A few weeks ago I talked about the possibility of lying if someone told you at gunpoint to 'Choose Islam or die'. Started a few conversations, which I see as a good thing given the aim of this blog.
The subject of Islam has come up again this week following the coincidence of the visit of Patrick Sookdeo to our church and the chapters in A New Kind of Christian on other faiths.
Patrick said that the government is under-playing the figure for the number of Muslims in this country. He told us that at the present rate of growth we will gain 300,000 Muslims a year and could see a population of 5-6 million in 10 years time. This would amount to about 10% of the population of our country.
Is it wrong to have a reputation for being a friendly and welcoming country? Many asylum seekers are Muslims? We do not have a religion-test before allowing people in. Should we be frightened of the changes caused by the influx of Islam? Wary maybe, but frightened? Don't think so. And as Christians we should certainly not become over-militant. If we are welcoming we are not supposed to be welcoming people into a fight. I have a great deal of difficulty with the metaphor of Christianity versus everyone else as warfare.
Ephesians 6 tells us to be equipped for a spiritual battle. You can convey the same sentiments and principles with a different image. The battle analogy is culturally bound. How about:
Finally, be cool in the Lord, the King of cool. Put on all the oomph going so that you can face evil with confidence. This is not just a human thing. If you are frightened of muggers in dark alleyways take the light way home. Spiritual opposition is more subtle. So be prepared. And ready for whatever.
Being honest is like keeping your trousers on. It should be obvious. Only take your trousers off if they are really holding you back.
Don't let anything get into your heart that will spoil your relationship with the one who made it.
Know your Jesus stories. Like pride in a good pair of new trainers, let people notice and wonder where you got them.
Hold your beliefs firmly and sincerely if people are chucking random bits of pseudo-religious nonsense at you, but be prepared to put them down for a while when the chatter is calm and seeking after truth.
Know your eternal future in your head and keep a hat on in winter. You lose a lot of heat through the top of your body.
Wise people compiled books of words they thought they heard God saying and things they thought they saw God doing. Wiser people still sorted them out and put them together. If you meet people who haven't read these words try and help them. It's easier than trying to listen to God's voice directly and you don't have to go up a mountain to do it.
Give God feedback pretty much all the time. It sometimes feels like he's not listening but enough people think he is for it to be worth the risk. What harm can it do? While you're at it, ask him to help others who are seeking after the truth too.
(Ephesians 6:10-18 without a battle or a weapon in sight and with apologies to Eugene Peterson and the New International Version compilers)
I like living in a country where people tend to apologise for having their toe trodden on rather than acting aggressively. I like living in a country where we are coming to grips with the evils of our colonial past and are repenting rather than being proud. I like living in a democracy and part of that involves a willingness on the part of the minority to go along with the opinion of the majority. Democracy is, as has been said many times before, a flawed system, but there is no better one. We may need to improve our democracy but for the forseeable future it is the system. Part of being welcoming involves giving the new arrivals a voice.
I have been told by some commentators that Muslims live together for separatist reasons, forming parallel societies. Yet socio-economic reasons must be just as powerful. If I am a jobless, Muslim, asylum-seeking immigrant I am not going to find a pad in Virginia Water. Successful Muslim business people do move out to the suburbs and make good neighbours. Like-minded, like-origined, like-faithed people do like-living near each other. In our part of Leamington we even call one street Bible-belt these days. It's because the Christian first-time buyers have identified it as the best place they can afford to live, for the moment.
I have heard it said that the Muslim community won't embrace multi-culturalism. I can't believe they all won't. There are liberal and conservative Christians and Muslims. Some like talking to people with whom they have differences. Others don't.
We have a mature faith. If God is real we do not need to defend God. If someone speaks ill of Christianity during Easter or Christmas we do not need to take offence. The Bible asks us to consider if we should be slow to take offence in various circumstances. We invite Muslim children at church schools to come to the Christian church. I'm told they say the Lord's prayer. We show respect to the Koran because it is the tradition of Islam to reverence their holy book; this is not a widely held Christian tradition with the Bible. We respect and reverence the words, not the binding. Showing courtesy to another faith's holy book is just good manners.
Random observations to conclude:
Jesus showed passivity. Maybe we should start calling the Passion the Passive.
I'm really going to try to make friends with a Muslim.
What possible 'right' have I got to say this is my land? As the philosopher Mick Dundee put it in Crocodile Dundee, 'I reckon the land's been here for 12 million years and we've been here about 200. It's more true to say the land owns us.'
Brian McLaren suggests that there is so much culture wrapped up in being a Muslim, or Buddhist, that we need to think in terms of introducing Christ but not our culture. That would suggest a period of succesful dialogue might lead to there being Buddhochristians or Islamochristians - Jesus driving any evil out of the culture. Of course we need to remind ourselves that there is plenty of evil in western Christian culture which needs to be driven out. And we need to be content that we may see the growth of Christomuslims or Christobuddhists too. It cuts both ways.
Where do you see the truth?