Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Problem of Suffering

Post by Ian

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?" ~ Epicurus

It is a fundamental truth that there is suffering in the world. We see suffering wherever we look, to varying degrees. Quite rightly, atheists ask us: where is God in this? One view is that God allows suffering in order to punish sin. Another view is that it's Satan or the Devil who causes suffering, and God allows this. Predestination, that God sets the course of our lives, is a popular viewpoint - and becoming more so. Fatalism replaces a belief in human free will. A belief that says we deserve whatever befalls us.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

What is welfare for?

Post by Ian

Eighteen Church of England bishops wrote to the Observer on Sunday 20th November encouraging the government to rethink their cap of £500 a week on benefits, to be brought in in the Welfare Reform bill.

I struggle with this. On the one hand, they have a point. People who have been receiving more than this, sometimes far more, will feel the pinch as the cap comes in. On the other, is it right that people can receive £26,000 a year tax-free in state benefits - especially in these hard times. This is equivalent to £34,765 before tax. There are a great many working people who do not earn this much and have to manage on what they earn. Why should anyone expect the "right" or "entitlement" to such a sum?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Organ donation

Post by Graham

I am the proud owner of an organ donation card and have been for some time. Aren`t I good ! I feel quite smug about this and superior to those who, upon death, can`t yet bring themselves to bequeath vital parts of their body to those desperately in need of them. I also firmly believe we should adopt a system of opting out of the scheme, rather than opting into it, such as been suggested in Wales recently.

Yet my feeling of self-satisfaction has been recently shattered ! Just a few days ago I read of a kidney charity that has just been launched called `Give A Kidney-One`s Enough`. In the past four years, apparently, more than 80 people have donated a kidney to a person they have never met and probably never will. This surely is altruism of the highest order and I feel guilty that I personally lack the courage to do such a thing in my lifetime.

I don`t know how many of the donors (it was 88 at the last count) are Unitarians or practising Christians of some sort, but I am willing to bet that a good number of them, perhaps even a majority, are non-believers. How do we explain this ? Is this the working of the Divine (the Holy Spirit, if you like) within the heart of us mere mortals ? What makes a person prepared to sacrifice their own health for the benefit of others about whom nothing is known, and not just for the benefit of another member of their family ? Surely, if it is not God working through us, it is a testimony of the generosity of the human spirit and gives the lie to the belief that all is rotten in our society. Thank God for their altruism !

Sunday, 30 October 2011

I told you I was humble

Post by Ash

The address at New Meeting this morning was about the pathway, the continuum even, from humility to over-confidence and arrogance, that we all perhaps struggle to effectively accommodate throughout our lives. Sometimes it seems a constant battle-did I say the right thing, did I intervene appropriately,was I too outspoken, did I `back-off` when I should have said something ?

After the service we wandered in discussion if there were any contemporary examples of political leaders who had been convincing in achieving this `balance`. Was it really possible to attain such prominence in public life, and yet still be considered humble ? Isn`t this increasingly what we now desire from such leaders ? Has there been a lag between what the public want in this respect, and what politicians perceive is `best` for the public ?

A number of names were suggested; Mo Mowlam, Ann Widdecombe, and Mrs Thatcher. At least one of these suggestions might be considered contentious ! It was interesting that the immediate response resulted in female candidates being nominated; women are still in a serious minority when it comes to the world of politics in the UK.

Can we have humble leaders ?

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Faith Works and Smiles

Post by Graham.

Some years ago I submitted an article for the Midland Unitarian Association the subject of `Are We Angry Enough ?". My thesis was that anger achieved little in life; problems had to be looked at in the cold light of reason and, as someone who in earlier days was prone to lose his cool on many occasions (particularly when playing Rugby !), I felt it had done little to develop me as a person. After all, aren`y our watchwords Freedom, Reason, Tolerance - surely that`s enough to stop us getting hot under the collar at the slightest provocation.

And yet lately, I seem to be reverting to type, getting angry at bankers` bonuses, the injustices that exist in the world, the plight of the poor (although these are bad enough to make one explode with anger) and with so-called religious people of every denomination who seem to `talk the talk` but not `walk the walk`. There are religious people everywhere who can hardly bother to share a `Good Morning` with you as they rush off to their bible class or prayer meeting, and as for exchanging a smile: forget it ! They also seem oblivious to the plight of their neighbours, the aged, the infirm. As long as they can cling to their idea of salvation by confessing their sins and professing their allegiance to Jesus, they are content.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

An Observatory without a Telescope

Post by Ash

Like many churches, we spend  a lot of time thinking about how best to serve the spiritual, physical and  practical needs of those in our community. We tend therefore to focus for much of our time on the future, and planning for that as carefully as we can.

It was therefore very refreshing to be reminded of some very fine and inspiring advice from the much loved John Mellor, a long-standing supporter of our church,who very sadly died last year. Found amongst his papers were various writings used by him many years ago when he led services.A loving, talented, and creative man, he believed passionately that `imagination` was a gift to be treasured; for him  it was a way to people`s hearts , a route possibly towards unlocking spirituality. Churches even should take heed if they were not to stagnate.

His words below remain as relevant today, as when they were written.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Dark Side of Consumer Culture

Post by IanWe have seen over this past week a horrendous display of violence on the streets of our cities. The most shocking element being that, unlike previous riots, this has not been targeted at government and police. Instead there has been a wave of looting and wanton destruction. This was not a political protest turned violent, this was a blatant display of criminal acquisitiveness. Burglary and criminal damage on a grand scale.

The spark has been stated as the shooting of Mark Duggan by police. A peaceful protest by family, friends and local people in Tottenham was hijacked at the end by a minority intent on violence. Since this outbreak, other waves of looting have swept London and, from there, the rest of the UK.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

We are too many ... the last taboo?

Post by Ian
"Earth-that-was could no longer sustain our numbers, we were so many." ~ Opening to Serenity, Joss Whedon

This year, the population of our world will pass 7 billion. The population passed the 6 billion mark in 1999, only 12 years ago. In 1960, the population was around 3 billion. By 2050, human population is predicted to have passed the 9 billion mark. These numbers don't necessarily mean a lot. However, what they represent is a global catastrophe waiting to happen. They represent an increase in population density, an increase in resulting pollution, an increase in the causes of climatic change, a decrease in biodiversity.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Food for thought ?

Post by Ash
Once again news has broken of human tragedy on an almost unimaginable scale, this time in the horn of Africa. UNHCR and BBC reports amongst others, have described that as many as 10 million people are currently experiencing malnutrition and starvation, as a result of the combination of severe drought and fighting across this area.

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Descent of Man

Post by Ian

Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall ~ William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure (Act II, Scene I)

Graham posted a blog entry a few weeks ago on the subject "Good or Bad". This got me thinking on the subject. The cry of "O Tempora, O Mores" has echoed down the centuries from the days of Cicero. The issue is not, I think, a reflection of the times. Rather it is a reflection of attitude.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Inspiring Balls ?

Post by Ash
So according to papers recently acquired from the former office of Ed Balls, Gordon Brown`s camp plotted against Tony Blair to hasten his departure as Prime Minister. Well what a shock that must   be-for virtually none of us. So much for being inspired by those we elect ; unfortunately very few politicians seem to pass muster on this score these days. In reality it was probably ever thus. Shallow is a term that rather comes to mind, as yet more news media is wasted on such stories.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Good or Bad ?

Post by Graham

One of the endearing traits of Unitarianism is that its followers are always inclined to think the best of people, not the worst. They are not hung-up on sin, believing everyone is essentially wicked, but think rather that all people carry a touch of the divine within them which is frequently revealed in their interaction with others.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

It's the End of the World ... and I feel fine.

Yesterday was the start of the End of the World. You may not know it, but millions of people will now be dying as the end times are upon us. Last night, at 6pm, the Rapture occurred and thousands of people disappeared in to heaven. Or so goes the prediction of Harold Camping, the latest doomsday soothsayer, who predicted that the end times would start with the Rapture on May 21st and the tribulation would continue until October 21st.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Is this why our churches are so empty ?

Post by Graham

I read a survey in a newspaper recently which had as its theme the falling attendances at church over the years.One of the explanations given was the greater life expectancy for us all these days. The article went on to say that those in the first flush of youth and even those in their fifties and sixties were loath to attend church until such time that they felt perhaps that their end was in sight and it was time to make peace with their God. Such people were clearly concerned about the after-life and missing out on the glories in heaven. It was for this reason it was pointed out that most churches these days are frequented by the grey-haired brigade and that, unless a church was particularly lively and geared towards the younger generation, it would find few younger members in its ranks.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Resurrection - Rebirth and Symbolism

Post by Ian

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 6:22-23

Easter, a time of rebirth and the time of the resurrection of Jesus. The passion narrative is depicted in all four gospels, consisting of the entry in to Jerusalem at the end of Jesus' ministry and his subsequent death by crucifixion. This is followed by the narrative of his resurrection and the meeting with his disciples in Galilee.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Triumphal Entry - Facing Death

Post by Ian
The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
~ Matthew 21, 6-11

The passion narrative is depicted in all four gospels, consisting of the entry in to Jerusalem at the end of Jesus' ministry and his subsequent death by crucifixion. In the synoptic accounts (Mark, Matthew and Luke) the accounts in the two later books reflect the early writing of Mark, adding detail and embellishment to the story. Matthew highlights earlier scriptural backing for the actions attributed to Jesus. Luke makes Jesus in to a stoic accepter of his destiny and fate. The earlier account of Mark, to me, shows a man who knew what may happen if he challenged the powers of the day. The power of the Sanhedrin in the temple and of the Roman governors. He knew what he may face, and yet he did it anyway.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Spring, Fayre, and `Eat a Unitarian`.

Post by Ash
What a great way to spend the weekend - first the New Meeting House `Summer Fayre` on Saturday in aid of the `Maggs Centre for the Homeless` followed by a great Sunday Service and then our `Eat A Unitarian` shindig.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Common sense matters

Post by Ann

I am a Unitarian Minister, now officially retired, although still reasonably active and able to prepare and lead services. In the past, each week `the sermon` was a spiritual and mental undertaking. On good weeks this was great but I did have dry weeks which my congregations, thanks be, have always understood.

I came to realise that stories, be they fictional, for example Aesop`s fables-especially for the children-and stories about everyday real life and situations of commerce and livelihood that many face, are far more beneficial and effective than all the eloquence of a great preacher.

Down to earth commonsense in the well-being of our communities is what we need and what our churches, chapels and the like should be offering.

I offer the following story to illustrate this;

Thursday, 24 March 2011

How lucky are we ?

Post by Ash
We frequently forget just how lucky we are. It`s an enduring as opposed to endearing human trait. The appalling natural and human catastrophe in Japan, and and also earlier in the year in Christchurch, New Zealand, bring home all too clearly the thin line-between joy and sadness, certainty and despair. We have all, I`m sure, been moved not only by the suffering but also by the sheer heroism of so many, in the face of such terrible adversity. They put most of our own daily travails to shame.

Closer to base we can perhaps sometimes be guilty of a similar loss of perspective about our lot, when faced, for example, with the dilemma of the homeless. Try as we might, maybe , just maybe, we sometimes catgorize this group as being 'their own worst enemy'; drink, drugs, temperament, laziness-surely they`re the reasons behind the predicament in which they find themselves ?

The bottom-line of course is that this group are really not that different to ourselves. Each individual has particular reasons for his or her misfortune, and it`s not hard to imagine that had such issues been presented to us we too may have struggled; lucky for us therefore that we`ve our coping mechanisms and good people around us to help.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The thin Unitarian line

Blog by Pete

The question, `who or what is a Unitarian?` is one that can never satifactorily be answered.For every Unitarian there is a different view. The aims,the vision, the drive of every
congregation differs, not only from each other but as time changes.Unitarianism is far from static. It is undoubtedly one of the most open-minded and tolerant of all faiths.

However, sooner or later situations arise where even liberal Unitarians perceive a need to draw lines. This may happen between congregations, for example over the need for a communion or maybe the incorporation of modern pagan philosophy. It may also happen within congregations regarding direction, character, and their relationship with others in the community. Inevitably some individual Unitarians will find themselves on the wrong side of a line drawn with good conscience by the majority. As much as we might try to please everyone the very nature of a broad church negates this.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The `Big Society?` Blink and you`ll miss it.

Post by Ash

The `Big Society` is back in the headlines and again dividing opinion. It seems to induce one of those moments that author Malcolm Gladwell attempted to define in his book `Blink`. It was his premise that the vast majority of key decisions we make as individuals are based upon that one or two second `blink` moment when we first see or hear a person,or become aware of a situation or event. It`s rapid cognition, the sort of thing that some would refer to as intuition, but which in his opinion much more rational than that.

So no suprise he might suggest, that when we are presented with the phrase `Big Society`, particularly when uttered by a politician, there are instant responses ranging from the encouraging or perhaps just a weary resignation, through to the downright dismissive. Even the marvellous Archbishop Of York Dr John Sentamu was minded to tell viewers to last Sunday`s Andrew Marr show on the BBC, that this is an idea that has been around for at least 2,000 years.

I guess that we`re all prone to the `blink` mentality, and of course a small dose of cynicism is thought to be good for us. Is organised traditional religion similarly affected ? For example;
The `Big Society`?- (blink) "we`re already doing it."
Full-House worship ?-(cynicism) "great ideal but we live in a secular society with so many competing demands upon time,the world has changed,so it will never happen."
The way to God ?- (blink) "er..., through us please, not any of the other lot."
Cairo-style revolutions ?-(cynicism) "yes it`s lovely that they`re striking out for democracy, but it`s likely to end in a pyrrhic victory."
Maybe though we should take some time for a closer examination.
The `Big Society` ? This may mean different things to different people, but most seem to agree that if it`s about anything then it must be a `sense of community`and a way of letting `people rather than bureaucracy` take control. Helping others is the key or as Therese Coffey MP rather neatly stated, "go and do it". The Archbisop Of York was right in his assertions in that for over two millennium, we have had access to a religiously driven moral code, a way to lead a life, a divine light. Much great work has been undertaken as a result including magnificent projects and outstanding contemporary examples of lives being led that we could all quote. But if the social actions of traditional religions in the UK today were to be compared for example with those of just over a century ago, it would be difficult not to reach the disappointing conclusion that it has played anything other than a `bit part`in the overall scheme of things. How many of the buildings for example, are purposefully used for communities across the day, let alone throughout the week ? Everyone knows that the Salvation Army works directly for the support of the vulnerable.It`s surely no coincidence therefore that their motto is `belief in action`; they are a `doing` as well as spiritual organisation-their buidings at least are certainly put to work.

And how many individuals in our society would be sufficiently engaged to search out advice or support, or would seek to test their opinions on important matters in their life through contact with their community church. How many would even know where this was ? So can it really be assumed that `we already do` the Big Society ? Individually maybe, but via our collective assets ?

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Sin,Sacrifice and Salvation

Post by Graham

Recently we attended the final service at a local chapel which had been forced to close its doors because it is no longer sustainable with the small number of people attending on a Sunday. It was a good service, the chapel was full and the singing was excellent. We were pleased to take part in the service as we had fond memories of the place. We ourselves attended services there only spasmodically, but my wife`s father, a real chapel man, frequently went there on a Sunday during the short time he lived with us before his death. In fact his funeral service was held there.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Why am I a Unitarian?

Post by Ian.

I was brought up as a Methodist and attended regular Sunday school classes as a child. Christianity, as taught, never resounded in my heart though; and the older I got, the more questions and inconsistencies I found. The biggest questions in my youth were about the Trinity and why Christians didn't seem to do what Jesus was teaching. The most vocal of Christians seemed to be those who paid the least attention to Jesus' teachings. I never got satisfactory responses to questions, no matter who I asked. The Trinity especially was something I could not believe in. How could God be three persons in one essence. How could God be a "person" at all. God was everywhere - no person or being could be everywhere at once. Hence, at the age of 13, before confirmation, I left the church.

In my journey toward faith, I read the Bible, the Qur'an, the Noble Eightfold Path. I explored Wicca and other pagan faiths. In the end I just considered what I believed in my heart, looked around at what I'd seen and started referring to myself as an animist, I considered myself not quite an atheist, though I have certainly had atheistic tendencies. I retained an interest in Christianity, especially early Christianity and have read extensively in to early Christian history and biblical textual criticism.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

We walk in beauty

Post by Ian
`The world doesn't belong to us, we belong to it. Always have, always will. We belong to the world. We belong to the community of life on this planet - it doesn't belong to us. We got confused about that, now it's time to set the record straight.`~ Daniel Quinn, Providence
`Remember that your tracks are one strand of the web woven endlessly in the hand of god. They're tied to those of the mouse in the field, the eagle on the mountain, the crab in its hold, the lizard beneath its rock. The leaf that falls to the ground a thousand miles away touches your life. The impress of your foot in the soil is felt through a thousand generations.` ~ Daniel Quinn, The Tales of Adam

The poem,
Leisure, starts: `What is this world if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare`. In the modern world, we have very little time to stand and stare - time to appreciate and reflect on what we have. All too often, the refrain of our lives is now ... we do not have the time. How did this happen? We have numerous time-saving devices that are meant to free us to enjoy more time, not less. Yet, we now spend more time in doing than ever before. We spend so much time on social interaction by proxy that we can suffer withdrawal effects should someone take our Blackberry, or iPhone, or other communication device away from us. We do not now have the time to stand and stare.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

What price peace ?

Post by Ash
It was depressing to read of more acts of violence carried out in recent weeks in the name of religion. Two weeks ago 60 people were killed in an attack on a church in Baghdad, contributing further no doubt to what the UN Refugee Agency described as a `slow but steady exodus` of Christians from Iraq. On New Year`s Eve in Alexandria, 21 were killed in a similar act of carnage against a Coptic Church. On Tuesday last the `liberal -minded` muslim Governor of the Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was murdered by his own bodyguard.He had been attempting to change his country`s blaspemy laws in an effort to spare the life of a Pakistani Christian sentenced to death for insulting Islam.

That fact that these are examples of attacks by alleged Muslims upon Christians is almost incidental. We all know of examples of Christian intolerance and violence toward other Christians.The advantage of historic hindsight also reminds that the Crusades were hardly the most glorious moment in European religious history. More currently it`s hard not to be acutely aware of the negative perception of the `Christian` west by Afghani`s and Iraqi`s affected by the odd stray warhead. Not for them the rationale of `collateral damage`.

All right-thinking people know that to persecute others, let alone commit atrocity in the name of religion is quite simply an abomination.Individuals and groups that carry out such despicable acts often do so quoting scriptures and mantra as justification. They conveniently ignore the overwhelming and noble truths in all the great religious texts about peace, love and justice.

Contemporary critics of religion frequently use such excesses to remind of the irrelevance, indeed latent dangers of `belief`. Hopefully those of us who accept that there is an important spiritual aspect to all life will counter this. We have a responsibility to condemn such irrational acts of violence and to help keep some sense of perspective. The perpetrators are not representative in any way of their majority communities.They seek bloodshed, mayhem and division for selfish, one-eyed gain. We must seek benevolence, mutual acceptance and peaceful co-existence.

The United Nations Declaration On Religious Tolerance (1981), subscribed to by over 300 nations , states that "everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion" . It would be hard for any caring person,and in particular for an individual true to their particular faith, to disagree with this.