Something in the Air: Beyond Woolwich

We knew it would happen. Just as it did with the Oklahoma tornadoes and countless other catastrophes. The fundamentalist claim that the Woolwich murder had been orchestrated by an angry God for some imagined offence.

And it wasn’t long in coming… Westboro Baptist Church’s incendiary tweet, alleging that God sent the killers as a payback for the equal marriage bill that passed its third reading on Tuesday.

At around the same time, a radical Muslim cleric claimed that God destined British soldier Lee Rigby to die in the terrible attack.

Meanwhile, in contrast to the callous, gloating spirit of both of these claims, a small group of clerics representing the major faiths came together to denounce both the barbaric act and the violent reactions they sparked, and speak up movingly and authentically for an integrated community built on mutual respect and solidarity.

This outlook has been echoed most passionately on my Facebook Newsfeed by a Pagan friend. In all honesty, it’s been disarming to discover that I often find myself more in agreement with his updates than I do with some of the evangelical Christian ones.

Many of us grew up in ‘us and them’ Christian communities that honestly believed their expression of faith held the monopoly on the truth. But surely the real differences are to be found not between those of differing faiths, but between the well-intentioned of all faiths and none, and extremist fundamentalists of all faith backgrounds.

I’m not sure why this should come as such a surprise. The scriptures are full of accounts of good ‘God-fearing’ people who were neither Jew nor Christian… as well as a few give-away pointers along the lines of ‘by their fruits you will know them.’

And there are so many illustrations from our own day and age. A few years back I made a series of programmes with Canon Andrew White, ‘the Vicar of Baghdad’, who explained to me that a large proportion of his Iraqi Anglican congregation were Moslems who recognized that this community also worshipped God, or ‘Allah’. He spoke moving about his Ayatollah ‘brother’ who had suffered so much under Saddam Hussein, and with whom he shared a deep spiritual connection. He found it difficult to understand why Christians should even question the natural affinity between these religious groups.

Something is shifting in the spiritual world. Surprising things are being said by surprising people, and old models of divvying up the world just won’t do. And it’s going to take more than the odd modifying tweak here and there to really get it. A whole new paradigm… or wineskin, perhaps?

It’s always helpful to give an ear to those who have understood something of this paradigm and worked with it for many years. Talking of which, watch for an interview with Noel Moules on his explosive take on Shalom, coming to this site soon…

And in the meantime, hot on the heels of Pope Francis in the contest for Surprising New Religious Commentator award, I bring you Russell Brand’s reaction to the Woolwich tragedy: ‘Let’s look beyond our superficial and fleeting differences (and) instead leave flowers at each other’s places of worship. Let’s reach out in the spirit of love and humanity and connect to one another, perhaps we will then see what is really behind this conflict, this division, this hatred and make that our focus…’

Christian Spirituality: What is it… and where to from here?

Drinks & Dialogue with the Dranes!
8.00 pm, Wednesday 10 April, Molesey (Venue tba)

For those who have grown up in the Evangelical church, this is an intensely interesting time. Niggling questions that, for many of us, refused to be quelled by the church culture of certainty, are now not only being engaged with seriously but look set to bring about a paradigm shift.

Many Christians are relieved at the conversations taking place about issues such as Christian Universalism, hell, gay sexuality and so on. But for those whose faith has been built on certainties about the pre-requisites of salvation and focused on saving souls from hell, the current debates can also be confusing and destabilizing. Why worry if God has everything in hand? And if we believed the wrong stuff for so long, how can we know if perspectives popularized by the likes of Steve Chalke and Rob Bell are any closer to the truth? What does our faith actually rest on? And if so much of what we once believed has unraveled thus far, how can we know if there will be anything left at the end of all this…?

John Drane is a great person to have around at such times! An academic, theologian, author of best-selling books on the Bible, Introducing the Old Testament and Introducing the New Testament as well as numerous challenging books on culture and spirituality, he is truly radical in every sense of the word… able to go to the very roots of the Christian faith, and also to envisage freeing, creative ways of living it that connect us with, rather than distance us from others. John’s wife, Olive Drane lectures with John in Fuller Seminary, has authored books on creativity and spirituality, and is also very engaged with finding imaginative ways to connect with those on a spiritual journey.

If this evening sounds up your street, please reserve your place with Liz asap. Then come with your thoughts and questions and join us for an edgy, inspirational evening of Drinks and Dialogue with the Dranes!

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