Wednesday, December 24, 2003

FaithInSociety will be fully operational once more in the New Year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003


When the song of the angels is stilled
When the star in the sky is gone
When the kings and princes are home
When the shepherds are back with their flocks
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To rebuild the nations
To bring peace among people
To make music in the heart.

© Howard Thurman, FoR USA.

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Saturday, December 13, 2003


The Scottish writer, critic and historian William Dalrymple (whose latest book is White Mughals) has written pereceptively of the contradictions of religious life in modern Britain. Some of his data seems to have been drawn from Callum Brown's The Death of Christian Britain, but his judgements are more moderate. Not that they constitute grounds for complacency among firstline British church leaders, many of whom still seem not to have understood that the kind of faith that persists amidst the secularity of public life is not a likely antechamber for the return of their own verities. Dalrymple observes:

"It is usually assumed that Christianity in Britain was in decline from the mid-19th century on. In fact, church attendance figures reached an all-time high at the end of the 19th century, and dramatically revived again in the 1950s: this was the period, for example, when Billy Graham, the American evangelist, was able to draw crowds of more than 2 million to his open air services.

"The decline has taken place, at a quite startling rate, only since the mid-1960s. As late as the 1950s, nearly half the adult population went to church on a Sunday. By the 1990s the figure was down to 10%. During the 1960s, the decline was initially limited to the Anglican church, and both Roman Catholic and Jewish attendance figures held up well. But even there, decline set in towards the end of the 1970s and accelerated fast, so that by the late 1980s Catholicism and Judaism found themselves haemorrhaging faithful as Protestants had 20 years earlier.

"Today the decline is at its most severe in urban areas, and most severe of all in London: fewer than 3% of Londoners now attend church on Sundays. This is clearly a major change in the landscape, but it does not represent a universal decline. For while organised religion is ceasing to play a major role in the life of the white majority, there is no comparable decline in the religious life of Britain's ethnic minorities. Today in London, white Christians are already outnumbered by black ones. Black Pentecostal churches are flourishing and 51% of regular London churchgoers are now non-white.

"Likewise, the number of mosque-going Muslims is fast catching up with the number of church-going Christians, and Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras are also flourishing. Nor is there any obvious drop-off in the faith of second- or third-generation British Indians. The outlook remains uncertain, especially as regards mainstream white Christianity, but reports of the death of religion in these islands are premature."

See the full piece 'God in Peckham Rye' here.

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Friday, December 12, 2003


From Daniel Berrigan (see these resources on his life and witness). And, yes, he said it twenty years ago!

"The hunger for news eats people up, makes newsprint out of them.... People can become so bewildered with the mass of information and news brought down upon them that they're unable to move; they're paralysed. So the question of selecting, meditating, having an interior life of one's own in the midst of all this becomes crucial."

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Thursday, December 11, 2003


Earlier in the year I joined at Churches Together in Britain and Ireland staff visit to Brussels, home of the European institutions, to engage in exchanges with the CEC Church and Society Commission, COMECE - Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community, the EKD Brussels Office, the Orthodox, and an EU policy adviser on 'Dialogue with the religions, churches and humanisms'.

The churches continue to play a significant and constructive role in practical conversations about the evolution of European polity and society -- not least on issues of human rights, economic justice, religious / cultural freedom, bioethics and social dialogue.

Perhaps the most difficult discussions are about the function of religion itself in the new Europe. There are strong and divergent opinions over the extent to which churches and other faith communities should have anything approximating to an 'official role'.

My own view is that there should be a clear distinction between church and state, transparent and regular conversation about mutual rights and responsibilities, the vigorous participation of faith communities alongside others in the shared arenas of civil society, and space for the autonomy of different civic communities. But the co-extensivity of Christendom is (and should be) a thing of the past. It is incompatible with the plurality of modern societies and it is also enervating for faith communities.

One particular sticking point is the EU Constitution. Should religion (Christianity in particular) be mentioned in the pre-amble? Should God be mentioned? The Vatican has been advocating for both. Its approach is mediated by the statehood of the Holy See and its historic understanding of corpus Christianum.

My latest Ekklesia column, 'Should God get a name check?' offers a different perspective on this question, premmised on a post-Christendom viewpoint which says that Christian social and political praxis should be an orientation developed from the outwardly engaged community of faith, not from incorporation within the structures of governance.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2003


For years The Guardian newspaper has been a robust organ of progressive opinion and critical reporting. It has also been avowedly sceptical, the home both of 'cultured despisers' and of secular commentators whose opinions about religion often (perhaps unbeknown to them) lack the rigour they expect in other fields. But there has been a sea change of late. In part the current editor's admiration for Archbishop Rowan Williams seems to have translated itself into a new willingness to treat the religious dimension of contemporary life more seriously. Correspondent Stephen Bates' hard and creative work has also played a significant role in realizing this aim -- at a time when religious reporting in Britain's national media is at its weakest for many years. The fruits can be seen in the religion index. Well worth trawling.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2003


Here's a thoughtful piece on the Fulcrum site from David Rucorn, on principles for discussing belief among those with whom we differ. Thanks to Simon Taylor for alerting me to this (not to mention the fabulously irrelevant church sign generator.) While on the argumentation business, Karen Johann has passed on this salutary quotation from Anne Lamott: "You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."

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Monday, December 08, 2003


Christians are warning that tens of thousands of casualties may be the result of the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons by the USA. The details are in a report from the Ekklesia website -- the source of the news update column on the left-hand side of FaithInSociety. Ekklesia operates from an Anabaptist-style value base, but its reporting is from all quarters of the Christian community. Its hard-working director, Jonathan Bartley, has recently written The Subversive Manifesto: Lifting the Lid on God's Political Agenda, which partly charts his own journey from the religious right to a radical Christian commitment influenced by people such as Jim Wallis and the late John Howard Yoder.

For those long steeped in political theology this book may not contain a lot that's new, but it has three special merits. First it encapsulates the implications of the prophetic biblical tradition in direct and lively language. Second, it is media savvy. Third, it will reach into the evangelical and 'new church' constituency in a way that much of the literature in this field -- including the stuff I churn out -- never will. More strength to your elbow, Jonathan.

(I should declare an interest, by the way: I'm an Ekklesia columnist!)

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Sunday, December 07, 2003


Abuna Elias Chacour: "Either we stop claiming we are children of Abraham, or we act as brothers and try to reconcile."

Dr Denis MacEoin of Newcastle, writing in The Guardian:

"For years the left, which once admired Israeli socialism, has swung towards an uncritical support of the Palestinian cause. This has led the leftwing press to the point where it will never call Palestinian suicide bombers 'terrorists'; and where to express sympathy for the plight of the Israelis, surrounded for over 50 years by an ocean of vehement anti-semitism and calls for the destruction of their country, is to be branded as a traitor to liberal values.

"As a lifelong liberal, I have always supported Israel, because I believe its foundation was the proper response to the Holocaust. As an Arabist and Islamicist, I also hope that a fair and workable resolution can be found for the problems faced by the Palestinians. I just don't happen to think the two things are incompatible."

Fair comment, though he doesn't mention either a two-state or secular state 'resolution', so I'm unclear whether he supports full statehood for Palestinians, or only for Israelis.

To go to the guts of the matter rather more theologically, in the paraphrased words of Fr Elias Chacour, a Palestinian (Melkite) Christian and a Jewish citizen: it is vital that Jews and Palestinians stop regarding each other as mortal enemies and begin, instead, to recognise themselves in the wounds of the other. Only in the presence of the kind of suffering-transformed-into-hope made visible on the Cross (he says) can we begin to discover a new way of handling each other, the crimes that have been committed against us, and the sins we have perpetuated through cycles of hatred, denial and revenge. That means working across religious, political, cultural and social barriers to help each other to reconstruct our identities and out of that process slowly to discover a shared one.

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Saturday, December 06, 2003


Over the years I've had many reasons to be thankful for Chris Rowland, Professor of New Testament at the University of Oxford. He's been a courageous advocate for (and practitioner of) radical contextual theology. He's worked with grassroots organisations and parishes as well as operating as a creative academic. He's collaborated with adult educators like me. He's a dissenting Anglican involved in the UK Anabaptist Network. We both contributed to the Jubilee Group symposium on disestablishment, Setting the Church of England Free. So Chris is no ivory tower theologian. He sticks his neck out. His excellent 'Face to Faith' piece on 'Paul's Letter of Tolerance' is but one example. Here's a brief excerpt:

"Thanks to Paul, Christianity has never really been a religion that used the Bible as a code of law. In his Second Letter To The Corinthians, he writes: "The letter kills, the Spirit gives life." Throughout his writings, he tries to get at what the Bible means, with the central criterion being conformity to Christ. He pioneered an approach to the Bible which also applies to his words in the New Testament. We should not concentrate on the letter of the text, but try to get at the underlying point of his words.

"So, basing one's attitudes towards gay and lesbian people merely on two verses from Romans and Corinthians I runs the risk of ending up with a form of religion which is based on the letter of the text -- something Paul empathically opposes -- rather than on what a loving God is doing in transforming lives in the present. On the Damascus road, Saul's world was turned upside down. He encountered Christ in the outsiders, the heretics, the misfits and aliens, the very people whom he had been commissioned to round up. It was this experience that transformed his life. Such a turnaround was not the result of minute attention to text and precedent."

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Friday, December 05, 2003


Charles Walmsley from InclusiveChurch.Net (for which I'm on the steering group) had this letter published in The Church Times -- the main Church of England newspaper -- on Friday 28 November 2003:

"[T]hank you for your warm review of our website (Web News, 21st November). In her review, Sarah Meyrick describes Inclusive Church as 'the liberal group'. It is an easy mistake to make, but it is far from accurate. The huge upsurge of concern following the forced withdrawl of Canon Jeffrey John was not confined to 'liberals', and of the nearly eight thousand individuals who have currently signed our declaration of belief, many would describe themselves as Catholic or Evangelical. More than 90 Parochial Church Councils have signed so far, as have many organisations, including Cathedrals, Fransiscan orders, and entire deanery synods.

"Inclusive Church is not a single-issue pressure group. Rather, it is concerned to work and pray for an inclusive Anglicanism that is founded on a just ordering of our common life that 'opens the ministries of deacon, priest and bishop to those so called to serve by God, regardless of their sex, race or sexual orientation'.

"There will be debate within the Church about how this is to be achieved, and there will be many different theologies. But all those who wish to see our church life founded on a just order will be welcomed to contribute within Inclusive regardless of the labels others give them. We are already developing a network of support for a number of specific pressure groups who have been working long and hard over the years and who have achieved a great deal already, as well as a network of diocesan coordinators.

"There is a profound sea-change occurring within Anglicanism at the moment, and it is focussed not on the specific issues of women or sexuality. Rather, it is about the soul of Anglicanism itself. Many of us within Inclusive wish to work and pray for an Anglicanism that is open, inclusive and just. We do not believe that Anglicanism should be forced by power plays into a narrow sectarian framework.

"It is not a matter of biblical theology versus liberal freedom, but of a working and praying together to enrich our common life with a deeper understanding of God's love for his creation expressed in scripture, tradition, reason, and the experience of our common life in Christ. It is not going to be an easy task."

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Thursday, December 04, 2003


As usual the British national tabloids and some of the more gullible regional press in Britain have started their seasonal spreading of false or exaggerated rumours about evil secularist attempts to ban Christmas (or Easter, or whatever). Undoubtedly we live in a plural society where diplomacy to avoid offence often outweighs (rather inadvisedly, I suspect) the attempt actually to converse and communicate across communal and religious differences. Even so, there is no anti-religious plot. See this typical scare story relayed on Religious News Online -- to which I have replied, as you will see.

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In her tough-minded book Jesus and the Politics of Interpretation, feminist scholar Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza astutely critiques various mainstream methodological approaches to 'the historical Jesus', and the intellectual hubris of much reconstruction per se. She scores some palpable points, but remains hopeful that the Spirit of the living Christ can break through our appropriations and conceits -- not least through the historical argument that is always part of faith: a reminder that God's in-breaking of human discourse is continually beyond our manipulation.

Fiorenza rightly says that it is those on the margins, those who do not have vested interests in the institutions that manage the narrative, who can best help us to re-discover it. For that reason -- and in spite of a title that will make her baulk yet again -- I am very much looking forward to reading the new book by Geza Vermes, Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies at the University of Oxford. The Authentic Gospel Of Jesus (Allen Lane) was published a few weeks ago. In a 'Face to Faith' article in The Guardian last Saturday ('What's sex got to do with it?'), Vermes says:

"The gospel of Jesus is still largely unperceived among church people: the message which the master from Nazareth -- not Paul, John or two millennia of Christianity -- formulated in his own language and teaching for his mostly uneducated Galilean Jewish audience."

Also worth a look: Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza's Jesus: Miriam's Child, Sophia's Prophet, Jack Nelson-Pellmayer's controversial Jesus Against Christianity and South African Albert Nolan's Jesus Before Christianity.

A useful non-technical introduction to the import of 'Jesus studies' debates is Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright's The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. I enjoy a good deal of Borg's work (though his panentheism is now strained -- see the recent pole of post-metaphysics ranging from Jean Luc Marion to David Tracy). Wright is conservative, but in a thoughtful and creative way.

Bart Ehrman offers a different kind of salutary warning about current modern and post-modern renderings of Jesus in his Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, which I have just finished. He's right to point out how the apocalyptic dimension of the Gospels is underplayed (for obvious reasons) by modern interpreters. However, there are different theological possibilities arising from the text than those he deploys -- which tend towards 'unrecoverability'.

So the jury remains out. But the calling of the Christian community is to go on telling and retelling the Jesus story, in the conviction that the God who defies our categories and expectations continues will be met in and through it. Usually when we least expect or deserve it. Strangely enough, this is -- as Vermes the Jew points out -- something that the churches are notably bad at. often because they wish to control the text for their own ends. There is real fear in this. Too much of what now is in institutional Christianity is threatened by its founding figure (thankfully).

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Wednesday, December 03, 2003


The Centre for Christianity and Inter-Religious Dialogue at Heythrop College and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (through the Middle East Forum of the Churches' Commission on Mission) are jointly organizing a major symposium exploring the dilemmas facing Christian communities in the Middle East today.

‘Christianity in the Middle East: contemporary explorations in politics and theology’ takes place on Thursday 11 December from 10:30 to 18:30pm at Heythrop, which is part of the University of London. Places are limited and admission is by ticket only, price £20, available from the college in Kensington Square, London W8 5HQ; phone [+44 1] [0]20 7795 6600.

Speakers will include Anthony O’Mahony (Heythrop College, University of London), Sebastian Brock (Oriental Institute, University of Oxford), Peter Riddell, (London Bible College, Brunel University), John H.Watson, William Taylor (St John’s, Notting Hill), Harry Hagopian (Jerusalem Inter-Church Committee), Leon Menzies Racionzer, Revd Leonard Marsh.

The gathering will explore the political and theological dimensions of Christian presence in the Middle East today, surveying the challenges that face Christian communities in the region, including Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. Speakers will focus on issues of ecumenism, Christian-Muslim relations, Christian-Jewish relations, and Jerusalem.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2003


An Advent reflection from Liz Walz, who founded Martha House, a Catholic Worker house in the Germantown section of Philadelphia in 1998. Shortly before that, she worked at Philadelphia's Four Seasons luxury hotel. She was imprisoned in Towson, Maryland, for direct action against the US military use of depleted uranium. This excerpt (c) TheOtherSide magazine. Liz is now the coordinator of Word and World: A People's School.

"Most of us try to protect our loved ones from pain. Is this loving? Or are we robbing them of their education, of access to wisdom? How can we acquire the tools for bearing pain, for enduring suffering, if we run and hide? How can we know God's love if we don't allow ourselves to need it?

"We have become numb. It takes the deaths of not one, not a score, not a hundred, but hundreds of thousands, even millions, to awaken us from our stupor--because we haven't learned to grieve the death of the one, to feel the pain. Who will confront the oppressors and say, "No, for God's sake!" What meaning does the birth of Christ have if not hope for those most oppressed?

"Pain is not the end of the story, nor is suffering. But to witness the end of the story, we must have courage to look with clarity at our situation. As the powers develop and deploy ever more sophisticated weapons, as the empire continues to starve children, our silence reveals us as complicit in the crucifixion of our brothers and sisters. Despair overwhelms us, and we'll try almost anything to stop the pain. But nothing works until we have the courage to walk into the melee. We must step into the line of fire, and love the squalling child lying in the muck of the feed trough, announcing to those who would kill her, "No! This is a holy child of God."

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This from weblogger Alvarny Windrider:

My friend asked, "Do you want to be Jesus Christ?"

And I shook my head and thought to myself, "He had the easy way out, all He was required to do was to die. I am required to stay alive and live the consequences."

It is, of course, the superficiality of much Christian thinking -- not to mention twisted, forsensic doctrines of the meaning of this paradigmatic death (see, by contrast, J Denny Weaver's The Nonviolent Atonement) -- which have led to the popular caricature of "the man born to die." What crucified Jesus was not his avoidance of life or divine sadism, but deep-seated fear of unrestricted life (and the uncontrollable God of Life) on on the part of those bound to religious and political authorities. Similarly, risen life is not the magical resolution or reversal of death, but the capacity to live fully in the face of it -- which is the gift of God. But Alvarny is absolutely right: life is tough, and death-as-a-virtue is no answer. Nor is it what the Gospel proposes.

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Monday, December 01, 2003


Mike Yaconelli's death diminishes us all. I didn't know him, so I can't say anything personal. But this is from the Greenbelt festival blog:

"I can't remember everybody's name; I often can't remember where I am! You don't have to have my gifts or skills - and I don't have to have yours. The most seemingly unimportant thing can make all the difference in the world. A teeny weeny act of kindness can make all the difference... That's what spirituality is -- simple kindness, the significance of the insignificant. When's the last time you wrote a little note to [someone] telling them you think they're great? Really. That says more than all the religious and Bible talk, and will mean a great deal to them. It's an act of kindness any of us can do."

(From 'Jerk-Free Christianity' in Yak Yak Yak, Marshall Pickering, 1991)

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Sunday, November 30, 2003


Perhaps the doyen of all godblogs has to be Kathy Shaidle's Relapsed Catholic ("Where the religious rubber meets the pop culture road... a daily blog about religion: in the news, in the media, on the web, in the world.") It was established in 2000 (anyone remember weblogging back that far?) and it still sets the standards the rest of us follow. Kathy's lastest book is called God Rides a Yamaha, incidentally.

In terms of theological learning, the best loggy thing I've come across is Disseminary, which deserves a write-up in its own right, and will get one. See also the online culture magazine Transition, which includes religion in its wide-angled take on life -- and the wonderful Utne, which sometimes does.

Then there are more personalised sites, like PostModern Pilgrim, or the thoughts of (allegedly) confused Lutheran Chris Halverson --or, indeed, Salt, "notes from a 30-something, salsa dancing, irish fiddling, Keynesian, suburban Anglican Epicurean vicar." Way to go...

Last but not least (for now), I appreciate Gutless Pacifist, "A Place for Dialogue about Faith, Politics and Peace." And the title is not quite what you think. It's author declares: "I agree with John Howard Yoder - 'The church is called to be now what the world is called to be ultimately.' "

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Saturday, November 29, 2003


Doreen Lawrence, chair of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, wants Church leaders to use Churches Together in Britain and Ireland’s report on racism, Redeeming the Time, ‘like their Bible, they must keep it by them and refer to it.' The book was published in memory of her son, Stephen (who was killed on the streets of south-east London) and all whose lives have been cut short by racism. ‘The book will provide a blueprint for good practice and is a step in the right direction,’ she said.

‘I believe there is only one God and the difference is he or she answers to many different names… We need a lifestyle to combat racism. The Gospel affirms we are all one in Christ and that the Church is the Body of Christ. Black or white, we are one and there can be no tolerance of racism,’ Ms Lawrence added.

Redeeming the Time, drawn up by CTBI’s Commission for Racial Justice (CCRJ), includes readings which explain key ideas and concepts behind recent legislation in Great Britain, Ireland, Northern Ireland and the European Union. It seeks to acknowledge the lessons the churches were challenged to learn from the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report.

Redeeming the Time acknowledges both the way Christians have colluded with the stereotyping of groups of people and the steps that have been taken to eradicate racism.

Other speakers at the launch included Dr Richard Stone (The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Panel), Gillian Kingston (Moderator of CTBI’s Church Representatives’ Meeting) and Naboth Muchopa (Secretary of the Racial Justice Committee of the Methodist Church).

Richard Stone, whio is also chair of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, said he would be commending Redeeming the Time to Jewish communities.

The book (price £5.00 plus £1.50 p&p) is available from CTBI Publications at 4 John Wesley Road, Peterborough PE4 6ZP. Phone 01733 325002, fax 01733 384 180, or

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It was some unsolicited kind words (not a mutual back-scratching pact, honest!) that first drew my attention to Karen Johann's very fine weblog Heretic's Corner. It's a healthy combination of observation, links, thoughtful reflections, personal stuff and -- yes! -- humour. I see Karen, who is a seminarian at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, also likes Ship of Fools ('the magazine of Christian unrest') -- whose creator I briefly overlapped with at college (school, as the Americans would say). I wonder if she, or you, also know of the fabulously scurrillous Landover Baptist site, originated by a couple of guys who were kicked out of Jerry Falwell's un-aptly named Liberty University. Without doubt the best parody of the religious right I've ever chanced upon.

Anyway, back to Karen's blog. Two posts that I enjoyed recently were What is marriage? (for those who deleriously think that 'being biblical' is a straightforward thing) and, more seriously, Reflections on Christ the King (the Feast, that is). Hang on. More serious? Well the abuse of the Bible to support mislabelled and miscreant 'pro family' policies is pretty gravitationally loaded... but the Festival is where the resistance is at, understood rightly.

Oh, and while we're about it, like Karen I also recommend the stimulating essayists on Killing the Buddha. And no, it's not an anti-Buddhist site. Read the manifesto.

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Friday, November 28, 2003


The key question of course, is: who discerns, how, and on what basis?

"Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
‘Tis the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur, you’re straightaway dangerous,
And handled with a chain."

From Emily Dickinson, Complete Poems.

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This from Oliver McTernan. Personally, I'd leave out the 'alone'. But wise words.

"The sooner we come to recognize that the war on a religiously motivated terrorism cannot be won on the battle field alone and that in our search for solutions we need to engage the religious and secular leadership in those communities that act as breeding grounds for discontent the greater will be our chance of finding solutions. Sadly, Turkey appears to be paying the price for its attempts to act as a bridge between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. Hopefully these recent atrocities will not deter it from continuing in this role, as dialogue is essential if we want to make our world more secure." (c) BBC

More on 'How to win the religious wars' from The Guardian here, and on Christian-Muslim perspectives on the international situation.

Much of the material in this Churches' Commission for Inter-faith Relations briefing (prepared at the time of the Iraq war) is still relevant, too.

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Thursday, November 27, 2003


"Trade with the gifts God has given you.
Bend your minds to holy learning that you
may escape the fretting moth of littleness of
mind that would wear out your souls.
Brace your wills to action, that they may
not be the spoils of weak desires.

"Train your hearts and lips to song
which gives courage to the soul.
Being buffeted by trials, learn to laugh.
Being reproved, give thanks.
Having failed, determine to succeed."

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Wednesday, November 26, 2003


The (hardly-radical but deeply humanitarian) scholar B Davie Napier (President of the Pacific School of Religion) on the values and principles of the ancinet Hebrew legal codes:

"The principle of sympathy and consideration for the weak is expressed with astonishing variety. There are numerous duplicate and some triplicate laws which buttress the rights of all dependent classes -- servants, slaves, captives, the defenseless, the maimed and the handicapped, and of course the poor. Widows, orphans and sojourners... are regarded in the law with full appreciation... This is best illustrated in one of the most remarkable single features of the law -- its prescribed treatment of the alien. The term in Hebrew, ger, certainly does not apply exclusively to the resident alien, the foreigner in permanent residence, although to be sure this is the sense of Exodus 23:9. Possibly, as Herbert G. May has recently reminded us, the term applies in postexilic times primarily to the resident alien or the proselyte. But that even then this was by no means exclusively the sense is attested by the parallelism of Job 3 1:32: "The ger has not lodged in the street; I have opened my doors to the wayfarer." The ger may be a foreigner in permanent or semi-permanent residence; but he (sic) is also any stranger who happens into the community on a peaceful, friendly and legitimate errand."

And of course the trajectory of the specifically prophetic narratives is towards the abolition of 'dependent classes' altogether, and in favour of communal justice. Worth reminding your local parliamentary representative about that.

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You couldn't make it up. The most right-wing Home Secretary in British parliamentary history, Michael Howard, has (rightly) criticised the Labour government for its "shameful" new proposals on asylum -- which deliberately seek to remove children from parents seeking asylum from persecution, in order to 'encourage' them to return without appeal.

This disgraceful policy, pandering to the most reactionary and racist elements in the tabloid media, goes alongside further moves to cut legal aid, block entry and remove social support from asylum seekers -- who, it seems, are assumed to be 'guilty' (that is, cheats) until proved innocent. And the bar of 'innocence' is, of course, moved ever higher.

Mind you, Howard, now leader of the Conservative Party (and apparently a somewhat reformed character), doesn't have much to crow about himself. His Tory government started the current wave of judicial and legislative victimization rolling. And his party's current 'enlightened' policy consists of isolating asylum seekers on container ships!

Serious political debate and alternative policy options have now more or less been ruled out of the public arena by this current rush in Westminster to adopt ever-more draconian policies. Even the Liberal Democrats can come up with little more than adherence to the status quo.

Moreover, Home Secretary David Blunkett will tomorrow trumpet his government's 'achievement' in halving the number of applicants to 4000 over the past year. The idea that the arbitration and appeal systems are actually there to give people a fair hearing and a fair process is being abandoned. They are there simply to 'keep 'em out'! This flagrantly violates international human rights instruments in regard to the treatment of refugees.

Behind the present dispicable trade in dehumanising policy lies a myth and a problem. The myth is that Britain is being 'swamped' by refugees and 'illegals'. The problem is that the asylum system is being used (unfairly) to handle a whole set of complex migration issues which policy makers want to avoid: namely the fact that, historically, most migration has been 'economic' anyway, and that in a world where boundaries to capital movement are dissolving it is unfeasible to seek to reduce people movements to a controlled trickle.

Meanwhile the churches in Britain and Ireland are among those speaking out most vociferously in favour of justice (rather than expediency) towards asylum seekers and refugees. And brave networks such as the Refugee Council and Bail For Immigration Detainees are seeking to stem the tide of bile in the media and among vote-hungry politicians.

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Sunday, November 23, 2003


Today I chanced across the website of Grace Anglican Church Joondalup, Western Australia. Their banner: ""All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ." Amen to that. You will find some good sermons and other resources there. The parish priest is a valued friend, Dr David Wood, who I got to know in the process of publishing his acclaimed theological biography of Bishop John V. Taylor. Poet, Priest and Prophet (CTBI, 2002). It has a Foreword by the Archbishop of Canterbury. David gives some background to how it came about here.

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Saturday, November 22, 2003


From Charles Moore on - and (c) them; quoted with kind acknowledgements:

"I believe now, more than ever, that being a part of a contrast-community, building a life that nurtures peace, is our only hope of ending war. True, there are many ways to effect peace in the world besides living in a community. But imagine what kind of resistance could be formed if we would cease to run our lives on the basis of career or income or certain standards of living that involve treating the rest of the world as one giant fuel pump? What if instead we spent our energies and resources building up a common life that needed less and gave more? What would happen if in sharing life together we did away with the usual distinctions that keep people apart and at odds with one another? What if we actually disengaged ourselves from the driving values of material security, professional achievement and social recognition—along with the lifestyle that reinforces them—to create a genuinely alternative existence?" (From Dog Eat Dog?)

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Friday, November 21, 2003


Denys Turner once remarked arrestingly on Jesus' silence before Pilate: it was, at a certain moment when God's person stood naked before power, the only possible response to a ruler who was actually a 'frivolous moraliser', he said. I'm still trying to summon the depths of that one. But it has echoes for me in this recent observation by Rowan Williams:

"Politics needs the challenge of silence as much as does the Church, especially when the language of public life is increasingly corrupted by an obsession with 'advantage' -- with all that means for the silencing of the other, the refusal to seek oneself in the other, the inattention and willful ignorance that more and more stifles political conversation. A political discourse corrupted in such ways is already on the road to the anti-language of totalitarianism...

"And what if theology in particular has become the victim of this political corruptness, and operates more and more in terms of advantage? It has to be taught in a different register, a different dialect, by writers who are more used to dealing in risk, perhaps."

From 'Bonhoeffer and the poets', in (ed. Elizabeth Templeton) Travelling With Resilience: Essays For Alastair Haggart (Scottish Episcopal Church, 2002), p216.

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What an extraordinary performance from British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme this morning. He dismissed as 'nonsense' any attempt whatsoever to link the invasion and occupation of Iraq with the current upsurge in activity by Al Qaeda and similar networks. Whereas one of the pillars of the government's support for US military policy on Iraq was precisely the link between Saddam Hussein's regime and 'terror networks', now Mr Straw is not demurring from interviewer John Humphries' assertion that there is 'not a shred of evidence' for such connectivity. It is a breathtaking reversal which indicates just how non-plussed the Western powers are right now.

The line coming out of Downing Street today is that 'extremists need no excuse for their cowardly and inhuman actions' -- the old ploy of simply reducing one's adversary to sub-humanity and irretrievable irrationality. This is not politics, it is superstition. By contrast, writer and former Catholic priest Oliver McTernan gave another considered Thought For The Day, drawing upon his fine book Violence in God's Name: Religion In An Age Of Conflict, which maps out the cultural, societal, geo-poltical -- and, yes, religious -- disturbances which have to be faced if governments are to respond with understanding rather than simply self-justification to the new world disorder.

See also McTernan's response to US Secretary of State Colin Powell's assertion that Iran has ‘dragged the sacred garment of Islam into the political gutter.’

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For the most part the protests in London yesterday went off in good humour. Other areas of the capital were like a ghost town, and the appalling news of the bombing of the British Consulate in Turkey cast another shadow over the ill-fated US Presidential visit to Britain. The targeting by extremists of a secular state with a moderate Muslim majority, increasing ties to the West and a history of relative harmony between different religious communities (notably Jews and Muslims) is a calculated act. The vile assaults on synagogues are another part of this scenario.

The temptation for the world's hyperpower and its satellites will be to retaliate further. But counter-terror does not deter those who are locked into the logic of confrontation, it mostly reinforces the cycle upon which they, too, are dependent. The politics of refusing aggression, strengthening international security through the UN, creating the conditions for democracy from the grassroots (rather than enforcing it by coercion) and giving priority to the 'war' on injustice, poverty and exclusion: such strategies will not reverse the spiral of hatred and revenge quickly or easily. But they are the only sustainable path away from the vortex of retribution which threatens to engulf our world.

To repay evil for evil is the road to destruction. Force can subjugate (for a time), but it has no power to transform. This is not 'a Beatitudinous platitude' (as I have heard it dismissed recently), it is the hardest form of realism. And it is a realism which also requires rigorous self-examination -- from those with an overabundance of power, for sure, but also for those seeking to restrain them.

For example: it felt right to join the demonstrations yesterday. But it wasn't comfortable. The atmosphere was one of mirrored anger and self-righteousness at times. And the plight of Iraqis can be as much a toy of anti-war activists as of those who use war as policy, if we are not too careful. We may be clear about what not to do. But no-one should pretend that there are simple alternative policy options readily to hand. And returning the simplistic 'evil empire' rhetoric of Bush on his own house does nothing to open up fresh perspectives on a messy reality.

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Thursday, November 20, 2003


To coincide with the current state visit of US President George Bush to the UK, Our World Our Say have organised the largest ever Virtual March on the US Embassy in London. Its purpose is to mobilise against the doctrine of pre-emptive force in global affairs. They write: "We have reached our target of 15,000 people. We are now aiming to double this and get 30,000 people to take part and bombard the Embassy with emails, faxes and phone calls. If you haven't already registered, please do so now at this site."

On the question of pre-emptivity from a 'just war' perspective, see some comments in SocialEdge.Com from Notre Dame theologian and Catholic priest, Michael Baxter. Evidently, those of us who believe that vocation of the Christian community is to resist evil without using its weapons would have a problem with the Bush doctrine on even more basic grounds. See, inter alia, the Fellowship of Reconciliation home page. A recent note from Chris Cole reminded me to link with them.

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The historic Anglican church of St Mary, Putney, is the site of a conference on the disestablishment of the Church of England this coming Saturday (22 November 2003), beginning at 14:30. The principal speaker is Theo Hobson, whose book Against Establishment: An Anglican Polemic is published this week. Also contributing are Colin Buchanan (Bishop of Woolwich), Giles Fraser (Vicar of Putney, lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College Oxford), and Simon Barrow (CTBI). Hobson maintains a website called disestablish.

This event follows on from the Jubilee Group AGM and Christ The King Lecture, given by Kenneth Leech, earlier on in East London -- 11am at St John's, Bethnal Green. Ken has edited a book on disestablishment called Setting The Church Of England Free, published by the Jubilee Group in 2001. Not to be confused with another title of the same name by John Mills-Powell.

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[31.1] FAIR (TRADE) POINT...

T.S. Eliot once observed that the the grand contours of the world are actually shaped by those 'minute particulars' that make up much of the fabric of our daily lives. So forgive what might appear a trivial observation in the midst of global events...

This morning I was picking up a coffee on the way to work; the fuel of a caffeine lifestyle in the metropolis, I fear. The person serving me got the order wrong, and when I pointed the mistake out he instantly rectified it. He then poured the 'wrong' cup of coffee straight down the drain -- before I had any chance to say, "Well, if it's going to waste, the fact that I ordered latte rather than cappuccino really doesn't matter." But the truth is, that waste is legislated. Staff (underpaid as it is) aren't allowed to drink surplus coffee it or give it away. Commercial logic says that it's better to throw something out than use it. Just a fleeting microcosm of the values we live by in advanced consumer societies. And I'm talking about me, not just the corporations.

Of course if I hadn't been patronising a multinational coffee oulet in the first place... and so on. Ah, the contradictions. (For those indulging an occasional high street caffeine fix, the Costa chain use fair -- or at least, marginally fairer -- trade beans; though the lion's share of the profit still goes to them, of course.)

We can take small steps to promote not just Fair Trade but also just practice. See Ethical Junction and, from the radical US Christian magazine / network, SojoBlend. The churches in the UK are involved heavily in the Trade Justice Movement, too. Action is only a click or two away.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2003


Members of the Jubilee Group and other Christians are meeting up on Thursday 20 November 2003 to join the protests in central London accompanying the visit of US President George W. Bush. Fr Paul Butler writes: "Meet at London Bridge, Outside Tube Station Entrance, upper level, (i.e. the same level as where you leave the train station, before the stairs going down), 1.30-1.45pm."

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Tuesday, November 18, 2003


The British (and indeed European) antipathy towards President George W. Bush has caused considerable consternation among leading White House officials. But then world leaders do tend to exist in their own hyperfast thought bubbles, transported by jets to far-off places where they have little time or inclination to understand the globe as viewed from significantly different perspectives.

US correspondent Gary Younge quotes Bush Jr. as telling moderate Asian Muslims, in a recent round-table, "I've been saying all along that not every policy issue needs to be dealt with by force." Clearly he thought this would sound encouraging rather than foreboding!

This morning a senior US diplomatic figure noted (in passing, and without comment from the interviewer on BBC Radio 4) that the impending demonstrations against the US President were a sign of Europe's "moral decay". The idea that his nation is the planet's ethical arbiter seemed so natural as to be, quite simply, common sense.

It is this unshakeable certitude, allied to the fractures and fissions of a divided and uneven world, the growing incommensurability of its ideologies, the weakening of international institutions and the politics of overwhelming force that is proving - tragically - such a fertile breeding ground for terror and political extremism.

President Bush styles himself as a 'Bible believer'. But he seems not to have grasped the fact that the Book of Revelation, so abused by the religious right to whom he allies, is precisely a playground for apocalyptic ideology because it reflects the violent revenge fantasies of the oppressed (which, rent asunder from their context, easily become the fantasies of the armed and self-righteous). The redemption in the text, of course, is that these fantasies do not prevail. It is the Lamb who is slaughtered - not the slaughterers of lambs - who triumphs in the narrative, with its message that a love which can embrace suffering (rather than force that can inflict it) is ultimately the only 'power' that will save us from destruction.

At present Bush's trust - whatever his personal religious profession - is not in the love of the Crucified One and the belovedness of the crushed. It is in the salvific capabilities of armies, occupations and 'bombing to make us good'. This may seem to generate short-term gains, but as the unfolding tragedy in Iraq testifies, it reaps what it sows. Until this truth is grasped the violence, anger and incomprehension on all sides will continue. As will the protests and demonstrations.

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Friday, November 07, 2003


Worth checking out is the Center for Religion and Life website from the US. Their mission statement is as follows: "In a time of both interconnectedness and conflict, we are participants in a journey of questioning and questing, seeking to clarify the meaning and purpose of life. The intent of the Center’s educational programming, services, and publications is to welcome and encourage all who would join us in this quest to live life with meaning, awareness, and joy, in awe of the mystery before us, that is called God, and the hope of living with grace and compassion in the human community. The Center invites contemporary voices to challenge our way of thinking and seeing, encouraging dialogue and building bridges of understanding and peace."

In particular see Gary Dorrien's lecture, 'Imperial Designs: Resisting the Permanent War', and David Ray Griffin's 'Scientific Naturalism: A Great Truth That Got Distorted', which are avilable for research only. Other contributors include Marcus Borg.

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Thursday, November 06, 2003


British and Irish Church leaders have this week written to the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem assuring them of prayers and continued international support for a sustainable political resolution. The letter was sent by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and signed by leaders from Anglican, Roman Catholic, Reformed, Free Church, Orthodox, African and Afro-Caribbean traditions.

The letter reads:

"We greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose birth amidst the violence of Roman Palestine we celebrate in a few weeks' time.

"We are keenly aware of and saddened by the seemingly endless pain being endured by the peoples of the Holy Land, Palestinian and Israeli, and assure you of the prayers of many in our congregations for continued international support for a sustainable political resolution. We continue to believe that a two-state solution represents the most realistic path to a just and durable peace and thus express the hope that both sides of the conflict will work to ensure that measures necessary to build confidence between Israelis and Palestinians are given every chance to succeed.

"In response to your Statement of 26 August 2003, we wish to make three observations:

"1. We share your abhorrence of the level of violence that has grown to characterise the conflict, which has inflicted such damage on families and their livelihoods, and on both societies at large. We are asking our congregations to continue to support Palestinians and Israelis pledged to work for non-violent solutions.

"2. The ending of the Israeli presence in Occupied Palestinian Territories remains a sine qua non for the achievement of peace and long-term security for all. We have studied the statements of church leaders in Jerusalem, as well as those of the Holy See and the World Council of Churches, and will continue to represent the matter to our own Government.

"3. The erection of the 'separation wall' or 'security fence' poses a very serious threat to many facets of Palestinian life, with over 210,000 people in danger of being effectively cut off from their farmlands, workplaces, schools and health clinics. It also further undermines the search for peace itself. The Israeli authorities undeniably have responsibility for the security of their own citizens. It is difficult to accept, however, that the routing of this barrier will not create more 'facts on the ground', to the detriment of a potential, viable Palestinian state which, according to the Quartet's 'Road Map' is timetabled to be achieved only two years hence.

"We thus share your dismay about this development, and assure you of the seriousness of political representations which churches continue to make towards the Israeli and British Governments on this specific matter."

The full list of signatories is here.

Churches Together in Britain and Ireland is the umbrella body for all the major Christian denominations in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. It liaises with ecumenical bodies in Britain and Ireland as well as ecumenical organizations at European and world levels. Its work includes Church Life, Church and Society, Mission, Inter-Faith Relations, International Affairs and Racial Justice. It provides a forum for joint decision-making and enables the Churches to take action together.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2003


Small Christian communities that combine social and political engagement, the inspiration of biblical faith, a critical stance towards institutional religion and prayerful celebration can confront the forces of exclusion and economic domination in Europe today. That was the message from a gathering of ‘base ecclesial communities’ (CEBs) meeting in Edinburgh recently.

Representatives of Christian communities from France, Spain, Euskadi (the Basque country), Hungary, both language communities in Belgium, Switzerland, Ireland, Scotland and England gathered at St Colm’s International House to exchange experiences and plan for the future. Networks also exist in Italy, the Czech Republic, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and other countries.

Among the common concerns named as Gospel challenges was the re-assertion of ‘fortress Europe’, the malign impact of big corporations on daily life, the growing influence of the far right and widespread mistreatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

(Excerpt from a longer story on Ekklesia. See also the post here on 28 October 2003.)

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Tuesday, November 04, 2003


InclusiveChurch.Net, the network of Anglicans working for an open church, has whole-heartedly welcomed the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. ‘It is not only the people of New Hampshire who are celebrating this weekend,’ says the Rev Dr Giles Fraser, their chair - who is also Vicar of Putney and Lecturer in Philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford. ‘Inclusivity is at the very heart of the Gospel message. In Christ there is neither black or white, male or female, straight or gay. The consecration of Gene Robinson underlines the Biblical witness of God’s love for all.’

‘It was very important that Gene Robinson’s consecration took place,’ says Fraser. ‘Along with many others, I was very disappointed when Jeffrey John was forced to withdraw after having been appointed Bishop of Reading earlier in the summer. If the consecration of another openly gay priest, duly elected and confirmed, had failed to take place it would have been disastrous for the church.’

The statement from the Primates of the Anglican Communion, following their meeting at Lambeth Palace on 15-16 October, has begun a process that could lead to realignments in the church. But Fraser is of the firm conviction that groups who find it difficult to accept a gay Bishop mustn’t split off. ‘I sincerely hope that people do not leave. The great genius of Anglicanism is that is manages to hold together unity and diversity,’ Fraser continues.

He also believes that the consecration is vital to the mission of the church. ‘In this country, 58 per cent of the population say they are Christians but do not go to church – in no small part because they think the church is judgmental. Gene Robinson’s consecration could hardly send out the message more strongly: the Anglican Church is an inclusive church.’

InclusiveChurch.Net and others are now considering what input they might have into the newly announced Commission to look at life in the worldwide Anglican Communion, which claims 70 million members.

Meanwhile, in a statement regretting the division surrounding Bishop Robinson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams stressed today: 'It is clear that those who have consecrated Gene Robinson have acted in good faith on their understanding of what the constitution of the American church permits. But the effects of this upon the ministry and witness of the overwhelming majority of Anglicans particularly in the non-western world have to be confronted with honesty.

'The autonomy of Anglican provinces is an important principle. But precisely because we rely on relations more than rules, consultation and interdependence are essential for our health.

'The Primates meeting last month expressed its desire to continue as "a communion where what we hold in common is much greater than that which divides us". We need now to work very hard to giving new substance to this, and to pray for wisdom, patience and courage as we move forward.'

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The recent furore over the burning of Romany effigies in a Guy Fawkes 'celebration' in East Sussex has raised once again the appalling plight of Gypsies and nomadic peoples, especially in Europe. George Monbiot has a useful and disturbing piece on this subject ('Acceptable hatred') in this morning's Guardian newspaper. He asks why, despite so much evidence of persecution, expressions of hatred towards Gypsies are still acceptable in public discourse (and cites some awful examples, incuding a quotation from the current UK Home Secretary.) Monbiot goes on to explore the overlooked religious dimension of this problem as follows:

"The conflict between settled and travelling peoples goes back at least to the time of Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer, a settled person; Abel was a herder: a nomad. Cain killed Abel because Abel was the beloved of God. The people who wrote the Old Testament were nomads who had recently settled, and who looked back with longing to the lives of their ancestors. The prophets' constant theme was the corruption of the cities and the purity of life in the wilderness, to which they kept returning. All the great monotheisms were founded by nomads: unlike settled peoples they had no fixed places in which to invest parochial spirits.

"Yet the city, despite the execration of the prophets, won. Civilisation, from the Latin civis, a townsperson, means the culture of those whose homes do not move. The horde, from the Turkish ordu, a camp and its people, is its antithesis. It both defines civilisation and threatens it. We fear people whose mobility makes them hard for our settled systems of government to control. But, like Cain, we also appear to hate them for something we perceive them to possess: the freedom, perhaps, which the prophets craved."

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Monday, November 03, 2003


A note from Steve Alston of St Ethelburga's reminds me to include this summary of their work:

"In 1993 a terrorist bomb exploded in Bishopsgate just 15 yards from St Ethelburga’s church. One man was killed and 51 others injured in the blast that caused widespread damage to surrounding buildings.

The devastation to St Ethelburga’s church seemed so total that it seemed this might be the final chapter in the history of a church which had survived the Great Fire and Blitz and served the City of London since mediaeval times. Closer inspection of the bombsite showed there was much that could be saved or reconstructed, and in 1997 the new Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, proposed a new role for St Ethelburga’s as an innovative Centre for Reconciliation and Peace.


* Our vision for St Ethelburga’s flows from reflection on an act of violence which did great damage to the church, an act which was one of the episodes in a conflict in which religious divisions have played a major part. As Christians, we are deeply sorry for all violence done in the name of Christianity.

* We recognise that Christians are called on to be peacemakers. We also recognise that while historically, religious feelings have at times led to frightening violence, all the world’s great religions call on their followers to work for reconciliation and peace.

* In this spirit, we seek to work with other Christians, and with people of other faiths and none, for the better understanding of conflicts, whether violent or not, and towards the peaceful transformation of conflict.

* We offer St Ethelburga’s as a space within which the different narratives of conflict can be heard, and where conflicting positions can be explained and examined, realising that the honest recognition of differences is a necessary condition of reconciliation.

* We aim to make known and where possible to develop further ways in which faith communities can contribute to the transformation of conflict, to the peaceful resolution of differences and to the re-building of communities.

* Valuing the global role of the City of London and our own location within the City, we hope to benefit from the international knowledge of the business community as well as to help business to engage positively with local, national and international conflict.

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Sunday, November 02, 2003


There was a great deal of rejoicing (as well as the media-anticipated gnashing of teeth) as Canon Gene Robinson was finally consecrated Bishop of New Hampshire this evening. Opponents of the move expressed horror and hatred both inside and outside the service: BBC NEWS | World | Americas | Protests at gay bishop service. But Robinson was backed by a considerable majority of other ECUSA bishops, and the message earlier today from the Archbishop of Canterbury was healing rather than anxious. At a ceremony marking the new covenant between Methodist Church and the Church of England, he said:

"It is an irony that as we celebrate this new mutuality today, we also as Anglicans face new tensions and divisions, with those on both sides of our current troubles believing that obedience calls them to a risky break with what we have thought of as orthodoxy and good order. [Note the nuance of 'what we have thought of']

"But perhaps this celebration is timely after all in God's purpose. It is a reminder that when we can no longer see how to hold together, God will still teach us in our separateness."

"And one day we shall be led, in both thankfulness and repentance, to share with one another what we have learned apart, to bring to one another a history not without its shadows and stresses, but still one in which something quite distinctive has been learned," Dr Williams said.

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Amusingly enough, my spell-checker keeps wanting to replace 'Lambeth' with 'lambada' every time I type it. What on earth would the Archbishop of Canterbury's staff make of that, I wonder? Reminds me of poet Adrian Mitchell's observation, "If I can't dance to it, it's not my revolution." Or Gospel, as the case may be...

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My own reactions to the propositions coming out of the recent gathering of Anglican Primates from around the globe can be found here, in an article on Anglo-Catholic Socialism called 'Mystique, Politique and sexualite.' The full saga of the Anglican dispute about sexuality (including updates from Lambeth, interviews with soon-to-be Bishop Gene Robinson, and the recent LGCM conference in Manchester) can be found on the superb Thinking Anglicans site. Check the well-organized archives if what you are looking for is not instantly findable.

Oh yes, and this amusing response to Manchester Cathedral's last-minute withdrawal of hospitality to LGCM, mirroring their own public statement:

"In the light of sensitivities and timing in relation to the current debates in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, I have reluctantly declined to include a link to Manchester Cathedral. The Anglo-Catholic Socialism website regards the Cathedral Chapter and the Bishop's Senior Staff as a legitimate Christian organization, and wish them well in whatever it is they think they are committed to." Ted Mellor, Los Angeles"

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Saturday, November 01, 2003


Out today is 'Silence and Honey Cakes: The Wisdom of the Desert', published by Lion at £9.99, and available on at £7.99 right now. In this text, Rowan Williams goes back to the 4th century Desert Fathers and Mothers for inspiration and insight. He discovers that the spirituality of the desert resonates strongly with aspects of the modern spiritual search.

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From Muslim commentator Abdal-Hakim Murad:

"The despair [of the Iraqi people] is now palpable. Instead of the fledgling representative government which they had been promised, they have been given a devastated land, which is fast becoming the leading battleground between the Anglo-Saxon world and terrorist factions too shadowy to name. The disillusionment of many ordinary Iraqis makes the behaviour of crowds confronted with American or British troops hard to predict. With America allied so closely to Israel, the traditional enemy of the Arabs, many Iraqis seem to be developing their own intifada. Soon, the Anglo-American relationship to the Iraqis may resemble the Israeli relationship to the occupied Palestinians. As in Israeli politics, a withdrawal from these occupied territories is likely to be suicidal for our politicians. We will stay, and sweat blood, while peace plans come and go.

"Confronted with this mess, what words could I choose to heal the anger of my congregation, newly united in its resentment of the war? The words of the Prophet seem the best place to look. If the problem is anger, then remember that he said: "If you are angry, then sit down. If you are still angry, then lie on the ground."

"If the problem is the extremism which so often becomes the ideological expression of anger, then we can recall how the Prophet was distressed by extreme forms of religion. There are some people, he said, who go into religion so hard that they come out the other side, like an arrow passing right through its target." Full text here. (c) BBC, 2003.

A British convert to Islam, Abdal-Hakim Murad, was born in 1960 in London. He was educated Cambridge University and at al-Azhar University, the highest seat of learning in Sunni Islam. He has studied under traditional Islamic scholars in Cairo and Jeddah,Saudi Arabia. Murad has translated several classical Arabic works, including Imam al-Bayhaqi's 'Seventy-Seven Branches of Faith', and 'Selections from the Fath al-Bari'. He is also the Trustee and Secretary of The Muslim Academic Trust and Director of The Anglo-Muslim Fellowship for Eastern Europe.

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Friday, October 31, 2003


Many church websites are almost as dire as their noticeboards. A happy exception is that of St Peter with All Saints, Nottingham. This includes a Claves Regni newsletter page, which contains articles and thought pieces. I was particularly struck by Andrew Deuchar's sermon on "Facing Up To Division In Faith", based around Romans 14. 1-17. The full text is here. Deuchar formerly worked for Archbishop George Carey, but his own thinking on this subject is rather more capacious, as this extract indicates:

"For a long time we have been content to walk together through the darkness and the light. It has been uncomfortable and untidy - perhaps even at times apparently incoherent. But it has not been wrong. Until recently we have rejoiced in our diversity. We have recognised, as my former boss used to say quite regularly, that we are still becoming a communion, and therefore we are in the realms of provisionality. We believe that we belong together, we want to learn from one another, and we resist either a pulling apart into independence or a chaining together under some centralised authority. We have been willing to take risks in our search for the truth of Christ.

"Risk-taking calls for humility, a readiness to listen and learn, to embrace disagreement and debate. But today, seduced by the opportunity for renewed power in the world, we are being drawn away from faith towards the arrogance of certainty, and the demand for compliance with a set of values and beliefs that are being arbitrarily drawn up according to a particular way of interpreting scripture. And with the arrogance of certainty goes the death of mystery, and with the death of mystery goes the possibility that God can work change in us.

If we are to begin to face the mystery of God - a mystery which can encompass the vastness of the universes, the depths of wickedness, the burning intimacies and promises of love and persons, then we must share in the risks of God - risks which include the possibilities of suffering, sin, and getting things wrong. The power of love is not having everything cut and dried, with reserve force to push the divine plan through. Such power could leave no room for the freedom which true love requires.

"So wrote Bishop David Jenkins, a prophetic voice of our times whose words seem to become more and more perceptive as the years have passed."

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Thursday, October 30, 2003


A thoughtful piece by Charles Moore (not the ex-editor of the Daily Telegraph in Britain, I imagine!) from on the roots of war. This excerpt was offered as their daily reflection yesterday:

"It's hard to live consistently, but it is essential if we are to make our world a less violent place. If we're honest, most of us aren't very willing to give up the good life we enjoy. Consequently, we keep on fueling the very fires of war we wish to extinguish. We want to own what we have, enjoy our creature comforts, maintain our autonomy and modes of mobility, and make sure our bottom line is secure, even when the rest of the world suffers because of it." (c) Bruderhof Communities.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2003


James Alison's extraordinary new book, 'On Being Liked' (DLT, 2003) is launched at Waterstone's bookshop in London's Oxford Circus this evening. The sequel to 'Faith Beyond Resentment', it proposes a re-imagination of the central axis of the Christian faith as a transposition from the question 'how does God deal with sin?' to 'how do we take up God's invitation to share the act of creation?'

This is not a sentimental reduction of the Gospel's tough wrestling with human shortcomings and wrongdoings, but a re-focusing on the life of God as constitutive of the kind of re-ordered desire-in-community that can give us the resources to face such things. Its focus is on what makes for personal and social well-being, and the discovery of reasoning faith that the answer is thoroughly theological.

Ihar Ivanou writes: "James Alison is an excellent storyteller. His writings are always somehow inspired by his own experience that brings a heart-touching aroma to the written. At the same time, his reflections on Biblical passages are amazingly insightful."

Here is an excerpt from 'Faith Beyond Resentment'.

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The media has given much attention to the court victory by a Muslim in Italy who objected to the presence of a crucifix ("a little man between two sticks," as he described it) in his son's school classroom. Minority religious communities and secularists have long objected to the state's imposition of Catholic symbolism on public spaces. John Bell of the Iona Community presented a powerful BBC Radio 4 Thought For The Day on the issue this morning. The full text is here. These are Bell's concluding observations:

"[I]rrespective of Christian, Islamic, or Hindu beliefs, Western societies are dominated by deities. But unlike in ancient Rome, worship of them is more subtle.

"We don't have shrines to Mars, the god of war, but we do encourage a huge armaments industry at whose behest children in Angola and Mozambique still lose limbs through tramping on hidden landmines.

"We don't have shrines to Mammon, the god of insatiable consumption, but the logos of multi-national junk food giants are foisted in the face of the world's poorest, with the expectation of instant devotion.

"We don't have shrines to Bacchus and Aphrodite, the deities associated with excess and gratification, but we do have a whole fashion industry committed to exploiting the variable tastes of children and teenagers who don't have the money to pay the dues which the brand names demand and so pester their parents.

"By all means take down the Cross and the Crescent and the Star of David, but only if you also take down the insignia of ...of the multinationals I cannot name on radio.

"Or else leave the symbols of religious faith in their place, allowing - in the case of the cross - for the self-importance of earthly gods to be set against the seeming naivete of the Creator of the Universe who saves the world through suffering love."

I appreciate Bell's final sentiment. But it misses three points. First, the image of the cross in the public realm has been corrupted by its Constantinian associations ("With this sign we conquer"), so that its sanctioning by the state can perhaps never be innocent. Second, its ubiquity and generalization may cheapen the Christian commitment that it be a symbol of God's willingness to suffer rather than to inflict suffering. Thirdly, the idea of a God who suffers and who identifies with humanity at its most degraded is incomprehensible and offensive to Muslims: the meaning of God's presence in Christ crucified is something that needs to be offered and discussed with sensitivity, not with power.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2003


St Colm's International House in Edinburgh was the meeting place for a weekend gathering of European base ecclesial communities (24-27 October 2003). Some 25 persons from 12 countries / people groups were present to share stories and experiences and plan for the future.

Many people are aware of the existence and impact of CEBs in Latin America and South-East Asia (for example), but a similar phenomenon in Europe is less familiar. In some countries, such as Spain and Euskadi, the communities are very well-organized. In others (most notably England) they are few and fragmentary. Their characteristics include an orientation to those at the base of society, contextual reading of the Bible, socio-political engagement, prayer and celebration, and a critical position in relation to institutional church. Many are Catholic, some Protestant, and all stress ecumenism.

Few CEBs are what would be called 'intentional' communities in the sense of living together on a daily basis, but all have features of communal intentionality, including the sharing of resources and money. In Scotland Bert and the Iona Community home groups are among those linked in to the European network, which has been in existence for 20 years. In Ireland, the Crumlin Road community are involved.

In England there is a Contact Group which has been galvanised over the years by Jeanne Hinton. Simon Barrow has been part of this initiative, along with David Cowling (formerly of Grassroots) and Ruth Harvey (when she was with the Living Spirituality Network) and the late Derek Hanscombe of USPG.

The English group plans to meet again in December 2003. St Margaret with St Mary in Liverpool is one parish developing a distinct CEBs model here.

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A thought from Archbishop Rowan Williams. This was actually penned in 1998, and is even more true today...

"Living in the Christian institution isn't particularly easy. It is, generally, these days, an anxious, inefficient, pompous, evasive body. If you hold office in it, you become more and more conscious of what it's doing to your soul. Think of what Coca-Cola does to your teeth. Why bother?

"Well, because of the unwelcome conviction that it somehow tells the welcome truth about God, above all in its worship and sacraments. I don't think I could put up with it for five minutes if I didn't believe this."

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Monday, October 13, 2003


Last week the Rt Rev Vincent Nichols, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, complained strongly about what he described as anti-Catholic bias in BBC programming and reporting. The BBC denied this. So did most commentators, though a number acknowledged that a wider distrust of organised religion and religious authority among those holding comspolitan values can certainly be discerned. Then again, is it not up to the churches to engage such widespread viewpoints openly rather than simply to condemn them?

One of the programmes that stimulated Nichols' ire was 'Sex And The Holy City', an episode of the well-respected Panorama documentrary series (broadcast on Sunday 12 October) which looks at the way the Vatican has been promoting anti-contraception and anti-reproductive health care messages throughout the third world. Reporter Steve Bradshaw, while not disguising his amazement at factually inaccurate claims in a global Catholic health manual that claims the latex in condoms permits the HIV virus to transmit (something explicitly denied by scientists and the WHO), allowed both sides of this life-or-death argument to be put. He praised the dedication and care of Catholic nurses and health workers in Kenya, Nicaragua and the Philippines (where the mayor of Manila has declared a 'pro-life city'). But at the same time he did not disguise the consequences of the ban on contraception, which has been to aid the spread of deadly infection in many of the most vulnerable communities on earth.

The argument that contraception is anti-life because it breaks the organic link between sex and fertility holds no theological water in the twenty-first century. It is based upon a naturalistic fallacy in ethical reasoning which conflates an 'is' with an 'ought' and attributes this to the will of God. No-one can deny that the moral issues surrounding the creation and nurturing of life are complex and demanding. But to reduce them to a one-stop policy (in both senses of the term) is dangerously reductive in a world where intentions and consequences cannot be ordered by magesterial demand, and where poverty, lack of education and the constraints of culture and community are potent factors in influencing the choices individuals have to make in less-than-ideal situations. Indeed the evidence of public education campaigns points in a very different direction.

Gospel communities can and should promote positive alternatives to the commodification of sexuality and the powerlessness which forces women, in particular, into dangerous and damaging situations. But it certainly cannot do this by pushing these problems onto the backs of their victims. To do so is, in the words of one Latin American theologian, 'anti-evangelical'.

Catholics for a Free Choice is a worldwide organisation promoting alternative perspectives on the issues of contraception, reproduction, fertility, abortion and respect for life. Its site includes a good selection of articles and publications. Many of those involved are lay people and health workers / eductors. Founder Frances Kissling is interviewed here. It is important to realise that faithful Catholics can hold views on these matters which suggest a devlopment of the tradition in a quite different direction to the weight of the current magisterium, though I am sorry that the theological basis upon which CFaFC operates seems to be fairly reductive. Back in 1980 TheOtherSide showed how it doesn't have to be that way.

Hopefully a wider range of theological ethicists linking the making of choice with the promotion of life will become involved in this crucial debate as it (inevitably) develops. For this is not a matter of abstract reasoning; it is a question of human survival and flourishing.

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