An Asian Christian woman living in London blogging about the everyday issues of religion

Monday, 29 November 2010

Illicit episcopal Chinese ordination

'Guo was ordained a bishop Saturday in Chengde, the first time in five years that China had carried out an ordination without Rome’s consent. News reports have said Chinese authorities forced ...Vatican-approved bishops to attend, sequestering them for several days beforehand' -China Digital Times.
China's Communist Party forced Catholic nationals to cut off links with the Vatican in 1951 because of the party's suspicion of organised religion. The Communist Party created the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) in 1957 and the word 'Patriotic' in the title ought to give you a flavour of the new party's loyalties. As a result, Christians and Catholics opposed to the new arrangement meet in secret locations to worship and live in fear of the establishment raiding their churches. A number of priests have been arrested for arranging these secret churches. Chinese officials have given no heed to the objections raised by the Vatican. Furthermore,since 2006 they have started ordaining Bishops without the cooperation or approval of the Vatican.
The latest development in this sorry saga is very distrubing. At least two traditionally appointed Bishops were forced by the authorities to take part in the ordination of a CCPA Bishop. Bishop of Cangzhou, Joseph Li Liangui, and the Bishop of Henshui, Peter Xinmao, were captured and made to participate in the 'illicit episcopal ordination' of a Priest who is a member of the Chinese Parliament. He is part of the Government machinery and, thus, will be valuable in ensuring that religious activity becomes even more state controlled.
The adviser to the Pope on Chinese affairs, Cardinal Joseph Ze-Kiun from Hong Kong, said, 'once more thay have crucified Jesus...The methods used to force the Bishops to take part in this ceremony were fascist'.
He isn't far wrong. The Nazis elected Reich Bishops who were instrumental in setting up the National Reich Church. The thirty point programme of articles (forming the constitution of the Church) set out the close relationship between the Church and state controlled activity. Religion was an instrument to be used to wield destruction by the Nazis.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Ghostly Encounters in America

This seems like a timely piece of news to write about given the link between Christmas and ghost stories. In mid November more than a hundred Roman Catholic bishops and priests met to discuss the lack of a certain skill within the priesthood-exorcists. Apparently demand for exorcists has risen following an influx of Catholic immigrants from Africa and South America. Currently in the US a small stable of 6 priests deal with ghostly encounters all over the country. The aim is to have a dedicated resource in each diocese to cope with the rise in demand.
I feel a cinema slogan coming on: Who do you call? Ghostbusters.
Now that I have got that out of the way I can analyse the seriousness of the situation. As Christians we are meant to believe in ghosts. Jesus cast out demons himself. I don't think 'demons' here is a metaphor for anxieties or worries. I have seen a ghost myself and it took me years to recover from the wholly frightening experience. I called the Vicar who prayed in every room of my flat. If the problem had persisted the Vicar was going to call in the appropriate resources. Thankfully, there was no need for futher intervention however this experience showed me that the supernatural is among us. I do think that there is a need for clergy to be skilled in exorcism.
I don't quite know what to make of the fact that ghostly incidents have gone up following a rise in immigrants from countries where witchcraft is practised. Does this mean that those Roman Catholics were indulging in practices specifically prohibited by the church or can practising Christians become targets of demons? When I had that ghostly visitation I wasn't an Anglican so I cannot answer the question from a Christian perspective.
If you are interested the ghost I saw was a victim of a WW2 bomb that fell in Central London. How I know this is quite another story.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

'Don't laugh too loudly'-VAW Campaign

I was constantly being told that when I was growing up in Asia. Women who laughed too loudly were considered emancipated and that was a bad thing. To go about your day in a quiet and withdrawn manner was a sign of great feminity. This example is a microscopic insight into the indignities suffered by women in the region. In fact, I was lucky that the repression I underwent was verbal for the statistics show that a huge proportion of girls suffer physically for the 'sin' of being a woman. It starts in the cradle. The family are disappointed that a girl has been born into the family and not a boy. The girl is punished from then on. Violence against women (VAW) is a stain on the Asian continent. Amartya Sen, the Indian Nobel Laureate wrote a ground breaking paper about the cultural and social discrimination of women that has led to the disappearance of 22.1 million femals in India and 30 million in China. Crucial political, social and ideological concepts such as social mobility and gender equality that we in the West take for granted do not figure in Asia. Even in cases where legislation has been implemented to outlaw discrimination against women the culture of the particular country has prevented the law from being mainstreamed into society. Asian countries need to wake up to the fact that their dream of becoming economic superpowers will never, thankfully, be realised till equal opportunity policies are implemented stringently and women are respected as human beings because marginalising half the population will result in distortions in the economic landscape.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Perhaps I am a naive lay woman

Having a conversation with secular people and lay Christians about the General Synod was an extremely irritating experience for me when I was standing for election. The conversations would go like this: 'General Synod', silence, 'What does it do?' or 'is that to do with the Vatican?'. I would then patiently explain that it was the Church of England's ruling council blah di blah di. 'Ah! The people who don't want women and gays' was the reply. Few people knew about the General Synod and, even worse, that it did anything else but hold sessions on how to keep women and gay people out.

The Anglican Covenant? That was another experience. 'You mean the Methodist Covenant,' educated lay types would say to me, taking delight in their superior political knowledge of the Church. 'No, The Anglican Covenant as set out in the Ridley-Cambridge Draft', I would say wearily.

That, in a nutshell, represents people's knowledge of the governing body of  the CoE. It is seen as a place where repression is debated on, voted on and acted on. The falsehood depressed me and was the message I sought to get across during the hustings-that perception is as important as reality. The obsession with sexual orientation and gender politics is the brand recognition of General Synod. The church is being seen as an investor in practices deemed outdated and illegal in the modern world. I used the picture of Holman Hunt's 'Jesus knocking at the door' to illustrate my message and posed the question as to how many people were being kept out by this perception?

I am a new player to the politics of the Church but, nevertheless, I am adamant that the ordinary lay person does not care about the Anglican Covenant or the intellectual detail of the theological considerations of the headship argument. If your country was under a serious and immediate national security threat would you rather that the generals sat around discussing the strategic alliances and ideological positions to adopt or would you feel safer if they were actually seen on the ground battling the problem? People want a grassroots level church that is open and accessible to all. Christians being attacked at a frightening rate all over the world don't care for the intellectual indulgences of Christian folk in the safety of the Western world. They want to know that we care.

The big challenge for Synod is fraternity. The concept of the Big Society is being debated tomorrow and this is an opportunity to demonstrate Christian cohesion. However, it will all be undone if trust in the church cannot be fostered. Perhaps I am being naive in hoping for a message of inclusivity to be sent out by General Synod in the way that Miss World contestants hoped for 'world peace' and raised mocks of laughter in response.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

'If you are an atheist when you're my age, you don't kow shit'

James Ellroy, the author, said that in an
interview given to this week's New Statesman. I wouldn't use the s...t word in my blog and would only dare to do so in reported speech form. What struck me was how brave a pronounciation it is. While the world pussyfoots around Atheism so as not to be politically incorrect towards those who don't have religion someone actually dares to challenge a non-faith existence. In the interview Ellroy equates morality with religious life and says that Atheism and Agnosticism don't produce the same values in non-believers. The whole 'is religion a driver for morality versus humanist' argument is both a circular and a secular one which I don't want to repeat here. The point of my post is simply to say 'Hurrah' over someone being brave enough to state what he thinks about being a Christian.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Patriotism of Somali immigrants in the UK

It's not often that one's heart is turned and filled with wonder while reading the newspaper on a Monday morning going in to work. The sub-plot of the rescue of the Chandlers from their 13 month captivity by Somalian pirates was what did it for me. Somalian immigrants living in the UK have felt so bad about the Chandlers predicament that they have been fund raising to secure the ransom money for their release. A music video made by Somalis living in the UK brought in almost £150,000. The video was played on a Somali news station called 'Universal TV' and accompanied by a message directed at the pirates 'to remember all the good things Britain has done for Somalis since the civil war'. This kickstarted a worldwide campaign among Somalis to donate money and to express anger at the pirates' actions. The real hero of this story is the former London taxi driver of Somali origin who went back to Somalia to help negotiate the release of the Chandlers. He put himself in danger repeatedly because his children felt ashamed at school (in London)over the whole incident

Immigrants are always the faceless and voiceless victims in our debates on immigration. Society, policy makers and Governments talk about them as if they were a collective noun who should be labelled the human equivalent of parasite. It takes a story like this to debunk the 'which cricket team are you supporting?' theory as the tick-box of requisites to separate the 'us' and 'them'. The patriotism to Britian shown by these people is beyond the call of duty.
Many Somalis seek refuge in the UK to escape the cruel war in Somalia. It is one of the most dangerous countries in the world because of fighting between warlords and radical Islamist groups.  Violence and death are everyday occurences since the central government was overthrown in 1991. Thousands of refugees have been displaced. Reoccurring floods have plagued the country. Famine is widespread and 300,000 people have died because of starvation and malnutrition and thousands continue to suffer. That they feel a sense of gratitude to be in the peace and stability of the UK comes as no surprise. Let us remember this tale of patriotism before the next wave of hate against immigrants comes calling. I hope the Chandlers remember to thank them too when they return home.

Friday, 12 November 2010

What do you call an empty church?

Tesco is the answer. The church, formerly the Westbourne Methodist Church in Bournemouth, had been left unoccupied for a year before being sold to the grocery chain store. The ornate stained glass windows have been retained and serve as a backdrop to groceries.  The facade has the ability to still fool people into thinking it is a church.
Temple of commerce: A Tesco Express store has opened in Bournemouth Dorset after the supermarket giant purchased a former Methodist church

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Plumbing the depths of prejudice

Discrimination is rife. Discrmination is pervasive. Sometimes we become immune to the reality of it butI came aross something in the press which shocked me to the core. Albino sufferers in Africa live in fear for their lives because-what for it-there's a lucrative trade in their body parts. It is believed that an Albino person's body parts brings good fortune. Albino body parts are sold for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars in Africa.

Coumba Makalou, president of the U.S.-based Salif Keita Global Foundation, a group that looks after Albinos' rights, alleges that those who pay for body parts include rich businessmen and politicians looking to improve their political fortunes. Makalou says body parts sell for as much as $2,000. At least 57 Albinos have been killed in Tanzania and 14 in Burundi since 2007. Thousands of Albinos are estimated to be living in hiding.

Banele Nxumalo, an 11 year old girl in Swaziland, in August this year was fetching water for her family with a group of friends when a car stopped and two hooded gunmen shot her. One then proceeded to chop off her head and right hand. They left her severed body only taking her hand and head, got in the car and drove off.
Please include Albino people in your prayers, especially for those living in Africa.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

An imaginary interview with Bonhoeffer

Yesterday I bought a wonderful book called 'God is in the Manger' which contains reflections on Advent and Christmas written by a German theologian called Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed by the Nazis. The story of Bonhoeffer's imprisonment and suffering is a deeply moving and inspiring one. Bonhoeffer was arrested in 1943 because he had been vocal in his resistance to Hitler and had supplied details of the German resistance to the Allies. While in prison he wrote: 'One waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other-things that are really of no consequence-the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.' He kept his faith despite knowing that he would be executed. Ten days before the surrender of the German forces Bonhoeffer was hanged on Hitler's orders.
The desolation in his writing conveys the insight that he had about the cruelty and evilness that was to be Nazism. When Hitler declared in 1939 '...the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe' Bonhoeffer responded by writing that 'Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or wiling the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization..'
Imagine if Bonhoeffer had been asked the following question before he died, 'Do you view the ordination of women Bishops as a parallel, in terms of the defeat of the Christian church, to the extinction of human beings as Hitler has decreed?'
Would he have answered, 'I feel very much increasingly that we're in January of 1939. We need to be aware that there is real, serious warfare just around the corner. It's actually arrived in some places already and we are in a challenging and serious situation'.
Somehow I don't think Bonhoeffer would have said that but those words came from a speech given by Bishop Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes and President of the Church of England Evangelical Council, at a Reform Conference of Conservative Anglicans. This has been widely reported in the media today.
A statement issued from the Bishop's office in his defence states that he never mentioned Hitler or the Nazis in his address and meant that the sittuation in the church feels like people probably felt as they viewed the year ahead in 1939. The Bishop says that he was being 'Churchillian'.
I looked up the meaning of Churchillian and it means being defiant in the face of overwhelming odds.
Is anyone else sensing a seriously disproportionate interpretation of the 1939 events? Bonhoeffer knew what 'serious warfare' and 'overhwelming odds' really meant. He was living it. The secular society must be laughing at us today and who can blame them?
I really object to the Conservative Anglicans, yet again, presenting the gospel message as being nothing more than a gender and sexuality question. Leaving aside the theological purity consideration about male lineage and women bishops, the Bishop's comments make a mockery of the Anglican consideration for true suffering and injustice. Instead, it invites wholesale ridicule of all Anglicans including people like me who really believe that my faith link with God will not be broken if women are made Bishops. Will God really bypass us on Sundays and head for Rome instead because we have taken on the equality practices of the world?
I conclude by setting forth what I think Bonhoeffer's conclusion to this sorry fiasco would be (in the context of his writings and thoughts):
'God should not be relegated to some last secret place, but that we should frankly recognise that the world and men have come of age, that we should not speak ill of man in his worldliness, but confront him with God at his strongest point, that we should give up all our clerical subterfgues...

Monday, 1 November 2010

Christians under siege

My previous blog post was about Christians in India being attacked. Yesterday, 52 Christians were killed during a siege at a Catholic church in the Karada District, Baghdad. A sub-group of Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the killing. The Our Lady of Salvation church was holding mass when a group of armed men began attacking the churchgoers. The Priest was killed. The same church was previously targeted in 2004.
How does one keep the faith after either witnessing or being involved in such an atrocity? We go to church in this country and come away feeling fuelled by the word of God and the companionship of fellow Christians. By contrast with the suffering experienced by Christians in conflict areas our experience on a Sunday seems like pure indulgence. How fortunate we are to be able to experience the peace and love of God in the way that we do.