Monday, April 30, 2007

Dialogue

I've just come out of a long conversation with the guy from British Gas who came to do a safety check on my boiler.

The fact that I live within a theological college meant that the conversation got around to faith. We began by talking about the differences between the different denominations represented here at college. This got us around to Unitarianism, and what is stands for.

We stood in my kitchen for half an hour talking. He asked me a lot of questions about Unitarianism, and I did my best to answer him. Then he started talking about his own faith. He was Pentecostal. He asked me for a Bible and showed me some proof texts as he talked about his faith and what it meant to him.

He talked in an articulate way about what he believed with gusto and confidence.

I fully enjoy such conversations, even though I feel inadequate to express my beliefs. I'm sure God is working in such conversations, but I don't always know what result God is working to come out of the encounters. Should one of us be converted by each other? Should both of us be converted? What kind of conversion are we talking about?

I judge that such a person is probably not likely to want to be a Unitarian, his current faith position is too far away. And I'm not going to become a Pentecostal, though a great deal of it I do love.

The question that runs through my head in such a conversation is where to engage. I disagree with much of what he says, but at what point do I engage? At what point do I disagree and hope something fruitful can come out of the conversation? These are my questions and issues:

How do you know the Bible is true? Just because its written in the Bible does that make it true? What if there were others saying different things that didn't make it into the Bible? Where does authority come from?

Does God take back God's covenant with the Jews? If God makes a covenant with the Jews then surely God means it and does not need Jews to become Christians. This would be God breaking the covenant God made.

'Through Christ all are saved' Does God really condemn some to hell?

Aren't the spiritual battles within us rather than in some supernatural realm?

Doesn't God care more about justice than right belief?

Shouldn't we be getting our hands dirty in the political and economic realm rather than just condemning it and separating from it? Isn't that consistent with the biblical witness?

If the Holy Spirit blows wherever it will, could it not be working in other religions?

In the end I didn't really ask any of these questions. The one issue I tackled him on was 'the Jews killed Jesus.' I said the Romans killed Jesus, but didn't really get involved in all the issues around that.

I also wonder whose witness is more effective. He was confident and talked like he had all the answers, he was sure he did, at least on some issues. I was quieter, asked questions, seemed agnostic on a lot of things and listened. Which kind of approach is better? Should I be able to talk with confidence for 10 minutes uniterupted about the basic principles of the Unitarian faith? Or in fact will that put people off? Is a dialogical witness better? Or is too wet, too weak, not enough answers?


This afternoon I'm having a dialogue with a Muslim as part of my class. More dialogue.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Found! The third British Unitarian blogger

Someone mentioned to me at GA that Andrew Brown, minister of Cambridge Unitarian Church, has a blog, and so I finally looked it up and found it.

It's part of the Church's website, with a format that needs an individual click to read each entry, which is a bit annoying. And there is no commenting facility which means which can't get a dialogue going, which is a shame.

But I'm glad our number is slowly increasing. Andrew makes three, in addition to me and Matt at Renewed Hope.

Cambridge Unitarian Church Minister's Blog.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Time to Re-Brand St George


Happy St George's Day.
Here's an article from Ekklesia:
The patron saint of the English should be rebranded and St George's Day should become a national day of dissent, a religious think-tank is proposing.

The ideas come in a report published ahead of St George's Day, this Monday 23rd April 2007 - and in an article published on Friday in the Church of England Newspaper.
In the report published today (Thursday 20th April) entitled; "When the Saints Go Marching Out: Redefining St George" Ekklesia co-directors Jonathan Bartley and Simon Barrow propose that George once again take his place as the 'people's saint'.
The report points out that the original story which dates from the 4th century CE told of St George offering hospitality to a refugee, defending the marginalised, and challenging the persecution policy of the Emperor. This image has been distorted, and replaced by one of a dragon slayer who backs the crusades (religious wars).

'Re-branding' is about reconsidering what is important about the story and telling it afresh. The report suggests that the values of the older story could form the basis of a national holiday for England which is inclusive, hospitable, and avoids the dangers of proud nationalism, offering instead a hopeful vision of Englishness as global and outward looking.
Such a day would celebrate:
· The role of the English as global citizens, not narrow nationalists
· The need for dissenters to call power to account
· Black Britons as vital contributors to our culture
· Shared values of social justice arising from the past
· Welcoming migrants in an interdependent world
· Exemplars of faith, hope and love, not thin celebrity
One of the report's authors, Simon Barrow, said: "It is time that St George was reclaimed from the dragon, from past associations with racism and the far right, and from images of arrogant flag-waving.

"When we look at his hidden story we see instead a figure, an 'icon', who can perhaps help the English - a people in search of a post-imperial identity - to discover a positive role in a world they no longer control."

One important task, says the report, is to take the sin out of saints like George. Just as he was co-opted for the crusades, so his misappropriation has continued in recent history. To consider him a symbol of 'England alone, above, better' is extremely damaging to the English as people with a delightfully mixed heritage and a global future.

"Our identity is formed by what enables us to relate positively, not what makes us 'different'," commented Barrow

Under the proposals St Georges's Day would become a 'Day of Dissent' celebrating the noble, alternative English tradition of rebellion against the abuse of power. This might include: the pro-democracy Putney Debates, the equality-seeking Levellers, the anti- slavery abolitionists, the women's suffrage movement, conscientious objectors and peacemakers, anti-racism campaigners, human rights activists and those struggling against debt and poverty.

Writing in the Church of England Newspaper this Friday, Jonathan Bartley will say; "It is time for the church to lead the way in restoring the image of an exemplary dissenter. In our own days of Empire it was said that Britannia ruled the waves and waived the rules. St George points us in a quite different direction. He should once more be recognised as the saint of the downtrodden and his Day should be one where those who wield power are called to account."

Saturday, April 21, 2007

I know that guy!

My friend emailed me the other day and ended the message with, 'Have you seen Johndeep on TV?'

I hadn't but guessed at the type of programme she was talking about and looked him up, and there he was on Any Dream Will Do on BBC1.

I went to school with Johndeep and so have known him many years. I remember the times when I was getting better parts than him in school shows!! He's been in London trying to break into that ol' acting and singing malarkey for a few years now. And now he's got into this. Good luck to him. I missed the first show but this weekend I'm with my parents and my dad had accidentally recorded it from last week so I managed to watch it yesterday. Tonight is the second show, so watch it and vote Johndeep!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

An old photo a friend just gave me


Yes, it is me.

It was Halloween.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

This Thursday in London: Trade Justice Action

From Pressure Works.

The European Union is trying to get former colonies to sign up to the new unfair trade agreements and we've only got to the end of the year to put a stop to it.

Come out on Thursday 19 April in the biggest trade justice event of 2007 and send a loud and clear message to EU leaders that you:

- Say no to unacceptable pressure on developing countries to accept the new unfair trade agreements.
- Say no to locking African, Caribbean and Pacific nations into poverty so European companies can carve out bigger profits.
- Say no to Europe undermining jobs, healthcare, education and the environment in developing countries.

March in London and in cities across the UK and Ireland to demand the EU stops trying to impose these new agreements.

The governments of the EU are pushing unfair trade deals on 75 former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP). These countries - some of the poorest in the world - are under extreme pressure from Europe as it rushes to complete these deals by the end of the year. But there is still time to stop Europe's unfair trade deals. The deals - Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) - are set to put jobs and economies at risk in developing countries, undermine healthcare provision and education for poor people, as well as damage their environment.

Come to London!
Come to this event and take action with campaigners from across Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Demand that the EU stops negotiating unfair trade deals with developing countries.
What? Trade justice action
Where? Belgrave Square, London SW1
When? Thursday 19 April
What time?11-11:30am
Check in at Belgrave Square - this is essential so that you can be assigned to a team to deliver the trade justice message after the rally. 12 noon: Rally outside the Germany Embassy in Belgrave Square, with a hand over of our demands to Germany, as holder of the EU presidency. 1pm onwards: Depart in teams to deliver our demands to the London embassies of the other EU countries, the UK's Department of Trade and Industry and the European Commission.
Nearest tube stations: Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly line), Victoria (Victoria, Circle and District lines, mainline rail).

Please register so we know you are coming - register online now! Tick Christian Aid.

If you can't get to London, go to another city. Details here.

If you can’t get to any event then you can email Angela Merkel from here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

GA: Day Four

(Not exactly live anymore, I'm talking about last Friday, but I'm still faster than any other news source, barring the GA Zette, but you have to come along to get that)

The last business meeting dealt with the left over motions and the procedural motions, and some more reports.

David Dawson gave his address as the retiring President. He said one thing that is worth repeating. He might have said a couple, but I can only remember one now. He recommended we use a different 'brand name' as 'the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches' is rather too long and combersome. I agree entirely. David advocated 'Unitarians in Britain' which is fine. For me I'd want to call us 'The Unitarian Church' or when talking internationally 'The British Unitarian Church.' That's what I've written for my link on the right here. The trouble is of course that some would see it as a rejection of Christianity to drop the word 'Christian.' But we shouldn't get bogged down in that, it has to be about good clear marketing. And the debate about Unitarian vs Free Christian is a nineteenth century issue that I think is entirely irrelevant to where we are now. I'm glad David said it.

Celia Midgley was installed as the new President and led us in a act of closing worship that I really enjoyed. It was interactive and including the sharing of a sign of peace (something I really miss from my Anglican past). The closing song (I think) is from the new hymn supplement, and I love it. It's called 'Bring Many Names' and is brilliant in marrying progressive theology with deep emotion, something rarely achieved. It's a song that gives me something of the feeling of being in love with God, like a good charismatic praise song without being simplistic and all about the cross. It talks about a 'strong mother God.... willing to be changed' and recongnises the unknowability yet intimacy of the Divine 'joyful darkness far beyond our seeing, //closer yet that breathing.' There's my theology. Beautiful.

So that was that. Lunch then home. I've probably missed something out. I didn't realise there was a 'quiet room' until it was too late and would liked to have checked it out, but nevermind, I'm glad they're doing that.

As always talking with people in the bar and other places is often the most important thing. Lots of that was done. And overall GA was definitely a good one for me, which is not to say there still isn't a lot to do. Last year seemed to represent a turning point in seeing the Annual Meetings as a chance for worship primarily and not just business, and I think that's very much to be welcomed.

That was GA 07.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

GA: Day Three

I managed to get up in time for the communion service at 7.30 in the morning, which I found sustaining. I did really enjoy the service, but I did have some thoughts about how it was done. When bread was broken and consecrated, it was a loaf, but then it was wafers that were distributed. I'm not quite sure about that. I kind of think what you bless you should distribute. The bread and wine were passed on from person to person to person while we remained sitting. The problem with this was that I received the bread (wafer) long before I received the wine (very alcoholic by the way). It being first thing in the morning my mouth was actually quite dry and so I managed to get the wafer stuck to the roof of my mouth and had to wait a minute or two for the wine to come so I could loosen it. If you're going to use a wafer I think you need to wash it down with wine straight afterwards, especially first thing before breakfast.

The Taize song Ubi Caritas was sung during the distribution, and this was (by coincidence) also sung by the assembly at the beginning of the business meetings. Report's were given and every motion passed, if not with 100% support than with more than 95%. I'll summarise all the motions here, even though they were in different sessions:

1. Congregations should become involved in the process of forming curriculum for Religious Education in state schools. This is set by each Local Education Authority, usually with a group of Anglicans. Unitarians should contribute something to this process.

2. We support the employment rights of (legal) migrant workers not to be exploited.

3. We support campaigns against sex trafficking.

4. We support the Strangers into Citizens campaign to grant a two year work permit, followed by the possiblity of leave to remain for irregular migrants who have been here for more than four years.

5. Work out your carbon footprint.
6. We call for diplomatic solutions to the crisis with Iran.

7. We call for the end of cluster munitions.

At lunchtime we had the first ever Bridging Ceremony for BUYAN. The first person we've had to turn 18 and become a member of BUYAN. It's good that BUYAN is growing like this.



In the afternoon I went to the presentation of the National Unitarian Fellowship on media issues from Chris Goacher and Bob Wightman and their involvement in the media, mainly radio. Bob has his own show on Radio Tay.

The Anniversary Service was pretty good. Brenda Catheral preached the sermon, which included gags much too rude to repeat here. A really uplifting service.


The evenings of course are often the most important parts of these things, and sitting and drinking and sharing stories and talking about this that and everything is a vital part of our community. The Annual Meetings seemed to have kept to the course set last year that we are a religous community and worship and community, rather than business, is our raison d'etre. Thursday I was up until 4am talking to my brothers and sisters in faith. And of couse, every night the GA Zette, the independent newspaper of the Annual Meetings needs collating when the print run is done.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

GA: Day One and Two

Early afternoon and it's the first time I've got to a computer. There's not a computer room for the GA Zette Office this year so they're using a kitchen. I've managed to get to a computer though so here we are.

Minister's Pre-Conference

My first! Yay. Hmm. This year the campus (University of Hertforshire, Hatfield) was closed for the Bank Holiday on Monday so the conference had to be at a neighbouring hotel. This increased the expense. Last year I think there were about 100 people at the minister's conference but this year there wasn't more than 40. The most fruitful conversation was about the project now being called 'Future Ministry.' This is partly being implemented because of a sense of 'oh crap, we don't have enough ministers' and 'oh crap, a lot of congregations can't afford ministers and are in decline.' But now the conversation has been widened to include all future issues of ministry. Should we have a system of having a minister serving 10 churches? Is that a necessisty or desirable? I don't think that's the way to go myself and it may be better to let some congregations close and concentrate resources on creating fewer but healthier churches, and then start planting new churches. I feel these conversation are very positive and I'm hoping that these conversations may be widened to include ministries like chaplains and missionaries. More than hoping I'm pushing the conversation in that direction. The John Relly Beard lecture was on this topic and was delivered by retiring General Secretary Jeff Teagle.

I didn't go to the Annual Meeting feedback session, but it seems pretty obvious to me that this should be at the end of the conference not on the first day. Surely?




I also didn't go to the Communication's Commission, but it's worth noting that a new chalice image was launched. It's more curvy. It's in the background of this picture.

Opening celebrations, which were quite enjoyable last year, were quite traditional this year; though the space meant that there couldn't be a banner parade. Just like the worship at the minister's conference we had a pretty traditional hymn sandwich. The worships were fine for what they were, but I don't really have the energy for a hymn sandwich at nine at night. Can't we be a little bit more adventurous at GA?

BUYAN, joined by a good number of youths had a small worship in the evening out on the grass outside with candles and singing. It spoke to me infinitely more than the official worships.

The Queer Unitarians got together and a more formal organisation might be able to emerge from that.

Day Two

Today the Executive Committee reported on its first year in existence. They are a good set of people that work hard. There was some friction as previously the old Council let a reporter from the Inquirer observe meetings but the EC won't let a reporter come to its meetings. I tend to think that's fair enough as it's the difference between a Parliament and a Cabinet, Parliament is observed but you can't expect public observance for every Cabinet meeting.

The Youth Panel session had some sharing of stories of success with youth projects, then a ritual designed by the Senior group. Though the group was too big for this to feel like intimate worship, I did enjoy the ritual play.

I don't know when I'll next report on here, it may not be until the end of GA, but I will do it as soon as I can.



The Unitarian Christian Association session was a presentation from Andrew Brown about the book of prayer that he has written with John Morgan. Unfortunately the book isn't available yet, as I thought they said it was going to be. We're promised it soon. I'm quite excited about the book. I was sitting in the prayer room at college the other day as I was waiting for my laundry and I picked up a book of Compline that was there, and read through it. I got something out of it. I've never really prayed with structured written prayers, but my mind wanders so much. I think it might help. I'll let you know what I think of it when I get a copy.

The Penal Affairs Panel had a presentation on the treatment of failed asylum seekers in 'detention centres' - effectively prisons run by private security companies. We watched a BBC documentary that showed systematic racism, bullying and abuse in British detention centres. Really horrible stuff. You can watch it here. Feel kind of powerless to do anything about such things.

In the evening I went to the Earth Spirit Network which was a chat with Mary Bennett, Executive Director of the Canadian Unitarian Council about Pagan Unitarians in Canada. The discussion got around to why the British group is 'Earth Spirit' not 'Pagan.' I began to ruminate on this and I began to think it was perhaps telling about how we deal with our beliefs in Unitarianism. Is the lukewarm 'Earth Spirit' characteristic of a lack of commitment to our faiths? Why not be a Pagan? Why not be a committed proud Pagan that follows that path while relating it to your Unitarian heritage? Why not go as deep as you can into Paganism, see where it gets you as a committed holistic way of life, something that guides your living? I want people to go deeper into their faith, as deep as they can, whatever faith that is. Don't be a lukewarm, 'I'm sort of interested in Earth Spirit stuff' be a committed Unitarian Pagan, go deep into your faith.

The evening there was a party for Jeff Teagle's retirement. There was free wine. Here's a picture:

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Rebecca Parker on the Sunday programme

Good morning! Happy Easter!

I was just listening to Radio 4 in the shower, as is my manner on a Sunday morning, and there was a piece about atonement/the cross (very theological for 7.30 in the morning) and Rebecca Parker turned up to put forward her theology rejecting substitutionary atonement. Unfortunately no mention of Starr King School or Unitarian Universalism, she's simply an 'American theologian.'

Get ahold of the next issue of 'Faith and Freedom' to see my paper on a Unitarian theology of the Cross.

Listen again here.

By the way, GA is next week, hopefully I'll find a computer and be able to blog. I am the only person who blogs from GA, and this website will have news of what's happening before any other news source. All your breaking news on Reignite!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Chatting about faith

A friend of mine introduced me to a dating website a couple of months ago. It's free and it's quite fun with lots of questions to fill out so that you can waste a lot of time on there, if you wanted to. I haven't got any dates out of it, but I have chatted with lots of people. I've been honest on my profile and put down what I do and talked about faith and stuff.

This is more personal than I usually get on this blog, but I'm sharing because it's brought up a very important issue. I've chatted with lots of people, almost all about religion. It seems I'm getting about one message a week saying pretty much the same thing - can we talk about religion? There seems to be this huge longing for so many people to talk about faith and spirituality, but a lot of people are scared to talk to a religious leader or someone who they think might try to convert them. I don't know if it's the nature of the medium (they can cut off the conversation easily if they want to) or how I come across but obviously it feels safe enough to have these conversations. People ask me loads and loads of questions - and I'm really happy to talk about my own faith and Unitarianism. You can see why Alpha is so popular - offer people a non-threatening space and loads of people (not everyone though) will want to sit and chat about faith. I think that's really brilliant, and really worth tapping into. Unitarians are so well suited to do this. The potential's definitely there.