Friday, November 28, 2008


“We’ve lost the ability to hold our breath. Everything is instantly available, regardless of longer-term costs, and the damage we do to ourselves and our planet is immense. So we get into debt, we produce more emissions and become unhappy if we are not immediately gratified.” - Ann Pettifor

Thursday, November 27, 2008


The carnage in Bombay (officially known as Mumbai), in which gunmen have killed over a hundred people, injured many more and taken hostages, has shocked the world. It has thrown a spotlight on religious extremism of various kinds. Savitri Hensman has written a very useful piece looking behind the headlines and asking deeper questions about who and what might be 'responsible' for this carnage.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Oikocredit shows that microfinance, fairer finance and small scale investment in impoverished communities and ground-up creativity can make a difference way beyond its size on paper. More so when big capital is turning sour.

My column in this month's Third Way magazine (Political capital out of culture spats?) heads for the weird and makes-you-wonder way politicians get caught up in public moral panics about celebs, when they're not trying to bask in the reflected glory of Barack Obama. There's a theological twist at the end. And a work-in for John Sargeant and 'Strictly Come Dancing'. What more could you want on a dark winter's evening? Russell Brand Live, maybe...?

Friday, November 21, 2008


“We do not detach ourselves from things in order to attach ourselves to God, but rather we become detached from ourselves in order to see and use all things in and for God.” – Thomas Merton (Catholic religious and mystic)

“The lack of a caring community that incarnates the Word makes us more and more incapable of being heard.” – Melba Maggay (Filipina evangelical theologian)

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I've been involved in the mini-debate provoked by Phil Woolas' inept comments about asylum, the law and the work of charities and human rights organisations. Ekklesia's response was 'Immigration Minister has wrong target on asylum'. My other press comments are collated here. That a Minister of the Crown should make it publicly plain that he will not accept the verdict of the law in this area is quite stunning. These days there are often calls for resignations when politicians make gaffes. Mostly they are driven by partisan advantage. That there are no such calls in this instance is a significant commentary on warped priorities and the depressing consensus between government and main opposition that exists around this issue. The statement by the Free Churches moves in the right direction, and at least one senior Anglican figure has been working very well behind the scenes in relation to those seeking refuge from Zimbabwe. I also wrote about 'Migration's real meaning' for Guardian CIF some time back. Caroline Slocock of the Refugee Legal Centre has made an excellent response to Woolas here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


The New Statesman asked me to write something about faith and economy in the context of the present situation. I penned The Church in the crunch, published today... Following huge losses during the financial crisis, can the Church of England and other churches return to the Christian principles and practices of using material wealth for the common good, and especially in favour of the most vulnerable? (Yes it can, to coin a phrase. Whether it and we are willing for the tough decisions and actions involved is another matter.)

Monday, November 17, 2008


I prefaced my remarks in this sermon at St Stephen's, Exeter (Coming under liberating judgement) yesterday with the observation that, in addition to not working with animals and children, you shouldn't give 'texts of terror' to visiting preachers, lest they try a "hit and run" sermon. I don't think that's what this is, and I'm not a visitor - though I'm much less regular at the Central Parish of Exeter than I would like, due in large measure to the strange kind of geographical limbo created by existing between Devon, Birmingham, London and various other places... most notably Manchester, for the World Christian Student Federation Europe region theology conference on faith and pluralism, this week. [Icon of the Last Judgement provided by ΕΚΔΟΣΗ και ΕΠΙΣΚΟΠΟΥ , ΓΑΛΑΚΤΙΩΝΟΣ ΓΚΑΜΙΛΗ ΤΗΛ. 4971 882, ΕΚΤΥΠΟΣΗ Μ. ΤΟΥΜΠΗΣ Α.Ε.]

Friday, November 14, 2008


"If the love within your mind is lost, if you continue to see other beings as enemies, then no matter how much knowledge or education you have, no matter how much material progress is made, only suffering and confusion will ensue." - the Dalai Lama.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Today is Remembrance Day. But what is ‘remembering’ in human and Christian terms? How can we probe beneath the emotion and ceremony associated with this poignant public occasion in order to discover (and practice) something life-affirming as we recall the tragedy of war? This article has been excerpted and adapted from a considerably longer chapter ('Remembrance as radical anticipation') in my forthcoming book, Threatened With Resurrection: The difficult peace of Christ, which will be published in December 2008. A day seminar on its themes is due to be held on 26 November 2008 at the London Mennonite Centre. Meanwhile, my colleague Jonathan is taking some stick after the BBC reported his own article as an "attack" on the churches. Rather than as a suggestion that they might expand, revise and develop their practice in terms of a fuller memory and a more concertedly Christian practice. Some of the emails we are getting are not pretty, but they kind of illustrate the point we are trying to make. (Actually, Ekklesia hadn't done anything to publicise this, other than some very low-key blogging, but since the 2006 furore it seems we are now on the 'events' calendar as the source of a nice media bust up. [image courtesy and (c) of Taringa]

Monday, November 10, 2008


On his own blog, Jonathan Bartley reflects positively on recent Remembrance developments. He is due to be in discussion with the Anglican Bishop of Manchester, Nigel McCulloch, chaplain to the British Legion, at 08.45am on the BBC R4 'Today' programme tomorrow, by the way. Also worth watching tonight will be Channel Four's documentary on conscientious objection in World War one, presented by Private Eye editor Ian Hislop.

Unless the agenda changes (and it can) my colleague Jonathan Bartley will be on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme tomorrow morning, discussing how the relationship between church and state impacts on war remembrance. He also has a piece on Ekklesia (The default politics of Remembrance), and one coming up on Guardian Comment-is-Free. My forthcoming book, Threatened with Resurrection: The difficult peace of Christ, has a chapter called 'Remembrance as radical anticipation', which looks at the decisive theological character of re-membering, specifically in terms of Eucharist and our memory of the execution of Jesus and his vindication beyond violence. There is an accompanying seminar on 26 November at the London Mennonite Centre. The problem we need to address is that of partial remembering, fuelled by an often unacknowledged ideology of war as salvific.

On Saturday the Telegraph got a pre-emptive strike in, with an editorial which condemned us - for what we are not saying. Back in 2006 both the Times and the Express reported (wholly inaccurately, and in defiance of very clear statements to the contrary) that Ekklesia was wanting to scrap red poppies. In fact, we were (and are) calling for churches to enlarge remembrance symbolism to include white poppies alongside red ones, so that it is possible to honour the search for non-military means of addressing conflict alongside honouring those who have died as a result of war. Corrections were refused, as were letters from a number of people pointing out the 'mistakes'.

When your cause has to be defended by insistent falsehood, surely something has gone wrong? But this just goes to show what a difficult issue war remembrance is, and how rationality plays second fiddle to emotivism in any attempt to address it in a way that is seen as falling outside an acceptable consensus.

Friday, November 07, 2008


Of all the media blather I've read (and contributed to) over the past few days, this article by an African-American priest in the USA is most interesting, in many respects. From an excellent Jesuit e-zine. Some years ago I was briefly on the staff in the Institute of Spirituality at Heythrop College, University of London, so I'm biassed, of course...

On Monday 10th November I will be taking part in a conference on equality, human rights, religion and belief in London. This is an area where new and creative thought is much needed, especially from the institutional churches. They have been far too defensive and negative.

I won't be involved in the HealthServe HIV-AIDS gathering on 1 December 2008, though I know a few people who will and wish it well. I cringe somewhat at the title 'Christians leading the way', however, which seems crass and insensitive given the ambiguous reality. Bold humility would be more helpful, perhaps.

Meanwhile, Teachers' TV has done a survey which purports to demonstrate that many science teachers are unhappy with government guidelines on the teaching of creationism, namely that they shouldn't. What it seems to show, however, is that if you conduct a self-selecting survey and ask imprecise questions you will most likely get an unreliable picture, which nevertheless will get into the papers because people like a good row about something they haven't quite grasped. Oh dear. Must try harder.

The week after next, incidentally, I'm talking about the changing demography of faith at a theology conference in Manchester and Sheffield organised by the Europe Region of the World Student Christian Federation. Then I'm speaking alongside Professor Bernard Crick and others about "Living with difference" at a Sea of Faith event in London (22 November). I'm also preaching twice in the Parish of Central Exeter (St Stephen's and St Mary Arches) and doing a day seminar around the themes from my upcoming book, Threatened with Resurrection, at the London Mennonite Centre (26 November).

In early '09 I'm conversing with humanist groups in Durham and London and some progressive evangelicals in the Midlands, then doing a Lent talk on the Gospel and money in Birmingham. All go. But it's an honour to be involved in such wide-ranging exchanges. [Image courtesy of the International Society for Science & Religion] Link

Thursday, November 06, 2008


The exuberant optimism and idealism I expected. The world-weary cynicism, too. But the advent of Barack Obama raises interesting questions about the nature of hope (as distinct from wishful thinking), not least for Christians. The prevailing Christendom mindset seems to me, simultaneously, to invest far too much in "the powers that be" (and the 'new guard') while displaying thinly veiled scorn for the possibilities of change arising from what seems vulnerable and the unexpected (if one does not see the divine potency in it). This is primarily because we Christians do not believe in the Gospel, or we have turned it into self-serving ideology, or we have split its principle concerns off from arenas like politics and economics, or we have projected it all into a conveniently abstract future.

The alternative is to let practice reshape our theory. To re-invest ourselves in the difficult work of peacemaking, sharing resources, extending hospitality, deploying forgiveness, acting for justice, truth-telling... and many other concrete actions which can then enable us to see and develop a different polity, as well as to recognise the source of our (and the church's and the world's) potential transformation in learning to "live beyond our means". This is what Archbishop Oscar Romero spoke of in what remains my favourite prayer-poem.

All that said, it would be as dangerous to underestimate what Obama may open up for us as it would be to believe that a new dawn will be birthed in the White House, rather than some grubby stable.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


"Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart." - Martin Luther King Jr., Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 11 December 1964. (Thanks to Sojourners)

"We campaign with poetry, but we govern in prose." - Mario Cuomo

"Bad news is news, good news is advertising" - an old, cynical adage from which news editors are far from immune

But even so, the dream persists in seeking to take shape.

"I see myself standing at the cusp of something wonderful." - Jim Gabour, film director and writer, from in New Orleans. See his article 'Living the American movie' on OpenDemocracy.

"I comment, therefore I am". Well, Descartes may have got it wrong in trying to resolve existence and identity in the autonomous subject rather than persons-in-relation, but it is our culture (of which I am a clearly culpable part) that is in danger of reducing everything to commentary. Then again, communication is of the essence of humanity and change. Oh, I don't know. Maybe I should go for a walk and have another cup of tea, not necessarily in that order...

Well, yes and no to the former. Here are some astute immediate comments from the Amnesty International blog on human rights and Obama. There is also a broader mobilisation occurring. A number of them, in fact. My friend Michael Marten, who is a Middle East expert, is preparing some reflections on the new US presidency and the Palestine-Israel situation. I am mulling the theology of change, and how the mechanisms we place our hopes in are not always the ones that bear the kinds of truths and realities we seek. This is not a moment for pouring cold water, but nor is it one for facile optimism. The space available for leaders within established orders to change is very small, in reality. But small shifts can be significant, not least for those at the margins. Plus they signal the possibilities of a wider set of changes in hearts and in the fabric of our polis and economia which we need to act on rather than just talk about. He says. The real question is always, "who and what are we putting our trust in - and why?" Not principalities and powers at the end of the day, though they can work for good as well as ill. [There are further initial ponderings here]

Meanwhile, an American friend of mine, a peace worker, has just written to say: "Before, we said 'yes we can.' Yesterday, we cried 'yes we did.' Today, it's 'now we will.' The work continues."


"This victory is not the change we seek, it is only the chance to make that change" - Barack Obama, upon becoming US president-elect.

Senator Barack Obama is making his victory speech at just after midnight Washington DC time, after winning the presidency of the USA in dramatic fashion tonight. Whatever the challenges that lie ahead, including the enormous constraints built into the political and economic system he will inherit, it is hard not to be moved by this immense sea-change, especially for millions of African-Americans. Expectations among Obama's supporters in the US and across the world are inevitably very high. His majority in the popular vote will likely be around 53 per cent, alongside a large victory in the electoral college (some 370+) and major gains for Democrats in the Senate. This is a significant mandate. But a huge number of people also voted against Obama, indicating that historic divisions of opinion continue, and crucial swing voters remain more pragmatic than idealistic. President Bush has been decisively rejected, but by those with different views about what needs to happen instead. In the longer run, what has not changed in the US may prove as significant as what has changed. But tonight the possibility of "making a difference" nationally and globally is rightly at the centre of our attention. As a voice from Chicago commented on the BBC: "[Obama] appeals to the world, we have to start thinking in different ways."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


It's an event that's all over the web and crawling out of every conceivable televisual orifice, but if anyone wants to follow the BBC's live text feed on the US election throughout the night, here it is. A less reverent affair is the live blog on Liberal Conspiracy. Or if you just want a single headline result and can't bear the agony of detail, try this. (I've been live-tweeting in a light vein.)

As I write, some 29 million people in 30 states have already voted in the US elections, with a record turnout anticipated and the polls still predicting a win for Barack Obama. When he was about to be chosen as the Democratic candidate, I was sceptical as to whether he had the experience to take on McCain. The campaign has proved otherwise. I shall be very happy to be proved wrong at the ballot box. Though I remain less convinced than many that a win for Obama will bring the sweeping change many hope for, it will certainly revamp the general 'mood music' of American and global politics, and open up positive vistas and pressure points which have not existed in recent years. At one level this can only be good, though the reaction of others can never be predicted. Nevertheless, we shouldn't kid ourselves. In a modern, money-driven, corporate-led, technocratic age, there is a sense in which the old anarchist slogan remains true: "It doesn't matter who you vote for, the government always gets in." The former premise is not validated by the latter, however. It matters. If it provides an inch for people to live in when they might otherwise perish, it matters. Only those who have the luxury of retreating to their armchair are privileged to think otherwise and adopt a feigned neutrality or a hip cynicism. Go, Barack. And go those who at the grassroots who will be there to hold him to at least some of his practical ideals.

Monday, November 03, 2008


The government has been commenting on alternative community use of church (mainly Anglican) buildings declared redundant. The issue is complex and often over-simplified. I have made a brief comment on behalf of Ekklesia. The Telegraph's report said that "Andy Burnham, the Culture Secretary, has suggested churches with low attendance could be turned into gyms, restaurants and multi-faith centres." This fascinating construction equates churches primarily with buildings (rather than people, prayer and purpose) and reduces the issue to attendance. But the question of use and sustainability is larger than congregational size, as is the question of what kind of buildings and what kind of arrangements for space are needed in post-Christendom. The real conversation has only just begun. And its current assumptions are ill-fitting to the reality.