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

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Quote for the Day

“All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.” 

Albert Einstein

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Thought for the Day

There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it. 
George Bernard Shaw

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The power of prayer and meditation – the interface between Medicine and Religion

Science is increasingly meeting spirituality within medicine:
Larry Dossey: "I used to believe that we must choose between science and reason on the one hand, and spirituality on the other, as foundations for living our lives. Now I consider this a false choice…we can recover the sense of sacredness…not just in science, but in every area of life." From Reinventing Medicine
In 1988 Byrd, a cardiologist at the San Francisco General Hospital and also a devout Christian was struck by a conversation with a colleague about a terminally ill cancer patient. All medical avenues had been exhausted and the physicians really did not know what else they could do for the patient. We could try prayer, said Byrd.(2)Thus began the prayer study that has inspired so many subsequent experiments into non -local healing phenomena. The scientifically designed and double blind trials produced more positive responses in those groups of patients who were prayed for, when compared with the control groups. Although the sample was small and the statistical interpretation of the results controversial, there have been many more studies since then that have corroborated in different ways the principal of that pioneer experiment; non local intervention such as prayer can give a positive outcome. Byrd’s work certainly proved to be a catalyst for physicians such as Dossey who was interested in exploring the spiritual questions of medicine within wider parameters beyond the known interaction of mind and body.
Inspired by his belief in faith's healing power, and by personal experience Harold G. Koenig(3) has spent many years studying the impact of people's religious life on their physical and emotional health. He shows how prayer can very definitely help people come through serious afflictions and improve the outcome of many illnesses. He relates many such stories of hope and inspiration in The Healing Power of Faith,(4) which he later followed up with The Healing Connection: The Story of a Physician's Search for the Link Between Faith and Health.”(5)

Work of doctors such as Dossey and Koenig who are recognizing a further healing dimension in medicine beyond the body and brain are I believe incredibly important in helping us gain an understanding of a further dimension in religion beyond the dogma and doctrine. There is a massive overlap between the phenomena described by these men in their healing practices and the power of prayer or meditation in a religious or spiritual setting. But there is still a great deal of prejudice against these views, particularly those where the focus is specifically on religion, rather than on a more generalized concept of spirituality. Indeed, doctors and nurses have put their careers in jeopardy by suggesting prayer in a clinical setting, for example.
We are indeed seeing the dawning of a new paradigm in the history of medicine: we are entering an era where the spiritual healing needs of the patient can be met alongside both alternative and complementary therapies and the very best of the latest clinical medicine. Although there are some highly successful holistic healing centers – for example Burrswood in the UK, and the Integrative Medical Clinic of Santa Rosa, California, much work still needs to be done.
Dossey has labeled what he sees as the dawning of the latest phase of medical history as Era III. This is the era of non-local mind medicine. Some of the most exciting work to emerge over the last few years has been that of Dossey himself as he works to show to the world the ability of a mind that is ‘unconfined to the brain and body, mind spread infinitely throughout space and time,’ a concept introduced in his 1989 book Recovering the Soul. ‘This is the first era of scientific medicine that acknowledges that our thoughts may affect not only our own body, (Era II), but the body of a distant individual, without the mediation of any known physical energy or force, and without diminution by spatial separation,’ he writes. ‘Non-local healing phenomena appear almost always to involve consciousness: the empathic, loving intent of one individual to help another.’(6)
This all builds on Byrd’s earlier and famous research and there are an increasing number of empirical and scientifically measurable studies on spiritual tools such as prayer intercessions, intuition, dreams and stories of coincidence that provide a sound foundation for those who believe that medicine can be imbued with spirit. In his book Reinventing Medicine Dossey relates stories of experiments conducted on subjects as diverse as barley seeds and yeast cells, mice and human tissue cultures, to see the effect of prayer or other healing intention, often using conditions and analyses as stringent as any employed in traditional drug trials. In one such experiment, for example, mice were measured for their ability to heal from a deliberate wound made on their backs. The subjects were divided into three groups. The group that was exposed to the attentions of a healer showed a statistically significant healing rate above that of the group looked after by inexperienced medical students with no interest in healing, or by the control group. Similarly, it has been shown that yeast cells respond with an increased growth rate to the attentions of spiritual healers when compared with the attention of those disinterested students. It has to be assumed that mice and yeast cells are incapable of giving a bias to the experiments through their own positive thinking, or by praying for themselves or for those in one of the other groups. This answers some of the cynicism often displayed around prayer experiments on human beings. We do not need to understand why these experiments give the results they do. As Dossey points out, we still don’t understand gravity but we have come to accept it! If we are prepared to accept these profound findings medicine certainly will require reinvention.

What does this have to do with religious tolerance? Firstly and perhaps most obviously, I believe that we need to build a society where doctors and nurses can talk about spirit and soul and prayer with their patients in appropriate circumstances without fear of reprimand.
But I think that this new era of medicine has a deeper significance for religious tolerance. Because there seems to be the potential for so much common ground between the findings of doctors such as Byrd, Dossey and Koenig, and the spirit and power of prayer, meditation and spirituality in any religious setting.

(1)Byrd story related by Larry Dossey, in Reinventing Medicine: Beyond Mind-Body to a New Era of Healing, Shaftesbury, Dorset, Boston, Massachusetts: Element Books, 2000, p. 12, p. 53 et. seq.
(2)Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and Associate Professor of Medicine, Dr. Koenig is founder and former director of Duke University’s Center for the Study of Religion, Spirituality and Health, and is founding Co-Director of the current Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University’s Medical Center,
(3) Koenig, Harold and Malcolm McConnell, The Healing Power of Faith: How Belief and Prayer can help you Triumph over Disease, Paperback Simon & Schuster - April 17, 2001.
(4) Koenig, Harold G., The Healing Connection: The Story of a Physician's Search for the Link between Faith and Health (Templeton Foundation Press, 2004).
(5) Dossey, Larry, Recovering the Soul: a Scientific and Spiritual Search (Bantam, 1989).
(6)Definitions of the 3 Eras taken from Larry Dossey, article, The Forces of Healing: Reflections on Energy, Consciousness, and the Beef Stroganoff Principle, revised from the keynote address and welcome originally presented at Exploring the Forces of Healing, the Second Annual Alternative Therapies Symposium; April 1997; Orlando, Fla.
(7) Larry Dossey, 2000, also a HarperCollins e-book; 1 edition July 24, 2007)

Thursday, 20 October 2011

It is the Same Thing that we all Worship

“It is the same thing that we all worship; we all think the same; we look up to the same stars; there is one sky above us, one world around us; what difference does it make with what kind of method the individual seeks the truth? We cannot all follow the same path to so great a mystery.”(1)
(Senator Quintus Aurelius Symmachus (c. 345 – 402), Roman statesman, orator, and man of letters in fourth century Rome).

“So great a mystery as the Divinity cannot be fixed in one image, which would exclude all others - to one path obligatory for all…He is practising the ethic of tolerance who recognizes in each one a little of the truth, who does not set his own above what is strange to him, and who peacefully takes his place in the multiform symphony of the eternally unattainable that hides itself in symbols, symbols that yet seem to be the only way we have to grasp in some sense the Divinity.”(2)
(Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI).

References - (1) Cited in Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance- Christian Belief and World Religions, (Ignatius Press, 2004)(2) p. 176, the oration of 384 AD by the senator Symacchus before Emperor Valentinian II, in defence of paganism and advocating restoration of statue of goddess Victoria in the Roman Senate, quoted from Gnilka, Chresis.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Too Much Noise

Apparently the University of Carolina jams technology in the lecture theater to eliminate distractions away from the important matter in hand – the lecture. Is that right? Are there any students of Carolina University out there to disagree?

I was at a conference at Cambridge University, UK, the other weekend, on Sustainability in Crisis. (That is another story, that I will come back to later – my report for that will be going up on the Conscious Connections website soon). Anyway,I was listening to the American Douglas Crawford-Brown, Director Emeritus of the Institute for the Environment at the University if North Carolina, US, making his contribution to an exploration of how we need to govern for sustainability. Douglas has now moved to Cambridge, where he is Executive Director of the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research. And he told us that his enforced change of lifestyle has not only cut his carbon footprint by 60% but he is also much happier with a much better quality of living to boot. And he it was who mentioned the technology jamming. He should know!

I have to say that I did find somewhat distracting the clicking of laptop keyboards all around me as people took notes, not to mention the flashes of mobiles as they took photos of the power point presentations. Surely this must have distracted the speakers as well? And somehow I found it a little rude.

Fast forward to this last weekend, when I was at the Christian New Media conference in London, exploring how we can best use in our churches the many new digital media opportunities available to us. And right at the beginning we were told to switch on our mobiles. Yes, switch them on, not off! And all through the day there was a continual twitter roll up on the screens at each side of the main lecture hall, full of a continuous chatter of tweets from the assembled 360 delegates. How distracting was that!! And isn’t it somehow rude? Not listening with full attention to the words of wisdom from the platform? Even if the tweets are comments on what the speaker has just said? Perhaps I’m just old-fashioned!

But there is a serious point I want to make on all this. There is too much noise!

A new organ of consciousness

Long before the era of mass cheap travel and the universal availability of personal computers, the French Jesuit and visionary Pierre Teilhard de Chardin predicted a new kind of oneness of humanity. He foresaw the massive advances in technology and communications that would create a planetary information network. He called this new organ of consciousness the ‘noosphere’. This, he said, would enable a convergence of mankind at all levels, between families, communities, organizations and nations, across all boundaries, social, cultural, economic and political. With the development of the worldwide web, and the enormous advances in global communication that this made possible, these predictions have been fulfilled. What is more, Teilhard also foresaw the possible dangers of such convergence; and that this had fundamental implications for the future of humanity if we did not consciously evolve to cope with the effects of these changes.
Teilhard lived before the age of the internet and the global communications phenomenon that he foresaw so accurately. He made a life time study out of trying to integrate theories of evolution with religious experience, particularly Christian theology. Most of all he wanted to understand the place of man within evolution and the implications that would have for our future.1 He was excited by the possibilities of his predicted new global consciousness for the future evolution of mankind. Man, he said, was at an evolutionary crossroads, and if he could overcome the dangers inherent in these changes, then he was capable of heading for a new state of peace and planetary unity. There would be a convergence of systems across the world, a coalescence of consciousness. He called this the ‘Omega’ point. He was equally clear that to achieve this new planetary harmony ‘It is not our heads or our bodies, which we must bring together, but our hearts…Humanity…is building its composite brain beneath our eyes. May it not be that tomorrow, through the biological deepening of the movement drawing it together, it will find its heart, without which the ultimate wholeness of its power of unification can never be achieved?’1” (3)

I do not believe that the coalescence of consciousness of which de Chardin spoke is fulfilled in the constant noise of tweets, or digital inconsequential chatter. That is not where humanity will be healed. Note that de Chardin spoke of bringing together our hearts, not our heads or bodies. Constant electronic noise, however much it is used to make connections between humans, distracts from our spiritual being, from our spiritual connectivity. It is true that in the conference we were shown many wonderful opportunities that digital media could bring to our churches. But that sense of spiritual togetherness, of love and harmony between all sentient beings, is found in group meditation, prayer, worship, and in the sound of silence, not in digital noise. And I believe that it will be an increased understanding of the mysteries of our global human consciousness, not digital connections, which will finally bring humans together to live and work in peaceful love and compassion and cooperation regardless of color or faith or creed.

“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.”
King James Bible, Cambridge Edition - 1 Kings ch. 19, vv. 11, 12

1. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, written to understand what is happening to man and to help others understand.
2. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Human Energy, Collins 1969, p. 49.
3. Extract from Healing This Wounded Earth, 2011, O Books.

Monday, 17 October 2011

It is fashionable to knock God

Those books that do so become bestsellers overnight.
But much of the anger seems to be directed more at organized religion, accompanied by what appear to be serious and often strident calls for its abolition, as if that were at all possible, let alone sensible.
And there is an increase in those of us who call ourselves spiritual, whatever that means! At the same time, there seems to be a growing realization that there is something missing in many peoples’ lives, some hard to describe quality that may be called spirit. Some are calling for the infusion of this spirit throughout our lives if we are to build a better world for all, and for the need to enhance and nurture spiritual literacy. I’ve contributed to this myself, in Healing…. So what is going on? The rise of this so- called spirituality (again whatever that means) does seem to be matched with a decline in organized religion, much to the delight of militant and angry atheists and humanists (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, et al). Don’t religion and spirituality go hand in hand? Or do they? Can we have one without the other? Which came first? Is one an identifiable aspect of the other? Do they need each other?
Books appear that reply to the angry atheists, explain why there is a God.
But I want to go further in the defense of religion. I want to show you why I believe there is an urgent need to support religion in its many guises and how this may be possible. We need to build tolerance. Or do we? And the atheists and humanists also need to develop tolerance, instead of feeding and brainwashing easily influenced minds, a crime by the way of which the organized religions stand accused by the atheists themselves.
On the day that William Lane Craig debates in London with Stephen Law on Does God Exist, (a debate which Richard Dawkins declined to take part in) I ask -  
What is the sane alternative?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Power of Non-Violence

I was sorting through many loose papers today, trying to tidy up my desk, and found a reference to the following blog posted on my Ripples of Hope site back in July. Not only is it relevant to this Tolerance blog, (not in existence at that time), it is a timely reminder that I still haven't read the book featured. Must do so soon, and report back on it!! So I quote from my other blog:

"We have recently seen some wonderful examples of the power of non violence - for example the successful liberation of Egypt from the Mubarak regime. I am reminded of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama, all of whom have preached justice by non violent means.

I subscribe to the Christian magazine Sojourners, Faith in Action for Social Justice, and in the July edition just received have had my attention drawn by a letter from a Tom Ewell of Clinton Washington, to The Power of Non Violence, written by Richard Gregg in 1934, after the author had spent four years with Gandhi running up to the campaign for Indian independence.

I have found an inexpensive second hand copy, the revised 1959 edition that includes a foreword by Martin Luther King, and look forward to reading it - and will write a review in due course. (Now available as kindle version). I am sure, as Tom says, that this has enormous relevance today as all those years ago."

So now I must indeed do as promised and get reading!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Peace in the Middle East - start with Economic Justice

Sometimes an idea comes along that just does not get the airing it deserves. And sometimes books likewise. I thought this as I listened the other day to a talk given by Julia Foster of the Olive Tree Reconciliation Fund to a group of Christian “ladies who lunch.” The premise of the Foundation is that “Only Jesus can reconcile Jews and Arabs, and He is doing it” and it “aims to build bridges of understanding and support in a spirit of reconciliation between believers (both Jewish and Arab) in the Holy Land (Israel and the Palestinian Areas) and Christians worldwide.” I was uneasy with this. Perhaps that is why one lady walked out? In my research into religious tolerance for my own book I am rather favoring the idea of respectful dialogue between faiths, not requiring conversion of all to Christianity that the Olive Tree Fund seems to be advocating?

"If you want Peace, work for Justice" was the message of his Holiness Pope Paul VI
for the celebration of the day of peace 1 January 1972.

And I thought back to the book Seven Steps to Justice, by Rodney Shakespeare and Peter Challen, which I had read some while back now. So as soon as I was home again I found it and reread it. (It is a delightfully small volume and very easy to read and digest).
The basic theme of the book is the proposal of a new financial system that will give two basic incomes for all, capital ownership for all, a proper deal for women, and a solution to the Middle East (and Kashmir). A lofty aim!

Economists, philosophers, theologians and more have contributed to the debate on the way forward for our economy in the context of addressing the world’s often seemingly insuperable problems. Our economic system is certainly not serving us well at the moment in its present form. Perhaps this is the opportunity to consider other options that address some of the present flaws.
We do urgently need a system that promotes human justice and that stresses the importance of the long-term sustainability and protection of our planet. Where can we find this? (I’ve written about this quite a bit before so those who are regular readers bear with me for a short while).

The Global Justice Movement and Binary Economics
One such organization that works within these parameters is The Global Justice Movement (1). The essence of this movement’s message is an inclusive justice for all. It promotes policies that will provide a new, stable, just, global monetary system that will protect the environment by its sustainability, address poverty and the present rich–poor divide, and focus on real productive economy. It starts with the idea of national bank-issued interest-free loans that have a real link to productive capacity and the spreading of that productive capacity, arising from within society. It is opposed to interest bearing loans which are created without any link to production, which have no regard as to whether the needs of society are met and which are controlled by those with no concern for society. It takes up the line of Pope Paul VI: Global justice, it believes, ends with global peace.

So what monetary system is proposed? Binary economics (1) is a system developed in the 1990s by Rodney Shakespeare with Robert Ashford that fits well within the aims of the Global Justice Movement. It is based on the principle that both capital and labor should physically produce wealth and that all individuals should have access to such capital, provided for them if necessary using interest free money. This could produce a secure source of income for everyone, regardless of age, ability or occupation. This is the new and refreshing idea that has been woven into a complete re-thinking of economics and politics, expressed in a most extraordinary vision in Seven Steps to Justice.

So what is that vision for the Middle East?
The vision is of economic justice first and foremost in the region, and then trading on the fact of a historic Abrahamic bond between Jew and Arab, which can be built upon. It then uses the idea of the biblical Sabbatical and Jubilee years, designed for “ensuring that all individuals were regularly restored to positions where they could produce for, and produce enough for, themselves. In simple terms, it was a periodic renewal of economic justice.” (p. 95 Seven Steps To Justice). And it draws upon the binary economics of Ashford and Shakespeare.

And all this is to be implemented within a new entity that Shakespeare and Challen call The Abraham Society. The Centre for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) in Washington D.C. had already proposed The Abraham Federation, and through the CESJ representatives of the Palestinians and Israelis have apparently already reacted in an open-minded and constructive way to this whole idea. How far has this come? Has Tony Blair read these books and papers? I have to assume he has. I would like to know how far, if at all, this idea has progressed?

For much more background I recommend starting with the paper from the CESJ: 
From which I quote:
“Building a just and pluralistic nation is, of course, a complex undertaking. But by focusing on the limitless possibilities of industrial growth, rather than on endless confrontation over scarce land resources, Arab and Jewish settlers of the Abraham Federation can take a new look at their common problem. Under the mantle of Abraham, they can step back into the past in order to leap forward into a more just and hopeful future.”

Given that tensions and strife in the Middle East affect the whole world, Seven Steps to Justice (2) is then one of the most potentially and profoundly life changing books I have come across. Its methods appeal.

1. Robert Ashford and Rodney Shakespeare, Binary Economics: the New Paradigm (Lanham MD: University Press of America, 1999).
2. Rodney Shakespeare and Peter Challen, Seven Steps to Justice, London: New European Publications Limited, 2002.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Spiritual Wellbeing and the Healing Power of Forgiveness

I was negotiating some hairpin bends high up in the Mallorcan mountains in our rental car when my passenger said out of the blue: ‘I have no time for your Christian faith; you have such a pre-occupation with guilt and sin.’ I was floored for a moment. Perhaps we do to the outside world. But doesn’t that miss some of the point? Guilt gives us a chance to reflect on our actions and inactions and resolve to do better next time.
None of us can possibly be perfect. I am certainly no saint. But we can all strive for improvement in the secure knowledge that with true penitence we do not need to carry a guilt burden with us along life’s journey. Jesus Christ died for our sins, that we might be forgiven. He represents love and forgiveness, not guilt. Forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ, the world’s greatest Wounded Healer, heals us and allows us to move on.
‘To err is human, to forgive divine,’ (1)wrote Alexander Pope, the renowned early eighteenth-century poet. We also have to forgive those who do wrong to us: otherwise we harbor bitterness and resentment within our own souls. Forgiveness is vital for our own spiritual wellbeing. Jonathan Sacks calls forgiveness the emotional equivalent of losing weight. It is even better for you than for the person you have forgiven!
Even if our offer of forgiveness is not accepted, ‘yet once we reach out our hand, we cleanse ourselves of resentment. We may remain deeply wounded, but we will not use our hurt to inflict further pain on others.’ These are the words of pastor Johann Christoph Arnold, who in his book The Lost Art of Forgiving – Stories of Healing from the Cancer of Bitterness, (2) relates the very human stories of ordinary people scarred by crime, betrayal, abuse and war. He tells how many have learned to forgive in sometimes the most difficult of circumstances. He reminds us of Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie died in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, the innocent victim of a terrorist bomb; of Chris Carrier, a ten year old abducted in Miami and subjected to the most brutal attack, who many years later exchanged mutual forgiveness with his abductor, by then an old man. Harbored bitterness, Arnold explains, is destructive and self-destructive. It ‘has a disastrous effect on the soul. It opens the door to evil and leaves us vulnerable to thoughts of spite, hatred and even murder. It destroys our souls, and it can destroy our bodies as well.’
The Most Rev. Desmond M. Tutu, formerly Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, oversaw the post-apartheid reconciliation in his native South Africa, as leader of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He has deep practical experience of the power of forgiveness. Without it, he tells us, ‘there can be no future for a relationship between individuals or within and between nations.’ He brought soldiers and paramilitaries face to face with their victims from the Northern Ireland Troubles to grant and receive forgiveness. This was a process, he felt, which would help individuals in Northern Ireland who had been living for decades with unresolved emotions.
Tutu has also observed that if only America could truly heal the wounds from slavery and the displacement of its Native Americans, the country could reach unprecedented heights.(3) He often speaks of such unresolved emotions as festering wounds that need opening up again and cleansing before real healing can occur.
Some of us believe that the Anglo-Catholic Church has seriously lost its way in the last 100 years or so by concentrating too much on individual redemption rather than nurturing a deeper spiritual commune with the sentient world around us, understanding our place in the wider humanity, visibly living our faith more proactively. Until the Church truly admits to its past failings, it will not be able to move on in a truly healing mission within the world.
This ability to forgive and be forgiven is an essential part of any global healing, a fact recognized by organizations such as the Fetzer Institute, based in Kalamazoo, Michigan USA. They are devoted to the furtherance of love and forgiveness in the pursuit of global healing. The Fetzer Institute has a mission that rests on “its conviction that efforts to address the world’s critical issues must go beyond political, social and economic strategies to their psychological and spiritual roots.”(4) And forgiveness, within or without a sound supporting faith, is one key to the healing of those psychological and spiritual roots.
The reality is that we all need our faith, and our spirituality, more than ever in these coming decades of the new millennium.

1. Alexander Pope English Writer, (1688-1744) from Part II of An Essay on Criticism.
2. Johann Christoph Arnold, The Lost Art of Forgiving – Stories of Healing from the Cancer of Bitterness (Farmington, PA: The Plough Publishing House of the Bruderhof Foundation, 1998)
3. Desmond Tutu, January 2006, reported by Waveney Ann Moore in the St. Petersburg Times,
4. Fetzer Institute, (nothing at all to do with Fetzer Wines of California, but the latter do have a wonderful website and are justly proud of their sustainable and organic achievements!).

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Hospitality and healing in faith traditions

Forty United Methodist churches joined together for the inauguration of President Obama in Washington in January 2009. These churches opened their doors to those very many people who had traveled from across the country to be there, from as far away as New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, Iowa and Georgia. They were all offered a friendly place for rest and refreshment and about 90 people slept on the floors of a Methodist Sunday school classroom. On inauguration day, again the church was able to provide hot beverage and fellowship while watching the event on a projection screen (1). The numbers helped in this way were not great, but that does not matter. Every kind gesture is a seed sown for the future. 
While hospitality is deeply rooted in Judeo-Christian tradition, it is also an essential part of most if not all faiths.
Throughout the Holy Bible the sharing of food together is often mentioned as a token of friendship and commitment. This entire code of hospitality in the Middle East was so strong that it is expressed in a biblical warning, ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.’(2). And of course Jesus shared his Last Supper with his Disciples before his Crucifixion and Resurrection. We celebrate this meal each week in our Holy Eucharist.
On holiday with my family in Turkey a few years ago we experienced two memorable examples of generous Muslim hospitality. We were walking around a small isolated village, in need of refreshment: we were hot and thirsty. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves engaged in a somewhat stilted conversation with a local man. He spoke very little English. Nonetheless, from the rather tenuous link that he also had a friend in London - ‘did we know him?’ he asked - we were invited back to his modest stone built cottage to meet the rest of the family. After much nodding and handshakes we sat on cushions on the floor among them and shared cool beer. The conversation was difficult but the genuine warmth and hospitality was undoubted.
A few afternoons later we were drawn towards the sounds of music and dancing in another village. Following the sound we found a massive party in full swing in the front garden of a huge, if rather less than grand, house. Many of the guests were wearing national costume. Displaying the worst of bad manners, I recall that we were trying inconspicuously to take a photo. Immediately we were spotted and most graciously beckoned into their midst, where we were introduced to everyone and plied with huge quantities of good food, much of which seemed to be arriving continuously from various kitchens along the street. This turned out to be a circumcision party for a twelve- year old lad, dressed in traditional white for the ceremony. We pinned the customary Turkish dinar to his clothes, to add to the many notes already there. We ate and drank heartily while some of the men and boys tried to teach their dance to my own sons, somewhat unsuccessfully I recall! It was altogether a wonderful and happy occasion.
Such hospitality is fundamentally important to Muslims. It defines who they are and they judge themselves and each other on the generosity of their welcome to strangers as well as friends (3).
But the Muslims are not alone in this generosity of welcome. Hospitality is also seen as very important to the Sikh faith. Here it is grounded in the 500 year old tradition of langar, which is the free distribution of vegetarian food to both rich and poor, regardless of caste, color, religion or status. The United Sikh Association of New York University has organized langar events there every year since 2006. This free food from their community kitchen is offered to all students as they sit on the floor, as is traditional, in a symbolism of brotherhood, equality, hospitality, community service, and selfless-service (4).
Hindu culture also believes that appropriate hospitality should be offered to any visitor to the home, even to an enemy. After all, they say, ‘A tree does not deny its shade even to the one who comes to cut it down.’(5). The uninvited guest should be treated as good as God, says the popular Hindu proverb.
Sadly too many of us in our daily lives now seem too busy to relax and welcome the unexpected visitor into our home. Gone it seems are the days when we could all have an open house for our friends and neighbors. How often do we deny ourselves the healing of companionship? It may not always be obvious how hospitality is being used as a source of healing, although the opportunity is always present if we are sensitive enough to find it.
The idea of hospitality as a source of healing has perhaps been seen nowhere more clearly than in the international and free barbeque ministry, On The Move (6). Founded in 1998 by Martin Graham, the idea is simple but effective. Lay Christians are recruited as leaders from the local churches across all Christian denominations to take the message of Jesus Christ into town centers, usually in the open air. There a free barbeque is served to all who stop by, in a spirit of love and generosity. There is worship and there is healing. The leaders are encouraged to move out of their comfort zones, to minister to those who are broken, needy, lonely, in fact in need of any healing. The movement takes the love of God in the power of the Spirit to the many people who are ready to receive it, as the leaders pray with the guests for the healing of these needs. The success of the movement is seen in the coverage of its missions in 26 countries and across the five continents. Its history has been described in the book Sizzling Faith: The Dream that got the Church on the Move! (7).
Such has been the success of On the Move that it has gathered its own momentum and the ministry is now being copied across the world through other Christian groups. On the Move has fulfilled its mission and has wound down its own program. But the success of On the Move shows that we do not have to be an ordained minister to be a source of healing to others. Certainly within the Christian churches there is an increasing interest in the use of the laity to work alongside ordained priests in their ministry. Henri Nouwen saw his ideas of a healing ministry based on the symbolism of the Wounded Healer as being practiced by all Christians, not just pastors.
Hospitality is just one aspect of an important healing ministry that is to be found across all the religions. While some religions have more established healing ministries than others, all are there for anyone in need of pastoral care and support in times of trouble and where many find nourishment for spirit and soul.

2. RSV Hebrews 13.2.
3. For more on Islamic hospitality see Hospitality: A Worldwide Islamic Tradition 2005.
4. Sikhnet, Sharing the Sikh Experience,  6 April 2009.
5. Mahabharata 12.374 cited at 
7. Martin Graham, Sizzling Faith: The Dream that got the Church on the Move! Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications, 2006.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

By Daoist standards we are very poor indeed!

Daoism is one of the smallest religions of all.
Actually Daoism, like Buddhism, is more a philosophy of life than a religion, as Daoists worship no god as such. The Daoist believes that nature has its own limits, that if recklessly exploited by greed or desire, we will see extinction and destruction.
Daoists see in the deepening world environmental crisis that ways of human thinking have unbalanced the harmonious relationship between human beings and nature, and overstressed the power and influence of the human will over nature. The number of thriving species on our planet measures the affluence of the true Daoist. If one considers the continuing destruction of life forms on this earth, the many species threatened with a man induced extinction, then by Daoist standards we are now becoming very poor indeed.

It seems to me from these brief vignettes that the Ancient Wisdom of the great Eastern faith traditions recognizes a deeper spiritual commune of mankind with nature. Many of us hunger for that spirituality. We could learn so much about the links between the unrest in our wounded souls and the wounds of the natural world if we would only allow our hearts to be receptive to what all these great faiths and philosophies have to offer. Between them they provide a wonderful tapestry of beliefs. But equally they are all united in the same mission. We all have a duty of care to the world, whether based upon our sensitivity and compassion or the beliefs of our faith, or indeed both. We surely have to look beyond our own horizons more and appreciate our place in a much wider world.

As the Sikh teaches us,

"All life is interconnected. A human body consists of many parts; every one of them has a distinct name, location, and function, and all of them are dependent upon each other. In the same way, all the constituents of this universe and this earth are dependent upon each other. Decisions in one country or continent cannot be ignored by others. Choices in one place have measurable consequences for the rest of the world. It is part of the same system."

This is very reminiscent of the famous passage in the Apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, on human worth, when he likened the worldwide body of Christians with the human body. All parts of the body are essential for the complete welfare of the whole, he wrote. In the same way we all need each other and the loss of any part weakens us all: there should be no discord between us. He taught his followers that the members of the church should ‘have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.’
Interestingly, the ‘body’ in this biblical context is translated from the Greek Soma, related to Sozo meaning ‘to heal, preserve, be made whole.’ We are not whole: we are wounded or spiritually impoverished if we are not a part of the greater body of faith in our community. We all need to feel that connectedness, that relationship. We need to find unity within the wide diversity of all our individual gifts. We all need each other and we all are special in the eyes of God. 

I have not mentioned the Baha’i faith in this series of blogs. Baha'i followers see Earth as one country of which we are all citizens. One of their guiding principles is that ‘the oneness of humanity is the fundamental spiritual and social truth shaping our age.’ 

Whatever our faith we can be guided by these truths. 
This is surely our responsibility.

(Sikh teaching taken from the statement compiled under the guidance of Sri Singh Sahib Manjit Singh, the Jathedar of Anandapur, who is one of the five spiritual and temporal heads of Sikhism; and Sri Akhal Takhat Sahib, his deputy. From Faith in Conservation 2003, p.141 and at