Faith & Spirituality in Review

Bernie Power, Understanding Jesus and Muhammad: What the ancient texts say about them, Acorn Press, ISBN 9780994254450

For many years Bernie Power has worked overseas among Muslims to build understanding between Christians and Muslims. In this little book he compares what the stories of Jesus and of Muhammad have to say about such central questions as the divinity of Christ, the Trinity and the sinlessness, miracles, attitudes to violence, to women and to the end of the world taken by the two religious founders.
On all these topics prejudices abound among Muslims and Christians about the other’s beliefs. So this short account of what Jesus and Muhammad said and did is very helpful. It does not remove differences but it provides a calm basis for further conversation.

Power is a convinced Christian. So he does not write as a detached outsider. This shows itself particularly in the way he assesses the stories told of Jesus and of Muhammad. He makes allowances for the effect that centuries of storytelling have had on the reliability of later stories of Muhammad. But he generally accepts the stories and words of the Gospels as eye-witness accounts, without considering the impact of the communities out of which they came. This book inevitably contrasts Jesus and Muhammad less than Christian and Muslim views of them.

Brian Lucas, Pleasing to God: The Call to Church Administration, St Pauls, ISBN 9781921963841

Ask soldiers, footballers, parish clergy, teachers and soup-van volunteers how they would describe administrators, and you will often hear words like pettifogging, pedantic, timid, obsessive and stifling. Administrators are not seen as goers but as stoppers.

So the lot of people in church administration is challenging. Their work is to help people in pastoral settings to work effectively, responsibly and sustainably. But they are often caricatured as balls and chains designed to hobble people in the field.

Pleasing to God is written to help people involved in administration to see their work as a gift of the Holy Spirit and not as a brake on it. It also offers a Christian view of administration that draws heavily on a famous talk given by Pope Francis to Cardinals and Bishops involved in church administration. Pope Francis described colourfully the many ways in which administrators can shackle the Holy Spirit and serve themselves.

One of the book’s most attractive and heartfelt features is the emphasis on the communities to which administrators belong. It insists that relationships in church organisations should be fraternal and marked by respect for people as persons and not simply as workers or subordinates. Persons come first.

This book also rehabilitates prudence. In popular speech prudence is often identified with slowness, with finding reasons to reject new ideas.

Actually prudence is the servant of boldness. It involves looking at the reality of situations, thinking through the likely consequences of different responses, and then acting decisively. Prudence and administration are not for sissies.