‘Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed cross the road?’

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!

The Interfaith Triangle

The Interfaith Triangle was one of the simplest and best ideas I heard  at the Global Chaplains’s Conference. It is an idea of Eboo Patel, the founder and director of the Interfaith Youth Core based in Chicago. Imperial students interested in interfaith have met with people from IFYC on a couple of occasions so I was keen to hear Eboo. Not a great photo but trust me the speaker is Eboo Patel!

The idea is that deepening relationships between people of different faiths requires knowledge of another religion, knowing people who practice that religion, and an openness and positive attitude to learning about a different religion. These are the three sides of the triangle. Any positive encounter or relationship across a religious difference will be moving through these three aspects. So getting to know someone of another faith is likely to lead to increased knowledge about it and a greater openness towards future learning and relationships. It does n’t matter where we start on the triangle. (But it does matter that we are going around it in a positive way! For example,using intentionally inaccurate knowledge of a religion can foster misunderstandings and poor relationships leading to unwarranted negative perceptions about that religion).

Here is Eboo Patel on the Interfaith Triangle in his own words

”The more I studied this area, the more I started to see attitudes, knowledge, and relationships as three sides of a triangle. If you know some (accurate and positive) things about a religion, and you know some people from that religion, you are far more likely to have positive attitudes toward that tradition and that community. The more favorable your attitude, the more open you will be to new relationships and additional appreciative knowledge. A couple of cycles around this triangle, and people from different faiths are starting to smile at each other on the streets instead of looking away or crossing to the other side.”

From ‘Sacred Ground’ and taken from an article in the Huffington Post by Josh Stanton


Jubilee, boats, rain and ‘the shared life’.

The Queen’s Jubilee was for me an experience of waving at people on boats in the rain and then staying at home to watch TV of other people in the rain.


Among all this I was struck by Rowan Williams’s sermon for thanksgiving for the Queen’s 60 years of service since her coronation.  He talked about the ‘…recognition that we live less than human lives if we think just of our own individual good.’

He is drawing attention to simple and rarely remarked upon idea that we find the meaning and value of our lives only in relation to other people.

 I like the idea that being human is about being turned out from ourselves towards others. It is a key part of having good encounters and conversations, especially with those who have different views of the world from our own. There is a link here to the growing importance among students of having good dialogue between people of different faiths (see also the posts about Alain de Botton).

Rowan Williams also suggests that the ‘shared life’ is transforming.

‘Moralists (archbishops included) can thunder away as much as they like; but they’ll make no difference unless and until people see that there is something transforming and exhilarating about the prospect of a whole community rejoicing together – being glad of each other’s happiness and safety. This alone is what will save us from the traps of ludicrous financial greed, of environmental recklessness, of collective fear of strangers and collective contempt for the unsuccessful and marginal – and many more things that we see far too much of, around us and within us.’

The whole sermon is at http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2514/archbishops-sermon-at-st-pauls-for-national-service-of-thanksgiving

More boats and rain…





Religion for Atheists Part 2 : a question for Alain de Botton

First, apologies for the huge delay in posting ‘part 2’. I am now on study leave so have time for pondering and writing instead of the doing and organising which seems to take up so much of my working life.

So back to the question for Alain de Botton. I asked started with an introduction. ‘I am a Christian, an Anglican priest and I work as a  university chaplain. Some of the most interesting conversations about religion and faith are with those students, both religious and atheist, who can step outside their own tribe and build good links with people  whose views are very different from their own. But this is not an easy thing to do and not many people can do it. So when you talk positively about the dialogue between religion and atheism what resources from your own tradition are you drawing upon which help you relate to those whose views are so very different to your own?’ Well that is how I remember it after all these months!

His reply was that he drew on 17th century ideas of people meeting as citizens. That after the European wars of religion that followed the Reformation people came to see that unity could not be based upon shared religious ideas. It was the differences in religion that had led to violence and division. So the idea of being able to meet as citizens and individuals provided a new way of connecting people.

He went on to say that he was inspired by the Christian idea of hospitality to the stranger – offered to meet the needs of the other person and not subject to being in ideological agreement with the stranger.

It was a neat reply – criticising the violence and division of post-Reformation Christianity and then highlighting a positive strand in the Christian tradition. But with just a little implicit hint, I sensed, that this idea of generous hospitality could be practised rather more often than is the case. On that we can both agree.

I think Diarmud McCulloch has a different view on the history however – that it was the response of Christians to the violence of the Civil War in England that led to great tolerance of religious diversity. More research needed on this.

Talking about difference:a simple way to do interfaith dialogue

Students have developed a very simple way of doing interfaith dialogue. Students from different faiths have joined the Baha’i Society’s weekly  meeting in the Chaplaincy Centre. The Baha’i group were meeting for their own practice of prayerfully reflecting on readings and key texts from different world religions. This is a key part of the Baha’i tradition that seeks religious reconciliation as one of its key aims. This turns out to be a great practical gift to those of us also wanting to radically improve understanding between different religious traditions.

So how does the dialogue work? Well, once everyone has gathered the selected key texts are handing around. We read them quietly to ourselves. Quiet music plays on someone’s iPhone. After the quiet personal reflectioncomes time for discussion. What I like is that becasue we come from different religious traditions we will have someone in the group who can talk about the text ‘from the inside’ of that tradition. So it is a discussion of the ideas present in the texts. Yet   we also  learn to hear the texts through the personal insight of those who live in that tradition. It means we get to hear how the text fits to other practices of that faith community. This also prevents the discussion from sliding into bland agreement. There are real differences expressed from Muslim, Christian, Baha’i, Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Yet these are handled with deep respect.

 With thanks to Steph and Jan from the Baha’i Soc for making it possible.