Sunday, 25 December 2011

BE BORN IN US TODAY - A Sermon for Midnight Mass

We meet here on this night, this wonderful night in which we remember the story of the incarnation our hope rooted in our experience of the Christ story; that God is here, God is amongst us, God is with us.

And we gather here in the dark of night to worship that God; to gather around this crib and marvel at the truth of the Nativity — the truth that out of the warm nurturing darkness of a woman’s womb God chose the ultimate message of faith, hope and love to be born ; that
in the dark of night, God’s vision for the world became embodied in a human life, born of a woman and that in Jesus the truth that God IS present with God’s people was shown - the ancient message of the God of love and faithfulness and hope was revealed anew.

But as we meet to remember that night we are called to remain in this night here and now, to allow that story to affect our story, to allow that truth to lead us into the truth of the meaning of our own lives.

As Meister Eckhardt a Christian Mystic of medieval times said

Here in time we celebrate the eternal birth that God the Father bore and still bears constantly in eternity, and which is also now born in time, in human nature. St. Augustine says that this birth is happening continually. We should ask ourselves: If it doesn’t happen in me, what good is that birth after all? What ultimately matters is that God’s birth should happen in me. 
We are all called to be Mothers of God
Mary’s story should become our story, we are all called to be Mothers of God to give birth to the Divine through our faith, hope and love.

I love Luke’s gospel because it tells us so much of Mary’s story. And we should read it as our story too - a story for each of us as God calls us to give birth to God’s vision for the world in our faith, our hope and our love.

Can we welcome as messengers of God’s hope strangers who speak to us of God? Mary welcomed the shepherds to the side of the manger, can we listen as she listened to their message and as the gospel says ‘treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’? Can we also find God speaking to us in those unknown to us, who surprise us in their ability to speak of God? Can we allow them to become to us bearers of God’s word?

As Elizabeth embraced Mary and supported her in recognising the message of hope she carried for the world, can we embrace one another - be Elizabeth to each other’s Mary - can we be stirred in the depths of our hearts to be excited by the faith, hope and love of another and encourage them as they tentatively begin to recognise that they have a calling to birth God’s faith, hope and love into the world? 

As the Angel comes to Mary at the annunciation - the Angel comes to us, calling us in this time and in this place to carry the hope of God in the depths of our being - to nurture fragile faith, to give ourselves to feeding hope and raising a vision of love in what can sometimes seem impossible circumstances. 

In a world where faith, hope and love often look defeated and useless we are called to dare to take the risk as Mary in her embracing of her call took the risk; as a young Jew in a remote outpost of empire, facing the scorn and violence of a Roman authority confident
in its worship of power and wealth and dismissive of the beautiful vision of her people. She held onto that vision of a God of faithfulness, hope and love - the God of Abraham and Sarah, the God of the One Mary raised , the God of the One we follow, Jesus of Nazareth whom we proclaim as God's Annointed One. 

As she put her hope in that God so are we called in our time despite the world’s scorn to join in daring to hope in the One God of faith hope and love.

Can we believe that in the backwaters of our lives our faith can really make a difference? Can we let God come to us in Jesus in what may seem to us all our insignificance? Can we hear the Angel as we are given our commission, to be people of the way and to give birth in our world to the truth of God's love and beauty?

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Sermon preached at St Paul's Balsall Heath Birmingham Midnight Mass 2011

Friday, 23 December 2011

Chanukah Sameach!

Nearly 100 Methodists from around the Birmingham District responded to the generous invitation of the local Jewish Community to attend a Chanukah celebration at Birmingham Central Synagogue on Thursday 22nd December.

The invitation was the idea of the local Methodist - Jewish Dialogue group established after the 2010 Methodist Conference to explore the Jewish Communities concerns in relation to the Justice for Palestine & Israel Report.

The evening began as Methodists arrived nice and early for a 7pm start with a tour of the synagogue led by the Chair of the Birmingham and West Midlands Jewish Representative Council Ruth Jacobs

Moving into the Synagogues Community Hall we joined 40-50 members of Birmingham's Jewish Community and a group of Muslim friends from the Birmingham Jewish - Muslim Dialogue group for the ceremony of lighting the Chanukah Menorah led by the Synagogues President Geoffrey Clements. We then watched film clips of reflections on the meaning of Chanukah by the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

We finished off the evening with an hour eating Traditional Chanukah food and meeting and sharing with one another.

Ruth Jacobs co-facilitator of the Methodist - Jewish Dialogue group said in response to the event

'The Birmingham Jewish Community was delighted to welcome so many Methodists to a Chanukah event held at Birmingham's Central Synagogue. The local Jewish Methodist Dialogue group formed as a response to the Justice for Palestine and Israel Report enabled this event to happen and provided the opportunity for grass roots engagement to build bridges and gain greater understanding.'

Supernumerary Minister Revd Donald Sampson said it was:

'A most inspiring evening of great warmth and goodwill, with many insights being shared formally and informally.'

Organist Peter Harding who came with three generations of his family to the event said:

'A great evening. We all enjoyed it. Grandma had a long conversation with an elderly member of the Jewish community and my son Richard was delighted to be plied with food by many of our hosts. I had some really interesting discussions as well.'

Revd Ray Gaston Birmingham District’s Inter Faith Enabler and joint organiser of the event and co-facilitator of the Methodist - Jewish dialogue group said:

'I was very excited by the response from grassroots Methodists who turned out in such numbers for this event. The dialogue group which has now met for nearly 16 months has been a place where differences have been shared and it has not always been an easy place for any of us to be . However, those of us who have stayed with the process have found it challenging and difficult but also immensely enriching and real relationships have begun to be built. This event was the start of spreading that experience into our wider communities, there is much here to build on and hope for..'

Thursday, 22 December 2011


As part of our Christian - Jewish Relations themed week for first year Ordination candidates, Queen's students took part, a couple of weeks ago, in a Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) initiated and funded visit to Beth Shalom  - The Holocaust Centre in Newark Lincolnshire.

For a report of the event see Fiona Hulbert's write up for CCJ at their web site.

January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day and this years theme is 'Speak Up, Speak Out'  and CCJ along with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland have produced a list of resources plus an excellent 20 page pack to help commemorate the day in Church services.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Mahayana Theology

Jesus Meditating in a Forest
One of the most interesting and challenging dialogues between students and visiting speakers on the Christianity in Dialogue module last term at Queens was with Revd Dr Janet Williams who came to engage students with the question 'Can a Christian be a Buddhist?' Her answer was an affirmative yes, some of the students were not so sure! However, the interface between Christianity and Buddhism and the phenomenon of 'double-belonging' is a significant factor in Christian Inter Faith engagement today.

I've recently come across an interesting website run by Comparative Theologian John Keenan. Keenan has written widely on Christian - Buddhist encounter and is well known for bringing Buddhist - especially Mahayanan - concepts into dialogue with Christian revelation in order to explore how to articulate the truth of Christian understandings of God. He writes:

"Mahayana theology" is a Christian theology that is informed by the philosophical wisdom of Mahayana Buddhism. Just as the early Church Fathers first employed ancient Greek philosophy to articulate the Christian faith, one may employ this ancient Buddhist philosophy to restate that same faith and thereby come to new and somewhat different understandings.

The website has links to Keenan's books but also to free articles outlining his work and understandings. Check it out here

Monday, 19 December 2011

Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre - Upcoming Training Events

The new Anglican led and government backed Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre in Birmingham has a series of interesting training events in the new year on Inter Faith engagement particularly related to the Near Neighbours Programme . For details click on the links below

Faithful Conversations – talking about God in everyday situations 

You can also find out how to apply for grants of £500-£2000 for local community led interfaith activity at Bringing People Together - Near Neighbours

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Soul in the Machine - An Evening at The Hubb

I had a great time yesterday spent lunchtime eating and sharing with Mohammed Ali at a cafe near his Arts Centre The Hubb just down the road from where I live on the Stratford Road. I was then back at the Hubb later that day for Soul in the Machine billed as 'A journey of the soul through a technological world / VISUAL ARTS EXHIBITION LAUNCH, as well as PERFORMANCE POETRY and LIVE PERCUSSION'.

Chris Shannahan has blogged about the event here. I like Chris' post he really catches the mood of the evening when he says 'It was a moment of shared spirituality in the city, a moment of clarity, shared journeying towards dialogue and justice, a witness to our common humanity and to the multiflavoured, multicoloured, multifaith, multicultural soul in the urban machine. No relgious 'leaders', no elected politicians, no academics absorbing 'data' for their next book but the people of the city exploring identity and hope together through.. art, dub poetry and drumming...'  but I'm not sure I fully agree with Chris when he says "It wasn't a Muslim event or a Christian event or a Sikh event or a Hindu event or a Buddhist event or a Jewish event"

On the contrary, I think there is something positively Islamic about The Hubb. It is an expression of a dialogical Islam, an emerging Islam, engaging openly with a variety of spiritualities, cultures and art forms. I often feel when I am at the Hubb that Islam is my host, providing a space for a multicultural expression of a yearning for God, for depth and for beauty. That is what makes the Hubb unique, that is why it plays host to art forms that have an explicit spirituality at their centre, because it is infused with the spirit of Islam or perhaps islam; the idea of a universal surrender to the Divine that is held within  - but also known beyond - the institutional form Islam. The Hubb offers a new form of multiculturalism, an emerging multiculturalism where those faith communities that were previously patronisingly seen as being ''hosted' by a 'tolerant' 'Christendom' now become the host and new forms of alliance, creativity, identity and intercultural dynamism are developing. A new dynamism that we 'People of the Way of the Annointed One' in all our post Christendom multicultural dynamism can, do and will play our part.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Jonathan Sacks on the Immorality of Capitalism

The Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in a recent address to European Roman Catholics in Rome said:

Capitalism is a sustained process of creative destruction. The market undermines the very values that gave rise to it in the first place. The consumer culture is profoundly antithetical to human dignity. It inflames desire, undermines happiness, weakens the capacity to defer instinctual gratification and blinds us to the vital distinction between the price of things and their value.

Read the whole address Has Europe lost its soul to the markets? published in The Times yesterday at the Chief Rabbi's website

Monday, 12 December 2011

Rowan Williams on 'The Future of Interfaith Dialogue'

At a conference organised by the the Anglican Network for Inter Faith Concerns, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams delivered an interesting lecture on 'The Future of Interfaith Dialogue' the lecture is available in text and audio from the Archbishops website (follow the link above) - well worth engaging with. Here is a snippet from the conclusion.

The Christian enters the dialogue relation ready to receive whatever of Christ the other’s relation with the Word makes possible; but s/he also enters the dialogue in order, in some sense, to speak and act for Christ, to be available for the enrichment of the other’s relation (acknowledged or not) with the Word.  And that immediately lays upon the Christian participant in dialogue the imperative to Christlike action in the pursuance of the dialogue.  The action of Christ can be thought about from two interrelated perspectives.  First, it is the transmission of a gift, the gift of ‘life in its fulness’, as the Fourth Gospel has it; just as the Source, the Father, pours out the divine life and bliss into the eternal Word or Son, so the Word gives life to the universe, and, more specifically, gives the life of a son or daughter to human beings who are made for this destiny.  If, then, we are to act in Christlike manner, we act so as to open up the possibility of receiving such a gift: life in its fullness, the dignity of the adult child of God. 

And following on from that, the mode of the gift becomes all-important.  That gift of filial life cannot be given by an act that compels or constrains: freedom in filial relation to God as Source cannot be generated or nourished by denying the ordinary freedom of the human agent.  The gift is given in Christ in a way that refuses to compel and is therefore vulnerable to human violence.  For it to be what it claims to be, it cannot rest its authority upon anything less than itself – it can’t therefore be associated with constraint or compulsion. 

This theological framework... allows us, I believe, to think of the vocation to become sons and daughters of God in and through Jesus Christ as a universal possibility that has to be sought for and worked for in an uncompromisingly Christlike (Jesus-like) fashion, yet without expecting the specific reference to Jesus of Nazareth to be always brought to consciousness as the conversation unfolds with those of different families of faith.  As I noted earlier, the degree to which a turning to the Word in the context of another faith corresponds to what the Christian associates with the gift of baptism is not susceptible to abstract analysis.  But our engagement in dialogue, rooted in the uniqueness of the Word made flesh, may, by its fidelity to the mode of incarnation and self-emptying, invite responses and movements that neither we nor our partners can easily chart, but in which God may move – just as God may move in us as we receive what the partner has to share of the Word with us.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Challenging Islamophobia - A Christian Duty

In the forthcoming edition of the Methodist theological Journal Epworth Review I have an article entitled Building trust, living the call to love – towards a Christian Praxis in Islamophobic times you can read a copy of the article here. More a work in progress than a polished proposal, the article argues for a Christian spirituality of resistance to Islamophobia rooted amongst other things in a radical application of 1 Corinthians 13.

Monday, 28 November 2011


I found myself in Church yesterday at St Paul's Balsall Heath for the Advent Sunday Eucharist. I love Advent full of the themes of hope, expectation longing...a real spiritual gift. Yesterday the first hymn was 'O Come O Come Emmanuel.' I love the tune, it's haunting melody fits the themes of longing and waiting that I associate with Advent. Unfortunately I find it difficult to affirm the words and yesterday I decided not to sing them. As the following commentary on the hymn from the Roman Catholic Boston College USA Centre for Jewish Christian Relations states:

One can look at the question of the theology conveyed by hymn lyrics both atomistically, i.e., is this word or phrase theologically sound or pastorally edifying? and also more globally, i.e., what is the theological orientation of the hymn in its entirety, including what is the progression of thought from verse to verse or what story does the entire lyric tell?
Globally speaking, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel's more-or-less traditional lyrics (though there are variations) pretty well summed up pre-Vatican II Catholic understanding of the relationship of the New Testament to the Old Testament, and therefore also of the Church to Israel: The Old Testament was understood to have spiritual validity only when read in reference to Christ and the Church, and Israel was spiritually valid only as the precursor to Christianity.
The "traditional" lyrics thus describe Israel as waiting in exile for its raison d'etre to come in the birth of Jesus and applies biblically-sounding titles (based on the "O-Antiphons") to petitions for Jesus to come.
The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, reversed prior predominant theologies of Judaism. The covenantal life between God and Israel was now recognized as eternal and not superseded by the establishment of the Church’s covenant with God through Christ. Official documents urged Catholics to respect Judaism’s self-understanding and to understand Jesus as a “faithful son of Israel ” (John Paul II) in continuity with, not the termination of, Israel ’s story.
The traditional lyrics suggest that Jews at the time of Jesus felt themselves to be in lonely exile, and awaiting the appearance of the Son of God. This not only contradicts Jewish self-understanding but historical evidence from written texts of the time.
In addition, since Vatican II, Catholic teaching has emphasized that Advent should ritualize three "comings" - the birth of Jesus, the coming of Jesus in the Church today, and the eschatological coming of Christ at the End of Days. The traditional lyrics do a poor job of this.

The same article offers a great alternative set of words here

There is also  a good reflection on  'Some personal thoughts on singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"'

Why not consider trying the alternative words in your church this Advent? And reflecting on the different theologies in the hymns? For further resources on this, particularly using liturgy and hymnody to challenge theologies of contempt and as an opportunity for teaching about Christinity's relationship to Judaism  see Mary C Boys article Touching the Heart of Faith: Challenges of Christian-Jewish Dialogue where she also suggests alternative lyrics for some of the verses.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Israel - Palestine Debate at Birmingham University

A very good Question Time style  debate with prominent speakers was held at Birmingham University last week hosted by the University Union Debating Society and supported by the Union of Jewish Students and the Friends of Palestine Society. I didn't get to the debate, but by the looks of the videos that have been posted, it was a very well managed airing of the issues. You can watch the full debate below

Friday, 18 November 2011

Inter Faith Week 20 -26 November 2011

For details of local events during Inter Faith Week download a diary produced by the Faith Encounter Programme here

Monday, 14 November 2011


I have recently become asware of a small but growing organisation in UK called 'Spirit of Peace'. On 1st December they are holding a fundraising peace meal in Coventry. To find out about their work go to the Spirit of Peace website. Details of the meal are below and you can download a flyer for the event here. Annie and I hope to be there it's a great little organisation with some interesting ideas and links. Check out their emerging  Pathways to Peace philosophy and the projects and partners they are working with in the UK and Israel/Palestine

Blue Bistro and Spirit of  Peace warmly invite you  to ‘Peace-Meal’, a charity evening of international  cuisine and music in a beautiful medieval setting.

Spirit of Peace is a rapidly developing UK based charity with a heartfelt vision to foster greater peace, understanding and equality in our global society, creating a culture of nonviolence and peace in our fractured world.

Thursday December 1st  at  Blue Bistro
21 Spon Street
024 7622 9274

Advance Tickets Only  £24.95

Registered Charity No. 1122834
Company No. 6339788

Sunday, 13 November 2011

New Resources for Christian - Jewish relations

Two excellent resources for Christian - Jewish relations came into my hands this week.

Firstly, when visiting Queen's to deliver a workshop on my Christianity in Dialogue course, Rabbi Debbie Young - Somers gave me a copy of The Lambeth - Jewish Forum's recent publication Jews and Christians: Perspectives on Mission. This is a great little resource that is available for download on line. Patrick Morrow's piece Christian Mission and Jewish Christian Particularities is a tour de force in it's summary and exploration of the issues involved. I understand that hard copies can be ordered from the Woolf Institute.

Secondly, after pre-ordering it a couple of months ago, it was great to have The Jewish Annotated New Testament arrive in my pigeon hole on Friday. This exciting new initiative looks likely to become a fascinating resource for Jews and Christians alike. See an initial review of it here. At first glance it looks well worth the investment at the great price you can get it for in UK

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


Over the last week I've been involved with Muslim, Jewish  Sikh and Christian colleagues in building a broad alliance as a positive response to the threat of the unwelcome visit of the English Defence League to our City. Below is a Press release we have issued this evening with quotes from supporting organisations and details of the event being held in Chamberlain Square from 12noon - 4pm. Come along and support it. You can download a flyer for the event here

You can read the press release by following this link

Thursday, 20 October 2011

MODERN CHURCH CONFERENCE 2012 - an interfaith look at women & religious authority

The Modern Church movement within the Church of England has organised and interesting looking conference for 16th -19th July 2012. By whose authority? An interfaith look at women and religious authority

Although clearly with the  development towards Women Bishops in the CofE in mind, the conference  brings a much broader perspective to the issue of women and religious authority with an excellent array  of speakers from Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Baha'i perspectives. Details of the conference can be found here

Monday, 3 October 2011


Tutors and students on a previous Faith Encounter course

 From Ruth Tetlow Co-ordinator of Faith Encounter Programme

Faith Guiding Courses Nov 2011 in the West Midlands

The Faith Encounter Programme seeks to train people of all faiths in Birmingham as Faith Guides, so that places of worship are better equipped to offer high quality educational visits.

70 people of 8 different faiths in the West Midlands have successfully completed the course so far.
We are looking for participants from all the major religious traditions represented in Birmingham: Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, & Sikh.
Minor traditions are not excluded if they have a place of worship.
For further details and application forms check out Faith Encounter website

Previous posts about the Faith Encounter Programme can be accessed by using search facility on the left.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Faith and Festivals

Mohammed Ali of Soul City Arts in Birmingham has asked me to advertise the above which looks very interesting including an appearance by Greenbelt's Paul Northup. For further information on the event check out the MAC website

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


Shana Tova!

Today is Rosh Hashanah the beginning of the High Holy Days of the month of Tishri in the Jewish calender. To find out more of about Rosh Hashanah and the period leading up to Yom Kippur - the day of atonement check out the videos by Reform Rabbis on the Movement for Reform Judaism website, they are all fascinating and informative but Rabbi Laura Jenner- Klausner on Teshuvah is particularly engaging. The Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has an interesting short reflection on the unique nature of  forgiveness and repentance in the Jewish tradition and its influence on Christian understandings here

Our friends over at Tikkun from within the Renewal tradition of North American Judaism  have again - as they did last year - extended an invitation to friends of other faiths to step into the practice of Teshuvah in the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And have offered a High Holy Day Workbook to help with the process They write

Tikkun is not just for Jews—it is interfaith as well as Jewish. This High Holiday workbook is an invitation to all people to join with the Jewish people in using the period from September 28, the evening of Rosh Hashanah (the day of both celebrating the birthday of the Universe and of remembering who we have been this last year), until nightfall ten full days later on Yom Kippur (the Day of “At-one-ment” on October 8), to rethink our personal and communal reality and engage with the process of teshuva (returning to our highest selves and turning away from the ways we’ve missed the mark in this past year).

For a Torah commentary on Rosh Hashanah from a synagogue in the Renewal tradition see here

For further exploration Velveteen Rabbi has a list of resources for exploring Rosh Hashanah and the high holy days here

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Pluralist Theologians at Carrs Lane this October

Two leading North American theologians are coming to Birmingham in October to deliver four lectures at Carrs Lane Church Centre. Paul Knitter who I have blogged about previously here here and here is my favourite pluralist theologian of religions. I don't always agree with him, but I have enjoyed engaging with his work ever since I read his first major contribution to Christian theology of religions - No Other Name? back when I was a theology undergraduate in the early 90s. Since then he has published many books including  Jesus and the Other Names and One Earth Many Religons developing his own particular liberationist theology of religions and most recently Without Budhha I could not be a Christian. He is giving two lectures one on 'Atonement' and one on 'Life after Death'. The other lecturer is Roger Haight whose monumental Jesus Symbol of God I am reading at the moment. This book caused a good degree of controversy not least for its attempt to work out a christology that engages with the reality of interreligious dialogue. He will be lecturing on 'Who is Jesus?' and 'What is the Trinity?' Check out the details for the talks on the Carrs Lane website. They will be well worth attending.

Saturday, 24 September 2011


The panel at the Sydney Morris Memorial Lecture: Rabbi Malcolm Wiseman, myself, Julie Siddiqui Executive Director of Islamic Society of Britain and Heather Farr Religious Education specialist. At the back Hifsa Haroon- Iqbal and Revd David Lingwood of Stoke Minster who hosted the dialogue.

I enjoyed myself last week as one of the speakers at the first Sydney Morris Memorial Lecture in Stoke. You can read about the back ground to the lecture and about Sydney Morris and his anti racist and interfaith work here. The event was of similar format to one I spoke at in Stafford last May and was organised again by Hifsa Haroon - Iqbal of North Staffordshire Faith Forum. Between 60-70 people from all three faith communities attended a lively and thoughtful dialogue on Abraham and wider interfaith issues. After the four inputs from speakers we had some great questions from the audience and we were able to address challenging issues from conversion, to our understanding of contemporary forms of idolatry and our views on debates in faith communities concerning sexuality. A great evening!

Friday, 23 September 2011

'I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is Mine'

We are fast approaching  the most important period in the Jewish Calender beginning with Rosh Hashanah followed by the ten days of awe and then Yom Kippur - The day of Atonement. Jews have been preparing for this through the month of Elul. In the video below my interfaith colleague Rabbi Debbie Young - Somers explores how Jews prepare for this important time in their spiritual life.

Debbie and I were participants in an inter faith visit to Israel and Palestine last November. She is leading a session on the Inter Faith Module at Queens in November and we are currently working together on Bible notes related to our visit in November for Words For Today 2013 edited by my Queens Colleague Nicola Slee.

Saturday, 17 September 2011


Faith Storytelling Event an evening of inspirational stories from the faith groups in North Birmingham.

Spiritual stories play an important role in all religions, traditions and cultures as they
help us to remember the wisdom transferred from one generation to another.

Date: Friday 23 September 2011
Time: 7.30 - 9.00pm (Refreshments 7.30pm)
Venue: Faizul Quran Jamia Mosque Lozells, 213-217 Lozells Road. B19 1RJ
Cost: This is a free event for all faith groups to attend

Please come prepared to share an encouraging story from your personal spiritual journey or your Holy Scriptures for 5-10 minutes.
It could be in the form of a thanksgiving for an answered prayer or blessings you have received from God's loving hands.You might want to share a short story from your Holy Book or a spiritual leader who has inspired you.
Please share freely with an open heart while respecting the faith of others present on the evening.

Organised by the 'Faith in Lozells' group in partnership with faith leaders in North Birmingham and the Lozells Project.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Being Good News to Muslim Neighbours - A Forthcoming Conference

Pastor Alex Samy of Edward Road Baptist Church and I are becoming  great intra Christian dialogue partners. Last Friday we spent the good part of the afternoon discussing what Christian Witness in a multi Faith society should be all about. We didn't agree but had a great discussion and I think both of us came away challenged and encouraged by the conversation. Pastor Samy has asked me to share details a conference they are holding at Edward Road Baptist Church on 'Being Good News to Muslim Neighbours'. I hope to attend and in the process continue the dialogue. The conference is on Saturday 15th October and details can be found here

Those interested might also like to take a look at a relatively new online journal that is published  in the US with an international audience and panel of writers. Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue is available to download free.

Friday, 9 September 2011


The new term begins at Queens next week with Induction. I am teaching this term on my own 10 week Christianity in Dialogue Module the handbook can be downloaded here I am also teaching on the Introduction to Christian Mission  module on Congregational Mission in Multi Faith Contexts  and on the Person of Jesus module on Jesus in the Qur'an. I am also teaching on the 1st year Preaching course on Preaching Without Contempt. Promises to be an interesting term!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Son of Babylon - The Forgotten Horror of Iraq's Missing

I have just returned from the Greenbelt Festival at Cheltenham. As usual it was nice to bump into folk and meet old friends. However, I was not greatly inspired by this years theological talks line up, but plenty of others obviously were, as 100's packed in to see this years headliners - many again from the USA - including Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren and Rob Bell.

Hundreds of people also attended the different events associated with the Just Peace Campaign on Israel/Palestine highlighted by Greenbelt over the last 3 years - with many workshops and installations around the site sharing the Palestinian experience of the conflict.

Being free of the urge to attend the theological talks allowed me to enjoy the music this year and I spent more time listening to some passionate and beautiful music by singer songwriters both the well known and not so well known than ever before.

But the highlight of the festival for me was going to see the film Son of Babylon by the Iraqi filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji, tucked away in a small venue and attended by only 30 or so folk.  The film tells the story of a boy and his grandmother looking for her missing son of 12 years - the boy's father- in post invasion Iraq. The compelling story highlights the forgotten reality of the thousands upon thousands (some say the numbers go over 1 million) of Iraq's missing who disappeared during the regime of Saddam Hussein and others since. The film took me right back to my own journey into Iraq in 2004. I was reminded of the amazing people I met then, the hospitality I received from people who often had very little and the stories I was told of lost relatives and their longing for information about where they were and what had happened to them.

At the end of the film the producer Isabelle Stead talked to the 15 of us who remained in the theatre about the film and the campaign that it has initiated into Iraq's Missing. I remember that at the time of the fall of Saddam there was a similar campaign to put resources into excavating the mass graves and finding the disappeared initiated by the Iraqi community in the UK.  That campaign was met with a total lack of enthusiasm from the then Blair government and from the occupation forces whose priorities appeared to be elsewhere!

The Iraq's Missing Campaign is having similar problems in  convincing both the present Iraqi authorities and the international community of the central importance of this endeavor to the healing of the peoples of Iraq. Check out the campaigns website, sign the petition and support it in any way you can. Also watch out for the screening of Son of Babylon on BBC 4 in the near future. Below are two interviews one with Mohamed Al-Daradji the film's Director and the other with Isabelle Stead the film's Producer  -who also talks about the Iraq's Missing Campaign

Monday, 22 August 2011

'A steady stream of gentle people...' Reflections on a Funeral in the Park

I was away on holiday in Wales during the riots. I was glad  to have been back just in time to be able to attend the funeral of Haroon Jahan, Shazad Ali and his brother Abdul Musavir in Summerfield Park. This was a very moving and dignified occasion. The following post is a reflection on the event by Ramona Kauth who is the Chair of Birmingham Council of Faiths, a Buddhist, an Associate Tutor on my Inter Faith module at Queens and a local resident in the area where the 3 men lived:

It is hard to find words adequate to describe what happened today in the Park. I got there at about 2 pm. Lots of people were there earlier, and there had been prayers said earlier on the loud-speaker system. I could hear it from my house, as I was preparing to go.

When I got there I realised there was an area to one side that had been set aside for women. This was very comfortable for me, relieving me of feeling that I might be intruding.

As people were speaking from the stage, more and more people were arriving in streams, like a river flowing into the Park. At first I thought that this event might be smaller than the one on Sunday, but in the end there were many, many more people. On the news they have said there were 20,000 people.

There was such a strong feeling of quiet, of gentle presence and total focus on the purpose of the gathering. They were very still and moved carefully, with respect and regard for everyone around them. It was as if this area of the park had indeed become a mosque, an open-air mosque. We were there to honour these three young men as martyrs: martyrs for the peace and safety of the community, they are assured a place in history and in heaven.

Of all the speeches the words I remember most are the ones said by the Imam when he said that this day, this event, would be remembered in history. He said it marked a change, a turning point, a change in the perception of Muslims because it was such a clear commitment to the Islamic way of life, the peacefulness and dedication to community and following the teaching, praying five times a day and putting that into practice in ones daily life. And we will always remember this amazing gathering of Muslims to pray together at this event, to support the family and give respect to Haroon, Shazad and Musavir.

It would be very wonderful if some kind of memorial stone may be put up here in the park, to remember these young men, with the words of Tariq Jahan that he spoke so soon after his son's death: that no one should think to respond with violence but on the contrary because only more anger and violence comes from hatred and violence, that the only way to respond is with care and coming together. This was such a timely and powerful response. I think he must be a kind of saint, certainly someone worthy of our respect.

After the final prayers and the sight of the three hearses covered in flowers, everyone left in the way they had arrived, a steady stream of gentle people walking simply and peacefully on their way.

It was all very moving, very thought provoking. I am so glad I was able to be there.


Tuesday, 2 August 2011


I'm off on holiday from the end of today. We are going in the camper van to Wales for a couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to the space -  I get to walk and chill out in lovely countryside -  but I can't stop reading and I can't stop reading theology, sad person that I am. This holiday I'm packing some exciting stuff . I'm concentrating on the work of three North American theologians - Catherine Keller, Laurel C Schneider and Beverly Lanzetta. I dipped into some of Keller's and Schneider's work earlier today and it looks wonderfully promising:

In recent years a discernable movement within theology has emerged around a triune intuition: the daunting differences of multiplicity, the evolutionary uncertainty it unfolds, and the relationality that it implies are not problems to be overcome in religious thought. They are starting points for it. Divinity understood in terms of multiplicity, open - endedness, and relationality now forms a matrix of revelation rather than a distortion, or evidence of its lack. The challenges and passions of theological creativity blossoming at the edges of tradition and at the margins of power have shown themselves, far from being distractions from doctrinal or doxological integrity, to be indispensible to its life. And this vitality belies at once the dreary prophecies of pure secularism and the hard grip of credulous certainty.

Really, given the venerable pronouncements of the death of God, theology at the start of this millenium should be worse off than it is. The undeniable atrophy of those denominations that still support educated clergy limit the resources for even discerning just which God it is that is presumed dead. The hard questions remain hard; the institutional fragilities remain unsparing. And so the buoyancy we see in theology right now is all the more remarkable. Its life and movement, which in this volume we are nicknaming "polydoxy", has multiple sources. Indeed multiplicity itself has become theology's resource. What had always seemed a liability for Christian theology - multiplicitous differences contending from within and competing from without - has miraculously turned into theology's friend. Indeed emergent commitment to the manifold of creation as it enfolds a multiplicity of wisdoms may be functioning as a baseline requirement for theological soundness. A responsible pluralism of interdependance and uncertainty now seems to facilitate deeper attention to ancient religious traditions as well as more robust engagement with serious critiques of religion. This is an approach that no longer needs to hide the internal fissures and complexities that riddle every Christian text or that wound and bless every theological legacy.

These intuitions and starting points find grounding in the Christian tradition not only because of the rich history of texts and practices therein that support doctrinal and ethical formulations of multiplicity, evolutionary openness, and relationality. But also, like other global religions, "Christianity" was never merely One to begin with. Internally multiple and complex, it has always required an agile and spirited approach to theological reflection. We sense that the current resilience of theology in its becoming multiplicity of relations is a sign and a gift of that Spirit.

Catherine Keller and Laurel C Schneider (Eds) Polydoxy : Theology of Multiplicity and Relation (Routledge 2011) p1

Hopefully, I'll be back posting towards the end of August with an interesting book review from Andi Smith Minister at Saltley Methodist Church in Birmingham who has been enjoying reading Allah : A Christian Response by Miroslav Volf

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


With Ramadan fast approaching I thought I would repost this article I wrote last year on Christians reading the Qur'an

It was during the Ramadan fast of 2005 that I first seriously engaged with the Qur'an and haven't put it down for long since. And I have received much spiritual insight from reading the Qur'an.

What is the nature of the Qur'an for Christians willing to openly engage with it?

It has been argued that in the latter years of the last century three lines of explanation developed amongst Christian readers of the Qur'an - beyond the negative dismissals of simplistic Christian apologetics - on its value to Christians (1)

The first position recognises that the Qur'an is of spiritual benefit to Muslims but tends not to explore its possible spiritual benefit for Christians. It emphasises the differences between Qur'anic statements and Christian conviction. Jacques Jomier in The Bible and the Qur'an has said 'According to Islam, God's message has not been incarnated in a man, Jesus Christ, but rather delivered in a book, in the Qur'an. This book gives guidence to Muslims to follow the path of obedience to God's law, which they believe, leads to salvation. For Christians, public revelation is full. complete and concluded in Jesus Christ. And because the Incarnation and Redemption are denied in Islam, the whole idea of salvation is different in this religion'. For Jomier the benefit of reading the Qur'an for Christians is simply to help them better understand their Muslim neighbour.

The second position argues that the text is divinely inspired and can be read with spiritual benefit by Christians but tends to recruit the Qur'an as a Christian text. its proponents argue that Islamic tradition has misunderstood the Qur'anic revelation and emphasises a Christian influenced interpretation or appeals to a 'higher' level of truth/reading in which the differences between the Qur'anic and Christian revelation are overcome. Franciscan, Giulio Basetti - Sani's The Koran in the Light of Christ - Islam in the plan of History of Salvation (1977) is an example of such an approach.

The third and to my mind most interesting position takes a mediating path between these two, trying to respect the Qur'an as Islamic scripture and to respect Islamic traditions of interpretation, whilst showing how it might also function as spiritually beneficial to Christians.

Hans Kung has argued that the Qur'an can act as a 'prophetic corrective' for Christians to the overly 'high christology' of concilliar Christianity and aid the recovery of an earlier Jewish Christianity with a lower Christological perspective. Although I think there is some merit in this argument the way Kung goes about it appears a little too much like recruiting the Qur'an to his modernist Christian theological project.

On the other hand Kenneth Cragg seeks to work in the other direction to Kung. Whilst being steeped in a deeply appreciative understanding of the Islamic interpretation of the Qur'an Cragg argues that Christians can interpret the Qur'an from within the perspective of Christic revelation. Cragg arguesthat certain Quranic themes can be illuminated more fully through an engagement with the Christian gospel. Whilst Islamic scholar Fazlur Rahman was very appreciative of Cragg's encounter with the Qur'an, if not uncritical, other Muslims have argued more forcefully that he reveals an overly Christianizing and indeed orientalizing tendency in his approach.

Perhaps the most interesting mediating perspective is found with the long term Muslim-Christian Research group - a European- North African initiative of the 1980s that brought together Christian and Islamic scholars to read the Qur'an and the Bible together over a number of years. The small but richly engaging book The Challenge of the Scriptures - The Bible and the Qur'an was one of the results of this dialogue. The Christians in the group, at the end of the process, when asked to reflect on the meaning of the Qur'an said:

'We see the Qur'an as an authentic Word of God, but one in part essentially different from the Word in Jesus Christ'

Peter Ford argues that ' these Christians have thus been willing to be drawn in into a certain spiritual tension, to live with a measure of paradox. it cannot be denied that their approach, at once honest and respectful, holds an excellent prospect for constructive dialogue with Muslims, and not least because such statements are formulated within such dialogue.'

The first decade of the 21st century has seen a new phenomenon the Scriptural Reasoning movement developing amongst Jews, Christians and Muslims. This movement may be said to share the same spirit as the earlier Muslim-Christian Research Group but this time including Jews. A very interesting film showing one such scriptural reasoning group in process can be found here.

Reading the Qur'an as a Christian and listening to and reading about how Muslims understand and interpret the Qur'an has been a challenging and enriching spiritual experience. I find myself drawn to the tension ridden paradoxical position of the Christians in the European - North African initiated dialogue of the 1980s.

Below I recommend some resources for any Christians who would also like to step out on a journey of their own into the Qur'an

(1) See F. Peter Ford Jnr 'The Qur'an as Sacred Scripture: An Assessment of Contemporary Christian Perspectives' in The Muslim World April 1993

Some resources for engaging with the Qur’an written by Muslims or taking an approach that is sensitive and knowledgeable about how Muslims engage with the Qur’anic revelation, that I have found helpful.

Books on the Qur’an by Muslims

Farid Esack, The Qur’an – A Users Guide (One World 2005)

A very good all round introduction from a Muslim committed to a faith activist and liberationist perspective but who also undertook traditionalist Islamic studies. Esack was a leading Muslim activist in the anti Apartheid struggle in South Africa and has been involved in activism on war, imperialism and Aids. Esack’s more academic earlier work based on his PhD thesis at Birmingham University and drawing particularly on his involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle is Qur’an, Liberation and Pluralism (One World 1997) and very much worth the effort.

Mona Siddiqui, How to Read the Qur’an (Granta 2007)

Muslim academic’s accessible introduction to the Qur’an. An interfaith practitioner who has featured in recent years as one of the main speakers at the Greenbelt Arts Festival

Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur'an, (1989)
A modern classic probably better read after some time of engagement with the Qur'an.

Asma Barlas, Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an (University of Texas Press 2002)
A brilliant reading of the Qur’an from a woman’s perspective emphasising the radically egalitarian and anti-patriarchal nature of its teachings. Asma Barlas is amongst a leading group of women scholars challenging readings of Islam based on western media stereotypes and cultural patriarchy.

Reading/Hearing the Qur’an

Approaching the Qur’an – The Early Revelations Michael Sells (White Cloud Press 2007)

This is an excellent starting place. The book goes through each of the Surahs - the shorter Meccan surahs of early Qur’anic revelation - that a young Muslim would learn as they first became familiar with the Qur’an. Sells translates these surahs and has a scholarly but accessible commentary on each. The book also contains a CD with recitations of some of surahs by world renowned reciters.

The Light of Dawn - Daily Readings from The Qur'an - Camille Helminski (Shambhala 2000)

A lovely accessible but scholarly translation of key parts of the Qur'an organised into daily readings

The Book of Revelations: A Sourcebook of Themes from the Holy Qur'an edited by Kabir Helminski (The Book Foundation 2005)

A good next step with commentaries by respected modern commentators on a large number of selected passages .

The Qur’an translated by M A S Abdel Haleem (Oxford World Classics 2008)

A good modern accessible translation of the whole Qur'an

The Message of the Qur'an (Book Foundation 2008)

The Arabic text with transliteration, translation and commentary by modern scholar Muhammad Asad - for deeper engagement.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Cambridge Inter Faith Summer School Visits Birmingham

While the Feast were off in Istanbul meeting with folk from Beirut. I welcomed on Sunday morning a group of Muslims, Christians and Jews from USA, Middle East and Europe who are on the Cambridge Inter Faith Programme Summer School. The Group were visiting Birmingham for the day touring places of worship of the three faith traditions utilising the Faith Encounter Programme's Faith Guides.The above picture was taken outside their first port of call The Ghamkol Sharif Masjid in Small Heath. They went on to visit Birmingham Anglican Cathedral and Singers Hill Synagogue

Friday, 22 July 2011


 The folks at THE FEAST have gone international!

Birmingham based interfaith youth project The Feast - who bring together Christian and Muslim teenagers  to encourage dialogue  and joint action in their communities, is taking a group of young people to Istanbul this weekend to meet up with Muslim and Christian youth from Beirut. Andrew Smith Chair of Feast Trustees who will be leading the trip said

The aim is to build some good relationships and to help the group from Beirut look at how we have faith conversations between Muslims and Christians. The trip promises to be both exciting and challenging for the leaders and the young people.

Check out the news story about the group here

You can follow the groups adventures on twitter at #brummeetsbeirut

Thursday, 21 July 2011


One of the least reported on events at this years Methodist Conference held in Southport at the beginning of this month was the remarkable turn out for the Inter Faith fringe meeting which involved a visit to a synagogue and the experience of a Seder. In a guest post Revd Bruce Thompson, Chair Designate of the Lincoln and Grimsby District of The Methodist Church reports on the event and offers his own thoughts as to its significance for the developing relationship between Methodism and the Jewish Community.

Who’d have believed it? A year ago formal relations between the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the Jewish community sank to an all time low following the much-maligned Justice for Palestine and Israel Report. But at this year’s Conference more than a third of the representatives greatly enjoyed a demonstration Seder at a Southport Synagogue.

The event was originally conceived by a small group of Christians and Jews who wanted to do something to heal the hurts inflicted by the debate on Israel/Palestine at last year’s Conference. It had been hoped that 30-50 people might attend but more than 100 sat down to hear Rabbi Saunders of the Southport Hebrew Congregation give an introduction to the Seder. Following the meal constructive and very moving speeches were made by Jonathan Arkush, Senior Vice President of the Board of Deputies and Christine Elliott, Secretary for External Relationships at the Methodist Church. An upbeat and warm keynote address was made by Chair of the Liverpool District the Revd Jim Booth.

Birmingham District's Gareth Jones in dialogue at the Seder

So did we achieve our intentions? I believe we did. It was a real joy to have so many Methodists drawn from right across the Connexion coming together in a synagogue expressing their desire to know more about Judaism, seeking to build a better relationship and pledging to continue dialogue despite the obvious differences of opinion over all sorts of issues.

If you live within travelling distance of a Synagogue why not invite the rabbi and members of the community to demonstrate a Seder at your place of worship, or better still, if at all possible, at the synagogue. There is no more conducive way of developing a relationship than eating and drinking together around a table.

And what of next year’s Conference? Within minutes of the Southport Seder ending participants were asking what we are going to do when we next meet in Plymouth. Already suggestions are being made – one of them being Jewish festivals in an hour through song, comedy and texts! Let’s wait and see!

There was also a report in the Jewish Chronicle and the Methodist Recorder

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

'Always, always you alone are the One Reality' - Exploring Sikhism

I recently enjoyed reading Nikky Guninder Kaur Singh's Sikhism: An Introduction. I had previously encountered her lovely translation of verses from the Sikh Gurus The Name of My Beloved. The book is a great introduction to Sikh tradition from someone who clearly loves and cherishes her faith but is also willing to caste a critical eye over some of its inherited practices. The writer is one of a number of interesting Sikh Scholars, Birmingham's Jagbir Jhutti-Johal  and her book Sikhism Today is another, who are wanting to highlight the potentially egalitarian nature of the Sikh tradition and bring this into critical encounter with historical and contemporary patriarchal and discriminatory practice, as well as into dialogue with contemporary ethical and social issues. These writers also see immense resources within the Sikh tradition for making a particular Sikh contribution to an understanding of interreligious dialogue and religious plurality as Nikky Guninder points out:

"The Sikh monotheistic vision is different from that of the West. As a continuation of the Abrahamic traditions, Islam penetrated India with the concept of the 'One God', which conflicted with the polyphonic imagination of the diverse schools of the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. In the Sikh belief, there is no opposition between the One and the many, nor is there any dualism between unity and plurality. The Guru Granth claims 'ikkasu te hoio ananta nanak ekasu mahi samae jio - from the One issue myriads and into the One they are ultimately assimilated' (GG:131). Unity becomes plurality, and plurality eventually becomes is not an exclusivist monotheism, but rather an inclusive Oneness of Being that the Guru Granth reiterates over and over: 'Always, always you alone are the One Reality - sada sada tun eku hai' (GG: 139). Persian terminology is used to emphasize the unity of being: ' asti ek digari kui ek tui ek tui' - only the One is, who else could there be? Only you, you only' (GG:144). Again: 'hindu turk ka sahib ek - Hindus and Muslims share the One sovereign' (GG:1158). Since everything is a manifestation of that One being, every manifestation would be part of it. No god, no body and no thing is excluded from this all-pervasive being. The arc of the Oan flying off launches the imagination to intuit the unintuitable One, and everybody is welcome to perceive that One in their own way. Blotting out conventional icons and images that created divisions and animosities, the mathematical One embraces the Tao, Yahweh, Ram, Allah, Parvati...this numerical symbol has the potential to end conflicts over my god/ your god."

Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh An Introduction to Sikhism (I B Tauris 2011) p61

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


A good interview with Salma Yaqoob in last weeks Birmingham Mail. It's sad to see that Salma has had to resign as councillor due to ill health. I worked with Salma on a number of occasions including a Peace Vigil for Israel & Palestine, campaigning against the EDL, her campaign to become an MP and  campaigns against the spycams and the closure of Sparkhill Baths. I was particularly pleased when Salma agreed to write the Forward for my book and then speak at the launch last year. Salma will be greatly missed in both local and national politics, her performances on BBC's Question Time ( see above) and BBC Radio 4 Any Questions were often outstanding, challenging the neo-liberal and pro war political consensus of the three main parties. It's good to see that she will not be totally leaving public life, on her own web site she says

For the time being, I have to take a step back and give myself the time and space to concentrate on regaining my health. However, I am not retiring from politics just yet! I still have things to say and - health permitting - I hope to continue with occasional media appearances, writing and public speaking.I may have been forced to resign as a councillor. But I remain as committed as ever to the struggle for a world free of war, racism and poverty.

Monday, 18 July 2011


The World Council of Churches along with the Pontical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and The World Evangelical Alliance have just issued a document called Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World
- Recommendations for Conduct.

The opening preamble says

Mission belongs to the very being of the church. Proclaiming the word of God and witnessing to the world is essential for every Christian. At the same time, it is necessary to do so according to gospel principles, with full respect and love for all human beings.

Aware of the tensions between people and communities of different religious convictions and the varied interpretations of Christian witness, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), the World Council of Churches (WCC) and, at the invitation of the WCC, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), met during a period of 5 years to reflect and produce this document to serve as a set of recommendations for conduct on Christian witness around the world. This document does not intend to be a theological statement on mission but to address practical issues associated with Christian witness in a multi-religious world.

The purpose of this document is to encourage churches, church councils and mission agencies to reflect on their current practices and to use the recommendations in this document to prepare, where appropriate, their own guidelines for their witness and mission among those of different religions and among those who do not profess any particular religion. It is hoped that Christians across the world will study this document in the light of their own practices in witnessing to their faith in Christ, both by word and deed.

The full document can be downloaded here