Sunday 21 April 2013

Ships Passing

I spent part of last week in Great Hucklow, at the Unitarian holiday centre called the Nightingale Centre - not because she (Florence) is claimed as a Unitarian (she was not) but because of the original role of the building as a place for recovery after war injury. I was there because my bathroom had its floor done and I could't use it!

Still, while I could see Send a Child to Hucklow in operation, after a day I met a very interesting woman who had received one of those independent ordinations some people acquire. She was spending good money on a coming rituals weekend following the idea of practical awareness through a narrative rather than meditation. I gave her and myself a couple of tours around the area, using to full advantage my inability to go along intended routes. Of particular interest to me was the once main Sheffield to Manchester road permanently closed at Mam Tor and then, next day, Monsal Head and Miller's Dale along the old Derby to Mancheser railway now turned in part into a walkway and cycle track. It was, with the Waverley Line, one of the most criminal railway closures in recent history and I hope the railway can be re-established. I'd make it a Keynesian project towards generating some home-grown demand.

She has not followed up her ordination with a ministry, as yet, and the weekend coming (and just passed) was partly about making a decision about how to do that, perhaps via a business venture in the health and wellbeing sector. But it got me thinking too, because she was saying I do practice a kind of ministry now with what I actually do, plus being American perhaps she could see a lot of what I do would have to be money-generating in her land. It ought to be, but a question of how. The sorts of websites I can offer are pretty basic even if they can look like the better ones; my religious writings hardly can generate any income, the cartooning isn't enough based on likenesses and even sexiness, say, and I'm not at all of religious views that convert into notions of self-healing - I don't have magical views or alternative realities to mix into hypnosis or couch-equivalent, for example. I am writing a story, slowly, but she liked the core ideas and metaphors going on in it and by default she gave me an idea for progressing it towards its realisation (how four dispersed people get back together again; they have different religious encounters but also personal moralities).

So a curious moment of ships passing in the night, with an intention at least to keep in touch for a short period of time, and maybe a little bend in life's trajectory as a result of a chance encounter.

Don't Overdo it, John! Or me!

John Midgley reads his own column in the coming The Inquirer rather well. I refer to it here because he refers to me, about four and three quarter minutes in. My position regarding music at Hull sounds terribly puffed up, though he's right to say I'm no musician. Look, I just create the CDs used in the services, drawing on the resources I have built up and the playing equipment that it became my project to install. It is easier and looser to be an artist than a musician, and the painting referred to is here among my galleries of selected artwork - most of which, online, are chosen for their cartooning quality and that's why this picture was there in the first place. Many of my landscapes do not even feature. Perhaps they should; some of my cartoons are deliberately subverting of expectations given the freedom the artist gets over the subject. I try for accuracy and to emphasise features, and I play about with appearances in general including after some clergy became models on the catwalk.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Latest Website Fun

The emphasis of my homegrown web activity has moved from this blog back to the website, and is partly a consequence of not commenting on Anglican affairs as I once did. For example, I cannot be bothered to give the Church of England Faith and Order Commission's latest nonsense on marriage the time of day. The only comment to make about it is that it is not worth a comment. I leave it to Jonathan Clatworthy to comment, though inevitably it has caused him to labour the point that he is dealing with rubbish.

I have produced a service of worship and it compares the Sikh faith with Unitarian approaches to faith. I picked and worked on the Eighth Service of the largely defunct (as it stands) Orders of Worship (1932) and moulded into it Sikh views. Hopefully it works as worship. It is also General Assembly Sunday.

This will include some musical innovation of mine, the first time I have added a bass staff to a treble staff, and altered the treble, to produce music for the Lord's Prayer. Normally I don't say or use it, but 'hallowed by thy name' is Sikh consistent, and one ought to be flexible. It sounds and looks like the A. H. Malotte music, but the other we once used regularly has now been made available to whoever wants to use it in worship.

I have added a couple of Hull Unitarian history pages to the Learning - Religion area and one is a hint of humanism come to Unitarian Christianity 250 years ago, and the other is earlier about not handing out money to the poor - except they had to do this. It is slightly amusing to see this in these times of austerity and return to a Victorian narrative in the political sphere.

Occasionally I like a mathematical puzzle and its explanation. Anyone that watched Man Lab this week on BBC 2 will see where this one I've presented has come from, but turned into envelopes and things to put in supermarket trolleys. It is about the intuitive sense that the same chance exists with to swap or not to swap, faced with two blind choices, having first chosen from three, and why you should always swap. Yes, the explanation is on the web page. The explanation was given on the programme, and I thought of others and none are correct other than the one on the programme! It was just given but I add a touch more by way of mathematical explanation.

Sunday 7 April 2013

Going, Going...

1965: 15800; 2005: 3952, 2006: 3754, 2007: 3711, 2008: 3642, 2009: 3658, 2010: 3672, 2011: 3560, 2012: 3468 (One congregation did not report). 156 congregations: 78 similar, 50 declined, 38 grew in 2012. 63 have less than 10 quota paying members.

Update: others quote 153 congregations with their own base, including places not owned by them, but then 14 fellowships in addition meeting in their own homes or unfixed abodes.

The decline is over 3% a year. I once wrote a piece about Unitarians when 2000 left meeting regionally and staying in touch, assisted by historical money, with the handful of ministers as such training (when in house) at Great Hucklow. This was before the Internet.

However, the existence of such figures does not show that many people in a congregation are more recent, when the older members have been dying off. The average age in Hull, for example, has dropped considerably in the last few years, whilst the raw numbers struggle to maintain themselves and yet do.

Does She Believe It?

A week ago I was thinking of commenting on the service taker's Easter Day service. I didn't do it. He said that at one time a Spring service of renewal he took as a Unitarian cop-out, and one should examine the Christian Easter. Now he's not so sure. But he did, expressing the view that over time the influence of Jesus worked on the followers who told stories about him in a supernatural fashion. I was disappointed in the sermon, though I've some agreement with the general point that before one does general renewal one might tackle what Christians claim.

Use of Bill Darlison's The Gospel and the Zodiac I think was a distraction. The service taker is not convinced either that Mark was written with the Zodiac in mind, though the reading contained agreeable material about the ahistoricity of the passion narrative leading up to the death. The zodiac was not only far from Mark's mind, but irrelevant to the narrative. But I agree that the passion narratives simply aren't historical or reliable. They start with Palm Sunday at the wrong end of the year, and I doubt the Jewish court was involved and the Roman Governor wouldn't have given this set of executions other than a second glance.The boss doesn't bother much with operational routine, even at the edge of empire.

The problem I have with the oft-heard explanation after Jesus's death is that it relies on slow time. I actually think things happened quickly, and furthermore even some Christian Jews (but not all, maybe not most) were getting dangerously binitarian in their view of Jesus for monotheists.

We don't know that the disciples were devastated, but they certainly got out of the way of the killing authorities. The key for me is the expectation of the coming end of time and reality as known, that the Kingdom would sweep all away, and that Jesus followed a suffering servant model for God to act, and did so to its ultimate conclusion. I don't know if Jesus and Judas set things up or if Jesus was just easily picked up for death, hardly needing a plan. (The later atonement beliefs rely on there being bloody authorities in place; it cannot work with democracies and ASBOs).

The key is the ongoing expectation, particularly in the Jewish Church, but that died out. Paul also believed in that closeness of the end, but he turned Jesus into a figure of salvation himself. This is early stuff, within years, though Paul as Saul had no interest in that crucifixion live.

He is only interested in Jews that follow a messianic figure to return, or Jews that follow the Law. You can't do both, he claimed. Saul at first upholds the Law. He keeps the same argument when he flips and upholds the messiah, and the messiah is the only one. It makes more sense if the world is close to completion to have a messiah. The Law he argues is a holding device until now. On such an argument he can accommodate Gentiles who'd like a more monotheistic argued faith enjoyed by the Jews but not so available to varieties of polytheistic paganism.

The early Christians, including Jews, will have been pregnant with expectation and excited - charismatic, in our words - and highly supernatural in outlook (as was Jesus). That reality where the stars fluttered (not so high up, they thought) was coming to them.

I keep to the view that the tomb tradition is late. It is a late story explained within the story by women as witnesses told not to tell anyone. The real impact is Paul's, and then we have the meals by which Jesus or his transformation is the guest to come. Once he is dead, he either has to become someone that matters or fades away, and Paul fixes him up for cultural transformation in a way that the Jewish Church could not. As the eschatology dies down, the salvation figure starts to arise more centrally, and there is more looking back for looking forward.

Christianity is, in the end, a cult of an individual. This is what we moderns can see and what I cannot understand. I don't 'follow' individuals.

I've been reading some of Sarah Coakley's views delivered at Salisbury Cathedral. Death - it is accomplished.  She is an intelligent woman all right and she is clear that this is John's perspective, though I'm not sure she's right in seeing Jesus as simply "God/Man" under John.
A cosmic (remote from historical grounding) divinity he may be in there but not simply God given statements of subservience. Perhaps John is actually proposing a cosmic Superman that took on others' sins in the pre-scripted drama. Our hope resides in what was there done, says she, in the one death then. But what is the mechanism of this? It is not stoicism, not passivity, not cosmic power. But she is just making an assertion of a believer's joining in with it is finished, for which there is no mechanism proposed other than participating in the cult of an individual.

I do think that the Christian's faith is in vain, in the narrow cultic sense. Left with no mechanism for crucifixion, what is the resurrection then? She says it is not three impossible things to believe before breakfast, but rather three things to do: let go, as a kind of personal death, to turn and turn again (as doubt is present) "to keep longing for and loving him" and then see, clearly, the Christ.

Now there is something Buddhist about this, in that you give up the selfhood, and then go into something of a mind clearance turning around but with a longing for love, and then a clarity of mind opens up. But that's the process and quite enough: again, why a cult of an individual?

Resurrection may not be a gritting of the teeth in bad times before you can get to the good times; something may well have to die and be laid to rest to clear the decks for the good. But in a reality where the dead rot and quickly, you'd better stay alive to experience the good times.

The issue regarding the resurrection is not whether we die to self, turn around and then see clearly; it is whether a man died and that same consciousness was present and directive afterwards in encounters with his followers. I'm saying no, that the dead human is dead and that's it. If there are other cosmic possibilities (say consciousness has a quantum aspect that goes on beyond a brain) then there is nothing unique. The whole view of resurrection was about bodies dead that arise; Jesus was the first, but because he obviously hasn't kept appearing to people in a Church-official capacity, the resurrection was followed by an ascension and the Christian unique (then Muslim too) second coming. Jesus was made to ascend to tell Christians why there was no more in the way of appearances, once they had legitimated leaders and finally a congregation.

It is a myth, and Sarah Coakley is intelligent enough to know it. It is a myth about letting something give up in order that something new can really come about. But then she speaks within the story and doesn't historicise it (indeed, she accepts the limits of history), and she dodges whether the same consciousness directed a renewed body and met his followers as he did when he was more obviously human.

No. He was an evolved human being, like all the rest of us: an accident of evolution after those dinosaurs were removed. It hardly needs saying but to some it has to be said. Our cosmic end on this earth is based on the sun's life and our behaviour with technology; it has nothing to do with the cult of an individual, other than the possibilities from violent competition such cults encourage among a few of its followers.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Government Making Enemies

The Tories assume that we only care for ourselves, so if we are all right then bugger the individual who isn't. This 'Work shall make you free' government - except there isn't enough to go round and it is being spread ever more thinly - thinks that everyone in work is some version of white van man, who gives a shit about no one else except himself or his own family.

Not so. We live in a community, and it matters to those in work that those out of it at least can live reasonably while they look to get work. The language of punishment that suits millionaire George Osborne isn't that of others equally struggling who believe in society and community.

At least we know for sure why there is a bedroom tax. It is little to do with redistributing the housing stock, but rather to make enemies of those who can't find work.

People keep their curtains shut in the morning because they are trying to keep the expensive heat it; though now more sunshine means it is perhaps better to open the curtains. Osborne, or his mansion-borrowing sidekick, Iain Duncan Smith, wouldn't understand this. They are a bunch of privileged selfish gits who think that by making enemies others will vote for them.

How on earth did we end up with a government like this? I didn't vote for them, but for the Liberal Democrats on an entirely different manifesto. Bye bye Liberal Democrats, your punishment is coming. We were told by Cameron of a 'compassionate Conservatism', but that was a load of rubbish. They have turned into a government of a viciousness even Margaret Thatcher avoided, and she loved making enemies. But her enemies were institutions that had strength about them, often vested interests that, rightly or wrongly, she thought she should attack. Perhaps we were left with too few defences and the Tories have just gone for ordinary people; Blair's Labour never restored institutions that defended ordinary people.

This Labour Party and others, like the Green MP and the SDLP, have got to look for every opportunity to bring this coalition down. If they do they will be well rewarded. See how weak and fearful are the Liberal Democrats - clinging to the Tories before the avalanche of death gets them both - but try and winkle them off their masters. And don't join in the rhetoric of deserving and undeserving poor that satisfies the selfish Tories. This government is turning people into paupers with nothing left to lose and the faster it can be removed the better.

Throw Them Out

The Conservative Party has proved itself to be the 'Nasty Party' But the Liberal Democrats cannot wriggle out of this one.

I'm not going to join in with petitions to ask Iain Duncan Smith to live on £53 a week when he pays more than that casually for a meal in a restaurant just for himself. We know how his supposed empathy turned into empatory and then just tory. He knows he is defending the indefensible with the bedroom tax.

Those who can get out of it will do so quickly, and then after this we are going to see people stuck and living in abject poverty. There isn't the housing stock available to effect the apparent intention of the policy, and this intention has long been a lie. The policy simply has to change. Even changing it to allow one spare bedroom, that is making it +1 than it is, would be a relief and improvement. You could at least then argue that everyone gets a room for a carer or a grandparent to stay. What cunts they are in government to deny people even this.

The Tories don't care because these are not their electorate. But if they think they can appeal to poorer workers, they can't, as they are even worse off with the bedroom tax as, very often, they end up losing the lot of what they do get. Again the Liberal Democrats cannot escape their responsibility: they cannot claim just the things they favour. The Liberal Democrats are not progressive, not seeking to include those at the bottom. Electorally, they will be destroyed: Eastleigh only told them that the Tory voter might as well vote Liberal Democrat (whereas it was thought to be the other way around). If the Tories are destroyed by the coalition and by UKIP I for one will be delighted, but I want the Liberal Democrats to be severely punished for betraying their electorate. I won't be fooled again. I can't wait and let's hope those who have been downtrodden can at least get to the polling stations to throw this lot as far as they can be thrown.

Monday 1 April 2013

The Daughter I did Meet

So I have seen the daughter I never knew I had and yet knew rather well at one point in my life. Truth is stranger than fiction. Caroline, who is now thirty two (which I can barely believe), approves of this blog entry and will be talking about it herself this evening to her congregation as she makes another rather important announcement to them.

Let's go back to 1980. In those days friends and I had a social contact with those who went to a Methodist church. I was agnostic then and we were marginal to the core participants. But we joined in with some social activities. In that year they held a district all-night disco at Malton and Norton, in May, and then came the celebrated Midnight Ramble in the moors on the longest day. A group from Hull went to both events. This was the first year I kept my diary, so I have been able to recall both events very well.

During the disco, two of us males from Hull (and I won't tell who the other was - but it is written down!) went upstairs from the hall with three girls from York. One of them was too nervous to join in, but let's say I and he learnt that girls actually used their mouths and then one of them wanted to "know what it is like" and the other said OK too. He was a bit hopeless and I thought I withdrew quickly enough, let's say, and was quick with both of the participants, and it had never worried me since. One of the reasons I wanted to go on the Midnight Ramble a month later was to meet this main lass and find out who she was. I wanted to go out with her if she would, even if she did come from York, because she had been willing enough at the disco. And then, if not her, there was her also willing friend. But the two never appeared at the Midnight Ramble, only the third who kept her distance and said nothing much. I recall in those days being rather more youthful, responsive and repetitive than I can be now, and that May night was the evidence.

I didn't know anything about it, but apparently there was something of a local scandal at York, and two families moved away rather rapidly. My own family had no connection with the Methodists, and if anyone locally knew no one was telling. I don't think they did know and I for one knew absolutely nothing, back in Hull.

In Wakefield, Gillian (as I have now discovered her name) had a baby girl and despite this she attracted a boyfriend who took the year old on as his and then they had more children. But he died last year, and her daughter Caroline was only then told that he wasn't her real father. So I have met Caroline, and mum Gillian again. Caroline has had her own life of course but she regularly sees her mother. Caroline wanted to find her biological father and conducted a search and found out about me, and of course I am all over the Internet. Then she realised what an encounter she'd had already.

See, I'd already met her. In 2002-3 I was doing teacher training in Hull and, doing modern foreign languages, there was this student, Caroline; and during the academic weeks I sort of mixed with everyone but started chatting to her more and more. It was, like, I really fancied her but also told myself she was far too young. I was 42 and 43 and she was 21 and had only just finished her degree. What I didn't realise, of course, and could not, was that I was looking into a part genetic reflection. She looked a bit like me, and let's face it she also looked like a lass I'd fancied years back at the all-night disco.

More than this, she said that if she hadn't done modern foreign languages she'd have done RE like me. She was always interested in my religious views, which in 1994-2004 were Unitarian if somewhat on the edge. She herself was Christian, and in Wakefield the family had switched to the Church of England - she said her grandparents had been staunch Methodists but in Methodist terms were more 'Wesleyan' and quite high. So we had these increasingly advanced theological discussions during breaks.

This sense of fancying wasn't helped when she went to the same school practice as me, where the conversation continued and she was interested in what I was teaching and doing. That's when I did a drawing of her (see right) and she says now this is a really good and shows her personality (I kept it quiet then). The second practice was something then of a 'loss' when I missed her company. Often she didn't talk alone but there was a friend with her - well, at least at university itself.

When in early 2006 I investigated how many who'd trained were still in teaching a few years later - 50% only - she was one of those who had left the profession. I got out of schools too. Someone still in touch said she didn't like the status of foreign languages in schools and couldn't do the classroom discipline along with the lack of progress made by pupils. This she's confirmed: only it was worse - she realised her career mistake while on her second practice.

I do wonder if I'd have crossed the age gap. No, surely not. She, though, never considered it. Of course as soon as I met her I recognised her and she'd already realised who I was in her investigations. But one result of our talks was that she went forward for ordination and training in the Church of England and was accepted into the process. She started training as quickly as 2006 and was a curate by 2009, priested in 2010. She was safe from my longings because all the time there was the other person I used to chat with, and she was and is still with her. It is because of her - her partner - that she's just handed in her notice to the bishop. Her friend then was before a chemistry student (not doing teacher training) and Jenny now works in the food industry, commuting to Pontefract.

For Caroline, Justin Welby isn't a new beginning but is the last straw. She could not possibly live the lie any longer now and is joining the OEC. In the OEC every bishop but the Archbishop is now a woman! She said it has been ignored, really, when it comes to those Churches that have argued in favour of equal marriage. The only thing is, she won't get paid and will, in effect, have to be self-employed as a minister and rely somewhat on Jenny. The announcement of her leaving is this evening, and Jenny will be by her side.

So I've met Caroline at quite a time. As for Gillian, she lives in social housing, and April for her means the vicious bedroom tax. Caroline, again like me, was Liberal Democrat at the election and won't be fooled again.

In fact, not only was she voting Liberal Democrat but she was at one point starting to rise in the organisation and was considering being a candidate. But the coalition was precisely what she was against, and having stuck with her membership for a while has left the party. Now she wonders how on earth it can allow for something like the bedroom tax. It may be a nasty, vindictive Tory policy but the Liberal Democrats have signed up to it. Who'd have thought it. This is no April Fool, but bloody serious to the least who can afford it.

So on this day there seems to be much to make up but then at least I did know her for a short time. It almost seems like there is something genetic in parallel experience - definitely not astrology! Left to my own devices, though, had I behaved at university as I did in Malton and Norton, I might now be in a generational minefield of contradiction, but wiser younger heads exist elsewhere. But what of the other lass with Gillian (called Julie, I have been told) and her offspring? It doesn't have to be my one time friend's. Indeed, on that night, he was a bit of a flop, and I wasn't, and that was the point. Well, they remained Methodists (like Jenny's family, apparently) and moved to Pontefract. But that's all we know, if that.