Our Peace Phoenix. #BeatingKnives
#BeatingKnives was our challenge. Turning swords into plowshare, weapons of death into instruments, symbols of life was our inspiration. Several hundred knives - vicious weapons, domestic knives used on the streets, swords and the like - from the knife amnesty bins around Luton and Bedfordshire were our materials. Speaking hope to the concerns and pain of a generation was our challenge
From that potent mixture arose our Phoenix, just like the mythological phoenix arises from the ashes.
The Phoenix was unveiled at a vigil on the steps of Luton Town Hall on Tuesday. It has now nested in St Marys Church, and is planning to visit other locations.
Just a few hours earlier and barely a mile away a young man had been brutally stabbed 20 times and was in hospital fighting for his life.
The Phoenix was sculpted by a member of Joe Carey, a member of St Marys with the help of project coordinator Luke Larner. A video showing its construction as well as the local and national challenge of knife crime was shown in the Luton Mall before the unveiling. Josh Hodson who produced it, like all involved with the project, spoke on Tuesday evening of the deep impact the knives and the Phoenix had made on them.
Three lads came into Luton on Wednesday to see the Phoenix. When they eventually got to St Mary’s after trying at the Town Hall they stood quietly looking at it, taking in its impact for some 20 minutes. That has been the response of many. St Marys Centre for Peace and Reconciliation are now working to plan how the impact of the Phoenix can be shared with many more.
The development of the Phoenix came as a result of widespread concern in Luton at knife crime and serious youth violence, a concern shared by churches. At the same time the visit to Luton and the UK of US Christian activist Shane Claiborne for the launch of Red Letter Christians UK was a stimulus. Shane is known for his confronting the US epidemic of gun crime by melting automatic weapons in a forge and turning them into garden tools. Joan Bailey, University of Bedfordshire lecturer and director of Safer Luton Partnership , helped us focus our minds on the facts and real issues rather than the popular media narratives. Engagement with young people in the town, many personally impacted, made the issue very real and personal - the voices on the video are theirs.
Those attending the unveiling event on Tuesday were invited to have their hands painted red as a sign that they were not washing their hands of the problem but that it was one we all shared. People with red hands around the town, and the spattering of red paint on the ground as we left, was a reminder of the tragedy of the problem.
One of the knives in the sculpture (located at the front under the talons) was found in an amnesty bin in a Bedfordshire market town. With it came the note from a distressed mum who’d found it in her 15 year old sons bedroom. He’d bought it on the streets of another town. It was a simple reminder of the challenge as a society we face.
The beauty and yet the raw challenge of our Peace Phoenix, and the inspiration of swords into plowshares will, we hope and pray, leave its mark on many.