Monday, February 28, 2011

Eboo Patel

February 27, 2011

I’ve heard Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Corps, speak in the past. This week I heard him at the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes (CEEP). I heard, as if for the first time, his point about ‘finding our own interfaith theology’. For him that means finding the stories in our own traditions that encourage us to stand with and for people of other and different faiths than our own as a matter of faith for us. In particular he opened the idea of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, told, of course, to a Jewish audience, as one that shows standing with and for a person of another faith.

In the same week I had picked up and read Sarah’s Key, a novel by Tatiana de Rosnay, the interweaving of the story Jewish girl rounded up in the infamous Vel’ d’Hiv round up of Jews by Vichy police in Paris in 1942, with that of a modern American journalist who had married a Frenchman and settled in Paris. The girl was saved and raised by an elderly French couple who wondered and worried about what was happening in and to their beloved country. Fictional though they are, they stand for the many ‘righteous gentiles’ who put their lives on the line for the Jews.

De Rosnay does an excellent job of capturing the need for willful ignorance among the French who were even tangentially involved in this atrocity and the havoc such willful ignorance with all its subsequent secrets wrought in the lives of so many people. I find myself wondering what compromises I make and where I ‘turn a blind eye’ to the injustices of today. Eboo Patel says he understands fear of Muslims when all we hear about Islam is the equivalent of the first two minutes of the local television news, and asks whether a religion more than 1400 years old can be “all bad”? I wonder where all the voices are that say loud and clear that “those people do not represent us” and realize how difficult that must be in a world where being different in a way perceived as negative only brings heartache and pain.

When Christians speak and act in ways that are vile, virulent and hateful how easy is it for us to get media attention for another point of view that says “those people do not represent our faith”? My experience is that news outlets, presumably seeking to be ‘objective’ would rather report on our internecine struggles and that standing against bigotry associated with any faith is much more difficult than it ought to be. I hope I can find ways to speak up about whatever it is that challenges us long before others have to die from my silence or my ‘blind eye’.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Euro Zone and the Anglican Covenant

February 22, 2011

If you have followed any of the politics of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy attempting to establish a European Union within the European Union, you could be forgiven for thinking that they were taking their advice from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The political and economic process in Europe is as cumbersome as any federation of interrelated yet distinctive interests and agenda. Germany and France would like to find ways to ‘consult’ with those 17 countries of the Euro Zone, inviting the other 10 to sign up for a ‘competitiveness pact’ if they want to be part of the decision making conversations. We can be pretty certain that the euro-skeptic British will stay on the outside, preferring not to be governed by Germany and France together, who will be trying to force discipline on their economically less disciplined neighbors to the South as the price of a Euro ‘bailout’.

The sense that ‘we will never get anything done as long as we have to put up with this lot’ is understandable, but is a power play to form a ‘new center’, concentrating power in the historically challenged axis of Germany and France really a good thing for what I supported all those years ago when Edward Heath was touting the European Economic Community?

I can’t help but notice a parallel in Rowan Williams attempt to build a ‘center’ who can ‘govern’ the Anglican Communion as something other than a messy federation for ‘competitive’ reasons. Jim Naughton, a really fine Anglican Journalist and the mind behind the website Episcopal CafĂ© has suggested that we are heading toward a situation in which a number of churches sign on to the proposed Covenant, largely out of loyalty to the Archbishop, leaving some Africans and us out of the decision making and on the sidelines, doubtless a more comfortable ‘fellowship’ for those who see themselves as the center.

I think about the period when the reign of the judges gave way to monarchy, with n argument for strength in relation to neighbors (competitiveness or the possibility of ecumenical conversations with Orthodoxy and Rome) over against fidelity (working out difficult stuff in real community in which relationship is not substituted by ‘process’.) I find myself remembering the advice ‘be careful what you pray for’.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Egypt and the Church

February 16, 2011

Last Sunday, Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times said that “the Obama team never found the voice to fully endorse the Tahrir Square revolution until it was over”. What I heard from the President was a consistent message that the people of Egypt should have the capacity for self-determination, and, implicitly, that American influence over events in Egypt was distinctly limited.

I have been impressed that violence has been kept to a minimum and that, thus far, the Egyptian military have acted with restraint.

It is clear that the road to a constitution and open, fair, elections will be tricky and whether that can be achieved in the military leadership’s ambitious timetable of six months remains to be seen. I wonder if that is enough time for a real opposition to emerge that can offer an alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood which seems to be the only organized group of any standing thus far. A friend and I were recalling Iran in 1979 before church on Sunday and doing so without irony.

Anglican leadership in these days has been more like Anglican followership as the Bishop of Egypt has called for calm and when Mubarak’s backers invaded the square and began to be violent, he decried the “wounds being inflicted on Egypt by her own children.” Where is the voice of the church that knows a liberating gospel? Where is a community of Christians in Egypt who aspire to shape the future? Where is there a church that has any relevance to those who led and participated n the protests? It does not appear to be among the Anglicans. The Roman Catholics and the Copts appear to have the same problem. We know what happened when religious authorities in Jesus’ day tried to ‘keep the lid on things’ so that the Romans did not get upset and become oppressive.

I pray that our brothers and sisters in Egypt will find their voice and share in the shaping of their future.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Meanwhile back with the Anglican Communion…

February 7, 2011

Commentators are trying to get to grips with what, if anything, was the result of the recent meeting of Primates in Dublin. It seems that on one hand, the independence of the various provinces of the Communion was affirmed by the Primates, whole on the other, the governance of whatever constitutes ‘The Communion’ was centralized in and through Lambeth Palace and The Anglican Communion Office. You can read more about it at the Thinking Anglicans website.

To the degree that all this is somewhat incoherent seems to me to stem from a tension between those who share a vision for our working out what it means to be a Catholic Communion in which when push comes to shove, staying in some kind of relationship around the Lord’s Table and allowing that relationship to shape doctrine is more important than requiring assent to certain hierarchically ordained doctrines as the price of admission to the Table. I continue to think that those who want the latter have a perfectly good option with the Romans.


February 7, 2011

David Cameron has suggested that multiculturalism and tolerance have caused many groups within British society to exist independently of each other “apart from the mainstream” and led many young Muslims to feel rootless”. He proposes instead “active muscular liberalism” which will be marked by “a sense of common identity centered on values of human rights, democracy, social integration and equality before the law.”

Reports from most news sources also refer to various responses to Cameron’s speech, particularly from various Muslim groups who wish to be seen as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

He further suggested that there exists a double standard under which the propagation of radical views among nonwhite groups is tolerated when they would be suppressed if they involved radical groups among whites.
He has waded into troubled waters and has made one basic error: he has assumed that ‘racial views’ held by majority and minority groups are equivalent to each other where we know that the dynamics of interactions over time between majority groups and minority groups (whether racial or any other kind of group marked by ‘difference’) is much more complicated than that. At the same time he is correctly identifying a problem for any society that has marked separation or division in its midst where any group can live and act for the most part as though some others don’t really exist or have impact.
It is the separation that must be challenged and making accusations of ‘double standards’ is not a helpful way forward. The beginning of justice and common cause is finding ways into relationships in which we can begin to recognize, understand, and even appreciate, difference. That need not require giving up a ‘meta-narrative’ of the particular history and values of a country and culture which could indeed be named as “human rights, democracy, social integration and equality before the law”, but might also include a recognition that those very liberal values have been shaped by a fundamentally Christian world view, even if other faith traditions can lead to similar commitments.
I’m left with the sense that I sometimes have after reading a novel by Iris Murdoch in which she is trying to recast the idea of God as ‘The Good’ and wondering if there is any real basis for morality apart from some ’idea of God’ even if that is cast in terms of some kind of ‘humanism’.
Multiculturalism in Europe poses slightly different challenges and opportunities than it does in the United States because it takes slightly different forms. Cameron is right and doing a good thing when he engages the conversation in a public and international forum.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


February 3, 2011

Two thirds of the Primates of the Anglican Communion met in Dublin last week from where they issued a number of statements at the end of their time discussing such things as ‘the scope of the primates meeting' and their self proclaimed ‘enhance role’ in ’guiding’ the Communion. Many of them made statements deploring the death of David Kato, the Ugandan gay rights activist, while aware that the Archbishop of Uganda, among others, declined to attend as long as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church was going to be invited and present.

Meanwhile protesters were taking to the streets in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, the Sudan and elsewhere apparently demanding an end to the rule of a number of long time autocratic leaders. They sent a letter of support to the President Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East who is also the bishop of Egypt, Mouneeer Anis. Bishop Anis, in similar terns to his Coptic counterpart has called for an end to the rioting in Egypt so that things can “get back to normal’ now that Hosni Mubarak has said that he would, in effect, step down in September.

While it is too soon to know exactly what all this rioting means and what will be its lasting impact, it is pretty clear that whatever else happens, it Is not likely to end in ‘getting back to normal’, at least in Egypt.

There is something quite surreal about all this to me. In one sense I’m glad the Primates did not rush to say something to a situation that is still unfolding but I’m left with a sense that we are ‘fiddling while Rome burns’.

We are told that one cleat place of long time contact between Egypt and the United States is through the two military establishments and can at least give thanks for the restraint, thus far, of the Egyptian military in a situation that looks ripe for the introduction of another military dictatorship. Maybe there is hope for some kind of more democratic system emerging in many of these troubled countries. In the mean time all I know to do is to watch andpray for a just peace to emerge from the turmoil.