Wednesday, November 23, 2005

This poem is illegal in the UK

Essex Hall are having a Celebration of Blasphemy next week in defiance of Britain's blasphemy law. I'm preaching the next Sunday at church so have decided to preach on blasphemy. I'm researching now and thought I would share the poem that was prosecuted the last time the law was used. This is to affirm my belief in religious and civil liberty.

The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name
By James Kirkup

As they took him from the cross
I, the centurion, took him in my arms-
the tough lean body
of a man no longer young,
beardless, breathless,
but well hung.

He was still warm.
While they prepared the tomb
I kept guard over him.
His mother and the Magdalen
had gone to fetch clean linen
to shroud his nakedness.

I was alone with him.
For the last time
I kissed his mouth. My tongue
found his, bitter with death.
I licked his wound-
the blood was harsh
For the last time
I laid my lips around the tip
of that great cock, the instrument
of our salvation, our eternal joy.
The shaft, still throbbed, anointed
with death's final ejaculation

I knew he'd had it off with other men-
with Herod's guards, with Pontius Pilate,
With John the Baptist, with Paul of Tarsus
with foxy Judas, a great kisser, with
the rest of the Twelve, together and apart.
He loved all men, body, soul and spirit. - even me.

So now I took off my uniform, and, naked,
lay together with him in his desolation,
caressing every shadow of his cooling flesh,
hugging him and trying to warm him back to life.
Slowly the fire in his thighs went out,
while I grew hotter with unearthly love.

It was the only way I knew to speak our love's proud name,
to tell him of my long devotion, my desire, my dread-
something we had never talked about. My spear, wet with blood,
his dear, broken body all open wounds,
and in each wound his side, his back,
his mouth - I came and came and came

as if each coming was my last.
And then the miracle possessed us.
I felt him enter into me, and fiercely spend
his spirit's finbal seed within my hole, my soul,
pulse upon pulse, unto the ends of the earth-
he crucified me with him into kingdom come.

-This is the passionate and blissful crucifixion
same-sex lovers suffer, patiently and gladly.
They inflict these loving injuries of joy and grace
one upon the other, till they dies of lust and pain
within the horny paradise of one another's limbs,
with one voice cry to heaven in a last divine release.

Then lie long together, peacefully entwined, with hope
of resurrection, as we did, on that green hill far away.
But before we rose again, they came and took him from me.
They knew no what we had done, but felt
no shame or anger. Rather they were gald for us,
and blessed us, as would he, who loved all men.

And after three long, lonely days, like years,
in which I roamed the gardens of my grief
seeking for him, my one friend who had gone from me,
he rose from sleep, at dawn, and showed himself to me before
all others. And took me to him with
the love that now forever dares to speak its name.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Remembrance: 1945 Sermon

I found this little sermon turned into a leaflet in my minister's office. He said I could have it. It's from the week the war ended.

Sermon preached at the Church of the Messiah, Birmingham, May 9th 1945, by Gordon Stuart

The war in Europe is over.

After five-and-a-half years of labour and danger and sorrow we have attained the end we set before ourselves. But we cannot greet this attainment with any simple feelings. Our feelings are mixed, and they must differ according to the part we have played, and the degree of our suffering and loss. But we must all feel a deep and humble thankfulness that the killing and maiming of men by men is over, whether it has been done by us or to us.

We are thankful too that the way of life which we cherish in this country has been preserved to us - that government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from the earth, as it seemed at one moment so like to do. We are thankful that it has been preserved to us here, and thankful also that this preservation may make possible its restoration and extension in other parts of the world. For Democracy, with all its faults, is still the best way of living together that men have devised. It is also the only religious way. For all religion at its best believes in the value of the individual man, seeing him not as a puppet but as a person, not as a means but as an end.

And we are thankful to all those who have saved this way of life for us - to all those who in purity of heart and singleness of intention have risked or have given their lives, and to all those who have endured danger at home with courage and patience, in order that the highest values of our civilisation might survive. To them we owe a debt that only the best we can do and be can even begin to replay. Those who will not come back must never pass from our remembrance. And for those who do come back, and with them, we must make a world in which life may at last be lived in decency, dignity and beauty.

We meet in thankfulness. But we meet also in sorrow. Sorrow for all that is broken - the broken lives and homes and hopes, the broken happiness of children, the broken treasures of art, architecture and human memory, whether the memory be of Beethoven's home in Bonn or Dr Johnson's in London. Sorrow too - I think we cannot honestly avoid it - that we have been obliged to use evil to cast evil out. We know that this can be no more than a partial and temporary outcasting, unless we now give our hearts and minds to the more final and more blessed overcoming of evil with good. This is the Gospel of Christ. It is also the only thing which will ultimately work.

Because we have had to depart from this Gospel, however sadly and unwillingly, we must meet here also in repentance. It is clear to us, and rightly clear, that Germany must repent before she can be re-admitted to the community of nations. But we should remember that it is much easier, spiritually, to win a war than to lose it. Pride is strong and humility is difficult; and no nation and no individual is in a good position for casting stones in this matter of living as members of one of another. So, as the years pass, the peoples of the world must help each other to repent. We must repent, all of us together, of all our shares in the occasions of war. And we must all together try to build a world in which these occasions, grievance, envy, hatred, fear, frustration, will be less common.

This is yet another reason for repentance. I stand here this morning with an uninjured body, with eyes that can see, and with a precious freedom to say to you what seems to my conscience right to say, knowing that you who are listening, and our country, give me this freedom. Your fathers helped to win it; your sons have helped defend it. When I remember the price at which my uninjured body and my freedom of speech have been bought, I feel bound to ask myself if I am worth it? It is not, I find, a comfortable question. But I think we are all bound to ask it of ourselves. And for all in which we have been unworthy we must ask forgiveness; for all in which we may yet be worthy we must ask for strength.

In face of the suffering of these past years, many of our ways of living seem mean and shoddy. But justice and mercy, truth and beauty, generosity, toleration and forgiveness, making the broken whole and the disunited one, these stand out as the things that cannot be shaken, the only things that matter. And to the increase of these things in ourselves and in our world we must dedicate ourselves to-day.

Men and women of good will have never met together in a more solemn moment. They have never faced together a more difficult task than that of making fruitful to the world this terrible travail of the world. None of us faces it all, and none of us faces it alone, but of each of us is required faithfulness to all that we can be, faithfulness in all that we can do.

So, in deep thankfulness, in reverent remembrance, in faith that evil cannot break and hope that difficulty will not quench, let us pray to the God of the whole earth, that all the children of men, friends and enemies, may come to see the beauty of His ways, and to walk in them in peace.


Friday, November 11, 2005

Cutting through the bullshit: the reality of engaging with other cultures

There is nothing like sitting listening to a Rastafarian to help you cut through the bullshit. Last night I meditated at church with my minister and a Rastafarian guy who’s been coming to these meditations a lot. After the meditation this guy got pretty fired up talking about Rastafarianism, race, nature, God, Christ and all kinds of stuff. A good proportion of it I didn’t understand because of his strong dialect. But in general it made me realise a lot of things.

I realised I was encountering something radically “other.” This guy was from a culture so radically different from my own that it was really hard work for me to understand him. I realised that I had never before encountered a person so culturally different in a Unitarian setting. I realised that frankly U*Uism is not multicultural at all, despite all the talk. For two years in America I was not once challenged to work hard to understand a different culture in U*Uism. Even though I was in a different country, it never felt that much like a different culture, and never felt like more than one culture. In two years I always found Boston society, religion and education to be very monocultural. I find Birmingham to be infinitely more diverse, in every way.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why I get cognitive dissonance when I try to get my head around the American anti-racism/ anti-oppression work in UU communities. I’ve started to become quite confident in my conclusion that it really does not apply well to Britain. Of course there’s race issues, and racism in this country, and in Unitarianism, but I think it’s very different for a country that’s only been properly multicultural for 60 years. The story of America is essentially the story of the interactions (perhaps not a strong enough word to encompass genocide amongst other things) between Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans. That story is still playing out, and affecting all race conversations in America. And America has such a strong culture that seems to absorb all other cultures.

But in Britain there was a number of similar tribes living on these islands, until the time of Empire then the peoples of the commonwealth coming in since the Second World War. The conversation is much more about what it is to be British and how we deal with different cultures and religions.

I’ve realised that AR/AO work in UUism starts with the assumption of common language systems and ideals, and that represents a problem. It’s not multicultural because it starts with the assumption of American liberal values. But if we really want to deal with diversity we can’t be dominated by that.

You know what I realised? Two years in America and I never really sat down with a Republican, anti-abortion, anti-queer rights, pro-war southern American and really talked with them. I heard a lot of people complaining about such people, I did myself a lot, but I never actually sat down, prayed, and talked with someone like that. And I want to. Even though I may fundamentally disagree with them about a lot of things, I want to engage. That is the multiculturalism that needs to be engaged in America.

Do we really want to engage with someone who really is radically different from us? If not, then what’s the point of all this AR/AO/multiculturalism stuff? What’s the point if we’re talking to ourselves? Shouldn’t we actually be talking to people we disagree with?

How much do we really engage with what is disturbingly different? It always seemed to me that the Greater Boston Interfaith Organisation was made up of liberal Christians, liberal Jews and UUs. And frankly, there’s not a great deal between those folks (I’m open to be corrected, as the website does not feature a list of members, but the religious leaders petition here seems to confirm it to me). If very conservative Muslims (hell even very conservative Christians) were included, wouldn’t it be a different conversation?

My Rastafarian friend began to speak about abortion last night, saying it was murder basically. Neither of us engaged with him and he moved on. And you know what, I’m sure he’s completely homophobic as well. But I’m glad he’s there, and I want to pray with him, and I want to talk with him, and I want to disagree with him, then I want to pray with him again. I agree with the man about a lot of things, but not everything, and that’s what it really should be dealing with multiculturalism and doing interfaith work.

That wasn’t a very systematic collection of thoughts, but I needed to think them.

Poppies: Red and/or White?

I bought a red poppy yesterday, though I feel ambiguous about it. Partly I feel there's a big pressure to conform and wear a poppy in British society. It seems like politicians and newsreaders are required to wear them for two weeks, like people are scared to be seen not wearing one.

I suppose I have no problem with supporting war veterans that need support, though there must be fewer and fewer left from World War II now. My granddad, who was a prisoner of war in North Africa, is still going at 85. But then again, does that mean conscientious objectors, or those who didn't fight deserve less support? Shouldn't we support all people that need it, shouldn't we support elderly charities or disabled charities, regardless of whether those people are war veterans or not?

Plus I'm never sure if I'm being overly nationalistic and glorifying war by wearing a poppy. I'm pretty close to being a pacifist, though perhaps not one entirely. I can imagine that war is sometimes necessary, though only as a last resort. I'm still discerning what I think about war to be honest. But I feel like I want to promote peace, I'd like to wear a white poppy for peace, but I haven't seen them on sale anywhere. I remain uncomfortable and ambiguous about this whole thing to be honest.

Monday, November 07, 2005


On Friday I went to Harris Manchester College Oxford to speak to the tutor there about Unitarian training. It was cool. Oxford would be a good place to study in many ways. Lots of good books and a chance to rub shoulders with intellectual folks. But I kind of feel like I've already done that a bit living in Boston and having access to lots of intellectual stuff. I have a degree in theology, what I really want to do now is learn how to be a minister by doing ministry. And there's more chance of that at Manchester. The thing is I'm good at theology, so in some ways it would be easier and safer to be at Oxford, it would be more challenging for me to be in Manchester where I would be in a church the whole time, and applying everything I learn directly to ministry all the time. It would be more difficult, but that's what I need, to be stretched.

Plus, something in my (sort of) working-class-ness reacts against Oxford. It's Oxford, you know? A bit posh. Seems too removed from the real world. I want to be doing urban ministry, mission, evangelism, and social justice and do my theological reflection out of that work. I'm more excited by the prosect of doing that kind of thing in Manchester.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Spirituality in a Unitarian church.... there's something new

About two and a half years ago I began only attending Unitarian worship. Before that I was also going to Anglican and Quaker worship as well. But at that time I decided to stick with Unitarianism. There were a variety of reasons for this. One was graduating from university and moving away from the campus-based Anglican and Quaker communities I was a part of. Another reason was the homophobia of the Church of England revealed by the Jeffrey John affair that finally made my separation with the C of E into a divorce. Another reason was the realisation that at one point in life it is important to make a proper committment religiously, with all that that implies.

So since then I have been a Unitarian, and only a Unitarian (not that that precludes a lot of theological development). In some ways this has been a great period of my life, most of it spent in the United States. I enjoyed my studies more than any other time of my life. Personally, intellectually, and in a lot of ways it's been a great period of my life. But I have to admit that spiritually it has been a pretty dry period. Traditionally protestant 'corpse-cold' Unitarian worship does not do much for me. I've struggled, missing communion, silence, liturgy, or even great charismatic emotional worship. In some ways I've had to acknowledge that being Unitarian has been bad for my spiritual life. That's a problem. For too long I've been content to live on the surface, not bothering to delve into the depths of the soul. I've missed God. And I was never really thinking about the fact that I was talking about God without ever maintaining a living relationship with God.

But in the last few months I've been back in Birmingham. I've been trying to pray a few times a day deliberately. And I've been going to a weekly meditation gathering at church.

The more I've been going to these, the more I've got out of them. It makes me realise how un-spiritual most U*U churches are. I set up a Taize service in the last six months I was in Boston, but this was only once a month. Plus we were moved around month by month. Delegated to smaller rooms when the chapel was being used for something else. I resented this a bit, because what we were doing was worship and isn't worship the primary thing a church should do? I think of how many adult RE cources, social events and lectures that church put on, but there was never any intentional spiritual activities.

So its been really refreshing to come here and find a minister that actually takes spirituality seriously. This weekly gathering has become a really sustaining part of my spiritual diet. Nothing very exciting happens. It's sort of a cross between hymn sandwich and a Quaker meeting. We have a few readings and long periods of silence. We light a chalice, and each light a candle from the chalice. Anyone can bring a reading but usually its a lot of stuff from the minister and I usually manage to bring something. But there's an increasingly powerful depth to our shared silence. It has begun to feel like a spiritual teaching circle, as after our meditation we discuss spiritual topics. It's also been enriched by the fact that some Rastafarians have been coming too. It's been amazing to actually come to a place where I can be a Unitarian mystic. I'm actually regularly feeling the Spirit of God in a Unitarian church, which is amazing to me.

We need to reclaim our mystical radical reformation roots and let the Spirit outpour on this dry old community. And we've started. Thank God.