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“Before you go” (pre-leaving psychoses)

A long time ago, it seems, was the first airing of the idea of a sabbatical – with loved ones and colleagues. Then there was the seeking sanction from the Vestry (which is my employer) and a blessing from the bishop. Then the seeking of funding for the travel element, accommodation and course fees. All of that was straightforward and went very well.

(Indeed, thank you to the Scottish Episcopal Church’s Alastair Haggart travel bursary trustees, the bishop and the Vestry for the significant contributions to the budget. And special thanks to the Vestry who will continue to pay my stipend, though I will not be at St Mary’s in person for a while.)

But the sabbatical starts next week. And I remember that there are lettings-go involved. On Monday I will hand over my keys to the cathedral and the office so they can be of use to others. Even the Gizmo the cat and Megan the dog will have their sabbaticals, so they must be re-homed courtesy of generous hosts. The office desk must be cleared so others can work there unimpeded by my habitual piles. An out of office message must be applied to the email account.

Considering life not being a vice provost for a while even nudged me to re write my funeral arrangements. Leavings and partings are all little deaths. Letting go is as much a part of healthy living as receiving and holding. And there is wisdom and good in it as well as sadness.

Well change is disorienting, we all know that. And the whole point of sabbatical, whether it be a cultivation of that somewhat lost principle of weekly rest for a day, is a breaking from routine. Perhaps to rest, to re-connect with one’s true self and a greater cosmic context and to embark on the next step of life’s journey. The temptation is to fill spare time with appointments and to plan enough to write out insecurity.

So I must remember the Bishop of Delhi, Maqbul Caleb’s scary advice when I first travelled to India in 1986. “Don’t bring a diary Cedric. You westerners must learn to trust your intuition!”

Right. Did I put enough socks on the packing list?

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First blog post

This is the post excerpt.

A BIRTHDAY can be like a New Year. A time for reflection, making time for being with people you love and for indulging a delight or two. Don’t you think?

My 63rd was this week. And it was good. Very good. Those important to me were close at hand and sent messages. It was amplified by achievements of the last few weeks. And orientated by an upcoming sabbatical.

This blog will serve as a kind of gentle travelogue of what happens in the next few weeks. An aide memoire for the writer too. It might be also of interest to colleagues, friends, family and contacts.

Keep track should you wish, and join in the journey too. It will be good to have folk with me in spirit. I’ll post some stories, and pictures too, along with the occasional insight, and questions.

And if there are ways in which I can enhance this blog please send your ideas.

Thanks for reading so far!

“You’ll be coming back, won’t you?”

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Well this was the question posed by one of the pilgrims on Sunday night as we stood on the roof terrace of the Golden Walls Hotel, Jerusalem. We were just standing there, watching the traffic and the crowds coming and going near the Damascus Gate. And I had to admit that I would. Something about this immensely complex land compels me to share its realities, its archaeology, religions, communities, history and politics with anyone interested. It’s the land of the Holy One for Christians, and it’s holy for Muslim and Jewish people too. And if there could ever be peace in this small place claimed by Palestians, Israelis, Jordanians and Syrians too, there could be peace anywhere.

It was my fifth visit. Much has changed since my first in 1978. And now my approached has been honed to introduce pilgrims to the region through a two day visit to the Negev Desert, followed by four days in northern Galilee and five in East Jerusalem. An ambitious programme I admit. Tiring too. But with built in time to stop and stare as well.

But this time, having arrived virtually on time at Tel Aviv from Edinburgh via Istanbul, we were three hours sitting around in arrivals. One of our party has family in Beirut. Two passport pages with Lebanese visa stamps found him impounded by immigration officials. After a couple of hours I sent the bus off to Arad with the guide so I could join them later taking a taxi with our friend and two helpers. If you are a British passport holder and have such things it might be advisable to get a new one. There was one immigration official who queried the fact that there are Christians in Lebanon.

What else was new this time? Well there had been storms and flash floods in April. the Sea of Galilee was more full than last year, and clearly a viper had lost its home at Tel Sheva and gave our guide Samer a massive fright by hissing fiercly as he was about to lead us down to see the water cistern archaeology, past the serpent’s new sunbathing platform. We beat a speedy retreat to Abraham and Abimelech’s meeting place.

Also new: The visitor centre at the 4th century CE synagogue in Sepphoris in Galilee has been completed and was very impressive. One of the many improvements for pilgrim and tourist infrastructure in Israeli territory including the City of David excavations and Hezekiah’s Tunnel, which now makes the lack of investment in the Palestinian homeland very plain- just visit Tel Jericho and Sebastia, equally important sites, to judge for yourself.

It’s always good to meet up with friends we know who are working in Israel, and this time we invited the Rev Kate Macdonald, a SEC priest serving as the Church of Scotland minister in Tiberias to join us for supper and a conversation one evening. It was good to hear what it’s like there from someone who has been there for three years or so. And she seemed delighted to be with us all.

Heading for Jerusalem on the first Friday of Ramadan and the eve of the Jewish festival of the first fruits, Shavu’ot, especially after the protests and IDF killings in Gaza and the opening of the new Trump directed US embassy in south Jerusalem was always going to be a risk. But our journey in passed off fine. In fact I would recommend any ascent to the City just before sundown on a Shabbat eve. The roads were cleared of protesters, re-opened and virtually empty.

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It was the first time I had been with a group on a Sunday in Jerusalem. It was Pentecost of course so after a dawn raid on the Holy Sepulchre & breakfast we all walked the 10 minutes down Nablus Road to St George’s Anglican Cathedral. There were a good number of pilgrims present form many continents and nations, but we were gladly outnumbered by locals as congregations from parishes in the diocese from Israel and Palestine were gathered for a united service and to hear their Archbishop Suheil Dawani preach. It was great for me that the liturgy was mostly in Arabic with Engish versions of the words and hymns available for the non-Arabic speaking. It was a hearty Pentecost, and we all spoke and sang in tongues.

Sad news. There were no camels for tourist snaps and rides and snogs at the usual places. It seems that either is was too hot (over 35 degrees C many afternoons) or more seriously for those dependant on the trade, there has been cancellations of pilgrim and tourist groups due to recent troubles.

It was great to lead a good group of 24. Pat Bennett was a brilliant assistant counting everyone into the coach, now known as Countess Pat. Two fellow priests joined me in celebrating the Eucharist: Moira Jameison by the Lakeside at Tabgha, Matthew Little at Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, and myself on our first day at the Byzantine ruins on the hilltop at Avdat.

Pilgrimage to the land of the Holy One has a powerful impact on those involved. Some just love it. Some have their minds and heart changed for ever. Some find their faith deeply challenged. Some find it profoundly uncomfortable. Others are uniquely inspired. And nothing has changed since Chaucer. Such is the process of preparation, travel outwith the safe and familiar, the formation of relatonships, the engagement with the God of Covenant, the Carpenter of Nazareth, the Spirit of Renewal.

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“You’ll be coming back, won’t you?” Well yes, if I can help anyone make their own engagement with these places, their life and faith journey, the peoples whose home it is today. I’ve done this for 70 people in the last five years. That’s quite a thing. But I’ve done it principally for those we have met, really met, whose home is in Israel and Palestine, who say: “please come, and encourage others to come, we need people to see these places for themselves, so that they can know for themselves”.

And thank you Abha, for the photographs used in this post.

 

Incarcerated in Windsor Castle

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Just a few hundred yards from the State Appartments within Windsor Castle, and adjacent to the 16th Century Chapel of St George, is a unique institution. St George’s House was founded in 1966 by the Duke of Edinburgh and the then Dean of Windsor, Robin Woods as “a place where people of influence and responsibility can gather to grapple with significant issues facing contemporary society”.

The Castle is a gated community with a very real, if decorative armed guard. It is the Queen’s home for at least 2 days of the week. And within those same castle walls St George’s House describes itself as “a sanctuary,  removed from the pressures of everyday life, where the topic to hand takes precidence”. A place “where Wisdom is nurtured “. Consultations for clergy are held here every year, and I had the privilege of joining one two years ago.

I was invited to join this 3 day ecumenical consultation last week to discuss theological language used about the Holy Land. It was called “Competitively Loved?”, (an ingenious title drawn from the writings of Bishop Kenneth Cragg). It came of course after my time in Jerusalem a few weeks ago so it became a timely rounding off of my sabbatical.

The consultation was jointly arranged by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and Christian Aid and was chaired by Bishop Michael Ipgrave. There were six presentations: on Christianity in Jerusalem and the wider Holy Land looking at the contemporary religious  and political context, a Palestinian Christian theology of the land,  Zionism and a Christian reappraisal, challenging anti-Judaism in Christian discourse on Zionism and Palestinian liberation, a World Council of Churches perspective, and lastly insights from Buddhist traditions relating to war and violence.

Alongside these presentations was deep discussion which was structured in three areas: What issues and questions are posed by the way Christians speak about Israel-Palestine? How can the churches make a difference in the relationship to people in the region, especially those living under occupation? What are the opportunities and challenges in interfaith relationships,  particularly Judaism and Islam?

And in the middle of all this the US President declared that the US embassy in Israel would move to Jerusalem.

Well we know that the Holy Land is a theological challenge for western Christianity.  Peter Colwill writes: “Western churches have found themselves caught between two seemingly irreconcilable narratives, that of Jewish self understanding in a post Holocaust context, and the self determination of the Palestinian people”. (As I experienced for myself  six weeks ago when I spent a Monday at Yad Vashem and the following Thursday at the Palestinian National Theatre on Balfour Declaration day.) Peter Colwill continues “This is a theological crisis”. “And one that requires great ecumenical reflection from the churches.”

Spending this time immersed in these matters with 20 others from various British and Irish churches and aid agencies was well worth while and intellectually demanding.

And it is a task I shall be working through in the year to come in my interfaith work locally and nationally,  not least with my Jewish friends in the local Council of Christians and Jews.

Meanwhile, remember to pray for the peace, with justice, for the peoples of that land. And do consider, if you possibly can, joining the next pilgrimage I shall lead there in May 2018. My motivation for giving people the opportunity to see the place and to meet some of the people who live there is totally undiminished.

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Becoming a Monk

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My idea of a retreat is actually not to go on a retreat. If there’s a speaker, it becomes a conference in my head. If it’s with friends and colleagues, well I want to chat and head off together for a walk and/or the pub. Instead I look to be enfolded by a community and it’s rhythms of worship, work and meals. I’m looking to belong in something quite different to my normal life.

I first encountered this by going to Taizé. And then to a small house in Hemel Hempstead with a few Sisters of the Love of God. That led me to their HQ in Oxford and then on to becoming an Associate of the contemplative Community of the Servants of the Will of God which inhabited a forest near Crawley Down in West Sussex. I’ve been to the Anglican Franciscan house at Glasshampton, and this week I have been at their house in Alnmouth.

So what happens?

For a start you get your own room, often quite small, sometimes called a cell, which has the basics: a bed, table and chair, and with a bit of luck some heat when it’s needed. Hint 1: take a hot water bottle just in case.

The best places will allow you to eat with the monks and nuns in their refrectory. Hint 2: be prepared for the odd surprise. The meals are largely quite simple. At SLG they used to serve all meals in wooden bowls. One evening the supper was a kipper. And to be eaten with a spoon. Try as they did to wash up thoroughly, breakfast the next day smelt and tasted of smoked fish. It was porridge. And one lunchtime at CSWG, which was almost entirely vegetarian,  we were served a huge portion of roasted chickens. All meals were eaten in silence, but it was long before we came to understand that the feast was due to the overnight slaughter of a fox in the chicken cage.

And then in small communities you get to worship alongside the members. The picture above is from the chapel of the Franciscan Friary at Alnmouth. The brothers sit facing each other at the front of each row, the guests just behind. Hint 3: develop the art of singing and reciting very slowly and gently. The usual guidance is that if you can hear the person next to you, that’s the appropriate volume.

Hint 4: You’ve heard of slow radio or slow TV? Well a retreat is slow living. Not a lot should be going on. And everything is voluntary. You choose. Slowness and stillness is what it’s about. I’d suggest not taking a radio, music. And most places will not have wifi. So let me explain why I’m writing this on day 5 of 7. We were told a breakfast that we should be out of the house between 10m and 2pm today. Friday is cleaning day. So I packed up and went for a walk on the beach. And the wind blew and the rain it rained. Here I am in the Alnmouth Tea Rooms.

All very inconvenient you might think, but here is the thing. It’s about being a guest. The welcome booklet says this: “Welcome to the life and ministry of the Friary… We are very blessed to live in such a beautiful spot and so want to share our home with others. We are not attempting to run a hotel …. but because we believe that God has called us to the life of prayer and service within community that is worth sharing and should not be kept to ourselves.

Hint 5: Expect to give a little donation. For full board and meals this Friary offers the suggestion of just £40 per night, which can be gift aided. But it’s just guidance. Some will not be able to afford that. Others of us who are earning can give more.

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A typical day here at Alnmouth will start with Morning Prayer at 7am, breakfast at 8am which is self service and eaten in silence. Then 12 noon midday prayers and a Eucharist followed by a cooked lunch with conversation. There’s a community cup of tea & a bun at 4.30 and Evening Prayer at 5pm and a simple supper at 6pm. The Night Office of Compline is at 9pm and then it’s silence until after breakfast.

The rest of the time is for you. There’s usually a library, or you can walk or just sit an be. The photo above is from the window of the library here at Alnmouth where I have found myself just walting the weather and the waves. I catch up with my journal sometimes, there’s time to think, write, read, sew, knit or draw or anything else that helps you to centre and become still. Hint 6: do take a book or a hobby, but don’t plan to do too much. Or anything for that matter. What you are supposed to be doing will become clear. And this is a time to rest and get some sleep.

It’s a long way to come here, but there’s a wisdom in travelling for a retreat.  Having said that, my prayer is that there will be a recovery of Christian community life in Scotland  and in the SEC in particular.

Final hint: book such a thing each year. Indeed book some time, two nights is a minimum, for yourself for 2018. Book it now.

 

Sex in Salisbury

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Why on earth go to Salisbury to learn about sexuality? Well in first intance Sarum College, set in the extraordinary cathedral close there, runs a number of MA courses validated by the University of Winchester, and my intention was always to spend a week of my sabbatical there for some formal academic learning. It just so happened that the unit taking place there on my available week was this one. Sexuality and Spirituality. One of the six subject areas offered as part of the MA course in Christian Spirituality.

I learned about seven things which I shall never forget.

1. Philosophy.  I don’t think I’ve had enough of this discipline. Perhaps there should be more of it served up to those of us whose job it is to communicate ideas, values, experience and aspirations? We started with insights from Lisa Isherwood. We could not avoid Michel Foucault. And the atheism of Jean-Luc Nancy who writes about the body of God.

2. Psychology. Now I seem to have got through 63 years of life without reading Jacques Lacan. Please could someone write a Ladybird Book about the disjunctive plight of the disadapted animal? Please. With pictures. Though I gather that a knowledge of Plotinus would have helped me in this lecture.

3. Transgender experience.  Wonderfully mediated by the fabulous priest Christina Beardsley. Look out for her books “Transfaith” and “This is my Body“.

4. Queer Theology. Dylan Parry Jones gave us a thorough insight. It’s not really a liberation theology. It can’t really be defined. Which perhaps is rather the point.

5. Eros has grown itself a bad name in some circles. But just have a good look at Greek philosophy and poetry, the medieval mystics and St John of the Cross. Ah.

6. Don’t go for long without a bash at the early modern English poets either. Shakespeare,  you dark horse…. The expense of spirit in a waste of shame. And George Herbert… Love bade me welcome.

7. And the arts of course. Opera (anyone know what Szymanoski’s Kröl Roger is all about?) And the treatment of sex in the cinema…. perversion, parody or paradise? And we watched Derek Jarman’s The Garden. CAN there be there any hope?

I began to think that doing the MA would be a good retirement project for the future but I think the £6000 is probably too much if you are not earning much. Anyway thank you Sarum and the course leaders Barney Palfrey and Andrew Todd. Thank you too my friend James Woodward, the principal. It was worth the two 10 hour train trips. And it gave me the great opportunity to stay with my brother Chris and Olivia nearby.

I now have a couple of days to enjoy home before the next adventure.

 

Walls

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I’m writing as journalists await the outcome of a British cabinet secretary’s meeting with the Prime Minister concerning the decision to keep meetings with Israeli state officials secret. Why would anyone want to do such a thing?

The State of Israel, population eight and a half million, of whom rather less than half are Palestinian, claims to be a beacon of democracy, education, justice and peace in the Middle East. It is 70 years old this year. It is a fabulous place to visit. There’s natural history. Who doesn’t love a desert and a huge fresh water sea? It has archaeology. Jericho is the oldest inhabited city in the world. It has religious significance. Speak to any Jew, Muslim, Christian, Druze or Baha’i you know.

In her speech to the Conservative Friends of Israel in 2016 the Prime Minister Theresa May said “We have in Israel a thriving democracy, a beacon of tolerance, an engine of enterprise an example to the rest of the world for overcoming adversity and defying disadvantages.” It is also a nuclear power and the local press describes their armed forces as the “most moral army in the world”.

So what’s the problem?

It’s the land. Land declared by the British Government to be available in 1917. Land that became a state in 1948. Futher land captured and occupied in the 1967 war. Land still being appropriated by “settlements” in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Land encircled by walls.

Was this local land promised for all time to a particular people as to Abraham and Moses? Or was it the values of God the people were called to live out that would be a beacon of light for the whole of humanity? And should it be important to Christians who seemed to have been taught that it is not a piece of territory but the Kingdom (values) of God which should be sought?

In my photo collage above there are four walls. 1) The wall built to defend Jerusalem by Suliman the Magnificent in the 16th century. A great place to walk and view the sights. 2) The Western Wall built by Herod the Great to surround the expansion of the Second Temple. The most holy place in all the world for religious Jews. 3) The 440 mile Israeli West Bank wall begun in the second Intifada in September 2000. The Pope stops for an unscheduled prayer. Prophetic  person he is. 4) And another part of this: a girl making a game jumping around the conrete blocks making part of the wall in Hebron. One day this will become a place for play?

This latter picture is on the cover of Naim Ateek’s new book “A Palestinian Theology of Liberation” which I saw being launched last Friday in Jerusalem. Of this land, Ateek asserts in an earlier work (Sabeel’s “The Bible and the Palestine-Israel Conflict”) “The Gift of land was provisional until the time in which the purposes of God would be fully revealed…” I know that is heresy in some people’s minds, but there it is.

I offer the pictures and the references for a focus of prayer. Prayer for the peace and welfare of all those who live in that small area. Prayer for courage of the peacemakers in all communities in Israel/Palestine. Prayer for the emergence of leaders of conscience. But we pray that that for the world over. This land is very special to me, but much more important to millions of others. And the future of the world may be dependant on it.

 

 

A history day.

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Like many of us in the last few days I have been learning a little history. But it’s a history whose legacy endures fiercely to this day. The British moment in the Middle East was brief but devastating.

Remember for a moment three dates, one year after another which represent conflicting undertakings. In 1915 the British High Commissioner of Egypt offered the Sherif of Mecca an independent Arab state if he would help support Britain in the fight against the Ottoman Turks which was a significant target in World War 1. In 1916, Britain and France concluded the Sykes Picot agreement which in effect would divide much of the Arab world between them following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.  Then in 1917 came the Balfour Declaration.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said that this was one of the most important letters in history.  Well on that point she is correct. Here it is. To Lord Rothschild from Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, 2/11/17:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object. It being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.

There was a service in St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem last night marking the centenary of this declaration. It was a liturgy of Penance and Hope. It was explained that  in the terms of that fateful letter, the Palestinians, who were over 90% of the population here in 1917, were to have only their civil and religious rights protected while their national and political rights were ignored. To this day there has not been equal regard not equal support by Britian for the Palestinians as there has been for Israel. By the way the cathedral was full, and present at the service were over 60 people who had walked from London to Jerusalem as a pilgrimage of penance and hope organised by the Amos Trust.

Earlier in the day I attended a conference at the Palestinian National Theatre in Jerusalem organised by the British Council and the Kenyon Institute to hear a lecture by Avi Shlaim, emeritus professor of international relations at Oxford University. It was a cutting analysis of British imperialism. Shlaim suggested that may have been an element of humanitarianism (a gesture of noble Christian Zionism, though it is likely that Balfour was actually anti-semitic). But the evidence points to it being classic imperialism (Prime Minister Lloyd George is perceived as being a notorious land grabber). The British cabinet wanted to have Palestine under British influence to keep out the French, to keep access to the Suez canal, and to allow for oil exports from Kirkuk via Haifa. Lloyd George was a key architect of the dismantling of the Ottoman empire with the development of various client states and with the misjudged hope that a Zionist presence in Palestine would help retain British influence. (The evidence is that a good number of British Jewish leaders such as Edwin Montagu, the only Jewish member of the cabinet at the time, were actually  not in fact Zionists, making the point that Judaism was primarily a religion, not a national identity or a state.)

Significantly when the terms of the British Mandate for Palestine was agreed by the League of Nations in 1920, the Balfour Declaration was written into the terms of reference. Zionism became the international policy, provoking the oppostion and protests of Arabs as Whitehall rejected all demands of Palestinians for democracy. Even Winston Churchill in 1937 is on record as favouring what he called “a higher grade race” to have precedence in the land.

So Britian crushed Arab resistance. And even in recent days there has been no mention in UK government comments about Palestinians or Britain’s historic and continued failure to protect their rights.

For now here’s a couple of prayers from the cathedral service that the locals prayed last night:

“Gracious God in this 50th year of the occupation of the Palestinian territories, we ask that this may be the year of your Jubilee for Palestine and Israel, when all the inhabitants of the Holy Land will know liberation and therefore know hope. We ask that your Spirit will strengthen and renew the vision of all those in Israel and Palestine who work for peace, that past failures will not hold them back. That Muslim, Christian and Jew, and those not from faith communities will recognise their shared humanity and equal worth, as those created in your image.”

“God of the just heart you remind us that satisfaction does not lie where we might expect it – in the security of wealth and privilege but in the joy of doing what is right and in working to assert the value and dignity of all.

 

 

Confronting the death of God

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I spent much of yesterday at Yad Vashem, the memorial to the six million Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis. The current prismlike concrete history museum was opened in 2005 and in nine underground galleries it leads the visitor through the story of the development of 20th century European racism and Nazi ideology and the ensuing Shoah using artifacts (e.g. cloth star of David badges from the Warsaw Ghetto and a shelf of shoes removed from their wearers as they entered the gas chamber), original films, video testimonies from survivors, photographs and art installations.

The Hall of Names (pictured above) is a gallery, above of pictures of some of the murdered, and below, of shelf after shelf of files containing details of known victims, and a large number of empty shelves and a huge hole in the ground that honour those whose names can never be known because they, their entire families, all their friends and everyone who knew them were killed, leaving no one to testify or say the Kaddish memorial prayer. There is also a remarkable children’s memorial, dedicated to the 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered. Dug into the bedrock this is a dark place contains a solitary candle flame reflected infinitely by hundreds of mirrors  while recorded voices read the names and ages and nationalities of children. (Photo below)

This morning I decided to spend in the vast library here at Tantur looking at some of the Jewish theology that wrestles with the reality of the death camps. We are dealing here with something unmanageable. A reality which exists, which is historically documented, never to be forgotten, painful to engage with, something which whenever addressed collapses into tears, passion, rage.*

The death camps were contructed to fulfill one purpose: to kill the greatest number of Jews at the least possible cost in money and materials. Alongside were Gypsies (another “degenerative and infectious race”), Poles, some Slavs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, mentally and physically disabled people, and homosexuals (up to 15,000 of them who were made to wear pink triangles in the camps before their murder). These latter groups are not identified at Yad Vashem.)

In their history Jews have been no stranger to catastrophe. Think of the expulsion from Jerusalem and the Holy Land under the Romans. Their expulsion from Spain in 1492 under the Christian monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella (200,000 of them). And these death camps. So in the light of these events, how do Jews, how does any human, envisage God and creation? “The human penchant to self-infinity, the ultimate hubris which brings not only Jews but all creatures to the borderlands from which there is return for none”. *

So what do we do with the concept of the divine. Is God dead? Or non-existent? Or indifferent to creation’s fate?

Does evil exist, and in what form?

These questions invariably emerge at The God Factor courses we run at St Mary’s Cathedral. And they are central to our exploration of our human identity and of the life of faith. How can God be affirmed meaningfully in a world where evil enjoys such dominion? And these days we think also of the reality of the potential of nuclear weaponry, environmental catastrophe and collateral deaths in conventional war and acts of violent destructive terror. The task then is to estimate what consequences it has for our thinking about the nature, existence, and action of God.

And I had these additional waves of questions: Do all human beings have freedom to choose? Were not the killers all baptised? Was not God impassively silent?

“Theology as I understand it is the struggle to take account of an obdurate and yielding field of contrariety….. where historical reality raises a fist against faith and smashes it….”*

So any concept of God who is affirmed must be seen as abiding in a universe where there is real evil and suffering; where God’s relation to creation is meaningful; and where God is not isolated from real involvement in life. Otherwise either creation is mere metaphor or God is mere metaphor or both.

* I was especially helped today by reading Arthur C. Cohen- Tremendum: a theological interpretation of the Holocaust (Crossroad, NY 1981).

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