Wednesday 31 March 2010

What's the Recipe?

My piece in the Daily Episcopalian about Michael Poon's latest use for the proposed Anglican Covenant is published. All I'm saying is, here is another person on the rope of a tug of war over the Anglican Covenant and what it is for. Some want it for disciplining, some to exclude inclusive Anglican Churches, he seems to want it for a worldwide Church, others want it only as a means of solving difficult issues by ongoing processes of talk. Does anyone know, then, what they are signing for should there be an Anglican Covenant? What does the thing itself suggest, to give its function?

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Scientific-Spirituality Paradigm

Colin Coward wishes to be off the back foot and no longer defensive, getting away from the trap of the agenda set by Conservative Evangelicals. An example might be what was written recently by Fulcrum, rightly identified as Conservative Evangelical in its shifting of position and its adoption of ecclesiastical bullying.

What Colin identifies is how much of a shift is needed to get off the back foot. It indeed needs a different, more holistic and more of a 'unity' (not uniformity) approach to religion. Arguments within, between - debates with winners and losers - are destructive at this time of change.

From a Christian standpoint the shift is away from original sin and all that, away from the gloom of Augustine of Hippo whom the right wing of the Reformation reaffirmed. It's more towards the myth of enhancing one's perception of the evolved order, what is creative within it (despite, but also with, the agony of it all).

It is the difference between watching a programme presented by Professor Brian "Smiler" Cox and the fascination of the universe as it is - what Rowan Williams called being "in love" with the universe - and the tripe you can hear on something like Revelation TV. There is increasingly a division like that, and you are either on the one side or the other. But to be on the side of Professor Cox is to start to be understanding and to acquire fascination with creativity and chance - earth as Goldilocks, Mars having lost its redistributive moisture, and Venus stuffed with gas congestion and a Jupiter and moons that via gravity agitate another moon into bursting activity - and the chaos theory again that small differences lead on to hugely different outcomes. I like the label of the "scientific-spirituality paradigm".

It is about looking for the healthy and holy inside all of these things, including what it means to be self-conscious thinking and speaking beings. The sort of investigation this implies is at odds with the dead hand of religious bureaucracy, whether credal or otherwise. Now I would say that a problem is a hierarchy being obliged to express a fixed whole delivered credal faith, as also stated by Rowan Williams in a slightly wandering and a little (a little) disingenuous way - because he fails to refer to theology and the diversity in output that does question the details. The "celebrity cases of saying controversial things in public" are because there is an understood reluctance to say other than what the promises force and what forms ordinary expectations. That, though, gets caught into bureaucracy and negativity and narrower expectations inside the credal community.

Still, even within this, it is quite possible to be holistic. Outside it, it might be easier. Whatever, it does mean a more reflective, meditative, approach, and not one of the cosmic ear. It means being a little more Buddhist in clearing the mind of the clutter that is the foodstuff of religious bureaucracy. It is indeed, instead, about "humanist values of peace, justice and equality". Surely people of trust - people of faith - whatever their faiths or none, can come together on the basis that Colin Coward outlines.

Sunday 28 March 2010

Sunday without Palms

York was a Unitarian congregation that was once flat on its back and close to closure, which would have been a depressing outcome for a denomination facing serious structural decline before the rest do (because of its smaller size - the percentage drops lead in the same direction, but with more numbers to start with you can rationalise for longer). As I understand it, a retired minister went to live in the area, but what created the bounce back was a family turned up one day, stayed, and from then on the congregation recovered and grew and now is doing as well as any.

The service taker came from York to Hull today, and did a service based around prayer, and what it might be with various beliefs, especially if you don't believe in a big cosmic ear (my phrase), and also to note as she did that many approaches called prayer are actually meditations or poems. They are about your own orientation towards things. But what struck me as interesting was being told that York has dropped saying the Lord's Prayer now and usually only says it when it is a visiting service taker. I've noticed too, since my return to regular Unitarian attendance, how it just does not appear week after week in Hull too. The first service I took since returning I did use it (it was Easter, last year!) but since I haven't. Her explanation was that some people don't like to say it because it refers to a theistic being. I'm not sure about that; there is a great deal of plasticity with language. Certainly she introduced it, like everyone now seems to, with an invitation to join with her its saying, or to think along, or not to do so at all. This time I didn't, though I would, partly as an act of solidarity with our Muslim tradition attender sat close by.

I said to an attender, who's only been coming for less than a year, that back in the 1980s it was a struggle if you didn't want to include the Lord's Prayer - like it was almost compulsory (and I often didn't). He thought it might be relationships between the denominations, but that can't be the explanation because back in history relationships were bitter and the denomination was Christian in its liturgical formats. If anything, recent relationships between liberals in mainstream denominations and Unitarians are quite good as they get worse within denominations. The dropping of the Lord's Prayer is just evidence, I think, of Christian theological decay and a different emphasis towards a broader faith outlook - both individualist and group, but then again the individualist emphasis has been there since the late nineteenth century theologian and liturgist, James Martineau, pronounced in its favour as the seat of authority. My own limited objection to it is the eschatology therein, but that needs a long explanation, but it is something like the eschatology makes the 'Being' being addressed.

The service taker used as 'one' of her readings the different accounts of praying in Luke's and Matthew's gospels, and this led to an interesting question being asked of me, and I realise my answer missed and glossed over a common misconception about the Bible. I was asked that although there is one Qur'an, what about the different versions of the Bible. I said well there are lots of versions, like the NIV, which tends to be more evangelical, and the RSV and the NRSV and so on, and that I preferred the latter when it is supposed to be closer to the Greek and Hebrew (I know, with some slight olde-worlde readability - more so the RSV). I joked that I once used to hear in this place something Unitarian based called The Golden Treasury of the Bible which treated it all like a set of stories and I said it used to make my toes curl, as it imitated the KJV. But I realise that this 'different versions' is as much about having four canonical gospels and then more, so my answer could have been along the lines of different geographical early Christian communities developing biography-like accounts according to their own tendencies and questions. I didn't refer to the fact that the "one Qur'an" is a bit of a myth, that some six of them were floating around before they were reduced to one, and that some of the material is highly dubious, but I did tell about a "controversial" one in which a Christian the Reverend J. M. Rodmell translated the Qur'an to be biblical in feel and did not present it as the Qur'an appears but in historical order instead, starting with the Surahs written in Makkah and ending up at Madinah, so I said it starts with more spiritual insights and ends up dealing with the concerns of the Muslim community.

A bit later on there was a bit of fun where it was pointed out that I am not actually a member and also said (not by me, but I confirmed) that I am not Anglican either. I was described as "indeterminate" or, as also said, "Once bitten twice shy." Though I'll happily do more volunteering regarding internal services (co-ordinating, for example - and this includes newest and longest), and matters regarding hymns and library type duties, I am of a mind that I am not going to put my name in the membership book. I'm happiest free floating, relating more externally as sources for what makes me having the religious interest and insights that I do.

Friday 26 March 2010

The Pope, An Anglican Archbishop and a Journalist

If the Pope's machine is found to be lying, then the Pope surely is finished.

An Archbishop wrote to the Pope when he was Cardinal Ratzinger to take action against a US priest Rev Lawrence Murphy who had molested up to 200 deaf boys between 1950 and 1974. The priest not only was not defrocked, but he died and was placed in an open coffin in full vestments.

Ratzinger's job as Cardinal was to deal with sex abuse cases. When he was Archbishop in Germany he received a memo (and may have led a meeting) about another, earlier, case, over which nothing was done.

All this means that if Ratzinger as Pope needs to discipline others, he would have to discipline himself. Resignation might be a good idea.

Then there is the Archbishop of Canterbury. Nope, he's done nothing, but there is a whiff of others getting into a form of ecclesiastical bullying towards him. You get the feeling that all the glorying of the Archbishop from the tiny Fulcrum group has been at a price that they are now charging. They have put him on a box, and given him the support of a rope, which seems to have the shape of a noose at the end. The box could be kicked. Why?

Although decisive action is necessary, Archbishop Rowan’s limited powers within the Communion and his laudable desire to keep on going the extra mile to enable dialogue mean many think it unlikely. Some long ago gave up on him. Many, however, both within the Church of England and the wider Communion (particularly in the Global South which meets next month) have been patient and sought to work with him by supporting the Windsor and covenant processes. They need now to make clear that unless he gives a clear lead then all that he and others have worked for since the Windsor Report and all that is promised by the covenant is at risk because of the new situation in which TEC has placed us.

That is the language of threat from a pressure group. If I was Archbishop (and for several reasons I would not be!) I would ignore this pressure group. I return to the lecture Rowan Williams gave in Lincoln:

Some of the contemporary cultural crises confront us in understanding, remembering and wanting, and involve how we try to deny the problem is posed, and also can show how we as people of faith recover our direction and enter into the fullness of our humanity [on this journey].

This affects our Christian understanding too: "We've lost a great deal of our doctrinal uncertainty, however loudly we may shout about it." [Rowan Williams] We have lost a sense that we can confidently trace the works of God and confidently relay to the world what God has said.

We deny this sometimes by slipping back into tribal, moralising and noisy forms of faith which never quite come to terms with the huge crisis and challenge in the middle of it all. We've lost a lot of our bearings.... He [the present Pope] doesn't mean rational procedures as much as a loss of patience with argument, real mutual persuasion and careful argument which might enlarge our minds to receive more of the truth.

Having said these words, why give in to the tribal bureaucrats of Fulcrum, a group whose unstinting support for the proposed Covenant now seems to be limited to it carrying out the group's own sectional agenda?

And, as for the journalist: more charging a price. I'd like to give an early goodbye to Ruth Gledhill as her own Pope cuts off The Times Online behind an entrance charge in order to see it and its journalism. I certainly won't be paying. Why pay for something that is obtainable in other ways? Ruth Gledhill has herself said before, I think, that because of blogging by those involved, the number of travels she needs to make as a journalist has fallen. She is left at base to use her imagination, and what use is her imagination? I have my own, which I shall display here free of charge, which I know is still too expensive for some people. Still, from time to time I chuck in some original drawings, but not this time (they have all been used before).

Thursday 25 March 2010

Writing, Listening and Processing

If it looks like I'm taking a pause from blogging, it's because I'm suddenly doing other things. The upshot of the recent Congregational Assessment I attended is that I volunteered to be a librarian of the books and other documents of the Unitarian church I attend. This means listing what there is on the shelves and monitoring its use. I shall put some of my own material in there as well. It helps people taking services, especially when there is no ordinary service book just to pick up (though I have also provided two 'emergency' services which are pick up and go services). I have deposited the print outs I still possess of my own services and also could add copies of the In Depth material presented on the other side of the River Humber.

On which point, the discussion on Tuesday's In Depth was fairly limited around basic historical material (the Reformation) with some talk about understandings of the Eucharist as derived from all the different views exposed at the Reformation. A lot of conversation was simply off topic, and why not. Some was about the many people who don't like the religious boat being rocked, so I joked that some people are in the boat, some people are rocking the boat, and some like me are in the water. Did I have a lifebelt? Not thrown from the boat, I indicated.

I also mentioned the local deficit financially, whereas many a Unitarian church has no difficulty financing a minister - they just can't find any. I mentioned of some Anglicans who had crossed over, but in the interest of balance said about the liturgical history writer who'd gone the other direction.

The next meeting is in May, and this could either be a moment to come up to date with that evangelical material, or again do history with an in depth look at the Oxford Movement proper, so that all the background is done before looking at all the present day reactions against recent 'liberal' controversies and movements (that's the idea of having done Augustine, Aquinas, the Reformation people). I have a very in depth book about key figures of the Oxford Movement.

There was some discussion too about whether ordinands do the material that we have been doing now over so many weeks. I said that the parish priest-in-charge told me that the material I have been presenting is at a higher level than ordinands would study. "Thought it might be," said one.

Another thing I am doing is processing and collecting music for the Unitarian church because it lacks a piano playing musician or organist. Yes, adverts have been placed and all that. There's a tape of fine singing from Harris Manchester College where the idiot at the recorder clunked the buttons before the last note of each hymn was complete. I have tried to process these. There is a first CD of other hymns, all in high background noise mono. It makes you wonder if anyone thought about what they were doing. I've processed these through anti-noise software and more. Then there is a decent CD of other hymns. Then the new hymn book supplement has two CDs also properly recorded. On top of this, I have used public domain organ playing to collect tunes and edit to the precise spots to get the right number of verses for the Unitarian versions of the hymns that use those tunes (and some that can use available tunes). On top of all this, the Barton Anglican Church recorded its choir twice. There's a 1978 record that was put to a CD where most are usable, mono and stereo, and then a tape from 1995 of the choir that I am just about to grab and later process.

So there are extra wires here in my study with the middle bit of my 'hi fi' CDs and tapes radio player, where phono lines out go to my computer line in, and I am using sound grabbing software to capture the sound as it appears and thus save such analogue input digitally, as uncompressed .WAV files to be processed ever afterwards. I'm told by the Barton Church website man that my results of his made CD are better than the original and I have sent him another example of a noise cut and processed piece.

The business of extracting music can take as little time as playing a cassette tape. You can simply press 'stop' and then 'record' in a gap. But first you work on the levels and all else, and make sure that no microphones are operating and the like. The processing takes much longer and can be many different attempts.


I sent this assessment of a tape to an involved and interested friend:

I've taken all the tracks (including the 'sentences') from the tape of the choir in 1995. There are only three 'dropouts' and minor through the lot. The organ does sound like it is dragging a bit. The levels are low, but that's because during the Magnificat it hits 98% on one side, and high levels in Geoff's rendition of Thine Be The Glory. But a male singer let's the side down in one or two, including an incredible bum note in the Magnificat. The problem with the low levels is hiss, which I can remove at the cost of some 'metalising', but something that would drive me nuts is removing the pre-echo that exists. It is possible but the solution might be worse: the problem is when I normalise the levels by amplifying. The choir - well the voice - has a piercing sound and when a cassette tape wraps around the spool the magnetism on one layer affects the next, so a quiet piece becomes a pre-echo what is about to be sung or said. Usually master tapes are thick enough to stop that, when they used them, but cassette tapes are not.

My guess is that all these tracks need speeding up and lifting, but the organ will never sound quite right.

So the longer business of processing on some at least follows!

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Evaluating a Congregation

Saturday and Sunday just gone involved me in attending a Congregational Assessment. This means two people of the denomination look through certain requested documents, come down and do a survey of the premises and its appearance as regards people attending and who might attend, and spend time questioning the congregation who come to the Saturday event and then make (and check on) some findings announced after the service on the Sunday.

You might ask for such an assessment (properly speaking, an evaluation) if the church is weak and you want help to turn it around, but in some ways the Unitarian church I attend is on the up and is friendly. In other words, it hit a low ebb and has since started its own recovery. For example, a chap who does the website has been attending for less than a year, and I'll help him when he takes his first service. There are a number of other attenders who have not been there long.

However, the church called in the team because it considered that it wanted to get a minister. Like many Unitarian churches, there is plenty of money for a minister but the difficulty is finding one. A glut of ministers are retiring and there are simply not enough in training. Even good pulpits near other Unitarian churches cannot get candidates. My joke is that if there are any bellyaching Anglican priests out there fed up with saying what they don't believe, then there is a job and more where you can adjust yourself towards saying what you do believe (in conversation with a congregation). Apparently the next preacher at the anniversary service is an ex-Anglican. There is a cultural shift in church life, of course, but here is a possibility after all. Having had two ministers in short succession after a very long ministry (the last up to 15 months ago), and being out on a geographical limb, and having a broad spectrum theologically, my church is one where finding the right minister is very difficult anyway.

It's not my place here to go into any detail about this, because it is for the congregation to handle. Still, in general we are high in proportion of males and new people compared with other churches and chapels.

The first thing we did was tackle worship, and we have a high proportion of services we take ourselves, and this will have to rise. This is do-able. We also have the problem of a lack of a pianist among the let's say 30 we can draw upon. So we have CDs and I have been editing a few recently to expand choices. Indeed I have today put some taped organ playing from our last organist on to the computer from which anything can then be done. The importance of a 'professional' approach to worship is known by all of us, and in a sense all have experience now and some have training to some extent or other.

The membership is up (incidentally I am not a member, I am just a friend). There is no membership service, but just a name in a book brought into use with the recent demand. There are many Unitarian groups people can join. I'm a member of none of them, but occasionally I look at the NUF discussions. I used to have more fun 'terrorising' evangelicals but they have become too off-field now to even provide a different point of view. A point arrives where, really, I have no more in common with them. Anyway changes are under way regarding notices, noticeboards, and the like. The magazine produced once every two months looks good but will get a content overhaul as a result of this visit, to be a more person based publication, and a reordering of content inside. I have written pieces (too long, actually) about services and hymns for CDs, but one change is to be people providing more about themselves and what they do. The website will have a few small changes: incidentally, as a website type person I'm more than happy that a new person is doing it - I believe in new folks getting involved as quickly as possible.

Finance was looked at, but the upshot is that there is money as needed. One thing that was done in 1977 was a low maintenance building replaced the previous steepled church. It is warm, a provides a functional space and can generate income much of the time. We have heard about a local church in Totley that removed Tai Chi activity - the Sunday visiting minister lives there! - but we have a yoga group that hires the hall and its leader joined the church, someone who used to be an Anglican and when he takes services gives them an Eastern and meditation flavour.

Governance is via the elected trustees who form the committee and a congregational meeting, and these alternate each month. What will be different will be more operating teams, a spreading out of jobs.

One of the aspects of he, me and the website chap all sitting together on Saturday and interacting was that we were given an enhanced role regarding worship, but actually he likes to be inspired, and the workhorse aspect of it needs a different approach. So the recommendation was adjusted. And all that is after the next three months of provision anyway.

So the question is, does this church get a minister or not? The answer is you might want one and not get one, but also everything might be done right and you still get the wrong person. The up curve might be upset. My own view is that there is a life cycle to the good times and the difficult times. For example, ministers come in, innovate, there is change and renewal, but there is also a peaking, and then there are difficulties by which a recovery of sorts is needed after sorting out problems. I suspect the collaborative approach has a life cycle too. On other other hand, it is not as regular as a product life cycle. We can all monitor, in churches, when things start to become more difficult, and when criticism is under the breath.

We did do that hackneyed but still useful SWOT thing, and there is still an age issue as a weakness for some managing things and as a threat of continuance - but the are numbers rising despite five fairly recent deaths. It is a friendly, broad, warm and clean place, though a dispersed ministry can lead to a pastoral deficit. In the end, ministry, however it is generated, is an opportunity for the future. You can advertise and notify but the advertising and notices have to be matched inside by the character of that ministry. What development has to do is promote the quality of worship, the interfaith content (and contacts) side, we think, and the people side for both existing and new folk.

Monday 22 March 2010

Wrong Cause Wrong Suggestion

It struck me this evening that a priest or a minister in enacting 'love' can be very hands on for those who want it. A marriage or other partner of one can watch as affections are displayed that no other profession would show, and the marriage partner to some extent shares these affections with many other people. He or she will get the same, and considerably more, but still it might be something to live with. Clever ministers and priests reading the signs know who to hug and who not, like no one would with me as I never do with others.

Then there are ministers or priests who can't or won't indulge in hugs even with the huggable. They have that sense of personal space and it is crossed with others than the partner at more private times of stress. Only the partner will be seen getting public displays of affection, and the partner gets the considerably more too.

One wonders about the frustrated Roman Catholic priest forced into celibacy in order to have an ordained ministry. He is able to hug others, but only to hug others, as no one looks on who will provide the further emotional and sexual contact, or even release. The job becomes a lot of giving, but rarely any equal level of receiving and certainly the need to be 'other' frustrates the emotional bonds further. On top of that you get the few women who can latch on to a 'safe' person for their emotional fantasy world, that will in effect be pushing at the prickable wall around the celibate priest.

The loneliness of the evening and the bed just goes on and on, surrounded by all this exchange that goes nowhere, and no wonder then that secret ways to have a sexual relationship take place. There is the housekeeper, the woman outside the congregation, the secret affair, and the not so secret affair.

We cannot either avoid the fact that the priest in ritualistic display dresses a bit oddly and is perhaps 'feminised' in all this activity. Does this attract particular personality types, who feel fulfilled in such display, and who yet have displaced emotions?

In the world of the secret corners and the illicit comes the Church institutions like the choir, the meetings in the manse, the confessional, the clericalism and authority, and the actual rules of behaviour rather than the published rules.

Not a surprise then that the weakest and most vulnerable might be preyed up by an individual who is forced to be emotionally frustrated: who received and gets little guidance and support for trying to be celibate. Some, of course, end up drenched in alcohol and no further, but others have found children and told them to be quiet.

The Pope's Pastoral letter to Irish Roman Catholics skirts around all this, with the one exception regarding formation in seminaries. He simply cannot or will not accept that celibacy is a frustration to the frustrated that leads on to the illicit. Instead, the letter promotes his own agenda and in two main ways.

First it makes a distinction between clergy as the Church and the lay faithful: you, their parents. I urge you to play your part in ensuring the best possible care of children, both at home and in society as a whole, while the Church, for her part, continues to implement the measures adopted in recent years to protect young people in parish and school environments.


The lay faithful, too, should be encouraged to play their proper part in the life of the Church. See that they are formed in such a way that they can offer an articulate and convincing account of the Gospel in the midst of modern society (cf.
1 Pet 3:15) and cooperate more fully in the Church’s life and mission.

The Church - and here there seems to be only one "Church in Ireland" - is this institution that is the one and only cradle of finding Christ as a necessity. So the institutionalism goes on, that which surrounds the emotionally diverted priest who goes on to interfere with children and tells them to be as quiet and private as his institution's communication.

The second part is that instead of blaming the combination of institution, actual 'rules' of operation and communication, and the effects of forced celibacy, he gets on his own hobby horse regarding the Second Vatican Council in the context of secularisation:

The programme of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it. In particular, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations. It is in this overall context that we must try to understand the disturbing problem of child sexual abuse...

This is precisely NOT the context in which to understand child sexual abuse. It is secularisation that has helped break down the institutional walls of secrecy and deference. Let's be clear too, that this paedophile activity is not something that is recent. It has gone on and on. What is different is that it has become exposed, and look how now it is 'emerging' into the light in the rest of Europe.

The suggestion in the letter of a year of reflection, and then it's back to business, is pathetic. Fortunately, Ireland is a renewing place at present, and the Church represents that old, repressive atmosphere of the 1950s and before, where abuse (from cold neglect all the way to sexual invasion) was part of the covered up scene. In this sense, the Roman Catholic church has had it, and will just have to adapt to being a husk of its former self, in a corner, while the state secularises and cleans up its own institutional attitudes that have themselves been part of the institutional bureaucracy of secrecy and double standards.

Perhaps when the Pope visits Britain people should stay indoors. It's like, don't just go to wave back because you fancy a photograph!

Presumably on that visit he will go some way towards welcoming some married and voluntary celibate Anglican priests into his new bypass-the-locals ordinariate, all with the 'right opinions' about the Church, as part of the 'smaller but purer' Church he seeks, and one that will have to make up the shortfall in ordinands because of the social pariah status that has come to the Roman Catholic Church.

Sunday 21 March 2010

Next In Depth

The In Depth programme continues. In order to do the present day Catholic traditionalists I will need to look at the Oxford Movement and all that, but before that last time the background was covered in Thomism and reason reintroduced into Christianity. Well in order to do evangelicalism and all that, the next session on Tuesday has the group looking at the Protestant Reformation. It starts with Catholic corruption and ends with Catholic destruction.

I admit to bias. I think John Calvin was a kind of religious Stalin, an evil man. He was a killer. I know we are not to judge by our times and mores, but his reformation was completely authoritarian. Luther also upheld the power of the princes. I don't actually mention his anti-Semitism, though I'm sure it will come up in discussion. The poor Anabaptists were persecuted by both, drowned or hoisted into cages and starved. They did this to men, women and children. I've not much time for Zwingli either. Surprise surprise that I have quite a lot of time for Faustus Socinus and Francis David (the latter pronounced Dah-vid) and the left wing of the Reformation. They benefited from their tolerant monarchs and thus provided an Eastern European zone of toleration, at least until the Jesuits stamped it out and ethnically cleansed Poland, although the Transylvanian Unitarians continued so long as they did not innovate any further (the Hungarian dissenters were wiped out by the Hapsburgs). But as regards the theology, the brief survey shows continuity with the supernatural beliefs that evangelicals peddle today, as if the world of science and rationality never arrived - but I can introduce that topic for discussion at a later session. This presentation is just a basic look at the Protestant side of the 1500s and 1600s, more history than anything.

Warm Welcome to the Liberal Bahais

One of the features of the Internet is that it points out and exposes to view those that organised religions might want to suppress, and this includes the Covenant Breakers of the institutionalised Baha'i Faith who remain Bahai but are cast out, often without knowledge of why. Baha'is can get pretty fed up with demands upon them ahead of an almost magical belief that one day armies of people are going to join and the world will be governed by a nine member male only parliament that combines the religious and the secular. The official faith stresses unity, but achieves it by removing dissenters called Covenant Breakers, and it has done it down the line. At every change of leadership, the dissenters were removed.

In 1957 a period understood as 'bada' took place, in that the failure of Shoghi Effendi to leave a Last Will and Testament led to a crisis of leadership where none of the options were entirely laid out. The French Baha'is backed Mason Remey, of the Orthodox Baha'is (for a time) as a new Guardian, but the official faith moved to a complete Administrative Order that puts Lenin's democratic centralism to shame. Plans are dished out from on high by people elected from the level below with no one able to have an election campaign: in a 'who you know' system conservatism rules.

Couple of interesting aspects, going back in time from that division. Germany was the centre of the Free Baha'is who believed that the Last Will and Testament of Abdul Baha was a forgery. The Free Baha'is followed on with Abdul Baha's freer, more charismatic, sometimes rule-breaking Western orientated ministry (for example, he attended congregational worship, which Baha'is were not supposed to do, and his spreading across different religions was closed down by the bureaucratic Shoghi Effendi). But before that, when Abdul Baha' became the spiritual leader, Muhammad Ali formed the then called Unitarian Baha'is. They were called that not because they were liberal, but because they were known as "People of the Book". Muhammad Ali's complaint was that Abdul Baha' was not following his father's scriptures, and was doing too much off his own bat.

Well today's Unitarian Bahais don't start from the Baha'i movement but from removed or dissenting Bahais and people attracted to Baha'u'llah without having to sign on the dotted line that his writings (and Abdul Baha's) are infallible, Qur'an style. It must also mean, of course, a revision from him being a Manifestation of God in any absolutist sense. I suppose this is an independent movement (from the Administrative Order) from the off, using Bahai without the apostrophe, and is not a branch off the institutional tree that the institution then prunes.

I hope it receives many enquiries and those people who have been ejected can find a gathering here that does them proud: and what an excellent mission for the Unitarian Universalist umbrella. This is indeed a pluralist world and the Universal House of Justice will just have to be a kind of Baha'i Roman Catholicism for those who like being told what to believe and wish to accept authoritarianism and literalism until either they leave or get kicked out.

Saturday 20 March 2010

Archbishop Not With Us

Here are some reminders from a recent lecture in Lincoln from the Archbishop of Canterbury:

In the Christian life, St. John of the Cross says:
Faith is what happens to our understanding;
Hope is what happens to our remembering;
Love is what happens to our wanting.

To grow up as a Christian is to take that journey from understanding into faith, remembering into hope, and will into love.

There are matters too of institutionalism, from his lecture:
We can construct satisfying stories; we can recreate an imagined past; we take refuge not in good tradition but an artificial traditionalism which is not good. We pretend continuities that are not there. Is the Church an environment in which people can learn to open themselves to joy that can only come by letting go of anxious selfishness and the obsession with 'choosing'? Just as it is a great challenge to the Church to be a dependable place and patient, it is a great challenge for it to be sufficiently still for people to open up, sufficiently quiet and unanxious so people can receive what the ultimate truth of the universe wants to give them.

I quote these in order to wait for the day that the same Archbishop (as the one who lectures) can greet a new bishop in The Episcopal Church without referring to an institutional so-called "gracious restraint" that amounts to 'choosing' (in other words, why not ask instead, 'Is she right for the job or not?') and not for him to seek solace in artificial traditionalism.


You'd expect nothing more than this pathetic institutional response from Fulcrum.

Friday 19 March 2010

Socinus With Us

It's not that I don't mind writing things twice, giving a different emphasis or length. However, in constructing a piece about the Reformation for In Depth next Tuesday, I knew I had a Unitarian document about the short period of toleration in Poland (the 'left wing' of the Reformation, consistent with the Renaissance, rather than back to Augustine of Hippo) and eventually, in all the piles of paper in this study here, I found it. It is from 1989, for the 450th anniversary of the birth of Faustus Socinus in December that year, and has my article about him in the front. It has not been on my website because it was pre-scanning in timing and when I had an Amstrad PCW. Although I must have typed it on that machine, and I did convert 3.5" CP/M disks to DOS, it simply was never added to my stock of material on line. It is online now, and indeed the whole General Assembly document has been reproduced. The only change is my own drawing of Faustus Socinus within the online version, as seen here.

Now I can read my own writing online plus useful information from elsewhere and do a little copying, pasting and rewriting to complete the survey of the Reformation and all its bloody events including the destruction of the Socinians in Poland in 1660.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Moving Heresies

You can't keep a good heretic down. It's his 500th birthday in 2011. Having been slowly cooked by Calvin in Geneva, when he'd only called in for a chat just after half past three, Michael Servetus will soon be going up in the air again this time as a European built aeroplane. He was a chap into how the blood circulated, and heated up, so he must be one for how air goes around the wing of a plane, lifting it and its heavy load into the sky.

Iberia the airline has said yes to the Michael Servetus Institute and the City Council of Villanueva de Sijena to name an Airbus 340/600 with capacity for 352 passengers "Miguel Servet". If we can get a submarine called Francis David (he died in a dungeon) and a bus called Faustus Socinus (Unitarians were ejected from Poland and moved to Transylvania and the Netherlands) - or these are also named according to their local languages - we might be able to have such a three process on land, in the sea and up in the air for a symbolic anti-trinitarian procession.

Now if you think this isn't very funny, wait until I have completed my piece for the next Barton In Depth group meeting for Tuesday, where Doctor Martin stands in his boots for Martin Luther and the theologian Eck has a thumping good debate, and then we have Zwingli and Calvin and lots of drowned Anabaptists by their fellow Protestants, and further horrors, and the string of corruption and death back amongst the Catholics that puts paedophilia into some institutional context, and the only ones consistent with the Renaissance (rather than Augustine of Hippo) were those emerging out of Italy into Poland and of course there were those earliest Unitarian goings on in deep, dark Transylvania that were, subsequently, to resist the Hapsburgs and (just in time) vicious Communists alike.

Producing and Conducting Services

A Calendar goes out from the Hull Unitarians bimonthly (meaning once every two months) to an obviously small readership of attenders and other members scattered around the country. On that basis, two pieces submitted, likely to appear in the next one and the one after, are on to my website immediately. They concern the matter of writing and presenting services and the editing of hymns to be placed on CDs for the purposes of worship. Both can be accessed from the Unitarian Resources page on my website.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

April Now

All I want to say, to avoid repetition, is that you cannot go far wrong with this blog by April DeConick and particularly this entry. I think she does a great service, by bringing complex biblical issues to the fore with simple explanation from a non-apologetic stance. My view was and remains that Jesus and the earliest 'Church' was eschatological and so motivated and I still stay resistant to the Jesus Seminar even though Don Cupitt recently went rather hook, line and sinker for agreement with it and the sayings as earliest material. There are lots of areas where I agree with Don, but the early wisdom view in the sayings alone is not one of them.

Ruddy Thing

A duck walks into a pub and orders a pint of beer and a ham sandwich.
The barman looks at him and says, "Hang on! You're a duck."
"I see your almond eyes are working," replies the duck.
"And you can talk!" exclaims the barman.
"I see your floppy ears are working, too," says the duck. "Now if you don't mind, can I have my beer and my sandwich please?"
"Certainly, sorry about that," says the barman as he pulls the duck's pint. "It's just we don't get many ducks in this pub. What are you doing round this way?"
"I'm working on the building site across the road," explains the duck. "I'm a quacking good plasterer."
The flabbergasted barman cannot believe the duck and wants to learn more, but takes the hint when the duck pulls out a newspaper from his bag and proceeds to read it.

So, the duck reads his paper, drinks his beer, eats his sandwich, bids the barman good day and leaves. The same thing happens every day for two weeks. Then one day the circus comes to town.

The ringmaster comes into the pub for a pint and the barman says to him "You're with the circus, aren't you? Well, I know this duck that could be just brilliant in your circus. He talks, drinks beer, eats sandwiches, reads the newspaper and everything!"
"Sounds marvellous," says the ringmaster, handing over his business card. "Get him to give me a call. I bet he can use the telephone."

So the next day when the duck comes into the pub the barman says, "Hey Mr. Duck, I reckon I can line you up with a top job, paying really good money."
"I'm always looking for the next job," says the duck. "Where is it?"
"At the circus," says the barman.
"The circus?" repeats the duck.
"That's right," replies the barman.
"You mean the circus?" the duck asks again. "That place with the big tent?"
"Yeah," the barman replies.
"With all the animals who live in cages, and performers who live in caravans?" says the duck.
"Of course," the barman replies.
"And the tent has canvas sides and a big canvas roof with a hole in the middle?" persists the duck.
"That's right!" says the barman.
The duck shakes his head in amazement, and says, "Well what on earth would they want with a plasterer?"

Monday 15 March 2010

Abuser Catholics

Here we are in the UK debating whether ten year olds have the level of development that gives them criminal responsibility. Some want it raised to twelve, and some in Europe say fourteen or even fifteen. Go back to 1975 and we have Cardinal Sean Brady before he was a bishop asking a boy of ten and a boy of fourteen to sign papers to be silent about the child abuser cleric Brendan Smyth, who then went on to abuse others. This cardinal will not resign. Then we have BBC reporter Olenka Frenkiel's investigation into former priest Bill Carney who was named as one of the worst cases in Dublin's Catholic diocese in the Murphy Report into clerical abuse there. Despite all the loud talk, the Irish authorities are still doing nothing about him.

There are increasing numbers of reports emerging from all around Europe about Catholic priests and abuse, and this Church looks rotten to the core as it will not get to grips with its situation. The BBC report about Sean Brady includes emerging stories of abuse even linked to a choir once led by Pope Benedict's clerical brother, Georg Ratzinger. For known decades it has preached morality and has been quite other in its many dirty corners.

It's good that Ireland and Spain and Poland are breaking free now of this monolith Church, but obviously not yet free enough regarding the State. It is the people breaking free who are exposing the shoddy actions of those who covered up the wrong doers, and who moved them on to carry on. In more supernaturalist parts of the world, one can only wonder at what abuse is still going on and being covered up within the religious bureaucracy that first of all looks after its own.

Archbishop Goes Russian

The Archbishop of Anglicanism, formerly known as Rowan Tree, has announced that he has changed his name by Deed Poll to Rowanov Williamsyevich Treetri.

As the Covenant process falls into increasing contradiction, capture by parties and doubt, Archbishop Treetri said:

"I am but other than not hardly very likely now to lead a Roman Catholic Anglican Ordinariate for England if I am half way to Russian citizenship. As far as I know, the Russian Orthodox Church has no plans to set up an Orthodox Anglican Ordinariate, although I would not suggest I could fail to welcome such an ecumenical development."

The Most Reverend Treetri's name change follows his receiving a medal sent via the British Ambassador from the Russian President, Yumeetme Madbutdaft. It is in recognition of becoming increasingly similar in appearance to Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This is in addition to his normally being mistaken as a member of the Russian Orthodox clergy.

Asked to comment on his love for Russian literature, the Most Reverend Treetri said:

"Well, I remember in the 1990s Wordsworth Classics and Penguin Popular Classics producing paperbacks for £1 including Tolstoy's so-called War and Peace, as it is not unpopularly known by mistranslation. How they did that one for £1 when it was as thick as a brick I do not know. Perhaps that's why they are no longer available. Unfortunately we know that these were used to stand upon to reach up when painting ceilings or, at not unlikely the very best, to be a display item in the unused bookshelf, where perhaps most people also put their Bibles. I would therefore urge intending readers to get over their maybe fear of the larger Russian book by attending one of these currently mushrooming (but wait for the cuts) basic literacy courses at their local Further Education College."

Archbishop Treetri is very far from retirement age and may produce a few more poems, perhaps now with Russian themes.

Tuesday Report

On Tuesday the The Parish Church of Saint Mary the Virgin Barton-on-Humber holds its Annual Meeting, and there is a fulsome document for its operation and content available. I wrote a small part of it:

The In Depth Group set up by Peter Large has been running for over 15 years now, and its current programme that could last some twenty five sessions has its origins in the 17 week project at St Mary's in 2008 when I produced some 250 historical archives for the church website, rewrote to academic standard a clergy training dissertation and wrote eight sessions of a contemporary theology course and a syllabus for 25. Now the material is being written for each month's meeting.

The task is a comprehensive review of theology, and to quote one member's response, "It certainly isn't Sunday School." The group employs a critical approach to theological issues, and after starting with a survey of theology and ethics, it spent many weeks tackling theologians
who used systematic, biblical or socio-economic means to match modernity with Christianity. We then looked at Anglican controversies, starting with the first liberal crisis of Essays and Reviews (1860) and something of Charles Gore's Lux Mundi (1899), the latter trying to restore Jesus's divinity (as in the Oxford Movement) to the liberalism of these other Oxford theologians, producing something like the more open 'Affirming Catholicism' seen today. We then tackled more recent liberal Anglican and ecumenical controversies over several sessions. That leads on to some traditionalisms and reactions in the contemporary setting and then the range of theologies available today.

The object of the In Depth presentations is not to uphold any particular belief but to use critical faculties, and to simply present a paper and discuss. Being based on adult education principles, it means participants bringing their own insights and experiences to these questions, their own reading and interests, and not forgetting the social reasons why people gather in such groups.

A comment has been made that we'd like to think such investigatory discussion groups existed up and down the Anglican Church, but somehow we doubt it. It has, perhaps, a different ethos from the expected. Perhaps the central question at the heart of every discussion is how people commonly think today in a practical and this-worldly sense - the ideology of thought that follows on from technological solutions - and how religious traditions from the past can relate and reform to this thorough shift of perspective.

Adrian Worsfold (presenting the papers)

The Mission Statement of the church (PCC approved 24 November 2008) is:

The inclusive good news of Jesus Christ calls us as members of the Christian Faith

  1. To support the growth of discipleship through generous service, education, prayer and appropriate worship.
  2. To take seriously our calling to care for the planet and to work for peace, justice and reconciliation.

[The church images are from the wall of the church hall and not my work]

Sunday 14 March 2010

Digging up Old Bones

My website is a kind of snail's trail of my activities over the years. Some parts still have an unfinished aspect. Regarding the actual website only one request has ever been made regarding the removal of complete pages: my time at Unitarian College. There are some edited diary entries there (in the Autobiographical area) about my early days in the college. The idea was to give an account of what it was like spending a year in a theological college.

I refused to remove the pages, but I never actually added to them. However, today, looking at the church library, I saw a book that is the account of Unitarian College Manchester up to 2004. So I thought I'd look in it and indeed located references to me. How interesting, and you can see the delicate footwork in the writing. Indeed you can, because I have reproduced the said passage on the usual academic type grounds - the relevant passage for comment.

Oh, it is surely old history and things move on. But do they entirely? Now that a few more people are coming through the door, the church I attend is updating its membership. All you have to do is sign the book. But at present, at least, I won't and I probably won't at all. I didn't when I was there from 1994 to 2004, and I was urged then to be a member as soon as I came back from Derbyshire - but I didn't because I'd had no Unitarian involvement in the Sheffield, Mansfield or Chesterfield areas when I lived equidistant from all of them. Now I'm back in Hull again I still don't want to sign for membership. It's a sort of trade off. You can have me attending more frequently than many, but I'd rather stay semi-detached.

I have not seen this book before. The account in this published book about what happened with me is feeble and a half-truth at best, about as much perhaps that might be put in a book but nevertheless it is not accurate. At that time I'd had just experience of the Hull congregation, which was broad then, plus a short stint visiting broad Sheffield under Conrad Dippel, and had been to many regional and national meetings, all of which were of a more progressive expression than local gatherings. I also had an ecumenical background - Methodist, Anglican, let's add Bahai and Buddhist too - and I thus by choice went to the northern and ecumenical college. As a minister of long-standing said about my time there, I should have done nothing but attend churches and chapels in the area to acquire more knowledge about them. Not preach but sit. It would indeed have been an eye-opener. What I didn't realise is that many of these simply operated a semi-Christianity, and all the emphasis on pluralism was so much talk.

Now you see why my website label is 'Pluralist' - it is based on an argument within Unitarianism.

It's interesting to hear that a number of these Lancashire churches are going the same way of all denominations, and that the density of these places geographically is no protection from decline. All the old structures are in trouble: the Sunday Schools, the youth meetings and the assumptions of continuation. This is why there is an ideological fluidity now that there was not even back in 1989. Even in Hull back in 1989 you would have to include the sung Lord's Prayer every week: now you hardly hear it said or sung. In fact it is starting to sound out of place. People realise that liberal churches and chapels have to present something different from the rest, something that is a Unique Selling Point. I could have told them that then.

My removal was not about pastoral matters: it was about the fact that I held an ideological position of a small minority of Unitarian churches in Britain. As one report on one pastoral stay put it: I had competence and potential, but where would I minister? In other words, my experience contradicted the very point about freedom, reason and tolerance, and the non-credal test of ministry that Unitarianism trumpeted. That's what was exposed in all the localism, not a pastoral matter. Of course, it is called pastoral because it becomes about not relating to the people in the pews: but actually it is ideological: It is not about an inability to sympathise, empathise, comfort and relate. I turned up with a Ph.D in the Sociology of Religion: the university MA sociology using theology course included the tutor telling me I was too high level for the MA and so I transferred to an adult education course, which had directly useful material for ministry. But many people (other than the Principal) couldn't see that, taking it as a lack of commitment, nor did they value a diverse and different voice.

This is why, in the Unitarian setting, I move carefully: it is why I have not yet written to The Inquirer on any denominational issue, and it is why I stay interested in matters of faith and belief and considerably less so about institutional matters. I'm interested in people gathering, and worshipping, and discussing, but that's about it. I would indeed like to direct some of that traffic in a ministerial kind of way, but that was something ruined a long time ago, and it remains the lost opportunity of a lifetime.

Friday 12 March 2010

Regurgitating on Liberal Religion

Of course I look at other blogs, but I try not to regurgitate what is said elsewhere. If you can read something there, go there sort of thing. Unless I can add something, what's the point in repetition?

Still, an occasional look at Bishop Alan's Blog had his entry about Brian McLaren's latest book, which I'd looked at a while back, and he was more generous towards it than his commenters. I rather agree with the commenters, if from a different perspective. Anyhow, a discussion formed amongst the comments about liberalism in religion from Si Hollett and Brett Gray in particular using the definition in Grenz, Stanley J., Olson, Roger E. (1992), 20th Century Theology : God & The World In A Transitional Age, Paternoster Press.

Si Hollett wrote:

In their book 20th-Century Theology, Grenz and Olson, no rabid fundamentalists they, describe classic liberalism in five points:

1. Liberals believe doctrine needs to develop to meet the needs of contemporary thought.

2. Liberals emphasize the need to reconstruct traditional beliefs and reject the authority of tradition and church hierarchy.

3. Liberals focus on the practical and ethical dimensions of Christianity.

4. Liberals seek to base theology on something other than the absolute authority of the Bible.

5. Liberals drift toward divine immanence at the expense of transcendence.

Page 52 (1992) outlines these characteristics:

  1. Reconstructing Christianity in the light of modern knowledge, that elements of thinking since the Enlightenment cannot be ignored. It had to adapt to the new scientific and philosophical mindset.
  2. Freedom of the individual to criticise and reconstruct traditional beliefs. Even communally orientated (liberal) Christians reserved this right.
  3. The moralising of doctrine and focus upon the ethical over the speculative doctrinal.
  4. Foundation other than the absolute authority of the Bible. Historical-critical research undermined supernatural inspiration. For liberals Scripture has an eternal gospel 'within' that will survive the critical process and theology is to find the kernel beyond the supernatural husks.
  5. More emphasis in immanence than transcendence. Jesus becomes the exemplary human.

Brett Gray's comments are worth recommenting, I think, for each part.

1. 'Liberals believe doctrine needs to develop to meet the needs of contemporary thought'... but what about those who believe that doctrine does develop (a patent truism from Church History) in conversation with new questions that emerge in new contexts? And that tradition is an ongoing faithful discussion, not a static given?

What tradition does, in this sense, is offer a broad road, a set of concepts and a language to use. This language is inherited, and comes from the past. However, in the liberal approach, as you go backwards in time you become aware of the differences of meaning from what has been kept and the language they used that at some point was dropped. In fact it can go all the way back to opposites, such as the journey backwards from Unitarianism to broader English Presbyterianism to the opposite of Calvinism.

2. 'Liberals emphasize the need to reconstruct traditional beliefs and reject the authority of tradition and church hierarchy.' That is protestantism. Are all protestants liberal?

No they are not, but early on some were (seen from our perspective, but they were not and could not be ideologically). Some used 'ordinary comprehension' in their direct reading of Scripture off the page and found a mixture of unitarian and Arian stances, and equally found less doctrine than some Reformers supposed. In other words, most Reformers saw what they wanted to see through their existing doctrinal spectacles, as many continue to do today despite their Bible based claims.

3. 'Liberals focus on the practical and ethical dimensions of Christianity.' Inasmuch as you did it to them, you did it to me. Is Jesus a liberal?

The problem with the term liberal is that it gains meaning from about the 18th century in an ideological sense. To call Jesus liberal is at best to extract him from his supernaturalist last days beliefs and Jewish traditions. Only aspects can be 'liberal' and to use the old view that the liberal has the religion of Jesus as opposed to the religion about Jesus just won't do: they are all about Jesus. However, the liberal focus on the practical and ethical can mean that focus unhooks from Jesus.

4. 'Liberals seek to base theology on something other than the absolute authority of the Bible.' 'Authority' and how it is constructed is an interesting question. Authority is not a univocal concept and 'absolute' as an adjective adds nothing to the clarity of this statement except to say 'No, it's really, REALLY authoritive!' Which leaves 'authority' and how it operates still undefined.

The first reformers who would be continuous with liberals were still completely Bible centred, but ordinary comprehension said something about the individual and the mind of the reader. So that becomes continuous, eventually, with the focus on the individual mind as authority.

5. 'Liberals drift toward divine immanence at the expense of transcendence.' So do some charismatics I know...

This may be why Diarmaid MacCulloch (in his BBC 4 series A History of Christianity) sees some Pentecostalism as marking a route away from Christianity. There is nothing particularly exclusive to liberals about a focus on immanence. The Secular City approach did this, and it was not liberal (in the sense of asking questions, of taking new routes of faith).

Liberalism has so many definitions. Last Sunday, at the Hull congregational meeting (that decides things) one person said being liberal is to be broad and generous in your welcome, like saying someone was liberal in their hosting of a dinner party. That adds one more meaning to so many.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Revelation in Spain but Mainly Not

Thanks to Gordon, but (again) not its Gordon, for bringing to my attention the news that the Christian-Zionist and fundamentalist station Genesis-Revelation TV is moving its broadcast licence to Spain. The shift means it can dodge around the complaints it receives from casual viewers via Ofcom when it offends Ofcom regulations for British broadcasters. Ofcom has been actually quite generous in recognising it is a Christian (according to a narrow understanding) television station, but it asks for basic ethical and representative recognition of those others it is talking about. Presumably now these will be subsumed under the Genesis-Revelation own ethic that can be so offensive to those outside the walls of the Church Without Walls.

What puzzles me about Genesis-Revelation TV is how it can spend on new plant and equipment in New Malden, London, and yet operate under a licence from another country; how is it that God TV and its money-begging activities can link with the North East of England with all its well-living American culture characters and yet operate outside Ofcom strictures for British stations?

Genesis-Revelation TV is a curious double TV channel (soon to be single again and just Revelation TV). On the one hand it has been a homely and communicative support for its sympathetic audience that has an umbilical connection with its shambolic and penniless presentation, financing itself through donations to its trust. Despite its rampant and dangerous Zionism and its ridiculous Creationism, it has rejected the Prosperity Theology seen on other channels. Its shift to Spain in terms of its licence might see it become more remote, and allow it to become more politicised too in terms of a right wing stance (that Ofcom has prevented so far) prior to the British General Election, so it will presumably promote these little Christian parties with less resistance than would have been the case. What the station doesn't perhaps realise, in its striving to present just one angle, is that its best programmes have been when another view has been present, even if they have set it up with presenter and guest versus the one other, such as the programme with Mandi Schrader regarding Paganism and also the female bishop of the Metropolitan Community Church regarding homosexuality and the Bible.

[This is my one thousandth post to this blog.]

A Magnificent Lecture

I discovered at the Barton Anglican church this morning that people who attended the Archbishop of Canterbury's Bishop King Lecture at Lincoln were very impressed; one of the "pedestrian questions" afterwards, whether people should obey the Ten Commandments was, nevertheless inputted into this morning's high quality sermon (I thought) by the retired priest Gordon Plumb. I suggested that he had it put on the church website. He said he will first "tart up" the text as some were notes ad-libbed; but a joke was to make a podcast of his sermon as was done of the Archbishop's lecture where this priest asked for and received a link to it from the church's website.

The podcast has an abrupt end, but I think we've got the message in full. I see what this morning's preacher meant: it is a very impressive lecture. Rowan Williams speaks in a way that reminds me of Armand Marie Leroi in his one and a half hour television survey of evolution as a chaos system entitled What Darwin Didn't Know. Williams too gives a slower, sparing, economical speech and, at last, he can be well understood.

Here are my notes of the speech in the podcast:

The title of lecture - Faith, Hope and Charity in Tomorrow's World - can mean anything you want it to mean!

Faith, hope and charity are good things, so to get a grip on these is not easy. To do so I will come at it in a roundabout way and will approach these as a mystic did, namely the 16th century St. John on the Cross.

He takes for granted the human mind working three ways: it understands, remembers and wants. Or this is an interaction of understanding, memory and will. The distinctive fresh insight he offers is that put these with faith, hope and charity and you get a perfect picture where we start (understanding, memory and wanting) and where we finish (faith, hope and love).

In the Christian life, he says:
Faith is what happens to our understanding;
Hope is what happens to our remembering;
Love is what happens to our wanting.

To grow up as a Christian is to take that journey from understanding into faith, remembering into hope, and will into love.

He also believed that in Christian growing a very difficult process is we lose our bearings on the way. What we thought we understood we never did, what we thought we remembered is covered with confusion and what we thought we wanted turned out to be empty. We have to be recreated in faith and hope and love.

Some of the contemporary cultural crises confront us in understanding, remembering and wanting, and involve how we try to deny the problem is posed, and also can show how we as people of faith recover our direction and enter into the fullness of our humanity [on this journey].

So in our culture now, intelligence is not much prized (if an overstatement): it is an environment where any conviction is as good as another; one wonders how intelligence works where people ask 'what is truth?'. One approach now teaches knowledge as functional - education is to make us a more competitive economy. One might ask about such intelligence in the financial world. This does prize intelligence: it is not about the mind being stretched, challenged, and enriched (that indeed may be unprofitable). In a postmodern environment, claims to truth, never mind absolute truth, are seen as offensive or oppressive. It's a dark night or brick wall for intelligence: of what knowing is for. This affects our Christian understanding too: "We've lost a great deal of our doctrinal uncertainty, however loudly we may shout about it." [Rowan Williams] We have lost a sense that we can confidently trace the works of God and confidently relay to the world what God has said.

We deny this sometimes by slipping back into tribal, moralising and noisy forms of faith which never quite come to terms with the huge crisis and challenge in the middle of it all. We've lost a lot of our bearings. The Church at large carries on saying what it has said; and has always said in the context of worship; it reads its Bible faithfully: and yet there is a degree of loss of nerve, loss of confidence. Can we really understand God, to expect people to absorb the doctrinal universe with its full pattern that an earlier generation (or so we think) inhabited? The present Pope has identified (very shrewdly and more than once) a loss of confidence in reason. He doesn't mean rational procedures as much as a loss of patience with argument, real mutual persuasion and careful argument which might enlarge our minds to receive more of the truth. Our intelligence is not in a good way inside or outside of the Church: we have devised successful ways of pretending there's not a problem.

St. John of the Cross says out of the brick wall before our intelligence and confusion and loss regarding understanding, faith grows in its true meaning - not as a system or comprehensive answer, but it appears simply as dependable relationship. We may not understand or have the words easily but one learns to be confident or reliant on a presence and other who does not change or go away. When the signposts and landmarks have been taken away there is the presence that does not go. That's faith in a deeply Biblical sense.

When the disciples say something spectacularly stupid a number of times, and Jesus says, 'Don't even you understand?' Or the number of times they ask silly questions or try to turn away or manifestly don't know what is going on. But then there is John Chapter 6 (Peter) when they also say, 'Where else can we go?' The presence is dependable: while they may be insecure and volatile or running away the one they confront in Rabbi and Master will not go away.

The loss of understanding of the clear sense of what we know and how we know is part of the difficult business of learning to question at every level who we are. But we are somehow set free to face this and live with it by the conviction that we are not let go. Faith as dependable relationship is something other than faith as a system of propositions, faith as confidence in my own capacity to master truth; it is much more a confidence that I can be mastered by truth - that 'I' can be held even when I don't think 'I' can hold on.

In our age and ahead the faith we as Christians proclaim will need to be not a glib system but the possibility of dependable relationship: we need to point to God who does not let go, to Christ who does not go away, but the rub is we need ourselves to be dependable people: for those who feel abandoned and who don't know where they are. In our faithfulness to the lost, suffering and marginal we begin to show what it is to have faith in the one who does not let go. One of the biggest challenges to the Church in our age is how we embody that kind of dependability in this society and throughout the world. It does need a bit of a shift in the kind of Church we think we are. Given that we are commonly perceived as people who are anxious to whom they say no.

In the dark night of the intelligence we are being led towards dependable relation: to offer it and embody it.

The dark night and brick wall affect memory just as much: our social amnesia. A newspaper (every six months or so) asks what is Britain and Britishness, our history forgotton and our teaching in schools. What is truth here for memory becomes, 'Have we forgotten who we were?' Crises of identity is also common in society: what is it to be Western, Christian, modern. Crisis of identity also with Jewish and Muslim. And the crises are with individuals too and no less serious. These are crises about continuity. 'Am I the same person as I was?' There's no job for life, no stable relationships for life. Is there something that holds together the coming and going of experiences? Fractured careers and relationships seem to be the order of the day. Is there a story about who I am and who we are?

There are strategies of denial in memory for Church, society and individual. We can construct satisfying stories; we can recreate an imagined past; we take refuge not in good tradition but an artificial traditionalism which is not good. We pretend continuities that are not there. A dark night of memory, then, but what would St. John of the Cross say to that?

Hope is not just a confidence in a future but in a continuity. The same living reality comes through. There is hope in relation: in relation to that which does not abandon or go away: relations to a reality that knows, and sees and holds who we are. There is a witness of who you are, your identity. The bits of yourself you cannot pull together in a convincing story are all held in a single gaze of love. You don't have to work out and finalise who you are and have been, or settle your truth or your story, because in the presence that does not go away all that you have been and are is still present and real held together in a unifying gaze. Disparate and disconnected bits are held together by a string twitched by a divine observer and witness. Bonhoeffer's poem is vivid, written when in prison after the Hitler assassination plot. They say he's like a squire in the prison yard: the poem is about the great gult between what they see (confidence) and what he knows is going on inside him (his weakness and loss, inner wimpering and dread). 'Which is me?' he asks. His answer is surprising and blunt. He hasn't got a clue: God settles it - who he really is. He doesn't have to decide. This is the hope St. John of the Cross talks about. It goes beyond the assumption of what I see and know, that instead I am more than I realise in the eyes of God for good or ill; hope in what is unseen (biblical), to hope in the one who doesn't need to be told how humans work because he knows the human heart (biblical: St. John's Gospel). Confidence in past, present and future is held in one relationship. Memory confusions of who I am and was, and we, become bearable because of the witness in heaven who does not abandon.

This suggests a Church marked by profound patience in actual human beings in their confusions and uncertainties, patience in an environment where so much is unclear and getting lost, patience that it takes time to grow up into Christ: it takes time for each one of us and for the body/ community to grow. Hope and patience belong together. Only a Church that is learning patience can proclaim hope effectively.

What about the will? There is a great deal of choice talk in our culture. It means just supermarket shelf choice. This means disconnected, fractured, choosing. Such choices don't much matter, the culture says, but being free here and now matters to effect such choice for me. In this we lose touch with the deep desires that make us who we are, lose touch with a current in our lives moving towards a goal. We have underplayed reality of Eros (sounds strange when sexual imagery is everywhere, as it is), but Eros here means a profound desire that makes me who I am that makes the whole of my life drawn towards something beyond myself that gives meaning - the other person, the God I seek to love. Such is not so clear in our society. We privilege consumer mentality but fail to ask deep questions about the direction of the desire at the root of our being. We deal and deny it via strategies that increase consumer choices in society, that sharpen assertion and aggression in individual contexts: we use the language of being 'purpose driven' that only means more aggressive assertion. We lose touch with the notion that the most important freedom is to be ourselves and grow - not what we want moment by moment, but to discover slowly and patiently the direction in life to grow as God means us to do so. Will and choice in that framework, not assertion or choosing in a vacuum.

St. John of the Cross says if we face the dark night of the will and freedom and choice and their trivialising in our selves and culture, maybe we shall become able to grow into love. Love: an expression of the freedom to receive: Love as that which drives us to take time and let go of anxiety; Love which permits us to be enriched, to be given-to, to be made alive, to be breathed into. Not a passive thing but a state of openness to joy; love not just as doing good: but as a deep, contemplative regard for the world, humanity and human beings in particular, and God.

On faith, hope and charity, St Paul says it is not just doing good but it has to be about the delight in another, a refusal to be glad in another's failure, the willingness to receive truth as a life-giving, joy-giving thing. Love is something generated by being loved, not that we loved God but that God loved us (says 1 John).

All the themes come together. That presence that doesn't go away, that remembers and holds in a single gaze what has been and is true of us, that eternal and unshakable witness to what we are and dependable presence of what we are is love. We are seen, known, held and above all we are welcomed. We are the objects of an eternal delight. If this sinks into our eternal being, then what the Church is fundamentally and must show itself to be is a place where time and space are given: where people are allowed the space to experience eternal love, where nothing needs to be left at the door, and where people are made free to receive in a world that so often seems to be demanding of them all the time: that they trade, offer, and out there making a difference. Is the Church an environment in which people can learn to open themselves to joy that can only come by letting go of anxious selfishness and the obsession with 'choosing'? Just as it is a great challenge to the Church to be a dependable place and patient, it is a great challenge for it to be sufficiently still for people to open up, sufficiently quiet and unanxious so people can receive what the ultimate truth of the universe wants to give them. These are some of the ways in our cultural context (with its anxieties and obsessions) and through the crises - the dark night or brick wall - in which we might come to rediscover those three... [ends]

Given what I do and don't believe, I think this vision - and with all this about patience it is a Rowan Williams vision - can be turned around to roughly parallel what he says. I do agree with his central thrust, once turned around (he may then say it has then lost the 'witness' involved but then he is Christian and I am religious humanist).

Rowan Williams is presenting a kind of via negativa. Have the crisis of the brick wall of knowledge now and you release (if painfully) a means to faith; have the crisis of memory and continuity individually and collectively and you can progress to hope that links past, present and future; have a crisis in terms of realising the shallowness of our consumerism and you can end up with a love that comes about through receiving enrichment. All this needs space and time to develop and for the Church to cradle where the transformation can take place.

My own turning it around is this. The Church, however small, must be large. It must be elastic in its walls. It must converse and dialogue and debate. A new person coming in changes the Church. It must hear different voices and be confident that these voices can sometimes create consensus and sometimes become difference that can become an acceptance of difference. I think we can be more positive about reasoning if only as a process: but we can say more that there is research and that there are therefore points of anchoring; we can say that some knowing is more like art: that such is creative and expansive, and we don't need to agree.

If the Church is space, and people are friendly in their conversations, then that allows people to develop their own story. For example, part of my identity is an involvement in an English Presbyterian community that started out very differently, militantly indeed, that evolved its beliefs and developed a liberal identity. There is a joining here of a personal identity and a collective identity. I can tell a story of my life. Also my life can be seen as a resistance to consumerism and ambition, in that I have paid for and failed in some of education as it is because it is so bogus and I have said so, when others have called failure and disguise an opportunity to show better statistics. So we can see, by going into and being in a religious community, that we each have a life story that also relates to a collective story and that it expresses values that are contrary to the shallow consumerism all around. The very act of spending an hour of reflection, meditation and contemplation, followed by discussions, is part of the building of a memory and connectedness.

When we have that knowing conversation and that reconstructing of memory, what we also do is find a depth of who we are on the life journey. This is also framed in community. One thing that has struck me in being in a small church of known people is that they keep dying. You become very aware that each life is its own entity, and that each life ending says something profound about the living. It underlines that, in developing the community for beyond your own time, you are also someone who will die and, hopefully, the community will go on to serve others. It has the potential for a longevity that you cannot have. So you come to know, as these people die, and as other people appear (as they must do, unless the place closes), something about your own being and transience. It is a physical link with one part of the point of the religious encounter, which is to come to terms with death. And then your 'real being', so to speak, is glimpsed in that moment of something other, that maybe within a religious service of worship, or in a moment for which that worship has assisted - for example when today I sat in the car and watched lots of birds having dustbaths in the tenfoot that I'd just driven along.

This is my parallel account, along a similar way of what I think is a very profound lecture, one all about relatedness and what is the more significant as opposed to all the noise, including the exasperating noise that is all too visible presently in religious institutions, which I suspect is a subtext in what he was saying.