What does a national Interfaith Organisation do?

Two weeks ago I blogged about what local interfaith groups in Scotland are doing. Today I’m telling a bit more about what Interfaith Scotland as a national interfaith organisation is doing.

The obvious differences between the local interfaith groups and Interfaith Scotland is the area they are working in (Interfaith Scotland in the whole of Scotland and during cooperations even abroad) and also that Interfaith Scotland as a charity has some paid staff, while the local interfaith groups are run on a complete voluntary basis.

Structure of Interfaith Scotland

Interfaith Scotland is a member organisation. Faith Communities can become members or associated members of Interfaith Scotland. A list of all actual members can be found here.

Interfaith Scotland is a charity, which gets it’s funding through membership fees and applying for funding from different authorities, mainly the Scottish government. Interfaith Scotland got a board of trustees, where the major faith communities of Scotland (Buddhism, Baha’i, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism) as well as the women interfaith groups and the local interfaith groups are represented. For the year of young people the board also co-opted a young person. A list of the members of the board can be found at:

http://www.interfaithscotland.org/about-us/ 

But what is actually Interfaith Scotland doing?

Scottish Interfaith Week

Interfaith Week is an invention by Interfaith Scotland. Some years ago the other parts of the UK joined in in celebrating Interfaith Week. Thanks to the local interfaith groups and the different faith communities there are events happening during Scottish Interfaith Week in every region of the country. Scottish Interfaith Week always has a theme. Last year’s theme was “Creativity and the Arts” and this year’s theme will be “Connecting Generations”. If you are interested in organising an event for Scottish Interfaith Week you can already start thinking about what you would like to do about this theme. There is also an art competition for schools every year during Scottish Interfaith Week.

Interfaith Week takes always place in November and more can be found at:

http://scottishinterfaithweek.org

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD)

Since quite a while Interfaith Scotland is organising the national Holocaust Memorial Day event for Scotland in January. The event is always in a different council area of Scotland. This year’s event was in Glasgow. The event remembers the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. Usually high representatives from politics, faith communities and other parts of the society are present and survivors or relatives of survivors are speaking. Around HMD there is an intense programme for schools going on and the younger generation is also involved in the official HMD programme. Especially in times when minorities are still suffering from Hate Crimes it’s important to remember the Holocaust and work together so that horrors like the Holocaust can’t never happen again.

22 - HMD 2

Supporting local interfaith groups

One main task of Interfaith Scotland is to support the local interfaith groups. Those voluntary run groups with members of different faith communities are support by Interfaith Scotland through different ways. For activities during Scottish Interfaith Week they can get a small financial support as well as materials about the theme (like information, presentations, dialogue questions, event ideas), which can be used for events. From time to time staff members of Interfaith Scotland are travelling around the country to visit some of the interfaith groups, to see if they need any special support, if there are certain problems on the local level and also to learn from them about their activities. Local Interfaith Groups get also invited to an Annual Networking Seminar, where they can meet members of other interfaith groups. The groups also get a platform on Interfaith Scotland’s website and in the annual newsletter. If people want to found a new group in a region where no local interfaith group exists (so for example last year in the Scottish Borders) Interfaith Scotland helps with this by for example organising the first meetings of the new group and contacting the different faith communities in the region.

Religious Leaders meetings

As part of the work with the Scottish faith communities Interfaith Scotland is the secretary for the regular meetings of the religious leaders two times a year (one in spring and one in autumn). Usually one of the faith communities hosts the events. To witness one of their meetings was one of the most interesting experience during my time here and it was really good to see how the religious leaders were treating each other very open and respectful.

Summit with First Minister

In addition to the two meetings of the religious leaders, Interfaith Scotland also brings together the religious leaders and the First Minister for a summit once a year. I think it is really important that the government connects with all the different faith communities and this meeting is an important part of this.

School workshops

Interfaith Scotland offers different kinds of workshops for schools of all levels. For example it is possible to bring representatives from different faith communities to schools so the students have the possibility to talk to people of different faiths rather than just reading about their religion. Especially (but not only) for schools in less diverse areas, this is a great opportunity. Another possible workshop is to bring boxes with religious objects to the schools, so the children can explore the religions by exploring typical objects. The third option is that a staff member of Interfaith Scotland is coming to a school and giving a presentation at a school assembly or in a class and to have activities for example about “why interfaith dialogue is important”.

IMG-20180226-WA0021

Youth programme

Not only during the Year of Young People, but especially now, the work with young people is important for Interfaith Scotland. Examples for this kind of work are the Youth Conference, which is taking place tomorrow in St Andrews or the Christian-Muslim Scotland-Rwanda exchange programme, which was taking place last September. For the coming time Interfaith Scotland has even employed a youth worker, who is going run some activities for young people such as an interfaith youth retreat.

SAFE (Scotland Abroad Faith Exchange)

Even with the main focus of it’s work on Scotland Interfaith Scotland is also doing some international work. This year Interfaith Scotland is participating in two Erasmus+ projects, funded by the European Comission, working together with charities from several other European countries. Last month the director of Interfaith Scotland was in New Zealand and visited different interfaith organisations there and even spoke in the parliament about the interfaith work in Scotland.

In very little countries in the world interfaith work is as good organised and well supported as in Scotland and so it is good to let other’s learn from the Scottish experiences and to learn from the experiences similar organisations gain in their countries in an often more difficult surrounding.

32- Rwanda

Dialogue for Members

Interfaith Scotland is organising special dialogue session for it’s members. One example can be the dialogue event about “Identity and Belonging” last autumn.

Cooperation with Police Scotland and other authorities

There is a very close cooperation between Interfaith Scotland and authorities like Police Scotland. This results on the one hand in training session in religious awareness, which Interfaith Scotland is delivering and on the other hand in intense dialogue in the prevention of conflicts as well in how to respond for example on religious motivated hate crimes or potential terror attacks from any kind of extremists.  

Cooperation with other Interfaith bodies

Interfaith Scotland also cooperates also with other interfaith organisations. This can be on the regional level, for example the cooperation with Edinburgh Interfaith Association and Interfaith Glasgow, or on the Scottish national level, for example with the Interreligious Council of the Roman-Catholic bishops conference, or on the wider level, eg with the Inter Faith Network for the UK.

Training Sessions

Interfaith Scotland is providing training sessions for different groups. Often those sessions are about how to deal with the needs of different religious groups or how to prevent discrimination against people because of their religion. Last week I had the opportunity to participate in one very interesting training day about how to tackle (religious) hate speech in youth group settings.

Publications

Interfaith Scotland also publicises materials, which can be found on its website.

Every year Interfaith Scotland publicises a Newsletter where stories about the last year’s activities are shared. The actual Newsletter was just published this month and can be downloaded here.

Interfaith Scotland has also accounts on facebook and twitter, so people can follow the different activities.

I hope this article could give you a good insight into the widespread work of Interfaith Scotland as a national interfaith organisation.

Advertisements

What the world can learn from Münster

When I read the first news about the vehicle that drove into a café in the German town of Münster last Saturday I was shocked. Not because the incident happened – in a way I’m getting used to news like this but because of the place where it happened. I lived in Münster for five years between 2010 and 2015 and the place of the attack was only a maximum five minutes walk from my home and it’s a place I surely have passed over 100 times. I’m grateful that no one of my friends, who are still living there where injured or killed in the attack. In a way I was also relieved when it became clear that the perpetrator was neither a Muslim nor a refugee, because so it is harder to use the attack to spread Islamophobia and fears against refugees and asylum seekers (even if right wing activist where still trying to do so…).

A lot of people outside of Germany might not have heard about Münster before the attack or might not know a lot about it. And if they know something about Münster it might be that it’s Germany “bicycle capital”, that it has a large university, that it has a beautiful (destroyed and reconstructed) old town or that it won a price as one of the most liveable places in the world in 2004. Today I want to tell you the story of Münster as a place which has a long history of anti-radicalism and peace building – especially between faith communities.

RathausMünster
Münster Town Hall: Von Florian Adler (schlendrian) – Eigenes Werk, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=334070

Münster exists since the time of Charlemagne and is home of a Roman-Catholic diocese since the year 800. Because of this long lasting history (Catholic) Christianity is still relatively dominant in Münster’s city culture and visible through a lot of (huge) churches all over the area. The first time Münster became really important for (world) history was in the year 1534. As part of the protestant reformation radical “Anabaptists” established a theocracy in Münster. Only a (united!) military force of Catholics and Protestants was able to establish the former order in the town after about one year of resistance. Of course neither the Anabaptist with their theocracy nor the military action by Protestants and Catholics a good example how to deal with differing religious views – but this experience and the remembrance of it might have helped the citizens to be very sceptical against any kind of extremism.

The next time Münster became important in world history – and this is probably the moment when Münster was most prominent in its long lasting history – was in 1648. After 30 years of war in Germany, in which all major European powers have been involved and more than 100 years of conflict as a result of the protestant reformation Münster and it’s neighbouring town in the north Osnabrück were the places were the Westphalian Peace treaty was signed. Being formally a war of religion (with strange coalition like the Catholic French king and the Protestant Swedish King fighting together against the Catholic Habsburg Emperor), the Peace treaty mainly ended the period of religious wars between Protestants and Catholics on the continent, together with giving important countries like the (Protestant) Netherlands, who had fought a 70 years war against (Catholic) Spain, or Switzerland (as a religious diverse country with Catholic and Protestant areas) their independence. The remembrance of this Peace treaty – one of the most important occasions in German/European history – is still very alive in Münster (not only because it is a good way to bring tourists to the town…).

 

Westfaelischer_Friede_in_Muenster_(Gerard_Terborch_1648)
The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster, 15 May 1648 By Gerard ter Borch – http://www.geheugenvannederland.nl : Home : Info : Pic, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=337672

After the unification of Germany in 1871 under Bismarck the Catholics in Münster found themselves as a suppressed minority in the Protestant dominated state of Prussia and there were strong political conflicts between them and the central state, because they felt their religious rights were supressed. In this time it must have been very hard as a non-Catholic to live in this area, but the scepticism of the citizens of Münster towards the Prussian state and the strong Catholic tradition orientated towards Rome resulted in a much weaker (still too strong…) support for the Nazis in the elections during the Weimar republic, than in predominant Protestant areas. The support of the citizens gave the bishop of Münster, Clemens August Graf von Galen, during the Nazi regime the possibility to speak up against some of the crimes against humanity committed by the government and the Germans.

CAvGalenBAMS200612
Clemens August Kardinal Graf von Galen By Domkapitular Gustav Albers († 1957) – Bildersammlung des Bistumsarchivs Münster, des Erbnehmers der Urheberrechte, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1684057

After the war the student dormitory that I lived in for five years was founded. This place is special, because the students living there are always 50% from Germany and 50% from abroad (and 50% male and 50% female…) and so people from all cultural backgrounds are living together under one roof. Run by the protestant church it is not a requirement to be Protestant or Christian or of any other particular faith or of any faith at all to live there. This concept creates a very special atmosphere and is from my point of view a good way to build good relationships and peace between people of different backgrounds. During my time in Münster there were a couple of occasions when right-wing extremists wanted to demonstrate in the town. At this occasions there were always huge crowds of people gathering to demonstrate for the rights of minorities, freedom and a social and democratic society. Usually there were far more then then times as many people demonstrating against the right-wing extremists than with them.

Knowing this long tradition of peacebuilding and anti-extremist behaviour it was not a surprise when in last autumn after the general elections in Germany it was announced that Münster was the only place in the whole of Germany where the far-right party AFD (Alternative for Germany), which stands mainly for anti-islam and anti-refugee populism, gained less than 5% of the total votes.

Coming back to the attack with the van last Saturday it was good to see that most citizens where ready to help, so that the police could thank them for their support afterwards and the hospitals could get so many blood donations in a short time that they had to send away people.

In my opinion the civic tradition of peace building and challenging any kind of extremism in Münster is a good example for all towns and cities in our world and maybe this story of a usually not very important (it’s not Berlin or Cologne or any other of the German cities) and it’s impact on world history can be inspiring for people else where in the world.

What is a local interfaith group?

When I tell people about interfaith work in Scotland and what I’m doing here the local interfaith groups are always an important part of my description. There are in total 21 local interfaith groups in Scotland at the moment, including three women dialogue groups and the two local charities for interfaith dialogue “Edinburgh Interfaith Association” and “Interfaith Glasgow”. The interfaith groups cover most areas of Scotland, from Dumfries and the Borders in the south to Orkney and Shetland in the north and from the isle of Skye in the west to Fife in the east. I know have visited most of the local groups and some more visits are planned for the last weeks of my internship, but I think it is a good point to tell people a bit more what a local interfaith group is doing.

IMG_4981
In March Simon and Frances (not in the picture) visited Interfaith Moray.

To describe this is harder then it might sound, because the groups are very different between each other. What they have all in common is bringing people of different (faith) background together. Usually all of them are organising/holding some kind of event during Scottish Interfaith Week in November. One main task of Interfaith Scotland is to support the different groups in their activities at the grassroot level. This happens for example by providing some materials, for example for Scottish Interfaith Week, giving them (a small) financial support for their events during Interfaith Week, inviting them to events like the Annual Networking Seminar and help them to get publicity via Social Media and the Annual Newsletter.

2018-02-12 22.28.00
In February Simon met members of the Committee of Inverness Inter Faith Group

The groups differ all in their size and the religious diversity, depending on the region they are based in. Some of the groups have been set up with the support of a local council. One example for this kind of group is the one in West Lothian. In this case the members of the group attend the meetings mainly as representatives of their faith communities and show a good picture of the diversity of faith communities in their area. Such groups have often their main focus on organising events for the wider public, for example visits to places of worship or interfaith meals. So the meetings of the group are mostly about planning and organising dialogue events in this case and not mainly about having dialogue at the meetings of the group.

2017-08-21 13.54.20
Members of different local interfaith groups in dialogue at the Annual Networking Seminar last August.

An example for a very different kind of group is the Central Scotland group, which meets in Stirling. Here are individuals from different faith backgrounds coming together to share food and thoughts about a different theme at every of their meetings. The attendees see themselves not mainly as representatives of a particular faith but bring often short texts or thoughts from their tradition to the meetings and share them with each other.

2017-11-23 12.46.23
Members of the Dumfries and Galloway Inter Faith Group are creative during their Interfaith Week event last November

Most of the interfaith groups can be put somewhere in between those “extremes”. Some of them have for example a formal constitution with chairpersons and secretaries and some have no kind of “hierarchy” or “formal structure” at all. In some groups people a paying (small) membership fees, in some groups not. Some groups are mainly meeting for planning purposes, some for having a direct dialogue with each other and many do both from time to time. Some groups have members from all different faith traditions, some mainly from different strengths of Christianity (but they would be very open and welcoming for anyone of another tradition!). Some groups usually meet at the same place, some groups meet at different venues in their area. Some groups usually to a similar kind of activity at every meeting, some do a lot of different things (even such activities as picnics or going on a trip together – as for example the Inverness group does on a regular basis). Some groups have intense cooperation with other groups, as for example Peace groups, some have not.

21687203_1409638462477078_6454174148428554992_o
Frances, Simon and some members of Aberdeen Inter Faith Group

When I visit the groups and ask them about their wishes for the future there are two classical answer: The first wish is usually “More diversity of faiths”, especially in the more rural areas and the second wish is usually “More young people” (I would guess the average age of a member of a local interfaith group is usually somewhere in the 50s or 60s). Both wishes are difficult to fulfil because I can’t perform magic but I would say that for everyone interested in interfaith dialogue it is definitely worth contacting the local group or setting up one themselves. I see the local interfaith group as very enriching for their areas and they do very important work by promoting religious diversity and harmony.

2017-11-14 20.11.11
Dialogue at an Interfaith Week event organized by Ayrshire Interfaith Forum

If you are curious in meeting the group in your area, you can find a list of them including contact details at: http://www.interfaithscotland.org/interfaith-groups/

If you are interested in setting up an interfaith group in your area or have any further question about it feel free to contact Interfaith Scotland. We are happy to help you!

Faith and Activism

This week my colleague Frances and I visited Dundee. Dundee had been one of the longest running local interfaith groups, but in the last years the group has been less active. Since last year engaged people from Dundee are reviving the group. One step for this was the launch of Scottish Interfaith Week. In January Frances and I went to Dundee for a first meeting about the future of the group and Maureen, our Director, gave a talk about Interfaith. In the beginning of march Frances was organising a women’s dialogue event. For the meeting this week people from the group had suggested to have dialogue about poverty and we had an interesting discussion about the roots of poverty in our todays society (in Dundee) and the results of poverty (in Dundee).

This meeting was one of a couple of meetings I had in the last weeks were the social aspect of faith and social activism of believers was important. In February the monthly Faith-to-Faith event in Glasgow was about “Faith and Activism” and people talked about the connection of their faith and social activism, for example by engaging in Glasgow’s Interfaith Food Justice Network. Here people of different are providing food for those who can’t afford it themselves, because they for example are living on the streets. In the work with young people and about the question how to increase interfaith engagement of young people one feedback we often got in the last weeks, was that young people are rather keen to get active together in interfaith contexts, than “just” having a formal dialogue.

For someone like me, who has an academic background and enjoys having (theoretical) theological dialogue it is important to get reminded of this element of the different faith traditions. So why is the activism part of religion (in interfaith contexts) so attractive?

  1. Commonality

The element of practical care for those who need it, is something that is shared in all major and most minor faith traditions. Besides all other theological differences: to care for the poor, the old, the sick, the lonely ones, refugees and asylum seekers … for every one who is vulnerable is something all Holy Scriptures, all prophets and founders of religion and most believers agree is important. The way the different religious groups and individuals practise this care might differ, but in general it’s a shared element of faith. Therefor it is a good starting point for joint interfaith activities.

  1. Everyone can do it

You don’t need a degree in theology to help others. Being active for others in our society can look very different and so everyone is able to do something. Someone can visit people, that are lonely, someone can donate money or food or other essential and bring it to people who need it or to a charity/organisation that cares for others. Someone can set up and sign petitions for the good of minorities and vulnerable people. Someone can change their way of life, so others or the environment benefits from it, for example by doing less flight journeys or volunteering with a charity.

  1. You see practical results

When you give food to someone or clean a park from rubbish in your community together you see immediately results. This can give you better feeling than having just a “dry” discussion about a theme, because you directly see the impact of your doing.

  1. You can choose what to do

There are so many different possibilities to get active, that there is something to do for everyone. No one must do something they don’t like, but everyone can do something that has an impact.

  1. It strengthens religion in society

We live in a more and more secular world. In a lot of Western countries religions is becoming a less natural part of society. But even the strongest anti-religious people usually recognize the social aspect of religious activism, which cares for those no one else cares for. So if religious people are getting active in social matters and because of their faith and believes they show the importance religion has for every state, society and community.

The Feminine in God

This blog article is based on a talk I was giving last Sunday during a Faith-to-Faith event at St Mungo’s Museum last Sunday. The event had the theme “The Feminine in God” and I was asked to give a personal approach from a Christian perspective. Before me a Hindu woman was given her approach and afterwards there was time for dialogue between the 27 attendees from different religious backgrounds.

2018-03-11 16.06.34

I’m not an expert in feminist theology, but I’ve had some lectures about it, especially in the beginning of my studying at the “augustana university” in Neuendettelsau in Bavaria. I will start with some examples of the traditional Christian way of talking about god in mainly Christian terms. Afterwards I will give some examples from the bible and the Christian tradition where feminine aspects in god are stressed. In the end I’m finishing with some personal thoughts.

The bible and the Christian tradition is dominated by a terminology that seems to support a male interpretation of god. Jesus talks about god as his father – not his mother. In the Lord’s (not the Lady’s…) Prayer god is called “our father”. At least two of the three persons in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are described by masculine terminology – and in some languages, as for example German, even “Spirit” is a grammatical masculine word. Christians believe that Jesus is the incarnation of God in human flesh – so god choose to become a man and not a woman, when he (!) decided to become a human being. Some traditional attributes and activities of God are traditional connotated as rather “male”, for example gods anger or god leading his people to a military victory. Furthermore the whole Christian art tradition, as so far as pictures of god are shown, shows god often as an old man.

All this is probably not very surprising, because biblical times as well as the last 2000 years of church history happened in mainly patriarchal dominated societies and the religious institutions were dominated by men. That those men were teaching a male god, should not be a big surprise.

Fortunately there are examples in the bible and in the tradition that also support talking of god in feminine terminology and it is interesting that those examples come usually from the Old Testament (the Jewish Tanach) and not the New Testament.

It starts with the second verse of the bible. In Gen 1:2 the text talks about “Gods spirit hovering above the water”. The Hebrew word for “spirit” is “ruach” and other than in German or other languages it is a feminine word.

waves_ocean_storm_elements_foam_5514_1600x1200

Also in the story of the creation in Gen 1:27 it is said that mankind was created in gods own image as male and female. So god includes male and female aspects and both aspects are represented in mankind.

318b8c6e963b92830046ad79c7e446d1

The prophet Isaiah writes in Is 66:13 that “as one whom a mother comforts, so will I (God) comfort you”. In the protestant church in Germany this text was the official motto (“Jahreslosung”) for 2016.

flat,800x800,075,f.u1

Archaeological findings show us that there were times when the people living in Israel prayed to JHWH their god not alone, but JHWH also had a female companion (Ashera). Of course those times were long finished before most of the biblical scriptures were written, but it shows that for Judaism before the Babylonian exile the female aspects in god were so important that people prayed to their own goddess. After becoming more (and later completely) monotheistic those female aspects of god became part of JHWH and the biblical texts mentioned here are one result of it.

Also in the Christian tradition the female aspects of god were stressed from time to time, mainly in the Mystical traditions. One example are the texts and visions of “Mechthild of Magdeburg” and other powerful women in the medieval church.

For me personally the question of the feminine aspects in god is connected with the larger question of our human ability of talking and knowing about god. I’m convinced that no human talking about god – may it between highly educated theologians or just “normal” people – can describe god in any complete way. Our language and our thinking about god is therefor always incomplete and we are only able to use the language and vocabulary we have. Therefore neither “masculine” or “feminine” terminology describes god in any “better” way than the other does.

This position has also a tradition in the Christian tradition. In the ten commandments god prohibits to make images of god and to pray to them. In my opinion everyone who declares their own description of god as the only right one, does exactly this. They claim to know more about god than they are able to and this is one form of idolatry.

In the fifth century Christian theologians tried to resolve a huge argument about Jesus’ nature. Some were arguing that Jesus was “completely” human and some that he was “completely” divine. Recognizing that from a Christian point of view Jesus is god incarnated they decided in the Chalcedonian Creed to use paradoxical formulations (Jesus’ two natures are “unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably”). What is important in this for the question of the Feminine/Masculine in God is that they recognized the incompleteness and inability of human language in speaking about and describing god.

So human language and thinking can always just reach a part of gods being (like the A in the B in the picture).

7122_EWJM5oVQ6g

This means the question of talking about god in feminine or masculine terms is not a question about truth, but about stressing different aspects of god. Because our tradition has overstressed the masculine aspects much more than the feminine ones (because of the causes mentioned above), I find it very important to stress the feminine aspects more than we used to be. One possibility for this is using feminine terminology. When I was in church at St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow last Sunday Jesus was for example addressed as “our mother” during the intercessions prayer. Such small moments of irritation can help us, to realize that god is not a man in meaning than a human being can be a man, god is much more. God has male and female aspects.

To recognize those aspects Christianity can probably learn something from other religions. I find it very interesting to see how Hinduism can see all the different gods and goddesses as appearances of the one divine being and so make the people much more aware of the different aspects of god.

The Feminine in God

The value of travelling

“The train now leaving platform four is the 10.45 service to Edinburgh.” This and similar announcements have I heard very often since I came to Glasgow last July. Travelling is a large part of my work with Interfaith Scotland. I travel, when I visit the different local interfaith groups all over Scotland, between Dumfries and Shetland and between Skye and Fife. I travel also when I attend meetings of the youth engagement advisory group in London and I travel when I attend dialogue events or networking meeting with other charities or institutions. I had to travel to come to Scotland in the first place as well. Travelling is nice, because it gives me the opportunity to see a lot of different places and meet interesting people. Today we have very easy travel opportunities and even if a train is delayed or a flight cancelled, we (at least the privileged people with a passport, which opens most countries for us) can be pretty sure, that we can reach nearly every place in the world in relatively short time.

27 - Scotland-Glasgow-Central

Most of the people I work with at Interfaith Scotland and Interfaith Glasgow have been travelling a lot. Frances grew up in Northern Ireland and has spend time in India, Else has a Malaysian-Chinese background, Maureen is from the Highlands, but has lived in Samoa and the USA and is exploring interfaith connections in New Zealand the next weeks. At Interfaith Glasgow Rose is from England, Magdalen from Northern Ireland and Lynnda from South Africa. In a lot of the local interfaith groups there are people who are not born in Scotland or have lived in another country for some time of their life.

On the one hand this mixture of travel experienced people in interfaith context is a result of our modern globalized world, but on the other hand it also shows that travelling has a value in increasing interfaith and intercultural awareness. If I never had met people from other cultural or faith backgrounds than my own I probably would not be that interested in interfaith dialogue. I probably would never have thought about the question what my faith and believe means for the relationship to people of other faith. And I’m sure a lot of people involved in interfaith work and activities share this opinion.

Of course there are different kind of travelling and journeys where people of different backgrounds directly meet each other might be more fruitful for raising interfaith awareness than holidays where people spend there whole time at the beach and the only “strangers” they meet are those, who clean the dishes at the hotel buffet. But the first step is anyway to start moving being open to meeting others.

For some people it is easier to travel than for others. Therefore Interfaith Scotland offers schools the opportunity to bring volunteers from different faith backgrounds to them, so that students, especially outside the large and diverse cities can meet people of different faith backgrounds. Two weeks ago I joined a group of volunteers and delivered a day of school workshops in Oban, where it is not that easy for the students to meet Muslims, Hindus or Baha’i. It was really interesting to hear the interested questions the young people asked and I wish more schools would organise days like this (even if it were difficult for Interfaith Scotland, because of the small staff team we have…).

One idea, which has been discussed in the last years, that I really liked was to provide every young person in the European Union with a free Interrail ticket. It’s really a pity that in case this project comes into reality the young people in Scotland and the other parts of the UK can’t benefit of this! I think this would be a great opportunity especially for young people to meet people from different backgrounds and raise their awareness of the value of diversity. Maybe the Scottish government or the UK government should think about supporting/founding similar projects or at least organise/support more projects where people can travel in Scotland to meet people of different backgrounds (be it from the Southside of Glasgow to the East End of Glasgow, or from the rural areas of the country to the more diverse ones), like Interfaith Scotland does with it’s school workshops. Hopefully more people can have similar interesting travel experiences, as I do at the moment!

“The beast from the East” – Some religious reflections

Today large parts of Scotland are shut down because of snow. There have fallen about 3cm of snow and there are -4° – even if it feels colder due to the wind. To experience temperatures and weather like this should not be a large surprise in a country that is at about the same geographical latitude as Denmark or the south of Sweden. But the results of the weather are closed schools in large part of the country and heavy travel disruptions. Interfaith Scotland’s office stays closed today, because of the weather, too.

But this blog should not mainly be about the question if it was justified or not to cancel and shut down all the schools and offices, but rather about what this events tell us how people deal with the weather. From my point of view there are some very religious elements in it.

26 - snow2

From the very beginning of human history weather was a very important part of human live, because humans were heavy relying on the weather conditions. To less rain (usually not a problem in the UK) can be as livethreatening as to much, the same is to say about sunshine and temperatures. Because of that were weather gods and goddesses an important part of early religions. Even JHWH the god who became later the god of Judaism and Christianity was in very early stages of religious history probably a god responsible for rain and thunderstorms.

Even today some thousand years later the weather is something we humans can’t control. In earlier times people asked their priest, prophets and seers about the future, today we check the weather and several times a day with forecasts in TV, Radio, Internet and our weather apps and the weather is probably the most popular small talk theme (Will there be a white Christmas? Are we having a “real” summer? Isn’t it to hot/cold/wet/dry?). Of course it is good to have all those possibilities to get informed, because in the end it really can save lives!

That our obsession with the weather even today is somehow religious shows the name that was giving to the actual weather system “The beast from the east”. A name that could as well come from the book of Apocalypse in the bible or some kind of ancient mythology. It shows that the weather is something we still can’t control and that we at least partly experience as threatening.

26 - snow1

But how deal we with weather like this “snowstorm” religiously? From a monotheistic point of view is obvious that god must at least tolerate such events to happen and be in the end responsible for them by having created the world in a way that snow storms exist. From a nontheistic point of view the storm might be a challenge but not be caused of a higher power and from a polytheistic point of view there would be at least the possibility that some (evil?) god has caused the storm. Nevertheless an adequate reaction to the snow, independent of one particular background, would be to care for everyone who is especially suffering in those conditions. I’m mainly thinking about people living on the streets, who are not as lucky as I am to have a warm place to live in. I’m also thinking about everyone who has a flat, but maybe not enough money to heat it or to have a hot meal and hot drinks. I’m hoping that everyone of them has at least one person who cares for them during this harsh weather and that humanity doesn’t get defeated by “The Beast from the East”.