Wednesday, 29 December 2010

PAY TO PRAY - A VISIT TO COVENTRY CATHEDRAL


My wife Annie reflects below on our visit today to Coventry......

We have just come back from an afternoon in Coventry – we thought we'd visit an exhibition on peace-making in the art gallery then go to the cathedral for evening prayer or our our own quiet prayer and reflection before heading home. It all seemed to be going according to plan, simple as it was: the bus and the train both ran on time, we enjoyed good conversation, spotted a friend on a video presentation in the exhibition and even found a vegan cafĂ©. It was dark, damp and foggy by the time we came to the cathedral at 4pm.

Much of my 20s and 30s revolved around Coventry and I have a jumble of memories of the cathedral, I was always particularly drawn to the Gethsemane Chapel and this was the place I imagined praying in this afternoon, in candlelight.

A sign pointed 'visitors ' 100 yards or so further away, to a large entrance, while a door to the left labelled for people wishing to pray was roped off. A third door – a middle way – opened onto the main body of the worship space, dominated by the Sutherland 'Christ in Glory,' which to be honest I never liked much. Barely over the thresh-hold, we were met by a robed verger (I assume it was a verger), who said, 'have you just come to look round?'

'No,' I said, 'we've come wanting to sit in quiet...' and with that, he directed us firmly to a side chapel on the left, 'you can go in there. People use that for quiet prayer.' Heavy laden in his voice was the implicit message, 'but you may not go wandering about anywhere else, because you have not paid. You have sneaked in, trying to get a free visit.'

Well, we obediently went to the chapel – it is dedicated to peace and unity I think, and was hung with paper cranes, but the candles were unlit; a bright spotlight glared from the wall, leaflets preached good causes and a piano sat closed. Something made me want to open it up and play it, but otherwise, my prayerfulness had transmuted into shocked and disappointed disillusionment, and I scribbled a poem on a piece of paper I found lying around,and left it on the piano for the verger.

Coming out of the chapel, we thought we might be able to join in an evensong service or use the service books ourselves to say evening prayer, and headed for another side-chapel. 'So are you having a look around now?' asked the verger, with more of the air of a bouncer than the guardian and host of a holy place.

'Why do you ask? Are you locking up?'

'No, but there is a charge for looking around …'

'but this is a place of worship, we have come here to pray...'

'Well it's not fair on the people who have paid to look round.'

I never got anywhere near the Gethsemane chapel but I could see its crown of thorns and the candlelight. It is a sad state of affairs that tourists are more welcome in the cathedral than people seeking holy ground to pray, and it's a shame to put a price either on prayer or on the possibility of sight-seers having a spiritually moving experience. What if I had been going through some crisis or for the first time had dared to enter a place of worship hoping to discover Jesus, or a welcome in his name, at least ? What a message to be giving out to the public, I felt like weeping with shame – this is my church.

The shock comes in the comparison I find myself making with the places of worship of other faiths. In any Gurudwara for example, I could pray in peace and receive a free meal too, gladly and graciously given. The regular worshippers stream in and out night and day,with their offerings of food and money to keep the place alive because it is a beautiful hub of community life, weaving together service, sharing, scripture and prayer. I don't see that energy in this cathedral,the money-pinching and cynical reception betrays a spiritual poverty, a material fear of making ends meet, a forgetting of the gospel message that renders this an unholy place concerned first with money, at best an art gallery with an interesting past. Next time I visit Coventry I will do better to say my prayers on a city-centre bench, surrounded by people and pigeons, and whatever the price is for an entry ticket to the cathedral, I'll spend on lunch for a Big Issue vendor.

Annie Heppenstall is an artist and author her books Reclaiming The Sealskin - Meditations in the Celtic Spirit and Wild Goose Chase are published by Iona Books. Her latest book The Healer's Tree - a series of reflections upon trees in the Bible and more - is due out in the Spring

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

WHERE HAVE I BEEN?


I have not been posting much recently, I went to Israel/Palestine in the middle of November with a project organised by St Ethelburgha's Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. 12 folks 4 Jews, 4 Muslims and 4 Christians all with differing views about the Middle East exploring the context and each others faith tradition for 8 days. It was an amazing experience that I'm still processing. The group is meeting again in January and I hope to post on the experience soon, but it has been really challenging and thought provoking and a real privilage to have been asked to be involved in it.

Coupled with that I have been heading up the dialogues between representatives of the District with local Jewish and Muslim communities about the Methodist Report on Justice for Palestine and Israel - which is ongoing and similarly thought provoking and challenging.
I have also been involved with the Common Wealth Statement mentioned in a previous post, the statement has aroused a significant amount of attention in the right places both in the Church and in the anti-cuts movement.
Along with the more run of the mill stuff of preaching in the circuits, running and planning groups, courses and conferences in the District and at Queen's, there has not been a lot of time to blog at the moment. I hope to get back into regular weekly posting in the new year


STOP TORTURE IN PAKISTAN'S PRISONS

This is a guest post by Afshaan Hena who campaigns with REPRIEVE

Reprieves Pakistan Police Torture Project

The reputation of legal action charity Reprieve is well known; their founding director Clive Stafford-Smith was, after all, one on the first attorneys to gain access to Guantanamo Bay. He fought for nine months to be able to represent those detained in the so called “War on Terror”. Reprieve's most notable clients have included Moazzam Begg and Binyam Mohammed. They continue with passion and dedication representing those in Guantanamo Bay and British citizens facing the death penalty abroad.

They have recently launched a new project, which is one the first of its kind, called the Pakistan Police Torture Project. Through their work fighting injustice around the world, they became aware of appalling stories of abuse at the hands of some police officers in the Pakistani Police force. Put simply, they wish to eradicate the use of torture in police detention in Pakistan by proving that it is indeed systemic and endemic. The evidence they gather will be used in three ways: to assist, prevent and reform.

The information they collect is used to assist those currently detained in Pakistan as a result of confessions extracted through torture, to prevent detention and further mistreatment of others following such confessions and to reform the police officers who are responsible for such abuse through public, political and legal intervention.

The inspiration for the project came from Reprieve clients Naheem Hussain and Rehan Zaman, where “confessions” were extracted from them after they were made to undergo severe and medieval forms of torture, from their fingernails being pulled out with pliers to undergoing excruciating reverse and inverse strappado.

As a Reprieve ‘fan’ on Facebook I became aware of this fascinating new project and made immediate contact to become involved. Since being on board the Project has published a number of articles (please go to the links below to read some of these articles):

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/oct/08/pakistan-torture-prison
http://www.mpacuk.org/story/221010/reprieve%E2%80%99s-pakistan-police-torture-project.html
http://www.theasiantoday.com/article.aspx?articleId=2223

The vast majority of British Pakistanis know, understand and have even suffered abuse at the hands of the Pakistani police. But the sheer depth of the problem relating to police abuse in Pakistan is unbeknownst to the majority of Britons. Bridging this gap of knowledge is just one of many aims and objectives of the Project.

Provided Reprieve gathers enough witness statements, they can aid the abolition of torture. This will primarily, but not exclusively, be in the form of obtaining a Supreme Court verdict which abolishes the use of evidence extracted through torture. This verdict can then be used as legal precedent, binding on each and every court below the Supreme Court. The Governments of Pakistan and Britain will also undoubtedly do more if Reprieve can prove what is common knowledge to most British Pakistanis – torture can be routine in Pakistani police stations.

The project has ambitions to make Pakistan a safer place for all Pakistanis, British Pakistanis included.

For years, Reprieve has scrutinised and often embarrassed the US and UK into changing their abhorrent ways in regards to the torture of innocents, the incarceration of innocents and the deaths of innocents. Over the past few years, Reprieve has expanded its worked in Pakistan because of the alarming rise in cases of torture. It also strives to represent 'disappeared prisoners' in the War on Terror but also those facing the death penalty in Pakistan.

To find out more about the Project, please go to: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/pakistanpolicetortureproject

If you are a victim or know of a victim, you can speak to afshaan.hena@reprieve.org.uk, nawaz.hanif@reprieve.org.uk or owen.watkins@reprieve.org.uk confidentially and securely.

Friday, 12 November 2010

CHRISTIANS RESIST THE CUTS -EXPOSE THE BIG SOCIETY LIE!

I have been involved in the last couple of weeks getting together with others a statement to launch a network for resources for Christians to get involved in resisting the cuts and the Big Society. Below is the Networks opening statement

A Group of Christians - activists, ministers and theologians - have issued a statement calling upon Christians to unite with others in the movement to resist the governments cuts in public spending and welfare provision and to be cautious of being co-opted into the Big Society initiative. The document also articulates a radical theological critique of government policies and the social and economic order they seek to maintain.

Below is a summary of the statement and call. The full 5,000 word document can be downloaded at THE COMMON WEALTH Website
Christians in Britain today are called to take a stand. Faced with the biggest cuts to public spending for over a generation, it is not enough to retreat into the private ghetto of religious consolation.

As Christians, we are convinced that the actions of the current government are an unjustified attack on the poor[1]. The rhetoric of necessary austerity and virtuous belt-tightening conceals a grim reality: the victimisation of people at the margins of society and the corrosion of community. Meanwhile, the false worship of markets continues unchecked and the immorality of the growing gap between rich and poor goes unquestioned.

We call on the churches to resist the cuts and stand in solidarity with those targeted. We urge them to join the forces fighting back against a distorted ideology. Above all, we commit ourselves not to give in to despair, fear and fatalism. Another world is possible, the world announced by Jesus in his teachings, embodied in the love he took to the cross, alive in the Spirit of his risen strength.

Some might scorn such sentiments. After all, surely the government is sympathetic to Christian ideals? They promote the Big Society, in which the state hands power to individuals, entrepreneurs, charities, and, yes, faith groups. So shouldn't the churches be taking this opportunity with both hands? Shouldn't Christians show they can contribute through this ‘Big Society’ opportunity to easing the pain of these hard times?

We challenge this misconception. Not because we enjoy the luxury of opposition for its own sake, but because we believe that the rhetoric of Big Society is a Big Lie. It masks oppressive business as usual, suffocating all dissent with its phoney 'we're all in it together' soundbites. It is divide and rule dressed up as high-minded community spirit.

We recognize that, on the ground, churches and ministers are faced with difficult choices. We have to work within the current system as a means of trying to get the necessary resources to support the vulnerable and the poor. Sometimes that will mean taking government money with a ‘Big Society’ label to do what has to be done.

When we find ourselves ‘caught in the middle’ in this way we need to help and support each other making the right decisions, never forgetting that we have been placed in this position by a government which takes the side of big business.

It follows that any engagement we have with the Big Society agenda or its equivalents should always be guided - and often limited - by a fundamental critique of the present order. Praying and holding onto the vision of the Kingdom that is revealed in the Church’s sacraments and other symbols of transformation, we are called to speak against the false consciousness of the market driven idolatry in which we presently labour. Nothing should dim the fire of the hope that is in us.

In this document, we briefly set out why we take this position on specifically Christian grounds. We stand ready to work with those in other communities and traditions who resist the cuts.

Our Call
We encourage Christians to
· Sign this Statement and become part of the Common Wealth Network.
· Read and learn about arguments against the cuts and dominating myths about the need for debt reduction eg http://www.redpepper.org.uk/Countering-the-cuts-myths
· Explore study material arguing for a radical Christian vision for economic justice, based on recovery of Biblical tradition. Check out the resources page on Common Wealth website.
· Support and work with local anti – cuts alliances and the national co-ordinating bodies facilitating resistance to the cuts for instance The Coalition of Resistance http://www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk/
· Support workers to struggle for ways to more fully participate in their own economic wellbeing and that of their co-workers.
· Oppose the waste that spends billions on weapons of mass destruction like the Trident missile system
· Seek ways to share our wealth from rich churches to ones based in poorer communities in funding projects to alleviate the worst excesses of the cuts and to assist organizing grassroots community organized resistance
· Support initiatives like Church Action on Poverty and its community organising arm ChangeMakers empowering local communities often at the brunt of the cuts in public services and welfare benefits to speak and act for themselves.

[1] See http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/news/churchchallenge and http://niallcooper.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/when-the-poorest-and-most-vulnerable-bear-brunt-of-the-spending-review-it-is-our-duty-to-speak-out/

Sunday, 7 November 2010

REMEMBRANCE & THE PRINCE OF PEACE


I was a little taken aback last year when rung by the Steward of the church I was preaching at on the Sunday before Remembrance Day. She informed me that they expected a two minute silence at 11am -just the time when the service I had planned would be in the middle of the sermon and the breaking of the Word. I was heartened and encouraged in my keeness to renegotiate such an intrusion into the Preaching Service when I read Angela Sheir Jones' blog later that day and her reflection on Poppys and Peace, which is well worth a read.

I would want to go further than Angela though as I have never been keen to wear a red poppy in or out of church and have for several years supported the Peace Pledge Union's White Poppy Appeal. However, I am even more averse to the symbol of the Red Poppy as we see it recruited to muster support for the outrageous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Last year the excellent Christian 'think tank' Ekklesia published an interesting looking report questioning Rememberance Day culture and making positive proposals as to how it might be revised.Reimagining Remembrance can be downloaded from the Ekklesia website.

I did hold a two minute silence at the beginning of the service on that Sunday, a silence that was prefaced by three stories - the first was told to me by an elderly member of Droitwich Spa Methodist Church about his experience as a soldier in the 'second world war', a war, he believed was necessary to rid the world of the evil of Nazism. His story was of fighting alongside Muslim soldiers from what is now India and Pakistan and how he was moved by their devotion and commitment to prayer five times a day and how he felt it was their prayer that helped him get through the horrors of the war. The second is a story from my wife Annies'' family. The story is of her paternal Grandfather and Great Uncle who chose because of their Christian faith to carry stretchers and not guns and were two of hundreds of young working class Methodist Concientious Objectors, in that futile and murderous war of 1914-18. The third will be of my experience of recently living for a year close to a hospital in Birmingham that treats the wounded soldiers from Afghanistan. I wear my white poppy not out of any disrespect to them but as a reminder of the frequent sight of their bandaged amputated legs as relatives or friends pushed these young people up the street passed my window, the reminder of that sight and the memory of the thousands of Afghans and Iraqis killed or maimed, calls me not to stay in silence but to renew my opposition to these latest futile and murderous military ventures, in the name of Jesus - the Prince of Peace.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

ISLAM MEETS STREET ART - THE WORK OF AEROSOLARABIC

I had a lovely time the other week being interviewed by Mohammed Ali also known as AerosolArabic for his Soul City Radio show on local Unity FM radio in Sparkbrook. Mohammed is an internationally renowned Birmingham born graffitti artist who develops in his work a fusion between Islamic calligraphy and contemporary street art and has recently opened up a community arts space - The Hubb - in the heart of Sparkbrook Birmingham. He has just published a short article on his work on the international Common Ground website. He also has an interesting exhibition on in Coventry at The Herbert Gallery called Breaking Down The Wall. On 11th November he will be speaking at the Herbert on Can Graffitti Art Really Change The World and on 19th November he will be performing live with other artists at The Herbert Gallery exploring the themes of Justice, Freedom and Peace that are at the centre of his work. He is also talking about his work at the Urban Theology Forum at Birmingham University on the afternoon of 10th November contact Chris Shannahan for details. Mohammed Ali reflects a new generation of Muslims exploring a new process of dialogue that is developing beyond the world of official 'interfaith'

In his own words:

It’s an important time to challenge .. stereotypes and encourage real dialogue between ordinary people with different ideas, identities and backgrounds, not leave it to faith leaders sharing tea and biscuits. Art is one way of facilitating this dialogue. In my art, I convey principles – peace, justice, brotherhood and respect – that I believe are fading away from our modern societies, but which I highlight to make people aware that they do in fact share common principles. For the average Joe or Jane who travels to work during rush hour traffic, and for local residents who walk past a particular mural every day, I want the walls that carry my messages to come alive and remind people of these shared principles.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

MORE 'CLASH OF CIVILISATIONS' THAN GOSPEL- SOOKHDEO'S 'THE CHALLENGE OF ISLAM'

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

Patrick Sookhdeo

The Challenge of Islam to the Church and its Mission

(Issac Publishing 2009 £? Paperback)

pp193

ISBN 978-09787141-5-4

There is a debate in contemporary Evangelicalism on the attitudes that should be taken towards inter faith encounter and dialogue, particularly with Muslims. This book is a polemic for one side of this argument. As someone who is involved in friendships with Muslims this was not an easy book for me to read because Sookhdheo predominantly speaks of Muslims impersonally and negatively. The book, despite assertions to the contrary in the final paragraph, promotes fear and discourages people from taking the step of seeking dialogical relationships with Muslims. Prominent evangelical institutions and individuals who have sought to do so are criticised.

Sookhdheo claims to engage Islam as an advocate for the persecuted church in Muslim contexts. However the book often reads more as an attempt to co-opt the vulnerability of the persecuted church for an agenda that appears heavily influenced by right wing North American fundamentalist Christianity. There is a need to bring the experience of the persecuted church to the table of dialogue and through recent evangelical involvement in Christian-Muslim dialogue initiatives in the UK this has begun to happen with some success.

There is a powerful and noble evangelical missionary tradition of serious and loving Christian engagement and sharing with Islam and Muslims, that includes the likes of Constance Padwick and Kenneth Cragg. Little of this tradition is behind The Challenge of Islam, which appears to draw more upon Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis for its inspiration than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Anyone interested in how evangelical Christians might help contribute to responding positively and creatively to the challenge of Islam to the church in the 21st century would do better to pick up Roland E Miller’s Muslims and the Gospel or Richard Sudworth’s Distinctly Welcoming.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

A VICTORY FOR COMMUNITY ACTION - SPYCAMS TO GO!



Great news today - the West Midlands Police Authority reported last night that the police will be removing the surveilance cameras targetted at the Muslim communities of Sparkbrook, Sparkhill and Washwood Heath in Birmingham. I blogged on this issue here and here this summer and have been involved in supporting the campaign to have the cameras removed. Local Councillor Salma Yaqoob has a fuller report of the meeting and analysis of the decision and what it means here.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

JOURNEY TO MECCA



I went to see the recently released film Journey to Mecca at the IMAX cinema in Birmingham the other week with Annie. We really enjoyed it as a beautiful cinematic experience and as an opportunity to get close to the amazing spiritual experience of the Hajj, with some great insights for the non-Muslim into the spirituality of the pilgrimage to Mecca and I would encourage Christians to take the opportunity to go and see it to get a better understanding of the last of the five pillars of Islam. However I am also aware that not all my Muslim friends are enthusiastic about the film or its particular spin on the life of Ibn Battuta. For a very different approach to Ibn Battuta's journeys and an exploration of the diversity of Islam both in Battuta's time and our own try watching the BBC Four 3 hour documentary by Tim Mackintosh - Smith on Battuta's travels that is available for download here. Whatever the truth about Battuta's life is (and it does appear that the JTM film takes some liberties on that account) do take time to be cinematically immersed in the experience of the Hajj and take yourself down to the IMAX - it's worth the £8.

Monday, 4 October 2010

THE BARONESS,THE BISHOPS, THE BIG SOCIETY AND THE CUTS























The corollary of the Big Society is the smaller state. If you talk about the small state, people think that you are Attila the Hun. If you talk about the big society they think that you are Mother Theresa
David Davies MP


It was good to see a large demonstration against the proposed cuts in public expenditure in Birmingham City Centre yesterday, my preaching engagement however, didn't allow me to attend with the mid day start. I have recently seen examples on the ground where community projects are facing serious pressures due to the cuts already taking place, never mind those coming in the October spending review. An excellent Asian women's project that I visited the other week that works with women with learning disabilities and is housed in a Methodist Church is already feeling the pinch, as is a Community Cafe in another Methodist Church in the same area.

Meanwhile a clearly orchaestrated campaign to get parts of the church on board with the 'Big Society' initiative as a neat veil to the dismantling of public services is taking place. Baroness Warsi addressed the House of Bishops in the Church of England recently and articles have appeared from Tory Ministers on the Big Society in the Roman Catholic weekly The Tablet. Moreover, the Church of England and the Church Urban Fund have sought to engage with the ConDems 'Big Society' initiative through the proposed Being Neighbourly project, with a multi-faith element included. This I believe is seriously misguided for a number of reasons, not least in the way it seems to be proposing that the Church of England act as the conduit for monies that are supposed to have an interfaith remit. The bizarre and embrarrasingly possible scenario of a Muslim-Sikh initiative -for instance - requiring church sponsorship before it can be considered for funding is almost colonial in its arrogance. The CofE seems to be excited by being 'taken seriously' by Government, failing to recognise how they are just being used as the sweetner for the proposed attempts to dimantle the welfare state and public services and how reverting to such a privilaged position is in detriment to the church's mission and the gospel.

Thankfully other parts of the Church in England have been concerned to highlight the damage cuts will do to society and to the most vulnerable especially. Church Action on Poverty and the Quaker's Joeseph Rowntree Foundation have highlighted their concern for those most vulnerable and presented some alternatives. However no one from the Churches appears to have questioned the whole ratianale for cuts. An excellent Q & A on why cuts are unnecessary can be found at Red Pepper magazine and the Trade Union Congress has produced an informative booklet.

A Trade Union Sponsored campaign Coalition of Resistance is a good place to start for those Christians and people of other faith concerned to resist the human sacrifices being proposed to the false god of the market and want to join with others in resisting the cuts and organising for a just society more akin to the Biblical principles of Jubilee - where no one has too much and no one has too little - and the radical vision of redistribution of wealth lived out by the early church. Theologian and Activist Ched Myer's work on Sabbath Economics from the US is another excellent resource for exploring what might be a Christian response to economic injustice that takes grassroots community organising seriously unlike the pseudo localism of the Big Society.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

LIGHT OF TORAH








This Friday sees the celebration of Simchat Torah - "Rejoicing in the Torah" the end of the yearly cyclical reading of the Torah in the Jewish Liturgical Calender and I wanted to highlight an excellent resource for Christians who want to engage with the Hebrew Scriptures as Jewish Scripture and follow the yearly cycle of readings . A Catholic initiative Light of Torah says:

Light of Torah is a network of Catholics who engage in
Torah study. As a lay movement within the Catholic community our purpose is to facilitate a grassroots awakening to the beauty and riches of the Old Testament through the study of Torah in homes, parishes and small community settings. We do so with attention to the biblical insights and traditions of the Jewish people—our ancestors in faith and their present-day descendents—through whom God was revealed in history and through whom we have received Jesus, the Living Torah. We seek to draw closer to Jesus and his people by learning more about the Scriptures he loved and the way in which he, as a Jew, approached them. Our Jewish spiritual heritage is important to us. Christianity is rooted in Judaism as a plant is rooted in the earth. Vatican II recognized this in Nostra Aetate, a ground-breaking document that signalled a new era in Jewish-Christian relations. (More) As part of our Torah study we enjoy ‘sacred time;’ we share Torah insights over a meal, using table-rituals that refresh body and soul. Thus the twofold table of Word and Eucharist, so central to Catholic worship, is here reflected in the everyday rhythms of our homes. We experience Torah as light to the mind and joy to the spirit. Through Torah, God ‘speaks’ to us, drawing us into loving and intimate conversation. We want to be good conversationalists with God! And we want to draw others into this language of love. We develop ways of sharing what we learn with our friends, families and parishes, through publications, workshops and Holy Land immersion experiences.
Our interest in Judaism does not suggest any intention, explicit or implicit, to 'convert' Jews. We recognize that the Jewish people have a unique relationship with God and an irreplaceable role in salvation history. As Catholics we can only be enriched by the influence of vibrant Jewish communities responsive to God's call.
For more about our vision and mission, click on the links highlighted above.
A general information leaflet “What is Light of Torah?” can be downloaded
here.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

COMMUNITY WALK & OTHER HAPPENINGS



The Niskam Centre in Handsworth attached to the GNNSJ Gurdwara on Soho Road is organising an Inter Faith Community Walk for Well Being in aid of ACORNS, ST MARY’S HOSPICE and NISHKAM-AID to sign up visit the registration site

The Faith Encounter Programme is working with the Birmingham Churches Industrial Group to bring a second series of workshops on 'Faith at Work an asset not an issue' They say:

The ‘Faiths at work’ programme aims to bring together people of various faiths to develop mutual understanding of what each brings to the workplace, including ethical values. If we understand and appreciate colleagues and clients better, then we can be more confident to ‘do business’ together. Employers and colleagues may be nervous of faith at work, yet faith can make a positive contribution to the work place. Faith helps form values and attitudes at work, as in the rest of life. There is much to be gained from exploring the differences between faiths as well as the areas of common ground.

They are still open to applicants check out the web site of BCIG for details.

Barbara Payman who worked with us on the World Council of Churches Week of Prayer for Peace in Israel/Palestine is organising an interesting event in Coventry on Sunday October 10th. Stories for Peace is 'A rare opportunity to join a Palestinian and Israeli storyteller and Playbox Theatre to experience the power of story telling and performance.' The evening opens with a Palestinian Meal at 6.15 and the performance starts at 7.30

Carrs Lane Church Centre in the middle of Birmingham have a very interesting series of lectures coming up this autumn called Dialogues in Faith the first is on Thursday 7th October .
The Birmingham Council of Christians and Jews has an interesting programme of monthly meetings lined up for October 2010 - March 2011 for further details contact Stephen Barton on ccj.bham@yahoo.co.uk or 0121 429 2176

And finally a new IMAX film 'Journey to Mecca' is being released in Birmingham next week that looks well worth seeing, the blurb states 'Journey to Mecca is the sensational and award-winning new IMAX movie about the legendary Moroccan explorer, Ibn Battuta, who left home in 1325 to perform the Hajj and went on to become one of the greatest travellers of all time. Witness the Hajj as it was experienced in the 14th Century, and by millions of people today.'

Friday, 10 September 2010

EID MUBARAK



I am sitting at home typing this entry as the sounds of the busyness and excitement of Eid can be heard in the neighbourhood, we noticed as the end of the month of Ramadan approached a slow build up and a steady increase in activity and energy of our neighbours and then today everyone is out and about many freshly adorned in new clothes, visiting family and friends - Eid mubarak.

Although we didn't join the fast this year as we did in years past in Leeds, Annie and I have been enjoying engaging freshly with the Qur'an during this Ramadan, using for the first time Camille Adams Helminski's beautiful inclusive rendering of selected passages in The Light of Dawn - Daily Readings from the Holy Qur'an.

On different views about Christians reading the Qur'an you might like to take a look at an earlier post on this blog from last year.

To conclude, I have chosen this passage to share with you today from Surah Ta- Ha 1-8

We have not sent down the Qur'an to you to distress you
but only as a counsel to those who stand in awe of God,
a revelation from Him who created the earth and the high heavens;
the Most Gracious is firmly established on the throne of authority.

To Him belongs what is in the heavens and on the earth

and all between them and all beneath the soil.
Whether you pronounce the word aloud or not,
truly, He knows what is secret and what is yet more hidden.

God! there is no god but Hu!
To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names

Thursday, 9 September 2010

AN INVITATION TO PRACTICE TESHUVA

Today is Rosh Hashanah in the Jewish calender which is followed by the Ten Days of Awe (Yomim Nora’im) leading to Yom Kippur, the Progressive Jewish Magazine Tikkun have invited inter faith friends to join in the practice of teshuva and have provided a workbook to aid the process, they say

Tikkun is not just for Jews—it is interfaith as well as Jewish. This workbook is an invitation to all people to join with the Jewish people in using the period from 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) 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) .

You can download the workbook from Tikkun here and then click on first pdf file or try directly by clicking hhd2010.pdf

Image is Teshuva by Pat Allen from Art is a Spiritual Path

Saturday, 4 September 2010

WELCOME BACK

Welcome back as a new term at Queen's approaches and I prepare to head up the M1 to a Welcoming Service for a Student - who begins her ministry in Leeds at the start of this new year in the Methodist Calender - I thought I would return to blogging and flag up some of the upcoming events this Autumn and also some of the happenings over the Summer.

The Spycam debacle that I referred to in a previous post has continued running over the Summer with new revelations about the inappropriate and duplicitous nature of the process. A meeting organised by the West Midlands Police Authority in at the Boardsley Centre at the beginning of August, that was due to help heal rifts between the community and the police seemed to me to do the exact opposite! Check out the latest on the Spycam campaign at http://spyonbirmingham.blogspot.com/ including a report by Steve Jolly and videos of last month's meeting.

The Methodist Report and Conference resolutions on Justice for Palestine and Israel has continued to have an impact upon Christian engagement with the issue and there have been movements towards dialogue about the report between local Methodists and the Jewish community in particular. At next Saturday's synod I intend to outline how I see us as a District working towards the call of conference to 'engage in respectful dialogue with Jews and Muslims on this issue'

After having a month off from preaching in the circuits I'm back on the road next Sunday in the Birmingham West and Oldbury Circuit. I'm running a number of courses and groups this autumn in the Asbury and Elmden Circuits and a number of one off workshops including one for preachers in Evesham and one for the Regional Evangelists and Missioners Network. There is a healthy number of students on the 2nd year course on Christianity in Dialogue at Queen's. We hope also to launch a new course in the Spring term on 'The Common Good in Christianity and Islam' with students from Queen's and the Islamic Al Mahdi Institute working together on the module. Richard Sudworth will be co-tutoring with me and tutors from Al Mahdi. I will also be working with Celia Blackden of the Inter Faith Office of Churches Together in England on a proposed National Conference hosted in Birmingham in March 2011 on 'Faith Hope and Love - Christian Discipleship in a Multi Faith World' - watch this space for further details.

Lastly I would like to flag up an interesting new resource that Richard drew my attention to from the Fuller Theological Seminary in the USA. Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue is a new online Journal available on free download which affirms the exciting developments I've talked of before in the more open section of the evangelical wing of the church that helps break the dualistic split in some understandings of Christian discipleship between witness and dialogue and the tired old categories of liberal and conservative theological positions on interfaith - check it out!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

BIRMINGHAM SPYCAM SUMMIT




On Sunday I was pleased to be asked to be one of the speakers at the Birmingham Spycam Summit. A report on which you can read here and here. Some of the background to the meeting can be read in this piece by the campaign initiator Steve Jolly and the Muslim communities concern in this article . You can see all the speeches via this link on You Tube and a clearer version of my contribution here. Follow this link to a documentary from Press TV on the cameras.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Friends & Neighbours

Yesterday I had the privilege and pleasure of being a keynote speaker at the Friends and Neighbours regional event organised by the Christian-Muslim Forum at Coventry Central Methodist Church. I spoke alongside Dr Musharraf Hussain of the Karimia Institute in Nottingham and shared stories and reflections based upon my book 'A Heart Broken Open'. In the afternoon I participated in a workshop faciliated by Wahida Shaffi and Ruth Tetlow on 'Women at the Well'. It was wonderful to be able to get into dialogue about my book with people like Musharraf, Wahida and Amra Bone as well as others and I had a thoroughly enjoyable and enriching time. Thanks for the invite Christian-Muslim Forum!

METHODIST CONFERENCE SUPPORTS PALESTINE/ISRAEL REPORT

The Methodist Conference voted yesterday to receive the report on Palestine/Israel and to support all the motions attached to it. Below is a statement from the Methodist Church about this and you can follow the debate on the conference archives at this link. The Just Peace for Palestine Campaign have issued a statement of support that can be read here and the Jewish Chronicle carries a report condemning the decision here and The Independent reported on the debate here

Methodist Church to boycott goods from illegal Israeli settlements


The Methodist Church has today voted to boycott all products from Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, and to encourage Methodists across Britain to do the same.

The decision is a response to a call from a group of Palestinian Christians, a growing number of Jewish organisations, both inside Israel and worldwide, and the World Council of Churches. A majority of governments recognise the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories as illegitimate under international law.

Christine Elliott, Secretary for External Relationships, said, “This decision has not been taken lightly, but after months of research, careful consideration and finally, today’s debate at the Conference. The goal of the boycott is to put an end to the existing injustice. It reflects the challenge that settlements present to a lasting peace in the region.

“We are passionate about dialogue across communities and with people of all faiths. We remain deeply committed to our relationships with our brothers and sisters of other faiths, and we look to engage in active listening so that we act as agents of hope together.”

In December, Defra introduced new advice on labelling, recommending that packaging of products imported from the West Bank should distinguish between Palestinian areas and Israeli settlements.

The Conference also adopted a statement calling for a full arms embargo against all sides in the conflict. “This conflict is further fuelled by partisan support by other countries. Violence from all parties in this conflict must be denounced, and a just peace sought for all peoples living in the region,” said Christine.

The move to boycott is just one among a number of measures agreed by the Conference, which also include a commitment to regular and informed prayer for the needs of those in region. Methodists across Great Britain are also encouraged to visit the region, write to their MPs and engage in respectful dialogue with Jews and Muslims on this issue.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

SUPPORT FOR METHODIST CONFERENCE REPORT ON JUST PEACE FOR PALESTINE AND ISRAEL


The Methodist Conference will be debating an excellent report next week entitled Justice for Palestine and Israel unfortunately the report has unfairly come under attack as being biased and damaging to Inter Faith relations. In response to these attacks a statement co-ordinated by the Just Peace for Palestine campaign has been issued in support of the report from Jews and Christians involved in supporting peace and justice initiatives in Palestine and Israel and inter faith engagement. The press release and the statement follow below.

METHODIST ‘JUSTICE FOR PALESTINE AND ISRAEL’ REPORT ATTRACTS JEWISH-CHRISTIAN SUPPORT

SIGNATORIES: REPORT MISREPRESENTED BY CRITICS WHO EMPTY COEXISTENCE OF TRUE MEANING

GROUPS IN UK AND PALESTINE/ISRAEL AFFIRM NEED FOR A JUST PEACE - “A TIME FOR ACTION”


A joint Jewish-Christian statement supporting the ‘Justice for Palestine and Israel’ paper being presented at this year’s Methodist Conference has been signed by 30 organisations and individuals.

The signatories, Christians and Jews from the UK and Palestine/Israel, offer their “wholehearted support” for the “humane and principled conclusions” of the Methodist working group, and criticise those who have “misrepresented and attacked” the report.

Supporters include Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Pax Christi, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions UK, Amos Trust, Friends of Sabeel UK, Holy Land Trust, and the Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People. A range of Jews and Christians from Palestine/Israel have signed, including Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Ramzi Zananiri, Executive Director of Near East Council of Churches-Jerusalem, and Michael Warschawski from the Alternative Information Centre, Jerusalem.

The statement notes that as the illegality of Israeli settlements is a “consensus issue affirmed by the United Nations, the UK government, and countless NGOs like Amnesty International”, boycotting their produce is a “refusal to aid a gross breach of human rights and an obstacle to a just resolution”.

The signatories urge the Methodist Church to take “the opportunity to listen to the cry for solidarity of the Palestinian Church as expressed in the Kairos document and respond. A just peace for Palestine will mean peace and security for Israelis – now is a time for action.”

Ben White, Campaign coordinator for ‘A Just Peace for Palestine’, said: “This is a clear show of support from Jews and Christians who understand that a real peace for both peoples requires justice. It stands in stark contrast to the disingenuous threat that listening to the call of Christian Palestinians and upholding international law and human rights will damage ‘inter-faith relations’ – on the contrary, inter-faith dialogue is not facilitated by ignoring serious questions about injustice.”

END

Notes:

1. The Conference is an annual gathering and decides Methodist policy. The ‘Justice for Palestine and Israel’ report was produced by a working group and can be found online at http://www.methodistconference.org.uk/assets/downloads/confrep-14-justice-for-palestine-israel-170510.pdf

2. The full statement and signatories:

We, the undersigned, are Christians and Jews who have invested our energies and hopes in working for a just peace in Palestine/Israel. We write to offer our wholehearted support for the ‘Justice for Palestine and Israel’ report being submitted to this year’s Methodist Conference.
Disappointingly, the working group’s humane and principled conclusions have been misrepresented and attacked by those who empty powerful terms like ‘coexistence’ and ‘reconciliation’ of their true meaning.
Coexistence is not advanced by the bulldozer’s blade as it demolishes Palestinian homes and uproots olive trees; nor is reconciliation furthered by segregation and a decades-long militarised regime of control. In opposing such injustices, the resolutions simply affirm international law.
The illegality of the settlements, for example, is a consensus issue affirmed by the United Nations, the UK government, and countless NGOs like Amnesty International; boycotting their produce is thus a refusal to aid a gross breach of human rights and an obstacle to a just resolution.
We do nothing to advance a just peace without being realistic about the structural imbalance between Israel and the dispossessed, stateless Palestinians. In 1963, Martin Luther King wrote that the greatest ‘stumbling block’ to freedom was the ‘moderate’ who preferred ‘a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice’.
The Methodist church has the opportunity to listen to the cry for solidarity of the Palestinian Church as expressed in the Kairos document and respond. A just peace for Palestine will mean peace and security for Israelis – now is a time for action.

Signed,

Nader Abu Amsha, Director, East Jerusalem YMCA Rehabilitation Programme and Beit Sahour YMCA
Nidal Abuzuluf, Program Manager, YMCA/YWCA Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI), Beit Sahour
Rev Alex Awad, Dean of Students, Bethlehem Bible College/Pastor, East Jerusalem Baptist Church
Bishara Awad, President, Bethlehem Bible College
Sami Awad, Executive Director, Holy Land Trust
Constantine S. Dabbagh, Executive Secretary, Near East Council of Churches Committee for Refugee Work, Gaza Area
Aaron Dover, Deborah Maccoby, Diana Neslen, Naomi Wayne, on behalf of Jews for Justice for Palestinians
Pat Gaffney, General Secretary, Pax Christi UK
Rev Ray Gaston, Inter Faith Enabler, Birmingham District Methodist Church
Abe Hayeem, RIBA, Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine
Rev Canon Garth Hewitt, Canon of St George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem/Director, Amos Trust
Rifat Kassis, General coordinator, Kairos Palestine
Rami Kassis, Executive Director, Alternative Tourism Group - Study Centre, Beit Sahour
Jennifer Oldershaw, on behalf of Friends of Sabeel UK
The Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People, Beit Sahour
Pat Price-Tomes, on behalf of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) UK
Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, President, Diyar Consortium, Bethlehem
George S. Rishmawi, Coordinator, Siraj, Centre for Holy Land Studies, Palestine
Dr. Walid Shomaly, Executive Director, Palestinian Centre for Research & Cultural Dialogue (PCRD), Bethlehem
Michael Warschawski, Sergio Yahni, Avital Mozes, Tania Kepler, Yossi Bartal, Connie Hackbarth, Shir Hever, of the Alternative Information Centre, Jerusalem
Ben White, Campaign coordinator, ‘A Just Peace for Palestine’
Mr. Ramzi Zananiri, Executive Director, Near East Council of Churches-Jerusalem

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Media contact:
Ben White, Campaign coordinator, ‘A Just Peace for Palestine’
T: 02075882638
E: info@justpeaceforpalestine.org; W: http://www.justpeaceforpalestine.org

Friday, 11 June 2010

CHRIST HAS NO NATION ....The World Cup ..Afghanistan and multiculturalism

It's a shame to see Englands' participation in the World Cup being used as an opportunity to promote support for the very contentious, contested and increasingly unpopular occupation of Afghanistan, making a dubious connection between support for the new imperialistic ventures of the 'liberal interventionists' and support for England Football Team. The video below from the anti racism campaign Kick it Out is to my mind a much more positive portrayal of an inclusive vision of support for England in the World Cup that incorporates our multi faith and multi cultural reality and constructs an understanding of national sporting identity that offers a creative alternative to the promotion of militaristic nationalism.


Thursday, 10 June 2010

LISTENING TO HIDDEN VOICES

Congratulations to West Midlands Faiths Forum, Birmingham LGBT and Aston University Chaplaincy for organising today's conference on Listening to Hidden Voices - the Experience of Lesbian. Gay and Bisexual People of Faith. This is not a topic that is often on interfaith agendas - another one of the important hot potatoes that is often avoided within the polite restraint of the more usual interfaith gathering. Today's conference was exceptionally well thought through and planned. It WAS a listening exercise - actors powerfully told the stories of 5 Lesbian and Gay people of faith from different faith communities and we listened and then had the chance to explore in small groups how we felt and how as people of faith we might want to pastorally respond. The stories were deeply moving and often very painful and by the end of the day many of us were emotionally exhausted, but that was also part of the conference's power, we were not able to retreat into easy theological and dogmatic assertion as we were confronted with the humanity and witness of the stories we were told. It doesn't feel right to share details of the stories here, I hope other opportunities will happen for these stories to be shared and their challenge to be heard. I came away from the conference with Jesus' strong words of condemnation on the religious leaders of his time in Matthew 23 ringing in my ears and heard them as a judgement upon all of us in positions of spiritual 'authority' who, either directly, or by silent collusion, tear the liberating heart out of the Revelations God has given us and turn them into burdensome stones to be hung upon the necks of our LGBT brothers and sisters of faith. May the truth of their continuing liberating power be attested to in the lives of LGBT people of faith, who despite condemnation from our communities often witness in their personal stories to the power of God's love, mercy and compassion.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Yesterday saw the launch of an interesting new campaign Inspired by Muhammad check it out it presents a contemporary easily accesible understanding of Islam for the contemporary world
The organisers say:
The Inspired by Muhammad campaign is designed to improve the public understanding of Islam and Muslims. It showcases Britons demonstrating how Muhammad inspires them to contribute to society, with a focus on women’s rights, social justice and the environment. The campaign coincides with a national poll conducted by YouGov which shows that the 69% of people believe that Islam encourages the oppression of women, that just 6% of people associate Islam with justice and that just 6% believe that Islam promotes active measures to protect the environment. Overall, nearly half of all people in the UK believe that Islam does not have a positive impact on British society.

Muslims have been forced by the rising tide of Islamophobia and media misrepresentation to consider creative and interesting ways of presenting their faith in the public sphere. This isn't so much a campaign attempting to recruit people to Islam as an attemopt to present to the wider community a positive and contemporary understanding of Islam in line with the Sunnah (way) of the Prophet.

It provokes me to consider - how do we as Christians present ourselves to the wider community? What would an 'inspired by Christ' campaign look like that wasn't overtly seeking to evangelise but simply to share our stories and our love for the way of the messiah/servant of God whom we call Christ and the imapct that he has on our lives - not assuming any knowledge -not bemoaning the end of so called 'Christian heritage', but freshly and vibrantly articulating the way of Jesus to issues of contemporary relevance.
This campaign also makes me consider what would a poll reveal of what the vast majority of people believe Christians are about?!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

PEACE VIGIL FOR ISRAEL & PALESTINE

Over 100 people turned up for the Vigil to mark the World Council of Churches World Week of prayer and action for peace in Palestine/Israel during lunchtime at Birmingham Anglican Cathedral today. Our reflections and litany were led by local councillor Salma Yaqoob, Jewish peace activist Barbara Payman and Shari Brown of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme. Ann Farr from Pax Christi and myself opened the vigil and led the closing prayers. Below is a slide show of photos taken by my wife Annie that really capture the spirit of the occasion. we had good coverage in the local media before the event with Shari appearing on Midlands Today and BBC WM Radio.

Update 6/6
Barbara and Shari were also on the Sunday Morning programme on BBC WM. The following link will take you to the programme. Shari and Barbara's piece starts at 1.03 approx


Friday, 28 May 2010

World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel Vigil in Birmingham

On Thursday 3 June at 1pm, a local network of Christians will hold a vigil in the grounds of St Phillips Cathedral, as part of a ‘World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel’.

The event is being coordinated by the West Midlands Christian Network for a Just Peace for Palestine, a group involved in advocacy and campaigning, and affiliated with the new national campaign, ‘A Just Peace for Palestine’.

The ‘World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel’ is an initiative of the World Council of Churches, who have invited all those “who share the hope of justice” in Palestine/Israel to “take peaceful actions, together, to create a common international public witness”.

Revd. Ray Gaston, Interfaith Enabler in Birmingham for the Methodist Church, says that the vigil will stress the need to “build bridges not walls”. “We will be saying that ‘it is time for Palestine’ – time for Palestinians and Israelis to share a just peace, and time for equal rights.”

The vigil will be a mixture of prayer, silence and reflection, responding to the call of Palestinian Christians in the ‘Kairos Palestine’ document, published last year, for Christians worldwide to “help us get our freedom back” and “help the two peoples attain justice, peace, security and love”.

While the vigil is organised by Christians, the reflections will be led by women of the three faiths of the Holy Land:

· Salma Yaqoob – a Muslim and a local councillor, anti-war and community activist. Salma was one of the leaders of the Birmingham campaign against the Israeli bombing of Gaza in 2009.

· Barbara Payman – a Jewish woman and member of a local Reform Congregation. Barbara is a trustee of the interfaith charity Spirit of Peace that works closely with The Jerusalem Peacemakers, an interfaith network working for reconciliation in the Holy Land.

· Shari Brown – a Christian and the Coordinator of Restore (a project of Birmingham Churches supporting refugees). Shari recently spent three months as an Accompanier with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).


**********************************************************************************
Event contact: Revd. Ray Gaston, Interfaith Enabler, Birmingham Methodist Church, Tel. 0775 11 55 124 or email wmcnjpp2010@yahoo.com

Website for the World Council of Churches’ ‘World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel’
http://www.oikoumene.org/en/events-sections/wwppi.html



Website for the ‘A Just Peace for Palestine’ campaign
http://www.justpeaceforpalestine.org/


Tuesday, 11 May 2010

DISCIPLESHIP IN A MULTI FAITH WORLD


This Spring I have been developing my work in the Birmingham District and ecumenically. I have been running courses for The Worcester & Malvern Circuits, Hall Green Council of Churches and working with a Cell Group at Saltley Methodist Church, a taster workshop for the Asbury Circuit and continue working with an ecumenical group of Church Leaders in Shirley. What is nice is that each group has a very different dynamic and different needs. So under the broad banner of Faith Hope & Love - Exploring Christian Discipleship in a Multi Faith World, I work out a specific programme with each of the groups. With Saltley we are getting into some serious bible study in our second session we took a look at the story of Abraham and what it might have to say for Christian engagement with other Faiths today. With Worcester and Malvern I am running three Saturday workshops - The first in April was on Exploring Bible & Theology in a Multi Faith World , and the Third at the end of June will be looking at Exploring Christian Spirituality in A Multi Faith World. The second workshop was last Saturday on the theme of Exploring Other Faiths and the group came and spent the day in Birmingham visiting a Mosque , a Hindu Temple and meeting with the workers and young people at the FEAST - a Christian initiative to bring Christian and Muslim young people together. The picture above shows that the encounter with the young Muslim people from the Feast was not only inter faith but inter generational too - bringing Muslim young people together with Christian elders it was a great day.
I also had the privilage of presenting a session at the District Spring Synod and will be running a workshop at the Building Vision Day this coming weekend in Handsworth. I am exploring with the Asbury circuit about a course in the autumn and a workshop on preaching in a multi faith world with preachers in Evesham.

If you would like me to come and work in your circuit or with a group in your church get in touch!

Monday, 10 May 2010

UPDATE ON 'A HEART BROKEN OPEN'


I have been informed by the publishers that well over 300 copies of my book have now been sold since the official release at the beginning of March. I also see that Peace News have a nice review of it in their May edition, although the subeditors choice of title disappointingly asserts old misunderstandings about the arabic word for God.

I have also been invited onto the Rattansi & Ridley Show that is broadcast through Sky on Press TV to talk about the book.

There is also going to be a Leeds/Bradford launch of the book on 26th May organised by The Leeds Church Institute and Bradford Churches for Dialogue and Diversity.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

A QUICK VISIT TO LEEDS


Last Saturday (May Day) I had a quick trip up to my old stomping ground in Hyde Park Leeds as I had been invited to speak at The Makkah Masjid's 'Connecting Communities' event that opens their annual Islamic Exhibition. Makkah Masjid is a lovely space built by the local Muslim community from money they raised themselves. It was nice to see old friends and new, especially Imam Qari Asim, son of my late friend and teacher Professor Hafiz Fateh Muhammad Sahib and to discover that my successor at All Hallows, Revd Steve Smith, who has continued developing the links with the mosque, was present at the event and had recently himself been invited to speak at the celebrations for the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.

Asim was kind enough to ask me to bring copies of my book to sell and then bought 10 copies for the Mosque!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

SUPPORT SALMA YAQOOB FOR MP


I’ve been out a few times this week leafleting for Salma Yaqoob’s campaign to become the first Muslim woman MP in the UK. Standing on a progressive programme of investment, green initiatives, ethical foreign policies and for a vigorous and creative defence of multiculturalism , she has a real chance of being elected in my local constituency of Hall Green, where in the Sparkbrook ward she has been an impressive councillor for the last 4 years.

Salma has developed a significant national political profile appearing on Question Time and national media in her role as campaigning councillor and anti-war activist. Although officially standing as a Respect Party candidate she has built a good progressive alliance in support of her campaign beyond traditional party boundaries, with the Green Party officially endorsing her candidacy and support coming from major figures in the local Labour Party; including the public support of outgoing principled MP Lynne Jones who resides in the Moseley and Kings Heath ward of the Constituency.

Salma's faith inspired politics should be appealing to Christians committed to community action and global justice. She spoke at my book launch about how influenced she is by Islamic liberation theologian Farid Esack - a leading activist in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa in 1980s and a prominant voice in the Global South initiated interfaith Peace for Life movement. She draws inspiration from creative radicals like Arundhati Roy and Naomi Klein - she represents a real possibility of having a Member of Parliament committed to the radical global justice movement as well as being a locally rooted MP, resisting cuts in public services, promoting green initiatives, campaigning for an ethical foreign policy and resisting the rising tide of racism and Islamophobia.

If you live in Hall Green constituency please consider voting for her and actively supporting her campaign.

If you don't live in Hall Green consider actively support her campaign.

For more information ring 07812 172 885

Follow Salma's campaign through her regularly updated blog at http://www.salmayaqoob.com/


Wednesday, 14 April 2010

EDL DEFEATED IN DUDLEY

I was unable to get to Dudley on Holy Saturday when the racist EDL came to town but by all accounts there was an excellent united local response. This developed around a locally inter faith inspired One Borough initiative and led to a creative and peaceful counter gathering with the Bishop of Dudley speaking, organised by local inter faith networks, Muslim community groups and Unite Against Fascism.

The EDL exposed their true colours - frustrated by not being able to wind up or get into a fight with a confrontational counter demo (because there wasn't one!) they sought to break the police lines and attacked a mosque but were quickly contained by police. Any nonsense about the EDL not being racist and Islamophobic can now surely be put to rest and the change in attitude by the police authorities in Dudley to how they reacted when the EDL came to Birmingham, should now be repeated around the country. The EDL are an anti Muslim pogrom movement - and if they can't be banned from gathering then they should be treated as violent hooligans and policed in that fashion.

The excellent anti fascist and local community response in Dudley should also be repeated wherever the EDL threaten to gather - concentrating on drawing together a wide coalition of groups for a creative peaceful counter-gathering, away from the EDL, that celebrates multiculturalism rather than directly confronting the EDL, whilst building a strong broad local consensus that demands the police authorities approach policing of the EDL as defending local communities from their abuse and violent attack rather than facilitating the EDL's 'right to protest'.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Buddhist Christian?


One of the least talked about but growing phenomenons in our contemporary culture is the rise of Buddhism in the west and the increasing number of Christians who are finding benefit in a serious engagement with Buddhism some of whom end up becoming Buddhists. In my last parish the congregation included people who termed themselves Christian - Buddhists, people who were in relationships with Buddhists and/or incorporated Buddhist practices into their own spirituality and others who had less neatly worked out relationships with Buddhism and Christianity even if they strongly and publically identified with one over the other..

One of the most read books on the reading list of my recent module at Queen's on Christianity and Dialogue was Paul Knitter's latest work Without Buddha I could not be a Christian so widely read amongst the Buddhist stream was it that the librarian has ordered extra copies for next year!

I have discovered that Paul now has a blog How a Buddhist Christian Sees It and there is also an interesting podcast of him in discussion on 'Walking more than one path - Is multi religious belonging possible?'

As an alternative to Knitter's approach you can take a look at Harold Netland and Keith Yendall Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal which whist respectful and engaing with Buddhsim take a more traditional view of Buddhist - Christian Relations. Or to see how Buddhist - Christian interface has been explored in Sri Lanka see Aloysius Pieris ' Love meets Wisdom


Monday, 29 March 2010

THIS IS HOLY WEEK

Some resources for reflection on the Passion of Christ


He leaves the bright heavens
comes again
condemned to hang
between heaven and earth.
And there he remains
he absolves the guards
lets the tortured forget
makes hatred subside
teaches the weary to breathe
the trembling to sleep
the dreamers to act
the doers to dream.

Dorothee Solle



Biblical scholar and Christian activist Walter Breuggemann on Lent, Good Friday, Easter and the "shutdown" of the way it used to be.




This is Holy Week - Bible Readings and reflections for each day

Alternative Good Friday Intercessions here

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Israel and Palestine - What is to be done? Public Meeting in Coventry Tommorrow

I am hoping to get to this that I only learnt about towards the end of last week.

Also check out a recent publication from Concordis International...the publicity blurb states

'The Christian peace organisation Concordis has just published a booklet to help churches understand the issues around the Israel / Palestine conflict. It follows a gathering of Christians with different perspectives on the conflict, aims to seek greater consensus and unity, and suggests some actions'

You can download the booklet here

Public Meeting:
Israel and Palestine – what is to be done?
Coventry Muslim Resource Centre, Red Lane, Coventry
Monday March 22nd, 6-8pm
Speakers:
• Ismail Patel, Chair, Friends of Al Aqsa
• Dan Judelson, former Chair, Jews for Justice for Palestinians
Background:
The situation of the Palestinians in Gaza remains desperate, with the continuing Israeli and Egyptian blockade preventing reconstruction after the devastating assault on Gaza’s civil society carried out by the Israelis a year ago. The situation in the West Bank is little better, as Israel
continues to expropriate land and evict Palestinian families from their homes in order to expand its settlements. Yet it often seems that Western governments turn a blind eye to Israel’s behaviour, and treat Israeli violence far more leniently than that of the Palestinians. When the recent Goldstone Report on the Gaza war accused the Israelis of war crimes, our government refused to back it. Many people in the UK, perhaps even a majority, recognise the injustice of this situation, but feel powerless to do anything about it.

• If we organise and speak out, could we change UK government policy?
• What could the UK do to restore some kind of justice in Palestine?
• How can we contribute?

This meeting hopes to bring together Muslims, Jews, Christians and all
others who long for a just peace in the Middle East, in a common effort
to answer these questions and bring about change.

Schedule:
• 6.00-6.30 refreshments • 6.30-7.30 talks • 7.30-8.00 discussion
Organisers: Justice for Palestinians-West Midlands and Coventry Muslim
Resource Centre. Please contact david mond@yahoo.com or the CMRC,
on 024 7663 7933, for further information.