Sunday, April 27, 2008

The LONG weekend


No posts for a while because I have been at boot-camp again, this time to Luther-King House in Manchester with just my year group.

This weekend was a follow on from the Easter-School theme of Christianity in a plural society. Now that I am at home I feel like a zombie in fog and have largely lost the power of rational thought, so before I start to drool.....

Saturday morning: Reformed Judaism. There is a little corner of my heart which is Jewish and despite the 80% Hebrew and 20% English split it was a lovely and deeply spiritual service. The congregation were delightful and very welcoming but, because it was the last service in Pesach, it was a LONG service.

Saturday lunch with a good pal and the purchase of a new shirt and tie, because I had forgotten to pack deoderant and tommorow is a Sunday best day.

How could I forget to pack deoderant? How could I have turned up in Manchester with T-shirts and jeans, not having considered the nature of the services we were attending? (Not that I was alone in that.) Friday's school shirt and tie, smart trousers and jacket were hastily retrieved from the boot of the car where I expected them to stay until Sunday night's homecoming. I scrubbed up a treat for the synagogue but that shirt would have walked home on its own had I worn it for a third day. I also, dear reader, topped up on deoderant courtesy of Lush in the city centre.

Saturday Afternoon and Choral Evensong at the Anglican Cathedral with a very LONG anthem. Don't get me wrong, no one does choral evensong like an English cathedral choir and it was perfection but to my mind I was at a music concert with added liturgy. Just enough time to leg it to the Catholic church for Mass with the wisest priest I have ever met (about to celebrate the GOLDEN jubilee of his ordination)and probably the LONGEST sermon I have heard in a long time! But what a sermon! A demand that in these days of creeping secularisation, Christian Scientists such as Polkinghorn, Flew et al should be heard. Music to my ears.

Sunday morning took us to an Orthodox church. What joyful Holy chaos as the Orthodox Easter was celebrated in English. What hospitality and welcome. What a LONG service, and yet a service I loved with all its symbolism, grounded in a beautifully delivered and very challenging sermon from a very charismatic and very human priest. This, like my Lutheran congregation, was a mini United Nations and I felt very much at home. There is a big corner of my soul which is Orthodox now. Thank you Father Gregory Fr. Gregory's site and thank you to your congregation for the feast.

One theme of the weekend: at every service except Choral Evensong, the Big Bang was mentioned. It was mentioned in a positive way. No slavish adherance to Biblical literalism here but a clear understanding of a Transcendent God who will not be constrained by the common scripture of three great faiths. Most encouraging. Let's hear it for Aquinas and The First Cause.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

My arse

My arse is mine. My partner likes it. I'm not averse to it. I do enough hard cardio work to keep it tight. Running up and down stairs with or without scrotes under my arms keeps it in shape.
It's mine, it's not there for drunk girls, ladies and things that I'm not sure should be seen out in public to grab. Walking past me as I stand in fixed place anything female after a few drinks thinks it's fine to grab a handful. It's not. Once, I'll let it slide, twice I'll have a word. Not a nice word. Anything more, you'll be leaving fast, even if I have to radio a female member of staff to take you out.
If I did it to customers, I'd be fired. If a man did it to a female doorstaff or barstaff they'd be out double quick. I'll give you a warning but then it's my butt, and it stops now.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I have made my God in my own image and He is too small


So, for the last week or so I have been obsessing about finance and college fees and only this morning woke up to the fact that in the cosmic scheme of things my problems are as nothing. I have been talking to God as if my needs are paramount.

How pathetic!

Zimbabwe Lord. How Long?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Easter 5


Acts 7.55-60
Psalm 31.1-5 & 15-16
1Peter 2.1-10
John 14.1-14

This morning we concentrate on our Epistle from 1 Peter. I am always engaged by its opening phrase: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation.”

What wonderful imagery: to think of ourselves being nurtured into faith through our common experience of being in the Body of Christ, our Christian teaching, interpreted by our Lutheran heritage, feeding us and causing us to grow. I don’t want to shatter that image, but having been a member of a couple of congregations in the past where people never moved from the mother’s milk of Christian growth onto solids or beyond, I wanted to sound a warning early on.

This passage was written for those new to the faith and most of us here are long since weaned, but to what extent have we moved beyond the mother’s milk of faith? To what extent is our faith showing marks of maturity? How do we measure that? I think back to those other congregations, perpetually stuck with the mother’s milk of early spirituality and with a menu of half a dozen parables, some key incidents from the life of Jesus and a few selected psalms endlessly recycled.

Growing churches are churches where the spiritual maturity of its members is discernable. I’m not saying those other churches weren’t growing in the numbers sense of growth: whenever I return there are many new faces, but the size of the congregations remain fairly static and there is a strange sense of atrophy if you stay for any length of time. Such churches are good at nurturing faith, but no so good at weaning people on to solids.

I am really conscious of this at the moment as St. Luke’s considers developing our own web-site. Obviously this web-site needs to be true to our identity and needs to exhibit our integrity because it could well be a tool for church growth. What are we to say about ourselves? How are we to express that we are a mature congregation that engages with the world beyond the mother’s milk of spirituality? How do we show the world that we are a congregation that is not frightened to think deeply about the big religious and ethical issues of the day?

I have heard of churches that see the way forward as being about setting clear guidelines for membership including a standard everyone is expected to adhere to.

How about:

1) You attend worship every week unless you are away.
2) If you are away, you attend church locally.
3) You participate in at least one activity a year aimed at helping grow in your faith APART from weekly worship.
4) You give your time to Christian service in some way through or outside the church.
5) You give financially in proportion to your income.

I think we have a problem with most of those here, although I am not suggesting we necessarily adopt that model. There are other factors.

And here we have more imagery - this time from the world of architecture and building. The Epistle talks of Jesus as “The stone that the builders rejected” having been made “the cornerstone.” In other words Jesus is the key stone in the whole edifice. And in that context we are described as a “Royal Priesthood”, a “Chosen Race” and a “Holy Nation”. It’s my contention that how we engage with these discomforting words may reveal the marks of spiritual maturity in our congregation. What are we to make of such passages? And, just so that you know, you aren’t going to get any answers from me on that one because that’s a response which encourages spiritual dependence. What you are going to get instead are more questions and challenges.

My own personal tag-line or Biblical quote, comes from Philippians Chapter 2: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” As we increasingly do that, as we ponder prayerfully over God’s word, as we wrestle with the meanings of the sayings and actions of Jesus and seek to apply them to our own lives we move on into maturity. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

This season of Easter is the time when the church rejoices in its powerful experience of the resurrection of Jesus Christ which transformed the lives of countless people and changed the course of world history. It is also a time when we remember the early church and how through persuasion and testimony the Disciples went out into the world and as a result of their witness called many people to a new life in Christ.

How can our own experience of transformation be as powerful in its witness to others? Well, firstly it has to be as powerful for us. We are called to see ourselves as in Peter’s letter as “living stones”, the material for building and developing to maturity new communities out of diverse people: the material for transforming this community. In today’s Gospel Jesus told his followers that he was “the way the truth and the life” God’s truth results in a life worth living. Jesus is the way into that truth. He is the way into that truth for the people of the first century just as he is the way into that truth for people today, which is why we don’t count the number of times in a year you have occupied a seat in this room as evidence of spiritual maturity.

So we also have to be clearer about what it means to be spiritually mature, moving beyond our own needs and engaging the gospel on a regular basis outside of this Sunday experience as we live it out in the worlds we inhabit Monday to Saturday: the widows and the orphans need caring for, the sick need visiting, the prisoners need to be released, the forgotten remembered, the outcast welcomed in, the workers compensated adequately, the strangers recognised and the foreigner given a home. And so on. This is what makes a mature congregation. Look at how the Epistle describes the characteristics of the mature congregation: “A Spiritual House, a Holy Priesthood, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.”

They don’t sound much like a congregation still to be weaned from the mother’s milk of spirituality. Yet, there’s an important question here: do they sound like us? I told you earlier I wouldn’t necessarily provide answers, but after a bit of reflection you might want to have a look at the other side of the green cards on the walls, maybe before you move over to coffee.

Knowing who we are – a congregation of mature spirituality - and living out who we are can bring transformation to the world around us. May God give us the grace to claim our identity and courageously respond to our calling to tell the world about the amazing God we serve.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pause for Thought


So, after a couple of days of panic induced paralysis, and after a return to college at the start of the Summer term this week, a number of things have become clear.

* The college is not going to throw me off the course.
* This is not a problem of my making, so I'm buggered if it is going to be made a problem of my solving.
* I have been really heartened by the expressions of concern from friends here, on OCICBW, at college and elsewhere.

My conclusion is, after plenty of opportunity for prayer and reflection, and with so many other people bothering God on my behalf, that this is indeed a testing time as so many of you have commented and testing times, however unwelcome, are part of the process of maturing more into the likeness of God.

I am also not a quitter.

The Bishop will pay what he will. I will not be responsible for the shortfall, but as a matter of integrity and personal pride, I will endeavour to screw the money out of various charitable trusts and wealthier Lutheran organisations abroad.

For those who are willing to offer practical - as opposed to financial - support this is what I need:

As I do not have the time to websearch all of this, and as I can not expect a proactive approach from the LCiGB, and as we have no admin support I need help from you, my network.

If you are British, and you know of charitable organisations which have come up trumps in the past and accept funding bids to support religious organisations, please e-mail me their contact details.

If you are a Lutheran from America, Australia, Canada or New Zealand, I want a list of all the presiding bishops in your country with their contact details. If you are a Lutheran from mainland Europe, let me have your Bishop's contact details too. I would also like to know of any ecumenical charities aimed at promoting the gospel, priestly/ministerial training or mission.

One way or the other, with your help, I am going to make this happen!

Friday, April 11, 2008

More Odds and Ends


This is Daughter1 with "my" dog. Sadly he is not my dog (but he thinks he is). He belongs to my friend Ellie, who has severe visual impairement and he is her guide dog. He comes to stay with us if Ellie is ever away and he knows he is on holiday. I love this dog and he loves me. As is often the case with big dogs, he is now developing arthritis and may have to be retired as a guide dog.

As Rachel perceptively said before I even formed the thought: "Its me or the dog."

Poor Maddie!

Away this weekend to our anniversary hideaway without children. Have a good weekend. Back on Monday.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Schmoooth

I saw a truly wonderful thing this week and it gave me some hope for the males of the species. The gentleman came in on a typically quiet weeknight. I can't imagine he'll have had work the next day as he was doing quite well for himself when he rolled through our doors. He seemed to have come straight from work or maybe he just dressed like that to impress the ladies, shirt, tie, suit-type trousers and proper shoes. He found himself a space at the bar and that was the last I saw of him for a few hours.

A little while later I get a call to meet with a member of the barstaff outside the ladies. I don't like going into the ladies but this one warranted it. I knock loudly on the cubicle I was directed to and let them know in my "I'm sure you can hear me" voice to get the door open and come out. No noise, no shuffling, and a pair of gent's heels suggesting he was standing with his back to the door. Out comes the magic door opening device and with a little application of my bulk, the door opened. To my surprise this smart gent has left his post at the bar obviously having had success and was now trousers open being fellated apparently oblivious to my presence. That was until the door moving sent him tumbling forward, almost cracking his head off the cistern. The girl providing the entertainment regained her dignity swiftly, pulled her hair straight and then scrambling to her feet, legged it. Straight down the stairs and through the front door according to the radio calls.

He however regained his balance, tucked himself away, straightened his tie and unsurprised at being invited to leave, walked to the sink, washed his hands, slicked his hair and walked calmly and pleasantly to the door. It wasn't the patience and acceptance of his departure or the attention to hygiene and presentation. No it was the patch of colourful vomit down the front of his trousers that he seemed oblivious to that wins him the schmoooth accolade.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Odds and Ends


* I blame America's/Australia's/Britain's Next Top Model for this.

* Yesterday Kuljinder brought a huge amount of food to school from a family celebration and I took home enough to start a Punjabi restaurant of my own. Boy did we eat well as a family and there was still enough for my lunch today. Breathing fire all afternoon: not a bad thing for a teacher, though.

* I met with one of the church's central committees last week. My love/hate relationship with the church continues. That phrase which includes the words "piss-up" and "brewery" springs to mind.

* "Sir, right: was Jesus religious then?"

OH. MY. GOD!

* I have been doing work experience visits this week, driving around parts of Leeds I don't know with a streetmap in my lap, screaming and tearing my hair out.

"But apart from that, how was the journey?"

* Ring, ring: "Hello its your friend with alcohol calling. I'm on my way round. I hate the church"

"I may not be the best person to discuss that with right now but, hey, let's drink the wine anyway!"

* "Sir, Sir, If you're a priest, right, do you go to church?"

"No, in my religion I drink the blood of fifteen year olds who ask me really stupid questions."

"Honest?"

"Just step a little closer."

* "Dad, can I....."

"No."

* Sigh

Monday, April 7, 2008

And as the Sikh broadcaster said.......


"Forget the bottled water and go straight to the well". These words of Pope Benedict suggest that we shouldn't place too much store on distilled and often skewed religious writing and preaching, but should go back to the source teachings.

His advice was quoted at a Vatican Education Conference last week on the need for greater dialogue with those of different faiths to which I had been invited. The quote struck an immediate responsive chord. A number of the learned contributions seemed to me, to miss the declared aim of the conference of understanding, and rejoicing in what different communities hold in common and respecting and reconciling areas of difference. Despite this, the conference did show people in Europe are becoming increasingly alert to the challenges of living together with different cultures.

In Britain, we rightly pride ourselves on our progress in understanding and respecting the communities around us. But, in my view, and that of some other minority faiths, since 9/11 and the London bombings, we seem to have lost our sense of focus. Concerns over the activities of a small core of Muslim extremists, and an understandable wish not to offend the Muslim majority have pushed the need to understand our different faiths and cultures to the back burner. Earlier initiatives on greater understanding have given way to new thinking, based on the questionable premise that all faith communities are isolated, and there is an underlying need, in the jargon of the day, to build bridges and connect communities. Bridges from where to where? The Sikh community, for example, gets on fine with those of other faiths or none, and this year celebrates the 100th anniversary of the opening of the first gurdwara in Britain in London's Shepherd's Bush.

What worries me about this political and academic manoeuvring to curb extremist activity in one religious community is the implicit suggestion that similar problems exist in all minority faiths. It's true that religion can be manipulated and packaged with dangerous rhetoric, but, as Pope Benedict observed, the best way to counter this is to go back to source teachings. The Sermon on the Mount or Sikh teachings on equality and justice, and similar teachings in other faiths, cannot be open to misunderstanding - and focussing on these and other values we hold in common is, in my view, a sure way to true community cohesion."

Indarjit Singh, BBC Radio 4, 1st April 2008: "Thought for the Day."

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Old Friends

This I'm sure has led to the long term damage to my hearing more than the hours of crap dance music has. When two girls see each other across a bar room, they both take a moment to recognise each other then. Tilting back to manage a slow run across the bar floor in very high heels, with arms held in tight to keep the bag with them they head towards each other. They begin the high pitched scream. If you happen to be in the middle, this scream both warns you to move and in it's rising stereo shriek can act to stun the unprepared. The two banshees then collide and merge into a ball of over-excited, alcohol fuelled jumping, screaming noise. This event from start to giggling, both talking too fast over each other overly energetic mess is is known as the dolphin hello.

I'm sure the beachings of vast numbers of cetaceans can be attributed to these noise events happening too near open water. It's when you witness the 4th or 5th of these in a night, you are thankful you're a sober emotionally retarded male. A handshake, a manly hug even and you won't be heard above the football commentary.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Follow-up thoughts from boot-camp.


Me practicing my listening skills. Thanks to those who have been engaging in the discussion about Christian witness in a plural society: not an easy topic, but a rewarding one to struggle with. I had deliberately not nailed my colours to the mast on where I stand in relation to Exclusivist, Inclusivist and Pluralist, so here are my current thoughts on Christianity and other faiths:

Attractive as the Pluralist position is, and much as I might like to hope that all roads lead to God, I find no Biblical authority for such a stance and therefore reject it.

In terms of the unique claims of Christ as the only road to salvation, I would have difficulty rejecting such statements (its my evangelical past, don't you know) although I was much taken with one comment on the earlier thread which points out that such claims are unique to John's Gospel and are not to be found in the Synoptics. (If you are interested in Biblical criticism as a discipline, and are interested in the development of theological thought in Christian writings, that may be an interesting line to follow. If you are such a person, you will probably also not have a strong sense of the inerancy of scripture in its narrowest understanding.)

However, I must confess here to being an Inclusivist and my sense that this is the best understanding of God's grace is quite pragmatic. While I have no problem at all with the crucifixion and atonement being God's answer to the problem of human wilful disobedience (aka sin) I do have a problem with statements that interpret Christ's substitutionary death for all mankind as somehow being only for those who take a positive faith stance on that. Please don't misunderstand me here: I have made such a positive declaration of discipleship through God's mercy and grace via repentance, acceptance and a new life in the Spirit.

BUT I am not willing to accept that this defines the limits of God's grace. To ascribe such limits is a human failing. God transcends our understanding of him and we make that same God in our own image when we attempt to understand him beyond what he has revealed of himself. Our God, unless we are careful, is too small!

I am a Christian, born again and saved through Christ's once and for all sacrifice because I heard, understood and was convinced and convicted by that message of repentance and faith. It is at times like this, though, when I consider the Muslim born and brought up in Saudi Arabia, the Sikh born and brought up in the Punjab, The Buddhist in Burma, the Hindu in rural India or the Jew in The Orthodox areas of Jerusalem. Do they hear the Gospel as I did? No, they don't. Will they? Can they? No they won't and they can't.

What sort of a God dismisses and condemns such people to an internity in his absence? I want nothing to do with such a God. Such a God is not worthy of our loyalty or our worship.

Now we may discourse until the cows come home about mission in this context, but the bottom line is that Saudi Arabia, Burma and a great many other regimes aren't going to let us in to evangelise so are we saying that God condems these people? Are we really?

I think firstly, then, of Mark 9.38-40: "Whoever is not against us is for us..." and I think of Cornelius in Acts 10.4 as he received the Holy Spirit before his conversion. The church and the gospel can meet others, not as abandoned by God but as anonymous Christians. Back to Justin Martyr: "Those who live according to the light of their Knowledge are Christians." Christianity is the absolute religion resting on the incarnation of the word but non-Christian religions can nevertheless be vehicles of God's grace and ways of salvation where the Christian hope is present as a hidden reality - even outside the visible church.

So, should I attempt to evangelise my Muslim and Sikh friends? Are they not better off as faithful Muslims and Sikhs if I accept that their religious, cultural, linguistic and family ties all mitigate against them hearing the Gospel as I heard it and if I accept, as I increasingly do, that God will judge them as those incapable of hearing the true gospel but as those who can live by the light of Christ within their own faith positions?

Discuss.

One more glass of wine and you'd have got the photo of me naked but for a strategic bunch of flowers


Thanks to all who posted their congratulations here and at OCICBW. We were knocked out and really appreciated your good wishes and kind thoughts.

Love to you all from Jack and Rachel.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Silver all the way and never a cross word (well, not too many......)


Today is our 25th wedding anniversary. We were little more than children as you can tell. Allow me to introduce you to Rachel, (known on these pages in the early days as Hannah when I was concerned to guard our identities.)

To:
My Wife
My Rock
My best friend
My lover
My world
My everything

Thank You

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Theological Reflections 2 on Priest Boot-Camp


“No world peace without peace between religions, no peace among religions without dialogue between religions and no dialogue between religions without accurate knowledge of one another.” (Hans Kung)

Seems as good a starting point as any.

The question is, to what extent can Christians enter such dialogue without compromising the traditional belief in the absoluteness and uniqueness of Christ? Similarly, can Muslims enter it without compromising their belief in the uniqueness of the Quran?

We also need to see the dark hand of history in our unenlightened dealings with one another, which has led on the part of Christianity and its political manifestations to imperialism and superiority and on the part of others to resentment and suspicion. These are not good foundations for dialogue. One side’s war of liberation is another side’s realisation that the Crusaders are out to do us down again.

Nevertheless, I side with Max Warren of the Church Missionary Society: “Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we may find ourselves trading on men’s dreams. More serious still, we may forget that God was here before our arrival.”

Similarly, I like this World Council of Churches statement (1975): “As Christians enter dialogue with their commitment to Jesus Christ, time and again the relationship of dialogue gives opportunity for authentic witness; at the same time we feel able with integrity to assure our partners in dialogue that we come not as manipulators but as fellow pilgrims, to speak to them of what we believe God has done in Jesus Christ who has gone before us but who we seek to meet anew in dialogue.”

Let us remember too, that in Vatican 2, the Roman Catholic Church had renounced its interpretation of extra ecclesia nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation) and affirmed other faiths as genuine though imperfect ways to salvation.

So, Christian approaches to mission have often been categorised under one of three paradigms:

1) Exclusivism:
• This encompasses the beliefs that all non Christians are damned eternally;
• The traditional interpretation, taken literally, of extra ecclesia nun salus;
• The belief that “European” Christian culture is superior;
• All religion is unbelief without the self-revelation of God in Christ;
• The urgent missionary claim of the unique Christ.

Biblical support for these stances can be found in John 14.6 and Acts 4.12. (What you want me to do everything for you? I’m afraid not: look them up for yourselves.) Similarly Leslie Newbigin comments “It is not true that all roads lead to the top of the same mountain. There are roads that lead over the precipice. In Christ we have been shown the road.”

2) Inclusivism:• This encompasses the ancient sense that Christ Fulfils or recapitulates but does not destroy what is good in other religions, cultures and philosophies;
• The long standing belief that outside the church the Jewish people are God’s chosen;
• The insistence that Christ is not exhausted by Jesus of Nazareth but fills all things as “cosmic presence” (Col 1);
• Belief in the universality of God’s grace as the source of salvation;
• The sense of common experience amongst mystics, so that Christians find Christ in other forms.

Biblical support for these stances include: Acts 17.23, Col 1.20 and I Tim 2.4. (Yes we have the Bible supporting opposing positions which is why I have a problem with those who insist on bashing me with the concept of the inerrancy of Scripture.) In addition the concept of Anonymous Christians was affirmed in the works of Karl Rahner. Also “It is our belief that those who strive to do the good which is enjoined on us have a share in God. Christ is the divine word in whom the whole human race shares and those who live according to the light of their knowledge are Christians, even if they are considered as being godless.” (Justin Martyr, 2nd century).

3: Pluralism:
• This more recent development encompasses the idea that there is a philosophical or experiential essence to all religion, taking different forms and histories;
• The post-modern belief in a radical pluralism, so that while understanding may be possible, synthesis is not;
• The eschatological belief that, while full agreement is not possible now, unity of faith will be revealed at the end of time;
• The attempt to construct a universal religion out of elements of all;
• The move away from Christocentrism to Theocentrism.

There is no Biblical support for these positions but John Hick has opposed the traditional Christian Incarnational doctrine, and in seeing all religions as having their heart In the move from self-centredness to centering in God.

So, where do you fit in to these paradigms?

Theological Reflections 1 on Priest Boot-Camp


So, Christian witness in a plural society: our trip to Bradford took us around a largely conservative Muslim area. Our course members sported an eclectic variety of head wear for the occasion. We visited a Mosque where a personable young man called Sajit talked to us of his concerns for a lost generation of disaffected Muslim youth. What has the Mosque to offer first and second generation Muslims with their culture of secular Britain mixed with rural Pakistani values and an overlaying of rude-boy and hip-hop attitudes? Add to that a generation of Imams brought up and “educated” abroad, and with little English language competence and what have you got? A disaster in the making is what you have got.

Sajit, however, is one of those saints with nothing short of the reformation of British Islam as his goal. He talked movingly of marginalisation and how that opens some to the seductions of radicalism and worse, and then he shared with us a teaching tool which he had been instrumental in developing for use in Mosque schools. This excellent tool uses the British National Curriculum Citizenship programme and applies it’s themes to Quranic teaching. He has had some problems getting some conservative Mosques to take it up, but there is progress. I would ask you to have a look at it and pass the link on to any Muslim friends you have, especially those with youngsters in the mid to late teens. Muslim Citizenship teaching tools

We followed this with a visit to a Gurdwara (see picture above), where Manjit talked us through the basic tenets of Sikhism. Manjit is a sassy young woman in her thirties and the Gurdwara was a lovely, light and airy purpose built place of worship. I have always admired Sikhism and Sikhs for their commitment to non-violence and to equality. Their belief in one God and their determination not to be an evangelistic religion makes them attractive and respectful partners in dialogue. What I also like is their ministry of hospitality and the lovely food which was prepared in honour of our visit.

Back at Boot-Camp we had two Muslim visitors, Zaff and Zahira who both continued with the theme of the development of a modern British Muslim identity. Both were well educated and articulate. Both were devout Muslims and both were integrated citizens. Zaff developed Sajit’s themes of radicalism and Zahira talked movingly of her ministry, which was to challenge and educate Muslim women away from the cultural restrictions which for generations have been laid on Quranic teaching and which marginalise and disadvantage women.

I know that we could have met Muslims whose attitudes would have terrified us, but I also know that they are in the minority. The challenge for interfaith dialogue and civic relations, though, lies in the many high profile trials that are likely to take place in the coming years as terrorism plots are uncovered. Plots that will send the ignorant white underclass on to the streets in search of retribution and which will drag Manjit and other Sikhs into the slipstream. After all, aren’t they all the same, those Pakis? Asian surely equates to Muslim!

The next few years are certainly going to be a challenge, but I for one am heartened in the knowledge that there are people out there like Sajit, Zaff and Zahira.

Part of that challenge is a challenge to Christians and to Christian leadership. We don’t have to agree with the teachings of Islam to recognise that we have a responsibility to out neighbour as the parable of The Good Samaritan illustrates so effectively. For many of us that neighbour is a Muslim individual or family who we will need to love and value, to support and defend when times get rough as they surely will. For every nutter with a violent agenda and a corrupt understanding of Islam there are thousands of Sajits, Zaffs and Zahiras who need our understanding and support because they are agents of change. For every nutter with a violent agenda and a corrupt understanding of Islam there are a dozen disaffected young Muslims at a crossroads. How we behave towards them may determine the path they choose.

More to follow. I am warming to my theme.