Monday, 27 June 2011


Thanks to Kim at Richard Hall's Connexions blog for this wonderful thought from Elizabeth Johnson

It is odd, when you think about it, that for centuries belief in Christ was used to obscure the work of God in other religions rather than to expand appreciation of it. An imperialist framework for christology made it appear that since the Word is incarnate in Jesus, then God is not present elsewhere, or at least not so truly and lovingly. A hierarchal pattern of thinking led to the conclusion that since Christ is number one, no other religion at all is worthy of attention. Not only was divine presence denied elsewhere, but Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life was brandished triumphally like a stick to render others inferior. The God of Jesus Christ became a figure of closedness rather than openness.

Understanding Jesus Christ as the sacrament of God’s saving will enfleshed in history under the sign of kenosis and interpreting his universal significance in the light of his preaching the reign of God make possible a more generous view. Christians need not, indeed must not, abandon the faith that Jesus is in person Wisdom made flesh, whose advent holds saving significance for the whole of humankind, nor stop explaining to others the beauty of the gospel and its effect on our lives. This is the treasure entrusted to our hands in the living tradition of Christian faith. But in the midst of earth’s history, which limits every divine manifestation and human insight, this proclamation should be done in the spirit of the same humble self-emptying that we are talking about. As Joseph Hough put it, “It is essential for Christian faith that we know we have seen the face of God in the face of Jesus. It is not essential to believe that no one else has seen God and experienced redemption in another time and place.”…

Interreligious encounter leads to the praxis of sincere respect, careful dialogue, mutual learning, appreciation, and cooperation on a local and global scale to further the coming of God’s reign. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks proposes some arresting analogies to show the enrichment this praxis can bring. What would faith be like if we acknowledged the image of God in another, whose truth is not our truth? It is like feeling secure in one’s own home, yet moved by the beauty of foreign places, knowing they are someone else’s home, not mine, but still part of the glory of the world that is ours. It is like being fluent in Englsih, yet thrilled by the rhythms of an Italian sonnet. It is like realizing that your life is a sentence written in the story of your own faith, yet pleased to know that there are other stories of faith written in other lives, all part of the great narrative of God’s call and humanity’s response. Those who are confident in their faith are not threatened but elarged by the different ways of others. As we discover deeper truth than what we thought we possessed as a monopoly, the dignity of difference becomes a source of blessing.

Elizabeth A. Johnson, Quest for the Living God: Mapping the Frontiers in the Theology of God (New York/London: Continuum, 2007), pp. 176-79.

Saturday, 25 June 2011


 My contribution to 'Armed Forces Day' - Native American singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie  talks about why she wrote the peace movement classic 'Universal Soldier' and then sings it.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Something smaller and less spectacular

The following from The Methodist Church of The Philippines was given to me just as I became an ordinand some 18 years ago by the now Dean of Birmingham Cathedral The Very Revd Catherine Ogle, who was then Chaplain to BBC Radio Leeds and an associate Priest at All Hallows Leeds where I worshipped and later became Vicar. I have treasured it throughout my ordained ministry and offer it now as a prayer for all those being ordained by Methodist Conference in Southport and by Bishops in Cathedrals up and down the country in the next few weeks.

May God bless you and keep you.....

We are not ordaining you to ministry;
that happened at your baptism.
We are not ordaining you to serve the Church in committees,
activities, organisation; that is already implied in your membership.
We are not ordaining you to become involved in social issues,
in ecology, race, politics, and the search for justice and peace;
for that is laid on every Christian.

We are ordaining you
to something smaller and less spectacular;
to read and interpret those sacred stories of our community,
so that they speak a word to people today;
to remember and practice those rituals of meaning
that address people at the level where change takes place;
to foster in community, through word and sacrament,
that encounter with truth which will set people free
to minister as the Body of Christ.

We are ordaining you
to the ministry of the word and sacraments
and pastoral care.

God grant you grace not to betray but uphold it,
not to deny but to affirm it,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Islamophobia and The Politics of Fear

Interesting talk by Scott Bayder Saye who explores Islamophobia within a broader and theological understanding of what he terms 'the politics of fear' and suggests resources within the three Abrahamic traditions for resisting this culture. Although the early part of the talk appears to be limited to North Amercan context don't let that put you off listening to the whole thing. The second half is particularly good,including a thoughtful theological reflection on fear drawing upon both Biblical and Qur'anic sources.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Path Not Taken - Krister Stendahl and The Theology of Religions

I came across this article the other day that has recently been published in Journal of Ecumenical Studies. It's Paul Knitter's 2009 Krister Stendahl memorial lecture, well worth a read. Knitter draws together some interesting snippets and reflections from Stendahl's work and teases us with Stendahl's explorations into theology of religions. However, I find his conclusion disappointing as he too easily recruits Stendahl to his own theological agenda of a  pluralist liberationist theology of religions, drawing Stendahl, whose writing - as far as I know - does not engage with Alan Race's dominant typology of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism, into the pluralist camp.

I believe Stendahl's thoughts are not so easily categorised or in fact even interested in such categories.

Stendahl's reflections arose out of the longing to "sing my song to Jesus fully and with abandon without feeling it necessary to belittle the faith of others;" he sought to work with the particularity of  the Jesus and the Pauline traditions of the Apostolic Witness, starting from these roots and imagining  'the path not taken', tentatively exploring a  theology of religions from that work of excavation. This is different to the  pluralist approach that starts with a universalist philosophy of religion and then asserts the necessity of a Christological accommodation to that theory. Stendahl's starting point as a biblical scholar and a participant in Jewish - Christian Dialogue ensures a  qualitative difference between him and the pluralists. He begins by wanting to value particularity, something the early pluralists were less concerned about.  

Was Stendahl's creative approach eclipsed by the more strident assertions of the pluralist theology of religions? Might it be more appropriate to see Stendahl as a forerunner for the developing theologies of dialogue that tend to eschew Race's paradigm in search of a different path in Christian theological engagement with religious plurality?   Perhaps his was the 'path not taken' that is now being rediscovered.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

An Excellent Resource

I wrote the following review for the Methodist Theological Journal The Epworth Review it is appearing in this quarter's edition which has just come out

Edward Kessler

An Introduction to Jewish Christian Relations
(Cambridge University Press 2010 Paperback)
ISBN 978-0-521-70562-2

Despite predictions of an end to Methodist – Jewish relations, following the passage of the Report on Justice for Palestine & Israel at last year’s conference, much to everyone’s surprise there has been a mini renaissance of Methodist-Jewish encounter over the last year.

Those involved from the Methodist side would gain greatly from investing time and money in Ed Kessler’s excellent book. Kessler, who is the Jewish founder of a centre for Abrahamic dialogue in Cambridge, is a generous dialogue partner with a deep understanding and clear affection for Christianity. Easy to read, comprehensive in it’s sweep of the history of Jewish - Christian relations and nuanced in it’s presentation of contentious issues such as how to tackle the anti-Judaism of the New Testament and approaches to Zionism and the State of Israel, this book encourages a serious in depth exploration of the issues involved, through an accessible and engaging style.

Split into ten chapters that range from the New Testament context to the role of Jewish - Christian engagement in the wider interfaith movement today, Kessler has provided a valuable study resource that could easily be adapted for group use, perhaps combining the reading of a chapter each session with some primary documentation from the period or issue in question. An excellent bibliography and Kessler’s ability to summarise complex arguments simply and succinctly facilitate such an approach and enable further exploration.

For Christians who have not seriously engaged in Jewish – Christian dialogue this is an excellent place to start. For those already involved, Kessler’s presentation will refresh thoughts and reengage enthusiasm for a dialogue that is crucial for the creative development of Christian self understanding in a post Holocaust world and for constructive engagement with the cause of peace, justice and healing in the Middle East.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


A cardinal principle of dialogue states that one should strive to understand the other from within the other’s own terms of reference and then strive to respond accordingly. This means being sensitive to the cultural and theological barriers that lead easily to miscommunications. Rather than presuming similarities, one needs to be open to differences, subtle or not, and to learn how the other can operate with a different perspective on the world, with a different set of presuppositions and a differently nuanced set of values. Otherwise, we miss what is distinctive about our dialogue partners. This is particularly critical  when we share so many aspects of culture that we become unaware of the need to translate, presuming that our words and ideas are received as we intend them.

Our brains can be compared to filing cabinets or hard drives. We humans tend to listen selectively, filing away that which fits into our preconceived constructs, that for which we already have folders, and either misfiling or ignoring the rest. In dialogue, we meet an other who frequently structures ideas and information differently, who organizes information into a different set of mental files. How do we achieve communication? Dialogue challenges us, on the one hand, to open new files for ourselves, to acquire new ways of organizing and integrating incoming information. On the other hand, it challenges us to discern how our partner has previously learned to organize information and to try to communicate in such a way that what is important to us fits as well as possible into the other’s preexisting file structure – to minimize our partner’s need for architectural reform to achieve understanding. By striving to maximize our own mental flexibility and to minimize our demands on our dialogue partner, we seek a maximally successful act of communication.

Ruth Langer

Monday, 13 June 2011


I've been a bit quiet on the blog front over the last couple of weeks trying to get a few commissioned writing pieces completed, along with contuinuing running a couple of training courses in the district and other activities. Last week saw me as Chair of the Faith Encounter Programme and examiner for the Walsall course at the awards ceremony  in Walsall. Gareth Jones gave a great little talk to a packed room on the meaning of the Faith Encounter Programme as an inter faith experience. He finished with a lovely prayer from Rabindranath Tagore the Bengali poet. Introducing the reading Gareth said:

I’ve brought with me a poem by the great Bengali poet, philosopher, artist, novelist and more, Rabindranath Tagore. It’s from his book Gitanjali, meaning “Song Offerings”. It’s a prayer about friendship, and about finding God in unfamiliar places – God whose oneness is found in the many facets of life. And it captures much of what this evening is about.

Thou hast made me known to friends whom I knew not. Thou hast given me seats in homes not my own. Thou has brought the distant near and made a brother, a sister, of the stranger.

I am uneasy at heart when I have to leave my accustomed shelter; I forget that there abides the old in the new, and that there also thou abidest.

Through birth and death, in this world or in others, wherever thou leadest me it is thou, the same, the one companion of my endless life who ever linkest my heart with bonds of joy to the unfamiliar.

When one knows thee, then alien there is none, then no door is shut. Oh, grant me my prayer that I may never lose the bliss of the touch of the one in the play of the many

Friday, 10 June 2011


The Lozells Project

Invites all faith groups in Birmingham to join one another on  The Peace Walk
"Lord, make me a channel of your peace ......."
Saturday 25 June 2011
The most important thing about this day is that its purpose is to  pray for God's peace as we walk and visit the various places of worship in Lozells.

10.00am - Buddhist Maha Vihara - 216 New John Street West. B19 3UA

10.45am - St Mary's Convent - 101 Hunters Road. B19 1EB

11.30am - Faizul Quran Jamia Mosque Lozells, 213-217 Lozells Road. B19 1RJ

12.15pm - Sri Dashmesh Sikh Temple - 305 Wheelers Street. B19 1HH

(times are approximate)

This is a great opportunity to meet other faith groups - to talk/ walk together and bless each other in prayer.
People from the West Midlands are encouraged to join or leave the group at any point.

Please bring a head covering, and in some places, arms and legs will also need to be covered.

We will begin with refreshments at 10am and conclude with lunch at the Sikh Temple. Donations towards the cost the of the peace walk are welcomed at the end after lunch.

Organised by the Lozells Project in partnership with 'Faith in Lozells' and faith groups in Birmingham.

Pall Singh
Community Development Worker
Lozells Project
92 Lozells Road
Birmingham B19 2TB

0121 523 8726/ 0781 3038756