Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Commandments for Mission & Spirituality for Dialogue

An interesting development over at the Christian-Muslim Forum. Today sees the launch of a joint Muslim - Christian document 'The 10 Commandments of Mission'. This is a very good initiative that I wholeheartedly support. I especially like:

We bear witness to, and proclaim our faith not only through words but through our attitudes, actions and lifestyles.

As Christians we need to consider what REAL Christian witness is, so often much of our understanding of witness seems to be rooted in a model of mission that can lead to a betrayal of Christ rather than a witnessing to Christ. A model of mission that is about encountering the religious other in the hope of converting them to the church (however nice we are about it) rather than hoping for mutual transformation in the furtherence of the Kingdom of God. It is an understanding of encounter that presumes our primary task is the verbal sharing of OUR faith, but maybe the best way we share our faith, we witness to Christ is in the willingness to listen and in being prepared to stand in solidarity with others in our 'actions, attitudes and lifestyles.'

Contemporary witness to Christ especially to our Muslim neighbours can be rooted in a confident Christ centred spirituality like that displayed in this quote by the late CMS missionary Roger Hooker, even in the face of the obvious non compliance of our neighbours of other faiths to such thoughtful guidelines as those mentioned above:

Everybody wants to defend something, for most men (sic) today suffer from a deep inward fear and insecurity as the world becomes more and more an unfamiliar place. Very often the more frightened a man is the more aggressive he becomes and the more noise he makes. This attitude is very natural, very human, but is it Christian…..

And so Jesus goes forth defenceless and alone. In the end his very clothes are stripped off him and he hangs on the cross, naked and vulnerable to all abuse and cruelty men want to heap on him. Yet we believe that there and in that way he did his greatest work.

This is of quite fundamental importance for the way in which we approach other men. All our unwillingness to get hurt, all our attempts to argue in defence of our Lord stand condemned. So often, when I have allowed myself to be drawn in an argument, especially with Muslims, I have found that these words of Jesus have come into my mind. ‘Sheathe your sword’. We must be open and vulnerable to the other, even as Christ on the cross was open and vulnerable. Part of being vulnerable is to listen – to expose our hearts and our minds to the full force of what the other is saying even when he challenges our most precious and deeply held convictions, putting faith itself at risk. To close our minds at this point, to refuse the pain of listening, is unbelief.

Dialogue is our primary mission in relation to other faiths and in that dialogue, in the building of relationship, true witness can occur. Drawing on the spirituality of the Sermon on the Mount Raimon Panikkar wrote these wonderfully playful guidelines for dialogue that I love.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Iran - What Is Going On?

I was speaking last Saturday at the Manchester Islamic Institute sharing a platform with Sheikh Arif Abdul Hussein from Al Mahdi Institute in Birmingham at an event organised by Mohebban Youth Foundation to celebrate the Birthday of Fatima, Muhammad's youngest daughter and Mother of Imam Hussein. A lot of the talk at the meal after the official programme was about the Iranian Elections with the vote having just been announced that day. A week later and things have moved fast and developed considerably.

To get some background on the events and to go beyond the simplistic presentations of the dynamics within Iranian politics and the Islamic Republic that is often presented in our news media it is worth watching the clip below from an alternative US news network Grit TV. The clip includes an interview with Hamid Dabashi an interesting Iranian born intellectual who has written extensively on Islam, Iran and the Iranian Revolution and the Islamic Republic including Iran - a People Interrupted, Islamic Liberation Theology - Resisting the Empire and Theology of Discontent -The Ideological Foundations of the Islamic Revolution in Iran

Meanwhile the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran has a page on their website devoted to presenting a range of opinions on the elections from mainline and other sources. See also the interesting Tehran Bureau

Another clip from an interview with Hamid Dabashi below from 20th June

Monday, 15 June 2009

A Heart Broken Open

It's on it's way ! Wild Goose Publications are getting closer to publishing my book. Below is the blurb for an initial flyer advertising the book and above is the proposed cover - nice innit.

ISBN 978 1 905010 61 5
RRP 13.50
Pub Date August 2009

'A Heart Broken Open' is the moving and insightful reflection by an Anglican Priest of his grassroots engagement with Islam through relationships built from inner-city parish ministry in Leeds to the streets of Karbala in Iraq at a time of rising Islamophobia and the ’war on terror’.

The author offers a way of witnessing to Christ’s peace whilst entering into the faith of ‘the other’with humility and love, allowing the way of Islamand the practice of Muslims to touch, challenge and inspire his Christian faith and feed his hunger for God. In so doing he offers us inspiration in finding our own ways to walk with confidence in Christ’s love amongst neighbours of many faiths and none.

‘This book is deeply personal and moving … I recommend it as of real value at grassroots level where the real action lies. It counters Islamophobia on behalf of radical Christianity’
Frank Whaling, emeritus Professor in Religious Studies, Edinburgh University

‘A tour de force of radical spirituality’
Revd Donald Reeves,Director, Soul of Europe

‘Ray’s story is a profound and uplifting one … By acting as an agent of change and at the sametime being open to change himself, Ray exemplifies a powerful alternative to thepolarizing discourse which views difference as a threat’
Salma Yaqoob, Chair, Birmingham Stop The War Coalition and Birmingham City Councillor.

For further information, or to request a review copy please e-mail

To pre-order a copy of A Heart Broken Open please e-mail

Alternatively, call Wild Goose Publications on
0141 332 6292.

Monday, 8 June 2009

The Obama Speech

Okay on the positive side - it was an extremely impressive and engaging piece of oratory, if a little patronising at times !

I'm trying not to be cynical about this and have been checking out responses on the web over the last few days. Here are some of the most interesting I've come across trying to give a balance between intelligent positive and negative responses:

European Muslim Scholar and activist Tariq Ramadan was cautiously open and positive about Obama's Cairo speech.

Robert Fisk cut through the pre-speech hype in the Independent the day before. His passionately felt arguments obviously struck a chord at the Muslim Association of Britain who posted his article on their web page. But the day after, again in The Independent he was a little more positive

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz had this interesting take on the Obama speech.
Whilst Jennifer Lowenstein a member of the US sister organisation of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions takes a different approach in How Much Really Separates Obama and Netanyahu?
The Inter Press Service also took a more critical approach and Noam Chomsky questions if anything has really changed.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Week of Prayer for Peace in Palestine - Israel and 'The Elephant in the Room'

Last Friday Annie and I joined a small group of Christians and Jews (the former associated with Pax Christi, Friends of Sabeel and the Ecumenical Accompanier Programme and the latter associated with Jews for Justice for Palestinians) in an act of witness outside the UAV Ltd engine factory in Shenstone nr Litchfield. The witness was part of the World Council of Churches Week of Prayer for Palestine Israel. The Israeli owned factory produces the engines for the Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles or Drones that were used according to Amnesty International in surveilance and targeting missions over Gaza at the turn of the year. The simple act of witness was followed by a church service based on the World Council of Churches service for the week that can be downloaded here.

It was good to come together with Jewish friends in this witness, often though Israel Palestine can be a point of divergence between some Christians and some Jews. Palestine-Israel is often the 'elephant in the room' of Christian - Jewish dialogue, as this article by Rabbi Tony Bayfield at the time of the recent Gaza atrocities articulates.

Many of the issues facing Christians involved in dialogue with both Jews and Muslims, and in campaigning for a Just Peace in Israel Palestine are explored in this recent piece by Jane Clements at the time of the Popes visit to the 'Holy Land'.

Although a little older another article of interest is this one by Paul Oestreicher called Loving Israel, Loving Palestine - Is it Possible?

I welcome and have agreed to participate in plans that are afoot in Birmingham for a facilitated dialogue between an invited group of local Christians and Jews on Israel/Palestine in the autumn. I also look forward to the broadening of such a dialogue into one that eventually includes Muslim sisters and brothers.