Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Feed the Birds

 Early each day to the steps of Saint Paul's
The little old bird woman comes
In her own special way to the people she calls,
"Come, buy my bags full of crumbs;
Come feed the little birds,
Show them you care
And you'll be glad if you do
The young ones are hungry
The nests are so bare
All it takes is tuppence from you
Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag
Feed the birds," that's what she cries
While overhead, her birds fill the skies

All around the cathedral the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares
Although you can't see it,
You know they are smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares

Though her words are simple and few
Listen, listen, she's calling to you
"Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag"

Monday, 29 June 2015

We are the Daleks

The Daleks. A uniquely British science fiction "baddy". Nothing more than a dustbin armed with a sink-plunger and an egg whisk. Evil killing machines that can't be stopped by the best that human arsenals have to offer  - other than a flight of stairs.

Who do you say I am?

The above pictures were taken at Paris Pride. And, undestandably many Christians - especially Roman Catholics - found these tableaus offensive. I can understand why. But, at the same time, I think they are the most wonderful piece of challenging Queer Theology.

The image of Jesus kissing another man was branded disrespectual (despite kissing on the lips being perfectly common in the 1st century CE). And I think it's been branded as such because it makes Jesus human - it gives him not only a sex but also a sexuality with all the messy human stuff that goes with him. The whole point of Incarnational Theology is that the "Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us". The word became Flesh. Not a Ken Doll - shiny, and handsome but never having to worry about which side he dresses. Jesus was a human being - just like you and I. Messy, complicated. Mucky. Too often we put him up on a pedestal like a plaster saint: we make him perfect. Long haired. Blue eyed. Killer abs. Walking a few inches off the ground. We forget he was a first century Jew lilving in the levant (olive skinned, dark hair, probably not very tall by today's standards). We make him "perfect" , "sinless" (the Gospel writers try to do that too...) and by so doing we lose the essential humanity of Jesus. We lose the fact the he was a man. With working genitals and probably used them. I think the fact that Jesus kissing another man can be taken as offensive and disrespectful is becaues we don't want Jesus to be human. We can't handle the idea of Jesus having sex. We don't like our heros to be mucky. We don't want our teacher, examplar,pioneer to be just like us. We want them to be better than us. To be superhumna. But by making Jesus superhuman is to totally negate the incarnation.

But the whole point is that Jesus, messy and complicated as he was, he was able to become "one with God" and he says we can do it to - put aside the self and the selfish ego and live a life of servcie and oneness with the self and with God. And because he, a mucky complicated human being could do so, so can I. Sex, desires and sexuality included.

And the image of Christ Crucified with a sign reading "Homophobia" rather han INRI reminds us that LGTBQ+ people have been crucified by the intollerance of the Church  for centuries. Not literally crucified - usually they were burned at the stake - but metaphorically crucified. Made a scapegoat. In the image of a Queered Jesus, crucified by homophobia is to remind us not only of his sacrificial love for all but to remind us of the inhumanity man has shown to man.

The death of Jesus is a reminder that a life of love, serving others and of radical hospitality (Jesus never turned people away and used stories, such as the good sammaritan or the women at the well to challenge everyday stereotypes and prejudices) can be world changing and can be threatening and challenging. And it's dangerous. Jesus didn't die to literally save sinners  by being the only acceptable "sacrifice" but rather he "saved sinners" by what happened after his death. His death was a tragedy - just like the death of other radical leaders (spiritual and temporal). He made a decision to change the world, to challenge the powers that be and went to his death because of that. His was a sacrificial love. His death *did* change the world - his death inspired others to stand in his place; just as the death of Rev Jim Reeb 50 years ago at Selma did or the death of Dr Luther King. The death was a tragedy, but the transformation it inspired in others is the miracle. Love coming out of darkness and tragedy.

So yes, Jesus can represent all these things: He can represent the world being crucified by the greedy and wealthy in the name of money; he can represent the animals and species being crucified by man; he can represent man being crucified by man through his own inhumanity. Jesus can represent LGBTQ persons being crucified. Who do you say I am? he asked. I say he can represent all these things: not just because he is an archetype, but because his sacrificial love was world and life changing and transformational.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Fun with Flags

No, not this one....

But this one...

Flags have been in the news a lot over the past few weeks, with objections being raised to the flying of the Confederate Battle Flag and also the Pride or Freedom Flag – one US Christian commentator described the Pride Flag as being “anti-Christian” and  a “banner of fascism and intolerance” and that it should be banned, whilst at the same time arguing it was OK to fly the “stars and bars”.

The flag which today is most associated with the Confederate States of America – those states which seceded from the Union in 1861 over the right to own slaves – is the Confederate Battle Flag, a flag introduced after the Battle of Manassas in 1861, because the Confederate State Flag was too similar at a distance to the Stars and Stripes of the Union forces. Today, it is often erroneously thought to have been the flag of the Confederacy, but it was not.

The Flag of the Confederate States went through several iterations: the first was rectangular, with two horizontal red stripes separated by a white stripe of equal width. In the upper left canton was a blue field, bearing nine, later thirteen, white states – one per state of the Confederacy. It looked like this:

   But because this was too similar to the Stars and Stripes a new flag was designed by newspaper owner William T Thompson  in 1863 and dubbed “The Stainless Banner” because it was predominantly white The body of the flag was white, and in the upper canton the familiar red field with the blue saltire cross. 


 In describing his flag, Thompson stated

As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity, and barbarism….”

Furthermore the white field of the flag represented racial purity

We are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.”

The Confederate Battle flag only came to prominence within the last 50 years or so because of its adoption by the Klu Klux Klan and later, as a response in many former “Southern” states as a response to the Equal Rights movement. Even today, in the discussion in the US to banish the flags of the Confederacy for good, many still hold on the idea that the Confederacy was not racist at all, merely

 “a symbol of patriots who were willing to die to protect this country and make sure it remained as the founders intended….Freedom with as little interference from the federal government as possible…. A war for southern independence”.

The Pride or Freedom Flag, by direct contrast was designed by the artist Gilbert Baker for the 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade.  Just as the fifteen stars on the Confederate flag represented the states of the Confederacy, so each of the six stripes of the Pride Flag has its own meaning
Red for life

Orange for healing

Yellow for sunlight

Green for nature

Blue for art

Purple for serenity

 Is it flown horizontally so that the stripes form a natural rainbow. The original flags were hand-sewn as a peace demonstration; it grew in popularity after the death of Harvey Milk and the burgeoning of the Gay Rights movement in the US.

It has often drawn controversy: in 1998  in the US John Stout sued his landlords – and won- after they forbade him from flying a pride flag; in 2004 Westminster City Council forbade the display of the pride flag by gay businesses. The decision was later overruled and only this year, again in the US, one Christian group has complained about the placement of rainbow coloured candles in a front garden, for being “relentlessly gay”.

So I ask this question, which of the two flags – the Confederate Battle Flag or the Pride Flag is really a banner for intolerance? I suppose it all depends which side of the political spectrum you sit, but the Confederate States of America- despite their romantic image via the likes of Gone with the Wind or The Blue and the Grey extolling the virtues of an idealised south –  was a country established over racism, over slavery. Whilst those who apologise for the South will say it was all about small govmint and states rights, what it actually was about was slavery. Stars and Bars or Rainbow Stripes? And if the flag, the symbol embodies the country or movement it represents, displays their virtues, then the Pride Flag is a flag of hope, a flag of freedom, and  - despite the machinations of the Christian Right, a Christian emblem, embodying the virtues of life, of healing and spirit. Moreover, it embodies the values of humanity. There's nothing fascist or intelorant represented in the values - the virtues - represented in the Pride Flag.

You chose. But I know which flag as the side of history with it, and as we approach the Gay Pride time of year, let us all fly our Rainbow Stripes with pride.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Vive la Revolution

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

After hearing the news of the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, the Unitarian William Hazlitt was:

…staggering under the Blow of Waterloo. The reappearance of our Imperial Idol on the coast of France, and his triumphal march on Paris is like a fairy-vision, excited our admiration and sympathy to their utmost pitch...Waterloo... the greatest and most fatal in its consequence that was ever fought in the world...the Sun that illuminated the Day of Austerlitz has finally set; the Lamp of Liberty is extinguished.’
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. The motto of the French Revolution, a Revolution which terrified the crowned heads of Europe who, for twenty years, desperately tried put the Genie of Liberty back into the bottle.  Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, are not just words uttered by dead politicians; the motto of a system of government once (still?) reviled in Britain. And contrary to the assertion of Hazlitt, the Lamp of Liberty is not extinguished. It cannot be extinguished, dimmed and guttering it may be: the Lamp of Liberty burns in all our hearts as the Divine Spark of Wesley; the Inner Light of George Fox, the still small voice of calm of Longfellow; the conscience of Emerson.
Unitarians supported the French Revolution because it’s values chimed with their own: Freedom, Reason and Tolerance. Freedom of thought, of belief, of action, the freedom to live an authentic life; the importance of Reason in understanding and interpreting the world; and Tolerance to accept the ideas, opinions and beliefs of those with whom we may not agree. Values many Unitarians still value.
These values are values of inclusion, of welcome, of radical hospitality.
Liberty to think for yourself, to make up your own mind, to be authentic and live and authentic life.
Equality – that all people are worth of the same dignity and respect; to treat others as we would have them treat us.
Fraternity – the recognition that we are all part of the same human family. That we are all “one”, one before each other and one before God.
The ‘Lamp of Liberty’ is rekindled every time freedom prevails over injustice; the Lamp of Liberty is rekindled every time equality triumphs over oppression; the Lamp of Liberty is rekindled every time the essential one-ness of our human condition is recognised.
And this is not just a political statement, but a religious one as well. Jesus of Nazareth no less urged his followers to ‘Love God, Love another and love your neighbour as yourself’; to ‘do unto others as you would them to do unto you’ to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us; that blessed are the peace makers and those who suffer for the sake of righteousness.  Jesus never told his followers what to believe, but more importantly – and one attended with far more difficulty – how to behave. This is a vision of radical inclusion where no one is cast out and all are welcome in the name of love.  No one is left outside ‘in my father’s  house there are many rooms.’ To paraphrase St Paul, if we do not have love we are nothing but a noisy gong or crashing cymbal – lots of noise but nothing else. ‘These three shall abide: Faith, Hope and Love, but the greatest of these is Love.’ This is a radical vision and message of a world set free, set free by love: love of the self, love of neighbour and love all that we find holy.  As the hymn-writer says
“We would be one in building for tomorrow, a greater world than we have known today; We would be one in searching for that meaning which binds our hearts and points us on the way. We would be one in living for each other, With love and justice strive to make all free. As one, we pledge ourselves to greater service, To show the world a new community.”
May we forever strive to encourage the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in our own lives and in the world at large.