Monthly Archives: January 2015

Why Giles Fraser is wrong about Greek Debt

This morning listeners to BBC’s Today programme will have heard Canon Fraser making a case that the forgiveness of Greek debt was a moral, practical and theological necessity.

He built this upon a linkage of three key concepts.

1 That the original Greek word for “trespasses” in the Lord’s Prayer translates better as “debt”, so we are/should be saying ” Forgive us our debts as we forgive others’  debts”

2 That in his newly published book  ” Debt- the first 5000 years” author David Graeber argues that debt as we understand it, grew out of demands made by conquerors upon the defeated.

3 That the logical requirement to repay was challenged by Socrates , (no less” is implied”), who asked “Would you give an axe back to a madman”.

Does this logic add up?

The checking of etymology is always a good idea, and a practice commonly employed by preachers looking for a springboard for their thoughts.

Brother Ivo is not a Greek scholar neither has he Aramaic, but he does have a nose for the whiff of snake oil, so he consulted the Jewish Encyclopaedia for guidance where he found this.

Repentance being another prerequisite of redemption (Pirḳe R. El. xliii.; Targ. Yer. and Midr. Leḳah Ṭob to Deut. xxx. 2; Philo, “De Execrationibus,” §§ 8-9), a prayer for forgiveness of sin is also required in this connection. But on this point special stress was laid by the Jewish sages of old. “Forgive thy neighbor the hurt that he hath done unto thee, so shall thy sins also be forgiven when thou prayest,” says Ben Sira (Ecclus. [Sirach] xxviii. 2). “To whom is sin pardoned? To him who forgiveth injury” (Derek Ereẓ Zuṭa viii. 3; R. H. 17a; see also Jew. Encyc. iv. 590, s.v.Didascalia). Accordingly Jesus said: “Whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any one; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark xi. 25, R. V.). It was this precept which prompted the formula “And forgive us our sins [“ḥobot” = “debts”; the equivalent of “‘awonot” = “sins”] as we also forgive those that have sinned [“ḥayyabim” = “those that are indebted”] against us.”

So it appears that the better understanding is not “debt” but “sin”.

Whoever would have guessed that?!

Apparently not a Liberal Canon who writes for the Guardian.

The idea of debt is closely bound up with sin – something to be avoided- yet one rarely hears our economically progressive brothers and sisters rendering the following instruction as ” borrow no more”.

When a company fails, the assets are gathered and distributed in accordance with a formula set by the State. What is the order of repayment. First category – the State! The Inland Revenue, and the Customs and Excise secure first pickings, even though their claims may have been instrumental in forcing the company into liquidation as politicians vote taxes with out reference to the ability to pay.

Do we ever hear anyone of the Left suggesting that priority should be challenged? The State comes first; a plain example of “To he who has much , much all be given” which is not. of course. Biblical egalitarianism at its strongest.

The notion of debt as the imposition of the powerful is similarly dubious.

Ordinary debt begins with a request for help. Such voluntary engagement is what differentiates it from that which is demanded by the conqueror. The rapacious army imposes its will in a relationship far removed from a mutually agreed scheme for the repayment of debt on schedualled terms.

In conquest, the payment is at best reparation, but usually more plainly described as tax. Danegeld was protection money, not transactional or in any way voluntary. One rarely hears Canon Fraser calling for the forgiveness of tax liability.

The analogy offered by Socrates is equally suspect.

The suggestion that one would not return “that which is due” – the Axe – to the madman, confuses the question of where the disorder  actually lies.

Canon Fraser suggests that in this application of logic, it is the countries that conduct themselves with fiscal responsibility who are the madmen. ” Don’t give them the money/axe – they will cause mayhem” he impliedly charges.

Really?

Is there not a closer analogy to be drawn.

The Germany of Angela Merkyl knows madness.

The German people have had Governments printing money and ruining the economy. They have had the politics of “Equality ” and “anti-Capitalism” in both its Left and Right incarnations. They have had Populist solutions offering an easy way out. They have undergone austerity and by abjuring the easy solutions, and by old fashioned hard work, and embracing personal and civic responsibility, they have shown the world how to live within their means. In that direction lies true sustainability and wealth creation.

It is Germany that had embraced the positive meaning of the parable of the talents, it was Greece which chose the easy options and failed to use its opportunities. The parable is not an encouragement to profligacy or relying on others.

A better analogy to returning an axe to a madman, is returning the key to the drinks cabinet to an alcoholic.

Until the root causes of Greece’s debt are recognised, acknowledged and addressed, it is no kindness to return to ” business as usual” . Germany’s attitude is all the more valuable and caring because of its own hard learnt experiences. It has worn the National Socialist tee shirt and remembers where that led.

We need not simply dwell on the meaning of debt however. We also need to consider forgiveness and the last time Brother Ivo looked at Biblical teaching on the subject, forgiveness followed repentance.

The Prodigal Son was forgiven when he “repented” a term which carries the overtone of “turning” from past folly, self indulgence and waste. One does that when one realises that the wrong path has been taken.

It will be interesting to hear the Canon explore Greek debt in the light of the parables of personal responsibility.

Remembering Names on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Names are important.

We correct those who mistake our names.

We ask the names of others early in relationships.

We name our pets, and sometimes our treasured possessions. This is beyond utilitarianism, it makes sense to name places for identification purposes, but naming is more than that. The bestowing of a name gives value. The removing of a name removes personality, denies individuality and deliberately demeans

In the Bible, names abound. They are given at birth, and are sometimes changed to denote a significantly changed relationship.

Thus, Nehemiah tells us that “Thou art the Lord the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham “.

When Simon was chosen to lead the disciples, he became Peter – the rock. After a transforming encounter with Christ,  Saul became Paul.

In our culture, we remember those who have gone before. We record names on War Memorials, and when we are unable to do this, we use Rudyard Kipling’s lovely phrase “Known unto God”. It is the gentler , more loving alternative to either ignoring existence or choosing the French rationalist version
“Unconnu” – unknown.

Each week in Churches throughout the the world we pray intercessions for the recently departed and those whose anniversaries of death occur at this time.

January the 27th  is observed in the United Kingdom as Holocaust Remembrance Day.

We are asked to remember those who were killed in one of the worst genocides in history. We tend to do so with reference to the enormity represented by that number 6 million.

Some have pointed out that there have been -and continue to be –  many similar dreadful mass murderings of God’s children. Sometimes these are politically motivated, other times it is religious or tribal hatred that cause the horror. THey continue even now, yet tragically the victims are rarely identified to us

There is a continuing holocaust of the inconvenient unborn which some condemn on the basis of denied Human Rights, but others condemn with a recollection of the words of Jeremiah, “I knew you before you were formed within your mother’s womb”.

Few of those rejected, will have been given the dignity of a name, but each individual is ” known unto God”. It is more difficult to reject those to whom one has ascribed the dignity of a name. Paradoxically, most still born children will be honoured with the recognition of their uniqueness and many are named.

The holocaust was not only about the Jews, although they were especially targetted by the Nazi anti-Semitists. It is no bad thing to be broad in our recollection.

Unlike many other such tragedies, the Germans documented their victims, we have their names. We can, and should remember them and their individualism.

Throughout Holocaust Remembrance Day Brother Ivo will be tweeting names of the victims . The names will be chosen at random. They will be from different countries. Most will inevitably be Jews. That is fitting when we commemorate the greatest, if, tragically and shamefully, not the only planned European genocide in living memory. Its conception started with the Jews.

As Europe’s Jews begin to feel less safe in recent weeks it is especially important to assert the value and worth of Jewish lives.

The “Final Solution” was powerfully recorded on film. Because of the film and documentation we are well placed to find and remember names. It is always touching to read them. It puts humanity back into the horrifying statistics.

We have the records and the knowledge and the images to both remember and contribute to the promise made when the death camps were liberated, “Never again”.

We can now address our natural human response to turn away, by restoring humanity to those to whom it was so dreadfully denied.

That stripping of humanity began by assigning to victims a category and a number instead of addressing them by name, the name given and shared by those who love them.

To mark the day, Brother Ivo will be tweeting the names of some who died in the death camps. He invites you to share those names on your time lines. You may care to offer a brief prayer for them though they now be in God’s safe keeping. The prayer is probably more for us than them. Remembrance is for the living as well as the dead.

These individuals will have come from various countries, the majority, though not all will be Jewish, others will be communist, gay, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gypsies, some will be criminals  – It matters not.

On that day, let us remember them indescriminately simply to affirm the humanity of all God’s children

If you want to contemplate or share recollection, you may find names and restore the dignity of individual remembrance here

http://www.ushmm.org/m/pdfs/20141010-dor-names-list.pdf

 

RIP Christina Darling

The news this morning of the death of 23 year old Christina Darling came as a deep shock to all who followed her on Twitter.

Most of us never met her, and knew little about her in real life, and yet the death of someone so young and vibrant during a gap year seems especially tragic.

The expressions of condolence to her family and friends sounds so very formulaic and conventional – something she never was – and yet it is also entirely right.

Many of us may never come to know know what happened. We may not feel it our place to intrude as total strangers by asking those who know.

Most of us encountered her in cyberspace and may never get closer to the reality of who she was, and yet a wide variety of people from different generations, places, opinions and attitudes either followed her directly or had her remarks on life delivered by others into our timelines. Somehow, we ended up caring, though she and most of us would reject too much sentimentality.

With her feisty opinions, quirky observations and occasional photographs she shared something of who she was with anyone who was interested in knowing.

Twitter can often be about “stream of consciousness”; it is disjointed and haphazard and yet by its very nature we encounter what one might accurately describe as her spirit. We knew so little about her in depth but her spirit enlivened us and now is gone.

Some of us will remember her in prayer, which she may or may not have appreciated, nevertheless that is what we shall do. In the community sharing which is the twitter medium, that is how it is. One can join in or avert one’s eyes.

As a libertarian she would have defended our right to engage with this tragedy as we are best able. She would equally have defended the right of those who respond to our response with ridicule.

Those of us with a Christian faith come to these times with a repertoire of responses; we are never short of great poetry  and reflective philosophy to express our sentiments. Some may recall Ecclesiates “To everything there is a season”: we may wonder why Christina’s season was so short and yet the contextualisation of loss is so much easier when one has a secure framework with which to relate.

Others may look at the silent twitter account for an inkling of what is happening, and perhaps a few recall the famous phrase at the empty tomb “S/He is not here”. Implicit in that phrase is presence elsewhere.

On the morning the news broke Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church tweeted something you might find helpful in understanding our perspective and contribution in such tragic circumstances.

“Christianity explained makes little rational sense, but fully lived expresses powerful love, forgiveness and sacrifice, touching hearts”.

Christina sometimes made “little rational sense” but she did live fully, loved life and certainly, we are surprised to find, she touched hearts.

She had ambitions to challenge ideas, to achieve and to write. At one level she will not now realise them and yet already she has achieved something pioneering in this crazy world of cyberspace.

She was a presence, a connector, a cheerful maverick to whom complete strangers gravitated as her thousands of followers testify. She gathered disparate folks because she provoked and interested them; they might argue, share or laugh together, and so she made a community of the disparate, which is incidentally quite a Christian thing to do.

Her community are now sharing cyber bereavement. That is a rather new phenomenon, and slightly odd.

It is not something any of us would have wanted from her but it is something we might contemplate. Who knew that this odd world of social media would engage us in this way.

Christina’s passing is a novel significant and challenging cyber event. Most of us have not encountered this, though it will happen to all of us sometime.

What is the etiquette? How do we express ourselves?

Should we make our own provision for telling our cyber chums when we pass?

Can we avoid mawkish over preparation and an outbreak of cyber-shrines with multiple versions of the song” My Way” – something one suspects Christina would have abhorred. If she stimulates the avoidance of such kitsch she would surely approve.

The medium will surely dictate a variety of responses to this sad event. You will be neither surprised, nor one hopes, offended if Brother Ivo gives her the ever optimistic Christian valediction.

“May she rest in peace and rise in glory”.

The First Lesson of the Chilcott Inquiry

Brother Ivo has never read the Chilcott Report: nobody who was not a witness or a close associate of that process has.

It is an inquiry into an immensely important and complicated matter, involving not only historical facts about what did or did not happen before Britain went to war in Iraq, but also diplomatic matters with our principal ally the United States. with whom we have long shared sensitive security information and political confidences.

That said, most of the participants who made the decisions are still alive, many of the discussions were minutely documented and minuted, and although we are addressing issues from 10 years ago, most of the participants are alive and mentally agile enough to engage actively in the process.

Nevertheless, we have arrived at a complete shambles. Nobody is satisfied. There is much suspicion of cover up, and prevarication.

The Inquiry was conducted by a career Civil Servant.

Consider now the growing dissatisfaction with the inquiry into historical sexual abuse of children, which is currently parked whilst the “stakeholders” argue about the identity of the Chair and the scope of the investigation which is already looking at a minimum of 40 years of contentious evidence, with less reliable documentation and many participants within the process and history old or dead.

There is immense emotion involved in the historic abuse inquiry with lives having been utterly destroyed: the levels of personal investment is even greater with wholly understandable frustration, anger and a sense of injustice abounding. These factors are currently disabling the historical Abuse Inquiry from even taxiing down the runway, still less taking off.

The capable management of such an Inquiry is much much more complex and sensitive even than that of the Chilcott Inquiry. It is for this reason that the choice of Chair is so important.

Some readers will know that Brother Ivo was disappointed when Dame Butler-Sloss was forced to stand down from chairing the process. The perception of potential bias had been elevated beyond the requirement of fundamental competence to the task: sobeit.

Those who resist in principal the appointment of distinguished  Judge well versed in complex. case management need to reflect carefully upon the current Chilcott debacle.

This is what a non Judge led Inquiry looks like.

The identification of issues, evaluation of contentious facts, Judgment of credibility and succinct presentation of findings, is utterly normal to even the middle order judge, and the vast majority of cases are not only not appealed but are unappealable when explained by those whose training ethos and culture, predispose them to avoiding the errors of discursive, lengthy, and contentious judgements. Professional habituation training and ingrained good practice is vital if one is not to prolong such highly emotionally charged investigations

Professional competence within a known sphere of expertise is something we take for granted in our doctors, engineers, architects, and plumbers. Those who routinely complain that our judiciary should not undertake the Chairing of such Inquiries, need to observe what is happening over Chilcott and note what results when we entrust such matters to those whose lifelong professional experience is not within the required area of expertise.

To put it in the most populist terms, in such cases we need Judge John Deed, not Sir Humphrey Appleby

Toxic Transience

When Brother Ivo was elected to serve on General Synod, he resolved to worship with other parishes from time to time. He has tried to vary the churchmanship beyond familiarity, and has prioritised those in the poorer areas. Yesterday, he joined a congregation which is drawn from the poorest parish in the Diocese.

It was well attended, welcoming and instructive.

The Diocese has supported it well and it is well used in various guises, throughout the week. Debt counselling, a lunch club, silver surfers, youth activities, are but some of the activities which comprise their weekly offering to the community, and yet they are worried.

Because of their deprived area, they have attracted grants over the years, from European, Diocesan and Local Government sources but these were for capital projects, so far so good, but they are now entering the next phase, running on hope and prayer.

When asked directly what they would say to General Synod, given the chance, worshippers answered  Brother Ivo in similar vein, –  essentially “Don’t forget the poor”.

They like what they hear about Archbishop Justin, and when pressed, acknowledge that the institutional church has been supportive up to now, but they feel especially insecure. They are a church on the margins, they are not self supporting, and what they rightly suspect, though most probably do not know, is that the Anglican Church is about to embark on a major review (General Synod paper GS 1978) of how we should be “Resourcing the future of the Church of England”.

If there is any comfort to them and churches like them, it has been conveniently highlighted for them.
“We believe that equal weight should be given to the purposes of a) the support and development of mission work in the most deprived communities and b) proactive investment in new opportunities for growth across the country”.

It is hard to think the Church will not endorse that strategy, but it will come at a price.

If the Angican church puts its financial priorities into the inner city/ deprived town centres inevitably there will be smaller, perhaps equally faithful and prayerful congregations which will find their churches amalgamated or closed. Ancient buildings may be abandoned like eroded coastlines left to crumble.

Having voted in the last session to allow rural churchyards to be grazed by sheep, the resting places of past forebears may well be given over to benign neglect.

Synod may decide “So be it”.

Talking to those struggling to sustain mission in hard pressed urban areas one interesting feature emerged. “Transience” is a major problem. WE all talk of poverty and “lack of resources” but “transience” is an under-discussed factor>

Brother Ivo heard how the community has changed in and around the church where he worshipped. Once the surrounding streets would have housed workers for s single large blue collar employing facility. The houses would have been owner occupied, and the shops, pubs voluntary organisations, sports clubs, and churches would have made up the community.

Now, the principal employer having gone. Those in work began commuting elsewhere and with higher income moved to “better areas”.

Local business has declined, housing stock has been bought by absentee, often neglectful, landlords. The police are not seen, crime has risen and with it drug addiction and anti-social behaviour. The resilience of the local community has been sapped not least by disillusion. But also because the local families- the social glue – are much in decline. People are not marrying and separation which is higher amongst those living together – especially in poverty – compounds the transience.Those who move away from extended are more isolated and often more transient.

London Boroughs have re-located people to these communities, the rentals are on short hold tenancies, into sue standard housing where nobody wishes to remain. THere are no legal aid housing lawyers to fight their cases as Government has all but killed the sector. Many of the newcomers happen to be Eastern European who do not speak English, and thus community is further undermined.  Where it exists it is not in touch with the indigenous poor and suspicion arises, even from the Churchgoers. THere is suspicion of undetected criminality and people trafficking. These areas may be ” multi-cultural” . What is less in evidence is “community”.

It is this scarce ” asset ” which the Church can and does supply, and why “transience” is a factor we need to bring specifically into account more frequently, when discussing the problem.

What will help such communities?

Two frequent answers are “resources” and “education”.

What is particularly striking about Brother Ivo’s visit is that he learnt that the local school is failing.

That may not seem surprising until one hears that not 400 yards from the church in question, massive investment has been made in a school which Brother Ivo visited at its re-opening in 2010. It is a fine and well resourced building. There were more IMacs in a single classroom than in the nearby Bluewater Apple Superstore.

“Resources” cannot be the answer there. Results are the third worst in the country.

” Transience ” may be part of that problem, not least in the school leadership: they are on their third Headteacher since the re-build. Children come and go. Middle class parents who do remain in the catchment area do not want their children at a failing school. THe school fails partly because of the poor results imported with every newly disrupted transient child. That is a diagnosis not a criticism.

How one addresses “transience” may be complex. Labour mobility may be a good thing in certain circumstances, but plainly in the poorest communities it is also potentially toxic.

One cannot halt community decline unless and until one can give the very poor some semblance of stability from which we can build strategies to set them back on a path to integration into mainstream society.

Whether that strategy be one of debt management, language tuition, skills training or whatever, the halting of transience appears to be an early priority. The support of  local Churches with their community mission as part of spreading the Gospel must surely be an early part of the bringing of much needed stability and re-generation.

When the police, housing office, scout troops, and business community have moved out, our Churches are frequently the only foundation stone left . We surely don’t need too much discussion to decide what Christ would have us do.

It takes two to tango and the Taliban are not fans of Strictly Come Dancing.

The events in France this week have challenged us all to make sense of troubling events.

Many conclusions will be drawn,  frequently according to our preconceptions.

“Don’t trust Muslims”,

“Don’t demonise Muslims”,

“To hell with all faith”,

“Close the borders”

“Repent of our foreign policy”

“Redistribute more wealth”
“Send in the diversity co-ordinators”

Never has a problem had so many seemingly obvious causes or instant solutions.

The more Brother Ivo has listened, the more convinced he has become that there are two important areas for Christians to address..

The first is the need for us to have a deeper, prolonged and more honest faith dialogue with our Muslim neighbours. It will not be easy.

It takes two to tango and the Taliban are not fans of Strictly Come Dancing.

The second is that it is both foolish and dangerous to regard Islam and Chritianity as comparable religions in relation to the wider Society.

If we accept that there is a distinction between those Muslims who follow the Abu Hamza’s of this world and the everyday folk we meet in the shops, schools, hospitals and streets of Britain, then we will all need to better understand what lies within that faith. We are unlikely to advance our understanding however if we think we can view it with the same mindset and cultural assumptions of secular Liberal Britain as most of our politicians and media do.

Those of us who can view these matters from a literate religious perspective have an advantage in getting to grips with the problems and so can -and should – make a special contribution. We will need intellectual courage and integrity to do so, It will not make us popular.

Consider for a moment, the High Wycombe Muslim interviewed on Radio 4 yesterday, who proclaimed that Muslims love their Prophet more than they love their wives or children. Such a statement would be almost incomprehensible to the average Briton, though those with longer memories, might have noted a similarity to Golda Meir’s famous observation that there will be no peace between her people and their neighbours until Arabs learn to love their children more than they hate the Jews.

Later in the day, as the French Special Forces showed their great skill and bravery, we saw young child hostages being carried out of the Parisian supermarket by the rescuers.

Christians can state with confidence that Christ was unequivocal about such matters.

He punctured the pomposity of those who claimed to love God, whom they have never seen, whilst not showing equal love for those about us who we can know  1 John 4:20. Jesus plainly taught that love of God and love of Man were to be seen as two sides of the same coin without being in competition one with the other.

Following an affirmative answer to His question, “Peter, do you love me” he answered ” Feed my lambs” – not ” Take them hostage”.

Rather than seeing children as hostage material or subordinate family member Jesus saw them as models of behaviour for all who would enter the Kingdom. Matthew 18.3

He warned those who harmed children that it would be better for them to have a millstone tied round their neck and to be cast into the sea. Luke 17:2

It is hard to consider these teachings as in anyway congruent with the actions and attitudes of the more florid adherents of Islam.

Christianity can handle such inhumanity in clear theological terms; perhaps Islam can too, but all too often we are too polite or fearful to ask.

Yet ask we must.

Those who assert that such fanatics cannot be defeated by force often foolishly and wrongly suggest that the solution to the problem lies in social or economic change. It does not. Such bigotry must be defeated theologically and that can only be done by understanding the faith claims, principles and – let’s be blunt, its weaknesses.

Brother Ivo has not yet heard kindly responsible Muslim Imams and scholars asked by our media to identify with clarity the texts, traditions and authorities which enable them to accept criticism of the faith by secularists like those of Charlie Hebdo without recourse to violence.

One assumes that their peaceful response is not simply founded on lack of weapons: if they have faith inhibitors of intemperate action, this needs to be made more widely known, not least to the hot headed young.

Christians, and particularly those with religious studies skills, are best placed to ask such questions and lead such dialogue from the perspective of the non-Muslim majority. By knowing how to ask the right questions, appreciate alternatives, explore complementary ways of interpreting text and how to challenge assertions, we can make an important and distinctive contribution.

Yet too often we find clergy either disinclined or incapable of standing their ground, or identifying those questions.

It is not, of course, Christians who ridicule Islam.

We suffer far more insult at the hands of our National Broadcaster than Islam which has secretly benefitted from policies such as the recently publicised kid glove approach embodied in the BBC guidelines on what can and cannot be said and portrayed.

Christians are well placed to explain how to demonstrate dignified patient responses.

Too often, however we collude with the notion that the man Mohammed perfected God’s revelation to humankind, rather than His Son. We also collude with the idea that Islam suffers more at the hands of militant secularists; they do not. The harsh cartoons against Christ and his Church has spawned no concern on the Left of incipient ” Christo-phobia”.

When all faith is portrayed as threatening, intolerant, divisive and excluding, Christians need to be equipped to speak of our unique “selling points”. We need to explain this both to Islam and to the wider secular community.

We need to recognise and speak our truths plainly

Our God is imminent, not remote.

Jesus washes our feet and commands us to offer service rather than demand submission.

God is not too proud to enbrace the humiliation of crucifixion if that is what it takes to lead us back to Him.

We do not have to earn God’s love because it has already been given.

Unlike Mohammed, Jesus responded to insult by turning the other cheek; He did not sanction the death of those who insulted him.

The societies created by Islamic values, and Christian values are accordingly very different.

Such differences matter.

If we do not assist by identifying explaining and publicising such differences, how can secular society and Islam understand each other better? Christianity has an important interpretive role.

Above all, a primary distinction between Christianity and Islam in modern Britain is that Churches are not incubating hundreds if not thousands of angry isolated young men admiring the Parisian attackers.

Amongst the messages to communicate to our Islamic neighbours are:-

Muslims seem to be happiest and most free within in the western societies than in the Middle Eastern Islamic homelands.

The biggest killers of Mulims in the world today are other Muslims

The most persecuted religion in the whorl is Christianity

 

We can call these inconvenient truths.

It may dent Islamic pride, but Christians and Jews are not clamouring to enter Islamic societies. Our harshes Muslim critics fight in the Courts to avoid being returned to more Islamic societies.

These truths need to be said.

Even so, Christians are best placed to engage with Imams and scholars to encourage them to diagnose and address the disease of terrorism within their mosques. We must not shirk the responsibility for doing this.

We need to explain to the public the religious and theological difficulties which such Imams face. Brother Ivo has identified some of these in earlier posts.

We need to understand, publicise and praise both the fact, and detail of how many peaceful Muslims are standing with us against such terrorism which has been imported from less tolerant societies. The press is not good at giving credit where it is due.

This honest reconciliation of sincere difference and its communication to the wider public is difficult work, not least because of the flabby assumption that Chistanity and Islam are really very similar and can be treated alike by modern secular society.

 

They are not

If you are in any doubt about that, compare the body count.

The irony of Charlie Hebdo’s agreement with the Koran

clip_image006

 

We have been talking about satirical cartoons in recent days, so, in order to demonstrate his commitment to the free speech which he supports, Brother Ivo reproduces the earliest example of an anti-Christian one. It is savage, dates from the 2nd century, and was found during excavations of Carthage in North Africa.

A man beholds the crucifixion of a donkey, and the inscription reads

” Alexamenos worshipping his God.”

We do not know who Alexamenos was. He probably did not kill the cartoonist.

We do know that to the average person of the 2nd century the conflation of the divine and the crucified was as outrageous as it was ludicrous. That form of execution was designed not only to be literally excruciating and prolonged, but so demeaning, as to be as far removed from godly presence as it was possible to conceive. It ws also a warning against following.

No legitimate prophet would embrace crucifixion and only a fool like Alexamenos would worship such a figure.

So outrageous was the melding of the crucified and the divine that it was a major point of difference between those we now call “Orthodox Christians” and heretics like the Arians, who  devised a very different theology of the crucifixion, arguing that since God was so holy that he could neither be humiliated or die, the reality of the crucifixion must be different.  The crucifixion could therefore only be a show, a cosmic deception – a practical joke even. The ” real Jesus ” escaped such humiliation rejection and pain at the hands of mankind.

It was this controversy that resulted in our Nicene Creed in which the winners (by only one vote) insisted on the unambiguous credal statement that Jesus  “was crucified, dead and buried”.

Imagine the late Ian Paisley thumping his fist on the table next time with each word as you next repeat that phrase and you will get a sense of the controversy.

People died during that hammering out of orthodox expression of what happened at Calvary, Christians killed each other over that point of interpretation, and the defeated Arians retreated to the Arabian peninsular where, one might speculate, its continuation in the currency of theological thought would have been encountered by Mahomed in his trading days.

Islam rejects the idea of Jesus dying for our sins on that outrageously offensive cross. Muslims deny the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In a rather vague reference to the events of Calvary, there is clarity of assertion that Jesus did not die, and some Islamic schools of thought continue suggestion of a substitution, some say that it was Simon of Cyrene who was substituted.

Here is the actual Koranic text

That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, theMessenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-

Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power,
—Qur’an, sura 4 (An-Nisa) ayat 157-158[1]

In short, the Muslim shares the view of Alexamenos’ tormentor that Godliness has no place on the cross.

This matters greatly in defining our understanding of God.

A God who embraces our humanity, enters His creation, shares an ordinary life within His creation, and dies the worst of deaths  is very different from a God who, by sleight of hand, excuses himself from the sufferings of his children.

We now meet a very considerable irony.

The only newspaper that carried any of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons was the Sun which printed three front covers on an inside page. One was an anti-Christian depiction of the crucifixion which bore the slogan “I’m a celebrity, get out of here”.

Charlie Hebdo shared the Islamic incredulity that God redeemed us by the suffering on cross.

So here we have the same idea spanning two thousand years; the mockery rejects the centrality of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice.

We hear the Parisian murderers described as radical, and outrageous.

Perhaps they are not.

It is we Christians, who are are asserting the greatest historic outrageous challenge to a world which insults and rejects our message of Christ’s embracing of the cross. That rejection unites Roman, Muslim, and modern day Atheists alike.

And what is the proper response of Jesus s followers?

Why, to suffer the insult and repay it with love.

That is the transforming example of Christ and what sets us apart, and sets us on “The Way”

Conversations with Islamic friends

Attachment-1

Brother Ivo has been blessed with a highly textured life.

He has broken bread with Ministers of State and Ministers of religion. He has enjoyed the company of soldiers and peace activists, judges and murderers (of which more another time), artists and hippies, punks and businessmen.

It is that experience and enjoyment of humanity in so many forms which inspires him to try to write from different perspectives in a quest to be “interesting”.

On the evening of a terrible day when Parisian cartoonists have been foully murdered by Islamic terrorists, Brother Ivo reflects upon two very different Muslims he has known and shares those recollections before outlining some questions which he thinks we need to ask our Muslim friends, before reflecting how we need to conduct ourselves in troubled times.

In the mid-1980’s Brother Ivo had a friend, an elderly gentleman who had sought asylum in the UK as a political dissident from the military regime in Pakistan. He was related to opponents of that regime and flown to the UK with little preparation. He told two stories about how he had been brought to faith.

Once, when destitute and fearful, alone in a small rented room, he had given up on life, having been pretty secular, and had simply prayed to God that he had certain material needs and that if God wanted him to believe, the satisfaction of those rudimentary requirements would be a good starting point. It seemed a pretty poor start to a spiritual relationship but it apparently worked.

The next day he discovered that a neighbour had left a box outside the door with a note explaining that here were some basic goods he thought he needed. Unpacking the box he was amazed to discover that e verything on his list was there. His prayer having been thereby answered, he resolved to deliver his side of the bargain and to explore faith.

Flying to the UK with no plans about meeting immigration requirements, he again prayed for entry whilst on the plane, and somewhat against his expectation he was  admitted as a  political refugee.

He was a good citizen. He worked, was scrupulously polite, kindly and law abiding and so when the Salmon Rushdie story was all over the newspapers in the 1980’s  Brother Ivo invited him to speak at his church,  where he talked of his faith in simple and sincere terms charming everyone, until he was asked about the Satanic Verses.

At that point he surprised everyone by saying calmly and deliberately that if Mr Rushdie were present with us then, he would feel duty bound to throw himself at him and attempt to throttle him with his bare hands. It seemed all very odd awkward and improbable, and very un-Anglican too, but we prayed together and that was that.

We remained friends.

He gave Brother Ivo a small book he had written on the subject of political Islam which seemed to be the dreams of an elderly idealist ; it spoke of the recreation of the Middle Eastern Caliphate which seemed a highly unlikely prospect at the time. He even invited Brother Ivo to receive his hospitality in the tribal homelands,  when the politics of Pakistan changed, but that was not then practical which in retrospect was a shame..

The gentleman went on to become the first speaker of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.

Brother Ivo’s next friend could not have been more different. A rather stylish artistic teacher who disappeared for a couple of years and re-emerged as a another “Salmon Rushdie” figure,  having won literary prizes for writing best-selling “magic realism ” books which were highly un-Islamic but internationally acclaimed. He had to publish under a pseudo name for fear of joining Mr Rushdie on the the Fatwa, not least because he had become a practicing Roman Catholic and was thus apostate.

Brother Ivo sponsored him to UK citizenship. The only other person Brother Ivo so sponsored was an East African Muslim with whom he worked in equal partnership. Readers may accordingly safely assume that Brother Ivo is no            “Islamophobe”.

Those of us who can point to a backstory of interfaith friendship and tolerance in these days of tension between Islam and western values have a particular duty to lead the discussion and ask honest questions on days like today.

Sadly this is often not done.

There is much tip toeing around sensitivities, especially within our Churches,  which too easily assume upon little scholarship that because we worship “One God” from an Abrahamic heritage, we share more values than perhaps we do.

Christians complain of religious illiteracy, and yet demonstrate much of our own, when well meaning clerics speak as if there is nothing much between Christians and the followers of the Islamic State that a few choruses of Kum By Ya cannot sort out.

In truth our faiths are very different and honest dialogue needs to dig deep with those willing to do so. How many are, is problematic.

Modern Christians, whether Liberal or “Bible based”, are happy interrogating the text of their Bible. The one group may see itself impelled by the Holy Spirit to find fresh expressions of the truth,  the other may be more strict in interpretation but is not greatly offended by seeking internally cross referenced validations. We have different translations of the Bible texts and it is possible to discuss how language has changed; nuances of translation are matters of interest not outrage

Such dialogue is less welcome throughout the Muslim community. One’s duty is not to explore but to submit. There is scholarship, but it is much more closely aligned to an assertion of an immutable, directly revealed text , and that immutability has been preserved at the cost of suppressing certain texts where difference was found. Whereas textual nuance might be the occasion for fascinated exploration by western theologians, there is no such liberty afforded the Islamic scholar.

Islam has a greater rigidity of thought than Christianity.

The God of Islam is not close to His People, authority permeates the faith. In addition to the direct words of God as taught to Mohammed  (albeit in fragmentary episodes) there are traditions about their prophet whose life is asserted to be the model for all good Muslims.

It is in this that so much of our inter faith dialogue will run into difficulty.

The modern view of Jesus for the Christian is suffused with Christ’s compassion to the errant and the inconsistent. (That is not a criticism).

Brother Ivo’s “Muslim convert to Catholicism” friend found that most attractive and an important contrast to his former faith; he  rejoiced that Jesus deflected the penalty of the Law in the case of the woman taken in adultery. He  recognised the awe inspiring generosity towards the thief on the cross. He would have identified that Jesus never killed or condemned anyone and neither did his Disciples or early followers. The closer one gets to the historic Jesus the greater the love and forgiveness. The power of Jesus example lies not in earthly success or conquest but rather in a lack of temporal power  in the example –  the incarnation. “This is what God is truly like”

In contrast Brother Ivo’s Islamist friend would have had no difficulty in asserting a number of illiberal principles based upon the deeds of his Prophet.

Mohammed personally condemned adulterers to death. He carried a sword         ( which Brother Ivo has seen) and used it in political earthly conquest. He massacred the  Jews of Qurayzah, and distributed their womenfolk to his followers. He expelled Jews and Christians from the Arabian peninsular and  taxed those in other conquered lands who would not convert. He ordered the murder of Abu ‘Afak and ‘Asma bint Marwan who mocked him in poetry.

One does not have to reflect long upon the contrasting lives of Jesus and Mohammed to see that reconciling an image of God between to the two traditions may not be as easy as many may  think,

Far from being totally un-Islamic, any objectively minded person can see that those who say they only seek to emulate their Prophet’s actions are not without justificatory material.

Brother Ivo has no doubt that whoever killed the journalists of Charlie Hebdo will be well able to cite episodes in the life of their Prophet to explain and justify their actions. His life is asserted to be the personification of that to which a Muslim should aspire. Brother Ivo’s old friend would have been kindness itself in almost every action in his life, yet he would have been impelled not to deny the Islamic integrity of the Parisian murderers.

The writer friend was very different. Eccentric in many ways, he had a much lighter approach to life, always blessing the compassionate and wholly at odds with  the zealot.

Writing tonight with anxiety as to how we can keep the peace with our many kindly Muslim friends who live lives of honesty and integrity without applauding violence, Brother Ivo offers hope in the words of his friend Salim who used to say –

“Whenever bad things happen in the world, people always say – look at that – that’s human nature, look how terrible it is is: but when you think of all the temptations , the opportunity to do evil, I always ask – why are so many people so good, and so kind and considerate – they don’t have to be”.

That is the text we need to hold onto tonight.

Islam has so many excuses for bad behaviour, and our Christian heritage is scarcely much better, yet somehow, most Muslims don’t behave like that, and Christians have largely given up on the persecution of others so all is not hopeless in the world. Thanks be to God.

How we deal with those who pose a direct risk to the innocent is a problem for another time.

For now let us grieve with the sorrowful, give thanks for the solidarity of people who want to live freely and peaceably together and resolve to open dialogues with our Muslim neighbours to discover how they manage to overcome their historic difficulties, how they pick their way through the theology to reach conclusions diametrically opposed to the violent Islamsist with their literal appeal to texts whist keeping within a theology that does not easily take to innovation in thought.

Whilst we are about it, we might ask similar questions of ourselves

 

#CountingOurBlessings

In the old soviet era, the bolder more stoical Russians sustained themselves like oppressed peoples all over the world with humour. One of the popular formats for jokes was to repeat to ones friends and neighbours reports from  a fictional radio station – Radio Yerevan (Radio Armenia)

One such joke ran that the station had reported the economic forecasts for the following year.

“It will be terrible,” ran one such report, “Natural disasters will strike, the crops will  fail, tractor production will plummet. The rouble will collapse, and there will be widespread hunger and demoralisation- but happily, there is good news”.

“What’s that the?” neighbour would ask.

“It will be a whole lot better than the year after”.

Well, things did change for the Russian people, and notwithstanding current difficulties, most Russians would not want to go back to their old regime. Things did eventually get better, if not yet perfect.

We would do well to remind ourselves of how optimism lifts people in times of change as we enter our own period of modest uncertainty with the approach of a General Election in May 2015.

No sooner have the Magi arrived in our churches with their gifts to lay before our mangers, than our party leaders are similarly out on the road bringing less tangible largesse in an attempt to close the Christmas season down, and bring the news spotlight back onto themselves. This will continue as we observe the circumcision of Christ and that troubling account for all,parents, when the young Jesus is left behind in the Temple by oversight of Mary and Joseph,,

Thereafter, Jesus and his family disappear from history until his cousin calls him to his mission many years later.

During that time Jesus lived an ordinary life, and so shall we, whatever the politicians and even the liturgy may say to us.

It occurred to Brother Ivo that before we get caught up in the partisan battle, it will do us no harm to encourage each other during the remainder of the Christmas Season by counting our blessings during these early days of 2015.

Brother Ivo was taught to be methodical about such analyses so here are a few headings for you to consider , and perhaps add thoughts of your own as we learn to start #CountingOurBlessings .

Our Constitution is under discussion, yet none of us fears greatly for our lives and freedoms under our present current constitutional arrangements.

We have a Monarch of unquestioned and unrivalled probiity. Her vast experience may be called for if the election yields a multi-party parliament with various permutations of Government needing to be negotiated. We know and trust the Queen to play her part with impartiality, and the Armed Firces and Police will stay out of the matter entirely. Happy is the country with such stability.

Our politics are robust, yet despite widespread cynicism, the remarkable question is not why our politicians  are so bad, but why- looking at others around the world- they are they so much better than in most other countries. Opponents will not be imprisoned, and notwithstanding occasional malfeasance., you would not now how to go about bribing one, the ballots will be honest and true. Do we value our politicians and their parties for that most comfortable of political expectations? Are we yet #CountingOurBlessings

The economy is a contentious issue, yet it will do us no harm to remind ourselves that the difference between the parties in the previous Party Leaders debates was over budgets differing by only one or two billion pounds. The contentious ground was remarkably narrow. Whatever happens, the supermarkets will be full, we shall overspend next Christmas, the holiday industry will be advertising on full throttle in the next months and even the unfortunate  will find the food banks fully provisioned.

Our “austerity” debate is largely about whether our government spending should return to the level of of few short years ago, when few of us were feeling despondent at Radio Yerevin levels. Our NHS will continue to do sterling work so that many will be healed and restored, whilst our hospice movement confers upon most of us the blessings of palliative care.

This is not to say that there are insignificant differences, yet we are the fifth largest economy in the world and even the worst scenario is infinitely better than the prospects for most of the world’s inhabitants.

A UK welfare claimant receiving the highest allowance under the benefit cap of £26,000 pa stands in the richest 1% of the world population’s income  income – and that is before one factors in the value of a lifelong pension, free healthcare and schooling for children.

Brother Ivo is no Dr Pangloss: he simply does not need to have pointed out that come what may, we shall continue to be vastly blessed in comparison with our brothers and sisters across the globe. None of us turns on a tap expecting to drink infected water, we have a temporate climate which yields few natural disasters, and our security at many levels is greatly to be envied from abroad.This is why so many people would love to come and live in these islands.

We have religious freedom despite there being concerns at encroachment, and despite anxiety at the arrival of newcomers, the North/South divide and the problems of our young getting on the housing ladder, we are a nation largely at social peace one with another.

These are great benefits to acknowledge in these early days of the year.

The Kings knelt in thanks for the gift of the Christ child, the saviour of the world. We too should do so, firstly and foremost,

Whilst we are there, however, it will do us no harm at all to close our ears to those who would have us fearful, anxious, suspicious or be-littling of each other.

This week Brother Ivo will be tweeting on the hashtag #CountingOurBlessings in a small protest against the negativity that the spin doctors will try to stampede us towards.

Please retweet and feel to join his modest campaign if you too, wish to start the year with a proper sense of proportion, giving thanks that notwithstanding proper concerns for what needs to be done to address our nation’s problems, we are indeed of clear mind and full of thankfulness that we are indeed a most fortunate people.