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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