Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Silence of Reverence

This is inspired by the conversation over at Peacebang. I decided to post here rather than put another comment into a big conversation.

I don't think the answer, fundamentally, is to put the word 'God' into the principles/purposes/covenant of the American UUA. In the UK, we do have the word 'God' in the General Assembly Object, but this doesn't really make a difference to anything.

The First Source, as currently defined by the UUA, is this:

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.

The answer, in my humble opinion, is to take this statement seriously. Whether you say the above or 'direct experience of God' is not the issue. The issue is whether you really do live and worship as if a source of your life and faith is direct experience of ___. Direct experience, not preaching about it, not discussing it, experiencing it. If we actually live our religious lives, individually and collectively, as if our purpose of being is direct experience of religious reality, then we can become the powerful religous community that we need to. It astonishes me that all these years after Emerson we still haven't taken on his central insight: that experience of the universe and its Source fully, freshly, is what matters, not preaching or arguing about the words.

Our worship needs to become centred on praise and prayer, rather than readings and sermons. You can say God as many times as you want in a sermon but I'm only going to experience God directly if you shut the hell up and give me some silence so that I can have some time with God. We can pray together, and one person can say, 'what I experienced was God' and another says 'what I experienced was Oneness with everything' or one person says 'it felt like a Mother' and another says 'it felt like Light' - then we can dialogue with each other about our different languages of reverence. But only after we have shared together the silence of reverence. What is needed is to share together in a spiritual practice that binds us to one another and energises us to change the world. If that happens, then I'm much less bothered about the language myself. I will continue to speak of God, and others may not. But that will matter less and less, and our disagreements will be less painful if we have sat together, directly experiencing that which is beyond naming, that which requires the silence of reverence.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Taking back the Word

Here's something fantastic about Unitarianism: we're reingaging with the Bible. But not only that, we're offering an alternative way of interpreting the Bible. When I listen to Bill Darlison in Dublin or Robert Hardies in Washington, D.C. I hear Unitarians engaging with the Bible, and offering intepretations of biblical stories based on allegory rather than literalism. Insteading of seeing stories as literal and historical these people are showing how stories can be metaphors for spiritual truths. This is offering the world a different way of engaging with the Bible. And restoring a practice that was very much used in the early Christian church. Previously Unitarians would have been embarrassed by stories like Jesus walking on water, and would try to explain them away or edit them out (a la Thomas Jefferson). But today we're seeing these stories as deeply important and worth engaging in. This offers a real alternative to fundamentalism, which is something to be celebrated.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The British Seven Principles?

Here's a statement of 'Unitarian Ethos' just produced by the new directly elected Executive Committee:


We Unitarians and Free Christians are united by our ethos and values. We

aspire to create a loving, caring, religious community within which we:

· Value people in their diversity and uniqueness

· Encourage freedom of thought and speech

· Support spiritual exploration

· Create celebratory worship

· Advocate justice, liberty, honesty, integrity, peace and love

Hence we strive to:

· Make the best of the life we have

· Be democratic in our practice

· Celebrate life in its many forms

· Respect people whose beliefs and attitudes are different from our own

Hmm, at the moment my thought is 'slightly better than the Object.' Anyone else have any thoughts?

By the way, today I brought by tickets to Greenbelt. Yay!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Language of reverence

At the risk of sounding terribly out of date (this conversation started three years ago in the States)...

I never though that the 'language of reverence' conversation applied much to Unitarians in the UK, but now I think it does.

I've just been looking again at a post-GA edition of The Inquirer. I've come to the conclusion that there is hardly any religious language in any of the articles reporting on events at GA. There are sometimes vague words like 'spiritual' and 'values' but that's about it. There is no sense of us naming the sacred or even having any sense of connection to the sacred. I sometimes think Unitarians look like a sort of pseudo-religious organisation like the Women's Institute, an organisation that has some connections to religion, sings hymns and may say the occasional prayer, but it does not see religious reality as it's raison d'etre. But we do not exist as an organisation for ourselves, we exist as a manifestation of something deep and universal, something related to the very meaning of the universe. We need (as I think Gene Pickett said) to have some acquaintance with the Depths. I've always maintained that the language of reverence will come when we have some experience of reverence.

It is not enough that our values reflect the values of British society better than most religions (they do). Seekers want a religion that is religious. We need to be offer a life-changing relationship with the divine, with the unnameable God beyond our partial gods. Our invitation cannot be 'come to us, we share your values' it has to be 'come to us to be called to a higher way of life in relation to the deepest realities of the universe, the Ground of all Being.'

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Identity groups

"Straights and 'bisexuals' should never be admitted into a gay consciousness raising group; otherwise the whole procedure is a sham."
Steve Gavin, 1971

At the beginning of gay liberation, a lot of the thinking was about liberating everyone from sexual roles for sexual freedom. During the seventies this shifted into building a gay separatist identity, gay men (and even more so lesbians) wanted to define their own space, excluding 'nonhomosexuals.' The effect of this was to exclude bisexuals leaving them outside the group or forcing them to remain closeted as bisexuals.

To some extent this is still true today. I struggle with this. I can understand that there are times when 'I need to be with my people.' A lot of people don't understand this. I know some people struggled with this at the anti-racism/anti-oppression work at Opus last year. Some people couldn't understand the need for identity groups, for people of colour to go off in an identity group for people of colour. 'Aren't we all the same? Isn't that what we want?' some asked. Well yes, but belonging to a group that is a minority and/or historically oppressed is a different experience than belonging to a majority/historically powerful group. Sometimes I need to be with my people; not all the time, not because I dislike spending time with people different from me, but sometimes I just need to be with my people.

For a gay man, being in a gay nightclub is an experience of 'being with my people.' The trouble is, for me, as a bi man, it's not always an entirely safe space to be myself, it isn't fully my people. I have felt like I was 'with my people' only once in my life at a bi workshop with the BRC in Boston. Just once, in 24 years of existence. This pains me a little. Of course bisexuality is not my only identity, and I am surrounded by my people in terms of native Europeans most of the time. But what I don't have I miss.

It is good to form identity groups, but what about people on the edge of these groups, people of mixed race or bisexuals? People that fit into both/neither category? These groups we build up both existent and don't exist at the same time. There are different sub-groups of humanity, but at the same time, the diverse thronging gushing evolving nature of humanity will not be contained within them.

How does a oppressed group assert itself, grow in confidence in itself, without simultaneously excluding and oppressing others?

Just my meandering thoughts, no great conclusions this evening.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Knowing and Unknowing

Is Unitarianism too rational a religion?

What does 'reason' mean in anycase?

I have never quite understood people putting reason and spirituality at odds. For me they are deeply intertwined. My prayer often gives me insights into ideas. Thinking can often become prayer and prayer can become thinking. Coming to an understanding or creating an idea is a spiritual experience for me. There is revelation in words and ideas, but there is also revelation in silence. We need the words, because they give us insight into the Truth. But we also need the place where we dare not speak the words because we know they cannot possibly approach the Truth.

Sometimes I wrestle with ideas, and succeed or fail in coming to an understanding. Sometimes I simply give up trying to understand the reality that is so much beyond me. There are times when I give up, submit, and retreat into my soul. But I find comfort there too. There is something important about falling into the stream and letting it take you where it will.

My spiritual high points, and my dark nights of the soul, have always involved rational and non-rational stuggles.

Unitarianism is about bringing your whole self to the spiritual quest, not leaving behind body or mind or soul (whatever those words mean). My sexuality, my critical mind, my sense of beauty and spirit are all parts of me. All of me is needed to stand before the one Truth.

Friday, June 02, 2006

LGCM Action Alert

A message from Richard Kirker, General Secretary


Please respond by 5 JUNE to the Government’s Proposals to Outlaw Discrimination on Sexual Orientation Grounds in Access to Goods, Facilities and Services


The Government’s proposals for banning such discrimination, ‘Getting Equal’, ask whether the public agree that wide-ranging protection should be given against it, how far there should be exceptions (eg for “faith schools” and religious bodies/charities), and how far this protection should extend. The anti-gay and fundamentalist Christian Institute, Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, Association of Christian Teachers, etc. are trying to organise a mass write-in against the purposes of the proposed Regulations and in favour of huge exceptions allegedly to respect the conscience of the individual believer, as well as of religious organisations (including commercial businesses). It is urgent that as many as possible who support LGCM and its aims should write in as individuals to help counter this campaign.

Your response should be e-mailed to equality.project@dti.gsi.gov.uk

or posted to Discrimination Law Review Team - Sexual Orientation Consultation, Women and Equality Unit, DTI, 1 Victoria St. LONDON SW1H 0ET

or faxed to the Team at 0207 215 2826, to arrive by Monday 5 June 2006.

Points to Make

-Am writing as a practising Christian who believes in an open and inclusive Gospel, which affirms the validity and acceptability of loving same-sex relationships.

- Do not believe any religion should be offered protection to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation or faith if the effect is to disadvantage lesbian/gay/bisexual people or those who support them/us.

- The Government must recognise that the continuing serious problem of homophobia (highlighted especially in our schools by the recent Interim Report of the Equality Review, headed by Trevor Phillips) is fuelled by religious condemnation and the refusal of many “faith” leaders to accept and “respect the dignity and worth of each person” for which Ministers call in their Foreword to ‘Getting Equal’.

- Strongly agree [Q1 of the questionnaire] that the Regulations should apply to ban discrimination in access to all goods, facilities and services, without exception

- Strongly agree that access to premises should be included [Q.4], and that the commercial provision of B. and B., guest house or hotel facilities should also be included, with no ‘religious’ get-out; Christian or Muslim B. and B. providers are not allowed to discriminate on grounds of their dislike of a client’s beliefs (eg because clients are Athesits or Hindus) and they should not be allowed to do so either because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation.

- All bodies carrying out public functions, and using public (taxpayers’) money, should be included, with the limited exceptions in the consultation paper [Parliament, Secret Services etc.] [Q.8]

- Essential to include all schools - including ‘faith schools’ - within the Regulations. A faith school should not, for instance, be entitled to reject a pupil because of his/her own orientation or that of his/her parents. Moreover, no progress will be made in attacking the huge, damaging and continuing problem of homophobia, and its impact in bullying and undermining young people who are struggling with a possibly variant orientation, unless all schools are included. [Q. 9-11] A faith or other school which is condemning a same-sex orientation or relationship as “unnatural” or “wrong” cannot possibly prevent homophobic bullying with sincerity or success. [Note: this does not prevent a school from applying equal condemnation to both same-sex and other sexual activity among its pupils.] All schools receiving public money should be obliged to adopt the full Anti-Bullying Code including that part which deals with homophobic bullying.

- Religious organisations: unless a church or similar body explicitly rejects gay/lesbian people as members/adherents, it should be obliged to observe the same rules as anyone else; but it must be free to organise the conduct of worship in all its aspects as it sees right [Q. 12-13]

- Charities and religious bodies providing community or other services to the public should not be allowed to discriminate unless their instrument of foundation explicitly restricts the providing of benefits to a class defined by its sexual orientation before the enactment of the Regulations [Q.14]

- Individuals, including those working for non-faith organisations, should have no right to discriminate on grounds of their personal conscience

- Direct and indirect discrimination, victimisation and discriminatory practice and instructions, should all be caught by the Regulations. [Q. 15-18]

An electronic version of the consultation is available at www.dti.gov.uk We">

We will be putting our formal Submission onto the website at the end of the week.

Please circulate this Action Alert to your friends.

Your views do matter. Please take 5 minutes to let the Government know them. A great deal depends on the outcome of this consultation.

Thank you,

Richard Kirker
Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement [LGCM], Oxford House, Derbyshire Street, London, E2 6HG, UK
Office Tel & Fax 020 7739 1249
Christian Homophobia HOTLINE 020 7613 1095http://www.lgcm.org.uk email lgcm@lgcm.org.uk

You may join/renew at http://www.lgcm.org.uk/html/join.htm or download a printable application form

A membership based international ecumenical organisation open to all irrespective of sexual orientation challenging homophobia in the Churches and other Christian communities.

We offer support, publications, groups, conferences and networking opportunities focussed on creating an inclusive Church and welcoming congregations.
Registered Charity No 104884230 May 2006