Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Don't forget to vote

... In the English and Welsh local elections tomorrow. I'm in danger of forgetting as I'm off to London for my final interview to be accepted on the Roll of Ministers. I must try to go to the polling station before I leave.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Plumbing the depths

"The old watchwords of liberalism – freedom, reason and tolerance – worthy though they be, are simply not catching the imagination of the contemporary world. They describe a process for approaching the religious depths, but they testify to no intimate acquaintance with the depths themselves. If we are ever to speak to a new age, we must supplement our seeking with some profound religious findings."

O. Eugene Pickett

OK, ya'll have helped me articulate what it is I really want to say.

The foundation, and central purpose, of religion is for people to go deeper within themselves. To live a transformed life through our acquaintance with the religious depths. Committing to this process involves learning to pay attention, to quieten our busyness, to open to something greater than our ordinary selves.

I accept, joyfully, a diversity of experiences and languages in these religious depths. I'm happy for any atheist to join in a Unitarian community dedicated to this purpose. But I'm not prepared to accept that this commitment to the inner journey is optional or unimportant. It is central and necessary.

If someone involved in this journey doesn't want to use the language of traditional religion, and calls themself a religious humanist, then that's fine. But I think I want to challenge humanism to come up with a more articulate language to deal with these things, and to be able to dialogue with other languages around these things. I don't think humanism has such a language at the moment and so where it predominates I think it tends to create communities that are unable to deal with the religious depths.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

What does it mean to be non-creedal?

Steve Caldwell says

"The problem here isn't humanism vs. theism for theist Unitarian Universalists -- it's the non-creedal nature of Unitarian Universalism"

This is a good point. We need to think much more deeply about what it means to be a non-creedal religion.

The first thing I want to say is that there is more than one possible understanding of non-creedalism. The Disciples of Christ are a non-creedal church, they say here:

"Freedom of belief. Disciples are called together around one essential of faith: belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Persons are free to follow their consciences guided by the Bible, the Holy Spirit study and prayer, and are expected to extend that freedom to others."

Quakers are also non-creedal and say here:

Quakers have no set creed or dogma - that means we do not have any declared statements which you have to believe to be a Quaker. There are, however, some commonly held views which unite us. One accepted view is that there is that of God (or the spirit or divine) in all people and that each human being is of unique worth. This shared belief leads Quakers to value all people and to oppose anything that harms or threatens them.

So there is more than one way to be creedless.

What I want to say is that we are a creedless religion. And that word "religion" has to have some meaning. And it has to be something more than ethics and politics.

My answer to this question is that we gather around the Sacred - "that transcending mystery and wonder" but accept that it is mysterious. It cannot be contained in a creed or any static form.

Humanism, as I understand it, refuses to engage with the Sacred. So I don't see how it fits. If it does fit within this understanding, then I don't really understand what it is.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Is humanism theologically tolerant?

OK, well this might be controversial, but I feel the need to say it.

Is humanist tolerant? Please note I'm not asking about humanism within society. Clearly humanism certainly believes in tolerance within society and I'm forever glad they are often the only people in the media calling for a separation of church and state.

No, what I'm talking about is descriptions of Unitarianism like this and adverts like this, discussed at Peacebang here, which say that humanism is one option, Christianity is another, God is one option among many.

The trouble is, humanism, by definition is theologically opposed to theism. This is very different from the relationship between Christianity and Buddhism. These two traditions may be vastly different, but Buddhism, by definition, is not opposed to Christianity, and Christianity, by definition, is not opposed to Buddhism. But humanism is consciously defined in opposition to Christianity and theism.

So to say that humanism and theism can both be in the same religion is indeed to make God optional. The problem is if God is optional God is not God. You can't have both humanism and theism in the same religion, one will always dominate. The problem with this kind of thing is that it says to people who are theists, "you are welcome here as long as you change your definition of God. As long as you admit God is not important." But what's the point in being a theist if you believe God is not important? What's the point in going to church if it's a place that insists that your ultimate concern is not ultimate? How does that grow your faith?

God is a transforming life-changing reality, not an idea for a discussion group. I go to church to grow in my walk with God. But if my church says "you can believe in God, but only if you think of God as an optional idea, and you admit that it makes no difference if you are in relationship with God or not" then I have a problem. Because God does matter, God is the ultimate orientation of my life. I cannot with integrity say that God is an optional extra, that is asking me to lie about the truths I have found in my spiritual walk.

Of course the word "God" is just a word that points to a reality, which, while transforming, is still deeply mysterious. I am prepared to accept that. I am prepared to go along with people who have a different understanding or language about God. But only by saying "what I call God you may call by a different name and understand in a different way" but never by saying "what I call God is something that doesn't really matter anyway."

I hope I have expressed myself clearly, forgive me if I have not.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Moving to Bolton

I've been putting off reporting this on here because I wanted to make sure I'd contacted people before hand. If you do know me in real life, and this is the first you're hearing about this, accept my apologies for not telling you earlier.
I've been appointed as minister of Bank Street Unitarian Chapel in the town centre of Bolton (just outside Manchester for Americans and southerners with no sense of geography). I start in September. It's a good congregation and there's lots of potential for some interesting ministry.
I hope it goes without saying that the opinions expressed in this blog will remain mine, and not the congregation's in any way. I was almost tempted not to even reveal the name of the congregation on here but this is really silly because if you're a British Unitarian you'll either already know or be able to look it up very easily, and if you're not you could still look it up easily in a Google search.
I'm really happy for the next step to be sorted and something I don't have to worry about anymore. Just need to finish my studies now.

Official Unitarian Annual Meetings outcomes

Bless them, Essex Hall staff have actually got up the results of the Annual Meetings soon afterwards. Good good.

So have a look at the Resolutions, Growth and Renewal Day outcomes and the Anniversary Sermon. Worth having a look at.

Friday, April 04, 2008

More Annual Meetings coverage

Eric Cherry of the UUA International Office has written some more coverage about the British Annual Meetings. More formal and official than mine. Gives a slightly different picture.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Announcing.... The Unitarian Life

Well, it's been a long time coming, but my book, the Unitarian Life, has finally been published. The first 50 copies made it to the Annual Meetings and sold out, which I'm really happy about.

What is it? Well, it's an anthology of short texts 99% of which were written by Unitarians, Universalists or Unitarian Universalists. It's not a historical book, although it does contain writing going back five centuries. It's a book that helps people to answer the question - what is Unitarianism? - not by giving one answer, but by giving 300 answers! And it answers the question not only by trying to define Unitarianism but also by talking about Unitarian attitudes to sex, death, God, friendship, justice, love, spirituality, peace - in other words, life.

It comes out of a conviction that Unitarianism is not just a blank slate onto which we can paint anything, but a living, breathing spiritual tradition that it worth celebrating.

You can get copies from Essex Hall, Amazon UK and possibly Amazon USA. I would hope we'll be able to get some over to the UUA Bookstore as well, but I'll have to chase that one up.