Global Compassion… Inside Out?

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

InsideOut1

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

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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! 😉

Shalom!

 

 

References

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

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

Refuge and watering holes from Aleppo to Wales

Before the war, I didn’t pay attention to how much water I used. But now, water is like gold for me. It’s practically holy. (29-year-old Ali)

aleppo-water

Water sourced from underground wells in Aleppo (Photo: Aref Haj Youssef/Reuters)

Aleppo is heartbreakingly broken. Disembowelled by conflict and war, her treasures dismembered and her citizens fleeing since 2012, seeking refuge and hospitality in a world increasingly shaped by fear.

These images depict the devastation and ruin of Aleppo in Syria, an historic and globally significant city.

During a recent visit to the Pergamon museum on Berlin’s ‘Museum Island’ I saw, for the first time, a very personal slither of history which impacted me more than the museum’s centrepiece-the Ishtar Gate or Gate of Babylon.

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The Aleppo Room, Pergamon Museum

The Aleppo room belonged to a prosperous merchant and Christian citizen of the Syrian town of Aleppo named Isa ibn Butrus (Jesus son of Peter). He commissioned the painted panels  for the entrance room in his house at the beginning of the 17th century. These paintings make up the oldest collection from a Syrian dwelling house from the Ottoman period and have preserved the work of craftsmen from the best workshops of the time.

As a Christian, Isa ibn Butrus’ desire was to communicate inclusive hospitality to the many travelling merchants he would have no doubt hosted in this entrance room. The room was painted in a variety of themes which included Christian themes from the Old and New Testaments such as the depiction of ‘Mary with Child’ which sit alongside courtly scenes like those portrayed in Persian book illustration.

The selection of encircling Psalms, Arabic proverbs and Persian principles further add to the impression of a peaceful community of different religious beliefs living together.

[Source: http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;de;Mus01;39;en&cp%5D

Around the time that Isa ibn Butrus was hosting traders and brokers in the busy Silk Road trading city of Aleppo, another man, John Matthews ventured forth from Wales to make his fortune trading with Mercers in Aleppo- who knows whether their paths actually crossed?

Aleppo merchant inn, Wales
The Aleppo Merchant Inn, Carno, Powys

We do know, however, that John Matthews did not take to farming on his return to Carno in the late 1620’s and that he turned the farmhouse into a Public House. The Inn  he named ‘The Aleppo Merchant’  became an exotic watering hole for the surrounding farms and villages, licenced by the King to sell ‘spirituous liquors’.

So, history weaves on, shifting fortunes, forging alliances and connections in unexpected corners of the globe, displacing people from one side of the world to the other.

The current war which has engulfed Aleppo is complex and catastrophic. In the lull of the current ceasefire, 60 year old Abu Nidal describes the ongoing struggles to access clean water:

Everything is available to us except water

Watering holes, places where we can drink and be refreshed in community, are vital to life; be they merchant’s hospitality suites, rural inns or bore holes in the ground of a war-torn city. Today, entrepreneurial young men who remain are named the ‘Princes of Aleppo’ as they drive water-filled containers around the city helping others access the water they need to survive.

Other young men have already left in search of a safer place to live and build a future. ‘AlBsmehAl3Rbieh’, is a group of six rappers from Aleppo that formed in 2010, as Syria headed towards the civil war that has ravaged the country. The rappers all met while they were studying and made a song about the Syrian refugees’ journey to Europe. The video footage they shot with their phones as they travelled. I have not been able to source a translation of the lyrics (any offers?) but this is how they describe the content of the song on the youtube comments section:

…the major messages of the song talks about the way of the syrian megeration and how the guy in first section cant travel beacuse he cant collecting moeny and the sexond one is calling his friends to come back and the third section how he needs to work in turkey to collect money to travel to europ the furth talks about the journey crossing the see from turkey to germany crossing ” greece – macedonia – hungary – then germany … 🙂

The Christian understanding and practise of justice as ‘love and care of neighbour’ includes hospitality towards those who do not normally form a part of our close community, ie the stranger who may be studying, working or travelling. Christian hospitality is especially important and emphasised in the case of caring for those who are vulnerable and uprooted, fleeing violence or the effects of natural disasters etc.

Many of us do not associate justice with hospitality, but if we consider a facet of justice as sharing out the ‘goods of life’, then hospitality clearly has an important role in sharing material and relational ‘goods’ with those who find themselves vulnerable and stripped of both.

Not many of us are directly involved in forming refugee policy but almost every one of us will encounter, in the natural course of life, people who have been displaced from their usual ‘watering holes’. We can choose to reach out and connect and support, building acceptance and friendship. We will be changed in the process-for the better.

Resources:

Churches Together have a webpage with useful updates and resources at https://ctbi.org.uk/how-the-churches-are-responding-to-the-refugee-crisis/

Christian Aid:  http://www.christianaid.org.uk/emergencies/current/refugee-crisis-appeal.html

Questions…how shall I know?

Bridge of Europe, Strasbourg
Theodore Zeldin

Theodore Zeldin, Oxford historian, wrote the following as a contribution to the art installation,  Writing the borders, the Bridge of Europe, Strasbourg.

Questions

How shall I know that we have something to say to each other, that we ought to meet? How can I guess that you too believe that humanity’s most memorable achievements in extending knowledge or creating beauty have been the result of meetings between people and ideas that have not met before?
How shall I know that you wish to go beyond the language of politeness, beyond repeating what you have said before? How will you reveal that it is not mere information that you would be willing to exchange, but questions, doubts and dreams, the dreams which refuse to die?
How shall I know that, just as this garden is a work of art made out of plants whose history began in distant continents, you too are trying to shape your life into a work of art, however modest? How will you tell me that you welcome into the garden of your mind everything that civilisations all over the world have discovered about wisdom and folly?
How shall I know that busy and stressed though you are, you do sometimes find the time to pause and think, to ask whether they world has to be the way it is?
How shall I know that, just this bridge was built by people who wished to stop ancient enemies hating and fighting each other, you find it rewarding to be a bridge yourself, between individuals who fail to recognise what they have in common, and what they could do better together than alone?
How shall I know that you do not judge people by their religion, or even by their beliefs, and that you are much more impressed by how they put their beliefs into practice, whether with dogmatism, or humility, or compassion?
How shall I know that you applaud people not for their victories over others, but for the thought they have given to their failures, for the courage with which they handle their disappointments, for their ability to continue to laugh and hope?
How shall I know that you are not a prisoner of the prejudice which separates people of different sex and age? Or that you are more interested by what a person’s appearance conceals than the first impression it creates?
My answer. We can only discover who we are, and what we would like to be, by having conversations with one another. There are so many possible links between us, and we have to search behind the fashions and facades for them. That is why I rejoice that this garden has been created as a place, I hope, where people will meet to start long conversations, not just to pass the time, but to become clearer about what matters most to them, and what they can achieve together.
What is your answer?
Theodore Zeldin

New Interfaith University’s Golden Rule-treat others as you would have them treat you.

In early September a new model of training religious leaders opened its doors in Claremont, California. Substantially aided by the financial donations of philanthropists David and Joan Lincoln, the new University sets out its core mission statement to train Pastors, Imams and Rabbis below:

“As an ecumenical and inter­religious institution, Claremont Lincoln University seeks to instill students with the ethical integrity, religious intelligence, and intercultural understanding necessary to become effective in thought and action as leaders in the increasingly diverse, multireligious world of the 21st century…scholars and practitioners of the world’s religions can come together, learning and practicing how to treat others as they would like to be treated. This will enable religious organizations, leaders, and individuals, regardless of their own religious commitment or perspective on faith, to work collectively to bring about harmony and understanding at all levels—individual, organizational, and governmental…

We commit ourselves to think deeply, act ethically, embrace diversity, work for justice and peace, and care for the earth, its people, and its resources so that all life may flourish.”

 Claremont School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary with roots back to 1885  joined in partnership with The Academy for Jewish Religion, California, and the Islamic Center of Southern California/Bayan College to create the new Claremont Lincoln University (CLU). CLU’s new provost, Philip Clayton, is clear about the focus of the new University:

“Finding the common threads among religious and ethical traditions – while honoring the distinctiveness of each”

In his keynote speech at the university’s inauguration, the Honourable Ebrahim Rasool, South Africa’s ambassador to the United States elaborates the need for such an institution:

The challenge religion faces is how it can manage the contradiction of being simultaneously a victim of fundamentalist extremism as well as its antidote. Can it simultaneously defend its original impulse for good and give leadership for a world free of the absolutism advanced in its name? Can it transcend its life and death struggle for its own relevance and simultaneously advance a set of spiritual values and a moral ethic in a world defined by the absence of compassion, social justice and peace? Can religious communities rescue spirit, values and divine objectives from its own internecine battles for adherents, resources and theological supremacy?

What must be achieved for us to be successful are transitions within the religious communities from competitive religion to co-operative religion and even from comparative to collaborative religion. The first transition should signal that people of faith are in a battle for faith itself, not simply to place our particular labels on already faithful people. The battle for faith is the battle to do good and to create a world where people live better lives and the natural world is more sustainable. The second transition denotes that we have to move beyond the ‘compare and contrast’ model of interfaith engagements, and build solidarity across our markers of difference to achieve shared goals that both signal the relevance of religion and faith as well as demonstrate its capacity to build coalitions, campaigns and unity in action around values and principles we hold in common…”

In reflecting on the remit of the new Universty, Anantanand Rambachan, trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, notes the urgent pragmatic and political need for world religions to work together in framing common values with people of other faiths in the goal of overcoming human suffering.  He goes so far as to say that:

“Our hopes for just and peaceful communities will only be realized together or not at all.”

However, he goes further in challenging theological exclusivisms which, he contests, are often near-sighted:

“If our theologies cannot limit the limitless, we need each other, and we can all learn and be enriched by the ways in which others have apprehended the absolute and by the values they have derived from such encounters and experiences. This is, for me, the most compelling ground to seek out my neighbor of a different faith.”

In conclusion he reminds us that:

“Without the voice of the other, the human proclivity toward self-centeredness and self-righteousness may go unchallenged and arrogance and selfishness, rather than humility and compassion, may become the dominant values of our existence. We should not be hesitant to acknowledge this.”

It will be interesting to observe the progress of Claremont Lincoln and its seminarians in the years to come.

Hate & Ignorance, Faith & Forgiveness post 9/11

Reading of the execution by lethal injection of Mark Stroman yesterday I was struck by the focused and tireless work of one of the victims who survived his revenge killing spree following 9/11. Rais Bhuiyan, who was shot in the face days after 9/11 has been campaigning for Stroman to have the death penalty repealed so that he could have a role as an ‘educator’ on a life without parole sentence. This Muslim man has not only forgiven Stroman’s act of hateful ignorance but has made his life’s focus to educate against hate crime. He says here :

“I strongly believe that there are important reasons why God spared my life. I feel driven to bring an awareness of hate crimes to others. Hate crimes of ALL types. To educate those who may be as ignorant as Mark Stroman, and raise a consciousness among people that hating others can never bring lasting peace and satisfaction.”

Rais clearly attributes his ability to forgive to his faith in Allah. He acknowledges the wisdom of his parents who brought him up to believe that a good man is one who is able to forgive easily and he is definitive that the cause of his own injury was hatred born out of ignorance: 
I forgave Mark Stroman many years ago. In fact, I have never hated him. I never hated America for what happened to me. I believe he was ignorant, and not capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, otherwise he wouldn’t have done what he did. I think about him waiting in a cell to be executed, and can feel the pain of how ignorance can be driven by such hate, and cause somebody like him to murder two completely innocent people.
What remains strangely absent on his website is reference to causes of 9/11.  Researchers have been examining why Muslim youth participate in radical cells. Recent research in Turkey has found significant links with radicalised Muslim youth and  urban poverty.
Survey respondents in 14 countries representing 62% of the world’s Muslim population indicate that approval of Islamist terror is not associated with religiosity, lack of education, poverty, or income dissatisfaction. Instead, it is associated with urban poverty. These results are consistent with the thesis that Islamist terrorists obtain support and recruits from the urban poor, who pursue their economic interests off the market in politics in collective groups.
The predisposing factors to violence and disregard for human life may be different in each context. It is important to understand what they are.