Saturday, December 25, 2010


"The paradox of God's 'Yes' spoken to creation in Jesus Christ is that it throws the world into a crisis of judgement. It is spoken, not from the lofty heights of Christendom's power, but from the depths of dereliction, a cry of protest against all Empire. Absolute and vulnerable, God proclaims life as a free gift. No market can buy it, no state can enlist it, no church can own it. It is common wealth."- Steven Shakespeare.

Thursday, November 04, 2010


“If religion is characterised by the recruitment of God to serve our agendas, and faith is about putting our agendas at the service of God, then clearly there is too much religion in the world, and not enough faith.” – Bishop John Saxbee.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


27 and 28 October are key dates in Christian history. Constantine's 'vision of the Cross' in 312, and his attribution of military victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge the next day to God, was the beginning of Christendom in Europe - an era which mixed civilization with bloodshed, saints with militarism, and faith with often brutal sacralised-secular power. But there is another story to be told of Christianity as a non-imperial, liberating and post-Christendom force.  More here.

Thursday, April 08, 2010


Wednesday, April 07, 2010


"We have longed to taste the resurrection... the insurrection of life... We have longed to welcome its thunders and quakes, and to echo its great gifts. We want to test the resurrection in our bones. We want to see if we might live in hope instead of in the ... twilight thicket of cultural despair in which ... many are lost." - Daniel Berrigan, Catholic priest and radical peace activist

Friday, April 02, 2010


"The followers of Christ have been called to peace. And they must not only have peace but also make it. Christ's disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. In so doing they overcome evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

(a quotation and a vocation that has recently inspired peace activists in Australia.)

See also my article, 'Peacemaking after Christendom', on Ekklesia.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


"Romantic love is blind to everything except what is lovable and lovely, but Christ's love sees us with terrible clarity and sees us whole. Christ's love so wishes our joy that it is ruthless against everything in us that diminishes our joy. The worst sentence Love can pass is that we behold the suffering that Love has endured for our sake, and that is also our acquittal. The justice and mercy of the judge are ultimately one." - Frederick Buechner (courtesy of:

Saturday, February 13, 2010


One of the more depressing aspects of trying to write about 'religion' in cyberspace, especially when you have (whatever your faults and limitations) spent a huge amount of time examining it and thinking about it, is that so many people want to dismiss and point fingers -- but not necessarily to consider the question of whether their own vocabulary and syntax on the subject might need expanding. I certainly find myself constantly aware of the limits of my language, and grateful to those who help me enlarge it, however painful that process may sometimes be.

Then there are the shafts of light and encouragement. One such came across my Mac's desktop yesterday evening, in the shape of a post entitled Religions as Schools on a very stimulating site called, evocatively, Echoes of the Name. It follows on from another piece about Keith Ward's book, Images of Eternity.

The author, Kyōshin, picks up on Nicholas Lash's insight that it would be more fruitful to conceive of religions not so much as "collections of beliefs" or propositions, as "schools whose pedagogy has the twofold purpose of weaning us from our idolatry and purifying our desire.” That includes our misshapen ideas about God as a kind of 'superbeing', rather than the transcendently free source of being. It includes a quotation from my own What difference does God make today? and an acute observation from Chris Ward of Triple Gem - the Buddhist Foundation. You can read the post yourself. I will simply reproduce here my own appreciation and response:

Many thanks for this, and for your last post - and, indeed, the site as a whole. Fascinating. I can sympathise with Chris Ward (and you). However, my experience, which includes a good chunk of time as an adult Christian educator, is that those in the churches who are keen to develop a spiritual discipline, and especially those who perceive the connection that Dorothee Soelle makes between 'resistance and mysticism' (q.v.), begin instinctively to move away from the constraining 'God as superbeing' picture. This occurs precisely through the process of shared pedagogy by means of worship and reflection that Lash describes as having the purpose of weaning us from our idolatry and purifying our desire. One also needs to be aware of the possibility that while the language of popular religion can be rough and ready (or unready!), the hearts of those who use it may be much more capacious than their presenting rhetoric. The need, of course, is to discover a language and a pattern of echoes in life that can sustain and develop this capaciousness. Equally, I know many 'simple believers' who, though they might not put it this way, know that they are speaking in metaphors - while their (academic) critics do not! Sara Maitland's book A Big Enough God is an excellent bridge in all this. On the issue and concern about "anthropomorphism", I have written more in 'What difference does God make today?' - though, once again, I am in eternal debt to the wisdom of Nicholas Lash. Grace and peace to you.

Echoes of the Name is a group blog whose contributors focus primarily on the Jōdo Shin stream of Pure Land Buddhism but also write from time to time on other subjects including Christianity, Philosophy and Zen. I wish there were more Christian websites that demonstrated a similar capacity to reside deep within their own tradition while being open and engaging towards others.

Interestingly (to me, anyway!), one of the as-yet-unrealised book projects I have in hand, on 'God after Christendom', has the working title The Unfamiliar Name, drawing from a phrase of T. S. Eliot's in Little Gidding. There is an interesting consonance between the apophatic way within Christianity and elements of philosophical Buddhism, though we may finally diverge (as I do also from Derrida, who I nevertheless love) on the designation of 'the real'. Aquinas, Bonhoeffer, John Caputo, Michael Barnes, Richard Kearney (The God Who May Be and The Wake of Imagination), Nicholas Lash (The Beginning and the End of 'Religion'), Ruth Page and the more mystical Anabaptists are some of the lights to my negotiation of this intriguing area of prayer and intellectual discourse.

Friday, February 12, 2010


When I was in Exeter recently, a friend asked me why I had been so silent on FaithInSociety of late - and, to be honest, for about the past 12 months and more, since my 'post' rate was only about one-a-week last year, after a fertile period between 2005-8. The answer, of course, is "the distraction of life, and related matters." Well, that and Twitter, where I may be regularly if fleetingly found, my work blog on Ekklesia, my regular column, together with various other national and international media interventions. Oh, yes, and Facebook, more for the networking, and Only Just Offside (for therapy). Put that together with other work and domestic commitments, reading and bits of recreation and you can see why less really is more. Cyberspace can become an unhelpfully all-encompassing reality if you allow it, especially if, as with Ekklesia, it is the basic coinage for what you do.

From a purely technical point of view (though these things are never "purely technical" if you have any level of self- and other-awareness), the issue is how to consolidate. I don't really believe in cross-posting, and certainly not in using tweets to update your Facebook status. Either use each medium for what it's best at, and originate originally, or don't. That said, I have been wondering whether to roll this space into my Ekklesia blog. But that is more issue-based or researchy (or would be, if I wrote more about research issues), whereas this offers an opportunity to be more personal, reflective and theological, and to have the odd conversation (sic!). So I think I will try to use them both in those distinct ways. But with the proviso that (as I often say) if you start to worry about "not posting enough" then something is seriously wrong in terms of life balance. Writing, in whatever form, and to whatever audience (or lack of audience) ought to be an effervescence not a chore, and other things in life ought to take priority. So if I'm here I'm here, and if I'm not I'm not, I guess.

All of which takes me to Lent, which is impending, and which, as I observed in my recent sermon The world's storms waiting to be stilled, "is a period within the Christian tradition which is all about reassessment and renegotiation. What and who are we living for? Where and with whom is the true value of life to be found? What shall we keep hold of and what shall we let go of? What is it that sustains us in the face of want, or of excess?"

Much more important than "am I blogging enough / not enough /too much." Though I see that David Keen over on St Aidan to Abbey Manor has just started a useful conversation, entitled That'll Do, on giving up his blog for Lent. So, yup, that's St Aidan of Lindisfarne in the picture - thank you, David.


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Friday, January 22, 2010


"The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because philosophy is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water." - John W. Gardner

Thursday, January 21, 2010


"Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love." - Martin Luther King Jr.

Another World is Possible from LOVE146 on Vimeo.

Anti-slavery activist Rob Morris Speaks on MLK and his dream of the impossible world. Music from Aaron Strumple. Courtesy of Social Media Today.

"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered [people] have torn down [people] other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day [humanity] will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, December 10, 1964

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


This is an ongoing research, reporting and action project from Ekklesia, with a number of overlapping elements, including cooperation with academic and civic bodies. The aim is to work in conversation with others towards the development of an inclusive vision of secularity in the public square - one based on dialogue and free expression; a proper distinction between religious and public authorities; and maintaining a fair civic arena for the widest range of public actors, both religious and non-religious. This brief was first published in 2007 and revised in January 2010.

It is our conviction that conscious attempts are needed to engage thinking people of both non-religious and varying religious persuasions in considering models of secular/religious life which may be received as an invitation rather than a threat, as plural rather than monolithic, as inclusive rather than exclusive, and which move from 'thin' to 'thick' descriptions of "the good" as part of a rigorous but respectful conversation between different traditions of reasoning.

More here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


"When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace ... to make music in the heart." - Howard Thurman, American author, civil rights leader, and theologian (1899-1981)