Sunday 29 April 2012

My Service

My Service for the Hull Unitarians can be read in full (hymns except my own one excluded) and reflects the fact that today is the Ninth Day of Ridvan for Baha'is. As can be seen, my view of the Haifan Baha'i Faith is highly critical and prefers individualist diversity and derived unity rather than uniformity.

Update: The sermon was too long, I considered, and I chopped out some personal reflections.  The document with the linking above reflects what actually was said.

Saturday 28 April 2012

The Final Countdown

As everyone now knows, the final tally is 18 for and 26 against. York was no surprise, Newcastle was pleasing. The province of York had a majority for but was well outnumbered by the majority against in the province of Canterbury.

The bishops were out of touch, with 6 dioceses against only: Bishops against: Liverpool, Bath and Wells, Derby, Salisbury failed to approve, Lincoln, Manchester.

18 for

Lichfield: Bishops: 4 for, 0 against; Clergy 39 for, 11 against, 1 abstention; Laity 57 for, 9 against, 1 abstention.

Durham: covenant approved

Europe: Bishops: 2 for, 0 against; Clergy 21 for, 1 against; 2 abstentions; Laity 20 for, 3 against.

Bristol: Bishops 2 for, 0 against; Clergy 14 for, 9 against, 1 abstention; Laity 17 for, 3 against, 3 abstentions.

Chester: Bishops: 3 for, 0 against, 0 abstentions; Clergy: 22 for, 14 against, 5 abstentions; Laity: 26 for, 23 against, 5 abstentions.

Norwich: Bishops: 3 for, 0 against; Clergy: 26 for, 10 against, 1 abstention; Laity: 19 for, 15 against, 1 abstention.

Carlisle: Bishops: 2 for, 0 against; Clergy: 19 for, 13 against, 2 abstentions; Laity: 33 for, 17 against.

Coventry: Bishops 2 for, 0 against; Clergy: 22 for, 7 against; Laity: 26 for, 2 against.

Bradford: Bishop: 1 for, 0 against; Clergy: 15 for, 9 against, 2 abstentions; Laity: 16 for, 15 against, 3 abstentions.

Canterbury: Bishops: 1 for, 0 against; Clergy: 26 for, 14 against; Laity: 39 for, 13 against.

Sheffield: Bishops: 2 for, 0 against; Clergy: 16 for, 6 against, 1 abstention; Laity: 31 for, 9 against.

Winchester: Bishops: 3 for, 0 against; Clergy: 22 for, 11 against, 4 abstentions; Laity: 38 for, 10 against, 2 abstentions.

Blackburn: Bishops: 2 for, 0 against, 0 abstentions; Clergy: 40 for, 7 against, 1 abstention; Laity: 33 for, 16 against, 1 abstention.

Peterborough: Bishops: 2 for, 0 against; Clergy: 22 for, 19 against, 1 abstention; Laity: 28 for, 13 against, 7 abstentions.

Exeter: Bishops: For: 3, Against: 0; Clergy: For: 28, Against: 8, Abstained: 1; Laity: For: 30, Against: 20, Abstained: 2.

Southwell and Nottingham: Bishops: 2 for, 0 against; Clergy 15 for, 5 against; Laity: 31 for, 6 against, 1 abstention.

Chichester: Bishops: 2 for, 0 against; Clergy: 29 for, 9 against, 1 abstention; Laity: 39 for, 25 against, 1 abstention.

York: Bishops: 4 for, 0 against; Clergy: 26 for, 5 against; Laity: 38 for, 5 against,  1 abstention.

26 against

Birmingham: covenant defeated

St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich: Bishops 2 for, 0 against; Clergy 9 for, 29 against, 4 abstentions; Laity 8 for, 33 against, 9 abstentions

Truro: defeated by over a two thirds majority in both Clergy and Laity

Wakefield: Bishops 2 for, 0 against; Clergy 16 for, 17 against, 1 abstention; Laity 10 for, 23 against

Ely: Bishops: 1 for, 0 against, 1 abstention; Clergy: 16 for, 23 against, 1 abstention; Laity: 19 for, 19 against

Liverpool: Bishops: 0 for, 2 against; Clergy: 10 for, 26 against, 1 abstention; Laity: 8 for, 28 against, 5 abstentions

St Albans: Bishops: 2 for, 0 against; Clergy: 21 for, 31 against; Laity: 17 for, 44 against

Ripon & Leeds: Bishops: 2 for, 0 against; Clergy: 12 for, 22 against; Laity: 8 for, 17 against

Southwark: Bishops: 1 for, 0 against, 1 abstention; Clergy: 10 for, 27 against, 2 abstentions; Laity 21 for, 32 against

Worcester: Bishops: 2 for, 0 against; Clergy: 5 for, 19 against; Laity: 6 for, 22 against

Bath & Wells: Bishops: 0 for, 1 against, 1 abstention; Clergy: 17 for, 22 against; Laity: 18 for, 23 against, 4 abstentions

Chelmsford: Bishops: 2 for, 1 against, 1 abstention; Clergy: 27 for, 29 against, 7 abstentions; Laity: 31 for, 30 against, 3 abstentions

Hereford: Bishops: 2 for, 0 against; Clergy: 15 for, 15 against, 1 abstention; Laity 21 for, 23 against, 1 abstention

Derby: Bishops: 0 for, 1 against; Clergy: 1 for, 21 against, 2 abstentions; Laity: 2 for, 24 against, 2 abstentions

Gloucester: Bishops 1 for, 0 against, 1 abstention; Clergy: 16 for, 28 against, 1 abstention; Laity: 14 for, 28 against, 6 abstentions.

Leicester: Bishops: 2 for 0 against; Clergy: 15 for, 21 against, 3 abstentions; Laity: 21 for, 14 against, 4 abstentions.

Salisbury: Bishops: 1 for, 1 against; Clergy: 11 for, 20 against, 2 abstentions; Laity: 19 for, 27 against.

Portsmouth: Bishop: 1 for, 0 against; Clergy: 12 for, 17 against; Laity: 13 for, 17 against, 2 abstentions.

Rochester: Bishop: 1 for, 0 against; Clergy: 8 for, 30 against, 3 abstentions; Laity: 14 for, 26 against, 7 abstentions.

Sodor and Man: Bishops: 1 for, 0 against; Clergy: 5 for, 12 against; Laity     21 for, 15 against, 1 abstention.

Guildford: Bishops: 2 for, 0 against; Clergy: 14 for, 22 against, 1 abstention; Laity: 23 for, 18 against, 2 abstentions.

Lincoln: Bishops: 0 for, 3 against; Clergy: 6 for, 28 against; 3 abstentions;     Laity: 2 for, 34 against, 2 abstentions.

Oxford: Bishops: 3 for, 1 against; Clergy: 14 or 15 for, 36 or 38 against, 2 abstentions; Laity: 32 or 35 for, 24 or 29 against, 3 abstentions.

London: Bishops: 2 for,1 against; Clergy: 17 for, 32 against, 1 abstention; Laity: 26 for, 33 against, 2 abstentions.

Manchester: Bishops: 1 for, 2 against; Clergy: 15 for, 25 against; Laity: 12 for, 23 against, 7 abstentions.

Newcastle: Bishops: 2 for, 0 against; Clergy: 8 for, 18 against; Laity: 14 for, 15 against.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

GAFCONK Cookbook

Leadership Conference, London 2012 of GAFCONK/ FCAFF

Archbishop El Cid Wahahbalula
Chairman’s keynote address
Monday 23rd at St Marks Battersea Drop

A Global Communion for the sixteenth Century:

Praise the Lard!

Now it is so good to be with you all once again as we gather from over thirty countries to do some plotting in our quest to grab the steering wheel of the Anglican Communion. What a joy this is. We are indeed a global communion for the sixteenth [16] century.

The Lard is going to lead us and give its guidance in getting a bit more slippery in how we overcome the continuing crisis which afflicts our Communion. I want to flame my address with some words of recipe which I believe are a particular word from the Lard for us right now.

To get a bit hard I am going to refer to the profit Formica®, a High Pressure Laminate (HPL) manufactured through fusing multiple layers of impregnated kraft paper under high pressure and temperature to create a hard wearing, durable and hygienic surfacing material.

This will give us something really solid to work on as we design our next steps for everyone else.

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what recipe is required of you?
To fill jugly and measure Percy
And get your peas out of your pod.

What's the recipe today Jim?

This is the greatest question facing us this week. We know the will of the Lard, because they don't and we do. God does not play games with us - no he cooks. He is the big recipe mango in the sky. It's not about our ingenuity or imagination, although it is. He does not play games with us. He cooks through the scriptures of recipes. We just obey ourselves and start cooking Let's see those red tomatoes held high.

What does the Lard require? Basically, some more familiar recipes. Go to the supermarket and buy some predictable and familiar lines.

I want a pound of sugar, a quarter of tea, some carrots for Mrs Bunny,
And something extra special for tea, a great big pot of honey.
Some jars of jam, some slices of ham,
A doughnut and a bun,
And a great big packet of Ricicles
Is sure to be lots of fun!

We can then trot them out. Cooking is not escapism, but facing things as they are in the confidence that God will act. The crisis we face is also an opportunity knocking. Eat your greens, Hughie. The orange can be traced back many years. The unprecedented challenges to Anglican identity forced upon us by the revisionist cookbooks mean an historic opportunity to rediscover the distinctive sixteenth century Anglican Reformers and their grub.

God will choose his own time, but we will help him along by giving history a push. An modern oven speeds just things up or use a log fire.

We cannot treat this as simply an institutional crisis. The breakdown of the existing governance structures of the Anglican Communion is a symptom of a deeper problem. The recipe we have been given simply doesn't hold the pudding together. And the first course is a mess. The Anglican pottage no longer commands confidence. Yucky dick.

If it were merely an institutional problem - the knives, forks and spoons - then we would have expected that the heavy investment made in Anglican Covenant would have brought a resolution. The Anglican Covenant was "Fatally flawed!" It had become clear that it was little more than a form of words to disguise conflict rather than resolve it. But the liberals saw that off, and let's give them the glory. So  now with the rejection of the Covenant, even in the Church of England itself, there's no more just messing with the spoons and forks - you've got to get the ingredients right. The heart of the crisis we face is not institutional, but spiritual.

Formica can ask ‘what does the Lard require?’ It requires better ingredients. Am I making myself clear? Is the washing up done?

Remember 1998 when a minority including Rowan Tree tried to represent a minority view, to bend the word of God to fit the fashionable ideas of their cultural context when they should have bent to our cultural context?

That's where it went wrong - tolerating minorities. Their strategy has been to continue dialogue endlessly in order to wear down resistance while all the time pursuing their self determined mandate of radical inclusion. They want us to use our intelligence to extract ‘deeper truths’ of God’s revelation concealed below the words themselves, and that will never do. We want to use the stupid route of reading off the ink of the page. If it says 'half a pound of tuppenny rice', that is what it means.

Translating into different languages never alters meanings, does it? And what's all this grammar of obedience tripe? Search me. The ‘grammar of obedience’ is a theological Trojan horse for profound disobedience. It produces undercooked grub.

When we met in Jerusalem we were able to have a small committee in a back room of conservatives who produced a text for everyone to sing about and get cooking. Compare that with Lambeth 2008 which was all talk talk talk like where can you find the toilets to wash your hands. No shared mind and no attempt to resolve the substance of the fundamental doctrinal and ethical differences which have been so destructive to our uniformity. Back to Mrs Beeton, that's what we say. And Delia Smith is about the only revision we'll accept.

In Jerusalem we got cooking, including on the mountain top. But we have to come down from the mountain top to actually eat the grub. Formica lets us do this and we will: it is not a matter of following our subjective dreams and feelings, but being true to the views concocted in previous centuries to which we give priority - let the sixteenth century reign again!

This for me is a personal truth and so there is mine and then yours and yours and so on. It is these qualities that we need to animate our Global fellowship as we move forward together. As a powerful movement of renewal and transformation for that is what we are.

OK, we have been a bit slow. We did set up a rival Church in America - a bit of a messy dog's dinner we admit. Last year, it became clear that provision need to be made for England too. The Anglican Mission in England was formed. It'll be a bit tricky stealing the family silver tea service in England, but we can think of a few dioceses where churches might ignore the incumbent bishop. Chuck us out we dare you!

We mustn't get infected too much by cynicism and pragmatism that can creep in when issues of power and influence are at stake. Being a Religious Trotskyite though does need a bit of deviousness. But as well as being vigorous with the spoon we can be kind when we use it to tap people on the head.

We are not setting ourselves up above the recipes, but recognise that the food finds us and there are lots of varied recipes around the world. So what is the recipe today Jim?

1. The northern cookbook should now be replaced by the southern cookbook, and spread a few seeds into the mix. We will decide not just the recipes but who controls the cookbook and who operates the oven.

2. We should open some bottles of wine and put them in a new wineskin. This will give us a bit of a tipple. We can build a new wine cellar and call it after the old one. We then control all the wine.

3. We must resist the temptation to be lazy. We have to do the theological heavy lifting so essential to get the food into and out of the oven. Don't forget to use oven gloves or a thick cloth folded over. The food has to be good old sixteenth century fayre, nourished by biblical recipe teaching straight off the page. Equally we need our own cooks, chosen by us, from our cookery colleges, otherwise we'll just have more secular ideologies shaping liberal and revisionist fast food from the other cooking colleges.

Don't forget the big cook-in in 2013.

Meanwhile let's hope we get a godly leader of God's people for the next Archbishop of Canterbury. After all, not all the candidates are godly. If we don't approve, we won't accept it. We'll try to elect a chairman anyway, for the Primates Meeting, run from our special Primates Council.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Better to Prepare?

I'm wondering if it isn't better to prepare for a service less not more... Sunday I did prepare hymns so that we had a Unitarian version of the Seafarer's Hymn (for those in peril...) - it appears in no hymnal because the original has a trinitarian structure. This followed the rumoured to be Titanic hymn. Two others were non-themed liberal singalongs. The sea was a subtheme only. I read out two passages from Donald Coggan on preaching, with the analogy of the music maestro and highly skilled costly performance that is to 'get out of the way' and let the composer come through. Preaching isn't to be like the River Meander he said, but to do something. So I preached. Other Churches preach the gospel, I said, so the idea is the best preacher lets the Holy Spirit come through. And just in case they don't preach the gospel, the sermon in the Eucharist service is followed by reciting the creed. Obviously Unitarians are limited to opinions: we are in that sense religious humanists. But the equivalence is to say something that causes the best of reflections in people listening in developing their own thoughts, making their own growth. And I said this without any notes. Due to operating the music equipment, I was sat, and said this into the microphone on a table from where I'd conducted the whole service.

Next week is my service and I've written about uniformity verses unity, and using the Baha'i Faith as an example of uniformity (and therefore every leader faced a split, and covenant breakers all along the way). Those who syncretise into a 'higher' religion end up producing just one more religion. The Baha'is do not have male-female equality (also intolerant of homosexual partnering), they do not accept science so that there is no religion-science dispute (e.g. they accept "something like" evolution because Abdul Baha didn't accept Darwin), and as for independent search for religion - once you sign up you accept the infallibility of the texts of Baha'u'llah, Abdul Baha and the writings of Shoghi Effendi and the democratic centralist commands of the male-only Universal House of Justice. You only get unity if you can mature enough to have diversity, and mature religions gain a spectrum that in part allows for and accepts change (whereas the Bahais are a late nineteenth and early twentieth century snapshot of limited modernity coupled with some premodern religious inheritance). Perhaps Non-Haifan Bahais (covenant breakers and those who grew weary of the administrative and financial burden) might show a way forward regarding diversity.

But these are many points, and a script to make them, whereas my homily unscripted was straight to the point and without detail.

Saturday 21 April 2012

When it Turns Nasty

In the continuing Anglican wars over homosexuality, a number of clerics have made a more positive sound, one in favour of (the still unequal) civil marriage for gays and lesbians (Thinking Anglicans reproduces). That's to the good. So is a reminder of the possibility that Jesus could have had gay orientation himself, first highlighted in recent times by the late Hugh Montefiore. One context now is a huge amount of damage being done on the Fulcrum pages so that its leadership has tried to calm things down with a further thread. One of those who has changed her mind recently also appeared to ask for some tolerance. One ordained contributor to give his experience as a gay man has had his ministry, even his Christianity, trashed by one contributor in particular but by more in actuality.

I knew this would end in tears, simply by those who regard the Bible as a rule book and who keep quoting the 1998 Lambeth Conference 1:10 resolution as if it is uncontested law. It is usually backed up by the present (retiring) Archbishop of Canterbury affirming this as 'the Mind of the Communion' and that if he says this with a different private opinion then this must be right. Keep repeating something and argument becomes blocked, keep repeating something and it is as if true. There is no Mind of the Communion, and nothing has such authority, and that resolution was concocted in the teeth of division and opposition assisted by an incompetent now former Archbishop.

When training to be teachers we were told that a technique to block an unruly pupil who wants to question decisions is to use the broken record technique, which is to repeat the same point back to every point and wear down the pupil in order to enforce the decision.

The broken record seems to be this: that the Bible is a consistent revelation of the mind of God and Christ, so that if Paul says something then it's as good as Christ saying something, and it is all of God anyway. It is surface read, so little is given to academic biblical criticism, but this still comes through doctrinal eyes (the New Testament itself involves a mixture of doctrines). That doctrine developed after the Bible doesn't seem to matter to these folks, in that they read it back in; that there were different cultural contexts (and indeed from today) seems not to matter either when supernature is involved. Biblical critics argue whether there is even a 'fall' in the Bible - the Jews and Eastern Christians don't seem to think so, but evangelical Christians depend on it as an explanation for temptation against God to be overcome. You then get resolutions in support of a surface view, to be quoted, like a QED. Just repeat.

On this basis, then, the Bible is a book of rules. There is some ambiguity about the role of women, so wriggle room allows some toleration of variation on inequality. But when it comes to gay sex, there is no text in support and enough against and on this basis the rule applies and makes a definition of whether you are a) evangelical or not or even b) whether you are Christian or not.

To be for God is to be against sin, and at the very minimum is a required celibacy; but better still is for the individual to undergo techniques for sexual reorientation because it should follow that gay orientation is unwanted. To fail to do at least one is to prefer sin over God and this further defies the position of the Church, both Anglican and wider afield. You are just about allowed sexual orientation because that is like experiencing a sin to steal or murder, and we all have dislikable tendencies and experiences to overcome. Then comes the emphasis that this is the only way to be Christian, and furthermore those who insist on another view should be shunned and isolated - rejecting those 'brothers' who claim to believe but do not actually believe. The homosexual issue is thus the issue on which to judge whether the other person is in or out of fellowship. That this is sheer intolerance is irrelevant to those who follow the scriptural rule book.

Some go on further than this with a very Puritan predestination belief in the wrath of God, as if the sociology of knowledge has not changed since pre-Enlightenment days. They don't even seem to have caught up with Thomas Aquinas or Richard Hooker and the incorporation of reason and observation (never mind science). It's all revelation and rules.

To gay people, in or out of loving and active relationships, who are active Christians too, this becomes utterly offensive. Some are simply laying down the law and causing, with persistence, ruptures in the broader Christian community.

I can't very well pitch in because I don't take the label Christian and certainly do not regard the Bible as normative. The Bible knows nothing about science, or about sexuality - it's pretty hopeless regarding history too. It does not supply this kind of information. To turn a cultural and theological set of books (with some included that need not have been, and some missing that could have been added) is simply ridiculous. Even if one accepts some forms of supernatural causality, the Bible is open to levels of (even positive) criticism that render its use as a rule book impossible.

The point is, however, that people are determined to have this war. They are determined to alter institutions to reflect the divisions of these viewpoints. In my view, the intention of unity in such a situation, in which a former gay inclusive theologian as Archbishop also applies 'the rules' internationally (as in that Advent Letter of 2007), thus bending over backwards to his one time opponents (he is theirs if they are not his) was never going to succeed.

The way to tackle this is establish your grounds for toleration and the general bases for biblical use and build in flexibility for change. Have that and then defend it. Then let the people who insist on fighting do their own thing - let them carry out their threats and departures, to see if they will and how much they do. They will be the ones who have to leave. At least then there is a chance that Christianity will not be associated so completely with bigotry and intolerance.

If not, then these new definers of Christianity will slowly remove the tolerant, almost one by one, and in frustration, anger and bitterness. Even Fulcrum, that played the Archbishop's misdirecting card, and has included some moderately worded exclusion of its own, has become shocked. It is a very nasty, inhuman, intolerant part of the Christian religion in play.
(Meanwhile two dioceses have voted in favour of the Covenant. Too late!)

Making a Hymn Available

Theology isn't everything with hymns; some express sentiment simply through singing and relating to a longstanding traditional hymn and tune. There's an obvious reason the following hymn (before alteration) hasn't appeared in Unitarian hymnals, because its core verses are trinitarian and about salvation. So add in some of those extra verses and change a few words, and it is a usable hymn. We in Hull should be able to use it:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Eternal Father, Lord of hosts,
Watch o'er the souls who guard our coasts.
Protect them from the raging seas
And give them light and life and peace.
Grant them from Thy great throne above
The shield and shelter of Thy love.

Lord, guard and guide the ones who fly
Through the great spaces in the sky.
Be with them always in the air,
In darkening storms or sunlight fair;
Oh, hear us when we lift our prayer,
For those in peril in the air!

O Unity of love and power!
Our brethren shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe'er they go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from air and sea.

From William Whiting, 1860; Mary

Hamilton, 1915; George Jenks, 1955.

Thursday 19 April 2012


It's the Amber Light (was Green) for the Church in Wales/ Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru, with the amber light replacing green due to the position since taken up by the Church of England. Well, in my Highway Code (Rheolau Ffordd Fawr) the next light after amber is Red. It wants the Anglican Consultative Council (and not some still enthusiastic bureaucrat) to say as to what now with the Covenant process. Try stuck somewhere in Offa's Dyke (and that's a ditch, not a lesbian - Clawdd Offa).

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Fictional Predictive

News Analysis by Harry Tickpaper

The appointment of the Revd. Arundel Boreang Alice as Website and Publicity Officer for Lambeth Walk Palace and this has led to speculation as to whether there is a shoe-in coming for the Archbishop of the North, John Sendmehome, to become the new Archbishop of England, replacing Rowan Tree who retires shortly.

At the same time questions exist as to the legitimacy of the current appointment system and method.

The Rev. ABA, as he likes to be known, used to work for John Sendmehome as his publicity guru. He has since been a staunch defender of his previous boss, using his own Wolves Hampton Expressions website. The question is whether this appointment does indicate who is to be the next ABE, or whether JS still is too old to qualify.

Some people regard JS as a lightweight self-publicist who is always telling jokes. Recently he opened a Footwear Convention in York and said, as part of his speech to the gathered business people, "Talking about drinks: do you know how to make a fruit cordial? Compliment his shoes." A few people laughed.

The issue arises as to the Appointments Commission, sometimes called by its detractors the Croney Appointments Commission, works, deep in the bowels of the Church in England. It is known to be highly secretive and uses secret handshakes and finger-twiddling signals to indicate progress to those in the know. Look out for bishops in cathedral services twiddling their fingers and scratching their cassocks to get an idea as to who is really the frontrunner in the race that no one really wants to win.

But this year there is a further concern about the legitimacy of the AC or CAC after a leak to stop the Rev. John Jeffrey becoming the bishop of Southwark Farm some years ago by deliberately revealing him as a front-running candidate. The Archbishop of the North then tried to pinpoint a liberal sympathiser Coleen Asleep as the leaker to damage John Jeffrey's chances, by saying that it would do "her candidate" no good at all. But after she died her diary came to light that showed how it was certainly ot her. An Inquiry into the leak was set up, chaired by Lord Fidgety, but was covered up as - it is said - he had pinpointed the Archbishop of England himself (or one of his staff acting with or without his permission) as the leaker. Indeed it is said that the inquiry was set up as a sop to critics at the time without ever having any intention to publish.

The problem is that this has all questioned the legitimacy and probity of the Appointments Commission until a name can be given as to who was the leaker - and so far no one is prepared to be declared as the leaker whether true or sacrificially. Recently John Jeffrey wrote to a Church newspaper questioning the legitimacy of the Appointments Commission, which opponents on John Sendmehome's side likened to having his day of revenge.

One argument in favour of John Sendmehome as the next Archbishop of England is that his appointment would keep the leaking enquiry closed.

Recently John Sendmehome called the Prime Minister a "second rate dictator" because the PM wants to extend civil marriage (only) to gay couples. JS said that, "We are pastors and he isn't even a pasty" Inventing history, JS continued, "Marriage was invented by the Church and people and you cannot overturn what is so embedded in what ordinary people can only understand. A man found his wife in bed with a woman and said, 'What are you doing?' and she immediately said to her same sex lover, 'There you are - I told you he didn't understand the first thing about sex.'" It is also thought that John Sendmehome wants to bring back the Covenant at the earliest opportunity and might want a streamlined decision making system (one that avoids the dioceses). However, despite these recent leanings and behaviour, and all the gossip, alleged revenge and speculation, African Churches - with their literalist and magical beliefs - have indicated that they would not be able to work with JS because he has 'gone native' in England and is too associated with the legacy of Rowan Tree.

Asked for a comment last night, Archbishop Sendmehome said he had "little to say at this sensitive time", but added, "I did have a large gay following but then I slipped down an alleyway and lost him." The telephone then went down because I couldn't be bothered to interview him any further.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Good Riddance

Orombi in Uganda is resigning as well. Good, couldn't come too soon - not that he'd be replaced by anyone better. This is from an interview he gave on 15 April in The Independent News published in Kampala, first of all answering why he's going a year early:

Some people think you have to retire when things are hard, when you are sick, or worn out. But that's not retirement. That's completion of work. For me, I'm moving on to accomplish things that I would need energy to do. That's really why I'm moving on a year early.

An idea of his self-assured arrogance is given here:

What sort of things would you say you could have done differently or given more time to?

None. Every leader has got a calling by God...

Then there is the nub of the issue, of his breaking away from other Anglican Churches:

Unity for the Anglican Communion is not going to come back easily. The Western church and the African church are no longer walking on the same premises. The African church is still a Bible-believing church. Its congregation responds, worships, is growing. You will never say the same about the church in Europe, not even in America.

We don’t interpret the Bible the same way. Whereas for them they’re influenced more by the status quo in terms of the modernised way of interpreting sexuality, we still, as believers, understand sexuality from the creation story, from our cultural background, which to them is all mixed up.

I think because we are a vibrant church, we see things more clearly than they do. And I suppose that the more you grow old, the less teeth you have, the dimmer your eyes, the more hard-at-hearing you become. That’s the church in Europe and America.

It is all mixed up if you cannot see that the biblical creation story is a myth. The Bible is no more informed on sexuality than it is on science or indeed on doing history. We are evolved in common with apes, and like other higher animals some fancy and mate with their own sex. If someone wants to do some 'natural theology' then the normality of such attraction is a consequence of all of the most successful species in evolution: where evolution includes variation and difference, maintaining minorities, because, then, the species can cope better with rapid environmental change. You never know when variation produces positive even unintended and indirect consequences.

Later on he is asked and replies:

You’ve also mentioned that the British hegemony over the Anglican Church is over. If Rowan retires, how do you see chances of Uganda’s own John Sentamu replacing him?

Unfortunately, it’s only the Anglican church of England that [elects Archbishop of Canterbury] then imposes it on the Anglican Communion. So, as for personality, we can’t say anything. We take what they give us. So if he can work with us, we can work together. If he can’t work with us, we are mature enough to say no.

Struth. The idea that they could not get on with Sentamu, after his behaviour in the back rooms of Anglicanism, and recent expressions about marriage, seems bizarre (and why this Revd. Arun Arora, already in place as the next Communications Director, doesn't get the serious criticism of Sentamu) - but that's the extent of the difference between Sentamu and Orombi. Perhaps the following question, like a piece of underarm bowling for Orombi, ought to be asked of John Sentamu or indeed Rowan Williams Mark II:

Gay people and their supporters insist it’s their right to love people of the same sex. Are human rights incompatible with faith in God?

There’s nobody who respects humanity more than God. This other human rights movement is totally a different agenda. If they were talking about human rights per se, don’t I have the right to exercise my faith and believe the way my faith teaches me? These guys will say no. Do it the way we want you to do it. That’s not human rights. That’s imperialism. We Africans need to begin to understand some other new approach of subjecting us to the thinking of the western world. When they coin it to be human rights, you can never get better human rights and justice than what’s in the Bible. It’s the same Bible they reject.

Has he read the Bible recently? It's a catalogue of war and rape and slavery and relative ignorance. Paul says some equalitarian things about the Kingdom of God (and you could extend the sentiment to relationships) and then someone else later in his name decides that women should keep quiet and give way to the male in home and church. I wouldn't have much hope for toleration under Orombi's guide book interpretations.

The Daftest of Decisions

News reached me via the jungle telegraph that James Barry will no longer be the Unitarians' webmaker. I might be talking out of turn here, lacking some information, but only because I can't think of anything more bonkers. He made a dreadful website (remember those squares) look good again, and has added all sorts of features. He also knows plenty about publicity more generally. Structures get changed 'to be more effective' and you find they end up doing the same thing. If the centre is cutting its suit numbers according to what cloth is available, the one thing you don't do is shut down the shop window. You keep your marketing department as long as you can. This chap has brought people in through the door. No wonder people get fed up with the centre. Now tell me what in this I have got wrong.

Saturday 14 April 2012

Wild West Anglicanism (Flog the Dead Horse)

Crumb Newsletter

Knowing your Opposition and Avoiding their Arguments

by Stephen Kuhrtsey

One of the fascinating things about being in a small band of brothers is when you have to circle them wagons because you are being shot at from all sides, but then if we are right we keep shooting no matter what the defeat. If the one horse is dead, keep flogging it. It may just get up and walk, and bison may fly.

On the one side are the fundies, and on the other side the liberals, both in the same C in E here out West. The attacks on us can even be on the same day, from both ends of the valley, and it ain't always pleasant to be shot at, though we enjoy the shootin'!

But as I say to my colleagues, friends, rivals and careerists in the camp, if we is being shot at both ends, we must be right and that's one strange degree o' reassurance.

But, hey, ain't those shooting at us on one side supposed to be evangelicals? We said ourselves to that there Archsheriff, we are gonna defend your Covenant, because we dream in terms of empires and the whole spread out land, and not just the bit of it we are left on. And what those other evangelical fundies have done is give the Archsheriff no more than extremely lukewarm support, and they're just gettin' like them liberals who are always against the Archsheriff. After all, they once saw him as one of their tribe but then he came over to ours (or we came over to his, as that's where the hierarchical gold will be found).

Actually, I remember the Mayor of that small learning town Wycliffe, years back, when he said that to get to the main enemy of them liberals you gotta first shoot them liberal evangelicals, by which he meant us; though we ain't no liberals, so we should expect his lot to come down the mountain with all guns blazin' and shootin' at us.

Now the Archsheriff, he said that the Covenant would regulate Anglican chapels' affairs at the centre via a long talking-shop procedure, by which one chapel would fall in with the concerns of another chapel. In other words, if one chapel innovated some funny sentiments, then the others could slow it down by complaining to him and his instruments in office. That was a real pressure on them liberals. But at the same time, the Archsheriff said there was no punishment, punitiveness, and the offendin' chapel could carry on if it really wanted to, but that was no good for them other fundies who wanted to have some real sanctions and not some kind of a talking-shop as they were saying.

So that puzzles me. I mean no one I know on either side has yet been able to say how 'a centralising strait jacket that will impair freedom and innovation' can simultaneously be 'a toothless proposal designed to produce constant dialogue and no action'. The Covenant cannot be both but whilst many liberals have presented it as the former, many conservative evangelicals have presented it as the latter. Gee up.

Of course it might have something to do with how the Archsheriff and his officials presents his case, but outa loyalty I would never say such a thing.

If you stand in the middle of the new main street in the main town, don't be surprised if the stage coach going one way hits you followed by the posse racing by in the other direction.

Now that there retired Deputy Sheriff - the man who was on the inside track of the Archsheriff and consistently said about but failed to predict what was coming along: well he gives us an insight what it's all about. Yeah did.

From up there in the Canadian forests, where he now lives among a group of remote writers, and still writin' an' sellin' them books, our own New Testament Wrong says both liberals and fundies have treated the Ephesian and Colossian Indians' myths the same. The liberals say they are not myths originating with Big Chief Paul, so treat them with sceptics' sauce, but the fundies who'd never say that about their origins still prefered the myths of the Romans and Galatian Indians. Ex-Deputy Sheriff NewT says we should take account of all of their recreation stories and you can't neglect them of Ephesian and Colossian Injuns when it comes to making up the magic book.

And we who circle our wagons: we don't neglect them stories because that ex-Deputy Sheriff is one of ours. But he's gone away now and we can only read his words when up for sale. Yup. The old Deputy Sheriff who once said "Hang them liberals way out West" and also "But buy my books before we noose you" has gone rather quiet on us.

We think these liberals are confederates and nothing more, whereas we support the building of a new federal government with a strong centre and subsidiarity on just cultural and lesser things. Yup, so, though we'd avoid a Civil War (despite the fact we've got one!). And regardless of all sorts of statements from them fundies, who'd put the heretics into a rigid arm lock, throw them in jail and lose the keys: the fact that they're into some form of DIY when it comes to these chapels suggests they're pretty much in the same game. They play poker with a marked pack. They'd run their own learning towns, courts, jails, sheriff offices and the lot and bring in their own sheriffs. Or at least do so to make their policies and keep control while infiltrating our chapels as much as they can. They want it both ways.

Now there is one other tribe we haven't yet mentioned, who occupy some caves now that they've been pretty much run out of town. Them Anglocats: and boy, have they got a high view of the chapels that we should bring together as one. They know all about hierarchy and we could learn a thing or two. The Archsheriff is like one of theirs, but they used to say perhaps wrongly that he only dressed up like them to confuse.

But scratch the surface and you soon realise that those caves ain't on Brokeback Mountain for nothin'. And when it comes to that sacred mountain, they'll dash any Covenant that builds up its mighty organisation on the further marginalising of them folks brought up on and in the shadow of that mountain.

In that Covenant the Archsheriff wanted to fence around the mountain. But - hang on! Did he not once write some of his best stories and sing his best songs around the camp fire on that very mountain himself? Well, maybe, but he's our leader in that since he got the Badge he's been singing from a different tune book. It might not be his tune book but he's not strayed back to his own. He thought we could put fences up, and in terms of our chapels and their attenders, just have a few discreet gateways and all sorts of delaying checkpoints. We don't mind them Brokebackers coming in the chapels so long as they don't do anything we wouldn't do. After all, we don't want to get to a point where stagecoaches go between towns carrying rude messages about them Brokebackers under the luggage racks.

But scratch one of those Anglocats and you soon find he first defends the homeland of the sacred mountain. In the past they have let all sorts of restrictions get through, keeping their nods and winks, but suddenly they were saying no to the new fences and gateways.

But, no, they're not shootin', not unless they is with them liberals already.

We suspect there were some Anglocats who, even with the fences, would still have kept the Brokeback sacredness in the dark, deep in the caves, but these folk are now either well scattered, or deep in the caves well out of sight, or in other cat caves not run on Anglo lines anymore.

Well what a can o' beans this is. So why not have loads of beans in all them varieties? Instead of the regulation cooking on the campfire, from regulation chefs, why not have anyone cook them or even eat them cold? Ask them Anglocats and they'd say "No, they must be warmed properly and by the sacred chef." Yeah did.

It's all one almighty heck of a diddly ddoing mess. So, am a still sayin', if we is goin' to have them chapels, we all ought still to do it properly and if we do it orderly then one sheriff is pretty much like another under the Archsheriff.

Yup we're being shot at from this side and that side, and there ain't many of us left alive - heck, one of our own assisting sheriffs works under another town sheriff who's been shootin' at us long and hard.

But despite that we are still gonna flog that dead horse. Over the vast miles and oceans, others are rumoured to be like us and we seek them out for comfort - just like those evangelical fundies sought out their own internationally for support. But it's our horse that's dead, not theirs, nor the liberals' nags. Dead ours may be, but we'll flog it.

Hey, the Archsheriff retires soon so who knows the future. If that guy in the Liverpool office - he was one of ours once - gets the job we'll then all have to change our tune if we want to get on. But he's had his own troubles. We pray it'll be another one of our own, and we will try and bring the Covenant back again and again. But, of course, we'll keep them wagons circled if we do.

Thursday 12 April 2012

Never Mind April Fool - Just Dream

Perhaps it's an absence of alternative activities, but my dream world seems to be getting ever more vivid and even disturbing. I rarely dream with a religious theme, but I did on Wednesday morning.

Just to say I have a high opinion of the Unitarians' Nightingale Centre; I am aware of the barn not far off that is (or was) basic accommodation, and there is the Derbyshire countryside in that area, sort of plateau before the Peak District's more dramatic countryside, and it is all well green.

I'm also aware of the south west Wales 'Black Spot' location of Unitarian chapels in Wales, though I have never seen any directly.

This dream was located in mid-Wales, and not quite Black Spot country, and yet it looked more like Derbyshire, though the key was the railway line, a single track one that looped around the locality.

So I was with a group of Unitarians on a long walk up a path that was a south to north Wales path. Off it we went to these large rectangular unfinished buildings, or ruined (I think unfinished), in that inside they had lots of square windows but no glass, and grass growing where there should be a floor. There seemed to be a roof. And I recall the wind coming in and that if this was a worship place it wasn't very pleasant. It was probably used ad hoc. And then further up after walking there was another building just like it that this group visited. Someone was well informed. Again it was unfinished. They indicated a lack of use and lack of money.

The railway line that was far off to the south actually curled around, and a train coming north went right past this chapel so that it was up above at one wall (so no roof there).

At this point my camera, rather than being lost, had changed and become smaller - still digital - but as it had changed I couldn't work it. I also started to feel the cold, and realised I hadn't dressed for all weathers, and I would have no protection. I was just going to have to follow the rest and walk back.

So what was that all about, then? I am one for analysing dreams and usually there is an obvious point regarding me.

On the one hand it looks like a story about being attached and putting effort into a defunct religious movement visiting its incomplete relics and half-used places. It obviously carries some sort of 'no future in this' message. But actually I think it is more about me, and having no holidays for a long time now, and losing contact with places, and being in something of a dead end - the camera being unusable is a key, which has been used to picture my decrepid legs. It may be that the defunct half-finished half-used places around this religion are the only attachment and interest I now have, and that all others have gone (simply because I cannot afford them - one lives to the extent of the money available).

Incidentally the dream before this involved being in a back yard like where I lived as a child, and a back door and the problem of shoving a horse up and over an oven that was in the way of the back door, and that if the horse went high enough through the gap it would end up next door where it needed to be. My pub friends said I'd been watching Laurel and Hardy, but I hadn't except for a recent encounter with The Tale of the Lonesome Pine and Way out West.

Monday 9 April 2012

Leading Church in England Easter Messages

Easter Sermon by Archbishop Rowan Tree
Clapham Cathedral, Sunday 8th April 2012

Note: the congregation is noisy and starts to heckle.

Let's see if I can express myself. You're walking along and the secular gangs go 'la la la' against us, we Christians, but we walk on further: their high point or is it low point has perhaps passed and if only we would have a good debate and less publicity and hysterics. But I like Richard Darwins and the debates I've had with him. Yes, the dark alley is past and there's a bit more visibility or light and, indeed, the crowds aren't exactly filling the churches but no longer do we get the blame...

Pardon? What am I going on about? I'll get there. I was trying to set the scene but we have Sandles and Skidlesticks valuing the religious input to economics, and then Alan de la Bottom and his Religion for Atheists who thinks he knows the best bits of religion - not those embarrassing beliefs that I am about to address. It's not that...

What? No, I am not saying the beliefs are embarrassing. I am being ironic, I hope, in my run-in to make a point. If I may continue. It's not the crowds returning to church but a change in how serious and liberal-minded people are discussing faith.

Sorry? Well 'liberal-minded' is not necessarily necessary to be serious. It's a turn of phrase, I think. I suppose I was liberal-minded once, and may be again. We believers are not "brainless" any more - OK they never quite said that; but after all I have been defending the religion, and we are not "oppressive"...

What? Have I really been oppressive while Archbishop of All England? Tut tut. Rather I have been - we are - an ally against the insane limiting nature of current economic life.

It may be that the young don't know there is a Lord's Prayer or can't say it, but even if they are deeply deeply unlikely to cross the threshold of a church, they do agree with my chosen authors that... Yes I know they'll not have heard of them. The schoolchildren will know there is something about us and now is not the time for schools to stop doing what we would be doing if they didn't - that is teaching RE. There are a few RE teachers that treat the subject seriously rather than the lesson giving the pupils of this country an hour off with a bit of colouring in. But I could wander off at this point. I have to do fifteen minutes. Yes I am sure but it's a lot less than my predecessors did.

So no longer does the alleyway go on and on, and perhaps the aesthetic of Easter has a chance. But that's not good enough, really, is it, because up and down the land people are asking, or dodging, the question, is it really true. Maybe - all right - they are not and have something else to do. The clergy then, up and down the country. They are asking. Yes we are a dogmatic religion and we must face up to those embarrassing questions.

So many liberals want to wriggle out of this. So let's list what is not the case. You'll like this.

The story we are told isn't that the message of Jesus lives on; the story we are told is not that the empty tomb is a piece of the imagination to inspire; the story we are told is not that Jesus survived death, but the story we are told is like a metaphor that the wall became a window - to borrow from Robert Knox - that we see behind all these things that people say the story is. In other words, it is that God willed and did something, through the fabric of things, opening things out, that the women and men witnessed on that one day, so that Jesus could be with us and we be with Jesus living together that God has done and reconciles love between us.

What do you mean you are lost? Doesn't this make sense? I'm saying that this reconciling love might be what attracts these more liberal-minded commentators now, even if Alan de la Bottom was making more of an aesthetic and cultural argument, or John Rutting composes for cultural reasons because he doesn't believe either, or that German chap Reverend Professor Der Mutt who opposed me on the Covenant and who said we have here a cult of the individual.

You want me to spit it out? It's hardly the relevant expression, is it. Say it simply? Humm. Well, that which is no longer toxic, that vision to attract if a little, is so only because we are told God raised Jesus. There you are, I said it.

We don't have a brilliant set of story writers, dramatists, playwrights - I mean, you could not get the staff. Not from the disciples available, that bunch of mediocre mistake makers. Not compared with the boss.

What do you mean is it true? Aren't you satisfied? Of course it is, but I can't give some sort of knock-down scientific proof. It is how it works through the community and through us, by living it. No I am not compromising again. No, I am not dodging. I'm not jogging round the embarrassing bits again. We say to the cultured not quite despisers, these days, you have to stop just observing and live it, live in it.

See, if God exists and is active, if his will raised Jesus from the dead, then we the population do what we can but the future isn't only about our efforts. Well, I'm saying 'if' not because I doubt it, but as a means to affirm it aren't I. I've never been heckled so much in all my life. No I haven't stepped back from affirming it. I am saying we have full responsibility about our efforts too. No, I said it isn't only about our efforts, but Pascal says we can't sleep while Jesus is in pain. Well he is still in pain even if raised because there is still suffering. What? What - there shouldn't be any? Well we might be tempted to make some futile gesture, but that's no good, or become consumed with guilt that we haven't acted enough and that's no good. Be like that and it'll make us unattractive again. Yes, I know it is in our liturgy, what we have left undone and done a futile gesture. What have you lot been eating this morning?

Think of how we are trapped by irreconcilables, like the Jews should have Israel given what happened to them but they should stop duffing up the Palestinians as false security and both sides should be peaceful. What do you mean you want me to stick to whether I believe it or not?

I'm talking about a God who acts, aren't I, to support reconcilers who also believe in a God that acts. Do they believe in a God who acts, with empathy for one side and the other? That's the question you should be asking, not if I do. That's just being trivial.

In fact, in the end, it is not about a God who endorses your own version of reality. So the cultural not quite despisers might be right. God is not just on our side. And you extend the hand to the other in situations of human conflict.

I'm not wriggling. What I'm trying to say - I know that I am always trying to say - is that believing what we are told that God did raise Jesus is no excuse for hanging back for God to also do something about conflict. That would be just trivial. Or maybe not. Perhaps God has got his priorities wrong. Perhaps he is busy and we don't see it.

I mean we believe this God acts as a kind of foundational thing, or I seem to need to do - I mean deism is so unsatisfactory - so to give us space in a world where God creates a future. Because if God didn't give us a future we'd only have a future. But resurrection is like a space-maker with a kind of spontaneity making space, producing that window. So whilst some are warming to religion a bit, and has social value at last, with less of the Richard Darwins, we are doing the embarrassing part and going beyond saying it is nice but actually believing in God doing things even when we have run out of puff, I think you'd call it down there.

You can stop heckling now because the window has become a wall again. Except I suppose I am saying that shouldn't happen.

Does this happen in most cathedrals?

Meanwhile, John Sendmehome wrote a column in The Stunner, much against continuing advice.

I wanna tell you a story. Back in the USSR in early Commie days this Nilolai Bukharin went to Kiev to ridicule the beliefs that today the Archbishop of England admits are embarrassing. But as Bukky did this, and did a demo job, this priest knew a trick or two for the questions and said, CHRISTOS ANESTE- EK NEKRO-N. That wasn't some code words for a space ship, or writing for your next tattoo, but an ancient greeting of 'Christ is risen from the dead' and the whole crowd did what they used to do and rose like Cliff Richard crashing and singing "He is risen indeed." Wow.

Bukky didn't realise that these embarrassing bits are not an ideology to argue about, but a liturgy for repetition. They still had the habit.

You won't find that response in the grave of past experience, ha ha, or what you reckon is so, but in surprises and new life like a Jack in the Box. Now you and me, like, we might be crying, but would we recognise Jesus if he turned up with a hanky to dry our eyes? Like a chap on the London Underground, he can break through barriers, like put up by the fightened disciples. By the way, do not dodge fares. Or he might come for a walk alongside us but would we know who we were walking with? I'm not saying you should walk with strangers.

But Jesus is the one who created all the good things you like to buy in the shops. He is the big factory man. Ha ha, I really mean he's the nice man behind all the good feelings you have for one another, and your hopes and dreams (and if you're on the dole) - and that's how you recognise him because he is there and Rowan Tree would refer to this as metaphor and say it is also real, that the story of our lives is as real as it gets. I'll miss him.

Let me reassure my mate Rowan, before he goes. Kids in school do know about the crucifixion and resurrection, because I asked them in Brum a long time ago. A lad told me that Jesus in his back garden said they are going to kill him but added "Oy you sleepy lot don't eat my easter eggs because I'll be back in less than three days." Wow. Brill.

Now easter is in the egg. Take a real boiled egg for breakfast. When you slice the top of the chucky egg off with a knife, doesn't that remind you of the door to the tomb being rolled away? Wow! When you put your bread strip soldiers in the runny yellow bit, isn't that like the Roman soldiers on guard getting a bit messy? And where did Jesus go? I like my chucky eggs for breakfast. And when I go to work on an egg, that's like resurrection as if I have a new body. Wow, just thinking about it.

But if you have a chocolate one, buy it fair trade to help others, and remember children that are missing and can't be given an easter egg. But whatever you do, don't forget to buy the hope you can read about in your super, soaraway Stunner ever day, seven days a week. Wow!

Sunday 8 April 2012

Easter in a Corner of Unitarian Land

I am not an Easter believer. That is to say, whilst I like the optimism that says there'll be a new dawn after all your struggles, I don't think it is centred, or caused, in the Easter story. Rather the Easter story reflects the bumpy nature of difficult and released from the difficult nature of living that is just a fact of chaotic life. It's the old one of the seed dies and a plant emerges.

A new chap at our church, the third new face in recent weeks, has responded to a universalist aspect of a recent advert, and he's very much of the 'all religions point in the same direction' school, with a background of astrology and belief patterns that Christianity is but one example. After two weeks he thinks Unitarians are one-by-one factions - we don't see the great big picture. I say there is no way around the diversity issue if you are going to argue, whereas there are side effects of, say, having a more Baha'i emphasis on uniformity. But he has me a subject here to tackle in my service on the 29th. Today, though, was Easter Sunday.

Our preacher from Wakefield said how his home base would be ignoring the day, but he would not, nor would he do the "cop out" of some Unitarians, which is just to talk about how spring is here again and there is new life emerging. And he said that as a strong supporter of the Pagan Federation. We had some of the green stuff but mainly a focus on the claims that Christians make. I agree with this: we should tackle the claims.

First he said that no Jesus history is without the spin of the believers who wrote the gospels from two generations later. The preacher's message seemed to be that the empty tomb stories were variable, but had credibility because the evidence was provided by women, and if you were to concoct that story for the believers then you'd have men at the tomb and of higher status. Trouble is, he said, we don't know what happened. As for Paul's either all or nothing statement, that's tough on Paul and the rest - rather, the teachings are what live on, just as our contributions to life will live on in a much smaller way.

To me, this is incomplete, and something of a cop out itself! I'm afraid that the demands of the new attender in the conversation took us all off in one direction of unity in diversity rather than a critical examination of the sermon's stance. I know one member said something first but I didn't catch it as I came from the music producing corner a little after folks had gathered.

My view is that it is precisely the use of women that allows the answer to the question of why early Christians didn't visit a tomb and had no interest in visiting a tomb. Indeed, of course, the first of the resurrected implies a reanimated regenerated body and the new Chritian community believed in some had received a vision and then Jesus had ascended and thus there would be no more apparently regular appearances. Those in authority were now set. The point is that the first tomb story, that in Mark, has women as the evidence providers AND it says they were told not to tell anyone. That's the point: why the tomb was only a later tradition affirming materiality. Mark himself leaves the resurrection open to stark mystery. After that comes embellishment in the other gospels, and the fact that all mention a tomb emptied is neither here nor there. But the emphasis in Paul (who does not mention a tomb), and is by far the earliest writing, is on appearances, as indeed in later gospels; and these appearances in total are to do with the future, authority, ritual and getting the message right (when they 'see' Jesus).

Paul also is parading resurrection as a salvation theology, which is a new twist on the expectations, and this is the all or nothing. The context is the end times and the awaited resurrection of all, which will get going when the first of the resurrected is transformed into the messianic and returned complete Son of Man, now God's only son - a time also when the titles of Jesus are being escalated, and when quickly some form of binitarianism is being developed (among believing Jews as well as Gentiles). Newer scholarship emphasises speed of change.

Religions have charismatic periods at their renewing, emerging, forward looking stages before things fail to happen and tradition starts to take over. This two generations aspect of the gospels is a bit misleading, as the new stories and escalating responses were bubbling up and out rapidly amongst the first believers. I'd also suggest that the Greek influence (mentioned in the service without clarity) is there in the Septuagint and immediately is involved in the framing and content of the stories of the gospels: that if Jesus spoke the rough Greek as well as Aramaic (I'd argue that he did), as other Jews did, then the Greek influence in amongst the Jews is ready for input too, never mind among the Gentiles looking for a monotheism beyond the Law.

The point is that all this is a cultural view of religious formation. What is 'all or nothing' is that once Jesus is dead then he is either the Jesus-followers' Messiah to come or he is nothing. There was immediately a family firm to protect his legacy. There was also a critical cultural breakout that therefore escaped the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. There were many Jesuses and last days movements and preachers at the time; it's just that they didn't break out. The disciples, we are told, got out of the way of the death scene, and the suffering servant will have done his task to the bitter end. They had to deal with the extent of the service and sacrifice, and had to wait for the response of God.

Now you can believe this is supernaturally driven, with a Godly hand on the tiller of history, or it is purely cultural. Frankly, a Godly hand on the tiller is subject to the same criticisms as why such a hand on the tiller didn't occur at other times in our destructive human history when needed. Indeed, I'd say that God was as absent in the crucifixion event as has been in any other event of our evolved lives. That's because he doesn't exist. But it is anyway unnecessary to have this additional supernatural explanation because these folks believed in all sorts of magical and supernatural things, and lived in times of intense stress and persecution and drove the thing themselves.

There is a Unitarian view that sort of says Jesus's beliefs were so remarkable and powerful that these motivated the disciples to teach them on, once met by the spirit (either understood realistically or metaphorically). I don't go by this at all. He had reverse ethical ideas about the Kingdom, which is what interests us, as an idealism, now, but the motivation, the engine, is the last days, the reality soon coming. He could have believed all sorts of things. The reason we get any of this is the proto-orthodox material after Paul, for which Unitarianism is a Reformation revision. Unitarianism is not a 'religion of Jesus' coming after and alongside a 'religion about Jesus'; it is as much about Jesus as the rest. Yes, the ethics matter, but the ethics of Islam are rather mixed (communitarian but fierce to enemies) and many find that an attractive package of submission and power.

My own view is a comparative uninterest in Jesus, after all. The attractive ethics stand alone, and yes have to be lived. But as a cultural phenomenon it stands with others. I think the Buddhist path is a more direct one. There are newer more inclusive paths than expressed by Jesus (who was tribal after all - he focused on the future for Jews first). So by this stance I find my spirituality in a broader canvas, and it doesn't need a quest for uniformity with others. I'll discuss with anyone. I'll take my service too.

Saturday 7 April 2012

At Southwark Farm

Peter Levite: Down in the London studio I have a number of people waiting to talk to me. It's all about the diocese of South Park.

Bishop Chestnut: South Wark is pronounced Suthurk anyway.

Peter Levite: So that was Bishop Chest...

Bishop Chestnut: Sounds like Bishop Chessnut.

Peter Levite: Well what you sound like is what people there are saying. The Suthurk Diocesan Evangelical Unification Group held a meeting because they say they are being ignored. Is that right Stephen Kuhrtsey? Why don't you stop complaining and curtsy to your bishop?

Stephen Kuhrtsey: The point is that in most dioceses Evangelicals are doing well, and might even be the majority. Here we are not doing so well, but we have the concentration of numbers who put their hands into their pockets.

Peter Levite: What do they do with their hands in their pockets? Are they frustrated?

Stephen Kuhrtsey: No, they take them out again with money, and deposit the money. So it is about time the purse started pulling the strings.

Chris Skilbeck: You might be forgetting the liberal Catholics.

Peter Levite: Chris Skilbeck, Archdeacon. You met these evangelicals.

Bishop Chestnut: I applaud the fact that we have these meetings where everyone pulls together.

Stephen Kuhrtsey: They keep promoting revisionists on all sorts of matters, including those promotions of so many who are working to revise the Church's traditional position on sexuality.

Bishop Chestnut: I am so grateful so many people turned up and showed their desire to pull together.

Annie Sugden: Aye lad but down in't farm tha calls the Church...

Peter Levite: Annie Sugden, continue.

Annie Sugden: ...lahk in Beckindale, tha lambs are supposed t'be shepherded bah thems we approve of, lahk, and tha's not givin them raht shepherds fair crack o'twhip, and if tha's not then we'll afta look abroad for us owen.

Stephen Kuhrtsey: Just let me list the names of those promoted. There's the Bishop of Croydon, Jonathan Shoes; the Bishop of Woolwich, Dr Michael Ipcressfile; the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew None; the acting Arch­deacon of Southwark, Canon Dianna Gurgurgur-Gwanville; the Sub-Dean, Canon Bruce Chicken-Nugget; and the Diocesan Director of Ordinands, Canon Philippians Marlowe. They are all liberals.

Chris Skilbeck: You might be forgetting the liberal Catholics.

Stephen Kuhrtsey: They're liberals: like a horse is a horse whatever its breed, but then the question is: 'What is a Zebra?' When is a bunch of grapes a bag of marbles?

Peter Levite: Your lot voted against the Covenant! Heftily!

Stephen Kuhrtsey: This was a sad time for the diocese. We fail to see the higher level issues with all these localistic liberals and their obsession with Henry VIII. Our 10 clergy for, if 27 against, our 21 laity for, if 32 against, was nevertheless a moral victory for the Covenant, for its vision international, and no bishop here opposed it.

Peter Levite: You like the diocesan bishops when it suits you, then.

Annie Sugden: Nay lad.

Peter Levite: Are you really Annie Sugden, or is this a disguise? Can't get one past me, you know.

Bishop Chestnut: We try to see the higher level issues in place as well as keeping the bishops together. I am here for everyone: a focus of unity. But I cannot be a focus of unity if people start organising their own networks of bishops, colleges, fellowships, ministers and churches.

Stephen Kuhrtsey: Exactly bishop: so when we speak why don't you listen? Don't you recognise the inevitabilites of Church geography? We are supposed to like our bishops, but I have to say, bishop, that after a good hour of people making their points, you responded without clarity.

Bishop Chestnut: How to maintain unity. Humm. As I say we try to keep the bishops together and a lead has been indicated in how not necessarily to undermine the explanations of unclarity as indeed as not exactly unsuggested by the retiring Archbishop.

Stephen Kuhrtsey: In that meeting your points were general and rather vague in your hopes for the diocese.

Bishop Chestnut: I am so grateful so many people showed their desire to pull together.

Stephen Kuhrtsey: So you are not necessarily capable of under­standing Evangelical concerns.

Bishop Chestnut: Is that not necessarily capable or not necessarily incapable?

Stephen Kuhrtsey: It is not necessarily your fault; you seem to have very few people around to help you with this. So being kind and drippy, I'd blame the others. If you promoted an evangelical, like me, you might have someone who not necessarily fails to understand. But let me be less drippy. You couldn't have done more to encourage separatist movements in the diocese. It is your fault. Recognise how the glaciers are coming down the hillside.

Annie Sugden: We thinks we'll afta look fawwad to gettin' mower ordinations by ower owen bishops from t'other pastures, tha knows. Tha's t'new Fellowship o' Confessing Anglicans to organise mower and ta get tha moneys going into ower pockets lahk for us own colleges 'n' ministries.

Chris Skilbeck: Let's be clear. Out of the 25 churches that paid a hundred grand each year 11 were Evangelical, paying £1.9 million, and 14 were liberal Catholic, dishing up £2.6 million.

Stephen Kuhrtsey: That's as maybe. But what we don't want is the likes of Andrew None preaching on the word "inclusive" when what we want is to promote a much narrower biblical gospel that puts to the front what people do round the back and should not. That's the issue and if we don't promote more people like me then you'll end up having more Annie Sugdens or whatever he is called.

Peter Levite: Thank you all. Where are you George Hudson?

George Hudson: I'm at a pub opposite Kings Cross about to go to Southwark. I don't think I'll bother now. It's getting colder and wetter with these Cumulo Evangelico clouds gathering.

Thursday 5 April 2012

Is This the Political Goodbye?

I am quite open about my voting record. To my eternal shame I voted Conservative in 1979. As a student of Economics and dismissive of some Marxist sociologists in particular I was a thoroughgoing all round liberal. I was an Economic Liberal, and the Conservatives had become Economic Liberals. I didn't last long. The analysis soon shifted, that closing down inefficient plant and equipment did not mean opening efficient plant and equipment, and it did mean dumping people at a critical period in their lives in terms of gaining employment experience. Not being attracted to the (inadequate) collectivities of the Labour Party I moved to the Liberals and the Liberal end of the Alliance with Social Democrats. For a very short period while at the University of Essex I did some actual politicking, helping to dislodge the Liberal Party from the Broad Left and attaching it to the Social Democrats. But then I left. From time to time I went along with a Unitarian friend to promote the new Liberal Democrats.

However, in 1997 in a straight fight constituency between Labour and the Conservatives I voted for Blair's Labour to shift out the Tories. But from then on I was back with the Liberal Democrats. In 2010 I faced a resurgent straight fight where the Tory might win, but I couldn't bring myself to vote Labour.

All this time the Liberal Democrats had worked on their identity problem by creating a left of centre position, and indeed it was to the left of Labour on many issues and more likely to defend the Welfare State. Gordon Brown was as much a privatiser as Tony Blair, despite a change of emphasis, and all of them regarded the unemployed as little more than rubbish to be wrung through their system of Noddy training and work, with all the talk of 'Hard Working Families'. Work shall make you free, they say.

In 2010 the Liberal Democrats seemed to have a capable leader, even if he had run out of steam at the end of the campaign. They were likely to be robbed again by the electoral system, but in the lottery of the election the failure of the Conservatives to win brought the Liberal Democrats to partial power.

What I missed in this was the ease at which the 'Orange Book' Liberal Democrats in its leadership melded in with the Tories. But over and over again this happiness of agreement has led to a betrayal of the former identity of the party built over recent decades particularly under Ashdown and Kennedy.

The first and major problem was the direct lie involved in the election over Higher Education Fees. There was the party talking about honesty (remember the adverts spreading litter?) and the Liberal Democrats would be different - honest. Yet, all the time, the policy of removing fees for university students was an easy negotiable for a coalition. It wasn't that they dumped the policy for a trebling of fees instead: but that they never intended to keep it in the first place.

The 'no top down NHS reforms' (said the Tories) has become top down reforms that have even included the Liberal Democrats. It was not in the Coalition Agreement and should not have been any part of government policy with their participation.

We've had a full on squeeze of the economy, and the so called Work Programme is all programme and no work. I should know - I've seen it. It is being run as cheaply as possible and involves nothing more than the recycling of literacy, numeracy, can you write a letter, have you done a CV, basis of activity. It is the appearance of action. Most of the so-called Apprenticeships are nothing of the sort, and indeed they are ways for the government to meet some large employers' wages bills at the unskilled end of employment in a recycling of the unemployed off the register.

The Liberal Democrats have been nothing but a wooden leg for the Conservatives. But what is really going to finish it is the proposal to be able to sweep email and online messaging without proper judicial oversight, and then we have this government's plan to introduce secret courts. This was a government that rightly tackled Labour's loss of insight into civil liberties. To me, George Galloway's win in Bradford was as much a message to the Liberal Democrats as it was to Labour - the three cheeks of the current political bottom.

It doesn't affect me, does it? Well, that's how civil liberties get chipped away. It is as if parties get into power and the bureaucrats (and the Americans) that want secrecy go to work on the governing parties. If any of this legislation goes through on either email sweeps (Clegg in favour) or secret courts (Clegg apparently against - but his position on the NHS hardly is a good marker) then any point whatsoever of voting Liberal Democrat is swept away.

I've not been a Green voter. There are aspects of the pure Green agenda that I don't like, and that I think are costly. Much of it I do think would be beneficial: like if we really could value, improve and subsidise community welfare, such as transport systems. I'm sure that Green approaches to unemployment would be far better than under the three parties seen so far. The Greens need to build a broader coalition, building a political humanism, and of course now is their chance given the betrayal by the Liberal Democrats.

A minimum position for me to vote Liberal Democrat in the future in a General Election has been the ending of Nick Clegg as leader (and not replaced by others equally orange). He ought to go early, out by the coalition's end, as Ashdown went too early (but he did go, and always better when a leader sees himself as dispensable). But if this party votes for this online sweep and secret courts then I'm afraid I'm off, and probably for good. In fact I can't understand why anyone would want to be a member of this political party the way it is going.

They party is going to be clobbered at the next election, and it deserves it. It has deceived people who gave their trust at the last election. But if it just becomes, really, no more than the Conservatives' wooden leg, full of illiberal woodworm, then it ought to be destroyed. The party is becoming a disgrace and I am looking around for alternatives.