My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Lent Courses

I don't know about you but I really get annoyed when shops start stocking Easter Eggs before we've even got over Christmas; when shopping malls get all decorated up for Christmas in October with nearly three months to go!
So why am I talking about Lent, that season of the church calendar leading up to Easter, when I have hardly started my Christmas shopping?!?
Actually it's not so crazy if you consider that the season of Advent, leading up to Christmas, has quite a bit in common with Lent. Both are periods of preparation for momentous events in the Christian Church; one the Nativity of Christ, the other His Resurrection. Both may be used as periods of reflection, fasting, penitence, and an opportunity to explore and go deeper into our faith and what it means for us.
It is quite usual for Christian churches to organize Lent groups in the five weeks leading up to Easter for this very purpose. Sadly this is a less common practice in the Advent weeks running up to Christmas. And when enterprising priests have organized the same in our parish in years past the take-up has been far too low.  
Instead these weeks between now and Christmas so often become quite simply an unseemly scramble as we buy too much, do too much, worry and fret too much, about what we are going to give each other as presents, what we are going to eat, where are we going to spend Christmas, whose parents should we visit this year, and so on. We get caught up in a a material world of unwanted gadgets and presents, a world of overindulgence and so on.
It is good to take time out from all of this and try to concentrate on the real meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ the Lord, the Savior of the world. So let's have more Advent courses and let's bring back the real meaning of Christmas. Let's bring Christ back into the equation.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Interfaith Initiatives - Interfaith Weeks - and 9/11

We all know where we were, what we were doing, on 9/11.

Curiously, another 9/11, in another century, marked the beginning of inter-religious dialogue, as we now understand it. On that day in Chicago in 1893 the World Parliament of Religions was founded. “From now on,” declared Charles Bonney, “the great religions of the world will no longer declare war on each other, but on the giant ills that afflict [humankind].”A further conference was convened in 1993 on the centenary of the first, and a series of similar conferences have subsequently come together under the new title ‘Parliament of the World’s Religions’.

There is a faith line described by the American Indian Muslim Eboo Patel that is no less divisive and no less violent than the 20th century color line of racial segregation that existed after the abolition of slavery (1)The faith line does not divide different faiths, or separate the religious from the secular. This line is divisive between the values of religious totalitarians, the exclusivists, and the values of the religious pluralists. (Pluralism is not quite the same as inclusivism, which from a Christian perspective takes the view that Christianity is present in all religions, and they are all moving towards Christianity without knowing it. This is an angle not much more conducive to tolerance than exclusivism or totalitarianism!) The totalitarians believe that their way is the only way and are prepared to convert, condemn or indeed kill those who are different, in the name of God. It is this side of the faith line that gives religions a bad press in the eyes of the secular public. The pluralists on the other hand hold that “people believing in different creeds and belonging to different communities need to learn to live together in equal dignity and mutual loyalty.” Patel describes pluralism as the belief “that the common good is best served when each community has a chance to make its own unique contribution.”Patel founded the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) and this serves to promote and support many initiatives between religions, to foster understanding and therefore respect for the long-term. IFYC has trained thousands of people across continents (Australia, India, Qatar, and across Western Europe for example as well as across America) for the skills needed to transform religious diversity or religious tension into active interfaith cooperation. One way it achieves this is by training college students as leaders to engage with and address topical social issues in an interfaith way, within the college, schools and in the community, wherever there is an identified social need.

We need to build more tolerance between us all, to live and let live, but much more than that, to celebrate and build on our diversities, rather than quarrel about them; because the stakes are now too high, given the deadly weaponry that is available across the world in the hands of those from so many different cultures and creeds. “We have inherited a big house,” said Martin Luther King in his Nobel Peace Prize Lecture in 1964, “a great world house in which we have to live together – black and white, Easterners and Westerners, Gentiles and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Moslem and Hindu, a family unduly separated in ideas, culture, and interests who, because we can never again live without each other, must learn, somehow, in this one big world, to live with each other.”

This week is interfaith week in / England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Actually this year it is longer than a week, as it runs from 18th - 27th November this year, extended to celebrate our Diamond Jubilee year. There is also a World Interfaith Harmony Week. This was first proposed at the UN General Assembly on September 23, 2010 by H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan. Just under a month later, on October 20, 2010, it was unanimously adopted by the UN and henceforth the first week of February will be observed as a World Interfaith Harmony Week each year. The World Interfaith Harmony Week is based on the pioneering work of The Common Word initiative. This initiative, which started in 2007, called for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in a dialogue based on two common fundamental religious Commandments; Love of God, and Love of the Neighbor, without nevertheless compromising any of their own religious tenets. The Two commandments are at the heart of the three Monotheistic religions and therefore provide the most solid theological ground possible. I have written about this in more detail in a previous blog.

So let's observe our interfaith weeks and do all we can to promote their causes. Because therein lies the future of us all.

(1) Warning over 100 years ago by the great African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois

 (2) Eboo Patel (2007) Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, Beacon Press, Boston

Expanded and explored further in Why Religions Work

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Are we ignoring the real message of Jesus? The Wisdom Jesus

I've just reviewed a challenging but most enjoyable book, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind - a New Perspective on Christ and His Message,  by Cynthia Bourgeault. 

The starting point of the book is the Gospel of Thomas, restored to us when it was found among the Nag Hammadi scrolls in the Egyptian desert in 1945. These scrolls date back to early Christianity, being at least as old as the four canonical gospels, now widely regarded as the authentic teachings of Jesus, and give us a radical new take on Jesus and the metaphysics of his teaching.

In this book the author convincingly argues that the familiar Christian creeds and doctrines put together in the fourth century get in the way of understanding Jesus as a master in ancient spiritual wisdom, who was teaching the meltdown and recasting, the transformation, of human consciousness. This is the Eastern-like wisdom path of Jesus the life giver, a Jesus who is like us, calling us to put on the mind of Christ, telling us that the Kingdom of Heaven is a metaphor for a state of consciousness, a transformed awareness, a nondual or unitive consciousness, of divine abundance. There is then no separation between God and human, between human and human, all dwelling together in mutual loving reciprocity. The Kingdom of Heaven is within us and at hand, here and now, something we awaken into, not die into. This contrasts with the Pauline image of Jesus as Savior, who died for our sins, who is different from us, and has come to atone for mankind's depravity.

Today in Western Christian tradition we rely too much on logic, and doctrine and dogma. The author challenges these Western assumptions about Christianity and Christ, as she reminds us that whilst Christians take the events surrounding the resurrection as basic to their faith, the apostles who chose to follow Jesus knew nothing of what the future held. They had to see something else in this man, and we are long overdue, she writes, for a re-evaluation of how we understand the Jesus events and our religion based thereon, and of us understanding Christianity as a spiritual contemplative tradition. Indeed we see the first hopeful signs of this transformation.

The author examines our familiar Christian stories in this new light, as radical calls for the transformation of our consciousness; indeed shows how some of them become more readily understood within this new context. Jesus came to transform our brain led egoic operating system into a non-dual unitive system that is led by the heart, an organ of spiritual perception. In this light "repent" means to "go beyond the mind", or "into the larger mind", which is somewhat different from our classic understanding of repentance.

The book's thesis is lucidly explained step by step through Parts 1 and 2, respectively the Teachings of Jesus, and the Mysteries (Incarnation, Passion, Crucifixion, and the Great Easter Fast (not a spelling error!). It concludes in Part Three with core Christian wisdom practices available to us all; Centering Prayer Meditation, Lectio Divina, Chanting and Psalmody, and the Welcoming Prayer, the last being a pathway of vibrant spiritual strength and creativity connecting us to our energetic fields. The author takes us through these practices in detail, step by step. If we are diligent with these practices she tells us that we will find, as Jesus promised for ears who could hear, that the spirit lies within each one if us, connecting with reality and with each other.

The core Christian practice of the Eucharist can then be seen as more than a cultic ritual, experienced within the lower mythic or rational ranges of consciousness (as per Ken Wilber). It can instead be recognized as being at heart a wisdom practice originating from a non dual level of consciousness, when the celebration comes into its own.

I loved this book. I have already read it twice! As a Christian who has thought much and written something myself in my latest book, Why Religions Work, about the possible interface between new ideas on consciousness and the spirituality within religion, this book is of some interest to me. Mainstream Christianity is losing ground, losing sight of the real gospel message of Jesus, the Jesus who came first and foremost as a teacher of the path of inner transformation, the deep level of consciousness he was trying to tell us about, a spiritual path that is found through self-emptying kenosis. 

So did Christianity get off on the wrong foot almost from its inception? That is the thesis of this thought provoking and challenging book, a fascinating new take on the Jesus Christ we thought we were familiar with. The conclusion: that Christianity is either destined to change and grow into a proper form to match the consciousness of the twenty first century: or it will disappear as an institution and we shall then be left face to face with the naked presence of Christ.


Saturday, 10 November 2012

How many religions are there?

"There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it."

George Bernard Shaw