Thursday, January 26, 2006

Simon Hughes is bisexual, apologetically

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat leadership contender, has admitted he has had gay relationships in the past.

"I am perfectly willing to say that I have had both homosexual and heterosexual relationships in the past," he said.

Now, that sounds like he's bisexual to me, but once again the media seem determined not to use the word "bisexual." "I'm gay too" the Sun spashes across its front page. How can our interpretaton be so differet from the facts? He's not gay, as he has said on many occasions. I wish he had the bravery to stand up and say 'I am bisexual.'

"I hope that does not disqualify me from doing a good job in public life and I propose to carry on doing that with the usual enthusiasm and determination," Hughes said.

Am I naive to think this goes without saying?

Mr Hughes said: "Nobody has a perfect life. I have never claimed I have. Very few people have simple lives."

All that is true, but why should being bi be more imperfect than being straight or gay? It's just what his sexual orientation is. I wish he could be less reticent and apologetic about himself. He is what he is. He's a single man who has had relationships with men and women. He's done nothing remotely wrong, nothing illegal, not even something like cheating on a partner. He's got nothing to be apologetic about.

I suppose it's naive of me to think a politician would stand up for what they are without worrying about what people will think.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I'm Pelagian!

I've just done a heretic quiz and have been informed I'm a Pelagian. Not that I didn't know that already. But apparenly I'm only 50% Socinian and only 8% Arian. What's up with that? I'm much more Socinian than that. Clearly my complex personal theology cannot be summarised in a few quiz questions. I'm not even completely sure what Monarchianism is. Ah well back to the Patristic studies for me.

Also, I kind of like being told I'm the first Briton to contribute significantly to Christian thought. In your face John Newman!

By the way: am I right in thinking Socinianism is the only reformation era heresy - and all others listed here are patristic era heresies?

OK, this has been a bit of an abstract theological entry. Sorry if you're not interested.

Here are my results in full:
You scored as Pelagianism. You are a Pelagian. You reject ideas about man's fallen human nature and believe that as a result we are able to fully obey God. You are the first Briton to contribute significantly to Christian thought, but you're still excommunicated in 417.







Chalcedon compliant






















Thursday, January 19, 2006

Gender equality and politics

Here are the contenders for the Liberal Democrat Party leadership:

Menzies Campbell
Simon Hughes
Chris Huhne
Mark Oaten (now withdrawn)

Here's an obvious fact: they are all men.

I'm disappointed but not suprised by this. There are no women contenders at all. In the leadership for the Conservative Party a few months ago there were no women contenders. If there is a Labour Party leadership race and not a coronation (which is unlikely) will there be any women contenders? Probably not. I'm not talking about leadership, just potential leadership, and there are no women at all. When will we get gender equality in society and in Parliament?

I heard that at the current rate of women MPs coming into the House of Commons it will be 300 years before we achieve equality. 300 years! I was watching Star Trek Enterprise the other day, and that is set only 150 years in the future! That means at the rate that Parliament is achieving gender equality it will still not have achieved it at the time of Star Trek. Something ain't right there.

How many Unitarians are there?

It occurs to me that with the electoral role compiled for the Executive Committee elections, we now have an absolute minimum figure for the number of Unitarians in the UK. I don't know if this figure is going to be released. I haven't heard anyone talking about it, but I think it would be interesting to know. My electoral number is between 1000 and 2000. How many more are there?

I think that the UUA requires it's members congregations to report their membership numbers once a year, though ultimately that is probably voluntary (as is virtually everything in a congregational system). That means numbers are available for anyone to see here. The British equivalent here does not contain membership numbers, I wish it did. It would be interesting to see.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Alternative worship, the emerging church movement and Unitarianism

This is an article I wrote on Fuuse over a year ago. I'm not sure my ideas are exactly the same now, but I thought it was worth sharing.

Before I start this article I think it is important to put some definitions on the table. These are not definite final definitions, because the nature of alt worship and emerging church is evolving, but they will do for a start.

“Alternative worship:
Alternative worship is what happens when people create worship for themselves, in a way that fully reflects who they are as people and the culture that they live their everyday lives in.Because most forms of church have become culturally disconnected from the wider world, alternative worship can seem like a radical break with conventional church practices. It uses the technologies and media of our everyday lives - TV, video, CDs, computers - things that we take for granted in a domestic environment but seldom see in churches. It takes much of its content from the secular world - the music, the language, often the imagery - because it sees the presence of God in these things, and knows that spirituality has to make sense in the context of our secular lives if it is to nourish us and help us be salt and light.”
From Steve Collins

“Emerging Church:
The Emerging Church is a label that has been used to refer to a particular subset of Christians who are rethinking Christianity against the backdrop of Postmodernism…

One definition of the Emerging Church is that it is the collective noun for the individuals who are emerging from this process of deconstruction and reconstruction of Christianity, or those who have joined groups lead by such individuals.

While there is no co-ordinated organization behind the emerging church globally, and no guarantee that the Emerging Church will mature into a coherent movement at all, the term is becoming increasingly common currency among both leaders of Emerging Church groups and Emerging Church thinkers. Many of these leaders and thinkers have written books, articles and/or blogs on the subject.

So far, Emerging Church groups have typically contained some or all of the following elements:
Highly creative approaches to worship and spiritual reflection. This can involve everything from the use of contemporary music and films through to liturgy or other more ancient customs.
A minimalist and decentralised organisational structure.
A flexible approach to theology whereby individual differences in belief and morality are accepted within reason.
A more holistic approach to the role of the church in society. This can mean anything from greater emphasis on fellowship in the structure of the group to a higher degree of emphasis on social action, community building or Christian outreach.
A desire to reanalyize the Bible against the context into which it was written, in search of a reconstructed theology that is free from Modernist baggage.”


What would I add to that? Well, emerging church for me means creatively rethinking what it means to be ‘church’ then experimentally acting on reforming ‘church.’ Alt worship usually goes along with emerging church. Alt worship is creatively rethinking what ‘worship’ means and reforming worship practices imaginatively, experimentally and sometimes radically.

These movements generally come out of Australia, New Zealand, the USA and the UK. In the US, the movement is more of a direct reaction against, and growth out of evangelicalism. In the UK, Australia and New Zealand, it seems to come out of Anglicanism.

They tend to be theologically conservative, in the sense of coming out of, and still using evangelical language, but socially more radical in the sense of dreadlocks, tattoos and nose-rings in the congregation. They are in the truer sense of the word, completely evangelical – they are missionary – they want to reach out to the unchurched by creating something that appeals more to people today, mainly but not exclusively young adults. They pick ideas and practices from anywhere within the Christian tradition: modern praise songs, Taize, Catholic and Orthodox, church practices from Africa and Asia; and the secular world: modern art galleries and nightclubs.

So what has this got to do with Unitarianism? Well, I believe a hell of a lot. Unitarianism is an evolving faith, one that has grown from liberal Christianity to a faith that is more pluralist and open to a number of traditions. The central tenant is this: nothing in our faith is so sacred that we cannot question it: we can question the divinity of Jesus, human depravity, the doctrine of hell, the existence of God, the superiority of Christianity, the superiority of heterosexual white men to the rest of humanity etc etc. So it seems very strange to me that we have never questioned what it is we basically do religiously. We are open and questioning of doctrine, but we are in fact deeply conservative and dogmatic about what we do. I can say “I’m not sure I believe in God” in my church and that is fine. But what if I say –“I’m not sure I believe in sermons” – will I be branded a heretic?

Unitarianism is defined by religious freedom and a certain ethical approach that is politically liberal or at least libertarian. And yet is there really any difference in what happens on Sunday morning now from other protestant churches? Or from our own churches 300 years ago?

We turn up at 11, we sing, we listen to a sermon. That’s pretty much it. Our hymns are generally set to old tunes like any other church. Most of what we do religiously is basically listening. When it comes right down to it, we listen. That’s about it. And it’s boring, even when it’s good, it’s pretty boring.

I believe that that the emerging church movement is never going to be a powerful religious movement while it is limited by a theologically conservative language. Emerging church leaders are openly questioning simple condemnation of homosexuality and simple dismissal of other faiths. Yet few/none (?) of them are openly coming to the conclusion that homosexuality isn't a sin, and that other faiths, in some sense, contain religious truth. Sexuality and religious diversity are always the issues that cause problems for many people becoming evangelical Christians.

Equally Unitarianism is never going to be a powerful movement while what we offer on Sunday morning, our praxis is still so conservative. People will agree with our ethos, but they will see no real reason to stay with us. We offer a worldview that people can agree with, but not enough of a powerful experience of the divine and real community to give people a reason to get up on Sunday morning. Because what we offer in our praxis is old-fashioned and irrelevant and not distinct at all.

What I’m saying is that Unitarian theology needs to be married with emerging church praxis. This means deconstructing and reconstructing the practice of Unitarianism: why do we meet on Sunday morning? Why do we sing hymns? Why do we have a sermon? Why is it not acceptable for me to shout “Hallelujah!” in a Unitarian service? Why do we have an organ? Why don’t we have drums? Why do we all face in the same direction? Why does it last an hour? Why can’t I lie on the floor during the service? Why can’t we just sing for half an hour? Why can’t we just sit in silence for half an hour? Who decides what music is acceptable or unacceptable for our worship? Why can’t I dance in the service? Why can’t we honour our ancestors in the service? Why are we indoors? Why can’t we meditate on images? Why can’t we have a service based on touch or smell or taste?

The point is not so much the answers we come up with to these questions as giving ourselves the permission to ask them: the creative process of deconstruction and reconstruction of our religion. For me this is the way of both Unitarianism and emerging church. It is the call to be an experimental church, trying new things and reaching out to new people.

So what would an alt worship/ emerging/ Unitarian church look like? This question cannot be answered definitely because the emphasis of this kind of project would be to be experimental, evolutionary and democratic, but I think it is worth giving a hint at how one person (me) could see this working out.
• We would be a group that would meet when it suited us. This may be on a Sunday morning, or it may be on a Friday night.
• Music would be varied and experimental. We play the piano, or maybe guitar, drums, maybe music would be played from a CD or computer. Music may be from any genre – world music, classical, religious, rock, dance, chillout. Most music would involve everyone singing, not just listening.
• There would be an element of equality expressing the priesthood and prophethood of all believers. This could be expressed in a number of ways: being in a circle, having a time for candles for joys and concerns, and as much of the service as possible being deeply participatory. There may be a worship leader, there may not be.
• There would be space for a variety of spiritual practices.
• There would be a place for silence.
• There would be a place for ritual. Not just the lighting of the Chalice, but many different rituals from different traditions, secular and sacred, and rituals we invent ourselves.
• There would be an element of play and fun to worship (yes fun!)
• Related to the above, our practices would be embodied, (incarnational in traditional Christian theological language) – this means that we would see the holy not just in our minds/spirit but in our bodies. This could mean that we would have religious practices that would be bodily, such as movement or dance, walking, eating, smelling, touching.
• We could also see the divine in the physical, in objects and imagery and sounds and lights from both the religious and secular world. In traditional religious terms this would mean meditating on images/icons. But it could also include mediating on any human-made or natural object: a pine-cone, a picture of Saturn, or anything.
• There would be a variety of prayer/meditation/contemplation practices. This could be sitting meditation, walking meditation, guided meditations, use of prayer beads etc.
• Where it could enhance the worship, technology would be used. This could involve the use of a power point presentation projected from a laptop computer.
• The worship experience could be deeply personal. This could mean that a room could be divided into different experiences depending on the mood of the individual worshipper. So for at least some of the time a worshipper could build their own experience. They could do nothing but sing for the whole time, they could nothing but meditate for the whole time, or they could chat with one of the other worshippers the whole time, depending on what their soul needed at that time.
• The experience would be incredibly informal, yet also deeply spiritual and holy. People could sit in chairs, or lie on the floor, or stand, or dance, depending on how the Spirit moved them.
• Dialogue would be an integral part of this experimental church. This may be incorporated into the worship in a free-flowing way. Current issues, life issues and building your own theology would be topics always discussed. A way to facilitate genuine, honest, life-enriching dialogue would be worked out.
• The church would be community-centred. We would seek to develop a real loving community through honest dialogue and shared spiritual experience. Pastoral care would be a priority for this church.
• There may not be a clear beginning and end to the time of worship. Rather people could come and go as they felt they needed to.
• The church would be outward-and-onward-looking. This means that we would advertise our existence to as many people as possible, believing that what we offer could be life-giving to many people, though perhaps not all people. We would be an actively welcoming, actively justice-seeking, always seeking to be relevant, getting our hands dirty church.
• The church will evolve, seeking always to be relevant: personally, culturally, politically and spiritually.

This is just the beginning of the possibilities of emerging church practice in a Unitarian setting. But I believe if we begin to think along these lines, and give ourselves permission to be radical and relevant in our practice we may become something quite amazing. Isn’t it worth trying?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The ethics of economics

Increasingly I have come to realise that economics, more than politics or religion, is what makes the world go round.

The other day the High Street clothes store Primark was rated the least ethical place to buy clothes in Britain, taking into account environmental damage, worker's rights and dealing with oppressive regimes. This in fact didn't suprise me at all. When I was looking for clothes recently I went to Primark. I needed a suit for job interviews, and I was (and am) poor because I was unemployed. So I went to Primark and got a jacket, shirt, tie, and trousers for less than £30. And I thought, as I bought these clothes, "I'm sure these clothes were made by exploiting the developing world, how else could they be so cheap?" And I was right. And yet, I really needed cheap clothing, I couldn't afford anything more expensive.

I'm sure most people who shop in Primark are in the same boat. It made me realise that poor people here in Britain, because they are buying cheap clothes, are exploiting poorer people in the rest of the world. But you can't really blame poor Britons, because they're poor. We're all caught up in this network of economic exploitation that traps us in place. How can we escape?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Liberal Christian book?

I've been thinking about how I would explain my faith to someone. If a Unitarian came to me who was non-Christian or even quite anti-Chrisitan and asked me about my faith as a Unitarian that follows Jesus, I'm wondering what book I could point them to.

I would like there to be a book that was a very simple introduction to Christianity, like a confirmation book, but one that was a liberal and somewhat Unitarian. An inspirational little book about simply following Jesus and loving God, not about believing in a number of strange old doctrines.

I don't want anything like John Spong that spends a good amount of time slagging off conservative Christianity. I want a simple introduction to a liberal Christian faith, from the point of view of someone coming from no Christian background.

I've just felt like I needed to refer to a book like that in conversations I've had to better articulate what I stand for.

Any ideas anyone? Please leave comments.

On the way to ministry

Last week I went down to Oxford for my ministry interview: two days made up of three two-on-one interviews, leading a 15 minute worship service, and one seven-on-one interview, plus the fact that I was constantly being observed in social situations.

I felt like I was myself and did all I can. It felt more like a collaborative dialogue than an interview. I got some very positive feedback for the idea that there should be BUYAN-At-Large Chaplains, and some other things that I said. The other candidates were all nice folks, and I knew one of them. We had a couple of drinks in a little pub in Oxford after the first day.

Yesterday I got a letter through the post, and I was accepted!

Now I need to apply to Unitarian College Manchester, and get a mentor, apply for funding, and work out where I'm going to live in Manchester.

It's a scary and exciting prospect in front of me. I don't know where this adventure is leading me. My prayers since have consisted of me looking up to God and saying, 'Are you sure you know what you're doing?'

I have to assume She does. The future will be interesting.

Menawhile I'm no longer working in the supermarket where I was over Christmas. I was hoping they would keep me on, at least until I got a better job. So I'm back on the job market, at least for the next nine months.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Jesus would go to gay nightclubs

OK, that isn't quite the conclusion of this article at The Ooze. But maybe it should be. It is what I believe very strongly. There are a great deal of hurt people in gay nightclubs, and it is a 'bomb shelter' but an ineffective one. There is a need to reach out spiritually to some very hurt people. Jesus would be there, healing.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Executive Committee Elections

So the election is finally here. For the first time the leadership of the Unitarian Church in Britain is going to be directly elected by the membership. The name 'Executive Committee' sounds too coroporate rather than spiritual for me, but then I can't think of a better name myself, so I guess I can live with it.

23 people have put their names forward for 8 positions on the committee. The election is being counted by the Single Transferable Vote method. Don't ask me to explain it. But it means you can rank every candidate, so I think I'm going to. I think I'll vote for every candidate! I might as well.

I'm reading through the candidate's election statements right now.

The form says that the attributes of an 'ideal' Executive Committee member will be:

Understanding of Unitarianism; Leadership; Strategic Thinking; Communicating and Influencing; Decision-Making; Representing; Financial and Legal Awareness; Team Working; and Self-Management.

Fair enough, all that is important. But I find the statements that result from this guidance to be rather managementy. Yes, knowing how to run a meeting, and deal with financial and legal issues is very important. But I'm looking some spiritual leadership as well from this committee. We are a religion. And we need to remember that. Our reason for being is the deeper and bigger way of life of the Spirit.

What I'm looking for is someone who is:

Theologically and spiritually grounded; has vision for where we should be going; is orientated towards the service of others; and is outreach-orientated - wanting to make us change and grow rather than maintaining the status quo.

There's rather too little spiritual autobiography in the statements. But I think I've decided who to vote for. We shall see the outcome in a few weeks.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Charlie Kennedy

It seems to me a great shame that the daggers are coming out to politically assisinate Charles Kennedy. It's rare that one finds a politician that one genuinely warms to. I think Charles Kennedy is a genuinely nice bloke. I'd like to go to the pub with him (as long as he has orange juice). I couldn't say that of Tony Blair, Michael Howard, David Cameron or Gordon Brown.

He's the most successful Liberal leader in 80 years. He has a drink problem, but so did George W. Bush. And he managed to get past it. I can't help having a lot of personal admiration for Kennedy. I think he's a very good politician, and a very good opposition leader. His was the only party that stood up against the Iraq War. He doesn't take himself too seriously, yet he often seems much more mature than Blair, Howard, or Cameron in Prime Minister's questions, when he asks serious questions about civil liberties and the war.

Having said all that, I don't think he looks like a Prime Minister. He looks like a leader of the opposition, but not like a Prime Minister. The election of David Cameron for the Conservatives I think has made the Liberal Democrats think about the need for stronger leadership. If the Lib Dems are serious about making Britain into a three party system, then they need a stronger leader that looks like a Prime Minister. The problem is I don't think they have anyone.

If there was someone they could bring in that was a very charismatic leader like Blair or Cameron, then I say, bring them on, it probably is time to hand over the mantle. But I really don't think there is anyone. Simon Hughes? Menzies Campbell? I don't think they're any better than Kennedy.

Right now I don't know anyone who could do a better job. If they exist, let them come forward.

We shall see, I suppose.