Wednesday, July 08, 2020

We are being led by a deadly political ideology

What's becoming clearer and clearer to me is that we're being led by a UK government which has a deadly ideology. Of course that was always true because of the government's criminal inaction on the climate crisis, but the corona virus pandemic has shown it to be true on a smaller scale of this particular crisis.

I think this video of an interview with government adviser John Edmunds is really instructive.

I think the key part of the interview is from about minute 9. At 13.40 he says, "It is hard to imagine we would do that [take restrictive measures] here in the UK.... I don't think anybody looked at it [lockdown]... it was difficult to imagine just how easy the lockdown was... that people actually would go along with it."

In other words we didn't go into lockdown as early as we should have done (which most people seem to be saying now would have cut our death toll by a half, if not three quarters) because of what we believed about human nature. In other words those making decisions thought that people were basically selfish, and would not restrict their freedoms, would not make sacrifices to save lives. Therefore they believed the lockdown would not work.

They were surprised by how much people were prepared to make sacrifices. They were surprised by how good we were because their ideology was based on the idea that human beings are basically selfish.

That wasn't a scientific assessment. It was a theological one. The decision not to go into lockdown earlier was based on a Thatcherite neoliberal ideology that people are basically selfish and want the biggest freedoms to do whatever they like regardless of the consequences. As John Edmunds says repeatedly in that video - it was a failure of imagination. They just couldn't imagine that people would be prepared to make those sacrifices. They were entirely blind to the potential of human nature.

They were wrong. The British public were prepared to make very large sacrifices for the sake of saving lives.

It demonstrates how deadly that political/theological ideology is. It is an ideology that is literally responsible for the death of about 50,000 people in the last few months.

I wonder if we will get a reckoning about this. And if we're prepared to learn the lessons from this crisis, and apply it to the climate crisis.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

If we want to decolonise the world

If we want to decolonise the world,
we must decolonise our nations.

If we want to decolonise the nations,
we must decolonise our cities.

If we want to decolonise the cities,
we must decolonise our neighbourhoods.

If we want to decolonise our neighbourhoods,
we must decolonise our homes.

If we want to decolonise our homes,
we must decolonise our hearts.

(With apologies to Lau Tzu's (apparent) words)

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Where are our rituals of mourning?

This time is devastating.

In the last few months we've seen at least 40,000 people, and probably closer to 60,000 killed by a deadly virus in the UK. Sixty thousand grieving families. Lives torn from this earth. And those who are mourning are unable to receive a comforting hand on a shoulder, unable to have a hug in their grief.

This is awful. But what is almost as awful is the ludicrously blasé, flippant attitude through all this that has come from government, media, and (by extension, it feels) society in general.

Where is our grief? Where are out rituals of mourning? Where are our sackcloth and ashes?

The Prime Minister should be appearing on TV every night beating his chest and saying, "This is terrible, I'm so so sorry."

Instead throughout all of this we've had this "ra ra, cheer up, let's get the pubs open" bullshit from the beginning from this UK government. It's totally sickening. It's a total denial of an unfolding tragedy of epic proportions.

And it's not just the government, the right wing tabloids and the BBC have been terrible too. What would it feel like coming back form the funeral of a loved one (where no one could give you a hand of comfort), and turning on the BBC to see the top story is people shopping in Primark, and have you have to get to minute 15 or 16 before the newsreader says, "oh yeah, also dozens of people were killed today of this virus." Where is our respect for grief?

If ten people died of a terrorist attack we'd all be shocked and our leaders would be stony faced and serious and we would mourn and commemorate. But 60,000 people die of a virus and we just shrug our shoulders and say, "When are the pubs open?" It really feels like the old adage, "the death of one is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic."

We are profoundly sick. We are profoundly in denial. Our society is profoundly emotionally unwell.

I find it genuinely bizarre. Why haven't we declared a national day of mourning? Why aren't we holding a minute's silence for the dead? We have such massive rituals of mourning for war dead every November. Why are we incapable of commemorating the dead falling about us right now? It must feel so strange to have lost a family member in these months. Because everyone around you is actively trying to deny the tragedy, deny your pain.

Why this denial? I tend to think that it's because grief is too close to anger; that if we get upset, we will also get angry and start asking questions of a government that is undoubtedly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands through serious mismanagement.

But it also points to something that is profoundly spiritually wrong with our society. We have lost any ability to properly deal with death, to properly deal with grief, even when it is as present as it possibly could be (the only way death could make itself more obviously in front of our eyes is if bombs were dropping on us every night,  and yet now double the number of people who died in the Blitz have died of coronavirus).

How can we start to grieve? How can we build rituals of grief?

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Gospel of John is Irredeemably Antisemitic

Christianity started as a Jewish sect. Despite this, or in some ways because of this, there is a strongly anti-Jewish message very early on in Christian history. What started as a debate between different Jewish communities became something different as Christianity became Gentile, and then became an imperial religion with considerably power.

How Christianity shaped European antisemitism is something that Christians needed to seriously address after the Holocaust, and to a certain extent have done, though not nearly enough.

In looking at this many Christians have noted how the Gospel of John has particularly troublesome phrases. There's constant negative references to "the Jews". Even though Jesus and the disciples are Jewish, the phrase "the Jews" always refers to those against Jesus. As I say, this insight is in no way original to me. But I think I've come to the view that the problem is much much worse than most Christians want to admit, because the consequences would be too big for Christianity.

I've come to think that the primary purpose of the Gospel of John is to be an anti-Jewish text. 

Written much later than the other Gospels, John comes from a time when there is a definite Christian split from Judaism, and the author really wants to make the point that God's revelation is now in the path of Christ and not in the Jewish religion. 

I think the key passage is 5:39-40, "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.  Yet you refuse to come to me to have life."

This is the message of the whole of the Gospel of John, repeated again and again.

Think of the famous prologue, "In the beginning was the Word" so adored at Christmas services. But we miss that the whole point of that passage is that, "he came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him."

And another famous passage: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except by me." What this primarily means is that no gets to the Father through Jewish religion.
God's relationship with the Jewish people has ended. That's what the author wants to tell you.

Throughout the Gospel "the Jews" are the baddies, the ones to be feared, the ones who finally kill Jesus. This is despite the fact all the goodies in this story are Jewish too. And despite the historic fact that the Romans killed Jesus.

I'm not a New Testament scholar (and if you want to direct me to good resources on this, please do) but all this has led me further and further to the conclusion that the Gospel of John is irredeemably antisemitic, and despite being very well written and somewhat beautiful in times in its language, has done more harm than good to Christianity.

It's irredeemably antisemitic. It's the primary source of Christian antisemitism. And that's exactly what it was trying to be.

Let's bin it.

Or at least, let's radically decentre it from Christianity, and only very very rarely include it in worship.*

The good news is the Gospel of John has almost nothing to do with Jesus of Nazareth. Almost no words in John's Gospel coincide with Jesus' recorded words in other Gospels, so we must assume were made up by the writer of John's Gospel.

When we exclude John and get our picture of Jesus from Mark, Matthew, Luke, and Thomas then what emerges is a much more compassionate, much more human, much more wise, and much more Jewish Jesus.

It begins to redeem Christianity of its antisemitism. It creates a Christianity that still affirms God's revelation in the Jewish religion, and by extension in other religions as well. It solves a lot of our most difficult theological problems. It makes it harder for people to claim to be Christian while ignoring the needs of the poor and oppressed.

Binning the Gospel of John makes Christianity a lot better. There, I said it.

*The one exception I'd make to this is the story of the woman caught in adultery. But actually that's an "orphan story" that was floating around on its own that later got edited into the Gospel of John. It doesn't really belong there, which kind of reinforces my point. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Black Lives Matter

I don't have anything super original or profound to say about the murder of George Floyd and the eruption of Black Lives Matter protests in the States and in the UK, other than the fact that I support Black Lives Matter.

That's OK I think. This doesn't need to be a time for white liberals to show off, just a time to show up.

I'm trying to look out for resources and writings from black people to get better informed, especially from a British perspective. This is a time to listen.

Cornel West is a pretty good place to start so I'll just leave this here. It's amazing.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Seeking Paradise Podcast

In this time of lockdown, with doing online worship at Cardiff Unitarians Undodiaid Caerdydd, it's becoming much easier to record worship. So I've decided to start putting the audio of sermons/reflections out as podcasts. 

It's fairly simple and lo-tech for now, I'm sure it will evolve and get a bit better quality in time. I may use the podcast feed for other things in the fullness of time. 

If you're interested search for "seeking paradise" on iTunes or Spotify or you can download from here:

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Giving aid - in the name of God - or not?

Like many people did when this crisis started I joined my local mutual aid group. I got a load of leaflets with my name and phone number on and I posted them through the doors of a couple of streets (working with others in the group to make sure every street in our neighbourhood was covered).

I spent an hour posting them through letter boxes, talked to one neighbour in person (from a distance) and I knew I had done my bit.

In fact I've only been called upon to collect someone's prescription once. So it's all been very easy, but it's good to know that these leaflets have gone out (I think I'm right to say) to every home in Canton and Riverside.

Then recently I saw another leaflet that someone had taken a picture of and posted on Facebook. This was a very similar leaflet written by a local church, saying much the same. The church (as far as I know) hadn't coordinated with the local mutual aid group, but had taken it upon themselves to do it independently. But the person who had posted the picture was very appreciative and said "look, isn't this nice?"

And it is nice.... but... it brings some questions up, doesn't it? When I posted leaflets through doors I wasn't doing it in the name of my faith. I didn't say that I was a person of faith or a minister, I just said I was a neighbour and could help. I'm sure everyone was appreciative, but no one thought, "oh look, here's faith in action".

They did think that about the leaflet from the church, but I can't help feeling a bit resentful that this church wasn't coordinating with what was already happening. I mean, maybe if everyone offers help, that's not a bad thing? If people get two different leaflets through their door, that's not a terrible thing, but it does display a certain kind of attitude of some churches. Churches want to get into the community and "do good" but if they do it without first finding out what's already going on it can look a bit... arrogant, patronising, colonial.

Why do churches need to do things as churches? Why not work in partnership with other community groups? That's seems the better thing to do, and yet I admit it probably means people don't realise volunteers or projects are from a faith perspective, and so there's no good PR for churches. Churches that do their own thing as churches, as explicit faith projects probably are more likely to grow.

I do think faith groups do have unique and important things they can contribute. If that church put a leaflet through every household in Canton saying "let us know of any things you want us to pray for" I'd have less to object to, but then that leaflet would probably be less universally welcomed in homes.

I've spent two years in Cardiff not doing things in the name of faith, because I believe in partnership and solidarity. I believe in finding out what's already going on, and joining in. But I have to admit that means my ministry is still invisible to the vast majority of people in my community. Perhaps that's partly about there being a time and season for everything. I'm moving into a time when I want to be more explicitly spiritual. But I'm starting from an attitude of solidarity and partnership.

There's a tension here, I feel. What do you think? Should faith groups do things explicitly as faith groups so that they can get the good publicity, or should they work in partnership and risk becoming invisible?

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Seeking Paradise - Stephen Lingwood interviewed by Jo James

Thanks to Jo James for interviewing me for my book launch last month. Here's the video.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

On being useless

So I've been thinking about being useless. I think a lot of us feel useless, and you know what? Yeah, we are useless, and that's totally OK.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Online Launch of Seeking Paradise

Part of 'Being Together: A Three Day Virtual Gathering for Spiritual Connection' (7-9 April 2020)


Join Jo James in conversation with author and pioneer minister Stephen Lingwood to discuss his new book 'Seeking Paradise: A Unitarian Mission for Our Times'.

What might the future of the Unitarian movement look like? That depends, this book argues, on how its members envision – and enact – its mission. Stephen Lingwood urges that Unitarians can evangelise, with a message of hope for a “beloved community” in this world: the Paradise of the title.

He proposes the possibility of a mission to revive Unitarianism not only numerically, but also spiritually. He takes the reader through the progressive stages of this idea and illustrates theory with examples from his practical experience as a Unitarian minister. He also presents new ways of thinking about the Kingdom (or “Kindom”) of God, and sources of hope in a world that desperately needs it.

Each chapter ends with questions for reflection by individual readers and discussion by small congregational groups.

Stephen Lingwood serves as the Minister of Cardiff Unitarians / Undodiaid Caerdydd, and is engaged in pioneer ministry in the inner-city community there. He was previously the Minister of Bank Street Unitarian Chapel in Bolton. He holds degrees from the University of Birmingham, Boston University (USA), and Manchester University.

"I believe that Unitarianism will flourish only if the work of each of us is driven by a clear personal mission, and with a sense of loving generosity rather than institutional self-preservation. Stephen Lingwood paints a picture which I hope readers will find inspirational." – Elizabeth Slade (Chief Officer, The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches)

You can pre-order the book here:

Zoom Link: Everyone welcome.