Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Here, as promised, is the piece I have written for the Guardian Comment-is-Free website: Migration's real meaning - An obsessive focus on restricting migration bypasses global realities and prevents us from seeking a more positive approach to people's movement.

Predictably, respondents have begun to misunderstand the article in two obvious ways. First, it has been described as advocating "no immigration controls". One would have thought that the occurrence of the word "regulation" in the final paragraph would have been a clue that I'm not seeing things that simply, but no matter. Knee-jerk responses are the order of the day in this debate. That's what prompted me to write something in the first place. What I'm actually suggesting is that we are over-preoccupied with controlling borders, and under-concerned about the deeper changes that would actually stem the flow of forced migration (whether by political, criminal or economic displacement) and help us to move towards sustainable people movements in a shared context - rather than one where we simply use borders as barriers. It's a matter of trajectory. [Picture: deletetheborder]

Second, the accusation is rapidly raised that my argument accepts the premise of unfettered capitalism. No. What I'm saying is that so long as capital can move unfettered, it is unfeasible and unjust (in a world of dissolving borders) to think of clamping down on people as a solution to the disequilibrium caused by massive inequality and other consequences of the 'rights of capital'. The point is that expecting migration policy to solve all the other problems you wish to ignore is palpably unrealistic - contrary to the bleatings of the 'get tough' lobby. The fact that there are no simple paths from where we are now to where we need to be heading for is no excuse for ignoring this. A paradigm shift is what I'm advocating, not a legitimation of the current patterns of globalisation. Or a simplistic belief that unqualified borders can resolve things.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Here's a fabulous piece by the highly creative Catholic theologian James Alison [pictured] - God and Desire, presented to the 2007 Quest Conference, Sheffield (England), on 21 July 2007. No wonder he's one of Rowan Williams' favourites. I'm honoured that one of James' pieces appears in the book that I edited with Jonathan Bartley in 2005, Consuming Passion: Why the killing of Jesus really matters (DLT). James' main website is here. This piece draws on an interesting dramaturgical/operatic metaphor to make its point - inter alia illustrating the central reason for "the poverty of modern discourse about God, whether it be to deny God, à la Dawkins or Hitchens, or to affirm God, in the way that so many of our religious representatives do."

What I’m trying to do here is to bring out something odd about the difference between “a god” and “God”, since it is too easy, in discussions of “the advent of Hebrew monotheism” to find ourselves talking about different sorts of “it” – on the one hand gods, which are “its”, objects, projections of ours, or of our social groupings, slalom poles within our negotiation of the piste which is our universe; and on the other hand, “God” which is a much bigger and more definitive sort of “it”. One which sets everything up, gives rules to go by, and cannot be negotiated round. Well, the trouble here is that both the little “its” and the big “it” share in the same essential quality of “itness” – that is to say, they are objects which are, to some degree or other, within our ken.

However, the whole point of the advent of Hebrew monotheism is that it doesn’t fit into this picture at all: in fact it completely reverses it. What the advent of Hebrew monotheism looked like could, and can, only be detected in the radical reversal of desire which it produces. It is not that a new “It” begins to open up before our gaze, a gaze which has been brought into being by the relationships which have taught us who we are and shown us what we can see and desire. Instead, “I Am bringing everything to be” (Ex 3,14) starts to emerge as it were from behind our capacity for gaze, behind everything that is, by producing profound alterations of the patterns of desire which enable us to be “selves” at all, such that we find ourselves ceasing to be self-grasping “I”s who share in the creation of “its” by rivalry, defence, paranoia and projection.

So what it feels like to us to undergo “I Am bringing everything to be” is much more like a loss of all those sacred projections and “its” on whom we could depend and over which we could fight. And in their place, there is nothing at all in our gaze, no god at all. This is because the new pattern of desire which is calling us into being is without ambivalence, conflict, scarcity or danger and so the new “I”s, the new “selves” which will be the embodied symptoms of this new pattern of desire, rest peacefully upon their own given-ness by another. It is not what we see, but our capacity for gaze itself that is undergoing transformation as we find ourselves being given an equality of heart so that we see as we are seen, we know as we are known (1 Cor 13,12; Gal 4,9), without distortion, because “I AM” is enlivening us into being.


Andrew Clitherow
is a canon of Blackburn Cathedral, vicar of St Cuthbert's, Lytham, and the author of Creative Love in Tough Times. Last week he wrote a very good 'Face to Faith' piece for the Guardian - on releasing Christ from the cul-de-sac of formal religion. In it, he comments:

"[In authentic religion we learn to] make way for the Spirit of love to confront evolutionary-driven human behaviour. Instead of grabbing what we want at the expense of others, we discover that our humanity is fulfilled as we learn how to share what we have. Rather than stereotyping others by the roles we give them, we allow them to find their own way. Instead of excluding others simply because they are different from ourselves, we embrace the diversity of human life.

"Inauthentic religion, on the other hand, treats its followers like children and keeps them in an infantile relationship with God while inhibiting human development. It is a dangerous tool in the hands of those who have highly destructive weapons of technology at their fingertips. Utterly convinced they have God on their side, they might one day tear the world apart with a second big bang (de-creation by our own will rather than recreation by the will of God) that could lead to the end of us all.

"With so much at stake, it is sad that the church still largely conforms to patterns of genetically driven behaviour, inherited and proudly preserved through its traditions. Until people of good faith - both within the church and beyond its precious boundaries - can release the Nazarene Christ from the present cul-de-sac of formal religion, there is little chance that the church can give the postmodern mind any real hope for the future. For Christ belongs not to the church but to the universe, although to listen to the establishment you would think it was the other way around."

Good stuff, though once again some of the respondents on the website take the breath away with their ignorance and bile - proving that a profound sickness of spirit is not the monopoly of 'the religious', whatever the perils of religion - ones that Clitherow acknowledges in his argument in a way that his critics spectacularly fail to do in relation to their own (supposedly rational) world views.


My friend Alison Goodlad has written a thoughtful review (here on Ekklesia) of Rowan Williams' fine book, Christ on Trial: How the Gospel Unsettles Our Judgement (London, Fount, 2000). In a world overrun by violence, accusation and leaping-to-judgement, it offers a salutary and mature response to our various attempts to vindicate ourselves at the expense of others.

"Pilate's questioning assumes that there is only one way to live – and that is in terms of power and territory, defended by violence. The idea that there can be a sort of authority derived from complete transparency to God, a living in truth, which is not concerned with territory, makes no sense to him."

Friday, August 24, 2007


The reaction to Peter Tatchell's humane Guardian article about asylum seekers and refugees ('Figures of disgrace') is a depressing reflection of the current state of the 'debate' - which is now being rejoined by the Tories, sniffing a populist issue on which New Labour has moved so far to the right as to leave little room for manoeuvring toward more sensible policy terrain. In his radical (anti-apartheid) days, Peter Hain once remarked that the letters column of the Daily Telegraph was "a litmus paper for latent British fascism". I'm sure he would have said the same for Comment-is-Free if he had read some of the asylum ripostes; though nowadays he is more likely to be found nuzzling up to Home Office minister Tony McNulty.

Partly in response to all this, I have written a piece about re-framing migration as part of a reassessment of global concerns, which I hope will be up on the Guardian site in a day or so. I will post the link here. Like Peter T, I too have personal experience of these issues. In the past I have been part of the 'Bail Circle' established by the churches and NGOs - which aims to provide support and finance to vulnerable asylum seekers facing appeals that are often hugely stacked against them. This means that I have seen first-hand the Home Office trying to wriggle out of humanitarian and human rights obligations. It is a very distasteful thing to witness. To say the least.

Of the several asylum cases I supported, a couple were refused. But being a 'failed asylum seeker' no more means that your claim is unfounded than failing an exam means you wrote lies. The government, as Peter Tatchell {pictured} says, has "shamelessly rigged the asylum system to ensure the failure of as many applicants as possible.... Some are being sent back to countries where they are at risk of arrest, jail, torture, vigilante attacks, death squads and worse."

It is truly appalling. And it bears little relation to the real issues, as I hope to show.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Indefatigable human rights campaigner, rainbow politician and Baptist preacher the Rev Jesse Jackson has been making quite an impact on his UK visit, which has had two aims: to mobilise black communities into social action, and to mark the United Nations day for the remembrance of the transatlantic slave trade and its abolition. How much impact he will have on the outlook of some fast-growing but culturally and religiously conservative black churches remains to be seen. But he has been characteristically outspoken.

"Is the Bible a liberation manual, or does it teach you to adjust to oppressive conditions? Adjusting to oppression is unbiblical. Jesus leads us to the cross, not to the swimming pool"... "What made Dr Martin Luther King and Jesus and Moses most significant was not unity, because none achieved unity. Jesus killed at 33, Dr King killed at 39. But they were minorities with majority visions."

"Britain has been quite astute at covering up the lack of progress. Tony Blair said Colin Powell was a great guy. But if he believed that, why didn't he have a black secretary of state?"

On Monday, the anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, Jackson flies back to Washington DC, and his first task will be to lead a protest outside a suburban gun shop. Earlier this month he was in Chicago, where a black man died after being "subdued" by police in his own home using a Taser gun and pepper spray. Last month he was in San Francisco speaking at an anti-gun rally. The same month, he was also in Ghana calling for greater integration, and action in Dafur.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


I seem to be on the 'wise quotations' trail at the moment. Sometimes a pithy phrase can be worth a dozen insights and pages of analysis. This morning I stumbled across something from Jean Rostand (1894 - 1977), the biologist and philosopher. He wrote and studied very widely, and maintained a humanistic agnosticism which was suspicious of the claims of comfortable ideologists of all shapes and sizes. Son of the playwright Edmond Rostand and the poet Rosemonde Gérard, his brother was the writer Maurice Rostand. He campaigned vigorously against nuclear proliferation and the death penalty. Here are some bon mots, with the odd commentary from me. Some of them are as if Wilde had met Swift in a railway carriage on a foggy evening. Wonderful. The last one is beyond price.

"To love an idea is to love it a little more than one should." (from De l’amour des idées , 1926)

"A few great minds are enough to endow humanity with monstrous power, but a few great hearts are not enough to make us worthy of using it." (They might be enough to remind us not to use it, however.)

"In order to remain true to oneself one ought to renounce one's party three times a day."

"It is not easy to imagine how little interested a scientist usually is in the work of any other, with the possible exception of the teacher who backs him or the student who honours him [sic]".

"In politics, yesterday's lie is attacked only to flatter today's."

"Kill one, and you are a murderer. Kill millions, and you are a conquerer. Kill everyone, and you are a god." (This is why good religion is about learning not to entertain the gods)

"A couple are well suited when both partners usually feel the need for a quarrel at the same time."

"To reflect is to disturb one's thoughts." (Or not, in the case of much modern commentary)

"Theories pass. The frog remains." (Now there's a good theology of creation!)

Monday, August 20, 2007


"The conduct which disclaims the ordinary maxims of reason excites our suspicion and eludes our enquiry. Whenever the spirit of fanaticism, at once so credulous and so crafty, has insinuated itself into a noble mind, it insensibly corrodes the vital principles of virtue and veracity." — Edward Gibbon

See also Alasdair McIntyre's important book Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues (Chicago, USA: Open Court, 1999).

(Hat-tip to Howard Ingham for the Gibbon quote)

Sunday, August 19, 2007


"Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.... Returning violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." — Martin Luther King Jr.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Black America and the civil rights movement is joining music fans from across the globe tonight in mourning the death of Max Roach [pictured], the pioneer jazz drummer. He not only moved the percussive arts forward massively and helped jazz become recognised as a serious art form as well as a dance hall pastime, he also took his social responsibility seriously. As the BBC and othe obituarists have noted: "Roach also brought politics into his art, becoming one of jazz's loudest voices for civil rights. In 1960 he created We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite, a seven-part movement that addressed slavery and racism in America." He and Martin Luther King Jr shared a mutual respect. More going up on NewFrontEars.

We have been experiencing a few problems on the Ekklesia site over the past 36 hours, and for a time it was down temporarily. Hopefully it will all be working fine by the time you read this. But it may be a day or so before more news and features go up. Sorry.

Footnote: Now sorted. Thanks to the good people at http://www.unitedhosting.co.uk/ and to Joe Baker at http://www.eleutheria.biz/ We recommend their services :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


At the end of last month I mentioned the dialogue between the late Marxist-humanist philosopher Ernst Bloch and the Christian theologian Jurgen Moltmann. On 11 August 2007, Peter Thompson [picture], who is lecturer in German politics at the University of Sheffield and is currently in the process of establishing a much-needed Centre for Ernst Bloch Studies, had a very good piece in the The Guardian, Religion is not a delusion but a quest for 'home'. Thompson writes as an atheist. Inter alia he noted:

According to Ernst Bloch, "only an atheist can be a good Christian and only a Christian can be a good atheist." Since Bloch's death in 1977, he has been largely forgotten as a significant contributor to the debate about the role of religion in society. But in an age when theism is constantly in the news, it is time for a more considered atheistic response to the reawakening of faith than those of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. What Bloch meant was that the Aunt Sally atheism as practised by those writers brings us no further in understanding either the historical or social roots of religion. For him it was not enough to posit religious belief as a delusion. The basis of belief, he said, rests in a social context.

The quotation from Bloch is actually from the Moltmann exchanges. Indeed, I think it might be Bloch who uttered the first phrase and Moltmann the second (at least according Jose Miguez Bonino, the Argentinian liberation theologian).

What characterised many past conversations between thoughtful non-believers and thoughtful believers (I am thinking about the progressive dialogues of the 1960s and '70s) was three things, it appears to me. First, a common commitment to building a better world. Second, a recognition that learning the distinctive language of the other was central to moving beyond unhelpful stereotypes and too-easy subsumptions. Third, a certain epistemic humility. These qualities are sadly lacking from the current 'debate' (at least the one the media and loud-mouthed activists foist upon us). We need more voices like Thompson's, and their equivalent among academicians of religion.

One key heir to the earlier ethos of seeking mutual enrichment rather than self-asserting approbation is Jurgen Habermas, whose work on structures and theories of rationality is formative within post-war European humanistic thought. It's noteworthy that while many of the atheistic headline-grabbers in today' s 'religion debate' (none of whom are specialists) start from a position of dismissiveness and contempt toward religion and its intellectual shaping within theology, Habermas has moved towards an ever-deeper engagement.

Eduardo Mendieta notes that, "[f]or Habermas, religion, as well as theology, is not only a precursor or prior stage of rationality, it is the very catalyst of rationalization." He is not a believer, but he understands that there is rationality to belief as to non-belief - and he recognises that it "is neither dead, nor completely taken over, [n]or supplanted, by philosophy. In fact, Habermas calls for their co-existence and fruitful dialogue. ...[He] goes a long way to show how religion continues to be generative for social solidarity (and unrest and enmity) and philosophical creativity" (Mendieta). Habermas's own primary dialogues have been with the Christian theologian Johannes Baptist Metz, with whom has had a long-term friendship, and with the Jewish theologian Gershom Scholem.

In English, see Habermas's recent essay 'Religion in the Public Sphere', European Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 14, No. 1 (2006): 1-25. An interesting critical take - which challenges Habermas' readings of Aquinas, Hobbes and Hegel on the way to an alternative, theologically fecund account of practical reason rooted in textuality - is Nick Adams' Habermas and Theology. Mendieta has written a critical appraisal of this in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. Meanwhile, the book many eagerly await in translation is Herman Düringer's Universale Vernunft und partikularer Glaube: eine Theologische Ausweertung des Werkes von Jürgen Habermas.

"In the poetry for the Third Symphony, I included a line which I had been ‘forced’ to write: “My sibling is the torturer”. It is a frightening line, and I do not know that I understand what it means. And yet I know instinctively that it is something that we have got to face up to; there is some element, which we have not yet understood, about why people do things in this violent form. I am afraid that unless we make some definite effort to understand we shall not get ourselves round this corner. My emotional responses in favour of the victims of war and in opposition to notions of military heroism do not necessarily make me a better person than the ‘heroes’."

Composer and life-long pacifist Sir Michael Tippett, Individual Responsibility, Talk at PPU AGM. See also my occasional music weblog, NewFrontEars.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


"The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth" (Niels Bohr - courtesy of Huw Spanner)

"There are many, many possible readings of any given text. But some of them are still wrong." (Nick Adams)

"There is all the difference in the world between a point of scholarship and a matter of thought." (Mark C. Taylor)

‘A conversation cannot belong to one person the way a narrative can. [….] Conversation addresses the ‘free stranger’ in any interlocutor’ (PocketVisions)

Sunday, August 12, 2007


This is the title of the latest in an energetic series of recent, semi-popular books which have poured forth from the pen of Keith Ward, Professor of Divinity at Gresham College, London, and Regius Professor of Divinity Emeritus at the University of Oxford, over the past few years. I say "semi-popular" because these titles (God: A Guide for the Perplexed; Is Religion Dangerous?, What the Bible Really Teaches and Pascal's Fire: Scientific Faith and Religious Understanding) have their roots in careful, scholarly thought. But they are still crafted with a clarity and engagingness that ought to communicate to intelligent people who otherwise lack a grasp of much of the technical, historiographical, interpretative and conceptual vocabulary which needs to inform discussion of God and belief at the toughest level - that is, way beyond the pigeon-holing, point-scoring approach of both 'muscular religion' (in its many modern guises) and the new 'muscular atheism' (of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Grayling, Hitchens, et al).

Publishers OneWorld Books (Oxford, 2007) sum up the remit of Ward's new volume, made available in hardback on 30 March - which happens to be my birthday - as follows: "The Christian faith is often charged with being outmoded and anachronistic. [Subsisting in what is taken to be] a monolithic institution rooted in the past, many critics have claimed that it lacks the resources to adapt to modern society's needs and advances. In Re-thinking Christianity, popular Christian theologian Keith Ward sets out to challenge this view, arguing persuasively that it is not only uncharitable, but refuted by historical evidence.

"Mapping the evolution of six major beliefs, from the Hellenistic restatement to the challenge of evolutionary theory, Ward demonstrates that Christianity has always been expressed in constantly changing ways in response to new knowledge and understandings of the world. Controversial, liberal [in the sense of open and critical], and confronting the principal questions facing Christianity today, Ward uses this basis to support the construction of his own ground-breaking theology: a 'systematic theology' for the post-scientific age." [My interpolations added]

Full review article continued at: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/5572

Saturday, August 11, 2007


The campaign to get practical recognition of the vulnerability of Iraqi translators is having an impact. Now there's an entertaining and poignant campaign video (below), as well as the petition on the government's website - which is continuing beyond its assigned date. "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to offer asylum in the UK to the Iraqis who have been working as translators and in other capacities for the UK armed forces."

The code for including this clip on your own site via a more modest button is linked in this bloggerheads post. Sunny Hundal notes: "The Guardian is reporting today that in a case earlier this year the Home Office made special considerations for an Iraqi translator, and this precedence may have an impact on this campaign. There is no doubt now that this issue has ratcheted up the media agenda and the government may be forced to take action. Through gritted teeth, even Guido admits it." (Hat tip: Pickled Politics, again.)

Friday, August 10, 2007


Two days ago I was discussing with a friend what might be an appropriate title for a new church study and reflection group here in Exeter. Soundings came to mind, because its maritime metaphor connotes both a commitment to unbounded intellectual curiosity, and the recognition that in order to plumb the depths we need some kind of anchorage in turbulent times - a hybrid notion which acts as a suitable antidote to two fashionable but misplaced intellectual trends.

The first is the idea that there can be such a thing as un-traditioned, wholly autonomous thought (this fails to recognise the true debts we owe when we try to think freshly, and the need to build a reflexive account of these into what we offer). The second is the idea that 'tradition' is inherently about fixity in method, scope, reference and interpretation (which fails to acknowledge the diversity and dynamism of what we inherit, build on and modify).

In terms of theology (the articulation and exploration of Christian hope in reasoned discourse) Ken Leech comments well on this in the fourth part of his Samuel Ferguson Lecture 2006 given at the University of Manchester on 19th October 2006 (The Soul and the City: Urban ministry and theology 1956-2006). Cultivating a constructive "abnormal discourse" - in the sense he evokes from Rorty - is certainly the kind of approach we are committed to on Ekklesia. Not least because the conventions surrounding the discussion of religion at the moment, both anti- and pro-, are so stiflingly inadequate and forgetful.

"Theology begins to change when the ground on which we stand begins to crumble, or, to change the metaphor, when we find ourselves in the midst of violent storms. This was how many Christians, not least in the urban areas, experienced the 1960s. The sense of turbulence in theology was expressed memorably by the Chicago-based theologian Langdon Gilkey in 1965.

The most significant recent theological development has been the steady dissolution of all those certainties, the washing away of the firm ground on which our generation believed we were safely standing. What we thought was solid earth has turned out to be shifting ice -- and in recent years, as the weather has grown steadily warmer, some of us have, in horror, found ourselves staring down into rushing depths of dark water. (Gilkey 1965).

"It was not surprising that a number of the influential writings of this period were inspired by Paul's navigational escapades recorded in
Acts 27. Soundings, edited by Alec Vidler, was followed by Four Anchors from the Stern and Praying for Daylight, while the inimitable Eric Mascall contributed his Up and Down in Adria.

"However, this encounter with turbulence has led to new creativity, new approaches, new insights, new methods of working which have served to liberate, to break the mould, to challenge and subvert accepted ways of working.

"How does this occur? Clearly it is not inevitable. (Many Christians, confronted by storm, cry out, 'Hide me , O my Saviour, hide / Till the storm of life is past'!) A clue lies, I believe, in the notion of 'abnormal discourse' described by Richard Rorty in his Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Rorty argues that much discussion and thought runs along predictable lines, based on certain accepted conventions. Abnormal discourse is 'what happens when someone joins in the discussion who is ignorant of these conventions or who sets them aside. . .The product of abnormal discourse can be anything from nonsense to intellectual revolution, and there is no discipline which describes it, any more than there is a discipline devoted to the study of the unpredictable or of 'creativity' (Rorty 1980: 5, 320-1).

"I believe that much of the progress in recent urban theology has come from such abnormal discourse, supported by abnormal practice, which over time has become normal and common."
[Pic: Kenneth Leech]

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Journalist and commentator Sunny Hundal of the excellent Pickled Politics newsblog writes: "I recently wrote of a blog-campaign to petition the government to help save Iraqis who helped the British military. As with other bloggers, I believe it is our moral obligation to help those who are most likely to face reprisals from the Al-Qaeda insurgents. Yesterday the campaign became bigger, with The Times making it a front-page story. The BBC is now reporting that Gordon Brown has said he will look into [the matter]. Good, but not good enough. Dan Hardie wants people to post responses from their MPs, so we can list supporters of this campaign and those who don’t care. Chickyog has a list so far... Please sign the Petition if you haven’t already."

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Just as early Christians were honorifically accused of atheism (because they refused to bow to the gods and graven images of the Roman Imperial pantheon), so they were also accused of cannibalism (because their rituals seemed to involve a claim to eat flesh and blood). The former accusation was, in a sense, true. As Nicholas Lash points out: Christians, Muslims and atheists have this in common, at least - they all disbelieve in 'gods'. The fact that much modern religious understanding and its corresponding refutation does not see it this way is a function, as Lash says, of the almost comprehensive ignorance of what could reasonably be called 'traditional Christian belief' in today's world. The Christendom settlement, in corrupting the Gospel message, has both rendered it harmless and neutered it intellectually.

Much of this is the fault of Christians, of course. And the history of our disputes about the sharing of bread and wine is a good example of this. While the early accusations of cannibalism were misinformed and childish (more poignantly, politically directed against subversives), the church that did a deal with empire soon came to live out the message about it proclaimed by its accusers. It began, indeed, to eat itself and other people, consuming flesh in the fires of mutual admonition and denying bread to the hungry - actually, not figuratively.

In this context, the simple Christian meal of bread and wine, by which the death of Jesus at the hands of overbearing religion and politics is remembered, and through which a vision of a life-giving alternative world is created, takes on a fresh and demanding significance. This is especially the case in an age where religious thought and ritual is so readily co-opted to a death-dealing agenda. But, as is often the case, the solution is not to be found in abandoning the tradition, but in rediscovering it in a fresh, life-affirming way, true to its radical roots.

In large measure this is what my article How the church should learn to eat itself is about - looking at the dynamics of 'communion' as lived experience and ritualised good behaviour, rather than arcane metaphysics. It is adapted from a sermon I was honoured to be asked to preach during my recent US vacation, at Hyattsville Mennonite Church in Maryland. This is a church which models inclusive community It is part of a living Christian tradition where 'Eucharistic practice' is often built into the weave of life, even if the Catholic theology that underpins it is not always emphasised, not least because of its past misuse. The original text can be found here (note: *.PDF - Adobe file).

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Though it has mysteriously decided not to release it on DVD, the BBC has thankfully been re-broadcasting (on BBC 2) its superb series on early Christian art - a rich mixture of the history of society and ideas, reflective spirituality, theological revisionism and artistic creativity. Art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon sets out to unravel the mysteries of painting from the pre-perspective era - or rather from the era in which a decision was made to abandon mundane naturalism for a transcendent topography.

Tellingly, Raphael described the solidly representational Arch of Constantine as "brutal and primitive". This is a judgement which with hindsight we might share politically, if not artistically. The subsequent 'approved' Mosaic tradition accommodated Jesus to Apollo. Humility gave way to power. Meanwhile, Eastern Christian iconography sought to overcome the iconoclastic objection (you cannot and should not imprison the divine in an image) by creating images that are designed to be looked through, rather than at. They are windows onto a world without end.

The first programme in the Art of Eternity series (tonight) traces the beginnings of Christian art in the declining Roman Empire, Egypt and medieval France, and discusses the ideas which lay behind the transition from classical art to the first icons. Over the next two weeks, we move to Istanbul and the Byzantine Empire, then on to the evolutionary perspective of the Renaissance. Wonderful. Lux continua.

Monday, August 06, 2007


Both Save The Children and the British Red Cross have launched appeals for the South Asia flood emergency, which has now claimed 500 lives and displaced 21 million people. Aid is going in, but the situation in many regions (especially Bihar in India) is pretty dire - and governments and multilateral agencies need to be doing much more.

Part of the problem is logistics. The BBC reports: "the UN's World Food Programme has been distributing emergency aid to flood-hit areas. The agency estimated that one million people had been directly affected and some were in need of urgent assistance. In Nepal, many roads in the flooded areas have been cut and bridges have been washed away. It is proving hard for aid agencies and the government to bring help. They have distributed food supplies to some communities, but many people who are still living in damaged mud and thatched homes complain it is not enough." More background on the monsoon can be found here, and accompanying this post is a map of the impacted region

Saturday, August 04, 2007


As Bob Churchill commented [yesterday's post] regarding the South Asia flood tragedy - a massive monsoon which has displaced millions of people and will cause economic and social devastation in the region - the BBC broadcast news has given it relatively low prominence so far: though at least it was front page web news and made the headlines. Here is the US, it didn't make it into any of the TV news I saw yesterday. I have just scoured The Washington Post, a highly creditable paper. There is nothing on the front page and nothing on the international pages, where news stories with links to US interests (Iraq, Mexico, Afghanistan and France) are highlighted. Then on page 16 - that is, the back page of the front section - there is a column called World News In Brief' where the plight of millions of Indian, Bengali and Nepali citizens is dealt with in a column inch. I'd like to say that this beggars belief, but sadly it does not. It shows what an incredibly distorted view of the world the 'mainstream' media in the rich world still has.

Friday, August 03, 2007


The BBC reports that almost 20 million people have been displaced as some of the worst floods for years have hit a wide swathe of northern India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Roads have been washed away and hundreds of villages have been cut off by swollen rivers. NGOs and development agencies are acting swiftly. Donations can be made via Christian Aid, which operates with secular, multifaith and church partners - and promotes relief and development irrespective of creed.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


What a fantastic 'toon site by multimedia mirth maker Jon Birch. For non-British readers, an ASBO is an Anti-Social Behaviour Order. As Jon says: "… the courts here award them to people who are deemed to be constant trouble in their neighbourhoods… presumably according to their neighbours!" In some cases they bring liberation and in others oppression. Plus they blur the line between criminal and non-criminal behaviour in ways that human rights lawyers have deep suspicions about and many young people resent.