Healing our broken humanity


Has anyone had a child ask them recently ‘how many weeks until Christmas?’

When our 4 were younger it usually came up about 2 weeks after they started back at school following the long summer break; like a beacon of hope, the promise of Christmas beckoned them onward, resolute through the Autumn term.

For most of us the central message of Christ’s birth, the incarnation, is not at the forefront of our minds as we busy ourselves in preparation… It is hard to balance the material reality of a traditional, Western Christmas with the extraordinary, life-altering message of God’s self-giving love which was expressed uniquely in the person of a small and vulnerable baby, born on the margins of a powerful empire.

Yet, the mode in which God chose to reveal himself is a starting point, an identity marker, for our discipleship as followers of Jesus.

The incarnation gives us key clues to the question ‘how then should we live as people of faith?’ which are explored in imaginative and practical depth in the Global Church Project 

We highly recommend that you take time to explore the resources for yourself, your church, discipleship group, youth group or seminary class.

As we reflect on the Great Promises of the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 61 let us also remember that as people of faith we are called to manifest God’s love in each and every context we find ourselves. This may require us to cross uncomfortable boundaries in order to maintain faithful testimony to the call to be ‘New Humanity’ which the Apostle Paul spoke about in Ephesians.

In Healing broken humanity various people explore what this might mean in different contexts around the world.

[Click on the link and the 10 minute video is at the bottom of the page.]

Global Compassion… Inside Out?

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts… Colossians 3:12 (ESV)


Dr. Paul Ekman, Professor Emeritus in Psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, is best known for furthering our understanding of nonverbal behavior. He was also the specialist advisor behind Pixar’s widely popular movie Inside Out,  which cleverly explores how the 5 emotions of joy, sadness, disgust, anger and caution shape and influence memories and behaviour. The following video gives an interesting insight and review:

There is an enormous amount of research and focus on how we can become more effective compassionate, humane and joyful. How can we understand and engage ourselves and others in a way which enables us to be the best possible version of ourselves? From neuroscientists to social engineers, social justice activists to wellness coaches, religious teachers to spiritual advisers, there is an intentional pursuit of becoming the best we can be in order to make the world a better place. Below is an inspiring talk given by Lyn White, the Australian animal rights advocate whose primary impulse from an early age was to ‘become the best version’ of herself. Sadly, she found inspiration neither in the Church nor in her school to spur her on. She says this:

On reflecting on humankind’s extraordinary, in fact, incredible achievements don’t you think it is astonishing that we haven’t achieved something as simple as living in peace?… It seems that little is invested into finding a cause and a cure for the greater societal dis-ease which underpins violence whether in the family, in the home, on the street or between countries…

The Dalai Lama (whose recent book, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World I reviewed here), has recently collaborated with Dr. Paul Ekman on the Developing Global Compassion project and together they have produced webisodes of their discussions here, reviewing topics such as unbiased compassion, why some people have global (distal and inclusive) compassion, whether compassion is genetically inherited or learnt, intelligence and compassion and so on. These and other projects are attempting to help move us forward as a human race, to engage us in a more hopeful, collaborative vision of the future; to become the best possible version of ourselves. There is certainly no lack of intentionality, but how far does this go in truly healing us, in creating peace and ensuring justice?

The biblical journey of becoming whole begins, as do many modern ones, with an act of recognition; in scriptural language this is framed as repentance. Recognition is an awareness that a breach (a gap) has taken place (opened up) which has alienated us from ‘the best version of ourself’. The biblical narrative indicates that this breach is one which alienates us from God, from ourselves, from others and from the rest of Creation. Many of us do not recognise (that act of recognition I referred to earlier) the extent of this breach and we thus limit the extent to which we become the ‘best version of ourselves’ in our context.  Biblical language can sometimes sound archaic and irrelevant in our modern world, but I like the concept of The Fall for 2 reasons; firstly, because it suggests that we are all in this together-it has corporate significance and secondly, because it suggests that we can get up again! But first, the act of recognition. The Bible refers to this act of recognition in a number of ways: as being like a sleeper waking up,  or as seeing clearly-as if scales have fallen from our eyes; becoming acutely aware and having a new perspective which changes the way we see ourselves, others around us, the natural world and God. This new perception impacts our behaviour, the way we treat ourselves and others, the way we treat animals and the whole of creation in fact. This is a process of becoming the ‘best version of ourselves’ that we can be.

But, the biblical narrative also indicates that we need assistance in this process of recognition and change. The apostle John in his gospel account connects Jesus’ words with this desire to be the ‘best version of ourselves’ in chapter 15:5: ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing’. The apostle Paul a very religious man and punctilious in terms of doing the right thing, also acknowledged that he had ‘nothing apart from Christ’ (Philippians 3:5-8).

This ‘remaining in Christ’ is also part of the act of recognition; it is the turning towards, in faith, the example of the best version of ourselves. Paul speaks of this  as a transformative process in 2 Corinthians 3:18:

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

There is a great mystery in this recognition…indeed it is surely a matter of faith. Do we have the faith that enough of us will recognise the glory that we can become? Jesus himself asked

And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?   tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”





Book Review:Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World by the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama explores paths beyond religion to increase compassion in society.


[This review of Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World by the Dalai Lama was originally published in Bulletin No 38, March 2012 BIAMS Journal]

The core theme of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s latest book, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World is that humanity, as a whole, must become more internally ethically-motivated by undergoing a more rigorous ‘education of the heart’. His words ‘The longer I live, and the more I reflect on humanity’s problems and achievements, the more convinced I become that we have to find a way of thinking beyond religion altogether…’ suggest that this ‘education of the heart’ requires a universalist mindset where religion must open its own heart and cooperate in the task of global ethical conscientisation beyond the strictures of its own particular dogma (if necessary) if humanity is to flourish and indeed, survive.

Philosophically-grounded in the Dalai Lama’s own spiritual tradition of Mahayana Buddhism this book is nonetheless very accessible and readable. He describes our ‘inner spiritual core’ which predisposes us to compassion, kindness and altruism as being like water – essential to life. This, he believes, is distinct from ‘religion-based spirituality’ which is culturally-learned and, like tea, is not essential to life but does greatly enhance it, in the same way that tea enhances the enjoyment of water. Thus, the book takes as its starting point the concept of ‘natural spirituality’ as a logical basis for a shared secular ethical framework.

The book is divided into two parts; the first part presents the Dalai Lama’s vision and rationale for a global secular ethic. Set against the briefly-sketched backdrop of global war, poverty, environmental degradation and the challenges of unlimited capitalist growth in an increasingly interconnected world, he underscores the essential unity of both humanity’s common needs and experience of life (rooted in a briefly explored theory of the mind). His contention is that this biological unity should transcend any distinctions of culture, religion or politics in the quest for developing a globally-espoused set of secular ethics rooted, not in the European tradition of anti-theism and religious antagonism but rather in the Indian tradition of religious tolerance.

The second part of the book turns to address in more detail the practical task of ‘educating the heart through the training of the mind’ as a means to cultivating and maintaining a more ethical mind-set based on ‘principles of inner self-regulation [which] promote those aspects of our nature [which are] conducive to our own well-being and that of others.’ (p.18). The rationale and practice of cultivating mindfulness and other core values such as patience, contentment and generosity whilst at the same time dealing with destructive emotions such as anger, competitiveness and selfishness are simply described accompanied by anecdotal illustrations. The book closes with a chapter describing the art and discipline of meditation as a vital transformative tool which the reader is enjoined to practise little and often in order to ‘become[a] more compassionate human being.’ (p.183)

Beyond Religion speaks urgently and practically of the need to develop a more rigorous global ethical consciousness. The Dalai Lama invokes our ultimate unity as reasoning, biological beings as sufficient reason to mobilise for the common good and affirms the ‘water’ of our natural spirituality as the medium through which we may cultivate ethical flourishing. His writing is sincere and littered with scientific rationales, replete with homilies and proverbial wisdom and is unashamedly practical in his orientation. Yet, the book retains as its core, the serious academic thesis that humanity needs to move towards a future of ‘being’ which is both tolerant of the particular flavours of religion and culture and which affirms, uncompromisingly, the cultivation of mind-sets which are most likely to promote life and happiness for all. Of particular note is the Dalai Lama’s insistence that compassion must be the foundational element of ethical action to promote justice. In much the same vein of thought (though in considerably less depth and detail) as the Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff[1] (who maintains that love and justice in their truest forms are inseparable), the Dalai Lama insists that ‘the exercise of justice, far from being at odds with the principle of compassion, should be informed by a compassionate approach” (p.64).

Readers may be disappointed if they are looking for a deeper analysis of the unethical ‘corporate’ mind-sets which predispose to structural injustice or the imbalances of power inherent in institutionalised religion, politics and government which corrupt and pervert the course of justice; the Dalai Lama’s treatment of such issues is entirely secondary to his focus on the cultivation of individual ethics. As such, it is a book which is rooted in the conviction that justice flourishes slowly, but surely, in the disciplined path of education – of both mind and heart of each individual.

[1] Wolterstorff, N., (2011) Justice in Love, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans

Book Review: Global Church: reshaping our conversations, renewing our mission, revitalising our churches


In Global Church: reshaping our conversations, renewing our mission, revitalising our churches, Graham Hill nails his thesis firmly on the doors of the Western Church and Academy:

Those of us in the West need a new narrative. It’s time to abandon our flawed Eurocentric and Americentric worldviews. We need a new, global and missional narrative. We must turn to the churches of Majority World and indigenous cultures. They can help us explore what it means to be a global missional community. (Hill,16).

Scot McKnight observes in his introduction to Global Church that ‘there is no one more alert to the global and theological shape of missions today than Graham Hill’ (McKnight, Forward p 11). This book demonstrates that alertness resourced by twenty-seven years of personal enquiry, immersion and practise. Global Church threads the stories of personal encounter and observation with rigorous scholarship and presents the reader with a set of proposals to chew over which demand our engaged and considered response. I doubt that this book will be without its critics and this is a good feature of it- that it invites an ongoing conversation; the outcomes of that ongoing conversation depend on all of us.

In Global Church Graham Hill engages us with the reasons he believes that the Western Church needs to integrate a new narrative or worldview which explores what it might look like to be a ‘global missional community’. He set out clearly in what ways Majority World Christians are redefining Twenty First century Christianity and how he thinks the Western Church needs to take this into serious consideration. Numerically, 61% of the world’s Christians now live in the global south or Majority World and he cites Phillip Jenkin’s prediction that by 2025 two-thirds of Christians will live in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Graham Hill is emphatic that it is time to stop marginalizing and ignoring the voices of the Majority World Churches.

Global Church follows Graham Hill’s Salt, Light and a city: Introducing missional ecclesiology and develops his proposals of how to integrate and learn from non-Western missional reflections and practices using Mark’s three powerful images of the Church as salt, light and a city. It is a book of considerable scope which introduces, in Part 1, Reshaping our conversations, the need to move beyond the Western academy legacy to embrace ‘glocal conversations…dialogue, learning and partnership… [with] Majority World, indigenous and Western thinkers…activists, communities and ordinary believers.’ (p25) It moves on in Part 2, Renewing our Mission to develop interesting and important topics such hospitality, care for creation and ethical living alongside a review of liberation theologies, pneumatologies and contextual theologies of the Majority World. In Part 3, Revitalising our Churches, the book concludes with an expansive review of the resources which the Majority Church has to offer to scripture engagement, education, models for servant leadership, community building, spirituality and discipleship. The final chapter closes the book with a reassertion of its central emphasis:

Global missional theology challenges that historical and inherited way of doing theology. It challenges its dominance and myopia and cultural superiority. It challenges the assumption that our inherited Western so-called canons of theology are universal and true for all times and all places. That assumption is false. The voices of the global church-its communities and leaders and theologians-challenge these western theological canons and assumptions. They highlight their shortcomings. They emphasise the need for global theological conversations. (Hill, 422)

This book offers very good engagement and material for students, practitioners and educationalists alike. The breadth of its focus is supplemented by clear chapter end summaries, a study guide and an invitation to access the GlobalChurch project video series. It serves both as a mandate for reform and a helpful survey of Majority Church contributions to the glocal conversation.  The content is thorough in its breadth but not exhaustive in its analysis which keeps the considerable volume of material moving forwards at a reasonable pace but which inevitably means that some important conversations which emerge from Graham Hill’s proposals are not explored in more depth-maybe material for the next book! The style is passionate and assertive which for some readers may be somewhat exhausting whilst for others it will be an exhilarating and motivating read.

As someone who is also passionate about truly glocal conversations in mission I warmly recommend this excellent book.


The sound of silence…


Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.

Sometimes the Really Important things are not said.

Sometimes the Really Important things are never spoken about.

Simon and Garfunkle’s Sound of Silence (1964) resonates for so many because we know and experience this each and every day of our lives.

There is an extraordinary need for connection which holds together not only humanity but Creation as a whole; we experience and manage this in so many ways, not least through the ways in which we communicate love with each other.

When asked what was behind the lyrics of the Sound of Silence Garfunkel once summed up the song’s meaning as:

…the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly internationally but especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other.” (1)

Was he driving at the need for authenticity; for communicating what we think and how we feel with clarity and awareness of how others think and feel? Or was he probing deeper at the loveless silence of a lack of care which turns a blind eye to injustices and suffering of those around us?

Certainly, it is widely recognised that emotional intelligence can increase the effectiveness of how we connect with others and achieve more for the Common Good, whether it is used in the context of respectful inter-religious dialogue, international conflict resolution and mediation or in the context of engaging meaningfully with our MP who votes to cut disability benefits or our neighbour who lets their rubbish overflow onto the street!

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.

“Fools,” said I, “You do not know.
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you.
Take my arms that I might reach you.”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

But there is also a dark side to emotional intelligence which Simon and Garfunkle may not have explicitly sought to convey, but which is also prevalent today; the power to manipulate others. We are living in a time of large-scale manipulation for financial gain and every other imaginable type of power.

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence.”

We need healing.

Our World needs healing.

We need to move beyond the (short-lived) comforts behind the barriers of fear and inauthenticity which the prophets keep reminding us of-if only we would listen to what they say. We need to begin hearing and listening, talking and speaking, writing songs that we share; we need to love and show that love by acts of care. In short, we need to grasp the Gift of Life-that which Jesus described would truly connect us to each other and heal our Alienation and Fear; the ancients first described this gift as shalom – wholeness, well-being, oneness, salvation and peace…

You can listen to two versions of the Sound of Silence below… I like the edge and desperation conveyed in the Disturbed cover…see what you think…and of course-what you feel! 😉





(1) Eliot, Marc (2010). Paul Simon: A Life,  John Wiley and Sons, p.40

[NB Please click on hyperlinked words for more information].

What are the things that matter..?



Intuitively and instinctively we can sense that Martin Luther King Jr. is right.

But it might actually turn out to be the prior challenge with which we are really wrestling; what are the things that matter? Do we know? Have we forgotten? How can we re-member them?

These questions lie at the heart of our quest for community and justice…

If we die a little each time we fail to speak out about the things that matter…perhaps we could also say that we come alive a little each time we uncover a little more understanding of the things which truly matter…?


Resilience or flourishing?

81g3l16743There has been a lot of focus over recent years on the importance of building resilience as if that were the only sustainable answer to the catastrophic impacts of structural inadequacy.

Resilience has to do with the habits and practises we all need to develop which help us to  cope in times of stress and adversity; it has to do with survival in a time of crisis. This is well and good when we define crisis as a temporary episode of ‘intense difficulty or danger’ (Oxford English dictionary). However, when crisis becomes the fruit of an ideological position which severely and negatively affects, on a continuous basis, the lives of some and not others and we expect those affected to become resilient then it seems to me we have a problem; we are no longer talking about an unavoidable crisis to which a valid response would be to build resilience, but we are speaking of a state of affairs or a status quo which produces unequal and unfair outcomes for citizens of the same state/federation/planet. To promote resilience under these circumstances can in effect affirm the very structures which produced the crisis for some and not for others.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said ‘That which does not kill us, makes us stronger’ and this saying settles easily, neatly and largely unchallenged in the stoical sub-consciousness of the post-industrialised mind, along with an array of modern idioms like ‘no pain no gain’ ‘you win some you lose some’ ‘take it on the chin’ ‘take the rough with the smooth’ and so on. These phrases have shaped the way we think about adversity and how we may respond to it, but they offer us no guidance as to what constitutes legitimate adversity to be endured and overcome and what constitutes (avoidable/illegitimate?) adversity, the causes of which need to be understood clearly and resisted or reformed. If Nietzche were to smoothly tut out his famous dictum to my son or daughter in the face of the latter’s protestations against the tedium and existential crisis produced by doing homework or learning to tie their shoelaces it would have wildly different resonance than if he were to belt out the same dictum to a line of child slaves weaving carpets. Yes, both the child slave and my own child would need to develop resilience but the reasons for the need for resilience are different; it is this which needs to be scrutinised.

When words and phrases become mobile and slip into use across an increasingly wide range of contexts they can become problematic, it seems to me. When they then fall into the hands of policy makers and politicians they can become dangerous. A word like resilience can, at best and in a legitimate context, be helpful and appropriate, but in another, it can take on rather ideologically-weighted meanings (I’m hoping that some of my socio-linguist friends will offer some further explanations!).

Recent research published by Kristina Diprose and summarised in her report ‘Resilience is futile: The cultivation of resilience is not an answer to austerity and poverty’ addresses the impacts of using the word resilience with an emerging generation of young people. She notes that

The mainstreaming of resilience in policy and politics coincided with the onset of – and long process of recovery from – the worst recession to hit the UK since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It also coincided with a sustained austerity drive from government; the first domestic manifestations of the catastrophic consequences of climate change, and a seemingly irreparable standard of living crisis. A generation came of age and abruptly learned to lower its expectations. Resilient communities, resilient sectors and resilient people are required to suffer these troubled times. In this context, resilience resonates more as a statement of survival than of aspiration – and one that entreats people to consider man-made crises as mysterious tests of character.

Whilst she concords with others that resilience, resistance and reworking are all useful contributors to social and political transformation, she goes on to warn that in the light of her own research resilience can prove to be less than effective in the longer term:

Resilience is a way of encouraging people to live with insecurity because the status quo is deemed insurmountable. Thus conversations about climate adaptation and economic adjustment are dominated by discovering how storms are to be withstood, for they are presumed inevitable. An ingenious disregard for living within limits is how people change the world; but energy diverted to resilience leaves little time for dissent and asking difficult questions. Resilience is reactive and distracts from legitimate indignation. It fixes people to the present, hiding the history that fashioned beggars and kings and proves all imaginable change possible.

It seems that the problems begin when we accept a state of affairs as an unavoidable crisis rather than an avoidable and reformable product of human decision-making; after all, who in their right mind would recommend that an undernourished child, no longer able to cope with the cognitive activity of a school day find ways of becoming resilient in the face of their parents gambling habit? Imagine if schools set up ‘dumpster-running’ as an extra-curricular activity for such children in order to re-skill them in urban-foraging for survival. Would that not seem oddly irresponsible and a failure to intelligently address the reasons for the child’s suffering?

What that child and what many who are currently being encouraged to become ‘resilient’ and ‘buck up’ need is for those who peddle resilience to turn their attention to the concept of ‘flourishing’ rather than ‘survival’. For too long it seems, we have been affirming the law of the jungle; ‘the survival of the fittest’ mantra has shaped the way we think about life in a detrimental way and has made us accept the unacceptable.

The biblical model of managing and imagining community repeatedly re-connects with themes of ‘flourishing’ and ‘well-being’ ‘wholeness’ ‘health’ and legitimate (ie. not by foul means and well-stewarded in the wider community) ‘prosperity’. In spite of the fact that the biblical community (the Israelites or in the NT the Jews), itself often endured periods of genuine and severe crisis, their guiding vision was one of flourishing and abundance for all. The principles of holistic stewardship and the disciplines of wisdom contributed to and maintained the ‘good life’ rather than ‘resilience’. Perhaps this is because, in the wisdom of the scriptural tradition, social and political crisis was not seen as an unavoidable threat or inevitable state of affairs to be endured but rather as a the outcome of a set of simple human decisions which could be resisted and reformed…even if…for rather a lot of prophets it meant losing their head in the process.

Of course, we are not operating in a theocratic state but we are nonetheless sharing the planet with billions of other people and we need to ask ourselves if the concept of resilience (rooted in a scarcity/survival or crisis paradigm) is an adequate or appropriate one to promote the kinds of changes which will be required to enable the flourishing not only of humanity but of all of creation? Of course, there are many aspects to life which are a blend of crisis and challenges and possibilities which need to be navigated wisely and where both moments of resilience and flourishing can rightly be anticipated.

I leave you with another quote from Kristina Diprose:

Resisting resilience does not mean giving up. Quite the opposite – it calls for more courage. Imagine if the time and effort invested in future-proofing ourselves was instead given to fully occupying the present, and to more determinedly realising the change we want to see. The road to recovery is not easy, but with so many people in our communities pushed to breaking point, what other option is there? We can do better than survive: we need to reconnect with our conviction, and bounce back from the brink.