Monday, June 27, 2005


The repeated attempts by (mostly right-wing) Christians in the US to impose their texts, symbols and traditions on others through the legal system are deeply damaging to all involved. Trying to force your religious convictions on fellow citizens in this way is an example of the deeply engrained 'Christendom' mindset -- the idea that 'we' are not only right, but have the right to impose our right on all who are wrong.

Advocates of democracy, human rights and the separation (in legal terms) between church and state are well able to make the case against such things on those grounds. And naturally I echo most of what they say. But I would add a theological rationale. Imposing faith corrupts it, as the Mennonite quoted in the Ekklesia story about the latest Supreme Court rulings rightly implies.

A key category for Christian authenticity is witness, martyria. This is the process by which the world re-understood in relation to the God we encounter in Jesus Christ is attested to not by force, but by its opposite -- acted out love in community.

Love does not seek to control, compel or manipulate. Quite the opposite. It seeks to invite, relate and (where necessary) to contend on the basis of our equality before God. To do otherwise in the name of the Gospel is to issue a counter-witness. And martyria in the New Testament let us never forget, is testimony in the form of a love that is willing to embrace suffering for the other. Imposition, by contrast, is to make the other suffer, and thus to violate the pattern of Christ.

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Sunday, June 26, 2005


I am, it must be confessed, one of those for whom the genre of science fiction is largely an unexplored by-pass on the road map of life. Except that, for some of the time most weeks, I enjoyably share London house space with a bunch of people for whom it is the journey -- or at least a large chunk of it.

When I came across Margaret Attwood's tidy little Guardian piece on why we need science fiction I was reminded that it wasn't the ideas that I was unengaged by, but their cultural transmission. It just doesn't flick my switch -- though Attwood's own The Handmaid's Tale (1986) certainly resonates, since the world of overbearing religion is sadly one I have more than a little acquaintance with, and the book is more what you might call a near-future dystopia. If that makes a difference.

Among Attwood's interest-generating comments in the Guardian are those on sci-fi's religious connotations, some obvious, some less so and some (as we shall note) obscured:

More than one commentator has mentioned that science fiction as a form is where theological narrative went after Paradise Lost, and this is undoubtedly true ... Extraterrestrials have taken the place of angels, demons, fairies and saints, though it must be said that this last group is now making a comeback. We want wisdom. We want hope. We want to be good. Therefore we sometimes tell ourselves warning stories that deal with the darker side of some of our other wants. As William Blake noted long ago, the human imagination drives the world. At first it drove only the human world, which was once very small in comparison to the huge and powerful natural world around it. Now we're close to being in control of everything except earthquakes and the weather.

This is all perfectly fair comment, apart from the final sentence -- which is a significant overestimate if you know anything about the natural and biological sciences.

Being a non-theologian, moreover, Attwood takes it for granted that the 'religious' concern with transcendence necessarily involves a world of 'supernatural being' now rendered incredible outside the habitue of the imagination. Whereas, of course, properly-structured Christian talk about God refers not to 'some thing' defined as additional to the natural (as Aquinas was at pains to stress centuries ago), but to the giveness of life in its greater-than-presence. Phenonomenologically, John D. Caputo relates this excess, named in relation to God, to what he terms the axiology of the impossible).

But I digress. Rowan Williams (who enjoyed an interesting exchange with Philip Pullman not so long ago) regularly needs to rehearse the no-thingness of God to those who haven't spotted it, and so is in a good position to demonstrate what an intelligible theological comment about, say, Doctor Who, might look like. Now this (DW) encroaches on an area of mammoth expertise for my housemates, and one where I should not be so angelically foolish as to tread, except to draw your attention to Who's Next as a font of descriptive wisdom and to abandon you to the tender mercies of Shiny Shelf.

Meanwhile, here's Rowan on the Daleks, from a presentation about something quite different, in London last year:

Mind on its own -- powerful intelligence-- is never creative just by itself... think of artists or scientists at work. [What they are engaged in requires] not intelligence alone, but absorption, commitment, love and the leak of imagination... In our family, we have several dozen videos of early Doctor Who episodes. One of the things that strikes me as I watch Doctor Who is how very often villains are pure intelligence. They can't create anything different and they can't rejoice in anything different. If you're a Dalek you're very clever; but there is damn all you can do about relating to anything that isn't a Dalek or prepared simply to reflect Dalek-hood back to you. Your ideal situation is one in which everybody is either Dalek or somebody who does exactly what Daleks tell them to do. So intelligence alone doesn't cut it. Our existence as [fruitfully] intelligent creatures -- loving, risking and questioning -- somehow fits with the idea that God is a God of loving intelligence, who calls into being that which is different...

All of which poses the question nicely: in the light of their recent performance in Nottingham, would some bishops be better off as Daleks? I couldn't possibly comment. (Thanks to Jean Reynolds for the transcript).

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Saturday, June 25, 2005


Still no definite news, as far as I can determine, concerning the long-awaited upcoming 'God' book from David Tracy, based on his 1999/2000 Gifford Lectures, which look fascinating. Unfortunately I was otherwise engaged at the time. He produced a good interview with the left-field Mennonite scholar Scott Holland for the excellent Crosscurrents journal back in 2002, called This Side of God.

Tracy's post-metaphysical turn is also documented in a foreword to the English edition of Jean-Luc Marion's stirring God Beyond Being, and in an article called Form & Fragment: The Recovery of the Hidden and Incomprehensible God. In it he argues for a fresh development of both mystical and prophetic nerve, recognising that "modern theology has marginalized two traditions: the realism of the cross which acknowledges God's hiddenness, and apophatic theology, which displays God's incomprehensibility."

William R. Long offers a thoughtful response to hearing a recent David Tracy lecture on Fragments of Faith at Willamette University, under the auspices of the religion department, here.

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Friday, June 24, 2005


I was grateful to get this out-of-the-blue response from author Emmet Cole:

"[I] very much enjoyed your short article Derrida Among the Theologians. I agree with your assertion that the theological implications of postmodern thinking are yet to fully unfold -- one can only hope that the effect is largely positive, which I take to mean that suffering is reduced and joy enhanced. [Indeed! SB]

"I thought I'd direct you to an interview I had recently with John D Caputo. The interview is based around Caputo and [Jacques] Derrida's use of [James] Joyce's term 'jewgreek' (which I take to be a figure of postmodern Christology); the question of what is undeconstructible is also raised."

It is, to be sure, a great interview. And I'm also delighted to have discovered The Modern Word. Essential stuff. It's been added to my permanent links.

Among many other gems from Emmet's brief exchange with John Caputo, I single this out for enjoyable and profitable re-digestion:

I have a new book entitled The Weakness of God that will be out sometime in 2005. This will be my most theological statement, philosophical-theological, that is, and here I speak of something I call a “sacred anarchy” – I take special note and heartily approve of your use of “Joyous Anarchy.” There is tradition of “Christian Anarchy,” in Jacques Ellul, for example. By this expression I mean that the divine favor rests on the one who is out-of-power and authority (arche), the left out and left over; on weakness, not power; on the last, not the first; on the lost, not the safe. That I think is the philosophical lesson to be learned from meditating the life of Jesus, and what it means for God for take the form of flesh. If Jesus spoke Greek instead of Aramaic, if he had an urban and Greek instead of an Aramaic, rural and biblical imagination, if he uttered propositions instead of telling parables, if he used the Greek word “ethics,” then my prediction is that such an ethics would be an “anarchical” one, where the real meaning and force of the “teaching,” Torah, or the “law,” the alpha and the omega of the Torah, to speak a little Jewgreek, would be that the mark of God lies on the face of least among us, the an-archical. I wax a little heretical in this book by extending this anarchy to God’s own being, which I want to maintain is marked by weakness not strength, which is emblematized in the Crucifixion. There is something like this in [Jurgen] Moltmann, but there I think it is still consistent with the orthodox teaching of omnipotence, whereas I am not so sure that I am orthodox.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005


For some reason, when delving into the post-metaphysical thing in theology, I keep coming across reference's to Kenneth Wilber, the philosopher and founder (as well as disowner) of transpersonal psychology -- now into integral thought based on evolutionary psychology and post-foundationalism. Some of his stuff looks to be edged with green spidery ink in my instinctual universe, but there are also fascinating tangential comments that arise from his force-field - like this one from the delightfully entitled Vomiting Confetti blog.

And Kant? It seems to be the consensus view that Kant is the colossus of western philosophy, that all western philosophy prior to Kant must refer in some way to him, and that when transcendental idealism collapsed, the cry was 'Back to Kant!' or where there's no yoga, there's Kant. There's altogether too much that can be said about Kant, so I'll brutally summarise him by saying that Kant is the springboard to the Integral pantheon... the point at which attempts to think your way to God had been more or less skewered. Where Kant gave up rational theology and declared God unknowable, Integral post-metaphysics should pick up the story. Or so the theory goes.

I'd better find out where it's heading... If I recall correctly, I most recently came across Wilber in a review of Nicholas Wolterstorf's Reason Within the Bounds of Religion and in J. Wentzel van Huyssteen's The Shaping of Rationality: Toward Interdisciplinarity in Theology and Science.

I'm somewhat attracted toward's the latter's post-foundationalism - the search for multivalent and functional conversation strategies that contest modernity's objectivism without sinking into a post-modern ultracontextualism beyond recall. P-f searches for the regulative as well as the divergent, without prescribing either (or their boundaries) in advance. That's somehwere in the right space...

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There have been acres of newsprint and webspace devoted to Rowan Williams' Lambeth Lecture on the media, Public Interest and Common Good. Most people who have spent any significant time thinking about journalistic practice, formation and ethics seem to have welcomed his contribution, whether they agreed with it or not. But some of my fellow-journalists (yes, I'm very pleased to say I rejoined the NUJ recently) have got very worked up about it. Some have even been motivated to read it. Not many, though. And the ones that didn't, or whose grasp of comprehension is a wee bit on the 'challenged' side, have concluded that he is calling for some sort of policing of the internet. Which, of course, is nonsense.

I won't go on about the issues too much here, as I'm planning to pen something for Ekklesia if I get time. For the record, what Williams said about online journalism, as a prequel to comments about 'assessable communication' as a desireable balance between freedom and accountability, was as follows:

The drift in some quarters [of the media] to near-monopolistic practices, the control of the product by careful monitoring of response and periodic re-designing – these evaporate when we turn to internet journalism. Ian Hargreaves, in his excellent Journalism: Truth or Dare, gives a sharp account of the difference made by these developments; surely this is the context in which genuinely unpalatable truths can still be told, ‘unsullied by the preoccupations of the mainstream media’ (p.259)? Yes and no. Unwelcome truth and necessary and prompt rebuttal are characteristic of the web-based media. So are paranoid fantasy, self-indulgent nonsense and dangerous bigotry. The atmosphere is close to that of unpoliced conversation – which tends to suggest that the very idea of an appropriate professionalism for journalists begins to dissolve. Many traditional newspapers and broadcasters now offer online versions of their product and many have allowed interactive elements to come into their regular material, for example by printing debates conducted on the web. But they have not thereby abandoned the claims of professional privilege. The question that seems to pose itself is whether a balance can be struck between the professionalism of the classical media and the relative free-for-all of online communication.

To reduce this to "Archbishop says the web is full of paranoid fantasy, self-indulgent nonsense and dangerous bigotry and should be controlled by people like me" is to turn meaning into propaganda. And not the ABC's, in this case.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005


When I do get a chance to blogscroll (invariably when I have some kind of block on what I'm supposed to be writing), one of the places I like to turn is Dan Walters' Faithblog, which he modestly calls "confused ramblings about God, the church, mission and social justice in the post-Christendom world". Suffice to say that his confusion outstrips the clarity of many...

I see from his profile that Dan is co-author of the Sanctus 1 site too. What an interesting venture that looks. Must get up there sometime. 26 June 2005 looks a good opportunity (Covenant: An exploration into exclusion and embrace, Sacred Trinity, Salford), though I will by that time be preparing to go to Ireland for the British and Irish Association forMission Studies conference on The Next Christendom. (I am hoping that there won't be one, but that's another story.)

Incidentally, the Sanctus 1 event is presumably based around Miroslav Volf's important book of that title - subtitled A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation. You can get it through Ekklesia.

Oh yes, I also came across hopeful amphibian recently: "grace, postmodernity and the kingdom of God", no less. More good stimulus.

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No need to comment, really. Though you can if you want to...

Monday, June 20, 2005


Martin Heidegger, offering a warning as much ignored by over-confident atheists as by careless Christians. Emphases mine:

"Being and God are not identical and I would never attempt to think of the essence of God by means of Being. Some among you perhaps know that I come from theology, that I still guard an old love for it and that I am not without a certain understanding of it. If I were to write a theology - to which I sometimes feel inclined - then the word 'Being' would not occur in it. Faith does not need the thought of Being. When faith has recourse to this thought, it is no longer faith. This is what Luther understood. ...One could not be more reserved than I before every attempt to employ Being to think theologically in what way God is God. Of Being, there is nothing here to expect. I believe that Being can never be thought as the ground and essence of God, but that nevertheless the experience of God and of [God's] manifestedness, to the extent that the latter can indeed meet [persons], flashes in the dimension of Being, which in no way signifies that Being might be regarded as a possible predicate for God. On this point one would have to establish completely new distinctions and delimitations."

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Saturday, June 18, 2005


I'm seeking to add FaithInSociety to the Progressive Christian Blogger Network, which I have also included at the bottom of my links section [on the left]. Needless to say, there is no guarantee of agreement between the various originators. But that's not the point. There is a growing need to encourage discourse among those who define their Christian identity and understanding in terms of openness, generosity and exploration within the tradition -- and that works itself out in a variety of ways. The variety is life-giving, if occasionally disturbing.

For myself, I find it increasingly helpful to talk about they way I approach theology as 'subversive orthodoxy', taking 'orthodoxy' to mean not some imposed dogma (as the word is popularly misused), but as a field of understanding mapped by an underlying grammar of faith rooted in fluid reason and communicability. I'd call it the 'discovery as re-discovery' method.

Others I know and respect take a more overtly 'revisionary' or 'constructive' stance in their theological writing. That's more where I was five years ago, I'd say -- but writers like Nicholas Lash and Rowan Williams (whose new Grace and Necessity is definitely worth a look) have persuaded me that the tradition is far more subtle, capacious, ironic, varied and adaptable than its liberal critics give credit for. And Nick Adams, too, has chastened me.

One thing that has made this possible in a way that I might not have granted a few years ago is a post-metaphysical twist in my thinking, which means that one is not forever trying to ground speech in an extra-contextual epistemology or ontology. It is more a question of honouring the 'excess' of the language and the phenomena by which Christian (and other) gifts come to us, recognising that we have to decide whether and in what way we will claim -- and be claimed by -- the Mystery, but knowing that we will never possess it.

John D. Caputo and Jean Luc Marion represent contrasting ways of going about this. I oscillate between the radically experimental and the radically traditional, seeing radix as both 'routes' and 'roots'.

Not that you necessarily needed to know that. Anyway, I shall be interested to explore what others who think of themselves as 'progressive Christians' are writing about. And, yes, the concept of 'progress' is indeed problematic, and begs lots of questions. Let's just rest it as "seeking a future not our own" for the time being -- rather than some hubristic claim about historical development, say.

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Sunday, June 12, 2005


It is interesting to note that many obituaries for the late Paul Ricoeur, while rightly identifying him as a giant of twentieth century philosophy, barely recognise the significance of his theological concerns. That is true of the BBC’s report of his death, which is wholly silent on this point, and the otherwise substantial Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy entry. The Daily Telegraph doesn’t do much better, but The Guardian (once the house newspaper of cultured despisers, now repaying the loyalty of its radical Christian readers a bit) strikes a good balance.

My only tangential connection with Ricoeur is that my wife was secretary of the English language department at the University of Chicago for part of the time that he was a visiting professor there (1979). Of course I have no way of knowing if he ever realised how fortunate he was!

The particular importance of Paul Ricoeur is that, in addition to sharpening our thinking about access to, interpretation of and transmission through texts, he brought phenomenology to the hermeneutical table, continental theory to traditional Anglo-American philosophising, and combined respect for specialisms with a commitment to the necessity of inter-disciplinary reflection.

Questia lists 16 Ricoeur-related articles. The entry in the Boston Collaborative Encyclopaedia of Western Theologians raises some substantial issues, in particular comparing Ricoeur with Hans Frei and the post-liberal Yale School, rightly noting: “Ricoeur does not want to think of everything in terms of intra-textuality, but rather in terms of some of the latest French reception theory. [He] encourages a much stronger dialogue of non-theological and theological readings, in contrast to Frei's more ecclesial based hermeneutic…. Both make a harsh distinction between the philosophical and exegetical modes. Ricoeur affirms the autonomy of philosophical thinking which can assist theology in making its claims more intelligible. For Frei, philosophy distracts the theologian from the primary task of elucidating the identity of Jesus as presented in the gospel narratives. Frei creates a false antithesis between the two disciplines.”

“[For Ricoeur] philosophy reminds theology of its epistemic limitations so it can not be dogmatic. Philosophy can function as 'a friend of the court' in terms of explicating the doctrines of Christian faith with precision and intelligibility. Since theology is hermeneutical, philosophy can be an indirect aid in thinking about hermeneutics. The general hermeneutic of Ricoeur allows for a plurality and specificity of regional hermeneutics (e.g. biblical hermeneutics), yet also allows for a continuing cross-traditional, cross-disciplinary conversational quest for truth.”

These are important correctives indeed. I do wish the narrative theologians, who have much to offer, wouldn't be tempted so comprehensively to overplay their hand in response to the weakenesses of scepticism.

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By the serendipitous chance that truthfully discloses the patterning of God, and which we Christians therefore think of in a providential way, I came upon J. R Burkholder's reflections on the theology and practice of peace church recently. Burkolder is also an advocate of the work of Rene Girard in Mennonite circles. I was fortunate to have a chance to talk to him during my sabbatical in 2002. Incidentally, Ekklesia and the Anabaptist Network UK have a peace church study guide on the web. I should also mention these resources on pacifism from Anabaptist sources. I am personally pleased that part of this tradition has moved on from non-resistance to non-violent resistance.

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Saturday, June 11, 2005


While looking at the Anabaptist Network site, on which Tim Nafziger is doing wonders, I discovered that my article on Anabaptists, Anglicans and disestablishment is online there. Much more importantly, there is a good pastoral assesment of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by a Baptist minister, Bob Allaway. It is called Christ for the Irreligious.

I am delighted to be working with Keith Clements on the bringing into print of a new book, Bonhoeffer in Britain, which will appear later this year under the imprint of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. Keith is just about to retire as General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches. He is an acknowledged international authority on Bonhoeffer, and this title will feature fresh material (including a substantial number of photos) on the German theologian' and activist's time in England, and briefly in Scotland. Watch this space.

My own episodic reflections on Bonhoeffer include a piece on Life Together, God and the world re-understood in Christ. It is derived from a contribution to a seminar at the London Mennonite Centre, and a past lecture in Birmingham. This year was the 6oth anniversary of his death, by the way.

Among the many things for which I am grateful in Bonhoeffer's life and work was his ability to combine deep intellectual questioning, prayer and a life of discipleship. Though his later prison writings were mistreated by 'death of God' theologians in the 1960s, and not well accounted for by John Robinson's well-meant but flawed Honest to God, he was quite right to question the adequacy of traditional Western metaphysics as a means of conveying the God worshipped in and through Jesus Christ.

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On Thursday and Friday I went to the UK Anabaptist Network Theology Forum meeting at a retreat centre near Leamington Spa. It's a diverse group of people, overflows with thoughtful and prayerful generosity, and tackles some tough issues -- this time including the legacy of Menno Simons and the question of suffering, and a session on "unbiblical evangelicalism" (led by writer Veronica Zundel). I am one of a number of Anglicans who attend, albeit with strong Mennonite links. It was particularly good to meet up with Graham Old, and to discover the face behind the Leaving Munster site (which is well worth a look), and also to learn about Organic Church. These will be added to my permalinks.

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Friday, June 10, 2005


One of the areas where churches in Britain have demonstrated a good deal of common endeavour (at least in terms of activists and policy makers) is over the questions of asylum, refugees and migration -- where the Jewish and Christian biblical tradition's open stance towards "sojourners in the land" provides a powerful counter-witness to welathy societies that seek to close the gate behind their capacity to suck up wealth poorer nations and peoples.

The idea that migrants harm "our" way of life and economy is, in any case, nonsense. The next issue of the estimable New Internationalist magazine will look at immigration from a different perspective: that of an African nurse working in a care home in Britain. She tells her story, explains why she is working so far from home, and unpacks the implications for all involved.

You can get a three-month free trial and Peters Projection world map if you take out a subscription to the magazine now, by the way.

New Internationalist points out that according to UK Home Office figures, migrants contribute £2.5 billion to the British economy, and 10 per cent more in taxes and National Insurance than they receive in benefits and public services. Moreover 43 per cent of nurses and 31 per cent of doctors entering the National Health Service were trained outside the UK. Thousands of hospitals would close without them. And the British Hospitality Association has warned that it would have serious difficulties covering cleaning and catering jobs without migrants.

Of course there are many issues of social justice bound up with these statistics. But they give the lie to propaganda from The Daily Mail, Migration Watch and other alarmists who wish to stoke up fear and misunderstanding among the public in order to strengthen an anti-immigration political agenda.

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... a whole bundle of goodies have found their way into my (increasingly overflowing and disorganised) 'favourites' folder. I might as well share them here. First, though in no particular order of priority, is the Faith and Policy weblog - a good source on US developments from a progressive viewpoint. Then there's Ars Disputandi, the online journal of philosophy and religion.

Meanwhile, in the arena of biblical studies, Dr Mark Goodacre's New Testament Gateway project is without peer, and has a fine NT weblog attached to it, too. I have used it on a number of occasions, but lamentably I have not referenced it before. Also worth referring to is Hypotyposeis, Sketches in Biblical Studies by Stephen C. Carlson. Part of it includes a useful Synoptic Problem site. For those who are into that kind of thing. Oh yes, and The Bible in Transmission is a regular journal which explores the resonance of scripture in public life.

Inter alia I came across and interesting exchange between Jim Gustafsson and William C Placher on postliberalism, from Christian Century. I will return to this at some point. Also a fascinating Theology Today article by Sandra M Schneiders on church study and biblical scholarship in dialogue.

On a lighter note there is the (consciously misspelt) satirical magazine The Wittenburg Door, a nominee for the 2004 Utne independent press awards in the US. Rightly so. And you could no doubt dare to procure yourself a WTFWJD? t-shirt from Sara's Land of Cleverness, just to cross one of the great cultural divides of our age. Incidentally, Going Jesus is an amusing exploration of that darkly innocent land that is religious kitsch. The sort of thing you might want to bear at Landover Baptist, the peeless satire of the religious right assembled by a couple of wicked ejects from Falwell's mis-named Liberty University.

Back in the world of meaningful encounter, the First Mennonite Church of San Francisco looks a good place to be, if you happen to be physically located in the Bay area sometime. And Prodigal Kiwi's weblog is always very stimulating, on everything from the marginal emergence of missio Dei to 'the new monasticism'. Cybervisitors welcome, I'm sure. But New Zealand is also a very nice place in real time.

Many of these will go into my permalinks when I get a moment...

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Thursday, June 09, 2005


A prayer adapted from St Francis for an interreligious conference concuding in Geneva today. It is from His Holiness Aram I, catholicos of the See of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church (Antelias, Lebanon) and moderator of the WCC Central Committee since 1991.

Let us be instrument of peace,
Where there is violence.
Let us promote love,

Where there is hatred.
Let us work for reconciliation,

Where there is conflict.
Let us spread hope,

Where there is despair.
Let us be light,

Where there is darkness.
Let us lead the broken world

To healing and transformation.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005


The appalling case of an eight-year-old child who was beaten, cut and attacked by Christian parents who believed that she was a witch highlights the serious need to tackle religious abuse, and the terrible reality of some types of fundamentalist-style religion. However the reporting of this in the media has run close to negative stereotyping African culture, perhaps in an analogous way to the positive stereotyping that goes on in some Christian media keen to paint a simplistic picture of the 'corrupt West' and the godly African church.

As part of the reaction to all this, MP Diane Abbott has called for consideration of religious registration. I don't think this is helpful, but as an associate of Ekklesia I have made some alternative constructive proposals.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Following yesterday's piece on the US Worship in the spirit of justice initiative, a member of the second chamber of parliament in Britain has been involved in calling for further action on the scandal of Darfur.

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Saturday, June 04, 2005


A fascinating initiative from Brian McLaren and the Cedar Ridge Community Church, who continue to model a vision of 'generous orthodoxy' in a neck of the religious woods that can be anything but open. What is also encouraging is the linking of worship to justice in a way that recognises that to offer prayer, petition, thanksgiving and sacramental expression is not to retreat into a cultic ghetto, but to give public (political) voice to who and what really counts in our lives. McLaren and his colleagues write:

"Worship in the Spirit of Justice began as a dream among a few members of a very ordinary church in suburban Maryland. Many of us were increasingly heartsick over the news from Africa, especially Western Sudan (Darfur). A year ago we knew that genocide was happening, and now, a year later, 200-300,000 more innocent children, women, and men have died. Meanwhile, we heard estimates that 3 million human lives have been snuffed out in recent years in Congo, and like Darfur, there is no end in sight to the killings. And of course, across Africa, the HIV pandemic creates an aching need--and opportunity--for compassionate, sacrificial response. [More on the problem of Darfur]

"But what could we do? We were just a few people in one small congregation. Then we realized that there may be handfuls of people in thousands of congregations who felt as we did. And we realized that even though we were just one congregation, perhaps if we decided to take action, others might join us. Immediately, we found willing colleagues and “Worship in the Spirit of Justice” was born.

"We are inviting willing Christians to gather for five Sundays of public worship in Washington DC, around the theme of justice and peace in Africa, and especially Darfur, Sudan. These outdoor worship services will take place at 1 p.m. between June 12 and July 10, 2005. We hope that people will attend their Sunday morning worship services and then come to be part of these events. We will speak to people in power and urge them to take action for our neighbors in danger and need. (Download a PDF to learn more:

"We are encouraging churches to bring delegations--complete with a sign or banner, if possible--to attend each week--perhaps ten or twenty or fifty or a hundred people per week. That way, the maximum number of people will experience taking a public stand in this way, and they will bring back the experience to their home churches. As well, we encourage churches to use the prayers and readings we’ll be using in DC back in their home churches. (We’ll post all the resources on this site each week, along with streaming video of our outdoor services, in hopes that other groups in other cities across our nation and world will wish to attempt similar gatherings of worship in the spirit of justice.) And of course, children are welcome – we can’t think of a better teaching moment for children than for them to join their parents in this endeavor.

"We will do what Christians always do when they gather for worship--pray, read Scripture, preach, sing, and take an offering (all of which will go to aid people suffering in Darfur). But we will do these things outdoors, in public, with four goals:

1. To pray for God’s justice and mercy to come for those suffering in Darfur, and to be formed as people who share God’s courageous compassion.
2. To urge the media to increase coverage for those who suffer in Darfur and elsewhere, and to urge our government to exert its influence in the world community to end the genocide there and pursue peace.
3. To call the church in America not to forget the poor and oppressed, especially those in Africa--and to make those who suffer poverty and injustice a greater priority in our prayers, preaching, and action whenever we gather to worship the God of justice.
4. To urge the U.S. government to promote peace in the Darfur region by adequately funding the African Union Peacekeeping effort." Further information.

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Friday, June 03, 2005


It was good to get an email from Johan Maurer today. His commentaries on life and faith are always a stimulating read. A Quaker writer and scholar, Johan is involved in some very important work on the Quaker testimonies and and the evangel. I first met him during his recent sojourn at Woodbrooke Study Centre in the UK.

Perhaps it is a self-preserving reaction, but my personal experience is that some in the Christian world for whom 'evangelism' is not a natural mantle have most to offer in terms of recovering 'witness' (martyria) as the key category for hopeful Christian engagement... which might well include Friends. Whereas those who trumpet the word to the skies as a litmus test of 'true faith' run the risk of displacing costly testimony with brash advertising slogans.

["We are the Church of martyria. For this reason, our witness is a witness for love, for the just peace, for the non-violent struggle for the truth, and for equitable just co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis... The Church of martyria is the Church that seriously carries the cross whatever the price might be, because it is the follower of its crucified Lord and master. " Bishop Munib Younan.]

I make that observation partly in response to those who wrote to me following the drafting of the open letter to the WCC on the subject of "recovering the kerygma" (for context see CWME reports). Several were grateful that the topic had been raised in a way that emphasised "talking the walk", rather than promoting a specialist activity which then becomes the preserve of what one correspondent called "certain kinds of Christians". I'll leave that one to your imagination!

On the other hand, a few wrote expressing views which seemed to suggest that any emphasis on pointing explicitly to Jesus Christ as the source, shape and goal of our hope was tantamount to 'exclusivism' and 'triumphalism'. To think that is, I fear, to entertain some serious confusions.

To speak of Christ or to point to the transfiguring impact of his crucified and risen life is to raise a question, not to impose an answer. Not to allow this question to be raised may be to cut our conversations off from the life of One who comes to us in the vulnerability of a stranger and bids us be friends. It is a matter of listening and discernment, not imposition and formula.

The challenge, I think, is to do with our preparedness (in our relationships, our plans and our encounters) for an "Emmaus Road" moment. The evangelising instant is not one where we hear ourselves speaking, but a time to find ourselves lovingly addressed. For it is God's voice we seek.

At the WCC World Mission Conference, many observed that the plenary references to evangelism were primarily cautionary. I can understand why. The name of Christ is so horribly abused in our world. For this reason, as the historic peace churches are perhaps in the best position to recognise, the first step in speaking of or pointing to Jesus is our disarmament.

It is, indeed, peace that anchors the Gospel's witness.

Only when we abandon our weapons of fear can we engage with others in a way which will be free of manipulation and self-interset, and which will thereby truthfully witness to the one who refuses our violence by taking it upon himself.

The precondition of participating in the evangel, then, is metanoia. Ours, first of all. That is what makes it so vital, so tough, and so inimical to the imperialism into which the word 'evangelism' has been so disgracefully distorted.

All of which has reminded me to add links to two organisations for which I have a particular affinity: Witness for Peace (I was in Nicaragua briefly in the mid-1980s) and Christian Pecaemaker Teams (a partner of Ekklesia).

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005


This prayer of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador is a continual source of hope and inspiration...

It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

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