Category Archives: Jesus

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.

#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.

The Soft Power of Christ

nativity-icon

Whatever account one accepts about the birth of the infant Jesus, there is no doubt that he came into the world in the most humble of circumstances.

He lived in the  most humble of circumstances, first as a tradesman and then as an itinerant preacher.

He died in circumstances that were worse than humble and swiftly put away on the eve of a major religious festival, so that the embarrassing presence of a beaten and bloody corpse should not defile the festivities.

He never wielded any power that would have been recognised by any of his contemporaries. To them power took many forms, but all of them were coercive.

There was the Imperial power of Rome, the local power of the client King Herod, the religious power of the Sanhedrin, and not least the capricious power of the mob that could stone a woman for adultery whilst leaving the errant man unpunished.

The values of that society were replicated across the world. The power which ruled the world  was built upon violence.

Jesus changed that.

His power was founded on teaching, service and example.

He healed by forgiving sin. He embraced the leper. He lifted up the fallen woman,

He broke the heart of the centurion who crucified him, restoring him to wholeness so that he could be the first to recognise that here indeed was the son of God.

He broke the power of death by calling forth Lazarus, restoring Jairus’ daughter and overcoming the death by which which the powerful had sought to silence him

His teaching was never predicated upon violence, but pointed “The Way” accompanied by the simple injunction to “Go and do thou likewise.”

Soft power proved to be costly to those who exercised it, but it did not depend upon power from the top. On the contrary, the Church was really built by the 72, sent out on the road with the minimum of resources, but the maximum of faith;  that this was “The Way” things should be done. Christian communities have never been built to last without the soft power foundation of quiet Christ-like service.

There is only one difficult thing about the soft power of Christ.

There is no excuse for not exercising it. There is nobody who cannot reach out to another with an offer of a helping hand, a re-assuring word, or a prayer.

As we kneel in adoration this Christmas, let us pray that we shall be inspired by the soft power of Christ, to love as he loved us, and to do unto others as we would be done by.