Category Archives: Reconciliation

When #LoveWins is not enough.

Many years ago, when political slogans first became fashion accessories, Brother Ivo used to occasionally wear a badge bearing the slogan ” Wearing badges is not enough”.

The badge was lost somewhere along the way, and probably would not be worn now in any event, yet its recollected message was a useful reminder as images have emerged in the media, following the dreadful murders in Orlando.

Nobody can can blame those who have been lighting candles, holding vigils, and joining hands in Great Compton Street singing ” Bridge over troubled water” ; we instinctively want to do something, to show solidarity with the bereaved, and to reassure ourselves that we shall overcome.

Yet wearing badges is not enough. Hashtags do not cut much ice in the councils of Daesche, and the sad individuals trawling the internet to feed their homophobia or misogyny will view all this as confirmation of our moral weakness and national cultural degeneracy.

Terrorism is not new. Russian anarchists took to it in the 19th century, so did Irish Republicans. The tactic of the suicide bomber was developed, not in the Middle East, but by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Yet the present virulent strain began when a couple of thousand fighters were marauding around Iraq with little more than heavy machine guns mounted on pick up trucks, as the leader of the free world dismissed them as the ” JV (Junior Varsity) Team”.

The ISIS phenomenon was allowed to grow, when a decisive response by a more experienced or resolute US President might have prevented them from capturing vast military resource and, crucially, over a billion dollars in cash which has been used to swiftly mount a social media operation to outreach to the second generation immigrants in first world countries, who seem especially susceptible to their encouragement to actions such as we have seen in Paris, Brussels and Orlando.

The old adage ” nothing succeeds like success” applies in this field and it is worth reminding ourselves that the ” glamour” of the Waffen SS attracted recruits from France Holland Norway and Sweden. Even a few British prisoners of war joined them. There is something horribly attractive to young men in such gross and violent organisations, yet the converse is also true. Failure is not a great spur to recruitment. Young people especially, disassociate from it.

It is with this in mind, that Brother Ivo sadly concludes that the destruction of all semblance of ” Islamic State” is essential,: until it is, it will continue to function as a focus for Muslim youth when it wants to demonstrate its rebellion.

This sounds shocking. Many want to choose different “enemies”, less frightening ones. So the Orlando killings are blamed on the National Rifle Association, Donald Trump, Christian cake makers and those who disturb student sensitivities with challenges to their complacencies.

Yet one does not have to spend long considering the attitudes of militant Islam to start joining the dots between the extremist pulpit and the smell of cordite.

Though many kindly tolerant people find it deeply uncomfortable to associate their decent Muslim friends and neighbours with what -in other contexts -would be called ” hate speech”, it is unquestionably true that anyone looking for theological texts to justify the destruction of gay people, will not find the Koran lacking in such material.

We in the Christian Churches are struggling with a a handful of texts in our Bible as we try to be inclusive. Ours are less trenchant than those confronting moderate Muslims. Those seeking to read the Koran in a more ” gay friendly” fashion have infinitely more problems. One does not hear of “shared conversations” in UK Mosques; if they occur, it would not be safe to publicise them. Once that might have been conceivable; not anymore.

A recent international survey of attitudes to LGBT lifestyles shows that the Islamic world is resolutely hostile, with the percentage spectrum ranging from the high 70’s to 99%. Even in the UK 52% of Muslims believe it should still be illegal. In at least 10 Islamic countries there is a death penalty for gay behaviour.

Unless addressed, it must surely be the case that a growth of Islamic identity and population within the UK must have a potential for a cultural collision with the gay-friendly zeitgeist within the UK.

In parts of a London and other cities, we are seeing the defacement of public advertisements depicting females with less than Islamic modesty. The New Mayor of London is banning certain images from Transport for London for reasons couched in feminist terms yet congruent with Islamist attitude.

The likelihood is that “Culture Wars” may get worse before it gets better.

So how are we to head this off?

The !eft of politics in particular has been keen to attract support from sectional interests; they have not wanted LGBT people or Muslims to feel excluded from mainstream society. That sounds reasonable enough. It is an admirable aspiration. Yet what will be required of all sections of society if that is to be achieved? What if they are not interested, but inflexibly prefer to assert their religious and cultural rectitude?

Defeating Islamic State whilst holding the confidence of the UK Muslim population and simultaneously advancing gay rights, looks an increasingly difficult trick to pull off.

Wearing badges is not enough.

 

Why I signed the Letter to the Archbishops

Today a letter has been publicly addressed to our Archbishops as they meet with other leaders of the Anglican Communion to address the divisions that painfully exist around our understanding of gender and sexuality.

The text of the letter is relatively short. Perhaps it needs to be in order to attract signatures from as wide a spectrum as possible: had a more detailed or nuanced letter been offered, the negotiations over amendments would have been prolonged and taken the process beyond the available deadline for publication.

Dr Martin Luther King Jnr spoke of the ” paralysis of analysis ” and sometimes the pressing needs of the times requires us to unite behind a less than perfect proposition.

Here is the letter in full

The Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

Your Graces

We the undersigned ask you, our Archbishops, to take an unequivocal message to your meeting of fellow Primates this week that the time has now come for:


Acknowledgement that we, the Church, have failed in our duty of care to LGBTI members of the Body of Christ around the world. We have not loved them as we should, and have treated them as a problem to be solved rather than as brothers and sisters in Christ to be embraced and celebrated. We have made them feel second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God, often abandoned and alone.

Repentance for accepting and promoting discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, and for the pain and rejection that this has caused. We, the Church, need to apologise for our part in perpetuating rather than challenging ill-informed beliefs about LGBTI people, such as the slanderous view that homosexuals have a predisposition to prey on the young.
We understand that the Primates come from a variety of contexts with differing ways of interpreting the Scriptures, but we urge you to be prophetic in your action and Christ-like in your love towards our LGBTI sisters and brothers who have been ignored and even vilified for too long.

Please be assured of our prayers for you at this time, and that the world will know by our words and actions that everyone who is baptised into the faith is of equal value in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yours sincerely

Brother Ivo was amongst the earliest oppponents of the redefinition of marriage; he is critical of many of the tactics adopted by some supporters of the wider LGBTI agenda. Yet when invited to join the initiative he felt it important to accept.

Being a great supporter of the institution of traditional marriage was never necessarily antagonistic to gay people; one can hold such a position whilst fully supportive of the need for our gay friends to enjoy legal rights and securities which Civil Partnership conferred – and more.

Brother Ivo shares the view of like-minded, much-loved, gay friends who say “we can never be married – we are not male and female”. Yet is perfectly possible to wish to uphold traditional marriage and to simultaneously to wish to embrace and celebrate gay relationships as they are, for what they are.

In parenthesis, Brother Ivo is not greatly enamoured of historic apologies: we have more than enough of our own deficiencies to repent, without donning second hand sackcloth and ashes.

Yet reading this text there is an important core of truth.

We as a Church are not always welcoming to those who are “different” in a variety of ways: we have prevaricated for too long on this subject probably out of cowardice: we are frequently insensitive to gay Christians as they seek to join in our worship of The Lord and offer service to the needy. We know that in some parts of the Communion, the Church remains complicit in some dreadful treatment of gay people legally and culturally and we ought to have been more active against it.

Brother Ivo knows from professional engagement that the confusion of homosexual orientation and paedophilia is mistaken,

These thoughts alone would probably have been sufficiently persuasive, but the sermon by the Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa at the Westminster Abbey service at the opening of General Synod was decisively influential . The sermon was entitled “Rebuild my House”.

Set within the context of our leaving behind historic and unnecessary division, Fr. Raniero urged –

“We should never allow a moral issue like that of sexuality divide us more than love for Jesus Christ unites us.”

Those words should be etched onto all our hearts.

In the spirit of this, bridge building is needed, and so it was that Brother Ivo reminded himself that if we are going to find a way forward, compromises will have to be made. If he presses compromises on others, it seemed incubent upon him to set an example and to accept “the good ” even if it is not “the nuanced best”, even if does not say all that he might wish in the way he would prefer.

Making that choice is not cost free. Asking Christians in other parts of the world to remain within a more gay friendly communion,  asks them to accept greater tension with Islam in areas where that is a hard ask- easier for us than them.

Yet it is the treatment of our gay brothers and sisters in Africa that also made a difference for this Christian. Even the firmest upholders of strict biblical interpretation within our own country are surely troubled by the oppressive legislation throughout much of the African continent

We must, however trust our leaders and allow them some “wiggle room” – not being too prescriptive in our expectations as to how they present and when they they raise these issues. Sometimes in negotiation, the timing is as important as the substance. What is agreed on the fourth day would often have been impossible at the outset

If the talks break down, as well they might, Archbishop Justin has already said that the door will remain open. That is good.

One might therefore ask, “Then why sign the letter” at all?

At the last General Synod, Brother Ivo attended the launch of the Church Army course on sharing the Gospel “Faith Pictures”, at which Archbishop Justin confided his own early embarrassment when asked to join in public evangelisation. Even today, he told us that his personal mantra immediately before engaging inevery interview is ” Don’t forget to mention Jesus”.

On that basis, one trusts he and Archbishop John will not take it amiss if they are invited to adopt a similar mantra as they enter these present discussions –

” Don’t forget the pain of our LBGTI brothers and sisters”.

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

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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

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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

 

Walking towards the enemy

Brother Ivo cannot be the only one to have listened to a sermon over Christmas which drew its principle starting image from the 1914 Christmas Truce.

The preacher invited us to consider the courage it took for the first soldier in each sector to put courage, trust and hope to the ultimate test, by climbing over the firestep and moving, with lifted arms towards the enemy lines.

This was not the first Christmas truce.

During the American Civil War the two sides also laid aside animosity for the day; the Union soldiers were cheered to receive a turkey dinner, which had been ordered by  President Abraham Lincoln to offer some cheer in their cold and otherwise bleak circumstances. There was no such comfort on the other side: the Confederacy was a poorer economy, struggling to provision its soldiery to the most basic degree.

How tempting it must have been for the men of the South to disrupt their enemies bonhomie by a surprise attack, yet they did not do so. The message of hope and peace of Christmastide drew them to accepting their lot in simpler circumstances, despite hunger pangs and jealousy.

These historic events led Brother Ivo to contemplate our own divided lines within the Church.

At a macro level we are Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist etc. Within churches themselves, the evangelical, liberal and charismatic look on each other will entrenched distrust. They have recently struggled over the role of women in the Church, and prepare to reprise the performance by opening a second front over the position of gay marriage. It is very predictable, human and sad.

At Chistmas, Brother Ivo wrote of the “Soft Power of Christ”, reflecting that we are called upon to exercise it and especially noting that each of us has  no excuse for not exercising it.

Accordingly, having no duties in his own Church this morning, he will be getting out of his comfort zone to worship with a congregation he does not know in a tradition he does not share. He will be fraternising.

Perhaps this year we all need to do this occasionally, and those who exercise formal ministry might have a special responsibility to shoo their congregations out of their usual pews and Churches, urging them to trust in Christ and to try “walking towards the enemy” to enact our own journey of reconciliation at Christmastide.