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Dialogues, Dragons and Dreams 9 December 2013

Posted by Dr Moose in Chaplaincy, Faith, Life, Ponderings, Role-Playing Games, Theology, University.
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Although it doesn’t seem that long ago the memories of Inter-Faith Week are beginning to fade, which is a shame, as there were some good conversations to be had around the university, whether it was with the newly-formed Atheist, Humanist & Secular Society, (who seemed to have got the name wrong if they actually hope to carry out their stated aim of having members from faith communities joining, so as to enable discussion), with the Islamic Society or with the town’s Inter-Faith Forum.

The Tuesday of Inter-Faith Week saw me once again acting as a speaker in an event that played primarily to the “home crowd”, and to a title that while being understandably connected to the week’s theme wasn’t quite right. What should probably have been on Faith in the Media was instead Islam in the Media, not a topic I feel totally equipped to address! However, since no-one was actively chairing the event I was able to get away with my own slant on it, including content on basic media literacy and the differences between Western Culture and Christian Faith, not to mention a couple of honest (and therefore potentially risky) observations about the differences between Christianity and Islam. By the time we’d added one of the Journalism lecturers and the Imam who acts as Muslim Chaplain on the Team we had a good and quite rounded evening, with intelligent questions from the audience.

The Thursday evening saw the Multi-Faith Chaplaincy (alright, I’ll be honest, me) hosting the Inter-Faith Forum for a Conversation, “In pursuit of happiness” ably facilitated by a local BBC radio presenter. The whole evening was characterised by wit and good humour, although I found myself rather frustrated by the end because it was all just a little too “nice”, with participants falling over themselves in being reasonable and agreeable and no visible disagreement over anything. I didn’t read that as a deliberate, corporate, exercise in being disingenuous, but I wished I had lobbed out a hand-grenade of contention about how we could honestly approach the claims to absolute truth made in at least two of the faiths represented. I did feel able to mention this to two of the organisers/participants later and they both said I should have, but I was rather reluctant to do so in the time that had been available. It would have been interesting to see how many others in the audience would have appreciated some spirited disagreement!

Spirited disagreement was certainly in evidence last week, when at least in part due to those earlier discussions, I was able to take the opportunity to pick up on some of those differences. At times I have wondered how I as a Christian can provide hospitality for people of any faith, but Muslims in particular, in the shape of facilities for their prayer and devotion without crossing over the line from hospitality into collaboration, that is, in favouring their practices to the detriment of my own faith and mission. An answer of first approximation would seem to be of dialogue encompassing disagreement. A conversation with one of the Somali brothers would definitely constitute a “full and frank exchange of views” when he was faced with the simple statement that as a Christian neither I, nor my faith, regard Mohammed as a prophet. I think he was rather taken aback by that one, and the ensuing discussion was “spirited”. It also revealed some interesting impressions about a Muslim interpretation of the Christian scriptures (although I don’t know how much was his interpretation and how much was a more widely-held opinion) which seemed unable to grasp the Christian understanding of the entire New Testament as inspired and not just the words of Jesus himself. If I understand aright he was treating much of the New Testament more as hadith/commentary than as the word of God. He might have set greater store on the recorded words of Jesus, but even when we did touch on matters in that direction he didn’t appear particularly willing to actually listen to them! (It did cause me to ponder the frustration a faithful Jew would experience with a Christian ‘hijacking’ the Old Testament and insisting that the Jew didn’t know how to interpret it!) A similar, if rather gentler conversation with one of the sisters left me with the impression that she didn’t quite know how to approach the New Testament because it was so different to the Old Testament (which she found much more in accordance with the Qur’an). I don’t think I’d be too wrong to say that they may be something very important here about the need for certainty and clear boundaries that Jesus seems to have been so set on blurring!

From dialogue recent days have turned to dragons, or precisely to Dragonmeet, the annual one-day Role-Playing Games Convention in Kensington Town Hall. The day provided ample opportunity to flex the imagination, in playing two games I hadn’t previously played. The morning proved hugely enjoyable in the FATE-powered romp that is Age of Arthur (a book that I will endeavour to buy, lavish colour and production being a definite selling point). How did I end up playing an Ambassador and Bard from the Kingdom of Ebrauc with a nice line in satire and insult and a fascination with the Fae, I wonder? (Answers on a postcard please..) A liquid lunch was followed by a slightly less enjoyable session of the retro system that is Dungeon World. Being used to more narrative games I found the character rather too confining for my taste, but I suspect that the chief determinant was that the players were a little less engaged than in the morning, quite posibly because the characters didn’t really possess any character, just a bunch of stats!

The evening saw a meal with some Gloranthaphile friends and some interesting inside information on a number of topics, (which I will not disclose!) followed by a game of Midland Mainline-sponsored sardines when only half a train turned up for the journey home…

Of course, these two very different, but very stimulating experiences have come just as we approach Christmas and all the resultant activity the festive season spawns (even when we are still in Advent and Christmas is yet to appear). Both encourage me to do more, both to engage in dialogue, and more importantly (at a personal level) to engage more in the RPG arena. I need the pick-up of the activity and company, even though I realise quite how many projects I have on the go at once and lack the time and/or inspiration to fulfill them. Nevertheless, we can all dream, and given the busy-ness of the last few days and all that is to come, dreaming seems a good idea and a cue to get to bed!



1. Phil Hibbs - 10 December 2013

If the AHSS is mis-named for welcoming “faith” people, then surely Inter-Faith Week is also mis-named if atheists, agnostics, etc. are welcome to take part in it? I suppose you could argue that atheism is a faith, since it relies on a fundamentally un-proveable assumption, but not so agnosticism.

Dr Moose - 10 December 2013

My comment has more to do with the interpretation of the name as potentially exclusive to exactly the people they want to recruit, rather than about, faiths, or belief (& lack of belief) systems.

2. Dialogue Draft Text | Life, Faith and Role-Playing Games - 10 December 2013

[…] anyone who read the previous post and is interested, the draft text for the ISoc event, “Islam in the Media: Fear-mongering or […]

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