People concerned about the bombing yesterday at All Saints’ Church in Peshawar may appreciate this video glimpse of worship in that congregation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_KOG6Rd2J4. The footage from All Saints’ appears from 03:47 to 04:05 and 20:02 to 20:42, and it depicts well the liturgical life of the parish today – or, shall we say, before the bombing.
The title of the film is “God Undivided: Christians’ Encounter with Islam in Pakistan.” It was created by filmmaker Philip Carr, now resident in Connecticut, the footage dating from 2004 at locations in Peshawar, Bannu in Waziristan, and Mardan, among others. The film is one of 12 in the “Windows on Mission” series on mission work sponsored by the Episcopal Church through its Mission Personnel Office, then under the leadership of Canon Jane Butterfield, who envisioned and produced the series.
At that time Bishop Mano Rumalshah was the Bishop of Peshawar, and the inspiring vision of him and his wife Benita is prominent in the film, so the 23-minute piece is well worth watching right through. Mano is now Bishop Emeritus. The current bishop is the Rt. Rev. Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, who long worked with Bp. Mano and is a close colleague of mine, both as the bishop under whom I serve and as chair of the Edwardes College Executive Committee.
Clear in the film is the Church of Pakistan’s triple embrace of Christian witness, common spiritual ground with Islam, and diaconal service to people of all religious paths.
The very title of the film, “God Undivided,” is a proclamation worthy of reflection. God is not divided, obviously. God is one. Our views of God, however, become a source of division – dividedness in the human community. We are not identical as human beings, so our views about God, as about everything else, inevitably exhibit differences. For some and even many, though, “difference is dangerous,” as one Edwardes faculty member put it as he critiqued those for whom difference entails conflict.
How can difference become not dangerous for those inclined to see it as dangerous? How can difference become not a danger, but an invitation to discovery, an enlargement of understanding? I am reminded of a comment by Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the founders of Islam Online, the world’s largest Muslim website, in a conversation moderated by Bill Sachs in Doha in 2007: “We were created different from each other so that we can learn from each other, so says the Quran.”
Earlier this year I preached at All Saints’ Peshawar on Moses’ desire to see the face of God and God’s willingness to show only his back. If we could all acknowledge that our knowledge of God and our vision of God are partial, not complete, and inevitably impaired, that we all are seeing only God’s back, not the face of God – such humility could be a starting place for inter-religious encounter, understanding, affirmation and cooperation.
Tragically and outrageously, the people of All Saints’ are today suffering the consequence of others’ adamant refusal to embrace such humility.