Monday, 31 December 2012

Love is all you need?

Jesus is said to have summed up the entire Christian life in terms of love: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great­est com­mand­ment. The sec­ond is like it: ‘Love your neigh­bor as your­self.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two com­mand­ments” (Mat 22.37–40).

But Jesus didn't actually say that! Shock! Horror! It was the expert in the Law who says them. Jesus agrees with the answer (Lk. 10.28), but he’s not the one who actu­ally puts forth that trans­la­tion of Deuteronomy 6.5. In Matthew 22.37 Jesus does say “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and in Mark 12.30 he says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (NIV2011) We have in the Gospels three cita­tions of Deuteronomy 6.5 (two of them spo­ken by Jesus) and each uses dif­fer­ent word­ing.

 But regard­less of whether or not these are accounts of the same event, we don’t nec­es­sar­ily have the exact words that Jesus spoke, or even know if they were orig­i­nally in Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic. The gospel authors record Jesus’ mes­sage in Greek (a dynamic trans­la­tion?) but for the most part we sim­ply don’t know pre­cisely what Jesus said. The mes­sage that the Gospel writ­ers are try­ing to con­vey is that Jesus replied by quot­ing Deuteronomy 6.5:

Deuteronomy 6:5
You must love the LORD your God
with all your heart (leb),
all your soul (nephesh),
and all your strength (me’od).
Luke 10:27
You must love the LORD your God
with all your heart (kar­dia),
all your soul (psy­che),
all your strength (ischus),
and all your mind (dianoia).

These com­mandments cap­tures the essence of who we are. We can’t fully love God, we can't fully love ourselves or others,  if we only love emo­tion­ally, we can’t fully love  if we only  offer intel­lec­tu­ally sup­port  — we can only truly and fully love [God] if we do so with every­thing we have.

These com­mands aren’t sim­ply feel-good plat­i­tudes, they are a pow­er­ful call toembrace a spe­cific and active love. The real­i­ties of life chal­lenge love at every turn, and love alone, as a dis­em­bod­ied feel­ing adrift on the Platonic ether, can­not save us. But love as a prac­tice, love as a way of life, love as an expe­ri­ence of God, love that encom­passes the total­ity of God’s plan — that love can save us. Love requires par­tic­i­pa­tion, it requires main­te­nance, it requires atten­tion: “Above all, main­tain con­stant love for one another, for love cov­ers a mul­ti­tude of sins” (1 Pet. 4.8).

Love doesn’t obvi­ate other aspects of a Christian life, love holds those aspects together. Love is not a soli­tary require­ment, it is the thread that uni­fies and empow­ers all the other require­ments. If we don’t have love, noth­ing else works. If we don’t show love, we can’t expect to receive it. If we don’t love God, how can we hope to love our neigh­bor? “But love your ene­mies, and do good, and lend, expect­ing noth­ing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High because he is kind to ungrate­ful and evil peo­ple. Be mer­ci­ful, just as your Father is mer­ci­ful” (Luke 6.27–36).

Love is a means of relationship - not only between human beings, but between humans and the rest of nature. Having been privelaged to be at the birth of my kitten and seeing the love, the nurturing between the new mother and her kittens, and between Ginger - my kitten - and myself there is more than just just chemical impulses and pheremones. Love is also the means by which the Divine, all that is Holy can be related to.
  “All you need is love” may be inac­cu­rate in a strict sense, but to those who accuse some of us of putting an inor­di­nate amount of empha­sis on love, one must remem­ber that it was Jesus him­self who set the prece­dent. Love, prop­erly enacted and expressed, sub­sumes the dis­trac­tions of the­ol­ogy and over­pow­ers our per­sonal ten­den­cies to judge and criticize.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Religion and Language

In the Graphic Novel "Promethea", Alan Moore speculates that without langauge there could be no God (or at least, no idea of God, yet alone religion) because there would be no way of expression an experience of the Divine to others, no means of communicating that relationship.

"Promethea" explores various faith traditions, including Paganism and Jewish mysticism, especially the Qaballah. He has this to say on the monotheism of the Abrahamic religions:

"Monotheism is, to me, a great simplification. I mean the Qabalah has a great multiplicity of gods, but at the very top of the Qabalic Tree of Life, you have this one sphere that is absolute God, the Monad, something which is indivisible. All of the other gods, and indeed everything else in the universe, is a kind of emanation of that God. Now, that’s fine, but it's when you suggest that there is only that one God, at this kind of unreachable height above humanity, and there is nothing in between, you’re limiting and simplifying the thing. I tend to think of paganism as a kind of alphabet, as a language, it's like all of the gods are letters in that language. They express nuances, shades of meaning or certain subtleties of ideas, whereas monotheism tends to just be one vowel and it's just something like 'oooooooo'. It's a monkey sound."

Sunday, 2 September 2012

More "God" ponderings....

 God is not an object but an idea. The object of God is extinguished in the mind when we realize that All / Everything is God. God is the whole of the Universe in action. God is not a separate thing. God is Everything The bigger and bigger we find the universe to be, the farther and farther away any God actually seems to be. All current religions are worried about that. I'm not, of course, because I'm a Unitarian, I have grown to understand that God is not what mankind has thought God to be. There is no Creator God Being in the traditional "Genesis" sense, but there is a Life Force of the Universe that is at work in all that we do, see and have.

 When  you realise God is everything, you can consider that God is nothing, but when God is everything, I consider God to be everything. So the Life Force of the Universe is for me the perfect way to express this God in everything. Then instead of praying to a God, worshiping a God and caring about a God - we can begin to pray to and for others, worship and respect all others as well as all creation, and care about others and all of creation, which is God. There is not God and us, there is only God as us and everything else as well.

 God is the Spirit of Life Itself everywhere present throughout the Universe, that connects all Life to all other Life, and that created and continues to create all that we know and have, that's the real God. The Life Force of the Universe, which for me explains what God really is

Whatever God is or might be, and certainly no one knows anything for sure about the concept we call God, we do know, or should know, that God is Universal. God does not take sides. The sun shines on the good and the bad. The rain falls on the crops and the weeds. When God is seen to be for everybody, when God is seen with an "extra O", as in Goodness, then the world can start to become the Kingdom of God, that all religions say they want, but only humans can make it so.

All scripture is innerant

On the Unitarian facebook group recently, a Conservative, Literal Christian posted the well-known and well-abused passage from Timothy: (2 Timothy 3:16) “All scripture is inspired by God ...”

But the Greek text raises a number of problems:  πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος καὶ ὠφέλιμος πρὸς διδασκαλίαν, πρὸς ἐλεγμόν, πρὸς ἐπανόρθωσιν, πρὸς παιδείαν τὴν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ

First of all, there is no “is” (ἐστίν) in the Greek text, and there are a number of different ways one can construct the syntax.

Second, the term γραφή, which is often translated as “scripture,” is just the basic Greek term for any “written text.”

Third, the Greek term θεόπνευστος (often translated as “inspired by God”) is a pagan term meaning “inspired.” Indeed, in the New Testament there is no definition of “inspiration.”

The New English Bible (my preferred translation) translates the first part of 2 Timothy 3:16 as: “Every inspired scripture has its use for teaching…” But it could just as easily be translated as: “Every writing, both inspired and useful, is for teaching …” Thus the claim that 2 Timothy 3:16 claims that “All scripture is inspired …” is debatable. Furthermore, in the context of 2 Timothy 3, the written text in question does not and cannot possibly include the New Testament because it did not exist: it had not been written yet! It might refer to the Hebrew scriptures as they are now known, and certainly not to the Chrsitian Old Testament.  Rather it refers to the texts which Timothy may have read from early childhood and were in use in Judaeism in the 1st Cenutry CE. We don’t know what Timothy read from early childhood, but it might have contained some Old Testament book, and it might have contained other non-canonical books of the early Christians.

Thus, as Rev. Ant Howe pointed out, the Unitarian stance that "All scripture is inspired by God" (i.e. more than just the Bible) can be seen as just a valid interpretation - if not more so - than the Literalist view that "All Scripture( i.e.Bible only) is inspired....."

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Naming "God"

When we were kids in Sunday School, we were taught that God was a white man with a beard who sat on a throne and did nothing but have people stand around him and bow and tell him how amazing he is.

A Quaker friend of mine asked this question “What sort of omnipotent, omniscient God demands to be worshipped?”. Well, none. But just imagine if you applied the traditional imagery and personality we apply to God to a human being: all-knowing, all-powerful but yet with such low self-esteem that they want others to tell them how amazing they are, even try to control you and if they don’t get it they hate you. You’d send them for therapy! Would you want to even be friends? But yet this is the image many have of God: and indeed I and my atheist friends do not believe in exactly the same God – the one outlined above!

Friday, 31 August 2012

Personal Training for the soul

What do we mean by “fitness”. Anybody? Well, no it’s not about getting muscles or losing weight. To most people getting “fit” is an abstract idea, a notion, an idea, bantered about with no real meaning. As a Personal Trainer, to me “Fitness” is defined as:  a complete feeling of and state of physical, mental and emotional well-being.  Being a Personal Trainer or Fitness Instructor isn't just about about showing people how to lift weights!

Personal training and religion have a lot in common, and you know, I think we can apply a lot of the techniques of personal training for health and well being to our spiritual health as well.

Our American cousins define Fitness (or as they term it “Wellness”)as having six dimensions: Physical, Emotional, Intellectual, Social, Vocational and Spiritual.

Physical wellness encourages all issues concerning your physical body and daily life Emotional wellness emphasises awareness of and acceptance of feelings. An emotionally well person maintains satisfying relationships with others while feeling positive and enthusiastic about his life. You also maintain minimal levels of stress, develop healthy feelings and use nondestructive emotional outlets.
Intellectual Wellness encourages creative, stimulating mental activities including learning and adapting to and understanding change and the world we live in.
Social Wellness encourages contributing to human community and environment. A socially well person emphasises interdependence with others, with nature and within his own family and self.
Vocational Wellness is the growth and happiness in your own work, and jobs that are satisfying and enriching; vocational wellness emphasises being fit for purpose.
Spiritual Wellness is the universal quest for meaning and purpose. A spiritually well person develops, evolves and practices his religious, political, environmental and personal beliefs with integrity, truthfulness.”

Love your Dalek

“Love your enemy”

Who doesn’t know what a Dalek is? Who, when they were young didn’t cower behind the settee from those maniacal pepper-pot shaped baddies, armed with nothing more than a sink-plunger and egg whisk? Evil killing machines that couldn’t be stopped by the best that human arsenals had to offer? (Apart from a flight of stairs)

Religion and Spirituality....some thoughts...

I am reminded of the story of a cowboy who went to a church wearing jeans, ragged boots and a worn out old hat. As the cowboy took his seat, people moved away from him. No one welcomed him. As the cowboy was leaving the church, the minister approached him and asked the cowboy to do him a favour. "Before you come back in here again, have a talk with God and ask him what he thinks would be appropriate attire for worship." The old cowboy assured the preacher he would.
The next Sunday, he showed back up for the services wearing the same ragged jeans, boots, and hat. Once again he was completely shunned and ignored.

The preacher approached the man and said, "I thought I asked you to speak to God before you came back to our church."
"I did," replied the old cowboy.
"If you spoke to God, what did he tell you the proper attire should be for worshipping in here?" asked the preacher.
"Well, sir, God told me that He didn't have a clue what I should wear, seeing as He'd never been in this church."
I wonder if you have had the experience of being made to jump through hoops by the church. Maybe it was a catechism or some sort of membership system. Maybe your experiences and understanding of God was different to the orthodox teaching or perhaps you  felt excluded as you were not as enthusiastic and as sure as everyone else. Maybe you thought to yourself, “I'm a spiritual and moral person who believes in God. I try to live as well as I can, and do the right thing by others. And yet in church I am made to feel like a second class citizen because I don’t know the ritual or feel uncomfortable with the language and ideas.”

Jesus Saves?

Jesus Saves – but not like a Computer

So often one sees the words “Jesus Saves” bandered about, and like the cynic I am, cannot resist adding “with the Halifax” or “ but not as good as Johnny Wilkinson”. Or whatever pop reference I can come up with.

Many people see Jesus as being the equivalent of a religious Life Boat – literally dragging us, coughing, spluttering, from drowning in our own “sea of sin and iniquity”. Jesus as a life saver. A rescuer. Maybe he is. Maybe he isn't.


Many people have asked me, what is it that I, as a Unitarian believe, and, because we do not hold with a belief in the Holy Trinity, what do we do about Christmas, and, more fundamentally, Easter.
Well, traditionally, Unitarians have never had a problem with Easter; it is only in the past 50 or so years that it has become the vogue to dismiss Easter as, well, “too Christian” and therefore somehow not inclusive enough. Perhaps, Easter is, well, a bit uncomfortable for us as well. It’ easy to adopt the view held by James Martineau that reason is the seat of all authority. Using his logic, therefore, Easter as being miraculous and not conforming to the known laws of nature and science can be dismissed as being superstitious and un-reasonable. When you are dead, you stay dead, that much we can observe and know. But perhaps, perhaps, there is more to Life, the Universe and Everything than what is empirically observable and deemed to be rational. I believe that Life, the Universe and Everything is far more complicated than we give it credit; we as humans fear change and crave control and understanding. By subjecting Life the Universe and Everything to laws and observation in some way we can control and understand it, and that makes us feel safe, comfortable. The problem then is, what do we do when Life, the Universe and Everything doesn’t correspond to our laws and comfort zones?

Some Prayers

God, help me remember that the higher human within me is in constant development.
Help me achieve the state of calm and serenity required for an orderly development of my higher being.

Let me enter lovingly into the merits, those things worthy of praise, of each person I meet.

Let what calls me to action be motives of admiration, delighted approval,and reverential regard everywhere in my environ


Give me the confidence to remember that such devotion gives me power to attain higher knowledge.

When I discover in my consciousness adverse, disparaging, and critical judgmentof people, the world, and of life, help me find the strengthto cultivate thoughts of devotion -- centering my personal attention,activities, and prayers toward truth, knowledge, and love.

God, help me to remember that labour and suffering are given and enduredfor the sake of a great, spiritual, cosmic whole -- that the most insignificant action that I have to accomplish,
the most insignificant experience which offers itself to me
stands in connection with holy beings and holy events.
Fountain of Everlasting Peace and Healing Balm,
Wash over our wounds of war, violence, and hatred,
Scrub deep the stains that destroy the fabric of Your Existence,
Mend the tattered threads of the Cloak of Your Majesty,
The delicate web of the universe which is Your Life and Love...
A prophet of non-violence You have raised up for Truth,
Reflecting the Source of Your Unfathomable Wisdom,
Flowing from the One Great Abyss of Creation's Glory,
Open our minds to hear Your Voice speaking Peace this day,
Born from One Cosmic Egg, we are one family in You,
Help us to learn forgiveness, kindness, tolerance,
Greatness of mind and heart,
So that destroying all weapons of war,
Burying all animosities and differences,
We may hear the Divine Harmony of Your Love,
Preserving our blue-jewel-earth-planet,
Spinning the dance of a Mother's Infinite Tenderness,
That draws all into Unity in one Compassionate Heart.
Bestow the Blissful Smile of sun and rain which is Your Divine Presence
Making Peace grow in our hearts as seeds for a new era,
Birthing the song of non-violence
Which blesses our world with Peace
prayer for peace day - sister rosemarie - 2006
 Beloved, to Thee I raise my whole being,
a vessel emptied of self. Accept, O Lord,
this my emptiness, and so fill me with
Thy Self --- Thy Light, Thy Love, Thy
Life --- that these Thy precious Gifts
may radiate through me and over-
flow the chalice of my heart into
the hearts of all with whom I
come in contact this day,
revealing unto them
the beauty of
Thy joy
of Thy Peace
which nothing can destroy.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Sport and the Sacred

I am a rower. To me sport is something meaningful both personally and spiritually.When you sit in a boat with eight other guys, you put your faith in the boat - quite blindly- that it will float (famously rowing boats have sunk even during the Boat Race)  and also in your team mates. In the cox that he will stear you safely (especially because he's the only one facing the front of the boat and can see where you are going!) and in the three or seven other guys: you put your faith, and trust in them that they will perform to the best of their ability, you believe in them, you believe in the team. Similalry, they trust you to be as good as you can be. And finally, you trust yourself to be the best you can be. Its about putting aside the self, the ego, in favour of others.

Being a ‘sport’ or ‘good sport’ means you are willing to play. Willing to play means you are involved or alive to the situation in which you exist, and that is the essence of life. If there is anything that is truly close to a spiritual process, in the normal course of life, that is sports: One Hindu Swami said, “In kicking a ball or playing a game, you are much closer to the Divine than you will ever be in prayer." You can pray without involvement, but you cannot play sports without involvement, and involvement is the essence of life.

The fundamental of any sport or game takes care of this; that is, if you want to play a game, you must have the fire of wanting to win but also the balance to see that if you lose, it is okay with you. You never play a game to lose, you always play a game to win, but if you lose, that’s OK with you as well. If you maintain this fundamental with every aspect of life, you are a sport. And all that the world expects from you is, that you are a sport. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whatever kind of situation you are in, you are still a sport.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Revolutionary Unitarians

2012 sees the 220th anniversary of the conferring of French citizenship upon some of the most prominent Unitarians in British history: Rev. Dr. Joseph Priestley, Rev. Richard Price and Jeremy Bentham. Also granted citizenship was the abolitionist William Wilberforce and his ally Thomas Clarkson. This honour was due to their religious and political radicalism, and indeed Priestley and Price were elected as members of the French National Convention (the revolutionary government which replaced the ‘ancien regime’ Monarchy of Louis XVI in 1789). We often forget the radical message of our Unitarian movement and with the likes of jingoistic popular historical fiction such as ‘Sharpe’ o r ‘Flashman’ forget that not everyone in Britain was opposed to either the French Revolution or to Napoleon Bonaparte.  Unitarians in South West Wales sang the Marseillaise and even translated it into Welsh and it was sung well into the 19th century! The Revolution and Napoleon had vocal and active supporters in this country, especially amongst religious and political radicals, not least amongst them Unitarians, who agreed wholeheartedly with Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

"Engines that bend"

A new book discussing the origin of the articulated railway locomotive has recently been published: the most famous "bendy" engine being the  Garratt (or Beyer-Garratt) built by the Gorton firm of Beyer, Peacock & Co. and I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight the Unitarian progenitors of the idea. 

Monday, 30 July 2012

"Carved Stone Heads"

Two of the most famous Unitarian gothic-revival churches in the UK are Hyde Chapel, Cheshire and Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds both by the Manchester firm of Bowman & Crowther and opened within months of each other. In fact, the Leeds congregation took a lot of inspiration from  Hyde for their own building, including the pews, stained glass window and the final form of the piers in the arcades!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Lindseys Communion Service

Theophilus Lindsey was an Anglican Clergyman, who like many other Latitudinarians in the 18th century church wanted a "broad church" with the abolition of the 39-articles. Sadly, he felt compelled to leave and established the first avowedly Unitarian Church in Essex Street, London somewhat reluctantly, hoping to always be able to re-join the Church of England. A good dsicussion of the "broad church" movement and its links and parrallels with Unitarianism is  Yesterday's Radicals  by D. G. Wigmore-Beddoes.

Presented here is his Unitarian version of the Communion Service from the Book of Common Prayer. Unlike the Communion service(s) by Martineau, it is simple and retains the poetry of the original source material; Martineau's service is rather high-brow and incredibly wordy! In fact, in terms of theology and Christology, Martineau's is far closer to the BCP than Lindsey's is, although in his introductory notes Martineau states that communion is a not an expatiatory sacrifice, but more a fraternal meal for all believers.

At first glance this looks and reads like the Book of Common Prayer....but on closer inspection it is very differant in theology, especially the Christology: Jesus was raised up to be the Christ and 'exalted' to God's right hand. He was not, therefore co-eternal and no co-creator. The Lord's Prayer is not said; the Ten Commandments are not read out; there are no prayers for the Monarch; the Creed is not said and nor is the Agnus Dei; the Kyrie is incorporated into other payers. There is not attempt at consecration of the elements and the communion itself takes the form of a memorial meal. It is interesting that the Minister is instructed (in fact underlined to emphasise the point) to face the people, rhhter than face the table, with his back to the congregation. Those elements copied directly from the BCP are highlighted in blue. 

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Well Dressing

“All Creatures of our God and King”

This magnificent picture, created by year 10 students to commemorate the 2012 Olympic Games. The display reflects the Olympic ideal of bringing together all the nations of the world to one place to celebrate each other's achievements.

The Olympics in Ancient Greece existed for over a thousand years; they were begun around 770BC and abolished by the Church around 400AD. They were a bit different from the modern Olympic Games: for a start they lasted three months and also the athletes did so in the nude. Given the problems we’ve had with funding the London Games and the weather we’ve had recently, it’s a good job they’re now two weeks long – and fully clothed!

Because the Ancient Olympic Games were a Religious Festival, all those travelling to the games, to compete or to spectate, were given free passage and also peaceful passage. At the start of the games a Truce was declared and three runners would leave Ellis, the site of the games, spreading the news of peace to all the competing nations. All wars were suspended, all legal actions were suspended and death sentences commuted.

So as we look at this beautiful picture of all nations coming together for the Olympic Games, may we think about the spirit of peace which pervaded the ancient Olympic Games, as “All creatures of our God and king” gather together this summer to celebrated their athletic achievement in the spirit of peace, concord and inspiration. May we all learn that “All Creatures” are truly welcome, and welcome in peace, and love.

Let us pray
May the waters gathered here at these wells remind us what each of us brings to this community, and of the waters that nourished us before we were even born, that continue to give us sustenance and energy for our life journeys and that of all creatures on this earth. May we gratefully continue to “swim to the other side.”

May the love that overcomes all differences,
that heals all wounds, that puts to flight all fears, that reconciles all who are separated,
be with us, in us and between us now and always. Amen.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Some hymns

Let us build a house
Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell
how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes, and dreams and visions,
rock of faith and vault of grae;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome, 
all are welcome in this place.

Parable of the Good Lancastrian

This next parable started with a man asking Jesus a question.  The man who asks Jesus a question is very smart and was maybe trying to trick Jesus and see if he was a good teacher or not.  This is what he asked, "Teacher, what should I do so I can go to Heaven and live forever?"

Jesus replied, "What is written in the Bible?  What do you think?"  The man answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.”

But then someone else interrupted “Love my neighbour? That’s crazy. They’ve still got my lawnmower!”

Jesus replied, “Only let someone else use your lawnmower in your own garden.”

The crowd nodded sagely, ‘um’ing and ‘ah’ing in approval.

The first man interjected: “I think what he means is love other people as love yourself."
"That is right!"  Jesus said, breathing a sigh of relief.  "Do this and you will live forever in Heaven."  But the man wanted to know more so asked Jesus, "But how do we do this? Could you give us an example?"

Jesus decided to answer this question with a parable to help everyone who was listening understand.  Jesus said:  There once was a Yorkshireman, a travelling along a road.  It was the M62. He was coming from Leeds and was heading to Bradford, which was a full day or two of traffic jams.

Today, the road was clear and the sky was blue, green hills all around.  But he needed the loo so pulled into the little chef. The man was just humming to himself and enjoying the nice day when suddenly a group of men jumped out from behind a petrol pump.  They took all his belongings – his wallet, watch and iPhone – and even stole his best suit. It was Gucci.  They didn't want him to follow them so they beat him up very badly, and left him lying and bleeding on the side of the road.

A few minutes later a priest was walking to his car and noticed the man lying on the side of the road.  Do you know what he did?  You'd think he would run over and help the man.  Instead he crossed the road and walked on the other side and acted like he didn't see the man. May be he was too busy to help.

About an hour or so later another man, a GP was walking down the road.  He would probably help the man. It was against his oath not to.  But you know what he did?  He slowed down and walked a little closer to the man, but then kept walking without helping him at all. He was probably on strike.

You might be thinking that maybe the man lying by the side of the road looked like he was resting or something, that's why the priest and the GP didn't stop to help.  The trouble is, it was easy to tell he was badly hurt.  The man was bleeding, some of his clothes were missing and torn and he was bruised and hardly breathing.

Just a few minutes later another man came walking.  He was a Lancastrian.  One thing you should know about Lancastrian is that Yorkshire men didn't like them; they even had a war.  So they never got along.  The man who was dying on the road was a Yorkshire man.  So what do you think the Lancastrian did?  You'd think he would walk by and maybe even laugh at the man.

But as soon as he saw the man he went over to him and felt compassion for him.  He put bandages on his sores and poured oil and wine (which were quite expensive) on the sores to prevent them from getting worse.  Then he lifted the man into his own car and took him to BUPA hospital to take care of him.  Though why he didn’t phone 999 I don’t know; maybe he was insured. But that’s not important.

The next day the Lancastrian took out enough money so the man could stay at the hospital until he was well enough to leave.  He paid the man at the front desk and asked him to take care of the man.  If he wasn't better after about two months the Lancastrian fellah would come back and pay for any extra cost.

After Jesus finished the story he asked, "Which of the three men do you think was a neighbour to the man who was left beaten on the side of the road?"

The man who asked him the question at the beginning replied, "The one who had compassion and helped him."  Jesus told him, "Go and do the same."

Saturday, 12 May 2012

1662 and all that

The sermon for Sunday's service at Wakefield.

“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?” 
That’s my sermon. That’s it.
You need not think alike to love alike.
You expected more, didn’t you? Really. That’s it. Easy! (or as a very popular TV advert says “Simples”).
All right. I’ll admit it isn’t easy. I know it up here, in my head. You know it, in your heads, and in your hearts, in your gut instinct, but it’s often hard to put into practice.
Jesus said everything he was saying was about love. Love your neighbour. Love yourself. Love life. Love God.
Love, he said, is the Universal. If not, “God is Love,” then surely, “Love is God”-the holy of holies, the spirit of life. 

Monday, 5 March 2012

The Bible and Sexual Mores

Like many Liberals I am disgusted by the pontificating of Cardinal O'Brien; yet as a wooly-liberal he would perhaps dismiss my theology as  'cherry picking'. I find myself doubly under attack by him: he attacks single parent families and homosexuals. My father died when I was four and I was brought up by my mother, grandmama, grandfather and various aunts. I think I turned out OK. However, the lack of a male 'father figure' contends the Cardinal is what made me turn out homo/bi sexual. Oh really? Well how come my brother is straight?  As to marriage always being between one man and one woman.....has he actually read the Old Testament which condones polygamy, levite marriage, marriage between slaves...etc.?

When it comes to sexual mores, it is a fact that most Christians disagree with the Bible more than they agree with it.Most Christians would generally agree with the Bible in condeming
Intercourse with animals.

However, we disagree with the Bible on most other sexual mores. The Bibles discourages or condemns the following behaviours:
Intercourse during menstruation
Exogamy (marriage with non-Israelites)
Naming sexual organs
Birth control
Regarding bodily fluids as  'unclean' (OK maybe relevant given HIV/Aids)

Likewise the Bible permits the following which we condemn or have discontinued:
Underage or arranged marriage
Levirate Marriage
Sex with Slaves (and the keeping of Slaves!)
Treatment of Women as Property

And, whilst the Old Testament accepted divorce, Jesus forbade it! In short, of the sexual mores listed here, we agree with only four (4) and disagree with sixteen (16)! So why do some Christians appeal to the Bible to condemn same-sex relationships when they are likely to disagree with the Bible on sexual ethics more than they agree with it? It is because they too, like the 'wooly-liberals' cherry pick the pieces of the scripture that appeal most to them and represents the curernt 'bogey-man' and fear of modern society. 200 years ago Napoleon I was the 'bogey man' of the world, and some Evangelicals interpretted him as 'the beast'in the Revelation of St John; 150 years ago it was his nephew, Napoleon III and the Pope who were 'the beast' and the Crimean War (1853-1856)  the 'War of the End Times'. So too was the American Civil War (1861-1864).

IF we insist in placing ourselves under the Old Testament laws, as St Paul reminds us, we are obliged to keep every commandment, not just the anti-gay ones (Galations 5:3)! Thus, circumcision, not eating pork or prawns, not cutting the hair on the temples, no tattoos and not wearing mixed-fabric clothes are the order of the day, but most of the Christians who condemn homosexuality based on the Old Testament would probably deny that the other Old Testament Laws apply to them. Sadly, it's all or nothing says St Paul. But, if we believe Jesus came to bring an end to the Law (Romans 10:4) then we live in a new life of the Spirit (Romans 7:6), then all these sexual mores come under the authority of the Spirit. We cannot even take, therefore, the pronouncements of Paul on sexuality, as a new Law. Christians reserve the right to chose for themselves and observe sexual mores, though seldom admit to doing so. The crux of the matter for this Free Christian at least, is simply that the Bible has no sexual ethic. It exhibits a variety of sexual mores, many of which have changed and evolved over several thousand years. Many of the practices the Bible condemns we allow, and many it allows, we prohibit. The Bible only knows a love ethic. The notion of the Bible having a 'sex-ethic' tells us more about modern consumer society, about modern society seaking answers and an anchor in a time of upheaval and economic trouble. The more troubled society gets,the more uncertain the future, the more  the past looks attractive and the more attractive solid, unquestioning/able answers become. Furthermore, sex and sexuality are an in-built part of us. Sex and sexuality is part of who we are and we cannot separate them from our daily lives. Whilst we need rules and mores to give shape and pattern to our daily lives, these self same rules and norms tend to be pressed into service of the powers that be, into the service of crowd control and domination: nothing is more controlling of a person than the denying of the full expression of the self through sexuality and sex. We must critique the sexual mores of the Bible and of our own days not by the Law but by the Love Ethic of the man Jesus: Such a love is non-exploitative, it does not dominate; it is reponsible, mutual, caring and above all, loving. Christian morality is not a cast-iron chastity belt. The issues over same-sex marriage should not be 'What does the Bible say', 'What is permitted?' but rather 'what does it mean to love my gay neighbour?' Approached from the point of view of the Spirit it becomes no longer an issuse of 'what does the Bible command' but 'What is scripture trying to say in the light of the Spirit, Biblical criticism, tradtion, science and pyschology?' We cannot continue to build ethics or preach ideas based on bad science.

Where the Bible mentions same-sex acts it clearly condemns it. I accept that. But then I also accept that the Bible is a product of a differant society to my own, written over the course of centuries, appealing to differant and changing situations and circumstances from ones I know. The Bible also condones slavery, yet in 1806 the Slave Trade was declared illegal in the British Empire. The Bible appeared to be clealry on the slave-owners side and the abolitionists were hard-pressed to fight back using Biblical statements. Yet most Christians today would condemn the Bible or deny the Bible over slavery.

Jesus said to his followers, 'Love one another' and told them to 'judge for themselves' (Luke 12: 57); and St Paul echoes this sentiment (1 Corinthians 6:3). Thus we are to judge for ourselves what is right. Thus we are obligated to judge for ourselves on the matter of homosexuality in the light of new evidence, of all the available data on the issue. We are thus freed from the sin of Bibliotary - the worship of the Bible -and it is restored to its proper place as a witness to God and the life, teaching and example of Jesus Christ rather than a moral text book against which everyone is judged. If we believe that the Word became flesh we believe God was revealed in and as ant though a human being, just like us. The Word was not revealed as words!

What is clear, utterly clear, is that we are commanded by Jesus to love one another. Love not just those whom we know and love, but those whom we meet on the street, the stranger on the bus and our gay and lesbian sisters and borthers: all those 'beyond the pale'. Reach out, and like Jesus, touch the untouchables with love.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Daily Devotional 22 February 2012

Daily Devotional - Morning

At the start of day or before you start work, perhaps you might like to join in with these thoughts and prayers. If you do, find a quiet place, take time to be calm and centred; focus on the still small voice of calm within, finding a sacred space amidst the noise of the world.

Spirit of Community, in which we share and find strength and common purpose, we turn out minds and hearts towards one another seeking to bring into our circle of concern all who need our love and support. Remind us that we are all part of a web of life, that makes us one with the you and with each other.

As we start our busy working day, may we find the grace to see the Divine image reflected in all those people who we will meet this day; may we find the strength to always bear a loving witness and to do what we know is right.

Perhaps you might like to pause here for your own private prayers and thoughts for yourself and for others; for situations around world or people and places only known to you.

Welcoming and vulnerable God, whose outrageous love embraces all of creation and challenges us to our foundation, dwell in our crowded hearts, our steaming bathrooms, messy kitchens, and offices full of things to be done. Shake us from our complacency into action, as we venture our lives courageously towards hope and light, at once fragile, and rooted. Amen.

After work, or at the end of the day

Perhaps you might like to join with these or similar words, if you feel able, at the end of the working day or before sleep.

Blessed spirit of life we give thanks for this day and all that it held; all those people we met and situations we encountered. Faces in the street and in the work place, friends yet to be rather than strangers. May we be thankful.

If you feel able, you might like to use these words in your personal devotion, or use them as inspiration for your own thoughts, prayer or meditation.

As our work ends and the daylight fades, may we confess our shortcomings and give thanks for all that we have achieved; for all that is good and for all that we have, rather than strive for what we think we need.

You might like to close your devotion with either or both of the following.

God, who is the mystery around us, the spirit within us, and the love between us, help us to know you, to know you more with every breath we take, with every pulse of our blood’s circulation, with every glimpse of your essence, as the essence of all things.

May we, in the silence of the night, rest easy and feel restored when the morning light breaks. Amen.

Monday, 20 February 2012

A prayer for Splodge

I have loved you from the day you came into my life,
and now it is time for me to let you go.
You taught me how the universe is founded upon love;
you were shown love and responded the only the only way you knew how.
With love.
My the measure of that love be reflected in the ocean of tears shed for you.
I could not watch you suffer,
I could not see you in pain.
Now you are free.
Your body is no longer sick,
or weak, or hurting.
Now you can run with the others,
playing and hunting as wild things do.
Because I loved you,
I had to let you go.
You will live forever in my heart.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Joseph Hanson

Joseph Hanson (1774-1811) was a Unitarian, political Radical and so-called 'Weaver's Friend', who through his short life was persecuted for his faith and politics by the 'powers that be'. I'm sure there is a sermon in here somehwere. The more one reads about Unitarians in the Napoleonic Period the more one admires them for holding to their faith and principles amidst persecution (especially since to hold the Unitarian view point was illegal and punishable by hanging until 1813).

Anyway, enjoy this:

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Faith and Belief

Some would say that  faith is the same as belief.  But that’s a mistake.  It’s a mistake the church has made, along with other religions.  It led to a situation where belief became a test of faith; and there were dire consequences for those who failed the test by not believing the right things.  They were subjected to the cruellest torture, and then consigned to eternal damnation if they didn’t change their minds.
This conflation of faith and belief has caused religious chaos across the whole world.  It resulted in pogroms, crusades and many forms of religious extremism, including the latest manifestation of suicide bombers.
So faith needs to be seen as much more than just belief.  Belief is an intellectual activity of the mind: faith is a commitment of the heart.  Faith is better understood in terms of TRUST; and so there will always be an element of risk about it, rather than certainty.

If you have faith in someone, you don’t just believe in their existence, you trust them.  You trust that they will be true to themselves, and live up to the highest claims their own conscience makes upon them.
Faith is a creative energy or power.  It creates relationships.  First of all, it invites you into a relationship with yourself (or rather with your Better Self).  Faith will encourage you to believe in yourself and trust yourself; and even to love yourself, because love is the highest form of this relationship.
Having found a healthy and wholesome relationship with yourself, you will then want to reach out to include others: and this will eventually lead you into the experience of being embraced by the love of the universal Other, that we call God.

Faith is not saying that you believe in the existence of someone called God (as if that would make any difference!).  Nor is it saying that you believe in any so-called ‘statements of faith’.
Faith is not a statement: it’s a commitment – trusting that in spite of all, life has meaning and purpose.  Faith means taking a risk, and living in the light of it; loving yourself and loving others; and as a result, experiencing the love of God who, it seems, is also trusting us to be true to ourselves.                                                                                                   

We are not worthy?

In the gym the other day, whilst doing a 5K metre row -  my favourite/usual place for finding inspiration (perhaps due to increased blood flow to the brain) I started to ponder on the effect of the notion of "Original Sin" on society.

This notion of "You/We are not worthy" is all pervavise: Advertising hoardings shout it in 20 foot high letters "To be worthy look like us/belike us/have this stuff " As though somehow we as people are incomplete and not worthy unless we have a six pack, a new car and the lastest shiny stuff. The Church does the same thing. In the Book of Common Prayer is the line "We are not worthy even to pick up a crumb from under your table." We are all "miserable sinners". Imperfect, not good enough, not worthy. Its all around us! Negativity in = negativity out.

No wonder people have low self esteem! No wonder people think they find happiness from the latest shiny things and hair do.

But yet.....but yet is the latest hair do and having the newest and most "stuff" actually healthy? Is the assertion of the BCP healthy? I dont think so. It tells us that we are somehow, fundementally flawed, flawed by our very nature of our being and only by the ministrations of the church or commercialism can we be saved and be happy.

As  Unitartian, of course, I do not believe in "Original Sin". I believe in Original Blessing. Adam and Eve are jsut a story, like a Kipling "Just-So" story, written at a point in history to explain not literally but in stories and metaphor, why things are the way they are. They are not true nor literal accounts.  That is not to say Sin does not exist. Unitarians and other liberals tend to run away from that word and find it unfashionable. But I think this concept of Sin - literally all that which gets between us and God and ourselves - is important. Whilst Orthodox Christians would suggest that pride is a bad thing - to Catholics a Cardinal Sin - being proud of  yourself, having high self esteem is healthy, but not at the expense of others. To my mind, SIn is best summed up by Terry Pratchett who, through Granny Wetherwax says "There are no shades of grey. when you treat others like things". And by extension I would add "yourself". Thus, treating yourself as a thing - as unworthy, as only being happy and fulfilled with the latest clothes and gadget is Sin. Why? Because it blocks out original blessing- the inbuilt capability and capacity within all human beings to be Christ-like. All that "stuff"gets in the way of being ourselves, being truly who we are. We spsend more time striving to be someone else, dreaming, wishing, hoping to be someone else rather than getting to know and love ourselves for the beautiful, fulfilled people we are.

Roger Grainger on Gays and Christianity

Roger quoted the passage where St Paul has his vision, on the temple roof or mountain top and hears that God is Love and all the old laws have passed away.

In his book "The Holy Orafice" Roger describes how OT Jewish Law had very unhealthy/obsessed views with sex - ie some of the wierder stuff in there - but that as Christians we are freed from the laws of Moses and Leviticus to live under new laws, primarily that of Love. St Paul is the major source for Christian morality in the NT - letters to Rome, Corinth etc - but as he had cultural conditioning toward or against various issues (eg homosexuality etc) of course he would say bad things. Indeed, he uses the phrase "Arsen Koitus" - which isnt even Greek, its slang greek and a slang term which meens "anal sex" or "men who have anal sex" in its proper translation but is probably NT slang for "puff". St Paul was of the mind that Gay people chose to be gay - everyone is straigh in his thinking and one choses to be gay. We now know it is more complicated than that!

Jesus Saves – but not like a Computer

So often one sees the words “ Jesus Saves” bandered about, and like the cynic I am, cannot resist adding “with the Pru” or “ but not as good as Wilkinson”. Or whatever pop reference I can come up with.

Many people see Jesus as being the equivalent of a religious Life Boat – literally dragging us, coughing, spluttering, from drowning in our own “sea of sin and iniquity”. Jesus as a life saver. A rescuer. Maybe he is. Maybe he isn't.

But what does the word “Salvation” or “save” in this context mean? Salvation is taken from the Latin salvere meaning “to find wholeness”. In other words, Jesus doesn't save like a goal keeper or a computer programme, saves us from deletion; he's not like the computer in the Dr Who episode 'Silence in the Library'. Instead, he brings us wholeness. Brings a sense of oneness, oneness not only with ourselves but with each other and with God.

Easter Ramblings

Many people have asked me, what is it that I, a Unitarian, believe, and, because we do not hold with a belief in the Holy Trinity, what do we do about Christmas, and, more fundamentally, Easter?

Well, traditionally, Unitarians have never had a problem with Easter; it is only in the past 30 or so years that it has become the vogue to dismiss Easter as, well, “too Christian” and therefore somehow not inclusive enough. Perhaps, Easter is, well, a bit uncomfortable for us as well. It’ easy to adopt the view held by James Martineau that reason is the seat of all authority. Using his logic, therefore, Easter as being miraculous and not conforming to the known laws of nature and science can be dismissed as being superstitious and un-reasonable. When you are dead, you stay dead, that much we can observe and know. But perhaps, perhaps, there is more to Life, the Universe and Everything than what is empirically observable and deemed to be rational. I believe that Life, the Universe and Everything is far more complicated than we give it credit; we as humans fear change and crave control and understanding. By subjecting Life the Universe and Everything to laws and observation in some way we can control and understand it, and that makes us feel safe, comfortable. The problem then is, what do we do when Life, the Universe and Everything doesn’t correspond to our laws and comfort zones? 

On the Trinity

Inspired by some postings on the UK  Methodist Facebook group.

The Unitarian and emphasis on the Unipesonality of God traditionally is said to "...completely contradict Christian orthodoxy, which affirms three divine Persons, yet one God." Except that hypostasis=persona does NOT mean Person in the way we would understand the word. There is a very fine line between trinitarianism and tritheism. It has rightly been said that it is impossible to preach on the Trinity without committing heresy. My reading of the Hebrew texts leads me to affirm the Oneness of God much more than the subsequent reflections of the Greek and Latin Fathers.

 "I don't think we can stop at the Hebrew scriptures when talking about the Trinity." Of course not. But they are pat of the darta, and part of the process by which God has revealed himself. The thing for me is what lies behind the text: the Hebrew mind seems to be more poetic, able to hold different themes, almost like different themes in a symphony, while the Greek mind is more mathematical, algebraic, needing to resolve the tensions until a conclusion is reached. That's why the Hebrews produced prophets and psalmists, while the Greeks produced philosophers. When contemplating the nature of God, poetry is more use than philosophy; the Trinity is a true mystery, and resolving it always loses something. God is One. He has been known in three entities, which have been labelled as hypostasis (literally 'mask' or 'face') - orthodoxy has taken a particular set of dogmatic resolutions from that, rejecting such things as Modalism which was just as logical a deduction. The point is that any resolution poses as many problems as it solves, because we are dealing with the mystery of divinity.

 My problem- and I think that of many others too -  is that I have read and heard so much which tries to argue that the Trinity is what God is, as if that gives us a dogmatic box in which to contain him. I cannot buy that, especially when most of the credal statements of the Early Church are written in a language which is not mine and makes philosophical assumptions I don't share. I do not dismiss the Trinity - essentially, it's the best analysis of the biblical experience of God as Father, Son and Spirit - but it feels more to me like a handle by which we grasp the mystery. God is certainly more than the formula can contain. The best explanation of 'Trinity' I can offer is as a way of understanding God and understanding knowledge, awareness and relationship with God and the self:

God the Fatherr = God as Creator; God as "wow"; the all pervasive God in Creation
God the Son = God revealed through human beings, through the writing of prophetic men and women, artists and scientists. God in you and me.
God the Spirit = the inner,"still small voice of calm"; the concscience; the personal God the "inner light" of George Fox.

 Not many of us really understand the Nicene language and concepts (did they?) - I think we're better off handling our theology in an impressionistic way than a pointilist or realist way, if you see what I mean. Nigel is quite right in arguing that there are boundaries - Methodism IS a Trinitarian church, and has established certain doctrinal standards, which means if anyone wants to join the church as a member, they have to sign up to those standards. But the standards are pretty broad, and allow for a great deal of variety within those standards (we include everything from fundamentalist literalists to high Wesleyan sacramentalists and progressive liberals); we also welcome as friends and fellow-worshippers many who do not fit within those standards. The important thing is that we journey together into a closer walk with God - which may or may not mean a deeper understanding! The Kingdom of God is not about doctrinal orthodoxy. God cannot be summed up in a nice set of officially authoriased words. It is about how we live - a way of life - and, more importantly, how we love.

Christmas Musings

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree
We usually think of the Christmas Tree being a Victorian invention, being introduced by Prince Albert from his native Germany c.1840. The Christmas Tree, however, has a longer and far more meaningful history than that, however, one linked with education reform, Abolition and the reinvention of Christmas by a religious denomination who saw Christmas not as the birth of the Son of God but as a family-centred holiday to focus on family and community.

Epiphany Address, Westgate Chapel, Wakefield 15-1-2012

This time of year is called Epiphany, from the Greek meaning ‘striking or sudden appearance or manifestation’. In the Church, Epiphany is when the Magi presented their gifts to the infant Jesus and had the sudden ‘realisation’ or Eureka-moment that there, in that baby, was Emmanuel – God with us. The Word made Flesh. The distant and unknowable made knowable, the unseen made visible. God revealed to us as and through humanity.

 No matter your theological views on Jesus, the fundamental revelation still exists – God revealed as and through a human being, like you and I. The Word made Flesh, not as with the Old Testament covenants, the Word made Words on Tablets of Stone or Purity Codes, but the Word made flesh. But how often have we forgotten that the Word became Flesh! How many times do mainstream churches forget this in their fetishisation of the Bible?  As the hymn writer says, “The Lord has yet more light and love to shed forth from his word.” God didn’t stop speaking with the Bible. Because of the Word made Flesh, God is revealed through people like you and me. That’s scary isn’t it? It’s challenging. It’s dynamic. No wonder we seek the security of “Thou Shalt Not”. God is still speaking through the words and deeds of prophetic men and women, through all the arts and sciences, and above all, in that personal, “still small voice of calm” that we may all experience.

Sanguinary words from the past...

Rev T Hincks, at his Induction at Upper Chapel, Sheffield. January 1852 said

“I have always felt…we must have the general cooperation of the members; that we must have members not merely nominally connected with us, but engage them doing something connected…With every man standing upon his own private judgement, and claiming the liberty to carry out his own ideas in his own peculiar way, it is difficult to get harmony amongst us for common work, so terribly independent we are. If we could merge our own individual peculiarities for the sake of forming one compact body that shall work for the common good, we should remove one of the greatest difficulties that we now have to attend with. If we are to work as a Christian body, we must, on points not of vital consequence, lay aside some of our individuality. We must rise higher for the sake of common good, and for the peace, and harmony and power of the church, we must fall in with the rest, and contribute what gifts we have to the work of the whole. The right of Private Judgement was a glorious thing in its place, but now it becomes almost a nuisance amongst us, so much does it interfere with other members and the common good…I wish that our church should become a church professing Gospel Christianity rather than theologies – a church whose all-sufficient creed is the Christ of the Gospels, and its test of discipleship harmony with the life and spirit of the Great Master- that it should be a church of Free Thought, unfettered by formularities – a church in which the doubter whose affections and aspirations are yet Christian, but whose understanding is troubled with speculative difficulties, may find shelter and nourishment for his religious nature, and not be met with an anathema; that it should be a church of Catholic sympathies – a church ready to welcome the True and Good, wherever found, rejoicing to discover points of union between itself and the great Christian commonwealth; and lastly that it be a church of Good Works – a church not content to remain unmoved amongst prevailing sin – a church not practically repudiating the example of the good Samaritan – a church…which grows and spreads amongst us, a church whose members feel the duty which membership lays upon them and shall be willing to contribute their gifts and talents to increase its power and efficiency; in one word a church which shall nourish. A church which shall nourish well the religious life of all its members – that shall welcome all earnest free thinkers…a church that shall be devoted by its constitution to teaching the gospel to the poor and carrying the influence of holy religious to the afflicted and outcast. That is my conception of a church ought to be that dares call itself Christian.”

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, 22 January 1852.