Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Emails

I've just received an email inviting me to a workshop for menopausal lesbian and bi women at the health centre I used to volunteer in in Boston.

How many reasons are there that that email wasn't appropriate for me?

Jews and Unitarians dropped from Churches Main Committee

The Times reported today that Jews, Unitarians, Christian Scientists, and Seventh Day Adventists are being dropped from the Churches Main Committee. This is not the same thing as Churches Together. I can understand the reasons for being exluded from Churches Together, but this body deals with non-theological things like tax, charity law and child-protection where clearly it is much better to work together.

Well done to Steve Dick, and presumably the new communications consultant, for getting a good quote in there which manages to give a good sense of what Unitarians stand for. We seem to have a good relationship going with the Times now. We just need to develop that kind of relationship with the Guardian to get some coverage in there.

Growing on the frontier

Some thoughts from watching American GA.

Some opening words from someone about Portland got me thinking. Someone was talking about the establishment of the city of Portland followed by the first Unitarian church there 20 years later. It got me thinking about the value of that American expansion in terms of church planting. As the population went west, there was a need for new churches because there were new cities. This gives an institutional memory for church planting. There was a need for it, so it was done.

In Britain, that could never happen. I suppose there was some church planting in the British Empire - in Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, but then we've lost those institutional memories as those countries and churches became more independent.

In the workshop about why liberal churches are growing the speaker said that the youngest churches grow the fastest, the oldest East coast churches are more in decline.

The problem in Britain is that most of our congregations began in a short period between 1660 and 1700. We have very little institutional memory of church planting.

Monday, June 25, 2007

How/Where can you get a kick-ass flaming chalice?


How can you get a flaming chalice that actually is a flaming chalice? Most of the time we have a chalice (sort of) with a candle stuck in it. But the symbol isn't a chalice with a candle in it, it's a chalice with a flame in it.

How can you get a chalice where there is a big flame, not just a candle flame, like the one in the Service of the Living Tradition? What substance can you use to get a three-inch flame? I wouldn't want a chalice as big as the one at the Service of the Living Tradition, but I think the flame should be that big. I've always found the candle a bit pathetic. Well, actually I've got used to it now. But when I started worshipping with Unitarians I thought it could be a bit pathetic.

Maybe it's just the pyromaniac (or the Zoroastrian) in me but I just think a big old flame would be really cool. Any ideas?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Is GA only streaming live?

I'm sure there's usually video to watch by this point. I've watched a few bits streamed live, but nothing seems to be archived to watch. Am I missing something or are they not doing it?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Is worship listening?

Four in the afternoon I'm pottering around tidying my living room and doing some ironing. I pop American GA on my computer and get the morning worship (it's 8am there). I'm only half listening to it and watching it but phew.

Phew! Two long sermons for an 8am worship service? How utterly exhausting. I'm not saying anything about the quality of the sermons, they were very good from what I heard, but two sermons at 8am?! I was exhausted and it was 4 in the afternoon for me I'd had a long sleep in on my day off. The last thing I would want at that time of day would be to get talked at for half an hour, that's what the whole conference is full of. I'd want something sustaining and engaging a different bit of my brain than the rest of the day would be engaging. I'd want some quietness and song, some yoga or some tai chi or something. Two sermons? Oi.

Utopian bisexuality

I wonder what is the reticence for so many people to identify as bisexual. I must admit I find it puzzling and a little bit disturbing.

I'm reading Carter Heyward right now, and really loving her writing, but I've just come across some words of hers about this. First she talks about her 'attraction to women as well as to men.' She says 'bisexual' might be an OK 'box' for this but then says,

The problem with bisexuality in my life (and I can speak only for myself) is that it has been grounded too much in my utopian fantasy of the way things ought to be and too little in the more modest recognition of myself as a participant in this society at this time in this world, in which I have both a concrete desire for personal intimacy with someone else and a responsibility to participate in, and witness to, the destruction of unjust social structures - specifically, the heterosexual box...

It has been my experience that to live now as bisexual is to live somewhat abstractly in anticipation of a future that has not arrived. That is why, for several years, I have been coming out of bisexuality, coming out of a utopian vision in order to focus my sight on the urgency and immediacy of the concrete present.
(Our Passsion For Justice, page 80)

First let me say this was written in 1979, and her position may have changed since then, I don't know.

This is something that a lot of thinkers (theoriests, theologians, scientists) do with bisexuality: they make it a past tense or future tense object, and reject it as present tense. Here Heyward makes bisexuality utopian: in the New Jerusalem we will all be bisexual, but it cannot be a present tense way of living. In fact there's a suggestion that it is less responsible to be bisexual, being lesbian is the better way to work against unjust social structures.

Firstly, I disagree. I think boundary crossers are always more subversive to the system. But secondly that doesn't matter. I'm not bisexual to dismantle social structures. That's backwards. I'm bisexual because I fancy men and women. I say I'm bisexual because to say anything else would simply be lying. This is true whether I'm in a relationship with a man or a woman or I'm celibate. There's nothing abstract or utopian about it. It's simply one of the everyday simple, boring facts about my life. Openly identifying as bisexual is what leads to my full flourishing as a human person, my salvation, I know, because I've tried to live denying it. It becomes a justice issue when others discriminate or attack me because of it. And those attacks can come from the gay community as much as from the straight.

It is one of my regrets of my time in Boston that I couldn't (for various reasons) take a class with Carter Heyward at EDS. It would have been good to have these conversations in person.

I don't do enough bisexual theology on here. If you find anything that relates at all to bi theology, please send it my way. It's not something I'm giving much time to at the moment, but it continues to be an interest. Mainly because no one else is doing it.

And while I'm on it, if anyone can point me in the direction of Hinduism's influence on the Transcendetalist Movement, that would be cool too.

Monday, June 18, 2007

It must be summer


My last essays are handed in, and I have one more Sunday left at my Placement Church. It must be summer. It's nearly Wimbledon and Glastonbury. This week the lunchtime episode of Neighbours are off so I'll probably spend my lunchtimes watching American GA online. This probably makes me a bit of a nerd.
So I should get two months without any preaching. But I'll keep pretty busy. I'm going to:
  • One Christian(ish) conference
  • One Sufi retreat
  • One Christian pilgrimage
  • One Unitarian summer school
  • One minister's conference

Plus I need to:

  • Write one paper on Unitarianism and Hinduism
  • Chase up the copyright on my book
  • And if I have time, start on my dissertation

And:

  • Take driving lessons
  • Help make sure there's a Unitarian presence at Manchester Pride
  • And try to visit some friends and family

Plus I got to decide if I want to identify as Christian.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

"Bollocks to Blair" and other worrying things

So the G8 have made some sort of an agreement on climate change. They will 'consider' reducing greenhouse emissions by 50% by 2050. The thing is I had a meeting with someone from Friends of the Earth last night and he told me that the most up-to-date science shows we need to reduce by at least 80% by 2050.

Being positive this country is leading the way with the Climate Change Bill. This could be a good piece of legislation if it's made strong enough.

I'm continually depressed and angry about this country's support for the undemocratic, unislamic and extremist Saudi Arabia and its corrupt arms deals with BAE. How can the government shut down an investigation into corruption in the name of 'security.' Why aren't we more angry about this?

And about the erosion of our freedoms in this country? I'm watching a programme right now about the reductions of freedoms of speech under anti-terrorism legislation. Most worrying (after poor old Walter Wolfgang was manhandled out of the Labour Party conference for saying 'nonsense') is that one person was arrested by the police for having a T-shirt saying 'Bollocks to Blair.' Let's re-cap that: arrested for critising the leader under anti-terror legislation. That's sort of the opposite of democracy isn't it?

It really makes me want to wear a 'Bollocks to Blair' T shirt, though it will only be relevant for another few weeks.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What right do I have to speak?

This is a question that anybody standing up to deliver a sermon must ask themselves. Why am I so clever and wise that I get to talk at you while the rest of you have to stay quiet and listen to me?

I don't think preaching should be, 'You know I was thinking the other day...' nor should it be a journalistic opinion piece on the events of the world. Sure, everyday life and our reflection on it can be revelatory. I completely believe that. But if that is the case then why should only one person be speaking? If our own reflection on life is where authority comes from then we should have something similar to the Quakers when all can stand up and deliver our thoughts. I don't see why two or three years at a theological college should qualify someone to stand up and dominate the conversation for 10, 20, 30 minutes.

See my own life and yours are full of revelation, sure. But there were some folks who really got to some religious truth, they discovered some amazing truths and told other people about it too. Why should we reinvent the wheel looking for revelation only in our own lives when others have found some powerful stuff that might be able to help us?

The only justification I have for standing up and talking at people for 10 (rarely more than 15 for me) minutes is that I have spent a few hours during the week wrestling with some of the Great Tradition. I have also spent (personally) four years full time studying the Great Tradition. Because of the time I have given to this (that other people do not have in their own lives) I can offer a sermon to other people to give them a head start in their own path of faith.

I cannot stand up and speak from my own authority. The only authority I have is as a transmitter of the Great Tradition. As much as I have studied the Great Tradition more than others I have the right to speak to others. But if I'm just offering reflections from my life without reference to the Great Tradition then I have no more right to speak than anyone else.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Double vision

And now for something completely different.

Saturday night. 10pm.

Graham Norton and Andrew Lloyd Webber are on BBC1 and BBC2 at the same time.

How weird is that?



Later: On the plus side, there was a rollerskatting Jesus.

The Unitarian website

This is well overdue, and Scott Wells has got there before me a few weeks ago, but I wanted to comment on the new GA website. Scott can comment more on the technical side than me, so please see his comments.

Sigh.

At GA 05 we were shown a website that looked much more impressive. Apparently this was scrapped because it was too expensive to set up and maintain. Sigh. I can understand this decision. There's always a choice about what to spend money on. And I don't think an amazing website is necessarily the most important thing in the world. But it is important. And with all the hype and a long wait I was hoping for something more. The Methodist Church has just got a new website that I've had a glance at. This includes an online labyrinth and a place for discussion of issues.

OK fine, we're smaller than the Methodists. But I have to say that the wesbite of the National Unitarian Fellowship is better than the GA website. The 300 member (ish I think) postal fellowship with a website run by one volunteer has a better website than the official denomination. Sigh.

Here's a few reasons why:

First, the word Unitarian is much more prominent on the NUF website. You have to really search for it on the GA website. Go to the Methodist website, you see the word 'Methodist', go to the NUF website you see the word 'Unitarian' go to the GA website I see lots of little words, and if my eyes are drawn to any word it is the word 'website.' And call me old-fashioned, but I believe in capital letters. What's wrong with capital letters?

What are the words that explain Unitarianism on this website?



WE BELIEVE THAT:
– everyone has the right to seek truth and meaning for themselves.
– the fundamental tools for doing this are your own life experience, your reflection upon it, your intuitive understanding and the promptings of your own conscience.
– the best setting for this is a community that welcomes you for who you are, complete with your beliefs, doubts and questions.



I don't find that very inspiring.

The NUF is better:



Unitarianism:
is a religious movement in which individuals are free to follow their reason - there is no pressure from creed or scripture;
grew out of Christianity and sees Jesus as a man to be followed not a god to be worshipped;
is open to change in the light of new thought and discoveries.

Unitarians:
aim to understand, accept and respect each other. We affirm the essential unity of humankind and its interdependence with all life on our planet. We seek a spiritual and moral framework of love, tolerance and justice for our lives.



It's better, but it's not the words I would use. The words on the GA website just don't do it for me, as a 25 year-old. I don't necessarily represent Generation X or Y or the unchurched but I think I have a greater sense of what is missionally appropriate than some, and it's not those words.

Compare the words to these words describing a conference I'm going to next month:



A new and progressive spirituality is emerging across and beyond different religious traditions. It emphasises that God is present in the unfolding cosmos, that nature is sacred, that we are part of the wonder of creation and that human experience and diversity are to be valued. The inspiration drawn from this sense of connectedness, provides the impetus for us to act for social justice and sustainable lifestyles.



Now doesn't that sound sexier? More exciting? More something you'd wanna say 'yes' to? Fine if we can't afford a swish website. But can we not afford the time and energy to think about the words on our website? That doesn't require money or technical know-how. It does require thought and passion. Are we low on that? Wouldn't a 'new' website suggest that we would do that? Sigh.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Me and Jesus: Episode 4

Here's my methodology for my religious search:

1. I'm doing a Jefferson and cutting and pasting the Gospels (much easier on a computer). I'm not deleting anything yet. I'm just starting with what I get - the Golden Rule and then building up from there. One step at a time.

2. I'm looking for what others have written. So far I have found

This from Peacebang (Victoria Weinstein)

And this from Philocrites (Chris Walton)

Worth reading.

Me and Jesus: Episode 3

This morning in bed I read Matthew chapter 22.

First there is a parable about a king inviting people to a feast, the respectable people won't come so the servant invites any old person who happens to be in the street. I sort of get that, the last will be first, the priority of outcasts and stuff. Then one of them gets thrown out because he's not wearing the right clothes. And there's 'weeping and gnashing of teeth.' I don't like it when there's weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus seems to be scaring people to do stuff, which I don't like. Plus I don't really understand what not wearing the right clothes at the feast is supposed to mean. I don't get it.

Pay to the emperor what belongs to the emperor, give to God what belongs to God. I think I get that.

Some theological argument about resurrection. Who cares?

The greatest commandments are love to God and neighbour. I agree with that.

An argument about whether the Messiah is David's descendant. Jesus says he isn't. I think that comes from Mark who insists Jesus is the Messiah but doesn't say that he's a descendant of David. This is carried across to Matthew, even though Matthew says Jesus is a descendant of David. But it brings up the question of whether Jesus thought he was the Messiah, and what does that mean?



So from five distinct teachings in one chapter: two seem irrelevant, one I don't really understand, one I think I understand and agree with and one I definitely agree with.

Now does this make me a Christian or not? I find it difficult to claim with integrity that I'm a Christian just because I believe in the love to God and neighbour bit. That's only a minority of this one chapter. The tax question I think I'm OK with. I find questions about resurrection and Messiah-ship entirely irrelevant. And then there's confusing nasty bits.

Now, I could claim that some of the bits I don't like are added by other authors and didn't come from the lips of Jesus. But then that feels a bit like wishful thinking, how do you know you're not just shaping Jesus in your own image if you do that?

Let me say again: I'm happy to be a theistic biblical Abrahamic Unitarian who gets a great deal from the teaching of Jesus. But if I neither believe in the orthodox doctrines of 'Christianity' nor agree with central teachings of Jesus, then how can I be a Christian?

That's the issue I suppose: what is central to Jesus and what is peripheral? What is permanent and what is transient? What is the heart of the Gospel? Even Jesus himself didn't get all of the periphery of the Gospel worked out, but did he get the heart of the Gospel?

Let's say there's this thing called 'the Gospel'. The Gospel is what is religiously good and true. No one has a perfect sense of what the Gospel is. Some people have a better sense than others. The question then is: is my sense of what the Gospel is centrally about the same as Jesus' sense of what the Gospel is centrally about? If it is then perhaps I could be said to be a Christian in the sense of following the same path as Jesus.