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What an absolutely rubbish last few weeks!  Today we woke up again to news of another terrorist attack, where the hate of the few lashed out against the normal lives of the majority, leaving in their wake an ocean of pain and fear.

At The Feast we join in the search for answers and pray earnestly for justice and comfort and healing.  Yet at the same time, as our work is to strive for young people to live well with their peers of a different faith or culture, we grapple with the deeper divisions in society and yearn for young people to rise up and forge something new!

We have all seem movies with a big surprise or plot twist where things do not turn out as we expected.  I’m thinking Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, but just in case you have not seen it I will not give it away.

As we watch the story we think we know a character or the way the story is going, but then comes a reveal, a fantastic new secret or some important information that changes absolutely everything!  All you thought you knew about characters and past events and potential outcome now has to be overhauled.

Such surprises open our eyes, as we take in things that before were clouded.  But the surprise also exposes something about us, as we realise that the assumptions we had were wrong.

It seems to me that there are two responses – one uplifting but another that is confronting!

First uplifting.  Remember poor Darth Vader – of course he was an evil dictator!?  But no, wait, maybe he was a person, who had a family, who had a story and despite his obvious failings, even he could end up as a recipient of our sympathy.

We often get surprises at The Feast.  In fact, I seem to me that one of the great purposes of the charity is to serve up surprises.

Let me tell you about some of our stories …

about the lads who play football in a local park, but never with the group from a different faith and culture who play on the park right beside theirs.  The Feast took this group of lads on a journey of talking about faith, starting with the professional footballers they knew well, helping them realise through role play how pervasive and powerful their own prejudices were towards others.

Later we brought the white and Asian lads together to play football, and they overcame the discomfort and found the experience rewarding. One boy remarked how disappointed he was that some of his own group had left and not found out the surprise ending…

… then there was our social action on the Grand Union Canal.  Boat owners normally rush through Sparkbrook, but were genuinely amazed and pleased to find a diverse group of young people painting the locks, and learning about this canal community.

… and there was the time we brought Elmhurst Ballet School together with Moseley School.  Here were two completely different groups of young people – classically trained ballet dancers, from all around the country and even overseas, who on the whole have very little interest in faith, and despite living in Edgbaston have no interaction with the students who live only a few miles away but wbo are of Asian, African and European backgrounds and all see faith as a bit part of who they are.

These stories really should not have worked … but they did.

And yet there is also an awkward and confronting element to surprises.  We all hold views and stereotypes about others, if we are really honest?  These could be based on:

  • where they live or work
  • what newspaper they buy – is it the Guardian or Daily Mail?
  • what sporting team they support – is it Aston Villa or Birmingham Blues?
  • what political party they vote for – is it Blue or Red?
  • what skin colour or culture they may be
  • or whether they hold a faith or not

These “facts” teach us, coming at us strong like a fire-hydrant through our friends, our culture, our places of worship, the media we consume and our social media friends.  As a result it is so easy to simply assume we know them and what they will all say or do.

But do we???  A surprise exposes that our “facts” may not be correct, and that there might be more to this person or community than we had previously thought.  For many of us this realisation can be very challenging, as we need to rethink all that we had previously held true.

A very wise young person on one of our youth encounters once told us:

“One of the ways we can stop making stereotypes is to think before we speak and get to know someone first”.

We totally agree.  At The Feast, we enjoy being merchants of surprises – opening eyes and exposing prejudice – which we believe changes so many stories, and maybe … no definitely … helps towards telling many more happy endings.

If you feel frustrated, angry or afraid today against another community, we totally understand this.  It is essential that our authorities and security services pursue justice against perpetrators and our media is held accountable to publish facts, but another thing you can do is support and help us promote The Feast as we invest in the next generation of young people.  Together, we really can bring surprises that will sooth out troubled times!