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Showing posts from 2019

Seeking paradise in Cardiff in 2019

When I started my work in Cardiff in 2018  I really had a blank slate. I knew that my job was to be present in Cardiff and to see what happened. As I look back at 2019 I can see the work coming into sharper focus, but it is still early days. But I'm much clearer about what my work is. My work is to find places where community, spirituality, and activism are happening, and to join in the work others are doing towards promoting community, spirituality, and activism. Plus, to find the spaces where community, spirituality, and activism intersect , and to nurture those spaces. I'm also much clearer about where my work is. It is, primarily, in Riverside, a small multicultural neighbourhood, nestled next to the city centre, beneath the shadow of the Principality Stadium. I do get a sense of the work getting smaller and smaller, more and more concentrated on just a few streets, and that seems really important. Specifically what has developed for me in 2019 is a

Things are so urgent - we're going to have to slow down

(EDIT: January 2020. Since writing this I realised I got the phrase "things are so urgent, so let us slow down" from philosopher Bayo Akomolafe . I must have heard the words, thought about them, then decided to write my own thoughts on this, forgetting what started the process. But I'm happy to acknowledge my indebtedness to Bayo Akomalafe, and I encourage you to go and look up his stuff, because it's very good) We are in an age of urgency. Many people, myself included, have talked about how urgent the climate crisis is. We have twelve years, or eleven years, or two years on some estimations, to avoid a climate crisis that will kill millions. Unless government policy changes right now we will be heading to a disaster. Given that, it's completely understandable that climate activists are operating out of a sense of urgency. We need the government to act now and we will keep acting now until they do. This has made Extinction Rebellion, in my experience, into a v

God is a church growth principle

Depending on where you're coming from this might be blindingly obvious or something you've never thought about before. But here's what I want to say: one of the strongest predictors of whether a church will grow or not is simply whether that church believes and acts like God is real. God is a church growth principle. This is something liberals don't seem to get. Liberals look at growing Evangelical charismatic churches and they say, “those churches grow because they have modern music” or “those churches grow because they're telling people they will go to hell if they don't join” or “those churches grow because they give people simple answers”. There might be some truth in all those ideas, but we often miss out the most important one – those churches grow because they believe in God. What got me thinking about this was research into what matters to people when they become Christians. The book Finding Faith Today (1992) by John Finney researched 500 people w

Protest and pain

What is the relationship of protest to pain? So often protest is a response to pain. A people feel the pain of oppression, the pain of legal and cultural discrimination and they protest against it. Political protest, political activism is a protest against the pain of a system. Things get a bit more problematic when protest is not connected to pain. The great problem with environmental protest movements is that they are often disconnected from the experience of pain. In theory protest movements like Extinction Rebellion are responding to the pain of future generations, the pain of animals, the pain of the global south, but the protest is not a response to the personal experience of pain. Often privileged white westerns (like myself) do not experience in an everyday way the reality of this pain, and so protest is much more an expression of privilege. I go on protests, not for my own survival, but because I choose to, because I want to, because I have the privileged ability to do s

We're going to need God

"We believe that the future of Unitarian Universalism depends upon becoming a transformative spiritual force committed to leading people out of the wilderness of individual prosperity and into the joy of communal intimacy and solidarity. This movement begins by reimagining our faith communities as sites of spiritual transformation committed to healing the world rather than as sanctuaries tucked away from it. Only by committing ourselves to a process of deep spiritual conversion will we be capable of resolving the environmental and social collapses occurring all around us... The first step towards a solution is to admit that we are beyond the point of avoiding calamitous climate change... The second step is admitting that we need help. Specifically... humanity needs help from the divine and creative life force that is greater than the selfish interests of our individual egos. Anything shy of this confession will leave us with the illusion that we will somehow, through our own pow

We're going to need each other

What's becoming increasingly clear is that the way we're living in the rich west is not sustainable. We simply cannot go on with the amount of consumption we currently have, constantly buying and throwing away electronic devices, expecting to be able to fly several times a year. This lifestyle is only a few decades old, though it's the logical endpoint of the growth of capitalism and consumerism for centuries, but this system will soon break. It is also not evenly distributed, and that creates problems too. What's the alternative? Let's start with something simple that I heard about on a podcast recently - a culture of borrowing. Say I need an electric drill. So I go out and I buy one, use it, and then put it in a cupboard and it remains unused for three years after that. Wouldn't a better system be one in which I borrow an electric drill when I need one, and then return it, and then someone else borrows it? If I only need something like that once or twice a y

The Universal Love of God

“The message of hope the contemplative offers you... is... that whether you understand or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you, and offers you an understanding and light which are like nothing you ever found in books of head in sermons. The contemplative has nothing to tell you except to reassure you and say that if you dare to penetrate your own silence and risk the sharing of that solitude with the lonely other who seeks God through you, then you will truly recover the light and the capacity to understand what is beyond words and beyond explanations because it is too close to be explained: it is the intimate union in the depths of your own heart, of God's spirit and your own secret inmost self, so that you and He are in all truth One Spirit.” Thomas Merton Each day I find myself more and more rooted in the Good News of Universalism. I have less and less time for clever language and vague affirmations. As I get older, my fait

Climate activism and hypocrisy

In the conversations around climate activism there's often accusations of hypocrisy. I've been trying to think about what this is all about. I think it goes something like this: People think that the message of climate activism to ordinary members of the public is “You're doing terrible things that are destroying the planet, you're a terrible person. We're protesting against you.” Ordinary members of the public, feeling defensive and attacked respond by saying, “Well, you're doing bad things as well.” And then look for things to prove this, find people wearing leather, or eating McDonald's, or using a car or air plane, and then say, “Well you're a hypocrite for attacking me for doing bad things to the planet while you are too.” Of course this is a recipe for no one ever doing anything. So, what do we do about this? Firstly acknowledge that anyone living in society, certainly in the UK, is contributing to the climate crisis. No one is perfect. We

On whiteness and Extinction Rebellion

This is the tweet that encapsulated for many what is wrong with Extinction Rebellion. Someone who was arrested sent flowers to Brixton Police Station, where they had been held, and then released. And someone pointed out that this is a station where black men have died in the cells . But this lovely, we presume white, person was treated well enough at the police station to make them send flowers. I must admit I didn't know about deaths in Brixton Police station. The fact I don't live in London is probably not a good enough reason for this. If I'm brutally honest, I could imagine being the type of person who sent those flowers. I would have been totally ignorant of the wider issues around this. A lot of people I respect are very on board with Extinction Rebellion. A lot of people I respect are very heavily critical of Extinction Rebellion. So I'm writing this, not because I particularly think I have a clever analysis of all this, but because I think it's a press

Why non-violent civil disobedience?

Inevitably there is always a lot of debate about the tactics of Extinction Rebellion. Of course as people concerned about the climate crisis this isn't what we want to be talking about - we want to be talking about the climate crisis and the government's inaction. We want to tell the truth about the mess we're in and for the government to start acting on the emergency. But it is also important to be as clear as possible about the tactics and the reason for them. I think it's important for both members of Extinction Rebellion and for the general public to be as clear as possible about why we do what we do. Non-violent action must be rooted in a spiritual/moral foundation. It is based on the idea that there is right and there is wrong and it is the moral duty of everyone to do right and not to do wrong. Non-violent action is based on the idea that there is a covenant between the citizen and the state, that both have certain rights and responsibilities to each ot

More reflections from my time with Extinction Rebellion in London

I'm back in Cardiff now after a few days with Extinction Rebellion in London . It's all still ongoing, and I find myself with much to think about. In many ways I was really only dipping my toe in this kind of thing. I took part in the Cardiff action in the summer , but this was the first time I had gone to London for an Extinction Rebellion protest. I was apprehensive but I feel much more comfortable doing this kind of thing now. What I'd like to say to anyone curious it that it's totally possible to just turn up, have a look around, be as involved as you want to be. You don't have to be prepared to get arrested, you can just be there. Thousands of people were there, but in some ways I was disappointed by the numbers. It would be a lot more effective if there were like 100,000 people there - the kinds of numbers for a football match. At those numbers the police couldn't do much, the streets couldn't be taken back. People wouldn't have to do a

Dispatch from London International Rebellion

I’m writing this from London on Day 4 of the International Rebellion in October 2019. This is the second major action in London this year from Extinction Rebellion. I haven’t clearly thought out my thoughts so I don’t really know what I’m about to write. I might try to write something clearer later. I suppose I want to start by saying why I’m here. I suppose I’m here primarily because I’m scared. I’m shit scared and the reality of what’s going on in the world is something that I’m constantly grappling with. It’s a year since the IPCC report came out saying we have 12 (now 11) years to avoid disaster. Governments still aren’t acting. I’m scared. There’s a real threat to human civilisation as we know it. And for the most part we’re actively ignoring it. The chant from the youth strikes (though shouted with youthful enthusiasm) still fills me with utter horror: “You’ll die of old age. We will die of climate change.” That’s what our children are saying directly to our faces. T

The intimacy of God

I am an ecumenical and pluralistic type of bloke. I experience profound inspiration and wisdom, not only from a variety of Christians, but also from people of many other faiths, both in my everyday life, and in books. For example, I get a huge amount from listening to Richard Rohr, and would thoroughly recommend you checking him out if you never have. But, with someone like Richard Rohr, I occasionally disagree when he talks about the Trinity. I'm on board with 95% of his teaching, but with this, I'm not. That's OK, of course, I don't expect to agree 100% with anyone on anything. And spiritual practice matters more than doctrine. But I think it is worth putting the alternative viewpoint, because if the alternative viewpoint is not put, people might think there is no alternative viewpoint worth listening to. So I want to spend some time doing something I don't think I've done before in fourteen years on this blog - and that is arguing against the doctrine of

Order, Disorder, Reorder

I've been thinking about a comment I heard recently from Richard Rohr - that we have to go from order to disorder to reorder. This is the spiritual journey. But a lot of us get stuck along the way. Order is the first instinct that everything should be neat, tidy, clear, in proper categories. It is the dualistic thinking that things are right or wrong, true or false; that people are saved or unsaved, included or excluded. A lot of conservative religion gets stuck in the order stage. It rejects any level of nuance, complexity, ambiguity as a sign of "back sliding". And people who think that are right in a sense - if you start to question things, start thinking "does this really make sense?" you may well end up leaving conservative religion as it will become too constrictive for you. You begin to pick the order apart. You start to do this because you want order, but your questions don't lead to clear answers, but just to more questions. It may start with a

Thomas Merton - Letter to a Young Activist

Reflections on the Extinction Rebellion Summer Uprising in Cardiff

July saw a new wave of action from Extinction Rebellion, after the successful rebellion that happened in London in April. The idea was that the action in London would “mushroom” in four other cities as well as more action happening in London (this time concentrated on the Royal Courts of Justice). So the Summer Uprising broke out in Cardiff, Bristol, Leeds, and Glasgow as well. I've been involved in Extinction Rebellion since last year, but I've not been heavily involved, and I wasn't there in London in April. Although I've taken part in events, discussions, walks, cycles, political lobbying with Extinction Rebellion, this was the first time I was involved with non-violent direct action, which is the essence of what Extinction Rebellion is about. I've become more and more convinced of the need for non-violent direct action. We have eleven years to stop catastrophic climate change and the fact is the UK government (along with all the others) is simply not acting.

My Baptism

“What is to prevent me from being baptised?” Acts of the Apostles, 8:36 I spoke these words at Bank Street Unitarian Chapel, Bolton, 22 nd April 2012: It is a great joy and privilege and responsibility to stand here week by week and to offer you, in my words, some guidance in your spiritual journeys. It’s a responsibility that cannot be taken seriously enough. It is my job, as I understand it, to study the great spiritual traditions of humanity, to pass those traditions through the fire of my own spiritual life, and then to pass on to you a small pearl of wisdom that hopefully you will find of some use. It is my job, as I understand it, to speak to the spiritual condition of our community, and to point to the Sacred, and invite us all to allow that vision of the Sacred to guide us. My job is not to simply pass on my own thoughts, my own agendas, my own opinions. Nevertheless, as I’ve laid down this rule, I’m going to bend it this morning and speak to you q