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Showing posts from 2020

What the pandemic tells us about the politics of the climate crisis

In many ways the 2020 pandemic is a rehearsal of the climate crisis. Indeed in many ways the 2020 pandemic is the first part of the climate crisis, the first of many global crises that are coming our way, all linked to the twenty-first century climate and ecological emergency that is upon us. And so this crisis can teach us something about the crises to come. Specifically I think it can teach us something about how politically right wing governments react to crises like this, and what that means for climate activism. The UK/English Conservative government have failed us repeatedly in this crisis, and that failure is not just about incompetence, it is very much about ideology. The fact that the same mistake has been made twice , in both the spring and the autumn, of going into a lockdown much too late, shows us the basic response to crises is to do nothing. Again this is not a matter of incompetence but ideology. The right wing ideology is to do nothing that disrupts the "normal&qu

Christendom IS White Supremacy

I read a lot of books about how Christian churches should radically change, embrace the postmodern reality, get back to biblical principles, abandon old models. A lot of these books will criticise the old models under the label of "Christendom" - that European and colonial idea where power, culture, and religion are all aligned. In Christendom everyone is assumed to be Christian by virtue of being in a "Christian country" and the church is in the centre of power, resulting in, in some cases, state churches such as the Church of England.  I agree with these criticism, but I feel like the whiteness of so many of these writers blinds them to the true sins of Christendom. It is not simply that Christendom is an old model, and we need to move on to something more relevant. I feel like sometimes that's what these writers are saying. Sometimes it feels like the criticism doesn't add up to anything more than "this isn't fashionable anymore".  But it

The Youness of the Universe

Image:  Karl Stapelfe/ESA/Hubble, NASA This is the fundamental insight of religious theism: that the reality we encounter when we encounter reality most powerfully is a Someone, is a "you". This is the insight that the universe has a quality of "youness" to it.  While other religious (or nonreligious) approaches may encounter an "it", the theist encounters a "you" - a "you" that we label as "God". There seems to be no way to judge the truth of an approach that finds a "you" versus an approach that finds an "it", and that might be a very fruitless thing to try to establish. But I think it helps to clarify this difference. What theistic practices of prayer are designed to do is to open you up to a real-life encounter with the "you" - the "you" that is always and everywhere present and always available, and always seeking relationship. The sure sense of faith that theists rest upon is not s

A Method of Contemplation

There are of course many ways to practice meditative contemplative prayer. Many people want to jump straight into silence and mindfulness, but for most people this becomes dry and feels like hard work after a while (if it doesn't for you, great! But I want to talk to those who do struggle). So often there is a need for some scaffolding, some structure of words to hold the deeper silence. I use prayer books by John Philip Newell, who for me offers a poetic language that opens up the heart. Using reading and chanting as punctuation, I use a fourfold method of prayer: intention, compassion, meditation, and communion.  This is a form of prayer that last for about an hour: Begin with speaking a written prayer and/or chanting. Intention : Then five or ten minutes of silence in which you express a desire, an intention, to enter into deeper prayer. You try to open yourself to the divine, but you are also full of forgiveness and love for yourself as your mind wanders. You let is wander if i

The revolution that nearly happened

  I recently found something out that astounded me. Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton, and Thich Nhat Hanh were supposed to go on a retreat together  in 1968. This was scheduled and the only reason it didn't happen was the assassination of King on 4th April 1968. This astounds me because I feel like that retreat might just have been the start of a revolution, a spiritual revolution that might have transformed the world.  Here were three men: one white, one Asian, one black; one Protestant, one Catholic, one Zen Buddhist; two American, one Vietnamese (at the height of the American-Vietnamese war). Sure, they didn't represent all the diversity that exists on earth (they were all men for a start) but there was significant diversity there. But also significant unity. Here were three men all committed to radical activism as well as spiritual practice - to a vision of spiritual activism that I genuinely feel could have transformed the world (and might still do). These were three men

I'm really tired of negativity

I've got to the stage when I'm really tired of the negativity of liberal religion, defining itself over and against conservative religion. It often feels to me like liberal religion has got nothing to say apart from saying that it is not conservative religion, and that conservative religion is wrong. For a while this is refreshing. When you move from conservative religion to liberal religion you feel reassured by this. I moved from, well let's say orthodox religion, not necessarily conservative, to liberalism and I needed to be affirmed in that movement.  But after years (or decades) of this, you look around and ask, "Yeah, but is there anything more to say? To learn? To do? To grow into?" This came to my mind recently when I was listening to a liberal religious podcast. Someone had written in to say, "I didn't really grow up with any religion. My question is - how can I get to know God?" And the answer of the podcasters was, "Well conservative

My current thoughts about Extinction Rebellion

Obviously there's not been much public activism in the last few months in lockdown. But I'm beginning now to think a bit more about Extinction Rebellion, what I think about it, how I relate to it, and where it's going. I think a lot about this article that states the tactics of Extinction Rebellion are flawed. Since the 2019 election that seems clearer than ever to me. The social science behind XR's strategy is that if enough disruption is caused, if enough nonviolent direct action happens, it changes government policy. But that article shows how that is just not true. The social science research supposedly behind XR's tactics show what mass nonviolent movements can and cannot achieve. They can  achieve the downfall of dictators. They can achieve change in one particular area of government policy if governments become embarrassed that the public mood has gone against them. This means that the current Black Lives Matter protests in the States do have a good

The Possibilities of a Contemplative Universalism

"This was the attraction, the power, which inwardly affected me, to desire reward for my preaching, in these last days of great tribulation. And my reward is this: that each father and mother of a family, with all the children and domestics, may devote an hour of every day to the Lord our God, in assembling in stillness, side by side, as in the presence of God, and in humility waiting on the inward illumination of the spirit of grace in their hearts." George de Benneville (1703-1793) We often ask, "are church buildings necessary?" and in 2020 we have been given a definite answer: no, they are not. At least in extreme circumstances, they are not. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying all churches would be better off without buildings, I'm saying it is very clear today that the core of faith practice is something other than "going to church" because we haven't "gone to church" in four months and we're still "doing faith&quo

We are being led by a deadly political ideology

(Edited on 30th July 2020 to add Newsnight video) What's becoming clearer and clearer to me is that we're being led by a UK government which has a deadly ideology. Of course that was always true because of the government's criminal inaction on the climate crisis, but the corona virus pandemic has shown it to be true on a smaller scale of this particular crisis. I think this video of an interview with government adviser John Edmunds is really instructive. I think the key part of the interview is from about minute 9. At 13.40 he says, "It is hard to imagine we would do that [take restrictive measures] here in the UK.... I don't think anybody looked at it [lockdown]... it was difficult to imagine just how easy the lockdown was ... that people actually would go along with it." In other words we didn't go into lockdown as early as we should have done (which most people seem to be saying now would have cut our death toll by a half, if not three quart

If we want to decolonise the world

If we want to decolonise the world, we must decolonise our nations. If we want to decolonise the nations, we must decolonise our cities. If we want to decolonise the cities, we must decolonise our neighbourhoods. If we want to decolonise our neighbourhoods, we must decolonise our homes. If we want to decolonise our homes, we must decolonise our hearts. (With apologies to Lau Tzu's (apparent) words)

Where are our rituals of mourning?

This time is devastating. In the last few months we've seen at least 40,000 people, and probably closer to 60,000 killed by a deadly virus in the UK. Sixty thousand grieving families. Lives torn from this earth. And those who are mourning are unable to receive a comforting hand on a shoulder, unable to have a hug in their grief. This is awful. But what is almost as awful is the ludicrously blasé, flippant attitude through all this that has come from government, media, and (by extension, it feels) society in general. Where is our grief? Where are out rituals of mourning? Where are our sackcloth and ashes? The Prime Minister should be appearing on TV every night beating his chest and saying, "This is terrible, I'm so so sorry." Instead throughout all of this we've had this "ra ra, cheer up, let's get the pubs open" bullshit from the beginning from this UK government. It's totally sickening. It's a total denial of an unfolding tragedy

The Gospel of John is Irredeemably Antisemitic

Christianity started as a Jewish sect. Despite this, or in some ways because of this, there is a strongly anti-Jewish message very early on in Christian history. What started as a debate between different Jewish communities became something different as Christianity became Gentile, and then became an imperial religion with considerably power. How Christianity shaped European antisemitism is something that Christians needed to seriously address after the Holocaust, and to a certain extent have done, though not nearly enough. In looking at this many Christians have noted how the Gospel of John has particularly troublesome phrases. There's constant negative references to "the Jews". Even though Jesus and the disciples are Jewish, the phrase "the Jews" always refers to those against Jesus. As I say, this insight is in no way original to me. But I think I've come to the view that the problem is much much worse than most Christians want to admit, because t

Black Lives Matter

I don't have anything super original or profound to say about the murder of George Floyd and the eruption of Black Lives Matter protests in the States and in the UK, other than the fact that I support Black Lives Matter. That's OK I think. This doesn't need to be a time for white liberals to show off, just a time to show up. I'm trying to look out for resources and writings from black people to get better informed, especially from a British perspective. This is a time to listen. Cornel West is a pretty good place to start so I'll just leave this here. It's amazing.

Seeking Paradise Podcast

In this time of lockdown, with doing online worship at Cardiff Unitarians Undodiaid Caerdydd, it's becoming much easier to record worship. So I've decided to start putting the audio of sermons/reflections out as podcasts.  It's fairly simple and lo-tech for now, I'm sure it will evolve and get a bit better quality in time. I may use the podcast feed for other things in the fullness of time.  If you're interested search for "seeking paradise" on iTunes or Spotify or you can download from here: . 

Giving aid - in the name of God - or not?

Like many people did when this crisis started I joined my local mutual aid group. I got a load of leaflets with my name and phone number on and I posted them through the doors of a couple of streets (working with others in the group to make sure every street in our neighbourhood was covered). I spent an hour posting them through letter boxes, talked to one neighbour in person (from a distance) and I knew I had done my bit. In fact I've only been called upon to collect someone's prescription once. So it's all been very easy, but it's good to know that these leaflets have gone out (I think I'm right to say) to every home in Canton and Riverside. Then recently I saw another leaflet that someone had taken a picture of and posted on Facebook. This was a very similar leaflet written by a local church, saying much the same. The church (as far as I know) hadn't coordinated with the local mutual aid group, but had taken it upon themselves to do it independently.

Seeking Paradise - Stephen Lingwood interviewed by Jo James

Thanks to Jo James for interviewing me for my book launch last month. Here's the video.

On being useless

So I've been thinking about being useless. I think a lot of us feel useless, and you know what? Yeah, we are useless, and that's totally OK.

Online Launch of Seeking Paradise

Part of 'Being Together: A Three Day Virtual Gathering for Spiritual Connection' (7-9 April 2020) Facebook: Website: Join Jo James in conversation with author and pioneer minister Stephen Lingwood to discuss his new book 'Seeking Paradise: A Unitarian Mission for Our Times'. What might the future of the Unitarian movement look like? That depends, this book argues, on how its members envision – and enact – its mission. Stephen Lingwood urges that Unitarians can evangelise, with a message of hope for a “beloved community” in this world: the Paradise of the title. He proposes the possibility of a mission to revive Unitarianism not only numerically, but also spiritually. He takes the reader through the progressive stages of this idea and illustrates theory with examples from his practical experience as a Unitarian minister. He also presents new ways of thinking about the Kingdom

ANNOUNCING: Seeking Paradise: A Unitarian Mission for Our Times

So, I've written a book! It's actually something I've been working on for a long time, on and off, (like more than ten years), so I'm really happy to finally get it out there. It will be officially launched at the Unitarian Annual Meetings in Birmingham in April. It is an exploration of whether and how a liberal and pluralistic church can do evangelism. It explores a Unitarian theology that is committed to a self-transcending sense of mission. I argue that we cannot try to grow a church only because we are seeking our own institutional survival. We must have a sense of overarching mission that is cosmic and theological. That mission, I argue, is seeking paradise, seeking a beloved community on earth where we overcome alienation with ourselves, our neighbours, the earth, and God. We then take that mission of seeking paradise into our neighbourhoods and practice dialogue, solidarity, and connection to make paradise real. It's a journey through theology, history

Multi-Faith Prayer Vigil for Climate Justice in Cardiff

Fe’ch gwahoddir i wylnos gweddi a myfyrdod y tu allan i’r Senedd, Caerdydd ar brynhawniau Gwener dros y Grawys. Gwener 28ain Chwefror tan Gwener 10fed Ebrill, rhwng 2yp a 6yp Byddwn yn cofleidio’r bobl a’r blaned i’n calonnau ac yn gweddïo i’r ddynoliaeth fagu’r ddoethineb a’r cryfder i oroesi’r argyfwng hinsawdd. Ar y cyd ag eraill yn gweddïo y tu allan i San Steffan, rydym yn gweddïo am drawsffurfio ein gwleidyddiaeth a chreu byd ôl-carbon llawn cyfiawnder a thangnefedd. Mae croeso i bobl o bob ffydd a heb ffydd i ddod ar un neu fwy o’r dyddiau Gwener. Fe fydd yna gyfnodau tawel, ac amserau ar gyfer siarad/canu/defodau. Os hoffech offrymu gweddi, arwain myfyrdod, cân, côr, araith byr, defod, neu unrhyw beth arall addas, rhowch wybod i ni. Neu dewch atom beth bynnag. Mae hwn yn achlysur heddychlon, di-drais a gweddigar, wedi’i drefnu gan Christian Climate Action Cymru, ond yn agored i bob ffydd ac agwedd ysbrydol. YOU are invited to a multi-faith prayer and meditation vigil o

Christhood of Every Person

One afternoon a woman was gardening in her front garden, when she was approached by a stranger. "Excuse me," he said, "I'm thinking of buying the house for sale in this street, I was just wondering if you could tell me - what are the neighbours like around here?" The woman stood up, stretched, and then said, "Well, tell me, what are your neighbours like where you live now?" "Oh, they're terrible people," he said, "Rude, unfriendly, selfish, trouble-makers, I hate them." "Well, I think you'll find the people around here are much the same," replied the woman. The man thanked her, and then left, and she went back to her gardening. An hour later she was interrupted again by a different man. "Excuse me," he said, "I'm thinking of buying the house for sale in this street, I was just wondering if you could tell me - what are the neighbours like around here?" Again, she asked, "Well, t