Not just Edinburgh... the moral heart of Festival

Edinburgh's annual Festival of Spirituality and Peace is being relaunched in 2013 as Just Festival, comprising 129 events across 450 performances in 28 different venues.Edinburgh's annual Festival of Spirituality and Peace is being relaunched in 2013 as Just Festival, comprising 129 events across 450 performances in 28 different venues.The relaunch happened at St John's Church in Scotland's capital last night (18 June 2013). Though the events happen from 2-26 August in Edinburgh, the style, remit and scope of the Festival is far wider – global, in fact.Among the many cultural highlights this year there will be live music from Chile's Tejas Verdes, music and dance from Afriva Entsha, topical conversations, film screenings, exhibitions, family events and Edinburgh's first Death Café (would you like that death tall, grande or venti?).The renaming of the festival, says The List magazine, marks a shift away from emphasising the absence of conflict and towards a more active engagement with justice and compassion.Edinburgh Spotlight comments:"It would be unfair to suggest that Edinburgh’s other festivals shy away from moral, political and social issues. However, by curating a series of events and performances which both celebrate and highlight the importance of the world’s cultural and ethical diversity, the Just Festival could perhaps be described as the festival season’s compassionate heart."Just Festival is being supported and sponsored by the Scottish Government, the European Parliament, the University of Edinburgh, the Scottish Episcopal Church, Ekklesia, Edinburgh City Centre Churches Together (ecumenical), Edinburgh Inter Faith Association, and the main venue, St John's Church.* There is a visual summary of what's coming up at Just Festival on Vimeo here:* Full booking and ticketing information here: information will be available on the new Just Festival website (due to be relaunched on 19 June 2013): old site - be mirrored, and a new site provided -* What's led up to Just Festival. More from Ekklesia:

Unions criticise government for abolition of Agricultural Wages Board

The TUC has criticised ministers for refusing to discuss proposals to save the Agricultural Wages Board.Unions have criticised ministers for refusing to discuss proposals to save the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB), during the final debate on the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill last night (16 April.).

Lifetime Recognition Now Being Given to Donors of The Branson Cross Through Etching Their Family Names in Stone

This architectural wonderment will rival the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Gateway to the West.Contact: Dean Brown, 417-414-0850BRANSON, Mo., April 17, 2013 /Christian Newswire/ -- A humble 80 year old retired mid-west executive put his entire retirement income on the line to purchase an Ozark mountain top outside of Branson, Missouri. He fought to obtain the necessary permits to construct one of the world's largest crosses and was successful obtaining the permits Source: Images At The Cross

Syrian Pastor: Situation for Christians Worsening

Open Doors, Damascus Church Reaching Out to Refugees with Supplies, Medicines, Love of JesusContact: Jerry Dykstra, Media Relations Director, Open Doors USA, 616-915-4117, jerryd@odusa.orgSANTA ANA, Calif., April 16, 2013 /Christian Newswire/ -- More than 1.3 million Syrians have fled the war-torn country, according to the latest figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Syria is over 2 million. Source: Open Doors USA

Conviction of Turkish pianist sends"chilling"warning to Twitter users

The conviction of a renowned Turkish pianist for “denigrating Islam” on Twitter sends a “chilling” message to social media users in the country, Amnesty says.The conviction of a renowned Turkish pianist for “denigrating Islam” on Twitter sends a “chilling” message to social media users in the country, Amnesty International says.Fazil Say, who has played in some of the world's leading orchestras, was today given a 10-month suspended sentence for posting tweets mocking religious individuals and Islamic conceptions of heaven in April 2012.Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey expert, said: “The conviction of Fazil Say is a flagrant violation of his freedom of expression, made possible by one of Turkey's most draconian laws.“This case sends a chilling warning to anyone using Twitter or other social media in Turkey. Namely, that if you express an opinion the authorities don't like, you could be next."A package of reforms passed on 12 April by Turkey's parliament – called the “fourth judicial package” – failed to overhaul the county’s outdated and restrictive laws curtailing freedom of expression.Say, who has played with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and others, said he was “saddened” by the verdict.“I am very disappointed for freedom of expression. The fact that I have been convicted despite not having committed a crime is more worrying for the right to freedom of expression and belief in Turkey than it is for me personally,” the pianist was reported as saying by Turkish media today. By the terms of Say's sentence, he faces jail is he is found guilty of the same offence within the next five years.Andrew Gardner added: “This conviction exposes the unjust Turkish laws that leave people vulnerable to a range of abuses - including jail - just for expressing an opinion.“In failing to make the required reforms in the fourth judicial package, the government missed a great opportunity to bring Turkey’s laws in line with international human rights standards.“The government must look again at its reform agenda and immediately abolish offences such as the one used to prosecute Fazil Say.”[Ekk/4]

Methodist church prioritises equality, inclusivity and truth about poverty

The Methodist Council agreed further work on poverty, equality and inclusivity when it met at Uplands House in High Wycombe on 13 - 15 April.The Methodist Council agreed further work on poverty, equality and inclusivity when it met at Uplands House in High Wycombe on 13 - 15 April.Council members discussed a number of reports on the issues of inclusion and diversity, and considered plans to improve the ways the growing contributions of the diverse communities represented within the Church are valued. The Belonging Together project has involved engaging with a range of people and groups within and connected to the Church."This is not about committees and conditions", said Belonging Together Partnership Officer Katei Kirby."The Church has a responsibility to love all God's people, to affirm them, bring them together and celebrate them."The Council also received an update on the Church's work on challenging the stigma around poverty.Presenting the report, Public Issues Policy Adviser Paul Morrison said:"One of the things that the Church should do is stand up when people are misrepresented and when people who are in poverty are treated as less than they are. Everybody is valued, everybody is loved and everybody should be treated with dignity and respect. We have to challenge the narrative that people in poverty are somehow less deserving than the rest of society."The Church, together with the Baptist Union of Great Britain, United Reformed Church and Church of Scotland, produced a report on these issues which was launched last month. EntitledThe lies we tell ourselves, the report says that statistics have been manipulated and misused by politicians across the spectrum, as well as by the media, to support the belief that the poor deserve their poverty, and therefore deserve the cuts. The Council commended the report and associated resources for use by churches and groups throughout the UK.Council members also heard that significant progress had been made on establishing the Church's new Discipleship and Ministries Learning Network and discussed the details of the changes."It is exciting to see the vision of the Methodist Conference for a fresh approach to learning and development becoming real,"said Jude Levermore, Interim Head of the Discipleship and Ministries Cluster.Other matters discussed by the Council included plans to recommend that the Methodist Conference set up a working group to consider the implications of the Government's plans to legalise same sex marriage.[Ekk/4]

Hobby Lobby Increases Full-Time Hourly Employee Minimum Wage to $14 Per Hour Pay Increase will Affect 17,726 Employees at More than 500 Stores in 45 States

Contact: Lisa Lloyd, 405-605-2003, 405-973-6960 cell,; www.hobbylobby.comOKLAHOMA CITY, April 15, 2013 /Christian Newswire/ -- Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a privately held retail chain with more than 500 arts and crafts stores in 45 states, today announced a minimum wage increase to $14 per hour for full-time hourly employees of Hobby Lobby and its affiliate Hemispheres, effective immediately. The company also announced a minimum wage increase for all part-time employees to $9.5 Source: Saxum

Police arrest 47 at peaceful blockade of Trident nuclear base

At least forty-seven people, including several Christians, have been arrested while peacefully blocking entrances to the Faslane nuclear base in Scotland.At least forty-seven people, including several Christians, have been arrested today (15 April) while peacefully blocking entrances to the Faslane nuclear base in Scotland.They were calling for Trident nuclear weapons to be scrapped and the estimated £100 billion that the UK government plans to spend on them to be directed to welfare, pensions, disability benefits, green jobs and other human needs.All gates were blocked with the base completely shut from 7am until 10am. The entrance was filled with people singing and in good spirits. The action was backed by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Trident Ploughshares, the Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre and other groups.The blockade is one of more than a hundred actions on the Global Day of Action on Military Spending, calling for deep reductions in military spending, currently at $1.74 trillion annually, and follows a demonstration in Glasgow on Saturday (13 April) when thousands of protesters called for the government to scrap Trident.Activists from a dozen campaign groups and political parties laid down in the entrance to the base and locked themselves together with metal and plastic tubes, chains and thumb cuffs. Police used specialist cutting equipment to cut them out before they were able to lift them out of the road.Briain Quail, 70, a retired teacher from Glasgow was reportedly the first to be arrested. Others included Green MSP Patrick Harvie and CND chair Dave Webb.Krista van Velzen, a former MP in the Netherlands and Christian peace activist, was also arrested, shortly after declaring “It's appalling that the UK spends £3 billion per year on weapons of mass destruction, while refugees in Syria struggle even to have a piece of tarp to make a shelter.”Those arrested are reported to have ranged in age from 19 to 83 and came from across Scotland, Wales, England and possibly beyond. Older participants amongst those arrested include veteran Quaker campaigner Sylvia Boyes, 69, from Yorkshire, and Caerphilly Labour councillor Ray Davies, 83. They were joined by younger people including theology student Duncan Logie from Glasgow and Dominic Lindley, 20, from Yorkshire CND.Lindley said he was “taking action to stop the breach of the peace” committed by the UK government in “owning and refusing to disarm weapons of mass destruction”.Sheffield University student Sara Moon said, “Sheffied University Student Union has a firm commitment to the belief that money should not be spent on funding the arms trade and supporting war but instead be spent on fundamental social goods such as education.”She added, “It would take a fraction of the cost of the Trident nuclear programme to fund free education for all in the UK. At a time when the worst off in our communities have been stripped of their access to education we have to demand that public money is not wasted on something as unnecessary and devastating as Trident”[Ekk/1]

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