Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Oh dear



Hilarious in a scary way.

Here's my philosophical musing to jusify including this on here, as I like to think of this blog as intellectual-like.

A perfect example of postmoderism when she says "it's obviously a difference of opinion" when its not, it's maths and it's objectively either true or not true. This is one sense in which I'm not postmodern in believing in such a thing as verifiable truth, not everything can be boiled down to a difference of opinion.

There see, clever.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Salvation is Freedom

One of my theological interests in the last few years has been developing an understanding of salvation that is useful for thinking about the purpose and mission of a Unitarian congregation.

It has occured to me recently that one good way for us to think about salvation is to return to that age-old Unitarian word "freedom."

I think Unitarians have always been striving for freedom. Firstly (for the first Unitarian pioneers) freedom to think for oneself and question inherited orthodoxy; secondly (after an established Unitarian community exists) political freedom for minority religions to live in the state free from oppression, persecution and discrimination; thirdly (within the mature Unitarian community) freedom for the individual to come to their own beliefs within a creedless community.

All fine so far. However I think we often replace one set of chains with another. We become free from one thing and in the process bind ourselves in slavery to something else. Unitarians have worked very hard to free themselves from the chains of orthodoxy and creed, from narrow binding beliefs, and yet in the process what have we become chained to? The chains of the fashions of spiritual fads, the chains of a left-liberal political agenda, the chains of individualism, the chains of our own egos, the chains of all the constructions we have built in our minds about how the world is, and what the purpose of life is.

Not that these things are all bad, but they are new orthodoxies we fall in to, unthinkly.

To be free from these orthodoxies is much harder, which is why most of us don't manage it, leaving most Unitarian communities unable to grow and evolve, stuck in a kind of immaturity.

To be free from these chains involves spiritual practice. It involves getting rid of the words, the constructions, the creeds, the orthodoxies and confronting Reality as it really is. It means we don't replace the old words with new words, or our own individually constructed words (as if that is the height of spiritual attainment to be able to articulate a credo) rather we move into the silence beyond words. The revelation beyond words. The God beyond God. The Really Real experienced raw beyond our constructions.

That's what I'd call salvation, though liberation might be a better word. Lots of traditions tell us how to get there. I would like to see our communities functioning with this as their aim.

"Where the Spirit of God is, there is freedom."

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Crisis of Ministry

I'm begininng to think we are in period of crisis for the trained Ministry in the Unitarian community in the UK.

I'm not talking about the fact that many ministers are retiring, and there's not enough left to replace them (although that is a relevant consideration). What I'm talking about is a crisis of identity.

Many professional Ministers seem quite concerned about "anti-clericalism" in the denomination and the blurring of lines between Ministers and the various forms of "lay" leadership. Whereas some Unitarians see it as undemocratic that Ministers get one vote at general assembly while congregations get one vote per 30 members, which leads some to calculate an algebra of 1 Minister = 30 lay people.

This tension builds up to an outburst here and there in a way that disturbs me.

A while ago I heard that the next Annual Meetings will have the theme of "Valuing Ministers" but I haven't heard anything about it recently. And I can't remember if it was "valuing ministers" or "valuing ministry" and we always get tied on knots over such definitions. The "future ministry" project is still looking at all these questions - and I hope manages to come out with something useful soon.

What I'd like to suggest is that this crisis is, first and foremost, an issue of theology. Unfortunately theology is often the last thing we look at when we approach these kinds of questions.

We've rather backed ourselves into a corner over this one. We don't really know what ministry is anymore. We have never had a sacramental model of ministry - believing in a priesthood specially commisioned to perform certain rites. But the protestant model doesn't really hold for us any more either. Do we believe in an educated and/or spiritually gifted clergy with the gift of interpreting scripture and proclaiming and teaching the Word of God? Well, no. Because we no longer hold to that model of revelation and gospel.

The American Unitarian Universalists have still managed to hold on to the model of educated clergy, not so much with the ability to interpret scripture, but the ability to give well-thought-out essays on political issues, sociology, culture and religion. And in the American educational system Ministers have a graduate-professional degree - something we don't exactly have in this country to the same degree.

So what is the purpose of our professional Ministry? What is it and what does it do?

Well, first let me say that I am a Quaker-Anabaptist-Unitarian. I have absolutely no time for the idea of priesthood. I don't believe that Unitarian ministers should wear special clerical garb, have speical titles, nor advertise their degrees after their name. We are a community that believes in radical equality, in democracy and congregationalism. We need to proclaim and practice a priesthood and a prophethood of all members that rejects the idea of a "more religious" class of people that does our religion for us. Spiritual hierarchy is unchristian and needs to named as such.

So what is a Unitarian Minister?
Someone who has the ability, calling and education to lead, and coordinate the ministry of a congregation;
Someone who is formally accountable (and ultimately sackable) by the congregation and denomination;
Someone who's gifts and abilities have been tested and confirmed at a local and national level;
Someone who is able to give more of their time to ministry than most members are able to do.

So here are my proposals for us then:
Ministry training needs to be tough: at least three years except in exceptional circumstances, and producing theologically, spiritually and psychologically articulate people;
Ministers need to always be involved in continuing education and training
Only Ministers actively serving a congregation should get a vote at the Annual Meetings
No ordination - we should not re-introduce ordination

In other words the response to anti-clericalism is not to build-in articifical defences such as ordination and the defence of certain priveleges and "honours" - rather the response is for Ministry to get better, which is primarily an issue of education and spiritual development.