Thursday, 23 December 2010
Snow and ice doesn`t generally behave as we would want it; on tap, so to speak, and dolloped in just the right place for just the right space of time. Wouldn`t it be wonderful if it fell say on our gardens, fields and woodlands, but left our roads, railways and airports free of the nuisance, irritation and dangers that we`ve all experienced in the last week ?
Children of course love the stuff. Not for them the worry or responsibility that eventually fills the adult mind when a journey or burst pipe has to be coped with. More often than not they simply see the uncluttered possibilities of joy and opportunity. Life is exciting, the glass half-full.
Isn`t this in a sense what the Christmas story is about ? Challenges will abound, and often from the most unexpected sources. But whatever one`s beliefs, convictions or prejudices, the events of 2000 years ago remind that life can be about hope, peace and love, even when confronted with the most difficult of circumstances.With the unfettered optimism that characterised our youth and a desire to treat others with kindness and love, we too can be touched by the blessings of this story.
New Meeting members Kate and George are currently spending their Christmas in Melbourne. They tell us that the christmas service at Melbourne Unitarian Church ended with the the following wonderful thought; " life is not how you survive the storm but how you dance in the snow" . Well the white stuff, just like life, doesn`t travel in straight-lines, but may your `dancing` to the the message of Christmas give you strength to cope with the `corners`, whatever they may be.
Everyone at New Meeting House joins me in wishing you ,your friend`s, your family, both here and across the world, a healthy, happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year.
Thursday, 16 December 2010
Sunday, 12 December 2010
Saturday, 4 December 2010
The inconsistencies in the New Testament are most easily demonstrated in the accounts of Matthew and of Luke. Where the material has not been taken from Mark, these two accounts differ widely. The simplest inconsistencies to demonstrate are those of the genealogies and the infancy accounts.
The genealogies of Jesus, showing the descent of Jesus from David are different in Matthew and Luke. The genealogies have been the subject of much discussion and commentary. Several attempts have been made in the past to try and resolve the accounts, the most well known being that of Annias of Viterbo at the turn of the 16th Century.
Annias suggested that the account in Luke was the genealogy of Mary. The suggestion is rejected by the majority of Biblical scholars as there is nothing to support the claim. Annias used forged document in order to support his claim, which had been rejected by the end of the same century. In addition, the Lukan account contradicts other traditional genealogies for Mary - which have her descended from Nathan, with immediate descendency from Joachim (Heli), Barpanther and Panther (writings of John of Damascus, Justin Martyr & Ignatius).
The accounts of Jesus' birth differ in the locations used within Matthew and Luke. The traditional nativity story mixes these two accounts in an attempt to harmonise them. They are actually two separate accounts making points about Jesus' fulfilment of prior prophecy regarding the messiah. Attempts to reconcile them again skew chronologies and add in further locations that are not in the accounts. Matthew's account highlights Jesus' Davidic descent and kingship. Luke highlights Jesus' message being for the common man.
The account of Matthew is set some ten years prior to the account in Luke. This can be calculated using known historical events.
Matthew includes Herod the Great in the infancy story. Herod died in 4BC, so that account is usually dated at around 6BC.
Luke includes a Roman census in his account. While there was no Empire-wide census at any time, there is a census that took place when Quirinius became governor of Syria. This census took place between 6AD and 7AD.
Hence, approximately ten years lie between the accounts.
Secondly, the locations in the accounts:
Matthew starts his account in Bethlehem, where Joseph has a house and is living with Mary. Once the child is born they continue to live in the house until visited by the Magi. Following the visit, the family flee to Egypt (having been warned of Herod the Great's impending massacre by an angel). They remain in Egypt until told of Herod the Great's death (again by angel). The family return and settle in the town of Nazareth in Galilee.
Luke has Joseph and Mary living in Nazareth to begin with. On hearing of the census they travel to Bethlehem, where Jesus is born (in a stable). The family is visited by shepherds. After eight days, Jesus is circumcised according to the law of Moses. When the time of their purification passes (thirty-three days), the family travel to Jerusalem in order to present Jesus at the temple (again, in accordance with the law). When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth (Luke 2:39). They return directly to Nazareth from Jerusalem.
So, in conclusion, there are inconsistencies. The accounts are different. No manner of mental gymnastics can rationally reconcile the accounts.
Above all: this is only a problem if one subscribes to the doctrine of literal inerrancy that Charles Hodge came up with in his Systematic Theology (1871–1873). For non-literalists, the accounts form two interesting and complimentary accounts of Jesus' birth and life. They complement each other, but definitely contradict each other in places.
Sunday, 28 November 2010
Thursday, 11 November 2010
But, I hear, there's the law of unintended consequences. Arguments have been made that people will resort to crime, as the punishment they'll get for minor offences will equate to the same thing (community service). There's the argument regarding the community service done by the unemployed will put council workers out of work. Personally, I think the benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks. This is a way of getting people doing things in their communities, getting to know people in their communities, working to improve their communities, and so on. We might actually get back the pride of doing work for the community, and see our communities thrive as a result.
I would hope that the policy is thought through, and does not end up being exploitative. Hours of community service should be calculated on at least the minimum wage level equivalent. The proposed 30 hour work placements are just wrong. However, I think we should not be looking on this policy as a punishment, but rather an opportunity to make communities closer. The policy is a chance to regain that pride of earning the money we get, instead of expecting an "entitlement". It's a policy that needs some work, but is a good thing in principle. Here's hoping that the MPs will modify the policy appropriately as it goes through parliament.
Friday, 29 October 2010
Yet it is also Paul, generally showing a very egalitarian attitude throughout his letters, who gets the blame for the main piece of scripture against women teaching in church. Passages like 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 have been used to ban women from the priesthood in the Orthodox churches. At least we have the argument that the Timothy letters are of the pseudepigrapha, written much later in Paul's name. But Corinthians is a letter that scholars agree is written by Paul. So, what did Paul actually think? Is the passage in Corinthians a later addition? Personally, I agree with those who regard this passage in Corinthians (34-35) as a later scribal addition to the text - possibly as a result of a marginal note referencing Timothy being incorporated in the text during copying.
Let's then look at Jesus' mission. In Luke (Luke 8:1-3) states that the Jesus and his disciples were supported financially by a number of women. Jesus addressed women directly in his teaching. He used women as examples of exemplary faith. It was a woman who first saw Jesus after the resurrection and who was sent to spread the message of his rising.
Also, in Luke (Luke 10:38-42), there is an indication of the discipleship of at least one woman - that of Mary, sister of Martha. She sits at the feet of Jesus, listening to his teaching. To sit at the feet of a teacher was the position of a disciple. For Jesus to allow a woman to do this, accept the role of disciple, was unusual. Jesus not only allowed it, but rebuked Martha when she commented on it and asked for Jesus to send Mary to help her.
To me, the Bible shows that Jesus and Paul both considered women to be important contributors, and even teachers. Both considered men and women to be equal, working together and being taught by each other.
But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
1 Corinthians 12:24-27
Thursday, 28 October 2010
Again, talks between the Palestinians and Israelis are taking place, hosted by the US, in the hope that the cycle of violence between the two peoples can be ended. The cycle, begun in the conflict of 1947 and perpetuated since on both sides. Like in Ireland, the people on both sides wanting an end to the conflict but their leaders sadly pandering to the minority who wish to continue the conflict.
Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. both won their struggles through the use of non-violent civil disobedience. They used their faith in a cause for which they were willing to die, but not to kill. I have often thought that this strategy would work for the Palestinians far better than the cycle of violence perpetrated by the terrorists among them, and on them by Israeli forces. As said by Gandhi, the cycle of an eye for an eye will only end up making the whole world blind.
Islam is to submit, to submit to God all that you are. Could it be that it's now time to trust to God and look for ways other than armed struggle to resolve this long weeping sore?
O you who believe! be maintainers of justice, bearers of witness of Allah's sake, though it may be against your own selves or (your) parents or near relatives; if he be rich or poor, Allah is nearer to them both in compassion; therefore do not follow (your) low desires, lest you deviate; and if you swerve or turn aside, then surely Allah is aware of what you do.
Surah 4:135 (Qu'ran, Shakir translation)
Sunday, 17 October 2010
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
The trouble with this statement, "burn in hell", is that it's inaccurate. The main reference to lakes of fire and the fiery abyss are in Revelations - which has more credibility as a political treatise that as an eschatological work, and wasn't written until late in the 1st Century (Irenaeus states around 95AD). Other references are scattered through the New Testament. However, the modern Christian view of a fiery Hell comes from the Greco-Roman vision of Tartarus, and is not the traditional Jewish view which Jesus would have recognised. It would be a good guess that this vision of Hell came in to play once Paul and other Hellenised Jews began to form the Christ movement in the decades following Jesus' death. The Greek learning of the Biblical authors colouring their imagery, rather than the Hebraic imagery of the earlier books.
Traditional Jewish belief is that of a purgatory state which can last up to a year (hence the saying of Kaddish and sitting shiva). You reflect on the sins of your life and then move on to heaven (rest) or to sheol ("death" or "the grave" rather than hell). Non-believers aren't automatically condemned as long as they follow a righteous life (preferably by following the seven Noahide laws that apply to all humankind). On the resurrection, the righteous dead will live again in bodily form on Earth (the "Kingdom of God" described by Jesus). This earthly Kingdom of God would be ruled, in God's name, by the messiah - the descendent of David. This is what Jesus' disciples believed Jesus to be, and was the throne Jesus was claiming.
In the New Testament, this vision of an earthly Kingdom is again born out again and again in Jesus' teachings - as recorded in the gospels. The three synoptic gospels, and even the Acts of the Apostles and Paul's letters, all refer to an earthly Kingdom of God which Jesus will return to establish. These writings are all 1st Century. When this didn't occur, the message of a spiritual kingdom began to circulate. Now, this is all we have. Because of this later move (late 1st Century and 2nd Century) toward a spiritual kingdom, the vision of heaven and hell is firmly Greco-Roman rather than Jewish. Modern Christians basically believe in Elysium and Tartarus. If you're Catholic, there's also Hades thrown in to the mix - which at least is comparable with the Jewish purgatory concept.
"The wages for sin is death" says Romans 6:23. As this is what most secular atheists believe anyway, it's not very effective to threaten them with it. The denial of the sight of God, a god that an atheist doesn't believe in, isn't much of a threat either. So why bother? The lack of a fiery hell to scare people with might force Christians to actually think about their religion. A rethink of the message being given in the Bible may also make some of the eschatologically focussed Christians reconsider the environment. God's Kingdom is meant to be here on Earth - build it, and He may come (to paraphrase Field of Dreams).
My thoughts are as follows.
Humans are social creatures, up to the extended family group. We naturally cope with our family ties and close friends that have been adopted in to the family group. A certain amount of altruism is encoded in our brains through the 250,000 or so years of human societal development. This is the basis of the tribal social structure. As social structures have increased in size over the last 10,000 years, rules of society have been laid down through religion or secular ethics. These rules are what keeps our selfishness in check and allow us to work within a larger society. This in turn allows us the increase in specialisation and technology we enjoy today.
But is this a natural state, or are we just using our intellects to guide us through the problems? When the rules of society are not followed, then society breaks down and the natural state reasserts itself.
Wednesday, 29 September 2010
I was reminded,watching Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sachs in conversation with the philosopher Alain de Botton on TV recently, of what Yewtree had said sometime ago in response to one of my earlier blogs:that heresy is not something bad at all. Lord Sachs, a man whom I like and greatly admire, spoke in a kindly but derogatory way of `pick and mix` faith, which in his eyes had little value.
De Botton had mentioned Unitarianism and obviously Lord Sachs associated our beliefs with such a faith. He mentioned the etymological meaning of heresy which is `believing what you choose`. The more I thought about this and consulted Yewtree`s comments again, the more I thought there was nothing at all wrong in this.
Religious leaders of the Judaeo-Christian tradition are always referring to free-will and what a great gift from God this is. What, then, am I doing other than exorcising this amazing gift in choosing to adopt some aspects of Christianity and in rejecting others ? I just don`t wish to opt for one particular faith and bne constrained by its dogma and doctrine but wish to be free to reject some aspects of religion I find unacceptable, wherther it be something written in the aBible or a code of practice that a particular church adopts.
If being a heretic means thinking for myself and believing what I think is right and prioper and not what others have told me to believe, so be it-I`m a heretic.
Sunday, 19 September 2010
An extract from the novel `On The Third Day` by Piers Paul Read
As Simon wandered first through the Christian Quarter and later amongst those of other faiths he was struck by the Universality of the faithful. He reflected with sudden joy that the Cross without the Resurrection made him love Jesus all the more, sharing with him his human fraility.Walking south, towards the Jewish Quarter, he came to the top of the steps of the Western Wall where, as always, there stood a row of pious Jews nodding and chanting as they prayed. He suddenly felt this intense warm kinship with them, he had never known before.
He had considered their frock coats, beards and ringlets so strange to him, but now he rejoiced in the sharing of the mutual strangeness, they in their costume of the Polish gentry of the 18th century and he in the habit of a medieval monk.
Both bore witness, in their eccentric attire, to their faith in the same God. The Muslims too he thought, who had occupied the Temple Mount since Saladin had taken Jerusalem, believed, like Jews and Christians, in the existence of a single God.
"The faith that sustains me", he reflected, "must not depend on the detail of a human requirement of God`s conformity. It must not be that trivial.It must be something underlying and pervading all these things- yet that does not invalidate the more particular way I have chosen to express my faith.The way I have chosen is right not because it is the way for me because it is favoured by the One I worship , but because it is the way for me."
For my God is greater than all these things.
Through the doubts that have descended upon me today I am finding a deeper faith.
And with that he returned to sing vespers in the church of St Simon Doris.
Ed Note: The Author is a British Novelist and non-fiction writer born in March 1941.A practising catholic, his work is heavily influenced by his faith. The reader will draw their own conclusions upon any parallels between the sentiment expressed above, and liberal faith. The most recent edition of this book (March 2000) for those who may be interested, is available via publishers Hodder and Stoughton.
Wednesday, 1 September 2010
In my studies of early Christianity, I've come across various non-dogmatic views on the divinity of Jesus. The one which, I feel, corresponds most closely to the "original" Christianity are those of the Ebionites. The Ebionites were a 1st Century sect of Judaic Christianity, focussing on the message of Jesus without claiming divinity on his behalf. They believed he was the messiah and would herald God's Kingdom, a physical kingdom here on Earth rather than a heavenly spiritual kingdom. They practised as Jews, following the Torah and observing the festivals. They accepted Gentiles to the faith as long as the Noahide laws were observed.
In Mark, Matthew and Luke, during the baptism of Jesus by John a light descends from Heaven and a voice is heard saying "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased". The virgin birth story leads the reader of the Bible to think this is a confirmation, rather than an adoption. Without the virgin birth story, a common story in the Roman middle-east, the passage could indicate an adoption or a blessing.
So where does the virgin birth story come from? The authors, Matthew and Luke, were documenting oral infancy stories that were around at the time of authorship (between 75ad and 95ad). They both used different stories as a basis, hence the differences between the accounts, but both reference Isaiah as a prophecy of Jesus. However, Isaiah doesn't refer to Jesus and the prophecy of a virgin birth, I believe, comes from a mistranslation.
The Septuagint was the Greek version of the Tanakh in use at the time when Matthew and Luke were writing their accounts. Both accounts were written in Greek, both seem to have used the Septuagint as a source. In Isaiah 7:10-17, Isaiah points out a young pregnant woman seen across from Ahaz and himself. Before that child is grown, Isaiah says, the two kings feared by Ahaz will be gone and God will bring Ahaz's people to their ancestral house.
The virgin part of the account comes out of the translation of Hebrew in to Greek. In Isaiah, the Hebrew word used to describe the young woman is almah, which means "young woman". In the Greek Septuagint, the Greek word used is parthenos , which means "virgin". The Hebrew word bethulah is the word meaning "virgin", and is used elsewhere in the Bible where this meaning is required. It can be deduced therefore that, because, almah is used the meaning of "virgin" was not meant and the meaning of "young woman" is the one that should be read. In the Didache (the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), the Eucharist is taken thanking God for the message given through Jesus and the line of David, both referred to as "Sons of God".
Didache 9:2 First, concerning the cup. We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine, David thy Son, which thou hast made known unto us through Jesus Christ thy Son; to thee be the glory for ever.
Could it be that Jesus is A Son of God rather than THE Son of God? David is also referred to as the Son of God (2 Samuel 7:14). The Son of God that was used as a title of the kings of Israel? The comparisons of Jesus are then with David as king, being the promised Messiah who would bring God's Kingdom in to effect and rule from God's throne, the throne of David. Not a divine god-creature, but a human - favoured by God and chosen to teach. A teacher who shows the path to God. It's up to us to follow the path he laid down and become children of God ourselves. The divine spark resides within us. It's up to us to nurture it.
Monday, 23 August 2010
The trinity is a doctrine that was established in the 2nd Century and was first given written form by Tertullian in his statement of the trinity: three beings (hypostases) in one substance (homoousios). The trinity is not consistent with Jewish belief, that of one God, and inconsistent with Jesus' own belief. Paul, also, did not write of a trinity. The early Christians in Jerusalem did not believe in a trinity. The first hints of a Trinitarian doctrine being formed are at the end of the 1st Century, as there are some hints in John. However, even that gospel is not Trinitarian.
The bible does not teach the concept of a triune God. The bible teaches that God is God, Jesus is the potential messiah who will bring about God's kingdom, God's power on Earth (the Holy Spirit) is within us for the asking.
Perhaps the most heavily used verses in support of the Trinity are John 1:1 and John 10:30.
John 1:1 has translated Logos as "Word" since Jerome's Latin Vulgate's use of "Verbum". However, this does not accurately translate the Greek. Logos is a complex construct in English giving the idea of: reason, meaning, dialogue. So, John 1:1 can as easily be translated as "In the beginning was reason", or "In the beginning was meaning". The attributing of a person to the "Word" is as bad as the Gnostics attributing a person to the "Wisdom" (Sophia) of God. Jesus is being described as God-sent, but not God. God's purpose (the establishment of God's kingdom) made flesh, i.e. the coming of the messiah.
In John 10:30 it states: I and my Father are one. However, could this phrasing not also mean “one” as in “of one mind”. In the Bible, Jesus also states that he and his disciples are “one” and that all nations will become “one”. Does this mean that Jesus and his disciples are one essence? Of course not. Is everything one essence? Well, perhaps – if one is inclined toward pantheism.
Another favourite is the "I am" in John 8. Jesus was not claiming to be God, he was claiming to be the messiah (the one sent by God) who Abraham foresaw the coming of.
There are many Biblical verses supporting Unity. John 8:17-18 states that there are two witnesses: Jesus and God (who sent him). If they were the same essence, there would only be the one witness – not valid in Jewish law. Jesus himself states that there is only one God (Matthew 19:17) and that God is greater than he (John 14:28). That Jesus was anointed by God (Acts 10:38) and given power by God (Matt. 28:18) to be the mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5) and a doer of God's will (John 6:38). Paul wrote that Jesus interceded on our behalf, as an intermediary not as a direct appeal (1 Corinthians 8:6, Romans 16:27, Romans 7:25). In Hebrews, Jesus is described as being our High Priest.
In Matthew 19:17, Jesus asks why they call him good when there is but one who is good. The implication in this statement, especially when going on to the commandments in the next verse, is the one is God. Jesus is differentiating himself from God, as he does in many other verses (e.g. John 5:30, John 7:16-18, John 14:10, Mark 13:32). Jesus states that God works through him and that he does God's works. He doesn't state that he is God or equal to God.
In short, to support Unity one only has to show the Bible. In order to support Trinity, one has to understand an unfathomable mystery and accept it with faith. Why not just accept the mystery as unfathomable and learnt to accept that the path we're on is one we follow by ourselves. We can only learn through Jesus' example and hope to meet our Father along the way.
Thursday, 5 August 2010
As someone who went through the `Alpha Course` two years ago and found it interesting, to say the least, (particularly the follow-up discussions with Nick, our local Rector) I am constantly intrigued by the promotional material the instigators of the course put out and the question they pose;
THE MEANING OF LIFE IS....
Certainly it`s a challenging question, but would it be sacrilege, or even blasphemous, to offer an answer;
I suppose they want us to say the meaning of life is to be found in Jesus, who indeed spent his life doing good and persuading people to love their enemies, but I think of all those people in far-flung lands who have not been brought up in the Christian tradition, many of whom seem to have found the secret of happiness and live blameless lives. Are they all doomed because they have never heard or taken part in the `Alpha Course` ?
`The meaning of life is to be found in doing good, irrespective of any religious belief`
Monday, 19 July 2010
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
In my study I have a drawer that contains snippetts, readings and so on, that I have collected from various sources over the years of my ministries. I am not a good filer but at times I do sit on the floor, and with the radiator to my back and sort and sift.
It was way back, one Sunday in the 80`s when as a member of the congregation in our Rochdale Unitarian Church I listened to the service leader as he took the following `thought` as his main reading. The writer and source are unknown to me. It greatly stirred and influenced me in my ministries. Here it is.
There are two inland seas in the course of the River Jordan. One is fresh. Fish are in it. Splashes of green adorn its banks. Trees spread their branches over it and extend their roots to its healing waters. Along its shores children play. It is called The Sea Of Galiliee.
The River Jordan flows on south from this to another sea. Here there is no splash of fish, no song of birds, no childrens laughter.Travellers choose another route, unless on urgent business.The air hangs heavy about its waters and neither beast nor foul will drink. So what makes the difference in these neighbouring seas?
This is the difference; The Sea Of Galilee receives but does not keep water from The River Jordan. For every drop that flows into it another flows out. The giving and receiving go on in equal measure. The other sea hoards its income and is not tempted into any generous impulse. Every drop of water it get it keeps. The Sea Of Galilee gives and lives. The other sea gives very little.
I wonder if this is why it is called The Dead Sea ?
Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Saturday, 15 May 2010
Thursday, 13 May 2010
This is never an easy topic to mention, especially it seems if you`re a bloke. I`ve lost count of the number of times over the years I`ve been told that "I don`t do religion". Often I`m in somewhere like a pub with friends, or at a party or a football match, and it`s generally a male response to those convivial conversations we all find ourselves in from time to time about a `better way of life`. I rarely raise the issue myself but if ever I rise to the bait there`s usually the "but with respect" rider, and the earnest reminder about the bad that religion has caused.
Religion as the organised arm of spirituality has, it`s true, something of a historical and burdensome backpack. But that should never distract from the overwhelming desire for good that it radiates, and for the potential joy of discovery and development of our spritual self. We all have one after all.
So what is this thing called spirituality, and what`s all this about ethics and values ? There`s a lot of very earnest discussion and writings about these matters, but is it really that complicated ?
I`m lucky. I know from personal experience that my spirituality or inner peace, for example through prayer, actually works. Obviously not all the time, and yes, impossible to prove to those who may wish to challenge the assertion. But simply and humbly I tell you that my life has been immeasurably improved by the acceptance that the prayers I give and the prayers I have received do make a difference. Similarly I am now more able to appreciate the great spiritual joys in the more reflective elements of life; the magnificence of the natural world, the quiet moments of contemplation, the acts of goodness by so many, indeed the vast majority of people around me. These have all impacted upon my own spiritual self, and shaped my personality hopefully for the better.
Where did this spirituality come from ? Same place as yours I guess. I was beautifully guided in life by patient and loving parents. I was influenced as a student by the stories I read from the worlds of religion, philosophy and literature. Most importantly, I learnt from those great role models, internationally, here within the UK, and from within my own peer group. And as my moral code-call it personal ethics and values, stumbled into some form of semblance, so did the questions and dilemmas. What is a just world ? Can there ever be peace without war ? How do you explain a loving God to the tragically bereaved ? No matter how I try I realise that I will never have easy or even effective answers to such issues. My spiritual values I believe do help. But of course I also have to survive through suggestions, doubt and faith; and accept that this is the normal human condition.
What about those contemporaries whose parents weren`t loving, who hated their education, and whose peer group was not necessarily an influence for the good ? Some will undoubtedly have struggled to identify anything positive about their inner spirituality, and indeed may possibly have even denied its very existence. Others may have felt singularly disadvantaged by their circumstances, and view dwelling upon this issue as a luxury they can ill afford. But most I`m sure will have triumphed no matter what their situation, even if they felt it was against the odds; such is the strength of human will. In fact, some of the wisest, most divine (spiritually that is !) people I have known have certainly not had the featherbed advantages I`ve experienced, and have also most likely been completely unaware of the influence they`ve had. So I accept that acknowledging and developing our own spiritual journey is not necessarily a pre-requisite for a successful life;but I do sincerely believe that it will help us achieve a happier one.
Liberal faiths such as Unitarianism seek to support individuals who wish to make some deeper sense to their lives. Their welcome extends to all comers, no matter what their beliefs or disbeliefs may be. The Unitarian acceptance that there is so much more in common between the world`s major religions than that which divides, encourages unprejudiced exploration of belief and spirituality. We should celebrate our diversity, learn from each other, not squabble or point score.
This belief that everyone is entitled to make their own spiritual journey, doubts and all, and at their own pace and on their own terms, convinces me that here is an opportunity that`s too good to miss. So next time someone tells me that "with respect" religion has nothing to offer but guilt and division, I`ll mention the `S` word and invite them to New Meeting. And perhaps "with true respect" we can discover that the spiritual self, true values and personal ethics are more than just some pretty big words on a page. And that like so many of the best things in life, the journey is free; even for blokes!
Saturday, 24 April 2010
At last, the election dawns and with it the expectation of up to five years of `change`, `difference` or `renewal`, depending upon your perspective upon these things. Whilst it`s perfectly possible to be cynical about the intentions of politicians and others who affect our lives in various ways, what about our own roles within our own areas of `influence`, be that within our families, friendship groups, jobs,or volunteering ? What is our strategy for the next five years ? Have we fully considered the impact of decisions we are making now ? Are we sure that our best intentions will result in best outcomes ?
This has certainly been exorcising our minds at New Meeting. How are we best placed to serve our community ? Are we making best use of the resources we have? What do we need to do to continue our own `growth and renewal` ?
As you can imagine much discussion has focussed upon how best to cater for the heart and mind, body and soul. Central to that debate has been the issue of professional spiritual leadership. Now for those of you reading this who are unfamiliar with the Unitarian and Free Christian movement, you may be suprised to learn that (unpaid!)`lay leadership` is a significant factor in many of our congregations. Services are often led by such individuals, even where there are also full or part-time Ministers at the church. This tradition emanates, in a sense, from our liberal traditions, as well as from necessity, and is one that we generally all welcome. Lay leadership can be extremely effective, is `of the people` if you like, and as much a part of Unitarianism as the bricks and mortar of the buildings.
That said, our own discussions have led (most of) us to conclude that professional and effective `Ministerial` leadership is a necessary pre-requisite for enduring growth. Logic dictates that such individuals, as long as they are the right `fit` for the congregation and the community and have the necessary support, will stimulate ongoing, consistent and appropriate growth. We have seen this for ourselves over the last five years, through the guidance and leadership of our own excellent Minister, Ann Latham.
Are there enough Ministers out there though to lead such work, should ever we need to advertise as such in the future? The answer at present is clearly a resounding no. A very small number are in training, and there are not enough existing ones to `go around`. Add to that the daunting financial task that faces a congregation wishing to support a ministerial contract plus the lack of `central` funding , and it becomes easy to see that a potential crisis awaits !
There has been lots of talk in the Unitarian movement at large about this subject. A recent Midland Unitarian Association event (http://www.midland-unitarian-association.org.uk/) in Birmingham and The General Assembly (http://www.unitarian.org.uk/) in Nottingham focussed upon these very issues. Both were addressed by Andy Pakula, Minister from the thriving community of Newington Green and Islington Unitarians (http://www.new-unity.org/) in London. If ever anyone needed a demonstration of the impact that professional ministerial leadership can have, this was it !
We remain optimistic about any future challenges that we may face in this regard. As Andy Pakula has intimated, in the short-term Ministers may need to be `shared`between congregations, or even enticed from abroad on an overseas `sabbatical `, for example from the States. Whatever happens, we shall be pro-active in our approach to this matter and supportive of any measures that lead to an essential resurgence in Ministerial training here in the UK.
On a lighter note, and talking of `growth` (vegetables that is and not just spiritual !) we are delighted with the recent `re-discovery` of the garden at the rear of New Meeting. This area has been a `wilderness` for many years. Now, thanks to the tireless efforts of `main man` Edward it`s starting to be re-claimed. Still early days, but the plan is to grow produce for sale from our stall at the front of Church, with all proceeds to Charity. This represents another opportunity to involve our community in `doing` things, and eventually we hope will also provide a place of calm and tranquility that all can share.
And to think that this wonderful resource was there, staring us in the face all along. All that was needed was the right person and the right set of circumstances to come along. Maybe there`s a message for us all in this?
Edward fearlessly taming the `wilderness`.
Is that a Greenhouse about to appear against our boundary wall ? Prior to this activity we didn`t really take much note of our boundary wall. All we could see was a mass of `Ivy`. Still quite a bit of work to do ?
Tuesday, 30 March 2010
Post by Ash
Well, you`d think that was the case, given the state of last night`s long-awaited televised debate on the management of the economy. And maybe not just for poor old Alistair !
Imagine this morning`s headlines;"Darling hits home with Stamp Duty" (closely followed by his eyebrows), or maybe "Cable`s Promises Left Dangling";oh hang on no ,what about "Osborne Stakes Death Tax".
Whatever your political persuasion, it wouldn`t have been too hard to predict such well-worn cliche`s, permed and ready to sit atop the obvious piece of journalistic interpretation,written it seems increasingly to order to suit the newspaper`s owner and financiers. Enough to make us all feel ill; or at least a little depressed.
Fine. That`s the world we live in you might say. It`s a democracy thank God (how often do we forget that?).People can say and write what they want. Newspapers are newspapers; they reflect the readership. Don`t take it to heart. If you don`t like what you read, don`t buy `em. Oh, and the economy is `king`, or as someone quite important once said "it`s the economy stupid!" Get that wrong and we`re all in the soup.
Hard to argue with any of this of course. Capitalism drives both our our individual fortunes and our welfare state.It depends for its life upon the oxygen provided by our democracy and freedoms of speech. But wait a minute. Isn`t that oxygen becoming more than just a little polluted? Isn`t it causing us to start to splutter a little ? There is no need to remind anyone in the UK of the appalling damage done to the already diminished reputation of our elected representatives, by the various expenses scandals. We also share the world-wide disease generically referred to as `bankers sleaze`.
Well, when I get a cough that sticks I visit the doctor. But where is the doctor just when you want her, particularly when it comes matters of the economy, wealth, fairness and social justice?
Poorly or not there are a few things we can take as a `given`.We all have a free conscience and a moral compass. We all share an overwhelming and common desire to do good (I have to believe that), and we can all get quite excited when our rights are threatened. But are we exercising those qualities enough ? And isn`t there something extra in our armoury, that we`ve forgotten to look after ?
Many of us I`m certain feel that there must be more to life than becoming rich or powerful, or the very best; even when we ourselves may feel so driven. The vast majority of people`s everyday actions are designed to be supportive, co-operative, and caring. Most will know for example that the increasing disparity between the rich and poor , both in the UK and globally is, almost by definition, wrong. People, contrary to the often expressed exasperations , generally do `get it`.
For many though, not least those fortunate enough to be `secure` in their personal material life, isn`t there a growing urge to think "there must be more to life than this?". And doesn`t the `than this` bit also include points-scoring and power-grabbing debates on the economy such as we saw last night, and the toilet flush of media headlines that follow ?
Isn`t it time that we searched our souls, our hearts, our spiritual-selves; you can call it what you like (I call it `visiting the doctor`), and grabbed some of the balance back ? Shouldn`t we be moving towards a newer unity ? Can`t you just see it-Osborne, Darling and Cable, the `Three Amigos`. "Those boys sure done good together" states leader in The News Of The World. Well maybe not, but you get the drift.
We all have it within us to develop our own spiritual lives both for our own good and perhaps more importantly, for the good of others. And that extends to influencing our democratic leaders at whatever level, our media, and even those lovely bankers. We all have it within ourselves to search for a deeper and greater understanding to our purpose in life. And of course, we all have it within our hands to make the public debate on the economy, and indeed on all matters worthwhile in life, so much more conscious of these issues. In the process we may just begin to discover our true selves. We may even find a deeper happiness.
Maybe we should check in with the doctor again ?
Post by Ash.