Ways of reading the Bible…

Some time ago, I posted some questions about how we understand and encounter the Bible. Someone asked me to post some answers to my questions, so I had a go at this here.

It has been quite a journey for me over the last few years- trying to come to terms with a faith that I no longer had faith in, and then discovering along the way that I was not alone, and that there were different ways to approach an understanding of God, and in particular, different ways to approach our primary source material on the life of faith- the Bible.

This process has been painful, and at times I have wondered whether my faith will survive. But the outcome has been one of renewal. The Spirit of God was once again stirring the waters…

The process of change has involved a period deconstruction- a doubting and shaking loose things that had previously seemed unassailable and absolute. This is the painful bit- when everything seems to go into freefall.

The ‘emerging church conversation’- carried out largely through blogs and websites- seemed to me to be comfortable with unanswered questions. In fact after every truth and every tenet, we added a question mark.

But then there comes a time when something new starts to emerge and it is time to construct again. It feels to me that this is where we currently stand. We do not need bombastic pronunciations or new religious structures- rather it feels that our heads have come out of the clouds, and we can see further.

Along the way, I have found Brian McLaren’s writing to be a life giving. I know others have a different experience- for some his style can drag, for others his aim is too low brow, as the are more used to the theological arguments than I am- but he has taken me places that I had not dared to go alone.

(Photo taken in a semi-ruined abandoned croft house on the island of Bernera, off Lewis, Western isles. A family bible left open above an empty fire place…)

In reading his new book (slowly and in small chunks) I came across a study guide he had written, which focussed on different ways of reading scripture, and found it so helpful that I wanted to give it a plug.

You can download it here.

But here are a few highlights-

We have been shaken loose from our previous ways of reading the Bible- the ‘modern’ way- which seemed to be all about using the text as a blueprint so that we can categorise and systematise faith. McLaren compares this to the ways that the Americans use their constitution- where each word is given equal legal weight, and is enforceable in a way divorced from emotion or wider ethical considerations.

But having shaken loose- what other ways of reading the Bible are left?

McLaren lists 14 possible ways of encountering Scripture-

  1. Narrative reading- where we get into the story, the context and history from which the words emerge from.

  2. Converstional reading- where we engage with the different conversations across the generations embraced in the Bible- for example Jesus with the religious powers of his day, the Priests and the Prophets, the Jews and the Gentiles.

  3. Missional reading- in which we ask we ask, in each passage of Scripture, how is God extending God’s overarching mission of blessing all nations through a called and commissioned community of people.

  4. Political/Economic reading- the skew of God’s attention towards those who suffer injustice at the hands of earthly empire involving money, sexuality, power, violence, and law.

  5. Rhetorical reading- in which we look for what the text it trying to do, rather than just what it is saying.

  6. Literal reading- “…when readers of the Bible develop sensitivity to the ways poets, protesters, storytellers, activists, priests and mystics use language, the Bible is liberated from its constitutional captivity to be the wild, inspired, and impassioned collection of literary artifacts that it is.” McLaren suggests that people who say they are taking the words literally often are doing the very opposite- approaching the test through a very narrow hermeneutic.

  7. Close reading- better readings of scripture will fit in with the small details of the narrative- the bits that we easily miss that the writer chose to include in the text, which is rich in culture and traditions that we easily miss.

  8. Communal reading- the Bible is complex and hard, and the only way we can really engage with it is through the broader community- firstly in terms of “the community of the dead” where we listen respectfully to how previous generations have understood scripture, whilst understanding their skew towards a western, wealthy, white, male perspective. Secondly we look for the voices of minorities- those who have been forced to the margins. It is not ONE perspective, but rather both/and.

  9. Recursive reading- understanding of the Bible, and emphases within it change, ebb and flow across generations, and within lifetimes. This might be one of the ways that the Holy Spirit brings renewal.

  10. Ethical reading- text applied without ethics have allowed our faith to justify slavery, genocide, anti-Semitism, oppression of women and gay people- therefore we have to accept that interpretation is a MORAL ACT, so we should test an interpretation by reason and scholarship,using our rational intelligence, and a sense of justice and ethics. How might I treat people if I follow this interpretation? Whom might I harm? What unintended socialconsequences can we predict if this interpretation is widely embraced? Could people be vilified, harmed, or even killed because of this interpretation? McLaren points to those in Scripture who have wrestled with God in the face of his seeming injustice… Job, Moses, Abraham.

  11. Personal reading- “the reader is himself or herself in the predicament the text addresses. So faithful readings are habitually humble, expectant, open, and hungry and thirsty to encounter the Living God. Even the “professional” reader and teacher of the Bible must remain forever an “amateur” too …”

  12. Mystical reading- we must “…develop the habit of mystical openness, receptivity not only to understanding from the text but to enlightenment from the Holy Spirit, not only to interpretation but to revelation, not only to intelligent engagement with the text but also to personal abduction by its message.”


Finally McLaren points to one further reading, and makes clear that he believes this one to be the most controversial of his readings.

It is the one that might make people worry about the undermining of Biblical authority

Christo-focal reading

McLaren proposes that we no longer approach the Bible as a collection of words of equal weight- but rather that we approach all other words through those of Jesus.

He suggests we need to leave behind three old ways of reading the Bible that have perhaps dominated-

  1. Flat reading- where we see all Jesus’ life and words pressed down and flattened to the same level as those of Abraham, Moses,David, Isaiah, Paul, and Jude. This results in the raising of the Bible above Christ- which is a kind of idolatry. For example, it might be biblical to commit genocide by quoting Deuteronomy 7, but one could never claim it is Christ-like.
  2. Descending reading- where we start with an ideal state in Genesis, and then it all goes wrong, leading to a time when God is going to destroy everything, and Jesus is but a lifeboat for a few. Or the other decent comes from the fall too- “the problem is sin and the solution is law-keeping, with sacrifice-making as a back-up plan. The rest of the story descends from this high point, so that the life and ministry of Jesus have value to the degree that they solve the problem.”
  3. Ascending reading- “Moses’ teaching was good, David’s perspectives were better, Isaiah rosehigher still, John the Baptist ascended even higher, and Jesus was really wonderful andunique, but the crowning revelation comes with Paul and his writings.”

What McLaren proposes is something more radical- “When Jesus is the focal point of the story, he is the climax, the hero, the summit, the surprise, the shock, the revelation that gives all that precedes and all that follows profound and ultimate meaning. If we follow this approach, we’ll speak less about the Bible as the supreme Word of God and more about Jesus as the supreme Word of God. We’ll let the person of Jesus –including and integrating his birth, life, teachings, miracles, death, resurrection, abiding presence, and ongoing mission through the Holy Spirit – become the light in which all interpretations are evaluated, the key in which all interpretations are played, the leader behind which all interpretations arrange themselves as followers, and the meaning in which all interpretations have meaning.”

If we start to apply these ways of reading the Bible, how might our understandings change?

This my friends, is our work-in-progress…

The future of Church in the west?

Following on from my somewhat negative previous post, I have just been reading a couple of reports from this conference.

The discussion focused on the future of Christianity in the USA- and this is clearly potentially very misleading. The global growth of Christianity is a very different discussion. However, the influence of American Evangelical Christianity on the UK religious scene is huge- all the TV channels, the publishing juggernaut and the big name preachers. We watch changes there with interest, knowing that the impact of these changes will be felt this side of the Atlantic.

Brian McLaren believes that over the next period, the Conservative Evangelical denominations (protestant and Catholic) in the USA will “constrict, tighten up, batten the hatches, raise the boundary fences, demand greater doctrinal, political, and behavioral conformity, and monitor boundaries with increased vigilance.”

He believes that this will drive out many, whilst increasing the anxiety and ‘bunker mentality’ of those left inside the denominations. At the same time, he sees a new coalition forming-

That new coalition, I believe, will emerge from four main sources:

  1. Progressive Evangelicals who are squeezed out of constricting evangelical settings.
  2. Progressive Roman Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox) who are squeezed out of their constricting settings.
  3. Missional mainliners who are rediscovering their Christian faith more as a missional spiritual movement, and less as a revered and favored religious institution.
  4. Social justice-oriented Pentecostals and Evangelicals — from the minority churches in the West and from the majority churches of the global South, especially the second- and third-generation leaders who have the benefits of higher education.

Scott McKnight points out that Conservative Evangelical Mega churches in the USA (and I believe,the UK equivalents) are in fact growing. He does not believe that ‘Evangelicalism’ is made up of one stream- believing that some incarnations will be around for a long long time to come.

However, what he sees as now having ended is the old ‘Evangelical coalition’-

The evangelicalism that formed in the 1940s and 1950s, more accurately called “neo-evangelicalism,” was a reaction to strident forms of fundamentalism, a call to serious intellectual engagement so that evangelicalism could gain both theological and academic credibility again, and a formation of a big tent coalition to work together for evangelism and theological development. By and large, this big tent coalition combined the Calvinist and Wesleyan segments of evangelicalism, found places for Christian colleges, parachurch ministries, missionary societies, and a plethora of magazines and radio stations, and gave a privileged place to evangelical leaders like Billy Graham and Carl Henry.

But perhaps the most powerful piece was by Philip Clayton who had this to say-

A major national survey recently published in USA Today shows that 72 percent of “Millennials” — Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 — now consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Even among those who self-identify as practicing Christians, all of the traditional forms of Christian practice have sharply declined from previous years: church attendance, Bible study, prayer. Doubts are higher, and affiliation with the institutional church is sharply lower. All of us who are still connected with local congregations already know this pattern, up close and personal. Still, it’s sobering to see the trends writ large; after all, we’re talking about almost three-quarters of younger Americans!

The decline of traditional churches and denominations will presumably continue, so that by 2020 the effects will be as devastating in the U.S. as they already are in Europe. (On a typical Sunday, for example, 0.5 percent of Germans attend church.) Numerically, two-thirds or more of mainline churches will close their doors or struggle on without a full-time pastor. Denominations will merge in order to be able to maintain even minimal national staffs and programs. A larger and larger proportion of those who still go to church will attend large “mega” churches, those with 2,000 or more attendees on an average Sunday.

Clayton issued what he called a ‘call to church’-

We churchpeople were the center of American society since this nation was founded. We enjoyed power and prestige; we were the center of the action; we counted presidents, educators, and industry leaders among our numbers. But those days, it appears, are over. We still have a crucial role to play in the world. But it’s no longer a world that revolves around us.

This new role actually makes it easier for us to model ourselves and our communities on the Head of the church, who “has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon him” (Isaiah 53:2). As Dwight Friesen puts it in Thy Kingdom Connected, the church can no longer be a “bounded set,” defining itself by the people and ideas it’s opposed to. We now have to be a “centered set,” pointing toward — and living like — the One whose life and ministry we model ourselves on. If we can’t communicate our Center with power and conviction, no one’s going to listen. Oh, and by the way: we have to find ways to do this that don’t sound or look anything like the church has looked over the last 50 years or so.

Finally, Clayton talks about an age of experimentation in church-

What does “church” look like when you take it out of the box, replant it, and let it grow organically? It’s going to stretch and challenge you; it’s going to take openness to forms and practices you’ve never seen before:

  • churches that meet in pubs, office buildings, school classrooms, or homes . . . or virtual churches, like those at SecondLife.com;
  • churches that have no leader, or have leaders who don’t look like any pastor you’ve ever known (OMG, what if they have piercings?);
  • pastors who are hosts to discussions, who can listen long and deep to doubts and questions before presenting the answers on which they center their lives;
  • churches that don’t have buildings, denominations, pastors, or sermons; that don’t meet on Sundays; that consist mainly of people who don’t call themselves “Christians”;
  • churches whose participants are drawn from many different religious groups; churches full of “seekers”; churches that consist mostly of silence (like the Quakers) or of heated discussions between participants.

Not only conservatives will wonder and worry where one should draw the line. And that’s the point: we’ve now entered an age where we no longer know how to draw lines, because the old criteria just don’t work anymore — except to exclude the vast majority of the people whom we hope to interest.

All this sounds very familiar from this side of the Atlantic. We are much further down the line that it all.

We have our Evangelical enclaves- who tend to be exclusive, embattled, and increasingly fuelled by an agenda that looks either to African or American Mega churches. Despite their vigour and apparent success, they are largely irrelevant to the larger cultural situation- and their engagement with mission is simply to attempt to create more ‘converts’ to their own kind of belief system. These churches feel to me to be about marketing and mass consumerism.

And then we have the huge majority of spiritually interested consumers, who may have been inoculated against Christianity, but not against Jesus.

And then we have a growing number of experimental pioneers, whose methods are increasingly being adopted by the mainstream traditional churches- through things like Fresh Expressions-

…and all the mixed madness to be experienced at Greenbelt Festival.

We live, my friends, in interesting times, where change is normal, and the future uncertain. But I have no doubt that church will continue, and that the mission of Jesus will be carried forward into new generations. Some will resist any change fiercely, others will embrace it.

But change will happen- it has already happened…

A new kind of Christianity…

I finally got round to ordering a copy of this book today.

I have found McLaren’s remarkable writing transformative to my own understanding of faith for a number of years. I very much appreciate his willingness to be radical and controversial in his theological thinking, whilst remaining humble and graceful in his response to the tirade of abuse he has been subjected to.

However, I have found myself avoiding this book. Perhaps because I wonder if he is really saying anything new- all the reviews seem to suggest that it is a gathering together of ideas he has been developing in his previous writing. As I read the ’10 questions that are transforming the faith’ I suspect I know what his answers will be, more or less.

To be honest, the hype around the release of the book repelled me a little too…

But then again- perhaps this shows just how much the theological landscape has shifted over the past 10 years. Questions that would once have been as welcome as a trump in a spacesuit are now increasingly part of a the popularist mainstream.

Does this mean that we are seeing the development of a new kind of Christianity?

I am not sure. I hope so though.

In the meantime- I am going to read the book…

By the way- you can watch 10 videos and download study material for group discussions around the themes raised in the book from The Ooze.

Here is a taster- on that difficult questions of relationships with other faiths…

more about “A New Kind Of Christian- Brian McLare…“, posted with vodpod


Brian McLaren has been posting excerpts from his forthcoming book on his blog. Some of them have been really juicy morsels. You never know whether this will be like a preview of a film, with all the good bits already out there before you see the real thing, but in McLaren’s case, I doubt it. I am looking forward to reading this one, as I think it will be an important book.

Today the issue he touches on is community- and he even coins a new phrase to suggest the call of Jesus on how we collectivise our lives and hopes- how we learn together. I kind of like it. We so need to find new ways to understand how we do community…

This inward transformation, of course, requires community, an expanding network of connectivity that perhaps could be captured by a term like “ortho-affinity” – a good and right way of relating to one another in communities of faith and in relation to those outside our faith communities (including those who consider themselves our enemies). (29)

From A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (available February 9, 2010)

Rambo, Hollywood and war…

Rambo III was on this evening. I flicked past it, and found my eyebrows shooting upwards.

I have never been a fan of these films- which always made me laugh. The ridiculous plot lines, the wooden acting, the stereotypical bad guys- and the fact that no-one could shoot straight, apart from Rambo of course, who can dodge nuclear missiles. However, I had not realised that they could be prophetic- until just now.

So, a quick recap of the plot to Rambo III. Rambo’s former commander and side kick is captured whilst delivering missiles to some brave freedom fighters who are heroically resisting the evil Soviet invasion of their country- Afghanistan. The names of the freedom fighters? The Taliban. Of course, Rambo kicks much ass, kills all the bad people, and frees the Taliban from the oppressive heel of oppression.

Along the way, there is plenty of tub thumping American propoganda.

Check out this clip- and you will understand my raised eyebrows!

By way of further discussion- there is a good post by Brian McLaren in response to a recent speech by President Obama. He quotes Obama as saying this-

… mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago – “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak -nothing passive – nothing naïve – in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

The President of the USA has such  responsibility. The worlds only superpower, currently fighting wars in two foreign soils. But like many, I remain unconvinced that the response to violence should be greater violence. Jesus pointed us to a different way of being…

I loved McLaren’s comment on this-

I don’t judge the President; I’m just a citizen with a lot less intelligence (of whatever sort) than he has. But I wonder if someday he will see that he was right in his first assessment of Gandhi and King: they spoke not from naivete about evil and violence but from “a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.” Yes, one can be naive about the insidious reality of evil, but one can also be naive about the “germs of self-destruction” contained within our attempts to overcome evil through “the mass application of force.”Somehow we must live with vigilance against both kinds of naivete, Presidents and citizens alike.

Not for the first time, I find myself saying “Amen Brian, amen.”

Emerging church- the debate continues…

There has been some more chat on various sites about EC. The usual questions are being examined again- is the term useful? Did the ‘emerging conversation’ promise much and deliver little? Does it still have any use or relevance?

emerging church

Creative (if rather unsympathetic) posters from here!

Followers of this blog will know that this has been a recurrent theme-

Back in September, I posted another review from the blogosphere- here.

Then in January, I spoke about the fact that our group had decided to stick with the word ‘emerging’ for now.

Then in February, I asked what is emerging?

Then Jonny Baker pointed us to this post a week or so ago, which he responded to in a great post entitled

if you are disillusioned you’d better ask yourself…

Then there is a really good post from the Emergent village website- here, that responds to some of these discussions. As ever, it is useful to remember that Emergent Village (often foreshortened as ‘Emergent’) is one of the conduits for conversation about emerging church- but does not claim to represent, or even lead, the conversation. It is worth re-stating this, as some of the key figures in Emergent- Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren, for example- have attracted much criticism, and controversy. I have an awful lot of respect for both, but neither would claim to lead anything called ‘the emerging church’.


I spent some time thinking about where I am up to with the ‘emerging church conversation’ (I always feel I have to use parenthesis around the phrase!)

I realised that I feel really quite comfortable with the label now. For me, it has brought me into contact with greatly positive and inspirational people, ideas and resources.  I do not see myself as a member of ‘The emerging church’, because I still think that ‘emerging church’ is a verb, not a noun.

Neither does the small church group I am part of call itself an ‘emerging church’, although we might continue to hope that we are being drawn forward into new things by the Spirit of God.

Over on the Emerging Scotland ning site, Vicki Allen asked the question- ‘what does emerging mean to you?’ and encouraged people to list three things that were meaningful to them. I thought about it for a while- and then settled on these three-

1. The freedom to re-imagine and re-discover COMMUNITY.

2. The freedom to re-imagine and re-discover THEOLOGY- particular ‘small’ theology (by this I mean theology that is respectful of our inheritance, but interested in it’s application to our own locality and community.)Add New Post ‹ this fragile tent — WordPress

3. The freedom to re-imagine and re-discover the MISSION of the Kingdom of God.

I remain grateful for Emergent, and the emergence of rich ways of understanding the nature of our engagement with Jesus in our post modern context.

The rest, well that is up to Him.



On being thankful to those who walk in a different direction…

A friend told me this story recently (Thanks Audrey- or Alistair?)…

Inside Victorian prisons, a regime of order and control regulated every aspect of the lives of the inmates. There was a way of doing everything- eating, sleeping, talking/not talking, working and…exercising. In this way it was hoped that people would find redemption and restoration to the society that the grew from.

Exercise was important- to escape the harmful miasmas lurking in the damp prison air- to fill the lungs with clear clean (but regulated) air. Exercising was done in in the exercise yard, and like all things, there was a right way to do this.

Men walked in clockwise circles, one behind the other.

Apart from the lunatics. For prisons then, like now, contained many folk who had mental health problems.

The guards discovered that trying to control these folk was a waste of time, and so they were allowed to walk in the direction that suited them- even anti clockwise.


I have been thinking a lot about change recently.

How do things change? How do we take something that seems like it has just always been- and move on to something new?

Perhaps most of us are like me- we simply do not change things easily. Stability is our goal- a maintenance of what is, lest the future bring a feared but undefined consequence. Better to walk in the circles that are trod by others, and leave the wandering to the lunatics.

Except that as much as I worry about change, I am also drawn to it.

I am tired of walking the same circles, and long to wander free- to adventure…

So it occurred to me again how grateful I am to those people who dared to defy convention, and show another way.


I have to confess that the image of prison described above brought to me the image of institutional church. Not bad- well regulated in fact, well thought through, run by fine upstanding people in the pursuit of a worthy goal.

But somehow stuck. Held in by walls- made of stone and doctrine. Built on a solid foundation of faith and fervour, but now somehow set in cold stone. An organisation that grew in reforming zeal, and remained anchored to the culture that formed it whilst the world drifted away…

And let us not kid ourselves that only traditional ecclesiastical forms of religion fall into this category- because I would dare to suggest that almost any organisation (perhaps especially faith based ones, for all sorts of complex reasons to do with the mixing of organisation and ‘election’) will concrete itself into an exercise yard within 30 years of its inception.

I have walked those circles for too long. Time to find a road that goes somewhere else…no matter how uncertain.

And that is where I still find myself- on the road. It does not come easy to me, as I am happiest at home with the people I love, and love me in return.

But there is this thing that draws me onwards.


But back to the point of this post- those folk who walk in other directions.

I confess to doing this reluctantly myself, and with considerable caution. And so I am very grateful to those others who first broke away from the circle, in the face of approbation and punishment. Risking the label of the lunatic, or worse, heretic (they still burn those don’t they!)

Because where would we be without our agitators, our eccentrics, our malcontents? Where would we be without our lunatics (if you will forgive the use of such a pejorative word?)

So thanks Rollins, Maclaren, Bell and Pagitt. Thanks too those countless others who stand up and say that there is MORE. There is a better way to be in this place we find ourselves in.

We can follow after Jesus.

But I suppose the lesson to all of us is that in about 30 years, it will be time for others to break down the walls we erected.

Lessons on Kingdom from Brian McLaren…


I took a trip into Glasgow last night to hear Brian McLaren speak at Strathclyde university. His writing has been hugely influential on my spiritual life and my understandings of faith, and so I felt a bit like a groupie!

I went with a couple of friends from Dunoon, Simon and Ali, and had a chance to meet up with a couple of on-line buddies too- Stewart and Thomas. In fact, the picture above is Stewart’s- who had the technology (royalty check in t’post!)

It was a great night. Finished off by a lovely drive home over the Rest and be Thankful pass under a clear starry sky. Oh and a good take-away in Balloch…

Brian McLaren was profound in what he said- and although not much of it was new to me, the words were like food to the soul. Lots of people seem to have this experience of listening to him almost telling their story- allowing them to ask questions, and permitting them to start a new journey with God. I am reluctant to build him up with labels that will later become millstones around his neck, but he has something of the Apostle about him that is not taken, but rests as a result of who he is.

Yesterday is a case in point- it was not just what he said, but the way he said it. There was a kindness to his words- a respect for all things, but always a gentle invitation for as all to aim for something better.

Highlights? For me there were many. He got into a lot of discussion about the Kingdom of God- and old theme for me, which has been the subject of much discussion in our housegroup. We had previously playfully tried to find new names for the Kingdom of God, and I was delighted to see McLaren taking this to a whole new level.

The suggestion is, that Jesus was using the term ‘Kingdom of God’ as a way to engage with the people of his time in words they would understand. If he was here today- he would do the same, but would not necessarily use the same words.

‘Kingdom’ today ( suggested McLaren) is a word that has lost it’s potency- it is embedded in an ancient understanding of power and authority. What Jesus was doing was suggesting that there was a new way of doing Kingdom.

He then went on to list a whole series of words that Jesus might use if he was here today (Stewart gives a list of these on his blog- The Dream of God, The Peace Revolution of God, The Mission of God, The Party of God, Network of God, Ecosystem of God, God’s New Planet, Beloved Community, God’s Economy, The democracy of God.)

But there were two that I really liked.

One was

The dance of God

The idea that we learn to take part in a dance, in which we are part of an interrelated, dependent cycle of life and love- moving in response to divine music…

And perhaps most of all, I liked

The non-terror cell of God, or The insurgency of God

These seemed redolent with an idea that has been buzzing about my head for a while about a subversive group of Christians modeled loosely on the underground railway- I’ll post it soon I reckon.

how you respond to violence depends on how you choose to understand it…

A quote from some bloke interviewed on radio 4 in relation to the latest terror attacks in India…

Inevitably, the media have been calling this awful event ‘India’s 911′.

The awful thing is that India is not unused to terror attacks- they seem to have been a constant throughout the post-Raj history. Most of these terrible things pass almost unnoticed in the west. Who remembers this from 2006 for example-

A series of seven explosions killed at least 174 people on crowded commuter trains and stations Tuesday evening in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai, police said.

Officials said at least 464 people were injured in the blasts in the city’s western suburbs as commuters made their way home. All seven blasts came within an 11-minute span, between 6:24 and 6:35 p.m. (12:54 and 1:05 p.m. GMT).

Analysts are comparing the attack with the mass transit bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London last year, saying they all involved a series of mutiple blasts and were well-coordinated.

Check out the details here…

These attacks are a little different, as they strike at the heart of India’s elite- the seat of financial power in Mumbai.

Who was responsible? No-one is sure. Al Qaeda has been suggested, although they always are. Religion and it’s power to convince people that the ends are justified by the terrible means always seems to have a part to play (check out earlier post about religious fundamentalism.)

India will blame Pakistan. They always do. And the whole world watches them looking at each other down a nuclear barrel…

Which brings me to my point. What should our response be to such dreadful violence- our personal response, and our collective response?


Britain too has had it’s share of terrorism. For the past 40 years or so, it was related to Ireland. Now we seem to be a breeding ground for a new generation of terrorists who grow up as part of a disaffected  ethnic underclass.

When terrible things happen, there seems that governments have to be seen to ACT. This is one of the ways that democracy works. We want our governments to be active and decisive in the protection of our way of life- or at least governments think we want them to do this.

The debate becomes simple. We are under attack, we must fight back. We must not let them get away with this.

The outcome of this seems to be that Governments in turn are able to justify terrible acts in REACTION.

Almost like revenge. Payback.

A whole language set evolves- that ludicrous term ‘the war on terror’ is but part of this.

America had it’s own dreadful day of terror-


It was a day when the whole world held its breath, and in that instant, history found a fulcrum.

What happened next? Wars in Afghanistan, which once started will now go on, and on.

A war in Iraq, which was sold to members of the public on a set of fears that have now been found to have no basis in truth.

And a suspension of human rights, in the name of international security. State sponsored torture and detention without trial.

Shortly after 911, Brian McLaren wrote an open letter to President Bush. I remember reading it, and feeling proud that Christians-followers in the way of the King of peace- could raise their voices for justice and love and understanding, even in such a time as this. I think that this is our calling.

Never to condone, but always seek to understand. Never to accept that violence is the answer to violence. And that healing is possible, even for the most broken.

I have searched for a copy of Brian McLaren’s letter, to see how what is to be made of it with hindsight, but can’t find it (anyone out there know where I can find it?)

I think that we can already guess what history will remember most about Bush and Blair, and the stain of Guantanamo in a time when imperialism was resurgent.