Monday, March 27, 2006

Converted by myself

"It is very curious to observe the unpracticality of all sermons... by [Unitarians]... when they undertake any practical subject... somehow they don't get at it. You feel that you have heard or read a very clever and entertaining paper, embodying a good deal of clear and deep thought, and you ask 'What shall I do?', and pause for a reply, and pause in vain."

George Templeton Strong, 1858

As true now as it was then, I fear.

I'm in Stoke-on-Trent tonight, staying with my parents. They're moving house in a few weeks so I'm here to pack up some of my stuff so they have less to do. I've been going through some old stuff and have found a book of religious writing of mine. There are no dates, but I estimate the contents were written from when I was about 17 to when I was 20 or 21. That covers the period that I became a Unitarian. I found the above quote in the writings, but have no evidence or recollection of where I got it from.

Tonight I have found myself converted by myself. I've been reading the firery and passionate stuff I wrote when I was searching and when I was just coming to Unitarianism. From the beginning I had many complaints about the Unitarian faith not reaching its potential. I was never starry-eyed about a perfect Unitarian community. Yet I was passionate that there was a Unitarian gospel to proclaim, and that it was worth doing. Actually I'm suprised at how much of what I have written and said recently I was already saying a few years ago. I'm convinced that my most creative and productive time religiously was as a teenager, and that the rest of my life will be simply expanding upon the doctrines that I worked out then.

I don't want to lose touch with the 19-year-old me. I need him. It is a big fear of mine that as I become a minister I will get so bogged down in the day to day stuff that I will forget this purpose and mission I felt (and feel right now) as an idealistic teenager and twentysomething. I need to keep this energy up somehow. I need to always remember the reason I came to this faith in the first place. I need to love this faith, trust in the divine, be true to my calling and keep reading the stuff I wrote when I was younger.

Conversion is essential. One of the people who can convert me is my teenager self.

God bless.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Anti-pacifist media conspiracy?

I've been quite concerned about the news in the last few days. After the release of the British peace activist Norman Kember, along with two Canadians (whose names are never mentioned in the British media, I don't know about anywhere else) the news has very quickly turned to slagging off Mr Kember.

It seems like only a few hours after the rescue Mike Jackson, Head of the British army 'said he was "saddened" there did not seem to be any gratitude.' What?! Norman Kember hadn't made any public statement yet, he was probably still sleeping. What right does the head of the British army have to start slagging him off for something he hasn't done yet? Why did the media rush to report this? There seems to be a wish of the media to start attacking pacifists in general and the Christian Peacemaker Teams in particular. Now I'm not a pacifist, although I might be close to being one, but I find myself really disguisted with this attack on this man when he's still recovering from trauma. Am I the only person deeply uncomfortable with this?

The other issue is the Labour cash-for-peerage controversy. Now let me say I've voted for Labour in the past, and I may vote for Labour in the future. I have never voted Conservative, and never will. But I think it's terrible how Labour has spun this issue round to turn the spotlight on the Tories. It's such obvious spin, and it seems to have worked. This is not about the Tories, it's about Labour, it's about the appointment of Lords. I want some accountability about what's been going on with Labour. I don't want to be told that Labour brought in rules about declaring donations in the first place. That's not the point, and it does not excuse any wrongdoing that's happened since. And I don't want Labour politicians to jump up and down shouting 'Look at the Tories! Look at the Tories!' in such an obviously self-serving partisan distraction stratgy.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The greatest Unitarian preacher

I'm going through the list of UU churches podcasting here. This means that I often listen to five or six sermons a week. I usually listen to them while doing the washing-up. I feel like this studying of sermons, good and bad, is good preparation for my own sermon creating, which will become a very large part of my life very soon.

For the most part, I'm not that impressed. Most UU sermons I find boring and uninspiring. So far I quite like Second Unitarian Church of Omaha, Nebraska (Nebraska's one of those states I can never find in the middle of the USA) I don't really know why.

Then there's Bill Darlison at the Unitarian Church in Dublin. I think I can say he's the best Unitarian preacher I know. I don't always agree with him (his last sermon was on astrology, and I disagree with his beliefs about this). But comparing him to American preachers he's refreshingly different. Mystical and humourous, he's without a lot of the pretensious political stuff that comes out of American pulpits. His sermons are thought-provoking and spiritual. I like them.

I've also discovered UU radio. I may have some thought on this later. At the moment I'm not too impressed.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Spiritual lessons learnt at the supermarket #1: cards

I can't remember if I wrote on this blog that I am working in the supermarket again. Well, I am. And in general I quite enjoy it.

Here's one lesson I've learnt from working there.

A woman came up to me, saying that she had accidentally left a card at the checkout, and asking whether it was still there. I spent a some seconds looking for it, assuming I was looking for a credit card. I looked on the floor, and in all the nooks and crannies, and all around until I saw a greeting card sitting right in front of me, 'You don't mean this do you?' She did. It was what she was looking for.

In fact she had said 'Greeting card' but she had quite a strong Indian accent, so I didn't hear the word 'greeting.' I thought I was looking for a credit card. I had seen the greetings card as soon as I came onto that till. It was right in front of me, I just didn't think that was what she was looking for.

It made me think about how easy it is to misunderstand each other. If I can misunderstand someone when talking about a greeting card, how much more can I misunderstand someone when talking about 'God.' How much can differences in language, culture, and history lead us to misunderstand each other when we speak about the deepest mysteries of existence.

What I am learning slowly and painfully, is that I need to ask more questions. I need to be sure what questions someone is asking before I rush to answer. 'What do you mean by that?' is an important question.

A newcomer at church on Sunday asked something like, 'Tell me about this church.' What is an appropriate answer to such a question? Was she asking about history? The building? Unitarianism? What? I can't really remember what I said, I don't know if she was satisfied by my answer. Probably not.

Language is an imperfect vehicle for speaking religiously, we need to be cautious and humble in our conversations, and do the hard work of understanding what others are saying.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Save Parliamentary Democracy

This came my way yesterday, and I thought it was worth publicising.

The Government are trying to pass a bill that will enable them to create laws completely by-passing parliament. That means, without any parliamentary debate, the government (0r any future government) could:
Create new offenses punishable by two years imprisonment.
Abolish trial by jury.
Allow the Home Secretary to put someone under house arrest.
Allow the Prime Minister to sack judges.
Rewrite the law on nationality and immigration.
“Reform” Magna Carta (or what remains of it).

Essentially this would be an amendment to the British constitution, that is trying to get passed without anyone noticing.

So please take a look at some of these links, and write to your MP.

Save Parliament

Letter to the Times from six Cambridge Law Professors

Letter to the Times from David Howarth, MP

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I love the Six Sources of Unitarian Universalism

I know the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism get a lot of criticism among a number of UU intellectuals. I do pretty much agree with these criticisms. I don't think older UUs realise that for UUs under 35 (especially life-long ones) the Seven Principles act as a kind of creed. Whereas with older UUs they are a (very) imperfect statement of secular beliefs made up by the UUA a few years ago.

The Seven Principles are not extremely inspiring to me, but I want to affirm that the Six Sources are. I don't know why we always consider the Seven Principles apart from the Six Sources. I find that the Six Sources describe a religion that I deeply want to commit my life to. I was meditating on them last night. They are very cool. We need to build a religion based on the Six Sources.

As much as I criticise, like any blogger, I want to be positive right now: I love the Six Sources of Unitarian Universalism:

The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:

Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;

Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;

Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;

Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;

Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.

Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Chester Cathedral Controversy on Radio 4

This morning, BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme interviewed both the Bishop of Chester and David Usher, a British Unitarian minister, about Unitarians being 'disinvited' from Chester Cathedral for our GA service. You can listen again here, at least for the next week.

My take on it is that I'm not really bothered that the Cathedral has disinvited us. That's up to them. It seems it was a member of the public (not a member of the cathedral) who complained about our presence in the Catheral. If they have rules, they have to stick to them, fair enough.

Also, we can't have our cake and eat it. If we accept that you don't have to be a Christian to be a Unitarian, then we can't expect to be welcomed fully ecumenically by Christian bodies. If it was the Unitarian Christian Association that had been turned down then be could talk about ecumenical issues, the Trinity etc. But as it's the GA I think we have to look at it as an interfaith issue, not an ecumenical one. Can Christian churches allow other religions to worship in their buildings? This does happen. I'm sure there's some Church of England churches that allow another religion to use their building. The Baha'is have used our Unitarian church for many years. Are cathedrals different from churches?

I think the Times article is a bit over the top. I don't think the cathedral has 'denounced the Unitarian Church for heretical views.' There's certainly no quote from anyone saying that. They've simply said we're not Christian.

I don't know any Unitarian who's upset by this. I think we're just glad to be getting national publicity. I think David Usher did a reasonably good job simply saying what Unitarians are, which is the most important thing.

I was also amused that the interviewer called him 'the Right Reverend David Usher.' We suddenly have a Unitarian bishop!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

What's the point of church?

We should above all be honest and ask ourselves what we gain from religion. What is the use of all the preaching, baptizing, confirming, bell-ringing, and organ playing, the community houses with or without motion picture equipment, the efforts to enliven church singing, the unspeakably tame and stupid monthly church papers, and whatever else may belong to the equipment of modern day ecclesiasticism?

Will something different eventuate from all this in relation to the righteousness of God?

Karl Barth

Last week I was handed the minutes of the Ministry Committee at church going back as far as 1973 when the church moved into the current building. As secretary of the Ministry Committee I should keep hold of these, I was told. Fine.

I've read through a few of the minutes. I've found it quite depressing. Year after year it seems the church has been doing the same things. Year after year this committee, and by extension, the church, has done things like set the date for the harvest festival service. All I can think is: what's the point of it all? What are we doing? Why are we doing it? I just found the above quote from Barth and it summed up for me the situation.

All this church has done is hold services and has done very little else in terms of outreach, social justice, working in the community, or experiencing the power of God. Is this liberal? Is this Christian? Is this Unitarian? All we have done is maintain ourselves, conservatively doing what we've always done because, well, we've always done it.

All we've done is maintained ourselves, and, actually, we haven't done that. The membership of the church in 1983 was 155. In 2005 the membership was 59. This seems to confirm to me that left to itself British Unitarianism is going to be dead in 20 years. This will happen, unless we find our Gospel, our Voice, and do something.