For a second year, we have followed up a significant feature of our experience of our sabbatical in 2013 by going to the annual conference day of the Friends of Sabeel UK. Sabeel is the Palestinian Liberation Theology organisation founded by a Palestinian Anglican priest and Israeli citizen growing out of the experience of Bible Study at St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem where reading the New Testament aware that it was written in the context of (Roman) occupation was what unlocked living possibilities for the participants.
This year one of the two speakers introduced us to the work of the Oxford Centre for Moslem-Christian Studies, a tenant of part of St Stephen’s House (the former Cowley Fathers property in east Oxford) but not actually part of the University itself at all. It says ‘we equip leaders, resource scholars, disseminate and develop Biblically-based thinking at the Muslim-Christian interface through teaching, research and public education’ and, although this indicates that it comes from a particular place on the theological spectrum, involves Moslem scholars in doing so.
Of all the things said, the most simple was a reminder consciously to eschew a natural tendency to compare their worst with our best. Objective reflection shows how absurd it is to say ‘that terrorist activity by one of your extreme co-religionists is typical of you and this loving activity by one of my most admired co-religionists is typical of me’ but what is said and thought instinctively or in propaganda actually amounts to this sort of thing much more frequently than we would like to admit.
There is, of course, a significant strain of the teaching of Jesus which points in this direction (seeking to take the speck out of someone’s eye comes to mind – we will be measured by the measure we use), and there are forms of ridiculing atheism, anti-Christian polemic and of anti-Semitism which fall into the same trap quiet as much as forms of Christian, Jewish or secular Islamophobia. At my best (which is, of course, the only place from which I really want to be judged) I have tried to think this through in some earlier posts (including this and this and “how different it is to say ‘we can see exactly why you are wrong because it is something we are prone to ourselves’ rather than ‘your evil is unique’” more than once).
On the way we visited both Towcester and Headington Quarry churches, but I failed to have a camera with me so do not have pictures of the fifteenth century cadaver tomb and the etched C S Lewis memorial window which are such special features of those churches. But I did have it with me when we visited Cowley churchyard where we went specifically to find this grave of several members of a female religious order for teachers founded by the Cowley Fathers in the 1890s which continued until the 1960s. It was the Sisterhood of the Holy Childhood. My paternal grandparents were cousins and Mother Charlotte (Superior of the Sisterhood for the first half of the community’s life) was an aunt of both of them. The grave of her parents (Thomas and Martha Mallam) is pictured in the second half of this post which mentions that three of their daughters married clergymen from the neighbouring St Philip & James' church but doesn't mention this daughter who became a nun.