Thursday, December 29, 2005


I just found these great pictures on Small Fire from a worship at Greenbelt. Very cool, I like it a lot. I really want to go to Greenbelt next year. I'm trying to get a BUYAN trip to Greenbelt. I think a lot of Unitarian young adults would get a lot out of it, if some of them could get past their hostility to Christianity. I don't think there's many better places for finding dynamic diverse Christian faith.

This I think is a good example of combining radical social justice with radical worship, something that rarely happens very well. Sigh. I'm not going to be able to get away with anything like this any time soon. I'm leading the service this Sunday, but I think the regular congregation will think that the fact that I'm including a candle lighting ceremony too radical for them! How much I'd love to get a naked young man and write 'faggot' all over him in worship.

One step at a time, dear, one step at a time.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

God is a DJ

Our tradition has articulated and emphasized the notion, not only of the priesthood of all believers, but also of the prophethood of all believers. This means especially the capacity and the right to participate in the shaping of the congregation. This prophethood belongs not merely to the clergy: It belongs to the congregation and to the individuals in the congregation. But authentic prophecy does not appear very often within the churches; therefore it had to appear in nonreligious, or even antichurch communities.
James Luther Adams

Adams' insight that prophetic witness often comes from places seemingly hostile to the church is illustrated by a band who's name is Faithless yet has lyrics that are deeply prophetic and deeply theological. I just got their greatest hits album for Christmas and I thought I would share some lyrics.

Mass Destruction - Faithless

Whether long range weapon or suicide bomber
Wicked mind is a weapon of mass destruction
Whether you're soaraway sun or BBC 1
Disinformation is a weapon of mass destruc-
You could a Caucasian or a poor Asian
Racism is a weapon of mass destruction
Whether inflation or globalization
Fear is a weapon of mass destruction

My dad came into my room holding his hat
I knew he was leaving, he sat on my bed told me some facts, son.
I have a duty, calling on me
You and your sister be brave my little soldier
And don't forget all I told ya
Your the mister of the house now remember this
And when you wake up in the morning give ya momma a kiss
Then I had to say goodbye

In the morning woke momma with a kiss on each eyelid,
Even though I'm only a kid
Certain things can't be hid
Momma grabbed me Held me like I was made of gold
But left her inner stories untold
I said, momma it will be alright
When daddy comes home, tonight

Whether long range weapon or suicide bomber
Wicked mind is a weapon of mass destruction
Whether you're soar away sun or BBC 1
Disinformation is a weapon of mass destruc-
You could a Caucasian or a poor Asian
Racism is a weapon of mass destruction
Whether inflation or globalization
Fear is a weapon of mass destruction

Whether Halliburton or Enron or anyone
Greed is a weapon of mass destruction
We need to find courage, overcome
Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction
Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction
Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction

My story stops here, lets be clear
This scenario is happening everywhere
And you ain't going to nirvana or farvana
You're coming right back here to live out your karma
With even more drama than previously, seriously
Just how many centuries have we been waiting for someone else to make us free
And we refuse to see
That people overseas suffer just like we
Bad leadership and ego's unfettered and free
Who feed one the people they're supposed to lead
I don't need good people to pray and wait
For the lord to make it all straight
There's only now, do it right.
Cos I don't want your daddy, leaving home tonight

Whether long range weapon or suicide bomber
Wicked mind is a weapon of mass destruction
Whether you're soar away sun or BBC 1
Disinformation is a weapon of mass destruc-
You could a Caucasian or a poor Asian
Racism is a weapon of mass destruction
Whether inflation or globalization
Fear is a weapon of mass destruction
Whether Halliburton or Enron or anyone
Greed is a weapon of mass destruction
We need to find courage, overcome
Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction
Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction
Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction

Reverence - Faithless

Watch me ride...
Take the words and the bass,
Taste, and then swallow me,
You're chasing the devil
Cos you're level if you follow me
For quality, and I make no apology
For linking my thinking with computer technology.
Cos this is like a modern day hymn
For the new church,
I search for the truth,
I've got a hole in my tooth,
I'm uncouth, yes sir,
I'm from the street university
Where we learn to earn even in times of adversity.
And I will find it a easy when you're out a hard time,
Petite crime sometimes,
But now I'm inclined to find
A fresh direction, kiss me neck,
Check out the funky section.
Cos this is the part where I start to rip up words,
A comfort coming straight from my heart,
I'm not a mystic,
My views are realistic, simplistic,
One special brew I get pissed quick,
And get sick so I don't do it no more,
I won't find peace of mind
Rolling around on the floor.
The point I want to make,
The mistake is to take without giving,
From within,
You know how I'm living,
I'm cool, I'm looking after myself,
And I could never place wealth before my spirit,
I feel it's unhealthy,
The devil creep around you so stealthy, stealthy
'Till you get bold, rush the gold,
And before you're much older,
You're soul is sold, where's it getting ya,
Competition starts swearing ya,
Gold-diggers setting you up,
Soon be forgetting your existence,
Do you need a for instance,
I have to admire your persistence
In sticking to a game plan,
That brings you pain man,
And at the end of the day nothing is gained,
So listen to the voice within,
I'll see ya later,
Pay heed to the Grand Oral Disseminator.
Quite still you feel there's nothing going on
until you realize the space behind your
eyes is filling up with something like peace
as your thoughts cease some pleasure grows in your soul.
I aint a Christian
Sometimes I feel like diss'in em
But listen I'm just trying to tell you what I know
if you would once relax, chill to the max
these words on wax will cause sweet bells to ring in your soul.
If I say God is alive I know you'll want to know why babies die, food don't grow. Why?
Trains smash, plans crash,
situation mash and slam bam
your fellow man - money's in fashion
it aint rational, because dammit, he didn't just give us the planet
and its wealth, inside your soul he left a piece of himself, his voice is small
I keep lying and trying,
Denying the call from inside
You can't hide responsibility
So decide from today just who it's going to be,
Thou shalt have no other God but me,
So set you free see,
But you'll have to listen,
And who's that false idol
I see you kissing?
Money, success and untold wealth, good health
And all you have to do is love yourself.
It's a fact you'll attract all the things that you lack,
So just chill
And get off the race track
And take a pace back, face facts,
It's your decision,
You don't need eyes to see,
You need vision,
Continue to view the lord as being separated
And you'll be living a lie that's being perpetrated,
For many centuries, I'm on a mission I want to mention these facts,
These facts in my rap,
I don't sing,
But I want to share the peace that they bring,
My name is G.O.D.
The Grand Oral Disseminator.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The church needs to change, now, or it will die

This was a letter written to the Inquirer a few weeks ago (edited):

A message to the denomination from Stockton-on-Tees Unitarian Church: Stockton Unitarians believe that all Unitarians understand the denomination to be in numerical decline...

We at Stockton believe that everyone wants to experience numerical growth and feel sure that it is necessary to seek a GA Resolution that will encourage every Unitarian to begin to address the need.

This is our proposal:
'That this General Assembly etc... acknowledges that, in order to survive, there is an absolute need for numerical growth. It urges every individual and every organisation to prioritise Numerical Growth. It requests them to declare it. It requests the GA Executive Committee to set up an organisation and process that will bring together those who seek to promote numerical growth, where ideas, proven or not, can be exchanged, discussed, and acted upon...

We look forward to receiving and reading comments. Observations may be different from ours, but we feel the conclusion must be the same: If the denomination does not grow numerically, it will die.'

In response to this, here are my proposals for growth:

1. Engage in theological conversation at every level from academics to lay people. The purpose of this conversation is gain a better understanding of who we are as Unitarians and to move beyond old debates.

2. Change worship! - get a new hymnbook, use different songs and different instruments, try different rituals: communion, handfasting, dance etc, create time for chanting and silence. Reduce sermons to a maximum of 15 minutes. Learn best practice from other churches.

3. Spirituality. People today say: ‘I’m spiritual not religious’ – so why are we offering people religion and not spirituality? Train ministers in meditation and prayer techniques that can be taught to people – this is what people are genuinely looking for.

4. Engage in more social action including civil disobedience. This will involve rejecting a religion that is easy, requires little commitment and effort and is ‘respectable.’ For instance Essex Hall last week held a ‘Celebration of Blasphemy’ to protest the Blasphemy Law. Fair enough, but it’s not going to change anything really. If we really believed this then we would openly publish the poem that was prosecuted the last time the law was used. We would publish the poem in the Inquirer or in Counterpoint and say – come on then – prosecute us. This would highlight the injustice in the law and would give us instant national publicity. This would probably upset a lot of people, but it would be effective. This is just one example but I believe the principle holds for a lot of things.

There’s also a lot less ‘sexy’ social action and service that we could be involved in. This needs to come in from the margins. This will bring more people to us, though it shouldn’t be the primary reason for doing it.

5. Recruit American ministers. The United States now has a lot more ministers than churches. And I believe we in the UK have a lot less active ministers than churches (I’m told there is now one Unitarian minister in all of Wales). This will have the affect of importing best practice from the U.S., although cultural differences will have to be respected. I’m sure a lot of young American ministers would be interested in spending a year or three here. We need to get into American seminaries and recruit.

6. Be a religion that supports every stage of life. Invest in ministry to children, youth and young adults at local, district and national level. Support ministry to families.

7. Invest in campus ministry. Students are probably the people doing the greatest amount of spiritual searching. They are usually coming to terms with their identity, sexuality, career choice and religion. Conservative Christian groups are very active at universities, Unitarians have, as far as I’m aware, zero presence. Yet this could be a incredibly huge opportunity for outreach.

8. Change first our attitude, then work out of a different attitude. Stop talking about reversing decline. Start talking about growth. Start talking about outreach. Start talking about evangelism. Don't say 'Unitarians don't proselytise' (what nonsense) if Unitarianism is a worthwhile religion at all, it is worth sharing. If we want to survive, we must learn to be evangelical. We need to develop a liberal theology and practice of evangelism.

9. Use ‘Building Your Own Theology’ as outreach. The conservative Christian ‘Alpha’ course is the most successful form of evangelism in the world today. It advertises itself as ‘a chance to explore the meaning of life’ but in reality it is an introduction to (conservative) Christianity. ‘Building Your Own Theology’ could act in a very similar ways, and in fact really is ‘a chance to explore the meaning of life’ - more so than Alpha. I know someone who did do BYOT because they saw a leaflet when they were at the church for another event, and came along, then became a member. This already does work. Put on the courses, advertise them heavily in the community, put up big signs outside the church.

10. Church planting. Do not invest in dying congregations. Let them die. Invest in planting new congregations. Use different models of churches. Start networks of house churches. Do not invest in buildings, invest in people. Rent conference rooms and schools and pubs. Centre on small group ministry, prayer groups, book groups, Bible study groups, eat a meal together every week.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Are civil partnerships equal to marriage?

As same sex civil partnerships come into force in the UK I keep coming back to the question - is this equality? Living in Massachusetts for two years and seeing marriage equality coming into force there, I'm decidedly uncomfortable with the compromise of civil partnerships. I seem to be the only one in this country who is not happy that civil partnerships are not exactly the same thing as marriage. But perhaps I am wrong, maybe this is equality, just with a different name (that seems to be what the news coverage is saying). Am I being silly and ungrateful for not being happy with civil partnerships? Maybe they are giving exactly the same rights as marriage so its being pedantic to complain this isn't marriage.

I think what bothers me is phrases like 'gay marriage' and 'gay weddings' with their inverted commas. There's something about putting the phrases in inverted commas that says - these aren't real marriages or weddings, but silly, fake 'gay' ones. I think the separatism confirms homophobia. If I marry a woman I want a wedding (in church) and a marriage, and if I happen to marry a man I want a wedding (in church) and a marriage, not a "gay marriage" (civil partnership registration).

Am I the only person bothered by this?