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Aktivitaeten in der Vergangenheit

Ammerdown 2004

by Nuala Power

I always get an interesting reaction when I am introduced to people and we get to the stage of 'so what do you do?'

'I teach.' Sometimes I get a look of sympathy, more often it is one of bemusement.

'What age group?'

'11-18 years old'

Things get worse!


'Religious Studies.'

Well so often that is a conversation stopper. Tradition has it the two things which should never be discussed are religion and politics. Implicit in this remark is the idea that where there is heart felt difference there will be conflict.

I am, however, always keen to explain how lucky I am. Every day I come to work and I don't know what exciting things will come my way. It is a privilege to be in a position to explore issues of real significance with the next generation. This was brought home to me again this summer at the three faiths conference at Ammerdown.

Years ago now, in a class discussion, some students were arguing that because there were so many different religions, and so many disagreements, God could not exist. I put a scenario to them.

I often watch you play a cricket, or football, or rugby, match and maybe you won or maybe you lost, but there will always be post match discussions: was the goal the fault of the goalie or defence? Was so and so 'man of the match' or just a player hogging the ball?

You are one team and the result is real and unchangeable, why the passionate post match discussion? It is even televised these days, and can last longer than the match!

Then came the really insightful comment…

Yes Miss, but even in football they have a place for the 'away team', you don't get religions doing that do you!

That struck a chord with me and I believed that it was possible for such a place to exist but all our suggestions at the time seemed impractical.

In the heady days of the Summer Term I signed up for a conference during my summer holidays and as the time approached I wondered if those odd looks I get for being a teacher were well deserved, but off I went.

It was an inter-faith dialogue between Christians Muslims and Jews exploring the themes of creation and the environment. I was not sure what to expect. It was a mixture of academic seminars, formal discussions sessions and less formal 'personal groups'. All the course contributors offered a mixture of scholarly presentation and interesting commentary. The participants were a diverse bunch of people from Germany and the UK and I made some new friends. It was fascinating to discover various aspects of our three traditions with people who were prepared to discuss their beliefs and ideas openly and reflect on them too.

The topic for the week was ecology and as part of our studies an environmental engineer came and explained how they assessed the ecological impact of the various methods of construction they were exploring when restoring the Kennet and Avon canal. We had a welcome opportunity to see their handiwork when we spent part of the day walking along the canal.

He explained that whole ecosystems had to be studied and 'value' had to be assigned to both concrete species, their relationship to each other and to the effects of the environment as a whole on those who use it for work leisure… 'Key stone species' need to be identified because of their relationship to the ecosystem. These are species which keep every thing else in balance. The clear example he gave was that on the coral reef it has been discovered that otters are needed to control the numbers of urchins who graze on the coral.

He used wonderful PowerPoint slides to demonstrate the abundance of species which can exist in the shelf on the margins of the canal, and which disappear if the canal has a straight edge, or no defence against the wash of passing boats. He explained how certain things in the environment have intrinsic value and that diversity is one of them. One of the participants pointed out how relevant this insight was to our own gathering.

I feel that I learned these things, first hand, at the conference too; that diversity leads to more fertile soil on which to grow, that through our gathering we may be a force for balance in our world, that we need to take the time our in a safe space in order to grow. Meeting in our personal groups increased my knowledge about the three faith traditions, and I felt privileged to share in the spirituality of others and to have found a place to celebrate with the 'away teams'.

Often I found that I shared things in common with those of another tradition, and found issues of conflict in my own. My faith and my spirit were nourished from unexpected sources; through the creative dance workshop, through the introduction to the Sufi poet Rumi, through the funny stories shared late into the night, and through the delightful young people - the youngest of whom, aged 7, taught us a song about two different trees, planted in the same soil and demonstrating different qualities of righteousness before God.

It was a very productive conference. As you can imagine, the session on the Middle East, presented in the company of a Muslim Shaik was difficult. Loyalties run deep, and it is a testament to the openness of the speaker and the participants that these divisions, and others, were not covered over. We often seem to think that agreeing with others, fitting in, makes for an easier life. I discovered that openness about how each one of us sees the world, and the ability to listen to others means that difficulties can be understood, and new ways forward from received positions can be found. The speaker wondered why the Middle East discussions are not facilitated by trained negotiators, a simple idea which could mean progress in that area.

At this session recognition was made of the need to allow God space to act. Right here we were at the heart of a problem, what could we say, or do together, without too much compromise? The suggestion that we sing the song taught to us by our youngest member was so fitting. It seemed to me that in this space made for us, to be, and share with, the 'other', the 'away team,' God is active.

I am enormously grateful to all the participants but in particular to the three excellent leaders, Dr Tina Beattie (and her husband Dave the engineer), Shaik Bashir Ahmad Dultz (and his wife Khadija the creative dancer), Rabbi Michael Hilton (and his family who taught us so much and provided musical accompaniment on many occasions), and Ismail Mohr resident artist and calligrapher.

Deutsche Muslim-Liga Bonn e.V. - 1425 / 2004