Thursday, September 28, 2006
Another member of the team, Ruth, has also posted some of her photos 'here' - I've tried not to reproduce her pictures, so it's worth looking at both sets.
Feel free to ask any questions about the trip or the photos in the comments to this post!
U2 and Green Day together...
the context and the response...
Monday, September 25, 2006
"Have you protested against The Da Vinci Code?"
That was a direct question I faced in a meeting with Christian young adults in Peshawar, Pakistan. I'd fully expected it after seeing the poster on the notice board of the Peshawar Diocesan youth office calling on Christians to boycott the book and film, not to mention the almost iconic status of Da Vinci's The Last Supper - almost every Christian household I visited had a copy of the painting displayed somewhere.
My answer to the question, which initially drew some very disappointed looks, was "No, I haven't."
But I did continue my response in discussion after the meeting had formally ended. What I said went something like this (though I may have used more understandable English!)...
"A lot of people in Pakistan think that I come from a Christian country. Historically it may be, but in practice today Christians are a minority community just as they are in Pakistan. However, whereas in your country the majority community belong to another faith, Islam, in my country the majority community would not ascribe to any faith and are at best apathetic to religion and God and at worst openly hostile. I can see how for Christians in Pakistan, living amongst a Muslim majority, something like The Da Vinci Code is very unhelpful. All it does is give further ammunition to a people who already believe that Christians have manipulated and corrupted their own scriptures over the centuries to teach errant doctrines like the divinity of Jesus. The Da Vinci Code adds fuel to their fire and so the Christian community in Pakistan must distance themselves publicly from it. I think your response of protest against The Da Vinci Code is wholly right in Pakistan.
But in England, where most people are uninterested in historic religion, The Da Vinci Code, through its popularist conspiracy theories, has reawakened an interest in Christianity, even though that interest is initially about finding holes in conventional beliefs. This has given the church an excellent opportunity to engage with the arguments of The Da Vinci Code and, through this, to expose its weak research base and largely discredited conclusions in comparison with the overwhelming evidence supporting the historic Christian faith. So, no I haven't protested against The Da Vinci Code! In my context, back in England, I have used it as an opportunity."
Of course, the discussion continued but I'm pretty sure that my questioner understood where I was coming from. I guess this one conversation six and a half thousand miles away from home highlights how centrally important the issue of countext is both to how we proclaim the faith we hold and to how we engage with the challenges raised against it.
A response that is wholly right in one context can be wholly wrong in another.
After a couple of early nights, I'm feeling a bit more human today so thought I'd put fingers to keys to post my first 'Pakistan' related blog entry!
What else could I blog about first other than the fall-out from the Pope's lecture delivered at the University of Regensburg on 12th September, the day I arrived in Pakistan's capital city, Islamabad (the full text of the Pope's lecture can be read 'here'). All in all, it made for an 'interesting' and somewhat uneasy final week in Pakistan!
It's easy in the West to uphold the fundamental right to freedom of speech (as I passionately do) but fail to see the consequences of exploiting that right. Just two days after delivering his speech, the Pakistan Parliament had passed a motion condemning the Pope's comments and the Key Christian leaders in Islamabad had convened in an emergency session to discuss their response, fearful of the coming repercussions for their communities. I attended St Thomas' church in Islamabad on Sunday 17th September, five days after the speech, and arrived to find a sizeable armed police presence to protect the worshipping Christians. So, was this all just overkill?
Experience shows that these precautions were necessary. After the publication of the Danish cartoons earlier in the year, several churches and Christian schools in Pakistan were attacked. In the North-West Frontier Province I visited one such school, teaching junior through to high school level, which was attacked by an angry mob of 100+ people wielding chains in reaction to the cartoons, striking terror into the young children at the school. Any perceived attack on Islam from the West is viewed in Pakistan (and other Muslim countries) as a 'Christian' attack (maybe some of the reason for this lies in our own shameful history), and so the indigenous Christian community is considered a fair target for reprisals.
Of course, the irony pointed out by Kester 'here' is not lost on me, but this is little consolation for Christian (and other minority) communities in Muslim countries, who suffer the backlash of Western 'free speech'. Yes, we do need to stand up for fundamental human rights, such as the right to free speech, and we do need to challenge violence wherever it rears its ugly head, but we also need to remember that with rights comes responsibilities. "Everything is permissible for me", wrote the apostle Paul, "but not everything is beneficial." Before we carelessly exercise our right to free speech maybe we should more carefully consider who will pay the price...
dream at greenbelt pictures...
Friday, September 08, 2006
A quick note about the Pakistan experience so far (I'll blog more comprehensively when I return to the UK)... We have met many people connected with the church here and tonight have been involved in a new group that has been set up to foster good relations between the different faiths, especially Christian and Moslem. It is really encouraging, as 14 years ago, when I was last in Peshawar, it would have been unimaginable that such a meeting could take place formally.
We have also visited Pateka and Balakot - two of the areas badly hit by last October's earthquake. It was very moving to hear the stories of the tragedy from people it most affected, including one man who lost most of his family in the quake. The areas we visited were flattened on October 8th and the Pakistan government has stopped any rebuilding on one side of the river because the town (Balakot) lies on such a massive fault line that the experts say the next quake will totally wipe out the town (i.e. Balakot will literally sink into the earth). The diocese of Peshawar has been involved in an amazing work here, being the first people to arrive with relief after the earthquake, and this has been an incredible witness amongst the Moslems of the area. It is frustrating, though, to see how the Pakistan earthquake, which the UN declared a worse disaster than the Asian Tsunami, has completely disappeared off the radar in the UK. I'm sure I'll blog about this some more on my return!!
That's all for now - let's see if the computer will let me post this!!!