Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Monday, May 29, 2006

[316.1] PEACEMAKERS TO REMAIN IN IRAQ

Despite misleading media reports, including one in The Times recently, Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) are remaining in Iraq for the time being - though they are operating outside Baghdad, and only with full-term workers, not short-term (ten day) volunteers like Norman Kember. The full details are here. There are two CPTers inside the country at the moment, though their location cannot be disclosed for security reasons. CPT has worked to expose prisoner abuse, to bring Sunni and Shia factions together, to promote human rights, to highlight alternatives to war and occupation, and to help establish a Muslim Peacemaker Team. The group have also responded sympathetically and factually to a recent criticism on Premier Radio from Dr Kember, concerning the visit to the Sunni mosque which led to the capture of four CPTers in November 2005. He has been very traumatised by his experience. CPT supporters in the UK are meeting in Bradford next weekend. More on that later.

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[10.46 GMT] Canterbury Cathedral invited to turn tables on war games and
Bible supports gay partnerships, says leading Anglican bishop (both Ekklesia, UK).

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Saturday, May 27, 2006

[315.1] A MODERN CANTERBURY TALE

On the day that marks the anniversary of St Augustine of Canterbury’s death in 604, England’s most famous Cathedral – which is dedicated to him – has been urged to turn a public spat with a computer wargame manufacturer into an opportunity to promote global peace. UK Christian think tank Ekklesia is suggesting to Canterbury Cathedral that instead of trying to get Koch Media to withdraw their War on Terror game, which uses the building as one of its backdrops, they could mount an exhibition on initiatives in non-violence – and ask the manufacturer to promote it to their customers. Continued here.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

[02.49 GMT] Recovering a healthy grassroots vision - This is an expanded version of my article looking at wider lessons from the English local elections which appears in the June 2006 issue of Third Way magazine.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

[314.1] LIVING THE PASSION

From a small collection of daily Dietrich Bonhoeffer readings called The Narrow Path (edited by Aileen Taylor, foreword by Edwin Robertson) which I picked up on holiday in a small bookshop in Fowey, Cornwall:

"The cross is the only power in the world which proves that suffering love can avenge and vanquish evil... It looked as though evil had triumphed on the cross, but the real victory belonged to Jesus. Jesus calls those who follow him to share his passion. How can we convince the world by our precahing of the passion when we shrink from that passion in our own lives? ... Jesus addresses his disciples as [those] who have left all to follow him, and the precept of non-violence applies equally to private life and official duty." (The Cost of Discipleship, pp. 127-30)

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Friday, May 12, 2006

[07.59 GMT] Norman Kember given standing ovation at 2006 Baptist Assembly and Mennonites and Anglicans work to overcome violence in northeast Uganda (Ekklesia, UK). See also the fascinating article Dialogue contrasts Islamic approach to peace, Christian nonresistance By Jewel Showalter (Mennonite Weekly Review, USA).

Please note that FinS will be having a break for a week. Feel free to search the archives in the meantime!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

[313.1] LOOKING FOR LEADERSHIP?

"Where are the activist priests and ministers who took strong stands during the Vietnam War and hit the streets with their protests?" asks Helen Thomas of the San Francisco Chronicle, in the current most regularly e-mailed mirror article on Common Dreams. Aside from her curious assumption that people of faith are all clericalised, it's a good question. And a look at the National Council of Churches' website, or CPT, or Sojo.Net, or Christian Alliance for Progress... or a host of other alternative media outlets would provide the answer. The problem is, progressive Christians (whether evangelical, Catholic, ecumenical or whatever) just don't make news. And then media pundits who rarely stray outside the mainstream assume that nothing is going on. That isn't to say, of course, that there isn't truth in what she goes on to write. Most clergy probably are holed up in the assumptions of God Bless America. But there are an awful lot who aren't. Writes Thomas: "Three years into the war against Iraq, the silence of the clergy is deafening, despite US abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and a reported American policy of shipping detainees to secret prisons abroad where, presumably, they can be tortured. There are US chaplains of many faiths serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, ministering to the men and women in uniform and reaching out to local religious leaders in both countries.
But here at home, the clergy seems to be in the same boat as the news media and most members of Congress: they are victims of the post-September 11 syndrome that equates any criticism of US policy with lack of patriotism."
Look a bit further, Helen...

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

[15.44 GMT] Kember deserved to be kidnapped, says Tim Collins By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent (Daily Telegraph, UK) - quoting CPT UK via Ekklesia. First test of UK's anti-torture agreement with Jordan (Islamic Republic News Agency, Teharan, Iran). Playing Armageddon as a video game (OpEdNews, USA). And Christina Gibb, a Quaker from Aotearoa New Zealand, has returned to Hebron with Christian Peacemaker Teams

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

[312.1] THE ARMY GOES AFTER KEMBER AGAIN

Though you might imagine that they had better things to worry about, having a go at kidnapped-and-released Christian peace activist Norman Kember seems a military priority at the moment. The latest to take aim is ex-Colonel Tim Collins (pictured left), who eulogised lyrically about British soldiers "treading gently" in Iraq before reportedly unleashing white phosphorous gas on its citizens. He now says the war has failed, but doesn't much like its critics or those who try to provide an alternative. The stories so far are: 'Kember got what he deserved,' says Colonel (Telegraph.co.uk, UK); 'Hobnobbing' UK peace activist Kember 'got what he deserved' (24dash.com, UK); Ex-army colonel says Kember got what he deserved (Scotsman, Scotland). The PA and The Independent will run with more soon.

Ekklesia and Christian Peacemaker Teams UK have promptly responded (Colonel Collins' attack on Kember misplaced, say Christian peacemakers): Colonel Tim Collins, who came to fame for an ‘inspirational’ speech on the eve of the 2003 Iraq war, has been told by Christian peacemakers that his savage attack on kidnapped Iraq activist Norman Kember is inappropriate, misplaced and ill-informed.

Described by media pundits as a “cigar-chomping ex-soldier with the Hollywood-style good looks”, Colonel Collins, who is promoting his new book, today launched an unprovoked assault on the 74-year-old former medical professor.

Collins said that Dr Kember, freed on 23 March with two other Christian peacemakers, was “bloody naïve”, went “hobnobbing with the Sunni extremists”, “should have stuck to helping Christian groups forced underground” and “got what he deserved”.

But supporters of Kember, including the religious think-tank Ekklesia and the UK branch of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), have described Colonel Collins’ tirade as “dishonourable”. They say he is demonstrably wrong about the facts and appears naïve himself about what is involved in making peace rather than war. Full story here.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

[311.1] NONVIOLENCE IS IMPLIED BY BAPTISM

From: Christians join global war resisters gathering in the USA (Ekklesia, UK) - At a World Council of Churches’ global mission gathering in May 2005, German Mennonite leader Fernando Enns made an ecumenical appeal to the churches to make the refusal of violence a “key identity marker” for followers of Jesus.

Ekklesia's Simon Barrow agrees. He says that for Christians, refusing violence has deep theological roots: “It isn’t just about being nice or highlighting a few biblical texts – it is primarily about witnessing to an alternative way of life made possible by the life, death and resurrection of Christ – about tapping the power of God’s love to overcome the destructive love of power."

Though pacifism is a minority tradition in Christianity, non-violence advocates in the churches say that the majority just-war tradition (which involves seeking to limit violence) is increasingly becoming war resistant – citing the powerful anti-war sentiments expressed by the two most recent popes.

“When Christians are baptised they are received into a community which is meant to embody the way of Jesus. Surely a minimum requirement of this is for Christians to recognise that they should not kill one another – and then to extend that logic to the neighbours they are called by the Gospel to love?” declares Barrow.


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Saturday, May 06, 2006

[11.02 GMT] When living your faith means risking death - an April article from TMCNet (which I missed earlier). This from Miroslav Volf, Director of the Centre for Faith and Culture at Yale University, who recalls meeting Christian eacemakers during the war in Bosnia... "[Yugoslavia] had compulsory service; I was interrogated for months and threatened with years in prison. But the call of the Christian faith, properly understood, is to love one's enemies, to resist evil in such a way that the humanity of the other is redeemed and understanding can be established."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

[310.1] A CALL FOR HOLY DISORDER

Christians have to recover the sense of mass participation and divine disorder in their Easter celebrations next time round, according to theologian Theo Hobson, an Ekklesia associate – and author of two books on subversive Christianity: Against Establishment, An Anglican Polemic and Anarchy, Church and Utopia: Rowan Williams on the Church. His arguments chime with a forthcoming book from religion commentator Jonathan Bartley, which argues that the ‘Christendom era’ of top-down denominationalism is at an end, and that Christianity must rediscover its radical roots to flourish in a plural society. (See: Put the anarchy back into Christianity, say religion analysts and Faith and Politics After Christendom)

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

[22.15 GMT] German hostages released in Iraq (BBC News, UK).
[309.1] WHAT DO WE REALLY MEAN BY ‘GOD’?

During the past four hundred years ‘God’ has been rendered practically and imaginatively almost irrecoverable, suggests Nicolas Lash in Holinesss, Speech and Silence: Reflections on the Question of God (Ashgate, 2005) – perhaps one of the most helpful small-scale theological statements to be published in the last twenty years.

This loss began when the early-modern search for human mastery (through the definite ‘ends’ produced by cause and effect) led to the word ‘god’ being used, “for the first time, to name the ultimate explanation of the system of the world.” But natural science soon saw that the world as such did not require any single, overarching, independent, explanatory principle. So the word ‘god’ could be dispensed with, and modern atheism was born.

Before modernity, ‘gods’ were understood relationally, as whatever people worshipped, and resided in occurrences, activities and patterns of behaviour. “The word ‘god’ worked rather like the word ‘treasure’ still does. A treasure is what someone... highly values. And I can only find out what you value by asking you and by observing your behaviour… There is no class of object known as ‘treasures’… valuing is a relationship.”

However, with the dominance of instrumental reason ‘gods’ became, correspondingly, things (objects, entities, individuals) of a certain kind, a ‘divine’ one. Analogously, the ‘home territory’ of God-understanding shifted from worship (the assignment of worth-ship) to description (the assignment of properties)

This double shift of meaning and affection fundamentally corrupted and disabled the modern comprehension of ‘God’ – because God is, logically and necessarily, beyond definition (delimiting) and categorisation. God is not a ‘thing’ belonging to a class of things called ‘gods’.

“Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists all have this, at least, in common: that none of them believe in gods.” Religions are best considered schools in which people learn to worship by not worshipping any thing – not the world nor any part, person, dream, event or memory of or in it.

God is rendered ‘unbelievable’ today because we have forgotten this. People “simply take for granted that the word ‘god’ names a natural kind, a class of entity. There are bananas, traffic lights, human beings, and gods. Or perhaps not: on this account… ‘theists’ are people who suppose the class of gods to have at least one member… ‘atheists’ are those who think that, in the real world, the class of ‘gods’ is, like the class of ‘unicorns’, empty.”

This is a basic category mistake with lethal consequences. As Denys Turner says, following Thomas Aquinas: “In showing God to exist reason shows that we no longer know what ‘exists’ means.”

Similarly, the modern mind readily supposes that technical and abstract language (‘ineffability’, ‘transcendence’) is inherently superior to the ‘concrete anthropomorphic imagery’ of biblical thought, ascribing the latter to the simple-minded. This is nonsense. It ignores the fact that all language is humanly generated. Everything we say of God, in whatever register, is metaphorically said – and speech or writing that is conscious of this is less likely to deceive itself by attempting a ‘fix’ on ‘what God looks like’. God-talk is immensely difficult and requires both imagination and the disciplining of it that we call theology.

Another modern misunderstanding is the idea that God is ‘supernatural being’. This is a misapplication of a word originally used adjectively or adverbially to designate a creature acting beyond the categories of its nature by the grace of God. (A rabbit playing a violin, say, or a person behaving truly selflessly!) In these terms “God, alone, cannot be supernatural, cannot act supernaturally, for what would graciously elevate or heal God’s nature?”

What, then, does it mean ‘to believe in God’? Developing Augustine, Nicholas Lash distinguishes three possibilities based on the Latin: Credere Deo (to believe what God says), Credere Deum (to believe God to be truly God); and the creedal formula Credere in Deum (to believe ‘godwardly’ or ‘into God’, as in incorporation and godly behaviour).

It is the third sense that best expresses what is offered and required in Christian believing – the language of appropriate relationship embodied in Holy Mystery, by which we non-idolatrously and wholeheartedly give ourselves to the truth, flourishing and freedom to which we are called.

Part of a larger summary which I am currently working on for a discussion group in Exeter.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

[308.1] RESURRECTING THEOLOGY

Some seasonal words (below) from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who I keep coming back to again and again: a theologian of unquestionable commitment whose intellectual and spiritual gift was to recognise that faith without critical questioning tends towards religious illusion – but, equally, questioning without critical cognisance of tradition leads to humanistic hubris. Both theological ‘liberals’ and theological ‘conservatives’ would be wise to observe this critique. What we need instead, beyond the traditional battle lines drawn up by neo-orthodoxy and classic modernism, is a renewed Christian radicalism of both roots (radix) and routes (frontiers).

Moreover, within Bonhoeffer’s observation about the ‘beyond’ of God being other than the 'beyond' of either cognitive capacity or epistemological transcendence, lies - I believe - the central clue to the recovery of articulable theological meaning for the conditions of postmodernity. That is, to 'resurrecting theology', in both senses of that term.

“I find all this talk about human limits [boundaries] questionable... I always have the feeling that we are merely fearfully trying to save room for God; I would rather speak of God at the centre than at the limits, in strength rather than in weakness, and thus in human life and goodness rather than in death and guilt. As far as limits are concerned, I think it best simply to remain silent and to leave the unresolvable unresolved. The belief in resurrection is not the 'solution' to the problem of death. The 'beyond' of God is not the 'beyond' of our cognitive capacity. Epistemological transcendence has nothing to do with God's transcendence. God is 'beyond' our lives. The church is found not where human capacity fails, at the limits, but rather in the middle of the village.” (Tegel Prison, 30 April 1944)

“It is not from avoiding death but from the resurrection of Christ that a new, purifying breeze can blow into the present world …. If even a few people were really to believe this, much would change. To live from the perspective of the resurrection: this is Easter.” (Tegel Prison, March 1944)


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