Category Archives: Interfaith

No other name…but other sheep (Easter 4, Year B, 29 April 2012)

Acts 4.5-12
1 John 3.16-24
John 10.11-18 

I was sitting in my office one day. Not here, it was a few years back when I was head of the Pastoral Care Department of The Wesley Hospital. I’d just picked up the phone. There was a very angry woman on the other end, who was a member of the Uniting Church.

Let me start at the beginning. The chapel at ‘the Wes’ is open 24/7. As you’d expect—people want to come in and pray in a hospital chapel at all sorts of times. Sometimes, staff came in to pray too. There were a couple of staff members who at that time were coming daily to pray.

One had been coming for some time; she was almost part of the furniture. The more recent ‘pray-er’ was a student in the hospital. Like the first, she’d come in around mid-morning to pray. Unlike the first, she’d unfold her prayer mat, kneel and bow low to the ground. You see, unlike the first, she was a Muslim.

Sometimes, the two women would be in the chapel at the same time, the Christian and the Muslim each at prayer in their own way. The angry woman who rang me thought we were setting a very bad example to ‘young people’ by allowing this student to use the chapel to pray her Muslim prayers. She wanted to know why we hadn’t forbidden her.

I told her we were showing hospitality to a stranger in our land. That’s quite a biblical value, by the way, and to her credit she realised straight away that it was. She didn’t give up her objections, but she did eventually run out of steam.

What do you think our responsibility was in this situation? Especially in the light of Peter’s confession of faith to the leaders of his people:

There is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.

If there is ‘no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved’, should we have done something different? Should we have offered her another space to pray? Should we have told her that Jesus is the Saviour of the world? I’m comfortable with what we did, though I do understand that for some people it’s not clear that we were right.

‘There is salvation in no one else…’ What does that mean?

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The faith of outsiders (20th Sunday, Year A 14 August 2011)

Romans 11.1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15.10-28 

Make no mistake: the story of the encounter of Jesus with the Canaanite woman is one of the most troubling in all the Gospels—and yet it’s one of the most rewarding.

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus meets a woman and implies that because she is a Canaanite person, she can be called a dog. It’s what we would call these days a ‘racial slur’; the Canaanites were ancient and bitter enemies of Israel, whose ancestors had led Israel away to worship idols. If this were the only story of Jesus that we knew, would he be an attractive figure?

This story is an embarrassment, it always has been. People have tried to get around it in various ways. They note that Jesus said ‘puppy’, not ‘dog’; but puppies are just as religiously ‘unclean’ as grown-up dogs.

They say that Jesus was testing the faith of this woman who was only trying to get help for her daughter. They are trying to ‘protect’ Jesus, but they are unconvincing. Again, think: if this were the only story about Jesus we had, what opinion would you have of him? Actually, I hope you’d still end up with a pretty good opinion of Jesus. I’d hope that if this was all we knew about Jesus, we’d think highly of him.

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Pakistan floods: responses within and without

A good reflection on the Pakistan floods from Eureka St:

The war weary population of Shangla District in the restive frontier region of northern Pakistan have little time for self pity. Their response to Pakistan’s colossal flood disaster, aptly likened by UN Secretary-General Ban ki Moon to a ‘slow motion tsunami’, was decisive, the antithesis of victimhood.

While they warmly accept the staples of relief — food, water and shelter — they know through a history of crippling food insecurity and mass displacement that they are masters of their own destiny. Manfully they clear the roads, reclaim what remains and look to the ‘Rabi’ planting season and the blessings of Islam for comfort and strength.

The statistics are staggering; the swollen Indus River reaching 40 times its capacity, 20 million affected, thousands of villages abandoned then swamped. The asset base of agrarian farmers and livestock herders stripped and scattered from the land.

By all definitions, this flood disaster struck the loudest alarm bell and stirred the loftiest humanitarian compulsion to act. Yet only now, in the decisive period between emergency and recovery, are the gears of the response being engaged…

Read the rest here.

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Friday fragments — 05.03.10

Mosque helps out local church

A church in Ilford, Essex, had its £600 Christian Aid Week collection stolen. The money was replaced by members of the neighbouring mosque, who had already donated to the cause.

I love this kind of story; pity it doesn’t get wider coverage.


Global Atheist Convention

Andy Hamilton confesses that he is looking forward to the Global Atheist Convention in his town, Melbourne,  ‘with the same tempered gloom that would descend upon me if an international convention of Christian evangelists came to town’. He has written an interesting and thoughtful piece, in part saying

The wellsprings and justification for religious faith, and for other foundational views of life, are to be found in qualities of human experience that are not susceptible to large, knockdown and narrow arguments. Faith in God and in humanity, is rooted in experiences of wonder, questioning, desire and invitation that are delicate and not easily framed in simple argument.

Powerful arguments can and should be built for faith, but the experience on which they are built needs clarification, not codification; amplification, not reduction; ruminative conversation, not assertion.

In conversation we can tease out the subtleties of our intuitions, and the ways in which we account for the beauty and the complexities of our world. We can explore why people find religious faith persuasive, and also come to see how people put together their lives and their world without it.

Go and read more at Eureka St.


Over 99.9% of young people don’t use heroin

I’m impressed by the young people I see around me.  ASBO Jesus agrees; see this fabulous cartoon.


Stations of the Cross for the rest of us

Lent is well under way, Holy Week a few weeks away. This is a helpful article as we journey on the way.


Levitical Law for the home

Hilarious. Here’s a taste:

Of the beasts of the field, and of the fishes of the sea, and of all foods that are acceptable in my sight you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the hoofed animals, broiled or ground into burgers, you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the cloven-hoofed animal, plain or with cheese, you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the cereal grains, of the corn and of the wheat and of the oats, and of all the cereals that are of bright color and unknown provenance you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the quiescently frozen dessert and of all frozen after-meal treats you may eat, but absolutely not in the living room. Of the juices and other beverages, yes, even of those in sippy-cups, you may drink, but not in the living room, neither may you carry such therein. Indeed, when you reach the place where the living room carpet begins, of any food or beverage there you may not eat, neither may you drink.

h/t Seven Whole Days

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Spiritual Practices 3.1—fasting

Last Friday, after two days of meeting with the Working Group on Worship, I still hadn’t written my sermon. (I like to have it down on Thursday.) I went to Samarco, the coffee shop next to the church, and had some of their excellent coffee while I wrote on my Mac. (Yes, there’s at least a trace of hypocrisy there, if not more…writing about fasting while in a cafe sipping coffee…)

I was halfway through my coffee when the man at the table next to me asked if I minded him interrupting me. He’d noticed what I was writing about; he told me he was a Muslim (a convert, the son of an Anglican priest). He told me that Islam has a practice of fasting two days a week, on Tuesday and Thursdays as well as at Ramadan. This weekly practice is in decline; apparently, it began when people couldn’t afford to feed a family seven days a week, so it gave them a communally sanctioned way to eat five days a week. These days of course, most people in Australia can eat every day.

He was saddened by this decline in the practice of fasting in his faith. I saw him today (same cafe, new cup of coffee) and he said he’d spoken to the imam (or whoever preaches) at the mosque at Darra. He had to explain what Lent was to the preacher; the result is, that this Friday, the topic of preaching at the mosque will be fasting!! Maybe I should go…

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Friday fragments — 05.02.10

Interfaith relations

“We try to be a positive voice in this collective scream of anguish”: the story of Deir Mar Mousa, a monastery in Syria.

How does your mind work?

Are you a hedgehog or a fox? A half-convinced Stephen Wang asks the question.

How Jewish was Jesus?

In the aftermath of a Jewish boy’s treatment for wearing tefillin (phylacteries) to pray on a plane, Bosco Peters asks this question.

And following the recent Revised Common Lectionary reading of Luke 4, Mark Sayers reminds us that Jesus would have read the bible a little differently from the way we are used to. Fascinating.

Spicks ‘n’ Specks

A great show on ABC TV is back again. YAY! This video has Dave Faulkner on guitar and Noriko Tadano on the traditional Japanese Shamisen performing ‘Johnny Be Good’. What other program would do this?

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Being a Muslim at Christmas

I was quite moved by this short piece; it was in Faith Central (Times Online), and describes the experience of a young British Muslim woman, Sajda Khan:

I have a very vivid memory of my days in primary school; weeks before school closed for Christmas, the beautifully decorated tree would stand tall and proud in the school hall, with glimmering lights, laden with shimmering tinsel and colourful baubles.

Like all the other children, I too would wait impatiently for Santa Claus I can remember once, all the children in my class given a colouring book with colouring pencils; my friend’s book was much thicker than mine, my heart was spilling with grief as I eyed my friend’s thick colouring book from the corner of my eye.

I am a British Muslim and as a child I never really understood what Christmas was about; all I knew was that it was celebrating the birth of Jesus. Little did I know that Jesus was also a revered Messiah, the anointed one, who will one day, return to earth.

The more I learned about Islam the more I realised that my religion requires me to be tolerant and respectful towards other faiths. The one thing that most disturbs me is that despite the many common theological roots and beliefs that Islam and Christianity have shared throughout history, they have often been depicted as lethal enemies locked in conflict. This so-called clash of civilizations has been marked with episodes of confrontation and conflict from as early as the defeat of the Byzantine empire in the seventh century, to the ferocious Crusades and the current war on terror; a story of mistrust, sometimes spilling into hatred that can only be resolved by one side triumphing over the other. The reality is that Christians and Muslim have lived in peaceful co-existence for centuries throughout the world.

Muslims and Christians share similar theological roots; for example a belief in Jesus as a Messiah. There is a difference: Muslims do not regard Jesus as the son of God but see him as a great Prophet.  The Qur’an, mentions Jesus in about 25 different places. Muslims believe in the immaculate conception of Jesus, where God said ‘Be’ and he was conceived. The Qur’an also illustrates the many different miracles he performed; such as healing the leper, raising the dead to life and healing the blind etc. The first miracle of Jesus mentioned in the Qur’an was how he spoke in the cradle as a newborn baby, replying to those who doubted his conception.

Muslims believe that in Islam, all of the Prophets mentioned in the Qur’an are a fraternity, they all had the same core message: to call mankind to the worship of one God and to do good.

For Christians, Christmas is about celebrating the birthday of a sacred person: the embodiment of nobility, generosity, compassion and justice. These characteristics can be emulated by anyone from any religious background.  Amid the media hype building up towards Christmas there is little focus on the great characteristics of Jesus and what we can learn from his life.

Even though I do not celebrate Christmas in the real sense – as a university student, for instance I would often work long shifts as a medical operator on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day enabling my non Muslim colleagues to celebrate the birth of Jesus, I do actually celebrate and cherish his birth and his life on this earth by truly loving him and trying to exemplify his noble characteristics in my own life.


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Parliament of the World’s Religions

The Parliament of the World’s Religions starts in Melbourne today, and 8000 people will attend. Topics include Healing the Earth, Reconciling with Indigenous Peoples, Overcoming Poverty in a Patriarchal World, Creating Social Cohesion, Sharing Wisdom in the Search for Inner Peace, Securing Food and Water for All, and Building Peace in the Pursuit of Justice.

Speakers include the Dalai Lama, Jimmy Carter, Joan Chittister and Michael Kirby. A fuller list is here.

It’s time for the world’s religious leaders to talk together, and to be seen to talk together. I’m glad it’s happening, and I wish I could have been there.

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Three faiths working together

One of the good things about this blogging thing is that you get to ‘meet’ new friends. My last sermon (Whose sword is it?) led to an email from David Moskovitz of the Wellington (NZ) progressive Jewish Synagoue, who with John D’Alton (Christian) and Mark Pedersen (Muslim) writes the blog Jews, Christians and Muslims Working Together

What a good idea! Why not pay them a visit and see for yourself?


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The Challenges and Opportunities of Islam in the West

Next week, our student minister Kerry and I will be attending a three-day conference at South Bank, Brisbane, called “The Challenges and Opportunities of Islam in the West: The Case of Australia”. The keynote speaker will be Professor Tariq Ramadan, President of the European Muslim Network, based in Brussels. Professor Ramadan holds an MA in Philosophy and French Literature, and a PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Geneva.

According to the website,

The main objective of this symposium is to address several important issues including:

  • Historical, cultural and political challenges of Islam in the West
  • The role and contributions of Muslims in Western societies
  • Islam and multiculturalism
  • Improving mutual understanding, cooperation and harmony—including the role and responsibilities of the Muslim community, political leaders and the media
  • Socio-economic issues such as unemployment and underemployment
  • Youth identity and self image
  • The radicalisation of Muslim youth

I’ll keep you posted!


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