Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Me and Jesus: Episode 2

I went to the lunchtime Meeting for Worship at the Manchester Quakers today. Unfortunately my prayers turned to thoughts and frustrations about what I don't understand so I left feeling worse than when I went in. I hate it when that happens.

This is where I'm at:

This is the conversation I have had, will have and imagine having:

You're not a Christian.

Yes I am.

But you don't believe in the Trinity.

I don't think that's what makes someone a Christian, or at least a follower of Jesus.

So what makes you a Christian?

When I say Christian I mean someone following Jesus, following Jesus' teaching.

Didn't Jesus teach that he was divine, and that we should believe in him and his death on the cross for our sins?

No, I don't think he did teach that.

So what do you think he taught?




This is the point I get stuck, what did Jesus teach?

The liberal answer I often get is something like: God is love, love God and love neighbour.

Which is all very well but I don't think he really did. I mean, he did say that, but I don't think that was his central message. When I read Jesus' words, he seems to be saying something like that about 20% of the time.

So what, centrally was Jesus' teaching about?

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Man Who Never Died

This is the story of the Man
Who never died:
and who proclaimed
that he who's born
must be re-born;
and he who's dead
must rise from the state of death.

For it is not the nature of man to die,
but to live from no-time to no-time.

...

Men said to Him:-
'How shall we live?'

and He said:-
'By dying to yourselves!'

When asked, 'How shall we die?'
He said:- 'By being alive to what never dies within you!'

He healed the sick, bringing them back to themselves.

...

In prayer you say nought to thy Gid,
but listen to His SILENCE like the flower
opens its heart out to the mystery of the unknown stars.

Prayer is a secret dialogue between lovers, where the mind
questions in doubt, and the heart answers in faith.



'The Man Who Never Died' by Gopal Singh

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The World Can't Wait

Sign this message to G8 leaders here.



Dear Angela Merkel and Tony Blair,

I am writing as a concerned European citizen to ask that you make this year's G8 Summit and EU Presidency really count for the world's poorest people. During 2007 you have enormous influence on the world stage and the opportunity to make this a decisive year in the fight against global poverty.

When you meet with G8 and European heads of state in June, use your influence to:
· Deliver the extra debt cancellation and extra aid that was promised in 2005, and more, without imposing harmful conditions
· Ensure that international trade deals are just, and help reduce poverty by not forcing poor countries to open their markets to unfair competition or destroying decent work
· Provide funds to deliver education, clean water, sanitation, and healthcare for all, including upholding trade rules to provide affordable and quality medicines, and keep your promise that no one should go without treatment for AIDS by 2010
· Make plans to keep global warming at less than 2 degrees and address the urgent needs of poor countries to adapt to climate change
· Secure agreement to an international, legally-binding Arms Trade Treaty to control the irresponsible trade in weapons that is fuelling conflict, poverty and human rights abuses around the world.

Millions of people around the world have pledged their support over the last two years as part of the Global Call to Action against Poverty. The world can't wait any longer for action. I am sending you my voice against poverty.

Use Surefish Search

If you use Surefish Search everytime you want to search the internet then you'll raise money for Christian Aid. It's easy.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Me and Jesus: Episode 1

Sometimes prayer is non-thinking, sometimes full of prayerful thought, where the heart and mind come together in beautiful song.

Tonight I've been praying thoughtfully and thinking prayerfully. This is what I've decided:

'A disciple is not above the teacher.'

What do I need to decide for Jesus to be my teacher? Do I need to believe he is infallible? No. I only need to acknowledge that my teacher has greater knowledge than me, at least in one particular area.

I acknowledge that Jesus has a greater experience of God than I, so he can be my teacher. Which is not to say that I cannot argue with my teacher, or disagree with him. But he does have things to teach me. I know and acknowledge that, so he can be my Teacher and Guide, for now.

Bah


Next week I was supposed to be going to a 'Post Christendom' conference with Jonathan Bartley of Ekklesia and Stuart Murray but it's been cancelled. Bah.
After I was quickly reading Stuart Murray's book (which has a very cool cover) to be able to say something intelligent to him. Ah well. I'm just going to have to read the book as well as the website of the Anabaptist Network which seems pretty good. I'm warming to the idea of identifying as Anabaptist, but I'll have to identify as a Christian to do that. Hey-ho.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Am I a Christian?

I've been struggling with this question for my whole life really.

I love God, and I like Jesus, most of the time. I'm certain Jesus wasn't the second person of the Trinity, and that he didn't die to take away my sins (as certain as it's possible to be in matters of faith). Let's just put that to one side.

But even if I am talking about the religion of Jesus I have some problems. Not least of which being that that religion was Judaism. Jesus seems quite a distant figure that I only get glances of. Some glances amaze me, some horrify me. I'm happy for Jesus to be a prophet of the past that I can get a lot from, but what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in 2007? I want to be a follower of Jesus, it would make my life clearer in some ways, and I would feel like I belonged in ecumenical settings where I spend a great deal of my time. But I have problems.

So I'm going to devote some time this summer to wrestling with this question. And I'd like help. I'd really like to hear from those people who read this blog and those who write blogs to tell me what it means to them to follow Jesus. I'm open to be converted (as we always should be).

If you are a Christian, why?

If you're not a Christian, why not?

I'll keep returning to this over the summer.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Defend freedom of information


On Friday 18th May, Conservative and Labour MPs voted to exempt Parliament from Freedom of Information laws, creating one law for MPs and Lords and one law for everyone else.The Bill - introduced by a Conservative MP - will now go to the House of Lords, where it can still be stopped from becoming law.
Sign the petition against this law here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Response to Andrew Brown

Andrew Brown makes some interesting points on his blog. Unfortunately he doesn't allow comments, but asks for feedback by email so I've just sent this to him.

Dear Andrew,

I’ve been reading your blog, which is very interesting and stimulating. It is a shame that it is not on a format like blogster or wordpress (and I don’t really know anything about what’s the best thing) where comments would be possible and debate more easy.

In regard to your entry beginning ‘This, then, is my dilemma’ I have a few thoughts that I wanted to share. (I’m also posting this on my blog).

I think you bring up some very important points but I have some concerns. Are the two different Unitarianisms really ‘very different’ and entirely incompatible? When Channing preached the ‘Unitarian Christianity’ sermon he divided his thoughts into two sections: the methods used by Unitarians in approaching the Bible and the doctrines that Unitarians believe by approaching the Bible in this way. It seems to me Unitarianism has always been a method and an outcome of that method. Channing and others assumed that free rational people will naturally come to the conclusion of Unitarian Christianity. He was wrong. Free rational people can come to different conclusions about religious questions. And that is our problem. The question we are presented with is then: which is most important: the method or the doctrines that were the outcome of the method? It seems to me if you take away either what you’re left with isn’t Unitarian. This is a quandary.

I’m uncomfortable with you using the word ‘entryism’ for non-Christian Unitarians (or I was once I looked it up on Wikipedia to understand what it was). The fact is many of those people grew up in Unitarianism and were told ‘this is what Unitarianism is’ as children. Although we may disagree with definitions of Unitarianism given to them I think it would be quite offensive to them to suggest they are invading aliens in the religious community that has always been theirs.

I share, I think, your sense that Unitarianism needs more depth and more sense of its own tradition. Unitarianism is a deep spiritual tradition, and we’ve largely forgotten the legacy behind us. But it is also an evolving tradition, and I don’t know how you can limit that evolution without being creedal. There are limits, but how are those limits to be policed? Or, perhaps, how do we remain rooted in the centre?

I want to keep asking the question, ‘how does this relate to what has gone before?’ And maintain that to belong to a religious tradition requires that you do relate yourself to what has gone before. But I don’t want to dictate how each individual answers this question. I’m not sure people need to self-identify as Christian. If someone can thoughtfully answer that question without identifying as Christian then do you think that that is a problem? And if it is, what can be done about it?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Government response to petition on blood donation

Here's a petition I signed on the Number 10 website:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Overturn the National Blood Service (NBS) ban stopping Gay and Bi (G&B) Men giving Blood."

Details of petition:
"Blood in the UK is tested for HIV and Hep B&C before use. The NBS say the record for testing is exceptionally good. Last year patients received three million+ units of blood and blood products, 6 of which were infected with a blood borne infection (or only 1/100th more of a risk if Gay and Bi men were to donate). UN and World Health Organisation position for blood donation is not to discriminate against groups of individuals. HIV is now at its fast growing rate in the heterosexual community. The polices of the NBS are outdated, making decisions as to whether or not your allowed to give blood on how honest you are. Internationally the following countries repealed their life Bans on G&B men giving blood: Italy South Africa Sweden Spain Portugal Russia France This petition is calling on the government to do the following: 1 Carry out a review of these NBS policies. 2 Overturn the current policy against G&B Men and instead discriminate against unsafe sexual practices."

Here's the response from the Government:

The Government has a duty to ensure that any rules applied to blood donation by the National Blood Service (NBS) achieve a balance between risk reduction and security of supply. The self exclusion criterion concerning gay men has been reached through a close analysis of the epidemiology of confirmed HIV and Hepatitis B positive tests among blood samples from people donating blood at United Kingdom Blood Service sessions.

The Government has been advised that every year from the analysis of nearly three million donations collected by the United Kingdom and Irish Blood Services, about 40 donations are confirmed to be positive for HIV. Of these, a third to a half are given by men who, following further enquiries by the NBS, reveal that they are gay men. Some are donating for the first time but some have given at least once in the previous two years and tested negative on the previous occasion. These figures indicate that some gay men are still giving blood in spite of the current rules.

Although safer sex campaigns have had an impact, it is still considered that the risk of gay men being infected with HIV remains sufficiently high to include the criterion that they should not donate blood. Unfortunately, this means there will be healthy gay men who would be suitable for giving blood but who are excluded by the rule.

However, it is not practical to expect donor session staff to be able to differentiate between gay men with lower or with higher risk lifestyles, so all gay men have to be excluded.



Any thoughts?

I think I'm particularly disturbed by the last line. It seems to me its like the police saying 'It's impractical for us to differentiate between black when who are criminals and black men who are not, so we have to assume all black men are criminals.'

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Blow the Whistle

I'm really annoyed I can't get to this. Please go if you're in Manchester, and find other ways of keeping up pressure on governments to tackle poverty if you're in the rest of the UK or another G8 nation.



Blow The Whistle - Half Time To Halve Poverty
Sunday 20th May, 3-4 pm, Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester

2007 is the half way mark to the aim of the governments of the world to halve global poverty by 2015. The Blow the Whistle campaign aims to draw attention to the disturbing lack of progress from world leaders in fulfilling their commitments which were made by in 2000.

Blowing the Whistle Half Time to Halve Poverty will be a powerful reminder to the UK government that we are as committed to the poor and to justice as we have been during recent years, as expressed in the Make Poverty History campaign, Jubilee 2000, and other high profile campaigns. This can be a powerful reminder a few weeks ahead of the next G8 conference in Germany in June.

But to make the biggest impact we need your help! We aim to draw a crowd of all ages to join together for 1 hour in Piccadilly Gardens on Sunday 20 May (3-4pm) to jointly blow the whistles which have been produced for the campaign. Similarly to the make Poverty History rally in Edinburgh, we will ask people to wear white, and there will be speakers and music to inform and entertain you.

Whistles can be bought from the stewards on the day or ordered en masse from the Micah Challenge website - please order your own if you can to make sure we have enough for people who come on the day (www.micahchallenge.org.uk/store/).

Please help us get as many people there as possible by sending this message on amongst your friends, organisation, church, networks, schools, workplaces and contacts so that people in the North West will join to make some noise for justice.

We aim to video the event and put it on YouTube. Across the world Blow the Whistle campaign events will take place on 7 July, so Manchester can be an inspiration to many.

See www.micahchallenge.org.uk for more information about the campaign, and for more resources.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Me in Taize


The Taize community website have just put up a video about the community that you can watch online. It's a good video that captures the spirit of the place, plus it does feature moi with some rather fetching stubble (Steve from Birmingham if you can't work it out). Worth watching.


I'm heading back there this summer. It will be the first time I've been back in 4 years. Except this time I'll be going as an out and proud Unitarian, not as someone tagging on to some Anglicans. That will be an interesting experience I think.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Tradition

What is the division within Unitarianism?

I think it might be simplistic to speak of Christian and non-Christian. A more accurate way I think is to talk about different attitudes towards tradition. Some Unitarians see what has gone before as important, others much less so.

Of course us liberals in general have little time for tradition. But I am very much of the opinion that tradition does matter. It's the radical catholic in me. It matters where we've come from, our story so far. We are not bound by that story, but our own story does emerge from that. We need roots.

Although often people put the label 'Christian' on me, it's not one I freely use for myself. I may do one day, but I am still of two minds of whether I want to use the label 'Christian' or not. I am still unsure what that might mean.

But one thing I am is a traditionalist. I don't want a religion made up yesterday. I don't want something disembodied from its history. Whether we still want to call it Christian or not, I think Unitarianism has to be rooted in its Christian history, just as Christianity has to be rooted in Jewish history, it doesn't make any sense otherwise.

We have to know where we're coming from, and know the mistakes of the past. I was reading A Chosen Faith yesterday, which I read very early on in my Unitarian faith, and I think in general it's a good book, worth returning to. But one section slags off Karl Barth and neo-orthodoxy, without recognising the context in which that theology emerged. That context was the failure of liberal theology, and the fact that liberal theologians in Germany, and Unitarians in Britain and the US loudly supported the First World War, without realising the horror of what that war would be like. In Britain at least we still haven't recovered from that blow to our liberal theology. We forget that history at our peril.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Mission Implausible

I'm in the middle of reading this book. A central theme is that modernity and postmodernity in Europe has undermined the 'plausibility' of Christanity so Christians need to build structures that protect and reinforce the plausibility of the Christian story.

I've just been mulling over this. My question is this: does following Jesus depend on a worldview? Is Christianity a worldview?

My feeling is that it isn't. My feeling is that Jesus didn't come to start a worldview or a religion but to tell the people around him how to live their faith more authentically in a transformed relationship with God. When the Jesus movement later expanded there was the need to build a 'worldview' that successfully married Hebrew and Greek culture. And so a philosophical system was created and so were the creeds.

But I don't think Jesus' message is actually tied to that worldview. I think worldviews come and go, and that one is going, or it has already gone. I think worldview and philosophy actually has more to do with 'culture' than 'gospel' and the gospel can exist in more than one culture.

So we can reject a worldview, and should if it is no longer plausible to us. But I think the gospel of Jesus is much deeper and more universal than that. It does not depend on words, but expresses truths beyond words, and beyond any particular theology.

If our lives are authentically transformed by the Spirit then it doesn't matter very much what our worldview is, or at least it is a secondary activity to work out a worldview.

These are the half-finished thoughts I wanted to record tonight.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Does anyone know anything about the Development Commission?

Apparently it exist in the late eighties to early nineties. It was meant to 'develop' some volunteer congregations to get them to grow, and apparently there was some talk of developing new churches in towns without a Unitarian presence, but that never happened. But clearly it had some pretty serious funding.

The language of 'development' is interesting. I want to smack the label 'evangelism' on this kind of thing.

What can be learnt from the successes and failures of this venture?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Election results, in my neighbourhood and beyond

Here are the results in my ward, Rusholme:

Abu Chowdhury (Liberal Democrat) 1241
Atiha Chaudry (Labour) 746
Nahella Ashraf (Respect) 535
Penny Collins (Green) 224
Daniel Valentine (Conservative) 190

I don't mind saying that I voted for the LibDem, the sitting councilor, and he won. That's the first time I've voted for a LibDem and they've been successful. I was very aware of the anti-war Respect party campaigning in a very visible way here. Although they came third, they weren't really a threat. I thought they might do better here. I also don't think I've ever lived in a ward where the Conservative came fifth and last. That tells me a lot about the neighbourhood where I've lived for six months.

In Manchester overall things stayed pretty much the same, Labour are in power, Liberal Democrats in opposition, there hasn't been a Conservative councilor in 11 years. In Higher Blackley the British National Party (note to Americans: far right fascist, racist group) candidate came second, but was not close to beating the Labour candidate.

Overall in England the Consevatives did pretty well, Labour did quite badly, but not as badly as they could have done, and the Liberal Democrats didn't do very well either. I'm not convinced Ming Campbell is the best man to lead the Liberal Democrats. In Birmingham, my old town and the biggest council in England the Tories won the council for the first time in 24 years.

In Wales Labour lost some seats but remains the biggest party, but not the majority party in the Assembly, and will have to form a coalition.

But the most dramatic results come from Scotland where the Scottish National Party have won the most number of seats in the Scottish Parliament, but will have to form a coalition. The brings up the possibility of a refundum for Scottish independence. But there were 'hanging chad' style problems with a system that seems to have disenfranchised 100,000 voters.

Overall it seems like things are much the same. People are pissed off with Labour, but don't really see any great alternative in any other party, except in Scotland where the SNP seems like a viable alternative. The Tories are doing a lot better, but not at all in this city.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Don't forget to vote!

In the English local elections, elections for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. I just did. Polls are open til 10. It's a nice day so hopefully they'll be a good turnout.