Saturday, 29 January 2011


A great ten minute talk from journalist and writer Lesley Hazleton on reading the Qur'an as an 'outsider'. She debunks many of the Islamophobic myths about what is in the Qur'an and demonstrates a real engagement with the text that is sensitive to Islamic understanding. Well worth watching. Lesley Hazleton blogs at The Accidental Theologist

Monday, 24 January 2011


On Saturday I hopped on the bus to go into Birmingham City Centre and attend the Joint Public Issues Team's very well organised conference on Poverty of Ambition - Churches and a Politics of Hope. The title and the fact that the conference had been fullly booked since early December made me expectant that this might be an opportunity for discussing how Christians could engage in resistance to the current government agenda and build of theologically informed politics of hope. Unfortunately I was sadly mistaken. The folk at JPIT had done a great job in bringing so many people together for such a conference (approx 150) but I fear they missed an opportunity. Their aim was not about resourcing Christians to engage in creative resistance to the growing idolatry of the market, the cuts and other government attacks upon the poor and marginalised but about maintaining a dialogue with the exisitng political establishment of think tanks and Government. As a result they had organised a conference for Christians on a Politics of Hope that was deviod of any overt theological content.

First up was Will Hutton who enlightened us with the fact that 'Socialism is dead and buried' just at the time, of course, when there has been a growing interest in the Marxist analysis of capitalism and an increasing engagement with the ideas of creative and open Marxist academics such as David Harvey. At the same time increasing numbers of young people are beginning to explore new ways of articulating and acting out a radical anti capitalist politics. Uninterested in engaging with this phenomenon - that he dismisses in his latest book - Hutton entertained his largely 50 years old plus audience with wisdom clearly drawn from various versions of 20th century social democracy - Tony Crosland, the SDP and early 'progressive' Blairism . All of which are about as tired politically as the patsies of Stalinist Communism and Thatcherite neo liberalism that he set up as the alternatives to this rehash of centrist social democracy that he presented to us as a new vision of ..... wait for it....Fairness!

Second up was a very defensive Liberal Democrat Minister Andrew Stunnell who was feeling sore that he was being held to account by brothers and sisters in Christ who had described his activities in Government as 'totally unacceptable' in his demoninational paper The Baptist Times. What was most surprising and flattering was the 10 minutes he then spent on engaging with the Common Wealth Statement that the folks at JPIT had kindly sent him as part of the briefing papers, He described it as 'too assured' and 'could be at the back of the Old Testament'. In a conversation with him over lunch I discovered that this reference to the Hebrew Bible was not about his willingness to ascribe the statement the status of Holy Scripture but a form of traditional Christian supercessionism in relation to Judaism and it's scriptures through a spiritualising of the gospels and Jesus' witness. Our interpretation of Jesus in The Common Wealth Statement clearly made him far too Jewish for Mr Stunnel's liking. The only positive thing about the morning was seeing conference participants give Mr Stunell a decidedly cool reception and not allowing him to get away without some strong questioning about The 'Big Society'.

It was a relief therefore to have to head across the city centre to St John's Ladywood after lunch as I had promised Councillor Salma Yaqoob that I would come to hear her and Rabbi Margaret Jacobi address the Progressive Christian Network on Radical Faith, I'm not a great fan of PCN which professes the sort of modernist theological liberalism that I find more self indulgently bourgeois than radical - more Jack Spong than Daniel Berrigen. I got there as Salma was a short way into her talk which was a passionate exposition of how her faith informs and inspires her in her political action. In response to a question about how have other faiths informed her practice Salma highlighted the inspiration she had received as a politically active Muslim from reading the Common Wealth Statement and particularly it's attack on the idolatry of the Market.

Rabbi Margaret Jacobi from Birmingham Progressive Synagogue in her speech highlighted the influence upon her of the Hasidic Rabbi and radical social activist Abraham Heschel.

Both women articulated a faith that sought to radically critique the social order - the kind of radical faith and confidence sadly lacking in the conference at Carrs Lane earlier in the day.

Friday, 21 January 2011


Well done to the folks at the exciting Local Ecumenical Partnership in Redditch The Bridge who have been at the forefront of encouraging local Christians to explore the developing multi faith nature of the town. Former Queen's student and Curate at The Bridge Revd Jo Musson contacted me last year about doing some work in the area. As a result The Bridge's thriving youth group has started work with my friends at the excellent youth project The Feast in Birmingham and on Monday night I was over in Redditch at the Town's Ecumenical Centre running the first of a series of workshops for local Christians entitled Faith, Hope & Love - Christian Discipleship in a Multi Faith World. The taster session seems to have gone down well with the 25 participants, Jo kindly writes:

What an inspirational and thought provoking evening we had on Monday and on your behalf I'd like to offer Ray our sincere thanks for his energetic input and deep insights to the matter of interfaith and also of theology. We were given so much to think about of such high quality, the course promises to be a real treasure.

For the remaining dates for the course that will run in the Spring and early Summer Contact Jo on 01527 551996 for further details.

Around the same time I'm starting a similar course in Smethwick based at West Smethwick Methodist Church but open to all in the Birmingham West and Oldbury Circuit and to ecumenical partners contact Revd Novette Headley on 0121 552 3604 for further details of this.

If you would like to discuss the possibility of working with your local Church, Circuit or ecumenical body as long as you are located in the geographical confines of the Birmingham Methodist District get in touch with me via Queen's Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education .

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Holocaust Memorial Day is on 27th January, remembered on that day as it is the date in 1945 that Soviet troops entered Auschwitz-Birkenau the largest Nazi concentration camp. This years theme is 'Untold Stories' The Council for Christians and Jews along with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland has produced some litugical material for people to use in Church on the Sundays either side of 27th including audio visual resources.
The Holocaust Memorial Trust has it's own site with a vast range of material and resources for use with all ages.
On 25th January at Woodbrooke College the Birmingham branch of CCJ are holding a meeting with Philip Bowen-Hunt speaking on "How should we teach children about the Holocaust?".
Birmingham City Council are holding their annual Memorial event at the Town Hall on Sunday 23rd January at 2pm.

Monday, 10 January 2011


Below is a guest post from my friend Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers of West London Synagogue. Debbie - as she points out - was one of those with whom I recently visited Palestine & Israel. On return Debbie's stories of our visit have encouraged the synagogue to raise money to support Palestinian farmers replanting Olive groves destroyed by settlers. Debbie blogs at RabbiDebbie

Listening to Rabbi Arik Ascherman who is working with farmers to save Palestinian land from setllers.

In November I was part of a group, with Ray, selected by St Ethelburgas Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, sent to Israel and the West Bank to explore how we engage with the Israel-Palestine conflict as people of diverse and differing backgrounds and views. It is an issue that so dominates and changes interfaith relations in the UK that it cannot be ignored. Israel is a place I have spent a good deal of time, on tours, on family visits, on seminars, on holidays, and is a place I care deeply about, and worry deeply for. There were the usual joys and positives on the trip, as well as many moments of discomfort, embarrassment and pain for me personally as a Jew, but one of the most inspiring experiences was an afternoon spent with Rabbis for Human Rights, an organisation of Israeli Rabbi’s trying to show the just, humane face of Judaism, and believing this to be the best way to create a safe and secure future for both Israeli’s and Palestinians. They showed us some of the devastation that settlers have inflicted upon Palestinian farmland, as well as some of the hard work they are doing, as Rabbis and Jews, to protect Palestinians and their property.

They really represented to me an approach to Israel, co-existence and Judaism that spoke to me of my own values and ethics. So I was excited to see how we could help once back in the UK. In January we celebrate a festival which has its roots in the Mishnah (a text written down around 200ce but reporting much older traditions): Tu Bishvat – the 15th of the month of Shvat. The Mishnah tells us that this date is one of four new years – this one the new year for trees! It’s always been a festival close to me as my Bat Mitzvah took place on it, but it also means a lot to me as it’s become a time for us to really reflect on the importance of the environment, ecology, and the produce of the Land of Israel. Thus it made perfect sense for us to get involved with helping Rabbis for Human Rights rebuild some of the destruction caused to agriculture by sponsoring Olive Tree replanting. Jews have a long history of supporting planting of trees in the Land of Israel and I have several JNF tree planting certificates. So doing it to help Palestinians makes a powerful statement about how we wish Israel and Palestine to be, and what we believe the ethics of Torah to be encouraging in us. Those destroying fruit trees and Olive trees are breaking Torah law. By helping to replant and rebuild I hope we are being truer to the intention of these ancient words, as well as contributing to the livelihoods and stability of the whole region.

Friday, 7 January 2011


My friend Mohammed Ali at The Hubb in Sparkbrook has organised an interesting event this evening at 6pm. "Two Women - Two Perspectives" brings together journalist, 'celebrity personality', campaigner for Palestinian rights and recent convert/revert to Islam Lauren Booth with British Palestinian Manal Timraz. Manal who is on the advisory council of the One Voice Movement became involved in peace and reconciliation work for Palestine and Israel after 15 members of her family were killed by the Israeli military during the invasion and bombardment of Gaza two years ago. It looks like it will be well attended and so the advice is to get down early for a seat. The entrance donation is £3 to help cover costs.