Photographs of hope for Egypt, and the rest of us…

Michaela pointed this out to me today- which had somehow passed me by-

(Egyptian Muslims raising the Bible & Quran side by side while forming human shields around a church)

It relates to two events in Egypt over the past couple of months.

Firstly, on Christmas eve, thousands of Muslims turned up at Christian Coptic Mass(the 7th of January) services across the country to offer themselves as human shields to protect the Christian worshippers from the threat of suicide bombers.

This in the wake of a brutal attack on a church service on New Years Eve (which left 21 people dead) Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon, organised the event behind the slogan “We either live together or we die together.”

Then, in response to this act of solidarity and peace making from Egyptian Muslims, during the recent street protests, Christians formed another human shield to protect Muslims praying in the street-

Hallelujah.

Interfaith dialogue…

Last night we had a discussion in housegroup lovely local person who is an interfaith minister. It was a chance to meet and share our perspectives, which is always such a blessing.

Check out this clip if you want to know more about the idea of interfaith ministry-

Carolyn spoke movingly of her journey through growing up in the Church of Scotland, through working with Buddhist nuns in India, and the deep spirituality she found in the practice of Yoga. She described her experience of feeling that her spirituality was being simplified and reduced to a kind of pure essence- and how she came to believe that this essence flowed through all the different religious traditions.

If you are interested in some of the services/ceremonies that Carolyn provides, she has a website, here.

I have written before about my own encounters with the concept of universalism (here and here for example. Check out the words of the George Matheson hymn in the second of these two posts.)

Last night was a chance to reflect again on what is precious to me about the faith I have found- and to do this in a spirit of generosity and openness towards other perspectives. I believe that we have nothing to fear and lots to gain from these opportunities.

Truth sets us free- it should never lock us up into theological defensive castelations. I have spent too long behind these kind of walls. Let us celebrate what we have in common, and allow our easy assumptions to be challenged by people who look from a different angle.

So here are a few of my thoughts emerging from our discussion last night- they are not intended as a critique of Carolyn’s position in any way- more a little internal mastication of my own…

Jesus. He is the personification of all that I follow. Despite all the baggage that his followers have accrued over the years, he remains the best of what we aspire to be- for both Christians and people of other faiths.

Inherited tradition. We stand on the platform built for us by people of faith that went before. And although it is right to question and wrestle with this, it is also wise to respect it, and allow it to become a means by which God shapes us and reaches for us, as we reach for him.

Simplification/deconstruction. This has been the story of my own faith journey over the last few years. For a while I seemed to be questioning everything. But I have come to believe that our theological constructs are vehicles of faith- at their best, they are ways of travelling towards (and with) God. None of them are perfect- but what use is a car with no wheels? Spanners tighten nuts as well was remove them.

Individualism. I think that we each have the right to seek out truth for ourselves- but I also believe that we always do this in community. Our faith develops through enlightenment and inspiration, but also through discussion, shared celebration, teaching and modelling by others. I am interested perhaps most in small theologies, worked out in community, in respectful criticism of the big theologies that we inherit.

Sacrifice. At the heart of the Christian tradition is the concept of sacrificial living- a life that finds purpose in serving others. Jesus constantly challenges us to reject faith is that becomes self centred. The kind of faith that is overly concerned with self actuation, self-fulfilment and personal health and healing. These things might be by products of living the Jesus way (or they might not) but they are never the object.

Difference. We had a discussion last night about the essence of faith- which for Carolyn, and perhaps for me too, is a matter of the heart, not the head. But we humans are so different- our personalities, our gender, our education, our culture- these all skew and influence the way that we explore the concept of the divine. We spoke a little too about the gender difference- how the sorts of soft spiritualities that we had in common tend to alienate men. I think that we need both and- and that we need to trust in a God who reaches for us through many different media.

Lots of questions remain for me- I think they always will. All the business of whether or not God does indeed reveal himself through different religious traditions. The implications of this for our scripture, our theology and our eschatology.

I am determined to remain open, generous and reflective- and this means being prepared to be wrong- both in terms of what I stand on now, and what I might move towards in the future. How else are we to be real pilgrims?

But equally, I remain a follower of Jesus. This is the starting point for me for any adventure.

The rest is up to the Spirit within all of us…

Terrorism and Muslims…

Two words that are often used together in the press and perhaps in our consciousness.

We tend to be of the view that whilst not all Muslims are terrorists, most terrorists are Muslims.

Until you look at the evidence that is.

Brian McLaren posted a link to this information on loonwatch.com-

In my previous article entitled “All Terrorists are Muslims…Except the 94% that Aren’t”, I used official FBI records to show that only 6% of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil from 1980 to 2005 were carried out by Islamic extremists.  The remaining 94% were from other groups (42% from Latinos, 24% from extreme left wing groups, 7% from extremist Jews, 5% from communists, and 16% from all other groups.)

In Europe, data from 2007-2009 showed similar patterns-

The results are stark, and prove decisively that not all terrorists are Muslims.  In fact, a whopping 99.6% of terrorist attacks in Europe were by non-Muslim groups; a good 84.8% of attacks were from separatist groups completely unrelated to Islam.  Leftist groups accounted for over sixteen times as much terrorism as radical Islamic groups.  Only a measly 0.4% of terrorist attacks from 2007 to 2009 could be attributed to extremist Muslims.

Forgive me if I come over all ranty- but I think we need to know this.

We need to consider this in relation to the foreign policies pursued on our behalf by our governments.

And we need to seek understanding with those whose faith is different to ours, not demonise and misconstrue.

And where violence and terror is being propagated in the the name of God, we should perhaps also understand that God has been used as an idolatrous way of achieving power before, and he will be again.

And that violence repaid with violence leads only to more… violence.

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

My Uncle Napoleon, and Iranian culture…

I recently confessed to an attempt to find a deeper understanding of Islamic cultures through reading literature.

The books I read were wonderful, but very much from a western perspective. I needed to adventure a bit further- and given that this was around the edges of bits of leisure time, I needed it to be reasonably digestible.

This evening, I watched two programmes on BBC 4 about Iran. One of them was about this book-

my uncle napoleon

This book (and this programme) deals with a different part of Iranian history- that we British people are very ignorant about- that is the occupation and manipulation of Iran as part of the power struggles first with Imperial Russia, and later as a way of ensuring the continued flow of oil to fuel our battleships. 4 separate invasions, and 100 years of political manipulation.

And we wonder why Iran today has no trust of western powers whatsoever?!

The second programme (also available on the i-player, here) follows a BBC foreign correspondent on a journey through his homeland- again Iran. It shows the beauty of the countryside, then richness of the culture, and the vibrant life of the people. It paints a picture of a country a million miles from the dark satanic oppressed place that we may have been led to understand. The film was almost certainly made under reporting restrictions, and does seem just a little too air brushed- almost like a tourist board film- but it is well worth watching.

And it reminded me that it was time I read some more Persian poetry- Rumi, Hafez and Saadi for example. 600 years of distilled beauty, spirituality and culture both alien, and yet so very familiar. The turning of seasons, and the preoccupations of love and and the approach of death…