This is the title of Brian MacLaren’s latest book. It’s the best theological writing I have seen for Christians about the practice of building good relations between people of different faiths.
MacLaren suggests ways to create a strong and deep Christian identity that does not need to be hostile to people who have different beliefs and views. He calls this ‘non-oppositional Christianity’.
He argues that much contemporary Christian identity is based, wrongly,on a strong and hostile opposition to certain ideas, groups and people – anything ‘other’ than ones own limited tribal version of Church.
Why has this become acceptable Christianity? Especially when Jesus constantly sees ‘other’ people from outside his own tribe/group as being part of the Kingdom of God.
MacLaren offers a way of being Christian that I wish more of us Christians could enact and that more people who are not Christians would get to see first hand.
Here he is with a trailer for his own book. But you have to read the book to find out what does happen when everyone crosses the road – no great surprise if you are already into dialogue!
It has been an unusual Holy Week. The option for 4th year medical students on ‘Death, Autopsy and Law’ has given me two great days of reflection during the week Christians remember the last week of Jesus’ life.
On Monday I acted as an extra small group facilitator for a session on ‘Personhood and Suffering’ led by Prof Tom Sensky. The session invited reflection on the overlooked question of ‘what or rather who is a person?’ There were various exercises in which students considered the important people and aspects of their own lives and identity. They were then asked to choose the two most important ones. It was an experience of imagining ‘loss’. Obviously, it was hard to choose – ‘boyfriend or parents? Which parent? Which sibling? What about my love of doing…?’ This was preparation for considering the aspects of the self that are ‘lost’ during illness.
As a Christian priest it seemed a good thing that would be doctors had to imagine themselves loosing key elements of thier own identity or personhood. They were putting themselves in the picture of loss and suffering.They did this before looking at the case studies of patients and thier responses to serious illness.
It was also interesting to think in this way during a week when as a Christian I am remember ing Jesus consciously choosing to go up to Jerusalem to offer himself into the violent social mix of religion, Empire, military occupation and oppressive taxation. Jesus gives away his life (personhood) and suffers. He does this to show us the ways we human beings use violence and conflict to avoid facing our own wounds and limitations.
The next day I had arranged for the same group to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum. Our guide took us on a tour of funeral and burial objects from different times, cultures and religions. This led to more discussion in which we considered our own approach to death and funerals.
So I spent two days with people who are looking at all aspects of death, end of life care and autopsy. It vividly reminded me that in the Christian story there is new life after Jesus’ suffering and death. And yet it also made me very aware that the risen Christ still has carries the wounds of his own death. This can not be explored through thinking – it needs a physical, bodily meditation practice.
I liked the quote from Rowan Williams in his New Year message on the eve of his retirement as Archbishop of Canterbury.
He said religion ‘isn’t a social problem or an old fashioned embarrassment: it’s a wellspring of energy, and a source of life-giving vision for how people should be regarded and treated. ’
But when I looked up the quote I realised that he was talking specifically about social projects run by Churches. He was not talking about religion or the Church generally. I was pleased by this. When I trained for ministry I was shaped by what is now called Community Ministry – the local church engaging with local residents about shared issues.
So Rowan Williams is making a positive claim about specific parts of the Churches work- that of service to others. Recent events – the failure to vote for women bishops and the limited (and surely impractical) step to allow celibate priests in civil partnerships to be bishops- have shown that the Church of England is not seen by many as ‘a life giving vision for how people should be regarded and treated’.
To be seen in this way it will need to accept unconditionally within its structures both women and those who are gay.
In the meantime I am glad when local Churches, especially together with partners with different religious and secular beliefs, can show how people should be valued and treated – the Food Co-ops now springing up for those looking for their next family meal, the visiting schemes for the ill or housebound, the car share journeys to distant hospitals, initiatives to give vision to young people, and all those quiet AA meetings that happen invisibly everywhere…
Inspite of the social/sexual/gender embarrasment of the Church there is a vision of human flourishing to be glimpsed – just.
Another a-typical day in Chaplaincy! We have just hosted Ingrid, Christoph and Nikolaus from the Catholic Diocese of Graz-Seckau in Austria. They were part of a group of 12 sent out to Germany, France and the UK to look at different forms of Church life.
We managed to give them a snapshot of a day in the life of Chaplaincy. We went on a tour the campus and called in at the Electrical and Electronic Engineering Workshop to see some undergraduate engineering projects (many thanks to Vic Boddy from EEE pictured above).
We also visited the prayer rooms. Our visitors attended the Catholic and Anglican mid-day services and had lunch with students and staff. The in the afternoon Ingrid and Nikolaus came on a tour and discussion on ‘burials and death’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum. We had set this up for students of the Royal College of Art. ‘Hello, welcome, let’s talk about death, burials and cremations!’ Rikke took Christophe to the Mandarin Chinese Christian group meeting in Chaplaincy and then to Silent RCA. We all met up at More House to hear about the work of the Chemin-neuf from Miguel and Audrey.
Pictures of the day are on Ingrid’s blog – a few entries down.
– if you are not a German speaker enjoy the peculiar results of Google Translator!