There was no Unitarian service this morning, so I went to the cut-down Anglican service (no choir, reduced turnout), and - as I think I'll settle - I sat at the gospel unlike others, the creed and the Eucharist (first part when people stand). This is because I won't now stand for a book, or the suggestion of a presence at the book, or say any creed, or stand at the Eucharist at which I also stay silent (again it's about presence). This still leaves me saying and singing quite a few dogmatic things, though I actually do not say "Thanks be to God" after a Bible reading and my contribution after the intercessory prayers is "Merciful Father, Accept these prayers... Amen." It seems the last part of the service I'll be able to say is, "And also with you," because I am always prepared to reciprocate any greeting, and that's an open reply.
The presentation of the service, as is readable from many a sermon, is that all this can be of a story; the Christmas Eve sermon pointed out the incompatibility of Luke and Matthew gospels on the birth narratives. It said, "the Christian faith claims" that it's not a case of God saying "I know how you feel" but that God was there, for example even in the mundane matter of Jesus learning to be a carpenter with all the splinters, boredom, thrown away mistakes and the rest, through the highs and lows of the building trade.
There is, then, always this sleight of hand. The sermon said, "Wherever you are along the story to history pole..." (if I remember quite correctly).
To me, it can indeed be a story. We don't even know Jesus's trade. The translation suggests he could have been a scholar, but he may have been a builder. The birth narratives are simply not historical, but then neither are the trial and resurrection narratives except the most likely bit that he was killed by the authorities. Nor do we know that much about the mission: it looks more like a year in length rather than three, snuffed out quickly by the authorities. All we have are transmitted sayings, and a supernatural culture and various expectations of a downtrodden people with scriptures of a mythical tribal past.
Yet a quip was made today about the new Unitarian hymn book I took along, that I'd mentioned before, Sing Your Faith, that 'it would be quick' - with apology - and yet it is a book I think is rather good.
The idea is put that the Christian faith is rich and dense and fruitful, whereas something like Sing Your Faith represents something thin and humanistic, slim and gone in a flash, rather like Hymns for Living has been seen.
But, in the end, something that is based on a story, or on texts, that represents a way of thinking we don't normally use in every day life, is nothing more than a postmodern bubble of premodern thought forms. The epitome of this is John Milbank telling us what the Church should be if it could be, on a conserving Anglo-Catholic model. The Church is right: everything else is wrong (even all that research!). The problem with bubbles is that they burst: there is nothing there or only scraps - bits of water and foam.
If I present myself to others with lots of Christian talk then I am serving a deception. I'm telling someone I believe and think in a way that actually I don't. This needs to be examined, so that this is not unfair. For example, I might absorb myself in layers and layers of the stuff, but it doesn't change the fact that the talk is a deception and isn't otherwise used for explanations. Of course I might be paid to do it and become even more surrounded by this day after day, but in the end I'd want to see that being the entirety of my reasoning method. The only people who achieve this are utter sectarians, whether conversionist or defensive, or hard-core traditionalists, and even they are suspect. Look at the creationists on Genesis-Revelation TV: the subtext is their own knowing that they are talking rubbish, the only response to be to dive in further into the nonsense. No wonder Ultra-Orthodox Jews try to recreate the Middle Ages around themselves, given to be a time when faith was fully supported. You can indeed do that: like that TV series of decades ago called Living in the Past when the post-university folk went into a recreated iron age village for a year and had a producer with heavy cameras come in regularly and wonder if anyone would get their remaining kit off in summer to sex up the programme and did communal living lead to any naughty bits. Even they didn't quite manage to live within the times, and indeed one couple left because their child was too poorly (by my memory).
I'd far rather sing from a hymn book that represents how I think on a normal basis, given a bit of elasticity regarding transcendence and some enchantment. After all, life is crap and we might hope for something better. Call it, then, straight talk: what I say is what I believe, mostly. If I tell a story, I'll say so. Your own theology and the liturgy used do not have to be the same - even Martineau had his liturgy trailing behind his theology - but they ought to be related strongly. What I believe of course changes, but it ought to be consistent with the grand narratives we understand today, and which are reliable and researched.
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