Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
"We live limited lives until we 'cross over' into the concrete world of another country, another culture, another tradition of worship ... I have left forever a small world to live with the tensions and the tender mercies of God's larger family." - Joan Puls, from her book Every Bush Is Burning (WCC).
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Wonderful news that the new media has helped to scupper one of the most outrageous attempts at a gag in British history - oil trader Trafigura's injunction through law firm Carter-Ruck against the Guardian newspaper, which for a time prevented them from reporting... a parliamentary question. That's right, a question asked by an elected member of a democratic assembly. The free speech implications of this were and are monumental. In fact, the company has succeeded only in drawing millions upon millions of people's attention to its nasty practices concerning pollution and the Ivory Coast - the opposite of its intention. Barclays and Tesco are among those who have used legal action against the Guardian in the past for gagging purposes. It is vital that such attempts to misuse corporate power fail. And ordinary people can help by defying them and using the technology at their disposal to do so. Now Gordon Brown is calling for reform of super-injunctions. Here, for the record, is the follow up to the original parliamentary question (no. 61) Transfigura wanted to keep quiet. Let the noise continue.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
It was good talk today to Roy Dorey, a Baptist minister with a long track record in church and community development. We were liaising over a future book about the recovery of church vision and practice in a society in which dominant understandings of power and its use have disabled (and in some cases corrupted) the Christian understanding and doing of local community. Along with our prime publishing partners in Edinburgh, Shoving Leopard, Ekklesia intends to get into quite a bit more book production over the next few years.
In addition to my Fear or Freedom?, the book I edited with Jonathan Bartley, Consuming Passion (DLT), two titles from Jon himself and a further one due next March from our new associate Symon Hill, called The No-Nonsense Guide to Religion (New Internationalist Publications), we have a number "on the boil".
However, my latest book, Threatened with Resurrection: The difficult peace of Christ remains very, very late. It should be with you all fairly shortly. But I'll be a bit cagey until I can be sure of the publication date. Whereas I throw out articles, both journalistic and academic, rather quickly, when it comes to books I want to keep changing my mind, angle of approach, selection of material, and so on. Probably some illusion about "completeness". Still, as my own harshest critic, I'm reasonably pleased with the way it has developed (even if embarrassed at the delay). But it will be the readers' opinions that really count. That's the terrifying thing about committing yourself to paper with a cover round it, an ISBN, and an entry price.
Good job the leopard doesn't bite. Well, the one in Edinburgh, anyway.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
What role does Anabaptism have to play in renewing Christianity in the new century? How do we appropriately take our past into the future? Can Mennonites and other peace churches make a serious impact on inherited and emerging church in the UK? The forthcoming London Mennonite Theology Forum, on 10-11 September 2009 will take place at the Guy Chester Centre in North London. The keynote speaker for the forum will be Ted Grimsrud, theology professor at Eastern Mennonite University and author of the recent book Embodying the Way of Jesus: Anabaptist Convictions in the 21st Century. Other presenters include Simon Barrow (co-director of Ekklesia), Anne-Marie Visser (Mennonite representative on the advisory committee for Inter-Religious Encounter for the Dutch National Council of Churches), James Jakob Fehr (director of the German Mennonite Peace Committee) and Vic Thiessen (theological consultant, and until recently director of the London Mennonite Centre).
For more information and booking, click here.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
A cruciform tree, a radiating Cain eyed by a simmering Abel and a doveish floating vision: these are just a few of the images you will see as part of the vital and (until recently) little-known Methodist Art Collection, which has now gone online.
The collection is an extraordinary achievement of quiet but committed curation, and includes some very well-regarded twentieth century artists, as well as a number of less publicly profiled (but equally evocative) contributors.
How did one of Britain's historic denominations end up with a rotating and touring collection of some of the finest examples of contemporary art exploring the pain and poetry of spirituality in a troubled world? Read my short article about it here.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Thursday, April 30, 2009
"Those who can combine simplicity and intelligence can prevail. But what is simplicity? What is intelligence? Simple is the one who in the transfiguration, confusion and twisting of all concepts keeps the simple truth of God in focus, who is not double-minded, not a person in two minds (James 1.8), but has an undivided heart... Because simple people do not look past God to the world, they are in a position to look freely and naturally at the reality of the world. Thus simplicity becomes intelligence. Intelligent is the one who sees reality as it is, who sees the foundation of things... The perception of reality is not the same thing as knowledge of certain external processes; it is, rather, seeing the essence of things. The most intelligent are not those who are the best informed." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (1940-43), p.67-8.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
"Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear ... Christendom adjusts itself far too easiliy to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now."- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Friday, April 10, 2009
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Thursday was a day that brought together many strands of my life. 9 April is my father's birthday. He died in 1997 (The book Fear or freedom? Why a warring church must change which I edited last year is dedicated to him, and to my mother, who passed away in 1978.) It is also the anniversary of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose life and work is one of my inspirations. Though not one that casts me in a particularly good light! There is a family connection, in that I discovered Bonhoeffer through Eberhard Bethge's classic biography on my father's bookshelf, though I think he rather preferred the cautious Otto Dibelius. The new and expanded edition of Bethge is so much better, by the way.
There's no Holy Thursday night vigil around these parts, so instead I have decided to re-watch Martin Doblmeier's moving film Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Pacifist, Nazi Resister, about his life and influence. The theological dimension gets a look in as well, with an interview from South African writer John de Gruchy - whose stimulating review of Stanley Hauerwas' Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence can be found here. Doblmeier gives an interview about the project on the film website. I must also pick up Geoffrey Kelly's reading guide (pictured) to the Fortress Bonhoeffer works edition at some point. Fresh perspectives are always welcome, and I am far from complete in my reading.
Thinking of the Maundy Thursday vigil: the Eucharist and the stripping off the altar at the Church of the Annunciation in Brighton, where I lived for five years (in the town, not the church!) was always an extraordinary occasion. The then priest, David Wostenholme, who is now in Glasgow, would turn the lady chapel into a flowering garden of waiting and remembrance, complete with the Host and the shadow of the tree of betrayal. It generated a tremendous sense of prayer and suspense before the abandonment of Good Friday. Some people who know the Anabaptist, and especially modern Mennonite, influence on my theological thinking are sometimes surprised that the liturgical and aesthetic dimension of the Catholic tradition is important to me. But as far as I am concerned they are wholly congruent. As Dorothee Soelle once put it, mysticism and resistance are two complementary paths to meeting the Other in the midst.
One final thought, on foot-washing. I was intrigued by today's news that it has been temporarily reincarnated as shoe-shining. Actually, that's quite a creative idea. I'm delighted that money is going to Zimbabwe, too. But in another sense it would be wonderful if church leaders could go out onto the streets and serve for no reward at all. In our commodified culture, "random acts of kindness" are regarded with suspicion, though. Debt rather than grace is the way society is ordered. The church as well, all too often, in contradiction of its calling. So it is worth reflecting again (since I have certainly mentioned it before) that whoever asked: 'what might have happened differently if foot-washing had been the primary Christian sacrament?' posed one of the most important post-Christendom questions of all. Perhaps it will be picked up more and more in the 'new monasticism' (which of course goes back to Bonhoeffer) and in 'emergent' circles?
How gratifying to discover that Ben Myers, who maintains the fine Faith and Theology blog ("for theological scholarship and contemporary theological reflection") has developed an affection for the dissenting Episcopal theologian William Stringfellow (pictured left), who died some 25 years ago... but whose insistent critique of injustice, bold commitment to Christian discipleship and iconoclastic vision continues to resonate when it is given a hearing. Ben's full stock of Stringellow posts may be explored here. (There are a couple on here, as well, relating to the book I'm about to mention again...)
In 2000 I was involved in a conference in Oxford celebrating and examining his life and work. There were some fine speakers, and Rowan Williams gave a good address at the end. His contribution is included in a volume that I also have an essay in: William Stringfellow in Anglo-American Perspective, ed. Anthony Dancer (Ashgate 2005). Ben cites a bit of it. Unfortunately, as with other academic-oriented titles that could actually find a wider audience, it is only available in hardback and for £45. Libraries and aficionados only, effectively. When I met Rowan at a reception a year ago he said that his name could be mentioned in relation to a proposal for a paperback. But I've lost touch with Tony, the editor. One for the (rather long!) 'to do' list.
“We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”– Dietrich Bonhoeffer (executed by the Nazis on 9 April 1945)
“God, for me, represents the holiness of otherness. Through an encounter with the divine Other I come to value the encounter with the human other. What I ask God to do for me, God asks me to do for others: listen to them, empower them, believe in them, trust them, forgive them when they betray that trust, and love them for what they are, not what I would like them to be. More than we have faith in God, God has faith in us, and because [God] never loses that faith, we can never lose hope. God is the redemption of solitude.” – Jonathan Sachs, chief rabbi, reflecting in the New Statesman
“[Christ] was executed by people painfully like us, in a society very similar to our own ... by a corrupt church, a timid politician, and a fickle proletariat led by professional agitators.” – Dorothy L. Sayers (1943)
Saturday, April 04, 2009
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Thursday, March 19, 2009
"Love is an act of sedition, a revolt against reason, an uprising in the body politic, a private mutiny." - Diane Ackerman
"We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul." - Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Proceedings of the Eleventh Women's Rights Convention (1866)
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
'Repentance, Renewal and Reconciliation: How One Denomination Has Come to Terms with its Anti-Judaic Heritage' is the title of a forum taking place this evening in the Seabury Auditorium at the Episcopal Church's General Theological Seminary, New York, where I'm staying at the moment.
In 1994, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America issued a 'Declaration to the Jewish Community' in which it repudiated Martin Luther's anti-Jewish writings, expressed its sorrow for their baleful effects in subsequent generations, and affirmed its "urgent desire to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people."
Franklin Sherman,who chaired the committee that prepared the Declaration, will be discussing how it emerged, how it was received, and how it has been followed up in the years since. Dr Sherman is Director of the Institute for Jewish - Christian Understanding at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
The event is being presented by the General Seminary’s Center for Jewish-Christian Studies and Relations.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
The Still Human, Still Here campaign highlighting the plight of tens of thousands of refused asylum seekers who are destitute in the UK is one I passionately support. A few years ago I was involved in providing bail for asylum applicants. Those I met had been through some terrible experiences, and were treated humiliatingly by the 'justice system' here. My wife also sees what is going on as a lawyer.
As Ekklesia associate Vaughan Jones, CEO of Praxis, commented recently, in a broader context: Does the migrant have a human right? Are migrants fully human? Do they have, in the old language, souls? The answer as it currently appears from government is “unfortunately they are human, but we will do everything we possibly can to stop them from being so.”
Saturday, March 14, 2009
“[M]utual service and attention are the basic elements through which the human world becomes transparent to [God]. The realising of that transparency is… the beginning of happiness – not of a transient feeling of well-being or even euphoria, but of a settled sense of being at home, being absolved from urgent and obsessional desire, from the passion to justify your existence, from the anxieties of rivalry. And so what religious belief has to say in the context of our present crisis is, first, a call to lament the brokenness of the world and invite that change of heart which is so pivotal throughout the Jewish and Christian Scriptures; and, second, to declare without ambiguity or qualification that human value rests on God’s creative love and not on possession or achievement. It is not for believers to join in the search for scapegoats, because there will always be, for the religious self, an awareness of complicity in social evil.” – Rowan Williams (more from his lecture on Ethics, Economics and Global Justice - see below, 12/03/09).
Friday, March 13, 2009
The full online audio from the 'Faiths and Freedoms' session at the Convention on Modern Liberty in London on 28 February is now available here. It lasts about 1 hour 15 mins and features me (chairing and doing an introduction), Vaughan Jones (Praxis), Keith Kahn-Harris (New Jewish Thought) and Savi Hensman (equalities adviser and theological commentator). Edited and amplified text versions of what they said are available at Ekklesia - under features (9, 3 and 1 March) and in my column. A Muslim contribution will be added soon.
It's good to see that integrated schooling in Northern Ireland is getting a little more publicity at the moment -- though sadly in the wake of attempts by hardline sectarian groups to revive the bloody conflict there. It has much wider ramifications, however. See also the article by the Rev Jeremy Chadd, which highlights why selective denominational education runs counter to Christian testimony as well as cross-community development.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
“Ethics is about negotiating conditions in which the most vulnerable are not abandoned. And we shall care about this largely to the extent to which we are conscious of our own vulnerability and limitedness. One of the things most fatal to the sustaining of an ethical perspective on any area of human life, not just economics, is the fantasy that we are not really part of a material order – that we are essentially will or craving, for which the body is a useful organ for fulfilling the purposes of the all-powerful will, rather than being the organ of our connection with the rest of the world. It’s been said often enough but it bears repeating, that in some ways – so far from being a materialist culture, we are a culture that is resentful about material reality, hungry for anything and everything that distances us from the constraints of being a physical animal subject to temporal processes, to uncontrollable changes and to sheer accident.” – Rowan Williams, from a stimulating lecture on Ethics, Economics and Global Justice given recently at the Welsh Centre for International Affairs in Cardiff.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
In this online audio programme from The Economist magazine, I am interviewed (in the second half of the segment) by Bruce Clark. The download is here. Incidentally, the "battle of ideas" I referred to was in the US, and refers more to a political battle than an intellectual one. On the same site there's also an interesting interview with Cambridge-based evolutionary palaeobiologist Simon Conway-Morris, who has a particular interest in religion-science discussions. His latest book tackles the question of convergence, in ways that annoy those who take a very reductive programme of gene-centred materialism to be essential to Darwinian theory. More about him here and here.
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
"There remains an experience of incomparable value ... to see the great events of world history from below; from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled - in short, from the perspective of those who suffer ... to look with new eyes on matters great and small." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, After Ten Years
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Faith needs a freedom agenda (My contribution to the Convention on Modern Liberty). Genuine faith – in God, in the good, in people and in the future of our planet – grows through freedom, depends upon freedom to keep it honest, and can contribute to the shared openness and strived-for equality that is part of our free flourishing.
More on Christianity and the limits and opportunities of 'rights'-based discourses and practices here.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Evangelicals who love their gay neighbours - Guardian Comment-is-Free, Simon Barrow. 25 February 2009. There is a growing movement among Christians normally seen as conservative to affirm the rights of gay people.
In Britain, pro-gay evangelicals have also been "coming out". A few years ago veteran Methodist preacher George Hopper published an online book that sums up the difficulty of the shift, but also its hopefulness. It is called Reluctant Journey – A pilgrimage of faith from homophobia to Christian love. /continued...
Thursday, February 19, 2009
"Expediency asks the question: Is it politic? Vanity asks the question: Is it popular? But conscience asks the question: Is it right? And there comes a time when you must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular - but you must take it simply because conscience tells you it is right." - Martin Luther King Jr., 'To Chart Our Course for the Future' (1968)
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Over on Ekklesia we've published a number of pieces to mark the 200th and 150th anniversaries (of Charles Darwin's birth and the publication of On the Origin of Species, respectively). There's Dr Denis Alexander's Why Christians should celebrate Darwin and Professor John Hedley Brooke's Darwin and Religion. The latter has quite a few additional links appended. There's also a summary of responses from the British churches and related academics or agencies, and an education angle from America.
As my comment indicates, I really don't buy into the 'rescuing Darwin' schtick, as it seems to me to feed that which it contends, and to distract attention from the common purpose of harnessing good science to meeting needs and enhancing understanding. Also, interactions between science and theology premised on trying to redress, reassert or reassess the conflicts of the past are in danger of being over-determined by what they should be letting go of or transcending. Oh, and the ComRes survey was rather counterproductive. It generated a problem through flawed questioning, and possibly inadequate attention to sampling errors.
Meanwhile, here's a relevant anniversary / bicentenary blog swarm. And an interesting post on, er, post-Darwin from Bob Cornwall.
Friday, February 06, 2009
For those of you who use Twitter, and for those who might want to try it, Ekklesia has just started tweeting here. We'll be running links to our content as it goes up, through RSS, and adding one or two extras as well. My own Twitter is scrolled on the right-hand column here.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
My experience of being a Christian is that of a surprising, continual and contested process of reformation and rediscovery - personal, intellectual, spiritual and political. It feels far removed from the kind of faith that many zealous believers and non-believers seem attached to. This essay on Being Christian in a sceptical climate draws on previously published material, but I've prefaced it (substantially) and modified it in the light of an interesting exchange as part of a meeting I spoke at recently, organised by the Central London Humanist Group. I've also included some links below to related articles on the theme of 'believing in God in post/modernity' which I have written in the last 18 months or so. There are overlaps, of course. But hopefully they can be viewed as looking at the same tantalising mystery from slightly different angles.
* What difference does God make today?
* Three ways to make sense of one God
* Rescuing God from our attempts at belief
* Which Jesus are we expecting?
* The God elusion
* Theology, science and the problem of ID
* Facing up to fundamentalism
* Turning God into a disaster area
* Re-thinking Christianity
* Why we need to rid ourselves of 'the god of the slots'
* Resurrection is no Easter conjuring trick
* Coming under liberating judgement
"[We need] to embrace a "new bottom line" in which corporations, social practices, government policies and individual behaviours are judged rational, efficient or productive not only if they maximize money or power, but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, ethical and ecological sensitivity, enhance our capacity to treat others as embodiments of the sacred and to respond with awe, wonder, and radical amazement at the grandeur of the universe." - Rabbi Michael Lerner
Monday, February 02, 2009
Oh dear. It's not hard to imagine the depressing forward trajectory of the story that broke this morning about a nurse in Somerset who was suspended on a disciplinary charge after she offered to pray for somebody she was caring for who took exception and reported her. The context was a publicly-funded nursing role. I've tried to respond on behalf of Ekklesia by calling for a non-confrontational approach to resolving this, and trying to look at the wider changes which are bringing about more of these situations. My media comment was:
"One hopes that an issue like this might be resolved in the joint interests of patients, carers, institution and staff without turning it into a huge legal and political issue. But this incident clearly illustrates the 'culture clash' that can emerge in our public institutions as the Christian faith loses its predominance within a society that has previously been shaped by its story.
"With the demise of Christendom, people who do not believe in a particular way often find the presumption that they should or might do so troublesome. On the other hand, Christians who have been used to different implicit 'ground rules' feel that their identity is being eroded by the requirement to maintain a clearer boundary between what they might do in a voluntary capacity (including praying for people), and the culture of restraint being developed in publicly-funded bodies where people of no faith and other faith may see things very differently.
"This is something that needs much more debate and constructive discussion. There is a tendency for disputes of this kind fairly rapidly to descend into confrontation. One can almost predict that some campaigners will try to turn this into another case of 'Christians being persecuted', while others will say it is about 'Christians trying to force their beliefs on people at the taxpayers' expense'.
"That kind of row gets nowhere. Instead we need to look at adjusting to change and redefining roles."
Sunday, February 01, 2009
Savi Hensman has produced another very useful research essay for Ekklesia on different church attititudes and stances towards human rights for all. Since 1948 Christians have played a significant role in extending personal and societal respect for human dignity, including promotion of the UN Declaration. At the same time, church leaders have also questioned and denied rights-based precepts and practices in a number of instances. In this paper, Savi traces these discontinuities while pointing to the substantial traditional theological and spiritual resources that can be deployed in producing and developing shared commitments to freedom and justice.
The publication of this document coincides with the Primates of the Anglican Communion meeting in Egypt from 1-4 February 2009, the upcoming Church of England General Synod discussion on the Human Rights Act, the Convention on Modern Liberty in the UK, and recent comments on human rights from the Vatican, from Evangelicals and from the new Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad.
See also from the same author:
* Being on the side of the crucified
* Developing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
* Human rights are not just for individuals
* The Christ child, the vulnerable and human rights
* Tradition, change and the new Anglicanism
* Prayerfully seeking justice and mercy
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
It didn't make it to live television, but Bishop Gene Robinson's powerful invocation on Sunday has been put up on YouTube by the evangelical magazine Christianity Today - to its credit, since many of its readers probably do not share its strong convictions (full text here). It appears to be a 'home video'. Some of the comments underneath are abusive and unpleasant, you should be warned.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
If you are in Britain and near a television on Sunday 18 January you can catch my Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley on BBC1's Big Questions at 10.00am discussing, among other things the inauguration of Barack Obama, and on Michael Portillo's Christianity: A History on Channel 4 at 7.00pm, looking at the impact of Constantine. To support Ekklesia's work with the media you can donate through PayPal here, by the way.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
A leading advocate of practical non-violence begins a two-week, 20 meeting tour of Britain from Friday 16 January through to 1 February 2009, offering case studies of achieving peace without guns in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Gene Stoltzfus, US founder and director emeritus of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), will be on tour in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland to share his field experience in global peacemaking.The visit is organised by Christian Peacemakers Teams UK and is backed by the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia. CPT came to global prominence in 2006 during the Iraq hostage crisis. More information here and here.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
I have now listened to many, many media interviews about the Gaza tragedy in which dropping bombs, sending in tanks (Israel) or launching rockets (Hamas) has been justified "as a legitimate response" to "what the other side is doing". On some occasions the "eye for an eye" aphorism has been directly used - or, rather, abused. One should not forget the key questions about occupation, dispossession and disproportion, of course. The futile politics of what is going on is frightening - and rather well summarised by Peter Beaumont. But the issues of the destructiveness inherent in endemic revenge go deep into the human psyche and point us toward a root sickness. This is an issue I have tackled in a short Ekklesia piece, On not being left eyeless in Gaza. It also provides an opportunity to begin to plug the forthcoming Gene Stolzfus visit.
Thursday, January 01, 2009
It may be hard to feel a great sense of natural optimism about 2009 given the war in Gaza, the global economic crunch, environmental degradation and much more. But... we can still celebrate human community and possibility, wage peace, and resolve to encourage and transform. New Year greetings to one and all, with the assistance of the fireworks from central London!