Thursday, 1 May 2014

A thicker Jesus

Easter week - what a great week to die! To go through Holy Week, Good Friday and then to celebrate the resurrection on Easter Day ... to have five days to really let the truth of resurrection sink in once again, and then to die - wow!  That is exactly what Glen Stassen did last week.

But who, I hear you ask, was Glen Stassen?

"Glen Stassen" we are reminded today by Jim Wallis, "was not only a professor of Christian ethics (both at Southern and later at Fuller Theological Seminary, USA), but he was also an activist for ethics who knew how to affect society. Like his father, Harold Stassen, a former governor and presidential candidate from Minnesota, Glen sought to bring Christian ethics to public life. When I worked with Glen on the strategy committee of the national Nuclear Weapons Freeze campaign, I saw not just an ethical theorist but a smart practitioner who knew how to mobilize movements and change public policy. Glen wanted to change the world, just as Jesus called his disciples to do."

It was only very late in his life that I discovered Glen. It was through his classic book Kingdom Ethics. His parting gift to us, his last book, however is even more relevant to the issues we are currently dealing with in Faith2Share through our 'Depth Discipleship' programme.  In A thicker Jesus: Incarnational discipleship in a seular age Glen explores what it means to follow Jesus into the kingdom of God and into the world. The victim of an agressive cancer, Glen has entered the next stage of Kingdom life ahead of us but he has left us a wonderful guide for Kingdom living in this world.

Dying is never easy, but I guess Glen will have been pleased to go in Easter week.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Equality for Mothering

With the first same-gender marriages taking place the day before Mothering Sunday I have been thinking a little about Mothering. In fact my train of thought was encouraged by our preacher this morning who, out of a desire to be inclusive, encouraged us all, male, female, married, single, young and old, to consider our calling to "mother" other people.

The key question for me concerns three paired concepts, namely: male-female; masculine-feminine; and mothering-fathering. There are, of course, other related pairs but these are the three that I have been playing around with in my mind today (whilst digging trenches in the garden - another story). If we think of these three pairs as characteristics belonging to persons then they pan out rather differently. The first pair divides humanity fairly clearly into two sets (with the tiny, but not to be forgotten, percentage of those who are born physically transgender). The second pair however is much more interesting with a high degree of overlap and gradation. Although some societies value only masculine qualities in a man (and the feminine in a woman), there are others that recognise that a balance of masculine and feminine characteristic in the same person can be a strength, the one moderating the other. So what then of 'mothering' and 'fathering'?

By default, and I believe to the detriment of society, many women today find themselves required to father, as well as mother, their children. The same is true of a smaller number of men. Single parents are obliged to mother and father their children as best they can, although is some more communal societies the local community is good at providing surrogate fathers and mothers when the natural ones are not present. As I thought about this I was reminded that Jesus spoke of himself as a mother - a mother hen gathering and protecting her chicks. So perhaps Mothering Sunday is a good day for me to think a little more about how I mother those God brings to me, how I offer God's protection, care, nurturing, suckling, to His children.

What does all this mean for same-gender marriage?  If you were expecting me to answer that one you were hoping for too much.  But perhaps we should be concerned about our ministry of mothering and fathering so many children (and I include adult children) in our society who have just not received the nurture and care God intended for them - as concerned about that as much as we are about the morality of same-gender marriage.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Down The Well - for 20 years

Great to see a community project in Glasgow that I was privileged to be part of in the early days celebrating its first 20 years.

I was just a small part of the support group when it was set up but the exciting side of all that was bringing a family from the north-west frontier of Pakistan to Glasgow to be part of the team. Well done 'The Well' team - you must have served 'the living water' to thousands of people over the years.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Bifocal nation watching

Having received an email earlier today from a colleague in the USA about Ukraine - an email I found quite alarming - I deliberately sat down tonight to watch the news on BBC and then flicked over to see the news on Russia Today. Both were talking about a nation they called Ukraine but they were two very different places it seems. One of those Ukraines has been overrun by terrorists who have ousted the elected president. Hope however is not lost because good citizens in the east and south are maintaining their links with neighbouring Russia and will eventually restore law and order. Some of the terrorists we saw in the pictures were very violent, attacking police and setting fire to public buildings.  In the other Ukraine there has been an invasion by thousands of Russian troops and an illegal referendum is being organised by rebels in the south. The Russian soldiers we saw in the pictures were 'digging in' ready for battle.

These two nations also have different histories. One, it appears has always been a European state with international borders which must remain sacrosanct. The other has a long history of being partly in the Austro-Hungarian empire, partly in the Soviet Union, and more recently a satellite state of Russia with international borders that have been very fluid over the centuries.

Even their religious make up is very different. One has a majority Russian Orthodox Church and a few Catholics in the east (who can be trouble makers). The other has multiple Orthodox Churches, a large Catholic population, Protestants, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and everything else - in fact exactly the eclectic mix you would expect to find in a contemporary European state.

The real problem is that these two nations have co-terminus territory.

God give us understanding - of complex identities, long and difficult histories, interwoven religious communities and a matrix of relationship between the people of these two Ukraines which in the end will be their salvation or their hell.

I am not Ukrainian. My concern tonight is about media reporting that sees exactly what it wants to see (soldiers without insignia must be Russians, an angry citizen holding aloft a lump of wood must be a terrorist) and outsiders who want a simplistic view.  One question asked in the email this morning that started all this was, "Who is to blame - Russia or Ukraine?"  To ask that question is to fail to understand.

God give us wisdom.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Did David Bosch miss something?

Next month will mark the 20th. anniversary of the untimely death of David Bosch so let me get in first before everyone else comments on his legacy - and some legacy it is!

I only met David once. Frankly he was not very impressive, that is until you got him talking. It is almost axiomatic today to say that if you have not read his seminal Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission you have not really begun studying mission. His 519 close packed pages are hard work but I have yet to meet anyone who regretted reading them. That accident on the N4 between Belfast and Middleburg, in his native South Africa, 20 years ago robbed us of a genius.

But, twenty years on, I have been rereading his final chapter and realising that he missed something. In fact it is the second thing he missed. As soon as Transforming Mission was published  he himself realised that he had missed one thing. He saw that he had not commented sufficiently on the missional challenge of post-modernity. He quickly put that right in his little monograph Believing in the Future: Towards a Missiology of Western Culture.  But he missed something else as well, something we can only really see with hindsight.

His final chapter in Transforming Mission, called Elements of an Emerging Ecumenical Missionary Paradigm, verges on the prophetic. His thirteen 'elements' cover so many aspects of what many of us today consider essential aspects of the mission of God. He includes evangelism, liberation, contextualisation, justice, inculturation, the mediation of salvation, the need for unity in mission, the role of every Christian in mission and much more.  So what did he miss?  Some would say he paid too little attention to mission as creation care, but much more significantly I would say he missed a seismic shift in mission, only just beginning as he wrote - the work of the Spirit in raising up myriad new mission movements around the world, especially in the Global South.  That final chapter describes well (and prophetically) the mission we know today emanating from the Global North but it stands uncomfortably as a pointer to what the Spirit is doing today in Africa, Latin America, China, and so many corners of Asia.

We now need someone to write a new chapter in honour of David. Something like, "Elements of an Emerging Global South Spirit-led Missionary Paradigm".

Thursday, 6 March 2014

My brother's keeper

"The plain fact is there are some Americans who, in the aggregate, are consistently doing worse in our society — groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique ways that require unique solutions; groups who’ve seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations. … 50 years after Dr. King talked about his dream for America’s children, the stubborn fact is that the life chances of the average black or brown child in this country lags behind by almost every measure, and is worse for boys and young men."  President Obama launching his 'My brother's keeper' initiative this week.

"The initial investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence was seriously flawed and deserving of severe criticism. The underlying causes of the failure were more troublesome and potentially more sinister. The impact of incompetence, racism and corruption on the investigation had been the subject of much evidence and debate. The Inquiry concluded that institutional racism affected the murder investigation, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and police services elsewhere, as well as other institutions and organisations." Mark Ellison QC reporting on the British police investigation into the murder of a young black man, Stephen Lawrence.

With all eyes on Ukraine it would have been easy to miss these other two significant events this week. As we enter Lent the failings of our own societies ought to concern us as much as those elsewhere.

Every black teenage boy (or girl) deprived of justice is a nail in the coffin of righteous society, a nail in the cross of Christ who died for that girl, that boy.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Too hot to publish - for 900 years!

Preparing my sermon for Ash Wednesday tonight (well, yes, it was a little late) I found myself wondering why the first twelve verses of John 8 (the gospel reading for Ash Wednesday in our church) are missing in some Bibles and (more often) printed as a sort of footnote in others.  I'm sure I learnt that at theological college but I had forgotten. Turning to my reference books took me to an interesting journey of textual archaeology.

Apparently (credit goes to Raymond Brown's wonderful two volume commentary) although the passage does not appear in any standard texts of John's gospel until after 900AD, it was known to theologians much earlier, in the second and third centuries. There is plenty of evidence to show that it is a genuine ancient story about Jesus which must have been known to those who put the Bible together. So why was such a great story left out? Because, Brown suggests, and I suspect, it was just too hot to handle.

Oh, I forgot to mention what the story is about.  It's that one where Jesus is confronted with a prostitute, invited to condemn her and instead just writes in the sand, and then comes out with that masterly suggestion, "The one of you who has not sinned should throw the first stone to kill her."  In modern context it's rather like Jesus saying about a serial pedophile, "You deserve to die but I am going to love you instead!"  No wonder it did not get published for 900 years.

Is God's forgiveness really that shocking?

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Turn the other fist?

Is religion good for world peace? Taking the latest research figures from the Pew Research Center at face value, the obvious answer is 'no'. If you want to achieve world peace then a very good first plan would be to abolish religion. Wow, that's difficult.

Pew Research, one of the most reputable socio-religious research outfits, last month published figures for December 2012 which showed clearly that highly religious countries are more likely to experience social conflict than those that are secularised. Consider Pakistan, Syria, Sri Lanka and Nigeria on one side and Austria, Canada, and Australia on the other.

Researchers go on to say, "The share of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012. A third (33%) of the 198 countries and territories included in the study had high religious hostilities in 2012, up from 29% in 2011 and 20% as of mid-2007. Religious hostilities increased in every major region of the world except the Americas. The sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa, which still is feeling the effects of the 2010-11 political uprisings known as the Arab Spring. There also was a significant increase in religious hostilities in the Asia-Pacific region, where China edged into the “high” category for the first time."

So is social hostility linked to religious observance or are there other complicating factors? Looking closely at the Pew lists I could not help noticing that 'high hostility' also equates to 'low economic development' and/or 'internal economic disparity' in many if not most cases. So perhaps there is a link between 'religion' and 'levels of economic development'? My gut feeling is that there are many factors intertwined here and it is not so helpful for Pew to link just two.

Nevertheless, it does leave us with a question to face. How do followers of Jesus establish his reign on earth without heightening inter-community hostility? Not a new question of course.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

88 dead - don't worry

I was struggling with the reading we had from the gospels in church this morning. Having just listened to the over-night news from Ukraine, with 88 deaths declared as a result of the recent uprising, I heard Jesus telling us to "not worry about tomorrow". With America backing the new provisional government in Kiev, Putin now free from celebrating the Sochi Olympic success, pro-Europeans in Independence Square, Kiev, and miners on the streets protecting the statue of Lenin in Kharkiv ... sure I'm worried.

The good old King James Bible says "Take therefore no thought for the morrow". I know we celebrated the King James Bible just last year but I'm glad we moved on. The New International Version translates Jesus' words here in Matthew 6:34 as "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself" (going on to add the telling, "Each day has enough trouble of its own"). There is an ocean of a difference between "take no thought for" and "do not worry" and I believe the more recent translations of scripture have done us a service here.

If Jesus was, as I believe he is, sitting around a brazier on Independence Square in Kiev tonight I don't think he would be advocating any degree of thoughtlessness about tomorrow - the future of Ukraine (and Europe with it) requires very careful thought tonight, by courageous and honest thinkers. But Jesus might tell us not to worry. Worry betrays a lack of faith in a God who does not intervene in history (at least not every day) but who always and everywhere has our best interests at heart.

With my friends in Ukraine I go to bed tonight with many thoughts and uncertainties about tomorrow - but, please God, let me not worry.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Little white girls ... and boys

I don't normally re-post other people's thoughts on this blog but I was struck today by the wisdom of this 'little white girl' called Pippa so I decided to draw on her thoughts. I do this mainly because, ever since the topic came up in the study group I led for Edinburgh 2010, I have become increasingly concerned by the growth of short term mission.

When I began my work with the Church Mission Society in 1988 'short term' mission meant two years possibly extended to three. Now the same term, as Pippa observes, seems to designate one week on mission, a week's safari to follow and an opportunity to raise £3,000 from your friends and relatives to get there. I still see the plus points but I also have very big questions ... but today let Pipa speak.  Please read.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Holy or unholy indignation?

That great Latin American missiologist, Rene Padilla, once wrote, "One does not become a revolutionary through science but through indignation." Simplistic? No, powerfully insightful. The great man went on to say of his native continent, "In Latin America I believe very few people become Marxist because it has intellectual appeal; rather they become Marxist because they see poverty and injustice, they are moved to indignation and they wanted to do something about it". *

I have been reflecting on this as I listened to the family of Abdul Waheed Majid (the British suicide bomber who blew himself up in Syria last week) talk about his desire to do humanitarian work. Did Abdul leave Britain as a radicalised Muslim terrorist or as a compassionate humanitarian volunteer? Is it not just possible that he left his family to go to Syria because he really wanted to care for traumatised families? But what happened next? Was what he saw there so overwhelming that his indignation and revolt demanded a more vigorous response than handing out bottles of water and sticking plasters? Did his indignation find a home in radicalised Islam? When he sat in the cab of that truck-bomb was he still looking for a way to deal with his indignation?  Probably, we will never know the answers to those questions.

But I have another question ... What about holy indignation? Is there enough indignation in the Christian community to radicalise us, to turn us into a powerful, revolutionary, force for the Kingdom? Or is that too dangerous?

* in "Marxism and Christianity" published in "Facing the New Challenges: The message of PACLA" Padilla,R. 1978  page359

Sunday, 16 February 2014

'Armageddon' in perspective

To listen to some people in the UK talk about the current flooding of the Somerset levels and the Thames valley you would be forgiven for thinking that Armageddon was about to strike. So let me share an email I received today ...

"More than 100 people were killed by torrential rains, flooding, and landslides in Burundi [last week], with homes swept away, roads decimated, and many left without power. The rains began on the evening of February 9th, and caused flooding in the northern areas surrounding the capital of Bujumbura.

"Over 1000 houses were destroyed by heavy stones and water, and more than 12,000 people are homeless. Survivors have been put in different places where plastic sheetings have been prepared to help them during this hard time.

"The government of Burundi will pay for hospital treatment for those injured and buried the victims of the flooding. Homes in the poorest sections of Bujumbura are often made of mud bricks, which offered no resistance to the massive deluge of water and mud. Bujumbura is on a relatively flat plain between the hills and Lake Tanganyika. These people are in great need of water, blankets, food, medication and housing."  Deogratias, CCDB, Burundi.

CCDB is a member of Faith2Share network and will be responding to needs in this community.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Where the devil is not white

A friend from Togo wrote to me today, "we sincerely need you to pray along with us that God will establish and lay a solid and firm foundation for the work in Togo". We first met last November when I was in northern Nigeria. This determined and brave single Nigerian lady has been a missionary for some years. When she first went to Togo she was horrified to discover that in the north of the country local folklore taught that albino children were possessed by evil spirits. Many were killed, often by their own families. My friend offered to care for these children instead of letting them die and began to teach the people that an albino child, like any child, is a gift from God. This care for albino children was the trigger that began to release whole communities from their captivity to fear and superstition.

Christian churches are growing rapidly in many parts of this west African country. Amazingly some local land owners are offering to give land so a church can be built - in fact they are pleading with the Nigerian missionaries to build a church. They see the real benefits that faith in Jesus is bringing to their local communities.

Join me, if you will, in prayer for Togo and its people - and thank God for his albino children.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Generosity measured

In which countries of the world do people give the most? An interesting question. But how do you go about measuring giving?  Well, I suppose you can measure how much money the average citizen gives to charity.

With that in mind I looked at the following map which I was sent today. But it raised some questions in my mind.

How do Sudan, Thailand and Azerbijan all score higher than France?   I was forced to read the report to find out. The clue comes in how you measure 'giving'.  Of course I, being a Westerner, simply equated giving with pounds or dollars but the authors of this report have a much better definition. The ratings given to each of the 135 countries studied was based to the responses people gave to three simple questions:

Have you done any of the following in the past month?
  • Donated money to a charity?
  • Volunteered your time to an organisation?
  • Helped a stranger, or someone you didn’t know who needed help?
Now that's a better definition of generosity.

To read the full report click here.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Holiness as Surprise

A colleague in Greece, an Orthodox theologian, just shared an interesting article with me tonight which I want to pass on to those who like surprises. The challenging thing about surprises, of course, is that they are not all good! But perhaps they are all God? If you are someone who likes life to be very predictable you will not enjoy this article - but, come on, who want predictability!

Athanasios Papathanasiou (right) teaches at the Hellenic Open University in Athens and contributed this article to the International Journal of Orthodox Theology on whose advisory board he serves. He talks about the surprise of the journey, of suffering, of creating the world anew and of liberation; and then ends with the surprise of the anti-superman.

"The Christian is he who is waiting, but this waiting is not inertia. The waiting Christian is a traveller, together with his God, who is not only coming, but also going"

Access the full article here.

Hermaphrodite bishops?

Or to put it another way, "Mummy, where do baby bishops come from?"  "If there are only daddy bishops and no mummy bishops where do new baby bishops come from?"

Well yesterday I had a "baby bishop" in my office, so that was a good opportunity to find out. Bishop Onesimus Park is the new Anglican bishop of Busan in South Korea and is currently in the UK to attend the annual training conference for newly appointed bishops - the "baby bishops' conference" as it is often called. Bishop Park was keen to find out about Faith2Share and how he can build networks of support with others committed to the mission of God's people as he is.

But back to episcopal gender.  Today the General Synod of the Church of England is rushing forward the legislation which may give us female bishops later this year. (Of course there have been female Anglican bishops in many parts of the world for decades but England is about to catch up.)  My question about the hermaphroditic nature of bishops is a serious one, but I speak corporately. In his great wisdom God created some creatures to be hermaphrodites but humanity he created male and female - and I guess he did it for a reason.

Gender differentiation implies gender complimentarity and complimentarity works best when there equality of esteem, status and role. An episcopate (corporate) which is uni-gendered deprives the church of the fertility and creativity that it requires to grow and thrive.

I was pleased to hear from our Korean baby bishop that at the 'baby bishop conference' they are being nurtured and fed by just as many women as men (even if the women lack episcopal recognition - for the time being).

A more difficult question.  Has our refusal to allow the birth of female bishops amounted to episcopal infanticide?

Thursday, 6 February 2014

What population explosion?

It is raining outside, again, I'm bored with Facebook, and TV hurts my brain so, as you do, I downloaded the UN 2013 Population report tonight - all 118 pages and that's just the 'highlights' version. I won't pretend I read it all but I was fascinated by the chapter on human global fertility. Take a look at this chart.

I was brought up on all that doomsday stuff about population explosion and all of us standing squashed together until we fell into the sea. But things have changed big time. It all began (according to the UN, and I guess they know) in 1965.  That was the year the fertility rate (number of children per woman) fell below the 'replacement level', which is approximately 2.3, in 'developed regions'.  In other words a couple needs to produce 2.3 children to replace those who die (allowing for those who are childless) to maintain a steady population.  So ever since populations in developed regions have been declining (if you ignore migration which does not effect total global population).

1965 was also the year when fertility rates in less developed regions started to fall rather than increase and the same happened a decade later in the least developed regions. 

What is driving this?  Basically (says the UN) improved economies in places such as China, India and Brazil. The better off people are economically the less children they have (or can afford!)  Poor people cannot afford not to have lots of children. Rich people cannot affort to have children.

Any implications for mission?  I'm just beginning to get my mind around this but I see huge implications.  For a start we are going to have to learn how to share the gospel with 40 year olds and 105 year olds, not just children, youth and students. And in terms of holistic mission, what does the gospel mean in a world where more and more older people have fewer and fewer young people to care for them?

Lot's more thinking to do!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014


Some days I talk too much but today I have been listening, and it wasn't always easy. In fact it has left me arguing with myself.

Most of the day was spent with Nigerian colleagues who are staying in my house and then joined me in the office for the day. Titus leads the Church of Nigeria Missionary Society, an indigenous Anglican Nigerian mission movement. Listening to him talk about their work in West Africa was inspirational - especially as he spoke about their new work in Togo, Chad and elsewhere. The picture here is of a new church planted quite recently in Togo. The challenge came later.

In the evening we fell to talking about politics in Nigeria and predictably the role of Islam in that country was soon a hot topic. Living in leafy Oxford with Muslim friends along the road and a Muslim security guard at work who comes to pray with me, it is really quite painful to listen to Nigerian Christians talking about Muslims. Their context is so different. Half of me wants to understand but the other half wants to stop listening and go one living with the illusion that we really can work out our differences as friends walking together along the Isis (the river at the end of my road).

Tonight my internet friend from Romania wrote to me again. His mission is to persuade me that I am wrong to regard many of my Orthodox friends as Christian. I wanted to hit the 'delete' key but somehow I know that was dishonest. I need to listen even though it hurts me to have my Orthodox friends described that way. My 'friend' has a view. It is not my view. It offends me at times. God give me grace to listen. That delete key is so tempting.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Sudan : Christians good bye

As we have watched the unfolding tragedy of Sudan (and, indeed, its neighbour, South Sudan) much of our attention has been on the horrific bombing of civilian populations in the Nuba mountains with whole villages being forced to live in rock caves like something out of the stoneage. But, as we protest at what happens in those beautiful mountains we must not neglect the quieter attempt to push Christians out of the cities.

On 18 June St. John's Episcopal (Anglican) Church in the Hay Yousif district of Khartoum was simply demolished by local government officials. In the process most of the building's contents were also destroyed. Sudanese authorities claim that the building was demolished because it had no official permit. Church authorities, however, have reminded them that they have been trying to register the church since its opening more than twenty years ago in 1989, but were prevented from doing so by unjust delays by government officials. As St. John's lies in ruins there are understandably fears that other churches will also be destroyed. Earlier in June the authorities threatened to occupy and close a Catholic church, an action only prevented when the congregation occupied the building.

It is not only churches that are being removed from the skyline. A number of Church-run schools have recently been forced to close and threatened with demolition. The local politicians say this is because many Christians have left the area to go to South Sudan (under pressure from the government?) and so there are less Christian children needing schools. The Churches deny this. Most recently the offices of the Sudan Council of Churches and Sudan Aid in Nyala have been forced to close.

I just wonder what would happen in Birmingham, or Chicago or Berlin, if the local council suddenly decided to bulldoze a few mosques and close the office of Islamic Aid?

If the people of Sudan genuinely want an Islamic state then that's fine ... but the Holy Qu'ran demands that they care for 'the people of the book' (Christians) who live in their midst. Bulldozing churches, closing schools, encouraging thousands to flee their homes and go as refugees to South Sudan, does not look to me like the care and consideration the Qu'ran demands.

The frightening question is ... Sudan today, Egypt tomorrow?

Sunday, 24 June 2012

How to be Christian in Egypt

Ashley Young just missed a good chance and England's midfield seem to be all over the place (yes, I'm pretending not to watch the football), so perhaps writing my blog might be a little more entertaining on a Sunday night!

The citizens of Egypt just democratically elected a Muslim, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in fact, as their new president. Admittedly it was only 51.7% of the those who voted - but that's democracy - it's a lot more people than voted for David Cameron in the UK and we're still stuck with him. So what should Egyptian Christians do?  Some are fearful that there is only one agenda for the Muslim Brotherhood - an Islamic state governed by Sharia law. Others are not so sure. Egypt has too much to loose, they say, by cutting itself off from friendly western democracies. Others, those who can, will simply leave the country as thousands have already done, looking for a new home in Australia, the US, Germany of Britain. But others will stay as Jesus' witnesses in the place that was His childhood refuge.

We have come a lomg way from the early days of the 'Arab Spring' revolution in Egypt and much of the optimism and idealism has evaporated and given way to hard realism. Christians - Copts, Catholics and Evangelicals - are used to suffering in this divided nation. Churches have been bombed, mostasteries bulldozed and leaders imprisoned. But tonight, a friend of mine, Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Church in Egypt, wrote, "We call for an Egypt for all, one that takes into consideration the value and rights of every citizen, and pray for the new president as he takes on this responsibility. We hope that throughout his service, it is the good of the people of Egypt that will always be core to the decisions he makes at this formative stage and throughout his period in office."  Yes, pray for this Muslim Brotherhood president.  Seems strange but I seem to recall that St. Pasul also suggested something rather similar.

As our Christian friends in Egypt pray for their new president, I shall be praying for them, and for their nation.

Still Italy 0 England 0 - well perhaps I didn't miss much writting the blog! Now I can watch 30 minutes of extra time.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Look out Darwin

What do Jeremy Clarkson and the octopus on the fishmonger's slab have in common? Think about it. It might take you a while so while you work that one out let me introduce you to Professor Simon Conway Morris, a Paleobiologist from Cambridge, who has won a whole series of scientific prizes and now thinks that Darwin might have, well, jumped to the wrong conclusions. It all has to do with "Convergence" - let me explain ...

Back to the octopus and Mr. Clarkson. Have you worked it out yet? Well it appears they both look at you through very similar eyes - eyes that have a lense suspended in fluid focusing light onto light sensitive cells. I must admit I had not looked into octopus eyes before (or even found myself looking into Jeremy Clarkson's eyes!) but it seems that their similarity is highly significant for poor old Mr. Darwin. Why?  Because accordinging to Darwin (and all other biologists) homo sapiens (which we take to include Jeremy) and the octopus come from completely differenmt species that seperated on the evolutionary tree millions of years ago, way before that type of eye developed. It seems they have booth completely independently developed the same eye. Professor Morris tells me, and who am I to argue, that these "convergences" - different species becoming more like each other, developing the same solution to a problem - are remarkably common. So ...

So, when Darwin saw similarities in fossils, and live species, this does not necessarily mean they have a common ancestor, they might just have been facing the same problem (like needing to see) and ended up finding the same solution. Oh dear, Darwin.

Morris is humble enough to admit that he has no idea why species "converge", and by what mechanisms, but he suggests that perhaps life is more of a mystery than Darwin led us to believe.

I'm just left wondering whether it was God who thought of the eye, and after he gave a few to the octopus family He realised that Jeremy might find a couple useful as well - especially when he's driving at speed. But more importantly I'm really encouraged to read a scientist who believes there is still a great deal of mystery about life.   

Friday, 8 June 2012


My church home group are currently working our way through the prophet Micah - quite challenging stuff! This week we found ourselves in chapter 5 which was quite appropriate really in that we had spent the weekend playing at being royalists. It's amazing how so many British people (and I was one of them) can either ignore or deride our royal family most of the year and then spend four whole days waving the Union flag, singing "God save the Queen", and having lunch out in the street in pouring rain with neighbours we never spoke to before - just because someone called Elizabeth Windsor has been "long to reign (or was it rain?) over us".

Well, Micah, was certainly not a royalist, but he does have some interesting things to say about reigning.

Quite independently two of us in the home group decided that we should use "The Message" version of the Bible this week for our study. I admit I rarely read "The Message" - some sort of intellectual snobbery about it not being a proper translation, just an interpretation, as if the hermaneutical process is somehow secondary to linguistic translation!  Anyway, having been led to "The Message" one phrase really stood out for me. In a passage which I know almost by heart, because we use it every Christmas, (Micah 5:2) Micah speaks prophetically of Israel's king - the Messiah, Jesus - as "the leader who will shepherd-rule Israel". Instantly pictures of Homs jumped into my mind and my ears rang to the tune of Bashar al-Assad, Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi, Slobodan Milošević, Idi Amin ...  What a contrast!  And then a quiet sense of gratitude for the young lady who fifty nine years ago was announted with oil in a Christian Cathedral and prayed for God's strength as she dedicated herself to serve her people.

But, I was reminded in our home group, the prophet's words are for me (not just Obama, Kibaki or Pratibha Patil). Shepher-ruling is for me, in my workplace, in my family, amongst my community. Verse 4 of that chapter in Micah goes on " He will stand tall in his shepherd-rule by God's strength, centered in the majesty of God-Revealed."  After the washing up, everyone had gone home, I had put away the Bibles and swept up the crumbs, I rewrote that verse as a prayer:

"May I stand tall as I shepherd-rule by God's strength, centred in the majesty of God-Revealed"

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

When a friend publishes a book you sort of feel you ought to read it - especially when it only costs £3.95 and spans only 26 pages! When I was sent the information about Nick Sagovsky's new book "The Revelance of Rawls" I was trying to remember whether rawls were some sort of wood working tool or one of those financial packages like 'futures', 'sub-primes', and 'derivatives'. It turns out Rawls, John Rawls, was a political philosopher whom Sagovsky considers to be the most significant of the twentieth century. His concerns were for justice and the creation of just political structures in society.

Sagovsky, who has been Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey and held professorial chairs at Roehampton and Liverpool Hope Universities, has sub-titled his book(let) "Justice as Fairness in Turbulent Times". In seven short chapters he reviews Rawls' approach to justice and then applies this to our contemporary context of bankers' bonuses, child poverty, Greece's collapsing economy, and environmental destruction. I was interested to see that in his search for justice and fairness Rawls came to reject the Christian faith, not because of its basic doctrines but because of "its persecution" of heretics and dissenters.

So why has Sagovsky resurrected Rawls (who died in 2002) now? Because he feels that he has something to say to us about "fairness" as justice in society today. For example Sagovsky suggests that Rawls would not necessarily have objected to banker's bonuses BUT he would have asked who benefits from these. If it is only the 'already rich' that is unjust, but if it can be reliably shown that these bonuses benefit the most vulnerable and deprived in society (by, for example, providing the sort of financial stability now sadly missing in Greece) then they could be judged just. Rawls had some very interesting criteria for judging what is just - ensuring that all members of society (present and future) have equal access to all basics needed for human thriving. The question Sagovsky raises is, "What do human beings need in order to thrive?" How would a Christian answer that question?

If you are interrsted in justice in society and our current political/economic structural crises then this is a stimulating read.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Rewards for Spiritual Excellence

I was just about to rush off to the station and get my ticket up to London and St. Paul's Cathedral when I had second thoughts this morning. If you haven't heard, St. Paul's is the latest venue for a big '"give away" - £1.1 million in fact, and it all happens today. Why did I cancel my trip?  Well firstly because I think it is very unlikely that the Dalai Lama would actually give his £1 million to me (or even my 'charity of choice') but much more seriously, I am not sure what I think about a cash recognition for spiritual excellence.

I have huge respect for the Dalai Lama, and might have been tempted to go to St. Paul's just to hear him. I am also very happy that he has been awarded this year's Templeton Prize. From what I know of him he appears to be a man of integrity with a sense of the importance of spiritual journeying. My concerns are not about him but about the Templeton Prize.

Apparently the prize is set at £1.1 million to ensure that it is greater than all the Nobel Prizes because of Sir John Templeton’s belief that benefits from discoveries that illuminate spiritual questions are bigger than those from other worthy human endeavours. The prize was first established in 1972. But hang on, do you really prove that spiritual advance, spritual excellence, is more important than advances in science, medicine, peace, or anything else, by throwing money at people. To my (simple) mind awarding £1.1 million to the "winner" seems to completely undermine many of the spiritual values that the Dalai Lama, and more significantly, Jesus, stands for. Am I wrong?  Would Jesus have turned up at St. Paul's this morning if the Templeton Foundation were trying to give him £1.1 million?

By the way if you are still interested to know who the Dalai Lama will give his £1.1 million to you need to watch the presentation live on at 1.30pm (BST) today.  I won't be watching but if they mention my name please do tell me!

Monday, 30 April 2012

Children speak truthfully

When there is a really big bomb blast in Pakistan it hits the headlines in Western newspapers and it might even get two minutes on the evening news, but day by day the children of Pakistan see their future, their prosperity, their country being torn apart by violence.
We conveniently forget, they do not.

Now, the children of Pakistan have been given an opportunity to say what they really think about terrorism - through art. These wonderful, and horrific, pictures come from an exhibition in Islamabad organised by Khawar Azhar.

You can see a video report from the BBC at