Thursday, August 31, 2006

Greenbelt


So prompted by Scott I thought I should share my experiences at Greenbelt (I got back on Tuesday and went to see my ministerial mentor yesterday [which went well] so this is the first chance I've had to blog).

One other Unitarian was there who I met up with sporadically but I failed to get a big group to come with me, so I went down with a friend and made some friends there as well. Here's some brief notes:

Talks:

Jim Wallace was good, but nothing really new said. Ibrahim Hewitt, a Muslim convert, was interesting enough (I missed the other talk on Muslims in the media). It was interesting to hear Norman Kember interviewed, but I had already heard most of it in a radio interview a few months ago.

The outstanding talks I heard were from Clive Stafford-Smith and Sarah Jones. Both were very funny in dealing with serious issues.

Clive Stafford-Smith is a lawyer who's represented a lot of people on death row in the US and is currently representing people in Guantanamo Bay. He went off on a tangent at one point talking about the fact that until a couple of years ago oral sex was illegal in 20 US states. In fact shagging a dead horse in the town square (bestiality, necrophilia, public indecency combined) got a lesser pentalty than having oral sex with your wife in your bed. He said he was very proud of getting rid of those laws. Then he talked about Guantanamo. It's shocking really how a democratic nation can deny due process of law and employ torture to prisoners. Have we really got used to that idea? What are we fighting for if we do this? It's not democracy, because this stuff is a denial of the idea of democracy. At the end of the the Second World War Churchill wanted to line up the Nazis and shoot them. But it was the Americans who insisted on fair trials, and so that's what happened. How can America deny its founding principles so much today? Clive said that the idea that we're in a new situation today so that we need to change human rights is bollocks. Guy Fawkes was a religious suicide bomber in 1605. It's in times of trouble that we need to stick to our principles more.

Sarah Jones was very good too. She talked about gender in general and the process that led her to change her sex to female from male. She then talked about going into ordination in the Church of England, and when the tabloids found out that she was transgender. She was very funny at times but she did say that this was difficult for her to talk about, even though she made light of it a lot. Really inspiring stuff.

I was a bit disappointed with John Bell of the Iona Community. He was supposed to be talking about same sex civil partnerships. But he just talked about homosexuality-in-general. The same old interpreting-scripture-is-not-that-straightforward etc etc etc, but-let's-not-schism-over-it etc etc etc. Maybe other people are in a different place, and this is something new to them. But for me this is so old and so boring. As a Unitarian, scripture for me is a foundation rather than an authority, and I got no problem with disagreeing with the Bible. I'm not interested in this old debate. For me the issue is settled. Now I'm interested in how to challenge the residual homophobia in my community and how to support a queer political justice agenda.

My friend, who's a Quaker, agreed with me about this. It's very different for those of us who are not in the mainline denominations, but in communities to the left. John Bell (who is Church of Scotland, by the way) typified the moderate middle that I'm very bored of now. It frustrates me that there is not more of a religious left in the UK. What I want are conferences and events that are similar to Greenbelt but have more of a dynamic of the religious left. I wouldn't want things to become so left/right, black/white, blue/red that they've become in the States but a bit more of a resurgence of the religious left that's happening in the States needs to happen here too I think.

One Panel I went to in the emerging church area was about 'Mission and emerging spiritualities.' Steve Hollinghurst (who blogs here) trains churches to run stalls at 'Mind, Body, Spirit' fairs, trying to reach out to those who are interested in 'spirituality.' It was interesting to hear him speculate that God may be moving beyond the realms of the Christian church in the New Age community, bringing about a revival outside of the church. Whereas he wanted to bring this spiritual searching into the Christian fold, I myself believe such movements are telling us much more about the divine. He wanted to tell people that what they are experiencing is God, whereas I am open to the possibility that what Christians are experiencing is Goddess.

On a similar topic he also spoke about the Da Vinci Code, but it was all stuff I'd heard before.

Comedy

I gave up seeing Daniel Beddingfield to see Peterson Toscana a performance artist who performed extracts from his one man show 'Talkin' Trash in the Homo No Mo Halfway House' about his experiences in ex-gay ministry. It was brilliant and very funny.

Worship

Taize prayer was good, the main communion was underwhelming. The most moving worship by far was led by L'Arche. L'Arche communities are dotted all over the place and are made up of people with and without learning difficulties living in community. Feetwashing with L'Arche and getting a flavour of their community was amazing and very emotional. It kind of made me think that all my thinking and writing and theology is just bollocks. I was seeing people living their faith day to day in community, with all those challenges of community, and it's so much more real and faith-ful than my life. Just living a life in community with simplicity and service is so much more Christ-like than all the thinking and talking about theology.

Music

The only music I really saw was Candi Staton who was pretty good.

Overall...

I'm convinced God is pushing me to join a political party. That's clearer now. I met some nice people, ate a lot of fast food, only took one shower.

My other observation about Greenbelt is that it was very white. It didn't reflect the racial diversity of British Christianity. It was all pretty white, middle class and pretty southern English.

I spent a lot of time explaining to people what Unitarianism is. Which is cool. How lucky I am to get to talk about religion and explain something of what the divine is to me and my life and my community.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I want one!



Wow, I think every household should have one of these, order now!

Christianity well never be able to purge itself of homosexuals while it continues to produce kitsch like this.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Unitarians on Staffordshire TV


Click here to watch a video of the Newcastle-under-Lyme congregation on BBC Staffordshire TV. I was part of the conversations that led to this short video, though I wasn't there when it was being made.

Local TV is a service that's been running as a pilot scheme in the Midlands in an attempt to be more local that the regional news programme can allow. It's only available on the internet and through Sky Digital TV service. It should be rolled out nationally next year. Faith producers are happy to do a little film like this one with anyone who approaches them so it's something that a congregation can easily do to raise its profile.

I'd be interested to get anyone's thoughts on the video. I think I'll save my thoughts for a later post.

Please Help the Gay Police Association

From LGCM:

A few weeks ago the Gay Police Association placed an eye-catching advertisement in the The Independent (a UK national newspaper) citing evidence of a 75% rise in homophobic incidents which could be linked to religious belief.

A massive campaign to try and discredit the advertisement has been organised by the religious right who clearly don’t like the implication that homophobic crime can be generated by distorted, hateful religious values. We know they can be.

LGCM is asking you to write an email or letter TODAY please to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, via the GPA, who is dealing with the complaints on behalf of all police forces across Britain.

The Gay Police Association appreciate our offer of assistance and we have been working closely with them over recent weeks to provide support. They are under a great deal of concerted, well organised pressure and need people like us more than ever to stand with them.

In your response please mention some or all of the following points in your own words:

1) Personal experiences of faith-based homophobia
These are always the most powerful messages to communicate. They demonstrate that the issues the GPA are trying to raise are not just theoretical, but affect real people’s lives. Have you any examples you can use from your own life?

2) Recognition of the issues raised in the poster
In particular many heterosexual people, with the exception of course of those who thankfully belong to LGCM (!), do not believe that such homophobia exists on this scale within society. The evidence shows otherwise and it would help if all our members, regardless of their sexual orientation, were able to write even if only of the basis of second hand experience.

3) Support for the advertisement
Christians need not fear the message of the advertisement and we don’t want to be protected from the truth, however distasteful. Rightly, we may be embarrassed and shamed at what is done by some in the name of Christianity but that is not the same thing.

4) Support for the GPA
The GPA has rendered a valuable public service by drawing attention to the main underlying root cause of homophobia and should be applauded, not condemned, for exposing and challenging it.

5) Condemnation of attacks against gay men and women on the basis of religion
Stress that you abhor all homophobic crime, especially when motivated by any faith. This will help refocus the debate on the real issue, which is about reducing crime.

6) A plea to the police service and government not to allow the extreme right-wind religious groups to dominate the equalities agenda
This counter-balances the large volume of complaints being submitted by fundamentalist religious lobby groups. Your voice will be particularly useful for the Crown Prosecution Service (to whom the letter will be ultimately sent) when they consider the 'public interest' criteria for whether or not to attempt a prosecution of the GPA. If the CPS see that there is widespread support for the GPA view, they will be less likely to attempt a prosecution.

7) Context - wider examples of how Christian/Muslim/Jewish organisations come together to undermine gay rights and freedoms
If you are familiar with any initiatives taken by other faiths to undermine our freedoms this will help show it is not just a problem confined to Christians. The GPA are well aware the problem is not confined to our faith alone.

Please send your email/letter to the GPA with a request that it be forwarded to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair.

If you want to write a letter to Sir Ian Blair directly please ensure the GPA is sent a copy either by email or post.

As there is no reliable email address for the Commissioner we are recommending this method.

The end result will be that the Metropolitan Police will send all correspondence to the CPS who will make the final decision.

Your letter will help counterbalance the negative ones.

Please forward this email to your friendly contacts and take any other measures which you feel will help the GPA.

GPA
LONDON
WC1N 3XX
Email info@gpa.police.uk

The Commissioner's Address is:
Sir Ian Blair,
The Commissioner, Metropolitan Police
New Scotland Yard
8-10 Broadway
LONDON
SW1H 0BG

Thank you for taking action, and for copying us into the correspondence please!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Authenticity

Ron Robinson has got a couple of interesting posts here and here. As someone who wants to marry the emergent church and Unitarianism, I find what Ron is doing very inspirational.

The one thing that struck me from his notes was this trend: 'boomers [i.e. people older than 40-ish] focused on excellence, busters and mosaics [younger] on relevance and authenticity.'

This made me think about something I read in the GA Annual Report. The Worship Panel states that its Aims are this: 'We are committed to fostering worship of the highest quality wherever Unitarians gather.'

Something about the phrase 'highest quality' made me really uncomfortable. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but Ron's post made me see it. I want authenticity not quality, not excellence.

I have seen an amateur pianist and an amateur singer creating music in a church basement because they are members of a church plant and that is the ministry they offer. And I have seen a professional organist and professional choir in a large sanctuary who are there because they are being paid. I prefer the first. The second is better, the second is a higher quality, but the first is more authentic.

This is the simple reason that the Taize community appeals to thousands of secular European young adults: authenticity. Taize is authentic. Authentic silence, authentic singing Latin, is much preferable than guitars, power point presentations and sound systems if they are inauthentic.

What we need to offer is something authentic, something real.

Take Action To Save Lives in the Middle East

From Christian Aid:

Dear supporter,
Civilians are bearing the brunt of the latest crisis in the Middle East. More than 400 Lebanese, 40 Israelis and 80 Palestinians have died since the current violence began. Hundreds of thousands more have lost their homes and had their livelihoods destroyed.
The UK government has failed to use its influence to bring about an immediate ceasefire, an end to hostilities and full compliance with international humanitarian law by all sides.
We need your help to put pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair to call for an immediate ceasefire. Write to him today.
Email Tony Blair now



Christian Aid’s Middle East crisis appeal
Christian Aid has launched an appeal for the crisis in the Middle East. With your help our partners in the region will be able to provide water tanks to affected areas, distribute food or medicines to the poorest families and rebuild communities. Please give generously.
Donate online here Thank you.