Wednesday, 29 April 2009

What are you - Transformationist? Exclusivist?......

For many years now Christian theology of religions has been dominated by what has become known as the salvific typology originally developed by pluralist theologian Alan Race in his book Christianity and Religious Pluralism. The typology has come under a good degree of criticism and has also been defended in response. Although I think the typology is to be found wanting on a number of points I like to use it as a teaching tool - as a way of getting folk engaged with some of the questions involved in the exploration of Christianity in an inter faith world. Why not take a look at this particular presentation of the typology by Paul McKenna - slightly different to Race's original typology - on the Scarboro Missions website and decide for yourself are you Pluralist, Exclusivist, Inclusivist or Transformationist and then vote in the poll on the right hand side of this page......

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Faith, Hope & Love

I have been asked to submit an article for this years Methodist Conference Handbook. The Conference is being hosted this year by Birmingham, Chester and Stoke on Trent, and Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury Districts of the Methodist Church at Wolverhampton Civic Hall from 2nd - 9th July. Here is my contribution that I sent to the editor today.

Methodists have been and are central to inter faith work in the West Midlands. Ivy Gutteridge, who received an OBE in honour of decades of activism, was a pioneer of inter faith work in Wolverhampton in the 1960s and contemporary Methodists are at the heart of West Midlands Faiths Forum, with Revd Gareth Jones as the Inter Faith Development Officer operating out of the forums Birmingham base.

But it is not only or even primarily in local inter faith groups and politically inspired Faith Forums that inter faith work goes on, but in the ordinary lives of Christians living in a multi-faith society. Everyday dialogue and encounter between Christians and people of other faith traditions is taking place and developing throughout the area covered by the three districts hosting this conference, as neighbourhood and workplace develop into places of opportunity to learn and share our different understandings of God and the life of faith.

Barbara, an 85 year old woman who attends a church in an area where 80% of the population are Muslim, regularly talks about her faith and in turn learns about the faith of her Muslim Taxi Drivers. She finds that they often ask her to pray for a personal or family need, as they take her to the weekly bible study class she attends at her local Methodist church in inner city Birmingham.

Siperire a Methodist minister in Coventry remembers when she worked for a Nursing agency being assigned to a ‘live in’ post with an elderly Orthodox Jewish woman suffering from dementia and having to learn about Kosher practices and finding herself entering into the rhythms of Jewish life.

Roy, who works for a small engineering firm in Solihull, developed a friendship over 12 years with a Muslim colleague Ahmed – they often talked together about God, prayer and family life. Recently the firm made a number of people redundant. Ahmed lost his job and Roy kept his; this was a difficult experience for them both.

Roberta, a Primary School Teacher in Wolverhampton tells a story of being challenged by Sikh children in her class because she had placed a Bible on the floor. One of the 10 year old children in the class left her seat, came forward, picked up the book and placed it on her desk. This incident led to a class discussion on how different faith communities treat their ‘holy books’. Roberta further reflected on the role of Scripture in Christian tradition and how it differs to that of other faiths.

Mandy, an NHS manager and an Anglican ordinand preparing for a curacy in Stafford, is a member of a reading group of ‘professionals’ that includes amongst its members three Hindus and three Christians. Recently, as part of a project for her training, Mandy asked the group if they would be willing to read the Book of Daniel. The generosity and interest with which her Hindu friends approached the book and the insights they gave caused Mandy to reflect upon how open she would be to reading the scriptures of other faith traditions.

A church in Walsall that has had a ministry to night clubbers for some time - including serving tea, coffee and water - found themselves approached by local Muslims during Ramadan, who wanted to join with them and offer food to revellers.

The world of Christian engagement with other faith traditions has changed considerably since those early pioneering days of the likes of Ivy Gutteridge. The ministry of welcome and hospitality of a ‘host’ Christianity to the ‘stranger’ of another faith tradition has changed into Christian engagement with a truly multi-faith society of increasingly confident other faith communities, in the midst of an often seemingly Christian decline. It is important for us to grasp the reality of this change and develop as a church to equip ourselves as disciples in this changing context.

We need to resist defensive or reductionist strategies and should instead see our current context as an opportunity for renewal as we seek to cultivate more deeply, through creative engagement with our neighbours, the Christian virtues of Faith, Hope and Love. Faithfully we root ourselves in the story and practice of Jesus witnessing to its wisdom and truth ; hopefully we trust that God has a future for all humanity beyond our imaging despite our destructiveness and violence whilst lovingly and with discernment, we open our hearts and minds to the wisdom of the faith of our neighbours. Thus we can work together to bring glimpses in the here and now of God’s Kingdom to come….

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Friday, 10 April 2009

The Good Friday Intercessions

In 2007 when I was Vicar of All Hallows in Leeds I and the writer Annie Heppenstall, who has since - I am very pleased to say - become my wife, wrote an alternative to the Good Friday Intercessions. I was reminded of this as we were praying the BCP office together this morning and came across the appalling collect for Good Friday - calling for the conversion of 'Jews, Turks and Infidels.' (That will teach me to get romantic about the rhythmns of the language of the BCP!)

It also reminded me of how Good Friday was often a time when anti semitic mobs attacked the already marginalised and persecuted Jewish Community of Europe in the middle ages and beyond. The roots of Christian antisemitism run deep as Sr Teresa Brittain of the Sisters of Sion reminded us with passion and conviction at the Queen's Foundation Lecture I organised at the end of last term. Her talk led me to revisit - during Passiontide - Rosemary Radford Ruether's very challenging Faith and Fratricide .

Although the contemporary official Good Friday intercessions of the Church of England were considerably more positive towards the Jewish community than the BCP or indeed later liturgies, we came up with a revised version to that in Times and Seasons that was also more positive in attitude to other faith traditions without diluting the central Christian message.

In addition to this we wanted prayers prayers that affirmed voices dissenting from the status quo rather than just praying for leaders. We also added prayers about the earth and the indigenous peoples as well as other changes in style and emphasis for instance significantly changing the prayer for those who do not believe the gospel of Christ....

Anyway here it is

The Prayers of Intercession

President: God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Therefore we pray to our heavenly Father
for people everywhere according to their needs.

Minister: Let us pray for the Church of God throughout the world -
for unity in faith, in witness and in service,
for all disciples of Christ, and those whom they serve,
for N and N, our bishops, and the people of this diocese,
for all Christians in this place,
for those to be baptized,
and for those who are mocked and persecuted for their faith
that God will confirm his Church in faith,
increase it in love, and preserve it in peace.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

President: Compassionate and ever merciful God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
hear our prayer which we offer
for all your faithful people;
that in their vocation and ministry
each may serve you in love and truth
to the glory of your Name;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Minister: Let us pray for all creation,
for the fragility, the interdependence,
for the majesty and wonder,
for the creatures, the plants,
the indigenous peoples whose traditions teach us to truly value the earth,
for the urgency of our call to active, loving stewardship.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

President: Most Loving God,
open our hearts to love
all that is blessed
with the sacred breath of your spirit,
and to confess that what you made is indeed good.
Move us to live lightly and tread gently upon this earth,
resisting the temptations of consumerism and waste,
of destruction and pollution
that we may participate in the healing,
the renewal and liberation
of your creation.

Minister: Let us pray for the people of the world and their
leaders -
the Parliaments of this land,
for those who administer the law and all who
serve in public office,
for campaigners, community activists and dissenters to the status quo who challenge the injustices of our flawed institutions and systems
and for all who strive for justice and reconciliation
that they may be strengthened and challenged by a deeper knowledge of God's rule of compassion and mercy, of justice and peace
and that by God's help the world may live in peace and freedom.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

President: Most gracious God and Father,
in whose will is our peace:
turn our hearts and the hearts of all to yourself,
that by the power of your Spirit
the peace which is founded on justice
may be established throughout the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Minister: Let us pray for God's ancient people, the Jews,
the first to hear his word -
for greater understanding between Christian and Jew
for the removal of our blindness and bitterness of heart
that God will grant us grace to be faithful to his covenant
and to grow in the love of his name.
Let us pray for the other children of Abraham, the Muslims,
for the healing of past hurts,
and for an openness of heart where differences may become creative opportunities for an ever deeper understanding of the wonder of God.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

President: Lord God bless all the children of Abraham,
Jew, Christian and Muslim;
take from us all blindness and bitterness of heart,
and hasten the coming of your kingdom,
where we shall dwell together in mutual love and peace
under the one God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Minister: Let us pray for those of other faith traditions,
for those who follow the noble path of the Buddha,
the yogic path of the Hindus and the way of the eternal Guru of the Sikhs. May we open our hearts to their wisdom.

Lord hear us
Lord graciously hear us

President: God of Truth
open our hearts to the wisdom of other traditions
and give us the courage , strength and humility
to share the love and truth that we know in Jesus,
our crucified and risen Lord

Minister: Let us pray for those who do not believe in the goodness of God -
for those who take your name in vain for the purposes of violence and hatred,
for the contemptuous and scornful,
for those who persecute people of faith,
that God will open their hearts to the truth
and lead them to faith and love.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

President: Merciful God,
creator of all the people of the earth,
expand our compassion and strengthen our resolve to meet violence, persecution, contempt and scorn
with a love confident in your promise of the Holy Spirit.

Minister: Let us pray for those of us who suffer -
for those who are deprived and oppressed,
for all who are sick,
for those in darkness, in doubt and in despair,
in loneliness and in fear,
for those who have lost faith,
for prisoners, captives and refugees,
for the victims of false accusations and violence,
for all at the point of death
and those who watch beside them
that God in his mercy will sustain them
with the knowledge of his love.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

President: Compassionate and ever merciful God,
the comfort of the sad, the strength of those who suffer;
hear the prayers of your children who cry out of any trouble:
and to every distressed soul grant mercy, relief,
and refreshment,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Minister: Let us commend ourselves and all God's children
to his unfailing love,
and pray for the grace of a holy life,
that, with all who have died in the peace of Christ,
we may come to the fullness of eternal life
and the joy of the resurrection.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

President: O God
you took upon you
the yoke of humanity
and the burden of love,
and did not find it easy:
let us learn from you
to share the weight
of all this aching world,
that our souls may be light,
and our hearts rested,
as together we are carried by you
in Jesus Christ, Amen
Janet Morley

Revised and adapted from Times and Seasons p316-318 by Ray Gaston and Annie Heppenstall

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Marcus Borg on Religious Pluralism

I have always liked Marcus Borg's work: the mixture of a serious engagement with critical scholarship and the ability to translate this exploration into a vibrant and exciting representation of the faith is a real gift.

Best known for his scholarly work on historical Jesus research. Here is a recent presentation of his on Religious Pluralism.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Inter Faith Mandala by Gill Kelly

Below is a description by the artist about the images in this picture. I printed this picture on the front of the Module Handbook for a new course I ran this year on Christianity and Inter Faith Relations - Theology, Dialogue and Engagement at Queen's. I also have a copy of the picture on my study door.

Some questions you might like to consider in reflecting on this picture:

How do I feel about the picture?

What theology of religions do I think the artist portraying in this picture?

Who is Christ in this picture and what is his relationship to other traditions ?

What does the Trinity represent and what is its relationship to other faiths?

The central structure is a tree - Norseman would have called it Yggdrasil, the World Tree, with its roots and branches connecting Heaven, Earth and Hell. It is now the Tree of Life. At its centre is a Celtic symbol for the Trinity, the One God over all.

In the four spandrels of the Celtic cross are symbols of world faith and belief: the seven-branched candlestick of the Jewish faith, the Wheel of Life common to Hinduism and Buddhism, and symbols of Chinese and Sikh religion. Round the Centre are dark clouds, which are the Cloud of Unknowing. Outside, the religions of the world offer light.

At the foot of the Tree the Lord Buddha sits in a lotus flower, symbol of purity and eternity; the bo tree under which he received enlightenment arches over his head. At the top of the Tree (which has become a cross) the crucified, risen and ascended Christ stretches out His arms in blessing. Above Him the Tree bursts out in leaves which are for the healing of the nations.

On the left of the Tree are: top left: Judaism. Moses receives the Tablets of the Law on Mount Sinai. Centre left: Islam is represented by the Mihrab of the Pearl Mosque in Delhi. Lower left: the Sikh Scriptures are read in the Golden Temple of Arnritsar. Top right: the Lord Krishna (a Hindu 'avatar' or incarnation of the divine) dances on the head of the evil serpent Kaliya and rescues a worshipper. Centre and lower right represent ancient belief systems which use senior members of society and respected ancestors to connect them with the divine - a Polynesian Tiki, and a West African king (an Oni of Ife) with a carving of an Ancestor Spirit.

In the four corners are symbols of the elements of earth, air, fire and water. On the earth (lower right) are Stonehenge, perhaps representing the dawn of religious consciousness, and the highest mountains, home of the divine Air has the symbolism of the sun, guiding stars and tongues of baptismal fire. And water is for purifying, and for life.